Looking Through Lesbian-Colored Glasses

You remember in the movie, National Treasure, when Nicholas Cage’s character, Benjamin Gates, found an ocular device invented by Benjamin Franklin to help the wearer see the hidden symbols on the back of the Declaration of Independence?

Ben Gates glasses


The different-colored lenses could be flipped to allow the wearer to see different images. It was a cool design. So what in the world does this have to do with anything, you ask?

I’ve been thinking lately about how I look at the world. How we all look at the world. It seems to me those glasses are a great image for why we all tend to see things differently. We all have a set of these lenses that reflect our reality. My set includes (by default) Caucasian, but also female, Irish, adoptee, lesbian, spouse, physical therapist. When I see news stories, read books, watch movies, I do all those things through the prism of my particular set of lenses. Each of us does. Your set might include: mom, Jew, Latina, teacher – any combination of things that make up who you are.

I’ve been exchanging e-mails recently with another woman who was adopted. Her experience coming out as lesbian to her adoptive mother was a very traumatic one, one that drove her life in directions it most certainly would not have gone if her mother had been accepting. My mother, though we never spoke about my being gay, certainly knew. I grew up with her constantly telling me I was something only a mother could love (sarcasm is a sign of affection in our family). I never, ever doubted that I was loved for who I am. I just read an account in the Washington Post of a woman who was born in India and adopted into a white family in Massachusetts. Being adopted was a very painful thing for her, and she engaged in a lot of self-destructive behavior as a result. The three of us all have “adoptee” lenses in our set of glasses, but they show us three different views of that particular part of who we are.

When I watch movies or read books, my lesbian lenses are firmly in place. They color how I perceive romantic twists, how I look at the independence – or not – of the female characters. Now, please, I am NOT implying that there is any lesbian subtext to Frozen, but when Elsa sings “Let It Go”, what I hear is a coming out song. Totally apart from the fact that I have developed a crush on Elsa (anyone else?), I hear her, for the first time in her life, breaking free of constraints placed on her by her well-meaning parents to hide her true nature. And I love that she’s not with anyone at the end of the movie, because it leaves my imagination free to roam where it will.

When women complain that men don’t understand them and vice versa, when black people claim that whites can’t know what it’s like to be profiled by police, when police claim civilians can’t know what it’s like to face the possibility of an assault every time they stop someone, when soldiers coming back from a war say their families can’t know what they faced – they’re all right.

Is it any wonder, then, that it seems a hundred people can watch the same event unfold, and have a hundred different versions of what happened and why? We all look at events through our own individual set of lenses, and we – literally – don’t see the same things, because we all interpret events through our experiences.

If only we could exchange glasses and see life through someone else’s eyes… Oh, wait, we can. Kind of. That’s what books are for. And movies. They allow us to get into another character’s skin and see life through the lenses that make up their life. Let’s take advantage of that privilege. Read something that takes you outside your comfort zone, something that challenges what you thought you knew, something that allows you to see through someone else’s lenses.




12 thoughts on “Looking Through Lesbian-Colored Glasses

  1. Agreed about the lenses — in fact, that’s an analogy I’ve used for years (and it predates Nicolas Cage, ugh). The great thing about lenses is that we have the ability to change our own. Sometimes our lenses can prevent us from seeing clearly (and I think sometimes they can fog up), but with some effort and self-knowledge we can fix that.

    Also, Frozen = total coming out song. Have you seen the blog post on that movie written by “a well-behaved Mormon woman”? That’s the name of her blog. It’s a fairly, er, amazing post. And you can probably figure out the thrust of it just by the fact that the author’s self-identification of her most important attribute is that she’s well-behaved.

    ~ Fletcher DeLancey

    • Ha, Fletcher! It doesn’t surprise me that you have used that analogy (pre-dating Nicholas Cage). I agree completely with everything you wrote. And I think I’m happy to skip the well-behaved Mormon woman’s post. I will happily stay in my little Elsa fantasy!

  2. Caren, you’ve offered a really interesting perspective in pointing out how we view the world, and all the information we take in, through a combination of lenses, which include the different elements of our identity. In the same way, I think, these lenses can also influence our output, whether it’s visual art, fiction, or any other form of expression.

    This topic is also linked to one of the points of debate in the social sciences about whether a researcher should be (or can ever be) objective, and separate themselves from these identities in their research. However, looking at the world through lesbian-colored glasses (in my mind, the lenses are purple!) sounds like a much more fun approach!

    • I think you’re absolutely right, Lisa. I don’t think it’s truly possible for researchers to ever be objective. I question the objectivity of things like IQ tests, which, no matter how they try, I think all carry the cultural and socioeconomic bias of the creators. And I love purple for the lesbian lenses!

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