A connection between lesbian lust and identifying as male came to me after reading the prologue to Audre Lorde’s Zami : A New Spelling of My Name (full text here.) Lorde describes wanting to be both male and female and she fantasized about having a penis. It’s increasingly common for lesbians to think they are men so I think this needs to be discussed. In this post I’m going to describe my interpretation of Lorde’s quote, which was written in 1982, and then discuss the phenomenon of lesbians feeling “male” within the current context of porn culture and transgenderism.
“I have always wanted to be both man and woman, to incorporate the strongest and richest parts of my mother and father within/into me—to share valleys and mountains upon my body the way the earth does in hills and peaks.
I would like to enter a woman the way any man can, and to be entered—to leave and to be left—to be hot and hard and soft all at the same time in the cause of our loving. I would like to drive forward and at other times to rest or be driven. When I sit and play in the waters of my bath I love to feel the deep inside parts of me, sliding and folded and tender and deep. Other times I like to fantasize the core of it, my pearl, a protruding part of me, hard and sensitive and vulnerable in a different way.
I have felt the age-old triangle of mother father and child, with the “I” at its eternal core, elongate and flatten out into the elegantly strong triad of grandmother mother daughter, with the “I” moving back and forth flowing in either or both directions as needed.
Woman forever. My body, a living representation of other life older longer wiser. The mountains and valleys, trees, rocks. Sand and flowers and water and stone. Made in earth.”-Audre Lorde
This quote is rather poetic and I have allowed myself to see lots of things in it that I don’t know if Lorde actually intended. These are some things I see when I look at these words.
Lorde has described wanting the best qualities of her mother and father and wanting to be both hard and soft during sex. When I read this I thought about how people are expected to limit their self-expression and interests to what society believes is appropriate for their sex, and Lorde is refusing to limit herself that way. She wants the full human experience, not just a half of it. Gender roles and compulsory heterosexuality are strongly linked. Women and men are supposed to learn a set of mutually exclusive and complementary traits, so that they depend on each other for providing the qualities they cannot have for themselves. Women must be wives and mothers; men must be breadwinners. The only way one-sided people can feel complete is by getting married and having both complementary sides balancing each other within a relationship. I see Audre Lorde rejecting this one-sidedness and opting instead for full personhood and wholeness when she says “incorporate the strongest and richest parts of my mother and father.” This is what we should all be opting for. We should allow ourselves to experience the full human experience without limiting ourselves or becoming one half of a whole.
In a physical sense, Lorde imagines herself being able to play the role of both male and female during sex. She imagines having a penis and being able to penetrate her lover. Luckily she remained woman-identifed and still enjoyed her female body. I wonder how many lesbians have had this same fantasy? In particular, this sentence really struck me: “Other times I like to fantasize the core of it, my pearl, a protruding part of me, hard and sensitive and vulnerable in a different way.” I will admit that I have had this same thought. I have felt lust for women that makes my clitoris swell, and in my excitement I have imagined it could grow large enough that I could penetrate my lover. Could this fantasy become an obsession in some women, leading them to believe they are really men? I’m not saying that’s the only motivation for lesbians transitioning either—I’m sure there’s lots more to it than that. But this is one element of lesbian life that I think leads some women to decide they are men, and it requires some discussion.
You know the analogy of the fish that doesn’t notice the water that it’s swimming in? We humans are swimming in compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory gender roles, and a belief that sex = penetration. These ideas are so universal that we don’t see them at first; it takes us a while to begin to question them. Only in my late twenties did I understand the extent to which I’d internalized compulsory heterosexuality. We are taught all our lives that only men lust after women, that to lust for a woman is to want to penetrate her. This is compulsory behavior for men, as well as cultural narrative and self-fulfilling prophecy. Nothing in our culture ever mentions that women can feel a sexual desire for each other, or that sexual desire doesn’t have to take the form of a phallus, or that sexual desire can appease itself without penetration. According to our culture, a woman doesn’t even have to have sexual desire in order to want sex. Her wish is simply to be wanted, to be a beautiful object of men’s lust. She inspires sexual desire, but doesn’t necessarily have her own. Women’s sexual desire ranges from non-existent to sinful, depending on local tradition.
No cultural narratives guide lesbians in how to be or how to love. The young lesbian searches for her own truth and charts her own path, all on her own. Today’s young lesbians come of age in a misogynist porn culture that tells them lust is for men and lust means penetration, and if they feel masculine they should take testosterone and call themselves men. And as an example of this, I bring you a quote from a Youtube video that shows what happens when a young male-identified queer woman gets addicted to porn:
“When you dont have a dick but you feel like you have an erection (?) Like literal. I’m so serious. Is this almost what you mean. Cause I swear everytime I read porn I feel my no dick rise. I kid you not knowing that I will never get a blow job upsets me.”
This woman has internalized the idea that her lust must be male. Woman-identified lesbians know that lust is for women, too. We women feel desire for each other, no penis involved, and no “male brain” involved. Lust is not synonymous with the phallus. To interpret your sexual arousal as meaning that you have or should have a penis is a toxic effect of porn culture that we must unlearn. Your lust is feminine and womanly. It comes from your clitoris as well as your whole body and soul. Women are all sorts of people with all sorts of interests. We’re not all wives and mothers, and none of us are mere objects for penetration. We have our own natural sexuality that you will never see a trace of in porn, or in any popular culture.
In a previous blog post on a previous blog of mine, now deleted, I talked a bit about my “gender identity.” One paragraph of that post read as follows: I had a period of sex dysphoria that lasted about a month. It was around the same time I finally accepted that I was attracted to women and stopped beating myself up over it. I started to enjoy the delicious feelings that came to me when I looked at the women around me. I started to enjoy the lesbian sexual fantasies that were coming to me. And with that came a feeling that I was male. I had successfully internalized the idea that anyone attracted to women was necessarily male. I was looking at women with the male gaze. The male gaze that lived in my brain looked at women’s bodies and objectified them the way men do, and because of the male gaze living in my brain, I felt like a man in a woman’s body. There were at least two times when I looked in a mirror and was surprised by what I saw. The sight of my breasts surprised me. I didn’t know why I had them because I didn’t feel female. This lasted about a month, and then it went away. Maybe I could have taken seriously the male-identified part of me that wanted to get all the women I saw into bed. I could have adopted a male name and asked people to refer to me with male pronouns. But I didn’t go down that road. Feminist writing on sexual assault, consent and objectification reminded me that the women around me were people and not things. And I was one of them. I fought against the desire to objectify my fellow women. I still find women “hot” but I try not to comment on their appearance or clothing, because it shouldn’t matter.
Transgenderism is being spread largely by the Internet. Girls who feel the normal uncomfortable feelings related to female puberty go online and find videos on how to bind their breasts. So I want to leave this here for any young lesbians or bisexual women who are looking for such a thing:
Dear lesbians and bisexual women,
It is totally normal to love other women and to find other women arousing. It’s fine if you imagine you have a penis, but it doesn’t mean you are literally male. It’s a fantasy. You are a woman-loving woman and that is fantastic as is. You don’t have to pretend to be something else. You don’t need a man and you don’t need to become a man. You don’t need a penis—lust is for female bodies too, and lesbian sex is creative and fun and free. There doesn’t need to be any penetration for women to find satisfaction, but of course if that’s what you’re in the mood for, go for it. You can be a whole person—you don’t have to exemplify stereotypes about what women are, or about what men are either. You don’t have to be a wife and mother, but you can be if you want. Or you can take on the role of breadwinner if you want. You can fix cars and bake pies. Do whatever you want, be yourself. And please, love women. Love women both personally and politically.