Not Your Lesbian Porn: My Experience is Not for Your Consumption

by Quiya Harris

I’ve always been hyper-aware of my body, its curves and dips, the way that my hips were a little wider than my shoulders – but, most importantly, how it made other people react. From the white boy in 8th grade who asked me for nudes, to the men screaming at me on the street, I learned my body was an object to people. I learned not to walk around in high cut shorts in case people tried to grab my ass, to wear crew neck shirts to avoid men in stores who would stare at my chest instead of into my eyes. 

Every time I got told that I looked too grown or called “brown sugar” or “mocha queen,” I wished I didn’t look the way I do. Every comment made me want to shrink further into myself, infiltrating every part of my thinking, and I had to work to feel confident in the way other people see me. I slowly trained my brain not to think of my body in terms of food intake and conventional attraction, but instead as a vessel through which I can experience life. As a way to dance, to learn, and, most importantly, to experience joy. It took years of strides forward and steps backward, but by the time I got into college, I felt like the most secure version of myself that I had ever been. That all changed once I got to Columbia and felt the impact of fetishization on a scale unlike anything I had experienced before.

In my seven months on campus, I have received comments at parties, whistling on train platforms, and even a halal cart owner asking if he could be in a throuple with me and my girlfriend. At the time, I wanted to fight back – to kick and scream, making each of these people feel as dehumanized as they made me feel. Instead, I forced a smile, trying to be as courteous as possible to quickly end the interactions. At a party in October, after a night of escaping unwanted touches and non-consensual grinding, I felt a tap on my shoulder, then a second, then a third. I was dancing and kissing another girl, Ester, near the edge of the dance floor, and when the stranger finally got my attention, he looked between us and laughed, walking away but never breaking his gaze. My skin crawled as he walked away, and for the rest of the night, I felt eyes boring into me from all angles.

Sometimes I thought that these stares were isolated and had no relation to me as an individual, a person outside these interactions. I quickly learned that this wasn’t the case and that the images that people constructed were tied to me. In January, my friends and I went to Hewitt after class and ran into another woman, Charlotte, that some of us know. Though this was the first time Charlotte and I had met, she kept staring at me as if she couldn’t place where she knew me from. I offhandedly mentioned a party the month prior that we all attended, making her look at me with a twinkle of recognition in her eyes. She began to say, “Oh, you’re the girl-” before abruptly stopping her sentence. 

I wanted her to continue. I wanted her to fully commit to what she was about to say. I wanted her to say what she meant, that I was that girl, that lesbian. The one that people stared at, whispered about, took videos of, and pretended not to save to Snapchat memories. The one that made heads turn when she walked into BSO meetings, not because her outfit looked nice but because they remembered her kissing another woman. That girl.

I felt the weight of that title every time I walked past a group of Black men and heard them quiet down, or saw from the corner of my eye a hand go up to point. I had never felt it as much as I did at that party when I turned to see a bench full of men blatantly staring. It ate me up inside, wondering if every time I participated in class or went to an event, people were seeing that title instead of the person before them.

I tried not to internalize the message that I may just be seen as an object for someone to get off to, but to an extent, I did anyway. I tried to distract myself by throwing myself into schoolwork, consuming my time with creative projects. When those didn’t work, I had to spend time with myself, figuring out why I felt so hurt by the fetishizing comments. It wasn’t just the fetishization – which was incredibly gross – but I also felt devalued as a person.

It was hard to brush off every lewd comment and stare I received, but I realized that the title does not reflect who I am, but how others perceive those like me. Assigning the title of that girl makes them feel like it’s okay to stare, to consume. It absolves them of any immorality from their point of view, regardless of how fetishization affects those who have to bear it every day. Understanding that made me less hurt by the treatment I was receiving and I started to feel angry instead.

Maybe I am that girl but I no longer care about whether I am or not. My sexuality shouldn’t be treated like it was made for your consumption – like I was made for your consumption. Don’t claim that you don’t hold any negative feelings about LGBTQ+ people and then hypersexualize Black and brown lesbians, calling it something else. We are not here for you, and reducing us and our lives to an event for your personal pleasure is homophobic and misogynistic.

I’m not here for you to watch. I’m not a source of entertainment, nor is my love life. I’m not here to sexually gratify anyone in a public space, and what happens in the comfort of my home or anywhere else is not asking for an audience. I am not your lesbian porn.

* All names have been changed for the sake of privacy.

 

 

the unplug collective

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