Aux femmes blanches qui veulent être mon amie : guide féministe Noir de solidarité interraciale

For the White Woman Who Wants to Know How to be My Friend: A Black Feminist Guide to Interracial Solidarity is now available in French! Many thanks to the amazing women of Révolution Sorore.


Bref avant-propos : il s’agit de la conclusion de ma série d’essais sur la race et le mouvement féministe. Les parties 1, 2, et 3 sont toutes accessibles ici. La connaissance présentée ici a été acquise à mes dépens. Utilisez-la comme vous le souhaitez. Je dédie cet essai à toutes les femmes – Noires, racisées, et blanches – qui m’ont soutenue sur le chemin de la sororité.

Dès que je parle de racisme dans le mouvement féministe, cette question revient constamment : les femmes blanches demandent « que puis-je faire de concret contre le racisme ? Comment puis-je être solidaire des femmes racisées ? ». Il s’agit là d’une question compliquée, à laquelle je réfléchis depuis maintenant un an, et il n’y a pas de réponse simple. Il y a plutôt plusieurs réponses, aucune n’étant fixe et toutes étant sujettes à des adaptations contextuelles. La réalité de la situation est qu’il n’y a pas de réponse simple et établie aux siècles de racisme – racisme sur lequel notre société est fondée, et sur lequel ses hiérarchies de richesse et de pouvoir sont établies – qui façonnent les rapports entre les femmes racisées et les femmes blanches. Cette asymétrie de pouvoir et de privilège affecte les interactions personnelles. Elle crée les strates de défiance justifiées que les femmes racisées ressentent envers les femmes blanches, même (et peut-être tout particulièrement) en milieu féministe.

La modification des rapports dans lesquels la race n’existe que comme hiérarchie et construire des formes de solidarité pérennes entre femmes va nécessiter une introspection et un effort constants, ainsi qu’une volonté de la part des femmes blanches de changer leur approche. Voici ma perspective sur les étapes concrètes que les femmes blanches peuvent passer afin de remettre en cause leur propre racisme, qu’il soit conscient ou inconscient, dans l’espoir de leur donner la possibilité d’être véritablement sorores avec les femmes racisées.

« La première chose que tu dois faire est d’oublier que je suis Noire. La seconde est que tu ne dois jamais oublier que je suis Noire » Pat Parker, For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to be My Friend

Reconnaissez les différences causées par la race. Ne définissez pas les femmes racisées par nos ethnicités respectives. De même, ne prétendez pas que nos vies sont les mêmes que les vôtres. Ne pas voir les races revient à ne pas voir le racisme. Ne pas voir le racisme revient à le laisser prospérer sans remise en question. Commencez par reconnaître notre humanité, en voyant les femmes racisées comme des personnes pleinement accomplies, dotées de perspicacité, de capacité à penser de façon critique, ainsi que – et c’est souvent le point le plus négligée dans cette conversation – de sentiments. Commencez par examiner la façon dont vous pensez les femmes racisées, et construisez à partir de ça.

Monopolisation du féminisme et autorité

Les femmes blanches qui monopolisent le discours féministe et qui se présentent comme les seules autorités qualifiées à déterminer ce qui est et ce qui n’est pas le Vrai Féminisme perpétuent de nombreux problèmes. Ce n’est pas un hasard si les contributions des femmes racisées, en particulier leurs commentaires s’adressant au racisme ou au privilège blanc, sont fréquemment reléguées au rang de distraction par rapport aux enjeux principaux du féminisme, c’est-à-dire les enjeux qui ont des conséquences négatives directes sur les femmes blanches.

Le présupposé tacite selon lequel la perspective d’une femme blanche est plus légitime et plus informée que la nôtre, que si les femmes racisées se renseignaient simplement davantage sur un enjeu particulier alors notre regard deviendrait lui aussi nuancé, est persistant. Ce présupposé est soutenu par la croyance selon laquelle les femmes blanches sont l’avant-garde du mouvement féministes, et que les femmes racisées sont au second plan. La situation est la même s’agissant de la politique de classe, avec les femmes des classes populaires étant catégorisées comme non informées quand leurs perspectives féministes diffèrent de celles des femmes de classe moyenne. Le renforcement de ces hiérarchies est le plus grand obstacle à la solidarité entre les femmes.

Les femmes blanches ont l’habitude de trancher entre ce qui est féministe et ce qui ne l’est pas d’une façon telle qu’elles centrent le vécu des femmes blanches et le positionnent comme la référence normative du vécu des femmes. Si le vécu des femmes blanches est la référence, le vécu des femmes Noires et racisées devient, par définition, la forme déviante – et ce paradigme contribue à altériser les femmes racisées.

Le féminisme est un mouvement politique dédié à la libération des femmes de l’oppression. Cette dernière est en partie genrée, mais aussi en partie basée sur la race, et la classe. Elle est aussi en partie reliée à la sexualité ou encore au handicap. Et au sein de ces catégories, il y a toujours possibilité de recoupement. L’incapacité à reconnaître l’intersection de ces identités maintient l’oppression des femmes les plus marginalisées, ce qui n’est en aucun cas un objectif féministe. Dire aux femmes racisées qui dénoncent le racisme « les filles, ce n’est pas votre moment » rentre directement en contradiction avec les principes féministes. S’attendre à ce que les femmes racisées gardent le silence pour le bien général, c’est-à-dire au bénéfice des femmes blanches, n’est, par nature, pas un acte féministe. L’idée qu’il y a un lieu et une heure pour reconnaître une forme d’oppression vécue par les femmes mine les principes sur lesquels le mouvement féministe est construit. Les femmes blanches doivent écouter ce que les femmes racisées ont à dire sur le racisme au lieu de détourner les critiques.

Les femmes blanches ont une fâcheuse tendance à s’imposer comme les sauveuses éclairées tout en présentant les hommes racisés comme des oppresseurs barbares et les femmes racisées comme des victimes passives d’une oppression qui ne vient que des hommes de leur groupe ethnique. Cette logique reconnaît que les femmes racisées subissent des violences genrées tout en effaçant l’oppression basée sur la race que nous subissons. De plus, cela nie la réalité de l’appartenance des femmes blanches à une classe oppresseuse – façon habile et déloyale de retirer aux femmes blanches toute responsabilité dans le maintien du racisme systémique. Si le problème du racisme n’existe pas, il n’y a pas besoin d’en parler. Si on ne parle pas du racisme, les femmes blanches peuvent continuer à en bénéficier sans remise en question.

Afin que la solidarité interraciale existe au sein du mouvement féministe, la question de la propriété doit être soulevée. Encore et encore, les femmes blanches se comportement comme si le mouvement féministe était leur propriété exclusive, auquel les femmes racisées peuvent à la rigueur participer sans jamais contribuer à la définition du discours et des actions. Non seulement cette approche efface le rôle historique essentiel des femmes racisées dans le mouvement féministe, mais elle nie la possibilité que les futurs efforts de collaboration se produisent sur un pied d’égalité.

Les femmes blanches qui veulent établir un rapport de confiance et de solidarité avec les femmes racisées doivent d’abord réfléchir à la façon dont elles pensent les femmes racisées, à la façon dont elles nous conceptualisent – est-ce que vous nous considérez comme des sœurs ou comme quelqu’un à qui vous apportez un soutien de façade sans jamais vraiment nous écouter ? Sommes-nous une partie centrale de la lutte féministe ou une simple case à cocher ? Une honnête auto-critique est essentielle. Analyse la façon dont vous nous pensez, étudiez avec critique les raisons, et travaillez à partie de là.

Organisation du militantisme féministe

Etes-vous en train de monter un groupe pour les femmes ? De créer un événement ou un espace féministe ? D’établir un réseau féministe ? Chaque rassemblement de femmes crée de nouvelles possibilités pour le mouvement féministe, et il se trouve que l’une de ces possibilités est l’amélioration des rapports de race en milieu féministe. En termes d’organisation collective, les femmes blanches doivent se poser la question suivante : y a-t-il des femmes racisées dans ce groupe ? S’il n’y en a pas, c’est pour une bonne raison. C’est bien beau de dire que des femmes auparavant amies s’organisent ou que quelques militantes partagent un but précis, mais la façon dont ce groupe s’est formé n’a pas eu lieu dans un vide social. Il s’est formé dans une société où les femmes de couleur sont racisées et altérisée à tel point que notre vécu de femmes est perçu comme fondamentalement moindre. Par conséquent, notre compréhension de la situation politique des femmes, et donc du féminisme, est perçue comme inférieure.

Par exemple, plus je m’investis dans la cause Noire, plus ma légitimité féministe est contestée par des femmes blanches qui persistent à croire deux idées erronées : la première, qu’il est impossible de s’occuper de plusieurs causes en même temps, et la seconde, que la politique de libération peut être clairement divisée puisque le chevauchement des identités n’a jamais besoin d’être pris en compte. L’idée selon laquelle mon soutien à la libération des Noir-e-s ne peut être qu’au détriment de mon soutien à la libération des femmes, qu’il dilue ma politique féministe, ne saisit pas la façon dont l’essence de ces deux engagements politiques a été établie et le fait qu’ils sont intrinsèquement connectés dans la vie des femmes Noires.

S’il n’y a aucune femme racisée engagée dans votre groupe féministe, réfléchissez au pourquoi et ensuite à la façon d’y remédier. Peut-être que votre organisation, votre contenu, ou votre praxis féministe est aliénante ? L’auto-critique est loin d’être un processus confortable, mais elle est nécessaire pour que la solidarité soit possible. Un élément fondamental de cet enjeu est la façon dont les femmes blanches se comportent avec les femmes racisées.

Considérer les femmes racisées comme un simple gage de diversité, et non comme des membres à part entière de l’équipe, trahit une forme de racisme dans la façon dont nous sommes conceptualisées. Nos compétences, savoirs, et engagements pour les femmes ne sont pas vus comme étant aussi évidents que la contribution des femmes blanches au groupe en milieu féministe. Le supposé selon lequel notre présence ne sera jamais qu’une façon de remplir des quotas ignore notre humanité. Oubliez cette façon de penser. Regardez notre valeur en tant qu’individues, comme vous en avez l’habitude avec les femmes blanches, et vous finirez par notre humanité aussi. Déconstruisez votre racisme avec la même vigueur que vous déconstruisez votre misogynie intériorisée.

Il est important que des femmes racisées soient impliquées au niveau organisationnel, en tant que membres de l’équipe qui conçoit les événements et les campagnes. Laissez tomber le paternalisme qui vous persuade que vous, en tant que femmes blanches, vous êtes en position de parler pour toutes les femmes.

Comportements

Point le plus évident : ne soyez pas racistes, ni dans vos mots, ni dans vos actes. D’une façon ou d’une autre, cela se verra. Si vous dites quelque chose à propos des femmes racisées en privé que vous ne diriez pas en public, réfléchissez à la raison pour laquelle vous différenciez ces deux environnements – la réponse est souvent liée au fait que les femmes blanches ne veulent pas être vues comme racistes. Paradoxalement, être vue comme raciste est devenu un plus grand tabou que le racisme même.

Et si votre racisme est confronté, ne voyez pas cela comme une attaque personnelle. Ne soyez pas les femmes blanches qui ramènent tout à leurs propres souffrances, dont les larmes les exemptent de toute responsabilité pour leurs actions. Réfléchissez plutôt à l’étendue des souffrances subies par les femmes racisées en raison de ce racisme – je garantis que c’est si douloureux que votre propre inconfort n’est rien en comparaison. Ayez la même empathie pour les femmes racisées qui subissent le racisme que pour les femmes blanches qui subissent la misogynie.

« A la fin, nous nous souviendrons non pas des mots de nos ennemis, mais des silences de nos amis » Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Ne restez pas silencieuses quand vos ami-e-s sont racistes. Ne regardez pas ailleurs. Ne prétendez pas que rien ne soit arrivé. Votre silence vous rend complice de ce racisme. Votre silence normalise ce racisme, et fait partie de ce qui le rend plus légitime en général. Il n’est pas facile de défier quelqu’un dont on est proche, ou quelqu’un avec plus de pouvoir et d’influence. Mais la justice n’est pas toujours la chose la plus facile à mettre en pratique.

Enfin, ne vous reposez pas sur vos lauriers. Dans un récent entretien pour Feminist Current, Sheila Jeffreys regrette l’essor des politiques identitaires, qu’elle associe à la praxis intersectionnelle, affirmant que parce qu’on n’attend jamais des hommes qu’ils fassent tout, on ne devrait pas l’attendre des femmes. Cette attitude n’est pas rare parmi les femmes féministes blanches. Toutefois, l’attitude de Jeffreys soulève la question suivante : depuis quand le féminisme radical lesbien prend-t-il exemple sur le comportement des hommes ? Le féminisme n’est pas un nivellement par le bas, c’est un mouvement politique radical. Et cela implique une intense pensée critique, une remise en cause constante de l’oppression qui ne soit pas sélective mais totale.

Ce sera inconfortable. Ce ne sera pas une tâche aisée. Mais cela crée des pistes entières et nouvelles de soutien et de sororité entre les femmes. Solidarité qui soutiendra et nourrira toutes les femmes dans notre chemin vers la libération.

 

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Interracial Solidarity in the Feminist Movement – #FiLiA2017

A brief foreword: this is the transcript of the keynotes address I delivered at FiLiA 2017, on Saturday the 14th of October. I was initially hesitant to share this speech, as I can no longer think of interracial solidarity between women of colour and white women as a viable project. However, out of commitment to feminist documentation and the women who requested it be made public, I have decided to post the transcript.

Writers and theorists who remain immobile, closed to any shift in perspective, ultimately have little to offer. Perhaps in the future I will return to advocating interracial movement building. Perhaps not. Either way, this transcript is an outline of the thoughts I held on the matter.


It is an honour to be here with you all today, and a privilege to share the stage with Kate, Sophie, and Cordelia. Thank you for inviting me to be part of this year’s FiLiA conference. As someone who is passionate about movement building, it is a pleasure to be here speaking about the radical potential within feminist sisterhood. As Adrienne Rich once said, “The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.” Given their revolutionary potential, I think that as feminists it’s worth exploring the possibilities contained within the connections between women – some of which remain largely unrealised or underexplored. For this reason, I’m here to talk to you about interracial solidarity within the feminist movement – a mine of untapped potential within our politics and many women’s lives.

Before we get going, it’s important to say that the burden of self-reflection and action required to improve the dynamic of race within the feminist movement lies with white women. This is at points a tough conversation, but it’s also a necessary one, and for the white women hesitant about engaging fully with it I’d like to point out that racism is consistently undermining the efforts made by feminist women – the benefits to fully unpicking racism from feminist spaces and communities are legion. To the women of colour in the audience, I have decided to focus on this specific issue because it is vital that all the Black and Brown girls coming into this movement experience better from it than what has gone on before in mixed feminist spaces. Every last one of them deserves more.

Feminism is a social movement devoted to the liberation of women and girls from oppression. The oppressions we experience are the result of white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy – quite a mouthful, but it is vital to acknowledge that these hierarchies are all interconnected. Systems of oppression cannot be neatly divided into separate entities when they constantly overlap in our everyday lives. Since you’re engaging in a feminist space that’s all about trying to develop ideas on how to improve our movement and make this world a better place to live in, I’m working in the belief that most of you will be receptive. We are all here at FiLiA as feminists who understand the value of movement building. I’ll try to be gentle, but not at the expense of the radical honesty this conversation demands.

The reality is that race politics are where a lot of white women fall down in their feminist practice. Not all white women – but enough that women of colour are reasonably wary of those interactions. White liberal feminists have a habit of failing to consider racism in terms of structural power. White radical feminists can be quite unwilling to apply the same scrutiny or structural analysis to the hierarchy of race as they do to the hierarchy of gender. Both liberal and radical white feminists often carry the expectation that women of colour should prioritise challenging misogyny over resisting racism, as though the two issues are mutually exclusive and not woven together in the fabric of our everyday lives.

For years amazing women such as Stella Dadzie, who will be speaking to you tomorrow morning, have been documenting and challenging the racism and misogyny that Black women experience in Britain. I’m not here to prove that racism exists or has negative consequences for women of colour in Britain: it does. I am here to talk about how we – as feminists, as women who share a social movement – can unpick racism from feminist communities. I’m going to talk about movement building, the dynamic of race in the feminist movement, and practical steps towards building interracial solidarity between women.

As we participate more in feminist spaces and conversations, women build a deep understanding of patriarchy – how it works, and where we are positioned by the hierarchy of gender. Feminism has enabled women to connect the personal with the political in our analysis of patriarchy. Nothing about feminist politics or theory is abstract – it all connects back to some element of women’s lives. The movement also gives us space to think about how structural inequalities have impacted upon our experiences, shaped our realities. And once you start to join the dots between the personal and the political, the extent to which women are marginalised around the world becomes clear.

White women rightly consider themselves to belong to the oppressed sex class. And I think that it’s because white feminist women fully understand the implications of belonging to the dominant class that exploring what it means to be part of the dominant racial class can be so challenging. This awareness punctures the fundamentally misguided belief that all women are positioned the same within structures of power.

That knowledge does not fit alongside the claim that a unilateral, one-size-fits-all approach to feminism is going to work – that really gender is the main problem women have to contend with, and everything else can wait. So in order to side-step any difficult conversations about race and power within feminism, we’re fed this idea that talking about race divides women. In addition to protecting white women from the having to confront their own racism, this argument suggests that the energies of all feminist women would be best concentrated on challenging sex-based oppression – if we follow this logic, it leads to the expectation that women of colour work towards an agenda that sees a great many white women liberated while we are left within exploitative hierarchies.

Focussing on misogyny alone isn’t going to solve all of the problems created by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, let alone dismantle that system of power. Being selective about the forms of exploitation and dominance that we analyse is not only ineffective, but a contradiction of core feminist principles. Every feminist knows that revolution isn’t brought about by half-assed politics. We have to live those politics and let them diffuse throughout every aspect of our lives. There’s no way that we can drive a cultural shift towards women’s liberation if we don’t make sure that feminism recognises and prioritises the needs of all women – of colour, working class, disabled, migrant, lesbian, bi. All women.

It isn’t talking about race that divides women – it’s racism that divides us. To be specific, women as a political class are divided by the racism white women direct towards women of colour, the racism that white women observe and fail to challenge because, ultimately, they benefit from it. Whether intentional or casually delivered, that racism has the same result: it completely undermines the possibility of solidarity between women of colour and white women. White women’s unwillingness to explore the subject of race, to acknowledge the ways in which they benefit from white supremacy, acts as a barrier between mutual trust.

So It’s not really a secret that certain strands of feminism have an ongoing problem with race. The feminist movement didn’t form inside of some sort of social vacuum, separate from white supremacist values or beliefs. Everyone in this society absorbs racism. People of colour internalise it. White people weaponise it against us. Even within the movement. Here are some examples of how.

Less so now that intersectionality has become so fashionable, but some white women have a tendency to position racism and sexism as totally distinct and separate problems, issues that do not overlap and do not therefore need to be analysed together. This perspective completely disregards the lived realities of women of colour. While a significant amount of early radical feminist writing and activism was what we would now describe as being intersectional in nature, white womanhood was too often treated as the normative standard of womanhood within the second wave of feminism. As a result, women of colour were and continue to be further marginalised in a context that is supposed to be about the liberation of all women.

Another issue is the response when we try to address racism in the feminist movement. When white women disregard and speak over those women of colour who do voice concerns over racism, that’s not sisterhood. If anything, that pattern of behaviour undermines sisterhood by exploiting the hierarchy of race. Telling us that we’re angry, scary, imagining things, being overly sensitive, or playing on any other racial stereotype to shut down the conversation and assert the innocence of white womanhood is racism, plain and simple. Yet it happens so routinely.

And then there are the hierarchies that manifest within feminist organising, hierarchies that only replicate the system of value created by white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. The balance of authority tipping towards white women in mixed feminist spaces is not neutral. Women of colour ending up on the fringes of a feminist group or campaign, brought to the centre of the team only when there’s a camera about, is not neutral.

Looking over patterns that unfold within feminist spaces, there are three main areas which I invite white women to consider for future collective projects within the movement. This is by no means an exhaustive list of every single issue that stems from racism within the movement, and neither is it a definitive guide. The politics of engagements between white women and women of colour are contextual, relational, and shifting – nothing is set in stone, and truly organic connections can’t be pre-scripted. That being said, perhaps some of these points will prove helpful in shaping approaches to those interactions.

The first point is white women acting as gatekeepers of the feminist movement, positioning themselves as authorities of feminism above other women. Of course white women have developed a rich body of knowledge throughout their participation in feminism, but feminism is a global movement containing multitudes of women – however worthwhile it may be, white women’s theorising cannot reasonably be assumed to hold universal or absolute feminist truths applicable to all women. This tension manifests in a lack of understanding towards the perspectives held by Black and Asian feminists – there can be a tacit assumption that our ideas aren’t worth meeting or building upon within mainstream feminism. Or, if we approach an issue from a different angle to white women, there’s often an implication that if our ideas were a little more developed or nuanced, the disagreement wouldn’t exist. And that makes it very difficult to enter a feminist conversation on an equal footing.

Feminist organising is another area worth drawing attention to. It takes such energy and commitment to sustain a group or campaign. I fully appreciate that, and commend all the women who are part of creating that magic. All the same, it’s important to keep working towards best feminist practice – and improving the dynamic of race within mixed feminist spaces is very much an achievable goal. If there are no women of colour in your group, team, or collection, ask why not. Please don’t fall into the trap of complacency and think that no women of colour are interested in working collaboratively. If there are none, there’s a reason for our absence. Reflect on what it might be about the project that’s off putting and try to work out steps to change it. Give women of colour reason to trust you. Think about it this way: how much time would you realistically spend in an optional activity where being on the receiving end of misogyny was a distinct possibility?

And when there are women of colour within the feminist space, think about your approach to us. Do you give us the same support, encouragement, and understanding that you would another white woman? When we speak, do you listen to our voices and engage with the layers of what we have to say? Do you think of us as full members of the collective, necessary to the work done by the feminist movement, or as tokens and boxes to be ticked on a diversity form? How you answer those questions make a profound difference. Those are deciding factors in whether sisterhood can exist.

The most direct step is to reconfigure how you think about women of colour. I don’t really like the word ally, because allyship tends to devolve into something hollow and performative. It also doesn’t really offer the scope for a mutual connection, which is what interracial solidarity between women is. But unpicking racism has a steep learning curve. How could it not when white supremacist values are at the foundation of this society? During the course of that learning process, especially during the early stages, try and keep in mind that most feminist women of colour have had these conversations about race dozens and dozens of times. And those conversations cost us more than they cost you. There are plenty of quality books and resources on the subject, so make use of them.

And now I have some points for women of colour who are pursuing any kind of solidarity with white women – less advice than reminders. Look after yourself. Don’t forget to prioritise self-care. Your needs are important, and it’s okay to take whatever space and time you need. I think because of the superwoman quality that gets projected onto Black women especially, we are not always positioned as in need of gentleness or empathy – so it is crucial that we take care of ourselves and each other.

Remember that you can say no. It is a complete sentence, short and sweet. And you don’t owe anybody an explanation as to why.

You’re not a learning resource, and you’re not the Morgan Freeman type character in a white woman’s story – you’re a human being with her own story. So don’t be afraid to set boundaries, assert needs, and follow your own instincts.

There is something fundamentally freeing about spaces that are built by and for women of colour. Those spaces have a joy and easiness to them, and there is this indescribable feeling of connection – it’s very nourishing to experience. Women come out of our shells and share so much of ourselves that it is impossible to be unmoved by a women of colour space. Last weekend I was in Amsterdam for the second annual Women of Colour in Europe conference, and inhabiting a space like that is sustaining. That feeling is what I think of when I picture sisterhood. And I think we’ll have achieved a greater degree of interracial solidarity when there is greater scope for women of colour to access that feeling of ease and belonging in mixed feminist spaces.

If I am willing to remain an optimist, it is because I believe in a feminist movement built upon true solidarity – one in which “all women” means “all women”, not an insistence that white women are prioritised. And I can’t think of a better place to start building it than FiLiA. Although our movement struggles with the dynamic of race, it can improve here and now. To be a feminist is to be an optimist – to retain the belief that structural inequalities can be dismantled, the belief that better is possible.

When women of colour address the racism demonstrated by white women, we are seeking to overcome the ultimate barrier between women. I don’t think many women waste their breathe on a critique if they don’t think it can bring about positive results. I’ll finish with this quote by Chandra Mohanty, which sums it up beautifully: “…sisterhood cannot be assumed on the basis of gender; it must be forged in concrete, historical and political practice and analysis.”

‘Punch a TERF’ Rhetoric Encourages Violence Against Women

A brief foreword. This is the sixth of my essays on sex, gender, and sexuality. (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 available here.) I suspect it’s also the least polished, as I was shaken by the assault of Maria MacLachlan and wrote this to work through my thoughts, but it was written from a place of truth.


My grandmother is a brilliant woman. She is clever, compassionate, and unfailingly kind. She is selfless, generous with her time, and loyal to those she loves. I have lived with my grandmother since birth – during childhood she read me Swallows and Amazons at night, sat by the pool during my swimming lessons, and took me to the cinema to see Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – the film which opened my eyes to the magic of cinema as a child. Nana also sat through Shrek and, with thinly-veiled disgust, Shrek 2. If that’s not love, what is? My grandmother and I have always been close. Since my grandfather died last year, and it has been just the two of us in the house, we have grown closer still – we live like what I’d describe as an infinitely more interesting version of the Gilmour Girls.

I’ve also noticed that my grandmother has grown a bit more radical in that time. She has stopped trying to convince me that men have their uses, which she often did after I came out to her as lesbian. She now has faith in my ability to do what were once considered “man jobs”, like building furniture or running heavy things to the dump. She will readily call racism by its name is and receptive to having racism pointed out. She has identified an abusive relationship and asked me for the relevant details about shelters to pass on and how best to support the woman in question as she left the relationship – I’m very proud of her for that.

My grandmother is also pro-life. She does not believe that abortion is legitimate or morally acceptable. She’s a committed Catholic and gets letters from SPUC every so often. I once joked to her that with my advocacy of abortion and her opposition to it, the output from our household basically cancelled itself out. It’s quite strange to think that Nana is roughly the same age as Angela Davis. I used to reason that, being of a different generation, it was to be expected that she held those views. But then, especially as I grew familiar with feminists who were active during the Women’s Liberation Movement and read more feminist books from the ‘60s and ‘70s, it seemed ridiculous to reduce her politics to a matter of age. Either way, I don’t agree with Nana about abortion. She certainly doesn’t agree with me. But we love each other very much and that disagreement – the most fundamental disagreement in our relationship – doesn’t alter the fact we’re ride or die.

what_is_gender_flyerOn our way out this afternoon, she gently pointed out that I seemed a bit down. My depression has been severe this year, and I know Nana worries. At first I didn’t say much. But months of therapy have made it substantially easier to divine the root cause of a problem. I told her that a 60 year old woman was beaten yesterday in London – that Maria MacLachlan was punched and choked for going to a talk about the Gender Recognition Act. I explained that the original venue, New Cross Learning, had backed out after being harassed into cancelling – the intensity of protest had the library worried about safety of staff, volunteers, and those accessing the community space. I briefly outlined the schism between a queer and a radical feminist understanding of gender. Mostly, I told Nana that I felt heartsick that a woman had been beaten.

Nana didn’t ask if I knew the woman in question, and I loved her for that – for getting that a woman being assaulted, any woman being hurt, was painful to hear of. What she did ask is if the police caught those behind the attack, if feminist women were challenging it. The mechanics of digital media are as much a mystery to Nana as her daily Sudoku puzzles are to me, but she sees me glued to my phone all day long and understands enough to know that if women gather our energies to make a fuss over injustice then something will come of it. And I told her the truth, a truth that left me even more heartsick: not exactly. There are women who have rallied, and there are women who have looked the other way.


And my Nana said what dozens and dozens of seasoned feminists lack the courage to say: that the attackers were brutes. She asked what sort of horrible, small-minded person would deliberately hurt a woman in her sixties.

For a split-second I wondered what the response to describing those behind the attack as ‘horrible’ or ‘brutes’ would be on Twitter. TERF, obviously – that’s trans-exclusionary radical feminist, for the uninitiated. Maybe Nazi. (More and more, I’ve noticed radical feminists who are lesbian described as Nazi – without the slightest recognition that lesbian women were persecuted, rounded up as “asocials” for their refusal to produce blonde-haired blue-eyed babies, and killed by the Nazi regime.) And then I knew, as is so often the case, that my grandmother was right. They are horrible. They are brutes.

The footage is difficult to watch. A group of women gathered at the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, where they had arranged to meet before moving on to the venue – which had

IMG_20170915_114529

“NO TERFS ON OUR TURF!” Shared by Sisters Uncut

been kept secret owing to the risk involved. The protest – organised by Action for Trans Health London, Sisters Uncut, and Goldsmiths LGBTQ+ Society – is in full swing. There’s a lot of shouting. The atmosphere is febrile. Amidst the clusters of people, Maria MacLachlan holds a camera to document the proceedings. She is set upon by someone substantially bigger than her. Two more attackers join in after MacLachlan pulls down her assailant’s hood so that they may be identified, as though the beating of a sixty year old woman is too great an undertaking for one man alone. MacLachlan gave her account of her assault to Feminist Current:

[She] had been trying to film the protest when some of the trans activists began to shout, “When TERFs attack, we fight back.” She asked them, “Who’s attacking?” At this point, MacLachlan says a young man in a hoodie tried to grab her camera. “I think he knocked it out of my hand but it was looped to my wrist. He turned back and tried to grab it again. I hung onto it.” As the two struggled, MacLachlan pulled back the hood of the man holding her camera, so onlookers could photograph his face, and another man ran over and began punching MacLachlan. Wood and a third man pushed her to the ground, where she says she was kicked and punched.

The whole incident is disturbing. There is a long history of violence being used to discourage women from collectively organising, and the assault of Maria MacLachlan FB_IMG_1505469664006opens the latest chapter of a story called patriarchy. Both the violence and the context that enabled it to happen must be scrutinised.

How have we reached a point where beating a 60 year old woman can be credited to the politics of liberation? How have we reached a point where feminists can ignore that a 60 year old woman was beaten? How have we reached a point where some self-proclaimed feminists read about this assault and questioned whether a woman was lying about violence, if it really happened, or – if it did happen – she provoked the attack? The silence and disbelief of other women, women who call themselves feminist, is like salt in a wound. Our whole movement is built around the belief that no woman should be subject to violence, and that those women who do experience violence are fully deserving of our support.

The deeper we go into feminist politics and spaces – especially digital feminist spaces – the easier it becomes to forget about certain realities of feminist struggle. The gap between ideas and reality, between the theory being developed and the everyday unfolding of women’s lives, grows until something vital is lost through the cracks of that in-between space. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that queer politics and gender ideology have flourished in the internet age; when so much of our lives are lived online, it is easier to lose focus on the significance of material reality.

While it is certainly shocking that Maria MacLachlan was beaten by trans activists, it was not altogether unpredictable. Last year a transwoman called Dana Rivers murdered an interracial lesbian couple and their son. Not long before committing triple homicide, Rivers protested the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival on the grounds that it was trans-exclusionary. For the last few years, a steady flow of violent rhetoric has been levelled against women, in particular lesbians – much of it from self-identified feminists. Kill all TERFs. Punch all TERFs. Knife a TERF. Burn a TERF. Rivers shot and stabbed the Wright family before setting fire to their house, violence that is mirrored by the language directed towards the women denounced as TERFs. The violence trans activists and allies enacted when Vancouver Women’s Library launched was similarly normalised by misogynistic, abusive language. Given that “punch a TERF” has become something of a rallying cry for those invested in upholding gender ideology, women cannot afford to feign surprise when it actually happens.


Radical feminists have warned against the violent rhetoric attached to the term TERF for years, and been dismissed as bigots for our trouble. Jokes and threats involving violence against women, often indistinguishable, are now commonplace on queer corners of the internet. Etsy stock badges that conflate trans liberation with violence against women. We have reached a bizarre point at which violence against women is circulated as a bold message of resistance by people who claim to be feminists.

Painful disagreements and challenging ideas need not result in abuse. I can’t imagine a single woman campaigning for abortion rights and access to reproductive healthcare beating up my grandmother for her opposing views. Nor could I imagine any of the campaigners who have got in touch with my grandmother beating pro-choice women, even if they do think we’re heading for an afterlife of eternal damnation. The conversations I’ve had with Nana about abortion have been hard for both of us. Realistically, we’re never going to agree. But that doesn’t mean those conversations have to be destructive.

Screenshot_20170914-220321There must be a way to talk about the tensions between gender ideology and sexual politics without abusive language or acts of violence. The subject is fraught, uncomfortable, and certainly not abstract for anyone involved with gender discourse – which is all the more reason to bring empathy to the table. Dehumanising women to the point where we are considered legitimate targets of violence only upholds the values set by patriarchy. We do not approach the subject of gender from a position of power – gender has been used, for hundreds upon hundreds of years, to oppress women. That gender is fundamental to the oppression of women is too often overlooked in gender discourse.

No matter what your politics, we should all recognise that beating up a 60 year old woman doesn’t liberate. It’s violence against women. If your politics justify violence against women, they are shitty and misogynistic politics. It is not complicated. There is no justification. Women are not legitimate targets of violence. Not for having different views to you. Not for listening to or engaging with ideas you disagree with. Never. Plenty of the progressive left looked the other way at “punch a TERF” rhetoric normalising violence against women, and this is what it led to: a woman being beaten.

Violence against women has no place in the politics of liberation. If you ignore this Screenshot_20170915-132601assault to keep your ally cookies on queer identity politics, you’re complicit. If you give language that normalises violence against women, you’re complicit. Violence against women has no place in any context. That is what radical feminists consistently argue. Radical feminist women are depicted as violent simply for our ideas about gender – meanwhile, those who perpetrate physical acts of violence against women are framed as our victims.

When radical feminists critique gender, we are accused of debating trans-identified people’s right to live free from violence or even accused of exterminating trans-identified people. Aside from being falsehoods, these claims serve to discredit radical feminists’ explorations of gender. Writing for Trouble and Strife, Jane Clare Jones unpicks queer misrepresentations of radical feminism:

[Gender] debate is not academic for anyone involved. For both trans and non-trans women, what is at stake is the ability to understand themselves in a way that makes their lives livable. For feminist women, the axiom ‘trans women are women,’ when understood to mean ‘womanhood is gender identity and hence, trans women are women in exactly the same way as non-trans women are women’ is experienced as an extreme erasure of the way our being-as-women is marked by a system of patriarchal violence that aims to control our sexed bodies.
This system of patriarchal violence also marks the lives of trans women, who are indubitably victims of the kinds of male violence feminists have spent years attempting to resist. To cast certain feminists as the principal threat to trans existence, it is therefore necessary for trans-ideology to sideline the patriarchal violence that affects both women and trans people, and instead, position feminists at the apex of a structure of oppression.

Reframing women’s oppression as a form of privilege has enabled the disciples of gender ideology to target women as the oppressor and feel legitimate in doing so. But this perspective fails to consider the reality of the situation: women are an oppressed class, marginalised as a result of having been born female into a patriarchal society. Women do not hold a wealth of structural power over trans-identified people, and claiming that women challenging the means of our oppression are enacting anti-trans violence is ludicrous. Radical feminists are the staunchest and most consistent critics of male violence, which is the cause of transphobic attacks.

If you’re a feminist who has ever used the term TERF to describe a radical feminist, stop and think about the violent misogyny it’s used in conjunction with. Think about how “punch a TERF” led to Maria MacLachlan being assaulted. Think about whether you want to be complicit in violence against women, or play a part in challenging that violence – I suspect it’s the latter.

And if you’re going to keep branding women TERFs, remember: you cannot beat dissent out of women. Trying to do so only recreates patriarchal values, which started the pattern of using violence to render women compliant. It isn’t decent human behaviour, never mind feminist. Women are resilient – we have to be, to make it through life under patriarchy. And we will not fall silent.


 

Bibliography

Marilyn Frye. (1983). The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory.

Audre Lorde. (1983). The Master’s Toois Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.

Seu silêncio não te protegerá: o racismo no movimento feminista

Your Silence Will Not Protect You: Racism in the Feminist Movement is now available in Portuguese! Thanks to QG Feminista for the translation.


Este é o primeiro de uma série de postagens de blog sobre raça e racismo no movimento feminista. Não é algo agradável. Igualmente, não é uma reprimenda. É feita para despertar — algo que espero que seja respondido.


Prefácio

A solidariedade entre as mulheres é vital para a libertação. Para que o movimento feminista seja bem-sucedido, os princípios feministas devem ser aplicados tanto na ação quanto nas palavras. Embora a interseccionalidade seja usada como uma palavra-chave no ativismo contemporâneo, de muitas formas nos desviamos do propósito proposto por Crenshaw: trazer as vozes marginalizadas da periferia para o centro do movimento feminista, destacando a coexistência das opressões. Mulheres brancas com políticas liberais rotineiramente se descrevem como feministas interseccionais antes de falar em cima e desconsiderar aquelas mulheres que negociam com identidades marginalizadas de raça, classe e sexualidade em acréscimo ao sexo. A interseccionalidade como sinalização de virtude é diametralmente oposta à práxis interseccional. A teoria não surgiu para ajudar as mulheres brancas na busca de biscoitos — foi desenvolvida predominantemente por feministas negras com o objetivo de dar voz às mulheres não-brancas.

As feministas brancas de todas as vertentes estão caindo no cruzamento da raça. As feministas liberais frequentemente não consideram o racismo em termos de poder estrutural. As feministas radicais muitas vezes não estão dispostas a aplicar os mesmos princípios de análise estrutural à opressão enraizada na raça como no sexo.

Mulheres brancas que são autoproclamadas feministas tem o hábito de esperar que mulheres não-brancas escolham entre suas identidades de raça e sexo, priorizar a misoginia desafiadora em relação ao racismo opositor, em nome da irmandade. Textos de feministas negras clássico datando do início de 1970 em diante detalha esse fenômeno e fala que muito pouco sobre a dinâmica inter-racial entre as mulheres mudou desde sua publicação. O que mulheres brancas costumam falhar em considerar é que, para mulheres não-brancas, raça e sexo são intrinsecamente conectados em como nós experimentamos o mundo, como nós estamos situadas dentro das estruturas de poder. Ademais, a discussão sobre raça costuma ser tratada como um descarrilhamento das Reais Questões Feministas (isto é, aquelas relacionadas diretamente a mulheres brancas), a implicação de que mulheres não-brancas são, no máximo, um subgrupo dentro do movimento.

Independentemente de como sua política feminista se manifesta, a questão da raça é aquela que não é tão facilmente respondida, ou até mesmo reconhecida por muitas mulheres brancas. Através da teoria e do ativismo feminista, as mulheres desenvolvem uma compreensão estrutural da hierarquia patriarcal e onde estamos posicionados dentro desse sistema. Técnicas como conscientização e organização coletiva permitiram que as mulheres ligassem o pessoal com o político — e é profundamente pessoal. No feminismo, as mulheres se tornam plenamente conscientes de como somos marginalizadas pelo patriarcado. As mulheres brancas consideram que pertencem à classe oprimida em termos de sexo. Sendo conscientes das implicações realizadas por pertencer à classe dominante, as mulheres brancas são, portanto, desconcertadas pela noção de ser o partido opressor na hierarquia da raça (hooks, 2000). Isso nos leva à nossa primeira falácia:

“Fazer [o movimento feminista] sobre raça, divide as mulheres.”

Uma e outra vez, esta linha é usada por mulheres brancas para circumnavigar qualquer discussão significativa da raça, para evitar a possibilidade desconfortável de ter que enfrentar o espectro de seu próprio racismo. Este argumento sugere que o esforço das feministas se concentraria melhor em desafiar a opressão baseada no sexo, excluindo todas as outras manifestações de preconceito. Ao adotar uma aproximação tão estreita ao ativismo, tais mulheres impedem a possibilidade de abordar a raiz da misoginia: patriarcado capitalista da supremacia branca (hooks, 1984). O único foco na misoginia é, em última instância, ineficaz. A análise estrutural seletiva só nos levará até certo ponto. O racismo e o classismo, como a misoginia, são pilares do patriarcado capitalista da supremacia branca, defendendo e perpetuando estruturas de poder dominantes. O patriarcado não pode ser desmantelado enquanto os outros vetores na matriz de dominação (Hill Collins) permanecem no lugar. Essa política e ativismo do laissez-faire carece de profundidade, rigor e de consistência ética necessário para impulsionar uma mudança cultural para a libertação. Também implora a pergunta: Que tipo de feminismo se vê indiferente quando a injustiça prospera?

Não, falar sobre raça não divide mulheres. É o racismo que faz isso — especificamente, o racismo que as mulheres brancas dirigem para as mulheres não-brancas, o racismo que as mulheres brancas observam e não conseguem desafiar porque, em última análise, elas se beneficiam disso. Seja intencional ou casualmente entregue, esse racismo tem o mesmo resultado: mina completamente a possibilidade de solidariedade entre mulheres não-brancas e mulheres brancas. A falta de vontade das mulheres brancas para explorar o sujeito de raça, reconhecer as formas em que eles se beneficiam da supremacia branca, impossibilita a confiança mútua.

“Mas as mulheres brancas não se beneficiam da supremacia branca”.

Argumentar que a misoginia é o agente principal na opressão de todas as mulheres é assumir que a categoria de “mulher” se sobrepõe inteiramente a “classe branca” e “classe média”, o que claramente não é o caso. A hierarquia da raça tem tanto impacto nas experiências vividas das mulheres não-brancas como a hierarquia do gênero. Quando cerca de 70% de pessoas britânicas que estão em empregos que pagam salário mínimo nacional são mulheres, é evidente que a classe desempenha um papel fundamental na vida das mulheres da classe trabalhadora.

Muitas vezes, as mulheres brancas queixam-se de esquerdomachos — a tendência dos homens de Esquerda de permanecer misteriosamente incapaz de perceber como a hierarquia da classe social é refletida pelo gênero. Esta é uma crítica válida, uma crítica necessária. É também uma crítica inteiramente aplicável às mulheres brancas autoproclamadas feministas que não querem se envolver com políticas antirracistas. Mesmo que experimentem o classismo e/ou a lesbofobia, as mulheres brancas continuam a beneficiar de sua branquitude.

De acordo com a Fawcett Society, a diferença de remuneração de gênero para empregados em tempo integral fica em 13.9%. As pessoas do BAME (Negros e Minorias Étnicas) com GCSEs são pagas 11% menos do que os nossos pares brancos, um déficit que eleva-se para 23% entre graduados. Além disso, os formandos do BAME têm mais de duas vezes mais probabilidades de estar desempregados do que os graduados brancos. As mulheres não-brancas enfrentam um duplo risco, nosso trabalho é subestimado tanto por motivos de raça quanto de sexo. Zora Neale Hurston descreveu as mulheres negras como “mule uh de world”, uma observação que se mostra quando aplicado à diferença salarial. As mulheres do BAME também são mais propensas a serem perguntadas sobre nossos planos relacionados ao casamento e à gravidez por potenciais empregadores do que mulheres brancas. As mulheres brancas são objetificadas pelos homens, resultado da misoginia. As mulheres não-brancas são objetificadas, são vistas e tratadas como intrinsecamente diferentes e estranhas, fetichizadas e tratadas como selvagens hipersexuais pelos homens, resultado da misoginia e do racismo. BAME e mulheres migrantes também “experimentam uma taxa desproporcional de homicídio doméstico”.

Mesmo que você não esteja preparado para ouvir o que as mulheres não-brancas têm a dizer sobre racismo, os fatos e os números sustentam esse fato.

“As mulheres são mais fortes quando todas estamos juntas”.

Sim. A irmandade é uma poderosa força de sustentação. Mas esperar que as mulheres não-brancas permaneçam em silêncio sobre o assunto de raça por causa do conforto branco não é irmandade — pelo contrário. A irmandade não pode existir desde que as mulheres brancas continuem a ignorar a hierarquia da raça, enquanto simultaneamente esperam que as mulheres não-brancas dediquem nossas energias unicamente para ajudá-las a ganhar igualdade aos homens brancos. Este paradigma é explorador, uma manifestação tóxica do direito branco dentro do movimento feminista.

Para que a irmandade exista entre mulheres não-brancas e mulheres brancas, devemos ter uma conversa sincera sobre raça dentro do movimento feminista. O privilégio branco deve ser reconhecido e oposto pelas mulheres brancas. A branquitude deve deixar de ser tratada como o padrão normativo da feminilidade dentro da política feminista. A mesma lógica que é aplicada para criticar a misoginia deve ser aplicada a desaprender o racismo. As questões enfrentadas pelas mulheres não-brancas devem ser consideradas uma prioridade e não uma distração a ser tratada após a revolução. As mulheres não-brancas devem deixar de ser tratadas como algo que você faz simplesmente por ser algo que você é obrigado a fazer e, em vez disso, reconhecidas pelo que somos, o que sempre fomos: essenciais para o movimento feminista.

Tudo isso é imperativo para alcançar uma verdadeira solidariedade — e isso é possível. No que diz respeito às coisas, cabe às mulheres brancas chegar e reparar qualquer fenda que ocorra com base em raça. Em última análise, isso nos aproximará da libertação.


Bibliografia

Davis, Angela. (1981). Women, Race & Class. (Disponível em português)
Grewal, Shabnam, ed. (1988). Charting the Journey: Writings by Black and Third World Women.
Hill Collins, Patricia. (2000). Black Feminist Thought.
hooks, bell. (1984). Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center.
hooks, bell. (2000). Feminism is for Everybody.
Lorde, Audre. (1984). Sister Outsider.
Wallace, Michele. (1978). Black Macho and the Myth of Superwoman.


Translation originally posted here.

Original text initially posted here.

A Questão do Desaparecimento – Uma Reflexão Sobre o Apagamento da Lesbianidade

The Vanishing Point: A Reflection Upon Lesbian Erasure is now available in Portuguese! Thanks to Ação Antisexista for the translation.


Estes são tempos estranhos para ser uma jovem mulher lésbica. Ou melhor, jovial. No tempo que me levou para evoluir de uma inexperiente sapatão caçula em uma completa e formada lésbica, a tensão entre as políticas de identidade do queer e a libertação das mulheres se tornou realmente insuportável. O facebook adicionou reações da bandeira do orgulho gay no mesmo mês que eles começaram a banir mulheres lésbicas por nos descrevermos como butch (algo como sapatão ou caminhão em português). Enquanto a legislação de casamento e o direito de adoção para casais do mesmo sexo se tornam cada vez mais parte da sociedade dominante, o direito de mulheres lésbicas de se auto definirem e declararem seus limites sexuais é comprometido dentro da comunidade LGBT+. Tais contradições são características desta era, mas isso não torna elas mais fáceis de suportar dia após dia.

Amor é amor, a não ser que aconteça de você ser uma mulher lésbica – neste caso sua love is lovesexualidade será incansavelmente desconstruída sob suspeita de você estar sendo excludente. Como já escrevi anteriormente, cada sexualidade é por definição excludente. Sexualidade é um conjunto de parâmetros que governa as características que potencialmente nos atraem nas outras pessoas. Para lésbicas, é a presença das características sexuais primárias e secundárias das mulheres que geram (mas não garantem) a possibilidade de atração. O sexo, e não o gênero (nem mesmo a identidade de gênero), é o fator chave. Mas no ponto de vista queer, assim como no da sociedade patriarcal dominante), lésbica é uma designação contestável.

Mulheres lésbicas são encorajadas a se descreverem como queer, um termo tão abrangente e vago que parece ser desprovido de significado específico, pelos motivos de que ninguém que possuí um pênis é tido como inteiramente fora dos nossos limites sexuais. Jocelyn MacDonald coloca muito bem:

“Lésbicas são mulheres, e mulheres são ensinadas que devemos estar disponíveis sexualmente como objetos de consumo público. Então nós despendemos muito tempo dizendo “Não”. Não, nós não vamos transar ou nos relacionar com homens; não, nós não vamos mudar de ideia quanto a isso; não, este corpo não é território masculino. Lésbicas, hetero ou bissexuais, nós mulheres somos punidas sempre que tentamos demarcar limites. O queer sendo um termo genérico torna realmente difícil para lésbicas assegurarem e manterem estes limites, porque se torna impossível nomear estes limites.”

Em tempos em que o reconhecimento do sexo biológico é tratado como um ato de intolerância, a homossexualidade é automaticamente problematizada – as consequências não previstas das políticas identitárias de gênero são enormes e de largo alcance. Ou ainda, seria mais correto dizer, que a sexualidade lésbica virou um problema: a ideia de que nós mulheres direcionemos nossos desejos e energias de uma para outra continua suspeita. De alguma forma, o padrão de homens centrarem homens nas vidas deles nunca recebe o mesmo backlash (reação negativa, resposta em forma de ataque). As lésbicas são uma ameaça ao status quo, seja no heteropatriarcado ou na cultura queer. Quando nós lésbicas rejeitamos a ideia de nos relacionarmos com alguém com pênis, nós somos taxadas de “fetichistas de vaginas” e ginefílicas – Levando em conta que a sexualidade de lésbicas é rotineiramente patologizada no discurso queer, assim como a sexualidade lésbica é patologizada pelo conservadorismo social, não é surpresa para mim que tantas mulheres jovens sucumbam a pressão social e abandonem o termo lésbica em favor do termo queer. O auto apagamento é o preço da aceitação.

“Não é nenhum segredo que o medo e o ódio a homossexuais permeiam nossa sociedade. Mas o desprezo por lésbicas é distinto. É diretamente arraigado no repúdio à autodefinição da mulher, à autodeterminação da mulher, às mulheres que não são controladas pela necessidade, pelo comando ou pela manipulação masculina. O desprezo por lésbicas é mais comumente um repúdio político às mulheres que se organizam em seu próprio benefício em busca de estarem presentes no espaço público, de que sua força seja validada, que sua integridade seja visibilizada.

Os inimigos das mulheres, aqueles que estão determinados a nos negar a liberdade e a dignidade, usam a palavra lésbica para provocar o ódio às mulheres que não se conformam. Este ódio ecoa em toda parte. Este ódio é sustentado e expressado por praticamente todas as instituições. Quando o poder masculino é desafiado, este ódio se intensifica e se inflama de forma a ser volátil, palpável. A ameaça é de que esse ódio pode explodir em violência. A ameaça é onipresente porque a violência contra a mulher é culturalmente aplaudida. E assim a palavra lésbica, gritada ou sussurrada em tom de acusação, é usada para direcionar a hostilidade dos homens contra as mulheres que ousam se rebelar, e é também usada para assustar e intimidar as mulheres que ainda não se rebelaram.” – Andrea Dworkin

A política de identidade queer tende a pensar que mulheres nascidas mulheres se interessarem exclusivamente por outras mulheres é um sinal de intolerância. Não vamos desperdiçar parágrafos com equívocos. Este mundo já tem silenciamentos acerca de gênero mais do que o suficiente, e é invariavelmente as mulheres que pagam o maior preço por estes silenciamentos – neste caso, mulheres que amam outras mulheres. Então eu digo o seguinte: lésbicas negarem categoricamente a possibilidade de se relacionarem com alguém com pênis é tido como transfóbico pela política queer porque não inclui mulheres trans na esfera dos desejos de lésbicas. A lesbofobia inerente na redução da sexualidade lésbica à fonte de validação, obviamente recebe passe livre.

Ainda assim, a sexualidade lésbica não necessariamente exclui pessoas que se identificam como trans. A sexualidade lésbica pode se estender a pessoas que nasceram mulheres que se identificam como não binárias ou queergênero. A sexualidade lésbica pode se estender a pessoas que nasceram mulheres que se identificam como homens trans. Comparando a alta proporção de que homens trans auto identificados viviam como lésbicas butch antes de transicionarem, não é incomum que homens trans façam parte de relacionamentos lésbicos.

Aonde está o limite entre uma lésbica butch e um homem trans? Durante suas reflexões sobre a vida das lésbicas, Roey Thorpe considera que “…invariavelmente alguém pergunta: Aonde todas as butches foram parar? A resposta curta é masculinidade trans (e a resposta longa requer um artigo próprio). Em qual parte dentro do espectro de identidade termina o butch e o trans começa?

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O limite é amorfo, embora de forma imaginativa Maggie Nelson tenta traçar em The Argonauts. O parceiro dela, o artista Harry Dodge, é descrito por Nelson como um “butch charmoso em T.” segundo Nelson “qualquer semelhança que eu observe nos meus relacionamentos com mulheres não é a semelhança como Mulher, e certamente não é a semelhança das partes envolvidas. Ao invés disso é a esmagadora compreensão compartilhada do que significa viver no patriarcado.” Dodge é gênero fluido e de aparência masculina. A testosterona e a cirurgia de remoção dos seios não removem a compreensão do seu local neste mundo como mulher. Estas verdades coexistem.

A ideia de que lésbicas são transfóbicas porque os limites da nossa sexualidade não se estendem em acomodar o pênis é uma falácia falocêntrica. E a pressão nas lésbicas para redefinirem esses limites é francamente assustadora – se baseia numa atitude do direito de propriedade sobre os corpos das mulheres, uma atitude que é parte do patriarcado e agora tem sido reproduzida na esfera queer. As mulheres lésbicas não existem para que sejam objetos sexuais ou fontes de validação, mas como seres humanos autodefinidos com desejos e limites próprios.

Conversar sobre a política queer com amigos homens gays da mesma idade que eu é algo revelador. Eu sou lembrada de duas coisas: para os homens, ‘não’ é uma palavra aceita como assunto encerrado. Com mulheres, o não é tratado como uma abertura à negociação. A maioria dos homens gays fica horrorizada ou então surpresa com a noção de que os parâmetros de suas sexualidades possam ou devam mudar de acordo com as imposições da política queer. Alguns (os mais sortudos – a ignorância é uma benção) não estão familiarizados com a fantasiosa teoria queer. Outros (os recentemente inciados) estão, como era de se esperar, resistentes a problematização da homossexualidade do ponto de vista queer. Teve um que chegou a sugerir que gays, lésbicas e bissexuais rompessem com a sopa de letrinhas do alfabeto da política queer e se auto organizassem especificamente em torno das suas sexualidades – dado que as lésbicas estão sendo sujeitas a caça às bruxas TERF (feministas radicais trans excludentes em português) por terem feito a mesma sugestão, foi ao mesmo tempo encorajador e lamentável ouvir de um homem que está fora do feminismo radical dizer a mesma coisa sem medo de ser censurado.

Fico feliz em dizer que nenhum dos homens gays que eu chamo de amigos optaram pelo que pode ser descrito como a lógica de Owen Jones: rejeitar as preocupações das mulheres lésbicas e as tratar como atos de intolerância, numa tentativa de conseguir biscoitos-de-arco-íris da aprovação como aliado trans. A onda de homens de esquerda em lucrarem com a misoginia para consolidar sua reputação é um conto tão antigo quanto o patriarcado. Não é uma grande surpresa que isso aconteça dentro da comunidade queer, já que a cultura queer é dominada por homens.

A comunidade queer definitivamente pode afastar as mulheres lésbicas. Embora eu tenha participado de espaços queer quando eu estava me assumindo, acabei me retirando cada vez mais daquele contexto com o tempo. Eu não sou de forma alguma a única – muitas mulheres lésbicas da minha faixa etária se sentem excluídas e deslocadas nos ambientes queer, lugares que nos dizem que deveríamos pertencer. Não são apenas lésbicas mais velhas que são resistentes a política queer, apesar de que deus sabe o quanto elas nos avisaram sobre a misoginia nela. Meu único arrependimento é não ter ouvido antes – que eu tenha perdido meu tempo e energia tentando conciliar divergências ideológicas entre o queer e o feminismo radical.

O discurso queer se utiliza de uma abordagem coerciva para forçar lésbicas a se conformarem – ou nós acatamos o queer e pertencemos ao grupo, ou nós seremos apenas figuras irrelevantes que estão “por fora” como “as velhas lésbicas chatas”. Esta abordagem, na misógina discriminação pela idade, foi equivocada: eu não consigo imaginar nada que eu quisesse ser mais do que uma lésbica mais velha, e é maravilhoso saber que este é o meu futuro. A influência que tem em mim a profundidade do pensamento das mulheres mais velhas, a forma como elas me desafiam e me guiam no processo de consciência feminista, tem um papel central em formarem tanto a minha noção sobre o mundo como compreender meu lugar nele. Se eu for realmente sortuda, um dia eu terei aquelas conversas elevadas (e as vezes, intelectualmente extenuantes) com as futuras gerações de jovens lésbicas.

Embora eu aprecie o apoio e a sororidade das lésbicas mais velhas (de longe meus seres humanos favoritos), em certos aspectos eu também as invejo pela relativa simplicidade da existência lésbica nos anos 70 e 80. A razão para esta inveja: elas viveram vidas lésbicas num tempo anterior a política queer se tornar dominante. Eu não estou dizendo isso desconsiderando ou implicando que o passado foi uma utopia para os direitos de gays e lésbicas. Não foi. A(s) geração(ões) deles tiveram a cláusula 28 (“section 28”), cláusula que bania que a homossexualidade fosse considerada nas escolas como relacionamento familiar normal) e a minha tem o casamento entre pessoas do mesmo sexo. Os avanços que beneficiam minha geração são resultado direto da luta deles. Ainda assim as lésbicas podiam viver pelo menos parte de suas vidas numa época em que de todas as razões pelas quais a palavra lésbica foi encarada com desgosto, ser considerada “demasiado excludente” não era uma delas. Não houve um ímpeto, dentro de um contexto feminista ou gay, tornar a sexualidade lésbica esquisita (“queer” em inglês, a autora aqui faz um trocadilho).

Algumas coisas não mudaram muito. A sexualidade lésbica é comumente degradada. As mulheres lésbicas ainda estão nas campanhas lésbicas do “Não se preocupe, eu não sou aquele tipo de feminista.” Só que agora, quando eu checo as minhas notificações no Twitter, realmente levo um tempo para descobrir se minha lesbianidade ofendeu a “alt-right” (nova denominação da extrema direita) ou da esquerda queer. Isso faz alguma diferença? A lesbofobia tem o mesmo formato. O ódio às mulheres é o mesmo.

women's libDurante a Parada Gay, uma foto de uma mulher trans sorridente vestindo uma camiseta manchada de sangue dizendo “eu soco as TERFs” circulou nas redes sociais. A imagem tinha a seguinte legenda “isso é como a libertação gay se parece”. Aquelas de nós que vivem na intersecção entre a identidade gay e a mulheridade – lésbicas- são frequentemente taxadas de TERFs puramente pelo fato de que nossa sexualidade torna esta reivindicação dúbia. Considerando que vivemos num mundo onde uma a cada três mulheres sofre violência física ou sexual durante sua vida, eu não me surpreendo– não tem nada de revolucionário ou contracultural em fazer uma piada sobre bater em mulheres. A violência contra as mulheres foi glorificada sem pensar duas vezes, colocada como um objetivo de políticas libertárias. E nós todos sabemos que TERFs são mulheres, já que homens que definem limites são raramente sujeitos a tais ataques. Apontar a misoginia obviamente resulta numa nova enxurrada de misoginia.

Existe uma réplica preferida reservada para as feministas que criticam as políticas sexuais da identidade de gênero, uma resposta certamente associada mais com adolescentes meninos do que qualquer política de resistência: “chupe meu pau de garota”. Ou, se a maldade se junta com uma tentativa de originalidade, “engasgue com meu pau de garota”. Ouvir “engasgue com meu pau de garota” não parece nada diferente de ouvir te dizerem que engasgue num pau de qualquer tipo, mesmo assim isso se tornou já quase uma parte da rotina do discurso de gênero que se abriu no Twitter. O ato permanece o mesmo. A misoginia permanece a mesma. E isso está dizendo que neste cenário a gratificação sexual é derivada de um ato que muito literalmente silencia as mulheres.

Uma frase icônica de Shakespeare em Romeu e Julieta proclama que “uma rosa com qualquer outro nome teria um aroma igualmente doce.” Com isso em mente (por existir muito mais tragédia do que romance sobre esta situação), eu diria que independente do nome um pênis iria repelir sexualmente as lésbicas. E isso é ok. O desinteresse sexual não é a mesma coisa que a discriminação, a opressão ou a marginalização. Porém, sentir que a sexualidade é um direito que se tem sobre alguém é : ele é parte fundamental da opressão das mulheres, e se manifesta claramente na cultura do estupro. Dentro da concepção queer não há espaço dedicado para discussões sobre a misoginia que possibilita o se sentir no direito de ter acesso sexual aos corpos de mulheres. Simplesmente reconhecer que o assunto existe é considerado inaceitável, e como resultado, temos a misoginia protegida por camadas e camadas de silêncio.

Esta não é uma época radiante para se ser uma lésbica. A falta de vontade das políticas queer para simplesmente aceitar a sexualidade lésbica como válida por direito é profundamente desamparadora, ao ponto de se privilegiar o desejo de ter sexo sobre o direito de recusa ao sexo. E mesmo assim a conexão lésbica persiste, como sempre persistiu. Os relacionamentos lésbicos seguem florescendo enquanto oferecem uma alternativa radical ao heteropatriarcado – só porque não é particularmente visível agora, apenas por não ter o apelo dominante (isto é, patriarcal) que tem a cultura queer, não significa que não esteja acontecendo. As lésbicas estão em toda a parte – isso não vai mudar.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.


Translation originally posted here.

Original text initially posted here.

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.”

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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

The Vanishing Point: A Reflection Upon Lesbian Erasure

No longer would these truths be contained inside me, and so it is time to send these words out into the world.

Part four in my series of essays on sex and gender – here are parts 1, 2, and 3. This one is dedicated to E for The Argonauts and the encouragement.


 

This is a strange time to be a young lesbian woman. Well, young-ish. In the time it has taken me to evolve from a fledgling baby dyke into a fully formed lesbian, the tension between queer identity politics and women’s liberation has become pretty much unbearable. Facebook added Pride flag reactions in the same month they started banning lesbian women for describing ourselves as dykes. As equal marriage legislation and same-sex adoption rights grow increasingly standard in mainstream society, the right of lesbian women to self-define and declare sexual boundaries is undermined within the LGBT+ community. Such contradictions are characteristic of this era, but that doesn’t make them any easier to live with from day to day.

Love is love, unless you happen to be a lesbian woman – in which case your sexuality will be relentlessly deconstructed under suspicion of being exclusionary. love is loveAs I have written before, every sexuality is by its very definition exclusionary. Sexuality is a set of parameters that govern the characteristics we are potentially attracted to in others. For lesbians, it’s the presence of female primary and secondary sex characteristics that create (but do not guarantee) the possibility of attraction. Sex, not gender (nor even gender identity), is the key factor. But in a queer setting, as in mainstream patriarchal society, lesbian is a contentious label.

Lesbian women are instead encouraged to describe ourselves as queer, a term so broad and nebulous as to be devoid of specific meaning, on the grounds that nobody in possession of a penis is read as being entirely outside of our sexual boundaries. Jocelyn MacDonald rounds it up nicely:

“Lesbians are women, and women are taught that we’re supposed to be sexually available objects of public consumption. So we spend a lot of time saying “No.” No, we won’t fuck or partner with men; no, we won’t change our minds about this; no, this body is a no-man’s land. Lesbian, straight or bi, women are punished whenever we try to assert a boundary. Queer as a catchall term makes it really hard for lesbians to assert and maintain this boundary, because it makes it impossible to name this boundary.”

In a time when acknowledging biological sex is treated as an act of bigotry, homosexuality is automatically problematised – the unforeseen consequences of queer identity politics are wide and far-reaching. Or rather, it would be more accurate to say, lesbian sexuality is made problematic: the idea of women exclusively directing our desires and energies towards one another remains suspect. Somehow, the pattern of men centring men in their lives never receives the same backlash. Lesbians are a threat to the status quo, whether it’s part of heteropatriarchy or queer culture. When lesbians dismiss the idea of taking on a partner with a penis, we are branded “vagina fetishists” and “gynephiles” – given that lesbian sexuality is routinely pathologised in queer discourse, just as lesbian sexuality is pathologised by social conservatism, it’s no surprise to me that so many young women succumb to social pressure and drop lesbian in favour of queer. Self-erasure is the price of acceptance.

“It is no secret that fear and hatred of homosexuals permeate our society. But the contempt for lesbians is distinct. It is directly rooted in the abhorrence of the self-defined woman, the self-determining woman, the woman who is not controlled by male need, imperative, or manipulation. Contempt for lesbians is most often a political repudiation of women who organize in their own behalf to achieve public presence, significant power, visible integrity.

 

Enemies of women, those who are determined to deny us freedom and dignity, use the word lesbian to provoke a hatred of women who do not conform. This hatred rumbles everywhere. This hatred is sustained and expressed by virtually every institution. When male power is challenged, this hatred can be intensified and inflamed so that it is volatile, palpable. The threat is that this hatred will explode into violence. The threat is omnipresent because violence against women is culturally applauded. And so the word lesbian, hurled or whispered as accusation, is used to focus male hostility on women who dare to rebel, and it is also used to frighten and bully women who have not yet rebelled.” – Andrea Dworkin

As queer identity politics would have it, biological women being exclusively interested in being with other women is a sign of bigotry. Let’s not waste paragraphs on equivocation. This world contains more than enough silences around the subject of gender, and it is invariably women who pay the highest price for those silences – in this case, women who love other women. And so I will say it: for lesbians to categorically deny the possibility of taking a partner with a penis is framed as transphobic by queer politics because it does not include transwomen in the sphere of lesbian desire. The inherent lesbophobia of reducing lesbian sexuality to a source of validation is, of course, given a free pass.

Yet, lesbian sexuality doesn’t necessarily exclude people who identify as trans. Lesbian sexuality can extend to biologically female people who identify as non-binary or genderqueer. Lesbian sexuality can extend to biologically female people who identify as transmen. As a comparatively high proportion of self-identified transmen lived as butch lesbians prior to transition, it is not unheard of for transmen to be part of lesbian relationships.

Where is the boundary between a butch lesbian and a transman? During her reflections on lesbian life, Roey Thorpe considers that “…invariably, someone asks: Where have all the butches gone?” The short answer is transmasculinity (and the long answer requires an essay of its own). At what point within the spectrum of identity does butch end and trans begin?

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The border is amorphous, though in an imaginative sort of way Maggie Nelson attempts to chart it within The Argonauts. Her lover, the artist Harry Dodge, Nelson describes as a “debonair butch on T.” To Nelson’s thinking, “whatever sameness I’ve noticed in my relationships with women is not the sameness of Woman, and certainly not the sameness of parts. Rather, it is the shared, crushing understanding of what it means to live in a patriarchy.” Dodge is fluidly gendered and masculine presenting. Testosterone and top surgery do not remove an understanding of what it is to be located, in this world, as female. Those truths coexist.

The idea that lesbians are transphobic because our sexual boundaries do not extend to accommodate penis is a phallocentric fallacy. And the pressure on lesbians to redefine those boundaries is frankly terrifying – it rests on an attitude of entitlement towards women’s bodies, an entitlement that is part of patriarchy and now being replicated within queer space. Lesbian women do not exist as sex objects or sources of validation, but self-actualised human beings with desires and boundaries of our own.

Talking about queer politics with gay male friends my age is something of an eye-opener. I am reminded of two things: With men, no is accepted as the closing word. With women, no is treated as the opening of a negotiation. Most gay men in my life are in turns horrified and amused by the notion that the parameters of their sexuality could or should be expected to move in accordance with the dictates of queer politics. Some (the fortunate ones – ignorance here is bliss) are unfamiliar with the rabbit hole of queer theory. Others (the newly initiated) are, unsurprisingly, resistant to the queer problematising of homosexuality. One went so far as to suggest gays, lesbians, and bisexuals break away from the alphabet soup of queer politics and self-organise specifically around the lines of sexuality – given that numerous dykes have been  subject to the TERF witch-hunt for making the same case, it was at once uplifting and depressing to hear a man outside of radical feminism voice the same views without fear of censure.

I am glad to say that none of the gay men I call friend have opted for what can be described as the Owen Jones route: dismissing the concerns lesbian women as bigotry in pursuit of those tasty, rainbow-sprinkled ally cookies. The trend of left-wing men cashing in on misogyny to bolster their own reputations is a tale as old as patriarchy. That it happens in the context of queer community comes as no great surprise, as queer culture is male-dominated.

Queer community can ultimately be an alienating for lesbian women. Although I participated in queer spaces around the time of coming out, I have grown steadily more withdrawn from that context over time. I am by no means alone in that – plenty of lesbian women within my age bracket feel conscious of being erased and displaced in queer settings, places we are told that we are meant to belong. It’s not purely older lesbians who are resistant to queer politics, although god knows they warned us about its misogyny. My only regret is not listening sooner – that I wasted time and energy trying to bridge the ideological gap between queer and radical feminisms.

Queer discourse uses something of a carrot and stick approach to shoehorn young lesbians into conforming – either we can embrace queer and belong, or we can be irrelevant outsiders just like boring older lesbians. This approach, reliant as it is on ageist misogyny, was misjudged: I can think of nothing I would like to be so much as an older lesbian, and it is pretty wonderful to know that’s the future in front of me. The depth of thought older lesbians extend towards me, the way they challenge and guide me through the process of feminist consciousness, plays a pivotal role in shaping both my sense of the world and how I understand my place in it. If I am really fortunate, one day I will have those soaring (and, at times, intellectually gruelling) conversations with future generations of baby dykes.

Although I appreciate the support and sisterhood of older lesbians (by far my favourite demographic of human beings), in certain respects I also envy them the relative simplicity of lesbian existence during the 1970s and ‘80s. The reason for that envy: they lived lesbian lives in the time before queer politics went mainstream. I do not say that lightly, or to imply that the past was some utopia for gay and lesbian rights. It wasn’t. Their generation(s) had Section 28 and mine has same-sex marriage. What gains my generation benefit from are the direct product of their struggle. Yet they were allowed to live at least part of their lives in a time when, of all the reasons the word lesbian was met with disgust, being deemed “too exclusionary” was not one of them. There was no impetus, within a feminist or gay context, to “queer” lesbian sexuality.

Some things haven’t changed a great deal. Lesbian sexuality is still routinely degraded. Lesbian women are still the posterdykes for “don’t worry, I’m not that type of feminist.” Only now, when I check my Twitter notifications, it genuinely takes a moment to work out whether my being a lesbian has offended the alt-right or the queer left. Does it particularly matter? The lesbophobia takes the same format. The hatred of women is identical.

women's libOver Pride, a picture of a smiling transwoman clad in a bloodstained t-shirt proclaiming “I punch TERFs” circulated on social media. The image was captioned “this is what gay liberation looks like.” That those of us living at the intersection of gay identity and womanhood – lesbians – are often branded TERFs purely by virtue of our sexuality makes this claim particularly dubious. Considering that we live in a world where one in three women experiences physical or sexual violence in her lifetime, I cannot share in the amusement – there’s nothing revolutionary or countercultural in making a joke about punching women. Violence against women was glorified without a second thought, positioned as an objective of liberation politics. And we all know that TERFs are women, as men who assert boundaries are rarely subject to such vitriol. Pointing out the misogyny of course results in a fresh deluge of misogyny.

There is one favourite rejoinder reserved for feminists critiquing the sexual politics of gender identity, a retort associated more with surly teenage boys than any politics of resistance: “suck my girldick.” Or, if malice couples with a stab at originality, “choke on my girldick.” Being told to choke on a girldick doesn’t feel any different from being told to choke on a garden variety dick, yet it has become almost a routine part of gender discourse unfolding on Twitter. The act remains the same. The misogyny remains the same. And it’s telling that in this scenario the sexual gratification is derived through an act that quite literally silences women.

An iconic line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet proclaims that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” With this in mind (for there is far more of tragedy than romance about this situation), I argue that a penis by any other name would sexually repel lesbians. And that’s fine. Sexual disinterest doesn’t equate to discrimination, oppression, or marginalisation. Sexual entitlement, however, does: it plays a fundamental part in the oppression of women, and manifests clearly through rape culture. Within a queer framing there is no space given over to discussions about the misogyny that enables entitlement towards sexual accessing lesbian women’s bodies. Simply acknowledging that the issue exists is considered beyond the pale and, as a result, that misogyny is protected by layers and layers of silence.

This is not such a brilliant time to be a lesbian. The unwillingness of queer politics to simply accept lesbian sexuality as valid in its own right is deeply isolating, at points privileging the desire to have sex over the right to refuse sex. And yet lesbian connection persists, as it always has done. Lesbian relationships continue to nourish whilst offering a radical alternative to heteropatriarchy – just because it’s not particularly visible right now, just because it doesn’t have the mainstream (i.e. patriarchal) appeal of queer culture, doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. Lesbians are everywhere  – that will not change.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.


Bibliography

Margaret Atwood. (1985). The Handmaid’s Tale

Andrea Dworkin. (1978). The Power of Words

Cherríe Moraga. (2009). Still Loving in the (Still) War Years: On Keeping Queer Queer

Maggie Nelson. (2015). The Argonauts

Adrienne Rich. (1976). Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution

Prendre les problèmes à la racine : à propos des jeunes femmes et du féminisme radical

Grasping Things at the Root: On Young Women & Radical Feminism is now available in French! Many thanks to TradFem for the translation.


 

Brève présentation : un certain nombre de jeunes femmes ont communiqué avec moi depuis un an en me demandant ce à quoi ressemblait le fait d’être ouvertement radicale au sujet de mon féminisme. Voir des jeunes femmes se rallier au féminisme radical me rend optimiste pour l’avenir. Mais que celles-ci aient peur de manifester publiquement un féminisme radical est tout à fait inquiétant. Voilà pourquoi cet article est dédié à l’ensemble des jeunes femmes assez audacieuses pour poser des questions et contester les réponses reçues.


 

Pourquoi le féminisme radical est-il attaqué à ce point ?

Holy Cow! Too Funny!!!!!!

Le féminisme radical n’a pas bonne presse. Ce n’est pas exactement un secret : l’affirmation ignoble de l’idéologue de droite Pat Robertson selon laquelle l’agenda féministe « …encourage les femmes à quitter leur mari, assassiner leurs enfants, pratiquer la sorcellerie, détruire le capitalisme et devenir lesbiennes » a donné le ton aux échanges généraux à propos du féminisme radical. Si le point de vue de Robertson sur notre féminisme frôle la parodie, sa misogynie, agrémentée d’une lesbophobie flagrante, a également servi à discréditer le féminisme radical comme suspect.

En effet, si le féminisme radical peut être rejeté comme un complot sinistre ou ciblé comme une simple blague, cela évite à la société de répondre à une foule de questions difficiles à propos de sa structure patriarcale. Il en résulte que le pouvoir n’a pas à être redistribué, ce qui permet de bloquer toute remise en question ennuyeuse pour les membres des classes oppresseures. La diabolisation du féminisme radical est un moyen très efficace d’entraver tout changement politique important, de maintenir le statu quo. Il est donc prévisible que la droite conservatrice s’oppose au féminisme radical.

Ce qui est souvent plus difficile à prévoir, ce sont les propos venimeux adressés au féminisme radical par la gauche progressiste, dont on s’attend à ce qu’elle soutienne une politique de justice sociale. L’atteinte de cette justice par les femmes appelle notre libération du patriarcat, y compris celle des contraintes du genre, qui est à la fois une cause et une conséquence de la domination masculine. Mais quand on se penche sur les raisons de l’hostilité de la gauche, elle devient tristement prévisible.

Deux facteurs ont permis à cette gauche de légitimer son opposition au féminisme radical. C’est d’abord la manière dont la politique de libération a été fragmentée par le néolibéralisme et remplacée par ce que Natasha Walter a appelé la politique du libre choix. Le choix personnel, et non le contexte politique, est devenu l’unité d’analyse préférée du discours féministe. Par conséquent, toute analyse critique des choix personnels, comme le préconise le féminisme radical, est devenue un facteur de discorde, malgré sa nécessité pour impulser tout changement social d’importance. Le deuxième facteur est la généralisation progressive d’une interprétation queer du genre. Au lieu de considérer celui-ci comme une hiérarchie qu’il faut contrer et abolir, la politique queer positionne le genre comme une forme d’identité, un simple rôle à performer ou à subvertir. Cette approche a pour effet ultime de dépolitiser le genre (ce qui est loin d’être subversif) en fermant les yeux sur son rôle dans le maintien de l’oppression des femmes par les hommes. Ce sont alors les féministes critiques du genre qui sont traitées comme l’ennemi, plutôt que le genre lui-même.

Conséquemment, nous nous retrouvons aujourd’hui dans un contexte où le féminisme radical est attaqué d’une extrémité à l’autre du spectre politique. Dans les médias sociaux, on a l’impression que les féministes radicales sont tout aussi susceptibles d’être prises à partie par des féministes s’autoproclamant queer que par des militants masculinistes – la principale différence entre les deux groupes étant que les masculinistes ne cachent pas, eux, leur détestation des femmes.

Les jeunes femmes sont particulièrement dissuadées de se rallier au féminisme radical. On nous a nourries de mots-clés sans substance comme « choix » et « empowerment », et on nous a incitées à poursuivre l’égalité au lieu de la libération. À partir des années 90, le féminisme a été présenté comme un label et diffusé par le monde du commerce et au moyen de slogans, plutôt qu’un mouvement social ayant pour but de démanteler le patriarcat capitaliste de la suprématie blanche (bell hooks).

guerilla girlaLa troisième vague du féminisme a été commercialisée comme une solution de rechange marrante au caractère sérieux de la deuxième vague, systématiquement calomniée comme sévère et sans joie. Certaines manifestations de l’oppression des femmes, comme l’industrie du sexe, ont été relookées comme autant de choix triviaux offrant un potentiel d’autonomisation (Meghan Murphy). Si les jeunes femmes ne sont pas disposées à accepter la danse-poteau et la prostitution comme autant de divertissements inoffensifs, nous risquons d’être dénoncées comme tout aussi rabat-joie que les femmes de la deuxième vague ; on nous refuse l’étiquette honorifique de « fille cool » et tous les avantages qui accompagnent le fait de ne pas contester le patriarcat. Ce n’est pas une coïncidence si des accusations lancées de façon routinière aux féministes radicales, comme celle de « puritaine » ou « bourgeoise à collier », sont lourdes de misogynie et d’âgisme : si les féministes radicales sont présumées être des femmes plus âgées, la logique du patriarcat exige que le féminisme radical soit ennuyeux et dépassé. Le désir de l’approbation masculine, inculqué de force aux jeunes filles dès la naissance, et la menace tacite d’être associée à des femmes plus âgées servent à empêcher les jeunes femmes de s’identifier au féminisme radical.

Si le féminisme libéral a séduit un vaste auditoire, c’est précisément parce qu’il ne menace pas le statu quo. Si les puissants sont à l’aise avec une forme particulière de féminisme – le féminisme libéral, le féminisme corporatif de l’adage « lean in », le féminisme qui se dit prosexe – c’est parce que ces formes de féminisme ne présentent aucun défi pour les hiérarchies où s’ancre leur pouvoir. Pareil féminisme ne peut permettre aucun changement social important et est donc incapable d’aider une classe opprimée, quelle qu’elle soit.

Quelles conséquences négatives a le fait de manifester un féminisme radical ?

Les réactions que suscite le fait de se manifester comme radicale sont particulièrement désagréables. Sans mentir, cela peut s’avérer intimidant au début. Mais avec le temps, cette peur reculera, voire se dissipera complètement. Vous allez arrêter de penser « Je ne pourrais jamais dire cela » et commencer à vous demander : « Pourquoi ne l’ai-je pas dit plus tôt ? » La vérité exige d’être dite, qu’elle soit ou non rassurante. Les réactions et les violences adressées aux féministes radicales sont de pures et simples tactiques de censure. Qu’elle provienne de la droite conservatrice ou de la gauche féministe queer, cette réaction de backlash (Susan Faludi) est une façon de supprimer des voix de femmes dissidentes. Constater cette dynamique a un effet libérateur, tant sur le plan personnel que politique. Sur le plan personnel, on reconnaît que la bonne opinion qu’auraient de vous des misogynes a bien peu de valeur. Sur le plan politique, il devient manifeste que prendre la parole est un acte de résistance. Vous allez simplement cesser graduellement de vous en faire.

Par contre, assumer la haine que des gens vous portent est un processus énergivore. À un certain moment, vous vous rendrez compte que vous n’êtes pas obligée de supporter ce fardeau et vous vous donnerez la permission de le déposer. Consacrez plutôt cette énergie à votre bien-être. Lisez un livre. Jouez d’un instrument. Parlez avec votre mère. Faites vos ongles. Écoutez en rafale une série télévisée comme The Walking Dead. Le temps que vous passez à vous inquiéter de ce que les gens disent de vous est une ressource précieuse qui ne peut être récupérée. Ne leur faites pas le cadeau de votre inquiétude, c’est exactement ce qu’ils veulent. Chassez les gens hostiles de votre espace mental.

Vous avez peur d’être qualifiée de TERF (féministe radicale trans-exclusive). Soyons réalistes : cette peur d’être stigmatisée comme TERF est ce pour quoi tant de féministes craignent de se montrer ouvertement radicales et sont de moins en moins disposées à reconnaître le genre comme une hiérarchie. Et il est normal de ressentir cette peur, dans une dynamique qui a pour but de vous effrayer. Cependant, la peur doit être mise en perspective. La toute première fois où l’on m’a traitée de « TERF » était pour avoir partagé une pétition d’opposition aux mutilations génitales féminines sur le réseau Twitter. Et quand j’ai souligné que les filles à risque de MGF l’étaient précisément du fait d’être nées femmes dans le patriarcat, et que les filles mutilées étaient souvent de couleur, vivant souvent dans le Sud global (Gayatri Spivak) – et donc peu avantagées par le « privilège cis » – les accusations se sont poursuivies, se répandant comme une traînée de poudre. Comme je ne me suis pas repentie pour avoir diffusé cette pétition, comme je n’ai pas condamné d’autres femmes pour sauver ma peau au tribunal de l’opinion publique, cela a continué. Le fait d’être lesbienne (une femme qui éprouve une attraction homosexuelle, c’est-à-dire désintéressée par les rapports sexuels impliquant un pénis) n’a fait qu’attiser les flammes. On peut aujourd’hui trouver mon nom sur diverses listes de personnes blackboulées ou bloquées aux quatre coins d’Internet, ce qui est assez drôle. Parfois, il faut vraiment en rire, c’est la seule façon de conserver son équilibre.

Ce qui est moins amusant, c’est de se faire dire que l’on est dangereuse. Il existe une notion insidieuse voulant que toute féministe qui interroge ou critique une perspective queer sur le genre constitue une sorte de menace pour la société. Des femmes ayant consacré toute leur vie adulte à mettre fin à la violence masculine contre les femmes sont maintenant décrites, sans aucune trace d’ironie, comme étant « violentes ». Au plan politique, il est inquiétant que tout désaccord sur la nature du genre soit défini comme une violence au sein du discours féministe. Il y a quelque chose d’indéniablement orwellien à qualifier de violentes les personnes qui s’opposent à des violences, dans la novlangue pratiquée par la politique queer. Présenter comme violentes les féministes critiques du genre occulte la réalité que ce sont des hommes qui exercent l’écrasante majorité des exactions infligées aux personnes trans ; ce faisant, on supprime toute possibilité pour les hommes d’être tenus responsables de cette violence. Les hommes ne sont pas blâmés pour leurs actes, quels que soient les dommages qu’ils causent, alors que les femmes sont souvent brutalement ciblées pour nos idées. À cet égard, le discours queer reflète fidèlement les normes établies par le patriarcat.

Le féminisme radical est généralement traité comme synonyme ou indicatif d’une transphobie, une accusation profondément trompeuse. Le mot transphobie implique une répulsion ou un dégoût qui n’existent tout simplement pas dans le féminisme radical. Je veux que toutes les personnes qui s’identifient comme trans soient à l’abri de tout tort, persécution ou discrimination. Je veux que toutes les personnes s’identifiant comme trans soient traitées avec respect et dignité. Et je ne connais pas une seule féministe radicale qui défendrait quoi que ce soit de moins. Malgré le désaccord entre les perspectives radicales et queer en matière de genre, cela ne résulte d’aucun fanatisme au sein des premières. L’abolition de la hiérarchie du genre a toujours été un objectif clé du féminisme radical, une étape nécessaire pour libérer les femmes de notre oppression par les hommes.

Comme c’est souvent le cas avec l’analyse structurelle, il faut penser en termes de classe d’oppresseurs et de classe d’opprimé.e.s. Dans le patriarcat, le sexe masculin est l’oppresseur et le sexe féminin l’opprimé – cette oppression a une base matérielle, ancrée dans l’exploitation de la biologie féminine. Il est impossible de détailler les formes d’oppression des femmes sans reconnaître le rôle joué par la biologie et sans considérer le genre comme une hiérarchie. Si les femmes sont privées des mots servant à définir notre oppression, un langage que la politique queer considère comme violent ou intolérant, il est impossible pour les femmes de résister à notre oppression. C’est là que réside la tension.

joan jettEn fin de compte, se faire insulter sur Internet est un coût que je suis plus que disposée à payer si c’est le prix nécessaire pour faire obstacle à la violence infligée aux femmes et aux jeunes filles. Si ce n’était pas le cas, je ne pourrais pas me qualifier de féministe.

Ai-je choisi de me manifester publiquement comme radicale ?

À aucun moment n’ai-je pris la décision de me manifester publiquement comme radicale. Même dans sa forme la plus basique, mon féminisme comprenait que la « positivité sexuelle » et la culture porno étaient en train de reconditionner l’exploitation des femmes comme « autonomisantes », et que les discussions sans fin sur le libre choix ne servaient qu’à occulter le contexte où ces choix étaient effectués. Je me souviens également de ma perplexité à voir les mots sexe et genre utilisés indifféremment dans le discours contemporain, alors que le premier désigne une catégorie biologique et le deuxième, une construction sociale fabriquée pour permettre l’oppression des femmes par les hommes. Je trouvais profondément déconcertant le fait de voir le genre traité comme une provocation amusante ou, pire, comme quelque chose d’inné dans nos esprits ; après tout, si le genre était naturel ou inhérent, il en irait de même du patriarcat. J’étais consciente que l’on traitait mes points de vue comme démodés, mais, même si cela tendait à m’isoler, je n’étais pas troublée par la tension entre mes opinions et ce que je reconnais aujourd’hui comme l’idéologie féministe libérale.

International-Feminism-01Ce n’est qu’en retrouvant des féministes radicales sur le réseau Twitter que j’ai compris que beaucoup de féministes contemporaines réfléchissaient selon le même cadre, bref, que ces idées n’existaient pas uniquement dans des livres écrits quelque vingt ans avant ma naissance. Je ne dis pas cela pour décrier le féminisme des années 1970, mais plutôt pour souligner une nostalgie presque attendrie dans ma conceptualisation de cette époque et de la politique qu’elle a mise au monde. La deuxième vague me donnait l’impression d’avoir eu lieu incroyablement loin – y réfléchir me faisait penser à une fête à laquelle vous êtes déjà quelques décennies en retard… C’était à mes yeux comme si le féminisme des idées et des actions radicales avait disparu. Aujourd’hui, je me rends compte que c’est exactement ce que les jeunes femmes sont amenées à penser, dans l’espoir que nous allons nous faire une raison et accepter notre oppression au lieu de la défier à la racine.

Ayant grandi et affiné mes idées, il semble maintenant peu probable que j’aurais trouvé une place si j’avais été dans ce contexte : en comparaison d’autres féministes lesbiennes, je suis assez apolitique en ce qui concerne la sexualité : je ne suis toujours pas convaincue qu’il est possible de choisir d’être lesbienne, je ne sais pas si je choisirais de l’être si cette option existait (il y a un attrait indéniable au fait d’être un peu plus « intégrée » qu’Autre), et je m’oppose à l’idée que les femmes bisexuelles manquent de courage dans leur praxis féministe, du fait de ne pas « devenir » lesbiennes. Pourtant, je n’aurais pas trouvé ma voie vers de telles conversations sans le féminisme radical exprimé sur Twitter.

Comme ma conscience politique a été catalysée par le féminisme radical de Twitter, une communauté où je continue à trouver stimulation et enchantement, il m’a semblé naturel de participer publiquement à ce discours. J’étais plus soucieuse du développement de mes idées – apprendre auprès d’autres femmes et plus tard, leur communiquer mes réflexions – que d’éventuelles réactions hostiles. De façon peut-être naïve, je n’avais pas pleinement envisagé l’avantage de dissimuler ma conviction politique. Me relier au discours féministe radical, participer à ses idées et communiquer avec leurs adeptes ont toujours été mes priorités. Je n’ai pas envisagé au début la possibilité d’acquérir un profil public, et je considère aujourd’hui le mien comme une séquelle généralement agaçante de ma participation au discours féministe, plutôt qu’un avantage qui vaille la peine d’être entretenu en soi, ce qui est peut-être pourquoi je ne pratique pas d’autocensure en vue de soigner ma popularité.

Y a-t-il des conséquences professionnelles au fait d’être une féministe radicale ?

Cela dépend de ce que vous faites comme métier. D’innombrables féministes radicales ont été signalées à leurs employeurs pour avoir souligné la différence entre les concepts de sexe et de genre. Quand vous travaillez dans le domaine des femmes, être ouvertement radicale présente un risque particulier. De même, les femmes qui sont universitaires ou possèdent une forme ou l’autre de pouvoir institutionnel sont dans une position délicate, face au dilemme de mettre en danger une carrière ou de s’exprimer franchement. Je connais des dizaines de féministes radicales qui réalisent plus d’avancées sociales pour les autres femmes en ne disant rien d’explicitement radical – tout en faisant le travail le plus extraordinaire et le plus nécessaire. Aucun de ces travaux ne serait possible si ces femmes choisissaient de mourir au champ d’honneur de la politique de genre. Un résultat direct d’une telle politique serait des pertes pour d’autres femmes ; qu’il s’agisse de cours d’alphabétisation ou de l’adoption de politiques pour contrer la violence masculine, il y aurait des conséquences très réelles si des femmes secrètement radicales perdaient leurs postes. Il y a des moments où garder le silence est l’option la plus intelligente, en particulier dans les conversations sur la politique de genre, et je ne condamnerai jamais les femmes qui prennent cette décision tactique.

Ma carrière en est une de travailleuse autonome : à cet égard, je trouve utile de n’être redevable qu’envers moi-même. Cela étant dit, une carrière autonome dépend des organisations qui sont disposées à commander mes écrits ou mes ateliers. Le rôle de paria est plutôt contre-productif à cet égard. Il est arrivé que des gens contactent (ou du moins menacent de contacter) des endroits où j’étudie, fais du bénévolat ou écris. Rien n’en est advenu. Pourquoi ? Parce que leurs accusations sont fausses. Je n’ai rien à cacher au sujet du féminisme : il n’y a pas de squelettes dans le placard de ma politique sexuelle. Je ne dirai jamais rien d’autre que ce que je crois, ce que je peux étayer avec des preuves, ce que soutient un corpus important de théorie féministe.

Il est crucial de pouvoir parler avec conviction et de documenter ses dires quand ils sont remis en question. Ces qualités sont aussi celles auxquelles font appel les personnes et les organisations qui m’engagent. Un thème récurrent de ces commissions est qu’au moins une personne au sein de chaque organisation a discrètement exprimé son soutien de mon féminisme radical. Bref, le féminisme radical est moins ostracisant qu’on veut nous le faire croire.

Je suis chargée de produire du travail en lequel je crois. Rien de ce que mes détracteurs disent ou font ne change cette réalité. Pour citer Beyoncé, la meilleure revanche est le papier dont vous disposez.

Comment réagissent les féministes non radicales ?

Assez mal. Pas toujours, mais souvent. Certaines de mes discussions les plus enrichissantes et les plus stimulantes sur le plan de la réflexion ont été avec des femmes qui ne sont pas des féministes radicales, mais qui engagent la discussion de bonne foi. Malheureusement, ces interactions sont la minorité.

Les menaces venues d’inconnu.e.s, tout en étant parfois effrayantes, sont une chose à laquelle je me suis habituée. Je les signale aux autorités compétentes et je poursuis ma route. À la suite de la période d’attaques la plus concentrée que j’aie subie, ce ne sont pas les menaces qui m’ont le plus pesé, mais les réactions des féministes queer et libérales. Certaines d’entre elles se sont publiquement réjouies de ces violences et de leurs conséquences. Leur féminisme est du type qui s’oppose au racisme, à la misogynie, à l’homophobie, etc. jusqu’à ce que ces préjugés nuisent à quelqu’un dont la politique ne s’harmonise pas à la leur. J’ai trouvé cela déconcertant. Préparez-vous à ces moments. Soyez également prêtes à perdre de faux amis.

C’est une position étrange dans laquelle se retrouver. Si l’étiquette TERF vous a déjà été appliquée, elle enlève quelque chose à votre humanité aux yeux du grand public. Vous n’êtes plus considérée comme méritoire d’empathie ou même de décence humaine fondamentale. Cela n’a rien de surprenant, car l’épithète de TERF est souvent accompagnée de menaces et de descriptions explicites de violences. Elle a pour effet de légitimer la violence à l’égard des femmes.

L’insulte TERF fonctionne comme l’accusation de « sorcière » dans la pièce Les Sorcières de Salem. Ce n’est qu’en condamnant d’autres femmes que vous pouvez éviter d’être vous-même condamnée. La panique répandue rend certaines personnes frénétiques. Beaucoup de féministes seront prêtes à vous qualifier de monstre pour sauver leur propre réputation. Elles ne méritent pas votre respect, sans parler du temps qu’il faudrait pour comprendre leurs motifs.

Cela vaut également la peine de se pencher sur les réactions de féministes qui ne sont pas publiquement radicales. Des femmes me confient régulièrement que j’exprime leurs convictions intimes, elles me remercient de prendre la parole, me disent que mes écrits résonnent auprès d’elles. Cela a un côté gratifiant, oui, mais aussi un effet d’isolement. Un courage presque surnaturel est projeté sur les femmes ouvertement radicales, en une forme d’exceptionnalisme souvent utilisée par d’autres femmes pour justifier leur silence. La chroniqueuse Glosswitch parle souvent de ce phénomène et elle a raison : il serait beaucoup plus gratifiant que les femmes qui nous expriment un soutien en privé revendiquent publiquement leur propre politique radicale, si elles sont en mesure de le faire.


Bibliographie

bell hooks. (2004). The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

Susan Faludi. (1991). Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women

Feminist Current

Miranda Kiraly  & Meagan Tyler (eds.). (2015). Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism

Gayatri Spivak. (1987). In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics

Natasha Walter. (2010). Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism

Hibo Wardere. (2016). Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today


Translation originally posted here.

Original text initially posted here.

Grasping Things at the Root: On Young Women & Radical Feminism

A brief foreword: a number of young women have contacted me in the last year, writing to ask about what it is like to be publicly radical in my feminism. That young women embrace radical feminism makes me optimistic for the future. That young women are too scared to be open about their radical feminism is utterly grim. And so this post is dedicated to every young woman bold enough to ask questions and challenge answers.

Update: this post has since been translated into French.


 

Why does radical feminism get so much bad press?

Radical feminism isn’t popular. That’s not exactly a secret – Pat Robertson’s infamous Holy Cow! Too Funny!!!!!!claim that the feminist agenda “…encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians” has set the tone for mainstream discussions of radical feminism. While Robertson’s perspective on radical feminism verges upon parody, his misogyny served with a side of blatant lesbophobia, it has also served to frame radical feminism as suspect.

If radical feminism can be written off as something sinister or dismissed as the butt of a joke, none of the difficult questions about the patriarchal structuring of society need to be answered – subsequently, power need not be redistributed, and members of the oppressor classes are saved from any challenging self-reflection. Rendering radical feminism monstrous is a highly effective way of shutting down meaningful political change, of maintaining the status quo. It is, therefore, predictable that the socially conservative right are opposed to radical feminism.

What’s often more difficult to anticipate is the venom directed towards radical feminism thought by the progressive left, which is assumed to support the politics of social justice. For women to achieve that justice, we must be liberated from patriarchy – including the constraints of gender, which is both a cause and consequence of male dominance. Yet, when one considers why that hostility emerged, it becomes sadly predictable.

Two factors enabled the left to legitimise its opposition to radical feminism. Firstly, the way in which liberation politics have been atomised by neoliberalism and replaced by the politics of choice (Walter). Personal choice, not political context, has become the preferred unit of feminist analysis. Therefore, critical analysis of personal choice – as advocated by radical feminism – has become a matter of contention despite its necessity in driving meaningful social change. The second factor is the gradual mainstreaming of a queer approach to gender. Instead of considering gender as a hierarchy to be opposed and abolished, queer politics position it as a form of identity, a part to be performed or subverted. This approach ultimately depoliticises gender, which is far from subversive, disregarding its role in maintaining women’s oppression by men. Feminists who are critical of gender are treated as the enemy, not gender in itself.

As a result, we find ourselves in a context where radical feminism is reviled across the political spectrum. On social media it feels as though radical feminists are just as likely to be abused by self-proclaimed queer feminists as we are men’s rights activists – the main difference between the two groups is that MRAs are honest about the fact they hate women.

Young women in particular are discouraged from taking up the mantle of radical feminism. We have been raised on a diet of hollow buzzwords like ‘choice’ and ‘empowerment’, taught to pursue equality instead of liberation. From the ‘90s onwards, feminism has been presented as a brand accessed through commercialism and slogans instead of a social movement with the objective of dismantling white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (hooks).

guerilla girlaThe third wave of feminism was marketed as a playful alternative to the seriousness of the second wave, which is routinely misrepresented as joyless and dour. Manifestations of women’s oppression, such as the sex industry, were repackaged as harmless choices with the potential to empower (Murphy). If young women are not prepared to accept pole dancing and prostitution as a harmless bit of fun, we risk being tarred by the same boring brush as the second wave; we are denied the label of “cool girl” and all the perks that come with remaining unchallenging to patriarchy. It is no coincidence that “pearl-clutching” and “prude”, accusations commonly directed towards radical feminists, are loaded with ageist misogyny – if radical feminists are presumed to be older women, the logic of patriarchy dictates that radical feminism must be boring and irrelevant. Both the desire for male approval that is drilled into girls from birth and the tacit threat of being associated with older women are used to keep young women from identifying with radical feminism.

Liberal feminism has gained mainstream appeal precisely because it doesn’t threaten the status quo. If the powerful are comfortable with a particular form of feminism – liberal feminism, corporate “lean in” feminism, sex-positive feminism – it is because that feminism presents no challenge to the hierarchies from which their power stems. Such feminism can offer no meaningful social change and is therefore incapable of benefiting any oppressed class.

What are the negative consequences of being openly radical?

The backlash to being openly radical is the least fortunate element of it. I won’t lie: in the beginning, that can be intimidating. With time that fear will fade, if not dissipate. You will stop thinking “I couldn’t possibly say that” and start wondering “why didn’t I say that sooner?” The truth demands to be told, regardless of whether or not it happens to be convenient. Backlash and abuse directed towards radical feminists is a silencing tactic, plain and simple. Whether it comes from the conservative right or queer feminist left, that backlash (Faludi) is a means of silencing dissenting women’s voices. This realisation is freeing, both on a personal and political level. Personally, the good opinion of misogynists is of little value. Politically, it becomes clear that speaking out is an act of resistance. You will simply stop caring.

It takes energy, carrying the hatred people direct towards you – at some point you will realise that you’re not obliged to shoulder that burden and give yourself permission to set it down. Spend that energy on yourself instead. Read a book. Play an instrument. Talk with your mum. Do your nails. Binge-watch The Walking Dead. The time you spend worrying what people say about you, worrying if people like you, is a precious resource that cannot be recovered. Do not give them the gift of your worry – it is exactly what they want. Evict haters from your headspace.

You’re scared of being called a TERF. Let’s be real. That fear of being branded a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) is why so many feminists are afraid to be openly radical, are increasingly unwilling to acknowledge gender as a hierarchy. And that’s alright to feel that fear – it’s meant to be scary. However, the fear needs to be put into perspective. The first time I was ever called “TERF” was for sharing a petition opposing female genital mutilation on Twitter. And when I pointed out that girls were at risk of FGM precisely because they were born female in patriarchy, that the girls who are cut are often of colour, often living within the global south (Spivak) – not exactly enjoying a wealth of cis privilege – the accusations only continued.

It spreads like wildfire. Because I did not repent for sharing that petition, because I did not condemn other women to save myself in the court of public opinion, it went on. That I am a lesbian (a woman who experiences same-sex attraction, i.e. disinterested in sex involving a penis) has only fanned the flames. My name can now be found on various shit lists and auto-block tools across the internet, which is pretty funny. Sometimes you do just have to laugh – it’s the only way to stay sane.

What’s less amusing is being told that I am dangerous. There is an insidious idea that any feminist who queries or critiques a queer perspective on gender is some sort of menace to society. Women who have devoted their adult lives to ending male violence against women are now described, without a trace of irony, as being violent. On a political level, it’s disturbing that disagreement over the nature of gender is positioned as violence within feminist discourse. There is an undeniably Orwellian quality to those opposing violence being described as violent, a double-speak perfected by queer politics. Framing gender-critical feminists as violent erases the reality that men perpetrate the overwhelming majority of violence against trans people and, in doing so, removes any possibility for men to be held accountable for that violence. Men are not blamed for their deeds, no matter how much harm they cause, whereas women are often brutally targeted for our ideas – in this respect, queer discourse mirrors the standards set by patriarchy.

Radical feminism is commonly treated as being synonymous with or indicative of transphobia, which is deeply misleading. The word transphobia implies a revulsion or disgust that simply is not there in radical feminism. I want all people identifying as trans to be safe from harm, persecution, and discrimination. I want all people identifying as trans to be treated with respect and dignity. And I do not know another radical feminist who would argue for anything less. Although radical and queer perspectives on gender are conflicting, this does not stem from bigotry on the part of the former. Abolishing the hierarchy of gender has always been a key aim of radical feminism, a necessary step in liberating women from our oppression by men.

As is often the case with structural analysis, it is necessary to think in terms of the oppressor class and the oppressed class. Under patriarchy, the male sex is the oppressor and the female sex the oppressed – that oppression is material in basis, reliant on the exploitation of female biology. It is impossible to articulate the means of women’s oppression without acknowledging the role played by biology and considering gender as a hierarchy – deprived of the language to articulate our oppression, language which queer politics deems violent or bigoted, it is impossible for women to resist our oppression. Therein sits the tension.

joan jettUltimately, getting called names on the internet is a cost I am more than willing to pay if it is the price required to oppose violence against women and girls. Were it otherwise, I would be unable to call myself a feminist.

Did I choose to be ‘out’ as radical?

At no point did I make a decision to be publicly radical. Even in its most basic form, my feminism understood that ‘sex positivity’ and porn culture were repackaging women’s exploitation as ‘empowering’, that endless talk about choice only served to obscure the context in which those choices are made. I also recall being puzzled by the words sex and gender being used interchangeably in contemporary discourse – the former is a biological category, the latter is a social construction fabricated to enable the oppression of women by men. Seeing gender treated as an amusing provocation or, worse, something innate in our minds, was deeply disconcerting – after all, if gender is natural or inherent, so too is patriarchy. I was conscious that my views were considered old-fashioned but, although it was slightly isolating, not troubled by the tension between me and what I now know to be liberal feminism.

It was only through finding radical feminist Twitter that I realised plenty of International-Feminism-01contemporary feminists thought with the same framework, that these ideas did not exist solely in books that had been written some twenty years before I was born. I do not say this to disparage the feminism of the 1970s, but rather to point out that there was an almost wishful nostalgia to my conceptualisation of that era and the politics it embodied. The second wave felt impossibly far away – thinking about it was like thinking of a party for which you are already decades too late. It felt like that feminism, of radical ideas and action, was gone. Now I realise that is exactly what young women are conditioned to think in the hope that we will grow complacent and accept our oppression instead of challenging it at the root.

Having grown up and developed my ideas, it now seems unlikely I would have found a place had I been of that context – as lesbian feminists go, I am fairly apolitical with regard to sexuality: I’m still not convinced it is possible to choose to be a lesbian, do not know that I would choose to be a lesbian even if the option had been there (there is an undeniable appeal to being slightly more ‘of’ than Other), and oppose the notion that bisexual women are being half-hearted in their feminist praxis because they will not ‘become’ lesbians. Yet, I would not have found my way into those conversations without radical feminist Twitter.

As my political consciousness was catalysed by radical feminist Twitter, a community that continues to challenge and delight me, it seemed natural to participate in that discourse publicly. I was more concerned about developing my ideas – learning from and, later on, teaching other women – than any potential reaction. Perhaps naïvely, I had not fully considered the convenience of closeting my politics. Being connected to radical feminist discourse, engaging with its ideas and the women behind them, was always the priority. I did not initially consider the possibility of acquiring public profile, and now consider it as a largely unfortunate by-product of my participation in feminist discourse as opposed to something worth maintaining in its own right – perhaps why I do not self-censor for the sake of popularity.

Are there professional consequences for being a radical feminist?

It depends on what you do. Countless radical feminists have been reported to their employers for differentiating between sex and gender. Being openly radical when you work in the women’s sector carries a particular risk. Similarly, women who are academics or hold some form of institutional power are in a delicate position, faced with the dilemma of jeopardising a career or speaking out. I know dozens of radical feminists who achieve more social good for other women by saying nothing explicitly radical whilst doing the most extraordinary, necessary work. None of that work would be possible if those women chose to die on the hill of gender politics. A direct result of that would be other women losing out – from literacy classes to policy on male violence, there would be very real consequences if covertly radical women lost their positions. There are times when staying quiet is the smarter option, particularly in conversations about gender politics, and I will not condemn women who make that tactical decision.

My career is freelance – in this respect, being directly accountable only to myself is useful. That being said, a freelance career is dependent on organisations being willing to commission my writing or workshops. Becoming a pariah is fairly counterproductive in that respect. At points people have contacted (or at least threatened to contact) places where I study, volunteer, and write. Nothing has ever come of it. Why? Their accusations are false. I have nothing to hide about feminism – there is no shameful secret at the heart of my sexual politics. I will only ever say what I believe in, what I can back up with evidence, what a substantial body of feminist theory supports.

Being able to speak with conviction and follow through when questioned is crucial. Those qualities are also what appeal to the people and organisations who hire me. A recurring theme with commissions: at least one person within the organisation has covertly voiced support for my radical feminism. Radical feminism is less of an anathema than we are made to believe.

I am commissioned to produce work that I believe in. Nothing my detractors have said or done changes that fact. To quote Beyoncé, the best revenge is your paper.

How do non-radical feminists react?

Badly. Not always, but often. Some of the most rewarding and thought-provoking engagements are with women who are not radical feminists yet engage in good faith. Unfortunately, those interactions are in the minority.

Abuse from strangers, while it can be frightening, is something to which I have grown habituated. I report it to the relevant authorities and move on. Following the most concentrated period of abuse I have endured, it was not the threats that weighed on my mind, but the responses of queer and liberal feminists. A number openly celebrated my abuse and its consequences. Theirs is the type of feminism that is opposed to racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. up until the point those prejudices damage someone whose politics do not align with their own. That was disconcerting. Be prepared for those moments. Be prepared to lose false friends, too.

It’s a strange position to be in. If the label TERF has ever been applied to you, it strips away something of your humanity in the eyes of the wider public. You are no longer viewed as a worthy recipient of empathy or even basic human decency. This isn’t surprising, because TERF is often used in conjunction with violent threats and graphic descriptions of abuse. It legitimises violence against women.

TERF functions something like “witch” in The Crucible. Only by condemning other women can you avoid that condemnation yourself. There is a frantic edge behind the panic it spreads. There are plenty of feminists who will be prepared to monster you to save their own reputations. They are not worth your respect, let alone the time it would take to puzzle out their motives.

It is also worth considering the responses of feminists who are not publicly radical. Women routinely tell me that I am saying what they believe, express gratitude that I speak out, tell me that my words resonate. And this is gratifying, yes, but it is also isolating. An almost supernatural courage is projected onto openly radical women, an exceptionalism that is often used by other women to justify their silence. Glosswitch often speaks about this phenomenon, and she is right – it would be far more rewarding if the women who offer private support would publicly claim their own radical politics instead, provided they are in a position to do so.


 

Bibliography

bell hooks. (2004). The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

Susan Faludi. (1991). Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women

Feminist Current

Miranda Kiraly  & Meagan Tyler (eds.). (2015). Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism

Gayatri Spivak. (1987). In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics

Natasha Walter. (2010). Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism

Hibo Wardere. (2016). Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today

 

 

 

Lezbehonest about Queer Politics Erasing Lesbian Women

This post is the second in a series of essays on sex, gender, and sexuality. The first is available here, along with parts three and four too. I have written about lesbian erasure because I refuse to be rendered invisible. By raising my voice in dissent, I seek to offer both a degree of recognition to other lesbian women and active resistance to any political framework – het or queer – that insists lesbians are a dying breed. If women loving and prioritising other women is a threat to your politics, I can guarantee you are a part of the problem and not the solution.

Dedicated to SJ, who makes me proud to be a lesbian. Your kindness brightens my world.

Update: this essay has now been translated into French and Spanish.


lesbian_feminist_liberationLesbian is once more a contested category.  The most literal definition of lesbian – a homosexual woman – is subject to fresh controversy. This lesbophobia does not stem from social conservatism, but manifests within the LGBT+ community, where lesbian women are frequently demonised as bigots or dismissed as an antiquated joke as a result of our sexuality.

In the postmodern context of queer politics, women whose attraction is strictly same-sex attraction are framed as archaic. Unsurprisingly, the desires of gay men are not policed with a fraction of the same rigour: in a queer setting men are encouraged to prioritise their own pleasure, whereas women continue to carry the expectation that we accommodate others. Far from subverting patriarchal expectations, queer politics replicates those standards by perpetuating normative gender roles. It is no coincidence that lesbian women are subject to the bulk of queer hostility.

Along with the mainstreaming of fascism and the normalising of white supremacy, the last few years have brought an avalanche of anti-lesbian sentiment. Media content hypothetically geared towards and written by lesbian women informs us that we are a dying breed. Feminist resources questioning whether we even need the word lesbian, op-eds claiming that lesbian culture is extinct, puff pieces claiming lesbian “sounds like a rare disease“, and even commentaries arguing that lesbian sexuality is a relic of the past in our brave and sexually fluid new world – such writing deliberately positions lesbian sexuality as old-fashioned. It actively encourages the rejection of lesbian identity by confirming the reader’s understanding of herself as someone modern, someone progressive, if she is prepared to ditch the label. Just as patriarchy rewards the ‘cool girl’ for distancing herself from feminist ideals, queer politics rewards the lesbian for claiming any other label.

Discouraging lesbians from identifying as such, from claiming the oppositional culture and politics that are our legacy, is an effective strategy. Heather Hogan, editor of the allegedly lesbian publication Autostraddle, recently took to Twitter and compared lesbian resistance of lesbophobia to neo-nazis. Hogan herself is a self-described lesbian, yet positions lesbian feminist perspectives as inherently bigoted.

Queer keyboard warriors led a campaign against Working Class Movement Library for inviting lesbian feminist Julie Bindel to speak during LGBT History Month, filling the Facebook event with abusive messages and harassment that escalated to death threats. That Bindel considers gender as a hierarchy in her feminist analysis is enough to have her branded “dangerous.” The newly-opened Vancouver Women’s Library was subject to a campaign of intimidation by queer activists. VWL was pressured to remove feminist texts from their shelves on the grounds that they “advocate harm” – the majority of books deemed objectionable were authored by lesbian feminists such as Adrienne Rich, Ti-Grace Atkinson, and Sheila Jeffreys. One does not have to agree with every argument made by lesbian feminist theorists to observe that the deliberate erasure of lesbian feminist perspectives is an act of intellectual cowardice rooted in misogyny.

Lesbian sexuality, culture, and feminism are all subject to concentrated opposition from queer politics. Rendering lesbians invisible – a classic tactic of patriarchy – is justified by queer activists on the basis that lesbian sexuality and praxis are exclusionary, that this exclusion equates to bigotry (in particular towards transgender men and women).

Is Lesbianism Exclusionary?

Yes. Every sexuality is, by definition, exclusionary – shaped by a specific set of characteristics which set the parameters of an individual’s capacity to experience physical and mental attraction. This in itself is not inherently bigoted. Attraction is physical, grounded in material reality. Desire either manifests or it does not. Lesbian sexuality is and has always been a source of contention because women living lesbian lives do not devote emotional, sexual, or reproductive labour to men, all of which are demanded by patriarchal norms.

lesbianA lesbian is a woman who is attracted to and interested in other women, to the exclusion of men. That the sexual boundaries of lesbians are so fiercely policed is the result of a concentrated misogyny compounded by homophobia. Women desiring other women, to the exclusion of men; women directing our time and energy towards other women, as the exclusion of men; women building our lives around other women, to the exclusion of men; in these ways lesbian love presents a fundamental challenge to the status quo. Our very existence contradicts the essentialism traditionally used to justify the hierarchy of gender: “it’s natural”, that becoming subservient to a man is simply woman’s lot in life. Lesbian life is inherently oppositional. It creates the space for radical possibilities, which are resisted by conservative and liberal alike.

Lesbian sexuality is freshly disputed by queer discourse because it is a direct and positive acknowledgement of biological womanhood. Arielle Scarcella, a prominent vlogger, came under fire for asserting that as lesbian woman she “like[s] boobs and vaginas and not penises.” Scarcella’s attraction to the female body was denounced as transphobic. That lesbian desire stems from attraction to the female body is criticised as essentialism because it is only every sparked by the presence of female primary and secondary sex characteristics. As lesbian desire does not extend to transwomen, it is “problematic” to a queer understanding of the relationship between sex, gender, and sexuality.

Instead of accepting the sexual boundaries of lesbian women, queer ideology positions those boundaries as a problem to be overcome. Buzzfeed’s LGBT Editor, Shannon Keating, advocates the deconstruction of lesbian sexuality as a potential ‘solution’:

“…maybe we can simply continue to challenge the traditional definition of lesbianism, which assumes there are only two binary genders, and that lesbians can or should only be cis women attracted to cis women. Some lesbians who don’t go full-out TERF are still all too eager to write off dating trans people because of ‘genital preferences’, which means they have incredibly reductive ideas about gender and bodies.”

Lesbian sexuality cannot be deconstructed out of existence. Furthermore, problematising lesbian sexuality is in itself problematic: a form of lesbophobia. Lesbianism has been “challenged” since time immemorial by patriarchy. Throughout history men have imprisoned, killed, and institutionalised lesbian women, subjected lesbians to corrective rape – all as a means of enforcing heterosexuality. Old school lesbophobia operates with a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, the price of social acceptance (read: bare tolerance) that we allow ourselves to be assumed heterosexual, straight until proven otherwise. Not a threat.

‘Progressive’ lesbophobia is altogether more insidious, because it happens in the LGBT+ spaces of which we are ostensibly part. It asks that we jettison the word lesbian for something soft and cuddly, like Women Loving Women, or vague enough to avoid conveying a strict set of sexual boundaries, like queer. It asks that we abandon the specifics of our sexuality to pacify others.

The Cotton Ceiling

The Cotton Ceiling debate is commonly dismissed as “TERF rhetoric“, yet the term was originally created by trans activist Drew DeVeaux. According to queer feminist blogger Avory Faucette, Cotton Ceiling theory aims “to challenge cis lesbians’ tendency to… draw the line at sleeping with trans women or including trans lesbians in their sexual communities.” Planned Parenthood ran a now notorious workshop on this theme, Overcoming the Cotton Ceiling: Breaking Down Sexual Barriers for Queer Trans Women.

cc-workshop

The sexual boundaries of lesbian women are presented as a “barrier” to be “overcome”. Formulating strategies for encouraging women to engage in sexual acts is legitimised, sexual coercion whitewashed by the language of inclusivity. This narrative relies upon the objectification of lesbian women, positioning us as the subjects of sexual conquest. Cotton Ceiling theory rests upon a mentality of sexual entitlement towards women’s bodies that is fostered by a climate of misogyny.

Lesbian sexuality does not exist in order to provide validation. No woman’s sexual boundaries are up for negotiation. To argue as much within queer discourse recreates the rape culture produced by het patriarchy. That gaining sexual access to the bodies of lesbian women is treated as a litmus test, a validation of transwomanhood, is dehumanising to lesbian women. Framing lesbian sexuality as motivated by bigotry creates a context of coercion, in which women are pressured to reconsider their sexual boundaries for fear of being branded a TERF.

Refusing sexual access to one’s own body does not equate to discrimination against the rejected party. Not considering someone as a potential sexual partner isn’t a means of enacting oppression. As a demographic, lesbian women do not hold more structural power than transwomen – appropriating the language of oppression for the Cotton Ceiling debate is disingenuous at best.

To put it bluntly, no woman is ever obliged to fuck anyone.

Conclusion

Lesbian sexuality has become the site upon which ongoing tensions surrounding sex and gender explode. This is because, under patriarchy, onus is placed firmly upon women to provide affirmation. Gay men are not called bigots for eschewing vaginal sex due to their homosexuality. Loving men and desiring the male body carries a certain logic in a cultural context built around the centring of masculinity, in a queer setting. Conversely, as the female body is consistently degraded under patriarchy, women desiring women is regarded with suspicion.

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” – Audre Lorde

Lesbians have faced the same old combination of misogyny and homophobia from the right and are now relentlessly scrutinised by the queer and liberal left: that we are women who are disinterested in the penis is apparently contentious across the political spectrum. Social conservatives tell us we’re damaged, abnormal. The LGBT+ family to which we are meant to belong tells us that we’re hopelessly old-fashioned in our desires. Both actively try to deconstruct lesbian out of existence. Both try to render lesbian women invisible. Both suggest that we just haven’t tried the right dick yet. The parallels between queer politics and patriarchy cannot be ignored.


 

Bibliography

Julie Bindel. (2014). Straight Expectations.

Cordelia Fine. (2010). Delusions of Gender

Audre Lorde. (1984). Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Woman and Loving. IN Sister Outsider

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper. (2015). Sex and Gender: A Beginner’s Guide

Adrienne Rich. (1980). Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence