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Lesbian is the New Lesbian

Lesbian is the New Lesbian

Writer and Go Magazine editor Diana Cage calls for an end to the media's continual attempt to redefine lesbians via fashion choices. 'The fact is we, and by we I mean dykes, are the only ones who can read each other’s signifiers. There is really no such thing as an unfashionable queer.'

I just read an article in the Village Voice on “the new sexy.”  It was all about how the lesbian aesthetic has changed. Every year some mainstream magazine that wants to seem edgy runs something about how lesbians are hot and they don’t all wear flannel. It’s the only coverage we ever get so I suppose I should be more excited about it.  But it’s always the same idea, and it’s always well-meaning but reductive. I love fashion and queers and anything that explores queer fashion but it sucks that you never see any exploration of queer aesthetics that can’t make a point without setting up an unnecessary dichotomy between women with a more traditional masculine appearance and masculine gendered women who don’t go for the traditional butch aesthetic. Why is that we are still stuck describing what we are by saying what we aren’t?

According to the article, butches are now kind and gentle and can put on liquid eyeliner with as much precision as Dita Von Teese. Last year the same magazine ran essentially the same piece but about femmes. I learned that femmes exist, and they really are gay even though they don’t cut the sleeves off all their shirts.

I’d like to posit something new. Perhaps it’s time we recognized and accepted that masculinity and femininity don’t belong to male and female? By setting up this unnecessary comparison we’re merely reinforcing the idea there’s something wrong with us (or some of us) in the first place. Regardless of which school of fashion you subscribe to dyke style is a complex mix of signifiers, it’s all about attracting who you want to attract. Putting together a hot outfit isn’t about rejecting negative images of lesbians that have flourished in popular culture. I mean, are you really thinking about that when you are putting product in your hair or are you just thinking you hope you get laid at the club?

The fact is we, and by we I mean dykes, are the only ones who can read each other’s signifiers. There is really no such thing as an unfashionable queer. It’s much more interesting to explore the idea that our fashion is so complex that it can’t be pinned down. Queers, by virtue of who we are and who we fuck, or want to fuck, put more time and thought into our clothing choices than anyone.

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Take for instance the leather-clad sadist image that the author brings up as an example of an unfashionable lesbian. Yeah, go ask a leather dyke about her outfit. She probably put more time into choosing that outfit that Patricia Field put into wardrobing the entire cast of Sex and the City. It’s not like she donned those leather chaps and vest out of a disregard for the way she looks. She special ordered her leather vest from the famed leather store Mr. S. It’s essentially couture; she probably had it handmade by Skeeter, the butch dyke leather craft woman to the stars. When she puts that stuff on she’s making a clear statement about what type of dyke she is and what type of dyke she wants to fuck. And the women who know how to read what she’s flagging will flock to her. Understanding fashion, I mean truly understanding it, means having an appreciation for the carefully cultivated aesthetic of flourishing subcultures. Like the way a true Psychobilly enthusiast handpicks the skull barrette to match her handbag, that leather dyke tried on eight different belt buckles before she found the one that tied together her whole outfit.

We need to move beyond these descriptions of ourselves as “lesbians, but not that kind of lesbian.” Statements like that are merely ways we allow ourselves and each other to cling to what is ultimately self-loathing. Each subset of the dyke community has its own set of beauty standards, which will never compare to mainstream beauty standards because we aren’t trying to attract the same type of partner.

There is nothing wrong with subscribing to a mainstream consumerist ideal, and I say consumerist because one interviewee in the article mentioned that she spends her days at the spa rather than hating men--a strange parallelism if I’ve ever heard one, but I’m trying to work with it here. Yes, there’s nothing wrong with that. But the real progress will occur when we are able to describe our appearance without insulting other queer women who choose to dress differently.

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Diana Cage