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The other day, a friend of mine said something along the lines of, “Straight girls are stealing all the lesbian trends.” This comment ignited a semi-facetious rant about the struggles of identifying other lesbians. My friend listed accessories and hairstyles classically associated with lesbians that are now sported by straight girls, emphasizing how this trend has made it decidedly more difficult to spot out potential hook-ups. There were about five of us in the room, and we all laughed in agreement. My amusement made me uneasy. I felt like I was perpetuating—and even embracing—all the stereotypes that I had spent most of my life trying to disprove. Are we simply re-appropriating stigmas of the stereotypical lesbian aesthetic that had long been used against us, or are we contributing to homophobia?
I still agree with my friend, or at least the general message of her statement. It’s become progressively more acceptable in mainstream society for straight girls to use stereotypically “lesbian” styles. Pixie haircuts, “boy” clothes, and combat boots are a few of the classics. I’m not saying lesbians own a certain look, but most of us are familiar with these clichés.
Take a look at this Autostraddle guide titled, “5 Fashionable Ways to Signal Your Queer Girl Status.” Autostraddle is a popular and respected website directed at female-identified queers. The first piece of clothing the article suggests is a white V-neck, followed by a picture of Lana Del Rey (a heterosexual mainstream celebrity) in a white V-neck. The second suggestion says to “invest in an awesome hat,” with images of girls in caps and one in a beanie. Looking at Forever 21’s “Peep This Free Spirit” look book, you’ll see a girl in a beanie at the top of the page, followed by a couple of other pictures of girls in beanies. In the fashion section of the H&M Life blog, there are tons of queered-up ladies, even in the most hetero and femme forms. For example, the “Everyday Icons” Tamu McPherson and Eva Geraldine Fontanelli have short haircuts that would likely make your average lesbian do a double take. Fontanelli is also wearing a blazer, which, of course, is on the Autostraddle list of fashionable queerness.
Recognizing the existence of stereotypes that allow these “trends” to exist isn’t bad, nor is it bad that said looks have leaked into another (generally speaking) cultural group. The thing that concerns me is my envelopment in this belief that lesbians have a certain look, enough so that it was acceptable for my friend to identify it as being stolen. I mean, I just pointed out the stereotypes, but is it okay for me to actually believe and support them?
I know this all sounds tedious, but trust me, a minor accessory or style feature that’s stereotypically associated with lesbian culture can trigger a lightbulb in a lesbian’s mind. Society has trained us to keep our sexuality down to a subtlety, so a lot of us have learned to spot stereotypes to recognize one another in more covert ways.
At this point it’s clear that I’m accepting lesbian fashion stereotypes. But, in acknowledging—and even perpetuating—them, finding humorous clichés within socially constructed perceptions of lesbians, we dismantle their malicious counterparts—the weapons of stigmas used to oppress and shame us. This is the entire concept of re-appropriation.
The concept isn’t even close to being a new thing. Communities, particularly LGBT-related communities, have been empowering themselves in this way for generations. It’s been seen most frequently with derogatory words. Not too long ago, the word “queer” was fueled with hatred. People within the LGBT community actively claimed the word as their own. They used it with each other with an entirely different context, and eventually, a different connotation. In doing so, they transformed the word from derogatory to harmless. Tons of people, even today, identify as queer.
Not everyone is comfortable with re-appropriation, which is okay. If something isn’t correctly re-appropriated, it can be extremely damaging. In my experience, though, acknowledging all my stereotypical lesbian features has helped dissipate my internalized homophobia that culminated from years of shame, ultimately teaching me to love myself and my community.
Contact CUIndependent Staff Writer Julie McCausland at firstname.lastname@example.org.