Not (Just) Another Queer Movie: The Racialicious Review Of Pariah

By Guest Contributor Spectra

Wait a minute, not all lesbians in movies are white, rich or middle-class with no bills to pay? You mean “life” doesn’t get put on pause so that all gay people can experience the thrill of coming out at summer camp? And, there are other LGBT issues worth talking about besides marriage? Gasp! And Hallelujah for Spike Lee protégé Dee Rees’ Pariah, a film women of color (and other marginalized groups) can truly relate to.

On the surface, Pariah is a coming of age story about an African-American lesbian, Alike (pronounced “Ah-LEE-kay”) in Brooklyn. But dig deeper, and you’ll see a smart and layered tackling of gender, sexuality, religion, and even class — an essential layer of complexity needed to accurately portray the diverse experiences of queer people of color, long been absent from mainstream LGBT films. Rather than depicting homophobia as the only kind of oppression experienced by the LGBT community, Pariah’s world is a varied socio-cultural landscape in motion featuring an all-POC cast, led by Nigerian actress Adepero Oduye’s performance as 17-year old Alike.

Pariah’s urban setting almost eliminates the need to discuss race at all (or, as in popular case of experiencing race through white characters, explain it). The audience is plopped, un-apologetically, right in the middle of a story filled with black characters, making way for intersectional observations about class and gender roles within the story’s cultural context.

SPOILERS UNDER THE CUT

The film opens with an unfocused, low-level street shots of baggy jeans, dangling belt chains, hard-soled shoes, and the dirty streets of Brooklyn. We hear the sound of women socializing, and then some unexpected song lyrics: All you ladies pop your p-ssy like this. We’re immediately placed in the scene of a nightclub, in front of a stripper who is somehow managing to slide up the pole, and slapped in the face by Rees’ over-the-top interpretation of coming of age as a young lesbian of color: loud club music, a hyper-sexualized social environment, a group of tomboys (“studs”, “butches”, “aggressives”) throwing money at a stripper in a bothersome (yet, admittedly, amusing) re-enactment of heterosexual masculinity, while a small voice in our heads may be wondering if we’re supposed to be down with all of this.

But just as we are beginning to question what we’re doing in the theater, we meet Alike and see that her world is upside down, too, literally. The frame is rotated upright to reveal a slender Alike, dressed awkwardly in a wide-striped, oversized polo, black do-rag, and fitted lid, staring at the pulsating pelvis of the stripper, and doing so with a confused, yet curious expression on her face.

Her discomfort is made even more apparent when we meet her best friend, Laura (Pernell Walker), a huskier and much more aggressive tomboy (who claims to “get more p-ssy than yo’ daddy”), acting as Alike’s enthusiastic chaperone in this bizarre rite of passage. Clad in a dressed in a red lid and popped-collar track jacket, Laura embodies masculinity more confidently; after she finally gives up trying to get Alike to talk to “get that punani“, she proceeds to grind with a heteronormatively feminine (“high femme”) black lesbian in a gender-polarized mating dance.

For her part, as Alike heads home on the bus alone, we see her vulnerability exposed under fluorescent lights: she begins to slowly strip herself of the masculine lesbian identity she’s hiding from her family. She pulls back the lid and do-rag to put her natural hair (twisties) in a ponytail, takes off the over-sized polo to reveal a fitted tank top hidden underneath, and finally, puts a pair of earrings back in a heart-breaking act of gender conformity.

Despite the nuanced depiction of gender and class, Pariah doesn’t hit us over the head with analysis: the characters don’t explain why they each dress differently (urban streetwear to preppy to chic, and more), why they are of different financial circumstances, or why their accents are different; they just are. Alike, for instance, is evidently a “softer” tomboy as described by some girls at her high school. She’s also an aspiring writer, and (most likely due to the part of the city in which she was raised) has very different diction from Laura, whose vernacular is filled with slang, curse words, and the N-word as a term of endearment. In turn, Laura’s friends behave in a manner that’s very similar to cisgendered masculinity: they wear all men’s clothing, drink beer, play poker, and (of course) have beautiful girls sit on their laps as trophies. Yes, lesbians can be sexist too, but Dee Rees’ thoughtful character development steers the screenplay away from the danger of telling a single story.

In the past, the dominant movie narrative that existed for lesbians on screen presented, for many, depicted an unrealistic social context: all lesbians are white and heteronormatively feminine (AKA “lipstick lesbians” like Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly in Bound), they have sex by making a performance of moaning the same way the women in straight porno films do (too many to name, but the most annoying sex scene for me comes from indie flick Chloe — an extended makeout session, really?). Meanwhile, no one seems to have any money problems as they can throw huge weddings they don’t even show up to (Imagine Me and You, the infamous L Word non-wedding) and 2-dimensional side characters with no real lives of their own, exist simply to react (whether negatively or positively) to the “lesbian” issue (a la the saintly and unfortunate husband archetype in The Hours).

In many of these films, homophobia (besides the expected relationship drama) was often presented as the singular obstacle to the main characters’ happiness. Thus, the combination of the aforementioned archetypal elements and the perpetuation of single-issue hurdles for LGBT characters, for me, wove together a series of feel-good lezzie flicks that all said the same thing: “Please leave these two pretty and privileged white girls who just want to fall in love and live happily ever after in their color-blind world (which, by the way, contains no people of color) alone, okay?”

Considering what the film industry was like even just a decade ago, most people would concede that in the face of Hollywood’s focus on hegemonic straight relationships, movies that featured gay or lesbian characters at all were pushing the envelope. Indeed, many of us queer women were thrilled when The L Word came out. After all, it was on Showtime — widely accessible to our straight friends, who we eagerly organized viewing parties with so we could watch them experience what our lives as lesbians were like, sort of.

We didn’t all wear high heels and runway dresses; the lesbians at the clubs I went to certainly didn’t sport that level of Hollywood glam. Many of us were puzzled by the main characters’ financial means to spend lavish amounts of money eating out at fancy restaurants, throwing parties in LA mansions, and getting married, but we tuned in every week to follow the lives of a group of rich white feminine lesbians, because there weren’t any other alternatives, and sitting through a film with gay characters was a sure way to test a reaction from your friends before you came out. The false sense of reality gave us hope that if we were to come out to our friends, decided to live our lives openly as gay people, life would remain relatively normal. We’d have girlfriends, get married (that’s what all gay people want to do, right?), adopt children, experience the occasional awkward family dinner, but ultimately, live happily ever after.

This is what sets Pariah apart from (white) singular-narrative LGBT films; it debunks the myth that life begins and ends between the point of self-acceptance, and a wedding.

The movie’s skillful orchestration of empathic story-telling and strong performances enables us to move beyond the scope of Gay and Lesbian 101 to tackle other kinds of oppression, including the further marginalization of LGBT people of color. Alike’s family lives comfortably, allowing her to spend most of her time socializing and pursuing her interest in the arts. But Laura, who is the same age as Alike, was forced to drop out of high school when her mother kicked her out, and works overtime to help her sister (who she lives with) pay the bills while studying for her GED. Through Laura’s narrative, the audience is given a glimpse into the experience of many LGBT youths, who are forced to seek refuge and community outside of their families, who risk being homeless for being themselves, yet, must keep on.

It’s a sad observation, but then again isn’t it high time that gay films which grab major distributor attention do more than just perpetuate extremely tragic or fairytale conclusions to a now-engaged and curious public, and present LGBT stories in all their diverse manifestations, which does include the narratives of people of color, working class people, homeless youth, and sometimes, people who are all of the above? It’s not wonder that Pariah — along with peer releases Circumstance and Gunhill Road — has received critical acclaim for its much-needed exploration of LGBT people of color living life at the intersection of many types of oppression.

But don’t get it twisted. Pariah is definitely not a sob story. In fact, the movie is filled with timely and endearing moments of humor and awkwardness that make the hold-no-punches backdrop easier to swallow; the familiar sibling banter that ensues when Alike’s younger (and brattier) sister threatens to tell on her for having a “gross” flesh-colored dildo, a cringe-ful dinner table scene during which her parents describe how they “hung out on prom night”, and Alike’s frequent and ill-timed giggles spells whenever she’s around the girl she likes. The film’s strong undercurrent of family and relationships guarantees that there is something in it for everyone (no need to fear the discomfort of watching a lesbian sex scene with your parents either — she keeps it PG).

Dee Rees has created a motion picture that the larger LGBT community can be proud of, and in which people of color can see themselves carefully and sensitively projected. She may be the black lesbian Tyler Perry (in a good way). Let’s hope we see more of her.

  • Nataly

    …informative and fun- what a kick-ass piece. This was a very enjoyable read. I love the conversatoins that sparked from your writing in the comments section. This was so perfect.  Thanks Spectra!

  • Robbie Samuels

    This layered and thoughtful review made me very eager to see Pariah. I hope this is a sign that movies featuring LGB(T?) characters will begin to be more nuanced and less single-issue focused. I welcome more posts from this contributor.

  • Robbie Samuels

    This layered and thoughtful review made me very eager to see Pariah. I hope this is a sign that movies featuring LGB(T?) characters will begin to be more nuanced and less single-issue focused. I welcome more posts from this contributor.

  • Robbie Samuels

    This layered and thoughtful review made me very eager to see Pariah. I hope this is a sign that movies featuring LGB(T?) characters will begin to be more nuanced and less single-issue focused. I welcome more posts from this contributor.

  • http://fandomfilth.blogspot.com Zenon Receives

    Great Review!
    But — 3 of the 8 depicted women on this L-Word cover are POC…? That seems to me a comparatively a fair average; even though I abolutely agree to the high class/lipstick point. Every woman wearing a jeans and flat shoes is considered a “butch” in the series. *eyeroll*

  • http://fandomfilth.blogspot.com Zenon Receives

    Great Review!
    But — 3 of the 8 depicted women on this L-Word cover are POC…? That seems to me a comparatively a fair average; even though I abolutely agree to the high class/lipstick point. Every woman wearing a jeans and flat shoes is considered a “butch” in the series. *eyeroll*

  • Pingback: Not (Just) Another Queer Movie: My Afrofeminist Review of Pariah | Spectra Speaks

  • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

    Thank you so much Danielle! I did send a note to the editor, and I believe he updated it. I’m glad you enjoyed the review as well :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/galiotica Nejasna ちゃん

    Good. A step in the right direction. And there is a ton more to cover.  It is extremely frustrating when lgbtq  concerns suddenly start getting dismissed as real concerns the moment your country has had a successful pride parade. Like – you had your day, what more do you want? Other issues, what other issues? Stop making it an issue and you’ll stop having issues. / You have your gay character, what more do you want – for it to be a good example? More of them? Hah. 

    I wish people would stop making assumptions about others’s sex, sexual orientation or gender identification based on their expression. No butch/lipstick/tomboy/etc. stereotypes and nobody to judge you “less/more of a lesbian/bisexual/straight/woman” if you are this or that or neither. But that kind of script wouldn’t sell. Nothing more annoying than having a “surprise twist” when one of the female characters on the show suddenly “turns lesbian” (Willow in Buffy) then changes her mind, decides it was just a phase (Paige, Degrassi)…or runs to have sex with a man each time there’s a problem in her life (Kids are alright).  yay.  not.Each time there is a new movie/series, I hope and my stomach twists at the same time in advance. And sometime far far in the future, maybe we will be able to cover the issue of people with mental health problems in the lgbtq community – Without the fear that other people (even professional health practitioners!! let alone the general public)   will dismiss our identity and say it is just a consequence of our mental disorder(s), once they find out what we identify as.   

  • http://www.facebook.com/galiotica Nejasna ちゃん

    Good. A step in the right direction. And there is a ton more to cover.  It is extremely frustrating when lgbtq  concerns suddenly start getting dismissed as real concerns the moment your country has had a successful pride parade. Like – you had your day, what more do you want? Other issues, what other issues? Stop making it an issue and you’ll stop having issues. / You have your gay character, what more do you want – for it to be a good example? More of them? Hah. 

    I wish people would stop making assumptions about others’s sex, sexual orientation or gender identification based on their expression. No butch/lipstick/tomboy/etc. stereotypes and nobody to judge you “less/more of a lesbian/bisexual/straight/woman” if you are this or that or neither. But that kind of script wouldn’t sell. Nothing more annoying than having a “surprise twist” when one of the female characters on the show suddenly “turns lesbian” (Willow in Buffy) then changes her mind, decides it was just a phase (Paige, Degrassi)…or runs to have sex with a man each time there’s a problem in her life (Kids are alright).  yay.  not.Each time there is a new movie/series, I hope and my stomach twists at the same time in advance. And sometime far far in the future, maybe we will be able to cover the issue of people with mental health problems in the lgbtq community – Without the fear that other people (even professional health practitioners!! let alone the general public)   will dismiss our identity and say it is just a consequence of our mental disorder(s), once they find out what we identify as.   

  • http://www.facebook.com/galiotica Nejasna ちゃん

    Good. A step in the right direction. And there is a ton more to cover.  It is extremely frustrating when lgbtq  concerns suddenly start getting dismissed as real concerns the moment your country has had a successful pride parade. Like – you had your day, what more do you want? Other issues, what other issues? Stop making it an issue and you’ll stop having issues. / You have your gay character, what more do you want – for it to be a good example? More of them? Hah. 

    I wish people would stop making assumptions about others’s sex, sexual orientation or gender identification based on their expression. No butch/lipstick/tomboy/etc. stereotypes and nobody to judge you “less/more of a lesbian/bisexual/straight/woman” if you are this or that or neither. But that kind of script wouldn’t sell. Nothing more annoying than having a “surprise twist” when one of the female characters on the show suddenly “turns lesbian” (Willow in Buffy) then changes her mind, decides it was just a phase (Paige, Degrassi)…or runs to have sex with a man each time there’s a problem in her life (Kids are alright).  yay.  not.Each time there is a new movie/series, I hope and my stomach twists at the same time in advance. And sometime far far in the future, maybe we will be able to cover the issue of people with mental health problems in the lgbtq community – Without the fear that other people (even professional health practitioners!! let alone the general public)   will dismiss our identity and say it is just a consequence of our mental disorder(s), once they find out what we identify as.   

  • Tee

    STANDING O!! Spectra, as always you are so “on point!” This is a reflective piece without over stating… Pariah gave us something we could all take and hold in an embrace, to see a film such as this was in a word, magnificent. I enjoyed the clarity in how you identify –or NOT the LGBT’s make up,  as  we are more than what people perceive us to be. I dig the reference to Tyler Perry, however Dee Rees has advanced well beyond the cliche’ of Black films sans For Colored Girls.

  • Tee

    STANDING O!! Spectra, as always you are so “on point!” This is a reflective piece without over stating… Pariah gave us something we could all take and hold in an embrace, to see a film such as this was in a word, magnificent. I enjoyed the clarity in how you identify –or NOT the LGBT’s make up,  as  we are more than what people perceive us to be. I dig the reference to Tyler Perry, however Dee Rees has advanced well beyond the cliche’ of Black films sans For Colored Girls.

  • Tee

    STANDING O!! Spectra, as always you are so “on point!” This is a reflective piece without over stating… Pariah gave us something we could all take and hold in an embrace, to see a film such as this was in a word, magnificent. I enjoyed the clarity in how you identify –or NOT the LGBT’s make up,  as  we are more than what people perceive us to be. I dig the reference to Tyler Perry, however Dee Rees has advanced well beyond the cliche’ of Black films sans For Colored Girls.

  • Watching Water

    Great review, but the link to Gunhill Road goes to the film review of Circumstance.

  • s. mandisa

    I loved, loved, loved your analysis of this movie.

    But please, lets not ruin Dee Rees by the comparison to Tyler Perry. I know you were joking, but she is so much better than Tyler Perry. Simply because all TP does is sell stories of black women through the eyes of the dominant culture or reinterpret those stories as if they are authentic. From what I see, so far, Dee Rees tells authentic stories of black women-authentic because they challenge and hold the complexities of our lives.

    Love the review!! 

    • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

      LOL! I thought long and hard before I put in that line, but I assure you I wasn’t thinking about TP’s perpetuation of the narratives you so passionately described above lol. Rather, I was thinking of Dee Rees as a black filmmaker, who has been intentional about assembling casts, crew, production, and even PR professionals that are also people of color — literally, empowering her community through her art.

      It’s typical to see the occasional break-through black actor/actress, or the director (say, for instance, Antoine Fisher, who has gone on to make black villain action and xenophobic flicks like Training Day and Tears of the Sun); not often do we see FUBU (for us by us) models in the film industry. So, as much as I’m not a fan of Tyler Perry’s films, I strongly support and appreciate how he is unwavering in his mission to create media that’s for (a segment) of African-Americans, which in turn gives African-American artists to showcase their talents via a well-established platform. And it was in that spirit that I made the comparison to Dee Rees. 

      From the costume designer (a Nigerian!) to the entire cast, the PR/conversation agent that’s helping her promote the film, she’s created a noteworthy gateway for people of color in film and the arts, and undoubtedly inspired many to follow suit. 

    • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

      LOL! I thought long and hard before I put in that line, but I assure you I wasn’t thinking about TP’s perpetuation of the narratives you so passionately described above lol. Rather, I was thinking of Dee Rees as a black filmmaker, who has been intentional about assembling casts, crew, production, and even PR professionals that are also people of color — literally, empowering her community through her art.

      It’s typical to see the occasional break-through black actor/actress, or the director (say, for instance, Antoine Fisher, who has gone on to make black villain action and xenophobic flicks like Training Day and Tears of the Sun); not often do we see FUBU (for us by us) models in the film industry. So, as much as I’m not a fan of Tyler Perry’s films, I strongly support and appreciate how he is unwavering in his mission to create media that’s for (a segment) of African-Americans, which in turn gives African-American artists to showcase their talents via a well-established platform. And it was in that spirit that I made the comparison to Dee Rees. 

      From the costume designer (a Nigerian!) to the entire cast, the PR/conversation agent that’s helping her promote the film, she’s created a noteworthy gateway for people of color in film and the arts, and undoubtedly inspired many to follow suit. 

  • Nnondabula

    You summed it up perfectly! Thank you, Thank you, and Thank you! All throughout the movie, I kept thinking to myself how much Alike and I were similar – it was a little scary, lol. It’s great to see a film like Pariah in which so many people can actually relate to. Keep up the GREAT work Spectra! 

  • http://twitter.com/ashleylange Ashley Lange

    I’m incredibly grateful for this post. Great stories come from the fact that humans are not just issues. They have an entire life to live and handle and enjoy and struggle with. So often lately it seems like queer people or PoC are just included in stories so that white straight cis people can react to them and overcome something.  Enough of that. Let’s experience something new and real and encourage those who can tell these stories. 

    Additionally, thanks for the link to Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk. Great stuff. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=696823192 Sarahí Almonte Caraballo

    “Thus, the combination of the aforementioned archetypal elements and the perpetuation of single-issue hurdles for LGBT characters, for me, wove together a series of feel-good lezzie flicks that all said the same thing: “Please leave these two pretty and privileged white girls who just want to fall in love and live happily ever after in their color-blind world (which, by the way, contains no people of color) alone, okay?” BOOM!

    excellent review Spectra!

  • Irakus

    Having not seen the movie yet, I am looking more forward to it then when I saw the preview last month. Long story short, I came out late in life. As I was coming out, I searched and searched for movies, documentaries, books, ANYTHING that might depict a little bit of me in the LGBT community. I found only what Spectra spoke about , “feel-good lezzie flicks that all said the same thing: “Please leave these two pretty and privileged white girls who just want to fall in love and live happily ever after in their color-blind world (which, by the way, contains no people of color) alone, okay?”
     
    Thank you spectra for confirming that I need, and can’t wait, to see this movie. Bravo

  • Yarimee Gutierrez

    “…. isn’t it high time that gay films which grab major distributor attention do more than just perpetuate extremely tragic or fairytale conclusions to a now-engaged and curious public, and present LGBT stories in all their diverse manifestations, which does include the narratives of people of color, working class people, homeless youth, and sometimes, people who are all of the above?”  YES! I love this film and the reviewer’s commentary! Spectra’s right on the money. It’s about time that we see films that showcase LGBT people (and POC for that matter!) as whole complex beings vs the 2 dimensional/non-existent treatment we’ve gotten from films in the past. SO refreshing to see films like this. 
    Kudos Spectra for such layered, hilarious, down-to-earth and thought provoking commentary.  Can’t wait to read more of your work! 

  • Femily Oakland

     Spectra: i HEART you more than ever. you are so clear and fresh and ON IT! ” a smart and layered tackling of gender, sexuality, religion, and even class” “a heart-breaking act of gender conformity” OMG love that you mentioned the nationality of *Nigerian actress Adepero Oduye* so important given the current legislation in Nigeria. Thanks for connecting all of the DOTS! i love your writing style here: so smart, yet punchy (not super-windy academical).  
    RACIALICIOUS: bring back this contributor!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1561530085 Ilana Newman

    Just one note- I really don’t see how Gina Gershon’s character in Bound could possibly be interpreted as a “lipstick lesbian.”

    I’ll definitely be interested in seeing Pariah, though.

    • Cecily Walker

      Agreed. Plus, Corky (Gershon’s character) was an ex-convict. That’s not exactly a privileged position. 

      • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

        Thanks Cecily for raising a very interesting point. I had to think about it for a bit. But ultimately I think privilege and oppression are a matter of perspective: race is a point of privilege for white people, as is Corky in Bound. Her prison status may take some of that away, but ask a transgender woman of color (one of the most incarcerated groups of the LGBT community) if she considers Corky privileged in some way and we might get a different answer. As a woman of color myself, I can talk about not having as much privilege as white women, or white queers in this instance. But a person with a disability may not think twice before calling me privileged, and I’d have to concede on that front. Are we as people absolved of being critiqued / called out on our privilege in one area just because we are at a disadvantage in another? I for one don’t think that discussing the privilege that accompanies one facet of identity trivializes any disadvantages experienced along other axes. In fact, why I loved Pariah so much is that all characters are presented both with privilege and without it; the narrative doesn’t fragment, and I believe it will spark similarly ‘whole’ conversations.

      • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

        Thanks Cecily for raising a very interesting point. I had to think about it for a bit. But ultimately I think privilege and oppression are a matter of perspective: race is a point of privilege for white people, as is Corky in Bound. Her prison status may take some of that away, but ask a transgender woman of color (one of the most incarcerated groups of the LGBT community) if she considers Corky privileged in some way and we might get a different answer. As a woman of color myself, I can talk about not having as much privilege as white women, or white queers in this instance. But a person with a disability may not think twice before calling me privileged, and I’d have to concede on that front. Are we as people absolved of being critiqued / called out on our privilege in one area just because we are at a disadvantage in another? I for one don’t think that discussing the privilege that accompanies one facet of identity trivializes any disadvantages experienced along other axes. In fact, why I loved Pariah so much is that all characters are presented both with privilege and without it; the narrative doesn’t fragment, and I believe it will spark similarly ‘whole’ conversations.

    • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

      Ilana — that’s totally fine by me, I believe gender presentation is subjective. I’m pretty sure I present as very masculine to the cisgender straight women I meet daily, but within my queer community (which contains a wider expression of gender presentation), the way I’m perceived (along with my masculinity) varies. I’ve heard lipstick lesbian been used to describe “Shane” from the L Word, simply because she wears a  lot of makeup and isn’t perceived to be as masculine by some folks as she is in the series. Gina may have been rocking a wife-beater and tattoos but she also wore a whole lot of makeup and maintained her signature pout throughout the movie. It was very performative to me which is something I also associate with the term “lipstick lesbian.” This isn’t to suggest that these attributes are the only ones by which the labels should be applied — I certainly don’t think there’s a definitive definition and thus, I expect people to disagree (as they do regularly in the case of gender-specific labels). 

    • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

      Ilana — that’s totally fine by me, I believe gender presentation is subjective. I’m pretty sure I present as very masculine to the cisgender straight women I meet daily, but within my queer community (which contains a wider expression of gender presentation), the way I’m perceived (along with my masculinity) varies. I’ve heard lipstick lesbian been used to describe “Shane” from the L Word, simply because she wears a  lot of makeup and isn’t perceived to be as masculine by some folks as she is in the series. Gina may have been rocking a wife-beater and tattoos but she also wore a whole lot of makeup and maintained her signature pout throughout the movie. It was very performative to me which is something I also associate with the term “lipstick lesbian.” This isn’t to suggest that these attributes are the only ones by which the labels should be applied — I certainly don’t think there’s a definitive definition and thus, I expect people to disagree (as they do regularly in the case of gender-specific labels). 

    • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

      Ilana — that’s totally fine by me, I believe gender presentation is subjective. I’m pretty sure I present as very masculine to the cisgender straight women I meet daily, but within my queer community (which contains a wider expression of gender presentation), the way I’m perceived (along with my masculinity) varies. I’ve heard lipstick lesbian been used to describe “Shane” from the L Word, simply because she wears a  lot of makeup and isn’t perceived to be as masculine by some folks as she is in the series. Gina may have been rocking a wife-beater and tattoos but she also wore a whole lot of makeup and maintained her signature pout throughout the movie. It was very performative to me which is something I also associate with the term “lipstick lesbian.” This isn’t to suggest that these attributes are the only ones by which the labels should be applied — I certainly don’t think there’s a definitive definition and thus, I expect people to disagree (as they do regularly in the case of gender-specific labels).