By Jolie Day
A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I who are long-distance decided to go on a trip to Las Vegas the weekend before I planned to visit her in Phoenix. We hadn’t seen each other for two and ½ months after she graduated and made the move. We really looked forward to seeing each other and had high hopes that our trip would allow us both relax and enjoy our time together. However, our hopes were dashed by the countless people who decided to sexually harass us during our trip.
My girlfriend and I have been together for 6 months now. She and I are each other’s first relationship with another woman. She identifies as bisexual and I identify as pansexual. Together we have been navigating the experience of the being LGBT in a heteronormative society. More often than not, people are positive and accepting of our relationship. However, there are instances when people will assume we are straight and hit on one of us, and when we specify that we are dating the ensuing comments can be less than endearing.
One of the first occurrences we encountered was when my partner was in her apartment and her roommate’s brother was staying for a weekend. He starting making advances, to which she responded that she and I are in a relationship and therefore not interested. He responded by saying that he has always wanted to be with two girls. This is an extremely unacceptable response to my girlfriend rejecting him. What was even more unacceptable was his immediate sexualization of our relationship. I hated knowing that she was stuck alone with him while he sexually harassed her no matter how clear she made it for him. I was even more frustrated with the fact that if she said she had a boyfriend instead of a girlfriend, he might’ve actually backed off.
In the summer, we made plans that I would visit her in Phoenix for her birthday, and that the weekend before we would go to Las Vegas because it was so close. I packed my bags and caught the flight at 6 a.m. that Friday, anticipating the moment I would see her. She and I had talked about how seeing each other in the airport for the first time would be both amazing and maybe a little nerve-wracking. I remember sitting there waiting, and suddenly noticing out of the corner of my eye her particular gait coming toward me and turned excitedly to embrace her. It was one of the best moments I had in months. But in a split second, my awareness heightened. I know we were both thinking the same thing. We had kissed in public many times in Moscow, but were we going to be treated differently in another place? Were people going to make comments or say anything derogatory to us? These fears I had never had before started to surface. The thought of what her roommate’s brother had said popped into my mind and I wondered what the rest of the trip would be like for us.
Although we had an amazing time despite it all, throughout the weekend we experienced enough instances of sexual harassment to make me want to take a thousand showers. My girlfriend and I were like any other couple out-and-about: holding hands, dancing, enjoying each other’s company. However, we were not treated like every other couple. At every bar (and even walking on the street), we were met with people, mostly men, who would approach us. They asked to dance with us, insisted on giving us drinks, made comments about us and how we looked, and even tried to physically squeeze themselves between us. We heard comments like, “Two girls? That’s hot!”, or “I would love to get in-between you two, any chance of a threesome?”, and even “So who’s the alpha?”. Obviously these comments were completely inappropriate and made my girlfriend and I feel uncomfortable, to say the least. It made me think about why people felt entitled to treat us this way and what in our culture is perpetuating this behavior.
I looked to our media. We felt the fear of being treated differently because, although improving, of the lack of representation of LGBTQA people in our media has an effect on how we feel about ourselves and how people may think about us. Often queer women are portrayed in our media overtly sexualized and their portrayals are suited more to the male gaze. Movies like Wild Things, where Neve Campbell and Denise Richards share an intimate scene in a pool while a man lurks in the bushes recording them portrays women as sex objects for men’s pleasure. Even instances like Madonna, Christina Aguilera, and Britney Spear’s infamous kiss at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards in New York City used female intimacy to boost ratings and draw attention to the celebrities. Even in pornography, stereotypical depictions of what kinds of intimacy women share is not often accurate, and plays more into male fantasy than reality.
These kinds of depictions and stereotypes feed into the normalized behavior that my girlfriend and I and many other couples experience. Our relationship is not an invitation for others to be a part of unless we so choose. I would love to be able to kiss and embrace my girlfriend like any other couple and not be met with stares or prying questions. As a society, it is important to push back against these negative depictions of the LGBTQA community in our media and in everyday life so that we may deconstruct this behavior and work toward safety, inclusivity, and respect.