Yr Alarch Du explains why she thinks political lesbianism is a dangerous and divisive fallacy.
It was when I was in high school, searching online for the rough meanings of the different waves of feminism, that I first came across the term ‘political lesbianism’. Sheila Jeffreys and others stated in 1979; “Our definition of a political lesbian is a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men. It does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women.” I skimmed a Wikipedia page on the topic but paid it barely any more regard. In fact, learning about the term helped steer me away from feminist topics for a long time – why should something that treated lesbianism with such a lack of seriousness be of interest to me? I didn’t see myself represented by the term and it appeared to be just another place where heterosexual women were being centred as the norm to the detriment of those like myself.
Attending a strict Catholic school in the aftermath of the repeal of Section 28, talking openly about homosexuality was practically verboten. Even if it happened to come up in the curriculum, the sexual orientation of celebrities was avoided. At that time, we still had to get our parents to sign a form to let us talk about homosexuality in Religious Education (RE). It still shocks me that my classmates were allowed to debate in front of me whether I should be allowed to have the same rights as them. That’s where the impact of political lesbianism really kicked in. Calling what Jeffrey’s and others describe ‘lesbianism’ of any kind, handed an opportunity to those opposed to LGB rights to suggest that homosexuality was a ‘lifestyle choice’ or even a ‘preference’. It undermined our ability to assert ourselves.
Political lesbianism can only ever truly be a choice in two respects; you can be a heterosexual or bisexual woman who chooses not to date, or you can be a bisexual woman who chooses only to date women. This has more recently been termed as being a ‘febfem’ or ‘female exclusive bisexual female’.
Political lesbianism can only ever truly be a choice in two respects; you can be a heterosexual or bisexual woman who chooses not to date, or you can be a bisexual woman who chooses only to date women. This has more recently been termed as being a ‘febfem’ or ‘female exclusive bisexual female’. Indeed, febfems are sometimes maligned as a result of the same ‘cotton ceiling’ rhetoric aimed at lesbians, and the same smears are aimed at them for having the audacity to take their dating choices in their own hands. More power to them, I say. Why shouldn’t bisexuals have a say in who they go out with?
The term ‘febfem’ comes across far better. It acknowledges the existence of bisexual women making a choice, without erasing their bisexuality. It avoids the lesbian erasure caused by some bisexual women calling themselves ‘bi lesbians’, denying female homosexuals a word of their own for their sexual orientation, preventing them from asserting their boundaries. Most importantly, the word ‘febfem’ removes any inference that being a lesbian is a choice. As for heterosexual women, can’t they just say that they’re single by choice?
The gender extremists seek to deny the existence of female homosexuality and lesbians’ autonomy – either through their ‘cotton ceiling’ rhetoric, or simply by denying that any lesbian would disagree with them or their standpoint.
Today, one must only look to the tactics of the gender extremists who brand lesbians who disagree with them ‘political lesbians’ to see the harm it does. The handful of people still clinging to the term give ammunition to those who already target lesbians for abuse. The gender extremists seek to deny the existence of female homosexuality and lesbians’ autonomy – either through their ‘cotton ceiling’ rhetoric, or simply by denying that any lesbian would disagree with them or their standpoint. They share so much with their Catholic predecessors, as well as with those in times gone by who believed in the concept of ‘sexual inversion.’ This was the offensive theory that a lesbian was really a ‘male trapped in a female body’. Even the wording is almost the same – ‘your preference’ has become the absolutely loathsome ‘genital preference’. It is uncanny. So very many of the gender extremists are not lesbians, and due to their particularly myopic worldview, will simply never be able to understand that we are not failed heterosexuals. We are our own people.
Oddly enough, it almost feels as though being out as a lesbian has never been a more inherently political act in my lifetime. Even stating that your sexual orientation exists beyond the realm of often pornographic heterosexual fantasy (typically heterosexual male fantasy), regardless of how that male chooses to present himself, is now once again a hugely politically charged statement. As with the febfems, embracing yourself and your own desires about your life is intolerable to the sneering patriarchs of gender extremism. We can reject the patriarchal expectations pushed upon us without ever undermining our authenticity as homosexual or bisexual women. That is why they are so desperate to keep their handmaidens afraid and in-line, because ultimately, gender extremism can and will not survive in a world where women love themselves and also where they are unafraid to love other women.