Dear Roxane – An Open Letter on Queer Feminism & Lesbophobia

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


Dear Roxane,

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

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

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

Roxane 1 beta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours Sincerely,


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?


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.



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



Say Hello to Sister Outrider

Whether you know of me through Twitter, Tumblr, or even (gasp!) in real life, one thing will have become clear as you listen to my increasingly radical perspective: I am a feminist. Why create this blog? you ask. You’re already on social media. You’re already an activist. Well, Twitter has a character limit, which makes it difficult to discuss the finer points of feminist discourse. Treating the personal as political is essential in challenging any system of oppression*. It can also lead to discomfort when conversation gets close to the bone – that discomfort is necessary, and should be handled sensitively, which isn’t always possible with the economy of language required for Twitter.

As for Tumblr… Have you ever actually used Tumblr? I’m in my twenties. It’s high time for me to get a grown-up blog. And real life? Much as I’d love to spend an hour or two discussing how best to dismantle the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy**, it doesn’t go down too well at dinner parties (unless the guests are all feminists, in which case I applaud the company you keep). Which brings us to blogging.

In recent years, since the rise of third wave feminism, radical beliefs have fallen out of fashion. At best, radical feminism is presented as being outdated – at worst, full of bigotry and extremism. Radical feminists are attacked by social conservatives and liberal feminists alike and, not so long ago, I bought it. I didn’t want to be lumped in with the prudes of yesteryear by either side, so I parroted narratives of agency and empowerment. And then I looked behind the curtain. I started to wonder about the context in which the all-important choice is made, whether more choices are open to some women than others and on what basis. I began to wonder why so many self-proclaimed intersectional feminists – in this instance, white women – are so eager to assume that marginalised women have the same range of opportunities in deciding which choice to make.

And – holy internalised misogyny, Batman! – it occurred to me that the premise of women losing relevance as we gain in years is fundamentally sexist, that in believing it I was doing the patriarchy’s work for it. I realised that I had fallen for the oldest trick in the book and dismissed the wisdom of older women. (More on this subject to follow.) Liberal feminism raised more questions than it answered. I wondered where my own feminism fit on the spectrum, if not within the third wave.

According to Wikipedia, that trusty source of information:

Radical feminists seek to abolish patriarchy by challenging existing social norms and institutions, rather than through a purely political process. This includes challenging traditional gender roles, opposing the sexual objectification of women, and raising public awareness about rape and violence against women.

Nothing objectionable there. In fact, this definition stretched to include the key tenets of my own feminism. But, as popular belief would have it, radical feminism is for privileged white women. One text often used to illustrate the exclusionary nature of second wave feminism is Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Certainly, “the problem that has no name”*** was predominantly faced by white, college-educated women with a degree of material privilege – not, for example, poor women and/or Women of Colour without the perceived luxury of being able to stay home rather than work. That didn’t make the “problem” any less of a problem for the women trapped by domesticity. Equally, Friedan’s assumption that white and middle class is the normative standard for women is grossly simplistic. This is where positionality comes in handy. And yes, Friedan’s comments about the “lavender menace” were very much lesbophobic. (In this respect, she shares common ground with contemporary feminist thought – again, more to follow.)

I don’t deny that Betty Friedan was problematic, to use the popular phrase. However, she was but one author in an entire socio-political movement. Radical feminism, like any other sphere of activism, consists of many voices. And, contrary to stereotyping, those voices stem from a broad range of identities and perspectives. Angela Davis, central to the Black Power movement, is radically feminist****. Adrienne Rich, lesbian poet, is radically feminist*****. Shulamith Firestone, a Jewish-Canadian revolutionary, was radically feminist******. bell hooks, beloved by feminists of all stripes, is radically feminist*******. Audre Lorde, Black lesbian poet and essayist, was radically feminist********. And there are many more such women.

Radical feminist voices are not heard in spite of differences of race, sexuality, or class. If anything, radical feminist voices are heard because of these differences – because they are acknowledged. Liberal feminism skims the surface of the problem. Radical feminism goes to the root and addresses it at a structural level. It critiques the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy in which we live, around which dominant social hierarchies have been built. Radical feminism examines the different ways in which we are touched by oppression, how identities including and in addition to gender shape our experiences of it.

Only through finding these radical feminist texts – the writings of women who are as much outsiders as me – did I begin to feel a sense of true belonging in the feminist movement. It was through engaging with other radical feminists, talking to these women as sisters, that I began to feel heard. And now it’s time for me to use my voice.

*Carol Hanisch, (1969). The Personal is Political. Notes from the Second Year: Women’s Liberation

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

***Betty Friedan, (1963). The Feminine Mystique. Penguin

****Angela Davis, (1983). Women, Race and Class. Vintage

*****Adrienne Rich, (1975). Adrienne Rich’s Poetry and Prose. W. W. Norton & Company

******Shulamith Firestone, (1970). The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution. Verso

*******bell hooks, (1984). Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. South End Press

********Audre Lorde, (1984). Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ten Speed Press