Who Gets To Decide what “Lesbian” Means?

Here’s the thing. This whole “political” lesbians vs. “real” lesbians argument really has me baffled (from here on out, I will be leaving off the quotes, to save my sanity in trying to remember them every time, but you feel me here). It comes up a lot and while I have tried not to get involved, seeing some of the things that have been said have pissed me off more and more to the point where I simply cannot hold my tongue any longer. This isn’t a rant so much as it is just that I am so exasperated by some of the bullshit flying around about what it means to be a lesbian, who is a lesbian, who has the right to define lesbian, etc. I realize I may lose followers and “friends” over my beliefs, my stance, and I would hope this would not be the case over this one issue, but so be it. I can be silent no longer.

It also appears to be tearing our community apart, brick by brick, pitting lesbians (and non-lesbians) against each other as everyone scrambles for a “side.” Hell, just a couple of months ago, I read a blog post by and about political lesbians and it was pretty harsh towards real lesbians and when I tried to comment on even the most basic points that it made, I was hushed. True, they allowed my comments to go through, but that didn’t stop them from trying to shush me when I said something about part of what was written. Then another blogger, presumably a real lesbian, wrote a post in response to the first post, taking it piece by piece and making arguments for and against what the first post was saying. I “liked” the second blog post.

A short time after liking that post, a prominent blogger (CB) called me out on Twitter, asking me exactly what it was I liked about that post. When I told her I liked what it had to say, that wasn’t good enough and she pressed on, attempting to bully me into either (a) agreeing solely with her or (b) backing down and staying silent about the whole thing. When I refused to be bullied and instead asked her why she was asking me these questions, she accused me of being hostile and blocked me on Twitter; but she didn’t stop there. She also unfollowed my blog, deleted the reblogs of my posts that she had on her own blog, and stopped linking to my blog on her many Facebook pages and groups.

That is how serious of an issue this is in our community. I lost an ally simply because I (a real lesbian) liked a blog that she herself (a political lesbian) did not like and I then had the audacity to refuse to be bullied into compliance and/or silence. This wasn’t a case of a woman disagreeing with me and deciding to no longer follow me, that is no big deal, it happens. No, this was a case of a woman who refused and continues to refuse to support another woman over a disagreement on this single issue; and it is not limited to just me. Take a peek on Twitter and see some of the arguments that are taking place over this issue. Women are becoming so divided over this, fighting with each other instead on focusing on the actual problem: men and male violence. It’s crazy.

The incidents I describe above were actually the first time I saw this issue develop into a full blown argument among women on-line. As I said at the top of this post, I tried to stay out of it. I mean, who am I to judge, right? I even made a post asking that all of us come together in love and support for one another instead of fighting like this. We needed to stick together and fight the real threat to us: men, not do what men have wanted women and minorities to do in order for them (men) to stay in power, i.e., fight among ourselves. I also laid the foundation of my beliefs in this: that if a het woman who disliked men and was celibate wanted to call herself a lesbian, then that was bullshit. She is  a celibate heterosexual, not gay! But if a woman discovered she was gay through her politics, then I was cool with that.

But this second blow-up (second that I have seen, mind you) brought about a few things from the political lesbian crowd that really bothered me; and while I say that I didn’t give in to a bully, I really did because I and my blog have been silent for almost a month while I have thought about this issue and what I wanted to say about it. I allowed myself to be bullied into silence because I was afraid of the repercussions of speaking my mind. I was afraid I would lose support if I said exactly what I thought about some of the bullshit that has been spewed forth on this issue. But to be honest, I am really angry with myself for allowing other people to affect me, affect what I would and would not say on my own blog. 

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 Fuck it. Here I go. 

So, who gets to decide what “lesbian” means and who gets to be a lesbian? The answer is simple: I do; and women like me, of course. Lesbians get to decide what lesbian means.

I already gave a definition of lesbian in an earlier blog post (Definition Of Lesbian): “The definition of lesbian has been and always will be the romantic and sexual attraction between 2 females. There never has been nor will there ever be a penis in a lesbian relationship.” That definition stands with one addendum: there never has been nor will there ever be a straight woman in a lesbian relationship. If you sleep with men, you are not a lesbian. If you are a het who is celibate because you hate or are “tired of” men, you are not a lesbian. If you are a female who is not romantically and sexually attracted to females, you are not a lesbian. If you are a woman who doesn’t or doesn’t wish to have sex with other women, you are not a lesbian. If you have a penis, you are most definitely not a lesbian.

This is not rocket science here, dear reader, the rule is simple: a female who is romantically and sexually attracted to another female is a lesbian. Everyone else is not.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that we lesbians are born, we are not made; and no amount of yelling, screaming, shaming, or bullying is going to change the fact that I was born a lesbian. No one gets to tell me any differently. If political lesbians wish to believe that for them, becoming a lesbian was a choice, then have at it, I will not stop any of you. But not one of you gets to tell me or any other lesbian that we were not born lesbians. You don’t have that right, any more than a man has the right to just arbitrarily call himself a lesbian.

The only political lesbians I see pulling this shit are the ones who seem to need to come up with some sort of reason as to why they are lesbians now when they weren’t lesbians before (or perhaps to explain away feelings they have always had but denied having). I am sorry you have struggled, sisters, but to be real here, we have all struggled with our sexuality. I, personally, tried to “pray the gay away.” I had feelings for other girls when I myself was a little girl, but I didn’t want to be gay, so I chose to ignore those feelings and deny who I was for a very, very long time. That doesn’t make me a political lesbian, nor does it make being a lesbian a choice. It means I was born a lesbian but I was in denial due to the shame this society places on women who are not attracted to men. Being a lesbian wasn’t a choice, releasing the shame and embracing the fact that I was a  lesbian was the choice.

There are also those who wish to shame the rest of us by claiming that “lesbian” is some sort of patriarchal construct; that if certain women are born to love women then that means certain other women were born to love men, which is women subjugating themselves to men. To that, I call bullshit. Are all girls/women conditioned to believe that they should have sex and be partnered with men? Of course! But that doesn’t mean that (a) some women don’t actually want to be with men and (b) that lesbianism is a social construct and a choice.

Lesbianism is not a choice, dear reader, the choice comes from no longer denying who you are and no longer allowing the shame of not wanting men to cloud your view of yourself. The only choice we lesbians have is whether or not to accept ourselves as we are and to never again allow anyone, male or female (especially those disguised as allies), to shame us into thinking any differently.

55 comments on “Who Gets To Decide what “Lesbian” Means?

  1. […] femme who briefly talked with me about the hierarchy of femmes and butches in my last post (Who Gets To Decide What “Lesbian” Means?). I hope she sees this post so she can come back to leave her thoughts on the […]

  2. Sine Nomine says:

    Dang it all, I was typing a reply and something happened to this blamed computer and I’m not sure if I lost it or posted it prematurely. Either way I’ll try again.

    I am glad I read this and the responses. I was too embarrassed to admit that I married a man. Real life was harder; the prospect of having to explain to others how I’m married to a man but not straight or even bi kept me in the closet as it were. I wish I could have a do-over. I’d talk to my younger self and tell myself that what I’ve been told is wrong. I was told that women have lower libidos so its perfectly natural not to be attracted to men, even the one they’re married to. That I’ll find the man I love and get married and I’ll grow desire him in “that way.” How will I know if I really don’t like men till I try? And I listened! I really thought I’d get married and then will come the sexual attraction and we’ll live happily ever after. Not quite.

    It wasn’t till I was in my 30s that got a handle on my mental illnesses – OCD and depression. I swear I went through a 2nd puberty then, or more like finished it and finally understood what all the fuss was about. I went from “Being attracted to someone? Yeah, whatever it feels like, it can’t be that big of a deal” to “Oh my god! So -that- is what it feels like to be attracted to someone. Stupid hormones, how am I supposed to work with these blasted thoughts going through my head? *fans self*”

    At least now I don’t have to feign interest in the pictures of buff men that women show me whilst swooning. Yeah, whatever, big deal. I still don’t call myself the l word. I feel like I’m stealing it or something. I just say I prefer females. Better late than never?

  3. BigBooButch says:

    Of course better late than never! Welcome to the club, ha! 😉

  4. I enjoyed your post to an extent before the kind of bi erasure that was going on. Your definition of lesbian fits a bisexual woman who is in a monogamous relationship with another woman, however you go on to say that if you sleep with men you are not a lesbian. While bisexual women do not identify as lesbians, many bisexual women struggle extensively with separating socialisation and sexuality. This entire post seems to classify women into straight, political lesbians and lesbians, erasing all of the women who are bisexual.

  5. BigBooButch says:

    Why do bisexuals like you absolutely NEED to be a part of EVERYTHING and if you/they are not, then there is some sort of erasure going on somewhere? That was rhetorical, by the way, because I can surmise by your comment that you are a bit narcissistic in nature and need to always be counted on everything or you feel slighted.

    I am not “erasing” anyone. This post was about lesbians, not bisexuals. I realize that means you had to read something that was not about you, but let’s pretend for a moment that the world does not revolve around you. By the way, there are, in fact, women who sleep with both women and men and try to call themselves lesbians, so again, not about you.

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