THE BLOG
06/04/2013 06:33 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

The Problem With the Sexualization of Lesbians

My marriage isn't just about sex.

I didn't marry another woman solely because I like what happens between us in the bedroom. Men don't start families with other men simply because they're attracted to what's within their jeans. The LGBTQ community and its allies have not struggled for equality for so long because our rampant hormones drive us.

Being gay -- or bi or pan or trans -- is not just about sex. It's about love.

Sex sells. It's the mantra we've heard time and time again in reference to the media and advertising, the explanation that we offer when nude women are modeling designer handbags and phallic symbols are in G-rated movies. Perhaps because sex and sexuality are seen as "taboo," people are preoccupied with it; society takes part in a seductive slow dance with images and videos, acting as voyeurs looking into a world of forbidden pleasure from the outside.

But within the LGBTQ community, the story is a little different. It's no secret that gay and lesbian porn is consumed by people who identity as straight, and that's OK. Sex isn't something to be ashamed of. It's passionate and natural. It's OK to explore fantasies and experiences. It's OK to wonder, "What if...?"

But it's not OK to degrade. Before I was "out" as a lesbian, I was a part of many discussions about homosexuality -- with both men and women. Being from Massachusetts, the grand majority of people I grew up and went to school with were LGBTQ-friendly or LGBTQ-identified or knew someone who was. On the whole, I was not exposed to a lot of blatant homophobia. But I heard a lot of this:

"I'm fine with people being gay; what anyone does in the bedroom is none of my business!"

Being gay isn't just about what happens in the bedroom. It isn't just about sexual positions. It isn't just about consummating passion or fulfilling a fantasy. It's about love. It's about understanding. It's about emotional connections. It's about all the good -- and bad -- parts of a relationship that all couples experience.

The immediate conflation of the gay community with sex is dangerous. It puts us on a primitive level beneath our heterosexual peers. It highlights the importance of our sex and negates the importance of us as people -- whole, complex people with personalities, opinions and feelings that go beyond our sexual urges and practices. The focus on the "sex" in "sexuality" threatens to make us caricatures of the people we really are.

Last summer my wife and I went to a baseball game. We sat next to each other and held hands. A man in the row in front of us walked down the aisle to his seat with a tray of sodas and hot dogs. I watched him pass a family with children, the parents giving each other a peck on the lips as he approached, as well as a middle-aged couple with their arms around each other's shoulders and a teenage girl who had her head on her boyfriend's shoulder. He didn't have a visible reaction to them, other than apologizing for walking by.

He turned toward us as he bent to put his soda in his cup holder. He looked glad to be back at his seat. We made eye contact, and his eyes looked apathetic and a little tired. I watched his eyes flicker to my hand in my wife's and remain there for several seconds without blinking. They traveled up and down our bodies, unapologetic and unblinking. His eyes returned to mine, and they were wide. There was a flash of color in his cheeks. His lips ticked. I blinked. He furrowed his brow and dropped his eyes. He turned and sat quickly. He fussed with his tray and napkins erratically. His female companion asked if he was all right, and he scowled. As he passed his companion a hot dog, he said, "I just don't know why they have to hold hands." She turned slowly over her shoulder and glared at us.

The couples he walked by in his aisle were innocent. They showed gentle, sweet affection between them. Their behavior was not inappropriate for a Thursday-night baseball game. What was different about my wife and me? We were two women. We were not in a porn film he'd found online. We were not giggling and drunk at a bar. We were not topless on a poster board. We were a normal couple at a baseball game. But in his eyes we were sexualized.

The sexualization of lesbians verges on being a cultural phenomenon. Perhaps it is society's glorification of the penis and masculinity in sex that causes people, both heterosexual and within the queer community, to marvel over what two women can possibly do in the bedroom.

Is it not "real" sex without a man? Without penetration? Without a sex toy? Are women's sexual organs and ministrations so subservient that they can't possibly pleasure one another without a penis involved? There are many debates about what "real" lesbian porn is and how the intended audience changes what occurs on the screen. I have no problem with pornography as long as all parties are consensual, and I have no issue with either "type" of women-on-women pornography.

I do have an issue with my person being reduced to my sexuality. I do have an issue with the "lesbian" identity being synonymous with "sexual fantasy." I do have an issue with "corrective rape" and the idea that a lesbian just needs a "real man" to "turn her straight." I do have an issue with the belief that lesbians are only lesbians as a result of sexual abuse and are now afraid of men and the penis.

I am proud of who I am, including my sexuality. In fact, I love my sexuality. But I also love kittens, poetry and Friends, but none of these things defines me. And the sex in my sexuality shouldn't either.

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