Spaces LBT+ Space Internalised lesbophobia and me By Elle Lapsen Do you flinch every time you hear the word ‘lesbian’ even though you identify as one? Or maybe you feel the need to be straight, faking crushes on men and telling straight people you find men attractive. Maybe you’re accepting of others who identify as lesbians but you can’t find self-acceptance. Maybe you’re terrified of others’ reactions to your coming out, so you just never do it. Maybe you feel like you’re faking being a lesbian somehow. Maybe you feel wrong or predatory every time you’re attracted to a girl and want to flirt with her. Or maybe you do and feel all of these things. If that sounds like you, you’re probably experiencing internalised lesbophobia, and you’re not alone. This was (and sometimes still is) me, too. Like many other lesbians, there came a time when I knew I was ‘different.’ For me, it was in middle school when all my friends were obsessing over One Direction and the one new kid in our tiny private school grade. I just didn’t get it. I’d giggle along to pictures of shirtless male celebrities but found nothing about them attractive. I’d spit out the name of the boy least likely to get me teased for in our grade when it came time to reveal my ‘crush’ in truth or dare, but something was always missing. The celebrities just weren’t attractive, and how could you want to date someone twice your age, anyway? I mean, that’s just creepy, right? And for the boys in our grade, well, I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get anything re: boys. Part of that, as I would discover later, is because I’m on the asexual and aromantic spectrum. The other part, which came to me sooner, is that I didn’t like boys that way. I knew about the LGB part of LGBTQ+ from Tumblr, my parents, and school. I knew that gay people could get married in my state but that we were one of only a handful at the time that had legalized same-sex marriage. I knew that when I was in fourth grade, we had a class meeting where the one openly gay teacher talked to us about his partner, but he seemed nervous the entire time and being gay was hardly ever brought up again. I knew that my middle school wouldn’t let us have a Gay-Straight Alliance because it ‘wasn’t an educational club.’ Admittedly, that changed the year after I graduated and went to high school, but still. That denial made an impression on 13 year old me who was just beginning to question her identity. I decided I was bisexual, because I should like men, right? Every other girl does. And I’ve never dated a guy, so maybe they’ll get better as they get older? And here is where my internalised lesbophobia began. For some reason, I was convinced that I didn’t want to be and shouldn’t be a lesbian. I’m not sure where I got that from, maybe I saw lesbophobic media or something, but regardless, lesbian seemed like a dirty word. Even though there were plenty of people identifying as lesbians on Tumblr, being bisexual seemed safer and ‘cooler.’ I told one of my friends and then my mom that I was bisexual, and both were accepting, but I had a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that I wasn’t really bi. Then came high school, and with it more knowledge of the rest of the LGBTQ+ community. I found out about pansexuality and asexuality, and changed over to those labels. I joined my high school’s GSA and found other openly queer people for the first time in my life. I had my first ever relationship, and one with a girl no less. I broke it off within a month. But hey, at least I confirmed that I liked girls. But something still felt off. I was comfortable with being somewhere on the asexual spectrum. I was comfortable with being queer and liking girls...or was I? Pansexual, like bisexual, felt like a safer and more acceptable label, but it also didn’t feel quite right. That feeling I’d been shoving in a box in the back of my mind since eighth grade found its way out. I really wasn’t attracted to guys. I knew some nonbinary people, and I wasn’t attracted to them either. I was attracted to girls. I would see a girl and think ‘oh, she’s pretty’ in the gay way, not the I-want-to-be-you way. But I’d shove it down. I still didn’t want to be called or consider myself a lesbian. It wasn’t until I went to my first Pride parade in 2015, right after same-sex marriage had been legalized everywhere in the US, that I started to accept myself as a lesbian. Where I’m from, the ‘Dykes on Bikes’ always begin the parade. It’s as awesome as it sounds—a bunch of beautiful dykes on bikes with engines that make your ears hurt racing around the parade route. And 14 year old me was awestruck. Here were women unafraid to be lesbians, hell, dykes, reclaiming a slur and looking badass while doing it. From there, it got easier to accept myself. I ended up dating here and there. I had a love-hate relationship with leading my high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance but learned some great skills along the way. I’m now a sophomore in college, where I have a couple of wonderful and supportive lesbian friends. I also help lead a group specifically for folks on the ace and/or aro spectrum. This isn’t to say that I’m ‘cured’ of my internalised lesbophobia or that I don’t have moments where I still question myself. But I’ve found peace with and acceptance of my lesbian identity. It took a long time, and it’s still a work in progress. But now I know: ‘lesbian’ isn’t a dirty word, no one can change the fact that I’m a lesbian, and women are beautiful—that includes you, trans women! And to any other lesbians out there struggling with internalised lesbophobia: you are not alone. You’re a real lesbian, you’re valid, and you matter. Self-acceptance takes time and patience, lots of it. And you will accept yourself eventually. Until then, be gentle with yourself, be kind to yourself, and don’t be afraid to reach out for support. I’ve linked some resources below, so please use them if you need to. What next? Support Switchboard has an LGBTQ+ helpline. Call them at 0300 330 0630. LGBT Foundation also has an advice, support, and information line at 0345 3 30 30 30 If you think therapy might be right for you, PinkTherapy has a directory of LGBTQ+-friendly therapists. ELOP has a variety of services for LGBTQ+ folks. The LGBT HERO forums are a great place to talk it out and get support. LGBT HERO also has a list of spaces that are catered to LBT+ women.