Lipstick bisexuals: When you just don't look "gay enough"

© Alyssa L.Miller

“Femme bi women are subjected to a double gatekeeping where not only do you look too feminine to enter queer spaces, but if you do manage to physically get in, you are still told that you don’t really belong.”

In my misspent youth, when I still lived in London (so, about this time last year) my favourite thing to do on the weekend was to spend hours on my hair and makeup, getting super dolled up and then hit up one of London’s numerous gay clubs with my equally feminine Bi-FF. I’ve always been of the opinion that the best part of the night is when you’re getting ready – I could take or leave the rest, some nights. In a perfect world, your gender expressions should have nothing to do with your sexuality, but the unfortunate reality is that if you are more masculine than any given person thinks a woman should be, you will be read as a lesbian, and if you fall within the “acceptable” range, chances are you will be read as straight. Very rarely does anyone consider that neither might be true.

While I am sure this is intensely annoying for lipstick lesbians, it hits no one harder than feminine bisexual women. You are subjected to a double gatekeeping where not only do you look too feminine to enter queer spaces, but if you do manage to physically get in, you are still told that you don’t really belong. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have had to fight to get into a club after being stopped at the door and judged to be lacking in gayness. Most recently, the doorman asked me to step aside and asked me, in an undertone, if I knew what kind of place I had come to, and if I was sure I still wanted to enter. Nothing puts a damper on a gay night out like being told more or less explicitly that you look like a clueless straight girl!

However, what is more hurtful than a doorman denying you entry to a club because he thinks you’re a straight girl on the prowl for a gay BFF to take you shopping (which is an effort I applaud, even if the execution is severely lacking), is when women from your own community police your identity and deem you an outsider. I can’t tell you how many times in gay bars I have had my right to be there questioned by the very women I am trying to chat up because I do not look “gay enough”. I’ve had women ask me “are you really a lesbian?” genuinely wondering if I am just there as moral support for one of my friends because I look “too straight”.

That in itself is hurtful, this subtle assertion that you are not queer enough to inhabit your own spaces. However, what bothers me even more is that when you answer that you are bisexual, they often take that to mean that you are as much of an outsider as they originally thought. Rather than accepting you as a natural participant in queer spaces, they take it to mean that you are an impostor, only there to play around and break their hearts, but ultimately settle down with a man. When you say you’re bisexual, what they hear is “I might as well be straight”.


“It’s sad that there’s a divide in society where a masculine woman must necessarily be a lesbian, and a feminine woman must necessarily be straight.”

It’s sad that there’s a divide in society where a masculine woman must necessarily be a lesbian, and a feminine woman must necessarily be straight. Not only does it harm people who fall into the “wrong” gender expression, but this black and white thinking about gender and sexuality is one of the core reasons why bisexuals find less acceptance, in some ways, than gay people. Acknowledging and accepting that gender expression can be fluid and is not intrinsically connected to your sexuality necessitates acknowledging and accepting that bisexuality is real and probably a lot more common than some people would have you think. Unfortunately, biphobia is still common both in the straight and the gay community – there seems to be a prevailing attitude that bisexuals are in some sort of limbo between straight and being gay, and for someone who is entrenched in that line of thinking, letting go of the binary is simply beyond their reach.

Hopefully we will soon get to the point where bisexuality is not seen as some kind of minefield of a middle ground for people who can’t quite commit – preferably by anyone, but particularly by people within our own community! We may have a long way to go to be fully accepted in the world at large, but in the meantime, the least we can ask for is to not be seen as intruders on our home turf, regardless of what we look like.


Main photo © Alyssa L.Miller
Second photo © Purple Sherbert Photography licensed for use under Creative Commons

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Amanda Gun

Originally from Sweden, Amanda has spent the past few years living in London and in Australia. If all goes to plan, she will get to call a few more countries home before she shuffles off this mortal coil. She loves big cities, pole dancing and selfies, and when she grows up she wants to be a circus princess/burlesque dancer/writer/makeup artist. One time, she met Mickey Mouse on a plane, and he told her she was pretty.

11 Responses to Lipstick bisexuals: When you just don't look "gay enough"

  • Lisa says:

    Nce article. I never understood this nonsense. People should just be grateful there is a beautiful woman in their establlshment or in the same space. No one should ever be uncomfortable. Where are our manners? We should be more welcoming and accomodating. I think it is all insecurity. Perhaps the doorman who doesn’t want to lose a pretty girl to another kind or thinks it must be because you haven’t been with someone like him. Or it’s the uncertainty of bisexuality or more competition. Maybe a reminder of someone who left them for a man. Possibily jealousy and the thought they can’t have someone as attractive because of their low self esteem than it turns into other negative feelings ir perceptions. For me personally, i love witnessing the place I might be fortunate enough to be in become more beautiful or sexy because of the people walking into it.

  • Lisa says:

    Oops….then not than and or not ir…i’m sure you get the jist but I know how you writers are. 🙂 hope you fet the humor or lightheartedness. All kudding aside, I’m sorry to you or anyone who is mistreated. I’m just sorry I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing someone like you walk in after getting ready to go out.

  • Estraven says:

    This also happens to straight women, who may be rural, or may just work in trades such as mechanic, or on a farm, where it makes more sense for them to wear pants and keep their hair on the short side. They also find it upsetting that they are always assumed to be Lesbian, not because they are homophobic, but because assumptions are made about them that are not true. And people don’t seem to realize that a heterosexual woman can be non-binary, and many are. But even a straight cisgendered woman can just look “butch.”

    Once again, sexual orientation and gender identity are two different things

  • nikki says:

    I hear this. I have often been profoundly disappointed at gay bars. It didn’t occur to me that it’s becsuse I’m too femme because in my head I am more butch than I come across to others, or so I’ve been told. It’s different when I actually talk to people. But I have been called a trader and a faker and have had my sexuality minimized by the lesbian community many times. And it hurts because I love women.

  • Traveller_23 says:

    Can relate as a bi man. If I don’t look/dress “gay enough” I get asked all kinds of roundabout questions at the door to determine my sexuality. What other gay clubs have you been to run recently etc.

  • littlered says:

    I have always struggled with this and often end up dating more men than women because I have been made to feel so insecure about my love of women by the queer community. It’s difficult to meet new people and even harder when they refuse to believe that you can commit. It took a long time for me to embrace my bisexuality with pride and I no longer put up with discrimination.

    Anyone that you date could have issues with commitment, if you want to see where somebody’s heart is at you need to give them a shot to show you! Don’t be blind and stop the hate.

    P.S Love the article.

  • Carissa says:

    Amanda this might be the most original insightful and only bi article of value I’ve ever read. Rather than the same old drivel u have highlighted a highly common but deeply overlooked issue that effects many of us yet is rarely acknowledged. Well done

  • Not confused says:

    I definitely feel your pain. I often get the “why are you here” vibe when I go to a gay club because I like to look feminine. My last girlfriend insisted that I call myself a lesbian, though I have am bisexual. Lesbians get confused because I talk about my son and was married to his father for a time. I love woman and since coming out about 5 years ago have had a very difficult getting lesbians to take me seriously.

  • Nienna says:
  • Emily says:

    I’m reading this quite late after publication but never have I read something that is so relevant to my life. You’ve really captured what it’s like for a lot of bisexual women and the frustration we feel! I’ve had evenings at one particular London bar when someone has stopped me from entering the ‘girls bar’ because there’s lots of room upstairs. But then a more masculine looking female friend can get in no problem. You say that you’re bi and they think you’re not worth the effort, you’re just experimenting, and they are essentially taking away my sexuality and turning it into a phase in their minds, when that’s a stigma none of us ever want to have to be labelled by! Ever since being with my current female partner I’ve started dressing more masculine just to feel like I actually belong in the gay community or within her gay circle of friends, because I’m the first bi girl she’s ever been with. It makes me dislike myself more that I feel the need to change parts of myself because the very community that deserves and wants to be accepted, isn’t accepting me…..

  • Bella says:

    So true. Have to struggle with the discrimination even in the LGBTQ+ community. It’s just sad that even after all we have gone through as a community we still have to fit each other to a stereotype or judge them. We should stop the hate and discrimination and just love. Thank you for this amazing article.

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