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Queer Love and the External Gaze

By Olivia Marrins

A deep dive into the public opinion and discourse on queer relationships and love.

Who is the top and who is the bottom? A long-running question and/or joke as old as time within the queer community and society at large. The heteronormative lens in front of queer representation appears in all aspects of culture. The relationship between language and one’s sexual experience has been controlled through self-identification for centuries. The ambiguity of this question is based on outdated assumptions and arbitrary labelling mechanisms. 

Language holds the omnipotence to determine one’s label or identity. Thus, appearance and sexual labels have been construed through linguistic means to create one’s social identity. This leaves an uncomfortable query. Can individuals exist within the queer community itself without a label? More urgently, once you are labelled by yourself or others, can you trade for a new one?

The curiosity surrounding control and power dynamics underpins the fascination the wider community has with this initial question posed. A top is deemed as more dominant in bed, a term centralised around the notion of giving or insinuating sex with their partner. However, labels will always be intertwined with external factors of one’s sexuality, as a sexual top is associated with lesbians who present as butch or masculine presenting. It is the lipstick lesbian or twink gay man to whom society would attach the bottom label. The umbrella of terms under a bottom alone leaves nowhere to hide when trying to escape society’s labels. The real issue lies in sexual labels’ dilution of one’s sexuality in the queer community. No matter how engrossed people are with queer love and relationships, the belief that one’s sexual preferences alter their masculine or feminine qualities is hugely detrimental to the queer community. The underlying gender influences associated with these sexual labels can limit queer individuals in a hierarchical opposition of masculinity and femininity. Butch, femme and stem can be very important stipulations when one is looking for a new partner. Though these labels can often be a hypothetical element to one’s sexuality, it is very likely, your mannerisms, appearance, style, and sexual preferences have decided this for you already.  

Who is the man, and who is the woman? Too many same-sex partners have been asked this question whether it be a nosy stranger or a homophobic family member, everyone is desperate for queers to uptake the traditional gender roles of a heterosexual relationship. The public fascination surrounding queer love and sex stems from queer individuals’ comfortability and progression in broader society. It must not be forgotten that in too many countries worldwide, queer liberation and marriage rights are denied. Yet, in the too few countries where homosexual rights are accepted, people still want their heterosexual norms of a relationship to be satisfied. 

The negative attitudes imposed on LGBTQ+ individuals and relationships are due to the sexualised connotations surrounding non-heterosexual couples. Yes, the display of queer affection is not something which has always been seen since the world began. The ongoing resentment and ignorance are rife in education, social spaces, and wider culture. The momentary exchange of affection between a cis man and woman is a romantic gesture at first look. If this were to be a queer couple, the validation of romantic attraction would be overlooked in the assumption the two were close friends. 

Not to mention the gender stigmatism surrounding the treatment of queer affection as a demonised spectacle. Two women in a relationship can avoid scrutiny just slightly through the male gaze. In the National LGBT Survey conducted in 2018, results found that over two-thirds of LGBT individuals say they “avoid holding hands with a same-sex partner for fear of a negative reaction”. Too often, lesbian couples are fetishised by men as two friends arousing the opposite gender or as something which straight girls do on a night out as “a bit of fun”. There is a sincere conflict surrounding the acceptance of homosexual relationships if it is only disguised as fetishising. 

Early 2000s culture could be to blame for this. Though it hosted TV shows and music moments showing more lesbian and gay affection on screen than ever before, it was only cringy and offensive at its very best. TV shows like the L word heavily mocked queer stereotypes into everyday culture, whether it be that every gay woman is friends with their ex or that they sleep with each other with little meaning, each heavily feeds the hyper fixation on queer sexuality under the consumer’s eye.

The public fascination with queer love and sex will never end; perhaps many are looking to fixate on something new and exciting outside their traditional knowledge of heterosexual relationships. The speculation of the queer community gives the wider community an insight into what they feel they are missing. Yet the love of the LGBTQ+ community is not to be viewed as a separate entity from heterosexual affection; it is simply another space for those to feel valid, where everyone is welcome, as long as the labels are left in the closet.


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