Heterosexism Among Lesbians Is Lesbian-hating
Bev Jo, with Linda Strega and Ruston
I love Lesbians. For all our faults, I (Bev) believe that choosing to be a Lesbian is the best decision a woman can make in her life. If all women chose to be Lesbians, patriarchy would soon end.
Lesbians are among the most kind and loving people, which is reflected in how many are activists helping other oppressed people, animals, the environment, etc. The problem is that Lesbians aren’t always as loving to our own kind, and too often prioritize everyone else, including those with more privilege, and even those who are deliberately oppressing us. (The worst example now of Lesbians betraying Lesbians are those who support the “right” of het men to perv on us and invade our last women-only spaces. How can any Lesbian support a het man who not only says he’s a Lesbian, but demands sexual access to us? The myth of trans and “transgender” may be the most destructive Lesbian-hating con and cult that men have ever pushed on us. https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2014/07/22/please-if-you-love-lesbians-and-other-women-think-about-this/ and https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/bev-jo-radical-lesbian-writing/)
This chapter is about exploring and solving why Lesbians betray themselves and other Lesbians. When we know and understand the reasons for such self-hatred, we can change it and make safer Lesbian communities.
For many of us, when we first found a Lesbian community, we were so excited and relieved that it took a while to realize how damaged most Lesbians are by being hated individually and as a people by men, het and bisexual women, boys, girls, and other Lesbians who internalized Lesbian-hating. Instead of being angry at our oppressors, too many Lesbians turn their hatred on other Lesbians. Some Lesbians actually question if it’s worth going through the suffering of Lesbian oppression. But those of us who always loved other females are still celebrating and loving being Lesbians and finding other Lesbians.
This is an update of our previous Chapter Three in Dykes-Loving-Dykes, to explain, de-personalize, and solve what has gone wrong in our communities. This is also a short history of what happened to my Lesbian Feminist community as I have known it, in the Oakland/Berkeley/San Francisco Bay Area. (There are also other Lesbian communities in this area, such as NIA, which is African-descent Lesbians only. http://niacollective.org/wp-nia/about/. As far as I know, no European-descent Lesbians ever had anything comparable in being so Lesbian-loving.)
The late 1960’s and 1970’s were a wonderful time of hope, celebration, and growing community for Dykes in many countries. Finding each other through the Women’s Liberation Movement transformed our lives. Lesbians stopped wondering if we were the mistakes of nature hets insisted we were. Lesbian Feminism made everything that had previously seemed confusing now make sense: why most males prey on most females; the sadness we saw in friends who had been sexually abused as girls; the sense of freedom and ecstasy we felt being in love with other women; and the emptiness we saw in friends who started patronizing us as they chose boys and men, and stopped being the vibrant life-loving girls they had been, in spite of their increased status. It was even clear why and how men were destroying the earth.
Our Dyke-centered politics and communities changed our lives. Once we recognized that men as a group were male-supremacist enemies with het women as their collaborators, male and het values began losing their control over our minds. We clearly saw heterosexuality as a male invention designed to dominate all females.
It also became obvious that eliminating our own self-hatred as Dykes freed us to create Dyke-identified Radical Lesbian Feminist movements and cultures very different from anything existing in known patriarchal history. With all our Dyke energy, heart, and politics, we dedicated ourselves to improving life for all Lesbians, which also helped all women and girls.
Separatist politics made clear our need and right to have Dyke-only space. First, we created women-only space, which started a blossoming of women’s — mostly Lesbians’ — creativity, politics, ideas, newspapers, articles, books, poetry, music, art, and places to dance and party and celebrate each other. Lesbian-only space was even more precious (rare in the US, but not in Aotearoa/New Zealand). It released us from het women demanding our energy to help them deal with their men, and from het women objectifying and oppressing us. (Since both being het and bisexual are choices, we include bisexual women, unless stated otherwise, when we refer to het women).
We understood why we needed to put Dykes first in our lives — proudly, courageously, and with love — not by default and not apologetically. We refused to submit to ridicule, hatred, and attacks, right-wing threats, leftist contempt, or het feminist and Gay male pressure. It was Dyke Separatist values and politics that created a powerful public Lesbian Radical Feminist presence in many countries.
During the 1970’s, our Out Dyke presence also transformed mainstream hetero-patriarchal culture, making it easier and safer for many het women to become Lesbians. They had previously been too afraid to risk it. With so much support, joy, and celebration, it became popular and even trendy for het women to come out, and for a while it seemed that all feminists, and eventually all women, would soon become Lesbians.
Because almost all the feminists coming out through Women’s Liberation had been het, they didn’t play the now-popular game of pretending to have no choice, saying we are either born Lesbian or het, or claiming to have been victims of “Stockholm Syndrome.” (That con is more clearly dishonest with women choosing to be bisexuals. Bisexuals sometimes even complain about being distrusted by Lesbians, but the reality is that they are trying to have access to Lesbian love and community, while keeping their allegiance to men for status and het privilege.) In fact, the newly-out Lesbian Feminists made it a point to announce that their being a Lesbian was a feminist choice of pride, making sure no one would mistake them for the old-fashioned pre-feminist Lesbians, ridiculed in mainstream media as mentally ill perverts.
We soon painfully learned, however, that most women, including feminists, remained heterosexual and Lesbian-hating. Those of us who became Radical Lesbian Feminists were relieved to finally understand how and why we were oppressed as females and as Dykes, so it surprised us that all women didn’t feel the same way and join us. Some of those het feminists did play at being Lesbians for a while, but many explained that they didn’t want to suffer Lesbian oppression, be punished by their families, friends, etc., and they didn’t want to lose the other privileges that women who choose men get. (This choice becomes clearer when remembering that most het women signed their marriage contracts as a form of legal prostitution with one man, to be supported in a lifestyle few women could have on their own, for sexual services rendered.)
Some of the new Lesbian Feminists had already been close to becoming Lesbians and would have come out because of their love for other women, without Lesbian Feminist community support. They rejected their het pasts and het privilege as much as possible and consciously strengthened their Dyke identities through the following years. But many other het women wouldn’t have become Lesbians without the relative ease and support of Lesbian Feminists and our communities. (Some of these het and bisexual feminists enjoyed keeping full het privilege with husbands and boyfriends, while also being admired by some Lesbian Feminists and welcomed to our community and events, clearly with far more status than Lifelong Lesbians. Lesbian Feminists even provided free childcare for these women so they could have more time with their men.) The het feminists who did leave their men still kept their het-oriented and male-identified values, and they brought those destructive values into our Lesbian communities. As a result, they weaken, dismantle, and harm the very Lesbians and communities that helped them become Lesbians.
Every insult that het-identified Lesbians direct against more Lesbian-identified Lesbians is based on anti-Lesbian stereotypes. The patriarchal stereotype of a Lesbian is a class-oppressed Lifelong Butch. The closer any Dyke is to being Butch and/or a Lifelong Lesbian (Lesbians who identified as Lesbians from an early age), the more viciously she’s oppressed.
Stereotypes are a mixture of lies, projections, and distortions of partial truths. They’re illogical and contradictory. Those in power — men — made them up, and the stereotypes exist only to spread hatred and violence, so they don’t need to make sense. Condense all Lesbian stereotypes into seven basic themes, and you have a handy mental gauge for detecting disguised Lesbian-hatred and understanding clearly who it benefits, and how:
- “Lesbians don’t exist.” They’re all really bisexuals and/or het women gone bad, and they’ve gone bad just to attract men’s sexual attentions and provide variety for sado-masochistic scenes and pornography. If confronted with the reality of a Lifelong blatant Butch, the het mentality quickly shifts to:
- “Lesbians are pseudo-men” who’ve become that way because men don’t want them or because nature has made a terrible mistake. They’re alien, monstrous, ugly, unfeeling, perverted, sleazy, oversexed, predatory, violent, child molesters, criminals, dangerous, hard, tough, insensitive — a male in a female body. In other words, Lesbians are convenient scapegoats for men’s crimes. Related to these two stereotypes are the lies that:
- “Lesbians are ugly.” Of course females who look natural are ugly to men since men love artificiality. This would be a funny since nothing is as ugly as men, if it didn’t make girls and het women terrified of being considered Lesbians. It’s also a good strategy to keep women obsessed with looking like drag queens with alopecia (except for their dyed heads), even if the shaved vulva is clearly pandering to male desire to rape little girls.
- “Lesbians are immature,” since adult status is granted only to females who fuck with men and/or breed. Lesbians’ feelings for each other are childish crushes because they’re arrested at an early stage of development. They’re young, silly, unrealistic dreamers, frivolous, and hedonistic. (As Freud said, to become real adult women, girls need to give up their clitoral orgasms for fictional vaginal ones.)
- “Lesbians are privileged.” They’re all rich, European-descent, grew up under unusual circumstances, and live somewhere else.
- “Lesbians are crazy.” Some horrible event or circumstance made them queer. How else could they love females? And since they’re not sane, they’re dangerous to “normal” people and nothing they say should be believed, or they’ll infect innocent het women with queerness; and
- “Lesbians are lonely,” pathetic, emotionally inadequate creatures living on the fringes of the real world. They’re incapable of true, deep love and loyalty. They all secretly long for a normal life of marriage and motherhood.
Like the het woman, the het-identified Lesbian use these stereotypes — sometimes openly and sometimes subtly — against all Dyke-identified Lesbians, because she hasn’t bothered to unlearn het supremacist assumptions. She still treats blatant Dykes as undesirable “Others.” An important part of her thinks, feels, and acts like the het woman she is or used to be.
The het-identified Lesbian wants to continue being accepted and valued in the het world, which to her is the “real world.” She is eager to convince men and het women that she hasn’t changed much, and in some ways she hasn’t. But she also wants to convince hets that all Lesbians as a group aren’t that different from hets. Blatant Dykes anger and embarrass her because our existence threatens her campaign for het acceptance. When she became a Lesbian, she wanted our love and energy, but she didn’t want to be like us.
Het Privilege Lasts
Lesbians are among the only oppressed people who have to deal with our recent oppressor not just joining our communities, but outnumbering us. We deserve truly Dyke-identified communities, where all Lesbians are as out and Dyke-identified as possible. But how, when het women, full of male culture, male-worshipping, and Lesbian-hating propaganda, keep joining our communities, without bothering to learn our culture and to recognize and eliminate how much they hate us and themselves?
The only way we can get safe, Lesbian-loving Lesbian Feminist communities is if Lesbians with more heterosexual privilege acknowledge our privilege and change. (Since our book was written by one Lifelong Lesbian and two ex-het Lesbians, we say “we/our/etc.” for both groups.) But most Lesbians have no awareness of Lesbians having het privilege (or even that het women have institutionalized het privilege over Lesbians and celibate women) or how it affects us inside of our own communities.
Women who chose men first rarely question themselves or consider what Lesbian-hating and lesbophobic attitudes they brought into our communities. Instead, they usually act is if we should be grateful that they deigned to join us. Sadly, most Lesbians agree, and ex-het Lesbians they are likely to be given special status, admiration, and respect as being more “real” women than Lifelong Lesbians are. Why have women who are so male-worshipping that they are visibly male-identified in how they think and feel become more revered or considered more female than those who are the most female?
Lesbians who recognize that het women have power over Lesbians should easily recognize that Lesbians who once were heterosexual have more privilege than Lesbians who were never heterosexual. Lesbians who used to be het bring some of the social and economic power of heterosexual privilege with them when they come into Lesbian communities. They also bring STDs, danger from past husbands or boyfriends stalking them, and dildos and other sado-masochistic sexual practices, which are, after all, based on the inequalities and pain in heterosexual/male sex. Most het women, in order to tolerate intimate contact with brutal men, learn to numb themselves and also learn to believe that fucking and assaultive sex is what “love-making” is. Ex-het Lesbians also usually bring that strange heart/mind/spirit/body disconnect that het women have, and which interferes with having truly loving relationships.
We don’t know of anyone else who has dared to talk about this, yet it affects us and our communities in the most intimate ways imaginable. Ignoring this, in order to not offend or upset ex-het Lesbians, helps no one, and keeps our communities damaged and het- and male-identified.
Since most ex-het Lesbians are also Fem (Fems are the majority of women, who grew up accepting male-defined false “femininity” as our core identity), this compounds our sense of being normal among “abnormal” Lifelong Lesbians, many of who are also Butch (Butches are the opposite of “masculine” and are closer to what all females would be without patriarchy.) https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/the-big-sell-out-lesbian-femininity-by-linda-strega/ https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/supporting-butches-supports-all-lesbians/. If the majority of Lesbians who chose to be het as well as Fem in the past don’t try to explore what that means for ourselves and Lesbian communities, then we cause damage and heartache, and even drive out longtime Lesbians.
Having been het in the past doesn’t automatically mean a Dyke is now het-identified. Many ex-het Dykes came out because of their love for other women, have been strong Out Dykes for years, and are also oppressed by het glorification among Lesbians. We are committed to acknowledging our past het privilege just as we acknowledge any other privileges we have. And many of us do courageous Dyke Separatist political work.
Dyke-identified Lesbians all know the pain and deprivation of being unacceptable everywhere and of having to always be prepared for hostile attacks. Having been het ourselves doesn’t make us immune to this oppression, but it does act as a buffer. It makes it easier in proportion to how extensively het we were. The longer we were het, and the more involved with men we were, the more protected we are from Lesbian-hatred now. And the more status we still have among Lesbians.
How much het privilege an ex-het Lesbian has is determined by how high she climbed the het hierarchy and how long she stayed there. It’s also affected by other facets of her identity — including how much racial privilege she has or doesn’t have, her ethnic, class, and national background, her age, looks, and whether or not she’s disabled. But all ex-het Lesbians were once over the line into “normal” society in a way that no Never-het Dyke has been. There’s a world of difference between being over that line, no matter how otherwise oppressed or “unsuccessfully” het a Lesbian was, and being behind that line, always resisting hetness and — for the most brave — always being a Dyke as well.
During the years a Lesbian was het, she fit in as a “real woman.” This includes those who were celibate but still thought of themselves as het and hoped someday to find “their” man. Some of these Lesbians falsely identify as Never-het, or portray themselves as having always been Lesbians, but if they were living as heterosexuals and thinking of themselves as het, they were heterosexual.
Once a female has had the experience of being treated as and feeling like a “real woman,” she never loses it. Her basic, deep assurance of being “normal” gives her an unquestioned inner sense of permission to act with confidence and some expectation of acceptance. It also gives her a feeling of authority and superiority towards Lifelong Lesbians. The manner she learned circulating in the “real world” is a source of inner defense against the accusations of “perversion” and “abnormality” she receives as a Lesbian, and will be with her as long as she lives. In addition, she always has the option of decreasing the intensity of hets’ Lesbian-hating attacks by telling them that she, too, was once a member of their exclusive club. This is especially true if she still looks het, is Fem, as the majority of ex-het Lesbians are, and particularly if she’s also an ex-wife and mother (which means she had the certified societal proof of “normal” womanhood – a husband and children). Looking het carries enormous privilege at the expense of women who are proudly out as Dykes, and even more so, Butches. This is why we sometimes see ex-het Fems being condescending to Lifelong Lesbians, especially Butches, even though the ex-hets may be half their age.
Many ex-het Lesbians talk incessantly about their children, grandchildren, ex-husbands, and/or boyfriends, to gain or keep status. They even do this with other Lesbians since it also adds status among Lesbians (no matter how incredibly bored they make the listeners). This is the cue for other ex-hets to join in with their own het supremacist talk, asserting dominance. Sometime it almost appears to be a duel as to who will establish the most male-identified het credentials. Hets, including family members, can easily convince themselves that such ex-hets are still really one of their own who’s temporarily involved with Lesbians. By contrast, a Lifelong Dyke, especially if she’s Butch, is thought by hets to be completely alien and unacceptable, and is much more feared and hated.
The ex-het Lesbian knows she can’t possibly fit the most common anti-Lesbian stereotypes of the Lesbian who was supposedly “genetically programmed to be queer,” or became so as a result of “childhood trauma” or “rejection by men.” This makes it easier for her to feel comfortable being a Lesbian. Lifelong Dykes are much more vulnerable to having those stereotypes applied to them — even by Lesbians — because most anti-Lesbian stereotypes are based on the assumption that “the typical Lesbian” was never heterosexual.
It’s ironic when the ex-het Lesbian defends herself to hets by saying she chose to be a Lesbian, yet then denies to Lesbians that she chose to be het. The ex-het who refuses to acknowledge that her heterosexuality was a choice perpetuates the stereotype that Lifelong Dykes are born “queer” (in the traditionally hateful definition of what is shouted at Lesbians), while the ex-het who tells hets she had a choice (implying that others didn’t) is buying acceptance on the backs of Lifelong Dykes. She’s in effect saying, “I’m not one of those real perverts. I’m a more normal Lesbian.” Her defense is a selfish, irresponsible rejection of her own kind. The fact is that all Lesbians choose to be Lesbians whether we remember making that choice or not.
The relative privilege of ex-het Dykes is similar to how Dykes from middle-or upper-class backgrounds will never feel the way Dykes from poor or working-class backgrounds feel, even if they become poor. Present worry about not having enough money isn’t the same as a Lesbian being told she’s not good enough all her life, and still being told it in the present and into the foreseeable future, including by other Lesbians. The middle-or upper-class Lesbian is more likely to have a confident, even arrogant, manner to make her life easier, and to get her respect, attention, and the things she wants, including better-paid jobs with status. Such privileged Lesbians are never defined as poor or working-class by politically conscious Lesbians — yet a het woman who’s just come out is usually accepted as being as much a Lesbian as a Dyke who’s been out all her life. A Lesbian star once said, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Lesbian for five minutes or fifty years.” But it does matter. Real Lesbian Feminists would be outraged if a rich Lesbian who just lost her money now defined herself as poor or working-class. Of course, het women who become Lesbians are Lesbians, but there’s a world of difference in their lives and experiences and that of a Lesbian who’s been out for many years.
When the brave Dykes who have resisted het and Fem identification are looked down on and policed to become more feminine and het-oriented, then Lesbian communities are weakened. It’s this growing heterosexism that has caused many Dyke-identified Dykes to wonder if our belief and idealism about Lesbian integrity and kindness could be wrong. But the oppressiveness and cruelty we witness in Lesbian communities isn’t an innate part of Lesbianism — most of it is from male and het values.
The Heterosexist Hierarchy Among Lesbians
To understand heterosexism among Lesbians, we need to understand the specific Lesbian experiences and oppression of Dykes who’ve been Lifelong Lesbians, Dykes who were never heterosexual, Dykes who came out before the support of the Women’s Liberation Movement, and Butches. These are four different experiences and identities, and sometimes they overlap, but sometimes they don’t.
For instance, a Dyke who was never heterosexual hasn’t necessarily always been a Lesbian. She may have come out later in life. (Because of the influence of Freudian psychology, it’s usually assumed that everyone is sexual in some way — a female who was never heterosexual is assumed to have always been a Lesbian. But some females didn’t consider themselves either Lesbian or het until they came out. In fact, most little girls are vehemently anti-male and anti-heterosexual for most of their girlhoods before they choose to become het.) We can also become Lesbians long before first making love. It’s possible to have never had a lover and still know you’re a Lesbian, at any age, and to suffer hatred and ostracism for taking the courage to be out with friends and acquaintances. (I was in love with other girls from my earliest memories and that was the most important influence in my life.) Also, some Butches have been het, although the majority haven’t been.
There’s no political language or analysis to support the particular experiences of Lifelong Dykes, Never-het Dykes, Dykes who were out before the WLM, and Butches. Politically responsible Dyke publishers who say they especially welcome writings by more marginalized, oppressed, and rarely represented Dykes, usually list only those groups recognized by the male Left. (That was decades ago. Now they focus on degrees and credentials, power given by patriarchy, which was once treated with suspicion by feminists, or list their children and grandchildren.)
It’s essential to fight all oppression because it’s wrong and hurtful, rather than to make a good-sounding tokenistic political platform. Unfortunately, many privileged Lesbians seem to be against certain oppressions only because some men and het women and their organizations say it’s the acceptable thing to do. If the only people who fought the same oppressions were Lesbians, the issues would be mostly ignored. It’s been extremely damaging to Lesbian politics that specifically Lesbian issues are treated as “personal” and therefore trivial. Even worse, if we dare to say we exist, we are patronized, ridiculed, or accused of bragging about being “gold stars” (the term usually used to ridicule and silence Lifelong Lesbians), even though most other Lesbians are constantly bragging about their het pasts. Lesbians’ past het privilege isn’t named in political terms or included in self-descriptions because it’s the assumed norm for all Lesbians.
Another way of trying to silence discussion about Lesbian oppression is to say it’s minor in comparison to more serious oppressions like racism or classism. But being targeted, attacked and killed for being visibly Butches and Dykes couldn’t be more serious. Plus, there’s never any conflict between fighting Lesbian oppression and other oppressions. A higher percentage of race- and class-oppressed Lesbians are Lifelong, Never-het Dykes, and/or Butches. Ignoring their Lesbian oppression adds to their/our oppression from racism and classism.
In Chapter Three, we named the Heterosexist Hierarchy among all women, with those at the top supervising and policing women further down, on behalf of men. Wives and mothers are the most privileged in the Heterosexist Hierarchy, while single, celibate women are the least powerful het women. But the Heterosexist Hierarchy doesn’t stop at the line dividing het women and Lesbians — it continues among Lesbians. Butches and Lifelong Dykes who came out before the WLM are at the bottom of the entire hierarchy and also are used as the scariest stereotypes of Lesbians, used to frighten other women into line. Yet men and their women collaborators who ridicule Butches also try to prevent us from being seen or known about, so we are never or rarely allowed to be shown in the mainstream or even “Lesbian” media. The one Butch portrayed in a mainstream film was raped and beaten to death, sending a message to all girls and women from patriarchy.
Such Lesbian-hating had a profound effect on my first lover and I in 1968, when she was 16 and I was 17. The only “Lesbian” film showing a “Butch,” was the horribly sado-masochistic, Butch-hating film The Killing of Sister George. Other films we saw were also terrifyingly Lesbian-hating, like The Fox, where a man kills a Lesbian and gets her lover, and The Children’s Hour, where teachers are falsely accused of being Lesbians but when one of the women realizes she does love her friend, she is so ashamed that she kills herself. The only Lesbian book we knew of was The Well of Loneliness, with the message that if you truly love your lover, you will abandon her so she can find happiness with a man. There was nothing in the mainstream media remotely positive about Lesbians.
Forty six years later, there are actually beloved Lesbians in the media (although heterosexuality is still aggressively and pornographically promoted as the norm), but still no Butches. Think about what it means when an entire population of women is never allowed to be shown in films and television. Then think about what this means when this censorship is also enforced in the “Lesbian” media – which means that Lesbians and other women have no truthful point of reference to make it possible to talk about what it means to be Butch. (In Radical Feminist groups, women flail around trying to find even one Butch, while others make cruel Butch-hating comments based on their belief that obvious Fems posturing as weird Butch stereotypes are Butch.)
If you try to talk about this, you will be told that women portrayed in films and television and illustrated books are Butch when they are not. At best (or worst, really) they are a grotesque and repulsive caricature of Butches – such as Lea DeLaria’s character, Big Boo, in Orange Is the New Black, which most people believe accurately represents real Butches, even though the character is the opposite of a Butch, and Lea has publicly said she’s Fem. (Of course that series also portrays a man who poses as a woman, Laverne Cox, playing the character who teaches real women about their vulvas because they are too stupid to know as much about their own bodies as a man does.) In The L Word and in Alison Bechdel’s illustrated comics and books, Dykes to Watch Out For, the “Butch” characters are womanizers who either are genderqueer sado-masochists or just slightly less feminine than the other characters. Why are Butches so terrifying that we must not be shown at all or other than as the opposite of who we are?1
Dykes who are lower in the Heterosexist Hierarchy are more likely to recognize what we’re saying as true. Oppression limits our lives in countless ways, while privilege is easy to take for granted. For example, an ex-het Fem mother usually doesn’t notice that the same hets who are friendly and helpful to her at work, in her neighborhood, and on the street, are likely to be openly cruel towards a Lifelong Butch, even if both Lesbians come from the same racial, ethnic, and class background. The Dyke who’s the victim of this oppression can’t avoid noticing it, but, unless she has political support, she mostly likely blames herself for being despised, and other Lesbians may blame her as well.
We’re not “ranking oppressions” — that’s already been done for us by men and their het women helpers. We’re explaining oppression and working to end it. This hierarchy is real and pervasive. Any Lesbian who wants to fight Lesbian oppression can observe it any day, any time. Lesbians’ lives are important enough to be given close attention.
The Heterosexist Hierarchy among Lesbians starts with Lesbian ex-het wives and mothers, and then, in descending order, Lesbian ex-wives, never-married Lesbian mothers, never-married ex-het Lesbians, Lesbians who thought of themselves as het although they never fucked with men, Lesbians who never were het, and Lifelong Lesbians and Butches. Any Lesbians who came out before the WLM have less privilege than their counterparts in the hierarchy who came out during or after the WLM. Those who are Fem have more privilege than Butches at the same position in the hierarchy, and Fems who pass as het have a lot more privilege than Out Dykes, especially Butches. (Not being recognized as a Lesbian can mean life, as opposed to being killed, in patriarchy. Lesbians have a range with some being as Dykey as possible, while others are drag queen feminine. Some are recognizable to other Lesbians, but not to most hets, and there are ways that some Lesbians feminize that are almost like uniforms in their sameness, such as Fems who have very short hair, but long dangling earrings, which even many het women don’t wear). Again, Lesbians who suffer from additional oppressions have less privilege than others at the same place in the Heterosexist Hierarchy.
Thus, the amount of privilege a Lesbian had when she was het, which is based on time and devotion given to men, determines how much heterosexist power she’ll have among Lesbians.
Of course, any Lesbian who brags about herself as a mother and ex-wife maintains more het power than a similar Lesbian who doesn’t. There are some Dykes who, when het, were at the top of the hierarchy but who now reject their past hetness and actively hate and fight heterosexism. A past choice of heterosexuality doesn’t mean anyone has to now be het- or male-identified. No matter how high a Lesbian was in the het hierarchy, if she chooses wholeheartedly to be a Dyke, her love, caring and respect for Dykes shows through. Her present choices make her more Dyke-identified than a Lesbian who was less connected to men in the past, but who still talks about boyfriends from decades ago and who’s currently identifying with het women, protecting and caring for them at Lesbians’ expense.
Strong Lesbian identity is a choice, and past het privilege doesn’t prevent it. The single most important thing is to identify primarily as a Lesbian, with other Lesbians. Many ex-het Separatist and Radical Feminist Dykes, including ex-wives and mothers we know, are as angry at Lesbians glamorizing hetness as Lifelong Dykes are.
The Lure of Het Privilege
The het-identified Lesbian internalized male and het values as a girl, but she believes those values are an inborn part of her own female nature. Having been het means she adapted to life as a set of rules which patriarchy set up. Now that she’s become a Lesbian, she acts as if Lesbian culture is just a different set of rules. So she can take pride in breaking “Lesbian rules,” ridiculing Lesbian culture, and joking and bragging about being “politically incorrect,” when she’s really still just following male rule and oppressing Dykes.
Ex-het Fems are more likely to keep up with ever-changing het fads in makeup, hair styles, clothes, food, dieting, language, entertainment, and politics, making it a status symbol to pass as het. How can any Dyke trust or work politically with someone who spends so much time mirror-gazing and obsessed with making her appearance and behavior fit male standards? When Lesbians like a slutty het image, they’re revealing that they don’t feel oppressed by it. After all, many ex-het Lesbians chose to wear make-up, dresses, earrings, and high heels to please the men who were fucking them. It gave them privilege and status, proving they were “real” adult women. They never experienced that het regalia as symbolizing intimate betrayal and collaboration, and so they don’t understand those of us who do. Lesbians who embrace the het uniform oppress all Dyke-identified Dykes, particularly those of us who were young Lesbians without support as we watched our girlhood friends putting on dresses, high heels, and make-up as their steps to “growing up” and going het. Do the Lesbians who pass as het feel as superior to Butches and Dyke-identified Fems now as they did when they were het? Most act like they do.
One Lesbian said she liked to mention her ex-husband so hets would know she wasn’t “just a queer” or a woman who had been rejected by men. We’ve heard many Lesbians speak affectionately about ex-husbands, saying they discuss their lives and Lesbian friendships with them. They ignore that men aren’t trustworthy, and that other Lesbians don’t want information about themselves shared with any man or boy. These ex-wives also don’t care how their closeness with an ex-husband affects their Lesbian lovers. (One Lesbian we know actually allows her ex-husband to bring her flowers on their “anniversary,” even though she divorced him years ago and she is married to her Lesbian lover. Do men do this when their ex-wives have married men?)
We know of Lesbians who let their daughters visit overnight with their ex-husband, even though they know he sleeps in the same bed as the girl. Just like het mothers, these Lesbian mothers end up cooperating in the rape of their daughters, because it’s more important for them to preserve the mystique of family “love” than it is to protect their daughters from family rape.
Bisexuals Choose to Not Be Lesbians
Het-identified Lesbians say that anyone who says she’s a Lesbian is a Lesbian. (Some even include men who perv on Lesbians in this definition). But for our own protection, physically, psychically, and emotionally, we have to name bisexuals for what they are.
Why does a bisexual call herself a Lesbian? To make it easier for her to prey on Lesbians and increase her market value for men. Men like to think Lesbians want to be fucked since it satisfies their egotistical, pornographic fantasies. As one Separatist said, “When a bisexual calls herself a Lesbian, she’s giving her prick more of a bang for his buck than a regular het woman does.”
Bisexuals are not only emotionally dangerous to Lesbians, but also physically dangerous, from transmitting STDs (including some incurable and lethal ones), to Lesbians being disabled and killed by their bisexual lover’s jealous ex-husbands and boyfriends.
Being bisexual is not an act of fate but a choice. It’s choosing to be sexual with women while also choosing to be sexual with our oppressors, men. Some bisexuals take advantage of Lesbian love, which is far more intimate and passionate than what they would get from a man, but return to het privilege when it suits them. Some use their investment in men as a weapon to hurt Lesbians, like the Lesbian who bragged about threatening lovers by saying “That makes me want to go back to men.” Het-identified Lesbians who keep a foot in the het world are more likely to become het again.
Many Lesbians, similar to this woman, have returned to being het or bisexual. Such women whine that, “It was too hard, too painful, too intimate with Lesbians.” Many Lesbians blame themselves, asking “What are we doing wrong to drive these women back to men?” Those women went back to men because they hadn’t left them in the first place and are willing to betray themselves and us to get het privilege.
There was a meeting in Berkeley, California about why Lesbians go het. After a roomful of Lesbians poured out their hearts about feeling betrayed by this, a woman told the group that she’d begun fucking with men again. The Lesbian “facilitator” said, “You were very brave to come to this meeting”! She didn’t recognize the courage of the Lesbians in the room who remained Lesbians, or made themselves vulnerable in discussing the pain of het betrayal with other Lesbians they didn’t know. Instead of making that space be safe for Lesbians, she supported a collaborator and traitor.
We know a woman who used to be a Lesbian Separatist, went back to men as a bisexual, and, then, after discovering she’d caught AIDS from her last boyfriend, returned to Lesbians. A friend said that the classism of her middle-class lover was part of why this woman began fucking a class-oppressed man, yet she herself was working-class and would never have considered even befriending a man to get class support. Two others of us were also working-class, and were outraged that classism was used as an excuse for this woman betraying Lesbians. Working-class and poor Dykes are not more likely to return to men and it’s not class privileged Lesbians’ fault if they do. This putting het/bisexual choices before Lesbians is oppressive to Lesbians of all backgrounds. The fact that this collaborator might have infected her Lesbian lovers with AIDS wasn’t even mentioned.
The Het/Male “Fuck” Mentality: Avoiding Love and Passion at Any Cost
Women who choose men learn to disconnect their mind/body/spirit. Unless they work on unlearning this, het-identified Lesbians bring male attitudes about sexuality into their Lesbian lives. They’re used to thinking of sexuality as separate from love and passion, and their real, inner selves, which makes them sensually and emotionally numb, especially if they were actively het for years. They think in terms of flirting, competition, games, conquests, libido, “sex-drive,” “fucking,” “hot sex,” “technique,” etc. — and they’re excited by the power of Fem privilege, dominance and submission, and sado-masochism. All of which means they avoid real intimacy, passion, and love.
As Lesbian-hating het women, they routinely scapegoated Lesbians for men’s crimes, and after becoming Lesbians they continue to do so more intimately. Sometimes they vent their misdirected rage by being cruel during arguments. Others play hurtful sexual games, such as refusing to make love to their lover while expecting her to make love to them, flirting seductively to try to be the center of attention, etc. Some het-identified Lesbians want everyone to be attracted to them, including Lesbians they have no interest in. They may become lovers with Lesbians they don’t care for, simply to get power, to make someone else jealous, for petty revenge, for attention, for a feeling of conquest, or other reasons having nothing to do with love or even passion.
This is het behavior, where women hate other women and are in competition with them. A het woman gets social power by making herself attractive to men and getting them to fight over her. She doesn’t necessarily feel attracted to the men she flirts with, but she’s chosen to absorb the het dogma that she should be “pretty” and “sexy,” and she’s competing with other women to increase her het status. Such het games are oppressive and hurtful when played with Lesbians.
The following situation isn’t uncommon: a newly-out Radical Lesbian Feminist Fem appears in our community, expresses rage against men, and is seductive towards several Lesbians in a friendship group, without being sensitive to existing relationships or individual vulnerabilities. It soon becomes clear that she is playing games like she recently did with men. After initiating being lovers with several of the Lesbians, she acts surprised at the understandable pain, anger, and jealousy she caused and reprimands the Lesbians for being “possessive” and “old-fashioned.” One such Lesbian actually said in surprise, “It really is different with Lesbians than it is with men, isn’t it?” She didn’t want to understand most Lesbians’ deep emotional involvement with lovers. When she flirted and said “I love you,” many Lesbians believed her. They also felt drawn to take care of her, because she’d talked about being abused by boyfriends and being lonely as a new Lesbian. But she was in a power position with most Lesbians because of being Fem and having had a recent extensive het past.
Another Radical Lesbian Feminist we knew also had been actively het. She then became what appeared to be politically sophisticated and articulate about Lesbian oppression, and also flirted with many Lesbians. Later, on a local television program, in full Hard Fem het regalia, she described herself as a Fem, telling the male and het women audience, “I flirt with anything that moves, including men.”
When many ex-het Lesbians talk about lesbian sexuality, they use terms like “fucking,” “penetration,” “screwing,” “cunts,” “coming,” “thrusting,” and all the rest of the assaultive pornographic imagery of heterosex — as if it were fun, funny, natural, exciting, and welcome conversation among Lesbians. Like their “casual” talk about past het experiences, marriage, children, and grandchildren, such conversation is the deliberate language of heterosexual dominance and is a way to exclude and reproach Dykes who resisted heterosexuality. Dyke-identified ex-het Lesbians don’t want to hear this disgusting crap either. Even otherwise nice ex-het Lesbians can subject Lesbian friends to hearing about why she thinks a plant looks like testicles or a “used condom.” (I still don’t know if she is just used to doing this with her male and het friends or what, but saying this last comment during dinner with a group of Lesbians didn’t get her a happy response.)
There are several highly-praised, internationally-read, Lesbian writers who push their offensive, het-oriented politics in their writing. They see pricks everywhere,2 or their “Lesbian” characters ignore the parts of female bodies that men ignore, like clitorises, and are instead preoccupied with what basically seems like fucking. Even het feminists used to recognize writing like this as sexist and pornographic. Some also target Butches to ridicule and caricature — all for the enjoyment of their male and het audience.
The first most influential three women who wrote about “Lesbians sex” and seriously damaged our Lesbian communities by promoting porn and sado-masochism in the late Seventies and Eighties were bisexuals: 1. JoAnn Loulan, a therapist who identified as a Lesbian in order to make money exploiting our community with her books and workshops. Linda and I wrote in Lesbian Sex, Is It?, our review of her book, Lesbian Sex, that she had to be a bisexual, based on her description of Lesbians as “having wonderful sexual relationships with men.” After years of denying this while pushing her Lesbian-hating and Butch-hating books, Loulan finally admitted she was with a man. 2. Pat Califia, a bisexual sadist Fem brought sado-masochism and porn into our community from the Gay male community, by starting “Samois,” the first “Lesbian Feminist S/M” group, writing a “Lesbian” sex book, and then porn that glorified Lesbians being gang-raped by gay men. Califia now identifies as a “Gay man” and is lovers with another woman who identifies as a “Gay man”). 3. Susie Bright was more clearly bisexual and was one of the first “sex positive feminist” pornographers. Similarly, the few books supposedly about Butches were also by bisexual Fems, full of porn and Butch-hating stereotypes.
These het/bisexual pornographers were part of the reason that Lesbians have falsely been identified with sado-masochism, although that history can be traced directly back to het and Gay male organizations. https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2012/08/04/leather-sm-bdsm-its-all-still-sadism-and-masochism/ The “Lesbian” sexologists spread Lesbian-hating propaganda, such as: “please yourself at all costs — even if that means fantasizing your lover as a het woman or even as a man” and “anything is all right if it gives you a thrill,” including porn and sado-masochism (even though they cause increasing numbness, boredom, and mind/body/emotion disconnect). They also ignore Lesbian emotions like love.
In Loulan’s book, “Lesbian Sex,” she suggested Lesbians should shove a variety of bizarre objects into their vaginas, such as dildos (worn on a harness), balls, fists, asparagus spears, zucchini, rubber tubes, etc. Lesbians who object to “penetration” are described as being “sexually backward” and “prudish.” She even recommends that someone with a “spastic” vagina train her vagina to accept larger and larger objects and then move the objects repeatedly in and out of an increasingly numb, traumatized vagina. For those who find it too painful, she insists you keep at it for an hour and then see how you feel. (This is exactly what male therapists recommend to rape victims and also het women who hate being fucked.)
There’s no support for Lesbians to explore why we have the right to refuse sexual contact that’s painful or uncomfortable, or that it’s possible to have extremely passionate multi-orgasmic love-making without vaginas being touched at all. The clitoris is the part of our vulvas with the most intense feelings, while the vagina has very few nerve endings. But of course men’s main interest is in vaginas, and so most girls and women either think their “vagina” is their vulva or don’t even know the word “vulva.” In some male cultures, clitorises are so threatening that they’re cut out of every young girl’s vulva.
For Lesbians who are alone and without support, there’s almost nothing “Lesbian” to read that doesn’t match male and het pornographic standards. True Lesbian love and passion are portrayed as laughable and too emotional, while cold, repulsive heterosexual or Gay male fucking are promoted for Lesbians.
Many of us have experienced ex-het lovers hurting us during “lovemaking.” A friend who came out at thirty was shocked when her first lover, who was stereotypically male-identified feminine, suddenly was as brutal and painful to her in bed as men had previously treated her. I explained that that is not how most Lifelong and Butch Lesbians are (unless trained by ex-het women), but is not uncommon with “feminine” women who first chose men.
Women who taught themselves to love repulsive pricks brought dildos and other aspects of sado-masochism into our communities, making them unfairly associated with Butches or Lesbians. Fem Joan Nestle wrote about carrying a dildo in her purse, presumably to be ready to be fucked if meeting a stranger Butch. (Poor objectified Butches…) I’ve heard Butches tell with grief and shame about how as young Lesbians they found pre- or post-feminist Lesbian communities ruled by ex-wives who taught them what “real” women wanted in bed — which was pricks/dildos, but not the rest of the brutal, ugly, selfish male. So young Butches were trained in obeying these Lesbian-hating sado-masochists, and then that added to Butch-hating stereotypes. Such damage is immeasurable.
Why would any Lesbian prefer to have a grotesque object representing ugly maleness and violence be used on her instead of feeling her lover’s body? I believe it’s because these male-identified ex-het women are afraid of being fully Lesbian, so they can fantasize they are still with men. Then why would any Lesbian want to use such an object, as opposed to actually touching her lover’s body? As scary as it is for the self-hating Lesbian to be touched by a Lesbian, it’s more terrifying to touch another woman because then she can’t ignore she’s with a woman — so she prefers using a object representing rape to fuck her lover, instead of making real Lesbian love with gentleness and true passion. And then, since so many ex-het Fems don’t want to reciprocate love-making, their Butch lovers end up being so grateful to have intimacy with the woman they love that they are more likely to accept any form of contact, no matter how demeaning. One of the cruelest things that some ex-het Fems do to Lifelong Butch lovers is to not love them, which is likely what caused the myth of the “Stone Butch.” Some ex-het Fems never want to make love back or as equally with Lifelong Lesbian and Butch lovers. Some stop wanting to make love at all, which is attributed to “Lesbian Bed Death.” (I have never seen anyone bring up how it’s rarely Butches or Lifelong Lesbians who stop wanting to make love, and that it’s primarily ex-het Fems who do.)
Dyke Identity Is a Conscious Decision
In the great blossoming of Lesbian Feminist ideas in the Seventies, Dykes heard, read, wrote, and discussed that men weren’t just controlling us through visible patriarchy, but that they were also influencing us through internalized male values, male cultures/religions/cults, media, politics, etc.
These ideas changed our lives forever. We realized that we didn’t just have to fight male supremacy in the world, but also internal patriarchal indoctrination, so that we could be more truly our natural Dyke selves. Why are these ideas so rarely expressed now? This is a major disconnect between Lesbian Feminist politics from the Seventies and afterward, where in the Seventies there was more of a sense of a committed community, as opposed to being concerned for ourselves only as individuals. (This change accompanied right wing national influences valuing greed and status.)
Although most feminists agreed that women had internalized male values, most het women who became Lesbians never thought about changing their male values to Lesbian ones. Many who otherwise cared about Lesbian politics and culture somehow assumed that Lesbian identity could be passively absorbed and that they automatically and effortlessly no longer had het values. For many, Dyke identity was misperceived as trendy. This is especially true of Lesbians who’d never even considered Lesbianism before they joined Women’s Liberation.
A new identity that’s only superficial is easily rejected when times get tougher, as they did in the 1980’s. Remaining, unexamined het identification resurfaced and many ex-het Lesbians began to look more het and abandoned Dyke-centered politics for het feminist, male left, Gay male politics, or to be “fun Fems.”
The new Lesbian who wrote in the mid-1970’s that she looked in the mirror and said to herself, “How amazing! Yesterday I was a wife and mother, and today I’m a short-haired radical Dyke Feminist,” was fooling herself about her transformation. She was now a Lesbian, but she had yet to do a lot of thinking and changing before she would have a strong, lasting Dyke identity. That meant working out how her recent considerable het privilege still affected Lesbians. Like many other Lesbians, she would probably mistakenly think of her past only in terms of how hard and painful being het was, and how “free” she was in her new “alternative lifestyle.” And she would erroneously interpret Dyke encouragement to become more Lesbian-identified as “reverse discrimination.”
Many of these were the Lesbians who complained about the “Lesbian uniform,” which was our Dyke culture’s way of proudly identifying and recognizing each other as Lesbians, while rejecting the het and male-identified feminine uniform propaganda blasted at us in the media and constantly policed by friends, family, co-workers, other Lesbians, and even strangers. These were also the Lesbians attracted to the porn and sado-masochism brought into our communities in the late Seventies by the bisexual pornographers.
Increasingly, new ex-het Lesbians joined our communities who didn’t seem to think about being a Lesbian at all. They continued as if they were still het, but just had a “better kind” of lover. They kept calling every animal they saw “he.” They strongly identified with their het pasts and with het women in the present, never caring about Lesbian oppression. Some just wanted to experiment with and use Lesbians, having power over us that they could never get with men. They abused Dykes by relating to us as if we weren’t female, which doesn’t mean they gave us the respect or privilege that men or het women get, but that they objectified us in cruel Lesbian-hating ways. At the same time, these women expected and demanded that Dykes take care of them the way men are supposed to look after women, yet never do.
One of the signs of reactionary/liberal feminism damaging our communities now is whenever there is a shutdown of discussions about the ways women obey and admire male values. Instead of this being named as collaboration, the women promoting patriarchal propaganda are claimed to be self-hating victims, which is designed to guilt-trip and shame Radical Feminists from having the basic life-transforming discussions that were part of even mainstream feminism from the Sixties and later.
The Co-Option of Pre-WLM Dyke Communities
It’s easier for newer Lesbians to come out because others of us have been out for years working to make it easier. It was devastating to be a Lesbian when the only portrayal of Lesbians in films and books was as pathetic, crazy, suicidal, or murderous. It was especially destructive for Dykes whose families abandoned or imprisoned and/or psychiatrically tortured them, and for Dykes who were thrown out of school, threatened, and ostracized.
The influx of many newly-out ex-het Lesbian Feminists, who were meeting Dykes for the first time, caused a new pressure on pre-existing Lesbian communities. The entry of this more privileged group into an oppressed, long-established group with its own cultures, values, and traditions, caused a classic culture clash.
There had always been the outside pressure of male and het society on Lesbian communities. And there had always been Lesbians who passed as het, as well as Lesbians who went back to being het, all of which added to Lesbian oppression. But now, Lesbianism came to the attention of het women, and through them, men, in a way it never had before. This made Lesbian assimilation into het culture (co-option) possible in a way previously unimaginable.
Many of the things that happened after this encounter are typical of events that follow the imposition of a more powerful, oppressive culture on a less powerful one. At first, there were more longtime Dykes than new Lesbians, but this soon reversed, particularly in more privileged communities in big cities or college towns. The pre-Women’s Liberation Movement Lesbians were more class and race-oppressed than the influx of new ex-het Lesbian Feminists, many of who came out through their universities and colleges, dramatically affecting Lesbian communities.
Because they came out in such large numbers around the same time, WLM Lesbians backed up each others’ still-existing heterosexist values and lesbophobia towards pre-WLM Dykes. The negative repercussions of this culture clash continues between Lesbians who came out because of being in love with other females versus those who came out more coldly and intellectually through feminism and because of hating men.
New Lesbian Feminists who looked and acted more feminine felt superior as “normal, “real” women (they had had their men to prove it). They called themselves “womyn-identified-womyn,” to make clear their political choice to be a Lesbian, and to differentiate themselves from the Lesbians they perceived as being born “queer.” They ignored that many of the pre-WLM had been feminists before them and had created the Lesbian Feminist movement, making it easier for them to come out.
Women’s Liberation politics glorified the word “woman” without analyzing its old association with heterosexuality (which is why some Lesbians still are reluctant to use it) and euphemistically glossed over the meaning of “Lesbian.” Lesbians who identified as “wimmin-loving-wimmin” rather than Dyke-loving-Dykes could now avoid Lesbian oppression in a way never before possible, by becoming a “new” normal, womanly, feminine, feminist, intellectualized, laundered Lesbian.
Pre-WLM Dykes were even more unacceptable if they looked Butch and couldn’t pass as het if they wanted to. They were oppressed as Dykes in ways that the new, het-privileged Lesbians couldn’t imagine, and were ostracized as well as being used as lovers by them. If they were occasionally emulated with the offensive term of “foremothers,” it was mostly in a superficial, objectifying way. So pre-WLM Dykes were forced into second-class positions and excluded in their own Lesbian communities.
In many large communities, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, new Lesbian Feminists outnumbered pre-WLM Lesbians so much that they could avoid them if they felt too “uncomfortable” (lesbophobic) around them. Because most of the out-through-movement Lesbian Feminists were Fem and ex-het, they also avoided Butches and Lifelong Lesbians. Their continuing contempt for pre-WLM Dykes reached its most oppressive and absurd when they sneered at what they called “Bar Dykes” (pre-WLM and non-feminist Dykes) by calling them “straight Lesbians.” Lesbian feminists often lumped together all non-WLM Dykes as “Bar Dykes,” whether they were part of Bar Dyke culture or not, and it was always said as an insult. (Again, the classism was glaring.)
The implication is that Dykes who come out because of their love for females are less Lesbian and feminist-identified than het feminists who come out because of hating men, an intellectual decision, or because it seemed like a trendy choice. It’s no coincidence that many of these new Lesbians went back to men once they experienced a bit of Lesbian oppression. This situation continued until the Lesbians who came out in the 1970’s have been outnumbered by even later waves (who seem to have no idea that stronger Dyke consciousness and communities ever existed.)
Similarly, Butches who refused the male-invented femininity pushed on all girls by men and het women are called “male-identified” in a classic mindfuck. This is because male femininity cushions Fem Feminists’ lesbophobia and Lesbian-hating. Fems’ stereotyping of Butches, who had said no to male rules, as “male,” is similar to how men and het women slander us, and increases Fems’ illusion that they are more female and “normal,” by patriarchal standards. But there is nothing innately female in the male directives ordering girls and women to pose as feminine.
Even more horrifying is that most feminist mothers, including “radfems,” dress and present their little girls as stereotypically feminine, from pink uncomfortable shoes they can’t run in, to demeaning hair styles, to flimsy dresses that make it harder for their girls to play safely, and exposing them to the humiliation and sexual harassment of boys and men seeing their underwear if they fall or climb. This trains little girls to be passive and sedentary, and also makes them more vulnerable to being sexually assaulted and raped.
So why do women who profess to be feminists do this to their daughters? I believe it’s because of the status they get for having feminine girls to show off, and to avoid being criticized by family, friends, and strangers, as well as not having to deal with their girls being called “boys” if they dare to comfortable and natural. This making little girls vulnerable to men and boys calls all of their mothers’ so-called Radical Feminist politics into question. It’s one thing for adult women to choose to make themselves exposed to men for status, but far worse to prostitute their little girls to male prurience. Non-feminist women pressure their protesting and crying little daughters to act the way men expect girls to act in patriarchy because of the rewards they get (and I am very aware of this because of how my mother dressed me in dresses so obscene that I was humiliated by teachers and sent home from school), but these women are not aware as Radical Feminists are of how this endangers their girls.
All of this is connected to wanting to appear “normal” in male supremacist cultures. The more fearful that Fem Lesbian Feminists became of being perceived as Dykes, the more feminine they try to appear, which was and still is reflected in Lesbian Feminist media images and drawings of Lesbians in publications, on leaflets, and now in online posts. It was not an accident that this “reclaiming femininity” coincided with the introduction of porn and sado-masochism into our communities. (When some Radical Feminists recently attempted to locate images to post online of warrior women, they could only find grotesque, half-naked porny images, unnaturally skinny with massive breasts, or ephemeral fairy/weak images, often in gauzy gowns and high heels – none of which is how fantasy male warriors are portrayed.)
One prominent US Lesbian feminist, who came out comfortably after the WLM and soon set herself up as our leader wrote, “Clearly we needed a different name for Lesbians who are feminists than for those who are not. Finding women sexually attractive has nothing to do with feminism; most men find women sexually attractive.”3 She also describes the difference between Lesbians, bisexuals, and het women as “choices of sexual expression.” She doesn’t seem aware that trivializing Lesbianism as merely sexual is a classic Lesbian-hating male attitude which denies that being a Lesbian is a choice of loving other women, and that Lesbian passion is totally different from predatory male sexuality. The very act of a Lesbian feeling attraction for another female is in itself rare and revolutionary. It threatens patriarchy at its core. Lesbians who never heard of feminism have loved, and still love, other Lesbians with care and commitment that far exceeds the ideals of feminism. Why don’t ex-het feminists feel the same need to differentiate het feminists from non-feminist heterosexuals? Can you imagine the outcry if they used insults for non-feminist het women similar to those they use for non-feminist Lesbians?
Lesbians who chose men first often seem to think, “Why be a Lesbian if not for feminism?” Meanwhile, those of us who chose our own kind first, out of love and without conscious political analysis, are suspected of being sordid and lecherous. To anyone with a het mentality, the word “Lesbian” is inherently sexual and suggests the dirty, predatory, male sexuality of traditional anti-Lesbian stereotypes. Meanwhile, ex-het Lesbians’ past (hetero)sexuality is taken for granted and rarely thought of as wrong, lurid, and dirty — even though that’s exactly what heterosex is. Ex-het Lesbians who came out intellectually through the WLM are more likely to have learned and later exhibit male traits of sexually objectifying women since they learned their sexuality from their obscene and predatory men — not Lifelong Lesbians or Butches.
A Lesbian is also most likely to stay a Lesbian if she made her choice through love and passion, from her entire heart, mind, soul, and body, and not through political analysis alone. Lesbians who paid the high price of Lesbian oppression are also more likely to be trustworthy and strongly Dyke-identified than women who wholeheartedly chose men and later came out reluctantly after years of encouraging support from Lesbian friends.
Another Lesbian star said in an interview, “I knew I had Lesbian leanings before I found the Women’s Liberation Movement, but I don’t think I would have admitted it. Lesbians’ life back then was the bar life, alcoholic, unhappy, difficult and depressing.” Yes, it was very hard for Lesbians before feminism and coming out then demanded special courage and commitment — but this Lesbian is still thoughtlessly repeating, years later, the stereotypes she held of Lesbians when she was het.
And not all Dykes who came out before the WLM were part of bar culture. Dykes created many ways to survive and be part of communities of their own kind. The sort of life they made depended on how much racial, ethnic, and class privilege they had, and how fiercely females were oppressed in their countries. Some formed private clubs where they could meet. Others made cultures in Lesbian bars, preyed on by the male bar owners and violent police. Any horribly oppressed people forced to meet in bars will be vulnerable to alcoholism. Members of oppressed groups who succumb to their oppression are always used to show that stereotypes about them are “true,” while the ones who found happiness are forgotten. Why not instead recognize how oppressed, and therefore courageous, Dykes who survived bar culture were?
Meanwhile, what was the comparable life of a middle-class housewife in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, which is what this Lesbian had been? (My mother, who was a married working class housewife, was so miserable and lonely that she regularly went to filthy het bars for company, became an alcoholic, was arrested in brawls, and tried to commit suicide. When I was a little girl, she put me in frilly dresses and brought me with her for attention and put me on disgusting drunken stranger men’s laps.) Many Lesbian Feminists had no contact with pre-WLM Dykes, so where was this ex-het getting her information, which is identical to het media myths about “perverted” Lesbians, designed to frighten women into obedience to their men? As hard as it was to be a Lesbian before feminism, there was the beautiful love of equals between two women together, as opposed to the lonely, depressing, often alcoholic or anti-depressant-addicted sado-masochism, inequality, and abuse that is in heterosexual relationships.
Lifelong Lesbians and especially Lifelong Butches, can have a beautiful, solid Dyke feeling which is quite different from the atmosphere in most later Lesbian Feminist groups. That unique presence is reassuring to those of us who feel alienated around the many ex-het Lesbians who prefer femininity, het identification, and obsessively fussing with appearance, trendy clothing, hair styles, and jewelry. Such Lesbians feel “absent” in contrast to the centered presence of Lifelong Dykes, which is why many ex-het Fems seek out Lifelong Butches as lovers.
Many communities did feel more Lesbian-identified in the 1970’s than later, but pre-WLM Dykes have been subjected to Lesbian Feminist censorship and ridicule since the beginning of the WLM, and have had to see their pasts being “reclaimed” in books and speeches by Lesbians who, when they were part of pre-WLM Dyke culture, betrayed them by passing for het or being bisexual. Why should that be who now represents pre-WLM Dykes to an objectifying audience of new Lesbians and, worse still, to the het public? The Lifelong Dykes who never sold out, fucked men, or passed for het, and who actually continued the ancient traditions of Lesbian culture, are usually ignored, and their writings unpublished. They have the right to define what their cultures were, who they were then, and who they are now.
No, We Were Not All Het
To ignore and deny someone’s existence is an attempt to eliminate her, which is what most heterosexuals do to Lesbians. Why then do many Lesbians deny that some Lesbians were never heterosexual? Why do they enforce ex-het dominance in Lesbian communities as the only Lesbian reality? Never-het and Lifelong Dykes face the obstacle of being a small minority within a minority, yet most Lesbians would prefer we didn’t exist at all.
If hetero-patriarchy can’t claim a female as one of its own, it tries to claim her as having been one of its own. That’s why rape by male family is so prevalent — it’s men’s attempt to possess females. All females resist rape, and therefore resist enforced ownership. But most females become heterosexual. By making that choice, they agree to become possessed by men through fucking and marriage, whether that’s their conscious intention or not. The father “gives” his daughter away in marriage, to be owned by another man. But the ownership isn’t complete, the marriage isn’t legally valid, unless it’s “consummated” — unless she’s fucked. The fucking alone ensures possession, as when a victorious army rapes the females of a conquered nation, to prove its ownership and to change the genetics of the people. But the existence of Lesbians says there are females who refuse to be voluntarily owned and controlled by males. When ex-het Lesbians deny Never-het and Lifelong Lesbians’ existence, they are replicating how hets treat Lesbians.
It’s common at Lesbian gatherings and in Lesbian publications, to hear and read “We were all straight once.” If a Dyke hesitantly says that she wasn’t het, she’s likely to be shamed, slammed with hostility or the topic is changed.
Lesbian Feminists would never tolerate anyone saying all Lesbians are middle-class, so why the double standard? Our class background isn’t our choice, while becoming het is. Those of us who are working-class at least have working-class culture acknowledged in the world and regularly represented (even if caricatured) in the media. Young Lifelong Lesbians usually grow up completely alone, in the most vulnerable years of our lives, not only with no one else in our family, neighborhood, school, or culture being like us, but knowing we are completely unacceptable. To continue this double standard among Lesbians is incredibly Lesbian-hating.
Some ex-hets have even said ridiculous things like “Since we’re all exposed to het culture, we’re all het in our minds anyway, so no one can say they’ve never been het.” (Butch-hating Fems say similar things about Butches.) They really don’t believe there’s no difference between choosing to fuck with men and choosing not to? Can they also not imagine any female not internalizing male and het values as they’ve done?
Ex-het Lesbians also often say, “I was always a Dyke — I just didn’t know it.” Well, no they weren’t. Some were completely het for decades and never even considered loving other females. They’re also likely to be the same individuals who talk proudly of past husbands and boyfriends, making certain everyone around them knows they’re mothers and even grandmothers. But they can’t have it both ways — het women are not Dykes and Dykes are not het.
In a large Lesbian discussion group where ex-het Lesbians frequently bragged about their het pasts, a Lifelong Lesbian started to talk about having always been a Lesbian, but another Lesbian quickly changed the subject. After the meeting, several Lesbians angrily said how “insensitive” the she was — they had suffered as het women and didn’t want to be “reminded that other Lesbians hadn’t.” Some accused her of trying to make them feel guilty. Are they so narcissistic that they think everything is about them, or are they just trying to maintain dominance? If they really feel bad about having been het, why did they brag about it so much? (Originally, we’d written that the same group would be less likely to accept ongoing bragging about class privilege or to accuse class-oppressed Lesbians of “guilt-tripping” for daring to talk about their lives, but I now think they would do that also — anything to maintain supremacy and privilege.)
No one considered how painful and difficult it was for a Lesbian who’d always been oppressed as a “queer” outcast to try talk about her life in a group full of het/male-identified Lesbians who’d always felt accepted as “normal.” And they certainly didn’t want to learn about her life. In fact, they were trying to drive her out of the group. Meanwhile, these same women often devoted hours of attention and support to Lesbians who talked of their past het experiences, including being mothers.
If ex-hets want to discuss their het pasts and resolve problems from it, they should do it with other ex-het Lesbians, and use the opportunity to also talk about ways they can support to their Lifelong Lesbian friends, including protesting whenever ex-het experience is presented as the only Lesbian reality, and encourage other ex-het Lesbians to be aware of the privileges they have.
The myth of ex-het Lesbians being more oppressed is furthered by therapy politics that support privileged Lesbians’ “rights” to be demanding and narcissistic. Lesbians who subject other Lesbians to hearing about their “conflicted feelings” about men or sordid, pornographic details of their past heterosexuality will often begin by saying, “I’m being very vulnerable to tell you this, but …” Being oppressive is not the same as being vulnerable. In the name of “being honest,” one upper-class, European-descent Lesbian we know of subjected her working-class, racially oppressed lover to pornographic, sexually explicit details about her fucking experiences, and then told friends what she’d done, as an example of how important it is to be “completely honest” with one’s lover, and how Lesbians can help each other “deal with” their het pasts. Not only did she hurt her lover, she also publicly humiliated her as well. This self-indulgent insensitivity came from a Lesbian who’s considered to be very Dyke-identified and who speaks glibly and authoritatively about issues of privilege and oppression.
Some ex-het Lesbians make bizarre contradictory rationalizations about why they chose to be het, such as saying, “I was het because I’m an incest survivor,” — which again denies the existence of Never-het victims of rape by their male family. The fact is most girls are sexually assaulted by male relatives, and that includes most Lifelong Dykes as well as ex-het Dykes.
“Did your family raise you as a boy?” is more likely asked of those who aren’t drag-queen feminine and and reveals that the interrogator can’t imagine any female refusing to be fucked by men and loving other females unless she was conditioned by hets to think of herself as male.
Other ex-het Lesbians ask, “Maybe your family gave you more freedom,” denying the rape, restriction, and mental and physical torture many Lesbian girls have experienced from their families.
Saying “I was straight because no one told me I had any other option” ignores that no one tells any young female it’s okay to be a Lesbian. The courage to follow your own female wisdom, in spite of het propaganda and severe punishment, comes from within. What about love for her own kind and a natural revulsion toward males? Why does she also deny the existence of celibate women? Of course all girls know about “old maids,” but most prefer to be fucked by men to escape that stigma.
Lifelong Lesbians were equally pressured to be het, often by the same women who now claim they had no choice. Do they think we forget their sneering at us, name-calling, ridiculing, and ostracizing us and, for some, physically attacking us when we were girls? Do they think we don’t remember them telling us about consciously deciding to abandon girl friends for predatory, female-hating boys in order to get status? Some of these women even went against their families in choosing particularly disgusting boys and men.
Some ex-het Fem Lesbians’ also sexually harass you if they find out you’re a Lifelong Lesbian. I’ve been subjected to a “friend” loudly asking a group of us at a dance, “Wouldn’t you like a big hard dick right now?” Another Lesbian from that friendship group showed me a photo on her cell phone of a man’s erect prick. Another “Lesbian” in our community, in a baby girl voice said, “I have something to show that will scare you.” It was a metal key chain with a grotesque image of an erect prick on a little man effigy. Her lover of many years told me how tortured she felt by her lover taunting her that she had a physical need to get fucked and would go find strange men to be fucked by.
At a Lesbian party, a Lesbian feminist star who’d co-founded MS magazine announced “we’ve all been straight.” When I dared to disagree, she started ranting “But didn’t you ever want some dick? Can’t you imagine wanting some dick? ….everyone had to have been straight once … why don’t you try fucking — you might like it.” Only Linda and I argued with her. The others in the room were afraid to.
Their goal, like with the women who troll Radical Feminist groups online, is to censor and silence, and to make it just not worth speaking out. When a Lifelong Dyke tentatively mentions her life, ex-hets are likely to complain, “That’s all she ever talks about.” Try counting the times you’ve heard Lesbians say they’re Lifelong Lesbians, compared to how often Lesbians talk about their het pasts, ex-husbands, boyfriends, children, etc.
Others ask, “Why is it an issue at all? Why make such a big deal of never having been het?” Well, why make such a big deal of having been het? And isn’t that what hets say to us: “Why make such an issue of being Lesbians? Do you always have to talk about being a Dyke?” “Do you have to be so blatant?” Meanwhile, it’s impossible to talk with a het woman for two minutes without her bombarding us with unasked-for information about her husband or boyfriend and/or children. But that’s taken for granted and is therefore acceptable, just like ex-het Lesbians’ het talk. Lifelong Lesbian oppression is considered trivial because Lesbian oppression is considered trivial.
We’re also told “You’re so lucky to have escaped being het,” ignoring the choice of resistance we made to say no to men that they said yes to. It also reinforces our being “abnormal,” compared to most women. It’s even more unfair when the Lifelong Dyke is working-class and the seemingly jealous ex-het is middle- or upper-class.
“Oh, how cute! A virgin Dyke!” is patronizing and pornographic. If the speaker thought about the realities of sexual assault, she would know that refusing to choose heterosexuality doesn’t protect the majority of females from rape. When men invented the idea of virginity, it was because they are obsessed with fucking, raping, and possessing females. For thousands of years “virgin” has meant not having been fucked, and therefore having market value as “untouched territory” – a particularly vulnerable, frightened victim for easy terrorization and conquest. None of this is funny or cute. “Virgins” are portrayed as naïve, unknowing, unworldly, sheltered, and ignorant of “real life,” because in patriarchy only males and hetness are “real life.”
Just as Lesbians are considered immature and “in an arrested stage of development” by patriarchal psychologists, Lifelong Lesbians are treated by ex-het Lesbians as if we never grew up and became real adults. Lesbians even continue this crap when they use “virgin” for women who haven’t yet been to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Becoming het often means learning to wear arrogant, parental expressions, while Lesbians who never were het sometimes look the same natural way we did when we were girls. Yet it isn’t safe to have such open expressions in our hierarchical communities.
It’s the voice of “maturity” and “adulthood” that tells little girls “everyone” gets married and has babies. It’s the same voice that explains, patiently and condescendingly, that nuclear power plants are safe. The status of adulthood should never be underestimated since it means acceptability, credibility, respect, and privilege. At least ex-het Lesbians, especially ex-wives and mothers, were treated as “grownup” and “worldly-wise” before becoming Lesbians Their attitude to those who are different is often parental — they assume their values are the best and only values. The burden of explaining is never on the het woman or ex-het Lesbian — it’s on the Never-het Dyke. How did we manage to be such freaks? Plus our existence is a reminder that becoming het was and is a choice, rather than the compulsory state it’s professed to be. Het supremacist Lesbians find our lives less real and less full because we haven’t been intimate with males, who have the real power. Since we “gave up less” to come out, who really cares?
Most Lifelong Lesbians play along with the myth that ex-hets had harder lives because they are protective of lovers and friends. But if a Lifelong Dyke occasionally feels pride at having said no to men throughout her life, it’s understandable considering she lives as a social outcast at the bottom of the heterosexist hierarchy, as well as all the betrayal she’s experienced. But there isn’t a chance in hell she’d imagine she’d gain status or respect from most Lesbians by talking about her lifelong resistance to heterosexuality.
The Myth of Reverse Discrimination
Some ex-het Lesbians complain that they were distrusted when they first came out. This sometimes happens in more Dyke-identified communities, but usually newly-out, ex-het Lesbians are far more valued than Lesbians who’ve been out longer. Many Lesbians consider it more admirable when mothers who were married for a long time come out, as if it’s much harder for them to be Lesbians. It’s not — it’s easier, because married mothers are treated as more important than other women. But they are also more likely to complain and be bitter about what they felt they were promised and didn’t get from men and patriarchy. Many of these ex-het Lesbians turn their rage at men onto Lesbians. It’s classic arrogance that those with more privilege complain more and therefore their feelings are considered more important. This dynamic is also seen in groups discussing classism, where the class-privileged take up far more space complaining than the class-oppressed do. Losing privilege is hard, but it isn’t as hard or as painful as never having had it.
Some ex-het Lesbians may be annoyed and disappointed the few times they’re not catered to when they talk about their children, grandchildren, husbands, or boyfriends, because they’re used to getting that attention among hets. The issue isn’t that new ex-het Lesbians are “harassed” for not being “real Lesbians” — it’s that Lifelong Dykes are oppressed (including by Lesbians) for not being “real” women.
Lesbians are the only oppressed people who are constantly being joined by large numbers of their recent oppressors. This is one reason why entire Lesbian communities seem to be making the same mistakes over and over. We gain strength in increased numbers, but we also have to deal with an onslaught of new members who are still very lesbophobic and oppressive, and who usually do not bother to learn our history or culture. These women are also more likely to get into power positions in Lesbian communities, as the Lesbians in “LGBTQI” organizations, and in Radical Feminist communities online.
Newly-out Lesbians, especially those who were heterosexual, are very likely to be Lesbian-hating towards the more longtime Dykes they meet, just as most het women are Lesbian-hating to Lesbians. Lesbians who’ve been out longer, who understand the realities of Dyke oppression, and who’ve watched many new, ex-het, Lesbians return to men and het privilege, have the right to be cautious about welcoming unknown members. It’s entirely reasonable if they feel suspicious of those new Lesbians who still look and act very het and who talk proudly of their het pasts. Sadly though, the opposite is usually true: new Lesbians are often hostile and condescending towards longer-out Lesbians even while they’re receiving extra attention from Lesbians because of the high status their recent hetness gives them.
There are also Lesbians who, when they were het, actively oppressed Lesbians, were hostile to us, harassed us from jobs and housing, and excluded us from feminist groups. Some of us knew het feminists who did these things, later came out, and then expected us to welcome them into our communities and trust them as one of us — even when they continued to make Lesbian-hating statements. The more hostile a het woman is to Lesbians, the more destructive power she’s going to have towards us if she later becomes a Lesbian.
Newly out, genuine Dykes deserve support and friendliness, but certainly no more than longtime Dykes get. Longtime Dykes need more support because we’ve been oppressed as Dykes for much longer. Lifelong Dykes’ experience, wisdom, and strength deserve new Dykes’ respect and appreciation.
Het-identified Lesbians try to prove how non-threatening Lesbians are by denying that we’re significantly different from het women, pointing out the many ex-wives and mothers among Lesbians. Whose standards are these? Why do so many Lesbians consider having chosen to fuck with men as more of an indication of “warm, mature, genuine femaleness” than choosing to love other females right from the beginning? Who is saying that all females should be fucked, or at least should once have been fucked? — Men and their het women collaborators. Male values are fatal to Dykes. Any culture and political movement that tries to prove to itself and the oppressor that it’s no different from the oppressor’s culture is in serious trouble.
Because heterosexual privilege means very real economic privilege, some ex-het Lesbians bring money, possessions, and opportunities with them into Lesbian communities that other Lesbians could never hope to have (again, depending on other privileges the ex-het Lesbian has). A Lesbian who married a rich, middle-class, or even a well-employed working-class man is likely to have material assets from that marriage, such as alimony or social security money, a fully furnished house, land, a car, savings, etc., which are long-term rewards for heterosexual compliance, and a continual reminder of that connection. (Some of these Lesbians continue being legally married to their husbands.)
They also have access to Lesbian community events that many longtime Lesbians could never afford to go to, even though we helped create our communities. Many events sponsored by “Lesbian” organizations (which are now primarily focused on helping men posing as Lesbians against real Lesbians) are deliberately priced high in order to maintain class and race segregation. Yet some of these European-descent ex-wives actually complain about how they were “slaves” to their husbands, (which is a common racist misuse of “slavery,” and should be applied only to people literally, legally, physically owned by other people.)
Het acceptability also gives a woman increased opportunities for educational and job skills, and access to legal, medical, financial, and other services, which continue to benefit her after she becomes a Lesbian. Meanwhile, Lifelong Dykes, Butches, and Dyke-identified Fems, and are more likely to be rejected by schools and employers, and discriminated against by such services, often ending up in the lowest-paying, hardest jobs, denied decent health and other care, and homeless. Het women, and therefore ex-het Lesbians, have more confidence in dealing with, and feeling they have the right to use, such services — access that can make a great difference to a Lesbian’s quality of life and, in crisis situations, can mean the difference between life and death.
We’re not saying Lesbians shouldn’t bring het-gained riches with them into our communities, but we’d like that privilege to be acknowledged about where it came from, rather than it be assumed that these advantages came from their own work, and, when possible, shared (which was once basic Lesbian Feminist politics.) Another way to help other Lesbians is to be an advocate for Lesbians when dealing with the medical and legal systems, to help them get justice and better treatment. Even less privileged friends can help. When a dear friend was trying to get health insurance and then prepare for surgery for cancer, a group of us who are Dyke Separatists helped, donating safe Lesbian blood, going to the government agencies, doing medical and alternative research, planning to spend each night in the hospital room with her, shopping for food, bringing meals, etc. I went to every medical appointment with her and asked the surgeon, who has a reputation for cruelty, every relevant question we could think of, which clearly meant that the doctor was more respectful. The one time I had to miss, she was treated terribly by that surgeon. This support can sometimes mean the difference between life or death.
Het Identification Destroys Dyke Culture
The Women’s Liberation Movement did make vast positive changes in Dykes’ lives, and that’s largely because many pre-WLM Dykes worked to create Feminism. Yet many ex-het Lesbians defend and protect males and het women far more than they do other Lesbians. They personally and politically caretake and prioritize women who still choose men. They provide support for contraception and abortion as well as medical services for diseases and injuries caused by fucking and childbirth, making het life more tolerable for women. They identify with het women, saying, “I was there once.” Since they don’t recognize themselves as former collaborators, they don’t recognize the present collaboration of het women. They also pressure other Lesbians to make het-oriented issues a priority. In mixed groups of Lesbians and het women, ex-het feminists often want Lesbians to be less blatant, so het women can be “comfortable.” In other words, they support het women’s Lesbian-hatred and put Lesbians’ rights and needs last.
Lesbians who tout femininity and who treat Butches and Fem Dykes with contempt reveal that they don’t really consider Butches to be truly female. This behavior is male-identified, not that of the Butches they accuse of being “male.” Lesbians who imitate het women by supporting and identifying with men and their rules are male-identified. They treat Butches the way men treat females — with contempt and objectification, as an alien Other who’s nevertheless needed and used. Such het-minded contempt for Dykes, like all oppression is deeply hurtful, causing isolation, loneliness, grief, illness, despair, and death. The irony is that the ex-het Lesbians who are so casually malicious and uncaring continue to benefit from Butches, whose courage and work keep Dyke cultures alive. Again, this is ex-het Lesbians’ choice. They don’t need to be like this, as ex-het Lesbian Separatists and other Radical Feminist Dykes who truly fight Dyke oppression prove.
Some women didn’t become Lesbians because they love Dykes and feel like Dykes — they came out because it was trendy for a while, or they hate men (yet don’t really love and desire Lesbians), or they want “better sex” and don’t want to worry about getting pregnant or getting STDs, or they have male pornographic fantasies of Lesbians. We’ve met ex-het Lesbians who said they became Lesbians because they couldn’t get what they wanted from men, and because they wanted to be loved and looked after. We all want to be loved, but the difference for Dykes-loving-Dykes, whether Lifelong or ex-het, is that we’re also devoted to loving other Dykes, and don’t expect our friends and lovers to focus their lives and emotions solely on fulfilling our needs.
Het-identified ex-het Lesbians have diluted Lesbian politics in their eagerness to maintain connections with men and het women, and to get approval and material benefits from them, even though that “approval” is mostly tokenistic and voyeuristic. Most Lesbians in power positions that we know of are ex-het and Fem — CEOs/directors of “Lesbian” or “LGBT” organizations with massive salaries, media spokespeople, writers, “spiritual leaders,” gurus, therapists, etc. The reason that so many Lesbians support the rights of het men who pretend to be Lesbians to perv on us and destroy our last women-only spaces is because they are used to putting men first and valuing men more. Some Radical Feminists suspect it’s also because they must feel more comfortable having men around.
This co-option, together with men’s and het women’s deliberate backlash against our movements, caused the present fragmentation and bleeding of Dyke-identified politics. We’re determined to return to the hope we once felt and are working towards a new beginning for Dyke Separatism, with the Dyke love and unity that means.
We’re not saying ex-het Dykes should never mention having been het, any more than we’d suggest Dykes from middle-class backgrounds shouldn’t say they’re middle-class. They should be honest so other Dykes know who they’re dealing with, but they shouldn’t flaunt their het privilege or burden more oppressed Dykes with problems related to their het pasts.
We raise these issues because we believe Lesbian communities should reflect Lesbian cultures, not male or het cultures. Do we want het-identified Lesbians to be comfortable in our communities — when they have the entire het world validating them — at the expense of Dyke-identified-Dykes, who get comfort and support nowhere? Shouldn’t Dyke communities welcome Dykes since no one else does?
We’re not trying to make anyone feel bad or guilty. We’re trying to protect and defend more marginalized Dykes from being hurt. The first step towards fighting an injustice is to name it. Ex-het Lesbians sometimes lock themselves into self-pity and resentment when another Lesbian tells them their het values and assumptions are oppressive. They focus only on the pain and abuse they suffered from men during their het years, and ignore the fact they would have suffered pain and abuse from both men and het women if they’d been Lesbians all their lives.
Psychotherapists teach us we must “feel good” about ourselves, whatever the consequences. Of course it’s good for us to feel self-loving and proud of being Dykes, but it’s not appropriate for us to feel good about oppressing others, taking no responsibility for whatever privileges we have. That selfish attitude helps no one, including ourselves. It we’ve sold out and collaborated with injustice in any way, we will feel bad, which is necessary to motive ourselves to change We’ll feel better when we do change, but if we don’t take responsibility, we’ll continue inflicting pain on those we oppress. If we want to be strong, truly Dyke-identified Dykes, then we will help ourselves by fighting hetness – even if we were once het. Fighting injustice benefits us all — it’s not good for any Lesbians to gain and hoard privilege that hurts other Lesbians.
Instead of retreating into anger or defensiveness, ex-het Dykes should appreciate the rare occasions when Lifelong Dykes and Butches talk about our experiences. Discovering other Dykes’ realities can be a real pleasure, and it teaches us about our own lives. New Lesbians entering established communities have a responsibility to find out about the politics, history, and traditions of their new home — out of interest and respect — just as privileged people should when they’re the guests of an oppressed culture or country. Radical Feminists have such values about other oppressed groups and cultures — why not about Lesbian culture?
Just as there are groups for Dykes in “Unlearning Classism” and other injustices, why aren’t there groups for newly-out or ex-het Lesbians in “Unlearning Lesbophobia” and “Unlearning Heterosexism”? All ex-het Lesbians have proven themselves/ourselves capable of tremendous change, courage, and self-love by becoming Lesbians. What many of us haven’t understood is that we have to keep changing in order to identify more with our newer Lesbian selves and less with our former het selves.
For ex-het Dykes, unlearning Lesbian-hating first requires overcoming your own resistance. Ask yourself why you’re a Lesbian, and really think about your answers. Notice how het women oppress and betray you because you’re a Lesbian and because they’re het, and let yourself get angry at them. This is an act of self-love. Het women are destructive beyond measure to Lesbians, and we have a right to be furious at them. Their male-worshipping hetness itself is an act of Lesbian-hatred, and they’re collaborating most intimately with our common enemy — men. Why make them so much more important than us? If you don’t protect and care for yourself as a Dyke, it’ll be impossible for you to really be loving and protective of other Dykes.
It’s a good idea for Lifelong Dykes to form groups for support and political work to unlearn together any values we’ve internalized about preferring ex-het Lesbians to ourselves and each other. The same is important for Butches to do, knowing that oppressed people often value oppressors more than they value themselves. We also need each other’s support to reject ex-het Lesbians’ and Fem’s assumptions and insults. It’s important for us to develop solidarity with each other rather than be forced apart by defending oppressive ex-het and Fem Lesbians at each other’s expense.
Ignoring and refusing to fight any oppression — whether it’s racism, anti-Semitism, ethnicism, imperialism, classism, ableism, fat oppression, looksism, ageism, or heterosexism — means participating in it, deliberately or through passivity. Politically responsible and caring Lesbians work out what our privileges and oppressions are and name them when we communicate who we are, whether in writing or personally. It’s as important to name whether we’re ex-het or Lifelong or Never-het Dykes, whether we’re Butches or not, and if we came out before the Women’s Liberation Movement when we describe ourselves, as it is to say what our class and ethnic backgrounds are. Lesbian publications should encourage by including these Lesbian cultural categories whenever they name usually excluded Lesbians who they particularly wish to recognize and support.
The invisibility, mistreatment, and oppression of Lifelong, Never-het, and pre-WLM Lesbians, and Butches is simply Lesbian-hatred, and it doesn’t just affect Dykes as individuals — it hurts all Lesbians individually and damages our entire communities’ safety, love, strength, unity, and political achievements. In order to recognize that heterosexism exists among Lesbians, and in order to fight it, we must name it and take the issue as seriously as any other inequality that exists.
1 A rare exception are the Butch directors and actors in the short films in the annual free Queer Women of Color Film Festival in San Francisco, which was started by Madeleine Lim, a Butch who was a refugee from Lesbian persecution in Singapore. But this is not mainstream and seems to be ignored by the more prestigious and money-making “LBTQWTF” film festivals.
2 Jan Clausen, Sinking, Stealing (Trumansburg, New York: The Crossing Press Feminist Series, 1985), 222. In describing a little girl opening her birthday presents, Clausen says, “I stay put in my chair, content to watch from a distance the rending and tearing, the ritual violation. Of course I’m familiar with this climactic moment, endemic to birthday parties: the remorseless frenzy of the defloration; the faded, indifferent gesture with which each gift is laid aside as the young roué gropes about for fresh stimulus.” (p. 25). This is just one example of the bizarre heterosexism in this book — yet it received rave reviews from U.S. Lesbian feminist publications. A few years later, Jan’s longtime lover discovered her being fucked by Jan’s secret boyfriend in their bed.
3 Sonia Johnson, Going Out of Our Minds: The Metaphysics of Liberation (Freedom, Calif.: The Crossing Press, 1987), 116-117. Her The Ship that Sailed into the Living Room is one of the most Lesbian-hating books by a recently-out, previously described “hopelessly heterosexual” Lesbian Feminist, I have ever seen. She projects all her hatred of men and male-identification onto Lesbians. She also is racist in making up a “Black woman” character who she uses to put down African-American culture.