I love being a lesbian. I really do. It’s a joy to connect with women, and there’s so much fulfillment in living a woman-centric life. Lesbian culture is pretty great (hello, Samira Wiley!), even if lesbian characters are killed off at an alarming and disproportionate rate (bye, Poussey…). The fact there’s always hummus and fresh veg to eat at lesbian socials is, in my view, what makes our parties that much better. Our shoes and clothes are, generally speaking, very comfortable – there’s a lot to be said for ignoring the male gaze. And who doesn’t love a nice, crisp undercut?
It’s not all Janeway/Seven fanfiction and rainbows, though. The lesbophobia isn’t great – it’s actually pretty scary, though you kind of get used to it. But what’s really soul-destroying is when queer activists decide that lesbian feminists – not exactly powerful agents of white supremacist capitalist hetpatriarchy (arguably, lesbian feminists are architects of the resistance) – are the source of social evils.
Its approach to lesbian feminism demonstrates that there are more holes in queer logic than in a sizeable block of Swiss cheese. Queer feminism tells us that it’s not through acknowledging and challenging the oppressions women experience as a sex class that we will achieve liberation, but rather deconstructing womanhood until the category has no definitive meaning in day to day conversations – let alone feminist analysis of the sexual politics behind patriarchy. Queer feminism tells us that same-sex attraction is problematic because it is not sufficiently inclusive, disregarding the ongoing fight that the vast majority of women face – in particular lesbian women – to have our sexual boundaries respected by others.
This tension came to a head when Jocelyn Macdonald critiqued the politics behind a line of Wildfang t-shirts proclaiming “The Future is Fluid” – the motif as a queer reworking of “The Future is Female”, replacing the affirmation of womanhood instead with a celebration of ambiguity. Queer erasure of women and lesbian sexuality is an ongoing, contentious issue – one which Macdonald explored with rigor.
She explored the implications of the t-shirts, asking “…if the future is fluid, then should all straight people ‘flow’ into same-sex attraction? Should gays and lesbians ‘flow’ into heterosexuality, or be left behind in what is now considered, at least as is implied by this ad copy, the old world?” Self-definition has long been acknowledged as essential to the liberation of any marginalized group of people. Whether it’s intentional or not, the nebulous quality of queer discourse – the resistance to fixed and stable categories, especially if that category is female – undermines women’s liberation.
Erasing women and casting aspersions on homosexuality have long since been hallmarks of the socially conservative right, and so it is disconcerting to see these same patterns emerging within the progressive left. This overlap between socially conservative and queer gender politics is substantial – both rely on essentialism, the belief that gender is innate and sacrosanct. With this in mind, it didn’t come as a huge surprise that Trish Bendix – a lesbian and former AfterEllen editor – echoed Rush Limbaugh in order to undermine a lesbian feminist perspective. Thus began yet more dyke drama.
Erasing women and casting aspersions on homosexuality have long since been hallmarks of the socially conservative right, and so it is disconcerting to see these same patterns emerging within the progressive left.
Bendix wrote “The idea that Wildfang or Tegan and Sara or any fluid or trans or gender non-conforming person is at odds with feminism and lesbianism is false.…I take issue with that as a feminist lesbian and woman who is tired of feeling like “lesbian” should now be synonymous with hateful exclusionary separatist—a “feminazi” as coined by the likes of Rush Limbaugh.”
Employing the language of Rush Limbaugh and his fellow misogynists in order to delegitimize a lesbian feminist perspective is a definite red flag. The feminist movement, Limbaugh notoriously claimed, “was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream.” That Bendix views Limbaugh as an expedient ally in dismissing lesbian feminism does not reflect well upon the price of entry to queer community for lesbian women.
Depoliticizing gender, the hierarchy at the heart of patriarchy, is another red flag. Bendix quotes Emma McIlroy, CEO of Wildfang, arguing that “feminism is the fight for gender equality.” This diluted vision of the feminist movement, and the t-shirts it inspired, are exactly what Macdonald and her fellow lesbian feminists take issue with. Feminism isn’t about making peace with existing systems of power. Feminism is a political movement dedicated to the liberation of women and girls from those systems of power.
Feminism isn’t about making peace with existing systems of power. Feminism is a political movement dedicated to the liberation of women and girls from those systems of power.
Bendix also quotes Eli Erlick, Director of Trans Student Educational Resources, as saying that “Gender is not the problem, gender roles are.” This claim completely disregards the reality of gender – that it is a system of dominance created by patriarchy. Gender cannot be separated from gender roles. No part of patriarchy can be repurposed in the name of social good. Like Audre Lorde told us, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Better to dismantle the hierarchy of gender than to waste time on trying to subvert it.
In her defense of a fluid future, Bendix claims “…we don’t have to live our lives according to… structured binaries—and as queer people (lesbians! bisexuals! trans people! GNCs! etc!) we can create our own rules, or lack of rules, and live our lives day to day, whoever we want and feel to be…”
This vision merely creates another binary: one of gender conformists and gender rebels. It creates a special class of people to whom the laws of gender do not apply, and a class of people who are presumably comfortable being fettered by gender. Patriarchy cannot be unpicked from the fabric of our society if LGBT people “create our own rules.” Instead we must question the rules of patriarchy – the foremost rule being gender – and the balances of power that have held those rules in place for centuries.
Patriarchy cannot be unpicked from the fabric of our society if LGBT people “create our own rules.” Instead we must dismantle the rules of patriarchy – the foremost rule being gender – and the balances of power that have held those rules in place for centuries.
Gender is what keeps women from being “whoever we want and feel to be” – there is no freedom in finding ways to rework it. A hierarchy cannot be reclaimed by the very people it crushes, no matter what queer logic attempts to tell us.