Not By The Hairs On My Big Thrusting Chin

Roger Lewis, columnist for The Spectator recently caused controversy in his review for Karen Bartlett’s ‘Dusty: An Intimate Story’.

The book speculates on the late singer Dusty Springfield’s alleged homosexuality, which Lewis claims should have been evident due to her prominent jawbone:

“Call me a crazy old physiognomist, but my theory is that you can always spot a lesbian by her big thrusting chin. Celebrity Eskimo Sandi Toksvig, Ellen DeGeneres, Jodie Foster, Clare Balding, Vita Sackville-West, God love them: there’s a touch of Desperate Dan in the jaw-bone area, no doubt the better to go bobbing for apples.

“It is thus a tragedy that Dusty Springfield’s whole existence was blighted by her orientation, which explains ‘the silence and secrecy she extended over much of her life, and her self-loathing’. One glance at her chin should have revealed all.”

First of all, is ‘bobbing for apples’ a new lesbian sex euphemism I’m yet to be familiar with? Second of all, Lewis’ hypothesis that the chin makes the lesbian border on comically ridiculous. If one’s jawbone determines one’s sexuality, then why do be-chinned beauties Drew Barrymore and Reese Witherspoon have yet to join the ranks of the Sapphically inclined? How do you explain Ellen Page’s dainty jawbone? Is this guy the biggest lesbian of all?

The Crimson Chin

Anyone else remember The Fairly Oddparents? No?

Not only are Lewis’ comments absurd, they also bear resemblance to playground science classics such as the disparity of length between your pointer and ring fingers determining whether or not you’re gay. Shouldn’t we be able to expect better from a guy who’s published seven books and is a Fellow at an Oxford College?

It’s easy to laugh off Lewis’ remarks as foolish theories from a misguided pseudo-scientist, but deciding that somebody ‘looks gay’ for a host of arbitrary reasons has a long and proud history. In fact, the notion that physical traits could betray an individual’s orientation was once legitimized by the medical community. Dell Richard’s book ‘Lesbian Lists’ cites the following physical characteristics as markers of lesbianism according to a medical journal from 1900:

  • “a heavy timbre to her voice”
  • “no breasts to speak of”
  • “is square shouldered and solid”

Sensing a theme here? Though more than 100 years apart, what Lewis’ and the medical journal’s clam-diving criteria have in common is the connection of lesbianism with conventionally masculine characteristics. The stereotype of lesbians being more masculine than straight or bisexual women, or that lesbians “just want to be men” has been repeated so frequently that it’s become boring. How many pictures of Portia De Rossi do we need to see before we move on?

portia de rossi

Because here’s one more just for good measure.

Lewis’ comments perpetuate a misguided gender stereotype so ancient it’s been found in prehistoric cave paintings alongside the earliest known ‘make me a sandwich’ joke.

The idea that you can tell someone’s gay because of their broad shoulders or dainty hands or length of their pinky toe or any other insignificant physical characteristic is not only ludicrous but it’s also insulting because it undermines a person’s ability to identify their own sexuality.

To say that someone is gay not because of their attraction to the same sex (which, I’m told, is what being gay is all about), but because of a physical feature they have no power over negates that person’s right to declare their own identity. One of the things our community is continually fighting for is the ability to define ourselves and our identities as we see fit. Nobody is able to define anybody else’s sexuality. This is something that you discover and express yourself. To suggest that this process of self-discovery can be boiled down to whether or not you have a big chin removes a person’s right to make up their own mind. If, as in the 1900s, the medical community really did believe that what makes you a lesbian is your broad shoulders, then narrow-shouldered lesbians would be having to prove their identities and broad-shouldered women everywhere would be viewed with suspicion.

It’s reassuring that we live in an age where theories like Lewis’ are swiftly dismissed. But it’s also important to remind ourselves why theories like these should be paid no mind. A big chin does not a lesbian make. We are the sole designators of our identities. In the words of Descartes, “I think, therefore I am” (a queer lady).

Sophie Joske

READ MORE: Lesbians Can Be Identified By Their Chins, Claims Columnist

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