Patriarchy and female sexuality, Part 2

In Patriarchy and Female Sexuality Part 1, I talked about how when women do not want to have heterosexual intercourse, they are thought of as disordered by the male-run medical establishment. In Part 2 I will talk about how female sexuality is actually active, not passive.

A conversation over on Hot Flanks’ WordPress blog illustrates how women with an active sexuality come to believe they have a “male sexuality.” Hot Flanks is a lesbian detransitioner. (There’s starting to be a lot of those women around, isn’t there?) Here are some important quotes, but reading the whole post is a good idea.

“The way that I relate to my genitals and the way I want my body interacted with intimately is something that I have experienced as being the “active” or “insertive” partner and have therefore drawn the easy connections to male sexuality in the past.”

“The more I realize that experiencing my Clit as an active participant and driving force behind intimacy is a healthy female experience, the less disconnect I feel from it. The more I internalize the idea that I am far from the first Lesbian in the world to desire and derive my primary pleasure from interacting with my genitals in the way that I do, the less I want to describe these feelings as “dysphoria” because it has stopped feeling like a “non-female” or disconnected way of expressing myself. If I can wrap my head around the idea of the Clit as an active player in both giving AND receiving pleasure, then I can more easily come to accept the way I relate to my Clit as a healthy way to relate intimately with my female body.”

“I threw out the idea that I was “stone” early in my social transition when I realized I wanted to be touched and to be intimate, but “not in the way that one touches or is intimate with women.”

Another lesbian with dysphoria who commented on 4thwavenow posted this:

“What if the sexual preference for a natal female is for a female, but only if the natal female were male? That is, what if the natal female does not self-identify as lesbian, could not conceive of being a female having an intimate sexual relationship with a female, but desires an intimate sexual relationship with a female as a male? I’ve yet to see this addressed by critics of “transition,” and yet I have seen this expressed by those considering FtM transition. Perhaps this is generally dismissed as “oh this person is just a ‘closet lesbian/gay,’ and therefore it’s not actually examined. But if it is a real issue for someone who identifies in anyway as having difficulty with their birth assigned sex, and such a person does indeed express desire for intimate sexual relationship (not homosexual), then what is a compassionate and logically sound response to such a person?”

The main problem with a female human wanting to have sex as a male is that it’s impossible. I’m not saying so because I’m an “evil transphobic TERF who wants people to die,” I’m saying it because a surgeon cannot construct a fully functioning penis on a female human. The only one who can construct a penis is Mother Nature. I think the “compassionate and logically sound response” to a female who wants to be an active partner in sex with another female is not to perform surgery on her to construct a pseudo-penis, but to help her to become a happy lesbian. As a lesbian, she can be honest about her sex instead of pretending to be male, she can have the sexual relationships she wants (provided she finds compatible partners of course), and she can live her life in her natural body without being made into an artificially constructed member of the opposite sex who is dependent on a lifetime of cross-sex hormones.

Take a look at these two sentences from the above quotes. “I wanted to be touched and to be intimate, but not in the way that one touches or is intimate with women,” and “what if the natal female . . . desires an intimate sexual relationship with a female as a male?”

These quotes reveal some underlying beliefs about female sexuality. These women want to be an active or insertive partner and they cannot reconcile these feelings with the genitals they have. That’s because they’ve been taught that only men are active/insertive partners, and that one must have a penis in order to have this role. This is not true—you can be a woman who enjoys being on “top,” and no male genitals are required.

Our friend This Soft Space commented on the post by Hot Flanks, and said that when her friend found out she was a lesbian, she immediately told her to buy a dildo, but she wasn’t interested in that at all. Her friend likely made this suggestion due to the belief that all women enjoy being penetrated and that female orgasm is universally experienced in the vagina. It will be further assumed that lesbians necessarily have to use a dildo since they are not using a penis. Since humans living in this particular era are primarily learning about sex from porn, it seems likely that they believe “lesbian sex” means two women stuffing each other with silicone dongs. Although it’s possible that somebody out there is doing that—there’s somebody in the world doing just about anything you can think of—that has never been my experience of lesbian sex.

Commenter Kat Outta The Bag wrote, on Hot Flanks’ post:

“I remember reading a forum for trans men where the people there were talking about just this sort of thing, how they had a “male sexuality” and “male sexual responses” because they wanted to penetrate, because they thrusted/humped during sex, because they didn’t have a desire or propensity to arch their back and wiggle around… I think I ate this stuff up totally, hook, line, and sinker, because I became neurotic about it. I believed my desires to do these things were proof of some innate tendency in me that made me less female, and I also started being frightened that any tendency to do the opposite, the so-called “feminine” thing, secretly meant I was a straight girly-girl underneath it all. I couldn’t enjoy solo sexual activities anymore because I developed a self-monitoring problem where I was constantly wondering about the gendered implications of what I was doing.”

Oh, my! This is where endless navel-gazing and gender scrutiny leads us. Its leads to people being unable to even masturbate without considering the gendered implication of their sexual response and whether they wiggle or thrust. But anyway, what I want to highlight here is that groups of dysphoric women are convincing each other that they’re men because they like humping and thrusting and want to penetrate. You can do all these things as a woman.

It’s not just porn that teaches people that female sexuality means being a passive receptacle. Regular sex education materials designed for youth present sex as a mechanical activity where the man is active and the woman passive. This Soft Space made this comment on Hot Flanks’ post:

“When I was a kid my parents had this set of medical encyclopedias, and being a curious twelve-year-old I received a good portion of my sex education from a cross-section diagram within. The accompanying text stated factually “During sexual intercourse the man inserts his penis in the woman’s vagina” and there it was in a detailed black and white drawing. That was how it was done, apparently. That was sex.”

I remember that diagram too. It’s legitimate to show this diagram to young adolescents in the context of talking about how to prevent pregnancy, but this is a very limited idea of what sex is. First of all, homosexuals have sex all the time and it doesn’t look like that at all, and second of all, heterosexuals do a lot more than just that and some heterosexual women don’t enjoy penetration and prefer other activities.

The quote by radical feminist Catherine MacKinnon illustrates that diagram perfectly: “Man fucks woman; subject verb object.” We are never taught anything other than this narrative, unless we are lucky enough to encounter some good quality comprehensive sex education that presents sex as being an activity between two subjects neither of whom is objectified.

Female humans are not passive receptacles—and that includes females of all sexual orientations. We have our own organ of sexual pleasure and we have our own desires and preferences. I will refer you to The Internal Clitoris, published by the Museum of Sex, which I have linked to before, because it provides everything you need to know about the clitoris. The only part of it we can see and feel is the glans—which is the outer button with 8,000 nerve fibers, and is so sensitive some woman cannot touch it directly. The clitoris continues inward where we cannot see it, and it contains erectile tissue that fills with blood during arousal, and it wraps around the vagina.

In my blog post about lesbian lust I quoted a YouTube commenter who said the following:

“When you dont have a dick but you feel like you have an erection (?) Like literal. I’m so serious. Is this almost what you mean. Cause I swear everytime I read porn I feel my no dick rise. I kid you not knowing that I will never get a blow job upsets me.”

This woman has learned that what she feels when aroused is a “male” feeling, but that’s not true. The clitoris has erectile tissue and it fills with blood during arousal. This woman does have an erection, in fact—an erection of the clitoris. This doesn’t mean she is male. She is a normal female. She doesn’t have to lament not getting a “blow job.” She could accept oral sex from a partner who wants to give it and it will feel good on her female genitals. Having her female genitals surgically modified to resemble a penis is not the way to have a satisfying orgasm.

Also worth noting is that the clitoris wraps around the vagina. It’s entirely possible that women who enjoy vaginal penetration are getting extra stimulation to their clitoris that way. Different people’s bodies respond in different ways to stimulation. Some women might only enjoy stimulation of the outer clitoris and some might enjoy stimulation of the internal clitoris. Women can have an orgasm without any penetration, and some women can orgasm without directly touching their genitals, by doing things like crossing their legs or activating their pelvic muscles.

There is no way to experience sexual arousal of the clitoris that is wrong for a female or that indicates that one is supposed to be male. Any sexual arousal a female feels is a female feeling. If her arousal makes her want to thrust or hump or be on top, that is a female feeling. And this is not just for lesbians, heterosexual women can feel this way too.

It’s heartbreaking that women are going around believing that the sexual feelings they get from their female bodies is an indication that they are “male.” The reason women are convinced of this is because our culture is patriarchal, and women are supposed to be sex objects for men. Human sexuality is constructed as men being active and women being passive. A woman’s role in sex is presented as being nothing more than looking pretty and spreading her legs. This is nowhere near what female sexuality is actually like. The fundamental reason that sexuality is constructed in this way is to preserve men’s dominance over women.

Bonus material: An adorable YouTube video of a woman drawing the internal clitoris:

On lesbian lust and identifying as male

A connection between lesbian lust and identifying as male came to me after reading the prologue to Audre Lorde’s Zami : A New Spelling of My Name (full text here.) Lorde describes wanting to be both male and female and she fantasized about having a penis. It’s increasingly common for lesbians to think they are men so I think this needs to be discussed. In this post I’m going to describe my interpretation of Lorde’s quote, which was written in 1982, and then discuss the phenomenon of lesbians feeling “male” within the current context of porn culture and transgenderism.

“I have always wanted to be both man and woman, to incorporate the strongest and richest parts of my mother and father within/into me—to share valleys and mountains upon my body the way the earth does in hills and peaks.

I would like to enter a woman the way any man can, and to be entered—to leave and to be left—to be hot and hard and soft all at the same time in the cause of our loving. I would like to drive forward and at other times to rest or be driven. When I sit and play in the waters of my bath I love to feel the deep inside parts of me, sliding and folded and tender and deep. Other times I like to fantasize the core of it, my pearl, a protruding part of me, hard and sensitive and vulnerable in a different way.

I have felt the age-old triangle of mother father and child, with the “I” at its eternal core, elongate and flatten out into the elegantly strong triad of grandmother mother daughter, with the “I” moving back and forth flowing in either or both directions as needed.

Woman forever. My body, a living representation of other life older longer wiser. The mountains and valleys, trees, rocks. Sand and flowers and water and stone. Made in earth.”-Audre Lorde

This quote is rather poetic and I have allowed myself to see lots of things in it that I don’t know if Lorde actually intended. These are some things I see when I look at these words.

Lorde has described wanting the best qualities of her mother and father and wanting to be both hard and soft during sex. When I read this I thought about how people are expected to limit their self-expression and interests to what society believes is appropriate for their sex, and Lorde is refusing to limit herself that way. She wants the full human experience, not just a half of it.  Gender roles and compulsory heterosexuality are strongly linked. Women and men are supposed to learn a set of mutually exclusive and complementary traits, so that they depend on each other for providing the qualities they cannot have for themselves. Women must be wives and mothers; men must be breadwinners. The only way one-sided people can feel complete is by getting married and having both complementary sides balancing each other within a relationship. I see Audre Lorde rejecting this one-sidedness and opting instead for full personhood and wholeness when she says “incorporate the strongest and richest parts of my mother and father.” This is what we should all be opting for. We should allow ourselves to experience the full human experience without limiting ourselves or becoming one half of a whole.

In a physical sense, Lorde imagines herself being able to play the role of both male and female during sex. She imagines having a penis and being able to penetrate her lover. Luckily she remained woman-identifed and still enjoyed her female body. I wonder how many lesbians have had this same fantasy? In particular, this sentence really struck me: “Other times I like to fantasize the core of it, my pearl, a protruding part of me, hard and sensitive and vulnerable in a different way.” I will admit that I have had this same thought. I have felt lust for women that makes my clitoris swell, and in my excitement I have imagined it could grow large enough that I could penetrate my lover. Could this fantasy become an obsession in some women, leading them to believe they are really men? I’m not saying that’s the only motivation for lesbians transitioning either—I’m sure there’s lots more to it than that. But this is one element of lesbian life that I think leads some women to decide they are men, and it requires some discussion.

You know the analogy of the fish that doesn’t notice the water that it’s swimming in? We humans are swimming in compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory gender roles, and a belief that sex = penetration. These ideas are so universal that we don’t see them at first; it takes us a while to begin to question them. Only in my late twenties did I understand the extent to which I’d internalized compulsory heterosexuality. We are taught all our lives that only men lust after women, that to lust for a woman is to want to penetrate her. This is compulsory behavior for men, as well as cultural narrative and self-fulfilling prophecy. Nothing in our culture ever mentions that women can feel a sexual desire for each other, or that sexual desire doesn’t have to take the form of a phallus, or that sexual desire can appease itself without penetration. According to our culture, a woman doesn’t even have to have sexual desire in order to want sex. Her wish is simply to be wanted, to be a beautiful object of men’s lust. She inspires sexual desire, but doesn’t necessarily have her own. Women’s sexual desire ranges from non-existent to sinful, depending on local tradition.

No cultural narratives guide lesbians in how to be or how to love. The young lesbian searches for her own truth and charts her own path, all on her own. Today’s young lesbians come of age in a misogynist porn culture that tells them lust is for men and lust means penetration, and if they feel masculine they should take testosterone and call themselves men. And as an example of this, I bring you a quote from a Youtube video that shows what happens when a young male-identified queer woman gets addicted to porn:

“When you dont have a dick but you feel like you have an erection (?) Like literal. I’m so serious. Is this almost what you mean. Cause I swear everytime I read porn I feel my no dick rise. I kid you not knowing that I will never get a blow job upsets me.”

This woman has internalized the idea that her lust must be male. Woman-identified lesbians know that lust is for women, too. We women feel desire for each other, no penis involved, and no “male brain” involved. Lust is not synonymous with the phallus. To interpret your sexual arousal as meaning that you have or should have a penis is a toxic effect of porn culture that we must unlearn. Your lust is feminine and womanly. It comes from your clitoris as well as your whole body and soul. Women are all sorts of people with all sorts of interests. We’re not all wives and mothers, and none of us are mere objects for penetration. We have our own natural sexuality that you will never see a trace of in porn, or in any popular culture.

In a previous blog post on a previous blog of mine, now deleted, I talked a bit about my “gender identity.” One paragraph of that post read as follows: I had a period of sex dysphoria that lasted about a month. It was around the same time I finally accepted that I was attracted to women and stopped beating myself up over it. I started to enjoy the delicious feelings that came to me when I looked at the women around me. I started to enjoy the lesbian sexual fantasies that were coming to me. And with that came a feeling that I was male. I had successfully internalized the idea that anyone attracted to women was necessarily male. I was looking at women with the male gaze. The male gaze that lived in my brain looked at women’s bodies and objectified them the way men do, and because of the male gaze living in my brain, I felt like a man in a woman’s body. There were at least two times when I looked in a mirror and was surprised by what I saw. The sight of my breasts surprised me. I didn’t know why I had them because I didn’t feel female. This lasted about a month, and then it went away. Maybe I could have taken seriously the male-identified part of me that wanted to get all the women I saw into bed. I could have adopted a male name and asked people to refer to me with male pronouns. But I didn’t go down that road. Feminist writing on sexual assault, consent and objectification reminded me that the women around me were people and not things. And I was one of them. I fought against the desire to objectify my fellow women. I still find women “hot” but I try not to comment on their appearance or clothing, because it shouldn’t matter.

Transgenderism is being spread largely by the Internet. Girls who feel the normal uncomfortable feelings related to female puberty go online and find videos on how to bind their breasts. So I want to leave this here for any young lesbians or bisexual women who are looking for such a thing:

Dear lesbians and bisexual women,

It is totally normal to love other women and to find other women arousing. It’s fine if you imagine you have a penis, but it doesn’t mean you are literally male. It’s a fantasy. You are a woman-loving woman and that is fantastic as is. You don’t have to pretend to be something else. You don’t need a man and you don’t need to become a man. You don’t need a penis—lust is for female bodies too, and lesbian sex is creative and fun and free. There doesn’t need to be any penetration for women to find satisfaction, but of course if that’s what you’re in the mood for, go for it. You can be a whole person—you don’t have to exemplify stereotypes about what women are, or about what men are either. You don’t have to be a wife and mother, but you can be if you want. Or you can take on the role of breadwinner if you want. You can fix cars and bake pies. Do whatever you want, be yourself. And please, love women. Love women both personally and politically.