‘You don’t look gay’ and other things people say to me as a lesbian in straight woman drag

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By Joi Miner

“You don’t look gay…” they say, with their faces wrinkled up, trying to find something that’s meant to indicate my sex preference like a Scarlet Letter. Never in all my decades of living have I hated a statement so much. That’s something to say, because I’ve been called my share of insulting things and heard statements that should insight rage and result in physical fights.

This particular one, though, is the bane of my openly same sex loving existence because… what does a gay person look like? Better yet, what does a straight person look like? Now I know, reading this, you have your own ideas, like girls dressing in men’s clothing. Or the lip popping, extra effeminate flamboyant gay man. But there is no one hard and fast indicator of one’s sexual preference. We’re as varied and as blended as the rainbow itself. Even those who fit in those basic gay stereotypes have layers to their preferences that appearance won’t easily reveal. I can tell you, and the world is slowly showing us all, that our preconceived notions can be very, very wrong.

This has been one of the realest struggles for me, since coming out. Looking lesbian. Not the actual being lesbian part, even though that has definitely been its own existential crisis. No, the part where I’m a woman, out in the world, and no one knows it, because— well, I “look straight,” according to societal standards.

I often make the joke that I was born into the worst costume ever, and I say that with the utmost respect for my trans brothers and sisters who adjust their outer appearance to match their truest selves. It only seems right, or some kind of cosmic joke, that I was born on Halloween. I am a lesbian, in straight woman drag. Or at least, that’s how people seem to see me. I mean, I have all the accessories, too. Two daughters, two ex-husbands, a petite figure, soft, feminine features, a badass waist-down model walk, and a closet full of dresses, skirts, leggings and heels.

I’ve tried to change my accessories. I tried boy clothes, but they weren’t flattering to my figure, and boxer briefs aren’t my swag. I did, however, manage to get rid of the ex-husbands, who weren’t truly my flavor anyway… they were really cramping my style. I spend hours a day trying to figure out how to “look” more gay. I sport everything to advertise my gayness from bracelets to gay-centric tees to a rainbow lipstick kiss tattoo on my neck to rainbow hair. Yes, my whole head is rainbow. How much more gay can I look, right? Every time I leave my home, I’m a walking billboard of LGBTQ+ dopeness, the poster child for homosexuality— at least, I think so. Yet and still, I’m the target of ignorance, advances from straight men, and ostracization by my queen peers.

A few years back, I found myself talking with an old school stud outside an SWV concert. I’d been so happy to see another gay person that I’d sparked up conversation with her while we stood outside smoking during intermission. (Finding a lesbian in a crowd is like finding a leprechaun’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when you’re fresh out of the closet.) She, however, thought she was talking to a curious straight woman. As the conversation deepened, I explained to her that I was what is considered an aggressive femme. I told her, in my excitement of representing our community in my writing where our true diversity is rarely showcased, that I’d written a novel called A Stud in Stilettos. The disdain that crossed her face would’ve made one think I’d called her, or worse, her mother, out her name. The words that followed were imprinted in my psyche.

“The only reason you’re even able to call yourself an aggressive femme is because of lesbians like me. I go out every day and catch flack because of how I dress. I paved the way for y’all with all these labels like aggressive femme and stud in stilettos. I wouldn’t have even known you were gay if you hadn’t told me. You’re a lesbian passing as a straight woman. You’re hiding and safe from what I have to deal with when I go out like this,” she said, motioning her hands over her men’s clothing.

My smile dropped from my face as the shock settled in and my hopes of camaraderie through gayness were deflated. I wasn’t trying to be her best friend or anything, but I assumed that we’d at least have some kind of kinship through similarity of struggle. I was left even more confused when her partner walked up to us and she looked even straighter than me, by her own standards, if looking straight while gay was a real thing.

I don’t know what hit harder, that not only did I look straight to straight people, or that I looked straight to queer people, too. In that moment, I realized that, no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake this straight label. It’s even been an issue in dating. I’ll smile at a woman, and she’ll think that I’m queerious and wanting to taste the rainbow then skip back across it. I have to approach them on a “Which is your fave, The L-Word or OITNB” vibe for them to get my drift.

From the outside looking in, no one would know that I’m a flaming stud in stilettos. I’m the epitome of the phrase “looks can be deceiving,” and I can’t tell you how many people judge this book by its cover… daily.

But when you crack open this book, you find yourself engulfed in an engaging tale of closeted misery and sexual confusion, chock full of adversaries to my preference, on both sides of the rainbow, and the final triumphant ending of a woman stepping out into the world as her whole self, who continues to have to wage the battle between her preference and appearance.

I am paving the way, with other feminine lesbians, shattering one preconceived notion at a time. We really need capes and our own superhero theme song for the number of villains we take down in a day. All while sporting our straight woman drag of six-inch heels, minis, crop tops, leggings and cute tees.

So now, when they come to me with my most hated line, the conversation goes a bit differently…

“You don’t look gay…” they say.

“You don’t look straight…” I respond, with a smirk, watching their eyes bulge out of their skulls.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” they ask, ready to fight in defense of their sexual preference.

“The same thing it meant when you let that foolishness fly out of your mouth towards me,” I reply with a shrug, letting the brevity of the ignorance of their judgmental statement sink in, before continuing on with my day.

Joi Miner is a full-time author-preneur, editor, performance poet, storyteller, and sexual assault and domestic violence activist who loves spending time with her family, hosting shows, and listening to good music. The mother of two beautiful daughters, she’s from Montgomery, AL and currently resides in Birmingham, AL.

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