Monday, August 01, 2005

Gaydar Isn't What It Used to Be

By K. Pearson Brown
Washington Blade

My friends Margie and Ginny recently joined me at a charity benefit for the Henry Mancini Institute at the elegant Arthur Beren shoe store in Beverly Hills.

As they glided past the three-piece jazz ensemble, arm in arm, dripping with bling bling and sparkling in their bejeweled sweaters, they caught the eye of the society page reporter for a 90210 tabloid who rushed over to snap their picture.

“Are you two sisters?” she gushed.

Margie had a polite, ready reply: “No, but when you’ve been married as long as we have, you start to look alike.”

The befuddled photographer uttered a simple, “Oh.”

How was she to know? It used to be you could tell who was TW, or “That Way,” but now lesbians cloaked in expertly applied MAC cosmetics and sporting girly strappy slides are jamming our gaydar with mixed signals.

This is especially true in L.A., where the premium on physical attractiveness is inordinately high, and even diesel dykes have manicures.

Just a few years ago, we were able to identify who was “family” with amazing accuracy. When Ellen DeGeneres finally come out with, “Yep, I’m Gay,” there was a resounding, “Duh,” from lesbians.

That was before “The L Word” heralded the final liberation of lesbians from mullets, flannel shirts and sensible shoes; before the days when girl-on-girl eroticism graced the pages of haute couture magazines; and lesbian comedian Kate Clinton was so confused by the apparent oxymoron of “lesbian chic” in the mid-90s that she quipped, “Lesbian sheik? Those Arabs are getting really progressive.”

These days we're hip, and “The L Word” has raised the profile of lesbians as well as the bar for lesbian beauty and sexuality. While it would seem that lesbians would consider being represented on TV by pretty women a public relations coup, I’ve actually heard some complain about it.

Some protest that “The L Word” misrepresents us because lesbians don’t really look like the coifed bevy of beauties in full make-up, lounging around naked shoulder-to-shoulder on billboards advertising the show.

Others grumble that it’s become so fashionable to be a lesbian that straight girls are trying it out or masquerading as lesbians, dancing suggestively together at bars, acting overly affectionate and sexy with each other to the titillation and frustration of straight men and lesbian onlookers.

Others say that gay-girl mod has spurred a new crop of lesbians who cross-dress, that is, dress like straight women, and now nobody can tell who is and who isn’t a lesbian.

My straight male co-worker seems to have more sense than most lesbians when he says that, while he is an avid fan of the show, he acknowledges that TV is a fantasy, and just as most straight women don’t resemble waif-like Jennifer Garner from “Alias” or sultry Eva Longoria from “Desperate Housewives,” most lesbians don’t look like the stars of “The L Word.”

As far as the tri-sexuals — those who “tri” anything — the only thing we can do is grin and bear their teasing, just as straight males have always done.

And as for those who we can’t figure out, we might have to endure an embarrassing moment when we extend ourselves with the secret lesbian handshake — a knowing nod of the head or a flirty smile — to find she is just a clueless hetero who thinks you want to make a new friend.

Ladies, you wanted social equality, now we have it.

I’m reminded of how feminists once chastised Madonna circa “Erotica” for being slutty and bad for the women’s movement, to which she rebutted that true feminism allowed her to be whomever or whatever she chose. I believe this applies to lesbians.

The truth is that our “L Word”-inspired public image has set us free. It has obliterated the idea of a stereotypical “lesbian look.” The bottom line is lesbians are in, and conformity is out. Let’s enjoy it.

If that means dressing down in Birkenstocks and cargo pants — or getting dolled up in a little sequined cami, bangles and baubles — then go for it girlfriend.

Enough said; I’m off for my mani-pedi.