The Shaming of Lesbians in the Queer Female Community

Unfortunately, self-identified queer women shaming lesbians within the female queer community, particularly the young under 30s-community, is the norm these days. What would have once been primarily understood to be lesbian spaces for lesbian women are now queer spaces in which it is not acceptable for women to declare themselves lesbians, or uninterested in men, or uninterested in penises (especially the almighty ladypeen).

But who are these queer women who are shaming lesbians? I think a lot about this, and I don’t think the answer is a simple one. I also don’t think I’ve fully captured the complexity of what is going on in this post, probably not even close, and as someone who has tended to limit my exposure to queer spaces since I don’t find them that friendly to me, my analysis may be incomplete. But I wanted to get my thoughts down anyway, since these topics are being discussed so little that I think it’s important.

I think that often the radical feminist perspective is to assume that such queer women are primarily heterosexual or bisexual, and I think it’s true that a portion (maybe even a majority?) are. Certainly in queer spaces there are no shortage of women willing to declare themselves bisexual or pansexual or nonbinary or any other somewhat-cool-label that they hope (probably on a subconscious level) will enable them to escape some of the shit of compulsory heterosexuality without incurring the ire of the patriarchal overlords (which the term lesbian is sure to do).

But I also think it likely there is something else going on here; probably a few different, though related, things. I keep coming back to a particular kind of sub-set of women I’ve encountered in these spaces – women who very vehemently declare themselves bisexual (or perhaps queer, with the understanding they are interested in the ‘person and not the genitals’ or however it’s being put these days) – but who in the past, when they were younger (perhaps in their teens or very early 20s) said they were lesbians.

Now this is very interesting, and it’s not something I think I’ve ever really seen discussed before. Perhaps it’s just not very common, perhaps other lesbians haven’t encountered women who tell this sort of narrative, I really don’t know.

Of course, this age – late teens, early twenties – is a time of life when people are going through a lot of changes, developing quickly, learning new things, finding themselves, etc. etc. So it’s perhaps not surprising that someone who is still relatively young, still developing their sexuality, would find they had an attraction they hadn’t previously been aware of, or hadn’t previously felt.

And …Well, certainly for the sake of the individual women, I hope that’s the case. That it’s all nice and positive and freely chosen. But it’s difficult for me to put on blinkers and not think about what else could be going on here. Like…We know that young women are extremely vulnerable to sexual coercion and sexual assault and rape from men. We know that corrective rape is something that happens to lesbians all around the world. We know that many women and girls internalize sexual abuse they’ve experienced and blame themselves, or deny that it happened. (I really wanted it. It was just a case of ambiguous consent. It was just bad sex. I must have given off signals. Etc.) We also know that more covert and insidious patriarchal indoctrination is going on all the time (including in queer spaces that should, theoretically, be safe for lesbians), where these women are constantly getting the message that it’s not okay to be lesbian, that’s it’s not okay to write men off as potential sexual partners. In this kind of context, talking about consent and choice is fairly meaningless. The whole game is rigged to channel women, whether through subtle coercion or outright violence, into sexual availability to men.

And there is perhaps something to think about with age here. If you have a teenage girl who is calling herself a lesbian, but then in her twenties decides she is queer or bisexual…Well, is that happening because of entry into the local queer spaces via university or the scene? Is there something within queer culture that is contributing to that decision? In at least some cases, I would probably say yes.

I suppose part of what makes me ask these questions, aside from knowing how brutal patriarchal men are, is that some (certainly not all, but quite a few) of the bisexual/queer women I know who tell this I-used-to-be-a-lesbian-but-now-I -know-better narrative, have an extraordinary amount of anger towards lesbians.

Usually the reasons given for this fall – broadly – under the ‘lesbians are biphobic (and transphobic) bigots’ umbrella. Well…Not wanting to date someone or not wanting to hang out with someone in a social or political space because you don’t feel you have enough in common…Is not exactly bigotry or a phobia, for all it might be personally hurtful or upsetting…And nor do lesbians incur any kind of structural or societal advantage over bisexual/queer women for being lesbians, so let’s just head off that tired privilege argument before it even gets made.

But all that is rather beside the point I want to make here. Currently, it is queer sexuality – not lesbian sexuality – that is celebrated by the LGBT movement and the progressive left. Lesbians are certainly not in a position of power or authority over queer women; just the opposite. So why this anger that is thinly justified on the basis of some fictional phobia?

The potential for this being a patriarchal reversal are quite high – that it is in fact the queer women who are themselves exhibiting lesbophobia in how they hate, shame and despise lesbians. But, for some of them at least, is there also an element of internalized self-hatred here? Hatred for the original lesbian self that is buried somewhere under all the queer indoctrination? Hatred that is directed at other lesbians since being a lesbian is seen (correctly) as the cause of whatever punishment they received from men and/or from the queer community, and it is easier to direct that anger towards other members of the lesbian community rather than direct it towards the real culprits – powerful men?

Obviously, even if this is happening with a few women, I don’t think it is happening on any kind of conscious level. That’s kind of the point, I suppose. It would all have to stay as internalized feelings of discomfort and hate that wouldn’t be able to be named, understood or analysed. And I’m sure even writing this will piss a lot of women off. How dare you question my agency and my identity! Etc.

Regardless of that, I keep wondering. Do we have a situation on our hands where at least some of the self-identifying queer and bisexual women populating the queer movement, are lesbians who have been taught self-hate, taught to dissociate, and are now encouraging other lesbians to feel that same self-hatred from inside the community?

And does this tie in at all with the way that more butch or obviously gender non-conforming lesbians are being encouraged to transition, often by these same queer women?

As I stated earlier, most radical feminist analyses that I’ve seen, have tended to assume that the feminine looking queer/bi women populating the queer movement are primarily heterosexual, and that their behaviours can be understood within the framework of a heterosexual orientation – not having a problem with penises in women’s spaces, not having a problem with penises in sexual situations, general disgust of lesbians, discomfort with butch women/butch lesbians (and hence encouraging transition).

And I don’t doubt that all of that is going on. But I don’t think it’s all that is going on. I think that to assume that within that demographic there are no women who have internalized self-hatred to such a degree that they are denying they are lesbians; that perhaps rape or sexual assault also played a part in that journey, is to overlook one potential aspect of how our current and future generations of lesbians are being destroyed.

I suppose one thing that got me thinking about this issue is the fact that again, at least some of these queer/bi women, whilst encouraging transition, also appear to often fetishize butch lesbians as women, not as potential/future transmen. (Though should those same women decide to transition, they’ll also celebrate that). The dehumanizing degree and type of sexualisation and fetishization is…Well, certainly a bit on the weird and creepy side to say the least, and let me emphasise I can only speak about this as an observer and not someone who’s experienced it, and there are butch and visibly gender nonconforming lesbians who have written about this phenomenon far more eloquently.

But within a culture that is heavily sexualized, heavily pornified, heavily built around patriarchal ideas of domination and submission, it’s to be expected that the only language of desire these young feminine women can speak is a destructive language of patriarchal objectification. (And the reverse is also often true as well, with more butch women objectifying feminine women in dehumanizing ways). But even expressing the desire in the first place (however messed up and mangled the form it takes), again makes me wonder if we are really dealing with a purely heterosexual demographic.

It also makes me wonder about the incredible load of cognitive dissonance everyone in this community must be carrying around. On the one hand, butch lesbians who have been taught to hate and reject their femaleness and their lesbian-ness in order to become men. On the other hand, more conventional looking women, at least some of whom we know once saw themselves as lesbians, who have been taught to reject their lesbian-ness in order to make themselves sexually available to men, and encourage their more obviously non-conforming sisters to transition, whilst also wanting, or at least claiming to want, to partner with the butch lesbians (as butch lesbians and not transmen) who are the very ones fleeing womanhood.