Killing spiders – Gender roles and lesbians

Just as DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act – the one which prevented any US federal body from recognising same sex unions and the legislation that meant that R and I couldn’t stay in the US) was in the process of being repealed, the New York Times published a lifestyle piece about a lesbian couple. For the life of me, I can’t find it – if you have any better luck can you pass it on as I would love to link to it! Anyway, this article was a well meaning attempt to ‘humanise’ same sex partnerships by showing that gays and lesbians are just regular folks. Obviously at the time (2012), the notion that queers have to put out the garbage was considered newsworthy.

As I’ve said, the article was well intentioned, but in its attempt to normalise us, it called on a whole slew of gender stereotypes. It really did talk about having to put out the rubbish and arguing over who got rid of the spiders. I suppose the point was to highlight that lesbians are just ordinary women. I’m sure that the writer didn’t mean to suggest that ordinary women needed a man to deal with their spiders.

There is a joke that is really old now; ‘Asking a lesbian couple which one is the man is like asking chopsticks which one is the fork’. It’s true. We can deal with our own spiders (R gently ushers them outside, I squash them). We know enough about ‘man stuff’ to have renovated our own house and have bought a used car without consulting either of our fathers. We are both strong enough to lift anything that needs shifting. This isn’t because we have special lesbian powers, it’s because gender stereotypes are rubbish.

What neither of us can do, however, is occupy a man’s status in society. The other weekend, there was a huge row at a house party we had been invited to. One of the other guests, a large white male, was angry that R (who is Black) had said that English people could be racist (see Racism in the UK on this blog). Then he went off on one about immigration. R refused to say what he wanted her to – why would she? What she was saying was true and what he was saying was racist. He kept arguing and arguing. I took him outside to try to talk to him. He wouldn’t listen and he still wouldn’t stop. Finally another guest, a white male, the same age, but shorter and less physically intimidating, said to him “Enough now, time to stop”. The man shut up instantly.

R and I can defend ourselves physically, but in situations like this, where the aggression is verbal, neither of us have the power to shut down an angry white male. We just don’t have the status. That is one of the few times when I really wish one of us had the power of a fork.

Killing spiders – Gender roles and lesbians


In order to have the best chances of success for our IVF treatment, I needed to lose at least 15kg (33lbs). It wasn’t last year’s resolution (which was to always take the stairs and to sit up straight), but I started the process around about the middle of January last year. Since then I have lost 20kg or 44lbs. I have come down from a size 20 UK (16 US) to a size 12/14 UK (8/10 US).

This may seem like an astonishing success. Friends and family are very vocal in their praise and admiration. In fact, nothing I have ever achieved, not renovating a house, writing a novel nor gaining a Masters, has ever been received so positively as becoming thinner. And I am decidely ambivalent about all of it.

I didn’t like the way I looked this time last year. It was hard to find clothes that looked good and were comfortable. I felt guilty all the time. I felt like everything else I had achieved meant nothing because I was an obese woman. I resented the fact that, at 40, if I were a man, I could slide into a rotund middle age without losing my status in society. Losing weight has not taken those feelings away. I don’t feel constant guilt any more, but I still feel that for most people, my weight means more than my achievements.

Losing weight wasn’t particularly difficult. Once I got into it, I enjoyed leaping about my living room with increasingly heavy weights. I like running. I don’t miss alcohol at all and I like the food I cook. I found what worked for me. So I don’t understand why my weight loss is treated as an incredible achievement. All of the other things I have done were much harder and are much more important to me.

There are definite drawbacks to being thinner. I am much more visible now. I don’t care for male attention, mostly it creeps me out (I’m that kind of lesbian). The blatant staring is far more uncomfortable than my clothes ever were. People assume I take up less space in the world – I have to fight for possession of the whole of my seat on the train. I feel like my excess flesh protected me from the world and now it is gone, I am exposed in a way I never noticed before.

Being thinner may have raised my status in some ways, but it has sexualised that status. It reminds me that as a woman, I am always defined by my body.