The real pretendbians?

This is a shorter post com­pared to the ear­lier one this week. And in some cases, it’s a bridge between the pre­vi­ous and next post.

As a les­bian trans woman, like other les­bian trans women, I am often crit­i­cised by neo­rad­i­cal fem­i­nists for being a “pre­tend­bian”; I am pre­tend­ing to be a les­bian. Because I’m really a man, you see. And as such, by my very exis­tence as a trans les­bian, I run the risk of appear­ing on the site of the same name, which is basi­cally an excuse for trans­pho­bes to dox trans peo­ple. Because that’s what fem­i­nists do, appar­ently, put other women in dan­ger.

There is an impor­tant devel­op­ment in the his­tory of rad­i­cal fem­i­nism, that of polit­i­cal les­bian­ism. The the­ory, in a nut­shell, posits that het­ero­sex­u­al­ity is enforced, whether we like it or not, by the patri­archy (which I, to some extent, agree with), and fem­i­nists should “rid men out of their heads and out of their beds”. Les­bian­ism is then framed as a choice, a polit­i­cal act of resistance.

I’m not sure if I agree.

There are some prob­lem­atic aspects to fram­ing sex­u­al­ity as a choice, which we must be mind­ful of. We don’t know how sex­u­al­ity — or indeed gen­der — evolves, from “born this way” to per­sonal choice, a spec­trum, a multi-dimensional space… it’s com­pli­cated. We’ve his­tor­i­cally been resis­tant to both extremes: fram­ing it as a choice dam­ages our chances of receiv­ing pro­tec­tions from dis­crim­i­na­tion; fram­ing it as com­pletely immutable from birth brings up the ideas of the “gay gene” and sexuality-selective abor­tion. I’m per­son­ally of the idea of sex­u­al­ity and gen­der as multi-dimensional; my sex­u­al­ity, indeed, has sub­tly changed due to my cir­cum­stances and experiences.

But at the same time, we should have an ana­lytic view to polit­i­cal acts of sex­u­al­ity and gen­der. It is too easy to attack polit­i­cal les­bian­ism because it’s his­tor­i­cally being framed in aspects of choice, but not all polit­i­cal les­bians choose their ori­en­ta­tions. As we all know as fem­i­nists, the per­sonal is polit­i­cal. In some cases, peo­ple choose to own their sex­u­al­ity as a polit­i­cal act, like they choose to own their gen­der, transness, eth­nic­ity, dis­abil­ity as a polit­i­cal act. And there is noth­ing wrong with that; indeed, it is admirable.

But I don’t think I agree with polit­i­cal les­bian­ism that evolves pri­mar­ily from a choice. I per­son­ally see it as appro­pria­tive; I didn’t choose to be attracted to women, and I didn’t choose to iden­tity as a woman, per se. I am aware that, as a les­bian trans woman, I expe­ri­ence dual oppres­sion on these two axes alone from patri­archial forces, and I feel that sim­ply choos­ing to be a les­bian as a polti­cal act erases and dimin­ishes any of that oppres­sion. While it’s not offi­cial, I can be refused gen­der health­care for my attrac­tion to women. If I am mar­ried, my mar­riage is seen as not as impor­tant as oth­ers, whether mixed-sex or same-sex. It’s often said that peo­ple don’t choose to be les­bians or trans because a ratio­nal per­son wouldn’t choose to be oppressed just for kicks; so who would choose to be a les­bian trans woman?

There is also a his­tory of exclu­sion of het­ero­sex­ual female fem­i­nists from polit­i­cal les­bians; if you are a het­ero­sex­ual woman, you are sleep­ing with the enemy. From the 1979 pam­phlet even titled as Love Your Enemy, from the Leeds Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Fem­i­nist Group:

Het­ero­sex­ual women are col­lab­o­ra­tors with the enemy. All the good work that our het­ero­sex­ual fem­i­nist sis­ters do for women is under­mined by the counter-revolutionary activ­ity they engage in with men. Being a het­ero­sex­ual fem­i­nist is like being in the resis­tance in Nazi-occupied Europe where in the day­time you blow up a bridge, in the evening you rush to repair it. Every woman who lives with or fucks a man helps to main­tain the oppres­sion of her sis­ters and hin­ders our struggle.

Indeed, there is some con­sid­er­able over­lap between les­bian rad­i­cal fem­i­nists and “gold star les­bians” — les­bians who have never had sex­ual rela­tions with a man. And it implies that some les­bians, and some women, are more pure, more right­eous than oth­ers. It leads to the repro­duc­tion of patri­ar­chal struc­tures in fem­i­nist and les­bian com­mu­ni­ties — which is a major ele­phant in the room in minor­ity activist com­mu­ni­ties that should be talked about. It shames every woman who didn’t choose to be a les­bian, every woman to look at a man for more than a sec­ond, every woman who doesn’t put every ounce of their being into the polit­i­cal act. And it’s wrong.

And so is wrong any method of com­pul­sory sex­u­al­ity: whether it’s com­pul­sory homo­sex­u­al­ity, com­pul­sory het­ero­sex­u­al­ity, com­pul­sory sex­ual attrac­tion, com­pul­sory asex­u­al­ity, com­pul­sory sex­ual attrac­tion to trans women, or to cis women, or to every­one or any­one. While one’s sex­ual pref­er­ences, in some cases, could ben­e­fit from analy­sis, we must realise that it is for that per­son and that per­son alone to analyse, and any­thing other leads to rape culture.

We don’t hate you, we hate appro­pri­a­tion”, the neo­rad­i­cal web­site Pre­tend­bians sug­gests. And in its advice to trans women, it tells us not to view female sex­u­al­ity as a polit­i­cal oblig­a­tion. I dare­say they need to look inwards before look­ing elsewhere.


  1. […] the­o­ret­i­cal post on the roots and prob­lems within neo­rad­i­cal com­mu­ni­ties, the sec­ond then fol­lowed on and talked about polit­i­cal acts of sex­u­al­ity. This third post looks at […]

  2. […] draw­ing a com­par­i­son to the fact that she’s a les­bian (actu­ally, she’s more of a pre­tend­bian than you or me) and the fact she was ejected from the bar. This, she claims, vio­lates the […]

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