The other night I was at a party, where I saw somebody I haven't seen since high school. Let's call him Flobberwobberbobberbobberbobber (+10 if you get the reference, +100 if you can say it out loud without cracking a smile). At some point, the inevitable happened: I made a passing reference to an ex-girlfriend, and Flobberwobberbobberbobberbobber said, “So are you gay now?”
That kind of phrasing sets off all manner of alarm bells, but the simplest answer is “yes”. Of course, this led to a barrage of inane questions, which I really didn't feel like answering. (Mad props to my homies in the house who jumped straight to my defense with the usual inversions: “How long have you been straight?”) Later on, I'm pretty sure he was trash-talking me to a good friend, who also defended me like the absolute brick he is.
It would be nice to say that this is the worst I've ever gotten from a straight dude, that I've never been treated like a performing seal or been called unpleasant names or come close to getting the snot beaten out of me on account of my sexuality. It would be nice, but if I said that I would be a lying liar who lies.
All of this harassment, without exception, has come from men.
Some of these men were bullies; some of them were merely ignorant but well-intentioned; they are all products of a culture that tells men they can belittle women's sexuality with impunity. That tells men all valid sex revolves around men's sexuality. That tells men gay women are putting it on to titillate men. That teaches men to question a gay woman's very existence, because it doesn't make any sense that women can have desires and attractions that don't involve men in some way, so any woman claiming to do so is at best a divertissement for men's amusement and at worst a pervert (yes, I've been called that – for holding hands with my girlfriend in public).
What does it feel like to be told, implicitly or explicitly, that your existence is invalid?
It feels like shit.
The only time a woman has made me feel this bad was when a conservative Christian friend lent me a charming book called Blame it on the Brain, which purports to offer solutions to problems like depression, alcoholism, and homosexuality through a cobbled-together mess of dubious neuroscience and Scripture. How much it hurts when people use my faith, the God whom I love and trust with everything I am, to invalidate me is a whole other story. In the secular world, though, women don't doubt other women's sexuality, because we know from our lived experience that, contrary to the teachings of the kyriarchy, women are sexual beings just as much as men are. Some women, of course, are asexual, as are some men; but among those of us who are sexual, some of us are gay. Yes, really.
We're not doing it to get your attention. We're not doing it to play hard to get. We're not doing it because we feel a feminist's obligation to reject men even though we secretly want them. We're doing it because it's who we are.
When you are part of a marginalized group, your oppressors put you in a neat little damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't snare. When a member of the oppressing majority asks a question that displays eir astonishing, breath-taking ignorance, like “how long have you been gay?”, ey's putting the onus on you to educate em. You can refuse, knowing that ey will probably not bother with the five minutes of googling needed to self-educate, and so you are leaving em in ignorance; or you can oblige, and feel as though you are there purely for the convenience of the oppressor: you're the Magical Minority!
What I want from my oppressors is simple. I don't want to have to justify myself to you. I don't want to hear you say you've “turned” lesbians, or to put up with your sexual advances after I've made it clear that I am not interested. I don't want to feel like I have to educate you, and I don't want to have to be defended by my straight friends. I definitely don't want to have to run away so I can keep my face the way it is. When you do this stuff to me, you make me feel as if I am less of a person than you.