Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lesbian Separatism: A Profeminist Gay Male's Perspective
image is from here

(I write this at a time of loss of a recent friendship. The reason for the friendship ending was my own persistent insensitivity to the political-personal realities she faces daily. I ended the friendship.)

You may be wondering who in the world would want a gay male's perspective on Lesbian Separatism? Well, I'm not sure, to be honest. But perhaps out there somewhere are queer people or het men who don't understand why any woman of any race would choose to be a Lesbian Separatist and would like to know why it ought to be politically supported, not insulted, not degraded, not considered a consequence only of male violence against women, and so on.

I'll note from the start of this post that I'm white and all my experiences of Lesbian Separatism, as an outsider, are as a white gay male. The Lesbian Separatists I have known are of many class backgrounds; mostly working and middle class, all US, and all English-speaking. That's but one small population of Lesbian Separatists worldwide, and although many US people will deny this, or simply don't know it, Lesbian Separatism exists the world over.

The first time I learned of Lesbian Separatism was I was part of an urban Lesbian/Gay/Bi community, back in the 1980s. It was white-dominated, mixed class, and largely academically educated. But the L.S., as far as I knew, was not born of the Academy, which is what I've seen of other queer cultures and identities in my community, such as being trans, genderqueer, and polyamorous: I know not one person who is trans, genderqueer, or polyamorous who wasn't informed and introduced to these cultures in the Academy, which may explain why they are decidedly liberal in political viewpoint and alliances. I suppose I had a crush on the first Lesbian Separatist I knew. She had a L.S. friend who I'd encounter later in my life in a really ugly way, but this woman wow'ed me. She had children—all girls. She lived her life, as far as I know from other Lesbian women, entirely without men in it.

I was in awe. It never occurred to me that people could organise their lives to only have women in them, as the largely secular society I lived in merged women and men, assimilating women into a form of racist, heterosexist, capitalist male supremacist society that greatly enforced women caring for men, girls caring for men, and women and girls defining their ambitions and actions in terms of how men felt about them. I got how entirely fucked up that was and it led me to wear out a t-shirt that proclaimed, “A Woman Without a Man is Like A Fish Without a Bicycle”. A white Lesbian woman who was not Separatist gave it to me.

As I lived in queer community, I learned being a Lesbian Separatist didn't provide one with the ideal life I imagined—rather foolishly. To be a woman is to know what men do to women. To be Lesbian is to know what het people do to Lesbians. To be a Separatist, as I heard about it as a supporter of Lesbian Separatism, was to become the target of animosity and alarming levels of hostile judgment of not only straight men, gay men, and het women, but also of other lesbians who denounced it as hateful, bigoted, exclusionary, and so on.

So, really, it was to be marginalised in already marginalised cultures. As for the latter charge, I've witnessed few sexual cultures more exclusionary than het culture. Those of us who are not het are purged from it, are scorned and ridiculed in our youth, and are either hated outright, or are “tolerated” in the most condescendingly obnoxious ways. I've had to separate almost entirely from my white Christian het-obsesses family due to their utter refusal to acknowledge or be responsible with their heterosexual power and privileges. Needless to say, the women in my family have had much more to endure in the way of insults and assaults from men they were married to than the men have. Overall, the men have done well, having someone to wash their clothes, clean their homes, and be sexually available to them. I'm not making any determination about the women's agency here, except to note that being a Lesbian Separatist was not, ever, an option presented to them. It isn't a reality any more than being a Buddhist nun or monk is an option to them. But at least they may have seen some news stories about Buddhists who live cloistered lives; not so with Lesbian Separatists.

Corporate media hasn't touched the subject in the last twenty years, to the very best of my recollection. Curiously, corporate media is liberally reporting on trans existence--never beyond M2F and F2M white, class-privileged social circles, however. But trans issues are respectfully if narrowly reported on so much more so than on white, class-privileged Lesbian Separatist or lesbian feminist experience. For example, Chaz's physical/surgical transformation as well as the empathically told stories and political struggles of several white transsexual people are well-known to het middle Amerikkka; the work of Sheila Jeffreys and of any Butch Lesbian Feminist is not. It appears to me that CRAP-loaded media power is far less threatened by people surgically changing their gender than by Butch and Radical Lesbian women who want to demolish male supremacy and maintain sites of on-going radical resistance and woman-centered anti-gynocidal culture. CRAP-loaded media won't go there at all.

The second most exclusionary cultures I'm aware of are het men's culture and gay men's culture. Het men have loads of power with which to determine their social lives. They often organise it to leave out or exclude all women and gay men. Gay men often organise their lives to leave out het men and all women. My experience of gay male culture is that it is attached to forms of misogyny and sexism, as well as to some forms of heterosexism, that it won't acknowledge or responsibly and radically transform.

The first challenge to Lesbian Separatism that I read in print was by Audre Lorde in Sister Outsider. I took in her words carefully, and have reread the essay on occasion to remind myself of her challenges and points of view, and ended up believing and taking to heart what she had to say while also supporting Lesbian Separatism as a political practice. I understand that many women, most women, who live in a secular or religious heterosexist society will not likely be able to be Lesbian Separatist.

The reason I support it is because I support women doing more than surviving het and gay male supremacist societies. I support women living relatively well in them, to whatever extent that is possible, and it does appear to be possible with greater ease among class-privileged people especially.

The single most abusive challenge to Lesbian culture that I've ever seen, other than by het and gay male-identified people, is from trans people. So severe is the social and cultural assault against Lesbians, including Separatists, that I'm not sure it can be overstated.

What has been alarming for me to witness is how liberally accepted and supported the invasion and violation of Lesbian lives and culture has been by every demographic imaginable. Well, het men actually don't seem to give a shit, but that's because they view Lesbianism as being for them. Trans activists and het male supremacists together and apart exploit, appropriate, and attempt to colonise, control, and dominate Lesbian spaces, politics, and lives. Where is the progressive to radical outrage about this happening?

Whenever I've heard trans activists—always white, almost always class-privileged—a tiny percent of the actual trans community that will never make it to the stage and the mic, I've heard how put upon and degraded trans people are by Lesbians. I've never once heard from trans people how they invade and violate Lesbian culture and community. Not once. I've never heard trans people be respectful and responsible with the privileges that have—various but apparent—to invade and violate Lesbian women.

Now, what we must keep in mind is how girls and women across sexuality, class, region, and race are sexually violated in every way conceivable—and in many inconceivable ways—by males including by boys, men, and some trans people who were born male-bodied and who remain male-bodied.

Male-bodied people are arguing that they are Lesbian, as are formerly male-bodied people. I find this beyond insensitive to Lesbian culture and community. (To come into these feelings, I have to center the experiences of Lesbians, not trans people or anyone else. To do this, I'd argue, is a radical profeminist act.) All of us are socialised—normally coerced, manipulated, and terroristically forced--to care for and about anyone who wasn't born and raised as a girl, regardless of whether or not she is female-bodied or intersex. We are all taught to not respect or regard the physical and communal integrity of anyone who is female-bodied and women and Lesbian.  We are all taught that women exist to serve and service men. Even in queer communities, Lesbian energies have been spent caring for gay men and gay male energies do not come back to reciprocate the love. Therefore it doesn't surprise me that het, queer, and trans people assume they have the right to invade Lesbian spaces, lives, and communities.

What do you call a politic and practice that privileges males or formerly male-identified people disrespecting Lesbian lives, relationships, communities, and political projects moving us toward greater liberation for Lesbian women? How does it come to pass that this is seen as regressive, oppressive, and bigoted: being female and loving females as a woman and as a Lesbian and wanting to be with females only? How is it bigoted, regressive, or oppressive for females forced to be women under patriarchal violence, who are denied social permissions and privileges to love other women, to seek to do so in peace?

I'll share an anecdote. Not quite ten years ago now, I encountered a very “educated” white male who was sexually active only with women. A white gay male I knew, who was an age-peer of his (I was older than both young men) had a serious crush on him, and hoped they'd be sexual together, but this het-active male—who identified as pansexual for some reason—never wanted to have sex with any male-bodied person. He's only ever been sexual with female-bodied people who identify as women. The gay male I knew pined for him as did a few het women. He was considered “attractive” by many people across sexuality.

Then one day he told me he was a Lesbian. Really. He did. And he made some convoluted case for this being “true”. I called his sorry ass out on it. I said, “You're always going to be socially male, socially perceived as a man, and anyone who is with you will not be with a Lesbian.” I said he'd better be responsible with his male privileges, power, and entitlements, and that among those was the power to name himself as he wished, in ways completely unaccountable to and disrespectful of women. I told him to not attempt to manipulate Lesbian and bisexual women by pretending he was Lesbian. After all, had he grown up with a female body, knowing what it was to desire people whose bodies were like “his”? No. Had he had girlhood crushes on girls, feeling ashamed or being made to feel wrong for liking people of the same sex? No. Had he encountered all the many forms of discrimination, threat, and violence that Lesbian young women face? No. But he wanted to declare himself a Lesbian. Why? Because he was a het male with all the arrogance and entitlements in place to believe he could do so and get away with it. And he was getting away with it in some parts of the liberal circles he operated in. He was not expecting to come up against any radical opposition because for the most part none existed, until he confided in me. I supported him, instead, in owning his own political location, power, privileges, and entitlements, but not abusing them.

I've also disagreed with het men and het women for telling me they were, really, gay men. I've told them I find their self-definitions an expression of gross insensitivity to those of us who are gay.

For some strange reasons which will be analysed and determined in the next generation, trans existence is being respected in ways and in places that Lesbian existence is not. I don't support one group utterly invading and violating another, and that's what has happened socially and politically to Lesbian community by trans-identified people. 

I've heard people argue the parallel to being a Jew: some people convert, and aren't they then Jews? Well, religiously and culturally, yes, but ethnically and historically no. And, here's the significant difference: Jews welcome Jews who convert. That "welcoming" is a rather critical part of the reality. If a grossly disregarded, ignored, assaulted, mistreated, subjugated people struggling for survival don't welcome you in, and if you have some privileges, media access, community support, and institutional power and resources that they do not, and you insist you belong, you might wish to consider any outsider's insistence of inclusion a form of obnoxious and violating aggressive and oppressive behavior.

But back the not insignificant matter of men's violence against female-bodied people. Can you possibly imagine what it must be like to try and carve out some relationships and social-cultural spaces free of men, free of male bodies and all the many triggers they carry, free of male privileges and entitlements showing up in all their glaring arrogance and insistence, only to have your culture and being invaded by male-bodied people claiming to be Lesbian? I cannot fully imagine it, really. But it horrifies me to consider it.

If you want to compassionately imagine it in more detail, I encourage you to read what Lesbian women have written about such invasions and violations. To put in bluntly, it's a systematic gross assault against the psyches and bodies of women who have already endured--like all women who grew up as girls--the gross assault of het men's systematic violence, in the home and outside the home. That's what it is. And while liberal, progressive, and radical-minded folks do seem to oppose violence against women, somehow all go silent when it comes to trans-invasion of Lesbian lives and communities. Or, not silent but instead aggressively and outspokenly supportive of trans people showing up wherever they choose to or decide to, claiming rights to be celebrated, cared for, and employed by Lesbians, naming themselves however they wish no matter how insulting and insensitive to Lesbians that naming and those many other actions are.

I stand with Lesbian women, including, now at a more respectful distance, with Lesbian Separatist women in opposing any and all invasions and violations, all forms of insensitivity and aggression leveled by trans-identified folks and their liberal supporters.

I have had a few friendships for not too long periods of time—from hours to weeks to months to years—with a few white Lesbian Separatist women. I have found each woman to be deeply caring, profoundly thoughtful, sensitive, and woman-loving. I support any Lesbian living her life as she wishes and as she is able, with all the threats and dangers of male supremacist/male-adoring/phallocentric, liberal, and grossly heterosexist society condemning Lesbians as essentially bigots and haters. The liberal queer community, on the whole, has done nothing to deepen our understanding of the reasons for militant resistance to trans invasion; they have done the opposite: they have perpetuated the myth that Lesbian = hater. 

Liberal queers and privileged trans activists are doing to Lesbians what men do to women' generally: portray them only as hateful, scornful, reactionary human beings without a self-determining political cause worth fighting for. When lesbophobia and anti-Lesbian bigotry is seen as just as much of a social offence, as just as intolerable, just as obnoxious, violent, egregious, inhumane, and threatening as homophobia and transphobia, I'll know something radical has shifted in the society I live in. I'll know that male supremacy, heterosexism, and liberalism have each loosened their braided cultural gynocidal death-grip on Lesbian women's lives.

For more on Lesbian Rights, see *here*.

No comments: