13/05/2013 07:58 BST | Updated 12/07/2013 06:12 BST

F is for Femme

The most offensive response I've ever received after mentioning my girlfriend to a new acquaintance involved a look of serious confusion on his part and the phrase "but you could definitely get a boyfriend if you wanted to". What I really wanted to do at that point was punch him in the face, but I controlled myself enough to remark that relationships with other women aren't for girls who have been rejected by the heterosexual dating market. Not only did his comment imply that a same sex relationship was of lesser worth than a heterosexual one, but his surprise awakened me to the curious rigidity of lesbian stereotyping.

I like fashion journalism, shoes, having glittery nonsense stuck onto my nails, anything pink... and women. These interests are not mutually exclusive. I guess my interest in 'girly stuff' would make me 'femme', characterized by Urban Dictionary as a lesbian or bisexual who exhibits "stereotypical or exaggerated feminine traits". I wasn't previously aware that blithely being interested in what I want to be interested in fitted with a particular stereotype or could be described as an 'exaggeration'. I searched the internet for high profile femme lesbians, but they were few and far between, and femme-femme couples seemed to mostly exist in porn and the pages of lads' mags.

I find this increasingly worrying, because despite gains made in February 2013 as the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons with a vote of 400 to 175, my girlfriend and I still field remarks that our relationship is 'such a waste', as though women being attracted to other women is denying men some kind of God-given right of access to any female they find attractive. Perhaps if we had more relaxed expectations of what a lesbian or bisexual woman should look like, then the surprise and the prejudicial comments masquerading as compliments would be less common. Elizabeth Cahill, a final year law student, says that "the assumption that lesbians can't look feminine is similar to saying we aren't 'normal', and can't, in the same way as 'normal' people, look a variety of different ways. It's like people feel uncomfortable if they can't pick out those who are gay in a crowd according to their own stereotypes". Why should you be able to identify lesbians or bisexual women by sight? Should we wear badges? A quick conversation might do the trick instead, and it would be much friendlier than an appearance-based judgment.

Being in a relationship with a woman doesn't mean that I should start dressing in a 'butch' style because that is the stereotype most commonly associated with lesbianism, or increase my love of pastels and perfume to make sure I truly am a 'femme'. The idea that girls who like girls must fall into two distinct categories seems worryingly oversimplified. Helen White, a third year English Literature student, remarks that "there are bits of both in everyone - and as such I like to be considered feminine myself, despite a lifelong aversion to girliness". There really is no concrete distinction due to the fluidity of our personalities and tastes as we grow and change, and identifying as either particularly butch or femme should be a choice, not something imposed from the outside. Pigeonholing is unreliable and exhausting; it seeks to iron out our quirks and differences rather than delighting in the varied nature of the human.

I'd like to see more positive femme role models in the media; I definitely keep watching ABC's Pretty Little Liars for Emily Fields and I particularly enjoy the blog of Whitney and Megan, a femme-femme couple who write about life and love on However, it's not just about increased femme visibility; it's about being much less rigid about how we expect girls who like girls to look. Ideally, I'd like us to feel comfortable enough to ditch the stereotypes and be open to lesbian and bisexual girls looking exactly how they want to, whether in tatty Converse or six-inch Louboutins.