JoJo Siwa represents many lesbians who are uncomfortable with the word “lesbian.” In an interview with Yahoo, JoJo said, “I don’t like the word [lesbian] itself. It’s just like a lot.”
The word ‘lesbian’ simply describes a female homosexual, which JoJo acknowledges, but she cringes at the thought of being called one. “At the end of the day, that’s what I am. … It’s like the word moist. It’s just like … ugh!”
JoJo doesn’t have a problem with being homosexual, she just prefers being called ‘gay.’ When talking about coming out, she said, “If the world would’ve worked out for me to come out sooner, then I totally would’ve, but I never felt a need to. I never even really, I guess, realized that I was gay until I realized I was gay. … If I could go back in time and change anything, I don’t think I would.”
In fact, JoJo sees herself as someone living authentically to who she is, despite choosing to be referred to as the vague, male-centering ‘gay’ rather than the more accurate ‘lesbian’. “I am most unapologetic about who I am, about who I love, about what I think, what I feel,” she says. “I’m just now realizing that, like, I don’t need other people’s approval to cut my hair; other people’s approval to love who I want. I need my approval, and that sometimes is the hardest one to get.”
JoJo isn’t alone. The distaste for ‘lesbian’ isn’t just a sensory problem, even if she since clarified it was, because many lesbians struggle with the word. So, why? Why doesn’t it “flow off the tongue”?
We can’t get comfortable with what we can’t see and the word ‘lesbian’ is consistently erased. Julia Robertson mentions, in The Velvet Chronicle, a study that “[displayed] graphs demonstrating how many times HRC and GLAAD—among other major organizations who claim to represent lesbians—actually use the word “lesbian.”
You guessed it – ‘lesbian’ was rarely written. “The study found the word lesbian was rarely used in major “LGBTQ” annual reports. “LGBTQ” publications and media often redact the word lesbian, and some have even gone further, describing the word lesbian with unflattering descriptors, such as “stale” and “stodgy.””
Robertson addresses the ‘lesbian’ hate: “In a 1992 Lesbian Avengers documentary, Rachel Shearer says, “Lesbian isn’t even a word people are comfortable using.”… It’s 2018, and, apparently, people still aren’t comfortable with using the word lesbian.”
Even lesbians from history have their lesbianism erased for more palatable descriptions. In 2018, Anne Lister, known as the “first [documented] modern lesbian,” whose life is the topic of the television series Gentleman Jack, was tributed in a plaque that only mentioned her gender non-conformity. An online petition outlined how it has “nothing to do with her sexuality.”
“An online petition set up by Julie Furlong calling on York Civic Trust to change the wording has attracted more than 2,500 signatures,” according to the BBC. “The petition said: “Anne Lister was, most definitely, gender non-conforming all her life. She was also, however, a lesbian. Don’t let them erase this iconic woman from our history.”
If ‘lesbian’ isn’t being erased, then it’s being fetishized. It’s having all the richness sucked out by the vampire that is patriarchy; it’s being reduced to a male fantasy. ‘Lesbian’ is the most searched porn category. Not ‘queer’, not ‘gay women’ – ‘lesbian’.
Some lesbians even lean into lesbian fetishization as a stream of income, unfortunately. Lea DeLaria, who played butch Big Boo on Orange is the New Black, has written lesbian erotica for YouPorn. Sure, it’s not the same as making movies for the site. But YouPorn, like PornHub, easily allows for underage, trafficked or generally nonconsensual sex to be uploaded — as well as operating as a dumping ground for lesbian fetishism. Writing for them supports them.
The pornographic fetishization of lesbians slinks into our daily lives. Morgan Paul, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Women’s Center, warns the public not to mistake fetishization for acceptance.
“I find it crucial that we first separate acceptance from fetishization,” Paul says. “Their sexuality is not accepted, they are instead seen as objects that are simply putting on a show for the enjoyment of those watching (specifically straight men). Fetishization reduces these women to things that are only wanted for consumption by a privileged group.”
Pornographic fetishization manifests in boldly lesbophobic comments from straight men (and straight women!). “I’ve heard many men say things like “She just hasn’t had the good D” or “She’s never even been with a man,”” Paul continues. “To this I always ask if they’ve been with a man and the men get very defensive and tell me that they don’t need to try it because they know they’re straight.”
The confidence that straight people have, in treating lesbians like they’re consumable sex objects, comes down to the fact that we’re viewed as unnatural, circus-like displays for male entertainment.
“This illustrates how they don’t see these women as human beings capable of making their own decisions but instead as helpless creatures that need to be taught,” Paul adds.
Pornography merely encourages that. There will never be lesbian liberation, or women’s liberation, while pornography exists.
Morgan Paul, a bisexual woman, is not free from lesbophobia herself.
“I’ve been told by many people that because I’m in a heterosexual relationship then I’m straight; they obviously don’t understand sexuality…at all,” she says.
No, a bisexual woman in a relationship with a man is not straight, that’s correct. But bisexual women aren’t gay or lesbian, either, which is symptomatic of the way bisexual women can erase themselves and appropriate lesbianism–a form of fetishization–evident when Morgan says, referring to herself, “Because a woman doesn’t look like the stereotype of a lesbian woman does not mean that she’s any less gay.”
Lesbians are viewed as bullies for “gatekeeping” the word lesbian–by requesting that bisexual women call themselves bisexual and not lesbian or gay–because combatting appropriation is reduced to “infighting.” As if there are no differences between bisexual and lesbian women; as if lesbians are not just trying to protect the definition of their sexual orientation.
To make matters worse, we’re also viewed as “exclusionary” bullies for naturally excluding males from our attraction pool.
In recent years, you would have noticed that there’s more of a push to “let people identify how they want to!” rather than, you know, using words to honestly describe authentic parts of ourselves. But the word ‘lesbian’, by nature, excludes males and male attraction. Bisexual women and males are excluded from lesbianism by default, not because lesbians literally police a barbed-wire gate.
Lesbianism naturally excludes a lot of the population from identifying as, or being desirable to, lesbians. It’s not our fault, or choice, but I’m glad I’m not attracted to males regardless. My body and soul did me a solid.
In a world where inclusivity is more important than material reality, ‘lesbian’ is a mean word. Therefore, it’s a mean sexual orientation. Lesbians become mean. We’re only stealing your lunch money, in your eyes, because you see us as yours to begin with.
JoJo’s fun, playful, friendly persona would be slashed by referring to herself as ‘lesbian’, rather than ‘gay’. Not because lesbianism is actually evil–the antithesis of her brand–but because lesbians are viewed as such by a lesbophobic society.
Sure, we can read JoJo’s distaste for ‘lesbian’ as an individualized sensory issue. But the reality is that many lesbians are uncomfortable with the word ‘lesbian’ and they wouldn’t be if lesbians weren’t viewed as either a male fantasy or an impenetrable bully.
Must be hard for a hetero-patriarchal society to see women only loving other women as possible and acceptable, I guess.
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