Lesbian allies – a reality check

After seeing yet another post about how to be an ally to anyone but women, let alone lesbians, I wondered – what would you say about being allies to lesbians?

Is this even the right way to approach the issue?

These are the collective thoughts from my wall and a public FB group – names removed to protect the innocent* but I’ve tried to keep women’s words….

Don’t see what you would say? Add your thoughts in the comments section or email me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

Protecting lesbians

Protecting lesbians – how do we do it?

How to be an ally to Lesbians:


  • Stop centring men over women.
  • Stop censoring us when we talk, and particularly do not censor us when we talk about things like the contents of this post.
  • Some of us ARE Separatists and put other Lesbians and born female women first and foremost in EVERY aspect in our lives..including spiritually. Stop considering that a bad thing or belittling it and us.
  • Don’t only talk about us when we’re dead or celebrities… *snort* yeah, us too kthx.


  • Don’t measure us against media-fuelled, patriarchal (heteronormative) beauty standards. the media (and capitalism) is BS – we all know that.
  • Don’t judge a lesbian by how butch she looks. Don’t say shit like “you’re so pretty though!” to a more feminine looking lesbian. Fuck off with judging by appearances ever, okay?
  • Do NOT put down Butches and accuse us of being “wanna be men” or on the way station to transitioning. Many of us are fierce FEMALE PROUD Butch DykeAmazons and been in the trenches fighting FOR Dykes and womyn for DECADES!!
  • Women – support your gender non-conforming sisters whether you are lesbian or not.


  • The damn obsession with men and their penises – don’t ask lesbians if they’ve been with a man, or tell them they haven’t found the right man or offer to fuck them straight. Just fucking don’t.
  • Don’t assume we have been with a man. Don’t assume we haven’t. Just don’t assume.
  • Preaching to us about who we should be obligated to sleep with is fucking rapey…
  • Don’t tell us we are bigots for being lesbian, for attraction only to other women. It’s bloody homophobic. And don’t apologise to or soothe men who are upset when we say this.
  • Don’t accuse lesbians of being “shallow” for not wanting to sleep with someone who has a dick.
  • In fact, Don’t. Try. To. Invade. Our. Spaces. Or. Our. Bodies. Ever.
  • Don’t tell us we are going to hell. Our spiritual lives are our own and we have our metaphysical shit in order.
  • If you’re a straight man, don’t act like we’re trying to steal your gf/wife.
  • And don’t EVER assume that what you see in “lesbian” porn bears any relation to most actual lesbians, or that it was created for us.


  • Don’t tell us we’re pretty enough to get a man if we tried. We are not with women because we can’t “get a man”. We don’t WANT a man.
  • Don’t assume we’re lesbians because someone hurt us. In other words, don’t assume our lesbianism is a symptom of trauma or that it is a pathology in itself.
  • Don’t assume being lesbian is a phase. But DO remember that we were socialised to heterosexuality so it can take time to work free of that.
  • Don’t assume being a ‘political’ lesbian means asexuality or het-women-trying-to-be-‘gay’ (sic).
  • Don’t assume we were born this way. Don’t assume we weren’t. We’re lesbian now and that’s what matters.
  • Don’t rely on the born this way script. Compulsory heterosexuality is a fucking thing. Look it up.


  • Remember that biological sex actually fucking means something and is a reality that women, even lesbians!, cannot fucking escape.
  • Don’t tell a woman she isn’t ‘lesbian enough’ or buy into the ‘gold-star lesbian’ type thinking. pls and thx.
  • Don’t use words to describe lesbians as insults. Dykes are awesome, thank you very much…
  • Stop harassing mental health professionals who attempt to help women with internalised lesbophobia and misogyny.
  • Do not assume we wish to be called “queer”, in fact do not argue with us when we refuse to be called queer or gay. These are male-centred concepts that render us invisible, and many of us reject them, even if your lesbian BFF thinks they’re ok.
  • Don’t call men lesbians.
  • Particularly, don’t think that if lesbian porn turns you on that you, as a male bodied person, are either a lesbian or a woman! (This suggestion came with sources to show it wasn’t a paranoid “fantasy”.)
  • Don’t think that disagreement about who is and isn’t lesbian is transphobia. Lesbians have a right to self determination and to resist appropriation.
  • On that note…



  • Stop considering us the scary ugly feminists that you distance yourself from. Has anything really changed since the days of the lavender menace?
  • Do not ever insinuate that we want to be men or need to transition. Nope. No way.
  • Don’t say stupid shit like “who is the man/woman in the relationship?”
  • Do not put down those of us who are primarily Butch on Butch or “what a waste of a good Butch.” Lesbian sexuality is way more diverse than Butch/Femme or two lipstick types together.
  • In fact, don’t rely on stereotypes or sex roles to understand us. We’re actual individuals. There might be common culture but we are wildly diverse. Don’t reduce us to a 2 dimensional cartoon.
  • If we somehow look to you like we fit a stereotype, don’t assume our choices have anything to do with those stereotypes. We aren’t cartoons, we’re real people.
  • Don’t portray us as weak, sad, terminally ill, pathetic, two-dimensional, perpetual victims and lost. We are strong wonderful women.
  •  Don’t expect our relationships to be just like het relationships just with a strap on.
  • We are not failed attempts at straight people.
  • Don’t assume you know anything about lesbians because you watch OITNB.
  • Don’t assume I know that other lesbian you met one time… you know, the one with the long brown hair? I think her name’s Tracy or Sarah or something. You even kind of look like her, isn’t that weird?


  • If you’re not a lesbian – and you’re sure about that – don’t flirt with us just because you think it will be some harmless fun.
  • Don’t assume visible/butch lesbians exist to affirm your desirability. Don’t assume we’re perpetually DTF.


  • Upon being informed that a lesbian is with her partner, DO NOT ask if you can watch (hey… it’s happened more than once, ok?). Don’t joke about that either. It’s not funny; it’s creepy.
  • When a lesbian says “no” that doesn’t give you the go ahead to harass her for not sexing herself to entitled pricks.
  • When you see lesbians being abused, intimidated or  sexually harassed, don’t look away. Get involved and stick up for us, particularly young lesbians.



  • Don’t use lesbians as your token “but women rape too!” in response to women talking about rape and other forms of male sexual violence.


These things happen around the world, including in YOUR country…


Don’t prioritise and centre men. Most of this flows from systemic male dominance, and the violence and subjugation used to reinforce it…

Every time I think the list is complete enough, another suggestion comes in. I’m aware this is far from comprehensive, which says a lot about how lesbians are regarded and treated around the world.


So the pointers from lesbians around the world on how to be an ally really made me wonder…..


Is this concept even worth using? What does being an ally mean to you?

Articles like the one that triggered this one seem to be about performance of socially required (and superficial/unquestioning) support more than any genuine commitment or action that demonstrates actual solidarity.  The articles seem to be about visible ways to look like you are guilty about your privilege and identify as supportive, rather than outlining really practical ways to help change the world behind the scenes.

Does this help any group or is this kind of two dimensional tokenism merely about paying lip service rather than demonstrating solidarity and working to make the world better for those who are marginalised?

There’s certainly an expectation that women demonstrate allyship by quashing their questions, indulging in self flagellation – classic female socialisation. Femsoc tells us to genuflect before the needs of others, and ignore that voice telling us that we are betraying our own needs.

Genuine solidarity does not require this. Genuine solidarity should be based on analysis that can be challenged and debated. Genuine solidarity does not ask you to harm yourself.

This is all of a piece with identity politics which prioritises identification and performance over reality. Identifying as an ally replaces being an ally. Once you have identified as an ally to whichever group, irrespective of your actual actions, you can dispense with the culturally created guilt (usually of women), congratulate yourself on a job well done with honour satisfied and carry on being self righteous about those not liberal enough to be allies. Despite everyone paying lip service to supporting the marginalised group, nothing actually changes.

And this squanders the good intentions of many people, who may well read the articles and want to be supportive. It also provides a get out of jail free card to those who don’t much care but want to be seen to do the right thing…

Either way, perhaps the concept is too shallow to be of any use.



Regardless of the validity of the “ally” concept, the list of what not to do to lesbians is pretty clear. Each one of those points was written based on personal experience of being abused, exploited and erased, on the basis of being lesbian.

If you want to take anything to heart, listen to what lesbians have said here and don’t re/name us, don’t redefine us out of existence. Don’t harass, belittle, or dismiss us. Don’t appropriate us. Support and encourage us to focus on each other, on women, as women. And help us fight to change the structures that enable and benefit from our eradication.

If you have anything to add to this, please share your thoughts in the comments below or email them to me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

* I tried to keep original wording but names were removed. If you would like credit for your comment, please let me know and I will add your name in. 🙂

36 responses to “Lesbian allies – a reality check

  1. Reblogged this on RaFeCaMe.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on FeistyAmazon and commented:
    A few of my thoughts are in this article. For those of you who know me I am sure you canmpuck them out!!! Well written!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You do cover this to some extent, but I would add that lesbianism is not only, or even always primarily, about sexual orientation. That it is not the flip side of heterosexuality, that it is a mistake to frame it around heterosexuality at all. Because straight people tend to do that, they tend to assume “this is just like heterosexuality except with different bits.”

    Separatists mostly run into problems in my experience when they get mad at other women for not being separatists. However there are many ways non-separatists can behave disrespectfully towards separatists that we likely are often blind to, and I can see how that could get frustrating. And I surely do believe that any culture that does not allow separatism, that does not allow the option of living a life free of men, is deeply corrupt and abusive. So for a separatist, living with mandatory male contact is going to be constantly aggravating, a more extreme version of what I personally experience, which is that I find most men disturbing and it would be a great relief if they would all go somewhere else.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks Liz. I’d like to add a couple of things.

    If you are in a social justice movement, be happy to acknowledge when you have lesbians in positions of leadership. Don’t assume that a lesbian is there to take care of shitwork so that males can go and sit on the throne. Don’t assume that if she isn’t there to nurture you she should just disappear. If she complains about sexism, listen to her and learn. If she complains loudly and angrily – still listen and learn.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Pingback: Non-lezzers… | Bureaucromancy

  6. I will hang on every word in this post, along with sharing it, and aspire to be the best Lesbain ally that I can be. I am very familiar with all of this already, having been in Radfem groups for a time now, but it can help a lot of people to know how to not demean, offend, and further oppress one of the most oppressed groups of all time. Thank you very much for posting!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Comment submitted via email:

    Don’t pray for me to become straight and call that love. Hating my sexuality is the same as hating me there is no difference.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Never ever ever ever say “Gender at Birth” that freaking makes me so mad. You are not BORN a gender!!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Regarding your comment Miep, I strongly disagree that “lesbianism is not only, or even always primarily, about sexual orientation.” Yes it is. That’s what the word “lesbian” means — it’s a sexual orientation. It’s the only word we have that means: a female who wants to be romantically and sexually involved exclusively with other females. In every other way of living a life, lesbians are as diverse as any other group of people. “Lesbian” doesn’t mean feminist; it doesn’t mean “likes to hang out with other women;” it doesn’t mean “prioritizes women.” It just means the very basic sexual orientation of a female who may have a huge range of politics, orientations to women in general, and any other orientation to the world. By muddying the meaning, lesbians themselves cannot name what it is they have in common with other lesbians. There are other words for women who orient to other women in ways that are not sexual and romantic. We need this word to mean what it does because sex between men and women is the default, the assumption, and the pressure all women feel. This word demarcates how this set of women lives their lives without romance and sexuality with men. That does not mean it’s the “opposite” of heterosexuality, it means that it is not heterosexuality in a very clearly defined way. And that is a huge differentiation in a time when women’s sexuality is being constantly defined and manipulated by men.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Other lesbians have pointed out to me that lesbian relationships don’t always involve sex, and that non-lesbians have an unpleasant habit of fetishizing lesbians in an inappropriately sexual manner. But my point is simply that it’s not just the opposite of heterosexuality, it’s not appropriate to frame it around heterosexuality at all.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Here’s an addition to the list: If you are a heterosexual person who has read an article full of lesbian voices explaining what they experience and your immediate response is to refute something, please don’t. I’ve seen several examples of this. And I’m not trying to start a fight, but there’s a reason this list got as long as it did — lesbians are damn sick and tired of this stuff and even more tired of not being heard.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Miep
    I understand what you are saying. In my mind it equates to the notion people have of matriarchy, that is patriarchy in reverse and women will be pushing men about, which of course it wouldn’t be.


  12. The only valid definition for lesbian is a woman who has a sexual relationship with a woman. This can be expressed physically. Women who don’t have sex with women aren’t lesbians. Pretty simple. No two lesbians are alike politically or in any other way. We may be united as a culture of resistance or because lesbian feminism was the brilliant philosophy that emerged in the 70s.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. It takes a lot of effort to uncover lesbian relationships of the past because there was so much oppression, silencing and out and out censorship of letters and diaries. Relatives burn the love letters, family members prevent lesbian scholars from getting access to letters in archives. Lillian Faderman has a devil of a time getting access to Emily DIckison’s love letters, for example. Lesbians are very clever at hiding our love of women, because it is so brutally dangerous to love women sexually.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. I think you will never fully know the truth about women of the past, or even women who are still in the closet even today. Thank you for this article, I thought it was excellent and have shared it. I hope lesbians keep on passing it on. We’re getting awfully sick of being completely erased with the trans mania. They have so-called LGBT panel discussions now with NO LESBIANS on the panel. Or they have panels with a man who says he’s a lesbian but no real women. It’s epidemic now.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. Oh I believe all women can choose to be lesbians, it is not a born that way thing, obviously. But you do have to make love to a woman.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “I believe all women can choose to be lesbians, it is not a born that way thing, obviously.”

      I know I’m a month late, but I’m really interested in what you say, Audrey. I watched a speech Julie Bindel gave that seemed to say much the same. It’s not been my experience at all.

      As a young woman I was extremely interested in sex and, after some bad experiences with men, I decided to become a lesbian. I never got into a proper relationship with another woman, but my sexual experiences with other women just didn’t work for me at all. The experience was too sisterly — their bodies, their scents were too similar to my own. It was nice and cosy, but nice isn’t going to rock your world.

      Close friendships with women have been hugely important in my life. I think this is true of a lot of women. But it’s men for sexual excitement, no contest. I couldn’t decide to be a lesbian. Now well into middle age. I’m a happy het. I hope and trust that I am also a staunch ally to lesbians, who seem to be one of the main sufferers of transactivist delusions. The nonsense these guys get up to is beyond ridicule.

      Liked by 3 people

      • If a woman has a bad relationship with a man, does that mean she is still heterosexual? Anyway, women choose, and there are all kinds of reasons that some lesbian relationships work and others do not. Heterosexual privilege and conditioning to MALE based sexuality pretty much programs female brains not to even feel totally in love with women. It’s called conditioning

        Liked by 2 people

      • Audrey, your remarks don’t sit well in a discussion about lesbian allies. Do you not see that to say “Heterosexual privilege and conditioning to MALE based sexuality pretty much programs female brains not to even feel totally in love with women. It’s called conditioning” is as condescending and demeaning to straight women as are all the insults you (rightly) object to aimed at lesbians. You’re saying my long happy marriage was no more than the product of conditioning.

        My life and love are as worthy of respect as yours. I think my observation that my feelings towards the important women in my life, though I love them deeply, are far too sisterly to create sexual passion is pretty understandable. We’re not all wired alike, and lesbian allies are — by definition — not lesbians ourselves. One of key things you don’t do to allies is insult them.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Most of this doesn’t read like “how to be an ally” and more like “how to be a decent human being”. Not complaining, some people might actually need to be told those things. It’s just sad.


  17. listening2lesbians, not sure what you mean. Most het women really do have to be told these things, they are THAT out of it so much of the time. I just get exhausted being around them for long periods of time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Most lesbians… are THAT out of it so much of the time. I just get exhausted being around them for long periods of time.”

      Pretty offensive when it’s you we’re talking about, eh Audrey? When I replied to your previous post I thought you were perhaps just not aware how disrespectful you were being but it seems this your default setting.

      I’m also a bit taken aback that none of the other lesbians posting here have pulled you up on your casual misogyny towards women like me. I’m an ally to lesbians as a group, but I’ve no time for bigotry like yours.


  18. You’re not my allies, stop forcing this on women I don’t even know, and yes women CHOOSE go be lesbians all the time. And no I have zero respect for het marriages and anything that holds back women’s revolution, it is just collaboration by any other name.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I’m a bit confused and somewhat amused. Here we have a whole article about how we can — and should — be allies to lesbians while below it Audrey is busy making sure anyone reading fully appreciates that she’d rather stick pins in her eyes than have het support, us being the root of all evil or suchlike…

    They say that to have friends you have to be a friend. Not always true. This isn’t about individuals. I’m an ally to lesbians — all lesbians — regardless of Audrey’s grouchiness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • She’s grouchy from being verbally attacked for no reason because a het female got offended at unoffensive commentary and started poppin off at the mouth.


      • “Unoffensive commentary”? Not inoffensive. She was bloody rude, and blatantly prejudiced. It’s not ok for her to post anti-het rubbish, any more than it’s ok for me to attack women who are sexually attracted only to other women.

        Mind you, I couldn’t describe someone who is ideologically or politically lesbian as lesbian at all. Being lesbian is sexual, not political. Deciding to *become* a lesbian, rather than *being* a lesbian through profound innate erotic preference, is problematic to me. It lacks integrity in the same way that gay men who dishonestly marry an unsuspecting woman to fit in with expectations or to conceal their sexuality. It’d be interesting to know how often political lesbians relapse into heterosexuality. Gay men aren’t good at playing straight over the long haul.

        I support and respect lesbians, but not women who think that claiming to be a lesbian is peak feminism. It must be heartbreaking when women discover that the woman they love is politically lesbian, rather than same-sex attracted — about as much fun as it is for a straight woman to discover she’s married to a gay man. A cruel thing to do.

        It’s also not a serious train of thought, not least because of their complete failure to blow up railways — or achieve anything of note. If political lesbians are the Resistance, then why has all feminist progress come from women (and men) who work and negotiate with and within men/male dominated systems?

        I remember coming across this sort of nonsense 40 years ago. I’m amazed to see it still around, though the word “collaboration” should have reminded me of this Nazi trope. This is one of the charms of the net – the weird, the wonderful and the wacky extremes.


  20. Thanks yumicpcake, I offended het women with my lesbian truth, how shocking. LOL. No het women in general I don’t know who the hell you are, and no you are not my allies the way a lot of you are acting in this space. So stop pretending to be something I just don’t feel from you.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. After reading an article of how to be a trans ally, I must say I am glad to hear that being an ally to lesbians does not require wanting to have sex with lesbians. Thank you for your tolerance!
    (And if anyone asks me why I try to be an ally to lesbians but not trans people, that’s the answer I will give)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sellmaeth— what an insightful comment. Once you pointed out this difference between lesbians and male to trans it all becamse crystal clear. Trans activists actually call lesbians transphobic for NOT wanting to have sex with them. Gee lesbians are attracted to women, not pretenbian creepy het men who still have a penis. That said, het women who want to be allies to lesbians are wond


  22. —derful. But hey they’re het, so it really would be completely illogical to say sex has anything whatsoever to do with ally-ship— But male to trans DEMAND sexual submission of lesbians that’s one of their major agenda actually, that and conquering all women only spaces and destroying women’s right to privacy and safety in our own damn locker rooms. Love this coment am going to use it!


  23. Unpopular opinion: It’s unlikely that any het “allies” will be reading this – it seems aimed at justifying the OP’s anger at any female who isn’t a lesbian. I’d write an angry blog post about all the lesbian feminists who sneer at me for not being a REAL (in other words, lesbian) feminist and who have tried to browbeat me into changing my sexual orientation, if I thought anyone would read it. No, being het doesn’t mean I center men or that I’m some kind of traitor to the feminist cause that entitles other feminists to treat me like I’m second-class. While some of the behaviors listed would make anyone subjected to them rightfully angry, the underlying narrative that het women are all out to oppress lesbians and need to be set straight, and ideally converted to lesbianism, doesn’t make sense. Railing about compulsory heterosexuality isn’t going to force lesbianism on women who just aren’t feeling it. I don’t see this post as markedly different from the trans instructions about how to be a proper ally – both are prescriptive and assume bad faith of the people whose behavior they seek to control. We women get enough bullying from men. We don’t need any more of it from each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There isn’t anything about this post that is bullying straight women. Nor is this about anger at women who aren’t lesbian. This is actually about some of our experiences *as lesbians*, because we *are* lesbian. And many of the points aren’t even aimed at women, if you read it, so there is no underlying narrative about women oppressing women.

      More to the point, this isn’t a prescriptive list beyond a very basic “show some damn respect” points.

      We don’t need division between lesbians and straight and/or bisexual women. We need solidarity.

      So I’m not quite sure how you read this as anti (non-lesbian) woman.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I identify as het, and I read it. I’d also like to know where all those lesbian feminists are that tried to browbeat you into changing your sexual orientation. The internet? In real life, feminists rarely even tell me what their sexual orientation is, much less make any comments on mine.


  24. The lesbians on this thread may not have tried to browbeat me into changing my sexual orientation but one insulted me for being het, and a second told me I had no right to be insulted by that insult. I can’t see this is any different from me insulting them for being lesbians. It’s definitely no way to treat allies.

    My post replying to these remarks is still “awaiting moderation” – i.e. I can see it, but no one else can. It’s dated 4/10/15. I will be surprised if this new post appears either.

    Probably only the blog owner will ever see what I’m writing now, in which case I’d like her to think hard and long about putting up an OP calling for lesbian allies, but then censoring comments from those allies when we defend ourselves against attacks from lesbians who don’t want allies. Hypocrisy much?


  25. I dunno, this is why I’m sort of half way between liberal and radical feminism, or maybe nowhere at all. I mean I definitely don’t agree with a lot of libfem sort of stuff, but then I read a lot about how radical feminism is really supportive of women who ‘choose’ to be lesbians but completely rags on actual lesbians born lesbian. I suppose studies show that the majority of people really are bisexual, and it probably would be very difficult for someone to understand what it’s like to be born into an immutable sexuality if they could just ‘choose’ who they’re attracted to whenever they like. But yeah it just really shows in this sort of stuff. Like sure, compulsory heterosexuality is bad, you know what’s worse? Reparative therapy. You know what doesn’t work when lesbians are born lesbian? Reparative therapy. And sure if you judge a lesbian by her history you’re a shitty person, but you know what’s even more shitty? Dismissing the born this way “”narrative”” when it explains pretty much every lesbians’ experience and actually has a very solid scientific foundation. And yeah just because a lesbian has been with a dude before doesn’t mean she’s any less of a lesbian, but you know what’s even more annoying than that? When you’re a mean old “””””gold star””””” lesbian so straights think you’re also straight because you haven’t ‘tried it’ and LGBTs think whatever experiences you’ve had are worth less because your experiences don’t include men.

    I suppose my point is that lesbian is not something political. It’s not something you can choose to be, it’s not about feminism or marriage equality or how misogynistic your ex-boyfriend was. It’s about women loving women in a romantic and sexual way. Lesbians can be sexist, against LGBT law reform, a lot of them support the queer movement. There’s such a great diversity of lesbians in the world. And sure, you can have your ‘choosing’ to be a lesbian moment but I just can’t get behind a movement that is so obviously dismissive of lesbians born lesbians and is so deafeningly silent on the struggles we face.


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