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Who’s Afraid of a Lesbian in a Tie?

If we’re going to wear men’s clothes, let’s at least do it right.

I have a problem with lesbians in ties.  I don’t have a problem with lesbians with short hair (I’ve got short hair), big clunky boots (those too), tattoos (yep), excess facial hair (no comment) or even drag kings (I’m not cocky enough). I’m not talking about FTM transsexuals either – they’re not lesbians as far as I know. It’s a lesbian in a tie that makes me groan. Standard issue lesbians in poorly executed Windsor knots.

Please, before you flame me for my internalized homophobia or unsolicited sartorial judgment of my sisters, allow me to be the first person to admit that I might be a hypocrite.  After all, I put my own cat in a tie last month and posted the pictures on Facebook.  There are worse things in the world than lesbians in ties, which is why I am examining my excessive reaction to it here, today, with some guarded hope that you will nicely debate the point in the comments section if you’re reading this online.

This came up because I invited my straight sister to a big gala event for my favorite lesbian civil rights organization.  She asked about the dress code and to assure her that she didn’t need to go shopping for something new to wear, I emailed her the photo page for last year’s bash.  After scanning dozens of thumbnails, I summarized my assessment of the expected attire thusly: “Clearly, all you need is a tie.”

Because my sister has hung with lesbians for years and is also the butchest straight woman I know, I felt no need to explain further, but I did have that niggling feeling that I didn’t want the rest of the world to see what lesbians wear to parties.  Which made me feel like a schmuck

I asked my partner how she felt about lesbians in ties and she barked, “I hate it!” I asked her to explain, and she said, “Because they look like high school boys from the ‘80s.”  I knew what she meant – one does not find nicely tailored suits and French silk in a gaggle of lesbians; instead, it’s skinny dad ties, typically uncoordinated and too loose.  Still, “hate” is a strong word for poor tailoring.  I doubt she would have such a reaction to practical shoes and acid-washed jeans, which are about as fashionable.

I prodded her more and, no surprise, she voiced what I felt when I looked at all those pictures: that a lesbian in a tie confirms that old stereotype about lesbians – that we want to be men.  This doesn’t explain, however, why my partner and I don’t have the same reaction to all those other traditional signifiers of masculinity that lesbians (including the two of us) often appropriate; i.e., the clunky boots and short hair.

What’s the thing about a tie?  Maybe it is the fact that lesbians wear them so badly.  Think about it.  We have made an art form of lesbian hair. We put Doc Martins on the map for women in America. If you want to see how to make jeans look cool, find a young lesbian and follow her around.  There is, in fact, such a thing as lesbian fashion.  Except that lesbians never did figure out what all moderately stylish men know:  throwing any old tie onto any old outfit just won’t cut it.

I think if I saw a confident butch woman wearing her tie like she gave it some serious thought, I’d be impressed. Straight people probably still wouldn’t get it, but they couldn’t possibly miss her sense of self-worth and dash, also known as pride.

My advice, though you weren’t asking, is to get the best damn tie you can afford, practice your knot technique, proudly ask your local cleaners to make your suit actually fit your girly body, and wear it like you mean it. Thankfully, there are now even some clothing companies that cater specifically to the butch woman of style. I probably won’t be buying a tie myself (except for my cat), but you’re well within your rights to tell me to get over it.



Abby is a civil rights attorney-turned-author who has been in the LGBT rights trenches for 25+ years. She can be reached through her website:

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