Lesbian Is Political Whether It Is Or Not (or Any Woman Can Be A Lesbian)

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.

37 thoughts on “Lesbian Is Political Whether It Is Or Not (or Any Woman Can Be A Lesbian)

  1. Arguments against political lesbianism make me wanna bash my head against a wall. I get why some lesbians are apprehensive about women who were heterosexual becoming lesbians given that many heterosexual women use lesbians as a sexual experiment but that apprehension is not an argument.

    We need to be supporting women who want to come out. Who want to refocus their lives, their sexual energy. Who discover that they actually are more attracted to women than men.


    • I also totally get why some lesbians are wary of former het women and that’s ok. They don’t need to date them. Don’t tell them they’re not lesbians though. That’s really mean. And the bad kind of mean.


      • YES!!!! Thank you for saying this and I completely 100% AGREE.

        I get it. I’ve never taken why ANY woman is “wary” of me. There are a THOUSAND reasons why I wouldn’t be interested in ME!! lol. And if one of those reasons happens to be that I didn’t come out till my 30’s… THAT’S OKAY!!!

        Women don’t have to have a reason why that’s a deal breaker. It’s a deal breaker. NO problem. I get it.

        But there is so much “shame” attached w/women coming out. I know at least 5men who came OUT as gay after they were married and had children. Everyone always “admires” their bravery and courage. Meanwhile they have all the male privilege in the WORLD on both their former straight lives AND in the always focused on the guys “gay community”.

        Huh?? What’s so fucking brave? They LOST NOTHING!!! Gay men are not being interrogated for liking cock.
        “Hey he’s gay! Done. Deal. Move on.” Everyone takes a man at his word.

        But women will always be questioned and under suspicion no matter what. It’s okay tho… I stopped taking it personally a long time ago. Every ones got shit to deal with.


      • Oh yes, the poor brave gay guys. Not a word about the women they duped and children they left behind, they’re just so brave to finally admit to the world that they can’t get enough dick.


  2. AT, you are brilliant, as always, and I love this piece. Thank you.


  3. “What awful thing will happen as a result of this? People might think you fuck women when you actually fuck no one?” Lolol!


  4. Dyksfunctional brings up something that I wonder about when this topic comes out – there’s a lot of discussion (at least in some online spaces) of women who come out later in life, after being het-partnered (kids or not, married or not) and this is viewed negatively; yet men who come out later in life don’t seem to run into that stigma – they aren’t tainted by vagina the same way women are tainted by penis. I don’t understand this. Why are we so harsh and critical of women attempting (and succeeding) at being more woman-identified in their lives? I agree, it would be nice to have everything figured out by the time you hit dating age, and to be able to shirk the social pressures to conform to heterosexuality. But considering this world is hard on women who stray from their acceptable roles (and ALL women), you’d think we could be a little understanding and accepting that everyone’s path is different. Instead we reserve some of the harshest judgment and highest standards for our sisters.

    I understand the desire to include sexual attraction & activity in a definition of lesbianism, but I also struggle to defend such a desire because it feels too patriarchal to define women’s relationships by their sexual activities. IMO women experience love/physical attractions in different ways to men and may even express those things differently than men do – but by defining it by sexual relations we’re limiting the ways we can feel and express our love and passion for women.

    Of course I’d never suggest a woman must date/have sex with someone she doesn’t want to date/have sex with; but to have a general view (or a political stance, even) that women who (for various valid reasons) were previously in het relationships can’t be lesbians? :\


    • I agree. The focus on the SEXY and the EROTIC when it comes to lesbianism feels kinda pornified to me.


    • It’s one of those “touchy” subjects.

      In MY personnel experience it seems to be looking more and more like a generational gap.

      Women who didn’t come out until “later” in life was kinda of a norm w/in the lesbian circles of 20, 30 and even 40 yrs ago. I’ve met tons of lesbians like me who all who came OUT in those time periods from previous “het” relationships [[and several nuns. go figure]] and found very long lasting, committed and loving partnerships.

      NOT SAYING… that is a “sign” of being a **gold star** lesbian. I’m just saying that they just blend in and move on. Most women don’t even know.

      But things have changed and w/more visibility [[lesbians are not all into softball or rugby]] and “acceptance” there seems to be a LESS tolerant lesbian community about not coming OUT by 18.

      Old enough to vote, drive a car, serve your country and be on your own.
      By the powers invested of the all knowing vagina… you now know you like it.

      It just doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t for some of us.

      I LOVE LOVE LOVE when I hear all the stories of my friends w/their High School/College gfs. Dating, friends, vacations, blah blah blah. It’s exciting that a young girl was that IN TUNED to her sexuality, romance, attraction, interests, readings, political motivations and challenges!!

      I can’t even IMAGINE being that independent at that age. Good gawd!! It’s ENTIRELY different world and I admire the HELL out of it.

      But that wasn’t my life.
      I was abandoned by my bio parents. Raised by my extended family in a VERY Mexican/Irish Catholic home. There was NO FUCKING WAY… that I was going to disappoint them or embarrass them.

      It wasn’t about me is all. That’s what I say when asked….
      “HOW did you not know you were a LESBIAN??”

      Because it wasn’t about me. That’s it and that’s all. It’s not very complicated to be honest.


  5. “Lesbian” is something you do.” NO. No, it’s not. I couldn’t disagree more about coming out of the womb gay. I did. That fact doesn’t imply anything about anyone else being made for dicks. It does imply that a female not born gay might possibly be destined for dicks, or for both dicks and vaginas, or for neither.

    My partner of 18 years was previously married to a male for 25 years and bore two daughters (who, along with their own children, are the light of our lives). I believe she was also born gay, but was so sheltered, came from such a small Ala. town, and married a preacher, that she didn’t recognize or understand her own feelings till she was in her 40s. I think it was incredibly brave of her to come out and divorce her husband, especially here in Alabama. It doesn’t make her less of a lesbian, in my opinion; it makes her more of one; one strong enough to throw off the chains of a life that was suffocating her. She wasn’t DOING lesbianism; she was recognizing her true self, which is a lesbian.

    I may not always be political, but I AM always a lesbian.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t care how women come to lesbianism. Through feminism, through falling in love with a girl as a teenager, through falling in love with a woman after being married to a man. There are many ways women become lesbian. But it strikes me as deeply disrespectful of actual lesbians, for Het women to claim to be political lesbians. Words mean something.

    Lesbians, including political lesbians who are actual lesbians define lesbianism in many different ways. But one of the key definitions is that you have to be sexually attracted to at least one woman. To deny that, is to make the term lesbian meaningless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lesley, this blog post is not about heterosexual women who call themselves Lesbians. Nowhere did I mention that. Words do mean things. Lesbian means “female homosexual” and any woman can be a homosexual.

      Lesbian is a political identity. Sexual attraction is personal feelings. If you are perceived as a Lesbian and call yourself a Lesbian, then you’re a Lesbian. I don’t go around quizzing people on their levels of “sexual attraction”. What does that even mean anyway, and how do we measure it?

      Let’s stop defining ourselves on sexxxxay male terms. And please read my posts before commenting.


      • Lesbian as an identity is a social construct. It is constructed to describe women who are sexually attracted to other women.

        Many women are perceived as being lesbians. Women who live alone, who reject men, who dress in less traditionally feminine ways, but that does not make them a lesbian.

        If you have never been sexually attracted to at least one woman, you are not a lesbian. Sexual attraction is about personal feelings. Although lesbian as an identity is a social construct, at an individual level it is about personal feelings. Which is why women who do not have this sexual attraction are not lesbians, they are Het or asexual.

        You say that any woman who is perceived as a lesbian and calls herself a lesbian is a lesbian. This not only erases actual lesbians – a lesbian in a Het marriage is still a lesbian, even though she is unlikely to be perceived as one by others – it also broadens the term of lesbian so as to make it meaningless. This may benefit Het women, it certainly does not benefit lesbians.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Again, this blog is not about heterosexual women who call themselves Lesbians. Stop misrepresenting what I’ve said.

        And again, sexual attraction is personal and unmeasurable. How you experience sexual attraction is not necessarily the same as how others do. How exactly does it harm Lesbians if politically celibate women call themselves Lesbian?


  7. If women are lesbians but celibate, that is fine. But I understand you are saying that to be a political lesbian, you do not need to feel sexual attraction to any woman. Is that correct?

    And if it is, then any woman who is not sexually attracted to at least 1 other woman is not a lesbina. She is a Het or asexual woman claiming to be a lesbian.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What is “politically celibate”?


  9. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the majority of women who have chosen to identify as political lesbians were ex-bisexuals not ex-hets? I suppose a celibate woman still calling herself a lesbian doesn’t really affect anything but I personally would be a little wary of a woman who had no sexual desire for women at all, being in lesbian spaces and calling themselves a part of the lesbian community. I’m fine with bisexuals making the change to political lesbianism because they’re attracted to women, but it doesn’t even seem likely that a heterosexual woman would (what would they really gain?)- and if they did they would be bringing a lot of privilege with them. Can’t they be politically celibate and still be straight? It does seem a little bit like political lesbianism is settling for second best – settling for ‘companionship’ rather than a relationship.

    And I disagree with the idea that sexuality is something that you do, not what you are. If I decided to leave my girlfriend tomorrow and start dating men despite having no attraction to them, it would be pretty untrue for me to call myself straight. If I was bisexual, I wouldn’t call myself straight if I was with a man and a lesbian if I was with a woman. A lesbian who’s in the closet married to a man, is still a lesbian. A gay man in the closet married to a woman, is still a gay man. If we could fix our sexualities around who we were currently with (or who we *wanted* to be attracted to) then surely nobody would discover their sexuality later in life anyway? and conversion therapy would be a lot more effective I suspect. In my opinion, it’s more that your sexuality is there (and you can obviously either know that from the start or discover that later in life) and you choose whether or not to act on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is interesting to me, as I had crushes on girls I was in school with but later married, and then after 10 awful years of that found a woman I loved, divorced and built a life together with her. I’ve often felt I don’t have the right to call myself a lesbian because of my marital history, but truthfully, I can’t ever imagine a circumstance where I would be in any kind of intimate relationship with a man again. It’s left me thinking I’m in some murky gray territory, which isn’t horrible, but makes it difficult to explain to other people. In the end, though, whatever I call myself, to the rest of the world I look very much like a lesbian as I live with another woman and am intimate with her in every possible way. So what’s in a label, anyhow?

    The bit about being “sexually attracted to,” in terms of crafting an identity, really misses most of the point to me. Yes, sexual attraction can be a part of it, but *emotional* attraction, to me, is even more important. As far as sexual attraction goes, I’m pretty focused on just one individual who happens to be a woman. But as far as who I identify with emotionally, who I feel safe to open up to, who I feel I can trust, who I want to befriend, whose stories are more compelling to me — it’s women. This emotional alignment is, to me, at least as important as sexual attraction. Nah, it’s more important. I am woman centered, and this, is more a part of who I am than what kind of person I want to crawl into bed with.


  11. Pingback: Lesbian Identity Politics | ann tagonist

  12. one thing just occurred to me. perhaps this PL v. BTW debate is based on the fact that it’s framed in heteronormative/patriarchal terms?

    said another way: i acknowledge that my sexuality has been so damaged by the patriarchy that for the time being celibacy is my best option. i am repulsed by men, though i am programmed to desire them. and i do not desire women in a way that has anywhere near the ‘charge’ my conditioning has for males.

    therefore, i am unable to conceive of a means of conceptualizing intact women’s sexuality because i have zero exposure to undamaged female lives – including sexual expression.

    given my inability to move beyond the permanent damage done to my sexual self by patriarchal programming, how then am i supposed to name the stunted vestiges of what was taken away from me?

    this seems to be an exercise over the proper name for charred remains. if this bone fragment glitters at dawn, it’s a BTW lesbian. if the ash chunk doesn’t dissolve in your hand, it’s a PL.

    i am tired of fighting over scraps. now my only option is to turn to my mostly intact body. even with the remnants of patriarchal software running in the background, interfering with the signal strength of my woman’s body, is there enough woman left to hear?

    what does my surviving self say? if there is enough human left to fight, can then i have hope of one day loving with my whole remains?

    what would such a love look like? what would be her rightful name?

    dear sisters, i thirst for your wisdom……..

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Dear redhester, this speaks to me: “i am repulsed by men, though i am programmed to desire them. and i do not desire women in a way that has anywhere near the ‘charge’ my conditioning has for males. ”

    I, too, feel very broken. I hate male attention, and I crave it. The “charge”–the rush–of that desire is so strong, and many a time I thought of it and had to conclude that I was born heterosexual. Since I didn’t feel that rush for women, I must not be attracted to women.

    I started dating a woman, not entirely sure I was attracted to her. She was wonderful and pretty and cuddly and sweet, but I did not know what would happen when it came to sex. At first I only enjoyed kissing her when she was on top of me. I didn’t get much out of being the active one, but if she acted on me–rush! There it was, and that’s what I liked! Then, slowly, I began to notice the other ways she touched me. Ways that did not give me a rush, but gave me a sigh, a murmur, a laugh. They made me smile. They made me feel happy.

    WHOA. I realized that the rush of my attraction to men had nothing to do with being happy. It was the rush of danger. An addictive rush. An intensity of emotion to quench my thirst in the otherwise emotional desert of my het relationships. But I’ll say it again: It had nothing to do with being happy.

    I think we have been taught that that feeling is love. How sick is that?

    I have had intense emotions with my girlfriend. Intense physicality. Fabulous sex where we both end up laughing uncontrollably for half an hour because we were so happy. I do not feel the danger rush with her. I have stopped defining attraction by that danger rush.

    I still struggle with it. I still crave it. I still hate it and want it and know that means I’m not whole yet.

    Your body still knows what happiness is. Listen hard. Learn to tell the difference between happiness and hope and desperation and pain. We’ve been told there’s a fine line between pain and pleasure, so we have accepted pain as pleasure. I think they are vastly different things, and when you start to be able to tell the difference, you can begin deprogramming.

    I think I get what you’re saying. This work is so important. *This work is SO important.* Let us find a way to get on with it, and perhaps that means leaving it nameless.

    This work is so important.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for this comment. This is very insightful and something I hadn’t considered consciously.


    • thank you. from one happy lesbian to another. thank you for your kindness. may your remaining days be happy and surrounded by loving women. <3


    • Thank you – two years later. I’ve reluctantly spent most of my adult life calling myself ‘bisexual’ (I hate labels and have never felt comfortable with this one especially – I equate it with cowardice and fence-sitting), yet wondering why engaging sexually with males was always fraught with self-hatred, deep unhappiness and disgust towards towards them. And then wondering why I’ve gone back for more. And further wondering why I never felt that with women, and yet I never stuck around long enough with them to figure out why. I always suspected I was lesbian. The way you’ve described your own ‘becoming’ and deprogramming puts my lengthy, confusing process into words I’ve not yet been able to generate. Yes, yes and yes to everything you’ve said. This is one of the most important comments on the topic I’ve ever read and has made something click for me. Deep gratitude.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. feedthefishes, your wisdom and generosity light up my heart. thank you for sharing that powerful insight. my body is smart, and i trust her. she is my home. i am her, we are powerful. thank you. (hugs)


  15. It sounds to me like you’re coming from a place of thinking that a human being’s primary relationship ought to be their sexual one. But that is not necessarily the case. Why can’t our primary relationships be in our family of origin and platonic relationships made the central focus rather than our sexual ones? We don’t usually break up with our relatives or best friends. Stable relationships are healthier. Sexual relationships are all too often unstable.

    I’m leaning more and more toward seeing the matriarchal/matrilineal extended family as primal and centering my politics around that rather than worrying who anyone is messing about with. I think getting sex too mixed up in politics is a big mistake, just as it’s a mistake to mix it up with religion (the situation I actually have experience with).

    I find men quite attractive, when they are attractive by my lights, just different than women. And I would rather be oriented toward having sex with them if I want children, that way I don’t have to get raped or pay hundreds of dollars for a sperm-bank visit to have kids. (Adoption is not “having kids” and it’s a problematic issue vis-a-vis feminism too. And don’t even get me started on Shulamith Firestone’s “solution” because I am DONE with technocrats reinventing the wheel.)

    For someone who never wants kids, obviously that’s not an issue. And that’s fine too. But someone’s going to have to make the kids, even if only a thousandth of the population or fewer have them for species continuance. Also because it’s easier to raise a child as feminist from day one than to have to constantly “convert” adults. (This is why fundamentalist Christians want to have a bazillion kids and also adopt everyone else’s kids at birth as well. All humans indoctrinate children–we differ only in what that indoctrination imparts.) So any basic, radical feminist politics is going to have to take that into account, or it’s not going to be sustainable in the long run.

    I share your irritation at the “but I’m not a lesbian!” argument though. We all know what the men are afraid of but damn, there is some serious Stockholm Syndrome going on amongst individuals of the female sex.


  16. Yes women can realize they are lesbian later in life. As long as she has either sexual or romantic attraction or both to females exclusively she’s lesbian. As far as people who aren’t lesbian calling themselves a lesbian is disrespectful because it trivlizes their struggle. Lesbians can’t get married certain places , suffer corrective rape & other issues soley because they’re lesbian. It’s just as rude as pretening to be a minority.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. update: i am a massive homo and living as what i am: a lesbian!

    it turns out that i am a survivor of very serious and prolonged childhood abuse. which confused me for most of my life into thinking that the “danger charge” (thanks feedthefishes!) i experienced with men was authentic attraction. nope. it was pure terror. so obvious in retrospect. as most things are. holy wow i am super hella mega gay. a lot gay. it’s a statement of how horribly i was damaged that this took me so long to realize. ick.

    so i am now living my truth as a GAYYYYYYYYYYYYYY and fuck i am so happy. i never realized i could be this happy. i am never going back. ever.

    long live the lesbians! (who are women exclusively romantically and sexually attracted to women. if that doesn’t describe you, words have meaning and please respect ours.)

    Liked by 2 people

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