I have a confession to make: I hate anti-political-lesbian rhetoric. HATE it. I hate it when it comes from queers but I hate it even more when it comes from radical feminists. Like, why would you condemn your sisters to a lifetime of dick sucking and headboard banging? If you’re asserting that some women are “lesbian out of the womb”, you are also asserting that some women are penis receptacles out of the womb. It is antithetical to radical feminism to assert that there are a sub-class of women who are born to be fucked by men. None of us are. Women are not born to do anything. We’re just born, like men are. We are born female and literally everything else (including our sexuality) is constructed around that. I didn’t come out of the womb any more lesbian than I came out goth. Women arrive to their destination by different roads. Many women find politics to be an integral part of their journey to lesbianism. It’s reductionist to call political lesbianism a rejection of men. A rejection of men could be a stepping stone but it’s not the totality.
Lesbian is an I-dentity. I’m sorry and I know that causes hurt feelings but it’s how it is. Lesbian is a political identity whether you identify with poli-lez, later lesbian, or born-that-way. Even if your lesbianism has no political framework behind it and is born out of a pure lust for hot lady ass, when you are viewed as a lesbian by wider society that has political implications. For us as individual lesbians but for all women too. Men hate lesbians because we remind them that they can’t control all of us all the time. Lesbianism is threatening to patriarchy because it is the ultimate women-only space. This is why women who chose not to engage in sex with men, or who present in any way ‘masculine’ are treated as lesbians under patriarchy; men fear those who won’t submit to them. Of course, most lesbians are not feminists, and do not construct their lesbianism around their politics but that doesn’t change how they are seen by the wider world.
Political lesbian is merely a descriptor of how a woman came to – and enacts – her lesbianism. Prefixing the word “lesbian” with the word “political” is nothing like tacking “trans” on the the front of “woman” because “woman” is something you are and “Lesbian” is something you do. You cannot change the thing that you are but you can change the things that you do.
Let’s look at this quote from Revolutionary Combustion’s blog:
Lesbianism is not about negative feelings regarding men, but the presence of positive, sexually charged relations between two women. It means eroticism between females; there is absolutely nothing lesbian about a woman who does not desire sexual engagement with other women.
Lesbianism is definitely not about negative feelings regarding men (although it obviously doesn’t preclude them). This is something I agree with. Lesbianism has nothing to do with men. But, the “presence of positive, sexually charged relations between two women”? Does this mean we are only lesbians when we have someone to be lesbian with? I really couldn’t disagree more that “there is absolutely nothing lesbian about a woman who does not desire sexual engagement with other women.” That statement seems willfully ignorant to me. Many older lesbians don’t desire the sexually charged relationships they may have had (or not) when they were younger. Are they not lesbians any more? Many younger lesbians suffer from chronic illnesses which severely affect their libido. Are they not lesbians any more either? You might feel like lesbianism is special and characterized by desire but that only holds any meaning to you as an individual. Your experience of “desire” is not every lesbian’s experience of “desire”. Our emotions are very personal. Personal feelings of sexual desire is not politics. “You’re not a lesbian unless you erotically desire women,” posits heterosexuality as the default. Why shouldn’t we assume that most women are lesbians instead of assuming most women are heterosexual? If women hadn’t been kept barefoot and pregnant and in servitude to men since time immemorial, who’s to say most women wouldn’t be lesbians? Women are, after all, infinitely more attractive than men and even as very young girls, we are naturally drawn to each other. It’s patriarchy (or men) that keep us apart as we grow because divide and conquer is a pretty efficient strategy.
So what if some women are politically celibate and call themselves lesbians? Seriously, who cares? What awful thing will happen as a result of this? People might think you fuck women when you actually fuck no one? Why does that matter? Women should not be defined by who we fuck. We are full human beings. Women should make positive choices when they are able. Becoming a lesbian is a positive choice for women. I don’t understand why some women want to keep “lesbian” as an exclusive club which requires proof of something that’s only quantifiable on a deeply personal, individual level. That’s fine for your personal morality and relationships but politically it can’t work.
Speaking politically, any woman can be a lesbian. To say otherwise is to say that some women are destined to be fucked by men. That’s not consistent with radical feminist politics. It’s not helpful and does not forward the women’s liberation movement as a whole to tell women they cannot be lesbians because they don’t feel the same special, unmeasurable feelings that you feel. Lesbian identity is too complex to be reduced to man-hating or nice feelings in your special places when you’re with your lady friends. A political lesbian is a woman who’s lesbianism is informed by her politics. There’s nothing about that which harms lesbians who enact their lesbianism from a purely ‘erotic’ perspective.