It’s no secret that queer women often face prejudice. But unfortunately, this judgment doesn’t always stop within queer communities. Oftentimes, queer women place different standards upon members of their own communities.
One of the more infamous examples of this is the “gold star standard.”
The term “gold star” within queer communities refers to a queer woman who has never had sex with a man. There is often greater value placed on gold star women as potential partners, and also greater personal pride associated with having gold star status.
The value placed on gold star women mainly sprouts from the idea that these women are more sure of their identity. Because queer women are often subjected to straight women faking their identity, they might consider never sleeping with a man, something that makes another woman a more trustworthy partner.
But the gold star standard has a litany of issues.
The gold star standard excludes a large group of queer women. It inherently leaves out bisexual and pansexual women, because even if they have never dated a man before, their mere possible attraction to men already excludes them from a possible place of respect and value amongst queer women. It also shames lesbian women who were questioning their identity and dated men before figuring out their true identity. It implies there is something wrong with both a collection of valid identities and also the natural process of figuring out one’s own attraction.
Here’s the thing: Not all queer women are lesbians, and some lesbians have slept with men. Both of these things are perfectly fine, and yet they are cast in a negative light because of this “gold star” standard.
I have already discussed the validity of bisexual women in the past, but it bears repeating.
Any person who experiences same-sex attraction is queer. Because bisexual women are attracted to other women, they are queer, even though they also may be attracted to and interested in pursuing relationships with men. The same goes for pansexual women. Creating an entire standard based on solely being in relationships with women excludes these women and makes it clear that they are not welcome or valued in queer female communities.
But this standard also creates boundaries between lesbians as well, particularly with regard to creating the “right kind” of lesbian, who presumably has only been with other women. But many lesbians have been with men in the past, and this could be due to a variety of reasons. They may be struggling with figuring out their identity or confused by compulsory heterosexuality. They could be dealing with internalized homophobia and trying to repress or “reverse” their own feelings. They could be in a situation in which they cannot be fully out and feel an obligation to be with men.
These are all valid reasons, and they do not lower a lesbian’s value. They don’t invalidate her identity, and just because a lesbian has dated men or continues to date men for whatever reason does not change or invalidate her identity.
Ultimately, the gold star standard plays into a harmful stereotype — the idea that women are defined by their previous partners. This goes especially for queer women, who are often reduced solely to their relationships, both inside and outside of the queer community. In reality, there is no “right way” to be a queer woman. Our own idea of who we are, not our relationships, is what defines us. And previous relationships do not change the supposed value of who we are.
Delaney Murray is a freshman studying journalism with a focus in news and information at Ohio University. How else do you think stereotypes affect queer women? Let Delaney know by emailing her at email@example.com or tweeting her at @delpaulinem.