“I have briefly danced with the idea of being trans, but I think for me at least its much more to do with internalised sexism rather than homophobia. Like most women, as a teenager I prided myself on thinking “I’m not like other girls”. I actively eschewed anything feminine. I felt like my love for women was somehow “masculine”, before realising that what I really meant was…sexist. I wanted to be the gazer, the penetrator, the dominant, because I saw myself as somehow floating between men (above me) and women (below). Loving a woman on an equal footing seemed strange. Thankfully once I actually got into a same-sex relationship I started recognising these feelings and focusing on equality within the relationship, rather than some weird power play.
I cannot of course speak to other people’s feelings on this, only that I had twisted ideas of what a woman is when I was younger.”
Totally! We are all taught sexism, including lesbians. Any woman might have sexist ideas about other women, and about herself, but the odd thing about being a lesbian is you turn that sexism toward women you are attracted to. I have written before that I went through a short period of time where I felt like I should be male. This did not last long for me and it didn’t really turn into a change in identity. All it was is that I had a “male gaze” inside my head. When I looked at attractive women I thought of them with the ideas of the patriarchy—that they were pretty things for me to drool over and that it would be really hot to just go up to them and start doing things. (This is partly the effects of our culture in general, and partly the effects of being a porn user.) But you cannot treat women this way—we all are full human beings deserving of respect, we are not things to be used, whether by men or by lesbians. Becoming a feminist led me away from thinking this way, and the feeling that I should be a man disappeared. (I should be really clear though that I never had anywhere near the level of dysphoria that trans people experience, it was only a brief feeling for me.)
Anony wrote “I wanted to be the gazer, the penetrator, the dominant, because I saw myself as somehow floating between men (above me) and women (below). Loving a woman on an equal footing seemed strange.” This comment is so incredibly important, thank you anony! We are all taught that sex consists of dominance and submission, and we get absolutely no other alternatives which is why when we think of sex we think of someone fucking and someone getting fucked. We cannot imagine that sex can be a friendly, affectionate expression of love where both people are on equal footing and have a shared experience together. Healthy sexuality is not ever presented as sexy in our culture. Normal sex is referred to as “vanilla” because it’s presented as bland and dull. The word “vanilla” is a deliberate attempt to normalize abusive sexuality.
The lesbian with a male gaze in her head knows she can either be the one who fucks or the one who gets fucked, and likely she will want to be the one who fucks. This makes her feel like she must be a man, because our culture makes it very clear: those who do the fucking are men. Women in general who have internalized sexism may feel they are “above” other women. Even straight women can feel this way. Lots of us hold sexist ideas about women but believe we are “not like those women.” We hang out with the guys and make fun of women, pretending that we aren’t one of them. Female-to-male transitioners are likely to feel this way. But we are women, and the sexist ideas we hold about our sex are not true. We need to fight against those ideas, on behalf of all of us.
Loving a woman on equal footing seems strange because we live in a patriarchy and we are taught that men are infallible godlike creatures and that women are scum. We all have to do the work of eliminating these messages from our minds and treating all women like people. All of us, male or female, need to treat our girlfriends as equal participants in a relationship. Equal relationships are wonderful, and having normal sex with someone on equal footing is very exciting. There is no need for anyone to be “the dominant” for sex to be sexy. Women who internalize sexism are still women, and what will help them is not transition, but feminism.