Saturday, July 01, 2006

Romancing the lesbian

(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.

51 comments:

hedonistic said...

Romanticizing lesbianism? Guilty as charged! Could it have something to do with the tendency of some (radical, separatist) feminists to present lesbianism as the logical extension of "pure" feminism? Lesbianism being the thinking woman's choice and all. It might have been said first as a joke (by which famous woman, I forget), but there is a feminist contingent out there that takes its sexual politics seriously and views heterosexual women comtemptibly as sellouts.

They are such a small group; why am I intimidated by these women? I don't know. Because sometimes I think they're "mean?" (PS: I saw the earlier "nice girl" thread).

Perhaps it's because I DO think I'd have an easier time finding a lover who was attracted to the REAL me (outspoken, bald, unplucked, unshaved, unmade-up, whatever) if I were a lesbian. Frankly, I think this is true, and I'll be thinking this tonight as I glue on my wig to prepare for my date with a man who does not (yet) know that I am bald. I tell him tonight.

I like to imagine lesbians DON'T have to make the same compromises as straight women do, but I know deep down this is a lie. I might find a lover more easily, but being lesbian won't save me from being beat up on the street by some gang of thugs because I refuse to cop to the patriarchal standard. From being discriminated at work for not dolling myself up and being appropriately "submissive" in front of my "betters." And so on.

Belledame, thank you for pointing out all that you did, it's definitely food for thought. Here's what I'm throwing out, though: A few women are dominating the discourse in the feminist blogosphere partly because they're fantastic writers and funny to boot. We look up to them, but then we get miffed when they don't address OUR issues. WTF? For the most part we ALL blog as a personal indulgence. Really, do any of us "owe" our readers ANYTHING?

jackadandy said...

"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."

Thank you, ma'am!

Discussions that can't separate the quality Judith Halberstam would call "masculinity" from straight men, and can't separate fucking from straight dick, leave me standing outside the door. And unfortunately not very interested in coming in.

Maybe you're right about a new queer feminism. I'm always turning for hope to queer femmes, who to me are most likely to get/live "feminine" free from any consideration of penis, negative or positive. That's the holy grail, for me, and the most direct of the "different approaches to challenging" patriarchy.

belledame222 said...

>A few women are dominating the discourse in the feminist blogosphere partly because they're fantastic writers and funny to boot. We look up to them, but then we get miffed when they don't address OUR issues. WTF? For the most part we ALL blog as a personal indulgence. Really, do any of us "owe" our readers ANYTHING?>

Yeah, that's been bandied back and forth as well, of course.

At this point, personally, anyway, I guess all I can do is what I've been doing: critique what I find worthy of critique; and offer my own POV as a counterpoint, as well-written and funny as I can make it. Certainly not my intention to shut anyone down; and you're right that probably certain people *shouldn't* have as much impact as they do...but that still doesn't change the reality that they do, for better or for worse.

belledame222 said...

...and, I should add, try to go out of my way to widen the conversation, as opposed to making it all about call-and-response. keep posting on other peoples' blogs, keep linking to people I find interesting, keep talking to, not just at, or trying to (I have a habit of talking a lot and in multiple posts)

jack: yeah, I suppose I'm a queer femme. arguably more or less queer since I'm not especially into the butch-femme dynamic, personally. I do like to fuck around with gender a lot, but not quite from that angle, exactly.

Which, in terms of "passing" and not getting, like, dyke-bashed in the street, is a privilege; on the other hand, within the lesbian...circuits...makes for a certain invisibility, yes. I probably was more oblivious to it for longer than some people on account of I was fairly used to being invisible as a protection device already. hard habit to break, that.

per the femme thing and conditioning and so on:

One thing that I feel a certain empathy for wrt straight men and (I guess) old-school butches, at least, is the expectation that one will make the first move. This is one convenient thing about being in a traditionally-gendered dyad: if one is traditionally femme (gay or straight) and attracted to the traditionally-butch (gay or straight), one does not have the pressure to "run the show." Make the first move.

Someone at a multigendered TG discussion group brought up the rather unkind but not completely unfair notion of "lesbian sheep," which I'd not heard before, at the time:

http://www.polyamory.org/~howard/Poetry/lesbian_sheep.html

And so, to sum up, there's a system in place
to ensure that the sheep can continue their race,
and it works like a charm. So, no cause to lose sleep.
... but consider the problem of lesbian sheep ...

Yes, a lesbian sheep hopes and prays she can find
a lesbian ewe who's of similar mind
but she doesn't know how! She was brought up to think
that to find a good mate, you just stand there and stink.

And alas, her true love, just a few yards away,
tries the very same thing in the very same way,
and though they both want to be loved and be held,
they just stand around, and wait to be smelled...

***

Anyway, I will just note here that I went to a play party the other week and *for the very first time,* initiated conversation with a fellow ewe and got to exchanging emails and phone numbers (also my suggestions).

I mean, the phone number exchanging and speaking to others isn't new; the take-the-lead, close-the-deal (ugh, now I sound like one of those godawful hetboy pickup artists or something), that was new for me.

'course I still haven't called her yet, and it's been a while now..

i've been preoccupied.

well, i've still got it.

belledame222 said...

hedonistic: good luck tonight! have fun...

belledame222 said...

The other thing which bugs me, as both I and winter have noted, is the notion of "political lesbianism," which is apparently not quite dead after all ("I feel happy! I could go for a walk!...").

anyway it irked me, in the wake of the BJ thing, to see at a number of people express something like,

"Well of COURSE if you're a lesbian you're gonna find dick disgusting"

and I'm all like, excuse me? Personally...not really. I mean, I honestly don't spend enough time around them to really worry about them so much, you know?

For that matter I won't say I've never been attracted to cock, or at least the *idea* of cock.

if anything my feelings are often summed up as, as was put by Edie the lesbian performance artist in Six Feet Under (don't get me started on how annoyed I was with the way that plotline PETERED out, p.s.):

"Your penis...is kind of nice.
Too bad you're attached to it."

But, yeah, but no, but yeah but no, it's more complicated than that, clearly. anyway for me it's never really gone much beyond "kind of nice;" women physically turn me on a lot more, on the whole.

still, wouldn't categorically say it'd never ever happen. More things in the universe than dreamt of in your philosophy and all the rest of it.

anyway what kind of rubs me the wrong way (oo er missus) is the apparent equation that's happening between "asexual" and "lesbian."

I mean, personally, I think asexuality is totally valid; I wish more A's could feel comfortable being out about it; certainly sneering at them as being fucked-up or prudes doesn't help matters.

And sure, call yourself whatever you want; there's no reason why couldn't be affectionally lesbian and still not want to have sex.

But I gotta say that there is nothing particularly subversive about the idea that women aren't particularly sexual, and thus lesbians may as well *be* asexual for all intents and purposes.

Whic, I've not seen anyone say in so many words; but I certainly get that strong impression from a number of people out there. not least of whom being you-know-who.

Queen Victoria disbelieved in our very existence long before the current vogue of HOT! GIRL ON GIRL! ACTIONS!!! which made it easier for women to get away with "romantic friendships" for a while, in part. Because Women Don't Do Such Things.

honestly that stereotype is no more liberating than the hetlez pr0n stereotype of hot blonde longnailed babes always ready to get it on with each other, but not apparently capable of much else. It's just older.

bottom line, for the kazillionth time (really, this concept seems so difficult for certain people! i am starting to wonder whether there's a deeper disconnect at work than ideology here): One Size Does Not Fit All.

cicely said...

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?)

In the 1970's Rita Mae Brown, Charlotte Bunch, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Jill Johnston, The Furies and The radicalesbians developed the concept of political lesbianism - so, one of them?
Or maybe Adrienne Rich? She wrote 'Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence' in 1980. Her theory was that all women are actually lesbians but are kept from realising this through the imposition of compulsory heterosexuality. She defined lesbianism as not only a sexual orientation or preference but a whole range of 'woman-identified' experience. She called the whole thing 'The Lesbian Continuum'.

I always regarded the concept overall as a kind of theft - of lesbian history and culture or experience and identity. (Feminism didn't 'invent' lesbianism after all...) I was a lesbian (self-identified at about 11, in 1965) long before I was a feminist and, for me, it was all about having feelings and desire for girls and women. It had sweet FA to do with men at any level. Still doesn't.

And, yes, there is and always has been a considerable amount of violence and other forms of abuse, as well as self-abuse, in lesbian communities. And the fear of talking about it does come from being jammed between a rock and a hard place. General homophobia on one hand, and pressure to conform to a feminist inspired romanticised ideal or image of lesbianism on the other.

I'm also very interested in some new kind of lesbian feminism or queer feminism, and I'd like to begin by fully examining and understanding the real impact of political lesbianism on the whole community - including non-political lesbians - over the last three and a half decades. That would be the positive as well as the negative impact - because there has definitely been both in the journey from dirty secret to righteous path.

cicely said...

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.


Just to clarify - my comment about my lesbianism having nothing to do with men didn't relate to this. I agree that gay men are invisible in so much of the conversation. In fact there was a comment you made recently, belledame, to the effect that do gay men appreciate the freedom they have around their sexuality in comparison to lesbians ( largely because of the politicisation of lesbianism). I've thought this for years too. Look at the gay male personal ads and compare them to the lesbian ones in most publications. (maybe prior to the internet?) The guys asked for exactly what they wanted sexually. They were very explicit. I'm only now feeling that I could do that pretty specifically and be understood and responded to, although I would still be judged. I just don't care anymore...that's someone elses problem, not mine. Hooray!

belledame222 said...

I tend to doubt Rita Mae Brown said it, somehow--I could be wrong. But she always struck me as a bit of a bad girl, and very much about lesbianism as desire, not just another way to say "fuck you" to the patriarchy.

and Adrienne Rich's continuum seemed more spohisticated than that. although it's true that she has some role in the whole "political lesbian" deal.

Robin Morgan, maybe? it'd be like her.

mostly, I Blame Sheila Jeffreys.

http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/politicsphilosophyandsociety/story/0,6000,1519268,00.html

...Not Jeffreys. She became a lesbian in 1973 because she felt it contradictory to give "her most precious energies to a man" when she was thoroughly committed to a women's revolution. Six years later, she went further and wrote, with others, a pamphlet entitled Love Your Enemy? The Debate Between Heterosexual Feminism And Political Lesbianism. In it, feminists who sleep with men are described as collaborating with the enemy. It caused a huge ruction in the women's movement, and is still cited as an example of early separatists "going way too far".

"We do think," it said, "that all feminists can and should be lesbians. Our definition of a political lesbian is a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men. It does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women." Although many of the more radical feminists agreed, most went wild at being told they were "counter-revolutionary".

***

surprise, surprise:

>Jeffreys' brusque manner and her seeming conviction that she is 100% right when discussing her topics of interest have led to accusations of arrogance from fans and critics alike. Although a funny and charismatic speaker, she can irritate those who feel they are being dictated to. However, she can be generous with her time, particularly with young women new to the movement.>

Btw, TF has said that

"Sheila and I are two hearts that beat as one in many respects."

Just sayin'.

belledame222 said...

>I'm also very interested in some new kind of lesbian feminism or queer feminism, and I'd like to begin by fully examining and understanding the real impact of political lesbianism on the whole community - including non-political lesbians - over the last three and a half decades. That would be the positive as well as the negative impact - because there has definitely been both in the journey from dirty secret to righteous path.>

Well, I think going back even farther than the actual coinage of the notion/label "political lesbian:" first thing I'd like to do is really unpack the inherited sex-negativity and inherited Victorian (in particular) attitudes from this branch of feminism.

By Victorian meaning: not so much "oh, those women are prudes;" but rather a whole binary notion of gender that permeates the entire (U.S. at least, I assume England as well to some degree) culture.
Particularly the *idea* that not only are women less lusty and aggressive than men, but that it somehow makes them/us *better* than men.

There is a certain seduction to this idea, even if one consciously rejects all the more blatantly misogynistic baggage that traditionally goes with it: the "angel in the house" idea, the pretty-pretty, the gentility, the whole marriage and kids deal of course--but then too, these are class things as well.

belledame222 said...

oh yeah: and of course this is the era when all sorts of biological essentialism really comes into play, the latter half of the 19th century (and early first half).

By the time the 60's rolled around, biological essentialism probably had enough unpleasant connotations that most folks to the left of the neo-brownshirts would've wanted to stay far far away. As BL and others have noted, though, there is a certain cultural essentialism (implicit or explicit) that keeps cropping up.

Which is to say: it's not like (however one wants to label this branch/branches of feminism/ists) *invented* that idea; it was already in the air.

But--and speaking of really examining one's shit--it seems to me that there'd be good reason to want to both hold onto that cultural essentialism and at the same time not completely cop to it. Because, again: the idea that women are somehow inherently *better,* *somehow*--well, shit, who wouldn't want to think so, even a little bit? especially if one has spent one's whole life struggling against the idea that women are *worse*?

At the same time: most people understand that, y'know, there's kind of a contradiction here between the goal of dissolving gender as we now know it, true egalitarianism, yadda, and this notion that women are (somehow, sort of) better. So...mmm...say! look over there! Porn! Grrr! Porn!

A posit, a speculation, no more.

belledame222 said...

>Could it have something to do with the tendency of some (radical, separatist) feminists to present lesbianism as the logical extension of "pure" feminism?>

And that's another thing: I hate "pure."

or at any rate deeply distrust the striving to be pure. for purification.

pure is for the Puritans. and other authoritarians.

the rest of us are flawed and slightly shopworn, and you know what: that's what makes us interesting. -I- think.

jackadandy said...

"...the rather unkind but not completely unfair notion of 'lesbian sheep...'"

This sheep verse totally cracked me up!! :))

Re: "the one who makes the first move", I think this is more important than people realize.
I've been trying for a while to start talking about sexual/romantic interactions more from a top/bottom or aggressor/receptor pov and stop equating those things directly with male/female or butch/femme or masculine/feminine.

I personally don't fit well in any common butch/femme binaries (I consider myself genderqueer) BUT I feel there are, for lack of a better term (and that's a big, important lack), masculine/feminine "energies". Some would say yin/yang, whatever... I think our culture doesn't have the language for it, surprise, surprise.

For me those energies exist only subjectively, and only relatively, e.g., two particular subjects have to be possible for them to meaningfuly exist. I think. Maybe. Still thinking about it.

I do know the tired old binary gender thing is killing us, but maybe an acknowledgement that polar energies exist and are HOT (in whatever form they take: female/male, butch/femme, bottom/top, agressor/receptor, move-maker/responder, etc.) could really help us get off the dime with the concepts and the conversation. Am I making any sense?

That's why so much of the conversation out there just leaves me bored. The "men" v. "women" feud ain't never going anywhere, and neither is the patriarchy, until we change the terms with which we're thinking.

Love your blog, belledame.

belledame222 said...

thanks!

yeah, we were actually just discussing this in a Body Electric follow-up: why, if "masculine and feminine" energies weren't about gender at all, we were using these gendered terms.

yin/yang or giving/receiving probably covers more territory, or at least has less baggage, yeah.

(pitcher/catcher? catcher/rye? anyway)

cicely said...

mostly, I Blame Sheila Jeffreys.

Funny you should say that. I recently realised that if I want to assess a new persons feminist political perspective I only need to ask their opinion of Sheila Jeffreys. I've reached the point where if they said they admired her I'd likely reply that we've got nothing to talk about. I've wasted enough time already defending myself against her and her followers. I'm ready to move forward.

I've been trying for a while to start talking about sexual/romantic interactions more from a top/bottom or aggressor/receptor pov and stop equating those things directly with male/female or butch/femme or masculine/feminine.

I personally don't fit well in any common butch/femme binaries (I consider myself genderqueer) BUT I feel there are, for lack of a better term (and that's a big, important lack), masculine/feminine "energies". Some would say yin/yang, whatever... I think our culture doesn't have the language for it, surprise, surprise.


jackadandy - This is a direction I'm interested in going in too. I think lesbians have begun creating a language to express this, but it's early days. (have you visited butch-femme.com? It's an online community with over 40,000 members.) I think butch-femme is where we're starting from, (which I see as a kind of 'reclamation' of our sexuality as well) but a lot of us embrace it wholeheartedly for solidarity reasons - and to get away from judgementality - while feeling that it's too simple to fully explain what's going on with those energies.

The sheep poem cracked me up too. I have some real - life experiences in that vein which are genuinely funny looking back, but weren't in the least bit funny at the time! We definitely need both a free atmosphere and a better language to understand and communicate our desires - and I think butch-femme does this better than anything else we've come up with to date.

belledame222 said...

more on Jeffreys: if you are feeling the schadenfreude, this review might do the trick for you:

http://glamourousrags.dymphna.net/reviewjeffreys.html

Sheila Jeffreys has failed to change the world; she has also failed to understand it. The project to which she has devoted her academic and polemical life, and her previous books, is a feminism stripped of everything she perceives as a celebration of inequality, notably sexual lust whether for men or for women; she does not begin to understand why this project, which for a few years in the early Eighties looked to her as if it might succeed, has failed, and failed ignominiously.

She devotes her new book to an attempt to describe why and how this happened, and predictably comes up with almost every answer except the correct one. Her answer is a variant of the stab in the back theory that, in the arena of power politics, right-wing nationalists come up with every time. We were robbed, they cry; victory was ours until a conspiracy came along and took it away from us. It was the intellectuals whoring after postmodernism, says Jeffreys; it was the Sheba Press producing erotic anthologies or a group of Finnish anarchists starting a lesbian SM nightclub or women who felt more in common with dying gay men than they did with Sheila Jeffreys.

She catalogues deadly sins - in the 80s lesbians started playing with roles or using toys and pornography; they went to therapists who had decided all this was OK and decided that lesbianism was often innate rather than a choice of existential virtue; they read Foucault and hung around in low bars and looked at the virtues of gay male culture. Sometimes, without discarding their sense of themselves as lesbians, they occasionally diverted themselves with male lovers. It is all true, you know; lesbians did this in the 80s and much of it was quite a lot of fun at the time. Women needed fun in the 80s, with the Thatcher/Reagan backlash to contend with, and the epidemic, and unemployment, and, come to that, Sheila Jeffreys, who was a barrel of laughs all by herself, not...

***

seriously, that my-way-or-the-highway thing? the clearly-the-reason-no-one's-with-me-is-because-They-Can't-Handle-The-Truth thing? that goes beyond ideology as far as I'm concerned. that is something else.

although of course the ideology will inevitably reflect at least some of that rigidity in its content.

just, it doesn't necessarily have to be THAT ideology.

belledame222 said...

...this is pretty funny, too:

http://research.umbc.edu/~korenman/wmst/jane1.html

Date: Wed, 22 May 2002 11:17:22 +1000
From: Sheila Jeffreys
Subject: Re: publicity for _Jane Sexes It Up_
Dear Lisa,

I have your book, Jane Sexes it Up, and will probably review it at some
point as part of a critique of the 'new feminism'.

blahblahblahGINGER and then:

In your chapter you say admiring things about Andrea Dworkin and me and that we are bad-asses. (I like donkeys too but I do not think this is what
is meant). I do not consider myself a bad-ass at all in fact. I don't see it as a womancentred term. You say you accept our analysis but it makes heterosexuality too hard and we give no answers so you have to reject us in the end.

***

later, someone else is making me laugh, too:

Date: Wed, 22 May 2002 08:24:00 -0400
From: Rebecca Whisnant
Subject: Re: publicity for _Jane Sexes It Up_
On Wed, 22 May 2002, emi wrote:

> On 05/21/02 10:39 pm, "Heather Merle Benbow" wrote:
> > Isn't feminism based on a critique of hierarchy and power?
>
> Yes, including the hierarchy of adult consentual sexual expressions
> and desires (e.g. vanilla good, S/M bad) promoted by radical feminists.

To call radical feminist analysis of this issue a "hierarchy" is to commit a real rhetorical sleight of hand. Radical feminists criticize hierarchy. S/M is a form of sexuality based on the eroticiziation of
hierarchy. Therefore, radical feminists criticize it and yes, believe that it is less "good" than other, less hierarchical forms of sexual expression. If to criticize hierarchy as less good than non-hierarchy is *itself* to set up a hierarchy (in an objectionable sense) then all critiques of hierarchy are doomed from the get-go. Pretty nifty move, but ultimately not successful.


AAAAAHHHH

seriously, though, the dynamic in that whole thread feels rather familiar, there, somehow.

belledame222 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
cicely said...

When will it end!!!??

seriously, that my-way-or-the-highway thing? the clearly-the-reason-no-one's-with-me-is-because-They-Can't-Handle-The-Truth thing? that goes beyond ideology as far as I'm concerned. that is something else.

But what? We live in interesting times. I'd love to be around in two hundred years looking back.

belledame222 said...

What is that, if not ideology? Lack of empathy, I'd say. Solipsism, sometimes. I'm Every Woman (Man, Person), Because I Can't Fathom That Anyone Else Is Truly Different From Me, Not *Really.* And If Someone Shows Signs Of Being So I Get Furious.

in some cases I think of this:

http://www.halcyon.com/jmashmun/npd/index.html

jackadandy said...

Cicely -

I think butch-femme is where we're starting from, (which I see as a kind of 'reclamation' of our sexuality as well) but a lot of us embrace it wholeheartedly for solidarity reasons - and to get away from judgementality - while feeling that it's too simple to fully explain what's going on with those energies.

I am right with you on butch-femme being a point to start from, the importance of solidarity, and the power of the conversations going on at b-f.com, where I do hang sometimes.

Like you and others, I'm ready to expand the vocabulary and the concepts, and it's much easier to do that within the self-identified community that's familiar with the concepts (e.g., b-f.com) than in the rest of the big world out there. *sigh* (Talk about remedial... I just went through an experience of trying to lead some straight guys to think about some of this stuff; what a pointless journey in the land of the clueless, arghh...)

Anyway, I'm glad you're one of the people involved in the conversation, Cicely! Gives me hope! :)

cicely said...

Like you and others, I'm ready to expand the vocabulary and the concepts, and it's much easier to do that within the self-identified community that's familiar with the concepts (e.g., b-f.com) than in the rest of the big world out there.

jackadandy - Rather like breaking through gravity isn't it? Seems to me I once felt that way about being part of the lesbian and gay community overall. Many, many moons ago. It still functions that way for me in relation to the straight world on the basics - dealing with just straight out homophobia and non-malicious ignorance - but finding b-f.com was a magic moment for sure, which is beautiful and kind of sad at the same time. (Because we seem to be having to kind of re-invent the wheel that was only on it's first wobbly run way back then.)

I do appreciate or 'understand' might be a better word, that radfem created an atmosphere that made it easier for women to come out as lesbians, from the 70's onwards, I wanted to say. The thing is I think it's a very different experience coming out with a supportive and positive political framework intact than it is to come out without one, and I do wonder sometimes whether some lesbians would ever have come out without one. So there's a deep allegiance and identification there. I have actually been in internet dialogue with a lesbian-feminist who claims that whole handle as her personal identity. Unlike me,it seemed that she couldn't possibly be one (lesbian) without the other (feminist). She thus felt personally attacked (and told me so) even though I was making clear and unambiguous statements that I was challenging her politics and not her person. Maybe that's something to be explored in terms of 'hearts and minds', belledame.

piny said...

In the 1970's Rita Mae Brown, Charlotte Bunch, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Jill Johnston, The Furies and The radicalesbians developed the concept of political lesbianism - so, one of them?
Or maybe Adrienne Rich? She wrote 'Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence' in 1980. Her theory was that all women are actually lesbians but are kept from realising this through the imposition of compulsory heterosexuality. She defined lesbianism as not only a sexual orientation or preference but a whole range of 'woman-identified' experience. She called the whole thing 'The Lesbian Continuum'.


Yup! Here's a copy:

http://www.terry.uga.edu/~dawndba/4500compulsoryhet.htm

I should get into it with you and bitch, since I want to be sure I'm giving it enough benefit of the doubt, and not confusing what boils down to phrase-as-theoretical-jargon with simple statements of fact.

piny said...

I think Ti-Grace Atkinson came up with it.

belledame222 said...

I think the very idea of "compulsory heterosexuality" must have been profoundly liberating in itself: god knows it exists.

the problem happens when one extrapolates from it that some other form of sexuality, or at least abstinence thereof (again, I Blame Sheila Jeffreys) is compulsory; or even, less overtly, that because certain expressions of sexuality and behaviors are made more or less "compulsory" by society for its own reasons, that *all* sexuality is fraught with sociopolitical Meaning, and that one's own sexual desires can or should be changed by an act of sheer will, in the name of becoming more politically conscious or whatever the fuck it is.

which idea i see most overtly in spaces like the Den these days, with their whole "please fantasize responsibly" (!) thing. there's just no understanding of the way sexuality and indeed the human mind works at all.

cicely said...

I should get into it with you and bitch, since I want to be sure I'm giving it enough benefit of the doubt, and not confusing what boils down to phrase-as-theoretical-jargon with simple statements of fact.

piny -I generally look at both the words and, more importantly, their impact in real life. (Operate more from the heart than the mind... .I think...;) I mean the content of the conversations between lesbians over the years, and the way lesbians self-policed where and when they (we) said what and to whom and how we behaved towards each other and so on. Radical feminist and lesbian feminist ideology had enough of an impact in real life, for instance, that a sex therapist wrote the following:

'Sexual desire problems among lesbians are discussed widely within the lesbian community in political terms, a phenomenon unparalleled among heterosexuals or even gay males...treatment of a lesbian couple complaining of low sexual desire is complicated by the sub-cultural context within which the couple is supported (or not - cicely). This is particularly true of lesbian 'baby boomers', those most likely to have been affected by the lesbian-feminist movement of the 1970's and the 'sex wars' of the 1980's. Still another aspect of lesbian sexuality affects the baby boomer generation. Unlike gay men, many lesbians of this era view themselves as having chosen their sexual orientation for feminist/political reasons. As we shall see in the case discussion that follows, this factor can influence not only the etiology of sexual desire disorders but also the course of treatment.'

The therapist was a bi-sexual woman to whom this couple had gone for help. Firstly, she wasn't fully trusted as a therapist, on lesbian-feminist grounds, once it was discovered that she was bi-sexual, and secondly the treatment had to involve negotiation around apparently political imperatives. That is - RF and LF politics could be said to have been *the* voice of authority, externally and internally for one or both partners in this particular relationship.

When Ti-Grace Atkinson or whoever - coined the phrase 'Feminism is the theory, lesbianism the practice', either they meant it seriously or others took it seriously and ran with it.

I wish I could remember the name of the feminist dictionary I photocopied these pages from years ago - but here's an excerpt on lesbian-feminism.

'According to Charlotte Bunch (1975), 'Lesbian-feminist politics is a political critique of the institution and ideology of heterosexuality as a cornerstone of male supremacy. It is an extension of the analysis of sexual politics to an analysis of sexuality itself as an institution.It is a commitment to women as a political group, which is the basis of a political/economic strategy leading to power for women, not just an 'alternative community'.

Although Bunch presents lesbian-feminism as a political perspective and a 'fight that heterosexual women can engage in' some lesbian feminists feel that heterosexual women are disqualified not only from lesbianism but also from feminism if they maintain emotional and/or sexual relationships with men. Groups such as the Leeds Revolutionary Feminists protest against not only the institution of heterosexuality, but also its practice, seeing in any sexual relationship between a woman and a man the paradigm of women's oppression. This view sees lesbian-feminism as the only feminism. Women can be lesbian-feminists without having sexual relationships with other women. As political lesbians they may choose celibacy as long as they withdraw their energies from men to devote their lives and feelings to women only.'

That last describes Sheila Jeffreys. She is a self-identified celibate political lesbian. This is what Jeffreys wrote in her introduction to the book 'Not A Passing Phase'. (1989)

'Lesbian feminists do not recognise heterosexuality as either 'normal' or 'natural', but as socially constructed in order to organise social relationships under male supremacy'. Of course, she says lesbianism isn't 'natural' either. Any woman can be one.

Well, I've had the innateness debate already and all I want to say about it here and now is that many of us do experience our lesbianism as innate, or 'natural' to us, and it can feel pretty odd to be arguing for the validity of that experience with radical or lesbian-feminists on the one hand, while on the other the RR refuses to believe it also - but because it wants to suggest that we're either sick 'deviants' from what is actually natural, or making a sinful and perverted lifestyle choice. Choice - or lack of - is the central issue.

All women can choose to be lesbians, active or celibate, is the political point of some lesbian feminists. Sexual desire has little to nothing to do with it. I know at least one lesbian personally who believes her own lesbianism to be innate (and says she's glad of it because of the strength of her desire) but who is so committed to lesbian feminist politics that she'll actively discourage other lesbians from declaring a belief in the naturalness of lesbianism for *any* woman.

Then from 'feminism is the theory, lesbianism the practice', it's just a hop, skip and a jump to *how* you practice lesbianism. Jeffreys has plenty to say about that too. Apparently, I've got it all wrong.

jackadandy said...

Cicely: "...but finding b-f.com was a magic moment for sure, which is beautiful and kind of sad at the same time."

So true, so true... My current series of paintings comes out of a queer polar dynamic (that could be very loosely termed butch-femme by the lazy) and am right now dealing with getting the work shown, and the chasm in understanding between "my community" and the "high art" world is looming before me. I'm dealing with some of the hippest people on the art scene, and...they're utterly lost and without context when considering my work. Ironic. Daunting education factor involved.

belledame: "...that one's own sexual desires can or should be changed by an act of sheer will, in the name of becoming more politically conscious or whatever the fuck it is."

I really appreciate you frequently bringing this up. Hot and satisfying sex does not originate in politics. One can and should govern one's actions, but ya can't legislate your turn-on's. Goddess spare me from ever finding a "political lesbian" in my bed. Oy vey.

piny said...

Women can be lesbian-feminists without having sexual relationships with other women. As political lesbians they may choose celibacy as long as they withdraw their energies from men to devote their lives and feelings to women only.'

Since we've already pretty much gotten here, I'm just gonna ask:

_How_ is this different from fundamentalist celibacy-or-sin dictates for gays? We understand that paradigm to be soul-killing. We understand that celibacy for anything but lack of desire will destroy you emotionally and make you miserable. How is this different?

belledame222 said...

In my book? it isn't.

And then, too:

Sure, be celibate; whether because you're genuinely asexual or have some sort of higher purpose for yourself. Who am I to judge?

but, if in the course of said path you keep obsessively harping on everyone *else's* sexuality...I gotta think something is off, seriously.

I mean--and I keep bringing up this question myself, i realize, because i think it's kind of key:

if you're personally disgusted by something. Why would you keep talking about it? Keep bringing it up and talking about your disgust in explicit terms? Frame it in an ideology if you will, but...I don't think i buy it.

i mean, i find ketchup disgusting, say, but i don't keep harping on it, or indeed trying to convince people that they must be disgusted by it, too; it is categorically disgusting. if someone *else* brings it up in the context of a discussion about food, i'll say, me, i don't like it. and i will ask people to leave it off my food. but i don't, like, devote a goodly chunk of my energy to talking about my dislike in vivid detail.

or maybe a better analogy: i know a number of vegetarians. I totally get why one would be a vegetarian for any number of ethical or environmental reasons. Or even personal dislike.

But if someone kept trying over and over not only to evangelize me on the wrongness of eating meat, but kept going on, apropos of nothing in particular, in peculiarly vivid sensory detail about how DISGUSTING it is to be gnawing on animal bones or what have you (and some people do exactly that; fortunately no one in my current circle)...I gotta wonder if maybe something else is going on.

belledame222 said...

> We understand that celibacy for anything but lack of desire will destroy you emotionally and make you miserable.>

See, I can actually buy a deliberately ascetic path if it's for the explicit, conscious goal of reaching a certain kind of altered state (call it communing with a Higher Power or what you will). It's one path. But it's certainly not for everyone. particularly taken as a lifelong path, as opposed to the occasional head-shower (like periods of fasting or whatnot). For one thing, not everyone is simply interested in reaching that state; it's (imo) a very individual thing, a particular and highly personal spiritual path. You can't force or cajole it on anyone; not without the detrimental effects you speak of.

belledame222 said...

>Then from 'feminism is the theory, lesbianism the practice', it's just a hop, skip and a jump to *how* you practice lesbianism. Jeffreys has plenty to say about that too. Apparently, I've got it all wrong.>

Right. No sex toys, for one thing. No butch-femme roles, I'm sure. No role-playing, period. christ jesus forbid no spanking or anything of *that* nature.

and lots to say about hetsex as well, of course.

http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/1991/34/34p19.htm

>Male supremacy is centred around the act of sexual intercourse ... justified by heterosexual practice”, Sheila Jeffreys claimed at a recent forum, “Where is Feminist Theory Going?”, held in Melbourne during Feminist Book Fortnight. The crowd of close to 200 women were treated to a tirade against “male behaviour”. A spontaneous ripple of disbelief shuddered through the audience when Jeffreys made some blunt remarks equating male sexuality with male violence...

not to mention

>Jeffreys claims that as a power system “heterosexuality functions more effectively than oppressive systems such as apartheid or capitalism”.

Doesn't she pretty much remind you of some Bizarro World version of Paul?

"I would that every woman were as myself..."

cicely said...

if you're personally disgusted by something. Why would you keep talking about it? Keep bringing it up and talking about your disgust in explicit terms? Frame it in an ideology if you will, but...I don't think i buy it.

The thing is, anti-sex positive feminists (does that work?) are going to keep on and on talking about sexual practices they don't support because it's such a big part of their platform, or belief system. And they're going to keep using terms like 'sexbot', 'wet hole', 'using women's genitals for masturbatory purposes', 'role-playing power-fucking nazi's' etc, etc ad infinitum to shock people into recognition of their view, they hope, and to emphasise their disgust and disapproval. Sure, they're coming from a political perspective on the surface, but it's so handy that there is also a deep, deep reservoir (including their own little wells) of culturally nurtured disgust around all things sexual to tap into. Their imagery no doubt functions at times as a magnet to draw this disgust out of where it resides in people and attach it to their particular disapproving perspective. Whether this part is conscious or deliberate or not, who knows, but I do sometimes have my suspicions. The bottom line is that they speak and write that way about women and we don't.

cicely said...

My current series of paintings comes out of a queer polar dynamic (that could be very loosely termed butch-femme by the lazy) and am right now dealing with getting the work shown, and the chasm in understanding between "my community" and the "high art" world is looming before me.

jackadandy - May the force be with you. (No. I'm not a trekkie, I just like the line.)

belledame222 said...

>Sure, they're coming from a political perspective on the surface, but it's so handy that there is also a deep, deep reservoir (including their own little wells) of culturally nurtured disgust around all things sexual to tap into. Their imagery no doubt functions at times as a magnet to draw this disgust out of where it resides in people and attach it to their particular disapproving perspective. Whether this part is conscious or deliberate or not, who knows, but I do sometimes have my suspicions. The bottom line is that they speak and write that way about women and we don't.>

Yep. Yep. Yep.

Well, women; men, too; and *bodies.*

And the thing of this is, for me: besides any potential hypocrisy in that the sentiments sometimes sound suspiciously misogynistic.

Mostly: if you have that visceral a disgust for something so fundamentally human, how exactly is that gonna work with your purported goals of humanitarianism?

It seems to me that while, yes, anger and outrage are important for the shitty things we do to each other; if you can't at least express some mercy and tenderness toward something as as basic as putting one's mouth on another human's genitals, for the sake of humble pleasure, no more; then, I don't think I want to live in any utopia of yours. Not just because say, i might like to give head or look at porn, and i'm afraid you won't "let" men, or will disapprove of me. Because i sense a fundamentally anti-democratic mindset there, no matter what kind of putative "freedom" you claim the ultimate goal is.

after all, doesn't every authoritarian, misery-inducing regime pretty much always claim that they only have our best interests at heart? and for at least the past century or so, use the language of small-letter socialism or democracy in the name of their complete opposites?

"arbeit macht frei"

belledame222 said...

> 'role-playing power-fucking nazi's'

You saw that too, huh? Seriously, i wanted to smack her, and not in a good way.

and the transphobia, i am sorry, is my own Maginot line. you won't respect another person's self-chosen identity (gender or otherwise)? fine; i'll just return the favor and pick a name for you, since you value them so little. "fuckwit" has a nice ring to it.

cicely said...

Because i sense a fundamentally anti-democratic mindset there, no matter what kind of putative "freedom" you claim the ultimate goal is.

after all, doesn't every authoritarian, misery-inducing regime pretty much always claim that they only have our best interests at heart?


You know, I even had a suspicion myself that I was going too far in debate with RF's/LF's on the michfest board when I briefly raised the spectre of things like the Chinese Cultural Revolution and USSR social(ist?) realism, but 'something' made me think of them. I didn't just pull the reference out of a hat, appropos of nothing. And things really can creep up on you, on whole peoples, fully formed, if people are too reluctant to even entertain certain possibilities. I still don't want to talk much about that aspect.

An example though is WBW space. I used to support it quietly as some innocuous and positive thing that was meant to provide a sharing place for women who'd done the full journey under patriarchy from birth. I agreed that people born male had had a different experience of themselves growing up, different socialisation, and that this wouldn't flow exactly with ours. I thought of it as inclusive rather than exclusive. It wasn't until I became aware of WBW actually 'fighting' for the space that I started thinking about 'who' they were fighting. I've never 'argued' for it to this day, but I continued to quietly support it until recently. What happened was the internet. (To me.) I had no idea until last year of the depths feminists had sunk to in attacking and dismissing the transexual experience - and of course individual transexual people, while they imposed their own politically informed meanings onto it. Maybe it's my Maginot line as well.

belledame222 said...

I think anyone has a right to make any kind of private clubhouse they want to--hell, make it all male or all-white as far as I'm concerned. But I reserve the right to call it creepy and disingenuous. The "safe space" thing, I'm sorry, is utter bullshit in that context. Safe is about how the space is maintained, not who's in it (and particularly so when one is talking about not personality but chromosomes and/or genitalia). So is the "we all share a common experience" business. I have different enough experiences from other cisgendered women that we might as well be from different planets; why is this automatically different? And then this, coming from people who at the same time are (often) trying to claim, oh nonono, we're not essentialists; no, our goal is to GET RID OF these pesky limiting gender roles. Riiiiiggght. Someday, after the Revolution/Apocalypse/Magical Rain of Equality Doughnuts, none of this will matter. But *right now,* we're so tainted by patriarchy that we must needs exclude anyone who was born with male genitalia, because....well, um. Because. Because they take up too much space! Because they're just Too Different. Because transsexuals (there are so many of them after all, and they have so much real-world power) are Taking Over! Because, unlike the rest of us, they might be prone to power trips and abuse!

riiiiiiiiiight.

The Dyke Drama Collective went through all sorts of contortions trying to decide yea or nay on the TG question. They decided "nay," eventually (I don't remember to what degree); a bunch of people walked out; they reversed it. So now there are TG members. Oddly enough, the sky didn't fall.

And the worst part of it is that it's not just limited to some transphobic people wanting to keep their own spaces; again, do what you need to do--some of them keep insisting on "speaking for" and treating the whole thing as though it were some kind of debate, you know, as though what other people choose to do or not do with their own bodies is a legitimate subject for political discussion (where have i heard that one before?) No. It isn't. You've got your own body; deal with it. Leave other people the fuck alone; it's not your experience, it's none of your business. I simply cannot believe that people who call themselves feminists--lesbian feminists, no less--are having so damn much difficulty with this concept. Sure thing, babe, you go right ahead with the earnest attempts to explain to the poor unenlightened transgendered person why sie is really just brainwashed by the patriarchy. When you're done, I've got some nice ex-gay ministers who'd like to have a word with *you.*

(o but that's DIFFERENT)

no it fucking isn't. now fuck off.

belledame222 said...

>the Internet

you've seen this, though, which came first (1979), right?

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/0807762725/104-3176181-0895103

Raymond...ihhh. Raymond. for a number of reasons, but most of all that. Jeffreys has some nasty shit to say about TG folk as well, (surprise).

cicely said...

I agree with everything you say about 'safe space', and also about the many differences between cisgendered women's experiences. Women do beat up on each other, after all - physically and emotionally - as winter pointed out (same stats as for heterosexual couples), and as I myself experienced in my first live-in lesbian relationship. Frankly I was lucky to get out of it alive. Among numerous other incidents, I spent the eve of my 22nd birthday locked up in a city central jail - with my partner!!?? - who had brought the attention of the police by beating me up in a public carpark behind a hotel. Someone got concerned when they saw her sitting on me and smashing my head into the concreted ground. She had out of control jealousy issues and came from a highly dysfunctional and violent family background. Ever seen the movie 'Once Were Warriors', made in NZ? That's a pretty good depiction of the situation I lived in for a couple of years back then. And what put me in it was the fact that I was young, and sexually attracted to my older partner. She was 28 to my 21 when we met, and had been living a lesbian life since she was 16.

I believe there are good women who mean well who still support WBW space, but you're right, the reasoning just doesn't stack up, (outside the political agenda that can't/won't accomodate transexuality) and nothing, but nothing, justifies what is said and done its defence by the ant-trans hate-brigade - who are definitely a minority at michfest - albeit a very loud one. I also think there's a lingering feeling among women that they're somehow letting other women down if they don't support it though. But why, after considering everything, any woman would continue to think she 'needed' that space, given the number of transexuals who might want to be there, along with the rest - absolutely boggles me. (And a small number of transwomen have attended the festival for years, apparently. I've never been myself. It's a long haul from this side of the world, plus costs, and now I wouldn't go anyway, in protest of the WBW policy.) What, exactly, do they think they'll lose that is so 'necessary' to them? And, as you say, haven't lesbians learned anything from being a marginalised minority themselves?

cicely said...

Ok. Just read those reviews of Janice Raymonds's book. It's got to be a case of 'pick a side' and 'know thine enemy'. She was campaigning to have SRS surgery banned!!???

Imagine Raymond and her followers having real power. No, really - imagine. Where would (generic) you be?

belledame222 said...

Yep.

And then, too: the great thing about attacking an already vulnerable minority is that you can have just a bunch more impact than you would if you took on a more powerful target. particularly on an individual level (google "Sandy Stone")

She's also actually fairly influential in the world of anti-prostitution, I am discovering, or so it's looking.

http://www.catwinternational.org/bio_JaniceRaymond.php

It looks okay on paper, as who wouldn't be against slavery and human trafficking? But the more I've been reading about her/their position viz the difference between trafficking and prostitution (basically none), and their proposed solutions...yeah. i am wondering.

i mean i suppose it's possible that the fact that one is a fuckwit in so many other areas (she's also come out against various forms of new reproductive-related technology, on the grounds of men own it and women shouldn't be reduced to baby machines anyway. something) and still be right-on about -something.-

And who can argue against wanting to end human trafficking?

But...

belledame222 said...

gah, cicely, that's an awful story. and yeah, of course: sharing the same jail cell!

i wonder how many women get followed to the shelters by their abusive female partners.

I know one woman who seems to suspect that a dear friend of hers was actually murdered, or at least driven to suicide (very suspicious sounding circumstances) by her evil (female) ex.

And yeah, there are special aspects to f/f domestic violence that simply don't get covered in most discussions that focus on the oppressiveness of the Mens, not least how damaging the (implicit, if not explicit) notion that Women Don't Do Those Things.

or the fact that, again, if one's already marginalized, turning the abused's chosen community against her is a lot more devastating than it might be otherwise.

and the internalized homophobia, and the externalized homophobia that adds blackmail as a weapon, and...

belledame222 said...

and then, too, per the picking on the already marginalized. While it truly does suck when people use animosity against this kind of "feminist" leader to bash many of the rank and file (I realize i have probably done this myself, yes), particularly when it comes to dismissing other womens' tales of abuse--it drives me bonkers when the likes of wealthy, powerful (straight, mainstream, respectable...) Catherine MacKinnon pulls the "They're just all out to get Me because They Can't Handle The TRUTH!!11!1!" business...and gets away with it. Yes, Kitty, of course that's it. Certainly it has nothing to do with finding your positions, your *actions* dangerous and oppressive in their own right. It's all about You. you are a martyr. You are the real victim here. You. yes.

Projection: the little black dress of the ideologically controlling.

belledame222 said...

and by the way, back to Raymond and her Coalition for a moment: of course a large percentage of sex workers are TG, and another large percentage are male prostitutes; (not to mention all the trafficking that goes on that *isn't* primarily sexual, i.e. migrant workers or the garment industry); but you'd never know it to read any of their literature.

It all sounds, yes, very Victorian. Women-and-children (and "children" is apparently a gender-neutral category, i guess): the two keep going together. Which in no way helps to bolster the (patriarchal) notion that adult women are somehow equivalent to children. Innocence abused.

In which case it makes total sense to equate any prostitution with trafficking, and to keep harping on how "choice" really isn't in that context, no matter how much actual (adult, female) sex workers might protest to the contrary. It's For Your Own Good, Dear.

so it isn't about exploitive conditions per se; it's about the horror that is Man taking advantage of helpless women and children. and anything that doesn't fit that paradigm simply doesn't exist.


gah.

belledame222 said...

per Michigan: personally, i think if people want to stuff themselves into a tiny, often-damp canvas space and lie on a rock and get eaten by mosquitos and eat gorp, that's their own lookout.

but they should just know that until they realize the foolhardiness of their ways, they are holding up the Revolution.

belledame222 said...

>What, exactly, do they think they'll lose that is so 'necessary' to them?

Playing devil's advocate for a moment, I guess one argument is the slippery slope one. You know: today it's TS women and transbois who still ID with the lesbian community; tomorrow it's some fratboy schmuck who thought it'd be a giggle to dress up in drag and crash the wimmin's fest; sooner or later it's just plain men-born-men running all over the place, and the whole thing's ruined.

It's not 100% off, that one--95%, I think; in that I do know that the tenor of places can change. And while i think it's absolutely bogus to freak out over the notion that scads of little Mrs. Doubtfires might decide to crash the party and not be noticed, I can see that sooner or later inevitably someone might go, well, shit, why make any gender stipulations at all? It's a great festival; why not share it with men? if they come in with women. and then from there.

thing is, though, that could happen regardless of the TS thing. when that happens, i think, it's because

1) people genuinely feel like they want men in the space

2) the enterprise has gotten more "mainstream" and the promoters want to make more money, and men tend to bring cash.

Meanwhile, there are any number of play parties that restrict admittance to, besides cisgendered women of course,

1) transmales or genderqueers who still ID with the lesbian/womens' community, sexually and otherwise (why else would they want to be there? and a number don't, and recuse themselves voluntarily)

2) transfemales who "live full-time." Which is pretty much taken on the honor system; again, I'd be reeeeel surprised if a weekend tranny or even a straightboy who was doing it on a gag wouldn't be sussed out, assuming they found the space at all.

Sometimes, if it's an openly sexual party, there is a request that male genitalia not be exposed, which, well, whatever; then again in public play parties there are often a number of stipulations which one wouldn't have in private.

anyway it seems to work just fine, on the whole. no slippery slope. no one explodes because someone ZOMG with a Y chromosome or an extra serving of T is in the house, yo. and the atmosphere of queer women is still maintained (it is true that there is a very noticeable atmospheric difference between women-only play parties, TG-inclusive or otherwise, and free-for-alls, ime, regardless of how "queer-friendly" or "gender-balanced" the promoters try to make it, or how many conduct rules they set in place)

cicely said...

Playing devil's advocate for a moment, I guess one argument is the slippery slope one. You know: today it's TS women and transbois who still ID with the lesbian community; tomorrow it's some fratboy schmuck who thought it'd be a giggle to dress up in drag and crash the wimmin's fest; sooner or later it's just plain men-born-men running all over the place, and the whole thing's ruined.

It's not 100% off, that one--95%, I think; in that I do know that the tenor of places can change. And while i think it's absolutely bogus to freak out over the notion that scads of little Mrs. Doubtfires might decide to crash the party and not be noticed, I can see that sooner or later inevitably someone might go, well, shit, why make any gender stipulations at all? It's a great festival; why not share it with men? if they come in with women. and then from there.


Hmmm. Well, some lesbians and feminists do argue that transbois who still identify with the lesbian community and would like to go have 'done their time' as girls, and are more entitled to be at fest than transwomen living 'as' women 24/7 now. My big question I guess is what 'actually' informs the policy? If the private owners of the land and the festival were to at least publically and definitively distance themselves from the 'anti-the very existence of transexuals' politics that a loud group of festival goers espouse (particularly on the publically accessible michfest board), this could make a difference. But they don't. Or better still - imo - if the policy changed so that the spirit remained that the festival is meant as a sharing and celebration of girlhood and womanhood, but past and present, that could also work. I can't see any change happening though so my personal solution is to avoid participating in any specifically WBW event, just take it off the radar and concentrate on other things. I'd like to see the WBW concept disappear from lack of interest and all I can do is start with myself.

belledame222 said...

yeah, exactly. I mean, just say it: it's a private (albeit large) party, this is our policy, this is what makes us comfortable, like it or lump it. Again: creepy, but, well, d'you want to belong to a club that wouldn't have you as a member? It's their right.

But no, all these rationalizations and pseudo-socoiological-mystical b.s. explanations for trying to control what other people do with their lives and you know, honey, if you thought that was making it better--it doesn't. It makes things worse. Frankly.

Just say it loud and say it proud:

"I AM AFRAID OF PENIS COOTIES."

There, wasn't that simple?

hedonistic said...

"Someday, after the Revolution/Apocalypse/Magical Rain of Equality Doughnuts . . . "

I'm SO using that.

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