Everyday Feminism readers, I have some harrowing news to report: We are not living in a teen soap opera.
I’m sorry. I’m just the messenger here.
I wish I could come out of the closet to everyone I will ever know in one concise, thirty-minute episode, complete with underscoring and narration, but that’s not how it works.
Whenever I tell people that I’m a gay lady, the conversation often goes a little bit like this:
Person: Do you have a boyfriend?
Me: No. I have a girlfriend.
Person: (Puzzled) So, you’re…a…(whispered) les-bi-an?
Person: Oh! But…you’re so pretty! I never would have guessed!
And if the person I’m talking to happens to identify as a straight man, the last line morphs into the most pointless pickup line of all time: “You can’t be gay! You’re too pretty to be a lesbian!”
Full disclosure here: I am a solid seven on a good day. My appearance lives on the somewhat-cute side of average. When people talk about me behind my back, my appearance isn’t the first thing they mention – it’s my obnoxious personality. Duh.
Why am I telling you this? Basically, I’m not even close to looking like some sort of supermodel-knockout-bombshell by society’s standards. I don’t garner an exorbitant amount of compliments on my looks. Overall, I’m standard-issue with a cool haircut. Nothing to see here.
And yet, the second I tell people I’m a lesbian, people act like I’m hot enough to get a screen test for Pretty Little Liars (spoiler: I’m totally not).
Straight people, you definitely would not single out how pretty I am if you were working under the assumption that I was straight.
However, when you find out that I’m gay, that’s when my looks come into the conversation.
So, lez be honest here: The “You’re too pretty to be gay” schtick isn’t really a compliment about my appearance. It’s more of a commentary on your perception of gay women.
And by the way, this experience is not unique to me. In fact, every single woman I know who identifies as a remotely feminine queer person has been told they’re “too pretty to be gay.”
Femmes, keep on being your beautiful selves.
But the next time some well-meaning straight person tells you that your looks contradict your sexual orientation, here are a few ideas to combat the awkwardness.
1. Use Consciously Executed Humor
In the moment, it might feel refreshing to use your wit to tear down the 300th person who feels the need to point out the obvious points that you are, indeed, a gay lady who is also feminine and good-looking all at the same time.
It’s easy to make jokes that tear down ignorant people. Educating them without implicating them is much harder.
Why is it an awkward moment – some would even call it a microaggression – when people call lesbians “too pretty to be gay?”
Maybe because sexual orientation and outward appearance aren’t correlative. Maybe because there isn’t a single, universal standard for how to be a woman or a gay person.
Maybe because beauty is subjective and cannot be quantified.
And maybe because no matter how pretty and gay a lady is, it is still super difficult to find an online date with a lady who doesn’t want a surprise three-way with her neckbeard boyfriend. Just me?
Long story short, the “Too Pretty to be a Lesbian” cultural idea is loaded with logical fallacy and absurdity.
You can make a joke about stereotypes with nonsensical implications, rather than making a joke aimed at the person unknowingly making them.
Here are a few humorous replies I’d use in response to “But you’re too pretty to be gay!”:
- “But am I pretty enough to be a gay guy though? I just want to look like Jonathan Groff.”
- “I should keep telling people I’m a lesbian so they’ll keep talking about how pretty I am! Tell me more!”
- “Please feel free to inform Demi Lovato of just how pretty and homosexual I am.”
- “I hope this means I’m too pretty to have a day job, too.”
- “Don’t tell Melissa Etheridge that – she’ll take my Gay Card away!”
Whether you have a more dry, deadpan delivery or if your sense of humor is more goofy, the trick is to highlight just how absurd it is to quantify “prettiness” and correlate appearance to sexual orientation.
2. Give Examples of Beautiful Queer Women
As I mentioned before, I am admittedly not a supermodel type. I’m not even a Dress Barn catalogue type. But I can name at least ten out queer women in the public eye who are drop-dead gorgeous by my personal standards.
Before I give you handy-dandy tips and techniques, let me be a stereotypical feminist blogger for a moment and remind you that societal beauty standards are bullshit.
Societal beauty standards, particularly in America, exist primarily through the male gaze, they ultimately function as one more way to control women, they’re usually whitewashed and thincentric, and they centralize female appearance over female capability.
Beauty itself isn’t a problem. Imposing rigid social rules upon beauty, however, is a major issue.
Long story short: Societal beauty standards are tacky, and I hate them.
You can show your friends what diverse beauty means to you, and maybe they’ll realize that “pretty” and “gay” are labels that include a wide variety of different – and beautiful – individuals.
The next time somebody gives you the “You’re too pretty to be a lesbian” line, you can let them know just how incorrect that assumption is by backing up your argument with well-curated photos of celebrities, selfies of your hot queer lady friends, videos of the amazing queer ladies of YouTube, and/or the profile pictures of beautiful strangers on Tinder.
Once you show a straight person the wide variety of what real-life queer ladies look like, you will be shattering their harmful stereotypes and problematic biases.
This strategy is my favorite because it starts a fun conversation about hot people, it allows you to Google hot people, and it gives you the opportunity to educate your misguided friend without preaching to them.
Here are a few examples I like to give when people say I’m “too pretty to be a lesbian”:
- “If you think I’m pretty, you should see my girlfriend. She was offered a Ford modeling contract when she was like eight. We could have been child stars! I’m clearly still upset about this as an adult.”
- “Two words: Samira. Wiley.”
- “OMG there are so many pretty lesbians on the Internet! Look at this girl I follow on Instagram. She literally gets paid by companies to take selfies. She is that pretty! And I think companies send her stuff for free if she posts about it. Yes, I’m jealous.”
- Lots of Google Image Searches.
When you promote diverse examples of both queerness and beauty, you are pushing back on both limiting stereotypes of queer women and toxic cultural messages about beauty.
3. De-Centralize Appearance
Talking about looks – good or bad – is super boring. There, I said it.
You know who gains from our conversations that spiral into a debate of “No, you’re the pretty one! I look like I literally roll around in shit like a beetle?”
Those companies don’t need any more attention or money. They make enough money from the amount of drugstore lipstick and green smoothies I buy in a year alone.
I don’t mean to take a dump on the cosmetics industry; I’d actually rather talk about how makeup is applied, as opposed to merely commenting on how it looks. And that’s not just because I am the world’s worst winged-eyeliner-artist.
It’s because action is interesting. Passivity isn’t.
The bottom line here – whether you identify as a gender/sexual minority or if you’re cishet – is this: Being female in our society pressures us to think and talk about our appearance more than enough as it is. #AskHerMore
If you’re as uncomfortable and annoyed with discussing appearance as I am, you have the right to completely change the subject.
The next time you disclose your orientation to someone and get the “but you’re so pretty!” response, here are ways to redirect the conversation:
- “Thank you? Speaking of gay and attractive people, have you listened to the Hamilton cast recording yet? Download it right now I’m serious it’s an American masterpiece!”
- “I may be pretty, but I definitely don’t remember smart-people things like the quadratic equation. But I do know all the words to ‘Ignition (Remix)’ by R. Kelly. I didn’t say I was proud of that. Now you totally have ‘Ignition (Remix)’ stuck in your head. Don’t lie. You remember it.”
- “Thanks. Are you hungry? Let’s order a pizza and watch SMASH.”
- “Thanks. I’m having a good hair day because I wash my hair literally once a week. Some people use vinegar as conditioner, but I can’t handle the smell. Supposedly, mainstream beauty products can dry out your hair or cause your scalp to actually produce more oil. What do you use?”
- “Do you have any other gay friends?” (This only works if you’re genuinely asking. If you deliver this question with a judgy undertone, you will 1000% alienate your friend.)
Appearances are boring, even if your friends are trying to make false correlatives between your looks and your orientation. You have more interesting things to talk about than physical beauty, and I’m sure your friends appreciate that.
Is being told I’m “Too Pretty to be a Lesbian” the most urgent social justice issue of all time? Of course not.
But quick reminder: Our website is called Everyday Feminism.
Queer people come out every day. Women are judged by their appearances every day.
Queer women experience unique judgment based on their appearances and orientations when they come out every day and when people say things like “You can’t be gay! You’re too pretty!”
This phenomenon connotes a cultural assumption that all queer women are ugly.
I know I used to hold that bias when I was younger. I tried so hard not to be gay, because I thought being a gay woman meant morphing a troll made out of boogers or something.
I may not be a Top Model, but I am most definitely not a booger-troll.
But I am a lesbian, and my orientation has absolutely nothing to do with my appearance.
Cisgender, heterosexual people are not inherently evil or ignorant. Nine times out of ten, they don’t even realize the harmful implications of their microaggressions or backhanded compliments.
Their intentions usually are not to hurt you. But the impact can range from an excruciatingly uncomfortable exchange to an actual insult.
Everyone needs to learn that placing a qualifier on a compliment usually implicitly insults a group of people.
When you call someone pretty, it’s a direct compliment to that person. When you call someone pretty for a lesbian, it’s an indirect insult to lesbians.
Same goes for “She’s funny for a woman.”
Maddie McClouskey is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She’s a twenty-something lesbian in New York City and currently writes weekly dating advice pieces for the LGBTQ event app and website SheSeekOnline and was a regular contributor to the sexuality and feminism site ToughxCookies. When she’s not writing articles about gayness, she’s performing stand-up comedy, singing show tunes to her girlfriend and dog against their will, or making up jokes for Twitter @SoundofMaddie. Read her articles here.