“Nah, there’s no f*cking way I’m doing a twirl.” A permed, five foot four, eyebrow-slitted masc shrieks to my friend on the mating grounds of She Soho, only weeks after lockdown had finally lifted on London.
My friend – with her arm outstretched, waiting for the masc’s hand – recoils. “Why not?” She laughs, nervously. “C’mon, just a quick twirl!”
“Do you think I’m a d*ckhead? I ain’t a bottom. You twirl.” She glares up at her, pushing her arm away. My friend has just offended the entire ancestral plane of all masc and stud lesbians that have ever existed. What was so wrong with being twirled? I didn’t understand.
How could being twirled be ‘too effeminate’ for a masc lesbian? I realised soon afterwards that this was internalised misogyny. She was terrified to be, or even perceived to be feminine; and therefore, in her eyes: weak.
Misogyny in lesbian culture, though prevalent, is rarely addressed. From personal experience, aggressive interactions between masc lesbians are not only common but expected in clubs such as Heaven and She Soho; with recent fights being publicised in lesbian events like Lick, and in videos like these on TikTok.
The scenes are so bestial, I’m genuinely surprised David Attenborough hasn’t already narrated the antics of lesbian clubs throughout the world, let alone London. The BBC would make a fortune.
In turn, this creates what is usually a safe space for queer women into a sweaty cesspit of harmful mindsets that we aim to avoid.
The linked mindsets of misogynistic men and toxic-masc lesbians
After being out since the age of 16, I have noticed the pattern. Masculine/stud or androgynous girls who like girls would often mirror toxic masculine behaviour. Acting offended if I declined to go first through a door they held open, throwing insults when women didn’t accept their offers to buy them a drink at the bar, objectification, and undermining women that identified as bisexual.
I ended up finding a piece called ‘The Impact of Patriarchy on Stud Lesbians’ by Meilin Miller, who states that “Stud lesbians have found solace in a masculine identity by using masculinity or androgyny to indirectly protest against the commodified, heteropatriarchal, and Eurocentric femininity.”
This makes sense, and in theory is empowering. Although there is nothing wrong with identifying as butch, sometimes mascs who adopt traditionally ‘macho’ traits and appearances can adopt the toxic masculinity that subsides with these attributes.
Miller makes sure to address the fact this masculinity can be used to create a “paradox for them in a patriarchal society” where this is encouraged; the same way straight cis men are applauded for their masculinity. This explains how masc and stud lesbians end up in the pothole of using toxic-masculinity and misogyny as a defence mechanism.
Inevitably, femme lesbians feel disempowered and uncomfortable when sharing these spaces with masc and stud lesbians whose identity is conflated with misogyny.
I did an Instagram poll with the question if fellow women-loving-women (WLW) felt uncomfortable sharing these queer spaces with aggressive masc/stud lesbians. The majority result being 79% ‘yes’. I wasn’t surprised.
“I don’t want to feel how I would feel in a straight club.” One follower of mine replied to the poll. “I go there to feel safe, I hate feeling like I’m being preyed upon. Which isn’t fair, because not all mascs are like that!”
In the same way masc lesbians hold themselves to this standard of masculinity – it can be said that femme lesbians can be just as toxic – holding mascs and studs to the same standard with these harsh and shallow stereotypes. What society deems acceptable for men, also deems acceptable for masc lesbians. In a gender equal society, though, this behaviour is unacceptable for everyone.
As Miller puts it: “These stereotypes are harmful not only because stereotypes are shallow and unrepresentative, but because a complacency in believing these stereotypes indicates how internalised misogyny has cultivated negative views of women and continues to assert a sex-based division.”
Becoming Self Aware
Misogyny within the lesbian community is shocking to hear, but very common. While the error can be committed by femmes, it derives from the ideals of butch performativity.
So the question is: how do we prevent it from happening? Whilst reading ‘We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity’ by Bell Hooks, she made a point that “the inability to be vulnerable means we are unable to feel. If we cannot feel then we cannot love.” From this, I took that ‘being vulnerable’ needs to be put into practice by mascs and, of course, men.
Another suggestion would be not to blindly assume an aesthetic or identity. Being feminine or masculine can be portrayed in numerous ways, and doesn’t have to fit a box. ‘Femme’ and ‘masc’ can be conveyed outwardly and inwardly in both very healthy ways. Emulating what you see in front of you is not always the solution, in the same way a butch identity doesn’t need to conflate with toxic masculinity.
What needs to be remembered by the lesbian community is that the patriarchy fails everyone, so we should not participate in a system that is harmful to everyone.
With all lesbians, femme, masc, stud, androgynous and beyond – being self aware and changing the patterns of behaviour will be the biggest solution to this culture surrounding our community.
Feature image by Mia Harvey on Unsplash