American television host, political commentator and author Rachel Maddow. She is also the first openly gay anchor to host a major prime-time news program in the United States and is generally an awesome human being. Photo: Bravo
I've been a practising lesbian for almost 15 years - I say practicing because it makes perfect and I'm pretty sure I’ve always been gay, it just took actually sleeping with a woman for me to figure it out. As someone who came out when they were 17 and was that shaved-head-and-facial-piercings poster girl at university, I've heard the catalogue of urban legends about dykes and reckon it's about time some of them were put to rest. This is my top, but by no means exhaustive, girl-on-girl myth busting guide.
One of you is 'the man'?
Unable to process anything outside of the ‘me Tarzan, you Jane’ gender binary, many straight folks (and some queers too, mind) find it hard to comprehend a relationship that doesn't have a masculine-feminine dynamic. I'm not talking about Judith Butler's gender-as-performance or butch-femme roleplay - I mean the flat-out misapprehension that a legitimate relationship has to have someone in a male role. If I had a dollar for every person who, usually in drunken conspiratorial tones, asked me who was 'the man' in my relationship I'd be wealthy enough to pay La Butler to accompany me to parties and bitchslap some sense into people. Gender is not innate, it's fluid, and it shifts from relationship to relationship and even within the same relationship over time. When people (usually dudes) ask who the man is, they are either wondering who takes charge or, more often, they're wondering what you do under the covers. Memo guys: it's none of your business.
Cast members of The L Word Marlee Matlin, Katherine Moenning and Laurel Holloman. Photo: Stephen Shugerman
It's just a phase/you haven't met Mr Right
Most people will cop this from concerned relatives at some time in their coming out journey, even after they've done more serial monogamy than a repeatedly widowed gibbon and formally had their heterosexuality revoked. It's actually one of the most devastating things to hear from a parent, sibling, or someone else you really care about, because it shows a fundamental disconnect with who you are and comes from a place that delegitimises same-sex relationships as inferior, a sort of hobby for girls who are too ugly/outspoken/fat/demanding for the male gaze. Although some people may bat for both teams (and usually get pilloried by the lesbian mafia for doing so), no amount of 'cocking' -- verbatim suggestion -- is going to change someone's sexuality. If you are attracted to women, and frankly why wouldn't you be, there is no Mr Right. Unless you are sperm-scouting, which is a different, donorsexual, matter.
You can't lose your virginity as a lesbian
Brilliant and openly gay Jane Lynch from Glee swaps her track suit pants for a frock to play "Miss Hannigan" for "Annie" on Broadway. Photo: Bruce Glikas
Another one for the phallocentrics - anything that doesn't involve a penis is apparently just not sex. If you're a 'gold star' this means, apparently, that your hymen is intact and your nether-regions as pristine as the patriarchy intended. Well done! Make two o-shapes with your fingers and bump them together in thanks. Penetration doth a cherry pop! The thing is, while I'm sure they're very nice if you're into that sort of thing, penis just doesn't really do it for me. And last time I checked there were no by-laws governing the proper conduct of intimate relations. Just ask Cory Bernardi.
You must have been damaged as a child
Fred Nile popularised this school of thought, conflating homosexuality with paedophilia and demonising gays and lesbians as people who are inherently damaged in some way because they are outside Biblical prescriptions of morality. Central to this argument is the belief, firstly, that the chief business of the human race is to procreate (seven billion and counting!) and sex that isn't for such purposes is frankly, an aberration OF NATURE ITSELF. Secondly, it supposes that there is a 'normal' (Fred Nile) from which 'abnormal' can be derived. Apparently the only reason you could have for not wanting All Dong All Day Long is that you must have had a terrible incident (read: molestation) in your past, because dontcha know sickness begets sickness.
If you're ever lucky enough to get drunk with Ellen and Portia, Amy advises against asking "who wears the pants?" Photo: Handout
Lesbian relationships don't last
This is my favourite muff-diving joke of all time. What does a lesbian bring to the second date? A U-Haul. It's a commitment thing. We fall in love hard and fast, have the moving-in-together talk with dessert, and the honeymoon is over by the time the bill arrives. People who have been together two years give one another burial plots as an anniversary gift. That's the running gag among lesbians. It's the orthodoxy outside the gay community too, but peddled by people who think allowing same-sex couples to wed will unravel the very fibre of marriage because everyone knows homos are polygamous and incapable of staying together long enough to have a joint bank account and matching leisure suits. Reality check: lesbian relationships have the same odds of succeeding as straight ones, or maybe slightly better. The number of same-sex couples is growing according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, accounting for 0.7 percent of all couples in the 2011 Census, up from 0.6 percent in 2006 and more than twice the 0.3 percent in 1996. Dykes are closing the gap on gay men too - there are now 109 gay couples for every 100 lesbian pairings compared with 137 per 100 in 1996.
All dykes have short hair
I once inadvertently outed myself on breakfast television, much to the consternation of my military father and Mel Doyle, who was interviewing me on Sunrise. (I must stress that I did this as a favour for a friend, and to my knowledge it is nowhere to be found on the Internet). They did one of those schmaltzy before and after photo overlays showing me with a shaved head and several facial piercings, leading the aghast Doyle to ask why I had 'done that to myself', clearly preferring the six kilos of makeup and can of hairspray before her in the studio. The look of panic on her face was priceless when I started talking about discarding my femininity and rediscovering it on my own terms as a BIG OL' DYKE.
Yes, I do keep my hair (mostly) short. I don't want to look like a man, though there is definitely an element of challenging feminine stereotypes and I think lesbians who have short hair do, maybe even subconsciously, use it as a signifier of their sexuality -- a kind of plumage for attracting other dykes. Mostly I have short hair because I can't be bothered doing anything except scavenging for coffee before noon, and it suits me – also, my forehead occupies about 80 percent of my face.
All lesbians are hirsute vegans
Hairy pits and pins are seriously passe in gay Australia 2013 - baby dykes today are all about image. The L Word, which is seminal viewing if you want to gain your pop culture badge, shows beautiful Hollywood lesbians in various stages of undress without a stray hair to be seen, and I don't know many live lady-lovers who keep their fuzz as a political statement anymore. There ARE lots of Cat Protection Society-frequenting vegans in the sisterhood but just as many hang out for a steak or are BLTgans - people who try to swear off animal products but just cannot resist the occasional piece of bacon.
Lesbians don't get STDs and don't need pap smears
The flipside of not being able to lose your virginity as a lesbian are doctors who tell you you don't need sexual health checks or pap smears on the basis that what you do isn't really sex. It's one of the most damaging myths out there, and one that Australian health authorities are on a concerted drive to debunk. There is no medical evidence to suggest that human papilloma virus - a precursor to cervical cancer - is less common in lesbians, and it can be passed between women via sexual contact in the same way as between men and women. In fact, the most recent research suggests that same-sex attracted young women are at higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections than their straight counterparts. I'm not going to get into dental dams here, because this is a family site, but if you ever hear a medical practitioner trot out this furphy, feel free to set them straight.
Lesbian bed death
A condition 'discovered' in 1983 by a sociologist in the United States named Pepper Schwartz, the dreaded LBD is spoken about in hushed tones by every novitiate lesbian who encounters it. Schwartz concluded from some crackpot study that may or may not have involved actual people, that lesbians have less sex than other couples and generations of cock-proud men have perpetuated the myth ever since. The truth is, everyone lies about how much sex they're having (except Bettina Arndt) and anyone who says their sex life is raging 10 years into the piece (except Bettina Arndt) is either on crack or Viagra. Some lesbian couples do struggle to keep their sex life alive; so do straight couples and gay men. Anyone who peddles the fairytale of LBD has a healthy dose of 1950-itis about womens' libidos and sexual expression. This is right up there with 'men f*ck, women make love' and 'I will never challenge Julia Gillard' in terms of laughable fallacies.
Three words: don't flatter yourself.
Amy Coopes is Australia correspondent for Agence France-Presse. Follow her on Twitter.