When you first venture out of the dark, stifling closet, your queer elders prep you for certain things.
“Your mom might be shocked at first, but with time, she’ll come around,” an older dyke family friend dutifully schooled me over a mentoring beer after I finally confessed my gayness to her.
“What does a lesbian bring to a second date?” a wise older lez I knew from work asked me, her eyes twinkling. I stared at her blankly. “A U-Haul!” she cackled, immediately following up the classic Sapphic joke with a comprehensive definition of what “U-Hauling” exactly is and why I should resist the urge to merge.
“Coming out at work can be tricky. Your co-workers might not treat you like ‘one of the girls’ anymore,” a sweet little lez I shared a shift with at a makeup counter in a department store advised me as we sanitized lipsticks.
“A gold star lesbian is a lesbian who has never had sex with a guy. So, you’re not a Goldstar,” a bitchy, territorial, hot lesbian all the lesbians I knew coveted, wickedly purred to me, blowing a ring of cigarette smoke in my face. “I am,” she said cooly, flicking her ash right into my champagne (true story).
It seemed like everywhere I went, I was receiving endless gems of advice from gays. However. No one told me what a “pillow princess” was. That one I had to figure out on my own.
I was sitting on a porch at a party in the Hollywood Hills with a bunch of cool girls I didn’t know very well. They were all from Orange County and Long Beach, and all had pin straight hair, dyed jet black and styled into those exaggerated early 2000s emo side bangs. They all wore “snapbacks” and had delicate tattoos and pierced septums and gracefully whizzed around LA on skateboards.
I, on the other hand, felt like a total LA bitch next to them, with my exaggerated tan and highlights and sky-high heels and tragic hair extensions that fell past my hipbones. I was a slutty Lindsay Lohan in a room full of faux-punk Avril Lavignes. The whole scene was a fashion disaster, but then again, the early 2000s elicited a specific kind of ratchetry that no one in my generation was safe from. It was the era of Juicy Couture sweats tucked into Ugg boots and Von Dutch trucker hats!
I had somehow scored an invite to this exclusive, young lez California party and even though I looked and felt like a fish out of water, I was having the time of my life. I was so excited to be hanging out with gay girls that I was able to look past the snapbacks and tribal tattoos.
“You’re cute. Are you gay?” a girl with a bob so shiny it gleamed in the moonlight, sweetly asked me, taking a swig of her beer (what was it with lesbians and beer?). “I’m only asking because my friend thinks you’re cute.” She flashed her alabaster white teeth and pointed to a chapstick lesbian in a hoodie to her left. The chapstick lesbian was totally my type and I was elated. “I’m a lesbian,” I said proudly, basking in my newfound gay glory.
Suddenly a bellowing voice boomed through the canyons. “Who in this room seems most like a PILLOW PRINCESS?” roared the voice. I squinted my eyes to see whom this earth-shattering voice belonged to. That’s when I saw her.
I knew she was a bully, because I, like most women, have been both blessed and cursed with a powerful, internal bully radar. Her eyes had a jarring maniacal gleam to them, akin to a cat prepping to pounce on a mouse. I braced myself. This woman possessed a toxic, misogynistic, energy and I intrinsically knew that I, the pink lipstick sporting newbie in the room, would surely be the bait of her bullying.
“I bet you’re a f*cking pillow princess!” the bully loudly shouted, pointing at me. “Actually, I bet that’s why you think you’re a lesbian. You just sit back and let shit happen to you.” The room began to chuckle. I gave the bully one of my soul-penetrating death stares. The kind of stare that usually burns holes right through the weak flesh of insecure bitches. The stare that had served as my weapon against the perfectly-blow-dried mean girls in my high school. It was, for the first time, truly ineffective. She gave me the death stare back. I felt like I was being hazed. Like this was a lesbian sorority and I was the new girl who had to be initiated in order to be accepted into the Sapphic tribe. I gulped. I scanned my brain for a comeback, but I was stunted. What the hell was a “pillow princess” anyway?
“Do you even know what a pillow princess is?” the bully hissed through her teeth. I could smell beer and meat on her breath. I gagged but remained stoic and silent. “Oh, you’re new, huh?” the bully taunted.
“A pillow princess means someone who just lays back in bed and doesn’t go down on her girlfriend. She just receives,” a bubble-gum-smacking girl with legs so long they met her ears, chimed in, informatively.
I felt my cheeks burn. I was many things: a flake who sucked at returning phone calls and answering text messages. An out-of-work actress who hadn’t booked a gig in a year. A terrible driver who cried whenever she drove on the freeway. An acne-ridden twenty-something with a questionable rat’s nest of a weave. A chain-smoker with an alarmingly high tolerance for sparkling wine. However, a pillow princess I was not.
I may have just come out of the closet and I may not be a Southern California girl who knows how to skateboard, but I’m certain I’ve been hooking up with girls far longer than these hoes. I thought to myself, gritting my teeth, as the red mist of rage worked its way across my eye-line. I pulled a Parliament light 100 out of my knockoff Prada mini backpack, that I had bought off a sickly looking teenager on Canal Street last summer. “Why don’t you ask my ex-girlfriend if I’m a pillow princess?” I said slowly, raising my left eyebrow so high I could feel it reach the stars. “Bitch,” I hissed loudly.
The sweet-faced girl with the shiny hair who had approached me earlier stepped toward me and lit my cigarette for me. “I like you,” she squealed. “Plus, she’s just pissed because she never goes down on any of her girlfriends, and she’s threatened by you because you’re hot and new.”
“I was just kidding!” the bully sing-songed, playfully jabbing me in the elbows as if we were old high school mates. It reminded me of how quickly the boy who had written SLUT in black ink on my locker in middle school had come around after I socked him between the eyes at recess.
That’s when it hit me. Even in the lesbian scene embracing your authentic girliness will sometimes be seen as a weakness. Your love of femme-y fashion will make others think they have the right to talk down to you, humiliate you and make assumptions about who you are. Even in the safe lez world, a more masculine energy is all too often viewed as “dominant” in sexual relationships. It’s seen as the hunter, and you’ll be seen as the baby Bambi waiting to be hunted. Screw that. I’m no Bambi.
I knew I had a choice. I could dumb down my fabulous, fierce, high-femme style and be taken seriously, but die a little inside. OR I could remain my authentic crop-top-wearing, ratty-weaved self and refuse to let the lesbian patriarchy win. I chose the latter, of course, darling.
Scenes such as that replayed and continue to replay for the entirety of my lesbian existence. I still never let it slide, girl. Because each time I fight back, I always see a young femme in the background watching, smiling. And I know in my gut that she’ll fight the next lez who undermines her girly-ness and eventually we’ll snuff out ridiculous assumptions about femmes made by people who are threatened by the divine powerful goddess that lives inside each and every girly-girl.