It seems to be a trend as old as sexualities themselves. From the “lipstick lesbian” and her complementary butch girlfriend, to everyone’s “sassy gay best friend” with feminine mannerisms and a blunt sense of humor, and every harmful image along the way; society has stereotypes that it not only expects, but demands from members of the LGBT+ community. What does this mean? Let’s talk about them.
Stereotypes Facing Lesbians and Gay Women
There are two prevailing images for gay women: either the butch tomboy, or the “lipstick lesbian”—and the two are almost always seen as a matching set, and mutually attracted to the other in almost every situation. This stereotype is very reassuring to people, because it tells us that the gender binary is still intact, even without both genders involved. Further, lesbianism is highly fetishized by men, proven by the recent study put out by PornHub themselves confirming that “lesbian” was the top-searched term in 30 states. I don’t mean to say these stereotypes are bad to replicate; women are free to promote their sexuality however they wish, and some gay women adore portraying the character. A good example of this would be Big Boo (pictured above) from Orange is the New Black—in fact, her character often has to fight to be taken seriously in this butch image. The problem arises when women who don’t abide by these characteristics are not accepted by the LGBT+ community, or find themselves questioned by their friends and family about the validity of their identities.
Stereotypes Facing Gay Men
When it comes to LGBT+ representation, this is the most common example we see—which also means that it’s one of the worst examples. Again, I’m not saying people like Brian Gallivan (pictured above) are wrong by capitalizing on the “feminine gay men” archetype. (Especially when they are as educational and entertaining as Gallivan’s YouTube video commentary on Shakespearean tragedies and other literary controversies.) People are free to express and present themselves however they want. The problem arises when this is the only image accessible to gay men. If new generations of men are raised consuming nothing but these characters, they can refuse to accept their own differing sexualities on the basis that they can’t be gay, because they don’t act or portray themselves like our culture’s proudest conception of homosexuality.
If you’re struggling with these issues, please take a moment to watch Brian Gallivan’s video on coming out as gay, despite these stereotypes, and how “it gets better“.
Stereotypes Facing Bisexual People
Aside from the assumptions that bisexual people must be promiscuous just to fit in all those genders, people expect bisexuality to be like a switch. People can go from being attracted to men, to women, to everything in between as they see fit. However, like I’ve previously written, it doesn’t quite work like that. Attraction may be fluid, but a bisexual person’s desire to have sex with people is a very different concept. Everyone experiences attraction differently, and just because you are attracted to more than one gender does not mean you are sexually attracted to literally everyone.
Stereotypes Facing Transgender and Non-Binary People
When someone’s gender identity clashes with society’s perceptions of them, it causes a lot of backlash—usually culminating in increased rates of mental illnesses and suicide in members of these communities. Yet despite these alarming statistics for transgender and non-binary individuals, people continue to perpetuate harmful slurs and images. This can include the common—and harmful—media trope of cross-dressing as a joke, or the increasing fame and popularity of drag queens. These tropes can be attributed to the importance of allowing people to present and express themselves however they’d like, but it poses similar issues in representation as those for gay men. When these are the only examples given to transgender or non-binary people, they often cannot see themselves. The most important thing to understand when it comes to stereotypes surrounding transgender and non-binary people is the harm that invalidating their identity can have on their mental health—a huge effect that stereotypes can have on people fighting to be heard about their own image and gender identity.
Stereotypes Facing Queer/Questioning People
The most difficult part of questioning your sexuality is the inherent assumption that whatever the outcome is, must be a phase. This adds challenges to younger people exploring themselves and coming to terms with their sexuality, by telling them out-of-hand that this struggle is worthless to anyone but themselves. Not being heterosexual, to our society, is a sin. But to be something other than straight, and without a label? That can make it almost impossible to feel confident and valid in your identity. While there’s been a lot of writing here about the pros and cons to using “queer” as a label, the most important part is to always affirm that the person is valid in their sexuality and expression. No matter what identity, or lack thereof, a person assumes later in life, it’s crucial to denounce these stereotypes and remind questioning and queer people that there’s no “wrong way” to be a person or experience attraction.
Asexual and Aromantic People
Speaking of “wrong ways” to experience attraction, asexuality has some of the hardest stereotypes to shake off. Asexuality is the general lack of sexual attraction. Aromanticism is the same concept, but applied to romantic attraction. Some of the most common stereotypes about asexual people is that they are incredibly introverted loners, who shy away from most social interactions—and this is completely false. Asexual people are varied between introversion and extroversion. Another myth involves the sex lives of asexual people—and the assumption that they cannot have one. While asexual, they can have libidos and sex drives, and might engage in sex for purposes other than attraction, like pleasing their partner or for their own experimentation. The largest stereotypes used to harm asexual people is that they are choosing these behaviors, which is always wrong—please see above comics by Adri from “Adri of the Dead” on Tumblr if you’re wondering why, or for more resources on asexual and aromantic awareness.
No matter what the stereotype in the LGBT+ community, denying someone the freedom to be who they are rather than replicate a social image that everyone feels “more comfortable” with is always harmful. We don’t care about what is palatable or acceptable; we care about who we are and staying true. I hope that’s more important than these cliches.