Compulsory heterosexuality

Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence is an essay by Adrienne Rich published in 1980 that challenges the assumption that women’s innate sexual orientation is toward men, points out how heterosexuality is institutionalized, and presents lesbianism as a challenge to this institution. This essay is a part of the ‘lesbian feminist’ theory that lesbianism is a political choice made by women to challenge patriarchy. Although it is true that heterosexuality is institutionalized, and although many of the points made within the body of the essay are true, the basic premise that sisterhood between women is a part of lesbianism is incorrect.

My blog post is written with the assumption that you have read Adrienne Rich’s essay. If you haven’t, the full text can be found online.

Heterosexuality is institutionalized, but it’s also a real sexual orientation. We can separate the institution from the sexual orientation by separating aspects of culture from people’s personal feelings. The institution of heterosexuality can be found in religion, law, language, and the arts; it’s located in many patriarchal institutions that give men power over women, such as forced marriage, prostitution, and the lower wages given to women for paid labor. These are some of the things Adrienne Rich gets right. However, the romantic and sexual feelings that straight women feel towards men are real feelings, they are not mere products of socialization. Socialization influences our behavior but it cannot construct a sexual orientation. Neither can women construct a sexual orientation by changing their politics. Most women are indeed heterosexual; homosexuals are a minority group. Stating this fact does not limit straight women to a life of being abused by men; male violence against women is a product of patriarchy, not a product of legitimate human sexual orientation. After the feminist revolution, women and men will likely still bond together in love relationships, but they will do so on equal footing.

For most of the history of marriage, divorce was rare. A woman was literally a man’s property and the way he treated her was considered his private business. Women were strongly encouraged to marry men by everyone in their community, and they were stigmatized and discriminated against if they remained unmarried. Marriage itself is an institution; it is maintained by both government and religion, it is celebrated by entire communities and entire industries have developed around it (the wedding dress industry, the wedding cake industry, wedding planners, florists, etc). Until very recently, marriage was only for heterosexuals. The fact that heterosexual marriage is presented culturally as one of the most significant achievements of a person’s life, that their church, their government, and their community have an interest in validating, is part of the institution of heterosexuality.

When I attend a heterosexual wedding, I am amazed at how institutionalized it all is. The tradition of the white dress, walking down an aisle, formal dress, expensive flowers and decorations, and endless pomp and display, all seem to say “Look at us. We are heterosexual. Everyone celebrate and validate our relationship!” I find weddings pointless and frivolous. I have never expected nor asked for validation from my community for who I love; I don’t care what people think and I don’t need their opinion. My partner and I are legally considered common-law spouses; this is an arrangement that works for us because we are considered a couple when it comes to financial arrangements such as health benefits, but without engaging in the tradition of marriage. Thank you Canada for progressive laws recognizing same-sex partnerships! I have attended one lesbian love ceremony; it was more creative and individual and it didn’t follow the heterosexual traditions. I am guessing a lot of lesbian love ceremonies are conducted that way. Our love is not institutionalized, and our culture is created from scratch.

Women have traditionally been either kept out of the workplace, or paid lower wages for the same work, or kept in low-paying service positions (secretaries, waitresses, etc) because society as a whole regards women as wives for men, and therefore we do not need good wages or careers of our own. Our role is to be wives and mothers and any paid employment is seen as secondary to that role. This economic situation is oppressive to all women; it keeps heterosexual women dependent on men, which leads to their abuse, and it makes life difficult for lesbians, who do not marry men and instead support ourselves.

Not only does this economic structure presume that lesbians either don’t exist or don’t matter, but heterosexuality is often one of the requirements for female workers. Women have often been required to dress in a feminine manner, where the requirements for what ‘feminine’ means are dictated by men. Compulsory dress codes for female workers have often included high heels, skirts, and makeup, all designed to mark us as man’s “other” and to market us as sexually attractive to men. Thanks to the feminist movement, dress codes have been relaxed and many workplaces allow women to wear pants and comfortable shoes and to skip the makeup. Nevertheless, some workplaces still have such dress codes and women often feel obligated to dress ‘feminine’ at work as a part of a professional appearance.

When women are working in low paid service jobs, such as receptionists, secretaries, store clerks, waitresses, and the like, they are expected to behave in a pleasing manner at all times, they are expected to put up with sexual harassment, and flirting with male bosses and customers often results in advantages such as more tips or not getting fired. Sometimes women in higher-up positions are also subject to sexual harassment, and they are often expected to put up with it silently and are discouraged from fighting back. Women in the workplace will often have to behave as if they are heterosexual in order to get by.

Compulsory heterosexuality can be found in the arts. About 99.99999% of all popular songs are about heterosexual love; characters in books and TV shows are nearly always heterosexual, and often when homosexuality is mentioned in popular culture it’s mentioned as the punch line of a joke. The end result of being socialized in our culture is a belief that normal people are heterosexual and that homosexuality is just something weird to joke about. This has been changing in recent years, but even TV shows such as The L Word present a view of lesbians that appeals to the male gaze and does not reflect lesbian reality.

Sexual slavery is an institution of compulsory heterosexuality. There is a global epidemic of female sexual slavery which is more obvious in some places than in others. Groups such as Isis and Boko Haram kidnap women and force them into sexual slavery; these men do not care about the feelings, sexual orientation, or humanity of the women they enslave; for them, anyone with a vagina is seen as a sexual servant for men, both for the sexual pleasure and the babies that she provides to her male captors. Female sexual slavery is present in rich countries too; in the form of prostitution (whether filmed or not), incest, rape, and wife-abuse.

All the above points are made in Adrienne Rich’s essay, and this is all true and expertly explained, with citations from other prominent feminists. These cultural factors all add up to heterosexuality being compulsory for women. Compulsory heterosexuality is real; it’s located in the way girls are socialized to believe that we will all grow up to be heterosexual, the way heterosexual love is romanticized but homosexual love is ridiculed and punished, the way heterosexual relationships are validated by religion and the state, the way heterosexual intercourse is considered the only kind of sex that is ‘real,’ the way lesbians are misrepresented in culture (either as objects of sexual titillation for men or as deviant, grotesque, and predatory) and because, in many countries, it is still illegal to be a lesbian. Attempts by transgenderists to enforce their belief that lesbians should be attracted to men who “feel female” is more compulsory heterosexuality.

Adrienne Rich makes a good point about the ideology of heterosexual romance being taught to girls as a form of grooming to prepare them for compulsory heterosexuality. This grooming is given to all girls; in straight women it can cause them to overemphasize the importance of male approval and relationships with men, leading them to put their own aspirations on hold in order to prioritize getting a husband. It also might make them vulnerable to abuse; because they are so eager for male attention, they are vulnerable to predatory men. In lesbian women it can cause them to doubt their own feelings for women, to push their feelings aside in an attempt to be ‘normal,’ and attempt heterosexuality even though they do not enjoy it.

Rich attempted to draw a parallel between women who refuse sexual slavery and institutions of male dominance with women who are homosexually oriented. This is a mistake. Women of any sexual orientation can refuse male domination and fight patriarchy. The sisterhood felt by women who are fighting for women’s rights is not homosexual in nature.

Rich describes women who are mistreated in sexual relationships with men who care for each other as sisters and provide each other the support they don’t get from men.

“It is the women who make life endurable for each other, give physical affection without causing pain, share, advise, and stick by each other.”

This sisterhood between heterosexual women is positioned as being a part of a ‘lesbian continuum.’

“If we consider the possibility that all women–from the infant suckling her mother’s breast, to the grown woman experiencing orgasmic sensations while suckling her own child, perhaps recalling her mother’s milk-smell in her own; to two women, like Virginia Woolf’s Chloe and Olivia, who share a laboratory; to the woman dying at ninety, touched and handled by women–exist on a lesbian continuum, we can see ourselves as moving in and out of this continuum, whether we identify ourselves as lesbian or not.”

There is no such thing as a ‘lesbian continuum.’ Straight women who support each other are not in any way engaging in lesbianism, because lesbianism is the state of having a homosexual orientation, not the practice of supporting women. A political lesbian is defined as “a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men,” and actually having sexual desire for women is not required. Rich’s ‘lesbian continuum’ theory only fits into the theory of political lesbianism, it is not relevant to female homosexuals.

Those of us who feel romantic and sexual desire for women do not experience friendships or political alliances with straight women as being points on a lesbian continuum. Only romantic and sexual love between women who are attracted to women is lesbianism. Heterosexual women do not experience lesbianism because they do not experience romantic and sexual attraction for women. This theory that presents bonding between straight women as being ‘lesbian’ in nature disappears actual lesbians. It is ironic that in an essay where the author laments the erasure of lesbians from feminist theory, she promotes a feminist theory that erases lesbians.

A critique of the institution of heterosexuality is important for both lesbian and straight women. For lesbians, this critique names the systems that enforce homophobia and that limit or destroy lesbian lives. For straight women, this critique lets them see how they’ve been groomed to put men first, and challenges them to put more emphasis on sisterhood and female friendship. This critique can be made without erasing the reality of sexual orientation.

The idea that heterosexuality is being imposed upon women by men is a misleading way to explain that men have created power structures that oppress women. Heterosexuality is the romantic and sexual attraction that women feel for men, it is not the name of the power structures that oppress us. The power structures of patriarchy such as the institution of marriage, female sexual slavery, and the wage gap, put women in a position of servitude, but any number of these women in a position of servitude might have a true sexual orientation toward males. These women deserve to be liberated from systems of power and so they may experience their attraction to men as men’s equals and form healthy relationships with them. It is not an innate sexual and romantic attraction that is being imposed upon women—one cannot possibly impose a sexual orientation on people—it is the power relations between the sexes that are being imposed.

It’s in our best interest to describe compulsory heterosexuality accurately. There are social institutions that make women dependent on men and influence women to overemphasize the importance of their romantic attachments to men, and these institutions need to be named and dismantled, in order for heterosexual women to able to have healthy romantic relationships. There are social institutions that celebrate heterosexuality while erasing or belittling homosexuality, and that force lesbians into the closet, or cause violence against us, and they need to be named and dismantled, so that lesbians can live our lives as lesbians.

The process of becoming woman-identified, that is, putting women first in our lives and our politics, is a good thing for women of all sexual orientations, but woman-identification is not the same thing as sexual orientation. There are straight women who work tirelessly for women’s rights, but this does not make them homosexual. There are homosexual women who work against women’s rights, and they are not woman-identified.

It is important for feminist theory to accurately reflect the reality of women’s lives. Feminist theory is the way that women make sense of their situation so they can work on changing it. Disappearing sexual orientation is not compatible with good feminist theorizing.

40 thoughts on “Compulsory heterosexuality

  1. Compulsory heterosexuality is an interesting idea and definitely makes me wonder. You make good points as well and those also make me wonder. While I know it’s possible to induce desire in people (the way crafty marketing induces desire for certain products), I wonder if that can translate to feelings for other people. It’s also possible to idealize others and be attracted to the idealization and not the person. It also makes me think of cults and brainwashing and how convinced people are of their feelings only to realize later that it was a result of the brainwashing. I think there are elements of the larger society that mirror what happens in a cult. If nothing else, reading your article as well as Rich’s has given me some good food for thought. I’ll be interested to read others’ thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “Heterosexuality is institutionalized, but it’s also a real sexual orientation.”

    Are we sure though? I mean, have there been any studies proving that heterosexuality actually exists? Have they ever found out why some people are born heterosexual? Anyone who knows about human sexuality can see that our bodies were clearly not made for heterosexuality, so how could it even evolve?

    Look, I’m not bashing straights, some of my best friends are straight (well, just one, but she vouches for everything I say about straights), but I’m just saying there’s not much data on this issue, and until we do, we have to remain skeptical. There are plenty of people who say they are straights, but personal testimony is not proof. Self-reporting is notoriously unreliable.

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        • I think the theory of evolution provides clear evidence for heterosexuality! Humans reproduce via sex; without heterosexual PIV intercourse, there would be no reproduction; therefore there is clearly a very strong selection pressure to make humans want to have heterosexual PIV intercourse. (The fact that some people are not interested in heterosexual sex doesn’t disprove the point, any more than the existence of the congentially blind disproves the functional utility of eyesight, or for that matter the existence of intersex people disproves sexual dimorphism).

          As a practicing heterosexual I was interested in your discussion about weddings – it was the most succint description I have seen of why I don’t want one. I have no problem with marriage, and have been de facto married for a long time, but I can’t be doing with the wedding stuff. But then I have never been very good at or interested in performing femininity etiher.

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    • Most of all sexually reproducing species are heterosexual, it’s how we all evolved to reproduce. Also, this “heterosexuality don’t real” twaddle turns up far too often and is just as offensive on a personal level as saying homosexuality isn’t real.


        • Now, don’t get into a fight, you two. This blog is now against political lesbianism and believes in the existence of heterosexual orientation. You are welcome to hold a skeptical view of this, but I don’t want to host a whole debate about it.

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        • I was being sarcastic. I don’t actually disbelieve in heterosexuality. I believe it’s probably not the majority, although I could be wrong on that. It’s also pretty clear that our bodies are not made exclusively for heterosexuality or reproduction.


        • You should, because that shit gets said in all seriousness, and I am sick of being told I have been brainwashed by the patriarchy because True Feminists must magically turn lesbian, and I have no wish to change who I am or who I love. I find that idea insulting to both orientations.

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  3. Have you ever read the essay “Capitalism and Gay Identity”? You can find it online. It is from a gay Marxist perspective and deals with a lot of the themes mentioned here, about how economic institutions perpetuate familial structures.

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  4. Great write-up! This essay has always been one of my favorites – it is what was used to introduce me to women’s studies/Queer Theory. The idea of compulsory heterosexuality is theoretical gold, but she indulged a bit with that lesbian continuum stuff. I can sympathize, in part, with the position that women are open to lesbian relationships … but the way I read her – she is almost problematizing hetero relationships as a form of false consciousness unless women have had at least one lesbian interaction. Of course, there are powerful bonds between women but I am still scratching my head on the lesbian part. The essay could’ve done without it in entirety. I feel like her theory of the lesbian continuum was, in a rather clumsy way, trying to express what Audre Lorde did with the erotic.. but she failed.

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  5. Love this post, and the conclusion is perfect: “Disappearing sexual orientation is not compatible with good feminist theorizing.” Yes, yes, yes. And a million “Amens” to “…but woman-identification is not the same thing as sexual orientation.”

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  6. As Sonia Johnson said – “I am hopelessly heterosexual.” That was before she fell in love with another woman. Then she said something to the effect that if she was not hopelessly heterosexual then no woman was. It shows the situation is more fluid than you think. However that’s not to say that any woman who feels “hopelessly heterosexual” should try to make it otherwise. It’s not something to force either way.


    • I find it interesting that Sonia Johnson would eventually come to reject all relationships, equating the coupling of any two people as master/slave relationships.

      That’s the problem with heternormativity, though. We don’t know if Sonia was always bisexual or a lesbian but *believed* she was heterosexual since that’s what Mormonism taught her. Calling it fluid implies she had a choice to not see the world through the lens of male/female coupling. Her upbringing in a religious community wouldn’t give her one.


  7. Overall I agree that for whatever reason, people have a preference and the majority is hetero. Except that maybe the majority is really bi with a strong social expectation to be straight and a lot of repression against same-sex attraction. Maybe there’s really only a 5-20% that is completely straight or completely homo and everyone else is amBIvalent. It just makes sense considering how much effort goes into enforcing heteronormativity from a very young age. Why would something that was unfailingly natural for everyone have to be so enforced and drilled into you? That doesn’t make sense.

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    • I have been known to claim that most straight people are actually closeted bisexuals and most bisexual people are actually closeted gays, but that’s probably just wishful thinking. #BanStraightPeople2k17 #DownWithStraight 🌈 💣


      • ::side-eyes anyone suggesting, wishfully, ironically or otherwise, that I don’t know my own sexual orientation after spending the 35 years of my adulthood attracted to not only one sex, but in love with one person::


  8. I find the whole “everyone is really bisexual” line fucking creepy. It’s exactly what’s used against homosexual people – primarily lesbians, of course – to push them into “examining” their sexual orientation. (Not preference: orientation. Preferences are dark hair vs light, full lips or thin, blue eyes or brown. They are not the sex of the people to whom you are attracted.)

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    • Well, I agree with you. Even if bisexuality was the default (something which, although I suspect may be right, remains to be proven), it should not be used against homosexuals or anyone else. As long as the patriarchy and heteronormativity are in place, we’ll never know what people’s natural sexual preferences are.


  9. I had the bad fortune to be a bridesmaid in a heterosexual wedding once. I remember noticing that on the wedding day I along with all the other bridesmaids were busy running around the house putting flowers in the right place and getting into weird veiled fights with the groom’s mother. At the same time we were doing all that stressful work the groom was sitting upstairs drinking beer with his buddies! I realized that the pageantry of straight weddings is an exact picture of what straight marriage is: the woman doing all the work around the house and experiencing intergenerational tension with other women while the man sits around and does jack shit.

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  10. Good post and I agree that political lesbianism has never been a good idea. I’ve always thought it was ridiculous to tell women “just become a lesbian” as if co-opting an entire sexual orientation was the solution to women’s oppression. It takes away men’s responsibility to stop being abusers and once again scapegoats women’s sexual behavior which has always been unfairly under a microscope since forever.

    However I do have a disagreement with this:

    “The idea that heterosexuality is being imposed upon women by men is a misleading way to explain that men have created power structures that oppress women.”

    Heteronormativity, by it’s very definition, is imposed on women for the purpose of maintaining those very power structures you’re talking about. Those power structures wouldn’t exist if men didn’t exercise ownership of women as reproductive and domestic slaves of men. This requires an imposition of heterosexuality, i.e. that a woman must love and submit to men no matter what. Or else it’s a “sin” or somehow proof of women’s lack of worth or whathaveyou. The wage gap, lack of political representation, ect all stem from women being segregated from participating in society on the basis of her reproductive capacity which is undeniably connected to PIV and heteronormativity (“it’s my religion and culture that women must marry men and stay home” ect). If it’s not heteronormativity causing problems like bride kidnapping and forced marriages, I don’t know what is. It’s not like they are asking them if they are lesbian.

    Yes, heterosexuality is a sexual orientation. The idea that straight women don’t exist is ludicrous. The suggestion that all women are bisexual or sexually fluid and therefore can stop being straight or lesbian is dumb. It’s just more women’s erasure. However just because a sizable chunk of the population of women are attracted to men sexually or romantically doesn’t make the imposition of heterosexuality any less a cause of women’s oppression IMO. In fact it tricks women into believing male dominance is equivalent to heterosexuality and normalizes women’s oppression. Any ideology or belief in mandatory PIV is essentially a male supremacist one though. Whether or not a woman herself is heteronormative doesn’t change the fact that men enforce heterosexuality for the purposes of using women to birth more soldiers and workers. You can’t have the Patriarchy and all it’s structures without more soldiers and workers keeping the whole thing going, unless I’m missing something?

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  11. I just want to add that the whole idea of men sitting around talking about sexuality and making grand statements of it makes my skin crawl. Maybe it’s because I’m a misandrist, or maybe it’s because historically speaking men have always felt that they are the authority on all matters relating to female behavior.

    I really really cannot stand the bullshit “studies” men keep doing to prove their own pornsick fantasies that women are somehow “fluid” enough and therefore flexible enough to fulfill every sexual demand made of her. The whole thing smacks of men giving themselves an excuse to pressure women into doing things they don’t want to do.

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    • And men aren’t sitting around discussing whether their heterosexuality is innate and whether they’d be better off doing it with each other. MGTOW comes to mind but I don’t think any of them are serious about “turning gay.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi again purplesage, my own knowledge of MGTOW is outdated which is why it’s news to me they’ve talked about going gay. I remember Paul Elam’s little cult saying something similar, or at least bringing gay men into the fold since they can be just as misogynistic as straight men.

        Yes that is an excellent point that men aren’t having these conversations. Not even men who are fairly competent feminist allies are talking about this or questioning heterosexuality, and since heternormativity is a huge problem for women’s rights, I would have to wonder why. The silence from them almost speaks volumes does it not? I think perhaps it could be that men experience sexual issues from a standpoint of entitlement, since they have never had to question their own personal preference (unless they are gay or bi of course).

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  12. It just makes sense considering how much effort goes into enforcing heteronormativity from a very young age. Why would something that was unfailingly natural for everyone have to be so enforced and drilled into you? That doesn’t make sense.

    This. Programming and drilling heteronormativity into children from birth is the only way you are going to get a majority heterosexual. And it works.

    Except that maybe the majority is really bi with a strong social expectation to be straight and a lot of repression against same-sex attraction.

    In the case of women I think the majority would strongly favor their own sex in every way if not for the massive 24/7 pro hetero anti lesbian programming/campaign/psyops they are exposed to from birth, which is massively enhanced by the pro male anti female programming/campaign/psyops of “normal socialization” in this society. The latter tactic, of undermining the worth of a child’s own sex, is deployed only against girls, of course, not boys, so there is more conspiring to prevent lesbians than to prevent gay men.

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  13. Purple Sage! I enjoyed this post very much. I’ve been thinking a lot about Adrienne Rich in the last few years, especially “compulsory heterosexuality”. She wrote that in 1980, I first read it in 1985, when I was in my first (and, I am proud to say ONLY) women’s studies course in university –when such courses were still about women, and feminism. I find your criticism of Rich provocative and interesting — I’m not so sure I agree that the idea of a lesbian continuum is a mistake, though. Many women decide to become lesbians in their middle years, and I dare say such a decision is more difficult now for women of all ages than it was in the ’70s and ’80s. I never read her article to mean there was no such thing as heterosexuality, but in the time and context within which Rich was writing and theorizing about this, punishment for lesbianism and especially for feminist organizing (including exploring our own sexuality) was brutal. Including by other women. One of the most refreshing and interesting things I found about Rich’s essay was the idea that any woman might be, or can be a lesbian. We don’t have to cave into our fear and and mistrust of women — which IS institutionalized and coerced upon us. I don’t think that Adrienne Rich erased sexual orientation — I think she opened a space for us to imagine the celebratory aspects of female bonding, intimacy and solidarity — and to imagine that lesbianism isn’t a hateful, lonely or evil thing for women. that was the important thing for me about understanding that lesbianism could be a continuum. But I am thoughtful about your critique that the idea of a lesbian continuum could diminish the importance and integrity of a commitment to lesbianism in all aspects of our lives (did i read you right there?).
    I really like that you wrote about this essay — the post/queer/trans promoters have taken the phrase “compulsory heterosexuality” out of context, and disappeared women and women’s experiences from it entirely — I’m grateful that you offered this thoughtful, feminist and respectful analysis of how the essay can be meaningful thirty-seven years later. Thank you.

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    • I agree, and I don’t think a lesbian continuum should be confused with the idea of political lesbian which is the idea that women can just “convert” to being a lesbian for whatever reason. Later in life lesbianism appears to be the result of a long drawn out process rather than a short term conscious choice, which IMO is what makes it different than political lesbianism.

      I am also not comfortable with the idea or implication that later in life lesbians are fake lesbians or somehow less lesbian than lifelong lesbians. Without a doubt there is a huge difference of life experiences between lifelong lesbians and later in life lesbians. I think those differences are worth talking about in a way where both women’s experiences are given serious consideration.

      I think it’s important to note that gay men’s sexual behavior and history is never second guessed the way women’s sexual behavior and history is second guessed. Part of the reason why rape is almost never reported or prosecuted is because the assumption that women’s behavior must be picked a part and looked under a microscope. Men including gay men are universally treated as 100% legitimate no matter what. If a gay man came out in his 80s in a nursing home, nobody would question it at all in fact they would pity him for having lived his life in a heteronormative lie. Andrea Dworkin was a lesbian, and I’ve seen people question her lesbianism because she was married to John Stoltenberg. John Stoltenberg is gay, but I have yet to see anyone question it despite that he was married to Andrea Dworkin. I think responses to Dworkin/Stoltenberg situations are very telling of what people believe about men and women’s sexualities and who they compartmentalize as legitimate.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks for this post, I really appreciate the clarity and thoughtfulness of your writing style.
    For some reason, I’ve met a lot of women invested in the idea of political lesbianism, who have never heard of the term, who never read the theory about it, and who were not yet born during the period when it was a popular concept. Many of these women are not even feminists. They are frustrated with the abuse men have inflicted on them and are looking for an alternative source of intimacy. Or they are trying to “prove” they dont need men. This is the sentiment I think “queer” heterosexual women are trying to express.
    Although second wave feminists did theorize about political lesbianism, I think the origin of the idea comes from patriarchy. The stereotypes of lesbians being man-haters or damanged straight women predate second wave theory by a good while, and possibly mirror the actual beliefs and circumstances of some women who were seen by the public as “lesbians”. What I see in the concept of political lesbianism is a distorted heteronormative image of us: men believing women “turn gay” because of abuse, and women believing it’s possible and trying to do it as a form of resistance.

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    • re: “damaged straight women”

      Yet there is no male equivalent to statements like this, nor does anyone believe that a man is “damaged goods” for having been abused or having sex. Sex for men is an unquestioned need, as is men’s need of love and support. Men can openly need these things because men are human and nobody questions men’s humanity. Nobody would ever blame men for wanting these things, or for turning to other men for intimacy, support, or mutual protection in certain situations like in the prison system. Nobody shames “men who have sex with men.”

      There is no doubt that straight women turning to lesbians can be problematic and deserves an in depth discussion, however, once we start repeating men’s stereotypes of straight women of being opportunists or damaged goods then the point as been lost (at least IMO).

      This is the point in which I bow out of the conversation entirely because I see exactly where this is going: into the direction of the misogynist narrative where straight women are universally jeered at for showing the slightest bit of self-preservation and awareness of who her oppressor is, rejecting misogyny and men’s abuse, and being characterized as damaged goods because they are forced to live with the physical and psychological consequences of men’s violence. It’s victim blaming and victim shaming, and again, no man would ever be treated like this. Men love to punish women for rejecting them and apparently so do women.

      Anyway, thanks PurpleSage for allowing me to briefly comment here. Take care.


      • “Nobody shames ‘men who have sex with men.'”
        This is inaccurate. Homophobia exists, and affects both gay men and lesbians.

        “Once we start repeating men’s stereotypes of straight women of being opportunists or damaged goods then the point has been lost.”
        What I (poorly) tried to express in my comment was that the political lesbianism conversation cannot be had without reference to these stereotypes because they inform the unspoken assumptions of the culture in which the theory was born. I would even argue that the theory just gave a name to something that was already happening organically/apolitically. It’s certainly happening now, probably for the reasons you mention in your last paragraph, among women who have never read anything by radical feminists. And regardless of their actual motivations, the idea that any woman can become a lesbian (and might do so as a response to oppression) is one that a lot of men seem to hold. That tells me that straight men themselves don’t actually believe in women’s innate heterosexuality. Which is interesting, and probably explains the relentless 24/7 propoganda and coercion.

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  15. “Only romantic and sexual love between women who are attracted to women is lesbianism. Heterosexual women do not experience lesbianism because they do not experience romantic and sexual attraction for women.”

    Last time the symptoms of my severe ill health abated enough, I read this blog entry, and it did offend me a bit. Like the above, obliquely seeming to me to be saying that homoromantic heterosexual women – like myself – don’t exist, and that the same-sex romances of asexual and bisexual women don’t matter, or figure into a real category.

    I do agree though that it’s not helpful on several levels to have the phrase political lesbian, when that’s not the same thing as having a lesbian sexual and romantic orientation. And, I think there’s nothing wrong with people wanting to only have relationships with people of the same orientation as themselves.

    What I do think though, is that it can be very hard for people to empathise with and to understand the orientations of people who have different orientations to their own. I mean, from my point of view as a non lesbian, if a non lesbian woman is genuinely in love with a lesbian, is happy to have sex with her, and is on the same page as her regarding monogamy or non-monogamy, and, they have a great friendship, I don’t see what the issues are that makes their relationship unsatisfactory and unacceptable. But when I say that, I’m not saying there aren’t issues, just that I personally don’t see them, and that could be because, I’m not a lesbian myself.

    Likewise though, I think many lesbians, don’t understand what it’s like to be a woman with a non lesbian sexual and/or romantic orientation. You may think that if you’re a heterosexual woman, and maybe a bisexual/asexual one et, that deep down your motivation and needs are to be in a romantic relationship with a man and to be physically intimate with him, and to prioritise that, so if you’re focussing on your love for women and on women’s company instead, or, on anything else, that you’re just in a sense evading who you truly are, and wasting your time on a neurosis – but that’s not how it actually works, for lots of us, maybe most. If I can use an analogy, being a woman attracted to men is like being one who wants to have biological children. Just because you like babies, it doesn’t hold that you want to have a baby every year until you’re past menopause. If I knew that having a baby would probably kill me, I might incredibly strongly motivated to not get pregnant, and to have a termination if I did. If I had four children under the age of five, I might really not want to get pregnant again at that moment – likewise, if I was the sole carer for a seriously ill parent, or I was in poverty. There’s been times in my life when I’ve wanted to prioritse my work or spirituality instead. Life circumstances, and all the rest of our personality does matter to us. There are non lesbian women who are happy to be celibate, to not live with men, and, yes to be in intimate relationships with other women, and it’s a genuinely motivated happiness and need.

    One huge reason for non lesbian women wanting the closest intimate relationships with other women which I’m familiar with, but which you don’t mention, is disability or serious illness. Women with this issue frequently want their carers and their household helps to be people whom they have close relationships with and trust, not Social Care strangers sent in to intrude on their homes and personal spaces by the government, or paid help from advertisements, and definitely not institutional care. Whether there’s a biological basis for it, or it’s socially conditioned, women do tend to have better skills at domesticity, childcare, and being senstiive and supportive and empathetic towards the sick, than men do, and to understand women better, and so women often want a female carer – and, not everyone has a supportive sister or mother on hand. This was the case with me, when I was searching for a girlfriend. I also made friends for whom it was the same. Carers are usually of absolutely crucial and life-pivotal importance to the lives of disabled and ill women like us, and, I don’t think it’s fair to try to take the option of having these away from us. Saying we should be in relationships with men, is irrelevant when that’s not going to solve our care needs, especially if we want a trad gender role undomesticated and breadwinner role man, which it’s just a fact of life that lot of women do.

    I don’t actually think most women are heterosexual in the usually meant sense of being emotionally obsessed with being close to men and very motivated to be physically intimate with them. I think that was a 20th Century stereotype which is becoming obsolete. I think a lot of women traditionally looked upon a man as primarily a provider, and many still do, and if they have their own money, even say a trust fund or generous financial support from the government, they’re pn a scale of not that fussed to strongly anti-motivated about getting a relationship with a man. And, recently a lot of women have been coming out as asexual and in effect saying, actually I am not interested in sex full stop, regardless of how extremely heterosexual society makes me feel I am supposed to be. I see this all around me, and have for years. I hear in Japan that people have become seriously uninterested in having relationships, and I think our societies will soon be going the same way.

    I don’t think I’m on the same page as the feminism in this blog but thanks for letting me comment.


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