There's a big problem with Vogue's recent Kendall Jenner interview. Actually, there are a couple of problems.
The first is that the interviewer asked Jenner about rumors that she's gay. No one should have to answer questions about their sexuality (even celebrities who get asked invasive questions all the time). If someone is gay, it's up to them to choose when and how to tell someone (or the whole world, in Jenner's case). But the biggest problem here isn't the question — it's how the story sets up the big reveal.
"Kendall Jenner — a tomboy who collects vintage cars, prefers sneaks and jeans and a hoodie, and rolls with a squad of mostly guys — is not gay," it reads.
A woman who likes to dress comfortably, thinks cars are cool, and hangs out with men is straight? Whaaaat?
Oh, wait, this actually isn't shocking at all. Straight women have all kinds of interests and can dress however they want. What's also not shocking, but definitely disappointing, is the framing of this information. It rolls a whole bunch of gay stereotypes into one sentence and, in doing so, bolsters the widely-held misconception that all gay women look and act alike.
Assuming that "masculine" traits, like feeling at home in a hoodie and a pair of sneakers, can indicate someone's sexuality erases feminine queer women like me. We call it "femme invisibility," and it's an issue that we deal with all the time. When the assumption is that all queer women dress, talk, walk, or act masculine, our identity gets erased.
As queer writer Ivan Coyote wrote in their poem, “To All of the Kick-Ass, Beautiful, Fierce Femmes Out There": "Sometimes, you are invisible. I have no idea what this must feel like, to pass right by your people and not be recognized, to not be seen."
It feels isolating. When we were newly out in college, I and other femmes I knew would do whatever it took to make ourselves seen. We'd line our backpacks with so many rainbow pins that they were basically metal and wear shirts with slogans like "Legalize Gay" or "Vagatarian." Some decided to get a "lesbian haircut" and then later regretted it. But even when we made every indication that we're gay, some people still wouldn't believe us.
Take Lauren, for example. She was the badass, high-femme, lesbian director of programming at my college's LGBTQ+ resource center. When a straight man from the campus newspaper came in to interview her one day, he took one look at her fierce, pointy heels and fully-made face and said, "You're too pretty to be gay."
That's not an uncommon experience. When Lauren told us that story during an LGBTQ+ discussion group one night, two other women piped up to say that the same thing happened to them at frat parties and even in the local gay club. Both straight and gay people still have a hard time believing that feminine women can be gay. Queer femmes have actually been told that they don't belong in queer spaces because they don't "look" gay. And that makes femmes feel both invisible and ostracized.
So, maybe Kendall Jenner isn't gay, but I am. I know nothing about cars, my closet is full of dresses, and the only straight man I regularly talk to is my girlfriend's roommate (because, you know, I don't want to be rude). I'm not the kind of person who comes to mind when most people hear the word "lesbian." Does that mean gay women can't be vintage car-loving, sneaks and jeans-wearing tomboys who hang out with men? Of course not. I'm sure a gay woman who fits that exact description exists somewhere in the world. But we don't all look the same, and juxtaposing Jenner's more "masculine" traits with her sexuality plays into stereotypes that misrepresent the queer community as a whole.
We're a diverse group of people, with butches and femmes and lots of people whose gender presentation falls somewhere in the middle, and we all deserve to be seen.
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