“Lipstick Lesbian” Women Struggle With Prejudice

Ori and Tina, two Israeli Femme lesbian women, talk about the prejudice, the stigma and the misconceptions they face on a regular basis, from the gay and straight community alike, just because they don’t look like the common ‘lesbian type.’

Ori Berwald-Shaer (left) and Tina Bruzel.

“Lipstick Lesbian is a lesbian woman who is considered feminine by all gender characteristics society has given to a female”, explains Tina Bruzel, 22. “In this sense, I can say that I have characteristics that society has defined as feminine- wearing dresses, high heels, putting on makeup and being strict on personal care.”

Some will add that the definition also refers to attraction to Femme lesbian, but it seems that the interpretation of that is circumstantial. “I define and experience myself as Femme, but I assume that there are all sorts of concepts behind this definition.” says Ori Berwald Shaer, 29, from Tel Aviv. “I’m attracted to people of all sorts. In my past I was with women who were considered feminine, but today I am in a relationship with a ‘butch lesbian’ woman and I think sexuality is something flexible and variable.”

“I do not need social approval from anyone, I know who I’m attracted to, but certainly my feminine look is causing doubts among people about my sexual orientation,” Ori adds. “A week ago I went to a pub and a guy hit on me. I told him I was engaged to my woman and he said: But you’re not lesbian. I replied that I was bisexual. I don’t think this would ever happen to my fiancé. Nobody doubts her lesbianism while I have to give explanations, so to speak. ”

Are Femmes identified in society with certain features?

“People tend to mix feminine appearance with characteristics, which happens not only in the gay community,” says Bruzel. “They think you’re more delicate, fragile, maybe can’t stand up for yourself. This is not the most popular view, but it’s definitely there.”

Apart from the questions or doubts about attraction to women, it seems that lipstick lesbian women and LGBT women with Femme visibility are particularly oppressed , as there are still those who find it difficult to imagine a Femme woman who is obstinate or careerist in Israeli society. “I like to put on lipstick, wear a skirt or a fancy dress, and at the same time I like getting an education and career in academia,” says Berwald-Shaer. “A feminine appearance is not necessarily indicative of weakness or engaging in the domestic sphere. This is an approach people should get rid of. ”

It seems that feminine visibility brings out certain connotations when it comes to expectations and sexual practices. “There are those who recognize Femme as weak. I’ll be a bit blunt and say penetrated,” says Berwald-Shaer. “The fact that I’m Femme does not mean I want to be penetrated exclusively or penetrated at all. The thing that infuriates me is that when the subject comes to roles in relationships or to sex, there is an expectation for the classic social roles. This is a reproduction of patriarchy, in a negative way when I think about Butch-Femme relations in the community. Even Butch lesbians like to be penetrated. Sexuality is a complex thing and this is where I am striving, to break the expectations society has of us, expectations that do not necessarily correspond to reality “.

The difficulty in getting to know women in the lesbian community is well known and felt, but it seems that beyond the difficulty of access to each other, the image of “Lipstick Lesbian” enlarges the difficulty and often raises questions and erroneous conclusions. “The question that arises for me is whether I belong to the community, or those who think I’m confused or that I want to experiment,” says Bruzel. “They tell me: So you’re surely not a lesbian, you’re bisexual – which is a biphobic and stigmatizing thing to say, as if a lesbian woman can’t look feminine. There is uncertainty about you and it’s very noticeable. Usually my answer is: no, I am not experimenting, this is the look that I love and this is who I am. At first the questions really annoyed me, but I finally realized that they did not come from malice, they come out of curiosity and it’s okay to ask. I think I got used to it. ”

“In the past I’ve gotten into tailored shirts and tried to copy the stereotype lesbian visibility , but I didn’t feel comfortable,” recalls Berwald-Shaer. “After a long time I now understand that I must not abandon what feels comfortable. I don’t ‘look like,’ and this, for me, is the sad part of the Femmes. On one hand, the comments my partner gets as Butch are severely threatening and invasive. On the other hand, I don’t accept such comments, but the problem is that I don’t want to walk down the street passing as a straight woman. In this sense Femmes are almost transparent, we are not seen, not by women in the community and not in the public sphere in general. ”

It seems that the stigmas and stereotypes often seep into frameworks that aspire to liberalism and openness of mind. In a world of expectations and definitions, basic questions concerning the study of self may be lost. “Pick the visibility that is comfortable for you and signs that are easy for you,” concludes Berwald-Shaer. “It’s OK to be a Femme who likes to be penetrated, but this is not mandatory. It happens that women reconsider after an act and realize that they did things that were not pleasant for them, that the sexual practice expected of them, for example, is not theirs. No one talks about it, the furthest we got was this talk about cultivation habits, but about the sex no one speaks, and here lies the problem “.