Femme Couples Explain What They Wish People Would Stop Saying To Them

Hannah Burton/Bustle
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There was a steep learning curve when I got into my first relationship with a woman. Even though I had had sex with women before, I only started going on dates with women a few years ago — and very quickly got into my first relationship with a woman. And in a lot of ways, it's not as different as you might think, in comparison to heterosexual relationships. We hang out, we go out, we have tifs, we get over them, and we're building a life together. The biggest change about being with a woman isn't the relationship itself — it's how other people responded to us.

That's not to say that same-sex relationships are the same or are treated the same — they're all as different as the people involved in them. And some same-sex relationships will have challenges that I've never experienced. But more often than not, femme couples are faced with a particular type of judgment, simply because we don't fit the stereotypical idea of what lesbians "should" be like. And it can lead to its own set of stressors that are necessary to address as a couple.

As mental health professional, activist, and leading LGBT expert Kryss Shane, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW says, it can be helpful to decide before the situation occurs how and if you'll respond. "This is the creation of a boundary within the relationship," she says. No one is owed a response or access to personal information, but by "prioritizing a shared boundary with your partner over the curiosities of others," you'll be setting yourselves up for lowered anxiety and stress. And less rage.

As a couple who both read as femme, we've gotten some real zingers coming our way. Here are the things I wish people would stop staying to me and my partner.



"Are You Two Sisters?"

It seems like when people see two women being intimate but not in an overtly sexual way, their brains jump straight to assuming they're family. Of course, "most people do not mean to be rude or prying when they ask questions," Shane says. But it's still an awkward situation to be put in.

Just because we might be physically close and relaxed around each other doesn't mean we share a gene pool. In this case, it's pretty much the opposite.


"But Are You *REALLY* Together?"

The amount of double takes and disbelief we get is totally nauseating. And it's amazing that if I make up an imaginary boyfriend, many men will happily move along, but if my literal partner of three years is in front of them, they're just not so sure.

Many people assume femme couples aren't really together because it undermines the idea that lesbians can't be traditionally attractive, Shane says. It also plays into the tired idea that women choose to be lesbians because they haven't had success with men. And really, how ridiculous is that?

"When this happens, it is absolutely fine to remind yourself that no one else's opinion can de-legitimize your relationship and not every person's opinion must be acknowledged," Shane say. "Sometimes, silence and a raised eyebrow says enough."


*It's Just A Phase*

Ugh. A thousand times ugh. I know that tons of queer folk probably get this, but there's something about looking feminine that makes people assume you'll eventually revert back to a masculine partner. It's really heteronormative, and just frigging annoying.


"You Don't Seem Gay"

Well, I'm bisexual first off — but bi-erasure is whole other issue. But I find this one infuriating, because it's so reductive. It assumes all queer people in the world only look or act one way.

Some queer folk are also alternative, some aren't, some have long hair, some have short. There's no way to "seem" gay, unless you literally see me with my tongue in a woman's throat. Then, fair enough.


"When Are You Having Kids?"

Because if you have two sets of ovaries, you must be desperate to procreate, right? I get asked this way more with my girlfriend than I have in any other relationship. Take all of that societal pressure on women to be maternal... and double it.

This question likely stems from the societal assumption that all women want to become mothers, Shane says. And in this situation, probably out of curiosity for "how it would work," meaning who would carry the baby, etc., as well.

For many people, that's what relationships are all about, too — getting married, having kids, raising those kids. But as with any relationship, femme couples have a right to pursue the path they want in life — kids or not.


"So Are You The Dude?"

Also in this category: "Who will be the bride?" "Who will carry?" "Which of you is top?" and other deeply invasive, inappropriate questions trying to gender us.

As Shane says, many people are more familiar with heterosexual relationships, and will try to put you in that format. Surely, they think, there needs to be a feminine figure and a masculine figure, in order for a relationship to "make sense." But that's obviously not the case.

If you'd like to respond, you can either say "neither," Shane says, and move on. Or you can choose to share more about your lives by discussing the realities of how you've landed on the roles within your relationship. Up to you.


"Do You Miss Dick?"

Again, I'm sure other couples get this, but from an informal poll of gay friends, we seem to get this a lot more than some less femme couples. I think it's again the really reductive, heteronormative association of femininity with masculinity, but also — how is that an appropriate thing to ask someone!?

And the same is true for all other sex-related questions, which come in in droves, likely due to misconceptions stemming from lesbian pornography. It's one of the most viewed categories in the world, and as a result, "some may be asking due to genuine interest without realizing it is inappropriate to ask," Shane says, while "others may be trying to sexualize you and your love."

With this question, there's no need to respond. "It is [...] completely appropriate to give a raised eyebrow and an awkward pause until they get uncomfortable enough to either apologize or change the subject," Shane says. "Or you could about-face and walk away, leaving them to figure out what they said that would result in that response."

It's tricky. And like I said, every relationship is different — but being a femme in a relationship with another femme has its own challenges. People reveal their assumptions and prejudices more easily than you might think — and it can be really frustrating to experience.


Kryss Shane, LGBT expert

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