Monday, October 13, 2008

Attack of the Killer Fake Lesbians

Greta Garbo disguised herself as a lesbian to spy for Germany. Or maybe not.

This is a really dumb article. One of the dumbest I've ever read, and I used to read Seventeen and Teen Beat faithfully.

The problems start with the headline, which asserts that "bogus lesbians" are "'causing emotional damage.'" There are two possible responses to this. The first is a joke about it being old news to actual lesbians that fake lesbians cause emotional damage. The second isn't a joke, just a confused "Who to the what now?" We're only headline-deep and the article already feels unintentionally funny, not to mention rather quaint.

Then there's this:
Several high-profile relationships involving "real lesbians" and women more often linked to men — such as MTV's Ruby Rose and Jess Origliasso, and Samantha Ronson and Lindsay Lohan — have reportedly encouraged a wave of "fauxmosexuals" on the real life party circuit.
Oh, please. If Lindsay Lohan can't get leggings to catch on, how is she going to convince a girl who wasn't already interested in kissing girls to kiss another girl? Let's give women (yes, even young women), a bit of credit here -- they do have minds of their own. And let's be realistic: "fauxmosexuality" (which is sometimes more complicated than someone simply craving attention, but it's easier to pretend everyone is completely one-dimensional, isn't it?) is nothing new. Perhaps the media only recently caught onto it, but "the gays" have been dealing with it, and in many cases rolling their eyes at it, forever.

And then there's this:

Gay social commentator Tim Duggan has described the "lesbian trend" as a fad which is actually doing "more damage than good".

"Experimentation is healthy — what it leads to can sometimes be a great thing, but you need to wonder what effect [fake lesbians] are having on women," said Mr Duggan, co-founder of gay and lesbian site SameSame.

"Women who pretend to be lesbians do it to titillate men."

Why does lesbianism always, always, always come back to men? I know that not everyone understands this, and that even some gay men have difficulty looking at women's issues without trying to relate them back to men, but not all experimenters are women who are "pretending to be lesbians," and not all of them are doing it to titillate men. Certainly there must be a way for concerned social commentators to tackle the subject of "faux lesbianism" without diminishing the complexity of female sexuality and apparently dismissing the notion of bisexuality altogether.

(And why do these lectures always seem oddly prudish, like there's something inherently distasteful about straight girls wanting to titillate their boyfriends in this manner? Not every girl who kisses a girl to get a reaction from a guy does so under duress. Sometimes -- gasp! -- women are in control of their own sexuality, know what they're doing, and like kissing other women and like turning on their boyfriends.)

Finally:

Online gay forums are abuzz with talk of the "bogus lesbian" craze, with some questioning whether the trend is putting real homosexuals at risk.

"Where do these fauxmosexual fads leave queer teens once they're packed away in the cupboard (with other fads)?," user timbo84 wrote.

"The statistic of 30 percent of teen suicides in the US being gay or lesbian teens is very distressing.

"Here's hoping pop culture moves on to focus on people like Ellen and Ian McKellen and not those who are just 'out' to make a buck!"

Pop culture hasn't moved away from Ellen and Ian McKellen. They both have successful careers and legions of adoring fans who respect them for coming out. But let's back this up a bit: An obscure (outside of Australia) MTV VJ being photographed in a clinch with an almost equally obscure (outside of Australia) pop star might be putting real homosexuals at risk? If ever a remark called for a heavy sigh and a major "Oh, Mary," that has to be it. (Or "Oh, Martina," if you prefer, if you're dealing with a clueless woman.)

I was a teenage lesbian. (BTW? That is so the title of my next pulp novel.) That was way back in the '90s and the early aughts, before Tila Tequila, or whatever the hell her name is, had her own bisexual dating show -- a show I'll admit I've never bothered to watch. It was before The L Word existed, before South of Nowhere was on a cable channel aimed at young adults, and, most lamentably, it was before YouTube fulfilled the promise of the world wide web by giving everyone with an Internet connection free and immediate 24-hour access to girl-girl action.

The only lesbians the public knew at that time were Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa Etheridge, Billie Jean King, k.d. lang, and Martina Navratilova. There was also Janis Ian, but the song "At Seventeen" depressed everyone and they tried not to think about her. (As a side note, who have we added to the list since then? A tennis player here, a WNBA player there, a few awful singers with acoustic guitars and the occasional relic from the '60s. Maybe the world can only handle five powerful lesbians at once. I know I've tried to handle six before and after a while it just got confusing.) Back then, even after I started coming out to friends, no one believed I was gay. My sheltered Midwestern classmates seemed to think lesbians were like the Abominable Snowman: "Personally, I don't believe they exist, but I know this guy who says he saw a picture..."

They thought it was a phase, or that I was simply confused. (A few objected on the grounds that my hair wasn't short. Yes, my school was obviously crawling with geniuses). They were confident that one day I'd meet the right guy and burst into the home ec room singing, "Gonna wash that gay right out of my hair!" or something equally catchy. I was fifteen at the time and none of my classmates were openly gay, though we were pretty sure about Tom, a cute Southern Baptist who proudly served in the color guard and loved to quote Designing Women. A number of my classmates were outspoken homophobes, which was more common than not in the 1990s, in a town that had more churches than bookstores, where PTA moms would stop each other in the grocery store to share their disappointment about Ellen on the cover of TIME. Some days I thought I heard the words "gay" and "fag" in the hallway more than I heard the words "and" and "but."

Nearly ten years later, at the exact same school, my sister came out of the closet. No one thought she was going through a phase. No one thinks she's going to magically turn straight. (Maybe it's because she has short hair. We'll have to gather data.) There are still homophobic students. There are still teachers who do too little to rein them in. Comments are still made and hostile looks are still shot. Sometimes lockers are even defaced. But the school now has a gay-straight alliance, which would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.

And there are so many gay, lesbian and bisexual students that I still get confused when I hear my sister gossip about this girl dating that girl or this guy being interested in that guy's boyfriend. "Are we talking about the same school?" I want to ask. "When I was 13 there was talk the prom would be canceled if the only openly bisexual student in the entire high school brought her girlfriend. Now your gay friends are running StuCo and planning school dances. It doesn't compute." (Her response would probably be, "Like we'd let straight kids plan the dances.")

These teenagers are blazing their own trail. They don't particularly care who Jess from the Veronicas is spotted kissing, and neither do their heterosexual peers. Jess from the Veronicas doesn't attend their GSA meetings or write on their Facebook walls. Not only do they not feel their quest for equality is imperiled by Lindsay Lohan's relationship with Samantha Ronson, they'd roll their eyes at the suggestion that their straight classmates would either assume the Lohan-Ronson union is a publicity stunt or react to news of a Lohan-Ronson breakup by saying, "If the girl from The Parent Trap isn't really gay, then you're probably a bunch of impostors as well! We don't take you seriously now, and once we're allowed to vote we're going to make sure you can never get married!"*

Really, how fucking stupid do these people think kids are?

UPDATE (10/14): To answer a few questions, the reason Rosie O'Donnell was left off my "the only lesbians the public knew at that time" list is because ... drum roll, please ... she wasn't out of the closet yet. She came out in 2002, five years after Ellen, and I'd graduated from high school by then. As for the "five powerful lesbians" concept, I'm sticking with it for now but would add that Rosie replaced k.d. lang on the list quite some time ago. Oh, and the point of the post -- and I think most people got this, but in case there are any questions -- wasn't that it's wrong to discuss so-called "fauxmosexuality." My point, as the first sentence of the post makes clear, is that this particular article on the subject is dumb. It's a terrible, terrible, shallow, worthless article that reads like it was put together in two seconds. And I'm an expert on sloppy effort, as anyone who has perused this website knows.

* Gay teens do love Lindsay Lohan, though. Call it the Mean Girls factor. The new gays quote that movie as much as the old ones quoted Heathers. The "too gay to function" line is a perennial favorite.

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