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“Girlfriend” Versus “Girlfriend”: A Queer Woman’s Pet Peeve

“So me and my girlfriends…”

Every time a straight woman says this, a part of my queer heart dies.

They’re probably not trying to be homophobic. Somewhere inside of me, I know that, especially if it’s a woman around my mom’s age. As a friend of mine told me lately, until recently, sexuality was a taboo subject, not talked about as much or as openly as it is now. This line of thinking gives older women more leeway when they say that phrase.

Except it still hurts.

It still really hurts, no matter who says it or how old they are. And because it hurts, I have the right to write this article fully explaining why, instead of staying quiet and accepting that people don’t mean to hurt me with their words.

Saying the word “girlfriend” in a platonic way, in any way other than romantic, is homophobic, whether the speaker intends it to be or not. It is homophobic because by casually using the word in this way, the speaker is devaluing romantic relationships between women, and making them no different than platonic friendships. You wouldn’t see that among guys. When someone says “boyfriend,” everyone knows who they’re talking about, no matter the gender. They’re clearly indicating that it’s a man they’re seeing romantically.

“But men are more homophobic,” people usually say to me. “They aren’t as comfortable with expressing their affection for each other.” And yes, that’s true. The issues and obstacles faced by queer men are some that I, as a queer woman, will never face or know. But that doesn’t mean women can’t be homophobic either.

Often, women are fine showing affection with one another — until a woman in their social circle comes out as gay or bi. Throughout the course of my lifetime, I’ve had friends who’ve told me about the “friends” they used to have, who cut them off and treated them like second-class citizens when they came out. I’ve had friends or people who I’ve tried to become friends with who’ve treated me differently after I came out, too.

And I’ve known girls who say it’s weird for a guy to kiss them after he goes down on another guy. Those who say they’d be uncomfortable with other girls checking them out in the locker room — as if I’m a predator, as if all queer girls couldn’t help themselves but stare and lust after every other female in their vicinity. And I’ve known girls who say “Galentine’s Day” to emphasize that it’s platonic friendship they’re celebrating, not something gay. I’ve known girls who say “lesbian” while laughing, as if queer girls like me are some butt of the joke.

And I’ve heard girls say, “So me and my girlfriends…” when asked about their Friday nights, and I am told through these words — their words — that my love and attraction to women is something worthless, insignificant, not worth signaling out or special or to be celebrated. And maybe they’re just words, that I shouldn’t get sensitive about it. But every time someone says those words, it chips at my heart.

It chips and it chips and it chips, and then, eventually, you find that there is nothing left to chip away at.

Images/GIFs: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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Amberly Lerner

U Mass Amherst

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