I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a woman posting a picture of herself kissing a friend on the lips during a night out — and many of them have boyfriends.
“It’s with another girl,” people will all too often say. “That’s not cheating.”
But this concept, however seemingly benign, demeans relationships between women. If kissing your friend in a bar “doesn’t count,” then what makes physical affection in lesbian relationships “count?”
While this isn’t the fault of straight women, men often fetishize lesbians for their own sexual gratification. To them, lesbians are simply an aesthetic, something to watch and consume. And the more men seem to express interest in woman-on-woman affection, the more straight women will play into that interest. The cycle continues.
And this is happening across the country.
According to Pornhub’s 2022 Year in Review, the most searched word in the U.S. was “lesbian” — and that’s not because the 0.7% of Americans who identify as lesbian are watching porn all day. “Lesbian” is also ranked fourth in the world for most searched categories and is the most popular search term among men.
Experimenting and being affectionate with your friends is perfectly normal. I’m not going to tell a woman that she can’t kiss her friend. But when women eroticize lesbian relationships to turn straight men on, that’s when it hurts queer people like me.
Growing up gay, the thought of even hugging my friends terrified me. I didn’t want them to think that I was into them or anything. It took me until the age of 20 to feel comfortable showing my friends physical affection — and even now, I sometimes catch myself flinching.
I’m not alone. I’ve spoken to other lesbians who have felt the same way. It’s all fun and games when straight women post pictures of themselves making out in a dive bar, but homophobia denies us that same liberty.
And the fetishization of women isn’t confined to nightlife — it’s leached into mass media too. Growing up, most lesbian relationships on TV or social media were one-dimensional, sexualized relationships.
It gets to you. It tells you that you will never be in a real relationship. That you can’t have what your straight friends have.
And that takes a toll on queer women. People who reported more internalized homophobia also reported higher stress and lower relationship quality, according to Medical News Today.
It doesn’t matter if you have supportive people around you when the world is constantly telling you it’s not real.
Think about what you are doing and saying for a moment before you do it or post it. Not everything that seems meaningless really is.
Amy Maslin is a sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org