Lesbians: are you tired of going to “dyke marches” only to see men, straight libfems, and signs that say “no TERFs”? Fight back with clever T-shirts! An internet acquaintance gave me permission to share this photo. Way to go, Amazons! You are my sheros!
Magdalen Burns talks about being kicked out of the LGBT and Women’s Liberation groups on her university campus for disagreeing with the party line. Under the guise of protecting LGBT minorities, they have kicked a lesbian out of the LGBT group. “Minorities” apparently doesn’t include lesbians. It’s also ironic that a feminist vlogger and activist who works in favour of women’s rights got kicked out of a group that is purportedly for women’s liberation.
Burns is doing excellent work on behalf of women. The silly cowards who put unnecessary “trigger warnings” on every single thing could learn a lot from her.
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:
Recently I went into a drugstore to buy some milk, and as I stood in line for the check-out counter I saw Sports Illustrated in the magazine rack. It wasn’t hidden or anything, and it was near the bottom rung where children could easily see it. It features a nearly naked woman with only a tiny bit of fabric over her genitals.
Back in the day, this was considered soft-core pornography, and it would have been placed at the top shelf of the magazine rack so that it would not be reachable by children, and it would likely be partially hidden. The first pornography magazines, Playboy and Penthouse, used to sell images like this as pornography.
I briefly thought about complaining to the store manager about this, and then I decided not to. That’s because pornography is so normalized that I may not even be able to convince someone that this is pornography. Sexualized images of nearly-naked women are just business as usual, and the only way something can be considered pornography is if there is an actual close-up of the genitals or explicit sexual activity being depicted. That used to be hard-core porn, but now it’s just porn, and soft-core porn is the wallpaper covering everything we look at. I couldn’t bring myself to try to explain to a store manager that this is pornography and children shouldn’t see it. I couldn’t bring myself to risk being labelled a prude for opposing a bikini photo on a magazine. I suppose I failed at feminist activism for not complaining.
This whole situation makes me feel very drained and tired, because it’s not just about one magazine rack in one store. It’s about the entire system, the fact that women’s bodies are for sale, that we are sexual objects for men’s use, the fact that after decades of feminist activism, we are still having insane conversations about women’s “choice” and “agency” to be sexualized objects for consumption, as if this use of women by men was coming from women’s natural sexuality. No, it’s not. Women are not born believing we are sex dolls.
When little girls see this magazine, and see that it’s perfectly normal for women to be nearly naked to titillate the male gaze, they assume this is what women are like, and they know that to attract a man they have to look and behave this way.
When little boys see this magazine, they learn that women exist for their pleasure, and that they can expect women to look this way for them.
It’s not just this magazine, it’s thousands of other pieces of pop culture, all showing the same message about women. Like Miley Cyrus naked and giving a blow job to a hammer in her video for Wrecking Ball, which also isn’t considered pornography, just a music video.
Theoretically, since I’m attracted to women, I suppose I’m expected to find this sort of thing arousing, but it just makes me angry. Sure, I like looking at women, but I am attracted to normal-looking women, especially when they’re demonstrating personal strength and talent. I like women’s body parts, but I only interact with women’s body parts when we’ve agreed to be in a sexual relationship. That’s because women are people that I interact with, not things for me to purchase and use. When I see women stripped naked and presented for consumption I just want to burn down the patriarchy.
In Chapter 8 of Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, Lillian Faderman describes the lesbian revolutions from the 1960s and the 1970s. Up to this point in U.S. history, lesbians were discouraged from organizing in groups because of the view that lesbians were sick, and because of the Great Depression and McCarthyism, but the 1960s brought a new spirit of organizing for liberation.
Picketing became popular as a form of protest, and some newspapers began to mention gay rights. Gay rights activists challenged organized religion’s lack of acceptance and the number of homophile organizations increased. There were gay rights organizations even during the McCarthy era, but they were able to become bolder in the 1960s.
The most important moment in American gay rights history happened in the 1960s, which I’m sure you’ve all heard of—Stonewall!
“On June 28, 1969, in the midst of a New York mayoral campaign—a time when the incumbent often sicced the police on homosexuals to bolster his record as a vice fighter—police officers descended on the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall was a gay bar in Greenwich Village that called itself a private club, open to members only. The police came with a search warrant, authorizing them to investigate reports that liquor was being sold there without a license. The raid had been the third staged by police on Greenwich Village gay bars in recent nights, but this time the response was different. Instead of scampering off in relief when the police booted them out on the street after questioning them, the two hundred working-class patrons—drag queens, third world gay men, and a handful of butch lesbians—congregated in front of the Stonewall and, as blacks and other oppressed groups had done before them in the course of the decade, commenced to stage a riot. Their numbers quickly doubled, and soon—according to some sources—increased tenfold. Before the night was over four policemen were hurt as rioters bombarded them with cobblestone bricks from the Village streets, as well as bottles, garbage, pennies, and an uprooted parking meter. The riots continued the following night. Fires were started all over the neighborhood, condemnations of the police were read aloud and graffiti appeared on the boarded up windows of the Stonewall Inn exhorting everyone to “support gay power” and to “legalize gay bars.” These occurrences, which came to be known as the Stonewall Rebellion, marked the first gay riots in history.” (p144)
The Stonewall Rebellion energized activists and generated more media attention to gays and lesbians as an oppressed group. After Stonewall, new gay publications and organizations were formed, and pride parades commemorated the riot. Gays and lesbians were more empowered to demand their rights.
This was an interesting paragraph:
“The new movement lesbians tended to be a different breed from either working-class or middle-class lesbians of the previous generation. They were often young, college-educated, and politically aware, whatever the socioeconomic background of their parents had been. For those who were born into the working class, the democratization of higher education in the 1960s meant that they might get an education (and the verbal and analytical skills that went along with it) such as only women of middle-class background might have had earlier. Many of those who were born into the middle class purposely declassed themselves in that decade that valued egalitarianism. Thus these young movement lesbians of all classes were able to come together. They were generally comfortable with language and ideas and knew how to organize as working-class lesbians of the previous generation did not, and they were confident that they should have rights no less than any other Americans, as middle-class lesbians of the previous generation were not. Their militance often outstripped the capacities and understanding of both older working-class lesbians and middle-class lesbians, and difficulties emerged between the generations.”
By the 1970s, activists were fighting against police harassment of gay bars in other cities, fighting for same-sex marriage, getting gay lifestyles added to the family studies curriculum, and getting a gay rights platform added to the Democratic Party. Of course, there was a backlash—anti-gay organizations were formed in response.
In the 1960s, attitudes toward sex in general became more permissive. More heterosexual couples were living together, for example, and birth control was more readily available. In this more liberal atmosphere, lesbian sex became less stigmatized. The feminist movement was reinvigorated in the 1960s as well, and during this time, lesbian feminism was born. According to lesbian feminism, women could choose lesbianism as a part of the path toward women’s liberation. The hippie movement in the 1960s gave some women a chance to explore lesbianism, although for some of these women it was simply an experiment. Both the hippie groups and the male left were rather hostile toward women, and this meant that lots of feminist and lesbian women left these groups to form groups of their own.
The rift between the “born this way” lesbians and the political lesbians began in the 1960s, and I don’t think this has been solved even today, although the “born this way” group seems to have the upper hand. Anti-feminists have always called feminists “lesbians” in order to discredit them and as a strategy to scare women away from feminism, but in the 1960s women explored the idea that “lesbian” is synonymous with a female rebel, and saw that becoming a lesbian was a powerful part of the feminist movement. In 1970, the New York group Radicalesbians wrote their famous paper, The Woman Identified Woman, that defined a lesbian as a woman identified woman.
“In one sense, the Radicalesbian group’s definition came full circle, back to the early sexologists’ definition of the lesbian as a woman whose behavior is not appropriate to “womanliness.” But while the sexologists saw such women as rare and congenitally tainted, the new lesbian feminists saw them as ubiquitous and heroic. Lesbianism was to the lesbian-feminists a cure-all for the ills perpetrated by sexism. Lesbianism was “women creating a new consciousness of and with each other, which is at the heart of women’s liberation and the basis for cultural revolution.” And the best news was that any woman could embrace it.”(p152)
I really like the way Faderman describes lesbian feminism. She mentions the realizations women had in consciousness-raising groups—for example, that heterosexual relationships are unequal, and that women’s energy is being spent on taking care of men in marriage. Lesbian feminists provided a critique of heterosexuality and formed their own women’s culture.
Lesbian feminists weren’t very well accepted by the rest of the gay rights movement. They didn’t necessarily get along with the older lesbians who were doing butch/femme roles, which they saw as an imitation of heterosexuality, nor with the “born this way” lesbians who were working with gay men on legal reforms, nor with conservative and closeted lesbians. Heterosexual feminists weren’t comfortable with the separatist program of the lesbian feminists nor did they like the feminist movement being painted as a “bunch of man-hating dykes.”
Faderman describes some of the reasons why lesbian feminists didn’t want to work with gay men. The gay men were concerned about liberating gay sex and gay lifestyles from persecution but had no analysis of power and patriarchy, and their goals were not going to liberate women.
“For many lesbian-feminists the problem stemmed from gay men’s lack of a radical analysis over the questions of sex and sex roles. They accused gay men of being merely reformist—defining the issue of homosexuality as a private matter about with whom you sleep—instead of understanding the deeper political issues such as questions of domination and power. They complained that gay reformists pursued solutions that made no basic changes in the system that oppressed lesbians as women and their reforms would keep power in the hands of the oppressors. As lesbian-feminists, they were not interested in promoting what they saw as trivial laws and mores that would make it possible for everyone to sleep around freely while maintaining the status quo of women’s powerlessness.”(p155)
I am totally on board with lesbian feminists, then! (Big surprise!) My goals are aligned with women’s liberation, and I’ve never seen gay men fighting on behalf of women. I’d much rather work with radical feminists of all sexual orientations than with a group of mixed “born this way” gays and lesbians.
I’ve mentioned that other feminists were not comfortable with this brand of lesbian-feminism, and of course this is still going on today. Here is where we get into the “lavender menace.”
“Although lesbian-feminists saw themselves as feminist rather than gay, they did not enjoy an unalloyed welcome in the women’s movement. Betty Friedan, the founder of NOW, the largest organization of the women’s movement, even went so far as to tell the New York Times in 1973 that lesbians were sent to infiltrate the women’s movement by the CIA as a plot to discredit feminism. However, despite the displeasure of NOW’s founding mother and her supporters, who called lesbians the “lavender menace,” when a showdown actually took place in NOW most heterosexual feminists voted on the side of lesbians.” (p155)
I’ve seen the phrase “the lavender menace” many times. Lots of lesbians these days use this phrase or some variation of it as their screen names on the Internet, and it’s been explained to me that “feminists didn’t used to accept lesbians in their movement.” This is the first time it’s been brought to my attention that Betty Friedan herself coined this phrase, and that she had a paranoid belief that lesbians were sent by the CIA! Holy crap! But it looks like NOW adopted a pro-lesbian position fairly quickly after that.
In Chapter 9, Faderman focuses on the creation of woman-identified woman communities in the 1970s.
“Many lesbian-feminists had discovered lesbianism through the radical feminist movement. They were often women in their twenties who had grown up in the era of the flower child and had learned to approach life with passion and idealism. Their decision to become lesbian feminists stemmed from their disillusionment with the male-created world and their hope of curing its ills. The fruitless war in Vietnam, the proliferaton of ecological problems, the high unemployment rate even among the educated, the general unrest that was left over from the 1960s, all contributed to their radical lesbian-feminist vision that American culture was in deep trouble and drastic measures were required to reverse its unwise course. Since they were convinced through feminism that the root of the problem was male—caused by the greed, egocentrism, and violence that came along with testosterone or male socialization—they believed that only a “woman’s culture,” built on superior female values and women’s love for each other, could rectify all that had gone wrong in male hands. Thus not only was love between women—“lesbianism”—destigmatized among them: it was “aristocraticized.” Although women before the 1970s often became lesbians because of their discontent with the way men behaved, the lesbian-feminists were the first to articulate such motivation and to create a coherent philosophy out of it.”(p167-168)
Oh, I just love this! Young, idealistic women disillusioned with male culture and starting a culture of their own! Sign me up for that! Of course, I don’t think that merely separating from society is enough, as I wrote about here. We need to also make structural changes.
“They wanted to create entirely new institutions and to shape a women’s culture that would embody all the best values that were not male. It would be nonhierarchical, spiritual, and without the jealousy that comes of wanting to possess other human beings, as in monogamy and imperialism. It would be nonracist, nonageist, nonclassist, and nonexploitative—economically or sexually. It would be pro-women and pro-children. These women believed that such a culture could only be formed if women stepped away from the hopelessly corrupt patriarchy and established their own self-sufficient, “women-identified-women” communities into which male values could not infiltrate. Those communities would eventually be built into a strong Lesbian Nation that would exist not necessarily as a geographical entity but as a state of mind and that might even be powerful enough, through its example, to divert the country and the world from their dangerous course.(p168)”
This is so beautiful, although rather utopian. Although, there is a bit of essentialism going on here. If there is such a thing as female values, doesn’t that imply that all females are the same? We’re not all the same and we don’t all have the same values. But I do like the community they were trying to create, and I see these values as positive human values. Michfest was a good step in this direction—it was a woman-only community with strong pro-woman values—and it’s terrible that it has ended.
Faderman continues to describe the work and the vision of the lesbian feminist separatists of the 1970s, and it really is beautiful. Their ideal world was based on socialism and women-run institutions, and if large numbers of women had joined in and sustained this vision, it could have been a massive revolutionary force. Unfortunately, lots of women weren’t interested in joining or could not join. Not all lesbians believe in the politics of separatism—we are in fact a diverse group with many different political beliefs—and all heterosexual women were by default excluded. The group of militant lesbian separatists is doomed to remain small, since the group of women who can choose lesbianism is small, and those who agree with radical politics is small as well. I really do agree with what they were trying to create, and I wish it were possible to carry out this vision fully in the real world. I wish more people were on board with radical politics. That’s one of the reasons I write this blog, of course—to promote radical politics.
Faderman talks a bit about how the enthusiasm and idealism among lesbian feminists sometimes turned into a rigid dogma about how one could behave. For example, it was so important to reject femininity that anyone who wanted to wear a dress and makeup would be seen as not being politically correct. There are still remnants of this sort of dogma left over, which I bring up regularly on this blog. There are still women turning their enthusiasm for feminism into dogma and attempting to kick people out of feminism for some minor infraction. I don’t believe in doing this, but I understand the enthusiasm and the sense of desperation that lead women to be very rigid in their beliefs. The feminist revolution is a matter of life and death for so many women—obviously people are going to get zealous. But I don’t believe that feminism is a set of rules for group membership, I think it’s a liberation movement, and I don’t think that scrutinizing individual women’s behaviors is an effective strategy for liberation.
The lesbian separatist groups ended up in conflicts because of their intense enthusiasm and desire for ideological purity, and their utopian vision was difficult to achieve in real life. But I am very grateful for the work they did and the ideas they promoted. There are still lesbian separatists around and their numbers are quite tiny, but their ideas are obviously powerful—you can tell by the backlash they get from men! And love them or hate them, lesbian separatists did some wonderful things for lesbians by creating lesbian culture and proudly declaring that lesbianism is a positive thing for women.
The next chapter is “Lesbian Sex Wars in the 1980s.” I can’t wait to read that!