Guest Blogger: Merrill Amos

What Does a Lesbian Look Like? Gender Expression and Societal Assumptions Regarding Sexuality

We live in a culture that relies on visual cues to classify individuals based on gender and sexuality. It is considered an anomaly if a feminine woman identifies as lesbian or a butch woman identifies as heterosexual. Historically, a woman’s worth or physical beauty has been defined in terms of her attractiveness to men – and that attractiveness is determined by her compliance to social norms regarding femininity. I read a great blog article on Autostraddle, a lesbian culture blog site, about precisely this subject. There was a quote

It’s weird, being part of a self-identified minority with no absolute methods of physical identification.

In other words, even for an individual within the gay community, it is difficult to pick out other gay people and in turn establish a concrete sense of identity within a group.

Even if someone “looks” and is gay, many are closeted and afraid of what others may think and do in response to their sexual preferences. The way we as a society understand gender and sexuality is relative to established heterosexual ideals, and as a result, individuals are placed into a category characterized by both the way they look contrasted with the way they are “supposed” to look, and also the role they take on sexually. Male goes with female. Dominant goes with submissive.

When homosexual relationships are brought to the table, mass confusion ensues. Even our understanding of sex itself is called into question. To end on a lighter note, I would like to discuss this lovely “Is It Sex?” flow chart.

The “Is it Sex” Flowchart

Obviously, it’s meant to be satirical, but I think it does a good job of presenting the idea that there are many different ways to define sex – particularly with the “do you feel like you’re having sex?” option. If we’ve learned anything from the malleable nature of gender identity, it’s that when it comes to sexuality we need to derive our knowledge from an individual basis and not from what are often societal misconceptions.

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One thought on “Guest Blogger: Merrill Amos

  1. Jillian McCarthy says:

    On the sexuality topic in general, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how in our society you can be either gay, straight, or bi. We see sexual preference in very separate and discrete categories. In reality, I believe that sexuality is more like a continuum with very heterosexual on one side and very homosexual on the other. Most people do not fall on the extreme ends of the continuum, but somewhere in between (not that your average straight person will admit to this, because that would mean potentially being pegged as “gay”). Have I ever been attracted to a girl? No, not really. I don’t see a high likelihood of that happening in my future. However, if Ms. Perfect comes along some day, why shouldn’t I date her? I’m not ruling out the possibility of some day being attracted to a girl. It seems to me that people love who and what they love and that society often limits us by forcing us into little boxes with labels of “gay,” “straight,” and “bisexual.” I can appreciate beauty (physical or otherwise) whether it be in a man or a woman. I think that just about everyone else can too, whether or not they’ll admit to it.

    So, back to Merrill’s post, society labels us in terms of sexuality just like it labels us within our sexual preference group by the clothes we wear and the way we act. Even the flow chart, while satirical, tries to categorize what does and does not constitute having sex. Why do we feel the need to systematically categorize people and break our world down into tiny little boxes? I know that it’s easier to see the world in black and white than it is to admit to shades of gray, but is it really that much easier when we marginalize and confuse so many people in the process?

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