The normalization of lesbians: why it’s important
The acceptance of lesbians is becoming more widespread, but societal behaviors demonstrate that same-sex relationships between two women still aren’t normalized. Here’s why it’s important to overcome this barricade in order to achieve true equality.
Just fifty years ago, homosexuality was considered a mental illness and viewed as an unspeakable sin for most of the world. The ‘cure’ for homosexuality, in many places, was through aggressive, torturous electro-shock “therapy”. Fortunately, we have come a long way on the journey towards LGBTQ+ rights. Now in 2019, I can legally marry a woman in 27 different countries and counting (I take that as a victory even though I can marry a man in every corner of the world). And popular opinion shows a growing support for LGBTQ+ rights and anti-discrimination laws globally.
Furthermore, in my limited lifetime, I’ve never felt physically threatened due to my same-sex relationship. Nor have I feared being a target of a hate crime for holding hands with my partner in public – even living in Indonesia, a predominantly conservative, Muslim country. I’d say it’s a fantastic time to be queer!
I’m fortunate to live in this pivotal era with a rapid movement towards recognition and legal equality for the LGBTQ+ community. Yet, a looming gap still exists between accepting same-sex marriage and valuing same-sex love, particularly in regard to female couples, who tend to face objectification and overt fetishization in their cultural representations.
The problem with heteronormativity
When people hear of my same-sex relationship, most smile and show acceptance, yet reveal deep-rooted, societal bigotry through their questions and comments. They see two women, both donning dresses and long, luscious hair. Our feminine figures perplex them, leading to the inquiry, “Which one of you is the man?” Revealed in this question is the belief that a relationship without a man – or a male figure – is incomplete and insufficient. Relationships have long been defined by gender, and gender has long been understood and labeled with binary opposites: masculine and feminine. The cognitive frameworks of a traditional relationship don’t align with the concept of two women being together romantically, so heteronormative and oversexualized expectations are placed upon us.
After I make it verbally known that neither of us are men and that our relationship doesn’t take on stereotypical gender roles, some carry on by eagerly asking, “Don’t you miss having sex with men?” or, “With two girls, how does ‘that’ work?” I fully support open, honest conversations about sex and sexuality. However, when the first thing to come to others’ minds is my sexual practices when I inform them of my long-term, loving relationship, I can’t help but feel like our emotional intimacy and romantic connection lives in the shadows while our sex life and bodies are nudged in the spotlight. This hyper-focus on lesbian sex then leads people to wonder whether or not our bedroom activities count as “real” sex, inadvertently curtailing us into a sexualized caricature akin to being on display at a freak show. Our titillating, sexual proclivities are gawked at and examined for validity, and we’re left feeling exposed and vulnerable.
Beyond these “innocent” inquiries, others go even further by inserting themselves brusquely into our sex lives, presumptuously claiming, “I love lesbians! That’s my favorite type of porn,” and, “Just letting you know, I’m open to having a threesome.” When their offer is declined, some will comment, “That’s a shame. Can I at least watch?” In their minds, my relationship’s sole purpose is to provide sexual gratification for heterosexual individuals and couples. The wide experiences and elaborate history I share with my partner is dismissed in these instances as we’re reduced to our capability to fulfill others’ sexual desires and act out their fantasies. Not only do these offensive behaviors diminish our relationship into a crude fetish – they do so under the guise of “acceptance” and “support for equality”.
A long way to go
Though lesbians are more legally seen and societally accepted, the common occurrence of overtly sexualizing lesbians shows we are still not valued with the same regard other relationships receive. We are still very much defined by what we lack – heteronormative roles. We are the butt of jokes, the objects of sexual fantasies, and we have a long way to go to rectify this.
Women in general are subjected to sexualization. That objectification is amplified tenfold within lesbian relationships. These intrusive, ignorant questions and comments are normalized and ubiquitous in our society, uttered at a social gatherings and professional media interviews. By maintaining a façade of being open and inquisitive, people – often without realizing the error of their ways – leave my truths as a lesbian in the closet to appease their own tainted version of my identity. The law might call our love equal, but the devaluing words and insinuations expressed on a daily basis show a stark discrepancy.
Normalizing lesbianism starts with bridging this disparity and encouraging respect for the lesbian community, our relationships, and our love. Change will happen when – and only when – people acknowledge that we have opinions and beliefs and observations beyond our sexual practices. We have depth, complexities, nuances, careers, dreams and fears, both as individuals and within our relationships. And most importantly, we have a love that is worthy of being valued and normalized by the law and by society.
Kai Mata is an Indonesian-American Songwriter using music to bring LGBTQ+ rights into the forefront. Her new single and music video, "So Hard," addresses society's over-sexualization of lesbians. You can listen to her new song on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, and more.