I am a lesbian.
There is power in typing those words, and there is power in saying them. There is power in living them. Living a life without sexual and romantic dependence on men sharpens the vision of a feminist utopia in our mind’s eyes like it can for few others, and, the clearer the image, the greater our motivation to fight for it’s realization. Our energies are free to fight the feminist fight when we banish potential patriarchal oppressors from our beds, when we organize our lives so that we aren’t coming home to them everyday. Just by living our lives, we send society the messages that start revolutions: messages of individual agency, of rejection of patriarchal religious conceptualizations, of flouting sociocultural pressure, messages that shatter the illusion of universal heterosexuality, that weaken male supremacy, that embolden young and questioning lesbians, that open the eyes of potential allies.
Without question, there is great power in proclaiming one’s status as a lesbian. The patriarchy, however, is no two-bit villian. It has a clever organization, it does, and has molded the world in such a way that even the power of out-and-proud lesbianism can be transformed into a sort of weapon.
I am a lesbian, but what is a lesbian? A lesbian is a female whose sexual and/or romantic interests lie with females, and not with males. What is a female, what is a male? Here, we run into the tangled mess that is patriarchal medical science and fear/hatred/ignorance of difference.
Males and females are the two components of a binary system of biological sex that ignores and/or pathologizes (irrespective of whether or not the relevant conditions pose a legitimate physical health risk) those whom it subsequently classifies as “intersexed.” There is no inherent problem with a binary system of biological sex, insofar as “biological sex” refers to reproductive sex. There are two, and only two, human reproductive sexes. The problem arises when we begin to generalize biological characteristics that have little or no bearing on reproduction, such as clitoral length, amount of body hair, or muscle mass, as constituting a part of this binary sex system, as they do not always follow a neat pattern of sexual dimorphism. The problem arises when we take biological sex out of the realm of reproduction.
Insofar as the word “lesbian” is defined by and based on this unrealistic and oppressive sex system, it is problematic. This fact, contrasted with the undeniable anti-patriarchy power of the term, can create something of a conundrum for conscientious lesbians. As a descriptor of attraction, the very concept of a “lesbian” presumes an unequivocally female subject, whereas “female” (as well as “male”) is not a precisely-defined biological category. Are we complicit in sex-based oppression and bad science by using this term? If we are, what can we do to fix the situation?
I do not offer solutions here, only a sketch of a patriarchal double-bind and a lesson on the importance of language.
To “identify” has taken on a special meaning in the GLBTLOLWTFBBQ and feminist communities. Let me illustrate with a short dramatization:
Person Who Is Obviously Not X: “I am X.”
Sane Person: “No you aren’t.”
Person Who Is Obviously Not X: “How dare you?!? I identify as X! Who are you to question my identity!”
“Identifying” has become a means for people to lay claim to/appropriate groups they are not a part of, with the added bonus that anyone who dares to question the “identity” is villified as closed-minded/transphobic/hateful/etc. We are expected to buy into the nonsense that claiming, wishing for, seeing oneself as, wanting to be seen/treated as, thinking that one should have been, etc., is the same/on a level with actual being, or that there is no “being,” and the category being appropriated is something that anyone can choose or not choose.
Two examples of this behavior are bisexual women who “identify” as lesbians, and “mtfs”/”trans women” (in quotations because it is, of course, impossible for a male to “transition” into femalehood or womanhood) who “identify” as women.
Some women are not yet aware of their true sexuality and some just flat out lie, but I can scarcely imagine why any woman who openly admits to bisexual behavior or desires would “identify” as a lesbian, so I googled it, and, not surprisingly, came up with nonsense. In many cases, part of the philosophy behind “identifying,” whether conscious or not, is that words can mean whatever the hell we want them to, and that is clearly illustrated here:
“If you define a lesbian as a woman who emotionally, sexually, and spiritually centers her life around women, then I am a lesbian.”
Sorry, but a lack of sexual/romantic interest in/relationships with men is part of it, too. Hell, by this definition, any straight woman who has mostly women in her life is a “lesbian.”
This example is just sad:
“I remember talking one time with a bisexual friend about how I wished I could identify as a lesbian because that word sounded so powerful. Lesbian women sounded so sure of who they were. I wished I was that sure.”
“Others, for political and social reasons, may wish to identify with the lesbian & gay communities. “
Ok…pretending you’re something you’re not and appropriating lesbianism…exactly whose politics does this further?
Assuming this is a real question, the personal confusion here is pathetic:
“So basically I am only attracted to women and have only ever been with women but for the past year have been dating a guy. I still feel as though I’m lesbian though and I really think it’s only this particular guy.”
She’s only attracted to women, yet she’s dating a guy. Is she not attracted to the guy she’s dating?
I won’t even get into posting examples of the “mtf” and “trans woman” appropriation of womanhood (not to mention lesbianism, intersexuality, motherhood, and more!) because you can find that it has exploded in “queer,” GLBWHATEVER, and even feminist blogs/communities all over the internet like a sewer pipe stuffed with dynamite.
The sad part is when people who really are what they claim to be bend their knees to the specious “identites” of others by “identifying” themselves. Anyone who is really a woman, or lesbian, or whatever else, and “identifies” as such is only supporting the appropriation of her identity (true identity, not the bullshit “you-are-whatever-you-say-you-are” identity) by fakes, wannabes, and privileged/ignorant morons who have spent too much time swallowing postmodern, linguistic nihilism to recognize the importance (or even the possibility) of accuracy, truth, and the political necessity of certain group identifications.
I do not “identify” as a woman. I am one.
I do not “identify” as a lesbian. I am one.
As someone who seeks butches for dating, I have some insight into the issues surrounding the term “butch.” Having sought dates primarily through the Internet, I have worked to compose many a description that was meant to convey what I think is encompassed by the word “butch,” and I know something about what it is to describe butches. I have experienced the irritation of suffering through what I saw as clear self-misidentification as butch. All that is to say is, I know the importance of the question: What is a butch?
A simple response might be: A masculine woman.
But what is masculinity? My expensive Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of The English Language tells me that masculine is:
1. pertaining to or characteristic of a man or men.
2. having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, as strength and boldness.
…and the rest discuss grammatical uses of the term.
Hopefully, the problem here is obvious: We have a word we want to apply to women, yet it is defined wholly in terms of men. On the face of it, it may not seem such a big deal to refer to one group of people with a term that derives its meaning from a different group of people; however, when we consider the fact that the patriarchy does it’s damnedest to define women and men in opposition to one another, to perpetuate the charade that there are certain natural, universal, terribly significant differences between the two groups that justify women’s oppression, and in the process arbitrarily builds and re-builds grab bags of human characteristics called “masculinity” and “femininity” to further these causes, it becomes obvious that the concept of masculinity is but another tool of oppression.
When we examine what characteristics are commonly referred to as “masculine,” we find assertiveness, physical strength, bravery, sexual prowess, and many other qualities that are not only obviously possible for any human being, but have in fact been a part of the personality of all sorts of human beings. Some people mistakenly believe that this is what constitutes masculinity: a set of behaviors, looks/styles, and states of mind. The crucial concept that they miss, however, is that masculinity does encompass these things, with the qualification that men (and sometimes boys) are the default, original, natural, rightful, and/or most appropriate owners of these demeanors, looks, and thinking patterns. Thus, the man-centric definition (and popular usage).
The concept of masculinity being primarily about men cannot be separated from the word; it is defined in terms of men. It isn’t an originally neutral term that was hijacked; it is patriarchy-manufactured, -maintained, -stamped and -approved. One cannot use it to affirm certain characteristics in a person without simultaneously affirming the fiction that these characteristics derive from men. Clearly, “masculine” is not an appropriate adjective to use at all, let alone in reference to the bold patriarchy-destroyers that butches are. Such usage would confer the status of wannabe or imitation man on the woman thus described.
Not only does Dismantling The Patriarchy 101 tell us that a key dismantling tactic is the rejection of patriarchal language, it also instructs us as to the importance of defining oppressed groups on their own terms, so, the question remains: What is a butch?