Holly Riglar explains why feminine looks can leave you feeling like less of a lesbian.

Surely I can’t be the only one. Are there any other feminine looking lesbians out there who feel like they have to come out more often than their butch friends? I certainly do, but I’ve learnt it’s paramount to stay true to who you are – and that includes wearing dresses.

There used to be time when I ignored the exasperated look from my mother as I, once again, steered the trolley into the boy’s isle of ASDA. I’d come away with a pair of cuffed trousers and some short-sleeved shirts that I’d button all the way to the top like all the lesbians I knew did. I knew my mum wasn’t too keen on me swapping my typical, feminine getup for that which more resembled my brothers’ clothing, but I was determined to ‘pass’ as a lesbian.

Fortunately, today I know better.

As a kid I was pretty tomboyish and went through a phase of wearing nothing but tracksuits and playing only with my brothers’ boys toys. But all children are pretty rambunctious and oblivious to gender boundaries, aren’t they? And so, it wasn’t a big surprise to my relieved mother when this all came to an end when I began secondary school. There, I was introduced to makeup, ‘cool’ girls and the art of hiking up my skirt without it wrinkling at the top.

I was 15 when I began the coming out process, a process that never seems to cease when you look like I do; typically girly. Anyone sick of the phrase ‘but you don’t look like a lesbian’?

In a bid to gain some recognition, I initially wore a lot of rainbow stuff but I lived a pretty closeted existence until I began visiting gay bars in my eighteenth year.

My first gay night out was pretty disappointing. There was a woman at the door – a butch woman who I instantly understood to be a lesbian – checking membership cards. As I had never been there before, I worried a little about gay club protocol but my friend and I were quickly ushered to the front of the queue to have our ID checks.

The bouncer didn’t even glance at my ID; she just took one look at me and asked, ‘you know this is a gay bar, don’t you?’

‘Well, yeah,’ I think was my response. It was my first foray into lesbianism, and I was mistaken for a lost little straight girl. I was peeved.

And so began my short identity crisis. To ensure the bouncer incident didn’t happen again, I decided a new wardrobe was in order – and off to ASDA I went.

I had long hair, a petite, girly figure and a face that gets called ‘cute’ a lot – and not the American kind of cute. Becoming what I then understood to be a ‘real’ lesbian was not going to be any small feat. I contemplated cutting my hair off more than once, and began wearing a lot of those knee length cotton shorts and Primark men’s shirts with a half-naked woman printed on them. I also bought a kid’s snapback with the word ‘Swag’ on it. Classy eh?

Walking into the gay bar dressed in my newly acquired attire and awaiting some kind of lesbian recognition from the girls I was imitating became a weekly routine.

I met a girl one night and we hit it off pretty well. Soon we got onto talking about a programme that aired a while back; Lip Service. We revealed our respective crushes – mine the gorgeous and subtly androgynous Lexy (hate to say it, but Frankie just p***ed me off, sorry girls) and hers the obviously girly Tess. She continued to describe her type – the girly, feminine, straight-looking kind. Sigh. I still looked incorrigibly feminine in her eyes.

I just couldn’t look butch no matter what lengths I went to.

I soon realised looking like that wasn’t a conscious effort for those girls that did, it was just what came naturally to them. It was simply who they were, inside and out, and it suited them.

Did that make me any less of a lesbian, not being able to mimic their style? At the time I thought so. I’d reduced what being a lesbian was all about to a mere fashion statement and I knew in my heart of hearts that I didn’t want to look butch; I just wanted to be recognised.

As the months passed, I slowly reintroduced girly bits and pieces, one by one, just in case my sudden butch betrayal would rid me of my lesbian status altogether. Today I guess you could describe my style as indie-hippy. I still get the urge to wear my sporty clothes a lot of days, but then, I’ve always been that type of girl.

These days I don’t mind being a feminine-looking lesbian, it’s who I am, but God forbid you call me cute. Babies are cute. Fluffy bunnies are cute. 20 year-old-sexy lesbian wannabes are not cute. Got it?

Oh, and feminine looking girls can be gay too, in case you hadn’t gathered that.

Ci1 (1) Holly Riglar