Stephanie Farnsworth dissects what it means to be lesbian and whether it can be considered a political label.
While there have been features on this site of cis-hetero people invading queer spaces (specifically bars) it’s less acknowledged how many radical feminists have co opted the term of ‘lesbian’. This has been around since at least the seventies with many claiming that ‘lesbian’ is a political identity.
The concept of lesbianism as a political identity stems from the idea that to reject men is to reject the patriarchy and therefore is one of the ultimate acts of feminism. It is steeped in the idea that it is one of the truest forms of women reclaiming autonomy over their bodies and of being independent from men. However, this very idea is considerably flawed and erasive of women who are attracted to women.
To be a lesbian does not mean to reject men. The very foundations on which this concept of ‘political lesbian’ rests are lies. It is also deeply saddening that anyone could take an identity based on attraction and love and try to turn it into something which equals rejection and sometimes hatred. Being attracted to women is a much more beautiful experience than that.
It is also deeply saddening that anyone could take an identity based on attraction and love and try to turn it into something which equals rejection and sometimes hatred
Lesbian is a term gay women, bi and pan women lay claim to because it is a term that is used to assert what one’s sexuality is. It is not about rejection. Sexuality is such a deeply personal journey for each and every one of us, but it is about finding out what we like and what works for us, it is not a political statement. If you do not experience sexual and/or romantic attraction to women then the term lesbian is not yours and to use it is appropriation. Lesbian is an umbrella term for women with a common bond: the experience of attraction for women. It is not a slogan for a banner against the patriarchy. It’s as ridiculous as men’s rights activists claiming that because they hate women they are therefore gay. That’s not how sexuality works and it shows a mark of huge disrespect for the LGBTQ+ community to try to invade a space and identity that is not yours. It must also be deeply insulting for any partner of a self professed political lesbian to know that their partner’s sexuality is based on a rejection of men rather than a bold expression of what they do want.
Cissexism and transphobia are also common within the community of political lesbians. It is not solely the rejection of men but the rejection of “penis”, in their words. However, many men have vaginas and many women will have a penis. It’s quite confusing how a group that insists on smashing gender as a social construct is so happy to reinforce an arbitrary binary by invasively insisting that they demand to know what genitals a person possesses. They’re all for women not being defined by having a uterus when it comes to the rights of cis women but when trans women start being included in feminism then they are happy to ask us all to pull down our trousers.
It’s quite confusing how a group that insists on smashing gender as a social construct is so happy to reinforce an arbitrary binary by invasively insisting that they demand to know what genitals a person possesses.
This is yet another insult to women who are attracted to women though because it means the term of ‘lesbian’ is being co-opted and twisted into an ideology of hatred for trans people. Many trans women are lesbians and many lesbians will date trans women and their experiences should not be erased or diminished. Lesbianism isn’t an ideology.
It is also offensive to suggest that lesbians are somehow inherently smashing down patriarchy when women (particularly if women of colour, disabled and/or trans) are being harassed and threatened daily for being who they are and exploring their attractions with other women. These women are not doing it for any cause. Yes, it has political implications because anything that smashes the norm is therefore radical by nature in this stifled world, but it is not a political act akin to tearing up a voting form or campaigning for the Women’s Equality Party (which is ironically pretty terrible on equality issues).
Gay, bi and pan women should be celebrated but they also should not be fetishised as innately revolutionary heroes just for simply trying to be. They are not a new trend for radical feminists to steal to try to further one’s own feminism. Lesbianism is about women experiencing attraction to other women, nothing more and nothing less.
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