“But you don’t look like a lesbian!”
Ah... yes, a familiar phrase to lesbian women who adorn themselves in feminine styles. I’ve been bombarded with statements like this and “But you’re so pretty” almost every time a person gets wind that I am a lesbian.
While that and the occasional borderline threatening conversations I’ve had with men -- “You just need some good d*ck in your life. Let me show you a good time” -- litter my experience as a “femme” lesbian, it was not until I donned the T-Shirt pictured below from Same Same apparel that I understood how people saw me as a lesbian.
I did not understand how I was judged before because I am a sheltered white woman.
No if, and's, or buts about it. When I came out to my family it wasn’t a big deal and my friends had known for years. Then I got to university and the worst things I experienced were conversations that included some of the phrases used above; however, I never outright was a victim of homophobia. I’m a “pretty” white woman; beyond the occasional sexual harassment and compliments for my “mature” and “pretty” appearance, not much is said to me by strangers.
When my partner, Remi, came tearing into the house with our mail person’s latest delivery, I waited in anticipation. While Remi likes when things come in the mail, I tend to enjoy watching her rip through them like a kid on Christmas. She tore the bag open and revealed to me the Same Same Apparel T-Shirts. They were the gayest things I had been offered since a rainbow bracelet at Houston Pride.
“Oh,” was my first reaction. I wasn’t upset but I was not the same level of pleased that Remi’s grinning face shined with at that moment.
There were two shirts. One was a plain white T-Shirt with the words “Equal Love” printed across the chest in black letters. The catch was the “q” had two symbols of male sex connected together and the “O” in the love had the two symbols of female sex bound together. The other shirt was a black tee with Same Same Apparel’s logo on the front chest. The kicker was the back of the shirt had a hand flipping the bird. Below this explicit was the word homophobia: basically, F*ck Homophobia.
Remi wiggled her eyebrows at me. “Which one do you want?” she asked with the utmost glee. Knowing her and her pettiness, I knew she wanted the black tee. Furthermore, I did not have the kind of swag required to wear that shirt. It was too confrontational for my taste.
“I’ll take the equal love,” I said noting its more tame nature.
“Yay!” she beamed.
Quickly, the shirts were hung on a hanger to get the wrinkles out. They stayed in our closet for a few days. I looked at them every day while I changed into work clothes, casual clothes, and pajamas. Every time I looked I got a knot in my stomach that tied its way to my neck.
I never owned anything gayer than a rainbow bracelet.
Now I had this shirt proclaiming “Equal Love” with the lesbian and gay symbols surrounding it. I was raised to be a quiet white woman when it came to my personal life. I never really posted much about myself on social media and a thunderstorm would come crashing into my brain every time I shared something remotely personal with a friend. I was “out” and didn’t hide the fact that I was a lesbian to anyone. Still, I lacked the pride in being gay.
So I was uneasy until the today when Remi suggested, “Hey Babe, let’s where the Same Same shirts. We need to take pictures.” She was excited to wear them. In addition to being a total badass who doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her, Remi takes pride in who she is and continues to be every day. Gay. African. Creative. Photographer. Filmmaker. So many words could attempt to sum her up and it wouldn’t even begin to perfectly capture.
My love for her aside:
The T-Shirt itself was comfortable enough so I slipped it over my head and pulled it down. However, accessorizing it, finding bottoms to go with it, and doing my makeup felt fruitless.
“Baaaaabe,” I groaned, “I look blah!”
Remi, cleaning her glasses, squinted at me. “Baby, you know you look sexy. Try tying the shirt up and to the side.”
I tried it. Looked in our mirror. Spun. Let out an agonized grunt. Ripped the hair tie off the shirt.
“I just can’t get it right.”
“Baby,” this time with her glasses on, “What’s wrong?”
Ugh, how does she know me so well?
“I just-” I looked in the mirror “I don’t know,” peered again, “Doesn’t feel like me.”
“Remi sauntered past me, “It’s definitely you. You look good in it. Just try it and see how you feel.”
I sighed it all out. Remi’s confidence is an amazing thing and I put all my trust in it.
“Good! Now help me figure my outfit out,” she grinned from the closet.
I smiled back. While I may not be able to always figure out my style, dressing Remi up was a favorite activity of mine. We turned her shirt backward -- we agreed that the middle finger was more eye-catching by facing the front -- and also admitted the Ankara print shorts were the best to make the outfit pop. Plus the wine color of the shorts complimented her hair well.
After we finished getting ready, we ran some errands and decided to pick up a quick bite a McDonald’s. By this time I had forgotten all about the shirt as I remained in the car almost the entire time. We pulled up to the McDonald’s and went inside to beat the drive-thru traffic and have some time to ourselves.
The moment I walked through the door it was like every bone in me sharpened.
“F*ck I’m wearing the gay shirt. Oh, sh*t!”
An internal conflict swelled my head. How was I supposed to go up to the counter and ask for my food when I was wearing one of the biggest lesbian signs possible? What if they throw us out like some of those homophobic places. This is white suburbia in the state of Texas no less. Sh*t!
I followed close behind Remi as we approached the counter. I practically clung to her as she ordered. When we were given the cups for our drinks I took off and left Remi behind. I wanted to get away from as many questioning eyes as I could.
I filled my cup up with some crispy Sprite and patiently sipped it while Remi paid.
Then it happened without a single plan in my mind. A heterosexual, old, and white -- triple threat -- couple walked into the lobby. Without even a second to think both of them passed me to get to the counter. The woman followed slowly after her husband.
How do I describe her face as her eyes grazed across my shirt to my face?
I wish I was exaggerating.
My shock was so heavy I was cemented to the ground. A person I didn’t even know passed judgment on me in less than five seconds all because of a T-Shirt.
But it was more than a T-Shirt.
I glanced towards Remi who was completely unaware of the situation. It was because of what was between us. The love I felt for this woman.
Remi dragged me off to a booth while we waited for our food to come out. I was too much a coward to tell her what happened because I feared if the woman heard us talking she might get confrontational. I quietly waited.
“You okay?” my beautiful partner asked.
I nodded and replied, “Yes.”
But then I looked at her and I mean really looked at her. She fulfills the traditional role of a lesbian “stud.” Her tomboyish appeal and androgynous facial features. It occurred to me that moment that this was the kind of the thing she experienced so regularly that she embraced it. How much negativity did she have to experience before she came to terms with it?
Our food was ready and we picked it up and sat right back down. We ate and chatted. Finally, when the couple left I told Remi about the dirty look.
“F*ck her,” she noted, “Who cares?” Her attitude and shirt were so much the same I wondered if Same Same Apparel specifically made that shirt for her.
I do! How can you be so at ease?!
“People like that don’t deserve your attention.”
Then I thought about that statement. Every single word. Attention.
I avoided adorning myself with anything gay because I did not want attention, specifically negative attention. Why was I worried about getting attention for a shirt?
Am I afraid of being gay?
But I was out of the closet. I didn’t hide from anyone… did I?
I assumed a kind of privilege most of my time as a femme lesbian. This privilege wasn’t my fault but I benefited from it. I never had to experience any confrontation about being gay because no one ever questioned my sexuality. My chic and feminine appearance did not warrant any scrutiny.
For the first time, I realized what it meant to me to have pride in being gay because I completely lacked it. The fact I could not openly admit to the world that I was lesbian showcased how far in the closet I was. I used my femininity to hide who I was from the world.
I worked hard to bare the Same Same apparel shirt to every person I saw in the mall and parks we went to. I became like a sponge and absorbed everything from an eyebrow quirk to teenage giggles to dagger-like glares.
In the night after we’ve had the shoot, dinner, and some downtime I was putting the shirt in the hamper. I look towards Remi. She was climbing into bed and scrolling through the photos we took.
“Today I realized something…” I trailed. But she didn’t say a word. She waited because she knew how long winded I am. “I found out that I’m scared of homophobia so much that it prevents me from embracing my sexual identity.”
She raised her eyebrow. I continued to explain and every once and awhile she would laugh or form a serious face. But Remi always listens until the end.
When I finished my long drawn out explanation I gasped for a bit of air. I was a bit nervous to hear what she had to say. But she just grinned from the comforts of our bed and said this to me:
“Babe, this is the kind of stuff you were made to write about.”
I melted a little.
“Really! Tell everyone about this. Maybe there are people struggling with something similar. If so, go tell them about this!”
So here I am.
Dear Potential Person,
It’s okay. It’s okay to be scared of homophobia and the judgment of others. However, don’t let that fear define you, your actions, and definitely not your wardrobe. Fight for who you love and what you know best. It pays to be stronger. Enrich yourself with strength and don’t look back. You’ll find there are plenty of people who will support you.
Besides, those are the ones that matter.
Stay Chic-Ish TV.
-Buffy & Remi
T-shirts: * Equal Love & F*ck Homophobia Tees