She looks like a lesbian - can I say that?

I don’t know why, but if was seeking to identify someone I think I’d say “gay” rather than “lesbian” too. For some reason it just sounds a but less rude to me, but I’m not sure why. Or I guess we have “the woman who wears comfortable shoes” to fall back on!

I don’t think there’s any fundamental issue of bigotry involved here (unless you are seeking to identify someone for that reason). It’s just a question of politeness, because someone’s sex life is generally none of your business. However, if someone does choose to represent their orientation in a particularly unambiguous way - I think we’re talking about the female equivalent of the flamboyant/camp gay male presentation - then I don’t think it’s all that impolite to use this as a way to identify them.

No, there is *not *your answer.

The OP was not speaking to a work colleague, he explicitly said it was a private conversation between he and his wife.

Why are you answering a question that was not asked?

I agree. It’s fundamentally a question of politeness, which means that context is highly relevant. In a private conversation with hour spouse you might well identify someone by (say) their weight, something you would never do in a more public context.

This issue is reminiscent of the scene that has been repeated many times of someone desperately trying to come up with ways to identify someone other than saying “the black guy” in case that’s seen as racist. Subverted on Family Guy:

As a hetero woman who perfectly fits that stereotype - masculine face/build, overweight, very short hair, preference for loose cotton clothing - I will say that I do not find it at all offensive. It’s a common mistake that people make about me, and I frankly find it far less inconvenient than the flurries of men who used to mistake me for being interested in them.

However, I will also say that private conversations with understood subtext ceased to be harmless the moment you had a child. If you keep this up, one day something will get repeated in a way that hurts someone else, and causes people to dislike you and possibly even ostracize your child. Any phrase that makes you twitch in this way should be guarded against around children.

You have to quit it now, and be careful that your speech represents what you want your child to learn and repeat.

My mother used to spell words out when I was in earshot but she didn’t want me to understand. The problem is she’d still do it without thinking well after I had learned to read and write. I learned to roll my eyes at a young age.

What you are responding to, though, is precisely the fact that we don’t go out of our way. It is actually not our responsibility as human beings to make ourselves attractive to you. As I said above, I am not gay, but if I get into another relationship it will be with a guy who can want me as I am. I’m not spending two weeks per year on my hair again, ever. And if you can’t date me unless my feet hurt all night, then be off with you!

I wore the beauty crown for decades, with all the pain and hunger and expense and wasted time that that implies. Madison Avenue lied; it didn’t bring me happiness.

I mean you can say whatever you like obviously, but if you have a gut reaction to saying it such that you need to ask for opinions, whatever the case, it probably makes sense to think of a kinder and more accurate thing to say. In this case, I would figure out what I really meant by ‘look gay’ and just say that instead. Like “short haired blonde woman in the pant suit” or the “one who looks like Maddow”. If it helps, think about what groups you belong to and how you feel about people identifying you by the stereotypes of that group, and how you would prefer to be pointed out or identified.


My college class did a show which consisted of a bunch of musical sketches, including one of the guys doing an imitation of a famous female singer. After climbing off his shoes, he declared: “I am so, so, so, sorry. These past three years I’ve looked down on you for wearing sensible, flat, comfortable shoes and no makeup [to the lab, where both heels and makeup were forbidden for safety reasons]; I’ve wondered why couldn’t you be bothered look pretty, like the girls from Humanities majors. [wailing] I had no idea! [/wailing]”

I swear every man who’s ever wondered why a woman doesn’t bother or mistaken “dresses comfortably” for “makes herself unattractive” should try dressing like a female executive or newscaster for a couple of days. I’m not talking drag-fucking-queen, just the levels of makeup and the kind of clothing which are considered acceptable at high professional levels. They’d be apologizing on their knees.

I know a lot of lesbians and my problem with this particular shorthand is that it’s not particularly accurate. I mean, I think Portia de Rossi looks very much “like a lesbian,” but that’s not going to bring the mental picture you’re going for. What you mean is that she looks butch. Anyone can look butch regardless of sexual orientation–when I’m out with my BFF I’m pretty aware that a lot of people assume we’re a couple and that I’m the butch one, but we’re both pretty much straight tending ace and I’m just old and tired of playing games and wearing uncomfortable clothes, so I don’t.

Hey, I had a *dog *that knew how to spell “walk”.

(as in going for a…)

Can you explain why? She was always quirky, or at least played quirky roles, but I never picked up on anything stereotypically gay about her. Was it widely assumed before she came out?

That’s my point. She looks “like a lesbian” because she’s a lesbian–there is no certain specific look that defines that particular orientation. Every lesbian looks like a lesbian, every gay guy looks like a gay guy, every straight white male looks like a straight white male. It’s meaningless and pointless to try to draw these lines when they only exist from a position of ignorance. I mean, all seagulls or penguins look alike to us but they know who they are and our opinion of their looks is immaterial.

Ha! Good one.

I think this is complete nonsense. You seem to want to make it a virtue to completely ignore people’s appearance and behavior, contrary the very essence of human nature.

Of course we cannot know everyone’s sexual orientation from appearance, many people choose not to give any indication; and we cannot know anyone’s orientation with certainty. Nor is it polite to speculate in many contexts where it’s irrelevant and none of our business.

However, to suggest that a lack of perfect information implies no information is silly. Some people choose to give indications (subtle or otherwise) or their sexual orientation through conventional cues in their appearance and behavior. Are they breaking your rules if they choose to do this? The only “position of ignorance” is to pretend that this doesn’t happen.

Thing is that I furnished a perfectly adequate and descriptive term that gets the point across about a million times better than “looks like a lesbian,” because “looks like a lesbian” can encompass both KD Lang AND Portia de Rossi. Which one looks “more” like a lesbian? That’s going to be dependent 100% on your experience of which kinds of lesbian you’ve met in your life, and that’s unknowable to mostly everyone on the planet, which makes “like a lesbian” a meaningless descriptor. On the other hand, “looks butch” is instantly clear and gets the point across without having to drag in possible sexual orientation to muddy the waters. I myself usually look butch aside from having mid back length hair but I’ve mostly been all about the D all my life, have kids and grandkids and now no longer bother with all that nonsense. See, the freight of my ACTUAL sexual orientation makes the description more klutzy and less clear because there’s no way to know what I do with my privates (and no way to assume that it’s what my privates do that drives my clothing choices) but it’s pretty easy to say I dress butch. Hell, it’s even fewer words.

Would it be better to say “dykey-looking”, since that refers to a specific look whether or not the person is question is lesbian?

We use shorthand all the time. And it doesn’t mean that they are or that all that group of people look like that “oh, the one that looks like a soccer mom” “oh, the football player looking guy” “you know, the geeky one.”

We have an ongoing joke with our friends…a bunch of us did RenFaires as long time ago (and some of us still do) and there is this conversation we have with strangers…note, at a Renfaire, you can know someone casually for years with only their character name - unless your friendship extends into real life, you probably don’t know their real name.

“Oh you did Festival? I have a friend who did that, Mark, do you know him?”
“I don’t know, a lot of people did festival”
“Well he has longish brownish hair, and a beard, and wears glasses…he’s a little on the overweight side”

(This describes half of the men at festival).

“I’m not sure”
“Oh, he dates this girl, short, long blondish hair, short, big chest”

(You get where this is going right?)

Saying “the one who looks like a fucking dyke” is offensive. Saying “the one who looks like a lesbian” means the one who has short hair, sensible shoes and doesn’t tend to wear makeup. She may not BE a lesbian, while the woman who looks like she was a cheerleader in high school is happily married to another woman and has never dated a man in her life - but you aren’t commenting on her sexual preference, you are trying to identify which individual she is by her appearance.

Apparently is it okay to say regarding the new boy at the chip shop: “I’d swear he’s elvish.