“So, who's the guy in your relationship?”
This question (or versions of it) is one of the more common questions posed to lesbian couples — and the most frustrating. While most people have posed this question with absolutely no malice or agenda, people in same-sex relationships (including myself) can get kind of huffy about it. That is not always helpful, so let's talk about the issue.
The real issue here is not same-sex attraction or relationships, but rather gender roles. Gender roles are social and cultural guidelines for what is considered appropriate or “normal” behavior for a particular gender. While I'm sure you can easily think of examples, I'm also guessing there are many more ways that you violate gender roles either as an individual or within a relationship.
Raise your hand, ladies, if your man is a better cook than you (or enjoys cooking more). Gentlemen, raise your hand if your female partner works full-time. Who pursued whom? Who was the disciplinarian in your family, mom or dad? Who balanced the checkbook? Who cried more easily? See, the truth is that, in all relationships, there really are no universally “male” or “female” roles, there are only things that people do. We are all unique and every relationship has its own unique distribution of roles and duties.
There are plenty of people who argue that this is just stupid — obviously girls and boys are different. But, honestly, as we let go of the presupposition that this is true, we start seeing the evidence that the differences between us all have less to do with our gender than we used to think. Try it and see.
The idea that a relationship must have one “male” role and one “female” role is part of something called heternormativity. Heteronormativity is the, often unspoken, assumption that heterosexual relationships and attractions are “normal” and anything else is an aberration. Now, even if the aberration is acceptable, the simple fact that it is “not normal” is both degrading to gay people, and simply not accurate.
As we already know, the male/female roles are often broken by straight couples, so it is not that much of a stretch to say that gay couples also do not need one “male” type person and one “female” type person. Like every other couple, we are simply two people of complementary personalities who, hopefully, have found a way to share a life together. This includes sharing physical responsibilities and meeting emotional needs.
So let's talk about us
My future wife and I are both girls. This may seem obvious to you, but, quite often, many people believe that someone is only gay because they really feel more like the opposite gender. This is enforced by the stereotype that lesbians are more masculine than straight women (Um, Helena Peabody, anyone?). Your personality and how you outwardly express yourself through clothing, hair, etc., really have nothing to do with your attractions. Or your behavior.
As two women, we complete each other in the complex and nuanced ways that any other couple does. We mesh as two different but complementary people, speaking of it in terms of who has more “male” traits and who has more “female” traits is kind of pointless. We are two people who fit together (pretty perfectly, I might add).
Our gender stereotype scorecards
My future wife proposed to me, she also asked me to be her official girlfriend. She also now works in the industrial field, which is dominated by males (as were almost all professions before 1950). She does not have an extremely feminine gender expression, which is to say, she prefers t-shirts and jeans to dresses and makeup. These are all traditionally more “masculine” behaviors. On the other hand, she is much more emotionally intuitive and socially sensitive than I am. And watch that girl run when she sees a spider!
By comparison, I have a more “femme” gender expression. That is, I often wear skirts or dresses and wear makeup. I also cook and tend to be more domestic. But I tend to be more analytically-minded. We both can be very aggressive and competitive and are both assertive, but usually in different areas. Honestly, we both demonstrate the same characteristics, just to varying degrees, like most people.
One of the most beautiful parts of our relationship is how equitable it is. We are extremely cooperative and neither of us dominates the other. This is, I think, a wonderful side-benefit of being in a same-gender relationship: gender roles are (sometimes!) much less pronounced and, since no one person perfectly fits a gender role anyway, there is not that frustration that comes when you want to break those roles.
Why none of this matters (or all of it does)
Think about the ways that you violate your own gender stereotype. Remember that, not too long ago, it was believed that women were inherently bad drivers, bad at science or reasoning, and ill-suited for leadership. It has also been suggested that men are obtuse, emotionally insensitive, arrogant, sexually uncontrolled, and selfish.
These stereotypes do nothing to help anyone and, as I'm sure you know, are inaccurate more often than they are accurate. I cook because I like to cook. I work because I like to work. I love my future wife's romantic sensitive heart and she loves my analytical and intelligent mind. I love how she validates every part of me, regardless of whether that characteristic is traditionally “masculine” or “feminine.”
So regardless of the fact that my future wife will, in all likelihood, be wearing the pants at our wedding, that doesn't mean anything except… she likes wearing pants.
I mean, who doesn't?