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.