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In June, Metro magazine ran a piece about Auckland's "glamourous" lesbians, titled "Women in Love". The women interviewed were chosen by no criteria other than that they were attractive, and more specifically, they looked straight. It was a shallow, tired piece with naive reporting and some invasive personal questions. And on the whole, it was received negatively by the lesbian community. It's no wonder, really. We're tired of being reduced to a stereotype, to being sexualised, to being put in the "they're just like us and you wouldn't even know if they were sitting next to you" box. There was no angle, no insight, nothing new.
I know that Donna Chisholm, the reporter (and editor-at-large) received a lot of flak about the piece. So much so that she asked one of the women she'd interviewed to write in to Metro, defending it. This was firmly declined. What cheek! The interviewees themselves felt they had been totally misrepresented, and many of them had also been receiving flak from their peers (granted some of them had said some pretty dumb shit). The next month, Metro claimed they'd only received one letter to the editor about the issue. A likely story.
My girlfriend and I decided that they needed to be held accountable for perpetuating myths and generalisations about gay and bisexual women, if only in a small way. We chose 4 women who we felt would have something interesting to say about the matter. Three of them (including me) active in the queer community - organisers and volunteers for various queer events and services. And one other, who had been interviewed for the Metro piece and welcomed the chance to speak up about it.
We asked them their response to the piece, their opinion on the wider reporting about gay and bisexual women in mainstream media, and other questions about their sexuality. Nothing like "Are you the top or the bottom in the bedroom?", which it was rumoured had been one of the Metro questions. We wanted a positive look at the experiences and unique viewpoints of these women.
Then we had a photo shoot. We asked them to wear their "gayest" outfit. Metro magazine, we felt , had tried to homogenize the women, to 'de-gay' them in a way. To present them as objects for the male gaze. They had shut down any room for a wider interpretation of sexuality and the physical presentation of that. They chose "straight" looking women, like you could define what a straight woman looks like. As we expected, even with the four of us wearing our "gayest" outfits, I'm sure that in wider culture if we were walking down the street we each would have been assumed to be heterosexual. Or not thought of at all. It was our way to discuss the point that sexuality can not be put into boxes, labelled, described in any definite terms.
It was published in Express, Auckland's gay magazine. It won't get the exposure of Metro, of course. Most people won't even know we did it. But we did do it. We did it for us, and for every gay or bisexual woman who has faced those questions ("Who wears the pants?" "Can I watch?" "How do lesbians 'do it' anyway?"). And even the questions that are less stupid, on the surface, but just as tiring ("Do you get hit on by guys all the time?" "How do guys react when they find out?") Guys, it's not about guys. Contrary to what many people seem to think, being a lesbian has nothing to do with men.
We sent it to Donna Chisholm. So far, no response. I was nervous about sending it to her. It's frightening to stand up against a bigger, stronger person (in this case Metro/an editor/an awarded reporter). To stand up for something you believe in and say "Hey! Bully! I don't like what you did and I'm telling you about it". You leave yourself wide open for a figurative punch in the nose back. Perhaps there will be no response, no impact of this small article. Expect for the pride we get in ourselves. Except for the supportive Facebook comments from our friends. But someone has to do something, and sometimes that someone is you. Because just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so does a revolution start with a single idea, and a single voice. When these small rumblings of disapproval and disappointment join together, they become strong. And they are what slowly change the world and the people in it.