So what SHOULD a lesbian look like?

Posted: Fri Jul 8 2011

Old stereotypes die hard - even on the gay scene

Here in the nocturnal capital, it's no secret that bouncers play god. Venue capacity changes from one moment to the next, as do ID requirements and dress code policies - anything to filter out the old, the different and the aesthetically challenged. This is nowhere more true than at the gates of Heaven - the G-A-Y nightclub where attendees face a rigorous judgement indeed.

I was just 14 when I made my first foray under the arches. Dolled up in a short skirt and heels, I was never so much as questioned about my age. Paradoxically, it's only now that I approach the nightclub with trepidation. My heart routinely sinks as I'm shooed away, overtaken by tousled tomboys and perfectly preened males.

On my most recent trip to Heaven, a bouncer predictably halted me and my two femme girlfriends. With a smirk, she slowly and deliberately looked us up and down, shamelessly quizzing us on 'ladies' nights' in London. Needless to say, those women sporting crew cuts and floppy fringes faced no such scrutiny.

'Lipstick lesbian', 'blue jean femme', call me what you will. In plain English, my hair is long and I wear make-up: panda eyes, lipstick, even false eyelashes. At a glance, I tend to slip under the gaydar, but it isn't that I'm afraid to express my sexuality. Nor am I a whimsical experimenter, jumping on the bisexual bandwagon because it's in vogue.

Studies of interpersonal attraction show that we are drawn to characteristics that mirror our own. I'm attracted to femininity, and by the same token, I embrace a feminine look myself. The concept seems simple enough, yet many a lesbian squints at me sideways. Behind my back, I've even been called a fraud.

I'm always alarmed by such short-sightedness. Many LGBT people have fought hard to emancipate themselves from gender stereotypes, yet shackle others with their own prescriptive norms. Surely, it is a step backwards to reduce something as complex as sexual identity down to clothing and hairstyle. The whole premise of Pride is to celebrate diversity, which a self-imposed dress code
can only restrict.

I was extremely saddened to discover the same superficial prejudice at London's gay hub. Instead of providing an open queer space, free of narrow-mindedness, Heaven alienates attendees with its demeaning selection process.

One friend who was turned away told me: 'G-A-Y's test of our sexuality has completely put me off going back. I'm not prepared to change in order to fit their idea of what a lesbian should look like.'

Many have expressed similar sentiments on the wall of a Facebook group named 'Refused entry to G-A-Y and Heaven for looking too straight?' The creator writes: 'I'm a gay woman who likes to wear dresses and heels, but G-A-Y has turned me away for not looking dykey enough. Do I have to snog a girl in front of them to prove myself? Gay people spend enough of their lives being judged by other people; why should they have to deal with it on a night out as well?'

Presented with these testimonials, Heaven's general business manager Mark Ellicott insisted, 'We do not, as you appear to suggest, discriminate on the grounds of gender when deciding who and who does not gain admission.' I hadn't suggested that, but in case there was any ambiguity,
I broke my argument down and reiterated previous questions. Does G-A-Y operate a 'gay-only' door policy? If so, how is it enforced? Despite a number of emails and phone calls, Mr Ellicott was not available for further comment.

Of course G-A-Y isn't the only club, gay or straight, that appears to operate a selective door policy. Many venues have good reasons for deciding who gains entry. I respect any club's decision to exclude the wrong crowd, so long as this judgement is an objective one that considers the comfort and safety of its clientele.

Challenging an individual's sexuality based on appearance is intrusive, unreliable and unwarranted. As a community, we need to champion integration rather than insularity. If my experience at Heaven is typical, G-A-Y may find it's had its D-A-Y.