If you saw me in a bar with my bouncing blonde curls, attire of a pastel palette, and probably drinking a glass of wine, your first thought probably won’t be ‘lesbian’.
I’ve had more than my fair share of innocent remarks, double takes and splutters of ‘you’re joking right?’ upon disclosure of my (apparently surprising) sexuality, but one of my favourite specimens of a back-handed complement came from a well-meaning friend’s mother, who deemed me “too pretty to be a lesbian”. Quibbles with her adjective choice aside, maybe I should have been flattered, but actually it left a lingering unease in the depths of my stomach, an unease that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, which niggles away to this day.
My niggle is only a secondary symptom of a suppressing social disease: stereotypitis. We are obsessed with categorising. We group according to gender, sexuality, race, religion, nationality, political-leaning, what-we-wear, what-we-eat, what-we-listen-to, what-toothpaste-we-use. Like flocks to like, just take a look at the social structure around you, chances are the international students have their clique, the rugby players stick together and there’s a tight LGBT+ circle. We live in a real-life High School Musical.
I’m not suggesting that this is a truth universally acknowledged, or that it’s as straightforward extreme as I may have made it sound but I do think society has an unhealthy infatuation with stereotypes.
Stereotyping transcends the inherited ignorance of the wider community. It infilitrates just as powerfully, if not more so, from within. Amongst lesbians a love for labels is endemic – I myself am guilty of buying into the notorious butch-femme divide- but it’s equally debilitating as it is liberating. Labels give us a sense of identity and security, which human nature so yearns for. We all crave a sense of belonging; it’s fulfilling to feel part of something, and the sharing of common identity does play an important role in social interaction.
Yet problems rear their ugly head when we allow ourselves to be straight-jacketed by stereotypes. Under a layer of labels we lose our living, organic and malleable selves that are made to grow and evolve, live life not in black and white but in every colour in between. Labels are limiting, they bind us up and stick us within narrow confines. Rather than clarifying our identity, they can confuse it.
Sometimes I get frustrated with the assumptions made on both sides of the LGBT+ divide (a divide I have issues with anyway, but I’ll save those complaints for another article). Sometimes I feel like a bit of a misfit, floating in my own oxymoronic limbo. Sometimes I flirt with the idea of cutting my curls, substituting my pink for plaid (although I must confess that I do own pink plaid!), maybe adding a few more piercings or tattoos here and there, and of course, dying my hair the colour of the rainbow- just to amplify my label. Fortunately life lessons have conditioned my core and I have honed a strong sense of self that both amalgamates and surpasses multitudinous conflicting labels.
We shouldn’t need to display permanent labels like we are processed foods. We should confidently be able to transcend labels and embrace our unique, multifaceted and evolving selves. We should live our life outside of the box. So if you saw me in a bar, I hope you’d make no assumptions.
Tessa Standen (GR. Columns Editor)