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Lesbian relationships don't exist for the entertainment of men

Imagine the thrill of being on a date with someone you like. You’ve never dated a woman before but you know this feels right – you’re happy.

Now imagine that date being turned into an uncomfortable experience for the both of you, courtesy of some straight dude who can’t keep it in his pants.

We were standing at the corner of the street waiting for the lights to go green when she leaned over to kiss me. It was just a peck, which was a bit of a contrast to the heavy kissing in a crowded movie theatre just minutes before that.

I had only been with guys until that moment and never had to think twice about kissing or even just holding hands with someone. She had been out for a while so, in hindsight, now I see how she knew better.

I noticed she was looking over my shoulder in shock.

That’s when I turned around to lay my grossed-out eyes on a guy in his car. A complete stranger had stopped at the lights and appeared to be masturbating, while aggressively making eye contact.

I can’t remember exactly what we did. I must have engaged somehow, perhaps gave him the finger, because he leaned over to shout something at us.

He rolled down his window and yelled: ‘That’s what you should like,’ without taking his hand off his penis.

Hey, bonus points for the coordination!

I wish I could say that was the first time a random guy masturbated in front of me without my consent, but I’d be lying. However, it was the first time a presumably straight man did so because of my sexuality.

And it only added an infuriating heteronormative layer to that already pretty disgusting incident.

Melania Geymonat and her girlfriend Christine Hannigan were violently attacked on a London bus earlier this year, after they refused to kiss for the entertainment of men.

Thinking that this is an isolated incident is underestimating an endemic issue.

Certain straight men seem to think that a relationship between two women is something they need to be involved in somehow. They would go to great lengths to prove it’s their right to be a part of it.

This is the reality too many queer women and femme non-binary people face when they are out and about with their same-sex partners. Among my queer female friends, it’s hard to find one who hasn’t experienced something similar.

I like to call it ‘correctional catcalling’. This catchy, alliterative definition only stands for plain street abuse aimed to erase queer identities.

The casual slurs female same-sex couples have to deal with almost daily can escalate quickly into straight-up harassment and assault. Engaging might not be the most sensible response, yet it’s an understandable gut reaction for not feeling safe in a public space in a way most straight men will never understand.

In Melania and Christine’s case, the attackers had asked the couple to kiss for them. To entertain them. It was the couple’s refusal that angered and triggered those teens – who are now awaiting sentencing – to attack and steal from them.

Catcalling and abuse with a disciplinary intent are a form of violence – at the crossroad between misogyny and homophobia – that needs to be taken seriously.

With hate crimes on the rise and one in five women experiencing some type of sexual assault in England and Wales, increasing security in public areas and believing and supporting survivors is crucial. 

But this alone won’t shift the patriarchal paradigm lying beneath the surface of abusive behaviours.

Judging by the shocked, defensive attitude some straight men adopt when confronted with the reality of correctional catcalling and street abuse, this is a much-needed conversation, and one that needs to start from an early age. 

Melania and Christine were attacked by boys still young enough to be in school. This shows how desperately we need to educate teens about sexual consent and misconduct.

We need to include men and boys in this debate so they will know when to back off and let queer women – indeed all women – live their lives.

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