To celebrate my poolshark of a best friend’s birthday, a few lady friends and I took her out to shoot a couple games at a local pool hall on Friday night. We had a good time overall, but a confrontation that occurred at one point in the night between one of my friends and a man who was hitting on her had me distracted for the rest of our time out.
My friend was in the middle of a game when a man playing at a table nearby approached her, complimenting her looks and trying to flirt. After speaking to him briefly, she thought she should let him know she’s not interested in men.
“I’m a lesbian,” she told him.
I didn’t pay much attention to the interaction, thinking that this was going to be the end of the conversation. But I was surprised when I realized that he wasn’t going to leave her alone like she made it clear that she wanted him to.
Apparently, he instead thought it would be pretty suave to continue harassing her after she made it clear she wasn’t returning his interest.
“Nuh-uh,” he joked, taking a few steps even closer, as if to touch her.
“Stop,” she said, immediately becoming serious and putting her hands in front of herself. “You’re in my personal space, please back up.”
The man continued to stand very close to her, looking at her with an unsure half-smile on his face, as if waiting for her to say “just kidding!” before he realized that she actually wasn’t. Finally, after what seemed like 10 years, he got the message and slunk off.
While this was just one isolated incident, I couldn’t help but wonder how often these types of conversations occur. I was amazed that I’d witnessed such a gauche social interaction at all, but its implications irritated me even further.
I was almost a little amused at his reaction, actually. Even if she were lying about being a lesbian (she wasn’t), she still clearly wasn’t interested in talking to this guy, which he should have realized and accepted. But instead of respecting her decision, he challenged it — as if he thought this macho insistence would wear down her defenses, and she would eventually give in.
I don’t believe that this man was representative of all men by any means (in fact, I think he reflects poorly on the majority of men who are not like this), but I do think he embodies certain flawed mindsets — namely, that women should serve a certain purpose for men. Wait, here’s a pretty girl who’s not interested in men? Blasphemous!
I don’t know how many times it’s been said in the past, but apparently it still needs to be said again: no means no.
But the incident raised other questions for me as well. To me, this interaction was a clear embodiment of lesbian invisibility, a concept that suggests that lesbians are rarely recognized by our society. While gay men usually have been persecuted more openly and harshly than gay women through history, invisibility is a frustrating problem that persists to this day.
Lesbian invisibility can be found everywhere — I didn’t just notice it for the first time when it was made blatantly obvious to me this past Friday. Every college student is probably familiar with Tanya Chalkin’s photograph “the Kiss,” which shows two women in white underwear snuggled up and kissing each other on a bed, after it was made into a poster and displayed in the dorm rooms of college-aged males all over. And guys are always jokingly (or not so jokingly) encouraging women to kiss each other at parties and at bars for their viewing pleasure.
I doubt two men kissing, on a poster or in a bar, would be as well-received or even accepted. What this says to me is that it’s still not all right for two men to be intimate, but it is for two women — as long as it’s just for men’s entertainment.
The problem also manifests itself elsewhere. Straight female friends frequently state that they’re in a relationship with each other on Facebook, yet most people would consider it weird if two straight male friends did this. Strangely, many people will assume that two women, even if they appear intimate, are probably still just friends.
Taken all together, these observations indicate how heteronormative our society still is. On a larger scale, this past weekend’s event was a reflection of the problems that are inherent to a heterosexist culture that emphasizes strict conformity to gender roles, especially when it comes to sexuality.
And even for those who don’t agree with my interpretation from this standpoint, one fact remains constant. This fact is that all people, gay or straight, should be able to expect a greater standard of respectful treatment, even in places as grimy as a pool hall.
Editorials Editor Catherine Cai is a College junior from Atlanta.