I came across a new concept last year – that of monosexuality.
The idea is that monosexuality is attraction to only people of one sex. So for women this is attraction to either only men or women.
I wasn’t convinced that heterosexuality and homosexuality with their entirely different relationships to power were analogous enough to justify being conflated like this. The social meaning of being heterosexual and conforming to our expected norms is not the same as being a lesbian, a woman who by definition is not centring a man in her life. Hesitations over the concept notwithstanding, I kept reading.
It turns out there is also a a concept of monosexual privilege* which goes further than merely naming the sexual attraction to a single sex – it explicitly frames monosexuality as a negative and an oppressive construct.
There is even a monosexual privilege checklist.
While there may well be problems faced by bi/pansexual people, the framing of them under the term monosexual privilege is deeply problematic where it is applied to lesbians, as the analysis confers power and responsibility where it does not and can not exist.
Homosexuality, and lesbianism in particular, does not occupy a dominant position with respect to other sexualities. That position is reserved for heterosexuality.
Heterosexuality is described as compulsory because much of our society is based on it and conformity to it is enforced. We are socialised to heterosexuality, we are pressured or groomed to be straight. Our structures, our endorsed social meaning, our media – all of it combines to present heterosexuality as the default and required.
No such dominant power structure exists to frame lesbianism as the powerful default, with all that entails, and lesbian sexuality can not meaningfully be framed as oppressive. Lesbianism being framed as negative, as inferred by using a pejorative word to describe it, is reminiscent of the centuries of society judging that female same sex attraction was immoral, to be prohibited and punished accordingly.
Framing lesbianism as oppressive is ludicrous. There is no institutional and social power that lesbians have in relation to sexuality. We do not have any means to exert power over anyone on the basis of our sexuality, making this a misleading reversal. This framing flies in the face of centuries of silencing, violence, erasure, corrective rape and punishment that lesbians have endured for simply being lesbian.
At the same time as the term “monosexuality” sets up lesbians as negative and oppressive, it also removes our ability to talk about the specificity of our lives, our sexuality. Because heterosexuality is utterly dominant (based on male primacy), even as we are tainted and judged by the term, the frame simultaneously erases lesbians from the debate.
In addition to being framed as negative and oppressive, monosexuality is often framed as staid and stodgy in comparison to bisexuality or pansexuality, as if it were an absence of imagination or diversity, rather than an expression of sexuality. The concept of monosexuality, and the way in which it is used, appears to undermine the social acceptance of particular sexualities and their social meaning, in framing that sexuality as problematic. As always, the implications vary based on power dynamics. I do not witness men called upon to broaden their horizons, particularly not straight men, nor are women encouraged to do this except to titillate men. In practise, it is lesbians whose sexuality is criticised.
In addition to asking why we are being framed in these ways and in whose interests it is, we need to consider what the practical, not just symbolic, implications are for lesbians.
The pressure that results from this approach is clearly uneven – heterosexuality is in an unassailable position as our dominant sexuality, numerically and in terms of power. All of our institutions are set up to align with and support heterosexuality and male dominance. The spurious concept of monosexuality will only have an effect on women, specifically lesbians. The concept represents women being told that their sexuality is flawed and oppressive.
And at this point it becomes clear that the concept of monosexuality, while presented as progressive, is anything but – it is not progressive to criticise lesbian sexuality. It is nothing more than the status quo of male dominance and entitlement seeking to impose itself in a different way.
Sadly, the consequences are real. We now see women who would once have called themselves lesbian now loath to do so, now reluctant to use that term given how it is portrayed and criticised, and this erases us from within….
How can we maintain a lesbian-affirming environment for women and girls if we become so shamed and harassed that we cannot use the word or support our sisters? How can we work to develop better representation of and protection for lesbians if our own existence is under threat?
The word monosexuality is presented as a morally neutral concept used to analyse how sexuality is represented. In practise, it undermines lesbians.
So, before you accuse lesbians of monosexual privilege, please reflect on what it means and what you are actually saying…
* The term privilege can, on occasion, be extremely useful but it is overused and functions to silence debate by denying that one party has any right to discuss the topic at hand on the basis of their purportedly privileged, or powerful, position in the dynamic under discussion.
Just in case you think no one would propose monosexuality, below is a collection of links and photos on the topic…