I was originally going to write an article on the history of certain staples in lesbian fashion, namely Doc Martens, the carabiner, and flannel, to name but a few. But there are already some extremely well-researched and excellently written pieces on this topic, namely by Eleanor Medhurst of Dressing Dykes, while the TikTok page called @rainbowhistoryclass also provided some fascinating insight into queer-related things that I’d always wondered about, such as what the history of the term ‘fruity’ is. That was when the ‘Eureka!’ moment hit. As I was doing my research for the original idea, I realised that there wasn’t much on the current trends that many of us are familiar with. Where were the articles, however trivial, on the ‘Hey mamas’ lesbians, with their Nike sports bras and cocky attitude? Where were the Vans, the abundance of rings, and the nose piercings? Where were the pieces on the lesbian stereotypes of today? That’s where I come in. Having consumed an insane amount of lesbian TikTok content since the first lockdown, to the point where I already know which sapphic TikToker my friends are thinking of in two seconds flat via pure telepathy, I am delving into the current stereotypes and giving my two cents on them. If you care, read on! If you don’t, why are you qu– I mean, here? 

‘Hey mamas’ lesbians! It’s in the name: their leading line when attempting to pull. The intriguing enigma that is highly thirsted after (peak periods of popularity were the summer months of 2020) yet consistently made fun of, I guarantee you they will pop up on your FYP (‘for you’ page) if you’ve so much as even questioned whether or not you’re into women. A top-to-toe scan of a ‘hey mamas’ lesbian will most likely give you a bandana/backwards baseball cap/messy bun, an eyebrow slit, a nose piercing (maybe paired with a septum piercing, though that is a more general sapphic trend), an attempt at a sexy lip bite, a chain necklace, a Nike or Calvin Klein sports bra/baggy tank top, abs, the cheeky waistband of Calvin Klein boxers, and sweats/basketball shorts. Or, minus the extremely varied appearance, the general attitude of ‘I supposedly get a lot of bitches’ will suffice; they’re the lesbian equivalent of the fuckboy. The trend involving this stereotype has now transitioned into hilarious videos in which creators exaggerate these distinct qualities and act out a stupidly toxic and emotionally unavailable caricature, because we have wisely moved on, as a collective, from thinking that they’re hot. But who knows? Statements that you make ironically, such as ‘I think ‘hey mamas’ lesbians are sex gods’, have a tendency to turn unironic… Their appeal may live on, yet. 

Speaking of general sapphic trends, there are so many stereotypes that some overlap is inevitable, and so I present to you some general observations I have made about lesbian presentation on TikTok. I’ve already mentioned the nose ring and septum piercing combo, but I find that sapphics tend to be incredibly well-endowed in the jewellery department. Notable mentions include: the presence of rings, but just the right number for it not to be tacky; silver chains on belt loops and/or as necklaces; and minimalist earrings. It would be sacrilegious of me not to mention Docs, a longstanding sapphic staple. Classic black Vans are a new association, which are loosely associated with ‘hey mamas’ lesbians, but generally tied to the stereotype of more masculine-presenting lesbians (mascs). There’s also the cottagecore lesbian, linked to feminine-presenting lesbians (femmes), consisting of gentle colours, flowy fabrics, and a general desire to live a peaceful life in the woods with a wife. I could go on. The point is, there’s no one way for lesbians to look. These are just some trends that I’ve noticed, and it’s playing on stereotypical appearances, with no mention of mannerisms nor the ways in which we may comport ourselves. It’s a sexual identity after all, and there is no obligation for this to be outwardly presented. Don’t use this newfound information weirdly and go on a lesbian-spotting field trip or something (unless you’re trying to find your community!).

Lastly, and one thing that I feel is sorely misunderstood, comes the jokes about tops and bottoms in the sapphic community. To clarify, the joke is that mascs are tops, as in they like to give during sex, whilst femmes are bottoms, as in they like to receive. As a great TikTok audio states: ‘It’s a good joke… a great joke, even.’ I myself have laughed many a time at these, at the supposed dichotomy of the ‘masc bottom’ or the ‘femme top’. But it becomes a problem when it shifts from an ‘Oh, haha,’ attitude to people actually projecting these on to someone based on how they like to present, expecting them to conform, and then reacting negatively when they don’t. These stringent judgements are rooted in patriarchal roles, and they’re too heteronormative for my liking when talking about sapphic relationships (NB: the femme-butch dynamic that was most prevalent in the 1940s to 1970s is a different topic). Top and bottom are only two ends of a spectrum, and your preferences can lie anywhere on this line, and they can switch up during the act, too. I personally believe that there’s a significant mismatch between the supposed number of tops and bottoms, and actual stone tops and bottoms (yes, pillow princesses, I’m talking about you) – an inaccurate estimate stemming from every sapphic on TikTok being haphazardly assigned to one or the other. 

Thinking that mascs must be tough, unemotional, dominant tops – in other words, equating them to the toxic patriarchal role of men – is slapping an unwarranted label onto something to which it may not apply. The reverse is also true; labelling all femmes as submissive bottoms is dismissive of every person who does not conform to that. Also, just to add this in because not enough people know: top does not equate to dominant, and bottom does not equate to submissive; one refers to power dynamics, and the other refers to giving and receiving, so you can be one and not the other. The world needs better sex education. Thinking that lesbians have to be either masc or femme is another problem. These stereotypes can generate a whole lot of insecurities. Firstly, questioning if you’re even queer – after all, you don’t look like the lesbians on TV. Then, once you’re more comfortable with who you are, feeling a pressure to conform to stereotypes, or else you feel invalidated in your identity as a lesbian, when – in actual fact – your identity is yours, and yours alone. External pressures should be ignored, because other people are not living this life that is yours. 

The stereotypes can be funny, and may be true for some, but they should not be treated as boxes of exclusive existence. At the core of all these jokes, an open-minded approach is required, knowing that these are not the only ways to exist as a lesbian, and that no single way is ‘correct’. Happy LGBTQ+ History Month everybody, and I hope you’re able to appreciate the constantly evolving lesbian stereotypes with this snapshot of current trends.

Illustration by Yii-Jen Deng

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Taken from their website, ‘Galop works directly with thousands of LGBT+ people who have experienced abuse and violence every year. We specialise in supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence, hate crime, and other forms of abuse including honour-based abuse, forced marriage, and so-called conversion therapies. We are a service run by LGBT+ people, for LGBT+ people, and the needs of our community are at the centre of what we do.’

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Ellee Su

Ellee (she/her) is the Editor-in-Chief of The Oxford Blue this term. When she isn't studying for French and Linguistics, she enjoys playing guitar and video games, and sleeping copious amounts to make up for her hectic lifestyle. You will often find her arranging coffee mornings with friends in order to force herself to get out of bed early.