Seriously, Autostraddle?

Autostraddle published another super-gross article that takes an element of women’s oppression and rebrands it as “empowering.” (Of course, there is no end of articles like this in the world—neoliberalism has been deliberately rebranding oppression as empowerment for at least three decades, for the purpose of destroying leftist movements and supporting capitalism.)

Anyway, this article is called “How My Dad’s Dirty Magazines Shaped My Queer Sexuality.”  Like most sex-pozzie articles on Autostraddle, this should have come with a damn trigger warning.

The author narrates how, as a young teen, she used to come home quickly after school to look through her dad’s magazines while she had an opportunity to be alone in the house. She started on motorcycle magazines with sexy women draped over the motorcycles like decorations, and then moved on to magazines with real nudity, then eventually moved on to Internet porn from there. She says she was about 13.

She thinks the whole experience was positive and empowering:

“More powerful than guilt, shame or feeling just plain ugly was the sense of empowerment I got from those magazines. I believe that sexual images of women are a positive thing. Porn and dirty magazines were a huge part of finding myself, taking ownership of my sexuality and seeing other women empowered by theirs. Looking through my dad’s dirty magazines was an integral part of my self-discovery as a queer woman.”

Does anyone else cringe when they hear the word empowerment, because of the ridiculous misuse of this word by third-wave sex-pozzies?

Being a passive object who is sexualized by other people is the exact opposite of empowerment. The people with the power are those who get to be seen as full human beings and who have the ability to reduce others to objects. One of the most important elements of third-wave sex-pozzie politics is the use of disingenuous claims that are so obviously untrue that one wonders how anyone can claim them with a straight face. The claim that black is white, up is down, freedom is slavery, submission is empowerment! Sorry, sex-pozzies, but this is a bald-faced lie, and you look totally silly saying it.

A lot of the things this writer describes happened to me, too. I used to also come home from school before anyone else in my family and relish the time I had alone to look at my own dad’s magazine stash. I also learned the joy of looking at naked women at the ripe age of 13. I also moved on to Internet porn eventually, having developed a taste for it. Like everyone else in the goddamn world, I learned to sexualize objectification, dominance and submission. How could I not—this stuff is everywhere. It’s in our own homes as we grow up.

The difference between this writer and me is that I became a radical feminist and she did not. She is continuing to sexualize objectification while I am writing against it. Here’s my take on why it’s not “empowering” to “discover your sexuality” while looking at your dad’s magazine stash.

First of all, your own sexuality is not what you see other people creating and publishing, your own sexuality is your own thoughts, feelings, desires, needs, and wants. You don’t learn about yourself by internalizing someone else’s idea of sexuality. The best way to learn about your own sexuality is to just interact with your peers in a normal way, and discover who strikes you as attractive and what you find yourself wanting to do with them. You also learn about your own sexuality by masturbating WITHOUT PORN and by thinking about things that naturally interest you.

Using porn is not discovering your sexuality, using porn is looking upon depictions of sexual abuse and learning to find it arousing. There are no depictions of healthy sexuality in commercial pornography. There is dominance and submission, and men are always dominant. Women are objects for consumption, we are painted with make-up, shaved, placed in submissive poses, and sold for entertainment. We are passive things being acted upon. Women’s sexuality is not being portrayed in porn. Men’s idea of what women should be is what’s portrayed in porn.

The girl who uses porn learns to think of herself and other girls as sexualized objects, and learns to identify with both the sexualized object and the oppressor at the same time. She learns to crave being sexualized and objectified because that’s what gives girls validation that they are worthy. She learns to identify with the male gaze and look upon other girls as objects for her use. When a “queer” girl discovers her sexuality through porn, she discovers a world of dominance and submission where she can play both parts, oppressor and oppressed, and where objectification is what makes sex sexy. This is all a process of grooming—it prepares her to be a sexual libertarian and to accept sexual abuse.

It took me several years to unlearn what I learned from porn, to see myself as a subject rather than an object, to understand that to objectify is to abuse, to really understand and feel that my worth as a person is not based on my ability to be a sex object, to separate my own real desires from what I learned to sexualize while viewing porn. The person who helped me the most with this was Gail Dines. Her Ted talk “Growing Up in a Pornified Culture” is incredibly valuable.

What the author of this article is remembering fondly and practically gushing about is something that is abusive and that she hasn’t been able to recognize as abuse. How strange it is to browse through Autostraddle, which is apparently a magazine for “queer women,” and find articles that sexualize the abuse of queer women. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt sick to my stomach after reading one of these articles because something negative in my life that I’ve worked to overcome is being presented as “empowering.”

Of course, I could just ignore Autostraddle entirely, but I read this stuff and write this stuff to “pay it forward”—I learned feminism from anonymous bloggers, and I’m doing the same for anyone else out there who needs it. Women need to know that there’s something more helpful out there than the stupid abusive bullshit that passes for “feminism” in sex-pozzie publications. Women deserve to be able to learn that being positive toward sex means being negative toward abuse. We deserve to learn to identify abuse, since our culture is constantly trying to confuse us by selling abuse as “empowerment.”

There is a vague, eerie suggestion of incest in the idea that girls can “learn their sexuality” from something their dad does. The fact that there is a long tradition of dads leaving porn around the house for their kids to find is a sign of how little anyone cares about sexual abuse. It’s totally normal for dads to groom their kids into abusive sexuality by leaving porn around. It’s totally normal because abuse is totally normal. This writer really should start thinking about the negative effects of dads showing their kids porn instead of waxing lyrically about it.

I hope that, now that people only use porn on the Internet, and every idiot knows how to delete their browsing history, this tradition will stop. But that’s hardly comforting considering that 11-year-olds have their own smart phones, and what they will be exposed to there is much worse than the pin-ups we used to look at.

This is the concluding paragraph from the article:

“In a time where queerness wasn’t as accepted, I’m thankful that I had an outlet (however pervy it was) to explore my identity. Dirty magazines and porn were a large part of my self-discovery and have positively influenced my sexuality as it is today. Even though identifying myself as queer when I was young seemed terrifying, seeing women unabashedly owning their sexuality taught me to be unashamed of sexuality. I missed a lot of shame and guilt surrounding sex, because I introduced myself to it so young. Being in tune with my sexuality, or even being in tune with my confusion — just simply letting myself feel and experience has led to me being a sexually empowered adult. I thank and honor the perverted 11-year-old I was; she created the proud queer woman and writer I am today.”

Nah, porn didn’t “positively influence” your sexuality. This whole article is a demonstration of the grooming you experienced, that you still have not been able to escape from. One of the primary things that helped me recognize my own grooming was the Ted Talk by Gail Dines that I posted above. She mentions that she has gone to prisons to interview convicted sex offenders, and they have told her that they hardly had to groom their victims at all, because the victims were already ready and accepting of sexual abuse. Victims are coming “pre-groomed” now, thanks to porn itself and also porn culture in general. The sex-pozzitive movement is a movement that gets people to accept porn, prostitution, dominance and submission—it’s a process of grooming. Anyone who wants to put an end to sexual abuse needs to name this, analyze it, and then stop it.

It seems so incredibly obvious that I can’t understand how even Autostraddle doesn’t see it. Women who love women shouldn’t be learning their sexuality from abusive men.

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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.

Femininity

Femininity is a multifaceted concept. We use this word often without always talking about what we mean by it, and sometimes this leads to misunderstandings. You can say the same thing about masculinity too, but here I’m going to explore the multiple meanings of femininity.

From the Critical Dictionary of Feminism and Postfeminism:

Female: In a literal context, a word which refers to an individual who possesses a particular set of biological characteristics, including the ability to give birth. It is this to be differentiated from ‘femininity,’ which describes a socially-constructed image of femaleness.

Femininity: One of Simone de Beauvoir’s most famous aphorisms is ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’ (The Second Sex.) It is an apt summary of the feminist claim that, while femaleness is a consequence of biology, femininity originates from within societal structures. Femininity is thus a set of rules governing female behavior and appearance, the ultimate aim of which is to make women conform to a male ideal of sexual attractiveness. Masquerading as ‘natural’ womanhood, it is actually something imposed upon the female subject, in spite of the fact that the pressure to conform to the culturally dominant feminine ideal is internalized to the extent that women effectively tailor themselves to fit it—hence the existence of an immensely profitable fashion and beauty industry.

(Emphasis mine.)

Feminists also identify femininity as a set of behaviors that result from women’s oppression by men and that sometimes overlap with PTSD symptoms:

“Masculinity is simply a conglomeration of the personality traits necessary for the patriarchal soldier-rapist: physically strong, emotionally cauterized, rational, domineering, cruel. All of this is supposed to add up to “handsome” as well. Likewise femininity is ultimately a description of the personality that results from trauma and powerlessness: weak, passive, yielding, emotional, hyper-vigilant to the needs of the dominators and desperate for the dominator’s attention.” —Lierre Keith

If we look in the regular dictionary, we find more definitions, such as:

  • The quality or condition of being feminine.
  • A characteristic or trait traditionally held to be female.
  • The sum of all attributes that convey (or are perceived to convey) womanhood.
  • The quality or nature of the female sex; womanliness.
  • The trait of behaving in ways considered typical for women

The regular dictionary identifies that femininity can be socially constructed (“ways considered typical for women”) but also leaves room for femininity to mean traits that are intrinsic to females (“the quality or nature of the female sex”).

The ‘quality or nature of the female sex’ could be interpreted to mean such physical features as breasts and vaginas, things that women truly do have, in addition to cultural ideas about what women are like, which may be incorrect. According to this definition, we could call things like menstruation or XX chromosomes feminine. This isn’t the way that feminists use the word, but it is possible for an English speaker to use it this way.

Where femininity does mean socially-constructed ideas, what those ideas are can vary widely according to who is constructing them. Here I propose several different ideas of femininity constructed by different sources, and this is by no means an exhaustive list:

Religion/conservatives:
Femininity is motherhood and obedience to a husband, nurturing of children, soft-spoken, caring, and sensitive.

Sit-coms/advertising:
Femininity is an obsession with shoes, purses, and makeup, a love for inane conversation or gossip, being overly excited about silly things, being primarily concerned with physical appearance and being beautiful to men.

Porn:
Femininity is sexual submission, a love for being degraded and abused, a desire to be constantly used as a receptacle, and appearance-wise, is a set of physical attributes such as long hair, large breasts, a youthful appearance, no body hair and minimal labia.

Marketing/consumer products geared to youth:
Femininity is a love for all things cute and sparkly, the color pink, gentle and cooperative activities, dresses, bows, ribbons, princesses, and dolls.

Anti-feminism/male chauvinism:
Femininity is women being too weak, timid, and emotional to do serious jobs, being only suited for home and family life, being naturally better at taking care of children and doing housework, and existing to serve men in sexual and domestic duties.

The above are cultural ideas that were deliberately invented and promoted for specific purposes. For example, the idea that women are all obsessed with shoes and makeup is deliberately constructed by advertisers to sell shoes and makeup. The idea that women are too weak and emotional to work outside the home is deliberately constructed by men to keep women out of the workplace and financially dependent on men. But there are also aspects of femininity that are real human personality traits. These are the traits that have become associated with femininity because all women are assumed to have them and men are assumed not to have them. Personality traits such as gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, compassion, softness, and nurturing are assumed to be feminine traits. Truly, men and women could both have these traits, but boys are discouraged from displaying them while girls are encouraged to.

I have said before that I am not completely social constructionist; although I mostly am. There may be some truth to the idea that women are more likely to be caring and nurturing because we are the ones who give birth to babies. However, even if that is true, that doesn’t mean that all women are caring and nurturing and it doesn’t mean that men can’t be. Even if there is a high correlation between being one particular sex and having particular personality traits, that doesn’t mean we can generalize those traits across all people of that sex, and it doesn’t mean we should force them to act that way if they aren’t.

Sometimes when feminists talk about rejecting or abolishing femininity, other women feel insulted, confused or attacked because they believe we are trying to abolish their personalities or prevent them from wearing the clothes they want to wear. I think this is coming from a misunderstanding of what we mean by femininity. Feminists want to abolish harmful stereotypes, such as women being obsessed with shoes and makeup and being too emotional to work outside the home. We want to abolish the idea that some personality traits are only for women or for men. We also identify that the behaviors that result from being traumatized, as in the Lierre Keith quote above, will be gone when women are liberated from oppression. This does not mean that we want to forbid women from expressing their natural personality traits or to forbid women from wearing anything that is pink.

On this blog I have written many times about not being feminine and rejecting femininity, and I have been struggling to reconcile this against a growing certainty that I am a femme lesbian. What I finally figured out is that my natural personality traits are those traits considered feminine, and what I reject is the silly stereotypes about women that are presented in sit-coms and advertising. That is, I am caring and sensitive by nature, but I don’t obsess over my appearance or squeal over shoe sales.

I was just reading a post on Big Boo Butch asking whether it’s possible to be butch and gender critical. (She says yes—so do I.) I think the reason this is a question is that some gender critical feminists assume that butch is another “gender” or identity label belonging to identity politics and that it’s something along the same lines as calling yourself non-binary or genderqueer. This is why I think it’s different.

The idea of labelling yourself non-binary and getting people to call you “they” is rooted in a belief that your feelings about yourself, your personality, and your appearance make you inherently not female. However, females can have any sort of personality or appearance or feelings; any feelings felt by a woman are female feelings. The idea that certain personalities or appearances do not belong to women is not true and it’s sexism. In identity politics, the purpose of a gender identity is to deny biological sex and label the self as the opposite sex or neither sex based on internal feelings, personality, or appearance. I don’t agree with doing that, because it’s a denial of the reality of the body, but that doesn’t mean I disagree with identifying our personalities. People are welcome to label their personalities, using words such as masculine, feminine, or genderqueer; or other words such as introvert/extrovert, outgoing, shy, analytical, creative, or any number of things. These are just some of the things people say to describe who they are, and I’m certainly not trying to outlaw describing ourselves.

Where I disagree with the identity politics crowd is that they want other people to recognize and validate their chosen personality labels and use special language to refer to them. This is entirely unnecessary and can be downright narcissistic. I don’t care whether complete strangers feel that they are masculine or feminine any more than I care whether they feel they are analytical or creative. However, if I interact with someone on a regular basis, I will be able to tell what their personality is like, and if they are extroverted or genderqueer that will be obvious. There is no need for anyone to validate your personality—your personality is real and it comes through to people who interact with you, and they’ll be able to tell who you are even in the absence of a label. It’s not the label that’s important.

The reason I say I’m a femme lesbian is because I have the personality traits that are considered feminine, and I also have a particular fondness for butches—they have effects on me that other women, even other lesbians, don’t have. I think this is perfectly obvious (at least to other lesbians) and I don’t need anyone to validate it. If you know me then you know that I am compassionate and sensitive, and that I swoon over lesbians who are strong women and who don’t look or feel right in a dress. I don’t give a shit if people call me a femme or not, it’s not the label that is important, and there is no reason why complete strangers or even casual acquaintances need to know this or call me this.

Butch and femme are not ‘genders’ in the sense of labels meant to replace the person’s biological sex, they are just personality types. Both of these personality types belong to women, and we should just be referred to as women.

I think it’s wrong to deliberately perform a personality, behavior, or appearance that is not natural to you, which is why I don’t think women should try to adhere to stereotypes about women by performing artificial aspects of femininity. This goes both ways—women shouldn’t feel forced to perform aspects of femininity that don’t feel natural to them, and they also shouldn’t be forced to deliberately become more masculine through transition in an attempt to legitimate the masculine parts of their personalities. Either way they are not being themselves. Women should be able to express their personality traits and wear the clothing they like no matter where that happens to fall on the femininity–masculinity continuum, without having to call themselves anything other than women.

Sometimes I read complaints that I shouldn’t call women ‘masculine.’ If we define femininity as the ‘quality or nature of the female sex’ then anything a woman does is ‘feminine.’ So if a woman wears short hair and likes fixing cars, then that is feminine. I understand this line of thinking, because I too believe that anything a woman is interested in is a female interest and anything a woman wears is women’s clothing, and any feeling a woman has is a female feeling. However I think people who make this particular complaint are being pedantic, because it’s obvious that when I call a woman feminine or masculine I am situating her personality in relation to what society expects from women, and it’s obvious why I’m doing that—because my primary concern in writing this blog is to explore the differences between who women are and how women are treated and viewed by society. If I define femininity as anything any woman does, then I lose the language to talk about the difference between reality versus expectations when it comes to female appearance, behavior and mannerisms.

When I use the word femininity, you can usually assume that I’m talking about a set of cultural expectations placed on women that do not reflect the reality of who women are. If I am talking about real human personality traits that are considered feminine, I will specify that. If I call a woman masculine it’s not because I think her personality traits belong to men, it’s because that’s what society thinks, and it’s in our interest to point this out.

Emma’s labiaplasty

Meet Emma, who got a labiaplasty to give her the confidence to get out of an abusive relationship. This is a perfect example of someone who develops a hatred of her body as a result of being bullied and living in a misogynist culture and who got surgery rather than accepting her body.

“My name is Emma*, I’m 23 years-old and labiaplasty has changed my life.

When I was younger I lived with my father, my step-mother and two step-sisters. As we were only little, we used to have baths together. When I was seven years old I noticed that my inner labia started to stick out a little, and unfortunately my step-mother noticed too, and pointed it out in front of my step-sisters who laughed at me for it. The next time we had a bath together I tried to tuck myself in before they saw me but it didn’t work and I was once again teased for the way my labia poked out.

After that I decided to no longer have baths with my step-sisters. I vowed to never let anyone see me naked again – and I didn’t. I made sure that I always dressed myself and bathed alone.

As I grew older my labia grew longer and began to protrude even more. I was horrified and constantly thought there was something terribly wrong with me. From the age of 12 I considered surgery but I got to the point where I was so frustrated that I wasn’t normal that I almost went to cut them off myself with a pair of scissors.”

I can’t believe a mother made a negative comment about her 7-year-old’s labia! What on earth was she thinking? I don’t know why anyone would comment on a child’s genitals at all, and I especially don’t understand why anyone would want to give a child a sense of shame about her body. But shame she did. This girl was so ashamed of herself she wanted to cut herself with scissors, and all for no reason. There is nothing wrong with labia that stick out. Labia come in all different shapes and sizes and none of them are wrong. It is so, so important that women and girls learn to criticize the messages that tell us our bodies are wrong and reassure each other that despite what we may have heard, our natural bodies are acceptable and beautiful.

“I was too scared to talk to anyone about it, not even a doctor. When it came to sex education in school and all the books just showed this smooth clean vagina with nothing hanging out, I believed even more that I was abnormal. I was too scared to get changed in the high school locker rooms for fear that someone would see the bulge in my underwear, I never went swimming without wearing board shorts and there was no way I could get away with wearing yoga pants.”

I cringe when I see the words “smooth clean vagina.” She’s most likely talking about the vulva, not the vagina, and calling a vulva with no visible labia “clean” implies that labia are dirty. It’s clear that she’s learned to value a vulva with no visible labia. It’s sad that her sex education materials presented female genitals as just being a hole. Too often, sex education is just about how to prevent pregnancy, and the focus is entirely on the vagina, and the clitoris and labia are disappeared. Girls should have the opportunity to learn to value their real bodies and their capacity for sexual pleasure when they learn about sexuality. We should learn that vulvas are all unique and all beautiful. We certainly should not learn that vulvas are supposed to be hairless and flat like a Barbie doll.

There is an obvious cultural factor behind her body shame. The tendency to see women’s sexuality as being only receptive (that we exist for penetration) leads people to make sex education material that de-emphasizes those parts of women that exist for our sexual pleasure and that don’t exist for the purposes of procreation. It’s important to teach teens how to prevent pregnancy, but it’s also important to teach things like body-positivity and enthusiastic consent. Both men and women need to value and respect female sexual subjectivity and female pleasure.

The other cultural factor that contributes to women’s shame is pornography, which is not mentioned in the article, but is still the elephant in the room. Large numbers of people are getting their sex education from pornography, and it is teaching that vulvas are all hairless and have small labia.

“At 16 I got my first real boyfriend and it took me 6 months to even let him touch my vagina and when he finally did, he made an offhand comment that I was ‘weird and different’. This scarred me so deeply. He was the only person to have seen me naked since I was 7 years old (other than my regular female doctor). I ended up staying with him for 6 and a half years as I was so terrified that I wasn’t good enough for anyone else.”

Boy, do I have a rant about this asshole boyfriend! How on earth can anyone tell their romantic partner that their genitals are “weird and different?” That is so fucked.

Anyone who tells you that your labia are weird doesn’t actually like you, and should be dumped immediately. I don’t think this asshole boyfriend liked her or was even attracted to her. What’s up with “heterosexual” men who aren’t attracted to women? I actually am attracted to women, so let me explain some things.

When I’m attracted to a woman, she is special and magical to me. Her mere presence in the world makes the world seem like a better place. I get a smile on my face and a spring in my step just from interacting with her. Being close to her feels amazing, even if it’s just for a hug. When I see her naked, I’m in absolute heaven. The precise size and shape of her labia are irrelevent, just the fact that they’re hers makes them beautiful and sexy. I feel lucky and privileged when I get to see them and touch them. It’s completely impossible that I could feel these feelings for a woman and then call her labia “weird.” Partly because there’s no such thing as labia being weird—all of them are beautiful!—and partly because I would never want to hurt the woman I love.

This asshole boyfriend couldn’t possibly have felt romantic feelings for her, because if he did, he wouldn’t have said this. People who feel warm and happy in the presence of their beloved don’t make negative comments about their bodies. I think this dude had the idea of women that is taught to men through toxic masculinity and pornography—that women are not people to relate to and love, but are objects for men’s use, that their worth lies in how “sexy” they look according to some fucked-up standards, and that their bodies are supposed to be smooth and hairless.

Emma thought she didn’t deserve a better boyfriend, but the opposite was true—her boyfriend didn’t deserve her. Women need to learn how to love and respect themselves and require the men in their lives to respect them. We should have zero tolerance for these stupid misogynist turds. Any dude who wants a Barbie doll with no hair and no labia should be told to fuck off and die. You don’t like female genitals? Then don’t get into bed with a woman!

“I later discovered that he was a very emotionally abusive partner; he manipulated me and isolated me from all of my friends and family. When it got to the point that I realised it wasn’t a healthy relationship, I tried to leave him but I was so insecure that when he said ‘no one would want you the way you are’, I believed him.

I had spoken to him about the surgery and he had told me that he loved me exactly the way I was, but if it was something I wanted to do for myself, then go for it. I researched all about it for years but it wasn’t until I realised that the only way I was going to feel confident enough to break away from him was to go ahead with the surgery. That’s when I decided it was time to get serious and get a consultation.”

How incredibly sad that she didn’t feel like she was worth loving because of a perceived problem with her labia. There was never anything wrong with her in the first place, but because of being bullied and living in a misogynist culture she came to hate her genitals so much that the only thing she felt she could do was have them surgically altered.

“I did more research and that’s the first time I came across a website called the Labia Library where I discovered that women come in all different shapes and sizes too. I had no idea my whole life because everything I saw while growing up only showed this perfect smooth look. My mum has a bad back so I used to help her get in and out of the bath sometimes and so I had seen her naked plenty of times and she was the same as everything else I saw, just this normal looking vagina with nothing hanging out. Even though discovering this gave me a little relief, it was too late to heal me completely, the damage had been done over a number of years and I knew that deep down, I would never truly love myself the way I was.”

This is a really interesting (and sad) observation. As a young adult, she finally saw a variety of vulvas and sizes of labia, and realized that women aren’t as homogenous as she previously thought. But this still wasn’t enough to make her feel better because her years of body shame had crystallized into an intense hatred that she could not easily shake off. Shame about one’s body that originates in childhood can become very serious and difficult to recover from. However, although it may be difficult, it is possible to recover from it. I think that getting surgery to change the perceived problem is the wrong approach. Getting surgery means agreeing with the bully’s wrongful accusation that there is something wrong with a normal, healthy body part. It’s succumbing to shame instead of overcoming it. It’s letting the bully win. I believe the right approach is to name the bully as the problem and retrain the mind to see the body part as normal. Of course, identifying misogyny in the culture is important too.

Why? Because any surgery comes with possible complications, and one of the risks of labiaplasty is a loss of feeling in the remaining tissue. Because women shouldn’t have to change our bodies to accommodate other people’s misogyny. Because we should value our own sexual response enough to not want to risk losing it in order to meet someone else’s idea of what we should look like. Because being in a healthy, fully functioning body is way more important than looking the way misogynists want us to look. Because women are people, not sex objects. Arbitrarily deciding that some labia don’t look right and bullying women into believing that they should cut their labia off is woman abuse.

A small note on the topic of the agency of the individual: I am not going to start standing outside plastic surgery clinics and stopping women from getting surgeries. Feminism is not about policing individual women’s choices. What we need to do as feminists is name misogyny when we see it, name violence against women, raise consciousness about it, and collectively change the culture from a woman-hating culture to a woman-affirming one, so that fewer women will develop hatred toward themselves. Women modifying their bodies to meet ideas about how we should look is not the problem, it’s a symptom of the problem. The problem is misogyny, and we need to attack it at the root.

Recognizing yourself

In her graphic novel Fun Home, Alison Bechdel recalls being in a diner with her father when she was a kid and seeing a butch lesbian for the first time. She says she didn’t know that there were women who wore men’s clothes and had men’s haircuts. I love the way she describes her feelings about this. She says “like a traveler in a foreign country who runs into someone from home—someone they’ve never spoken to, but know by sight—I recognized her with a surge of joy.” (p118.)

bechdel 1039

The phrase “like a traveler in a foreign country” speaks to how it feels to be a gender-defiant kid surrounded by people who seem to be comfortable with the expectations placed on them. It’s like everyone seems to naturally understand a social system that doesn’t make any sense to you. When you’re just a kid and you understand that you’re different you can’t really articulate why. You just have a vague feeling that something about you is wrong and that you don’t fit. Then when you see someone for the first time who looks the way you feel you should be, all of a sudden you have this moment, “Ah! That’s what I am!” It’s not possible to articulate something as sophisticated as “I don’t identify with the social construct of femininity” when you’re only 8 or 10 years old. But if you see someone who embodies your feelings, you recognize yourself for the first time—like looking into a mirror.

Alison Bechdel was a kid who loved masculinity—she loved men’s clothes and drew pictures of men because she liked the way they looked. She didn’t have an erotic interest in men—she just had an appreciation for the masculine look. Bechdel also recalls being called “butch” by her older cousins, and although no one explained what the word meant, she instinctively knew it described her because it was “the opposite of sissy.” (p96-97) None of the other women around her were the same way, and when she finally saw a real live masculine woman she “recognized her with a surge of joy.”

Her dad noticed her noticing the woman and said “Is that what you want to look like?” (p118) His words told her that the correct answer to the question was no. To avoid embarrassment, she told him no, but the real answer was yes. It’s obvious why this was a defining moment for her. In the span of a few seconds she realized what her future would hold and also that her dad was disapproving of it. This is a pretty normal experience for a kid who is going to grow up to be gay.

I’ve been watching a lot of “How I knew I was FtM” videos on YouTube. Nearly 100% of them are attracted to women (homosexual!) and they describe vague feelings of “feeling like a boy” or “not being comfortable” with who they are. Usually they also talk about sex stereotypes like “I didn’t like wearing dresses.” Then they describe going on YouTube and finding FtM videos and recognizing themselves for the first time. Just like when Bechdel’s vague feelings about herself crystallized when she saw a butch lesbian, these women’s vague feelings crystallize when they see FtM videos. What FtMs describe feeling is indistinguishable from the feelings of other gender defiant lesbians. The only difference is the belief system—the interpretation. “These feelings mean I’m an lesbian” has turned into “these feelings mean I’m trans.”

In an interview with the New York Times magazine, Bechdel was asked about the transgender question:

“In “Fun Home,” you wrote about becoming a connoisseur of masculinity at a young age. Today a young person like you would be more likely to identify as transgender than gay. Is the butch lesbian endangered?”

She answered:

“I think the way I first understood my lesbianism, before I had more of a political awareness of it, was like: Oh, I’m a man trapped in a female body. I would’ve just gone down that road if it had been there. But I’m so glad it wasn’t, because I really like being this kind of unusual woman. I like making this new space in the world.”

The idea of being a “man trapped in a woman’s body” is an oversimplification of a feeling that is common to lesbians. It’s also a rather sexist and homophobic way of looking at it. To suggest that being “not a sissy” and wanting a female partner makes you intrinsically male is to suggest that these are qualities that cannot exist on women. It’s to suggest that woman are all sissies, therefore if you’re not a sissy, you’re not a woman.

Sissy means sister, effeminate, timid, and cowardly. This is a sexist word that implies that women are timid and cowardly. Women aren’t cowardly at all—we withstand abuse and sexism all day long and we tough it out and keep going. If you want to know who is cowardly—just take a look at who is having tears and tantrums over the slightest thing not going their way, and getting all butthurt and angry when their privilege and entitlement are threatened. That would be men.

Note that Bechdel understood her lesbianism as being “a man trapped in a female body” only before she had “more of a political awareness.” Women come to understand their feelings as lesbian, rather than male, when they interact with the lesbian community and see themselves reflected in other lesbians.

This post wouldn’t be complete without addressing the issue of “men’s clothing” and “men’s haircuts.” The reason there are clothing and haircuts that are considered masculine is because our culture assigns certain things to men and women. This is called gender role—the collection of social signals that people give to signify their femininity or masculinity. Without a collective understanding of what femininity and masculinity are, we couldn’t give these social signals. Gender role doesn’t exist without stereotypes. We are taught our gender role through socialization and culture and if we deviate from the norm someone will punish us in order to make us get back in line.

I use the word “masculine” to describe butch women because our language is limited and that is the only way I can describe the butch personality in a simple, recognizable word. But truthfully, any look or personality a woman has is a woman’s look or personality. If a woman likes to wear short hair and suits, then short hair is a woman’s haircut and suits are a woman’s clothing. Butch women are women, with female personalities, even though their personalities are considered “masculine” by our sexist culture. Any personality a woman has is a woman’s personality.

Some people define “butch” as a woman who can’t hide her nonconformity. If you did manage to somehow wrestle her into a dress, (which is unlikely), she’d look like she was in drag. This doesn’t mean she’s not a woman. When a woman can’t perform femininity, that’s not proof that she’s not a woman, it’s proof that femininity is a bullshit concept that doesn’t apply to real women. Femininity is a cultural construct that is enforced on women to keep them pretty and pleasing and caring for men and children so that men can be free to run the world and enjoy their privilege. Of course lesbians aren’t going to identify with a concept that reinforces heterosexuality and women’s place as men’s subordinate. DUH.

Women need to be able to recognize themselves in the world. When women can only see themselves presented as one-dimensional Barbie dolls, that is gas-lighting abuse. The representation of women in Western popular culture is damaging to all women, but it particularly hurts gender-defiant lesbians because they are farthest away from what the culture tells us women are. They don’t see themselves anywhere so they feel like “travelers in a foreign country.” (It doesn’t help either when women are wondering whether they are lesbians and the only “lesbians” they can find in popular culture are straight women who kiss each other to amuse their boyfriends.)

The only way women can truly recognize themselves is by telling each other the truth about who we are, and projecting that truth in our own ways. Women are brave, strong, powerful, creative, and intelligent. We are not the sex dolls that men imagine us to be.

So what happened to Alison Bechdel, the kid who felt like a boy and would have gone down the transgender route if it had been available? Did she die of suicide because she couldn’t transition? Hell no! She became a happy butch lesbian, followed her passion for cartooning and writing, became a huge success, and even won a genius grant, all while being herself and dressing how she pleases.

“I would’ve just gone down that road if it had been there. But I’m so glad it wasn’t, because I really like being this kind of unusual woman. I like making this new space in the world.”

Smart, strong, successful, and inspiring—as women are.

Bechdel

On self-hate and becoming someone else

Warning: emo post full of sadness!

I keep reading this post by Crash Chaos Cats. The paragraph I’m particularly interested in is this one, but of course, the entire post is fantastic.

“It is so hard to face trauma that hurt you bad enough it made you want to become another person, that actually did make you into another person, split off and wrapped around the one who got hurt. It is much harder than transitioning. I know because I’ve done both. Transition was hard. Detransitioning has been so much harder. The only thing I can compare it to is working through my mom’s suicide. So when I look at how painful it was, it makes sense to me that some people aren’t going to be able to stand that pain or go into it. Not cuz they’re weak or not as strong or smart as me or other detransitioned women. Not because they’re inferior in any way but because this world is fucking dangerous and facing your trauma opens you up, makes you vulnerable, makes you feel. It can make you feel ripped open and if you’re already protecting yourself from a society that wants to rip you up, you might not be able to go there. You need some degree of safety and security to face trauma and not fall to shit. So if you’re not safe or you’re not feeling safe enough, you can’t afford to let go of your coping mechanism cuz it could literally be your survival that’s at stake.”

I’ve been thinking about that first sentence, the part where trauma makes you become another person in order to protect the person who was hurt. That sort of happened to me one time. I don’t have PTSD, but I did go through a period of severely hating myself and I actually began to grow a new personality during that time. I will talk about that a little further down.

I read the above paragraph by Crash to my partner, and she nodded in agreement all the way through. We started talking about what little girls learn that makes them upset about being girls and scared of growing into women. Girls are told “You can’t do that because you’re a girl” on a regular basis. Girls also see how their mothers are treated—how they have to do twice as much work as men and yet still earn less money than they do.

My partner remembers being a little tomboy and wearing just shorts with no shirt in the summer. The boys told her she couldn’t do that because she was a girl. She tried to go swimming at the community pool with no top, and she was told to wear a girl’s bathing suit with a top next time. She remembers feeling upset about it—the boys got to do things that girls didn’t get to do. She learned that she had to modify her behavior to avoid harassment from boys. She also recalls generally feel ostracized and alienated from her peers, including lots of the girls. She started falling in love with girls as a kid, and she started thinking that she was really a boy. She wanted to take drama class in high school but didn’t because she couldn’t play a female role in a play and she didn’t think she’d be allowed to play a male role. She says it took until her mid-twenties to embrace her identity as a butch lesbian.

There is a reason why my partner totally gets what Crash was saying even though she’s never transitioned. That’s because Crash is describing being a butch or nonconforming lesbian in a patriarchy. Whether or not someone transitions will depend on her circumstances and how alienated she feels from her body. My partner grew up before the Internet, so she wasn’t indoctrinated into the religion of gender identity. She came out into a thriving lesbian community that embraced her as a lesbian. Every generation of lesbians needs and deserves a thriving lesbian community. Not a “queer” community that is inclusive of straight people and men with sexual fetishes, and that teaches lesbians that they’re not women, but a lesbian community. My partner would have met the criteria for gender identity disorder when she was a kid, but look what happened—she survived girlhood and grew into a lesbian. Not without any struggling of course.

I have written about being ostracized as a kid in this post. I was a typical girl in many ways (I wasn’t a butch or a tomboy) but my peers consistently found something wrong with me—I never could understand why. It felt very much like the kids at school had all gotten together and voted on what kinds of behaviors and clothes were “cool” and then not sent me the memo. I constantly felt like I was breaking rules that I had never actually been told existed. I didn’t understand their arbitrary social rules and I failed at them constantly. I learned early on that I was some sort of weirdo.

So getting back to that point about forming a new personality because of self-hate. (Time for a Sad Story!) Once upon a time, I was a 21-year-old working abroad for a summer and living with a large group of young adults. I’m not going to say exactly what the job was due to the need to stay anonymous. For two months I was in an insulated environment staying with the same people. Of course, we were segregated by sex for sleeping arrangements and washrooms and I was with the other women. I was just in the process of coming out, and I was scared of the feelings I could no longer deny. I felt like there was something wrong with me and I felt like I didn’t belong with the other women. I believed that the reason the men were separate from the women was because they’re attracted to women, and since I was attracted to women, that made me like the men. My thinking was that if the men didn’t belong in women’s spaces then neither did I.

So I had internalized homophobia, and then I developed a second problem. After a few days of being there, the lesbians in the group all found each other. There were about a half a dozen of us. All of them except me were extroverts and really fun people who were always acting like they were comics on a stage, saying hilarious stuff and getting laughs from people. I’m an introvert and a thinker and a dreamer—I can’t think of witty comments on the spot, and I can’t entertain people (unless they’re people who like to read feminist blogs.) When I feel uncomfortable in a group I get even quieter and even more awkward. I didn’t get along with any other lesbians at that job. I felt alienated from the straight people and like I didn’t belong with them, and then I was alienated from the lesbians too. They only paid attention to me when they thought I had done something dorky, and they pointed and laughed. When I wasn’t serving as a joke in their comedy routine, they ignored me. Not only was this painful, but it brought back all the feelings from my childhood, of being rejected and hated for no apparent reason. It was even more confirmation that I was some sort of weirdo. I completely internalized this—I wasn’t mature enough to realize that I was a worthy person regardless of what other people think and that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, only something wrong with the way people were treating me. At age 21 I still thought like an adolescent and adolescents crave approval from their peers and they have a hard time when they don’t fit in. For several weeks, I was going around constantly fighting back tears. I was living on the verge of a crying fit 24/7 and just trying to hold myself together.

My internalized homophobia started snowballing. I hated that I was attracted to women, and I hated that the other lesbians hated me. That made it so much worse—being a “weirdo” and being hated even by the other “weirdos.” I hated that I wanted them so badly—wanted their approval and inclusion, and wanted the sexual pleasure they could have given me if they had wanted to. I hated the fact that I needed them. I didn’t want to need people who hated me. I had absolutely no one to talk to about this.

I had a previous history of depression and I had been taught meditation. I understood that I needed to sit quietly and pay attention to my feelings and try to find some self-acceptance. But when I tried to listen to my Inner Self, my Inner Self said “Fuck off, I’m not talking to you because you hate me.” I couldn’t get in touch. And my self-hate seemed to solidify, and I stopped being me. I’m not sure exactly how it happened but my personality started to shift. I started to become the person I thought other people wanted of me. I became a fake extrovert. I started acting all wild and crazy. People noticed a change in me and generally they preferred the fake me to the real me. By the end of my time there I was a different person, and I stayed that different person for a while. I went back to university that fall still living in my fake personality. That was fun for a while but I was one setback away from a mental breakdown. The mental breakdown occurred in the form of another lesbian rejection. I completely lost it and the floodgate opened. My distress was so obvious that one of my university professors took me aside and told me I needed to get help. I found myself sitting and staring at a bottle of pills one night wondering if I should take them all. I finally did get help.

There were so many terrible beliefs about myself living in my head. I believed that being a lesbian in a women’s dorm automatically made me a sex offender, even though I had no desire to assault or harm anyone, and I believed I was stupid on many levels and basically worthless. If that’s the way I felt, I can’t imagine how it feels when on top of all that you’ve been told your whole life that you aren’t a real woman because of your personality and appearance. And when everyone is promoting the idea that there is a simple fix—you were meant to be a man all along—that will feel like exactly the solution.

But building a fake persona in order to escape from pain doesn’t work. Sure, it might work as a coping mechanism in the sense that it allows you to get through another day, but it doesn’t take the pain away. Underneath the performance of mannerisms and appearance that make the people around you happy is still the traumatized woman who still has never been told that she’s okay the way she is. She still needs to know that she’s okay. She’s not wrong or bad, she’s perfect and whole and beautiful. There is nothing wrong with her, there is only something wrong with the way people have treated her.

Some women will never be able to deal with their trauma, because they are never in a position of safety, and opening the floodgates will release more than they can handle dealing with. Some women will need their coping mechanisms forever. One of the ways that women can find safety is in women-only feminist political spaces. Many lesbians report being saved by Michfest. The people who work to destroy female-only political spaces are doing the work of anti-feminism and they are hurting women, whether they know it or not.

I can’t tell anyone how to deal with body dysphoria, because I don’t have it. But I do know how to deal with general self-hate. The only way to deal with self-hate is to learn to love and appreciate yourself as you are. Becoming someone else won’t work.

Demisexuality and You

According to the Demisexuality Resource Center, demisexuality is:

“a sexual orientation in which someone feels sexual attraction only to people with whom they have an emotional bond. Most demisexuals feel sexual attraction rarely compared to the general population, and some have little to no interest in sexual activity.”

So, like most people, demisexuals need to get to know a person before feeling sexual attraction to them, rather than just dropping their pants the second they’ve been introduced.

“Emotional intimacy is a main component, usually, so some demisexuals find themselves attracted to close friends or romantic partners. Other components may include familiarity with the person and knowledge about them (ex: learning about aspects of their personality).”

How unusual! Feeling attracted to one’s romantic partner, and needing to know aspects of someone’s personality before feeling attracted!

“Most people on the non-asexual side of the spectrum feel sexual attraction regardless of whether or not they have a close emotional bond with someone. They may have sexual feelings for attractive people on the street, classmates or coworkers they’ve barely spoken to, or celebrities. However, they may choose to wait to have sex for a variety of reasons: it might not be feasible or appropriate, they want to make sure the person is respectful and kind, it’s against their religious beliefs, they only want to have sex in a romantic relationship, etc.”

Okay, this website is definitely describing everybody. Of course you don’t have sex with every single person you like the looks of! People only have sex when it’s “feasible and appropriate,” as noted above by the Demisexuals.

The reason why perfectly normal people are having to label their perfectly normal feelings as “demisexual” is because the way they are expected to behave otherwise is fucked up, and they need an excuse to opt out of it. The way they are expected to behave is like they are in a porn movie. Due to both porn itself and a porn-soaked culture that turns every last bit of popular culture into a promotional ad for porn, people are going around thinking that they need to dress like a porn star, take off their clothes at random, have sex as an ice-breaker activity, and say yes to any sexual act all the time no matter what. Take for example, this situation witnessed at the University of California-Berkeley campus:

“Groups of girls were clacking along the street in their party uniforms: short skirts, bare midriffs, five-inch heels. One of them stopped and lifted her skirt above her waist, revealing a tiny thong, a flat belly, and some righteously toned glutes. She looked happy and strong, laughing, surrounded by friends, having fun. Then she turned toward a building where two bros, appraising the relative “hotness” of those trying to gain entrée to their party, were posted by the door.”

As Gail Dines always says, you can either be fuckable or invisible. If you’re a woman who doesn’t want to lift up your mini-skirt and show off your thong in order for frat boys to rate your “hotness,” then you’re a boring, old-fashioned, anti-sex prude. Hence women having to label themselves “demisexual” in order to convey to people that they actually want to have a conversation with a guy and determine that he has at least two brain cells and isn’t an asshole before her skirt comes off.

The culture young people are growing up in is a porn culture. Not only are youth watching actual porn starting at age 11, they are also witnessing a consumerist, individualist pro-capitalist culture that sells women and girls as consumer products at every turn. Even before the Internet, young people tended to believe that everyone was having sex but them; now the problem is certainly worse. After spending hours online watching videos in which every woman says “yes” and sex occurs anytime, anywhere, between anybody, at the drop of a hat, anyone who attempts to assert boundaries and pursue a healthy and rewarding sexual and romantic life will feel like a deviant.

Let’s take at look at 17 Confessions From People Who Identify as Demisexual, posted on hellogiggles.com.

  1. It is so hard to explain to people that I don’t feel arousal unless there is a very close bond (I’m demisexual) but am still a very sexual person.
  2. I’m demisexual, but I’m scared people will judge me because I don’t want to have sex with them straight away or have a one night stand.
  3. I’m demisexual and it’s a little frustrating. When I’m with my friends they’ll say “omg he’s so hot” meanwhile I’m thinking “I wonder if he has a good personality.”
  4. I hate being demisexual. Crushes are either extremely rare or they last for way too long. I wish I was normal.
  5. I question every part of who I am. When men find out I’m demisexual, they usually stop talking to me.
  6. I am demisexual and I feel like no one understands that I can’t just give you a try and love you, I really can’t.
  7. As a demisexual, if you ask for sex on the first date, you have no chance with me.
  8. I’m demisexual and an introvert, so casual dating isn’t an option for me…I wish I could be like everyone else.
  9. Dating woes: Being demisexual. Maybe one day I’ll find a guy who understands and respects what I cannot change.
  10. I’m demisexual. All the people I’ve slept with I wasn’t attracted to, they just got me aroused and I’m too shy to say no so I went with it.
  11. Just because I’m demisexual doesn’t mean I don’t want a serious, loving relationship.
  12. I’m demisexual. When I admitted that to someone I thought was my friend, they laughed in my face. I just want to be accepted for being me.
  13. I’m demisexual. Always have been, but when I was younger I felt bad for the guys so I would pretend I wasn’t.
  14. Being a demisexual female in a world where all guys seem to want is sex is really discouraging.
  15. The problem with being demisexual is that I can’t relate when people talk about stuff like dates with random people. I feel like I’m the odd one out and sometimes it feels like I’m the only one.
  16. I’m Demisexual and I love sex with my boyfriend but I don’t NEED it. He just doesn’t seem to understand.
  17. I’m finally being honest about myself. I’m demisexual. I’m done pretending to have sexual desire before I’m ready. If guys can’t handle that, they don’t deserve me.

This article doesn’t name the sex of the writers, but judging by what they’re writing I’d say they’re all female. I say that because they’re writing about the standard experience of being female in a porn-soaked patriarchy. These women think that everyone around them finds fulfillment in jumping into bed with random people they don’t even know. Nope. Even the people doing that aren’t finding fulfillment from it, or at least, the women aren’t. I did the whole casual sex thing when I was younger, and at the time I would have told you that it was fun, but I’m older and more mature now. I know that good sex isn’t based on the “hotness” of the participants, or how “extreme” the performance is. (Speaking of “hotness,” I’m going to quote this article again where the author quotes Ariel Levy:

“As journalist Ariel Levy pointed out in her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, “hot” is not the same as “beautiful” or “attractive”: It is a narrow, commercialized vision of sexiness that, when applied to women, can be reduced to two words: “fuckable” and “sellable.”

Like I was saying, good sex is not based on being “hot,” it’s based on connection and chemistry. It’s good when you really want each other, because you know each other and you have developed feelings for each other, and when you’re feeling sexual tension because of your mutual attraction, and when you are excited to know that your partner wants you as much as you want them. This sort of connection cannot happen instantly—that’s impossible. (It can’t be bought or sold, either.) Chemistry and attraction are things people develop gradually through interaction with each other.

What these “demisexual” women don’t realize is that, despite feeling like they’re abnormal, they have actually figured out the secret to good sex ahead of their peers. They are on the path to have satisfying sex, while their porn-addicted peers are going to have to unlearn a whole bunch of harmful beliefs and habits before they can actually enjoy themselves in bed. Getting validation that you are “fuckable” only feels good in a superficial, fleeting way. After putting up with a bunch of disrespectful and ineffective lovers, even the “fuckable” women will get tired of the whole charade and want to find the same sort of relationship the demisexuals are looking for.

Demisexuals aren’t missing out on anything if misogynist sleazebags stop talking to them upon finding out they are demisexual. They should actually breathe a sigh of relief because they have dodged a bullet.

It’s interesting to note that “demi” means half. Does demisexual mean half sexual? It’s like these people believe that they’re missing something or they aren’t sexual enough. This belief is not just limited to the Tumblr Speshul Snowflake community, it’s everywhere else too. There is a thing called “Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder,” which is a medical euphemism for “bitches not putting out enough,” and apparently around one third of women have this “condition.” But if that many people have “low desire,” can that even be called “low”? Perhaps the bar is being set too high. Low desire in comparison to what, exactly?

What women need to learn is that whatever their sexual interest level is, that is the normal level. There is no such thing as being “half sexual” or “hyposexual” because there is no universal measuring stick that everyone has to meet. Women are not responsible for providing their bodies to men to use. Men have their hands and they have tube socks—they are going to be just fine. Women are allowed to decide when and how and with whom to have sex, and we’re also allowed to not want it at all, and this doesn’t require an excuse, a label, or an explanation.