I'm a young butch lesbian (20s) who recently moved to a major Australian city for university. Growing up outside of metropolitan areas I had a rough time in high school - I was outed by a girl who I was romantically interested in, and subsequently called things by my peers like 'dyke' 'queer' and 'carpet muncher'. This was around the time the same sex marriage referendum was happening so there was a lot of public debate on the morality of same sex relationships. I always felt like once I could finally move out of my hometown, I would find 'my people', and could finally be myself, live independently, dress and cut my hair how I want, and even maybe find love one day. I worked and saved up after high school to move.
As soon as I went to the city I sought out progressive spaces - 'queer' spaces, which was quite jarring after my experiences being bullied, but I accepted that the capitals were probably years ahead of the way people talked about LGBT people in small towns. I got involved in several student activist circles and social spaces campaigning not just for LGBT rights, but general left-leaning concerns like the environment, workers rights, racial justice, etc. I made some friends in this space who accepted me as I was, even with my newfound personal style which felt like a big deal to me - I had shaved my head and started wearing mens' clothes, which I could do now that I was out of home. Most of these friends used a combination of pronouns (they/them, she/they, he/they etc) and I even went by they/she pronouns in these circles for about six months. I was aware of a constant centering of 'trans voices' in discussions, especially of 'transfem/me people' or 'trans women'.
I had been exposed to the idea of being nonbinary and using them/them pronouns on the internet in high school. I always thought of this as quite an American concept, and I'll admit, even while supporting trans and gender activism wholeheartedly I truly didn't understand the idea of 'neopronouns' - in the city in a queer youth meetup, someone's pronoun badge said xe/xim, so I just didn't address this person at all because I had no idea how to do it. I felt like an uneducated outcast in the circles that I had been told would finally be the place where I was at home. I hated it and couldn't talk to anyone for fear of being told I was 'using conservative/transphobic/queerphobic talking points' by asking questions. I tried desperately to grasp the idea of gender identity - I am frequently mistaken as a boy, and by this stage I was dressing like I do now, in all masculine clothes and with short hair. I was consistently asked for my pronouns in situations where more 'conventionally' dressed women weren't, and tried not to have an emotional reaction when referred to as part of a 'queer' group. I figured since I liked the look and fit of mens' clothes, this was what being nonbinary was, because I definitely didn't 'feel like' a woman. My whole life I'd been told I was doing womanhood wrong, so it made sense to use they/she pronouns. It made me finally fit in. My queer friends were so happy for me.
One night we went out to a queer club night, and the group included a male friend who used they/them pronouns. We were in the club when a stereotypically gay song came on, and I made a joke that 'I have to dance to this because I'm a lesbian'. This friend said to me 'so am I' and I thought they were joking - I only knew they used they/them pronouns, I'd never heard them call themselves a lesbian before, but they joined me on the dancefloor. I realised that they were trying to insinuate some kind of similarity between us, some kind of lesbian camaraderie. They were dancing really close to me and tried to put their arm around my waist. This friend had a beard and had not even remotely transitioned to female. I remember thinking 'I don't want a man to touch me' and was disgusted at my own reaction - I felt like someone would be able to sense my transphobia. I went to get another drink and never told anyone, because I would have had to admit that the reason I felt uncomfortable was because this person was male, and I was incapable of being attracted to them. I realised then that my same-sex attraction was at odds with the community I was in - by their logic, anyone who identifies as a lesbian is a lesbian, and that if I, with my 'cis privilege', complained or insinuated any creepy behaviour just because someone had a dick, it was transphobia, plain and simple. I would be playing into the stereotypes of trans women or transfem people as predatory - it didn't help that this friend was also of mixed heritage, meaning I could potentially be labelled a cis, white person, accusing a 'trans woman of colour' of sexual harassment. My homosexuality, as in the fact that I only wanted to be with female people, and would rather chop my hand off than touch a man in that way, was problematic and outdated. I never told anyone but distanced myself from the group and made sure I was never in a room alone with this self-proclaimed 'other lesbian'.
I tried dating apps - but they were inundated with male people, whether nonbinary or trans women, and any female people I came across had pages that proclaimed 'trans rights' or 'no terfs'. The few female people I did talk to used they/them pronouns, or spoke about 'queer' dating or a 'queer' relationship, or asked if I was nonbinary. I had hookups but couldn't make any lasting connection because my own 'queer' identity was not acceptable in this space. I had put 'interested in cis women or AFAB (assigned female at birth) nonbinary people' on a profile on HER, and my account had been removed. Before it was deleted one person messaged me saying 'fuck off terfs'. I was terrified and haven't been on a dating app since. I hold no malice for male people who want to take on the social roles of women - but suddenly I felt as if I had to entertain the idea of dating them to not be a 'terf-y' lesbian. It was cruel and exclusionary, narrow-minded and bigoted, for me to be a female homosexual who only wanted to date female women.
I have since explored the idea of gender critical mindsets and radical feminism on the internet but am so afraid to get involved. I know I would be considered a terrible person. I don't hate men. I don't want trans people to die or be 'genocided', like people say JK Rowling does on the internet. I don't want to get embroiled in hate-filled right wing campaigns because I know what that's like. I realise now that gender restricts so many people's ability to love themselves and be happy, and I think we would all be a lot more fulfilled without gender roles or gendered language, I just can't change who I'm sexually attracted to. I don't hate trans people, trans women, or male people who are nonbinary - I just want to be able to call myself a lesbian and have it clearly mean female homosexual. I just want to love women and have a gay relationship where I can feel understood. I want to find a community of lesbian women, hell, even bisexual women, that I can feel at home in. I look at pictures of Dyke Marches from the 80s and 90s and yearn for that sort of community. It feels like no one in young LGBT spaces is a female lesbian who still considers herself a woman - everyone is bisexual, or pansexual, or nonbinary or male if they are a 'lesbian'. I feel so alone. I dreamed of finally getting to exist in LGBT spaces for so long, and now I find myself yet again living a double life to avoid ostracisation. It feels like a nightmare and I'm scared I'll never find love.
I've accepted that to maintain respect I have to censor my own homosexuality, or pretend that it's progressive and flexible enough to include male people. I know that by being exclusively attracted to females I'm 'alienating' trans women from my lesbianism and that that is, in some circles, considered a hate crime. The young queer people around me constantly peddle slogans of 'fuck transphobes' and 'kill TERFs' and I know that by their definitions that includes me. I feel a cold pit in my stomach and it's like I'm 13 and closeted again.
I look back on the days that I was called a 'dyke' for not wanting to have sex with a male, for being a lesbian, and I survived that by wistfully dreaming of a future. Now I find myself in that future, where lesbians, 'dykes', can not only have sex with males but be male, and if I speak out against this I will lose my reputation and all hopes of a career in any progressive space. I genuinely don't know what to do. There is so much more that I could say but I'm aware of how long this email is already. I didn't realise how much frustration I had inside. I never thought I'd say this (and I know how insane it sounds), but I wish that as a lesbian and a feminist I was alive in the 1970s rather than now. I'm grateful for the women before me and the strides they made but at least back then I would have been able to find same-sex spaces. I would've been able to celebrate who I was with people like me. At least 50 years ago I would have been able to find another lesbian my age who doesn't think I should die for being homosexual. I'm a proudly same-sex attracted, female, homosexual, lesbian woman, and that's never going to change. Hopefully one day I can say that in real life without fear.
Young butch lesbian