It’s 2016 and same-sex marriage is legal in my entire country. Rainbow flag filters adorn profile pictures and Pride has morphed from a protest march to a corporate and police sponsored parade. It’s certainly easier to be out now than it was in the 90s.
So why does lesbianism or queer women’s sexuality seem so invisible? Where are the lesbian sitcoms on network television? Where can I find a Real Lesbian Housewives reality show? Where is the pansexual femme fatale of my action movie dreams?
Bisexuality and pansexuality are largely erased within the broader culture (and some of the gay community too). People “in the middle” get defined by attraction to men. A woman who likes men – no matter how little – is “really” straight. A man who likes men – no matter how little – is “really” gay. Attraction to women is either seen as masculine and heterosexual or as not real. In the grossest cases, attraction to women is objectified and pornified for the straight male gaze. (I cannot express how much my lesbianism is not about turning men on.)
There is virtually no respect for the love and relationships that women can have with each other. We’re a punch line or a fetish, not women in love and lust with one another. Same-sex relationships between women are mocked or ignored, and the natural language of that love is distorted.
When straight women call their close friends “girlfriend” it contributes to the erasure of queer women and our love. Men don’t call their close friends “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”. Those words signify romantic relationships, not simply intimacy. But this trend of queer women erasure has been going on for at least twenty years.
It has now reached the ridiculous point where actual girlfriends, romantically partnered women, are not understood to be actual real girlfriends. Instead they are “gal pals”. A few months back I injured myself laugh-sobbing as celebrity press reported that openly bisexual Kristen Stewart checked into a couples-only resort “with her gal pal”.
I do suspect that a minority of “straight” women calling their gal pals “girlfriend” aren’t entirely straight after all. Concepts like appropriation get weird with issues of self-identity like sexuality. But even queer people can engage in queer erasure. Reserving the word “girlfriend” for romantic partners is good whatever their true, possibly fluid, orientation.
I recognize that a word or phrase is needed to describe the particularly intimate, platonic love women can more freely have with one another, in this rigidly gendered and homophobic world we live in. I nominate “bosom friends”, a nod to literary heroine Anne Shirley of the Green Gables novels. Bosom is a fantastic word, and the passionate friendship modeled by Anne and Diana is something all gal pals can aspire to.