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. redhester says:

    dear sister, thank you for speaking true and plain. this is an important issue and one that will need much more of the honesty and courage you have shown.

    the fact that there is a growing desire to claim lesbianism by women, and that being a lesbian is seen as so honorable and correct, is in itself a huge step in the right direction.

    in other words, women are finally waking up to the joys and freedom of removing men from their lives, hearts and beds. this awakening is often disruptive, so much so that many sisters wish to close that vastness of space by grabbing the closest solid ground they can. these newly awakened sisters understand that men are the problem, but they have not yet developed enough to discern that their reasonable aversion to men IS NOT THE SAME as a romantic/sexual attraction to women.

    that’s the root of the issue, from where i stand as a het woman who is very very not ok with being attracted to men. my sexuality is highly problematic, in the same way that a shark-attack survivor might feel conflicted about swimming in the ocean. ocean = sharks. sharks = DANGER!!!!! it’s a weak metaphor, but hopefully it describes the bind i am experiencing, which is a revulsion of allowing men into my spirit/heart/body while also being damaged by patriarchal programming that has permanently distorted my neuromuscular pathways. i would be delighted to be “cured” of my heterosexuality, but i acknowledge that the damage has been done and there is little i can do other than celibacy.

    [as a radfem, i do not accept that any behavior is biologically innate. and i am fascinated by your assertion that your lesbianism is an innate (born that way) orientation. do you feel comfortable elaborating on that aspect of your lived experience?]

    therefore, the battle over lesbianism (which *women* get to decide what it is) seems to be rooted in a sincere and shared desire to be free of men. unfortunately, that is insufficient to meet the criteria of being a lesbian. i agree with your definition of lesbianism as being a romantic/sexual attraction of a *woman* to another *woman*.

    so the real question remains: what are the sisters who do not meet the romantic/sexual standard yet who wish to be known to other women as 100% women-identified? what are we? we are not lesbians, yet we refuse to be fucktoys/servants/breeders too. what do i call this?

    it is not your job to answer this question. should you have any insight you wish to offer, in support of our shared wellbeing, i would be so grateful.

    summary: good news = women are removing men from their lives and wish to be known as 100% women-identified. bad news = the confusion arising from awakening can erode the meaning of important concepts (what is a lesbian).

    thoughts?

  2. BadDyke says:

    I try to resist the whole born/socially constructed thing not because I don’t think that I was born a lesbian in the usual sense, but because I don’t like the ‘I was born this way, I can’t HELP it, so please stop being mean to me’ line. Even IF I could have had a choice, I would have chosen this because what is wrong with it!

    Although I agree that it is lesbians who get to define what being a lesbian IS (if we can’t name ourselves, then we have nothing!), and I don’t mind political lesbians using the name as long as they ask nicely.

    Things aren’t as straightforward as the social/biological, born/becoming dichotomy is often made to look. I don’t want heterosexual women claiming that they were BORN that way as some ‘I can’t help it’ cop-out. Because that is the way it is sometimes painted — biologically determined, dyke gene, I can’t help it, could never have been any other way versus social conditioning (hence I can try to kind of define myself otherwise at a later date). I don’t think the latter applies, it’s too late once you’re aware perhaps, but you could (if unlucky enough to be heterosexual) at least stop investing time and energy in men, and sleeping with them. What we feel and what we do about it are two different things. Which isn’t meant to be some lousy identity politics, but just acknowledging that we can make decisions as to what we do or don’t do given our desires.

    Straight women trying to kick back against compulsory heterosexuality and investing in men, fair enough, and in some cases political lesbianism may be a useful label — but it doesn’t give them the right to tell us lesbians that our meaning as lesbians, or our history ISN’T different from theirs.

    Just a heck of a thing that we have to have these old arguments resurfacing again and again! Although the lesbianism is (just another) patriarchal construct one is a bit of a bugger! Just trying the ole all sexualities are equally valid/equally ‘constructed’ line.

    I like to hope that in the ideal world we all strive for, all women could have the potential or the chance to be born lesbians, because frankly I consider the feelings and attraction of women for women are MORE fundamental than anything else. But only some of us retained that ‘natural’ state. And you can’t get back to it once you have lost it by wishing that you hadn’t been, or choosing — but acknowledging that that has happened is better than nothing.

  3. Wow, I didn’t even know about this until I read your post, thank you for informing! Just now I looked up a few articles about political lesbianism online but they seemed to say varying things about it’s ideology. I did find one about the history of it and, as you said in your post, they claim being gay is a choice and that feminists “should not go home to men.” While I respect everyone’s right to an opinion, I find it quite hypocritical that someone who is trying to be progressive will degrade homosexual relationships by calling them simply “a choice.” It does bring up some interesting questions on what is natural and what is socially constructed, however no one should demoralize a group in the process. I also wonder what they think of relationships between two gay males. Again, thank you for sharing!

  4. Ann Tagonist says:

    OK. I have some issues with this post. (Surprise!)

    Political lesbians are real lesbians. A political lesbian has a “romantic and sexual attraction” towards other women. If she didn’t she wouldn’t call herself any kind of lesbian. I know this because I am (was?) a political lesbian and I have many, many, many romantic and sexual feelings for other women.

    If you’re asserting that some women are born lesbian, you’re asserting that some women are born hetero and I think that’s fundamentally anti-feminist. I think it’s entirely plausible that all women are born lesbians and they have their lesbianism beaten out of them by the time they reach puberty. I believe you when you say you’ve always known you were a lesbian. I know other women who identify as political lesbians who say the same thing. I think it’s possible that I was born a lesbian (my first crush was on Ricki Lake in Hairspray and I’ve been fucking around with girls since I was a kid) but the circumstances in which I grew up did not allow me to express my lesbianism even to myself. It wasn’t until my late 20’s, after discovering radical feminism, that I realised I didn’t have to fuck men. It’s not my job to fuck men. I thought, just because sex with men didn’t make me physically sick, I must be bisexual. It was politics that helped me on my path to lesbianism hence political lesbianism.

    I don’t think “lesbian” is something you are. It’s something you do. You make the choice every day to be a lesbian whether you were born that way or not. You could choose to not be a lesbian but why would you? Being a lesbian is awesome.

    I agree with your last paragraph (apart from the first sentence obvs) and I’m confused as to why you think this is unrelated to the choice women make to be lesbians.

    This: “Being a lesbian wasn’t a choice, releasing the shame and embracing the fact that I was a lesbian was the choice.” isn’t antithetical to political lesbian rhetoric either. As I said, I think it’s possible that all girls are born lesbian. Some choose to go with it, some choose not to.

  5. BigBooButch says:

    Heterosexual women who are also celibate can be women-centric; but this does not make them lesbians. I sincerely believe a woman can be woman-centric without being or calling herself a lesbian.

  6. BigBooButch says:

    I know this issue is not a black and white one and instead is filled with all kinds of grays, but I honestly believe I was born gay and no one’s argument is going to take that from me. I am not saying that is what you are doing here, but when I say I was born gay, it isn’t the first part of what appears to be a whiny argument that ends with, “I can’t help who I am!11!!” because we all have choices in our lives when it comes to the kind of person we wish to be. But I -am- stating that I didn’t “become” a lesbian by choice, that I never sat down and had a discussion with myself and decided that I was going to love women. I was born loving women, just as my straight female friends were born loving men.

  7. BigBooButch says:

    Yes, if one’s only argument -for- something is to tear down the opposite, then their argument becomes invalid to me. There is a lot of gray areas when it comes to sexuality, I agree; but one constant, for me, is that being gay is not a choice, it is who we are when we are born.

  8. BigBooButch says:

    Believe me, Ann, I know how you feel about this issue, I have seen your writings and tweets! While we agree on some things, we sincerely disagree on others. For clarification, I used “political” and “real” because that is how I am seeing this issue framed in discussion on-line; which is also why I put those words in quotes. I believe that if a woman is romantically and sexually attracted to another woman, she is a lesbian, period, with no need for the added “real” or “political” prefixes.

    I found your comment here incredibly interesting because from what I am reading, you seem to have been in the same boat as a LOT of us: born a lesbian, but unable to admit it and instead, striving for heterosexuality because that was what was expected of you (of -all- of us). Then one day, you realized you didn’t -have- to be hetero, that it was “ok to be gay” and BAM, there you were, gay as all hell. But what I also notice is that you seem to be one of the few who call that political lesbianism. For most of the history of PL, it has been women who no longer wanted to be with men and who decided to call themselves lesbians even though they were not romantically and sexually attracted to other women. That doesn’t sound like what you are describing and I have wondered for a while now why lesbians describing themselves as political lesbians are doing so only as a means of describing how they came to be lesbians. I feel like women who are latching onto the PL label for those reasons are “doing it wrong.” lol

    I mean, if we need to add a prefix onto lesbian to describe how we figured out we were lesbians and that it was ok to -be- lesbians, my new label would have to be something like Women Studies Lesbian, because it was when I took a Women Studies class in college that I first met a lesbian and learned that it really was “ok to be gay.” Like you, I lived in an area where being gay was an abomination and shameful, and I lived with and around people who were not at all ok with gay people. So I mashed my feelings down and did everything I could to be and appear straight. It wasn’t until my early 20s when I was able to let go of the shame and be who I was unapologetically. Exiting the fog of denial or shame or a combination thereof does not make one a political lesbian, it makes one a woman who has freed herself from the conditioning, the shackles of shame that the patriarchy puts on -all- lesbians.

    Of course, we do and will always disagree on lesbian being “something you do.” I will never believe that and no one will ever convince me that I made the choice to be a lesbian and that I wake up every morning making the choice to be a lesbian. I know that you think of it as a choice you made, but for me and for most of us, this was not a choice, this is who we have always been. Our only choice was to (a) admit it and be happy or (b) continue to deny it and be miserable.

    But to each their own. I don’t have to agree with you and you don’t have to agree with me. As long as we respect each other and don’t build ourselves and our beliefs up by trying to belittle the other and her beliefs, I don’t see why we can’t both be lesbians and “right” at the same time. Your lesbianism is right for you and mine is right for me.

  9. I really like ‘women’s studies lesbian’. That works pretty well.

  10. BadDyke says:

    Goodness no, I’m trying to keep the born lesbian but without the whinny addition!

    It’s what that means to others that has got twisted, so rather than being a proud statement, it has become a whine, an excuse, the whole I can’t help it thing.

    “If you’re asserting that some women are born lesbian, you’re asserting that some women are born hetero and I think that’s fundamentally anti-feminist.”
    Well, I’d say instead that in the best possible world, we’d all be born lesbian as well, in that I think that the ‘natural’ (yep, loads of inverted commas) attraction would be between women. Only anti-feminist if you think the goal of feminism is behaving as if sex doesn’t matter.

    I’d also say that ‘lesbian’ is so much more that something I do, or something that I could stop doing. More than ‘just’ another choice. I really don’t like the whole lots of choices line that we so often get and all are okay line of thinking, where whether you are gay/straight/vanilla/S&M/whatever is ‘just’ another choice, although those choices might be influenced by the current conditions.

    I think it is a fundamental difference in that you relate sexually/emotionally/spiritually to others of your own sex, or you don’t. That there is a difference in the nature of that connection, not just because of the current political/patriarchal structure, but between like to like in terms of sex, and to other. And I think that is a fundamental difference between homo and hetero that I think is really important to me.

    “.. I don’t see why we can’t both be lesbians and “right” at the same time. Your lesbianism is right for you and mine is right for me.”

    Big YES there! That we can (and should) be able to discuss our differences without it turning into a great big argument with someone always trying to win (hence someone who has got to lose!).

    Anyway, very glad I found this blog!

  11. BigBooButch says:

    Glad you stopped by and thank you for your thoughts! 🙂

  12. firewomon says:

    Thanks for this, Boo. As someone who had relationships with men until I was about 30, I felt like I didn’t deserve to call myself a lesbian for years. Now I proudly call myself a lesbian. I am – and always have been – sexually & romantically attracted to women but, like many of us, I come from a family where ‘Lesbian’ is a dirty word. That, together with a strongly religious background (which I now reject entirely) ensured that I never considered anything other than relationships with men to be an option. It just wouldn’t have been ‘allowed’. Now I am older & finally have the confidence to be true to myself.

    I agree with Ann when she says no woman is ‘born’ hetero. Patriarchy sees to it that we get fucked by men. Not in every woman’s case, obviously, but that’s how it is for the majority of women. I think that it is hugely beneficial for women to reject men from their lives & especially their beds. I had a prolonged period of celibacy and it did me the world of good and helped focus my mind.

  13. Miep says:

    Well, if one is going around shunning lesbians because they don’t agree with one about the significance and meaning of “political lesbian,” this is reminiscent of men shunning women who do not agree with them about the significance and meaning of “transwoman.”

    I don’t know whether it’s possible to distinguish whether one was born lesbian in some genetic manner, or somehow acculturated into it early on, or somehow managed to avoid being socialized into heterosexuality. Look at all those guys who say they always “knew” they were women. Some of them appear to be quite serious.

    But it seems much less controversial an issue to me, since sexual and romantic attraction between consenting adults is a private matter and does not require pretending to believe in absurdities.

    I don’t see the need for the term “political lesbian” if actual lesbians find it offensive or confusing or appropriative. Also I’ve always felt uneasy with feminism that polices sexual choices. I don’t think it’s an absolute that romantic involvements with men preclude being supportive of women, though I do recognize that they often do. It’s a kind of denial of agency to assume this is inevitable, though.

  14. BigBooButch says:

    I agree that a self-imposed celibacy can be a good thing; and that het women rejecting men can also be beneficial in that it can open their eyes to many, many things they weren’t seeing before when they were male-centric.

  15. BigBooButch says:

    Exactly. While we see a lot of het women putting men first, it isn’t always the case. As I said in another comment, I believe a woman can be het and woman-centric at the same time. Also, the difference between me knowing I was always a lesbian and a dude knowing he was always a woman is that mine was a sexual attraction and theirs is a “feeling” based on the social construct of gender, which is in turn based on sexual stereotypes.

    I agree with your first point completely. It struck me as odd that someone could be shunned for having an opinion with which others don’t agree and then turn around and shun someone who has an opinion with which she doesn’t agree. Pretty hypocritical.

  16. Miep says:

    I don’t mean to deny your experience. I grew up in a sexually distorted environment that precluded any kind of autonomous sexual development, so much of what people write about a childhood sense of sexual orientation is a mystery to me. I pretty much just considered the entire subject alien and alarming. But it does seem clear that orientation is a choice for some people, while very much not a choice for others, so the whole debate seems to me based on the false principle that it’s got to be seen as one or the other.

  17. BigBooButch says:

    Oh, I didn’t see your post as denying anything. I, too, grew up in a place and surrounded by people that made being gay a non-option. I mashed my feelings down and denied who I was for a long, long time. Then when I was away from the people and environment that kept me ashamed and hidden (my early 20s), even from myself, I discovered who I was and I was able to look back on some of my childhood relationships and go, “Ohhhhh, I totally see now that I was in love with her! How did I not see that?? Everyone knew but me!” lol

  18. redhester says:

    sister BadDyke, thank you for your insights. you have such a generous spirit and i was deeply touched by your words: “And I think that is a fundamental difference between homo and hetero that I think is really important to me.”

    that really unlocked some encoded wisdom that i knew but did not understand. your words have empowered me to free myself from the shame of being sexually attracted to men. so, thank you. thank you so much.

    however, i still experience great discomfort with claiming this heterosexuality as innate. there are infinite hells to pay for any alignment with biological determinism. a profound and complete rejection of any biologically innate character/behavioral qualities comes from how much that thought pattern just terrifies me. because we women are suffering endless miseries from that same thinking. so even in instances where it benefits the women (lesbianism as defined by lesbians), i am still deeply mistrustful of putting any weight on that position. because it is a death-dealing machine and i expect nothing life-giving from it.

    so where does that leave us? is there really anywhere but here, in the muck and mire and fog of the moment, to go? it seems that this creative agony of naming ourselves and raising our own names up into the sky is uncomfortable and fragile. yet. yet, at the same time there is great delight in sparring with our sisters to sharpen our skills. the risk, and it is great, is that we will start sparring but end up so aroused by the discourse that we click into male-socialized patriarchal patterns of hunt-kill-dominate-crush-KILL! and make enemies of our sisters.

    perhaps we can simply commit to speaking plain and true to each other, with loving tongues. heh. pun. intended.

    because if we trust love and speak true, the rest unfolds under our feet with each step.

    thoughts?

  19. Wow many insightful comments here. I’m glad you had the courage to write this post. This is something I also noticed, and while I was happy to see women decide to be open to romantic relationships with other women, something about the way they described it bothered me. It felt like a slap in the face.

    Like Ann I, too, was one of those women who had lesbianism beat out of me as a child. Even though I didn’t even know what a lesbian was until around 18 or so. I’ve also had sexual experiences with female friends as a child and numerous girl crushes as a teenager…but with my ultra patriarchal christian upbringing I had to suppress those feelings or else! And while I even had sexual and romantic relationships with women as an adult, I had so much self-hate and disgust I would not even allow the possibility that I was gay. In fact, I HATED lesbians, especially those on the masculine side. Being a soft butch myself. I was always afraid of being exposed or found out about my same sex attraction. My experiences with men were laughable. Every time I had one, I thought, “Now I will be seen as normal!” But those things lasted anywhere from a matter of days to 3 months tops.

    Finally in my 30s I got hit with the realization that I was a lesbian. And I know, you know, it’s a process. Fear, excitement, anger, relief and more fear. Plus all the childhood and society programming waging a war within my psyche. Even now, I still have to fight the urge to feel fear when I’m in public and around butches, because I’m afraid their presence will expose me!

    The cavalier way of how some call themselves political lesbians is insulting, just like how bisexuals call themselves lesbians. Being gay in this world is hard. And some of us don’t make it and opt for suicide because of social stigma. I’m not a lesbian because I’m angry or hate men, I’m a lesbian because I am emotionally, sexually, mentally, spiritually attracted to women and women only. I can’t turn off my attraction to women anymore than I can change the color of my skin. Suppressing my attraction came with a great cost, some of which included deep, deep depression. Owning my sexuality made me overcome my own internalized misogyny which I projected out to other women, which created the gap that kept me from giving and receiving intimacy.

    I don’t like seeing the word lesbian as a tool to get back at the man. That can cause of host of problems, for many different reasons. I also don’t like seeing women calling themselves lesbians when they haven’t done the inner search and healing needed to embrace another woman. I wonder how many of these political lesbians will one day fall back into the arms of a man, while leaving their former lesbian lover heartbroken?

    With that said, I do believe there is another side that Ann brought up that I agree with. I also believe that ALL women are lesbians. I know this will anger some of the het women out there, lol. But look at how many women who are bisexual. Tons, right? Look at how easy it is for a woman to say about another woman, “She’s hot.” “She’s sexy” “She has amazing eyes. “She has a nice butt, breasts, etc.” Look at how easy it is for women to share nonsexual intimacy such as hugging, caressing, cuddling, holding hands, brushing hair. Men don’t do such things.

    You have later in life lesbians who have had 20+ years marriages w/kids up and leave their families for another woman. Why are men so afraid of lesbian only (FAB) spaces? Why is there such a push in childhood to accept heterosexuality? Why are men always seeking to keep women bickering with one another? Men like to blame lesbians for turning otherwise het women lesbian…could it be they know something we don’t know? And c’mon women look 10x better than any man. They use women’s beauty and sexuality to sell products and clothing to other women for Goddess sake! Women are not blind. But they do live in a patriarchal, anti-gay world. Filled with programming and mind control from the day they exit the womb. A woman is either a virgin or a whore. She’s either beauty or disgusting. A woman smells like fish, she gets gross bleeding once a month, women are weak. Ad nauseum. You better believe messages like this play a role. For a woman to see another woman’s vagina as disgusting, she sees her own vagina as disgusting. And many do! Where do you think that comes from? Children don’t come into this world hating their body parts. And let’s not forget the issue of childhood sexual abuse. I’m sorry, I forget the statistics, but isn’t it like 1 in 4? Many women were sexual abused (by men) as children and that has a huge impact on adult sexuality and relationships.

    To throw in another angle, now the lesbian community is being attacked from all sides. There is a lot of infighting and division. Men are lesbians, bisexuals are lesbians, but lesbians are not allowed to be lesbians. Older lesbians coming out have all expressed their shock and hurt at not being accepted. So they took a big leap of courage to be who they are only to get shunned by fellow lesbians. She isn’t “gay” enough…says the elitist gold stars.

    All. By. Design.

    This fighting amongst women has got to stop. From all sides. What men start we finish with our own hands. The truth is we all have something of value to add and share. But we also must have respect of others real experiences and not be so quick to bumrush some shiny label because we think it’s cool and trendy or tear down someone whose path has been different from your own.

    It’s simple. Women who are exclusively emotionally and sexually attracted to women own the authority of the word/definition lesbian. If you are celibate ONLY because of you rf views, then you are a celibate het. One blogger I read calls herself a celibate political lesbian, but said the only reason why she is celibate is so she can heal from the male trauma she experienced, as she refuses to bring that baggage into a relationship with a woman. Now THAT is completely understandable and admirable.

  20. BigBooButch says:

    You hit the nail on the head for me with this: “I’m not a lesbian because I’m angry or hate men, I’m a lesbian because I am emotionally, sexually, mentally, spiritually attracted to women and women only.”

    That statement helped me realize why I have been having so much trouble with this. See, we lesbians are not male-centric. We are not lesbians -because- of males or what they have done to us. We are lesbians because we love women. Men don’t even enter into it!

    Great comment. Thanks for stopping by and opening up like that! 🙂

  21. firewomon says:

    Does it really matter how a woman finds lesbianism, though, as long as she *does*? We as women are groomed into heterosexuality from the moment we are born. Perhaps I should have been stronger & stood up to it sooner but the fact is the brainwashing went deep & took me many years to undo. If awoman realises she can embrace lesbianism (even in the case of those who have been treated appallingly by men, as you alluded to above), does it really matter how long it takes her to have this revelation? We risk alienating so many women if we are going to apply gold star status to some lesbians & the rest are left out in the cold.

    All women can be lesbians – I truly believe that – but we are battling against internalised misogyny and, yes, lesbophobia which has been drummed into us (in many cases). I made the decision years ago to reject men entirely & I will never have another male partner, sexual or otherwise. It saddens me that I will always be ‘suspected’ of this just because it took me some years to escape the clutches of enforced heterosexuality.

  22. BigBooButch says:

    I feel that you are assigning thoughts and words to me that I have not said or insinuated. It sounds like you are projecting either your own fears or someone else’s words onto me. This post was not about how a woman finds lesbianism. This post was about what a lesbian -is- and who gets to define what it means to -be- a lesbian.

  23. jacobetta says:

    I hear what you are saying Firewomon. I’d like to think that lesbianism is wide enough and generous enough a term to allow any women refuge from the damage of relationships with men, to allow her to learn to love freely in the arms of anther woman.

  24. Kobi KapeKod says:

    I, briefly, joined a group called I love Lesbian Butches. I had to prove I wasnt a male. No problem. So, I start going thru the membership and come across transman after transman. I asked the administrator of the group if there are male lesbians now. The answer was she considered them extreme butches. And we wonder why people are confused about what a lesbian is?

    I dont care how women get to being lesbian. I do care that once they get there, they will discover there are no lesbian only spaces anymore.

  25. BigBooButch says:

    It really bothers me that we can’t seem to have any spaces to ourselves; whether it is a woman-only space or a lesbian-only space, trans involvement makes having our own spaces impossible, be it men claiming to be women or women claiming to be men but hanging on to the lesbian spaces.

    The very idea that trans “men” are extreme butches is so insulting and adds to the push that a lot of butch lesbians feel when it comes to transitioning. We are expected to and sometimes pushed into transitioning because so many consider it some sort of continuum, whereas we start off as butches and, what, work our way up to the more evolved trans “men”? Such bullshit. Thanks for stopping by and for the comment.

  26. Miep says:

    I kind of pity female transgenders because I think they are looking for community of a sort, and the male transgender community is unlikely to be supportive in the same sense that a true feminist community can be. It’s such a bad choice to make, it’s such a poor interpretation of the significance of one’s feelings of not fitting in.

    As for lesbians, one thing I’ve noticed is lesbians seem to be disproportionately financially challenged, which says so much about the male-centric culture, and as public spaces become off-limits to women-only groups (though male transgenders seem to have no such problem), you have to fall back on privately owned spaces, and what if you don’t know anybody who owns one? And look what happened with those radical feminists who got picketed for meeting in a private residence. You want to hang out with a bunch of other women and you get treated like the freaking Klan. It really is appalling. And it scares people off, which is of course the point. Divide, silence, conquer.

  27. Miep says:

    Also, your point that female transgenders being treated like the ultimate expression of lesbianism is disgusting, is spot on. The argument that butch lesbians are the ultimate expression of women, in that butch lesbians are extremely non-conforming to gender roles, is much more interesting, though I don’t see that this needs to be a contest.

  28. BigBooButch says:

    The hard part for female transgenders is that men don’t feel this incredible need or pressure to accept them. In fact, most don’t and no one seems to bat an eye at that. So they end up coming back to or staying within the lesbian community. Male transgenders, on the other hand, expect and demand to be accepted by women because of their male privilege. They honestly just cannot understand why we don’t want them around or want to have intimate, sexual relationship with them.

    As to your second comment, no it doesn’t need to be a contest and off-line, I don’t really see it being a contest; but for some reason, in on-line communities, it becomes a contest of who can be the butchest of all the butches. Femmes start using phrases like very butch or the butchiest, etc.; and it becomes some kind of weird hierarchy from andro to soft butch to butch to hard butch to trans and honestly, it is all complete bullshit.

  29. Miep says:

    lol I would win in some ways. But I don’t want a contest. I just want people to stop assuming things about me. It’s so draining. I have enough trouble questioning the assumptions I have about myself without having to deal with a lot of oppressive background noise.

    One of the things I’ve devoted a lot of attention to has been just what a few of my childhood girlfriends were about. The deeply troubled girls who betrayed and used me in some ways, and I was just so happy to keep letting them do it, without any sense of being in love with them. But that’s what it was, as you say…probably everybody did know it but me.

    And that’s unspeakably sad.

  30. BigBooButch says:

    I was just tweeting with someone this evening about people making assumptions. So many assumptions are made about me by the people who read my blog or Twitter feed and then they label me, not as I am, but as they see me and as they wish to label me. From “cis” to “terf” to radfem, they all seem to think they know who I am as a person and how I identify just by reading my blog; and while they scream and cry about people “misgendering” and mis-labeling them, they are all very comfortable in “misgendering” and mislabeling us.

    To your second paragraph, I remember some of the same things with one girl in particular. Even my mom could see that she was leading me on, but I didn’t see it because in all honesty, I didn’t even see ME.

    We need our spaces with each other, whether women-only or lesbian-only, we need to be around each other to freely think and express ourselves and to discover who we are without men.

  31. Miep says:

    I’m realizing that what I’m dealing with here is survivor guilt. Both my childhood girlfriends were raped/pimped/abandoned to abuse when they were young adolescents, and I wasn’t, for reasons having as much to do with social class as anything. Not to mention pure luck.

    One died of an overdose when she was around 20. The other has survived but had a deeply destructive life.

    It’s all so random.

  32. Miep says:

    I’m so sorry that you catch all that flak. You are one of my very favorite bloggers; so kind and clear.

    I don’t really know you any more than your detractors do, but I consider you a friend.

    So many people don’t get that. Have you ever had anyone announce to you that they are your friend?

    Nope. A friend is someone you know, to some extent at least, and like, and are inclined to trust. Not someone who informs you that you now have a friend…behavior speaks volumes beyond such statements.

    Conversely, you’re not obliged to consider me a friend. You’re free to see me as a woman who finds your writing and interaction helpful and supportive.

    It’s all good.

  33. Miep says:

    Reblogged this on There Are So Many Things Wrong With This and commented:
    Good post, good discussion, sharing.

  34. BigBooButch says:

    I cannot even begin to imagine. I am so sorry.

  35. BigBooButch says:

    Oh, it’s not all that serious. I don’t catch nearly as much as some other bloggers. Some of the stuff I see men (and in some cases, even women) spewing at our fellow bloggers makes my head and heart ache; and thank you very much for your comment here. 🙂

  36. Miep says:

    Thanks. It’s good though that I’m seeing that I have to go back to this, to my childhood girlfriends, and how horribly they were abused, and that no grownups noticed or at least were up for doing anything to stop it. This is critical for me to understand my own distortion, why I have been seen as an easy target by men, and why I have been so afraid of women…because that’s what happens when you’re a girl, you get chewed up and shat out of the Gender machine.

    I’m getting past the rage, which is also good, and thank you every radical feminist who has ever talked to me online, including those of you who don’t feel comfortable talking to me anymore.

    It’s so important to get past the rage and move on into action. Action freed from the rage, from the imposed feminine constructs.

    I’ve been drawing with chalk on the plaster wall of my house lately. I started by drawing in the shadows of the bare branches of the pecan tree who lives here.

    Last night I added some green and blue highlights.

    I thought about this for a few weeks and then I just did it.

    I may do it more.

  37. Miep says:

    It’s all wrong-headed and just fans flames.

    Look at what Cathy Brennan catches. She’s just an acquaintance and doesn’t like me, so I’m not her friend or anything. But the threats, the stalking and outing of her family..this is at least one face of trans activism.

    And they should own it. That post on Daily Kos about Lierre being a trans-exterminist was disgusting. Lierre is a total sweetheart, she doesn’t wish ill on humans who have gender identity issues. She just is working to protect women, especially lesbians.

    Trans activists are working to protect themselves, that is clear. What’s sad is that they have picked the wrong enemy.

  38. BigBooButch says:

    I have been called a trans extermist as well. It makes no sense, the calls for harassment, the overly melodramatic responses to being “misgendered,” doxxing people’s families, etc. They are so over the top that I don’t think even they see how out of touch with reality they are. But the worst of it is watching women subjugate themselves to these men, do their bidding, take up their causes, and fight their perceived battles. That’s what bothers me the most: that women can do this to other women in the name of “equality.”

  39. Miep says:

    The message it sends is that these men are forced to be women, they have no choice, so we must feel more sorry for them than anyone else because being a woman is just the worst, and it’s so tragic for someone who was otherwise fated to be a member of the superior sex caste. Vomit.

  40. BigBooButch says:

    I feel a little differently about that. To me, women feel compelled to accept and become champions for these male transgenders (men who claim to be women) not because the men feel forced to become women and cannot help it, but because, in the back of all of the women’s minds, male transgenders are still MEN and women are conditioned to subjugate themselves to men, take care of men, champion men’s causes over our own, etc. This is why men do not feel compelled to accept and become champions for female transgenders (women claiming to be men). Men are not conditioned to see women as equals or champion women’s causes and men still see female transgenders as women.

    To my way of thinking, women who stand up for TWs are not standing up for equality, they are just, once again, standing up for men.

  41. I’m pretty much agreeing with everything you’re saying here, BBB, but the hierarchy stuff goes both ways. Not just femme now, but “high femme” and “nose bleed femme,” and it influences the way butches talk to and about femme women and the way there’s this “acceptable” femininity that matches, say, Vogue magazine or popular culture very closely. I kind of tend to think that this need to label and classify and sub-classify is linked to the way we’re socialized as women, as well as to liberal-libertarian ideals about the individual although my brain is so fried I can’t really put it together at the moment. I use “femme” as a short hand descriptor of myself because it’s easier and because I’m holding on with fingernails to a piece of lesbian herstory that I am not willing to let go into the abyss of Queer Jendur Rebellions just yet.

    Nothing wrong with words to sort of describe a style of dress or mannerisms (which is what I think of “hard” and “soft” butch as, vs. “ultra-butch” or “super butch”). I think online communities in general – not just butch/femme – tend to turn things into popularity contests or a competition of who is the mostest of any one thing. Like I don’t know about you, but IRL, I have yet to meet a group of femmes/butches who are walking around using “hy” and “Hym” and saying, “Oooh look at that high femme over there!” but then again, there’s fewer and fewer IRL places for lesbians in general to get together, let alone butches/femmes, and so we’re stuck with the internet and I’ll stop now.

  42. BigBooButch says:

    This is where our opinions differ, anonymous femme. I believe there -is- something inherently wrong with using a hierarchy of butchness (or femmeness); and it has nothing to do with how one chooses to dress, but in how we as women see each other through our conditioning into the patriarchy. Of course, that is all discussion for another post. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts.

  43. farishcunning says:

    I don’t understand why lesbians of any stripe would shun a lesbian coming out later in life. If you see a woman coming out of a burning building, do you turn your back on her or do you run to embrace her and help her to safety?

    I am a “gold star lesbian”, but my wife didn’t come out till her 40s, after a 25-year het marriage that produced 2 children. We have been happily together for 19 years now. What I would have missed had I shunned her for her late realization of her true sexuality! How happy I am to have found her!

  44. BigBooButch says:

    I agree with you here. I have a good friend who came out later in life, after having been married with several children.

  45. firewomon says:

    I’m sorry to read your reply to my comment, Boo. It was not directed at you but rather a general response to the comments above. I am unsure what ‘fears’ you think I am projecting? I know this post was not about how a woman finds lesbianism, but I thought my comment was relevant to the discussion. I’ll butt out now.

  46. firewomon says:

    Thank you, Jacobetta. I’d like to think so too.

  47. BigBooButch says:

    I never asked you to butt out, sister; and I wish that you wouldn’t. When you commented, I logically assumed you were responding to my post; and I never said anything negative about how women find lesbianism, so I was confused. When I said “your own fears,” I meant your own fears surrounding the whole “real” lesbians “vs.” “political” lesbians issue (and I put vs. in quotes because I don’t really believe there is some sort of war, I believe there are misunderstandings that need to be rectified). I have seen you post the above before and I felt that since you made the same reply here that maybe instead of reading my post, you were afraid that this post would contain the same old schtick and reacted out of those fears.

    I don’t remember all 20-something responses that are not mine, so I cannot speak for those, but I can tell you that I, personally, do not care -how- a woman finds lesbianism as long as she finds it! 😉

  48. firewomon says:

    Sorry, should have made it clear that my post was a general response to points being made in the comments section, and not your comment specifically. I may very well have repeated myself without realising I was doing so! – apols if so 🙂

  49. BigBooButch says:

    Don’t worry about it, sister. You can speak your peace here! 🙂

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