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Move Over, Gaybros: Masculine Privilege Thrives Among Queer Women Too

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A subreddit called "Gaybros" recently became a target of ire -- and support -- for creating a space for gay men with "traditionally male interests," as described by creator Alexander DeLuca on The Good Men Project. Many derided the group for elevating traditional masculine traits and thus perpetuating misogyny among gay men, but as a queer woman, I see that this form of masculine privilege doesn't just operate in the gay community. We too have our own "lezbros," and I'm not talking about the straight men who are our friends.

There's a particular New York lesbian party that might be the natural habitat for the lezbro. The party features minimally clothed, hyperfeminine go-go dancers performing routines as a sea of women fist-pump and drool and throw dollar bills. There, many lesbians appropriate fratty personas, using pickup lines that might have originated in the mouths of men catcalling women on the street. Party culture itself shouldn't be conflated with misogyny, yet I find it impossible not to call this display objectification, even though it's at the hands of other women.

In these spaces, it can be challenging, at times, to find the line between queer masculinity and masculinity as it is performed by straight men. "The way in which masculinity interacts with naked feminine bodies, it's undifferentiated; the way queer masculinity interacts is almost the same," Cyree Jarelle Johnson, editor of Femme Dreamboat and contributing writer to Elixher.com, told me in a conversation about the notion of the lezbro. "And to me that's a problem, because when it's a man, we think of it as sexism," Johnson added.

But fist pumps and lap dances don't a lezbro make, at least not on their own. Lately, I've seen a spate of tweets, Facebook statuses and OKCupid profiles deriding feminine queer people. From "no femme pillow queens" disclaimers on dating profiles to a series of tweets calling for loyal femme partners over "bitches," these statements are, at best, veiled misogyny, hatred of anything feminine packaged as the desire for someone with a "more" radical queer identity in a poorly worded dating advertisement. Kate Severance, who writes the column Butch Please for Autostraddle, noted in a conversation that this conduct reinforces a hierarchy. "I think that there are certain modes of presentation in terms of butchness in conduct that allows us to create a queer hegemony and sit on top of it. That's in the commodification of feminine bodies that happens in the bro-y conduct," Severance said.

Much has been written about butch vs. femme privilege, and undoubtedly all identities are faced with different -- but no less legitimate -- modes of oppression. As a feminine queer woman who dates people all across the gender contiuum, and as a white, middle-class one at that, I certainly have privileges that my masculine-of-center peers do not. I don't fear for my safety in public spaces, because I'm seldom read as queer, and I'm never questioned about my gender, because I look normative. But perhaps pitting butch and femme identities against each other is too limited when examining the impact of masculine privilege on our communities. After all, my own appearance borders on high femme, yet I too am guilty of being a lezbro: I've brought my own "male gaze" to parties with go-go dancers, I sometimes have "bro-time" with certain queer female friends (no girlfriends allowed), and I've certainly described women's bodies in a manner of speech that I learned from my straight male friends, mostly because I thought it was the cool thing to do.

Coolness, of course, is at the heart of lezbro-ness, because masculinity itself is considered cool outside and inside the LGBTQ community: "Choosing masculinity to be cool is privilege," Johnson said. Thus, when someone is masculine in certain contexts, they reap the benefits of such a value. That alone is a form of social currency wherein femininity becomes lesser by virtue of what it is not.

Lezbros, or anyone who engages in the conduct I have named above, really just present the latest intersection of masculine privilege within the lesbian community. "When you're socialized as a girl, you go through life self-conscious of your body," Severance said. "So when you enter a space and suddenly become a person who is treated like a man in so many ways, you get high off of that feeling." Masculine privilege isn't innate to any one identity among queer women, but when we perpetuate certain behaviors, we certainly strengthen its hold.