Monday, February 2, 2009

Why Not?

To me, political lesbianism continues to make intrinsic sense because it reinforces the idea that sexuality is a choice, and we are not destined to a particular fate because of our chromosomes. I also suspect that it is very difficult to spend your daily life fighting against male violence, only to share a bed with a man come the evening. Then there's the fact that working with women towards a common goal means you develop a strong and passionate bond with them - why some feminists then block out the possibility of sexual relationships with their political sisters and instead turn to men for intimacy is beyond me.
Because "political lesbianism" reinforces the stereotype that women are not sexual; because it encourages straight women to appropriate lesbian experience; because it reinforces the stereotype that lesbians are all "going through a phase" that they can be fucked out of by men; because it encourages straight women to deny themselves a necessary, liberating, and life-affirming form of pleasure; because it inevitably leads to one-sided and sexually catastrophic lesbian relationships; because it prohibits transformative, mutually enlightening, feminist heterosexual relationships; because it blames women who are in abusive, patriarchal straight relationships for their own oppression, because they are "sleeping with the enemy"; because it blames straight women for the existence of rape and domestic violence; because it reinforces the stereotype that women are not sexual, that is, that they do not experience deeply felt sexual needs, that they can and should deny their sexual needs should they somehow arise, and that being a lesbian is not a naturally occurring, pleasurable, inherently worthy kind of female desire but a "lifestyle choice," which is exactly the point that patriarchal and anti-gay or "ex-gay" movements are making, and because all of the above is anti-queer, anti-woman, and deeply anti-feminist.

That's why not.


  1. I'm with you, i'm with you. To demand that women renounce emotional and sexual connections with men in order to remove them "from your beds and your heads" is destructive, counter-productive, repressive, inhumane--men are not the enemy. It is further impossible. We have fathers, brothers, sons, friends as well as lovers. Men are not going away.

    However, i think there's more nuance to this issue than either you or Julie Bindel acknowledges. There is another element to some women's experience, though i am afraid even to talk about it for the gayness-as-choice spin it may invite: sexuality is complicated, and often at least partly situational. (I won't invoke the standby charge of "fluidity.") If i can get hot with a man or get hot with a woman, is it so unreasonable to consider the implications of the choices of which avenues i pursue?

  2. I'm thinking more and more about this, and i am quite frustrated by the underlying assumptions in Julie Bindel's article, and maybe in the whole "political lesbianism" philosophy. It devalues the complexity of both homosexual and heterosexual relationships, and declares oppression=patriarchy=masculinity=men.

    But my (uncertain, playful) internal fem theorist still sees value in the conversation. Is this something we can talk about without condemning each other or bossing each other around?

  3. Hey - thanks for calling me out; I agree I came off as overly judgey here, I guess because I responded to the ideological rigidity of Bindel's position without really considering nuance.

    I agree with you that sexuality can be situational. It also depends on the larger cultural context. It's wrong to insist (as I read both "ex-gay" movements and Bindel as doing) that people can somehow cut off or defy their sexualities in order to fit into a community. The consequences of doing that are almost invariably disastrous. I also do read "political lesbianism" as a form of appropriation, at least insofar as it applies to women who are exclusively or almost exclusively attracted to men claiming lesbianism when what they mean is "celibacy," which, as I understand it, is what many separatist second-wavers actually did. (This would also make for some sucky dates, I am thinking!) Yet I can, of course, understand and support people who identify as lesbian because that's what best suits them, even if the word doesn't necessarily convey the full range of their sexualities.

    And, yes, I do think it makes sense to consider the political ramifications of the way one acts on one's desires - whether those desires are straight, lesbian, bisexual, what have you. It would be dishonest for me, as a straight woman, not to recognize the enormous privilege I have: I can act on my sexuality, to a certain extent, without being demonized (although there's the whole prude/slut problem that ensures I'll always be judged for being a female who HAS a sexuality, so). I honestly can't and shouldn't judge or condemn the choices other people make, especially not from my privileged perspective. The stigmatization of desire itself, not the ways people act within a world where their desires are stigmatized, is probably what we should focus on and strive to change. When you get to the way we parcel up six billion kinds of desire into narrow categories that can't begin to reflect the complexity of lived experience, while rewarding some identities and demonizing others, it makes sense that people make choices informed by all of that - whether that's a primarily straight woman identifying as a lesbian so that she can have access to a community of supportive feminist women, or a primarily lesbian woman hiding her sexuality because she fears the consequences of coming out, I want to be able to have compassion for those choices and to challenge the pressures that produce them (misogyny drives women to withdraw from relationships with men; homophobia drives women to withdraw from relationships with women) rather than hectoring people about what they "ought" to be doing with their lives.

    Yeah, I think I did kind of step in it here; although I'm averse to any movement that tells people to deny or shut off their sexualities, this particular question might be a little too big to be written off in a blog post that is, I think, actually shorter than this comment.

  4. That was interesting to read. I'd never heard of "political lesbianism."

    I cannot say I agree with the ideology, but I am glad I read it. I can sort of understand what it means in a greater context--but I'm not very eloquent and would probably mess it up if I gave it words. As I continue to read this blog, however, I'll eventually get less nervous, as I have on other websites.

    I kind of strayed away from the topic, but what I wanted to say was that I enjoyed reading her article, and your response to it.