A baby girl is born. It’s a girl! Pink! Baby Dolls! Dresses! Other Stuff! From this moment, the girl is groomed for life as a Heterosexual Woman. She is groomed for a life as a wife and servant for Men. She is groomed to want to have babies and raise the children of men. She is groomed for Compulsory Heterosexuality, the concept coined by Baltimore native and Radical Feminist Adrienne Rich that identifies heterosexuality as the agent that keeps Females from actualizing their full sexual and emotional capacities, an agent that denies a sexual way of being unrelated to Male pleasure – Lesbian sexuality.
All girls in our culture are groomed towards Compulsory Heterosexuality.
All of us. Including Lesbians. As Lesbians, we have been socialized since birth – like all Females – to be sexually accessible to Males. As Lesbians, many of us work for years with internalized self-hatred and misogyny before we finally are able to confront our sexual attractions and honor our sexuality. This is a long and – for many of us – a lifetime process, as we are constantly bombarded with cultural messages that Lesbian sexuality is wrong.
This grooming is part of our Shared Girlhood. This is the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, the blanket that our mothers tuck us into bed with at night.
And, yet, despite this grooming, Lesbians – Women who love Women – exist.
Some “Real Lesbians” (tw, sarcasm) or “Born That Way Lesbians” note the existence of Women who have “escaped” Heterosexual grooming as proof that “Lesbians” are born, not made, that sexual orientation is innate, and that no Woman can choose to be Gay. They can only be “asexual” or “spinsters” or “ex-het” or “bisexual.”
All “Real Lesbians” have a coming out story. Many “Real Lesbians” recall feelings of same-sex attraction from very young ages, or recount anecdotes of “just knowing” we didn’t “fit” that Heterosexual Mold for which all Women are groomed. Of course, all Lesbians also have coming out stories, but these stories are deemed inauthentic if they occur after participation in Heterosexuality. And no Women is “fit” to be nothing more than a brood mare. Nevertheless, for these Born That Way Lesbians, Lesbianism must be proven in an environment that has a default assumption of Heterosexuality – the default created, of course, by grooming into Compulsory Heterosexuality.
But what does this mean, if Being Gay is innate, if the only entry into Lesbianism is an accident of birth? Why does it matter? And how do you account for Women who come out later in life? How do you account for Women who realize that Heterosexuality is not conducive to their happiness? What do we say to these “Made Lesbians”?
If we accept that Lesbians are “Born That Way,” they cannot be Made. And, thus, we deny these Women their experience of discovering themselves and their sexuality free from Male dictates. We place on them the same patriarchal expectations of what makes a Lesbian – can you be a Lesbian if you’ve had sex with a Man, eve? Once? Twice? One hundred times?
In rejecting these Women, we doubt Women. And we make these Women doubt themselves. Opponents of Political Lesbianism, the Born That Way Lesbians, demand proof – they reject what Women say and instead look for external evidence to prove what a Woman says and feels. They distrust and disbelieve Women.
How does this create trust among Women, when we are telling Women that we don’t believe them and their own desires? It doesn’t create trust, and it doesn’t reflect listening to Women – it rejects Women, and denies the grooming that all Women endure in our Woman Hating culture.
We need a Political Analysis.
Political Lesbianism is the radical feminist idea that Women can “choose” to be Lesbians, and that such “choice” is a way for Women to escape the shackles of Compulsory Heterosexuality. It enables Women to politically and personally ally with other Women. In effect, Political Lesbianism allows Women a framework to reorder our priorities – it gives Women space and room to maneuver as we navigate the Heterosexual grooming all Women experience. As Feminists, many of us, in exploring our ideas about Woman-hating culture, realize that Lesbianism can bring us to experience deeper connection to and intimacy with other Women, an experience many of us want, need and crave.
Some radical feminists reject Political Lesbianism. These critics accuse Made Lesbians of “the worst appropriation,” of stealing the experience of Lesbianism. They view Political Lesbianism as an attack on Real Lesbians.
An attack on Real Lesbians?
Who are the Real Lesbians?
And where is this attack? I see Men on the right attacking Women, by limiting through legislation our ability to control our own bodies. I see Men on the left attacking Women, by demanding that we remain silent in the face of rape and sexual assault by the Left’s leaders. I see Men in the GLBT Community attacking Women, by expecting Women to consider Males as “Women” if those Males say so and by supporting efforts to limit Women-Only Space.
I don’t see the threat posed to Lesbians by Political Lesbianism in the here and now. Indeed, the biggest threat to Lesbians is the Queerification (i.e., elimination) of Lesbian culture and community and the erasure of Female reality.
So, then, are we – as Feminists – saying that only Born that Way Lesbians are Real Lesbians?
If that is what Feminists believe, this position denies the lived reality of the Woman who leaves her boyfriend, who leaves her husband, who wakes up one day and realizes that there’s more to her life than being a servant to Male desire. And the opponents of Political Lesbianism render “Lesbian” into simply another identity, another lens that dilutes our community, another barrier to divide us.
Lesbians are Women who love other Women.
All Women can be Lesbian.
All Women. All Women can be Real Lesbians.
Our movement should trust Women. We should believe Women. Our movement cannot exclude all but a handful of Women – the Real Lesbians – from having the ultimate Women-only space. All Women have the right to Say “I am a Lesbian” without fear of being judged or disbelieved or labeled a liar and a thief.
Women need space to develop and grow. Indeed, we all need space with each other to recognize the massive con job that’s perpetrated on us since the moment the doctor declares “it’s a girl.” Elevating “Real Lesbians” over all other Women places these proponents among the ranks of any other supporter of Identity Politics. These efforts to “protect Lesbianism” for “Real Lesbians” focuses not on the liberation of Women, but on the determination of which Women are entitled to claim to title “Lesbian.”
Who wants part of a Feminist Movement built on exclusion of Women? The process of deconstructing the Woman you were groomed to be from girlhood is lifelong and never ending – even for Real Lesbians.
Thus, we are Political Lesbians and choose to be a Lesbian in a Woman-Hating culture. We choose to love Women and put them at the center of our lives. All Women can do this.
Give Women room to breathe. Our movement should be generous towards Women struggling to untangle the web of lies and expectations we are woven into since birth.
Oh, and if you doubt a Woman is a Lesbian, you can choose not to date her (and this, by the way, is not a Political Analysis).
Cathy Brennan supports political lesbianism, the Poli Lez Collective and its revisions to the statement by Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group (“Love Your Enemy” 1979) about political lesbianism. You can read that revised statement here.