I'm out for breakfast with my extended family. Our group is large, and lots of conversations are going on. Somehow, the topic turns to lesbians. An aunt sitting a few seats away loudly asks: "Ariel, how many lesbians are there in the world?"
"334,263,984," I say. Just kidding. Actually, I answer, "Uh, I don't know." And feel awkward. And like I have a giant LED board across my chest reading Lesbian! This is the first misconception about lesbians.
1. Lesbians don't know everything about lesbians.
How many of us there are, how we have sex, if we were born this way—we can each answer only for ourselves. You'll have to ask the other 334,263,983 for their stories.
2. In a lesbian relationship, neither females need to be "the man."
Many people believe that unless it's been established which woman takes on that crucial role of "the man," the relationship can't function. What does "the man" even mean? The person on top during sex? The one who pays more often? There are plenty of straight relationships in which the woman claims all these roles.
3. Lesbians don't hate men.
The people who consistently complain about men are straight women. Lesbians don't care. If we want to be friends with a man, we will. If we don't, we, unlike straight women, have no needs that can be met only by men. In general, people hate others when they need something they're not getting from them. Anything else is just finding someone annoying.
4. Lesbians do not want to be called "he" (or "him").
There has always been some confusion between sexual orientation (the gender you are attracted to) and gender identity (the gender you identify as: male, female, intersex, or other). Lesbians do not want to be men, but are often confused with transgender men (those who identify as male even if they were assigned the female gender at birth). Lesbians are women who love other women. We don't identify as men, nor opt for the male pronouns "he" or "him," nor do we seek to transition to a male body or identity.
5. Going to a school exclusive for girls doesn't turn people into a lesbian.
There are lesbians in every sector and every demographic in any society in every country in the entire world. Attending one school over another has nothing to do with it. Being in a same-sex relationship while enrolled in an all-girls school may be more common because of deep friendships and emotional bonds girls form with each other, but it does not turn them into lesbians any more than co-ed schools can make gay men or gay women "turn straight." One is born with their sexual orientation and gender identity. It may take them a while to realize it, but environmental factors do not "turn" one gay or straight.
6. Not all lesbians are masculine.
Ellen Page, Jodie Foster, Portia Di Rossi, Patty Tiu, and Kat De Jesus—all these women are lesbians. Do you consider them masculine? If you see two women holding hands, the assumption is still that they are best friends or sisters instead of lovers. Only masculine (or "butch") lesbians stand out in the crowd, which makes poeple believe that all lesbians must be masculine. Unless two girls are kissing each other, feminine-presenting lesbians are largely invisible because they "look straight." Once you stop assuming that feminine women are all heterosexual, you'll see that many lesbians are actually not masculine at all.
7. Not all lesbians love and are good at oral sex.
I'm not knocking oral sex; it's great stuff. But some lesbians don't care about it. This myth brings us to that all-consuming question: How do lesbians have sex? I love that people don't know the answer! It makes the sex I have seem so exciting! You'll just have to keep guessing...okay, fine. You know the body parts women have? Try putting them together in every way possible and throw in some dildos if you want. There's a fair amount of trial and error. We have no more information than you do.
8. It's NOT any easier to be in a lesbian relationship than a straight one, because women understand each other.
Dead wrong. No relationship is ever easy. But while you're thinking in stereotypes, try putting two moody, passive-aggressive people together as a couple. I'd take that straightforward, just-always-wants-sex guy any day. And to address an even more offensive myth: No, lesbians are not lesbians because they can't "snag a man." Some people will see a lesbian they deem unattractive and believe she's too ugly or masculine for any man to want her. Or they'll see a beautiful lesbian and think a man wronged her and that's why she switched teams. Nope, that's not the case. It doesn't work that way.
9. All lesbians stay emotionally involved with their ex-girlfriends.
Really. My friend Amy recently woke up in the middle of the night to find her girlfriend having a tearful phone conversation with her ex. Instead of saying what a guy or girl in a straight relationship might say ("WTF are you doing on the phone with your ex?"), Amy understood and gently asked, "Is she okay?" I currently know two sets of lesbians who are in happy relationships, but are still in couples counseling...with their ex-girlfriends.
10. All lesbians have shown up to meet a girlfriend or a friend only to discover they are wearing the same outfit.
This story originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine, February 2015.
* Minor edits have been made by Cosmo.ph editors