(and dismissing and/or scapegoating the gay man, transfolk, and genderqueer)
Winter puts her finger on something I've been trying to articulate for a while now (thanks):
Am I correct to discern a tendency within areas of heterosexual, and some lesbian, feminist discourse to romanticize lesbianism? In the case of heterosexual feminists, I rather wish they would do more research before they make assumptions about what lesbians do, and do not do, in bed, and actually find out something about lesbian culture and history, because the things we do and say have a context. I am particularly tired of seeing lesbianism constructed as a version of feminism or as some kind of feminist utopia...
Perhaps what pisses me off most about the feminist appropriation and romanticization of lesbianism is the fact that lesbians have very real and serious problems which need to be addressed urgently. Thanks to the stress of living in a violently homophobic world, we have inordinate mental health problems, many of us self harm, many of us have substance abuse problems and in the UK the statistics for domestic violence are the same as for heterosexual women: 1 in 4 of us will be physically attacked by our female partner. Every time a young woman tells me how her girlfriend gave her a black eye or emotionally abused her, I think the line "Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice" is some kind of sick joke. (Who actually said that? Does anyone know?)
We are afraid of talking about these problems outside the community because we are afraid doing so will fuel the homophobia which caused them in the first place. We are often afraid of talking about it to heterosexual feminists because we might be called tools of the patriarchy, or something.
Lesbians were incredibly important in second wave feminism, but now the majority of younger lesbians I know do not identify as feminists at all. Mind the Gap has a few of us, but I have spent years as the token dyke in feminist groups. I have even had that lovely experience of suddenly finding myself invisible and muted when I raise the issue of lesbian and gay pornography and sex work, if what I say doesn't fit the dominant narrative being constructed in the room at the time.
I think we need a new kind of lesbian or queer feminism, or perhaps a new kind of alliance with heterosexual feminism, one which doesn't tend to elide the difficult realities and sexual complexities of life for many lesbian, bisexual and queer women, or regard such complexities as some kind of betrayal of feminism, but I'm just not sure what it should look like yet.
I'll just add that I know/have known plenty of young activist queergrrls who, if they don't ID as feminist (I rather think they must) certainly care about all the same issues. (I'm sure there are plenty of lesbians who don't give a crap about politics; but I think that's pretty much always been true). And who also naturally make connections to gay boys and TG folks, and have a distinct identity from hetero feminists. Certainly that's the milieu I knew. And Christ knows that wasn't free of dwama and all sorts of shibboleths and internal policing and processing and general headfuckery; I'm just saying the "sex wars" business wasn't part of it, that I knew of, anyway.
I mean, I left Dyke Drama Collective partly because I just couldn't take the dwama (as opposed to the kind of drama that correctly belonged on the stage) anymore: infighting over whether TG folk belonged, whether straight women belonged, to what degree men should or could be part of the productions, whether sliding scale ticket prices were oppressive, how to make it a more WOC-friendly/involved space (oh yeah, I'd say racism and classism were still big elephants in the aisles); just plain ridiculous blow-ups that went on and on and on account of the most ridiculous trifling shit had been given sociopolitical Import and no one seemed to think direct confrontation was okay except the frootbats...on and on. But I mean: we had erotica fests that were sponsored by Toys in Babeland. We constantly had flyers in the hall for Babeland, as well as all kinds of nightlife and sexy queer and/or women-only parties. We had burlesque, we had strip shows, we had drag king shows; some of us would go enmasse to the SM play party down the road after striking, and thought nothing of it wrt feminism, at least.
All of which is a good part of the source of the jarring sense of disconnect I had when I started to get into the feminist blogosphere; I honestly didn't know this was still going on. Particularly among young women.
It's ironic to me that in the wake of the recent BJ blowup there's been a sentiment (most directly expressed by R. Mildred of Punkass Blog) that lesbians and/or asexuals (who out there is actually claiming the ID "asexual?" seems to me that that's one closet that might be worth exploring a little more directly and empathetically, all-round) were dominating the discourse, because it's kind of a funhouse mirror of my own experience: to wit, an overwhelming sense of heteronormativity.
Which was even weirder when I realized that it's coming from spaces moderated by self-ID'd lesbians and nother non-het women (mostly IBTP, okay, but some others as well).
I've said this before, several times, albeit perhaps not as kindly or clearly as might have been ideal:
If one keeps talking and talking and talking about the almighty Penis (and its straight, oppressive owners), one is implicitly suggesting that it is, in fact, more important than anything else. Even if one does it in exclusively negative ways.
It's not just a question of, hey, some straight womens' and men's feelings might be hurt by this (although, you know, at a certain point one might want to consider to what degree and in what contexts one cares about making friends and influencing people, as opposed to simply engaging in much-needed venting; and, if any, what might be the best way to go about it).
It's also: hey, you know what? Other people and sexualities and dynamics exist, too, and the way you're talkin', one might never guess.
Which strikes me as odd (not to mention deeply annoying), when it's in the context of an ideology that purports to be some sort of Grand Unified Theory Of Everything.
Particularly when it comes to talk about sex work and porn (I refuse to use the odious portmanteau "pornstitution," now or ever; its cutesy-dismissiveness makes my teeth ache. although not as much as the frankly sexist "sexbot").
Yeah, okay, lesbian porn, the real deal, is vanishingly small in the context of mainstream pr0n. That doesn't mean it's not worth talking about; the assumptions and contexts are different, often.
More interesting, to me, sometimes, is the way gay men seem to simply not exist in these discussions. Because there's no doubt that M/M prostitution and porn do make up a decent percentage of what's out there; and definitely there are specific context and dynamics and conventions to consider.
Which, okay, you say, feminist space; maybe we don't want to talk about men at all, okay.
But my point is uh, in many cases, yer already talking about menmenmen. Like, all the time. Straight men. I don't even know if y'all realize it, some of yez. So why not broaden the discussion a tad?
And then, too, there is the way TG folk have been treated in some lesbian-feminist discourses, even now. Which, frankly, is disgraceful.
Amp put it well, a couple of months ago:
1) Nothing about transitioning necessarily challenges the idea of gender as a binary. Nor does not transitioning challenge the idea of gender as a binary. Challenging gender as a binary is something we do with advocacy, not by being transgendered or not.
2) However, it should be noted that “male to female or vice versa” with “only two genders at work,” while perfectly valid, is not a complete list of how people are transgendered. Some people have explicitly fluid gender identities, or in some other way refuse to identify as simply “male” or simply “female.” Insofar as their “fluid” gender identities are made public, these folks implicitly challenge the idea of gender as a simple binary.
3) Furthermore, as Piny points out in YL’s comments, transitioning from one sex to the other implicitly “challenges the gender divider that this society seems most invested in: sex assigned at birth defines your gender position, full stop.”
4) In a sense, transsexuals who move from one sex to the other “entrench the system” of gender as a binary, because they are willing to dress and be identified in society as one gender and not the other. But that’s true of the vast majority of us, transsexual or not.
All of us make compromises with the patriarchal society around us, whether it’s getting married to someone of the opposite sex, or shaving (for women), or shopping only in the “men’s” section of the clothing store (for men), or wearing a low ponytail (for me). There are a thousand ways to compromise with patriarchy - no, ten thousand - and I doubt anyone fights against them all. And all of these decisions and actions could be said to help entrench the gender-binary system.
We all do what we have to do - to survive, to express ourselves, and to feel comfortable with what we see in the mirror. It’s illogical to single out transsexuals for criticism on this score - and yet, transsexuals are constantly singled out for this criticism. I call that discrimination.
5) Regarding “after all, could being a woman be so bad if some people choose to become women?” You might as well say that being gay isn’t so bad if some are out of the closet, or that transphobia isn’t so bad if some people choose to be openly transgendered, or that racism isn’t so bad if some POC who could “pass” for white choose not to. (Piny made this argument, as well).
Bottom line: Patriarchy is a huge edifice. We should welcome a lot of different approaches to challenging it. And virtually everyone has to compromise with patriarchy sometimes.
Finally, in my opinion, feminism has never been at its best or strongest when saying “keep out” to oppressed minorities.
On edit, tangentially (or not): Bitch PhD has a talk-about-sex-thread specifically for the sapphically inclined.
personally i think a free-for-all would be just fine too, but props to her for starting these threads at all.