“Born this Way” or Making a Choice of Pride?
Both. Of course loving other females feels natural to us because it is. And of course we are naturally born to love our own kind passionately. Almost all women felt that love and attraction as girls for other girls. But those in power, including girls’ mothers and other women, try their hardest to stamp out and trivialize these “crushes.” I didn’t keep quiet about how much I loved a girl and my mother said “You’re in love with that girl!” She didn’t discourage me, but other women noticed and said “She has it bad.” And my 16 year old cousin told my mother to keep the older girl I was in love with away from me. (So never tell us that girls didn’t know about Lesbians when we were growing up. That was 1962.)
I refused to stop loving girls. (Just to clarify, this was a love choice and I was confused when I finally looked “Lesbian” up in the dictionary and it was about “sex,” which to me meant male and het. This confusion still plagues us, with “sexual orientation” being accepted as the term used to define and demean us. All Feminists need to say no to this propaganda.)
I also refused to be interested in males. From what I saw, males are innately and extremely different from females and most were cruel, cold, repulsive and dangerous. (Even my kind father had another side that I didn’t discover until years later.) The girls I knew didn’t sexually assault or kill animals for fun, but boys did. (No one will ever convince me that this difference is socialization, because most families, cultures, neighborhoods and religions would have been deeply ashamed if their boys were caught.) The pressure on me by girls and women to at least be friends with boys/men increased when I got older, but it was impossible since males’ focus always seemed to be on sexually assaulting us. Meanwhile, I continued falling in love with other girls and searched for a friend who would feel the same.
We need to think about this issue (of “born this way” versus making a choice) both politically and personally. That means knowing Lesbian Feminist history, why “feminist” politics changed, and who that change benefits. Erasing our history is not good for girls, women or Lesbians.
In the Fifties and Sixties, psychiatrists and doctors said that Lesbians were “born this way” to differentiate us from “normal” women. So we were treated like freaks and pathologized as “mentally ill inverts” who supposedly were damaged by genetic or hormonal abnormalities or family trauma. “Treatment” meant being drugged and/or subjected to lobotomies, shock treatment, aversion “therapy” (torture), and imprisonment in mental hospitals. (Most people continue to believe that Lesbians are mentally ill and abnormal, which is why we are still questioned by family and others about what “happened” to make us be the unspeakable “this way,” such as being sexually assaulted in girlhood, as if that doesn’t happen to the majority of girls.) Some Lesbians were killed by medical “treatment,” while others chose to kill themselves rather than go through the torture, stigma, and rejection by family and friends.
There was no support for us anywhere. No books or films other than what followed the propaganda to keep us in line, terrorizing us, and showing us in the most disgusting, Lesbian-hating ways possible (like the film, The Killing of Sister George) or telling us that if we truly loved our lover, we would leave her so she could find real happiness with a man (the classic book, The Well of Loneliness). Other plots ended with the Lesbian killing herself or otherwise dying violently (The Children’s Hour, The Fox). This is still happening in films and television.
When my first lover and I became lovers at 16 and 17 in 1968, and were discovered, our only support was a dear friend who helped us continue writing to each other secretly. My lover ran away to meet me and we went to our friend’s mother who was a social worker, hoping she could somehow help us. She told us we had to stop and to never, ever begin making love or we would be unable to quit. She confided that she had once loved another girl, but was so glad she had stopped or she wouldn’t have her wonderful family with her husband and daughters. (I never saw her look as sad as at that moment, and I knew she hated her husband and despised her daughters. I heard that she had a breakdown years later.)
For those who don’t believe that girls and women can be terrorized into rejecting their love for other females, remember how you felt when you first heard the word “Lesbian” or “gay” applied to women. Were you ever afraid you might be called a Lesbian?
Lesbian Feminism changed everything because we finally had a dignified explanation about why we were oppressed as Lesbians and females, and also had the support to feel proud of being Lesbians. I have never, ever envied het women (I want their privilege, but not at the price of betraying myself or my community).
Finding Lesbian Feminism in 1970 transformed my life. Loving other women was celebrated and, as so many women chose to leave their men and come out, it seemed for a while that all women would become Lesbians and patriarchy would end. Lesbian Feminist writing and culture began with Lesbian newspapers and journals and music, and later, books. (By the way, Leftist “feminists” still put down our Radical Lesbian Feminism as being merely “cultural feminism,” ignoring how political and life-changing our culture is. Only when men are involved are movements considered meaningful. Women with men are more valued, but Lesbians are considered nothing, even by most Lesbians.)
One of the most important things that happened was that Lesbians stopped accepting professional Lesbian-hating from therapists, doctors, and the medical system. That industry continued their campaign of hatred against us for years to come, but we stopped believing in it or questioning ourselves. We started saying and writing that we chose to be Lesbians and that this was a choice of pride. And that changed everything for us.
Actually, I always knew this on some level because I’d seen my high school friends deciding and working hard at being het, so that clearly was a choice that didn’t come naturally. Any of us could have chosen to have the dismal het relationships we saw all around us, in our families and in the world. But it was especially powerful for our choice to love our own kind to be named as a political movement. Finally, the pressure to explain who we were was not on us, but on the women choosing men. And many feminists, including het feminists, were questioning why they continued choosing men who, as a group, were destroying the world and oppressing girls and women. Some called it “sleeping with the enemy” and small consciousness-raising groups were started all over the world where het feminists discussed and supported each other to leave their men and become Lesbians, or at the very least to become celibate (the third category conveniently forgotten when some het woman say they can’t bear to be Lesbians.)
I first met the idea of Political Lesbians from Lesbians who were supporting celibate het Radical Feminist friends who were basically Separatists and fully aware of how men were destroying the earth. They did not want to try to become Lesbians but wanted to support us and be in our community, and also take some of the brunt of Lesbian oppression by identifying as Lesbians in the world. Those I knew had good intentions and worked hard for the rights of Lesbians and Radical Feminist politics. I still support Political Lesbians if they sincerely are not identifying as Lesbians just to use us.
I appreciate this different category because the hordes of het women who came out after being dumped by husbands have done horrific damage to Lesbians communities. These users are different from the majority of ex-het Lesbians who, with the support of Feminism, began to love women with a passion and so became Lesbians. They don’t hate Lesbians the way that women do who came out because their husbands or boyfriends left them. (This is part of what we focused on in our book, to explain what has gone wrong in our communities.) https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/chapter-three-heterosexism-among-lesbians-is-lesbian-hating/
However, many of these women still brought destructive male attitudes into our communities, including sado-masochism. (The three influential “Lesbian” sex authors from the Eighties who did terrible harm to Lesbians and our communities were sado-masochist bisexuals.) Conscientious Lesbians who wanted to stop being oppressive would go to workshops about “unlearning” racism, classism, etc., but I have never heard of an “Unlearning Heterosexism and Lesbian-hating” workshop. Instead, many of the newly out women set themselves up as authorities on Lesbianism.
Many het women sought Lifelong Lesbians and/or Butches to “bring them out,” and often the class-privileged women targeted class-oppressed Lesbians. What would have been much better is for women coming out to choose other women like themselves so they could work through their Lesbian-hating and not subject us to it.
One thing that het women who came out for love of other women can do is to be aware of what they claim and stop appropriating our lives and stop erasing the history of Lifelong Lesbians by saying the usual “I was always a Lesbian, but I just didn’t know it.” No, you weren’t. You were a het woman choosing men. Of course you later did choose to be a Lesbian, but that doesn’t change the privilege you got or power you had to harm Lesbians. It also doesn’t change your current ex-het privilege, which is dominating Lesbian communities.
Another common term, “natal Lesbian,” is confusing because it seems to be being used by women saying they have been Lesbians since birth in spite of having been married or otherwise choosing men for years. Of course acknowledge and be proud of remembering your love for other females when growing up, but please do not claim an identity (ours) that is not yours. Don’t add to our oppression as a tiny minority among Lesbians.
Women Who Prey on Lesbians
The women who came out because their husbands dumped them didn’t come out because they love other women, but came out because they hated men and saw they could get a much better deal from women than men. They could manipulate and bully Lesbians, be worshipped, physically and emotionally supported, and basically have the kind of power they never could get with men. Many scapegoated Lesbians for what their men did to them, including some of the Fems who actually told us that they beat their Butch lovers because they could not get back at their husbands, boyfriends, or fathers.
I still remember Lesbians focusing on helping these women and being grateful when they deigned to become Lesbians. (In retrospect, this was horrifically similar to how excited too many Lesbians have been when men decided to identify as Lesbians. They are still on their knees over that one.)
It was like bringing another kind of enemy into our home. These extremely male-identified women had no idea about Lesbian culture or oppression, but learned enough Lesbian Feminism to use it against us (again, as the men later did). The most privileged of them set themselves up as our leaders, writing books, giving sermons/lectures, and transforming our new Lesbian-identified Feminist communities into more male- and het-identified communities. (Sonia Johnson is one of the worst examples and still wields enormous power over Lesbian Feminists in spite of her writing that she is no longer an Lesbian or Feminist.)
Like with other oppressed groups, unless Lesbians are clearly aware of how our people must learn to not idolize and revere the oppressors and their culture, Lesbians too often made het women (the women considered the most “normal”) and particularly class-privileged, Euro-descent Hard Fems, be the most worshipped ideal image of Lesbians. That soon was reflected in images that swamped our communities in drawings and photographs, from book and magazine and record covers to ads for events. Where, for a short period of time, we had images showing Lesbians who looked like Lesbians, which made Butches be less marginalized, it soon became almost impossible to differentiate “Lesbian” images from mainstream het women images. (Even most Lesbian images now are obvious Fem by male standards, with dangly earrings, clothing, poses and mannerisms. This is even done with images of Fems pretending to be Butch, further confusing Lesbians about what Butches look like. Being Butch or Fem are choices made in girlhood.)
If anyone thinks this is just a matter of taste or preference, consider the far-reaching political effects, which is that there is now literally a war on girls who refuse to accept male-identified femininity. They are being pressured at outrageously young ages into taking hormones and surgery in order to “transition” to male. This enormous money-making business would be stopped if all women refused to follow male rules and just looked comfortable and natural, which is how the majority of Lesbian Feminist Fems used to look – like Dykes. Another way to end the trans cult is that if all women refused to look like Hard Fem drag queens, then the men appropriating our female identity would have nothing to fetishize or caricature.
Some of us objected immediately to the invasion of femininity into our communities, but too much privilege was to be gained by selling out our culture. (Linda Strega and I wrote articles in the early Eighties.)
Another long-lasting effect of Lesbian-hating het women overwhelming our Lesbian Feminist communities is that Lesbians were trained to prioritize everyone but Lesbians. Lesbian Feminist political energy went and still does go primarily into helping het women, in spite of how the classic “Feminist” issues only benefit het women, such as being able to more safely be fucked by their men and the consequences such as abortion rights, assumed childcare, etc.
Previously, Lesbians went through hell to find each other, whether in small social groups or in bars where men preyed on us. Lesbian Feminism changed our lives wonderfully, but then with the onslaught of het women inundating our communities and outnumbering us, the newly out women bullied Lesbian with the same politics they had used on their husbands and boyfriends, such as demanding that they take care of their children. So somehow Lesbians who chose to never have children or didn’t want to be around children were demanded to help take care of ex-het Lesbians’ children, including aggressive boys. (The irony, considering that even though we had said no to the enormous pressure on all girls and women to reproduce, that we still are forced to be in the caretaker-of-children role.) An example of this entitlement was when a Euro-descent middle class het/bisexual woman came into our community with her 5 kids, including a new baby with her boyfriend, and Lesbians not only welcomed her, but lined up to do childcare so she could have more time with her boyfriend! He taught Kung Fu and self defense, so I joined the class (before I found a women only dojo), but was soon kicked out after his bisexual “feminist” discovered I was a Lesbian Separatist. That woman’s photo was prominently featured on the cover of Lesbians Speak Out, one of our first Lesbian community books.
Why were Lesbians expected to prioritize women who chose to reproduce? In the past, het women often would say becoming a mother was a “mistake,” which for some reason we were supposed to pay for, but even more oppressive is that that now many Lesbians are reproducing and bringing 85% boys into our communities. Lesbians dealing with helping ill or dying lovers or friends or other serious crises certainly are not equally respected or helped.
Next, our recently-won female only spaces were eroded by demands that boys be included, with no concern for girls at all. It’s no coincidence that in our community, one of the first Lesbians to decide to have a boy was also part of the trio who decades later, without a vote, brought the first man into OLOC (Old Lesbians Organizing for Change), which is a huge national Lesbian organization. This is a serious loss because anything Lesbian only is extremely rare in the US and OLOC was so strict that no non-Lesbians were allowed or Lesbians under 59, except with a lover over 59. And suddenly there was a man who of course immediately moved into a power position.
This training of Lesbians also paid off for gay men who had openly despised us and refused to share their massive resources, when they suddenly were dying in droves from basically fucking each other to death and spreading the then-lethal STD, AIDS. But again, we are not allowed to say this. (Why not?) Even when dying Lesbians were kicked out of the Shanti Project that was created for dying Lesbians and gay men, gay men still demanded our blood and help. Even when gay men walked off with hundreds of thousands of dollars at benefits that Lesbians earned for “people with AIDS,” few said no to them. Even now, even when it’s known that many gay men ask gay men with AIDS to give it to them, Lesbians are still volunteering for AIDS projects. And this is even while increasing numbers of Lesbians are dying from cancer and other illnesses with no support.
This same training of Lesbians to prioritize everyone but Lesbians worked even better for the het men demanding sexual access to Lesbians by identifying as Lesbians. I can’t imagine anything more obvious and glaring, yet most Lesbians seem to just obey these vile, predatory men. Even while they are threatening, attacking, and killing Lesbians, Lesbians genuflect to them and attack the few of us who say no. Why? Follow the history of the erosion of Lesbian community and identity to know the answer.
What on Earth Happened to Lesbian Feminists?
Sometimes I think one of the patriarchy’s techniques of stopping us is to have us keep doing the same work for decades as they erase our history. We already answered the “born this way” con and myth of heterosexuality being compulsory for women in our book, almost thirty years ago. That politics of course erases Lifelong Lesbians, who seem to be an embarrassment to everyone. https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2017/09/08/chapter-two-heterosexualityselling-out-is-not-compulsory-2/
Why on earth are some Radical Lesbian Feminists so vehemently supporting politics that harm Lesbians, and releases het women from accountability in their choosing to keep males and patriarchy going? This is crucial considering that het women could bring down patriarchy now and their choices are literally leading to the death of the earth. Do Lesbians who support the “born this way” con really want most women to be intimate with men and making more men? How can they explain bisexuals, which is a con so some women can have access to Lesbians while still keeping some het privilege, and being trendy as well? (Bisexuals not only fulfill men’s fantasies but expose Lesbians to STDs from men. I know, we must NEVER speak of this, but why not? It’s amazing how saying the truth in some online “radfem” groups get cries of “misogyny.” Again, who ultimately benefits when women are bullied into being afraid to say the truth? Lesbians don’t even have to be lovers with bisexuals to get incurable STDs, but just be lovers with Lesbians who have been with bisexuals. Some, like the HPV strains that cause cancer are potentially fatal.)
Isn’t it obvious that saying most women have no choice but to be with men is not only patronizing but terrible for all females? Why else do men absolutely deny this to where they even post online trashing me as a “political Lesbian” when I have been a Lesbian from my earliest memories?
Lesbian Feminists in the Seventies terrorized males to their pathetic cores and Lesbians wanting to learn or remember our history can see how it all unfolded. My Lesbian Feminist community in the SF Bay Area was anti-Separatist because Separatism was scapegoated as “going too far,” but most Lesbian Feminists still held basic Separatist politics in terms of wanting female-only space for all of our events and all of our social and political groups. This was crucial and the reason obvious as men tried to get access to us to perv on us (and so many have finally succeeded decades later when they call themselves “Lesbians.”)
Many Lesbian Feminists had tried working with gay men and had quit because of being fed up with being oppressed and treated as inferior. (I never did. I prioritized Lesbians.) Gay men have their own neighborhoods and enormous resources, but we could not bear being around them. It was bad enough to be subjected to their porn ads in the local “Lesbian and Gay” newspaper, plus reading how much they hated us. Most of us felt we had nothing in common with them, and one of the Butches who helped create the Lesbian Feminist movement, Del Martin, wrote an article explaining why she had quit working with gay men. They were different from us on every level, from the personal to the political.
So why on earth did any Lesbians or women accept the gay male agenda that we were “born this way”? Why would Lesbians accept and fight for a political analysis that harms us and was from a group who despised us? Always question who is served by politics that are Lesbian-hating.
The gay male movement introduced the offensive, trivializing term “sexual orientation,” which is never applied to het women or men, and makes Lesbians once again be just about “sex,” ignoring the enormous price we pay for choosing to love our own kind and saying no to men. That is also a passive definition, as if being a Lesbian just happened to us, as opposed to an active choice of love. Along with “born this way,” both are now accepted by most Lesbians and everyone else. To understand the reason for this propaganda means knowing our history.
It’s good for Lesbians to take credit for choosing to be Lesbians, and good for us to say no to being used by gay men.
I don’t care whether gay men can choose to be het or not, but clearly most of them believe they have no choice. So, as they always do, they try to force us into supporting their agenda, regardless of the harm done to Lesbians and all girls and women. They want to have equal rights with hets, but they use the angle that we are pathetic queers who can’t help ourselves as their reason for their demands. We are not to be considered actual equals and so deserving of equal rights, but are just victims.
Only when Lesbian Feminism was overshadowed by later genderqueer/gay male/trans pleading for equal rights from hets was the “born this way” propaganda reinstated. We still see this with “they can’t help it” trope throughout the media as the main reason given to bigots for why they should accept Lesbians and gay men. I have never seen any het say we deserve equal rights because we choose to love our own kind. (Somehow bisexual choice is ignored in the plea for rights based on pity.) The old Lesbian Feminist pride of taking responsibility for who we choose to love has almost been completely erased.
Why on earth would any kind of feminist want to join with medical and genderqueer misogynists by believing the con that Lesbians are an aberration – other than that it releases het women from the responsibility of admitting they are making a choice rather than believing the lie that they are just “normal?” Interestingly, this game is played in reverse when feminists do start questioning why they chose or choose men over women. Suddenly, they insist they had a traumatic childhood as an explanation for being het. Yet how many of these women still secretly wonder if a Lifelong Lesbian is “that way” because of terrible childhood trauma? https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/the-parasitizing-and-gutting-of-radical-feminism/
The Power of Choices
The pressure on girls to obey and conform is relentless, the offerings of privilege powerful, and the punishment for saying no extreme, so most girls and women agree to succumb to male rule. Some embrace it wholeheartedly and these are usually the girls who most target and torment Lesbian girls. (Het feminists seem to forget that we remember that abuse, sometimes carried out with the help of their boyfriends.) Most girls worked very hard to change their natural attraction from girls to boys, so clearly it did not come naturally. I remember high school friends talking to me about it, while I watched others doing it in desperation to not be disowned and despised by family and friends. But they also betrayed themselves and us all, and, for most, something deep in them changed.
So most females do choose males out of fear of loss of privilege or to get status. Never underestimate the power of the lure of being accepted as “normal,” which is even more powerful than the massive privilege in resources that many het women get from men. (I keep seeing this denied by women, but in my community the money that class-privileged Euro-decent ex-het Lesbians got from their husbands and families has meant they can have their own segregated sub-communities with events unaffordable to most other Lesbians.)
Patriarchal rule is based on pushing girls and women to have a mind/spirit/body disconnect so it is easier to control and manipulate us. Even many Lesbians who first chose males don’t unlearn this and so carry the female-hating that they learned from males right into our community, which can still be seen in many of the faces of ex-het women who have been Lesbians for many years. But because of their ex-het privilege, which means being more valued than Lifelong or Never-het Lesbians, and because they are the dominant majority, they are rarely challenged, even when being pornographic, sado-masochistic, or are taunting Lifelong Lesbians. Before we can have truly equal loving relationships and community, besides all the other issues we know that divide us, Lesbians need to eliminate as much as possible what they learned from bring intimate with men, and learn what it truly is to be a Lesbian. (I’ll never forget a woman I know, who when I asked if she was a Lesbian, said she’d tried a three-way with another woman to please her husband. Is this what het women think being a Lesbian is? Some porny male horror story?) I still hear Lesbian friends say they are uncomfortable in Lesbian gatherings without men! Other ex-het Lesbians deliberately target Never-het Lesbians by showing us images of pricks. It seems bizarre until examining the motives politically and then we see that it’s about keeping dominance.
In the past, when feminism meant questioning all our choices, women’s groups supported each other to leave their men. Het Feminists didn’t go on in pornographic detail about how much they loved getting fucked. It was an open joke that most het women hated being fucked. Of course that was before the massive increase in media subliminals (where we are sent messages only our unconscious mind sees)1 that train females to think they have a natural attraction to males. It says a lot about how unnatural that is that the propaganda is constant and relentless, with girls and women trained to police any females who say no to males.
Over the years, Radical Lesbian Feminists have been subjected to het and ex-het women bombarding us with how they had no choice and how oppressed they are and were, demanding we prioritize them, and then they flip and brag about their men and obsession with men in pornographic detail. (Recently in a friend’s excellent thread criticizing the right wing men in the US senate for supporting another obvious rapist for the Supreme Court, a woman posted “Notice how none of these men are fuckable????????? Come on, where are the hot guys for fucks sake? why are we subjected to these gross flabby, ugly creeps from hell? I want some fucking eye candy for a change, can’t take this display of grossness anymore.” She says she’s being sarcastic, but the het bragging is glaring.)
In the beginning, Lesbian Feminists told anyone saying that women were victims with no choice but to be with men to be honest and stop playing games. Many feminists still with their men were quite proud about having gotten a man or spent a lot of their energy competing with other women (which is why so many women refuse to give up male-identified femininity). Many women who came out still endlessly brag or complain about their ex-husbands and boyfriends, making sure everyone knew it was definitely a choice in order to separate themselves from us “perverted” Lifelong or Never-het Lesbians.
Politics and movements do not always advance over time. Now, any woman collaborator is usually excused as a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, as if almost all girls and women haven’t been horribly traumatized from living in patriarchy. The privilege that het and bisexual women get is ignored.
Radical Feminism both gives women credit and holds women accountable for the choices we make. Denial of our power in making choices is a serious dilution of feminism. Being oppressed does not mean having no choices. Women feel powerless and victimized enough as it is. Saying no to males is one of the most important and powerful choices we can make.
Again, there are three choices women make: to love other women, to be celibate and not give intimate support to men, or to be het with men. It is crucial for Lesbians and Radical Feminists to stop denying the most important choices of our lives by stopping following the “born this way” con. And please stop using the demeaning term “sexual orientation.”