Once, in a PE locker room, a girl announced she had just gotten her nipples pierced. She stood proudly while everyone stared in awe. I saw nothing but her back, her bare shoulders, her hair up in a bun. I wanted to see, but I didn’t dare ask her to turn around.
Some girls didn’t think twice about yanking their shirts and bras off in front of others. They would pull down their pants while holding eye contact with you, attempting to hold a conversation when all I wanted was to get dressed and leave the room as fast as I could.
The reason I was often anxious in locker rooms was that I knew I liked girls. I was afraid that, if someone thought I stared at them too long, they’d know. Not that I was staring, anyway. But did that really matter?
Back in high school, the person I most feared would find out was the person I was closest to: my best friend from the third grade.
One day, I found myself in the back seat of her older sister’s car. We were excited because her sister had offered to buy us McDonald’s after picking us up from school. We ordered and approached the second drive-thru window, where the worker handed us our food. “Oh, my God, ew, ew!” her sister yelled, laughing as she drove away. “What? What happened?” my friend asked. “That girl went to high school with me! She’s a lesbian! She put her dirty lesbian hands on our food!” My friend laughed. “Ew!” they yelled in unison.
What if my friend found out I liked girls? Would she run off in the opposite direction and yell about me being a dirty lesbian?
I didn’t understand why she might feel this way. She supported gay marriage between men. Sometimes she’d even show me pictures of men holding hands or kissing and comment on how cute they were together. Why didn’t she consider lesbians cute? They kiss and hold hands, too.
I kept these questions to myself, just as I attempted to lock away my feelings. I suppose I didn’t hide them too well, though, because throughout high school I was often confronted by my friends with the disarming question: “Are you lesbian?” This question used to send a wave of panic over me. Do I yell and get defensive? I would ask myself. Or do I laugh it off and pretend the question was a joke? I didn’t know if I was lesbian or not. I knew I liked girls, but saying aloud that I don’t like men seemed like a commitment I was not prepared to make — not because I wanted to date men but because I was scared to commit to how people would view me if I came out as a lesbian.
Lesbians face lesbophobia not only from outside of the LGBT community but from inside as well. I recall a conversation between my ex-roommate and her gay friend, in which I overheard him say he would “much rather have a gay son than a lesbian daughter.” My roommate tried to validate his comment, saying he only felt that way because he is a gay man. But I’m more than certain that the sound that wrapped itself around his pronunciation of “lesbian” was one of disgust. It was not just because he was expressing what he was “used to.” That, my friends, is lesbophobia.
Sadly, I expected men to be offended by lesbians. But to know that straight women were also offended by lesbians hurt me in a different way. Were straight women afraid lesbians would objectify them the way men do? Both men and women often mistakenly assume lesbians are trying to take on the role of men. But being a lesbian isn’t at all similar to being a man. Not only are we seen as impostors of women, but we’re seen as inhuman. To men, we’re a forbidden desire and, to straight women, we’re predators.
Being in the locker room, with girls undressing around me, I was scared. Not because I feared what I’d do to them, but because I feared what they’d do to me. I couldn’t be a lesbian. Not because I was certain I liked men as well as girls, but because I didn’t want to be treated as less than human — not by my best friend and especially not by my homophobic mother.
The day that random girl showcased her nipple piercings for the locker room to see, I felt sad. It wasn’t because I didn’t get to see her boobs (OK, maybe that would’ve been nice) but because I felt left out. If I were straight, I wouldn’t have thought twice about looking. I’d be just like the other girls. Instead, I was the one who stuck her head in her locker while dressing. Did they think I was being a prude? Or did they know I like girls and were relieved that I looked away?
Elaina Guerrero writes the Wednesday column on the confines of the gender binary. Contact them at [email protected]