How much truth there is in common beliefs about lesbians?
Who exactly are lesbians? According to the popular definition, they are homosexual women, but they do not like the term. Homosexuality is a medical term that reduces relationship preferences and life choices to sexuality. Homosexuality is a medical term that reduces sexuality to relationship preferences and life choices, but it is not the only issue in close interpersonal relationships, whether bi- or bi-sexual. Sexuality, especially for women, is based on emotions and conscious decisions. That is why people in the LGBT community (which includes Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgendered people, i.e. those who deviate from stereotypical ideas about gender roles) seek to replace the term “sexual orientation” with “psychosexual orientation”. Lesbians are women who find persons of the same sex so attractive – sexually, but above all emotionally and intellectually – that they enter into erotic relationships with them or decide to live together. Women around whom many myths have grown up.
Myth 1: they hate men
One of its versions is the belief that “they had a difficult childhood” – they were hurt, usually by a man, they are somehow “damaged” and therefore prefer to associate with women. Nothing of the sort – lesbians are normal women who love their fathers and brothers, who like and value their male friends and co-workers. Some, like other people, have experienced difficult childhoods. But a parent who was abusive, overly critical, or restrictive of them may have been both a father and a mother. Lesbianism has little to do with childhood – although early experiences in all people leave traces that determine their life paths to some extent. The Polish Sexological Association stresses that the formation of sexual orientation is a complex process and that biological factors play a fundamental role in it, independent of personal choices or social trends. Thus, sexual orientation is conditioned primarily by a combination of specific genes and their interactions, as well as by prenatal development, in which hormones affecting the fetus play an important role. In the case of inherently bisexual people, the preference for people of the same sex is the result of life experiences, certain decisions and sometimes coincidences.
Myth 2: They are male women
Lesbians are as different as any other people. Whether they are more or less feminine depends on the structure of their brain, which is formed during fetal life, on their hormonal balance, which is directed, among others, by the adrenal cortex, as well as on their upbringing and personal choices. Some have a masculine appearance with traits that society considers typically feminine. Some like to put on makeup and follow the latest fashion trends, while others prefer to walk around in sweatshirts and tank tops. Most dress appropriately for the occasion: work-wise, home-wise. Contemporary lesbians are difficult to recognize by their appearance. In the past, in the days of rigid life patterns in which women were either married or single, before the Internet era, they had to clearly mark their identity to find a partner. Now, all they have to do is register on a website or go to a suitable club, and they can wear glans as well as ballerinas.
Myth 3: You are a lesbian once and for all
In the past it was probably easier to classify, recognize, and choose life paths. In our times, the loosening of social norms imposes the so-called erotic plasticity, consisting of changes in sexual preferences under the influence of cultural, social and situational factors. This plasticity is greater among women than men – studies show that women less often than men declare themselves as 100% heterosexual or homosexual. Ladies are not only more likely to describe themselves as bisexual, they are also more likely to take advantage of “romantic opportunities” with people of the same sex – as determined by Elizabeth McClintock, a sociologist at the American University of Notre Dame.
Regardless of the moral turmoil of modern times unleashing female erotic plasticity, it seems there are several types among lesbians:
- Born lesbians who, as teenagers or young women, for example, by painting their eyelashes in front of the mirror, discover: “I am a lesbian.” They tend to limit their sexual contacts to persons of their own sex; their orientation is probably genetically or prenatally determined.
- Lesbians by choice, who for various reasons decide to live with a woman. Because they have fallen in love with a woman – sometimes only after years of living with a husband and raising children together. Because they get along better with women, and they care about partnership in a relationship. Or because, fed up with patriarchal reality, they are looking for the essence of femininity, for themselves, for unconventional possibilities.
- Casual lesbians, who do not mind sexual contacts with women, also do not mind the everyday, socially comfortable life with a man. Such women sometimes sleep with members of their own sex during vacations or conference trips – because with a woman it is “less of a betrayal” than with another man, and the pleasure makes up for any possible remorse.
Sometimes it is also unusual. A man who is in love with a lesbian may pull her out of an unsatisfying single-sex relationship, for a while or forever. A girl who experimented with other girls as a teenager finds a partner as an adult because she wants to have a “normal” family. A young woman hooks up with an undisclosed gay man to give herself time to figure out her preferences and, after a few years, become friendly with him. Our minds like to pigeonhole, but the number of individual motives and life paths is endless.
Myth 4: In relationships one of the women plays the role of the man
The advantage of same-sex relationships is that there is less risk of falling into the trap of cultural patterns, the usual relational ruts. Think of a modern, educated woman who does not feel like explaining to her partner that since she earns as much as he does, she is not going to take on the responsibility for cleaning, cooking and raising children. Many men still live by the program that their female partners “by default” take care of the house and the offspring. Modern women have a choice. They can devote time and energy to tuning their man into the realities of modern life, which require them to share household chores. Or they can associate with a work or party mate with whom they can agree on – who washes the dishes and when, whether and on what terms they buy or prepare dinners, who agrees to do the laundry and who prefers to bring wood to the fireplace.
A sizable group of lesbians are essentially bisexual – meaning that they can live just as well with women as with men. Erotically malleable women choose close relationships with members of their own sex for reasons as much practical as emotional and intellectual. Women are more willing than men to share their inner experience, thoughts, and feelings – and such sharing makes it easier to build a close relationship that can be complemented by shared sex and everyday life. The intimacy created through conversation is so important to women that lesbian relationships can be truly satisfying for them, regardless of their psychosexual orientation. Therefore, lesbians respond to another myth that “a lesbian is a woman who has not yet found the right man” with a myth of their own: “A straight woman is one who has not yet met the right woman.”
Myth 5: they quickly “fall” into intimacy and shared daily life, which destroys their erotic life!
“What do lesbians do on a second date? – One moves in with the other,” is a popular joke among lesbians, reflecting the supposed dynamics of their relationships. Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel has described the relationship between intimacy, associated with a sense of belonging and security, and sexual desire, aroused through distance and a sense of otherness. In her view, the more intimacy there is in a relationship, the less erotic arousal and fulfillment there is. According to Pepper Schwartz, an American sociologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, female relationships often suffer from “lesbian bed death,” in which partners have sex less frequently than other couples. However, the lesbian community and research deny this claim, and Perel argues that sexual decline applies to any relationship in which the sense of security that comes from emotional and intellectual togetherness becomes more important than nurturing the partners’ individuality and independence, regardless of their gender.
Myth 6: Their relationships don’t last long
Possible “bed death” seems quite bearable when compared to other obstacles standing in the way of happiness for loving women. Many lesbians are afraid of coming out, i.e. of socially declaring their preferences. Not all lesbians are educated, liberated, and confident of their professional position. How do you come out as a teacher or a clerk living in a village or a small town in a society that usurps the right to regulate women’s reproductive activity? A relationship whose identity is not socially validated is more difficult to maintain than one that is universally accepted – so there is a grain of truth in the myth about the length of relationships.
Another obstacle is the situation of women in a social world that still prefers men and discriminates against the female sex. Girls are trained from an early age to be submissive, to care about the opinion of others, to not express their own needs. Women find it more difficult than men to explore their preferences and defy those around them. Straightening up, taking a deep breath and declaring: “I live with a woman, I am a lesbian,” requires a great deal of courage that is not available to everyone. It is not without reason that there are more openly gay men in Poland (and in the world) than lesbians. We know that Tomasz Raczek, Jacek Poniedziałek and Robert Biedroń are gay. And lesbians do not seem to exist. The double discrimination that comes with being a woman and a member of a sexual minority makes it more difficult for lesbians to fight for their rights. It also makes it relatively common for lesbians to suffer from anxiety and affective disorders, addictions, and other psychological difficulties.
Although in some ways lesbians have it easier than gay men. Unlike men who live in same-sex couples, women can relatively safely walk around town holding hands or hugging affectionately on a park bench – because stereotypes of femininity allow it. Lesbians find it easier than gay men to live together – even if women live together openly, their environment often perceives them as “sisters” or “friends”. It is known that women are “inherently weak”, earn less and have to manage somehow – so since they do not have a man to support them, they are allowed to live under the same roof. Finally, for obvious reasons, lesbians are more likely than gay men to have children, although it can be devilishly difficult for them, too. While it is relatively easy to acquire male genetic material, having a child in a homophobic society where the partner who is not the biological mother is not granted full parental rights is risky.
Myth 7: They go for all women
It’s pretty funny, because trying to get half of humanity into bed would drive anyone crazy. But repeated over and over again, even the most ridiculous myths gain the status of truth. Overwhelmed by them, and at the same time trained to give voice to others, women easily lose the ability to express themselves. Sometimes to the extent that they have trouble revealing their orientation to those closest to them – their families, friends. They lock themselves in a metaphorical closet – in the four walls of self-discrimination, fueled by systemic discrimination. Because in Poland, a country that lives by myths – another says that LGBT people are “a threat to the traditional family” – they still cannot legalize their relationships.
How many lesbians are there? Estimates range from 1.5 percent to as much as 8-10 percent of the female population. The number is hard to determine because many of them live in hiding. It could be a childless neighbor willing to care for her nephews. A committed teacher or local social activist. An environmentalist taking care of the greenery on the estate. An engineer who spends her time inventing useful innovations. A writer who arouses empathy in her readers. A friendly saleswoman at the neighborhood store. Most of us know at least one lesbian, though we often don’t realize it.