Welcome to femme invisibility.


The lighting is dim and the wine is flowing. A candle flickers in between us and I feel a rush of anticipation as my leg brushes Pearl’s underneath the table. We gaze at each other, full of desire. A voice says, “You have beautiful eyes”. It isn’t my voice. Nor is it Pearl’s voice. It is the voice of our waiter, addressing my girlfriend.

This was not the first time that somebody has complimented Pearl in front of me. It definitely won’t be the last. She gets it a lot. It’s understandable because she’s beautiful, but it’s something that has always bothered me about being a lipstick lesbian.

When someone interrupts our date to comment on the appearance of my girlfriend, I am painfully aware that this would probably not happen if I were a man. I also feel like this would be less likely to occur if one or both of us were distinguishable as lesbians. Welcome to femme invisibility. People crash your dates to hit on your girlfriend because they don’t think you’re a couple.

That being said, femme invisibility is actually something that I experience less now that I am in a relationship. I think this is because by walking down the street hand and hand with your girlfriend, you are effectively outing yourself to the general public. Whereas if I walked down the street as a single lesbian, there would be nothing stopping me passing as a heterosexual.

Once, while I was at university, a man stopped me in the street. He was promoting a popular film and television rental service and wanted me to sign up. When I politely declined, he asked me out. I told him that I was a lesbian and he said that he didn’t believe me.  As a matter of principle, I assured him that I was very much into women. He still didn’t believe me, and actually summoned his lesbian colleague over and asked her whether she thought I was gay. What was more upsetting than feeling like I was on trial to defend my sexual orientation, was that his lesbian colleague scrutinised me for a moment and agreed that I couldn’t possibly be a lesbian. At the time I thought that this had to be a one-off experience, but little did I know it was just the beginning.

Another more recent experience was when Pearl and I were in an airport and asked a security guard for directions to the terminal we were flying from. He told us where to go before taking a long, lingering look at Pearl.

“You’re cute,” he said, ignoring me completely.

“I think so too,” I interjected curtly, taking Pearl’s hand and lacing my fingers between hers before we turned to leave.

This man may have failed to consider that we may have been a couple. He may also have recognised that we were but just didn’t care. Either way, there is something about the feeling of being invisible that makes you strive so much more for visibility.

Every time I make someone aware of my lesbianism in this way, it feels like a subtle defiance. As a femme lesbian, when I am confronted with my own invisibility I try my best to challenge assumptions. And if in all the time I’ve been doing so, I’ve caused just one person to question their perspective, it’s a still small step towards visibility.

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