The hounding of Carina Trimingham serves as a warning to anyone who chooses to reject the trappings of femininity
Everyone knows that lesbians are ugly. Because we tend not to dress for male approval, often rejecting makeup, high heels and other trappings of femininity, lesbians can be considered aesthetically unacceptable by both men and other women.
There are exceptions, of course, such as those who provide girl-on-girl porn excitement to men, as with the stars of the video Naughty Girls sharing their huge toy, or the entire cast of Lip Service, a BBC3 drama series in which every single lesbian is skinny, achingly trendy and lashed with lipstick. But, as a general rule, the public image of a lesbian is not attractive. After all, if we were not grotesque, some man would desire us, and we need not seek sad but necessary consolation with each other. That is perhaps why Carina Trimingham has come in for such a bashing from the tabloid press, ever since it was discovered that she was having an affair with Chris Huhne. Here is a lezzer a man actually wants!
The fact that Huhne already had a “proper” woman who is conventionally attractive was considered an insult too far. And so Trimingham was referred to in various articles as a “crop-haired”, “sturdy”, “Doc Marten-wearing”, “lesbian-turned-bisexual”. In his Daily Mail column, Richard Littlejohn described her as a “comedy lesbian from central casting”.
Explicit anti-lesbian sentiment is not limited to tabloids. Sports presenter Clare Balding complained to the Sunday Times in 2010 after AA Gill wrote that she looked like a “big lesbian” and called her a “dyke on a bike”. There are plenty of other examples.
I have been told: “No wonder you are a lesbian. No man would have you” (paradoxically, usually after some drunken creep has tried to pick me up) so many times I have it on a T-shirt. But anti-lesbianism is a ruse to keep all women in our place. Misogyny and homophobia go hand in hand. Those who fear lesbians do so because we do not conform to the required gender role that renders us passive to men. Trimingham does not present herself as a preened and feminine sex kitten, therefore she should be punished.
Lesbian is synonymous with “man-hater” for the simple reason that we reject men sexually. Loads of young women could tell the story of how it tends to go if they reject the advances of a belligerent young man. The word “slag” is followed by “lesbian” because – let’s face it – batting for the other side is the only feasible explanation for not wanting to shag some drunken Neanderthal.
The judge in the Trimingham case ruled that the words “bisexual” and “lesbian” are factual and not normally to be understood as pejorative by a reasonable person. I really laughed at this. The word “lesbian” is so stigmatised that there are plenty of lesbians themselves who are terrified to use it, preferring the term “gay women”. There are barely any out lesbians in the media, certainly compared with the number of gay men, and the word is used in schools and elsewhere as a serious insult.
More than 20 years ago, Channel 4 broadcast a magazine-style programme that focused on a range of gay and lesbian issues, and was followed, in 1995, by Dyke TV, a mixed season of films, documentaries, and other lesbian-themed programming.
Some young lesbians may be perfectly happy with the cast of Lip Service – which is just about all we have broadcast about us currently – as role models, but where are the other examples? Gay men are everywhere, from Elton John to Chris Bryant MP, Julian Clary to Simon Callow, and many more. It is much easier for men to be out than it is for women, because men have so much more power in the world just by dint of being male.
As an out lesbian since 1978, I have encountered some shocking abuse. I remember taking part in a discussion on a national radio programme some years ago about women and the weight-loss industry, and the opening question from the presenter was: “Julie Bindel, you are a lesbian, are you not?” Indeed, research by Stonewall into discrimination in the workplace found that lesbians often consider their sexuality such a barrier to success at work that they hide it. And we know that homophobic bullying remains rife in schools.
Such hate speech serves as a warning to all women and girls that we have to toe the line – be properly feminine and subservient to men, and if we are to dabble in lesbianism then at least have the courtesy to look like a male fantasy of one.