Political Lesbian Myth Busting

Guest Post

Political lesbianism is not an ‘identity’, this is queer BS talk. Political lesbianism is a process. A process of understanding the ways in which we, and our sisters, have been personally damaged by the hetero-patriarchy. It is a recognition that, on a personal and political level, we do not have to be intimately involved with a system which is deeply damaging to us and we can love other women in all ways instead of competing with them or mistrusting them.

It is not purely about sexuality (who you are attracted to). Nor is it about ‘appropriating’ the word lesbian while maintaining all outward appearances of being heterosexual and enjoying heterosexual benefits, such as they are. Nor will it, by itself, dismantle patriarchy, though it is a step along the way. Many women have found it easier to be radical activists without the burden of dissonance ringing in their ears. Many women have freed themselves from the clash of being intimately tied to an oppressive system while having a radical, critical analysis about it. Many women have discovered that they can, and should, love women as a direct result of their feminism. Women’s oppression is the only oppression where the oppressed are forced to live intimately with the oppressor. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to understand what is happening politically while we are in such situations. Our political judgement is inevitably clouded because we have to find a way of covering up personal truths in order to continue to live in such a way. It is only when we have broken free of hetero-patriarchal constraints that we can often name our truths under patriarchy.

The resistance to political lesbianism within the current upsurge of online radical feminism; a resistance to understanding and accepting it, is hugely disappointing to those of us who embraced the concept of political lesbianism many years ago. It is particularly disappointing because that resistance and hostility is taking place within a back-drop of new, younger, women discovering the process of political lesbianism IRL. Most women who ‘come out’ via the process of political lesbianism, do so because they meet radical lesbian feminists, or radical feminists, and connect; politically, personally and emotionally. Online political activity rarely, if ever, captures the process of political lesbianism because it is a real, lived, personal experience brought about through consciousness-raising.

Some new, younger women are afraid to ‘come out’ or are convinced by the negativity that their feelings are somehow ‘unreal’. It is crucial for any newly ‘out’ lesbian to feel welcomed and accepted, no questions asked. Unfortunately, there are a vocal cluster of online lesbians who associate with radical feminist theory (I am unclear whether they identify as radical feminists themselves or not) who, without understanding the process of political lesbianism, make accusations of ‘appropriation’. Accompanying this offensive accusation is a suggestion that political lesbianism is ‘just like the trans debate – if I say I am a lesbian I am’. This is not only a nonsensical interpretation of the process of political lesbianism, it also fails to analyse the construction of sexuality from a radical feminist perspective. The underlying assumption is that there is an ‘authentic’ lesbianism and a version which is so unauthentic that it is labelled ‘appropriation’. This completely bypasses the radical feminist analysis that heterosexuality is a major part of our oppression and escaping its colonisation has many benefits for us as individuals and for women as a class.

Some lesbian sceptics ask us why we can’t ‘encourage’ women to become celibate instead; leaving the lesbian landscape to the ‘purist’ lesbian. The very question shows a lack of understanding about the social construction of sexuality. In most societies, channelling sexual desire into a social construction leads to a whole range of other factors dictating how people live their lives. Many heterosexual women become celibate and live their days within heterosexual marriages with all the economic benefits this brings. Being celibate, by itself, is not the counter-patriarchal act ‘coming out’ as a lesbian and living within lesbian cultures and communities is. And, again, the emphasis on celibacy defines all relationships by sexual activity, or lack thereof. The social construction of sexuality is far more complex than that.

Whenever this subject comes up, some older lesbians also get on their soap boxes. They are certain, from their past, that heterosexual women would identify as lesbian but not feel sexually attracted to women. The heterosexual women would do it as some kind of misplaced political allegiance, they say. I am not aware of that definition of ‘political lesbianism’ ever being part of my political discussions. It was not something which I encountered in the past and I wonder if it took place in pockets of the US or whether it took place at all and was merely a misinterpretation of the process of political lesbianism. Who knows? Just as radical feminism cannot get stuck because of myths about it, nor can political lesbianism if it means women are afraid to ‘come out’ because they are not accepted as being ‘real’ lesbians.

The over-emphasis on sexual activity as an essential part of the lesbian experience is concerning. Most heterosexual women have experienced pressure to be sexually active. We have all been conditioned to believe that sexuality is a major part of intimate relationships or else the relationship is not ‘real’. Few very old people, generally, have an active sex life. They have other challenges to deal with. Lesbians are no different but they don’t stop being lesbians. Celibate older people do not get constantly questioned on their sexuality; it is assumed they are heterosexual. Whether sexual attraction is current or not, should not be the definition of what it is to be lesbian. Being a lesbian is a social construction of intimacy, community and cultures. Usually, initially, it takes a sexual expression but it does not always for all time for many lesbians.

Heterosexual women have latched on to online hostility about political lesbianism from some lesbians. They, in turn, have repeated the mantra that the process of political lesbianism is appropriation. Therefore, they say, it is perfectly OK for them to assert that, if the world were a lesbian island, they would remain celibate, thank you very much. In the ‘old days’ lesbians would have challenged such assertions but nowadays lesbians are too busy ‘sexing up’ the concept of lesbianism to do so.

Contemporary conversation about sexuality is not framed within a radical feminist analysis – even though it may be radical feminists exchanging words. The ideological assumptions behind the debate is that sexuality is innate and ‘we were born this way’ sexually. It is the only element of women’s oppression where there is a political acceptance that there is NO ESCAPE.

In fact, sexuality, as a social construction, is far, far more than merely who we are attracted to at any one point in our lives. It is moulded, institutionalised and structured to benefit men, as a class, and oppress women as a class. Women are unpaid slaves in the domestic sphere and that includes in all matters heterosexual. Many contemporary radical feminists have written about the dangers for women of ‘sexual intercourse’ (frequently called ‘PIV’ – penis in vagina) and the pressures women are under to accept this as the only form of sexual activity possible or desirable. Doing so is at the expense of women’s well-being and pleasure. Pornstitution, (pornography, women being bought for sexual purposes), myths surrounding sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence, are all forms of direct and indirect pressure and coercion leading to women being sexualised, de-humanized and being viewed by men as objectified body parts and/or his possession. The more subtle forms of coercion and pressure to be slaves include the ‘myth of the fairy tale princess’, that ‘the right man for you is out there somewhere’ and other assorted well-known indoctrinations which take place as soon as we can understand language. Forced and coerced sexual submission, regardless of her wants and needs, are a cornerstone of the domestic servitude which men demand of women under hetero-patriarchy.

The idea, therefore, that women are not bound to that servitude forever because of their ‘born this way’ sexuality, has been a freeing revelation for many feminists over decades. The idea that sexuality, just like all other aspects of life, can shift and change alongside political realisations, is revolutionary in a world where sexuality is seen as fixed and innate. If we demand that men change their sexual behaviour, how can we possibly deny that we have the potential to change our sexual desires to ones which are more liberating?

There is another myth fairly rife on the internet today. It has gained momentum because of the prolific writing of a small minority of believers. It is the idea that a born-this-way lesbian (or woman who has always chosen lesbianism) is, somehow, free from the shackles of hetero-patriarchy simply because she has avoided pressure to ever having a heterosexual experience. Well, I beg to differ, having had sexual relationships with a few born-this-way non-feminist lesbians. They were as woman-hating and self-hating as anyone else – with the added burden of believing they had no choice but to be lesbians. Someone saying “I don’t want to love you but I can’t help it” isn’t exactly encouraging. They sought to ape many of the tenets typical within heterosexuality; such as someone owes you sex if they are in a relationship with you, whenever you want it. There is a lot more to say about the subject but, ultimately, I do not believe that any woman is free from internalized woman-hatred. Always having felt sexual towards women/girls is not a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card.

I would also like to briefly touch on another myth. The myth is: It is only those who have found lesbianism through political processes, as opposed to pure born-like-it desires, who stray off the golden path and ‘go back to men’. Given the varied backgrounds of the women I have known who have redefined as heterosexual or bisexual, there is no basis for arguing political lesbianism is any more likely to result in further heterosexuality than other routes. In fact, I would argue that it is less likely considering political lesbianism is such a deep-rooted process. Claiming that we should value sexual experience as being more authentic than political thought is highly dubious from a radical feminist perspective.

In summary, I urge lesbians who do not understand political lesbianism to stop misrepresenting it and then arguing against that misrepresentation. This is a phenomena which happens to radical feminists all the time so they should already know how frustrating it is. I also urge heterosexual women to stop using the arguments lesbians have between ourselves to prop up your own political positions. You’re not harmed by being open to political lesbian ideas. In fact, many previously heterosexual women have felt our lives to be enormously enriched by them.

FURTHER READING:

http://www.terry.uga.edu/~dawndba/4500compulsoryhet.htm

http://politicallesbiansinsisterhood.wordpress.com/dont-love-your-enemy-love-your-sisters/

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Lesbian-Heresy-Sheila-Jeffreys/dp/0704343827/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384698900&sr=8-1&keywords=lesbian+heresy

http://sisterhoodispowerful.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/lesbian-feminism-or-political-lesbianism-in-2012/

27 thoughts on “Political Lesbian Myth Busting

  1. “If we demand that men change their sexual behaviour, how can we possibly deny that we have the potential to change our sexual desires to ones which are more liberating?”

    That is an excellent point.

    I have gone in my life from hetero to bi to lesbian. I am currently celibate, but very attracted to women, which I didn’t use to be…or at least I didn’t use to let surface. I definitely have authentic desire towards women, and radicalisation has turned men into toads in my view. I do not find them sexually attractive in the least unless I get drunk and/or stoned and spend a serious amount of effort trying to black out everything I know about them: of course this never works well enough to make me like them anymore. I think it is something worth mentioning too that being away from men and in the company of women, especially radical feminist lesbian women, can bring the lesbian out of a woman. I find that proximity to males and PIV ends up a cycle that entraps us in a trauma-bond with our oppressor that is hard to break. Leaving an abuser is traumatic in itself, and becoming a lesbian after many boyfriends it like the ultimate break-up with the longest, most abusive asshole of your life: heterosexuality. I have found that after 1 year without a male anywhere near me, women really do the trick. I find women immensely attractive. When stuck with a dude, didn’t have time to even explore that side of myself.

    Thank you for writing this. I have been bothered by this for some time and was hoping someone would write on it, because I do not think I have the energy right now to come up with something explaining the problem. It is a mess and I know a lot of the born-this-way lesbian women you mention, and it is hard to speak up about this issue knowing they will be harping over it and mocking us.

    Another really good point you made:

    “If we demand that men change their sexual behaviour, how can we possibly deny that we have the potential to change our sexual desires to ones which are more liberating?”

    That is a lot of it right there in one sentence.

    For the record, I think all women are lesbians or at least bisexual and get tricked into liking men through grooming. Lesbianism is FINDING OUR WAY HOME. Denying women this birth right it outright cruel.

  2. I had a stepfather from when I was three until when I was ten who was extremely into porn, and didn’t hide it, so being a curious kid who read all the time, I read it. It left me with the sense that women are creatures things are done to, and also that I wasn’t one. I didn’t think I was a boy, though I was quite the “tomboy.” Sex seemed like something abstract and far-off and bizarre, and women people I had no desire whatsoever to be, though it was clear I could not be a man. Maybe I could be a horse?

    So how are women supposed to find the road to healthy lesbian relationships when we think women are creatures things are done to? It does pave the road well to winding up with abusive men, though.

    I have no idea how many het women actually choose men. Seems like it’s the culture doing an awful lot of the choosing for us.

    Thanks for this post.

  3. I support women whose lesbian orientation has been repressed by patriarchy and who come out later in life.

    That is the whole point of the article! ALL women’s sexuality is repressed under patriarchy, women are not free to ‘choose’, our sexuality is socially constructed, conditioned and controlled from birth to be subservient to the needs of men.

    That is not the same as claiming that lesbian orientation is some kind of political/theoretical ‘process’ that one can just sign up for at will,

    Understanding our response to your first sentence is, indeed, a valuable feminist process and we encourage all women to go through it, no matter what ‘orientation’ (ie I can’t help what my sexual ‘orientation’ is because it is innate) we think we are.

    and comparing the sexual pressure women face from men to the fact that being a lesbian is in and of itself *sexual attraction* to women is beyond vile.

    This didn’t happen, don’t know how you got that from the article but you obviously didn’t read that final paragraph which asks skeptical lesbians not to misinterpret political lesbianism and then argue with that misinterpretation.

    This article is extremely offensive and lesbophobic, as usual from ~political lesbians~.

    As above. Lesbians who understand that sexuality is a social construction are as passionate, sexual and loving as any other lesbians. The only difference is that we understand that sexuality is not an ‘orientation’ (ie innate), it is socially constructed. If it weren’t, patriarchy wouldn’t spend so much time categorizing, erasing and invisibilizing it. It is for us, radical lesbian feminists, to ensure lesbianism and lesbians survive the onslaught.

  4. Stop confusing the feminist, sisterly love of women with the romantic and sexual love of women. It’s offensive.

    There is no such confusion. You are directing this at lesbians. Women who’ve been lesbians for years/decades. No one is talking about platonic relationships, you completely misunderstand the point being made here. The post makes the point that, when heterosexual women are celibate, they are assumed to be heterosexual, but, according to some ‘sexual orientation’ born-like-it lesbians, such as yourself, the older lesbian (as an illustration of the point), if she’s not sexually active, should be considered heterosexual. How and why is that ok to any lesbian?

    It’s not about women who thought they were straight or bi realising they’re bi or lesbian. Don’t equate it with that. That’s not the same as a straight woman wanting to be celibate and calling herself a lesbian.

    Most of us, when we ‘come out’ and have sexual/romantic relationships and feelings, realise that past experiences which we thought were merely ‘sisterly’ had a lesbian dimension. Due to compulsory heterosexuality, we trivialised, or dismissed, such feelings as being insignificant because of the all-pervasive indoctrination of heterosexuality. This is a common, almost universal, experience for women. This is compulsory heterosexuality at work. It stops all women from resisting hetero-patriarchy. No one is suggesting that, once conditioning has worked, there’s an ‘on/off’ switch button which can be pressed at will because, by then, it has become as good as ingrained (‘innate’). What many, many radical lesbian feminists discovered, and are discovering, is that the veil can lift through political understanding and, amazingly, underneath there is romantic/sexual attraction for other women. You have read this article and inaccurately concluded the blog post has argued that political lesbianism is about a heterosexual woman wanting to be celibate with a lesbian. It is stating the exact opposite to this.

    You claim you’re dismantling patriarchal constructions of sexuality or whatever but the idea that two women in a relationship aren’t lovers, just sexless sisters is a deeply lesbophobic, misogynist sentiment, no matter how you word it.

    The article does not say that relationships between lesbians are ‘sexless’. All relationships have the potential to be, or become, ‘sexless’ (that is, no longer involve sexual activity) but that does not change the social construction of someone’s sexuality. As the article states, het women in ‘sexless’ marriages are still assumed to be het – why would anyone make a different assumption about lesbians? That is lesbophobic. I wish anti-political lesbians would stop throwing around ‘lesbophobic’ when they have misunderstood the argument.

    “someone owes you sex if they are in a relationship with you, whenever you want it” – nobody has said that as a criticism of ‘political lesbianism’. So actual bi and lesbian women who think a sexual relationship should normally involve sexual moments are the same as rapist men?

    You’ve taken this out of context. The point being made is that, even if a lesbian has always been a lesbian, she cannot escape patriarchy completely and will have internalized assumptions about the social construction of (hetero)sexuality.

    Women who want sex with women are patriarchal rapist men. Yeah, you sound really feminist and women-loving to me. Great defence of lesbianism

    And this is just ridiculous. Mutual desire for sex is, of course, part of lesbian experience. Undue pressure and, an expectation that sex is someone’s right, regardless of the feelings of the other woman, is anti-feminist.

    To reiterate, on behalf of all women who are scared they’re going to be told they’re not ‘real’ lesbians, if you love other women, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be a lesbian.

  5. It would be neat if people could make their points without the need to put down the “other side.” Whether one considers herself a “political lesbian” or a “born-this-way lesbian,” we are, I assume, on the same side, yes?

    So, the decisions to put down those of us who have never had sex with me and consider ourselves lesbians who were simply born gay by saying things like, “they will be harping over it and mocking us,” which is an incredibly sexist thing to say even if not trying to put down b-t-w lesbians; and the author herself uses anecdotal evidence to dispute “myths” she has heard, when I could use anecdotal evidence to assert the opposite of what she has put forth here. That, in and of itself, would be a never ending “debate.”

    I also disagree with the comment, “Lesbians who understand that sexuality is a social construction are as passionate, sexual and loving as any other lesbians.” Not because I do not believe political lesbians can be passionate lovers, but because I disagree with the assertion that sexuality is a social construction and that it should be something that is understood instead of merely believed to be true.

    I do not think this can all be framed around or compared to the great trans debate, but I can see how some b-t-w lesbians can be offended by the very thought of women who are celibate but call themselves lesbians because of their politics. Honestly, I could care less either way because we are all women fighting for the same goal; but what I cannot agree with or support is putting down one sister in the support of another sister or even ourselves.

    We all need to be in this fight together; and in reading this post and the above comments, I honestly don’t feel that. This in-fighting and putting other women down has made me re-think what it is I am fighting for; if I cannot gain the love and respect of my own sisters because I consider myself having been born gay as opposed to something I chose to become, then how can I ever expect to gain the love and respect of anyone else out there I am trying to reach with my words, thoughts, and ideas?

    • Hey BigBooButch, we like your work and appreciate your contribution here so have published.

      “b-t-w lesbians can be offended by the very thought of women who are celibate but call themselves lesbians because of their politics.”

      Political lesbians are not arguing this. Not at all. We agree that someone who does not recognise sexual/romantic love for women is NOT a lesbian. We simply say she COULD be one. From the second wave: “There’s a lesbian in every woman” sums it up.

      We’re going to have to disagree that this is as simple as ‘in-fighting’. Women who are ‘coming out’ as a result of their contact with radical feminism, or even feminism, are being hurt, and perhaps even prevented from doing so, because of the misinterpretations and dismissal of political lesbianism. We are arguing that political lesbianism exists and is a real and valid way of ‘coming out’.

      You have love and respect for being who you are, for being a lesbian who fights the patriarchy. The political criticisms in this article were not of ALL ‘born like it lesbians’, merely those who dismiss political lesbianism as being real because that is harmful to other women. It also criticises those who put b-t-w lesbians on a pedestal. We know plenty of women who have always been lesbians who support political lesbianism because they have a feminist analysis of the hetero-patriarchy.

      Thank you for your post

      • Gotcha. I guess I was taking it too personally and wanted it to be known that not all b-t-w lesbians feel as the author and some of the commenters suggested.

        This actually kinda reminds me of the arguments that used to ensue (and probably do, I suppose) between the so-called “gold-star” lesbians, or those of us who never had sex with men, and the lesbians who figured things out later in life, most of the time, after having been in at least one het relationship. To be honest, I had never even heard of political lesbians until I started my blog a few months ago and someone asked me what I thought of them. I will admit that my response was off-the-cuff and based on what a friend told me she thought it meant, so it could have offended some PLs; but in all honestly, I really don’t care how other women ID as long as we are all fighting toward the same goal and not ripping each other apart.

        Thanks for the reply.

  6. Reblogged this on rantastica and commented:
    The idea, therefore, that women are not bound to that servitude forever because of their ‘born this way’ sexuality, has been a freeing revelation for many feminists over decades. The idea that sexuality, just like all other aspects of life, can shift and change alongside political realisations, is revolutionary in a world where sexuality is seen as fixed and innate. If we demand that men change their sexual behaviour, how can we possibly deny that we have the potential to change our sexual desires to ones which are more liberating?

    • I don’t call myself a lesbian because it seems appropriative and I respect language. At the same time, what is interesting to me is different paths, what influences the directions we take. Women get involved with men for more reasons than just to increase privilege. Some have no real choice, others are avoiding women who perform femininity and find the company of men more interesting, not because of what they are, but because of how they occupy themselves. It’s not just about sexual attraction. So the interesting question to me is what would happen if women and girls everywhere were comfortable choosing to be lesbians and/or refuse to perform femininity. When performing femininity is socially enforced, and a girl really really does not want to do that, she will be branded as wrong no matter whom she attempts to befriend.

      • “I don’t call myself a lesbian because it seems appropriative and I respect language”

        No woman who is not a lesbian should call herself one. Political lesbians are very far from arguing that they should. We are saying something similar to you – that under hetero-patriarchy women’s ‘choices’ are limited and controlled and our sexuality molded and suppressed. Heterosexuality is an institution, a structure, which is forced on all women and ‘femininity’ is, as you say, an inherent part of that.

  7. “If we demand that men change their sexual behaviour, how can we possibly deny that we have the potential to change our sexual desires to ones which are more liberating?”

    I meant to touch on this, but I completely forgot. Sexual “behavior” and sexual “desires” are two different things. It’s apples and oranges, imo. We absolutely -can- demand men change their sexual behaviors without changing our own sexual desires (as in the b-t-w lesbian or the heterosexual woman); or we can demand that men change their behaviors while we -do- change our desires (as in the political lesbian or perhaps even the bisexual woman), but I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive because behaviors and desires are not the same.

    • I read a blog comment somewhere awhile back asserting that any woman can choose to be a lesbian, but not every woman can choose to be het. The latter phrase protects b-t-w lesbians, the former implies more fluidity for het women and also reflects how the effects of living in a patriarchal culture can distort one’s sense of self and sexuality.

      But at the same time, taking this to mean women who do not choose to be lesbians are failing in some manner is problematic. How can one dictate definitions of intimacy for other women? How is that different from men trying to do that to us?

      Part of the problem seems to be about het women seen as betraying lesbians, and I can see how that would work, because het women who are involved with men often betray their single female friends by putting the man first, talking about him all the time, standing up their women friends because the man wants something. That’s seriously tiresome even if you’re not a lesbian. It’s a political thing that plays out socially.

      So, I think if b-t-w and other longterm lesbians want to limit their associations with women whom they see as being risky in this sense, they have every right to do so. That’s where the “political lesbian” label becomes difficult, it’s diffusive and appropriative. It reminds me of men claiming to be feminists. It’s not what you claim to be or call yourself that counts, it’s your willingness to stand up for members of oppressed groups, even to your own detriment. But while men cannot become women, any more than people of European background can become people of color, non-lesbian women can and do become lesbians. But that should mean more than just taking a little experimental tour in Lesbian Land, so to speak.

    • “Sexual “behavior” and sexual “desires” are two different things. It’s apples and oranges, imo”

      Yes they are 2 different things but the point the sentence was making is that, under hetero-patriarchy, our sexual desires and behaviour are considered to be the only sphere of life where we’re incapable of doing anything about it. It is innate and ‘natural’. This is used by patriarchy to excuse men for how they view and treat women. Desires and behaviour are linked. The woman-hating in pornography, for example, influences male sexual desire and many ape the abuse they see with women they know. (We’re not interested in a ‘men can change’ debate, btw, we believe post-patriarchy, men WILL change, whether by force or coercion, to stop hating and abusing women). The article was merely linking, for feminists, the rightful expectations we have of men to change desire/behaviour with the idea that all sexuality is fixed and innate to show where it leads politically.

  8. “But that should mean more than just taking a little experimental tour in Lesbian Land, so to speak.”

    Hahahahaha!
    Sorry, but that was seriously funny.

    “Part of the problem seems to be about het women seen as betraying lesbians, and I can see how that would work, because het women who are involved with men often betray their single female friends by putting the man first, talking about him all the time, standing up their women friends because the man wants something.”

    Eh, we ALL talk about our partners, right? So if a het woman is out with her lesbian sisters and all of the lesbians are talking about their girlfriends or wives, is that betraying the het women? That’s rhetorical, you don’t have to answer that. And it doesn’t just have to be the men they stand up other women for; my friend who has kids will stand me up in a heartbeat if one of her kids needs her and I completely understand that. My point is we ALL talk about ourselves, our lives, our significant others, and we can do that while also standing up for and supporting each other.

    Of course, if they are betraying feminism or their sisters in favor of the man by always taking up his issues but never any woman’s issue, putting men before women, using the tire excuse of “my husband/father/brother/son/best friend doesn’t act that way” then yes, that behavior would suck.

    I know I keep sounding a little kumbaya here, but seriously, if we all support each other, back each other up, put women before men, etc., then our sexuality should be our own business, shouldn’t it? I mean, I don’t care what your sexuality is, you’re a woman with an important voice, so I support you in what you have to say. Period.

  9. Thank you for posting this article, could you also add a link at the bottom to direct readers The Lesbian Heresy?

    It’s a bit of a flashback for me reading this, because I remember talking to a friend who was a political lesbian many years ago, and hearing through exactly the same filter. Whatever she said, all I was capable of hearing was:

    1. Heterosexual woman, no desire for women, wants to say she’s a lesbian – how insulting to lesbians
    2. What the poster above says about ‘just taking a little experimental tour in Lesbian Land’
    and
    3. You’re straight! It’s just a fact! I do believe that was created/molded by compulsory heterosexuality, but you can’t change that now!

    I totally dismissed what she was trying to explain and did what you’re talking about – (in what I thought was a reasonable way) slammed the exit in her face and told her sexuality is what it is – just be a good feminist, be good to women and don’t try to examine or change your sexuality. It must have been a really lonely time for her, because even as feminists then we were pretty isolated.

    Despite that resistance, what she said had a really big impact on me. After many years of reading, reflecting, deepening my understanding of how my own sexuality was constructed and controlled (I could only see this clearly when men had been out of my life sexually for years), and finally becoming an activist and very close to radical feminist lesbians, a massive shift happened for me and a real attraction to and love for other women just took over (yes, intellectual, emotional, physical).

    The political understandings you talk about in your post were part of that awakening, most importantly the ability to see my (hetero)sexuality as something that isn’t just private, innate or unique to me. That would not have been possible if I’d still been involved with, or entertaining the idea of being with men – whether I was a great friend to women and an activist or not. You can’t see who your ‘heterosexuality’ really benefits or how, if he is still there, reaping those benefits.

    I became a lesbian not as some reaction against men, but rather through finally being free of their influence in my intimate life and my political work. They stopped blocking my way home to women.

    • Thank you for your response Violentwinter and for taking the time to tell us your story. If we could put it up in neon lights, we would. We would do so for all the women who may have fearfully stopped their journey towards lesbianism because some lesbians are in denial that an experience which is not theirs is ‘real’. The women who run this blog are proud, unapologetic lesbians. You have shown with the process you describe that labelling political lesbians as celibate hets is a falsely-positioned d-railment.

      It’s a good idea to add Lesbian Heresy as a link to this post.

  10. “The over-emphasis on sexual activity as an essential part of the lesbian experience is concerning. Most heterosexual women have experienced pressure to be sexually active.”

    And this right here is what’s wrong with where you’re coming from. period. Dress it up however you like. This is the key.

    Being a lesbian means being sexually (and otherwise) attracted to women. It is not a mental theory based on heterosexual womenn’s experiences, issues or needs. It’s a basic sexual orientation and sexual feelings and experiences are without question part of that.

    I’m not surprised that women who don’t have such a sexual attraction would make it into some sort of theoretical point with heterosexual women at the center. Typical heterosexist entitlement/privilege.

    I’m a lesbian with deep physical/sexual attraction for women. I don’t feel this way because of some political theory or mental argument. I would certainly not want to be with any woman who approaches relationship from such a deadening perspective. Human relationships are real, multi-dimensional things and this is quite true of two women who are attracted to each other in a real way.

    I would be repelled by a woman for whom lesbian relationship is some sort of mental/political process. Ugh.

    Any “political lesbian” heterosexuals who have a problem with rich, intense sexuality from actual lesbians – I say, leave the actual lesbians alone, please. I pity any lesbian who would get involved with a heterosexual woman spouting this political lesbian nonsense.

    • You’re right. That sentence is key – the key to misunderstanding what political lesbianism is about. I don’t know how many more times it has to be said that political lesbians are lesbians, not heterosexual women. We agree that “Being a lesbian means being sexually (and otherwise) attracted to women.” Where in that sentence does it say anything different? You seem to be confusing “sexual activity” with “sexual attraction” and then making a case against political lesbianism based on that misunderstanding.

      Mental/emotional responses have nothing to do with sexual attraction? Really? Wow. That’s not the case from my experience (a long-time dyke btw not a “heterosexual”; that’s really quite insulting). The only difference between political lesbians and other lesbians is the politics came first and the rest came afterwards and the only reason we write about political lesbianism is for the sake of heterosexual women who don’t know that loving women for the rest of their lives (yes, sexually) is an option for them too.

      The way you, and many other contemporary non-political lesbians present lesbian sexuality, as if it is innate, fixed, immovable and “natural” contradicts radical lesbian feminist theory. This is a radical lesbian feminist blog. The fact that sexuality is a social construction is a fundamental belief of radical lesbian feminism. That belief underlines the ideology of political lesbianism.

      We are publishing your post and my response for the sake of all the women teetering on the edge of “coming out” because we know how hard it is, we know the self-doubts which besiege women about whether there’s such a thing as “real” lesbians or “pure” lesbians, unsullied by compulsory heterosexuality. We think it’s important that all women know being a lesbian IS an option for them, whether they are in a position to act on that option currently or not. And because of that, we are publishing your post and responding to it. “Real” lesbians are women who say they are lesbians. End of.

    • I totally agree. Lesbian women who are comfortable in their own lives within their own sexual political frames and intimate realities are people we can’t have too many of.

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