LIFELONG LESBIAN — ALWAYS A LESBIAN
(I’ve updated and combined these two articles, which are similar to my chapter in our book.)
Our Lesbian history is being erased and re-written. I’m seeing Lesbians who weren’t even born in the Seventies, lecturing in print about what my old Seventies Lesbian Feminist community was like. Even worse, men pretending to be Lesbians, are writing books about our history, completely distorting and misrepresenting our communities as well as reality. So we have to be the ones to tell the truth about our culture and people.
Yes, I’m a Lesbian. I’ve been a Lesbian from my earliest memories. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a choice — clearly it was. It’s natural for girls to love other girls, until the punishments for that love, and the rewards for choosing males, changes most females’ minds. But I could not, would not stop loving other girls. Nothing was going to make me be interested in the boys who attacked me and the other girls, and who tortured, sexually assaulted, and killed animals.
My always being in love with other girls, from when I was three, was the powerful force that distracted me from the fear and boredom of my working class girlhood. Soon after starting catholic school, I fell in love with Rosemary when I was five and she was ten. I carried on about her to my mother until she said, “You’re in love with that girl!” And so I had a name for my intense feelings. I told Rosemary I wanted to kiss her. Years later, I realized she was another rare obvious Lesbian and Butch little girl like myself, paying the price for refusing the rules of male-identified femininity. We were just trying to be our natural wild female selves, which was forbidden in 1955 Cincinnati. We had no books, no beloved Lesbians on television, not one positive image, though there were Lesbian-hating characters and comments in the media.
I’ve so often seen the women who chose males over females (who perhaps first loved females but then opted for the privilege of heterosexuality) dismiss and trivialize those few of us who, alone and without support, chose our own kind, as “lucky.” Luck had nothing to do with deciding to be unacceptable, considered abnormal, with no one reflecting us back to ourselves in our family, neighborhood, school, etc. As oppressed as we were by classism, we were still in a working class community with other working class people, but most young Lesbians are completely isolated as Lesbians during our most vulnerable years. It’s even worse for Butch little girls, so recognizable as young Lesbians. Daily we remade the same decision, following our hearts against oppression and hatred, to love our own kind. Some of us didn’t survive.
I continued falling in love with other females and never stopped. It was what made life worth living, like breathing the magic scent of fresh air after the rain, like plants blooming after a drought, like tasting life itself. When I started high school at thirteen, I fell in love with Ann, who became my best friend. I loved her wit and perceptive dark eyes, and how she questioned everything, including our religious training. But my parents moved me to California, separating us. When we were sixteen, Ann came to stay with me for two magical weeks, where we spent every day together, going to the ocean, sleeping together each night, endlessly talking. I told her I loved her, and she said she loved me too, but later asked if that meant I wanted to use the men’s public restroom (interesting how she equated loving another girl with wanting to be male, which was the furthest thing from my heart and incredibly repulsive). Ann said she was trying to teach herself to learn to flirt with boys (because it didn’t come naturally), just as she decided that to have a good life she needed to get a lucrative career as well as a husband. She eventually did both, and I never forgot what a calculated, cold decision that was. When I saw her twenty years later, she was miserable and divorced, but with a career, money, and security that I would never have. She told me she had been too afraid to respond to loving me, but now she was ready to try being a Lesbian. I had a lover then, and Ann’s beautiful intense glow was gone. I still have the photos of her from our days together, so it’s not just my memory. What a waste of her brilliance and passion.
A group of friends at my new high school also seemed in love with other girls. But slowly they realized what an oppressed life they would have if they continued, so instead they started talking about boys and immediately got more acceptance, approval and status. Being in a catholic girls’ high school shielded us somewhat from being directly harassed by boys though. When I was seventeen, I questioned myself about why I kept falling in love with girls who would not love me back, and, as I thought about my friends, I realized I was in love with my best friend, Marg. (This was also a conscious decision to choose to love a girl who I knew well and trusted to be kind and caring, so I do know we can escape the trap of being attracted to those who don’t deserve our love.) Like with Ann, I loved Marg’s wit and willingness to think and question. We also shared having alcoholic mothers, though I was allowed much more freedom than Marg, who was barely allowed to go anywhere. I’d started at the University of San Francisco, but went back each weekend to be with her. I had never been so happy. We had not one book or person to support us, yet we followed our feelings and hearts and knew exactly how to make love.
But we were both underage, and Marg’s bitter, fanatically religious, and snobbish mother watched how we looked into each other’s eyes. (It wasn’t until recently that I remembered her making bizarre sexually inappropriate comments to us.) We had so little time together — a few trips to the ocean, a few times together with our friends, visiting and waiting while Marg did her chores, a few nights in her room, and one safe night in my room when we heard the rain outside and talked about how someday we wanted to make love in the rain when we were finally free. Our passion and life force were opened up and we were desperate to be together, but Marg’s mother limited her every movement. And then she went through Marg’s room and found my letters. We were forbidden to see each other ever again. My father, embarrassed, told me. My mother wasn’t told. (Years later, she said she would have beaten up Marg’s mother if she’d known and heard her say bad things about me.)
Our closest friend, Jean, helped us write to each other and to keep meeting. One day, Marg ran away and turned herself in to Jean’s mother, who was a social worker. She was the only adult we spoke to. I’ll never forget the pain in Jean’s mother’s eyes as she told us how she had once loved another girl, but if she’d stayed with her she would never have had her happy life with her husband and daughters. “You must never start making love or you won’t be able to stop, and then you’ll have such a terrible lonely life.” Too late, since we’d already started, and the “lonely” life would not be an issue if Lesbians were not oppressed and hated. It was projection since we knew how much Jean’s mother hated her own life and was disappointed with her family. She couldn’t even say she loved her daughters without qualifying it by saying it was in spite of how they looked. We had never known why Jean’s mother was so unhappy until that moment when she told us about her lost Lesbian love.
Marg went back home. My new letters were found again, and I was left wondering how Marg let that happen. Did she want us to be discovered? I’d transferred miles away to go to the school she wanted to go to, where I did not want to be, starting alone and lonely again, while Marg was kept from leaving her parents’ house.
When I was at USF and feeling alone and traumatized, a man kept pushing me to be his girlfriend, and had no understanding of or respect for my being in love with my best friend. In spite of feeling repulsed, I made the mistake of feeling sorry for him and tried to be friends, but he became obsessed with Lesbians. Even though he’d never known we existed and had never questioned being male, he later stalked me into the Lesbian community, claiming to be a Lesbian. He immediately got into power positions representing Lesbians and continues to harm us and our community with his perving and porn. At the time, most Lesbians were outraged at his arrogance, fully aware that our oppressor was appropriating our identity. His public identification as a “Lesbian” was even more upsetting when his racist letters were printed in the local “gay and Lesbian” newspaper and then when he wrote an article called “Lesbian Sex,” which was printed in the feminist newspaper, Off Our Backs. (He lied to them about being female-born to be printed.) Now, of course, these men are supported into destroying our last women only space by Lesbians who put men before other Lesbians. That is one of the most destructive things happening to our communities world-wide.
As a girl, I had been confused by the definition of “Lesbian” as being about “sex.” I didn’t identify with feeling “sexual” because the cold male connotations of “sex” had nothing to do with the love I felt. Yet I kept searching for others like us and went to a DOB (Daughters of Bilitis) meeting and some Lesbian bars, but I was underage. Then 1970, when I was 19, I found the vibrant Lesbian Feminist community of the San Francisco Bay Area. It was like falling in love again – there were more of us than I could ever have dreamed possible. Besides all the blossoming creativity of Lesbian music, poetry, books and newspapers, I’ll never forget the ecstasy of those women-only dances. In spite of all the pain and oppression, Lesbians survive and continue. It’s like a celebration that never ends. Our choice to be Lesbians was and is a choice of pride. Why would we want to be anything else when we are the best and love the best?
I joined A Woman’s Place Bookstore collective, was part of the collective that created one of the first Lesbian Feminist Conferences in the world in 1972 in Berkeley, worked on the first issue of Amazon Quarterly, became a Dyke Separatist in 1972, and in 1973 co-wrote and published one of the first Separatist newspapers, Dykes and Gorgons. I also worked on the Lesbian Coffeehouse collective, went to an all female dojo, taught self defense to women and girls, worked on Dyke Separatist gatherings, made connections with Separatists in other countries, and lived for a while in some of those countries. I continued writing articles for Lesbian publications and anthologies, and co-wrote our book in 1990, now at my blog.
As I wrote in our book, Dykes-Loving-Dykes: Dyke Separatist Politics for Lesbians Only:
The story of Lesbianism is the story of magic and survival. In almost every part of the world, we’re said not to exist, or we’re hated and lied about. Yet we persist in surviving. Lesbians come from every culture and country. We appear where there are no others of us, coming from people who try their hardest to make us committed man-lovers. We create ourselves out of nothing, appearing like weeds that cannot be destroyed. We crack open the foundations of the enormous structures of male supremacy.
Of course Lesbian Separatists still exist and are an international community. Everything we said and wrote over 40 years ago is still true. It’s even more obvious now about how males are destroying the earth by marking territory with over-population and pollution. Our description of the harm lesbophobia and Lesbian-hating among Lesbians does to us individually and as communities is also more evident now. That betrayal, along with classism, racism, ableism, ageism, looksism, and Butch-hating continues to damage Lesbians.
It’s terrible to see these assaults on our once-powerful Lesbian Feminist community. But no matter how we are undermined, it will never be as bad as it was before Lesbian Feminism, when there was not one book that could be found in a library or one film that wasn’t Lesbian-hating (usually with the self-hating Lesbian dying at the end and her lover going het). We will not return to the time when Lesbians were categorized as mentally ill by psychologists. No longer can anyone say they don’t know we exist or that we are only a hateful male-defined stereotype. Now, famous and beloved Lesbians can even be seen on television.
But we still have lost so much. “Women Studies” at universities and colleges have almost all been destroyed and replaced by “Gender Studies” or “Queer Studies” that are hostile to Lesbians and even basic Feminism. The term “LGBT” includes us against our will with our oppressors and obscures the fact that most Lesbians I’ve known were never in a community with gay men, and that Lesbian communities usually operated with the basic Separatist principle of women-only space. Organizations which are supposed to be for Lesbian rights focus more on helping men who claim to be women, or even more outrageously, claim to be Lesbians. Men are always more valued than women, and women allied with and invested in males are always more valued than Lesbians, who are at the bottom of the heap. So each time a man who insists he’s a Lesbian is put in a position of power, we lose even more. (My most recent experience with this was being censored from being part of a panel of female-identified Butches at the Butch Voices conference. A male pornographer who posts photos and videos of his prick online was accepted as a Lesbian and Butch on their board and was part of who censored me, a lifelong Butch. We have no idea what other Lesbians he’s harming.
Still, in many ways, it feels like a new beginning. We still do have our international Radical Lesbian Feminist culture and community that includes all ages. As one of my new friends has said, the Lesbian-hating, anti-Feminist, gender-queer crap, trans-posturing, porn, and sado-masochism are becoming boring, mainstream, and old-fashioned. I’m seeing that on a grassroots level, with Lesbians who don’t seem to have ever been directly aware of Feminism, just being fed up with anti-Lesbian attitudes in our communities. The best of the early Lesbian Feminist writing were grassroots also, before it became a career for Lesbians in academia. A few academics wrote brilliant books that could reach all Lesbians, but mostly it was a classist system that excluded the majority of Lesbians by its elitist nature. The many tedious books written in the academic style, which obscured how empty they were, made it appear that Lesbian Feminism was only for the most privileged. Unfortunately, the least radical or interesting books are the most likely to have survived in libraries, while the truly revolutionary writing is hard to find. But more of the classic writings are online now. (This site is an endless list of old Lesbian and often Radical Lesbian Feminist and Separatist classics: http://lesbianseparatist.tumblr.com/)
We need to take back full awareness of who we are, with pride. Being a Lesbian is far more than a “sexual preference” or “sexual orientation,” which are insulting terms that trivialize and demean our choice of loving our own kind. Sexuality is males’ primary focus and men do not want girls and women to think about the choices they are making or to say no to males and yes to females. They want females to passively accept their illogical propaganda. When I was a girl, the only definition of Lesbian that I found was about “sex,” which made me question being a Lesbian since my feelings were about love. I don’t feel a passionate attraction to Lesbians without a strong love or in love connection. “Lesbian” striptease and burlesque has become popular, but it’s male, repulsive, and incredibly boring. It simply isn’t Lesbian. It’s women desperately trying to mimic trendy male standards. I didn’t go through the hell of oppression I suffered as a young Lesbian to have this crap represent me or my community.
Males’ obsession is to mark territory, whether by rape, by ownership of females or of other cultures, by war, by genocide and by gynocide. Being a Lesbian is about love, loving another female deeply enough to risk the hatred and danger that comes from such a revolutionary act. Lesbians threaten patriarchy at its tedious, evil core. When Lesbians agree with male projections that we’re only about sex, it reveals how linked they are to male ways of thinking. And in spite of anti-Lesbian lies from the male-identified women in the old Lesbian “sex wars,” true Lesbian love is far more exciting and passionate than the boring, mind/body/spirit disconnected sex which imitates hets and male objectification of women. The irony is that Lesbian “sex radicals” are in reality pathetically mainstream and submissive to male rules and restrictions. But the damage done to individual Lesbians and our communities is real.
I don’t believe any female is naturally heterosexual. We are relentlessly pressured to be heterosexual and to believe that that is natural, but it isn’t. We are bombarded with heterosexuality shoved down our throats in patriarchy and its media. How many of us were told the real story about “the birds and the bees?” We’re not told that you never see a heterosexual honeybee because almost all bees are female, and the very few who are het (the “queens”), are het only for a moment in their lives. Children are indoctrinated with animated movies about bees and ants (ants also are almost all female and never heterosexual), with the main characters male, including one voiced by a famous child molester. Finding the truth in the maze of lies makes it much harder to internalize the Lesbian-hating they teach us to have about ourselves. Many species of animals live in female communities and they keep the males out because they know that males are rapists and the murderers of their babies.
So if being het isn’t natural, why do so many women choose it? Notice how many people will betray their own beliefs when the alternative is to be unpopular, lose status, not fit in, be criticized and ridiculed. Being het means being accepted by society, family, and strangers in a way that Lesbians are never fully accepted. Things are easier for some of us now, but are we truly represented in society? With few exceptions, we are excluded from almost every media representation of love or relationships. Butches (the Lesbians who most refused to obey rules of male-invented “femininity” from girlhood) are never shown in any media, including Lesbian media. Harassment and ridicule in schools is constant. I’ve known women who hated the idea of having children but decided to do it in a desperate attempt to finally be accepted and loved by their Lesbian-hating families. Never underestimate the desire to be “normal.” And never underestimate the deep shame many feel for being Lesbians. That alone explains so much about self-betrayal.
I saw my friends in high school working very hard to make themselves feel attracted to boys. It didn’t come naturally, like their attractions to other girls did. Of course, most females today say they love being het, but the media is focused on training them what to feel so they can fit in. Just a few decades ago, it was common knowledge that most women made a reluctant deal to be fucked by their husbands in exchange for having security and heterosexual privilege. Today, males have had to learn some tricks to keep females entertained, but they still can’t love the way another female can. And more women than ever are endangering their lives and damaging their health by having breast implants (and buying them for their daughters’ sixteenth birthday!), labiaplasty, toe removal to fit into 3 inch designer shoes, and even just wearing high heels (which can permanently disable from injury, as happened to a friend of mine.)
Another proof that being het is a choice is when ex-het Lesbians choose to go back to men. (I haven’t yet heard of a Never-het Lesbian in a Lesbian community going het, and I know thousands of Lesbians.) That is something I will never understand, but I have heard Lesbians say that it’s easier being het because they want to feel less and be less intense. I’ve also heard Lesbians say that because their father, husband or another male abused them, they’ve never given their hearts fully to another female. And then there’s the higher standard of living that males can provide. But choosing to be intimate with men seems like choosing death over life. And what better way to control women? What other group chooses to be so intimately involved with their oppressor? The result is that most women then become heavily invested in the continuation of patriarchy. When anti-Separatists say that women can be as cruel as men, they forget to notice that those are usually the women who’ve chosen to be dedicated to males – sometimes to the extent that they will protect their rapist husband, boyfriend, or son over their victim daughter.
Lesbians are involved in far larger numbers than our percentage of the population in organizations fighting for people and animals and forests and every cause imaginable. Of course these are important issues, but it’s time for Lesbians to also fight for Lesbians.
In 1997, I wrote an article called “Better to Be Anything than a Lesbian” after seeing a TV show in England about adolescent girls going to Amsterdam to have surgery and hormones to become “men,” and after hearing a radio interview with a woman who decided her three-year-old girl must be a transsexual because the little girl said she wanted to be a boy, only because she hated dresses and was told that girls have to wear dresses.
Again, I don’t understand why this issue isn’t completely clear. When young Lesbians have been asked why they want to become men, a common response is “I’ll be better looking, more popular, get more women, get better jobs, my father always wanted a son, etc.” Men have much more privilege than Lesbians. Loren Cameron, who wrote Body Alchemy, about women wanting to be men, said how she went into a clothing store in San Francisco and was treated with respect (because she appeared to be a man) by the gay men and het women staff who were making fun of a Butch in the store. Sometimes Lesbians just want to please their lovers. In a documentary, a Lesbian’s father was thrilled his daughter’s girlfriend was “transitioning” because now his daughter wouldn’t be a Lesbian. https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/transmen-are-still-women-part-2-of-the-pretenders-defining-lesbians-out-of-existence/
I have friends who lament “all the Butches who are becoming men,” but I want every Lesbian and Butch to question this myth. Most who I’ve seen “transition” are Fem. In Loren’s book, all the before photos show the “transmen” to be Fem. Some who have identified as Butch are actually bisexual Fems, like Pat Califia and Loren Cameron, because they claim to be gay men and want access to gay men.
This is an attempt to define us out of existence by defining non-Lesbians as Lesbians. When women choose to relate sexually to men, they are bisexuals, not Lesbians. Some of these women are doing a mind-fuck on gay men too, by identifying as gay men. A lot of these women identifying as men are just a new, trendy version of fag hags. (Some gay men describe these women as having a “bonus hole.”)
Meanwhile, men claiming to be Lesbians are a variation on the leering het men who have always stalked Lesbians, invading our bars and whatever spaces they could. “Lesbian” porn, made by men for men, is, after all, the most popular porn. Nothing about these men is like women. The drag queen look is male-identified femininity. And they don’t take no for an answer. But males are always valued more than females, so these men have managed to destroy almost all of our last female-only space. The question is really why do so many Lesbians and liberal feminists fight other women on behalf of these men? https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/bev-jo-radical-lesbian-writing/ DEFINING LESBIANS OUT OF EXISTENCE — “TRANSWOMEN” ARE STILL MERELY MEN (And over 80% don’t even have surgery)
Of course you are not allowed to say any of this without punishment. It’s like arguing with a religious fanatic – no thinking allowed. If you don’t obey the cult line, you are threatened and harassed. All the Radical Feminist bloggers get rape and death threats from these men.
What further proof is needed that pretending to be transsexual is more privileged than being a Lesbian or even a gay man is that it is welcomed and encouraged in such a fundamentally religious country as Iran, where being a Lesbian or gay man is a crime punished by death, yet the government pays for “sex change” operations.
I know a Butch who was only two years old in 1970, yet who angrily repeats the myth that Butches were badly treated in the Bay Area Seventies Lesbian Feminist community. It doesn’t matter that I was here and she wasn’t. In my old community, Butches like Pat Parker, Judy Grahn, and Willyce Kim, and many others, were loved and respected, and the now vilified tradition of flannel shirts and jeans was wonderful support for all of us who had grown up being humiliated and exposed by being forced into dresses to just to be allowed to go to school.
It was such a relief being in a community where most Lesbians looked like Lesbians – unlike now when Lesbians will say even about Dyke Fems, “She’s so ugly. She looks like a man.” The reclaiming of male-defined “femininity” and the accompanying role-playing and sado-masochism was not liberating for us. Equally frustrating is hearing some Fems from that era saying how oppressed they were by the pressure to look like Lesbians. They had the whole world supporting them in following male rules, but they wanted to impose their patriarchal values on our beleaguered communities. And those values are so entrenched that many Lesbians think Lesbians who look like drag queens are more attractive than Lesbians who look like Dykes. Personally, I loved seeing all those short-haired Dykes in flannel shirts and jeans. I still do.
Sometimes Lesbians taunt, “Well, how does a Lesbian look anyway?” Many Lesbians do choose to look like het women, but there is also a recognizable Lesbian look, which means getting Lesbian oppression, but is also a way to identify a stranger as one of our own, and is the way we’ve been able to find each other through the ages and across the world. If we all looked like Lesbians, it would have a huge impact on hets realizing how many of us there are, and it would be easier on all of us to not be so singled out in Lesbian-hating ways. Every Lesbian who is out benefits all Lesbians, as a culture and individually.
Anyway, in the midst of the sadness about what we have lost, I’m seeing what we have gained. I’d mourned the Seventies, but the community I’m in now is much larger and friendlier. There are an incredible number of Lesbian singer/songwriter/musicians creating exquisite music. I meet new Lesbians every week, and there are so many Lesbian events that I sometimes have to choose between five in one night. (If possible, I’ll try to get to three.) I have to ignore that very little is female-only and very few of the Lesbians know even basic Feminism. Yet, like in the early days, many of these Lesbians came out because of their love for other females and not because they thought the politics were trendy. I see a love, warmth, and camaraderie that is beautiful, with an age range from twenties to eighties.
So I say, let’s bask in the warmth of all the Lesbians and keep our culture thriving….
Bio: I’ve been a Lesbian from my earliest memories and am proud to be a Lesbian. My life’s work is defending Lesbian culture and existence against those who oppress us. Working-class, ex-catholic, mostly European-descent (with some Native American ancestry), from poverty class culture. Lifelong Lesbian, born near Cincinnati, Ohio in 1950. Became lovers with my first lover in 1968, became part of a Lesbian community in 1970, and became a Dyke Separatist in 1972. Worked on some of the earliest Lesbian Feminist projects, such as the Lesbian Feminist Conference in Berkeley in 1972, the newspaper “Dykes and Gorgons” in 1973, the women’s bookstore and Lesbian coffeehouse, and taught self defense to women and girls. Have published in several journals and anthologies, including For Lesbians Only, Finding the Lesbians, Lesbian Friendships, Amazones d’Hier, Lesbiennes Aujourd’hui, Mehr als das Herz Gebrochen, The Journal for Lesbian Studies, Lesbian Ethics, and Sinister Wisdom. With Linda Strega and Ruston, co-wrote our book, Dykes-Loving-Dykes: Dyke Separatist Politics for Lesbians Only in 1990.