‘Lesbi’ in culture

By Hayley White

Reading time: 13 minutes

[caption id="attachment_1966" align="alignleft" width="225"] River Lancaster[/caption]

River Lancaster kind of always knew that she was lesbian, just a little bit. She came out to her family and friends as bisexual when she was 13 and continued to date boys even though she was not really into it.

“You know how you stare at someone and you’re like wow, they’re so attractive and it just happens? I would have to pretend, and I would have to force the thoughts like ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so lucky to have such a cute boyfriend,’ I would actively have to think it,” she tells me. It paints a picture of how much she absolutely was not attracted to men. At all.

Being queer in 2021 is hard. Not only is it about trying sort through their own sexuality and discovering who they are, but they also feel the weight of the entire world on their shoulders as they slowly work through normalising same-sex relationships. Globally, opinions on homosexuality vary widely from place to place. A lot of countries have made massive strides towards becoming inclusive of same-sex relationships, with places like Canada, Belgium, New Zealand, and the Netherlands making same-sex marriage legal in recent years. Despite the progress made by these countries, other nations such as countries in Africa and the Middle East have not been so accepting, and homosexuality is still highly illegal.

By Hayley White

Reading time: 13 minutes

River Lancaster

River Lancaster kind of always knew that she was lesbian, just a little bit. She came out to her family and friends as bisexual when she was 13 and continued to date boys even though she was not really into it.

“You know how you stare at someone and you’re like wow, they’re so attractive and it just happens? I would have to pretend, and I would have to force the thoughts like ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so lucky to have such a cute boyfriend,’ I would actively have to think it,” she tells me. It paints a picture of how much she absolutely was not attracted to men. At all.

Being queer in 2021 is hard. Not only is it about trying sort through their own sexuality and discovering who they are, but they also feel the weight of the entire world on their shoulders as they slowly work through normalising same-sex relationships. Globally, opinions on homosexuality vary widely from place to place. A lot of countries have made massive strides towards becoming inclusive of same-sex relationships, with places like Canada, Belgium, New Zealand, and the Netherlands making same-sex marriage legal in recent years. Despite the progress made by these countries, other nations such as countries in Africa and the Middle East have not been so accepting, and homosexuality is still highly illegal.

Same-sex relationships are not exactly new either – in fact, many historical sources focus on male homosexuality, especially in Western culture. In Ancient Greece and Rome, homosexuality was socially accepted. It was common for adult men to form relationships with adolescent boys. It was the adult man’s role to love, care for, educate, and be a role model for the boy until he came of age. Oftentimes, the active partner in a homosexual relationship was not thought of as homosexual. Instead, the passive person in the relationship was more often considered the homosexual one.

Native American culture had what was called Beardache or ‘gay Indians’ which were thought of as a third sex. It was seen as acceptable for a man to have sex with a Beardache but unacceptable for Beardache to have sex with one another (Mondimore, 1996 as cited in Sullivan, 2004).

For many cultures, sexualities and gender identities were given one label, such as the Māori takatāpuimeaning “intimate companion of the same sex”. The term has been reclaimed to embrace Māori who identify with all genders, sexes, and sexualities. In 1832, Takatāpui was found in the earliest Māori dictionaries and proves how homosexual practices were accepted in Māori culture. Despite this, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are not as visible in other Pasifika cultures.

Teiti Johnson-Craig

Teiti Johnson-Craig is a young Samoan-Māori woman living in Hastings. She always found girls attractive but did not realise she was sexually attracted to women until she fell in love with her best friend. “It honestly took me until the second to last year of high school to actually tell myself that I was bisexual, and it was pretty hard to accept myself because I had all these expectations from all these people around me,” she tells me.

These expectations came from family members like aunties and uncles. “They were pretty judgemental, but I just took it on the chin because that was who I was, and I just had to accept it,” she says.

Her brothers did not make it easier on her either. They would tease and mock her about it all the time, and her dad especially was not accepting of it, but Teiti believes that comes with being Samoan-Māori. “My dad, he’s Samoan hard,” she says and clarifies: “Strict as; straight forward. He doesn’t want any of us to have any problems with ourselves and apparently that was a problem, which was why he was so judgemental about it,” Teiti says. “He just thought it wasn’t normal, like ‘all your siblings are like this, but you’re like this.’ That was how he pointed me out, that was basically the case.”

And knowing that the Samoan culture was not particularly accepting of gay and bisexual people was not much help, either. Teiti says that the family just did not want her to give them a bad name. They believed something like this was going to do that because she was the only person who was into both girls and boys.

“My mum was fully supportive,” she is grateful to admit. “She knew [I was bisexual] but she was waiting for me to tell her, and, in a way, that made me feel comfortable because I was able to open up. She was the first person I did tell, and she would always talk to [my dad] because my dad’s hard-headed. She would just try to like talk to him and explain to him that not everyone’s the same,” she says.

River also had to deal with family expectations, but in a bit of a different way. She would receive passing comments from people asking if she had a boyfriend and talking about having children. “We were at lunch and [my grandparents] were like: ‘Do you have a boyfriend or anything at the moment?’ And I was like: ‘Oh, so actually I’ve realised that I just like women,’ and they were like: ‘Oh that’s cool,’ and my grandad was like; ‘I like women too!’,” she laughs.

“And then a couple of hours later they were talking about how I was gonna have kids. I asked them: ‘Why is this important – I’m a child’.” As for her dad’s side of the family, River is a little more hesitant to tell them. She tells me that her grandad probably does not care all that much, but her nana was born Catholic and still holds onto a lot of those beliefs. “She’s very anti-abortion and stuff like that, so I don’t know if I can deal with that drama. I might just get married to a woman and if she’s alive she can be there – just send the invite – ‘Surprise!’” She bursts out laughing.

Religion has played a big factor in how our society views homosexuality for a long time. Most religions tend to label homosexuality as unnatural, ungodly, and impure, so of course people who have had exposure to these messages are likely to have anti-homosexual attitudes.

In some cases, certain religions may be more disapproving than others. In the United States, Judaism, and mainline Protestant churches are generally seen as more accepting and liberal, compared to conservative Protestants who are known to be less (Adamczyk & Pitt, 2009).

Muslim religions are markedly more conservative than any Western religion. There are a handful of Islamic scriptures that outlaw same-sex relationships. The Qur’an itself labels homosexuality “an abomination” or fahisha (indecency or lewdness). It is said that the prophet Lot (or Lut) was sent by God to tell everyone that people who were caught performing homosexual acts had to be banished from their towns. Other writings, like the Hadith, which is a recording of the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, prove that homosexuality was around in seventh-century Arabia, but was heavily punished.

While River was really struggling with her sexuality, she had a Christian friend who would check up on her every now and then. Even though she felt like she couldn’t talk to him about her sexuality without being judged, when she eventually opened up to him, she was relieved to be met with only a little bit of resistance. “I told him I was a lesbian, and he was like: ‘No that’s cool; you know that I don’t see you any different. But maybe just don’t say that you’re a lesbian because you never know – you might find the perfect man of your dreams one day – maybe you’re just seeing the wrong men,’ and I was like: ‘I don’t think so,’” River laughs.

Teiti also had to come to terms with people not really believing her sexuality as being bisexual. Bi-erasure is a big thing bisexual people struggle with, because if they date someone of the same sex, they are labelled gay, and if they date someone of the opposite sex, then they must be straight. “I get that quite a lot, especially from people I meet,” she tells me. “I just tell them straight up that I’m bi. When they ask questions about what I’m attracted to, or about past relationships and things like that, I just let them know because, they don’t see me as that and think: ‘Oh, no, you’re just into boys’.”

While the world appears to be okay with gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, River and Teiti do not agree. River says that accurate representation of lesbian relationships is important for young girls to grow up and realise that what they are feeling is not wrong. She says that all portrayals of lesbians are sexualised. “If I had seen that media earlier, I would have realised that it’s okay, it doesn’t have to be a big deal,” she tells me.

Teiti says that people just need to hold off on their judgement. “At the end of the day people have their own opinions, but it doesn’t hurt to keep them to themselves. It’s just the judgement that gets to us,” she says. River agrees, saying that people think staring and smiling at a gay couple means they come across as supportive, but it actually feels the opposite. “That’s really nice and thank you for your acceptance, but it’s not really acceptance because if it was, you wouldn’t be staring,” says River. “If you see a queer couple in public, it’s not that hard to just not stare at them. I get that it might be new for you and you may never have seen it before, but there’s no need to comment on it. There’s no need to stare because really it has nothing to do with you.”

 

Source: Homophobia, History, and Homosexuality, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment

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