When I was asked to pen this piece for sapphic women, I realised that women, in general, have been underrepresented in most regions for generations. Women have been perceived only as a means to fulfil the needs of the family and to give birth to children, never given a chance to achieve their full potential. And without any doubt, men have always had the privilege to express themselves, be it personally as the head of the house or professionally. Even in our queer community, men hold this unacclaimed hierarchy because media representation or queer awareness is always around the gays.
Sapphic women, on the other hand, are considered to be outrageous, bold, and fictional. And if they are independent, they are seen as a threat to their cultural upbringing and society. Even today, after the decriminalisation of Sec. 377, people are aware of the gay community but hardly know about the struggles of lesbian women. Usually, a sapphic woman whose gender expression is masculine through a societal lens, be it through her hairstyle or clothing, is labelled as a tomboy. But hairstyle or dressing sense shouldn’t be the decisive factor for one’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
Lesbians and queer women in general aren’t here to be moulded in a way that perceives them as tomboyish, because most of them are unique on their own. Fashion plays a very important role, not only in representation but also in underrepresentation. People these days are so active on social media, following all social trends. At the same time, everyone uses androgyny and follows androgynous fashion but does not know what it really means and treats it like a plaything. If a queer woman wears androgynous clothing, it’s related to their own personal gender expression; it does not necessarily follow the emulation of masculinity. Mostly, this stigma around fashion and how a person should dress the way they want to regardless of gender is rarely seen in the media, which leads to a lot of underrepresentation of lesbian visibility and queer culture centred around women.
If we dig up some history, we will find a great deal of queer representation in ancient literature or in the carvings on temples from centuries ago, but most people still consider queer female relationships to be a myth or a confused state of mind. When we talk about lesbian couples, Indian cinema has very little representation, but as we always see, it’s pigeonholed into a butch and feminine lesbian couple (a lesbian relationship, more often than not, is stereotyped as a relationship with a masculine character and a feminine counterpart).
But the story rarely showcases a same-sex couple with two feminine or two butch lesbians. A lesbian relationship does not try to fill the void left by a man in a relationship but is between two women regardless of their gender expression. There are several questions asked by society that tend to hurt sapphics; the most common of them all is “Who is the man in this relationship?” This question is the biggest indicator of a lack of information in society. Lesbians and queer women, in general, are women who are attracted to women sexually and romantically. So why would there be a need for a ‘man in the relationship’? Such a question is flawed in and of itself.
The Female Fetish
Often, lesbians have been fantasised about even by straight men and couples, but this just leads to the objectification of women in general. Their real identities and existence are considered fake, experimental, or just a phase. In mainstream cinema, when we portray the queer community in a caricatured way under the disguise of comedy, it somehow makes it harder for people to accept the community and to understand that it is just as natural as being straight!
Incorrect portrayal or misrepresentation may also misguide people who are questioning or in the process of self-acceptance and coming out. In an ideal world, we would not be struggling with self-acceptance or fear of society and dealing with the stress of coming out if people would normalise homosexuality.
That’s where allyship plays a very important role in lesbian representation. It is queer washing or rainbow capitalism when people try to create awareness only during Pride Month, support the community to reach a large audience, and take advantage of the algorithm for personal growth, but throughout the year there is no boost or share for LGBTQ content.