Rubin Gayle samois lesbian representation sex stereotype lesbophobia lesbianism Desexualization queer sexuality identities
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Article by:
Chloé Bruère-Dawson
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February 12, 2024
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Let’s Talk About (Lesbian) Sex: Fetishism & Puritanism

Representations of lesbian sexuality are often divided into three limiting categories: diminished, fetishized or repressed. These stereotypes not only hinder accurate representations but also contribute to internalized lesbophobia and societal pressure to conform to heterosexual norms.

Porn is the first thing you find online when trying to research lesbian sexuality. It was true 15 years ago, and it is still true to this day. Long before the internet even existed, porn was not the only but the easiest way to access some sort of lesbian sexuality. This long history of hypersexualization has led us, to a certain degree, to focus on anything but sex when talking about lesbianism, and it’s harming us more than it is benefitting.

We always bring up the topic of representation and its importance on queer construction and self and social acceptance. When it comes to lesbian sexual desire and practices, it has always been highly unsatisfactory: we are either hypersexualized or desexualized. We all remember the excruciatingly long and male-gazed sex scenes of Blue is the warmest color, or Benedetta, or The Handmaiden - the list goes on. And this collective trauma has been pushing us to keep lesbian sexuality in the closet.

Though we can find numerous essays, articles, and discussions online on the issue of external lesbian hypersexualization, we don’t talk enough about the other side of the coin: internal lesbian desexualization. It cannot only be observed in our movies and TV shows, but also in our literature, on social media, and within our community circles as well. And the consequences of this self-defense mechanism are far-reaching.

If positive representations do exist, most fall into either one of these three traps:  Lesbian sex is either diminished (don’t worry guys, it’s not real sex), fetishized (don’t worry guys, we’re doing this for you), or repressed (don’t worry lesbians, we are more than just sexual objects). The latter praises the sort of moral superiority of sexless lesbian love, impacting our perceptions all the way to our TikTok trends: We value cottage core romance and we vilify “Hey mamas” lesbians and how predatory and sex-centered they are deemed to be.

This is far from new: Desexualization has long been our shelter from the fear of fetichism, a shield against the perverted use of our own representations. It was especially true in the late 70s and early 80s with lesbian feminism/political lesbianism. Being a lesbian meant choosing not to have relationships with men from a feminist perspective, god forbid you actually have lesbian sexual desire, let alone an “alternative” sexuality. Thus lesbian sexuality representations were made extremely limited to the point of ostracizing those who tried to change that, like pro-BDSM lesbian groups such as Samois,

All in all, we may have been too harshly critical of lesbian sex representations. We lose ourselves in endless debates, and though they are needed to improve our representations, they can sometimes be counterproductive, preventing us from creating more said representations. Even worse, we are policing each other. We police the expression of our queer identities to adapt to the straight mind, and this happens through the control of the expression and portrayal of our sexualities. Desexualization is turned into a prerequisite for lesbians' societal acceptance.

This leaves more ground for bad representations, as we let non-lesbians build their own fantasies in the media they produce. It also fails to address internalized lesbophobia as it actively contributes to the repression of our desires. Moreover, it does not support the creation of critical spaces for discussing pleasure and pedagogy.

The fetishism we are subjected to shouldn’t prevent us from unshyly tackling lesbian sex. We shouldn’t shy away from discussing and representing our sexualities in all their variations, even though our identities don’t only rely on that (let’s not forget our AroAce lesbians). The time and energy we spend policing each other should instead go to addressing real issues in our representations, such as how deeply cis-women-centered they are. No matter what we do, it will be reappropriated, distorted, and exploited by non-lesbians, so let’s at least try to break free from those internal barriers that condemn us to invisibility.

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