We need to talk about lesbophobia. Not just homophobia, or any other anti-LGBT bigotry that afflicts our community, but lesbophobia; a concoction of homophobia, male entitlement, and misogyny that manifests itself in a distinct form of prejudice against lesbians specifically. The sort of prejudice that led to Melania Geymonat and her girlfriend, Chris, recently being physically attacked on a London bus after refusing to kiss for the entertainment of a group of teenage boys. A horrific incident, but certainly not an isolated one.
Before writing this article, I approached other lesbian and bisexual women I know and asked them about their experiences of homophobia; stories ranged from intrusive questions about their sex lives from strangers (and being called a “slut” and a “dyke” if they refused to answer), to being covertly filmed dancing with their girlfriends by men in nightclubs and later finding the footage on porn sites, and even being sexually assaulted by men in an attempt to “straighten them out”.
I don’t wish to be overly pessimistic; most men are accepting of lesbians – provided they remain within the confines of their laptop screens, and have peroxide blonde hair, fake boobs, and suspiciously long acrylic nails. Whilst our society’s increasing openness about sex has been largely a positive thing, the subsequent normalisation of porn has led to us overlooking the detrimental impact it has had, and continues to have, on men’s perception of lesbians. So-called “lesbian” porn (I say so-called as it is rarely realistic, and in fact the pornstars are often just straight women) consistently comes out on top as the most popular porn category worldwide, and has taught millions of men that lesbian relationships exist solely for their consumption; the anger and violence displayed during the attack in London is a constant, inescapable threat for any lesbian or bisexual woman who wishes to exist outside of men’s sexual fantasies.
The sexualisation of women and inability to understand female sexuality without male involvement is an integral aspect of lesbophobia. It is why the majority of lesbian couples have been asked by a man if he can “watch” or “join in”. It is why many bisexual women in heterosexual relationships often find their boyfriends assuming they are open to threesomes, or declaring that they wouldn’t mind if they slept with other women – but, unsurprisingly, never saying the same about other men; clearly exposing their view of lesbian relationships as inauthentic, meaningless and purely sexual. It is why the same boy at school who compared my dating women to bestiality, later went on to boast about having “slept” with a lesbian, as if her sexuality was his to conquer. And it is why only this year I overheard a group of boys in the
University Library discussing how a female friend of theirs just needed “a good dicking”, and arguing she was only gay as she “hasn’t found the right dick yet”. The flagrant disregard for lesbians’ sexual boundaries is so rampant it has even seeped into supposed left-wing discourse, with some accusing lesbians who do not want to sleep with trans women with pensises of bigotry, and claiming they should “overcome” their penis-aversion. The repackaging of rape culture to appear “woke” is not fooling anyone, and these types of attempts to open up the sexual boundaries of some lesbian women to discussion and debate only creates an environment where the sort of entitlement that fuels lesbophobic abuse and attacks, such as the one in London, thrives.
After the story broke of the violent attack in London, many were surprised to hear that several teenage boys (some as young as 15) were arrested for the crime; thwarting the stereotype that homophobes are
simply socially-conservative OAPs who are ultimately harmless, or immigrants unaccustomed to “western” values, such as those currently protesting LGBT lessons in Birmingham. Esther McVey, a current Tory leadership hopeful, who could feasibly become Prime Minister within the next month, recently spoke out against compulsory lessons on LGBT issues for children under 16. However, with teenagers perpetrating violent attacks on lesbian couples, and misogynistic and pornographic images of lesbians being readily available to any child with a phone, it is clear now more than ever that children need honest and informative education that normalises the existence of gay and lesbian relationships and prevents young boys from growing up to see lesbians as a spectacle for their viewing pleasure.
Yes, gay marriage and adoption were important milestones, but basic safety seems an obvious prerequisite to getting married and starting a family. I started school when Section 28 was still in place, and over a decade and a half later politicians are still discussing whether the existence of lesbians should even be acknowledged by our teachers. I know I said that I didn’t wish to be pessimistic, but I lied; it feels as if we’ve only gone backwards, and doing things that straight people take for granted, like getting on the bus holding hands with your partner without fear, must be the next milestone in the fight for gay
and lesbian rights.