Welcome to OutWrite’s “From the Archive” series! This series is designed to provide an opportunity to interact with our organization’s archives, assess the opinions and relevance of our past content, and bring that content into the present. In doing so, this series will applaud, critique, and put into conversation ideas of the past with present ideologies and dialogues. Overall, we at OutWrite hope this new series opens up conversations and helps us reconnect with the past while striving for a better future.
*The following article no longer serves to represent the thoughts of the organization today.*
TenPercent Winter 2003: Finding and Maintaining Identity in the Queer Spectrum
Too Femme To Fit
By Norel Licudine
Two people who identify as femme talk about their experiences along with insight from Ronni Sanlo
While panning through a crowd of fellow gay people at a local bar, club, coffee shop, or even bookstore, do you ever feel as though you don’t meet the criteria of a desirable gay person? Do you appear, speak, or even dress the way that you feel pressured to? Or do you tend to overlook those who are not as stereotypically gay in comparison to yourself?
Is this desire for acceptance just experienced in the queer community or is this a universal experience? It seems that acceptance within any type of social group is important to most people––especially when first establishing their identity in that group.
Some who have recently come out with their sexuality feel required to portray a false image of themselves in order to physically mark themselves as gay. Pressures to fit a certain stereotypical image seem to plague many members of the gay community on one level or another.
They say that you can tell a lot about people simply by looking at them. While looking at Meranda Mendoza, 26, on the third level patio of her office building, I began to wonder what types of assumptions people may make simply looking at this self-described feminine lesbian.
TenPercent Does anyone ever question your sexuality because you don’t resemble the lesbian stereotype?
Meranda Am I stereotyped? Yes, everyday. This morning a mail deliverer came in and we were casually talking and I said that I hadn’t been to the movies in a while. He said, “Well you should go to the movies more often.” By his tone of voice and his facial expression I could tell he was about to ask me out. I said, “You know, I have to tell my girlfriend to take me to the movies more often.” He said, “Oh” and quickly walked away. It happens to me every day because I do not fit the stereotypical image of what a lesbian is supposed to look like. People tend to assume I am straight because of the way I look.
TP How do you choose to out yourself to others?
M [When] I choose to out myself it is mainly at clubs. When people see me there they may not think I’m actually gay. I think I’m not approached because other gay people may assume that I’m the “supportive sister or friend” who is accompanying a gay person that night. I think people are apprehensive to approach me, even to just talk because they think I am femme and because I have a wedding band on my hand they assume I’m straight and married. But no, [the band means] I’m in a lesbian relationship…
A coworker across the hall from Meranda, Armando Suarez, 23, has been no stranger to the pressures of trying to fit an ideal image of the “perfect” gay male. Fortunately, Armando’s personality has not been dampened by the pressures he had once received from different social groups.
Ten Percent Have you ever felt excluded because of stereotypes within the queer community?
Armando I identify myself as being femme but also being a boy. I’ve noticed that if you are a butch gay man then that’s fine––[it’s] no problem, but if you’re femme then certain people have a problem. They think that just because a gay man is femme they are flaunting their sexuality which means sleeping with everyone. [That’s] a stereotype right there.
When I go to clubs and see other men who fit this perfect image of how the “ideal” gay man should look, act, and dress, I feel somewhat uncomfortable but ultimately I know they are in the same boat as I am. They may be a little bit manlier than me but they are living the same life that I am.
The Educator’s Take
Ronni Sanlo, Ed.D is the Director of the LGBT Resource Center at UCLA and has her own views surrounding the pressures of acceptance within the queer community.
TenPercent Why do you think some people attempt to modify their self as a means of finding acceptance within the queer community?
Ronni Sanlo, Ed.D In terms of acceptance there are multitudes of theories on sexual identity development. What nearly everyone agrees on is that there is a natural progression [of development] that happens [to most people] when they come out and acknowledge who they are. They generally merge themselves into the gay community, become totally queer, and then everything in the heterosexual community becomes bad.
Therefore, this influences them and that is generally when we see a lot of gay men acting in a very feminine way but not feminine as part of who they are, but as an exaggerated display. Women do exactly the opposite, ultimately becoming far more butch in manner and appearance. Some people remain in that stage for a period of time and they eventually leave that stage for something that is much more comfortable for them. But generally, when we see people in college we very often see them in stage three or stage four [of a 6-stage development process developed by Vivian Cass].
TP According to your knowledge, what exactly are these “stages” of sexual identity development?
RS Stage one is a place of awareness, when people do not want to be different from anyone else so they keep themselves in a very personal closet. The theory is that if someone stays in that place and forecloses in stage one then they are the ones who may become perpetrators, those who suppress their feelings in a negative way.
Stage two is when a person wants to know more information about their feelings. Here they begin seeking a reflection of themselves somewhere. But are still not really out, although they may have told a friend or someone they trust.
In stage three they become more comfortable with themselves but are still very closeted. In fact, some might even still be heterosexually married or may have heterosexual partners, although they are closeted still. People can live their lives in stage three forever.
In stage four people begin coming out and start emerging––as themselves in the community, while at the same time taking on the aspects of being gay.
It is during stage five that you see intense pride. This is where you see leaders of student organizations and people marching out in the streets.
Finally, stage six is where everything just sort of comes together at once. The sexual, spiritual, mental, and physical, all of the identities that we have about ourselves sort of come together in very integrated fashion so that our sexual identity is really just a precious part of who we are… not the main focus.
TP Why do you think there is that type of pressure within a group of people who are trying to find acceptance themselves?
RS I think that the pressure comes from having to hide who we are so often and for some people so long, that many struggle with the pressure. It is a self-imposed pressure based on what we know of people experiencing harassment and rejection from family, loved-ones, and religious institutions. When emerging one’s self into this coming out process there is almost a need and a desire to say, ‘the heck with what everyone else thought about me’ and ‘the heck with what everyone expected of me. I am going to be my own self.’ And then we start looking for other people who are like ourselves and that is when we end up going to bars, partying, etc. … so I think that this “effectual stuff” is really a way that we act out. I think it is a positive [form of] acting out, actually, and this is how we show others who we are so that we can attract other people who are like ourselves.
TP Do you think these people are aware that they may be excluding others or making them feel “not gay enough?”
RS If I am a person excluding another it is not because I am thinking about you whatsoever, it is because I am thinking about my comfort level that I am trying to maintain, not yours. Therefore, what I have to be willing to do is accept you for who you are. That is really what I think the whole civil rights movement was about… people accepting people for who and what they are. If your presence disturbs me, I have the responsibility to look within myself to understand why your presence disturbs me. It is not your problem. It is my problem. But that requires a lot of courageous soul searching that many aren’t willing to do.
Finding approval within any type of social group can be challenging. Since grammar school, most people have found it hard to fit-in with the “cool” crowd. In addition to these feelings of inadequacy, stereotypes within the queer community seem to further perpetuate this type of acceptance seeking. These issues don’t even tackle the transgendered who also may have great difficulty finding acceptance. There is not one specific type of gay person. The queer community and communities in general consist of diversity and it is time to begin simply accepting people for who they are?
*Commentary and analysis to come*