Appalachian Ohio, Athens GA, Atlanta, Berkeley, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbia MO, Columbus, Des Moines, Durham & Chapel Hill, East Lansing, Fredericksburgh VA, Houston, Los Angeles, Muncie IN, New York City, NYU, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Plattsburgh, Richmond VA, San Francisco, Tucson, Twin Cities
By MELISSA FABELLO
“The difference between being hollered at as a woman and being hollered at as a lesbian is simple: in the former, men are trying to obtain you; in the latter, they’re trying to change you.”
We were at the county fair—me, with my long, flat-ironed brown and pink hair, skinny jeans, and gray pumps; her, my girlfriend at the time, with her blue plaid shirt over a sparkling gold tank top, and her perfectly applied makeup. Holding hands, we sauntered through the crowd on our way to rollercoasters and strawberry-topped funnel cakes, when suddenly we heard, hollered behind us, “Are y’all girlfriend and boyfriend?”
We were used to it by now; we couldn’t count the number of times we had been accosted on the street. There was the time a truck full of workers whistled and hooted as we shared a quick goodbye embrace on the curb, the time a guy told us it was okay if we were together because he’d accept the packaged deal and take us both out to dinner, and the time a man stared at us so hard in the park that it prompted me to ask him, sarcastically, if he wanted to see us make out for ten bucks. Our reaction was always the same: slowly, we’d turn to one another, eyes widened, and wait to see what I would be inspired to say (because, for some reason, I was always the one to shout back; she liked to just walk away).
“Girlfriend and girlfriend, actually,” I snapped. But when I turned around to mean mug the offender, what I saw shocked me: a group of people pushing, mouths agape, to get a view. Two guys later caught up with us in line for a ride and asked to have their pictures taken with us. Because, apparently, being in this kind of a relationship puts you automatically on display, an easy target for street harassment, as if we’re animals in a cage.
The difference between being hollered at as a woman and being hollered at as a lesbian is simple: in the former, men are trying to obtain you; in the latter, they’re trying to change you. Whistling and hurling inappropriate comments at a woman is a [pathetic] means of showing interest. That’s why when you lash back, they tell you, “It was just a compliment.” (That statement is a story for another day, entirely!) Their comments tend to switch gears, however, when aimed at lesbians. Instead of commenting on our bodies, they comment on our relationship status and sexual orientations; they insist that we and our girlfriends are somehow missing out on something—namely, their prized (read: penile) possessions. They see a woman, and they see something they could have; they see a lesbian, and they see something that is unattainable—a complete threat to their manhood and everything they’ve been brought up to believe through raunch culture (that women exist solely for men). And because society also teaches that lesbians exist solely for the entertainment of men, when we deny their advances, they feel the need to bring us down to make themselves feel better. Using verbal abuse against us is a way of proving to lesbians that we aren’t outside of the scope of male domination, it’s just used differently against us.
Melissa A. Fabello lives in New England, where she volunteers for various feminist organizations and runs the lesbian blog and community ToughxCookies.
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