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.

17 thoughts on “The Shaming of Lesbians in the Queer Female Community

  1. This is a very thoughtful post, thank you so much for writing it.
    It bothers and worries me so much that the anti-lesbian sentiment I see everywhere seems so much like a reflection of the anti-lesbian sentiment we have faced for centuries (lesbians are immoral, lesbians are deluded) but it is so much harder to deal with because it isn’t coming from someone we can readily identify as standing against our existence. When this comes from within your community it’s so much more difficult to resist.
    I see a broad backlash against feminism in general, and lesbians in specific, and I am sure that this silencing and erasing of lesbians, and outright attacks on us, are a significant cause of the muting of our voices.
    We have always been a good target and scapegoat, unlike men in power, and the fact that this continues in the way it is at the moment, shows quite clearly that this is a continuation of the dynamic that has continued for hundreds of years, just in a modified form.
    What this makes me wonder is – how do we resist it, and how do we work to change the dynamic?

  2. weirdward says:

    Good questions! I wish I had the answers. A few observations though on some aspects of the problems that we’re facing:

    1) It seems like a massive problem is that many of these young women have been taught to hate/fear the very tools that could give them a more positive relationship to themselves – i.e. older lesbians, lesbian herstory, 2nd wave feminism. I also think this is a problem more generally with ALL young women, not just lesbians, but it’s effects upon the lesbian community, perhaps because it’s already a community of despised and vulnerable women, seems especially pronounced to me at times.
    I don’t know what we can do to overcome this – even trying to open a conversation about 2nd wave feminism etc. leads to being immediately shut out/shut down. You won’t be listened to.

    2) I think a lot of the more sane/sensible young lesbians have probably left the queer community and just integrated into mainstream society and settled down to a normal life with a partner and some cats / kids / dogs / whatever. This is an option today in some western countries in a way it wasn’t so much in the past, so there’s less personal motivation to get involved in an ugly and exhausting political struggle. A lot of lesbians are very a-political and just not aware of what’s going on, and perhaps don’t want to be. (In my experience, for example, a lot of lesbians just don’t *want* to hear about all the crazy trans stuff, even when they’re lesbians who value lesbian-only and female-only space. They just want to pretend it’s not happening).

    3) Even if lesbians do come out the other side of all the queer brainwashing, what then? It’s very difficult to find community, especially with other young/er women who think the same (since there’s so few around), there’s nowhere to go, it’s very, very lonely. Unless there’s a more positive and obvious alternative available, again, what’s the motivation? But of course, any attempts to even create lesbian-only events these days lead to a lot of protests from within the queer community (never mind without) so how to even go about building those spaces and making them visible is another huge issue.

    4) This sort of relates to #2, and I apologise to any older lesbians reading this who get offended (and it’s not universally true by any means, but it is certainly a tendency I’ve come across, and that I’ve found other young/er lesbians have encountered too), but…In my experience, a lot of older lesbians don’t understand the issues facing young/er lesbians/queer women. I think the problem here is that, to a degree, being gay/lesbian has become more acceptable to mainstream society in a way it certainly wasn’t in the past. We do have a few more legal rights and protections in some places, it’s been decriminalised, it’s not considered a mental health disorder etc. And all of that is massively important. But I think for a lot of older lesbians, since those were the pertinent issues in the past that have been dealt with to a degree, they think everything is fine now. They don’t see the whys and the hows of where the battle has shifted to, because they’re largely not involved in the spaces where those things are happening. A lot of them have long-established (largely personal) social spaces that they’ve had for many years that are still following the ‘old values’ if you like, and they assume it’s the same everywhere, even though it’s not.

    I’m not making this last point with the intention of blaming or shaming or anything like that. And I also don’t mean it in an ageist way. And I also recognise that there are many older lesbians out there who know what is going on and who are leading the charge on trying to change things for the better. But speaking in very general terms, especially outside of more politicised feminist spaces, it is a problem I’ve noticed, that we have these different generations who aren’t speaking to each other, who aren’t living in the same worlds and who largely don’t know what’s going on with each other, sometimes without even realising that that’s actually the case.

    • unilantern says:

      A lot of the older lesbians separate themselves from the younger ones, but they dont tell us why. I guess they were silenced long ago from speaking about there politics.

      • weirdward says:

        Well we’re talking about spaces that are very ageist and also very hostile towards 2nd wave politics, so it’s not at all surprising older lesbians don’t want to be in those spaces – I don’t blame them! And I know a lot of older lesbians do know about the queer mess and are concerned about it. I also routinely see young women dismissing what older women and especially older feminists say. Or no platforming them for their views. But I also honestly feel like a lot of older lesbians are not aware of just how much things have changed, because they’re living in their own little bubble worlds. And again, I don’t blame them! But I don’t think a lot of them realise how very difficult it is to be an out young lesbian now, because in many ways it’s a different set of challenges to what existed at the beginning of the 2nd wave.

      • unilantern says:

        I also think that when women get past a certain age (out of the years when men are demanding the most access) some of the homophobia stops.

        I know being gender non conforming and in my 30s is different to when i was in my early 20s, maybe society has changed a little and maybe also the arrow has moved off me.

  3. stchauvinism says:

    Reblogged this on Stop Trans Chauvinism.

  4. I encoutered a lot of negative comments about lesbians during my time in the queer community and it discouraged me from detransitioning for years. A lot of the folks who’d talk the most shit were formally bi, now queer-identified women who talked about bad experiences they’d had with lesbians. Which is fine, some dykes suck, but they won’t limit themselve to talking about specific groups or individuals, they generalize about all lesbians. Shit like that hit me hard since I already had a damaged sense of self. None of these people gave me any shit when I came out again as a dyke but I don’t feel comfortable dicussing my interests in radical lesbian culture and lesbian feminism with them.
    There was also one time, back when I was still living as a trans man, when I attended a party with a queer male friend. There were a few lesbians present, most of the people attending weren’t straight. At one point a game of spin the bottle broke out and some of the dykes decided not to play because they didn’t want to kiss dudes. The next day, my friend went off on these women for not being “sexually radical enough”, “not queer enough” or some shit. We ended up having a huge argument because WTF how is sexual liberation about forcing people to do things they don’t want to do? And why do women have to be willing to kiss dudes to be “radical”? How would refusing to make them less queer (in the old school, pre-pomo sense of the word)?
    In my old queer scene, everyone had to be up for fucking any kind of person, queer translated to pansexual more or less. But underneath that you could see most people had more specific preferences. Under the queer drag was the old LGB sexualties. We certainly didn’t think of ourselves as politically correct but there were all these rules about how to be radical, how you were supposed to dress and fuck and call yourself, etc. Now it’s really trendy for folks to call themselves genderqueer and use gender-neutral pronouns like they.There’s still pressure for people to be pansexual but I notice there are also a lot of same-sex couple where one or both people are genderqueer or trans. It’s like it’s not enough to be gay or lesbian, you have to willing to fuck anyone and/or you have to take on another gender identity. I think some dykes try to get out of the obligation of fucking males by calling themselves genderqueer or trans.
    You’re right about younger dykes being cut off from older lesbians, lesbian politics and culture. So much of what I read when I was first coming out and learning about LGBTQ shit trashed lesbian feminism. A lot of that was writen by lesbians who were critical of radical feminism cuz they were into S/M, butch/femme, porn, etc and some of their criticisms made sense but they still paint a very biased picture of what I’ve found to be a very complex and multifaceted culture. Again, when I got to college, all I heard about was how fucked up the second wave was. Women of color who were part of the radical and lesbian feminist movements were cited as critics against those movements instead of crititcs situated inside. We were never encrouged to actually read the women whose work was criticized. When I actually started reading women like Dworkin, Daly, etc I found that I’d been mislead about what they actually wrote.
    I now realize that I was cut off from a lot of amazing thinkers, writers and artists. It’s been so important for me to learn about lesbian culture and meet older radical feminists and lesbians. So much of what I’ve learned has helped me heal and make sense of things on a deep level. I’m horrified that so many people, young women especially, want this culture to die off. And they think that’s progress instead of patriarchal backlash!
    I think lesbians of all ages need to get bolder, more assertive and stake out more space for ourselves. I know a lot of people are terrified, me too, but why the fuck should so many of us have to hide in the queer world holding our tongues? There are so many people who think that scene is bullshit but are afraid to speak out because that’s the only community they know of or have access to. It doesn’t have to be this way. Lesbians built radical culture before, we can do it again. At the very least it’d be nice for us to be able to find each, get together and speak our minds instead of being the isolated dyke in the room.

    • weirdward says:

      Thanks for your insightful comment, crashchaoscats! I think you hit the nail on the head re, either women have to be ‘queer’ and open to sex with men, or else they have to declare themselves not women in some fashion in order to be ‘allowed’ to opt out.
      It’s all so creepy and rapey and enforcing of compulsory heterosexuality.
      I’ve also encountered what you talk about re bi/queer women just talking shit about lesbians, often in a very personal, this person did crap to me kind of way, but that somehow becoming indicative of how all lesbians are bad, and if often gets tied arbitrarily to accusations of phobia or closed-mindedness (even if those things have no/little relevance). I mean yes, not all lesbians are perfect, we have our share of shitty people just like every other group, but the levels of anger and virulence are really over the top.
      When I hear that kind of talk over and over again, especially as regards to how lesbians won’t date them, or broke up with them in the past for (perceived) biphobia or whatever, what I think is…Well, maybe if you didn’t talk shit constantly about the demographic you want to date you might do a bit better? I know I sure as hell switch off as soon as I start hearing that crap.

    • unilantern says:

      Yes i was in the same circles, i was waiting for the end of the second wave too as i thought it was that which had caused my problem regarding rejection of gender non conforming women in the scene.

      problem is if you are gender non conforming they link you with second wave feminism unless you prove your masculinity and genderqueerness. Living in a female body, only dating born women and being gender non conforming is no longer allowed. Its gone beyond just not being cool. Lesbians are now expected to be attracted to femininity (in anyone regardless of sex) or not call themselves a lesbian. Its ok to call yourself a female bodied genderqueer who dates other female bodied genderqueers but just not a lesbian.

      Some blame it on trans women taking over lesbian spaces, but i dont see it in the same places as this problem, infact where ive been ive found trans women have not entered prior to this problem and know nothing of it.

      I point to queer femmes (bi women or broken straight women) and genderqueer males and their politics.

      Behind a lot of the new gender politics is the same backlash force also behind the mens rights movement.

      • weirdward says:

        “Behind a lot of the new gender politics is the same backlash force also behind the mens rights movement.”

        YES.

        I think in my case, though, I do see the trans movement, particularly male-bodied men calling themselves women and lesbians and demanding access to lesbian spaces and lesbian bodies, also as part of the men’s rights movement.

  5. unilantern says:

    yes you’re onto something.

  6. unilantern says:

    “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”

    Yes you are onto something, something ive passed through myself and maybe will be able to define.

    There is this thing, where todays lesbian scene wants to get rid of the old stereotypes and the people who fit them. One of the main stereotypes is the man hating butch, which is linked with second wave feminism according to the common view of the politically unaware. The move is to prove lesbians can be just as feminine as straight women, and just as pro man by getting rid of any women who may make lesbians look macho or anti man.

    Another thing thats happening is women wanted to get rid of the constraints of butch and femme roles, and ant gender non conforming woman came to represent oppression and misogyny. The moto was i may as well date a man…

    Gender non conforming women had to prove they dont hate men, and one way to do this is by identifying with men. Also the pain of all the hate and rejection one gets for being the person who lets lesbians down by making them look like the stereotype they are trying to reject wears at a person and puts them off women. They may find men are more excepting of their gender non conformity then other women, and they may find space in the queer scene or trans scene. Trans women dont force them to transition, but they may want to date them.

    It is the queer femmes that are the most hostile to butches or gender non conforming women, and its related to third wave politics and the idea that a woman who refuses to be feminine but still calls herself a woman is femme phobic or misogynistic, and also the queer femme is pressured not to be seen with one of those “ugly dykes” of the old school. It only cool to be gender non conforming if you are gender embracing rather then gender rejecting. Even then you must move to the queer scene and not declare yourself a lesbian because you have to opt out of identifying as a woman if you reject femininity and once you opt out of identifying as a woman you cant identify as a lesbian(otherwise its classed as transphobic). So basically a butch woman is erased by how all this politic has worked out, but i dont think there is a plot out there aimed at butch women because butch women are not a threat they are a casualty. The real plot is aimed at second wave feminism, and somehow gender non conforming is linked with it and this is took to mean butch women are somehow linked with it.

    Todays lesbian scene is a strange place to work out, i left long ago as i am a classic case of what your article talks of, gender non conforming, pushed to transition, went to the queer scene but thankfully never took the eye of a queer femme and survived to tell the tale. I used to be attracted to women, but not anymore. I have kept my gender non conformity though, infact there is more space as a straight gender non conforming woman these days. There is more scrutiny placed on non femme lesbians then on none femme straight women.

    I used to identify as a lesbian myself, but if im honest i never was i always liked men but confused my gender non conformity with my sexuality. I also wanted space to be a gender non conforming woman, but i never found that, i found instead what you describe in the article. And i ended up really resenting lesbians and feminists, until i found radfem and learned a lot from them. There is certainly something in what you write, it appears to be a tangled web left in the lesbian scene from the switch over of the feminist politics from second wave, to third wave and now the trans and queer politics.

    Political lesbianism may have also played a part, somehow because it brought politics into the lesbian scene during the second wave and then the second wave went away leaving behind a bit of a division.

    • weirdward says:

      Thanks for this thoughtful analysis of what is, I agree, a very complicated set of dynamics.

      “Another thing thats happening is women wanted to get rid of the constraints of butch and femme roles”

      Do you mean during the 2nd wave or during the queer era? I feel like there was probably more of a move away from butch/femme during the 2nd wave, though there’s also been some lesbians who felt alienated or invisibilised because of that.

      I feel like I probably see more of the butch/femme stuff happening in the queer scene (what with its obsession with gender presentation and gender roles), though I agree it’s often a modified form where one or both parties are not allowed to identify as lesbians and/or women.

      • unilantern says:

        Ive noticed in the queer era there is this thing where butches are accused of oppressing femmes, and there is more move to do away with the idea the butch leads etc. Butch can partner with butch now and the femme can be dominant etc. Butch and femme in the past before the second wave was not gender stuff in the way it is now.

        It appears now in the queer scene how women look gets them labelled butch, a lot of the second wave crowd would be classed as butch but don’t identify with it. Todays queer scene appears to conflate second wave feminist rejection of gender with masculinity and they tend to accuse the second wave of wanting to be men. This idea is prevalent in the MTF scene too.

        The whole thing is a mess.

  7. weirdward says:

    “Ive noticed in the queer era there is this thing where butches are accused of oppressing femmes” – Yes, I have definitely noticed this too. I think it’s part of reclassifying being female as being feminine; ergo a ‘masculine’ woman must have male privilege and be capable of oppressing a ‘feminine’ woman. I’ve also seen queer people talking about…Well, I don’t know if this phrase is used exactly, but something that seems to amount to ‘butch privilege’, i.e. butch women supposedly being able to get away with ‘male’ behaviour that would be condemned on a more feminine woman. (Which ignores the way misogyny actually works in society, based on SEX not GENDER, and in which ALL women are punished by patriarchal men, but sometimes in different ways depending on the type and perceived seriousness of the transgression. This type of thinking probably also feeds into the idea of transmen having privilege over transwomen, which is very prevalent). I think all of this shaming says a LOT about who really has the power in those spaces, which is primarily male bodied people (with whatever personal identifier) and biological women who are, in practice, heterosexual, though they might call themselves queer or bi or whatever.

    “It appears now in the queer scene how women look gets them labelled butch” – Yes, absolutely. A lot of the pictures I see of women who are now called butch, I look at them and honestly think, that’s a garden variety lesbian and/or non conforming woman. This necessity to make a separate sub-set of womanhood for these supposedly ‘different’ and ‘masculine’ women (based on nothing but clothes and a short hair cut, more often than not) is very troubling.

  8. K says:

    I think you’re right – they’ve been taught to self-hate. Any woman who doesn’t accept queer dogma will be relentlessly bullied & singled-out. Other women want to avoid being ‘it’ – so they conform.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s