The conversation about homophobia so often centers cisgendered straight men’s distain for the gays that you’d think cis women played no parts in the matter. Incorrect!
Do women hurl nasty homophobic insults at their presumably straight male partners for requesting anything other than the missionary-doggystyle shuffle in bed? Yes.
Do women betray their friendships with gay men by calling them out of their names when angry or subjecting them to other forms of violence and ojectification? Often.
However, men are not the only targets of anti-queer rhetoric from women. Queer women are not spared from any form of homophobia, not from men and not from other women. Despite the common belief that society has completed a 180 on tolerance and never bats an eye at the idea of gay women, we have not made it to the mountain top.
Queer, speciifically lesbian, women face a unique type of homophobia that is easy to miss because it’s so often intertwined with the sexual harassment that we’ve come to accept as normal behavior. Because it is ‘normal’ for women to be sexually harassed, it is acceptable for men to bypass a woman’s declared disinterest in men and come onto her anyway for the sake of “jokes”.
In fact, the “jokes” are only funny because of the understanding (or assumption) that these women do not want to receive this type of attention from men. While we are familiar with the ways that men harass gay women, we often overlook role that women play at the intersection of rape culture and homophbia against women.
Where does this start?
Homophobia in Girlhood
Just like men, women learn to perform homophobia in girlhood, then enact this behavior on other children. I recall several school locker room incidents where girls loudly expressed their disgust at the potential threat of “dykes” watching them change, clutching their pearls and their belongings as they insisted on changing in bathroom stalls instead.
This is the beginning of the oxersexualization of queer girls. Note that this behavior was always completely unprovoked, as no one made any advancements on these girls to warrant this behavior. It’s hard to imagine any queer girls would even attempt to in such an unwelcoming environment.
In the event a girl did admit to any same-sex attraction, all it took was one other girl (the pack leader) to blast this information before a nasty smear campaign would commence. Can you imagine being a preteen girl, already struggling with the hormonal rush of that age, and having to hear your peers say these things about you?
Lesbian and queer girls were quickly dismissed as “freaks” or “weirdos” that straight girls had better stay clear of lest they be subject to the imaginary salacious advances from the big scary gay girls. It was clear that queerness itself needed to be avoided, and if you didn’t agree, you were obviously gay too.
Some girls would even see this as an opportunity to impress the boys by inviting them to join in on jokes where the punchlines were all the same:
“She doesn’t like boys, but I do. Look at me!”
Unfortunately for some girls, it wasn’t just their male schoolmates listening, but older boys and adult men as well. Older men who might take it upon themselves to “correct” these girls’ queerness through violence, intimidation, and sometimes sexual assault.
I’m sure these young girls never thought of the amount of sexual harassment these girls would suffer as result of these jokes. Why would they when the adults didn’t?
How the Kids Get in This?
How do children become so comfortable spewing these mean, othering ideas? Who was warning these girls to stay away from other girls who liked girls?
Usually their parents and family members, but people like to forgot who their family members were before their favorite cousin came out and they had to play nice.
Who Teaches Children Homophobia?
It might be you!
Let’s be clear that homophobia itself is adult content. If you think it is inappropriate for kids to learn about gay people (even though kids are often gay people) then it is absolutely inappropriate for you to use homophobic and sexually derogatory language in their presence.
People will take issue with gay TV characters such as Ashley from the 2022 show Bel-Air questioning her sexuality at age 12, then will loudly, comfortably, and disgustingly suggest penis as a cure for lesbianism unprovoked in public spaces. Plus we all know how comfortable people are letting the F-word fly around at any given moment.
People are far too comfortable speaking this way in front of and directly to children and young people. The kids are absorbing this information, and deep down adults are alright with this because they want children to know that they should expect this treatment if they “choose” to engage in this behavior.
Onward into Womanhood
We cannot continue to overlook the damage women inflict on and within the queer community, as this message extends to women who identify as queer themselves.
Women regularly subject other women to verbal homophobic abuse and even go as far as teaming with men to harm gay women physically. Common examples include:
- Groping women in public, then attempting to fight them for rejecting advances
- Misgendering masculine presenting women
- Encouraging men to fight masculine lesbians
Sometimes, women may unintentionally put queer women in harm’s way in their attempts to entice their male partners. Examples include:
- Straight women parading around gay women to piss off their boyfriends
- Luring an unsusptecting queer women home only to invite a man without that woman’s consent
This behavior is particularly harmful considering the high rates of sexual assaults against queer and bisexual women. I will never forget speaking with a woman who albeit admitted to having sex with other women before leaving them to be assaulted by men in her presence.
While many of these examples could easily be chalked up to women violating #girlcode, these instances specifically target queer and lesbian women for their attraction to women. This is the definition of homophobia, and too many women are continuing this violent behavior.
Let’s Do Better Ladies
Be clear: this does not imply that women are more to blame for violent homophobia towards women than men, as both men and women participate in the objectification of queer women.
As women, it is our duty to look out for one another and not place other women in more danger than we’re already facing. Protect your gay sisters the way you do your straight ones.
And if you don’t stand with other women at all, I invite you to honestly ask yourself why?