relationships

"As a straight woman, I had burning questions for lesbians. So, I called some up."

As a straight woman, I have questions for lesbians.

I’m sure that lesbians get asked questions all the time that make them roll their eyes. But, I want to know stuff like, what it’s like to fall in love with a woman? Do lesbians joke about straight people? If lesbians are attracted to women, why is it that some of them look butch? And, what does a vagina taste like?

So, I sent out a call to the Mamamia community to answer some of our burning questions, and since then, my inbox has never had more emails in it. We had hundreds of women wanting to be our official, “lesbian correspondent”, as they put it.

If you’re a little bit nosy like me, then let me share with you some of the beautiful, hilarious and sometimes, incredibly sad, responses that we got. (FYI: Let me just reassure that my intention is pure. It is not to offend, just to learn.)

To begin, this was a piece that a woman wrote to me, anonymously.

If you want to listen to the full episode of our bonus show, then listen below. Post continues after audio.

The first time I woke up next to a woman, it was amazing and terrifying. I literally tried to melt into the wall beside the bed. She reached over, grabbed my hand and said, “It’s OK.”

Of course, it was. For days afterwards, I walked around with this thrilling secret. I felt like a different person.

People ask what it feels like to come out; to realise you’re gay. For me, it was terrifying, exciting and pretty confusing. I was a late bloomer. I dated guys right up until the age of 26. By 28, I was out. Even though I found it hard to say the L word I was definitely a lesbian, albeit one with L plates.

There’s a lot you have to learn when you come out, not just the whole sleeping with women stuff which is an education in itself. To fall in love with a woman, I felt more like me.

Perhaps a more eloquent description, I heard from someone recently, was the first time they slept with a woman they realised they had been playing an instrument and using only one string. Now they were using all of them.

Do you remember what it feels like to fall in love the first time, to lose your virginity, to not be able to think of anything else? That’s exactly what it was like; I was experiencing a second adolescence.

It felt dangerous snogging women in bars, staying out until all hours and going into work wrecked. I had to figure out what my type was, while trying to figure out what type I was.

The first time I went out to a gay bar in London, a butch woman pinned me up against a wall and said, “What are you doing here? You’re straight. Get out.”

When I asked why, she said anyone wearing a skirt and dangly earrings couldn’t possibly be gay. But I was. I loved kissing women. They have really soft lips. There’s no stubble. And I had dates that went on for days. And when I met my wife, I knew I was done. This was the person I wanted to grow old with. This was my favourite person in the world and she still is.

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That’s one of my favourite essays that I received. However, you can’t ask someone’s beautiful essay questions. Luckily, Lissy Elliott came to the rescue. She’s a-41-year-old lesbian mother of two.

What I found out really surprised me from awful social encounters to her internalised homophobia.

We covered it all.

Monique: Is there anything I can’t call you? What’s offensive?

Lissy: Nothing is offensive to me but I can only speak on behalf of myself. I’m very playful, stupid and I think all those phrases, like lezzo, are really funny.

The funny thing is, I I often use the word gay. I usually call myself gay because lesbian was always such a nasty term at school that I feel a bit slightly cringey about using it.

For the ease of everyone else, it’s probably easier just saying lesbian.

Monique: Do you and your lesbian friends joke about straight people?

Lissy: An old friend of mine and I used to call people chigger – we just made up a word. We would look at feminine women who were wearing the latest fashions and call them chigger sh*t because we thought they looked like sheep. But they were probably looking at us saying, “Look at those dykes, look at those lezzos.”

Scroll through to see well-known lesbians in the entertainment industry. (Post continues after gallery.)

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Monique: If you love women, why do some lesbian women dress like men?

Lissy: I’m very feminine now. But I’ve come full circle because I started learning about patriarchal oppression. At the time I was thinking long hair, skinny body, big tits, makeup, high heels all epitomised patriarchal oppression.

At one point, to get a nose ring and to wear the uniform felt like I was symbolically gesturing to the broader community that the patriarchy can go get f*cked.

I’ve come full circle now because when when my first girlfriend and I broke up, I wanted to grow my hair. I was a bit worried that nobody would know I was gay. They will all look past me – they won’t know at a glance that I’m gay. That’s another reason I think that some women like to wear the uniform because they can tell, in an instant, that you’re gay.

Monique: What happens if you fall in love with a woman and you’re not sure if she’s a lesbian?

Lissy: It’s so hard. I’ve done that a million times. Basically, you just have to get to know them because eventually, through conversation, that will come up.

The best thing to do is not go too fast, too soon but it’s really hard when you’ve got a massive crush on them. It becomes obvious whether they’re interested in you or not.

When I got the courage to kiss my first girlfriend back 1995, it was a party and we spent the whole night dancing and drinking. We were suddenly holding hands, then gradually we were sitting down and then, suddenly kissing.

It wasn’t one person making the move on the other person, it just happened at the same time, together.

Monique: Do you perv on women?

Lissy: Yes. But, my female and males friends objectify women in a completely different way. I have male colleagues point out a really attractive looking woman, but for all the stereotyped reasons.

If a really hot looking woman comes in, I flirt with her, I’ll not be able to breathe properly. I’ll do all the things that anyone else does when they’re attracted to someone else.

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Listen: Pornstar and sex-worker extraordinaire Madison Missina discuss what it’s like being lesbian and still having sex with men in porn. Post continues after audio.

Monique: What is it that you love about women?

Lissy: Where do I start? Personally, it’s just a wavelength thing. I just love being on the same wavelength. It’s so amazing being with a woman because, just like your friends, you tell them everything. They’re beautiful. They smell good. They’re not hairy. And even if they are hairy, their hair’s better than men’s. They taste and smell great.

Monique: Do men flirt with you and do you flirt back?

Lissy: Yes. But I’ve been in a 10 year relationship, so I find anybody flirting with me really, really, good. I take it where I can get it.

Monique: How much discrimination do you face on a day-to-day basis?

Lissy: On a day-to-day basis, pretty much none. Normally, I often forget that I’m gay because I’m getting by in my everyday life. I blend in because I don’t wear a uniform, anymore.

I could only count a handful of times that I’ve been discriminated against or found something very homophobic. Probably, the clearest one has been not being able to put Nikki on Indie’s birth certificate. But, that was four years ago and that has changed now.

As far as nasty or offensive behaviour, we were at a wedding  and Nikki introduced me to an old school friend. As her husband walked away, the old school friend said to us that her husband really wanted to see us kiss.

I just thought they were joking. We were in the church and I got so upset by it. I felt like saying, “Well, why you give him a headjob and we’ll watch right here in the church.”

Monique: What about when women kiss each other for the titillation of men?

Lissy: I hate that. I got used to it because you have to see it all the time. I was in an amateur theatre show and two girls who weren’t even in the play came to our after party. All the guys who were in the play, ran over with their phones and were all taking photos. Here I am, sitting with my girlfriend, wanting the floor to swallow me up because it was so embarrassing.

I’m all for women kissing each other but not specifically for men. It cancels out our everyday frustrations. They don’t have to go through everyday frustrations but they can just have a big old party pash, just for boys to look more sexy.

Monique: When do you stop yourself from doing big public displays of affection?

Lissy: It’s not because I’m worried what people think, it’s because I can’t be bothered with the stares. If I hold my wife’s hand in public or put my arm around her, I drop it because I can’t be bothered. If children walk by and they say something, it’s boring and annoying. I do have a lot of internalised homophobia, too.

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"I often don't want to hold hands in public, because I can't be bothered with the stares."

Monique: What do you mean by internalised homophobia?

Lissy: You're frightened that people will think of you all the bad things about gay people. For example, how homosexuality has been connected to pedophilia, which is completely note true. I've grown up thinking I'd better not be around children because I'm gay. Even though, clearly, I'm not a threat to children - I love them.

People think that gay people are sexually promiscuous so I'll try really hard to make it give a public perception that I'm not sexually promiscuous.

All those sorts of things are ways of taking on the public, negative perception and doing the opposite so people won’t think that I have the horrible illness that is gay.

Even at our own wedding I had this dummy look in all of my wedding photos feeling grateful that people are even here, because I didn’t think they felt it was real.

Monique: What’s a vagina taste like?

Lissy: They all have a similar taste to each other. Maybe just a little bit salty. You know, lick your arm and it’s a bit salty.

Monique: Thank you, for everything.

****************

Lissy wasn’t the only one who got in touch with me. There was Jo, who said it’s totally fine for straight women to ask lesbians questions because it’s all about gathering and sharing information.

Jo actually said it’s less cool to go behind her back and ask questions. She wrote to me:

I heard through the grapevine that certain women, from work, were concerned about sharing a hotel room with me when we went interstate because I was a lesbian. Just because I'm a woman who is attracted to women doesn't mean I want to sleep with you or play with your boobs.

My partner and I have been in some truly horrifying situations when trying to find last minute accommodation, being asked if we would prefer twin rooms or having sleazy young men follow us back to our hotel room just to watch.

Finally, a story about a newcomer. Faustina Agolley came out two years ago. She's mega high profile. You probably know her from Video Hits, but she’s also an actress and writer.

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Faustina: I’ve only been out a year - actively on the scene. There was this sense of relief, when I came out. it had taken so long for me to get there, that I was beating myself up for that.

Monique: I read that you were school captain at Catholic girls school. Do you think this made it harder to come out?

Faustina: No. I would say it was a result of the larger, heteronormative society. The fact there weren't really gay women in the media state. I can't recall gay episodes on Oprah's show. I do remember the time when Ellen came out but, I couldn’t see myself in her then.

Growing up, I had never really seen lesbian women that were mixed race and I didn't realise how much visual cues were important to see yourself identified.

Because I didn’t know who I was, that lead to my anxiety. For example, when I had to get ready for my year 12 formal, I had a panic attack. My very first panic attack. I didn’t realise at the time, that I was entering into this very heteronormative environment. I didn’t want to wear a dress for a guy. I didn’t want to participate in that because I didn’t realise, at the time, that wasn’t truly me.

Monique: Do the women in your life treat you differently now?

Faustine: You see the surprise in their face initially and then it softens. They still know it’s men. It’s just a new dimension to my life.

Monique: Are you in love at the moment?

Faustine: No. I’m in love with everyone. I love exploring and I love meeting people but I am not in love with one person.

Now, I don't have to put up with the same amount of anxiety. I don’t feel like I have to be someone else to fit in. I just feel more at ease with myself. This is the main thing.

If I find love terrific, if it's not so in this life, then that's fine too.

If you've been reading this and only got more questions or need help, get in contact with QLife. They’re Australia’s first counselling and referral service for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and/or intersex.

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