Dear Roxane – An Open Letter on Queer Feminism & Lesbophobia

A brief foreword: this letter was written as an invitation for queer, bisexual, and straight women who call themselves feminist to reflect upon their lesbophobia.


 

Dear Roxane,

As every woman active in the modern day feminist movement knows, there is a growing schism between queer ideology and sexual politics. The conversation has grown fraught, with those on either position growing heartsick from the conflict. It’s difficult, because points of connection are missed, especially on social media – where everything becomes somehow more polar, more about point-scoring than moments of political connection. And it was my aim to connect with you in raising the issue of lesbophobia, to share a meaningful engagement from which we could both develop, because otherwise nothing ever changes and the same mistakes are repeated ad infinitum – and a feminist movement that replicates the hierarchies of mainstream society is in no way equipped to dismantle them.

I am not writing with the intention of ridiculing you, nor do I claim to be some paragon of feminist virtue. The reality of the situation is that I’m just about as bougie as a Black girl can be, and held onto some shitty class politics until turning twenty two, politics which I will spend the rest of my life unlearning and resisting. While it is embarrassing to get things wrong, devastating to realise you have been complicit in the oppression of others, the real shame would be in turning your back on the women who try to address behaviour born of politics that are damaging to them. With this in mind, I hold compassion for you as I address the lesbophobia you displayed on Twitter.

In response to Kat Blaque’s Tweets about a confrontation with Arielle Scarcella, you said the following: “Oh my god. I am on the edge of my seat. Slap her.”

Roxane 1 beta

From the context I gather this remark was intended with humour, a pass-the-popcorn type jibe about the drama, but the joke falls flat when we consider just how vulnerable lesbian women are in heteropatriarchy. Just this week it was announced that Aderonke Apata, a Nigerian lesbian rights activist, won her claim for asylum in Britain after a 13-year struggle to have the state recognise that as a lesbian she was at extreme risk of violence if forcibly repatriated. Lesbian women are treated with revulsion simply for loving women. We are disparaged and degraded for experiencing same-sex attraction, and abused – often brutally – for living woman-centric lives. By all means, criqitue Arielle Scarcella’s videos – I’m not stopping you. But please do not suggest that violence against a lesbian woman becomes legitimate simply because she subscribes to a set of politics that are not aligned with your own. Not even in jest.

Blaque is a well-known trans blogger. Scarcella is a well-known lesbian blogger. Blaque has made numerous videos denouncing Scarcella, and the beef between them is well known in the sphere of LGBT+ online community.  In many ways, this issue goes beyond the drama that happens between them, stretching to encompass all the tensions of gender discourse.

Gender discourse isn’t abstract. How the politics of gender manifest in our lives has very real consequences for everyone involved. You know this, and have written about it with great eloquence. The tensions within gender discourse have grown particularly explosive where lesbian sexuality is involved. What is sometimes referred to as the cotton ceiling issue – whether lesbian women ought to consider those identifying as transwomen as potential sexual partners – has become hugely controversial in the last few years.

For me, it is obvious: lesbians are women who exclusively experience same-sex attraction. As transwomen are biologically male, lesbian sexuality does not extend to include them. That is not to say lesbian women would not consider taking trans-identified lovers – as I have previously written, the boundary between a butch lesbian and a transman is often blurred, and many non-binary identified people are biologically female too – but rather that our interest is reserved for those who are physically, biologically female. It is also worth pointing out that approximately two thirds of transgender people have reported undergoing some form of gender-confirming surgery, meaning that the majority of transwomen are in possession of a penis – a definite no insofar as lesbian sexuality is concerned.

From what I have seen of her videos, Arielle Scarcella is of a similar view – she defends lesbian women’s right to assert sexual boundaries and the validity of same-sex attraction. No matter your opinion on Scarcella’s work, one question arises when considering the accusations of transphobia levelled against her: why, in 2017, is it contentious for a lesbian to categorically reject sex involving a penis? The short answer is homophobia and misogyny, both of which can be found in abundance in queer attitudes towards lesbian women.

Roxane 3 betaWhen I pointed out that your words were lesbophobic, you claimed this could not be because you are “queer as the day is long.” Since you are queer as opposed to lesbian, it is not for you to decide what is lesbophobic or not. Being queer does not inoculate you against homophobia or, indeed, lesbophobia. Queer is an umbrella term, a catch-all which may encompass all but the most rigid practice of heterosexuality. It is not a stable category or coherent political ideology, as anything considered even slightly transgressive may be labelled queer. Queer is a deliberately amorphous expression, avoiding specific definitions and fixed meanings. It need not relate to the politics of resistance, and indeed cannot relate to the politics of resistance because queer lacks the vocabulary to positively identify oppressed and oppressor classes. Queer seeks to subvert the dominant values of society through performativity and playfulness as opposed to deconstructing those values by presenting a radical alternative to white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. Queer is the master’s tools trying to dismantle the master’s house, and – inevitably – failing. Predictably, queer replicates the misogyny of mainstream society. As lesbophobia is essentially misogyny squared, identifying as queer in no way indicates a politics that values lesbian women.

Being a lesbian woman is not the same as being a queer woman. That observation is not rooted in purism, but fact: lesbian and queer are two different realities. Devoid of concrete definitions, to be queer is to be sexually fluid – meaning the term queer is male-inclusive. Within the possibilities implied by queer, there remains scope for men to gain sexual access to women. As queer women’s sexualities do not explicitly – or even implicitly – reject men, queer womanhood is accepted in a way that lesbian womanhood will never be. The lesbian woman represents a threat to the status quo, to male dominion over women, in a way that the queer woman by definition (or lack of) never could. As a result, lesbians have been consistently pathologised and abused since the 1800s. I do not dispute that there are difficulties in the lives of queer women, but a degree of social acceptance may be purchased through vocally disparaging lesbian women in the way that you disparaged Arielle Scarcella.

To publicly shame and ridicule lesbians in an effort to alter our sexual boundaries is to follow the blueprint created by compulsory heterosexuality. And make no mistake – it is Arielle Scarcella’s adherence to lesbian sexual boundaries that Kat Blaque takes issue with, the outspoken self-definition of a lesbian woman, that have resulted in allegations of transphobia. The problematising of gay and lesbian sexuality is an unfortunate product of queer politics. If biological sex is unspeakable, so too is same-sex attraction; if same-sex attraction is unspeakable, so too is lesbian sexuality – the logic of queer forces us back into the closet by insisting that lesbian women and gay men abandon self-definition. And self-definition is fundamental to the liberation of any oppressed group. Sooner or later, those embracing the label of queer must reckon with that homophobia.

Arielle Scarcella sought to address the tensions between queer people and lesbian women in her videos – which, regardless of whether or not one agrees with her content, is a brave thing to have done. Few feminists want to speak publicly in a candid, heartfelt way about the relationship between gender and sexual politics because, irrespective of whether or not one speaks in good faith, a witch hunt is all too likely to ensue. Without having exhaustive knowledge of her work, I can at least say that I’m grateful Scarcella is speaking up for herself and her lesbian sisters. Even and especially within LGBT+ community, this is a particularly unpleasant time to be a lesbian.

The long answer as to why it is newly acceptable to pressure lesbians into altering our sexual boundaries reflects upon the history of anti-lesbian sentiment within feminism, from Betty Friedan branding us the “lavender menace” to Buzzfeed’s Shannon Keating dismissing us as “stale and stodgy.” Lesbians are routinely used as a foil to reassure the wider world that ‘normal’ women can engage in feminism without ending up ugly, angry, and bitter like the dykes. We are caricatured with great cruelty, presented as a malevolent extreme or reduced to a joke. The comparatively mainstream branches of feminism, be they liberal or radical, actively engage in the devaluation of lesbian womanhood.

The only reason your ‘joke’ about slapping Arielle happened is because she is a lesbian who categorically rejects dick. Queer politics have created a strange, painful context where lesbian women are acceptable hate figures in feminism for simply maintaining our sexual boundaries. But lesbians are not the whipping girls of other women, queer or bisexual or straight, nor do we exist as your symbol for all that is wrong within the feminist movement. Using lesbian women as such builds upon a long history of lesbophobia.

If lesbian women are suggesting to you (as many of us did) that your words contain lesbophobia, it is time to listen. Lesbians are not the oppressor class, and we certainly don’t hold the lion’s share of the power in an LGBT+ or feminist setting. Brushing us off as malicious TERFs is a whole lot easier than engaging with anything we have to say about the relationship between gender and sexual politics, a slick manoeuvre that enables queer discourse to delegitimise our words and the women with the courage to speak them. Lesbian women are lesbian precisely because we love women – not because we feel hatred towards any other demographic, although a respectable case has been made for misandry. Lesbian women do not exist to provide validation. The sole purpose of our sexuality is certainly not to provide affirmation. Lesbian sexuality is not a litmus test for transwomanhood.

When it comes to queer politics, lesbians are made into some sort of bogeyman – a spectre that haunts the progressive left. “Cis lesbian” and “TERF” are used almost interchangeably in queer discourse, used as shorthand to convey how utterly contemptible we supposedly are. If our concerns about coercion within queer culture are “TERF nonsense”, our sexual boundaries can be challenged without compunction. There is an Othering, a monstering of lesbian women, that is fundamental to this process. Demonising lesbians for being lesbian means that we are not worthy of compassion or basic human decency, that jokes about slapping, punching, raping, and otherwise abusing us are fair game in feminism.

Demonising lesbians for our sexual orientation is lesbophobia, no matter how you look at it. And I hope that you do look at it, Roxane, that you – and other women, be they queer or bisexual or straight – have some honest, critical self-reflection about why bits of your feminism come at the expense of lesbian women, about why you think that is an acceptable trade to make. This conversation is long overdue.

Yours Sincerely,

Claire

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29 comments

  1. PAO · August 15

    Really really good!

    Liked by 6 people

    • Sara · 29 Days Ago

      Thank you so much for having the guts to stick your head above the parapet and say what needs to be said to the ‘Queer’ community on behalf of lesbians. Your piece is so incredibly eloquent, spot-on and crystal clear that it made for a very gratifying and powerful read. The relentless and worsening lesbophobia and the attempts to appropriate/nullify lesbian sexuality and eradicate lesbian sexual boundaries by the ‘queer’ community over the past few years has left me heartsick and full of despair as a lesbian. Reading your fearless letter which words my feelings exactly has really made a bug difference and allowed me to feel some hope.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Shona · August 15

    So appreciate your writing on this topic. Spoiled for choice re: quotes to pick out when sharing.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. AngryTardis · August 15

    I hope someone somewhere reads your kindly, hopeful words and thinks about them. Thank you for speaking out.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. K · August 15

    This was brilliant, I’m so glad and possibly relieved that you wrote it. I enjoy your blog immensely and wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Jane Mowat · August 16

    Hi Claire, I loved this blog. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me that you are Scottish AND Lesbian AND Black AND Feminist! You write the things that need to be articulated in such a clear and fair way. Thank you. X

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Skye · August 16

    Thank you so much for writing this
    This was my favorite part:
    “Since you are queer as opposed to lesbian, it is not for you to decide what is lesbophobic or not. Being queer does not inoculate you against homophobia or, indeed, lesbophobia. Queer is an umbrella term, a catch-all which may encompass all but the most rigid practice of heterosexuality. It is not a stable category or coherent political ideology, as anything considered even slightly transgressive may be labelled queer. Queer is a deliberately amorphous expression, avoiding specific definitions and fixed meanings. It need not relate to the politics of resistance, and indeed cannot relate to the politics of resistance because queer lacks the vocabulary to positively identify oppressed and oppressor classes. Queer seeks to subvert the dominant values of society through performativity and playfulness as opposed to deconstructing those values by presenting a radical alternative to white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. Queer is the master’s tools trying to dismantle the master’s house, and – inevitably – failing.”

    You’re just so spot on with everything you wrote here.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Niki (@niki_in_france) · August 16

    Hi I’m a bi woman who agrees with all you say here. I love how patient this letter is. I hope Roxanne replies in kind. It would be so amazing to have a reasonable conversation on this issue. Thanks for all your work Claire.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Claire · August 16

      Thank you. I would love it if Roxane made a genuine engagement with my words or the words of any other lesbian who tried to speak to her about lesbophobia.

      Liked by 5 people

  8. Bloggeuse · August 16

    Thank you so much for speaking out again, Claire. This is such an insightful piece – one that I hope trans activists will take the time to read and digest.

    Liked by 5 people

  9. sirenpress · August 16

    Thank you for this, Claire. Strong, beautiful, succinct piece. There’s a general vibe on part of self id-ed queer people of vast superiority to lesbians. Far cooler and more marketable than boring female identified females! This is a good counter to that, and I hope Roxane is able to engage.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. radicalbadass · August 16

    Thank you for speaking out, especially since, as they have shown time and time again, the ‘queer’ community has no qualms about attacking and vilifying anyone who does not follow their ever-more-ridiculous rules: who is allowed to sleep with whom, what words are and are not deemed acceptable by them, and their insistence on catering to male sexual demands.
    You give other women strength to fight back against such misogyny.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Brid · August 16

    Thank you! This was awesome.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. gorlagonuk · August 16

    Dear Claire
    All kudos to you. Straight woman here, and I am shocked to my bones at the lesbophobia I’ve seen in the past few days. I salute your steadfastness and courage in speaking out in this dreadful, hostile environment.
    Human
    beings
    have
    sexualities
    not
    genderalities.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Kismet. · August 16

    Thank you for this article. I’m old enough to remember the lavender menace, and I know that lesbians are the most feared group, because we refuse to center males.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. faye · August 16

    hi, claire. i am a black lesbian from the united states & i am so, so glad to have come across this piece. as others have mentioned, there are so many profound statements within this & you have put together my feelings in such a perfect way. i really hope roxane takes the time to discuss this with you. i’ve lost the will to be angry & now feel unimaginable sadness at the way we are (still) being treated. thank you for standing up for lesbians.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. Kathleen Lowrey · August 16

    really kind and thoughtful without failing to be absolutely clear. Wonderfully written.
    The theme of “violence toward women is okay in this one context” is so relentless. One of my favourite blogs used to be Captain Awkward. Recently she had a post about trans issues, the central slogan of which was “change your heart or die”
    *die*. Not “reconsider”, not “face ostracism in pro-trans contexts like this one”. Nope: death.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. Bev Jo · August 17

    Thank you so much for this wonderful letter, Claire. I really appreciate so much that you said, and especially what so few dare to say, which is you have made mistakes in the past and regret them. That is so much easier when it’s a vehement but respectful disagreement than when it’s a physical threat, which like you said, are increasingly aimed at Lesbians.

    Bad enough the decades of assaults long-time Lesbians have gotten from men for our saying no to them, but now women are joining it too? On behalf of the men of course.

    One thing I disagree with, is commonly assumed myth, is that “the boundary between a butch lesbian and a transman is often blurred.” Actually, the majority of women claiming to be “transmen” are Fem and quite a few are het or bisexual women (like Pat Califia and Loren Cameron) who are trying to get sexual access to gay men. https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2015/01/07/chapter-four-2015-update-25-years-later-supporting-butches-supports-all-lesbians/

    It can be hard for women who aren’t Butch to know because the media rarely shows real Butches, but instead shows grotesque caricatures or clearly Fem women said to be Butch. We are erased constantly. The “Lesbian” media makes it worse with has photography exhibits and displays online that show posturing Fems, often with buzz cuts (that usually screams “Fem” to me) and sado-masochist regalia. It’s actually been Butches, and particularly African-descent Butches, who I’ve seen most objecting to women identifying as our oppressors, men.

    It’s ironical that “queer” shouted at a woman when I was growing up and years later did mean “Lesbian” or “Dyke,” and only much later did non-Lesbians appropriate that name, just as they have appropriated so much else.

    Thank you again because work like you are doing will literally save Lesbians’ lives.

    Like

  17. radfemspiraling · August 17

    This is just perfect!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Max Dashu · August 17

    Thank you Claire. What you describe here is what disturbs me the most, how it is considered “progressive” and “woke” to express contempt and even threats against lesbians: ‘
    “Cis lesbian” and “TERF” are used almost interchangeably in queer discourse, used as shorthand to convey how utterly contemptible we supposedly are. If our concerns about coercion within queer culture are “TERF nonsense”, our sexual boundaries can be challenged without compunction. There is an Othering, a monstering of lesbian women, that is fundamental to this process. Demonising lesbians for being lesbian means that we are not worthy of compassion or basic human decency, that jokes about slapping, punching, raping, and otherwise abusing us are fair game in feminism.’ It’s true, this is the predominating attitude, and very few will speak up for lesbians. Thank you for doing it.

    Liked by 4 people

  19. Pingback: What's Current: Men are AirDropping pictures of their penises to women on the subway
  20. Kat · August 18

    I’m a straight woman. This was so beautifully written I’m in tears. Thank you for writing it.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Flamegal (@Flamegal80) · August 18

    Thank you for your wonderful letter. Thank you for expressing what we lesbians have been saying for ages, so clearly, compassionately, and strongly. Your letter is the final word. I sincerely hope the word TERF is consigned to the rubbish bin of history. I hope that everyone just respects lesbians’ boundaries. Why shouldn’t they? Who else upholds the ultimate feminist utopia? Lesbians.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Raquel · August 18

    Thank you so much for writing this! As a lesbian, it’s hard to see how lesbophobia within the feminist community has become such a trend. I loved every single word you wrote.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. So good. All of this. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Sherri Golden · 26 Days Ago

    This is a brilliant reply. I truly hope your message gets through to her. It was so well written and concise. I sincerely appreciate you speaking up on behalf of all of us. You are an asset to the lesbian community.

    Like

  25. giuliaalexis · 25 Days Ago

    Reblogged this on ANTHRO FEMINISM .

    Like

  26. Marcela · 25 Days Ago

    Really great letter! My heart goes out to Arielle and every lesbian in this world who has to go through that toxic “queer” community right now. I am bisexual and I do acknowledge that I have heterosexual privilege if I date/marry a man.
    I really hope Roxane wakes up from this brand of “feminism” because I did enjoy her work during my libfem years.
    My God, seeing Kat Blaque’s rampant misogyny and lesbophobia further proves that trans women cannot be feminists.

    Like

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