The Vagenda

My Supersweet Lesbian Relationship

Recently the news of my relationship with another member of the female sex has been filtering out into the public domain. By which I mean select members of family; and then anyone who can read the signs on Facebook – and also anyone and everyone who has seen us drunk in public.
Neither of us identify as lesbians, and both have had only boyfriends in the past. But we’re happy, and it works for us, and anyway sexuality is blahblahinsertwellmeaningclichehere.
Overall, the process of “coming out” to our family and friends has been heartening. My favourite people react with glorious nonchalance; with a studied indifference that indicates the effort they have put in to tackling societally-imposed notions of normative sexual binaries. Their pleasure in my happiness, my obvious nervousness and excitement, is tempered by determined coolness. 
“You must meet my… girlfriend.” (Envisage me frozen with crippling awkwardness, anticipation and agitated pleasure, watching their face like a dog watches you eating pizza.)
“Oh, yeah. I’d love to, that’d be great. Shall we get another frozen daiquiri?” (Supreme cool.)
It’s hilarious. Lovely, too. They just want me to know that they know that it’s, like, totally normal. I’m lucky to have a pretty rad set of associates, it goes without saying, but at the same time I know that it’s not ‘normal’. True, it’s getting more and more mundane in civilised society, as we feel increasingly at liberty to publicly test our sexual tendencies; but don’t try and tell me that everyone was expecting it. Which makes such reactions particularly fab.
I mention this preferred response because it stands in sharp relief to the other, much more prevalent kind. At first it can seem innocuous. I was just glad people weren’t telling me I’m an aberrant mutation of womanhood, or a raging bisexual lust-junkie, after all. But actually, the worst reaction we got was, “Oh! How sweet!”
Fuck RIGHT OFF. RIGHT OFF, RIGHT NOW. Let me put it out there to kick off: there is nothing sweet about my girlfriend and I. We’re both whip-tongued, neurotic bitches, with a well-exercised knowledge of feminist literary theory, and a penchant for high-heeled biker boots. But even if this wasn’t the case, “sweet” would be offensive. Because it doesn’t stem from our characteristics, either singly or as a couple; it’s purely about patronising. 
It’s an apparently anodyne way of saying, “Your relationship isn’t as valid as a heterosexual relationship. You’re sweet and harmless, going through your little period of youthful promiscuity. But it won’t last. Don’t talk to me about your angst, your deep emotions, the complexity of your relations with another human; this is all just darling silliness.”
So there’s that. Then there’s: “You’re so sweet, being anxious about telling me! Me! I’m so super liberal and okay with this. Oh, you lovely lezzers, so much more worried about social reactions than everyone else. Nevertheless, in the course of this rhetorical stream I’m implying that you do actually need my validation. Which you have! Enjoy!”
Oh wait, this also feeds into: “Of course you should tell your dad. He will be totally fine with it. I mean, I am. And he’s a good guy, so it’s cool, right? Lesbians don’t actually experience prejudice or discrimination these days. I mean, I know they do in like SUDAN, or STRATFORD, but not North London. It’s all simple, baby. Because I don’t have to deal with the bad shit.”
The last thing I want to do is to misrepresent an interest group as angry, overly sensitive, and generally difficult to deal with. I don’t want to suggest that your well-intentioned reaction to your friend telling you they’re gay makes you homophobic, or like, generally evil. Rather: that even if you think that you think that homosexuality is Right On, you need to watch out for the sly presence of cultural conditioning in the deep recesses of yo’ brain. 
So, as James Brown wisely advised (in the midst of a misogynistic but ultimately very catchy tune), “watch yourself”. My gay relationship is not sweet. It is (sing it with me) PATRIARCHAL BULLSHIT that terms it “sweet”, thereby abnegating our intellectual seriousness, the significance of our emotional humanity, and our potential power as women and individuals.
Peace. And if you need any pointers on where to buy mid-priced heeled biker boots, or a good daiquiri North of the river, just shout.
-  - HSH

13 thoughts on “My Supersweet Lesbian Relationship

  1. But maybe it’s sweet because you fell for a friend who you didn’t think you’d ever have a thing with, and that’s kind of…. Sweet? In a romantic movie ending kinda way?

    Obviously I don’t know the context as it isn’t detailed, but perhaps it’s not the patronising tone that you’re taking it for?

  2. That’s an impressive conclusion you have drawn out from a three word response by your friend. Well two words really since the first word is just an exclamation. When others have commented my hetrosexual relationship is ‘sweet’, perhaps I should have railed against their PATRIARCHAL BULLSHIT as well.

    “The last thing I want to do is to misrepresent an interest group as angry, overly sensitive, and generally difficult to deal with.”
    I don’t believe this could be possible, since one persons article clearly can never represent an entire interest group. You have though given that impression about yourself though.

    “My gay relationship is not sweet.”

    You don’t get to dictate how I think about you.

  3. I was in a similar situation when I started dating my (now ex) girlfriend. Although she is a lesbian, I never had any relationships with girls before nor did I suspect myself of being bisexual. And of course I do agree with you that the comments I received when coming out to people were sometimes condescending and ignorant (ranging from “There are no real bisexuals – you just want to be cool” to “That’s so hot, I wish I could watch”). I know exactly how incredibly enraging such comments are, but I don’t think “sweet” is such a bad adjective to use at all.

    Of couse I don’t know the exact context and you might be very right saying it was partonising at the time – and I get that it doesn’t match your personalities nor the character of your relationship. But I can remember that when two of my depressive, neurotic and world-hating friends got together, “How sweet” was my first response when I found out.

    Not because I didn’t believe their relationship was valuable, just because that is what love tends to be. Sweet. It is just genuinely heartwarming to see two people find each other, as cliche and teenage-girl-magazine as it sounds.

  4. Also, can I just say that sometimes it’s easy for someone to put their feelings onto someone else’s reaction.

    If I was your friend, and you came out to me (as a non-identifying lesbian, lesbian, bisexual, furry, whatever) and I was just relaxed and not bothered about it, and you wrote:

    “It’s hilarious. Lovely, too. They just want me to know that they know that it’s, like, totally normal”, or

    “a studied indifference that indicates the effort they have put in to tackling societally-imposed notions of normative sexual binaries”

    (or one of the other four or five quotes I could have picked out of your article) about my reaction, then I’d feel that you were being, frankly, pretty patronising about it and about me.

  5. Kind of surprised at the defensiveness in the comments here. While I’d love to pretend I always react with the nonchalance of the author’s closest friends, I probably have had the patronising ‘Aw sweet’ reaction – at least in my head, and very possibly outloud. (I also remember, going back twenty years or so, stealing someone’s thunder by telling her I was really honoured that she’d chosen to come out to me. Yeah, that’s right – just totally appropriated your moment there and made it all about me! On reflection, she probably chose me because I was on the periphery of her primary friendship group and wasn’t likely to spread the news further before she was ready.)

    As a cisgendered, heterosexual male who identifies as a feminist, I’m often insecure about my initial reactions to situations where traditional gender and sexual boundaries get all wibbly. To those of us who’ve benefited from the alignment of social norms with our personal preferences for years, it’s strange when things start to realign and we can’t assume that everyone feels and acts as we do… and that’s a good thing! It’s a sign that we’re starting to feel the world in the way that other(ed) people have for years – as a lived process of negotiating our identity and our place in relationship to society and culture.

    So, really, I’m glad when someone calls out a reaction I’ve had as potentially patronizing or offensive. I’m secure enough to know I didn’t mean it that way, and to use it as a cue for further introspection. Because I haven’t had to use them to negotiate the world on a daily basis throughout my life, my cultural antennae can use the odd bit of re-calibration via feedback from people who think and feel things other than those that I do.

  6. I’m surprised at how much offense was taken by this comment. Personally, I find all the details of a new relationship a total bore (gay/straight/whatever) but when I can see that person is totally excited by it ‘aww sweet’ seems like a good thing to say.

  7. Well at least you’re not being held captive in prison, or being beaten up by an authoritative force…

    Whilst I understand your point, I feel that it is a slightly patronising article for the millions of people (including myself) who have been subjected to actual harm and offence. This does sound like a #firstworldproblem…

    It would have been nice if you had outbalanced your viewpoint with a much bigger issue…

  8. I’m very late to the comments party, but I’ve been skimming through a lot of the articles on this site today, and just came across this one. It really struck a chord with me.

    I am a somewhere-on-the-sexuality-spectrum girl who has been in a relationship with a girl for over three years now. I too have had people tell me “how sweet!” once they realize she is my first girlfriend. This often comes before follow-up questions about my past relationships and attractions, which I never got when I had a boyfriend (so I have a feeling the “how sweet!” reaction isn’t because of the beauty of our love story – nor is it usually directed at my girlfriend, who has only had girlfriends before).

    It has always seemed as if people are (unintentionally) implying that our attraction is somehow cutesy or childlike, or that my “ex-straight-girl” attraction is more temporary than her “experienced-lesbian” attraction to me. I’d like to make it clear that these aren’t just straight friends and acquaintances reacting like this – everyone can be conditioned to say silly and patronizing things, no matter how open-minded or gay they are. :)

    Like the author of this article, I don’t think the people who have reacted by saying “how sweet!” are evil, or that they don’t believe my relationship with a woman can last. I’m sure they are happy I’m in a relationship with someone I love. But I also completely agree with the author that people have been culturally conditioned to react in ways that can feel incredibly patronizing (and just be plain annoying) to the listener, even if that wasn’t the intention at all.

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