Time to get back to the serious side with a little (hopefully discussion-starting) experience and food for thought. Warning, the language in this post may be inappropriate for small-minded thinkers or anyone with a PG filter.
But first, an image:
Now that I hopefully have your attention… Let’s look back 10 years, to the days of retail IT support for yours truly. In those days I was a naive 18ish and I worked with a primarily male staff. For some reason, workplaces tend to feel they have the right to know all about you–a not totally unheard of concept, since you tend to spend more waking hours with your coworkers than you do with your loved ones. I got hired on by referral from a (male) friend, who was alternately assumed to be my brother or my lover. Neither was true, naturally. So then when it got out that I wasn’t attached, a couple of the least attractive and lowest self esteem guys in the office decided to try to stake a claim.
Now, I wasn’t out yet–and this was part of my problem. But the jokes in the office started going around (and those jokes started even being cited to coworkers) that I was the “dykiest straight girl” anybody knew. Apparently my naturally trim figure fit some stereotype, or my lack of interest in coworkers. Go figure.
The bad part about this is that I played along with the game and heard myself telling the same jokes, as some kind of coping mechanism for the fact that I was afraid I’d be looked down on for fighting back against the idea that a woman who didn’t jump at every opportunity for a boyfriend, who was going to college and had big dreams, and who was working in IT, must be a lesbian.
That was a mouthful. Even through getting together with Jamie, the love of my life, and being promoted to a pseudo-lead position, I still felt the need to hide who I was. Which meant that somehow I wound up in a big pissing contest between the biggest loser on the team around which of us deserved the IT lead position more. Sales numbers were the final deciding factor, just in time for me to transfer with my bigoted boss to a new store closer to my home–I transferred because I didn’t know the new guy, and at least if my bigoted boss was a bigot, it was the evil I knew. When I transferred, I decided to be out and open for my own sake. This opened a new can of worms for me, as I experienced–for the first time–the effects of being “one of the guys.” Now, instead of criticizing my (perceived) mannishness, they were dragging me into pissing contests about who could do what, joking that I should move things (instead of the skinny guy with the same birthday), threatening people with my (perceived) violence. If someone got into an argument they’d call me over because they liked to see a small (I’m only 5’4″) “dyke” beat someone into submission. I found myself in a new predicament, partly based on my misperception of the idea of feminism. Like many people, I’d been brainwashed to think feminist=man hater, and so I played along with the misogynistic joking, the flirting, the checking out of hot women like they were so many slabs of meat… But under it all there was always this clear assumption that even if I wasn’t out, they would all just know I was a lesbian because of…what? I’m trim and have a 4′ long braid. I wore glasses at the time. I wore a standard uniform that was too big because they didn’t make them in my size. Very lesbian of me. I’m in IT? I was a lead site tech at that time. I was going to school for psychology. Where does all of this equal dyke?
Oh, wait. It’s the woman in a man’s field, right?
Now, I understand the need for people to categorize things. And I like women too, so I can see how straight guys might get confused. I continued on to work as a field engineer, then briefly in helpdesk (the only job I’ve ever worked that was dominated by women, and were they mad about it), a remote systems engineer, and now an SA at R Company. And finally I get to a company where I am not basically the only woman. I feel like I can breathe a little. Some people I work with are actually surprised (not mean, just surprised) when I mention my wife in casual conversation. Like they didn’t automatically assume. Because we all know straight is the default, right? R Company even has a big GLBTA, so I feel like my rights are a little more secure.
But then the other day we’re talking about Game of Thrones at work, and I complain about the gore and the gratuitous abuse of women. And one of my male coworkers goes “Yeah, I know! But you’re one of the guys too, so you love the tits and blood as much as the rest of us.”
And then it hits me. Why the hell do lesbians have to be “one of the guys?” Why does liking women automatically exclude us from being women? My wife is certainly more effeminate than I am–she owns heels, skirts, makeup. I like men’s clothes because the sizes make more sense and I look damn fine in an ascot.
But why does our culture have such an obsession with the absolutes of male and female? This moment I’m not experiencing the “dyke effect” because I am an engineer. All of a sudden it’s just because my cube mate knows I appreciate attractive women. And video games. So now I have to be OK with the objectification of the female body, and be comfortable with the blatant comments made (even by female coworkers) about stereotypical female behavior? Granted, Jamie and I kinda have a 50s relationship (I work, she stays home). Except we break all the rest of the stereotypes. She does most of the driving. I do most of the cooking. I tuck our daughter in at night. I love to read and she prefers movies.
I’m getting on a tangent here. I really just want to open discussion about what I am suddenly nicknaming the “dyke effect.” I feel that there is a scale, and the more points you hit on this stereotype scale, the more likely people are to make assumptions that you are really just a straight male stuck in a woman’s body. Clothing choices, hair styles, and professional career all hit these points. I also feel like a woman less within the “straight male” definition of attractiveness is more likely to be thrown into that category.
Weigh in, where have you observed this effect? And how can we change these perceptions?