By Alex Distefano
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At 11 p.m. on any given Wednesday, the lesbians at Eden are partying. They wear heels. They wear dresses. They're toned, taut, sun-kissed, waxed, and clothed in designer labels. And yes, they wear lipstick. After years of drought, New York is swimming in parties like these. Nearly every night of the week, women can attend sexy-chic parties with come-on names like Eden, Starlette, Stiletto, and Girl Nation.
Glamorous lesbians—no, that is not an oxymoron—have always been here, but they were invisible to mainstream culture until relatively recently. "Real" lesbians were the butches and tomboys.
"It is so accepted now that two pretty girls can get together. It's sexy and hot," said Cynthia, a Brooklyn high-school teacher lounging on a banquette at Eden, which is held in a Union Square club. "Is it bad for people to find you attractive? No. It gets your foot in the door and hopefully helps people realize that love is love."
Uncomfortable with the het label "lipstick lesbians," women within the cliterati refer to themselves as girls, or femmes, or just lesbians. They don't consider themselves part of a trend, a group, or a subculture—and certainly not a political movement.
I came out in the p.c. early '90s, when being a lesbian meant cutting your hair short and wearing rainbow rings and Doc Martens. Androgyny, or boyishness, was how lesbians recognized each other: If a woman had a crew cut and an Indigo Girls T-shirt, you could safely assume she was a dyke.
Today's middle-class and wealthy lesbians, however, look mainstream. "I've certainly noticed a more glamorous element among lesbians," said Julie Bolcer, the news editor of Go magazine, a monthly based in New York that is this group's bible. Bolcer can be seen many nights prowling hot-girl clubs for news tips. She's surprised by how many women wear long hair and how "flagrantly feminine" many of her peers dress.
Glamazons began emerging from their clothes closets when Showtime's The L Word premiered four years ago. Executive producer and creator Ilene Chaiken didn't have to invent the glitzy inner sanctum of L.A. lesbians; she just looked around her own social circle—and turned her friends into role models. Women have responded by buying the clothes and getting the haircuts they see on the show.
This new attention to style has given a sexier vibe to the once-dowdy lesbian-date scene. When furniture designer Christina Antonio arrived in New York from London a few years ago, she found that "it was pretty slim pickings." But, she adds, "it's not just about the butch stereotype anymore. There's more of a variety."
There are still butches, of course, but in new-lesbian society, even the butch is downright girly. The best-known femme butch is Jackie Warner, the star of Bravo's reality-series hit Work Out. She's pretty and buff. Straight women write her love letters. "Most of my fans are middle-aged women who are married," Warner told me. "I think it's because I've made it acceptable to them to explore their sexuality, because I'm delivered in a package that's easy to swallow—no pun intended."
The rare sightings of lesbian characters on network TV include the short-lived Sex and the City clone Cashmere Mafia, and a lesbian flirtation between major characters in Grey's Anatomy. These women might be heterosexual actresses, but there are plenty of real-life celesbians like Ellen DeGeneres and her luscious partner (and soon-to-be-wife) Portia de Rossi; Jodie Foster and her rumored new babe, Cindy Mort; Rosie O'Donnell and Kelli Carpenter O'Donnell; and possibly Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson. Even one of the über-het Sex and the City quartet, redhead beauty Cindy Nixon, has come over to the Sapphic side.
Whether we're becoming more feminine in response to the media or the media is taking cues from real life, the result is that lesbians are letting out their inner femme. Maggie Collier, known as Maggie C., has produced Eden every week at the Union Square Lounge for the past year. She first lived in the city from 1998 to 2000, when the scene, she said, was "still cool. Not lipsticky cool— eccentric." Collier found something new when she moved to Los Angeles for a few years: There was a "totally lipstick scene. There was just a beauty aesthetic." When she returned East, she was shocked by the lack of options for women like herself, so she started Eden.
"For a long time, it was harder for lesbians to feel comfortable being feminine," she said. "We weren't represented in the community, and other women assumed we were just going through a phase. We felt a need to toughen up so we weren't hit on by men. But now, being a lesbian is more acceptable to the rest of the world, so if a man hits on me, I can just tell him I'm gay and he's fine with that."
Women seem to agree that growing mainstream acceptance means no longer having to fight to be visible. They don't have to be easily identifiable as lesbian to win their rights: "We're more acceptable. The lifestyle of tolerance has taken over, and there are more women who say, 'Who gives a fuck?' " said Courtney Hannans, who lives in Chelsea. "There are more fabulous women who are out."