The uniqueness of the lesbian experience


Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune

Yashvi Rawat, Phoenix Creative

The hardest part about coming to terms with my identity was not accepting that I am attracted to women. It was accepting that I am not attracted to men.

This may sound confusing. Why would one be more difficult to accept than the other?

One reason is that being a lesbian means my sexual orientation is entirely separated from men. It’s no secret that the society we live in largely places a woman’s value based on how appealing they are to men, or whether or not they’re in a relationship with one. In a world that revolves around men, being a lesbian is sometimes viewed as one of the biggest defiances against this idea. Simply being a lesbian may not be a political statement, but sometimes it feels like one.

This partially explains why lesbians’ experiences with compulsory heterosexuality, or comphet, are unique. Comphet is a term coined by essayist Adrienne Rich, and refers to the societal expectations of heterosexuality. This specifically affects women, as they are pushed into heteronormative standards at an extremely young age, leaving many to feel as though they should aim to be both attracted to men and attractive to men. So much media we are exposed to, from magazines to movies, teaches us how to please and appeal to men. This expectation of women runs so deep that often, lesbians feel as though they are unable to love anyone or there is something wrong with them when they are not attracted to men. Many lesbians still experience validation when men are attracted to them. It’s extremely difficult to distinguish that notion from your actual feelings, and as a result, comphet can take years to fully dismantle. Comphet can affect all queer people, especially women, but it causes lesbians to constantly question or feel insecure about their sexuality.

Additionally, it was difficult for me to accept that as a lesbian, I would definitely end up in a queer relationship, if any. Although this is also true for men who are attracted to men, the implications are not comparable. The societal pressure to have biological children is something that men do not have to contend with on the same level. Many lesbians are often led to feel as though they’re disappointing society by not fulfilling their role. This, in part, is why I felt comfortable coming out to my parents when I identified as bisexual, but not as a lesbian.

Even after accepting that I am only attracted to women, it took me a long time to get comfortable calling myself a lesbian. Even now, it feels wrong, as though it’s a bad word I should not say. The word “lesbian” has been given such an unflattering connotation that it felt almost embarrassing to use it to describe myself. This, again, is something that is unique to lesbians. Although other words such as “gay” and “pansexual” have had negative associations in the past, they have been separated from this in a way that the word “lesbian” never did.

Queer experiences can be very similar, but there are unique struggles that people of different sexualities deal with. Rather than always trying to relate to others, it may be more beneficial to simply listen to them instead.