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Nov 19

The Lesbian Mafia

For middle-class nineteenth-century men of European extraction, a rotund belly and a beard were signs of prosperity, success and authority. If the beard were topped with a commanding moustache, so much the better. The look was even made compulsory in the British military for the latter half of the nineteenth century, and wax locked in the look. The moustache cup dealt nicely with this inconvenience, at the same time creating a uniquely gendered item of kitchen crockery. The moustache has been so gendered ‘male’ in western culture that there is a whole industry in hair removal for women, the upper lip being a prime site of focus. How can the same thing indicate authority for males, and shameful misperformance of gender for females? If gender is a continuum rather than a binary, our culture works very hard to deny this. The most common ideas about gender affirm difference, not continuity or sameness. So, despite the fact that many women have facial hair, and could sport a moustache, very few are prepared to do so. It is an inherently rebellious act, inviting scorn, derision or intense curiosity. It is not a neutral act.

In 2014, a group of us attended the Adelaide Pride March in matching outfits of black suits and white shirts, adding our most important accoutrement: a fake moustache. We were playing with two stereotypes. One was that of the mafia (someone even had a violin case). But the other spoke to how queer women are often viewed when we achieve a small measure of power. This is especially so if there is more than one queer woman working in the same space. Then we become the Lesbian Mafia, sneakily wielding inordinate influence and depriving others of opportunities by our own special witchery. We owned it: WE ARE THE LESBIAN MAFIA!

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Mandy Treagus

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