"I kissed a girl": The myth of performative lesbianism

Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus enjoy a peck

Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus enjoy a peck

Fake lesbian, two-beer queer, gay until graduation – these derisive terms for female sexual experimentation are common parlance, and reflect similarly dismissive attitudes held by straight and queer people alike. The idea of the “fake lesbian” is widespread – the girl who dirty dances with and kisses her friend, surrounded by a gaggle of ogling lads, one of whom she goes home with that night. Straight women hate it because she’s a whore. Gay women hate it because she is putting on a marginalised identity for her own benefit without suffering any of the hardships that come with being a real member of that group. And I hate it, because she doesn’t exists.

Yes, there are (usually young) women who kiss or engage in sexual contact with other women in public. This sort of behaviour is so often dismissed as “just putting it on for the lads” – attention seeking and dishonest. But considering these kisses as merely an attempt to titillate men is sexist, undermining, and unhelpful to the LGBT cause.

Women are permitted by society to be physically affectionate with each other. Hugs, kisses or hand holding (the sort of actions that between men would elicit an immediate assumption of being gay) are often just the signs of close friendship, and not seen as romantic. Because the barrier of physical contact doesn’t exist in day to day life, add alcohol or a party atmosphere to the mix and it’s very easy for that non romantic contact to be taken a step further.

It’s at this point that the “doing it for male attention” myth can in fact make kissing or other seemingly performative contact much more likely to happen. There’s a certain safety in doing something for a joke, as part of a game, or because someone else wants you to. It stops you having to take the full responsibility for why it happened –  internal and external. If you only kissed that girl because the boys were egging you on, it means you can avoid dealing with difficult questions that arise if you acknowledge an attraction. It can also be something of an excuse to try on same sex activity, while avoiding the worst of the social stigma that undoubtedly comes with non-heterosexuality. Simply, if you kiss a girl because the boys want you to, you get to kiss a girl without everyone thinking you might be gay.

Alma_Mater_Europaea_university_graduation_ceremony._Maribor,_Slovenia,_12_March_2013

“Terms like ‘gay until graduation’ are common parlance – and they don’t help the LGBT cause”

Other problems arise when the idea of fake lesbianism comes from the queer community. a major problem with dismissing young women’s same sex experimentation as a performance is something a lot of bisexuals are all too familiar with- not being seen as “gay enough to count”. Venturing outside of the heterosexual mainstream, no matter how much, can be a difficult experience, and a supportive LGBT community can be a real source of comfort. Even if the person in question identifies as straight, they can still experience a whole host of difficult emotions or reactions from the people around them. Being told “Oh you were just doing it for attention” really doesn’t help when trying to deal with homophobic bullying, emotionally difficult questioning, or both.

Finally, what’s wrong with a little sexual experimentation? If a straight woman wants to kiss a girl, and another girl wants to be kissed, then so be it. We’re not the sexuality police. We don’t get to tell women that they’re either closeted or sexual imposters. We have to accept that the reasons behind people’s sexual and romantic choices are complex, especially when those choices seem to go against that person’s public sexual orientation. And that’s fine.

Second photo  © Topjur01

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Samantha Neville-Jones

Samantha is a twenty-something teacher and aspiring writer. She lives in south London with a boy and two pet gerbils, and loves obscure sitcoms, serious debates on silly topics, and jammy dodgers.

6 Responses to "I kissed a girl": The myth of performative lesbianism

  • Koken says:

    What makes you so confident it’s a myth? I knew someone at university who occasionally made out with her old female friends while identifying as straight and having a boyfriend. Clearly impossible to prove one motivation or another, but it’s certainly my belief that this was done mostly for attention – which is hardly a terrible thing. In fact my opinion of her would be lower if I believed it was really about sexual attraction, as it would begin to look far more like infidelity.

    But basically, people do all kinds of things for attention, and I don’t see why it’s implausible that this might sometimes be one of them.

  • Psyche says:

    So what about the poor lesbian or bi woman who finds herself the object of welcome female attention, only to have the female in question reject her at the end of the night to go home with one of the men who’s been salivating over the sight of her kissing and grinding against you?

    “Putting on a show for the boys” may be harmless when both of the women involved are aware that that’s what it is. But I’ve personally, on more than one occasion, found myself in a situation where I thought I’d pulled a girl who, it turned out, had zero interest in doing anything beyond making her boyfriend hot. Never did it cross her mind that she was also making ME hot. And it’s not only frustrating, but an emotional blow, to find out that these displays of sexual attraction were in fact “a joke, part of a game, or because someone else wanted her to.” It’s no fun when the joke is on you.

  • Samantha Neville says:

    Psyche- I agree that this is a shitty situation to be in- being flirted with and then rejected sucks regardless of the gender or sexual orientation in question. My point is that the girl in question might not be showing you attention PURELY for the attentions of a man, that could have been one of many reasons, and to assume so feeds into a culture where we diminish the reasons for experimentation.

  • Tamora Cross says:

    It is sometimes – just not all the time =] The problem is when people assume that all PDAs between women are just for attention, or all bisexual women are assumed to be doing it for attention because if they still like men they obviously can’t genuinely like women too, that sort of thing.

  • Archer says:

    I think everyone has encountered something that is so obviously performative lesbianism at some point or other – to say it happens is not to say that the way it’s considered ‘the norm’ is accurate.

    It’s the presumption of performative lesbianism that puts me in mind of how discourse in society frequently has this undercurrent to it: “In case you’ve forgotten, honey: it’s all about the men”. That is to say, it should tell us something about what kind of society we live in, that when – particularly young and beautiful – women are getting with other women, we’re supposed to interpret that as being a statement on how important men are.

    So I don’t think the activity is such a reflection of the sexism of our society, so much as the way we think nothing of judging it, and openly talking about our judgement of it, basically putting these women down.

    It’s like seeing a woman how looks totally hot in a sexy outfit, loadsa make-up and massive nails walking down the street and saying to your friend, “Oh god, she’s just so desperate to please men.” You’re ultimately only reinforcing the idea that men are important and women are only interested in pleasing men.

  • Utterlyconfusion says:

    I kissed my moms girlfriend. It was amazing. They still live together albeit the relationship has fizzled for them. I am mortified that this is the worst possible situation I could emotionally be in….

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