Fetishization: the unspoken terror faced by the queer community

By Tristan Leach

When I began my coming out journey, I was not naive to the difficulties I would face. I knew there would be unaccepting people, people who would believe I could be changed and so much more. I was, however, naive to one part of being a lesbian and being in women loving women relationships: fetishization.

A majority of queer people experience fetishization. Even when queer people are not in relationships, we experience this. A lesbian and her friends can go out and be asked out by a man. If she tells him no, there is a 50-50 chance as to how he will react. He may make lewd remarks about her sexual orientation or tell her because he also likes women he is a lesbian. A gay man can say he doesn’t want to be someone’s gay best friend and that person will be offended. There is a delicate balance that all LGBTQ+ people learn in order to respond to these comments: You must stand up for yourself, but you must also do what you need to survive.

A few years ago I saw an article about a lesbian couple who was attacked on a public train. They were attacked because they refused to kiss for the entertainment of a group of men. The pictures of the women are brutal. When I saw those, I wondered how a person could do that. Seeing those pictures and reading that article prepared me for realities that are not beyond me.

I remember the first time I was fetishized. I was 17 years old and at Disneyland with my girlfriend at the time. We had bought Minnie Mouse ears with the rainbow bow in the middle. We were in our shared safe place until it wasn’t safe. We were next in line to get a car for Autopia, a slow ride that stimulates driving through a forest. The guys behind us saw us holding hands and started whistling at us. I was scared at first, and then I got defensive. I made myself taller and bigger so they couldn’t look at her. Just by chance, the car came and I got my girlfriend in. As we buckled the seatbelts one of them yelled, “Why don’t you kiss for us?” My girlfriend stepped on the pedal and we were off.

When I hear people say “You don’t need to shove your sexuality in my face,” or, “Keep it to yourselves,” I think, “We are not shoving it in your face, we are doing what thousands of people have had the right to do that we haven’t had: to exist happily with our loved ones.” It is important to acknowledge that queer people live every day in fear of being approached and something awful happening to them. To be fetishized in a place where I should have felt safe was a very eye-opening experience.

Ever since then I have been more aware of people who may call out to me and my current girlfriend. I am constantly aware that our relationship may provoke different reactions. I know that who I am is not comfortable for all people. I do not exist for your comfort, I do not need to change who I am to make you feel okay about my existence. I know that there are people out there who objectify me for my sexuality. I do not exist for your pleasure. I am a diverse person who also happens to be gay, and I hope you can see me that way.

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