Category Archives: Listening 2 Lesbians

Lesbian voices about lesbian lives

Facebook Has a Problem With Dykes

By Lisa A. Mallett and Liz Waterhouse @ www.listening2lesbians.com

Banned Dykes

For years many of us have repeatedly reported revenge porn, child exploitation material, harassment and misogyny, rape and death threats, and been told that what we have reported, “doesn’t contravene Facebook’s community standards.”

We are now seeing an ever-increasing number of women, lesbians and our allies, having posts deleted and being banned for using the word dyke.

While it has been wonderful to see women clustering informally around this issue in defense of lesbians, the Facebook control mechanisms, as illuminated by this wave of removal and banning, are alarming.

“Dyke” a banned word?

I started hearing about women banned for using the word dyke in early 2017.

Prompted by an irate post in a lesbian group in June 2017, I went to look at the San Francisco Dyke March page, having been advised the event page included anti-lesbian content.  This is far from the first such occurrence, with the recent Chicago Dyke March 2017 explicitly telling female only, same-sex attracted lesbians to keep their bigoted selves away.

In response to the comments I had read on the SF Dyke March, I made this comment:

2017-06-23_LI.jpg

(It should not be controversial that women’s sexual boundaries should be respected and that our sexual orientation should be supported within the broader LGBT community.)

Then a woman in my group told me about this happening;

No automatic alt text available.

It had been posted on the very same page.

These two experiences, as well as reports I had been hearing since early 2017, prompted me to make a public post calling for screen caps of the word dyke being banned. Sometime later, I could not access the SF Dyke March thread or my comment, even through notifications, and assumed it had been deleted. Furious, I posted a screen cap of my comment to my page saying;

“The San Francisco dyke march deleted this comment from their wall. The lesbophobia is staggering.”

I didn’t tag the event, or broadcast it beyond my friends list, but soon afterwards discovered that the post had been deleted.

 

LW deleted comment_LI

I’m not sure if the post was reported or auto-removed by Facebook.

And then it turned out that I was banned from Facebook, for calling a dyke march lesbophobic.

LW blocked

I took from this that it was socially acceptable to:

  • tell lesbians that lesbian includes anyone who identifies as lesbian;
  • tell lesbians that dyke includes anyone who identifies as a dyke;
  • tell lesbians to stay away from lesbian originating events;
  • prioritise absolutely everyone over lesbians, even at nominally lesbian events.

As my 24-hour ban began, I started receiving screen caps and stories from women everywhere:

You say dyke like it's a bad thing.jpg

I love dykes!!! breaches standards_LI (2)

And these are just a small sample.  Please scroll to the bottom to see the Hall of Shame for more images and stories of banned, blocked and deleted dykes.

So this is only words and who cares about the identities of others, I hear you say?

Why do we care?

Well, words matter. If every single term used to describe us (female, woman, female-only same-sex attracted, lesbian, dyke) is redefined to either include others, or explicitly exclude us, how do we describe ourselves, and analyse what happens to the group of women who form their primary focus around women? And in a male-centered society, the (attempted) removal of that capacity has strong political meaning.

Even if you don’t agree with where we draw the lines, it shouldn’t be forbidden for lesbians to defend the language we need to discuss ourselves. We certainly shouldn’t be told we are not allowed to reclaim our own word and declare them with pride.  In an age of endlessly touted freedom of speech, it is telling who is told to shut up and who does the telling.  It is becoming increasingly obvious that dykes are on the losing end and are experiencing systematic erasure from public spaces.

 

So what IS Facebook’s problem with dykes?

Facebook has always logistically, socially and ethically, had issues with censorship.  It has managed to dig itself deeper and deeper with every new algorithm, AI, program, corporate/NGO cooperative, and office it creates, to deal with the over 1 billion users using its platform.  As many have noted over the years, transparency at Facebook has been lacking with regards to many of the company’s functions, but perhaps most importantly, how it decides what content we are allowed to post and see.  This lack of transparency makes it extremely difficult to determine how and why dyke content is being censored, as well as why we believe there has been a very recent increase in the number of women experiencing post deletion and bans or blocks, by Facebook.  What we are left with is reporting on what we do know and asking questions on the rest.  At Listening2Lesbians.com, we believe we may be witnessing a perfect storm brewing.  The convergence of programs, politics, social discord, hate speech, censorship and Dyke Pride, that Facebook management understand very little about and show very little regard for, allowing unchecked erasure of lesbian content, interaction, movement and cooperation.

Here are the old and new storms heading towards a dyke post near you.

The Community Operations Team

The Community Operations Team is actually a bunch of teams located in California, USA, Texas, USA, Dublin, Ireland and Hyderabad, India that uses Facebook’s Community Standards to evaluate posts for, among other things, terrorism and hate speech.  Time and again, Facebook has declared that the team relies mostly on users reporting questionable posts (Sherr, 2016) and that every post that is reported is looked at and acted upon by a member of the team, for content and context (Green, 2015).  Julie de Bailliencourt, Facebook’s Safety Policy Manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, has stated that it is a myth that the more a post is reported, the more likely it will be deleted and that, “one report is enough” (Green, 2015).  Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management has also confirmed that they rely on user reports, that all reports are viewed by an actual human being, but added in 2015 that Facebook had no plans to automatically scan for and remove content, otherwise known as an algorithm (Goel, 2015).  However, we now know that Facebook is indeed using algorithmic tools to scan news content and now, user posts.  It’s just unclear to what extent it is being utilized and how.  More on that later.

There have been few insights into the inner workings of the Community Operations Team, but what we have been able to learn is truly disturbing and has potentially huge consequences for dykes on Facebook and all of Facebook’s other platforms.  That interview with Julie de Bailliencourt took place at Facebook’s largest headquarters in Dublin, where it was reported that the team is under immense pressure and often has heated arguments about what content meets community standards.  “We don’t hire people to just press the same button X amount of times per hour,” says de Bailliencourt. “We hire people with very different backgrounds, and they sometimes disagree. It feels almost like the UN sometimes” (Green, 2015).

However, there are hints that the troubles run much deeper.  In 2016, NPR was given rare access to employees working on the Community Operations Team and found that many feel they are in way over their heads.  Sources told NPR in 2010 that Facebook found it needed more workers fast to carry the immense load the team was under.  At first they tried crowdsourcing solutions like CrowdFlower, but eventually turned to Accenture who made a team of subcontractors consisting of several thousand people in offices located in the Philippines and Poland (Shahani, 2016).  If these locations scare you, they should.  Poland was ranked the third worst country to be LGBTI in Europe, according to a 2016 report (Sheftalovich, 2016) and although the Philippines has shown tolerance for LGB people, it is generally viewed as a country that does not really understand homosexuality, or support it.

Adding to the climate of these countries with regards to lesbian rights, are further reports that these subcontractors are worked extremely hard, are expected to make a decision on a piece of content in 10 seconds and often are not able to view the entire post for content and context.  This has led NPR to conclude that Facebook’s Community Operations Team may be, “the biggest editing — aka censorship — operation in the history of media” (Shahani, 2016).

In order to grasp the potential consequences of the functionality of Facebook’s Community Operations Team on the lesbian community, consider this example.  In the same NPR article, it was reported that when India first opened its office, employees interpreted French kissing as inappropriate sexual content and senior management was floored.  They had not anticipated such a cultural influence on interpretations of Community Standards.  Seriously, what was Facebook thinking? It appears they weren’t.  So the questions are: “Who is sitting in the cubicle judging your dyke post?”, “Did they even see your post?” and “What exactly do they believe about dykes”?

Facebook’s Network of Support (NOS)

In 2010, Facebook responded to bullying, harassment, hate speech and increasing suicides in LBGT youth by forming a consultation group of LGBT advocacy organizations to offer guidance on what, how and who to monitor for hate speech against LGBT youth.  The organizations are GLAAD (formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) , GLSEN (formerly known as the Gay, Lesbian and Staright Education Network), The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), PFLAG (formerly known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and The Trevor Project (Facebook, 2017).  Although we don’t have enough information on the extent of their influence seven years later, we do know that several of these organizations have taken adversarial stances against lesbians, including changing definitions of lesbian and woman and working against protections for women and girls.  Many in the feminist community know that members of the radical feminist community do not support these new definitions.  Regardless of how someone feels about this, it is crucial to understand the impact that organizations can have on influencing what can be seen by the public, and that someday, these organizations might just decide to come after you through mediums like Facebook.  At this time, that focus is on limiting the voices of lesbians and their allies and it appears a lot of people are okay with that.  More on the NOS later (and algorithms!).

Facebook’s Online Civil Courage Initiative

In January of 2016, Facebook was experiencing extreme pressure from European countries, led by Germany, to combat online hate speech.  The result was a pilot program called the Online Civil Courage Initiative, which focused its efforts in France, Germany and the UK.  By September 2016, they had decided to expand their program by offering advertising credits and marketing advice to NGOs and other groups willing to work online to “counteract extremist messaging” (Toor, 2016).  On June 23, 2017, Facebook announced that it had officially launched this program in the UK to “curb the spread of hate speech and extremist material online,’ by offering “funding and training to help local organizations track and counteract hate speech and terrorist propaganda” (Toor, 2017).

Just a week earlier, on June 15th  2017, Facebook announced new measures it was taking to combat terrorist propaganda and violent material.  Organizations that participate in this program will be able to communicate to Facebook via a “dedicated support desk” (Toor, 2017).  They also announced a new series of blogs, to be released over time that Facebook will use to convey to its users information about how it works behind-the-scenes, especially in the area of controlling its content.  The first blog, entitled, “Hard Questions: How We Counter Terrorism”, was written by By Monika Bickert (see above) and Brian Fishman, Counterterrorism Policy Manager.  In the first section labeled “Artificial Intelligence”, they lay out the following methods Facebook will be using.  I will add Facebook’s own description of each, but in abbreviated form.

They are:

  • Image matching: When someone tries to upload a terrorist photo or video, our systems look for whether the image matches a known terrorism photo or video.
  • Language understanding: We have also recently started to experiment with using AI to understand text that might be advocating for terrorism. That analysis goes into an algorithm that is in the early stages of learning how to detect similar posts. The machine learning algorithms work on a feedback loop and get better over time.
  • Removing terrorist clusters: [When] we identify Pages, groups, posts or profiles as supporting terrorism, we also use algorithms to “fan out” to try to identify related material that may also support terrorism. We use signals like whether an account is friends with a high number of accounts that have been disabled for terrorism, or whether an account shares the same attributes as a disabled account.
  • Recidivism: We’ve also gotten much faster at detecting new fake accounts created by repeat offenders.
  • Cross-platform collaboration: [We] have begun work on systems to enable us to take action against terrorist accounts across all our platforms, including WhatsApp and Instagram (Bickert & Fishman, 2017).

They also acknowledge their use of “human expertise” through the Community Operations Team, as well as their partnerships with governments and organizations to run these initiatives.  Finally, they mention something called “counterspeech training,’ in which they have partnered with NGOs and community groups to “empower the voices that matter most”.  Even in a counter-terrorism context, this sent shivers down my dyke spine.  And now we see that there is an AI actually running amok on Facebook looking for those voices that don’t “matter most”, partnering with organizations that are dictating what those important voices are saying (I’m thinking here about Network of Safety!) and being judged by an underpaid and overworked Community Operations employee from I-don’t-know-where, who thinks I-don’t-know-what about lesbians and our right to exist anywhere, let alone Facebook.

Remember, algorithms are not neutral and an AI is a bunch of algorithms written by people with a mess of biases and prejudices.  We all know that logically, none of these entities at play here are chock-full of dykes and dyke influence.  In fact, if history holds, it’s quite the opposite.  So if you’ve been seeing your dyke posts getting removed faster and faster, and your bans getting longer and longer, look at what policies, procedures, programs and personnel Facebook has been bringing to their platform over the last seven years, and especially over the last year and a half.  And if you have seen, like we have, a huge increase in anti-dyke activity by Facebook in June 2017, look at what Facebook has introduced in this month alone.

But wait…

The perfect storm continues…

US Pride and Dyke March

So we know Facebook relies heavily on its community members sending in reports of material they deem inappropriate and those hard working Community Operations employees get to work putting our posts into context and pushing the red button or the green button.  They see lovely posts that say “I LOVE DYKES!!!”, laugh, and hit the green button and they see “DYKES BURN IN HELL!!!”, get very angry, and hit the red button.

Yeah, right. We wish.

As we explored earlier, it just doesn’t work that way at Facebook HQs around the world and we’re all smart enough to know that any algorithms are going to struggle with having to make a distinction between nice dyke posts and hate speech.  We also have no idea who is actually influencing the Online Civil Courage Initiative, or the guidelines for “counterspeech’ measures.  So, into this Facebook created hell we bring US Pride Month and Dyke March!

Yesss!

Oh no.

You would have to be living under a rock (or not be a dyke) to know that the L is having issues with the GBT.  Whatever side you are on, we are where we are.  Dykes are being told to stay away from Dyke Marches if they won’t accept dick into their life and Pride has become a practice in extreme queer theory with a tendency to alienate and shame lesbians for being all about each other.  Again, believe what you want, but June has been an intense month for lesbians.

What I am suggesting here, and I’m sure many of you have guessed already, is that trolls are abound this June and any dyke-positive group or individual is at greater risk for being reported, even if we are just a bunch of dykes going out for a walk.  However, this is only a piece of the perfect storm that is converging on June.

Victoria Brownworth wrote:

Lesbians are being no-platformed out of our very existence, whether through the insidiousness of silencing or the oppressive demands of compulsory heterosexuality or through violence that at best leaves us shattered and at worst, dead. Lesbians deserve the same level of autonomy as any other group, be it minority or majority. If you aren’t supporting that autonomy, then you are inadvertently or directly a participant in the erasure that is perhaps slowly but very definitely steadily, wiping us off the face of the earth. (Brownworth, 2015)

Here’s What We Can Do

Join Listening2Lesbians in asking Facebook the hard questions.  On June 15th 2017,  Facebook said, “the decisions we make at Facebook affect the way people find out about the world and communicate with their loved ones” (Bickert & Fishman, 2017).  They also said, “we take seriously our responsibility — and accountability — for our impact and influence.  We want to broaden that conversation” (Schrage, 2017).

This sounds really good to me!  Dykes are awesome at conversation!

Send your dyke concerns, screencaps, stories, experiences and more to hardquestions@fb.com. Listening2Lesbians will also be sending a version of this piece.  Let’s try to find out what is going on and raise a stink.  Speaking out about the silencing of dykes needs to happen now, because we really don’t know what it’s going to look like for us once this storm passes.

Thanks

We would like to thank all the dykes out there for coming together and helping us see what has been happening to us on Facebook these days.  We would also like to thank our bisexual and straight women allies who also threw themselves in front of the Facebook bus to test out this theory.  Their love of dykes got them the ban hammer too.  Looking back at the last couple of days, we actually created women’s space on the very ground of the oppressor.  We did that.   We can do it again.

HALL OF SHAME

Women who have had their posts removed or been banned for a pro-lesbian use of the word dyke:

 

  • On the same SF dyke march thread, another lesbian had this comment removed by Facebook for apparently breaching the Facebook Community Standards:
    No automatic alt text available.

 

  • This lesbian was had her post removed and was banned for 30 days for enjoying a dyke band at a farmer’s market.

 

  • This lesbian was banned three times for posting this picture – once in January 2017 for 24 hours, once in early March 2017 for 3 days and once in late march for 30 days.
    You say dyke like it's a bad thing.jpg
  • This was also removed in March 2017 but without a Facebook ban.

    Enter a caption

Other comments removed for breaching the standards:

  • Another post removed in the context of identity and US dyke marches
    Dykes are lesbian
  • A telling example is the woman, a lesbian ally, who posted “I love dykes!!!!” to test for us all if dyke really was a banned word. This post does nothing but support lesbians and still she had the post removed and she was banned from Facebook for 7 days.I love dykes!!! breaches standards_LI (2)Banned for I love dykes!!!!
  • This young lesbian posted this video of the lesbian avengers starting dyke marches with the comment “When dyke marches were still for dykes ❤ “.
    Her post was removed.
    She was banned.
  • An older dyke, well known in international lesbian circles, had a post inviting friends to go for a walk in nature (with dyke in the text) removed three times for breaching Facebook Community Standards. She was later banned.
  • Kate Hansen, also lesbian, was banned for 30 days after posting that lesbians were getting banned for using the word dyke.
  • Another woman posted, on a rainbow background, “I love dykes! Dykes for Dykes!” Her post was removed for breaching community standards and she was banned from Facebook for 24 hours.
  • The post of this tweet was removed on June 10, presumably for the comment about dyke action and visibility. The poster was banned for 24 hours, banned for another 24 after that and threatened with a permanent ban after 9 years on Facebook without any warnings. She submitted an appeal which Facebook did not respond to. Others reposted the original tweet without the comment and were not banned.
  •  Another woman posted about dykes on bikes, with hearts, and the post was removed. This ocurred in Pride Month.
  • Another woman had a photo of her and her partner, captioned dyke pride, removed, again still in Pride Month.

Other women have been banned by Facebook for using the word dyke but we haven’t been able to contact them due to their ban, which speaks to the power of banning and consequently isolating women.

Removal and ban photos and stories sent to us after this was posted:

  • This lesbian had her post removed and banned after sharing the video of the Lesbian Avengers starting dyke marches and was banned for 3 days. Facebook has not responded to her appeal.
  • This woman has had yet another dyke post removed (her 5th that we know about).

If you have more screen caps of lesbians being banned or having posts removed for using the word dyke or pro-lesbian statements please:

References

Bickert, M., & Fishman, B. (2017, June 15). Hard Questions: How We Counter Terrorism. Retrieved from Facebook Newsroom: https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2017/06/how-we-counter-terrorism/

Brownworth, V. (2015, March 5). ERASURE: THE NEW NORMAL FOR LESBIANS BY @VABVOX. Retrieved from A Room of Our Own: http://www.aroomofourown.org/erasure-the-new-normal-for-lesbians-by-vabvoc/2015

Facebook. (2017). What is the Facebook Network of Support (NOS) and what NOS resources are available for LGBTQ people? Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/help/202924156415780

Goel, V. (2015, March 16). Facebook Clarifies Rules on What It Bans and Why. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/bits/2015/03/16/facebook-explains-what-it-bans-and-why/?referer=

Green, C. (2015, February 13). What Happens When You ‘Report Abuse’? The Secretive Facebook Censors Who Decide What Is-and What Isn’t Abuse. Retrieved from Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/what-happens-when-you-report-abuse-the-secretive-facebook-censors-who-decide-what-is-and-what-isnt-10045437.html

Schrage, E. (2017, June 15). Hard Questions. Retrieved from Facebook Newsroom: https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2017/06/hard-questions/

Shahani, A. (2016, November 17). From Hate Speech To Fake News: The Content Crisis Facing Mark Zuckerberg. Retrieved from NPR: http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/11/17/495827410/from-hate-speech-to-fake-news-the-content-crisis-facing-mark-zuckerberg

Sheftalovich, Z. (2016, May 11). Latvia, Lithuania and Poland worst countries to be gay in EU. Retrieved from Politico: http://www.politico.eu/article/latvia-lithuania-and-poland-worst-countries-to-be-gay-in-eu/

Sherr, I. (2016, September 9). How Facebook censors your posts (FAQ). Retrieved from CNET: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnet.com/google-amp/news/how-zuckerberg-facebook-censors-korryn-gaines-philando-castile-dallas-police-your-posts-faq/

Toor, A. (2016, September 22). Facebook is expanding its campaign to combat hate speech. Retrieved from The Verge: https://www.theverge.com/2016/9/22/13013440/facebook-hate-speech-campaign-expansion

Toor, A. (2017, June 23). Facebook launches program to combat hate speech and terrorist propaganda in the UK. Retrieved from The Verge: https://www.theverge.com/2017/6/23/15860868/facebook-hate-speech-terrorism-uk-online-civil-courage-initiative?yptr=yahoo

Banned Dykes

 

Lesbian spaces are still needed, no matter what the queer movement says

As lesbian bars continue to close and lesbian-only spaces continue to be attacked, Susan Cox highlights the disproportionate damage queer politics has done to lesbians and our spaces.

“To pretend the decline of lesbian spaces is merely a sign of progress is totally inconsistent with reality. Rosenthal implies we have reached a kind of utopia, with regard to female sexuality, stating, “It wasn’t too long ago that identifying as lesbian carried a huge stigma.” But she also notes that in Portland State University’s recent “survey of students and their identities, more students identified as ‘pansexual’ than lesbian” and quotes a young woman (who dates women, albeit some who identify as “non-binary”) saying, “‘I have never felt comfortable with the term lesbian.’”

Hmm. That sounds like… what’s the word… oh, yeah: stigma.

This “progress” explanation not only falls flat because stigma around lesbianism remains, but because it fails to account for the fact that spaces for gay males have remained largely intact. In my hometown of Philadelphia, for example, a peek at any “gayborhood” calendar offers a plethora of events catering to gay men, including: gay bingo, gaybill (musical theater night), gay burlesque roulette, free country line dancing, gay antiques shows, and a best gay mac and cheese contest.”

Continue reading at: Lesbian spaces are still needed, no matter what the queer movement says (Source)

In Memoriam: Lesbian Murder Victims (June 2017 Update)

Day-of-Mourn-01-300x187

“Lesbians are very often under-counted as murder victims–both within the so-called LGBT community and by those who monitor violence against women. This is a beginning effort to honor the names of the lesbians that have been lost.”

This month we honor the following sisters:

Andreza Souza Dos Santos, Manaus, Brazil (February 2017)

Larissa Massaroli, Cabixi, Brazil (April 2017)

Kandis Major and Terri Seibeck, Illinois, USA (October 2009)

Lerato Moloi, Naledi, South Africa (May 2017)

Nonkie Smous, Maokeng, South Africa (April 2017)

Continue reading at: In Memoriam: Lesbian Murder Victims (Source)

What we know so far about recent rapes and murders of lesbians in South Africa

Lerato Tambai Moloi

Lerato “Tambai” Moloi found stoned to death on May 14th.

South Africa is seeing a sharp rise in the rape and murder of women, including lesbians, in the last couple of months.  On April 1st, a 26-year-old lesbian was raped, beaten and stabbed by three men outside her home in Mohadin, Potchefstroom.  Three suspects were arrested, two minors and a 19-years-old, but we have no further information on the status of those charges.

On April 4th, the burned body of Nonkie Smous, an out lesbian, was found in Kroonstad, but her identity was not confirmed until 4 weeks later.  She was laid to rest on May 13th.  It is believed that Smous was raped and murdered before being set on fire.  According to Mambaonline, three men were reportedly arrested in connection with the murder, but 2 of the men were released and one was charged with robbery and is no longer in custody.

On May 14th, the body of Lerato “Tambai” Moloi, an out lesbian in Soweto, was found covered in stones by a man cutting grass by railroad tracks.  Tsotang Petros Mokgethi‚ 38‚ and Jacob Alofayo‚ 35‚ stand accused of kidnapping‚ rape and murder.  It is believed that Lerato Moloi was the victim of corrective rape before being stoned to death.  There are reports that she was also set on fire, but we are unable to confirm at this time.  The Gauteng provincial government announced on Wednesday it will assist with the burial cost and psycho-social support for Moloi’s family.  The news of Moloi’s murder comes as the Love Not Hate project launches a new campaign demanding justice for LGBTI victims of hate crimes.

lerato+protea4
Zodwa Moloi, right, the mother of Lerato Moloi, supported by Thandi Mathanjana at her home in Protea, Soweto. Picture Credit: Sandile Ndlovu.

This same weekend, the bodies of Popi Qwabe, 24, her friend Bongeka Phungula, 28, were also found in separate, but nearby, areas of Soweto.  Owabe and Phungula were roommates living in Zola, but here is no mention of their sexuality.  Both women were raped before they were killed.  One suspect is in custody.

The burned body of Nombuyiselo Nombewu, a 15-year old, was found on May 14th and 32-year old Tshepo Seth Manyikie has been arrested for her rape and murder. This follows the rape and murder of Karabo Mokoena on April 27th, by her boyfriend, who doused her body in acid and set her on fire.  The hashtag #MenAreTrash is now being used by women in South Africa to share stories of acts of abuse and femicide by men they know personally.  While these women were not lesbian, their rape and murder do reflect the level of misogyny and violence all women in Soweto have been dealing with in recent months.

There is a fourth body of a woman found at a dumping site in Mfolo, also on Sunday.  Her body was burned beyond recognition.  There is evidence that she was also raped before her murder. Listening 2 Lesbians will be following this story closely.

25/5/2017 UPDATE: None of the suspects mentioned by police in connection with Lerato Moloi’s murder appeared in court.  As of this date there have been no arrests made.

http://www.mambaonline.com/2017/04/07/lesbian-woman-raped-stabbed-potchefstroom/

http://www.mambaonline.com/2017/04/05/burnt-body-feared-young-lesbian-woman/

http://www.mambaonline.com/2017/05/08/dna-results-confirmed-lesbian-murder-victim-nonki-smous-buried/

http://citizen.co.za/news/news-national/1514567/horrific-photo-circulates-after-murder-of-lesbian-in-soweto/

http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2017/05/17/Bail-hearing-for-Lerato-Moloi-suspects-delayed-as-SAPS-press-ahead-with-investigation1

http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2017/05/17/EFF-leaders-at-Soweto-court-for-Lerato-Moloi-corrective-rape-trial1

http://citizen.co.za/news/1517059/details-four-women-murdered-found-dead-soweto-one-weekend/

http://www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/stnews/2017/05/14/Horrific-details-of-Karabo-Mokoenas-gruesome-murder-emerge

http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/three-men-arrested-for-murders-of-3-soweto-women-20170517

http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/gang-raped-joburg-woman-is-pregnant-9180269

https://www.ofm.co.za/article/local-news/243478/klerksdorp-murder-accused-stays-in-custody

http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/2017/05/18/lerato-was-killed-by-people-she-knew-it-was-a-hate-crime

http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/attacks-on-lesbians-a-hate-crime-9252891

 

 

In Memoriam: Lesbian Murder Victims (May 2017 Update)

Day-of-Mourn-01-300x187

Listening 2 Lesbians will provide news of any updates to the “In Memoriam” blog on a monthly basis. This amazing record of the loss of those in our lesbian community to violence is not complete, but it is also the only record being kept at this time.

This month we honor the following sister:

Kathleen Ann Barrientos (March 18, 2017)

Continue reading at: In Memoriam: Lesbian Murder Victims: April 2017 (Source)

Tell Ardrossan Accies RFC to Condemn Actions of Innes Frazer in Sexual Abuse of Lesbian Teenager

NO

#CondemnRapeCultureArdrossanRFC

On December 17, 2016, Innes Frazer, a rugby player for the Ardrossan Accies RFC, coaxed an 18-year old autistic lesbian into a storage container at Ardrossan Rugby Club in Ayrshire, Scotland.  He kissed the teenager, touched her breasts, exposed himself and forced her to touch him and then told her to lie about what he had done.  This is after Frazer had introduced the young woman to his friends as “the autistic lesbian” and himself as, “the only one who could turn her straight.”  Despite the victim being a lesbian, despite her having said “no”, and despite the judge explicitly stating that Frazer abused a vulnerable teenager for his ‘own sexual gratification’, he cleared him of sexually assaulting her.

A source close to the victim’s family have told Listening 2 Lesbians that the young woman is, “gutted at the verdict” and that “it took everything she had to go to the police in the first instance.”  The source also shared that the Ardrossan RFC have not given any support to the victim or her family, and have not condemned the actions of one of their members.

We are asking all of our sisters and our allies to join us in demanding that Ardrossan RFC make a statement condemning the sexual abuse Innes Frazer enacted on his victim and remove him from any association with the club.  We also demand that Ardrossan RFC prioritize the exposure of rape culture, including corrective rape culture, within its organization, and make appropriate steps to address and eradicate all forms of violence against women perpetrated by its members.

Please join us in contacting Ardrossan RFC on Twitter and Facebook:

@ArdrossanRFC (Twitter)

#CondemnRapeCultureArdrossanRFC

@ArdrossanRugby (Facebook)

Sources:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4440944/Man-cleared-sexual-assault-disabled-lesbian-teenager.html

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3329281/rugby-player-sexually-assaulted-teenage-lesbian-after-saying-he-was-the-only-one-who-could-turn-her-straight/

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/04/26/rugby-player-abused-lesbian-teen-for-his-own-sexual-gratification-judge-says-as-he-clears-him/

https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/861067/disabled-lesbian-sexual-assault-groom-to-be-storage-container-ardrossan-rugby-club/

In Memoriam: Lesbian Murder Victims

An amazing blog dedicated to the memory of lesbians murdered.  Listening 2 Lesbians would like to thank the blogger who is doing this important work.  We will update this post as changes are made to the original blog.

“Lesbians are very often undercounted as murder victims–both within the so-called LGBT community and by those who monitor violence against women. This is a beginning effort to honor the names of the lesbians that have been lost.”

Continue reading at: In Memoriam: Lesbian Murder Victims (Source)

Lesbian Choices: An Indian Tragedy

A recent murder case in Gujarat India highlights the plight of lesbians who are trapped in abusive situations in countries with high rates of family imposed sex-based abuse and homophobia and where living independently as a woman and lesbian is difficult. Where there are few to no legal or social remedies to prevent violence against themselves and their loved ones, abused lesbians may have no meaningful choices other than to remain in danger or breach legal or social rules. All courses of action open to them will be harmful, and possibly dangerous. Retaliating to stop the violence may stop familial abuse but results in exposure to significant legal sanctions. The emotional and psychological toll of facing these choices and their consequences adds to the tragedy of women trapped in this way.

In early April 2017, the body of a man, Yunis Maniya, was found in Bharuch dictrict of Gujarat, India. A woman (Mayaben), reportedly the lesbian partner of the victim’s daughter (Jaheda), and an unrelated male (Jayendra) have been charged with the man’s murder. The motive for the murder is reported by the local police responsible for the investigation as the ending of sexuality-based domestic violence:

“The motive behind the murder was the victim’s opposition to the lesbian relationship. The accused was having an affair with the daughter of the deceased. He used to beat his daughter in a bid to discourage her from having a relationship with the accused. This incited the automobile broker who later hatched the plan to murder him,” said deputy SP of Bharuch N D Chauhan.

Information on this case is scarce in English and the articles do not appear sympathetic to the plight of the abused daughter or her partner accused of the murder. What isn’t clear, reading only the English articles, is what the options would be for women experiencing domestic violence on the basis of their sexuality in a country where sex-based violence against women alone is endemic, homophobia is widespread and women’s capacity to leave the family circle is limited.

While domestic violence is illegal in India, women and girls remain highly susceptible to abuse within the family. In 2016 it was reported that so-called honour killings had risen by 800% year on year, although it is unclear whether this represents an increase in the killings or an increase in reporting.

Lesbians are particularly vulnerable given the criminalisation of same sex activities under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, introduced in 1860 and only repealed in 2009. In 2016 the Indian Supreme Court committed to reviewing Section 377 after a 2013 decision had reinstated the law . Only months before, a 2 judge bench of the Supreme Court named homosexuality “a social evil for some” in a tax ruling on a Gujurati film on homosexuality. The Supreme Court action was reportedly the last chance for law reform, save only an appeal to the conservative politicians of India.

Although the legal sanctions are not directly applied, they remain a potent backdrop to social sanctions and persecution in a country where national surveys report a 75% disapproval rate of homosexuality and in which lesbians face a double oppression as both women and lesbians.

A brief reading of lesbian writings about their life in India demonstrates some of the risks lesbians face, both on the basis of their sex and their sexuality.

This Gujurati case represents the catch-22 lesbian around the world can face – how do lesbians being abused for their sexuality and relationships defend themselves in societies where violence against women is endemic and where homosexuality is punished? This is a no win situation for lesbians who are trapped in violent situations with few options for escape or defense, and where retaliatory violence exposes them to far greater legal sanctions.

When lesbians have no safe way to leave or stay, what meaningful choice remains?


We have tried to ensure information presented in this piece is accurate, however if you notice any inaccuracies or accidental misrepresentations, please email us with additional information at liz@listening2lesbians.com or lisa@listening2lesbians.com.

Sources:

More on the legal situation and processes:

 

 

Lesbian a banned Facebook page username word 

Since we posted in fury at being unable to have a username @listening2lesbians for our Facebook page, we discovered that many words are banned.

What’s particularly interesting is the list of what is and isn’t banned, particularly around sexuality.

Lesbian is the only group in the LGBTIQA community who is point blank banned.

This time we screen capped it all for clarity and proof.

Lesbian is a banned word:


But all of these other labels are allowed:

The word gay is fine.


Gay women are also kindly permitted:
The word sexual itself  is banned


But, bi, biwomen,and bicurious are allowed:


Questioning is fine:


Queer is fine:


Intersex is fine:


Trans, transman, transmen, transwoman and transwomen are all permitted:


Broad terms are fine:


We wondered about words used both as insults and identity and dyke is allowed but faggot is banned.


Tellingly, hetero is permitted but homo itself is not:

Lastly the suggestion was made to us that lesbian was perhaps banned because it’s used as a pornography category. Not only would this be the wrong response to fetishising women but it’s also not accurate since the word porn is totally fine according to Facebook username criteria.

So there you have it. Lesbian is banned when others are not. Only homo and faggot were also banned.

Does this mean Facebook thinks the word lesbian is itself an insult or is it a case of deliberate discrimination and silencing?

Side note: we put our username in capitals and used an lowercase l for the I to get our username so it is @llstening2lesblans but it looks ok in uppercase as @LISTENlNG2LESBlANS. We couldn’t bring ourselves to drop the word lesbian.

We were keenly aware of the irony of listening also being banned in Facebook page usernames but in the few days since we originally posted this seems to have changed as per the pictures below. 

The Beginning: A Lesbian’s First Blog

Fear Erased

I got involved with Listening 2 Lesbians back in October 2015, a couple of weeks after falling madly in love with a woman I met online in a Facebook group for lesbians.  Technically, I had barely even met her.  She would comment on other women’s posts and I would find myself enthralled with everything she said.  She started commenting on my posts and my stomach did all those painful, but lovely, flip-flops and cartwheels.  She was so smart.  And funny and witty and political and…did she just flirt with me?!  Yeah, it was like that.

Neither of us was looking, but that didn’t matter.  To me, she was like a political/social machine, a force unto herself, that I both admired and adored.  And she was super busy.  All the time.  So busy she really didn’t have much time to hang out and flirt with me.  So, when I found out about her blog, Listening 2 Lesbians, and how badly she felt for letting it go recently, I stepped in and offered my services.  One way or another, I was going to have an excuse to keep being near her, even if I would need to work really, really hard on a blog that wasn’t mine.  I was up for this challenge.

Turns out she was having all the same feelsies for me, so I really I didn’t need to work on the blog at all.  I know, this all sounds awful.  I thought I could win her heart by working on something she cared deeply about and once we were totally and happily in love, we just kind of stopped the blog again.  And she felt bad again.  And I felt bad again.  So, here we are April 2017 and Listening 2 Lesbians has been reborn…again.  I started the news feature back up in a less time-sucking manner and Liz and I have been dusting L2L off and planning new content.  I’m so happy to be working with her again.

I’m guessing some of you are wondering if I’m committed to this venture this time.  Sure, true love is great and all, but what about the lesbian community?  Am I a stayer?  Am I a doer?  Or, am I just going to blog ‘em and leave ‘em?

Good questions.

doubt & fear signI began reading Dispatches from Lesbian America today and right on page 16 Pippa Fleming and Giovanna Capone asked me, “What are you willing to do today, to help re-create a visible, viable lesbian community and culture that is a place of honor for ourselves and each other?”

Well, I’m doing news on Listening 2 Lesbians today, Pippa and Giovanna!  Isn’t that enough?

Is that enough, Lisa?

I took a bath.  Don’t ask me why, I just felt the need to sit in water and think.  I thought about being a lesbian.  I thought about coming out in college.  A women’s college.  In the 90’s and in the middle of it all.  I thought about all of the strong, smart, amazing young lesbians that helped this baby dyke through her first year.  A year that included getting disowned, losing my family, and being forced to leave school because I couldn’t get financial aid on my own.  A year that included seeing Ani Difranco at Smith College and Indigo Girls at Amherst College, working parking at the Northampton Lesbian Festival and greeting Tribe 8 as they rode up to the gate.  Seeing Go Fish in an actual theater!  Mind.  Blown.  Going to my first ever Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.  Once I knew I was a lesbian, there was no turning back.  I had community and I knew how to use it.  I was home.

Flash forward 22 years.  All of us change a lot in 20 years.  Hopefully, we’ve grown wiser.  Kinder?  Sometimes.  Me?  Well, I grew fearful.  Fearful?  Really?  Well, yes.  Our community has changed so much in the last two decades.  I see fragmentation.  I see disillusionment and anger.  I see women afraid to say the word “lesbian” and a generation of young lesbians rejecting their biological realities.  I also see so much love and desire to “do the right thing,” while simultaneously ripping apart the very fabric of what it means to be a lesbian.  Sitting in the bathtub, I realized that I was, indeed, afraid.  How can I help the lesbian community become more visible, when I have become terrified of speaking my own truth?  My own lesbian truth?  Sticking to the news was safe, right?  These are other people’s stories after all.  These lesbians, for bad or good, are now Out There.  I don’t want to be Out There.  I’ve seen how lesbian truths like mine are treated Out There and it’s pretty terrifying.  I’m scared of being hurt.  I want to be safe.  Sound familiar to anyone?

“So, Lisa,” you are probably thinking, “what are you so afraid of?”

Here is where I begin fighting the fear.

I’m afraid of saying the “wrong thing” to the lesbian community or about the lesbian community.  I’m afraid of posting a bad article and people getting mad at me.  I’m afraid of talking about my coming out story, which is awful and wonderful, and getting shit from any family that might stumble upon this.  I’m afraid that if I talk about my 20’s, which could also be titled, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” someone from my past will see it and have some choice words for me.  I’m afraid that if I talk about the pain of becoming a transwidow, that my ex and her friends, or the entire transactivist community, will attack me for it.  I’ve seen it happen.  I’m afraid that I will be so exposed that all of the skeletons in my closet will just pop out and start dancing and I’ll soon find myself on the edge of a personal disaster for all to see.

But, then what?  What happens if I keep letting this fear control what I say and do?  What happens if I don’t share my experiences?  What happens if I just shut up and play it cool, posting my relatively safe news articles about other lesbians in other places, with other lives?  Okay, probably not much will happen for those of you reading this right now, but I have a strong suspicion that I’m going to feel like complete shit.  For   someone who used to be so brave, it’ll probably feel like I’ve given up and given in.  I don’t want to feel that way.  I don’t want to be afraid.

So, now I ask myself, “Am I visible and viable as a lesbian voice?  Do I feel honor?  Do I want to be a part of re-creating this lesbian community and culture?”

My answer is…YES.

Lesbian a banned word in Facebook usernames?

We’re trying to get listening2lesbians back up and running, particularly for current news items. 

Apparently the word lesbian isn’t “allowed on Facebook”.

The silencing of lesbians lurks beneath the surface everywhere… 

Transparent disrespect for dyke culture

Transparent disrespect for dyke culture
Guest post by Karen Thompson; cross-posted with Liberation Collective

Editor’s note: This post by Karen Thompson is in response to an episode of the television program Transparent, which disdainfully and contemptuously parodied the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and the women – mostly lesbians – who called it home for 40 years.

(1) One of the things about festival that is so fucking amazing is the sheer magnitude of female competence. The stages, the sound, the tents, the everything is put together with such care and consciousness and that everything — made out of spit and bandaids — can look like something so polished, so professional, so ON POINT. It’s not that we make nutloaf; it’s that we make nutloaf for THOUSANDS OF WOMEN over OPEN FIRES in all weather. For free.

So the general fucking HINKINESS of the look of the “Idlewild” shit pissed me off because it looked jacked up and like someone threw a camping party in someone’s backyard instead of the sheer magnitude and scale of ability that is demonstrated at fest the minute you walk in the gate. And that lack of attention to that sort of detail (when the slickness and smoothness of everything else on that show is never skimped on), once again ignored female competence and what we can do without males.

Which was one of central liberatory aspects of Festival for me.

(2) The sheer scale of the place. We were thousands. We were legion. This wasn’t a handful of whatevs. We are a city. We are a people. We are a culture.

And yes, I get it. TV. Budgets. There is only so much. But DAMN. Undermining our decades.

(3) The yelling “MAN ON THE LAND” which, as we all know, no one fucking does like a chain but as a beep beep of vehicles.

So once again, no one is fucking seeing the WHERE and WHY and HISTORY of why that had to be done. And no one is talking about the threat of men coming on the land with guns, or hanging barbie dolls in trees in Gaia, or any of the spray painting of dyke that we had to cover up. The leering at naked bodies. The reality of male violence that made that rapid alert system necessary.

(4) No kids? Really? Why would that be? I don’t know why that bothered me, but it did. It made the nudity seem sexualized instead of just that we have a place where we can be nude when we get hot or whatever. Just cause. Because we are safe to do so there.

(5) Safety. Ali said something like “this is so NICE.” and there was a weird moment of rape free something. But there was nothing that made it clear what it feels like to be in the woods and not worry about someone leaping from behind a tree, putting a knife to your neck, and raping you.

Yes, women rape. And they have at Fest. But women have not stranger raped using weapons or by kidnapping someone from their tent in the middle of the night. And that is a real talk moment about why Fest was important.

(6) Policy.

What bothered me about this is that the whole place works on intention. The whole place was trusting women to not be assholes. And we weren’t. For the most part. That you are expected to behave a certain way and trust and honor. And that is how we were able to do what we were supposed to do. And so the importance of that intention as a community ethic was lost.

(7) Fuck the Indigo Girls

Your moral code made it impossible for you to play at Fest again but was totally cool with you being in this crazy depiction of yourselves at this FARCE of a representation of Michigan?

Seriously, that along with Syd Mutschler’s breakdown about their playing at venues operated by racist, women hating scum and having no issues with THAT just…I don’t know. Just not okay.

(8) Also do you really think it wasn’t a CHOICE to not show, say, the WOMYN OF COLOR tent?! Because then we would have had to have a real talk about separate space for oppressed people and how Fest is one of the rare places that saw the battle against racism as a community value. As opposed to that weird scene where someone was appropriating Native American culture and mocking how we create our healing spaces.

AGAIN. I GET IT. THIS IS TV. NO ONE CARES. I GET IT.

But this was a lesbian who has made a show that has been deeply stewed and thought about and respectful of the experience of a group of people. She has ethically created space for trans women and men to tell their own stories, to be there, to be present, to be shown in their truths.

And yet, she gets to dyke culture and suddenly we turn into this flattened version of ourselves. If she was going to do it? Why not do it? Why make us the cartoons in a series that was all about detail and finesse?

I don’t think I need to tell you the answer to that.

I’m done. I’m just done. I have no more in me to be down with people in this community who have no respect for dyke culture. None. And I’m done with those in our community who don’t defend us against that flattening and that laying down to the people who support that sort of lesbophobia and caricature.

So yes, we know each other. We will always know each other. We are here and I, for one, will not stop speaking our truths.

Also, I do want to say there were a bunch of things that were awesome sauce. I will never say no to many different women’s bodies being shown in their glory. I will never say no to the fact that we show the world that being a gender non-conforming female doesn’t make you trans (the cameo by the bearded woman, Jennifer Miller). I will never say no to the fact that she showed diverse women as dykes. I will never say no to the REALITY of the fact that trans women come to festival and no one has laid a hand on them and that we can hold disagreement with respect (which, ironically, Maura was unable to do). Plus, a really fucking insightful and necessary insight in the circle around the fire (ALSO ON POINT!) which was that PAIN and PRIVILEGE are not the same thing and being in pain does not mean you weren’t privileged.


Please add your thoughts in the comments below. If you are interested in writing a guest post please email me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

 

On the Indigo Girls Boycotting the 2014 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival

On the Indigo Girls Boycotting the 2014 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival
Guest post by Syd Mutschler, cross-posted with Liberation Collective


Editor’s Note: This commentary by Syd Mutschler is originally from June 2014, not long after the Indigo Girls reneged on an agreement to play at MichFest in August of 2014. At the time, they made quite a public show of their sudden boycott of an event that the Indigo Girls as a group and Amy Ray individually had played many times. They gave the organizer of the event very little notice that they were pulling out and did so well after brochures, posters, and other materials had been printed and women had bought tickets expecting to hear them at the Festival. Treating women who had supported them financially and in other ways over many years this badly would be ugly enough, but they undertook this boycott after many years of the exact same controversy, yet it hadn’t stopped them from playing and spending time at the Festival at any time before that. This was very likely a decision based purely on finances (they were afraid that they would be boycotted, yet they continued to play at a venue with an owner with extremely questionable ethics), not deeply-held beliefs about “inclusivity”.
As the yearly debate about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival heats up, I have been having a lot of thoughts around boycotts, artists pulling out from the line-up, or artists who have stated they will not play again until the intention of the festival is changed from a gender/sex separate space to only a gender separate space. Artists and trans activists such as Red Durkin have made a lot of statements about why they will not play or why the festival should be boycotted, but I find them to be vague, condescending, emotionally manipulative, and intentionally inflammatory.
The artists’ statements, while varied, all imply that any connection to MWMF and Lisa Vogel is untenable. This claim deserves deconstruction. Let’s try playing Ok Cupid! With this situation, shall we? Let’s imagine that artists and venue owners fill out a political survey and the results will show the percentage of friend/enemy each match is. We will start with Lisa Vogel and the Indigo Girls.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to guess that Lisa Vogel, Amy Ray, and Emily Saliers agree on most subjects, except for the fact that Lisa Vogel believes sex is a class, that the female sex is a subjugated class, and therefore believes that separate space can be framed by that class. Since the Indigo Girls indicated they would play again if the intention was changed to one only based on gender, we can assume that they do support class-based separate space. That leaves us with Lisa Vogel believes sex is a class, and Indigo Girls do not. I will estimate that the test will put them at 99% friends, and 1% enemy.
Being from New Orleans, my next selection will be a venue Indigo Girls often play here, Tipitina’s. Tips is owned by Roland C. Karnatowski III. He is a white, heterosexual, wealthy male who owns somewhere around 7,000 rental properties around the Gulf Coast. His landlord practices are questionable (Google search for yourself) and the Tipitina’s Foundation (a charity) scores so low on finances and transparency, it certainly makes a thinking person wonder what’s going on there. As a straight, white, male, it’s doubtful he has ever spent much time thinking about the benefits of class-based space. Karnatowski has the privilege of not speaking his intentions about anything, unlike Lisa Vogel. Beyond that, since he will take anyone’s money at the door, I guess that makes him a good and enlightened guy. Is that the bar we are setting? Someone who is willing to profit off anyone?
I just used the venue in my hometown as an example, but many of the venues the Indigo Girls play are owned by questionable people. I did some investigating of House of Blues, for example, and could have used them as well.
Do we even need to think about who these venue owners might vote for, or who might make the greater contribution to the Lesbian community or the GBT community? Do silence and capitalism trump the contributions and integrity of an outspoken and compassionate community member like Lisa Vogel? Of course, artists can refuse to play for anyone, but if one does choose to set a political bar on that choice and the bar is set at Lisa Vogel, the bar has been set extremely high. I have to assume that this bar will be applied to everyone, and not just one lesbian who has stated her intention for a sex and gender based space. In the case of Roland Karnatowski III, it is clear he falls below that bar. He makes zero contribution to the Lesbian and GBT communities, has questionable practices as a landlord with working class people, has supported political candidates accused of racism…what do we think? Let’s go with 5% friend and 95% enemy.  Goodbye Tipitina’s!
Lisa Vogel and many womyn who support the festival understand that each of us – not just the performers among us – is responsible for the way our money affects our community. This is why MWMF has no corporate sponsorship. None. This isn’t Lilith Fair or Dinah Shore. Politics and capitalism are hopelessly intertwined, especially in the U.S. Once upon a time, we were much more thoughtful about politics and our money. I don’t see much of a discussion happening about how our dollars are circulating when we buy a ticket to MWMF versus when we purchase a ticket to a show at a place like Tipitina’s. Where are our dollars causing the most good and where are they causing the most damage? Capitalism permeates everything, and those who are ignoring this cannot stand up to their own moral high-grounding.
When politics lead someone to a place where they call for and/or participate in a boycott against an event like MWMF, I have to seriously question those politics. Boycotting is a strong weapon, one that has serious consequences.  Boycotting MWMF is not political. It is female socialization. It is internalized misogyny. I reject this as political. For myself, I will put my dollars in the hands of MWMF without hesitation and with total confidence. The boycotting artists have made me think more carefully about the other places I put my money. After looking at the venues and their owners in New Orleans and stacking them up against MWMF, I will not be going to many shows other than at festival. I will support the artists I love in other ways, such as buying their music directly or contributing to musicians’ funding campaigns.
Why is all of this important? Your money is political. Everyone in the community should be thinking about the impact of their dollars, especially if they are supporting or contributing in any way to the boycott against MWMF. The Indigo Girls are looking me in the eye and asking me to refuse my money to Lisa Vogel while having no problem asking me to give it to Roland C. Karnatowski III. Girls, we have a problem.

Please add your thoughts in the comments below. If you are interested in writing a guest post please email me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

 

Michfest – going home, leaving home

I close my eyes and I am back in the Michigan woods, lying in fern and leaf litter, listening to the woods and the voices of women. I open my eyes and the shadow of leaves and voices remain while the sounds of Australian birds and the smell of Australian plants intrude. They’re not ferns, but they’re what I have and they are glorious.

Banksia

Not remotely fernlike…

This year, for my first and only time, I went to Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, started by Lisa Vogel 40 years ago. I had gone with as few expectations as possible, helped by the flurry of activity in the weeks before I left and the daze I walked through the gate in.

The experience was a revelation, in expected and unexpected ways.

While listening to CC Carter sing about her hips, I realised with a rush that this is what representation might feel like. Listening to a woman sing about her female lover, with love about her body, in a clearing full of women, many of whom were lesbian, I realised what it felt like to be the part of the norm as a lesbian, and not the unrepresented minority.

not even close to being ferns....

Not even close to ferns…

We didn’t need to explain. We didn’t need to justify. We could safely assume safety, kinship, shared understandings. A week of woman and lesbian as one of the defaults (not het-excluding, note) made clear how fragmented and scattered we were, how unrepresented we were, even by cartoon representations, how even at LGBTI events, groups and gatherings you often cannot assume kinship. So bittersweet, to experience that but for so fleeting a moment. And there are so many ways in which lesbians have even less representation, along lines of race, class and more besides.

More than just experiencing representation though, we spent a week honouring the real diversity of women and girls as the default. I know that in a way that was unfamiliar I felt SEEN, not unusual or singled out, and not invisible, but visible and normal. We saw each other. We greeted each other. We hugged and smiled and trusted and we could just BE, however we wanted to be. I can only imagine what this experience could be for women who feel less seen and accepted than I do.

Neither fern nor oak

Neither fern nor oak

And with that visibility came a level of safety that is hard to describe. On the land I anticipated no trouble whatsoever. I trusted women. They trusted me. We assumed good will. A guard I didn’t know I had up was lowered. And for a week we were enough, and not too much. I wasn’t too loud, too pedantic, too round, too feminist, too woman centred, too lesbian, too vocal, too ANYTHING. I just was, without needing to reduce myself. And the second and third thoughts in my head weren’t there because I was so connected to what was going on that they didn’t need to be. I was just in the moment.

We said sister and we meant it with sincerity and love. I grew up doubting that the sisterhood was something I could rely on, skeptical that women would be essentially more reliable, not understanding the political meaning and intent behind the concepts of solidarity and sisterhood. At Fest I understood what it could mean at its best.

Sisterhood and solidarity

Solidarity – liberty – sisterhood – self determination

I understood, perhaps most of all, that there was a different way to be. Betrayal is not inevitable. Violence is not inevitable. Fear is not inevitable. The things we have come to expect as women in our society are not inevitable, they are chosen values that align with and are created by our social order.

At Fest thousands upon thousands of women wandered the land, day and night, in varying degrees of dress and undress, from jeans to corsets to nothing, in varying degrees of intoxication and sobriety, in populated and deserted areas, without thought of rape. Unlike the recent stories of endemic rape at music festivals, we managed to celebrate and party, not to mention randomly nap in the leaf litter among the ferns, without experiencing or perpetrating sexual violence against women. What we were doing, wearing, how we were behaving, who we were with, what time of day or night it was – none of these factors mattered. This showed that there is a way for women to be, other than at constant collective risk of rape and abuse. It wasn’t the absence of factors often considered to be provocation. It was the absence of predators and perpetrators. While we know from bitter experience that women cannot be essentialised as angels, we also know that the central problem is socially sanctioned and promoted male violence against women. In the absence of it, we relaxed in safety.

And in this context I learnt, at a profound level, that I can trust women. Not just the women I know and trust, but women in general.

And these realisations were both political and personal.

Familiar horizons, new horizons

Familiar horizons, new horizons

At the healing circle, which was moving and profound and upsetting, all at once, I saw and felt women’s intense grief and pain. And I started to forgive myself.

I saw a mother hugging their small child and I pined for mine, suddenly struggling with our separation. I grieved for the abuse I couldn’t prevent. I grieved for the abuse I didn’t know about until years too late. And I let myself acknowledge that I was not responsible, that while I should have been able to protect him as a mother, we were both victims. Not being omniscient and omnipotent doesn’t damn me as a bad mother, and intense grief and regret can exist without assuming guilt.  That which I know for other women, I started to know for me.

While so much of what I experienced on the land was so personal, it reflected back on our socialisation, the framing of women’s lives, the framing of lesbians. It reflects the way in which women are routinely denied space to meet alone lest we realise this all.

Even now, derogatory comments are made about fest, even as women revel in their perhaps first and definitely last experience of it.

We might live in a society that doesn’t want women to love women, but most of all, it doesn’t want us to love ourselves, individually and collectively.

Everlastings

Everlastings

So it is a political act to meet alone as women, to love women?

Let’s be political then, and meet alone as women, form and connect with our tribe.

We can start imagining new ways to live then work to make them a reality.

We can be the acorns from Lisa Vogel’s mighty oak.

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:

PRIORITISING

  • 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.

LOOKS

  • 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.

SEX

  • 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.

WHY WE ARE LESBIAN

  • 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.

REALITY AND NAMING

  • 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…

APPROPRIATION – JUST DON’T!

STEREOTYPES

  • 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?

DON’T FUCK WITH US

  • 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.

STOP HARASSMENT

  • 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.

POLITICAL CHANGE

LESBIANS AS A DERAIL

  • 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.

WHAT I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO SAY

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

TL:DNR SUMMARY

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…..

WHAT DOES BEING AN ALLY EVEN MEAN?

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.

……….

LISTEN TO LESBIAN VOICES

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. 🙂

Banning lesbians – same sex attraction is not bigotry

I have avoided writing about this because I know what the reaction can be like and I have seen what happens to women who do speak publicly about this.

I have tried quite hard to discuss various issues WITHOUT addressing this because it is polarising, causes people to stop thinking, and leads to abuse and harassment. Moreover it is difficult to write anything nuanced on this topic without people misinterpreting and wilfully misrepresenting your words. And then there’s the ever-so-trendy hate that rains down on those that state publicly what others keep quiet about.

But I know that not writing about this is being silenced. I have “allowed” myself to be silenced on this just as many other women have, because of potential fallout.

And there is no amount of staying quiet that can keep us safe as lesbians, because there is an attempt from some to redefine the word lesbian to exclude us.

lesbians banned

This includes a clear attempt to coercively redraw lesbian women’s sexual boundaries and to silence the lesbians who protest this.

I have no interest in defining and complicating others’ lives* but words have meanings and language matters.

We cannot stay silent while we are told that we are bigots for being lesbian.

To be a lesbian is to be a female who is romantically, emotionally and sexually attracted to other females. This is same-sex attraction.

There are those who argue a different definition of this word.

The debate hinges on

a) whether you think transwomen are women or not**
and
b) whether you think sexuality is attraction on the basis of gender*** or sex

If you think that sexuality is about same SEX attraction, you may have noticed something going on.

Women who say that they are lesbian and ONLY attracted to females are being told they are bigots, and are being abused on this basis.

I don’t care if women are attracted to (and in relationships with) transwomen but what concerns me is the use of the word lesbian to describe that relationship because of the implications for same-sex attracted lesbians. My interest is solely caused by the implications for same-sex attracted lesbians of that language use – this is about the difference between self-affecting acts and other-affecting acts.

There are real consequences if the word lesbian includes transwomen.

When those of us who are same-sex attracted lesbians try to describe ourselves, our relationships or our sexuality, what word are we to use if we cannot use ‘lesbian’? If the word used for some time to describe us, as understood by most people, is no longer representative of us what language are we to use?

More than this, if the word lesbian cannot be used in a context that excludes transwomen then we are even more marginalised. And this is what I see happening, this is what has happened to women I know, what has happened to me.

Lesbians are being told they are bigots, transphobes, transmysogynists and TERFs for considering it ACCEPTABLE  for lesbians to be solely attracted to other females.

Originally when this was not such an extreme situation, I was not as concerned, assuming that using the word ‘female’ to specify same-sex attraction would be sufficient and unproblematic.

However, this is now a problem for two reasons. Firstly, any number of transwomen define themselves as female, rendering the qualifier useless in some conversations. But for those who consider the word female to denote biological sex, it is apparently unacceptable to exclude “non-female lesbians”.

In a lesbian group, amongst lesbians, I was told that it is transphobic for lesbians to be solely attracted to females. It is not a sexuality, apparently, it is a bigotry!! This happens repeatedly to lesbians around the world.

Lesbians must be able to name our own reality and we need that word to describe female-to-female same-sex attraction. We have no other word.

For centuries we have been socially sanctioned for our sexuality, we have been closeted, persecuted, abused, correctively raped, and killed, solely on the basis of being lesbian. Compulsory heterosexuality has weighed heavily on us, and we have borne the burden of oppression as women AND as lesbians.

And now we find that, in a lesbian community, being a dyke is suddenly outlawed?

In what way is this not just the continuation of compulsory heterosexuality?

When we are told that not being attracted to someone who was born male****  is immoral, this is exactly the same as being told that we are deviants for attraction to women and non-attraction to men, but it is now clothed in language that frames and proclaims us as oppressive for acknowledging biological facts and our own sexuality.

I see young lesbians confused by this, trying to do the “right” thing. Baby dykes asking if being lesbian CAN mean only being attracted to females, trying hard to be inclusive even in their own sexual experiences.

That women are still asking if sexual boundaries are acceptable means that the rape culture which constantly erodes and undermines women’s sexual boundaries and attacks our determination to maintain them, carries on, stronger than ever.

We MUST name our own sexual boundaries.

We MUST name our own sexuality.

Any attempt to stop us, to oppose our right to speak on this and our right to use the only language we have to describe our reality, is profoundly anti lesbian.

Don’t you dare tell us our sexuality is bigotry and pretend that it is social justice. This is nothing but a continuation of lesbian erasure through culturally sanctioned male sexual entitlement to women.

That anyone is convinced of the opposite is a testament to how marginalised and misrepresented lesbians are.

I am not saying that women cannot be in relationships with transwomen, nor am I am devaluing those relationships or the people in them, but I AM saying that if the term lesbian is broadened beyond same sex attraction, and indeed redefined to exclude it, then we are silenced, and by our own community.

That this silencing is accepted speaks of a deep and continuing hatred of lesbians.

There is so much more that needs to be said.

Every element of what has been happening needs to be named, but unfortunately it all leads back to our silence, the silence of women – especially of lesbians – about our own lives, both individually and collectively.


The many caveats:

* I have zero interest in policing anyone else’s life, and even less interest in policing who people love. But we need to analyse the meaning of what is happening. I’m certainly not interested in supporting systems that make it even harder for people to be gender non conforming.

** I am using transwomen for the sake of common understanding. There are alternate terms, including trans*women, trans women, M2F and so on. While I’m not exploring that debate now, I have to acknowledge that it is contested and fraught territory with real political significance.

*** Gender – personal identity vs oppressive hierarchy…

**** Born male – more contested language here. Male, born male, AMAB (assigned male at birth), and so on. There’s a lot out there on this. I’m not rewriting or exploring it now.

Because I know I will be asked this – I do not advocate violence, I abhor it. I do not advocate discrimination, I oppose it. Gender critical analysis is compatible with my beliefs that all humans should be able to access basic social infrastructure equally, irrespective of sex, sexuality, gender conformity, race, religion, ability/medical condition, marital status, pregnancy, parental responsibilities and other characteristics or group affiliations, be they perceived or actual.

That I feel the need to state these caveats has a lot to do with the framing of the broader debate, and the way in which lesbians and feminists are misrepresented…

On stereotypes and lesbian (in)visibility

She was chatting away with me quite happily, this older woman in the shop. I was holding my goddaughter and she was cooing over her. She was bringing out the tired old “just like a girl” tropes but was very friendly and warmly talking about children. I mentioned mine. She smiled.

I mentioned that my ex partner gave birth. She stopped dead.

And she wouldn’t speak to me, or look at me.

From one second to the next, what been an animated and warm conversation became the pointed ignoring of a customer.

I wondered, what was it that upset her so much. Was it that she couldn’t tell? Was it the fear that if you can’t spot a lesbian, then they could be anywhere

While “readily identifiable” lesbians provoke one sort of reaction, and one they are unable to avoid, do “invisible” lesbians kindle an anxiety precisely because we cannot be readily identified and guarded against?

And what is this if not yet another manifestation of gender policing? The idea is that there is one way to be female, with appropriate levels of femininity and heterosexuality. Perhaps if you are going to violate mainstream cultural norms, then at least you should be identifiable in your “non-normality”?  Being unidentifiable is threatening because you are hidden, seemingly deceptive in your perceived “normality”.

Of course, being identifiably other is also punished, in that classic double bind. But we do not all look the same, even if it would make society more comfortable for us to fit a contrived stereotype. One size does not fit all and there is no single way to be or look lesbian. To expect that is to reduce us to two dimensional cartoons.

One size does not fit all – there is no one way to be lesbian

But the hostility we face and the stereotypes we are assumed to fit are self supporting. The hostility we face for being open has a silencing effect. And when we are silent, the stereotypes are reinforced because the only visible lesbians are those who happen to fit the stereotype.

The women who stay silent are not responsible for this dynamic either. We cannot always speak for a myriad of reasons based in the reality of our lives. I try to speak whenever I can, because I can, but I have not always chosen to and it is not always safe or prudent to. The consequences of speaking are somewhat unpredictable and the responsibility lies with the society that vilifies and silences us.

As I spoke today, I could almost see the images through her eyes – the stereotypes cascading through her mind, superimposed on the reality of me, guiding her response to me, to all of us, informing the instantly invoked lesbophobia.

That cusp moment of sudden realisation is so telling in its liminality – it is a moment in which both connection and withdrawing coexist for a short time and when reactions are unwillingly written on the body in facial expressions and body language. It is that moment in which a shared sisterhood is abruptly and palpably sheared off.

Just for a second you can see the sense of betrayal, that shock at feeling deceived, that physical recoil.

These moments of withdrawal are less confronting than overt hostility and aggression, far less damaging than overt violence. But this rejection is not subtle and it shows that no matter how much they liked you and related to you a minute ago, you are now beyond the pale and the social constructs informing their perceptions prevent them from relating now.

At that moment I want to say – we are not hiding – we are just being ourselves. You are using false stereotypes and gender roles to assess and judge those around you. Blame the misleading stereotypes, and not, us for your confusion and discomfort. Challenge the gender roles used to judge women, certainly lesbians and especially gender non conforming women.  Understand that whether you think you can identify us or not, we are not other and you are not morally superior. Understand that your lesbophobia might be common, but it is hate filled and damages women.

But the words echo blankly – she had already stopped listening.

Lesbians and monosexual privilege – as if!

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…

Nothing says dialogue like a gun

Monosexual privilege – not about lesbians and gays but here’s why they benefit?

Radfem lesbians and monosexual privilege

Are we sure this isn’t just anti feminist and anti lesbian?

Monosexual privilege as gay privilege - never mind the reality of heteronormativity

Monosexual privilege as gay privilege – never mind the reality of heteronormativity

Monosplaining....

Monosplaining…..

Metonymy justifies "monosexual privilege"?

Metonymy justifies “monosexual privilege”?

The logic (?) of monosexual privilege

The logic (?) of monosexual privilege

Homonormativity and monosexual privilege

Homonormativity and monosexual privilege

Monosexual privilege - the privilege - not a privilege but a benefit?

Monosexual privilege – the privilege that isn’t a privilege but a benefit?

Monosexual privilege - mostly aimed at lesbians

Monosexual privilege – mostly aimed at lesbians

Monosexual Privilege and who can define it

Monosexual Privilege and who can define it

4thWaveNow — “Monosexual privilege”

4thWaveNow — “Monosexual privilege”

When Lesbians Become Targets: Leeds Queerfest 2015

By anonymous

Recently a group of people in Leeds decided to create and promote an event called the Queer Leeds Fest. It was described as “an entire fun weekend of the best things, in the best place, with the best people” and the promotion for the event included a schedule of activities. I was interested and so read through what would be included, but was shocked to see that one activity was called the “TERF dartboard.” After looking further I discovered that event organizers intended to set up a dartboard with the photographs of specific, real women on it and encourage participants to throw darts at those photos. The women pictured in those photos are all lesbians.

Leeds queerfest event with TERF dartboard

I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach thinking about this. I don’t personally know the women pictured, but I know of them online and I know that they are lesbian activists and writers. The hatred directed at them by this intention to “have fun” by throwing darts at their photos made me personally feel that I as a lesbian would not be welcome at this event. It seemed to be making a point that certain lesbians invite abuse because of their political opinions. If it could be those women at fault, then it could be any lesbian who had a difference of opinion with the people organizing and attending this event.

Not VAW

Concerned about what seemed to be blatant hatred of lesbians and invitation to symbolically attack them, I decided to read the Facebook page for the event. Someone had posted a question about the “TERF dartboard” — what it would be and why. What happened next convinced me that certain lesbians would not be welcome among the queer community in Leeds. It wasn’t clear exactly why those lesbians wouldn’t be welcome except for differing political opinions, but it was very clear that a whole group of people had decided they hated those lesbians and saw no problem with symbolic violence toward them.

Literal scum

Some of the quotes in the comment thread about the women pictured and anyone else with certain political opinions included, “they are literally scum”

and “we dislike their views; this is us showing that.” A debate formed on the Facebook page among a number of people for quite a while before one of the organizers commented: “we were making a statement against people, who are indeed specific, powerful women.” This made it plain to me that the intention all along was to invite hatred of those specific lesbians. More people commented in response and then another organizer commented to make clear that they did not want certain women at the event: “Thanks for helping us figure out which women to exclude from our event.” Within a few more comments was this: “We’re deciding here is and isn’t allowed in OUR queer community.”

Our queer community

The discussion continued that way for hours and I understood very plainly that there is a level of hatred of some lesbians that I believe could lead to real-world violence against lesbians.

Who is welcome


This is a reader-submitted story from within our own community.

It’s so concerning that even when the implications of this were pointed out, no one stopped to rethink what they were doing, even when women were very specific about what they were seeing, namely the explicit promotion of violence against women.

Dartboard isn't violence

Hate crime women

Against VAW or not

So what does this mean for the LGBTI community?

One commenter summed it up this way:

Patriarchy with glitter

target final

If you have any experiences of being silenced or attacked as a lesbian, inside the LGBTI or broader communities, please contact me on liz@listening2lesbians.com or here.

This blog is about listening to lesbians and, as such, focuses on lesbians alone.

Please respect that intent.

On Propaganda and Phases

An Open Letter to Peter Abetz in response to his disparaging comments about homosexuality and anti-bullying measures to be rolled out in Western Australian schools:

“really not an anti-bullying program”

“in fact, when you look at it closer, it really is little more than a gay, lesbian, transgender lifestyle promotion program”

“the militant gay lesbian lobby is trying to get this into our schools to ‘normalise’ what they consider the LGBTI agenda”

“to try and make … heterosexual the abnorm, that is just crazy and defies common sense”

Peter Abetz is the Member for Southern River in Western Australia, and is the older brother of Senator Eric Abetz, a Liberal Senator for Tasmania and Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Peter Abetz’ comments are no doubt concerning to the gay, bisexual and transgender segments of the LGBTI community but Listening2Lesbians is a lesbian specific site and will consequently discuss the implications of his comments for lesbians only.


Dear Peter Abetz,

I was disappointed to read that you oppose the introduction of an anti bullying program in Australian schools.

I understand that there are different ways to tackle bullying. Some methods attack the basis on which kids are bullied (in this case being LGBTI) and some methods attack the behaviour itself, such as more generic anti bullying campaigns that promote diversity without addressing the specific basis for the bullying. It sounds like a simple choice, but I do think it’s more complicated than is often assumed. American legal academic, Martha Minnow wrote about the dilemma of difference and concluded that “the stigma of difference may be recreated both by ignoring and by focussing on it… The problems of inequality can be exacerbated by both treating members of minority groups the same as members of the majority and by treating the two groups differently.”

Whether a campaign that highlights a single realm of difference can end bigoted bullying or not, in the context of a broader lack of representation and ongoing structural discrimination is, therefore, debatable. It is certainly possible that in highlighting the differences between these kids and others, stigma and a feeling of otherness could be exacerbated, rather than diminished.

But the well being of LGBTI kids wasn’t your real concern, as it was reported. You seemed to be worried about the contagious effect of this program, that it might infect straight kids, stating that the Safe Schools anti-bullying program is “little more than a gay, lesbian, transgender lifestyle promotion program”. You also stated that most LGBTI youth grow out of same sex attraction.

This sounds a lot to me like you are arguing that there is a “militant gay lesbian lobby” spreading sexuality-based propaganda, which may corrupt youth, who left alone would be heterosexual.

The “militant gay lesbian lobby” leading kids astray?

This is pure misrepresentation. The only sexuality based propaganda that is widely disseminated in Australia is heterosexual. By the time lesbians become adults, they have experienced 18 years of codified training into heterosexuality that has begun at birth, with expectations clearly expressed in all elements of our society, from legal structures to social expectations.

The training towards heterosexuality is part of the training children receive to meet gender stereotypes, and has specific implications for girls. We are taught at home, at school, and in the community, how to be the “right kind” of girl and, later, woman. Compulsory femininity and compulsory heterosexuality are intrinsically related through constantly reinforced gender stereotypes.

The net consequence is that kids and adults alike understand what the “correct” and socially acceptable way to be a woman or girl is, how she should behave, and what the range of choices available to her are. While the spectrum of acceptability is more diverse than it once was, there are also ways in which the situation has worsened.

In any case, the forced adherence to gender stereotypes can have particularly significant effects on lesbians, specifically those who are gender non conforming  and who do not display the minimum levels of “femininity” expected by society.

It may not be apparent to you, as a straight man, but there are hundreds of tiny ways a week that we are reminded that heterosexuality is the default and preferable and that society is not structured to support our lives. Everything from government structures to social commentary and media representation fails to tell lesbians that our lives are OK, with the effects particularly toxic for young lesbians.

A survey of same-sex attracted and gender questioning teenagers conducted by La Trobe University 2010 found that 60% had experienced homophobic verbal abuse and 18% had experienced physical abuse. It found that respondents were twice as likely to self-harm or have suicidal thoughts if they had been verbally abused, and three times as likely if they had been physically abused.

Eighty per cent of that abuse occurred in schools.

THESE are the young kids I am most worried about. Straight kids have everything around them supporting, promoting and validating them. They aren’t going to be affected by a single poster campaign, because we aren’t contagious and neither is homosexuality. Despite your claims, heterosexuality is not about to be the “abnorm”.

Society provides few positive role models for gender non-conforming women and lesbians, with social structures strongly prioritising the clear expectation that women’s lives will centre around a relationship with a man, the formation of a family and the performance of motherhood. The position of women in our society is still clearly secondary, with abuse of and violence against women ongoing issues.

The effects of living in a society that does not value women, and more so lesbians, results in grim rates of suicide and depression, particularly among our youth.  This tells me that far from being a society in which we need less pro-lesbian propaganda, we need to be working harder to change social structures and attitudes towards lesbians, and gender non conformity in general.

Representation matters – we need to see a full spectrum of what it can mean to be lesbian, if we want to improve how lesbians, most particularly young women, see themselves and are seen by broader society.

So, militant propaganda? I WISH we had some, because it would take decades of it to counter the effects of growing up in a culture where heterosexuality is as promoted and socially enforced as it is.

It’s just a phase

Beyond this though, your comment on homosexuality being a phase was so disappointing. Kids aren’t born with a manual explaining their sexuality, and for some it can take time to work out and accept it. A significant amount of delay in coming out is based on growing up in a culture that promotes heterosexuality so strongly and punishes homosexuality. So, while there are undoubtedly some kids who are not sure about their sexuality – largely based on being young in a society that vilifies, others and belittles lesbians – sexuality is not a phase. There is no natural innate heterosexuality within ourselves that we are failing to conform to.

I’m not prejudiced but…

“I think in Australia most people are quite tolerant. Most people know someone among their relatives or workmates who is a lesbian or gay or whatever, and they don’t bat an eyelid – they just accept them as human beings with inherent value and you treat them with dignity and respect.”

I’m not sure how convincing this is.

After having launched into a moral panic argument which both framed positive representation as an attempt by some “militant lesbian and gay lobby” intent on leading the youth astray, you claimed that much same sex attraction among young people ‘was a phase’. How is it possible for anyone to defend statements such as yours as being anything other than homophobic?

You claim that most Australians are OK with lesbians and gay people, but I suspect that this means that they are OK with the lesbian and gay people who look and sound like them, and don’t challenge their view of the world. That doesn’t really indicate embracing diversity and it isn’t enough to make us safe or welcomed. A begrudging non-discrimination is no basis for full and equal social participation.

It is perhaps easy to speak from a position of social power and criticise efforts to improve the lives of some of our more vulnerable children, but it’s sadly lacking in compassion and speaks to a disregard for the welfare of LGBTI kids, some of whom will be your friends’ kids, your constituents’ kids, perhaps YOUR kids. More importantly, LGBTI children are human beings worthy of your concern in and of their own right.

You may have concerns about this particular campaign, but please don’t mistake our need to tell LGBTI kids that they are OK for propaganda that seeks to influence or confuse straight kids.

None of us have any intention of confusing kids at all. We want to support them to live emotionally healthy and socially engaged lives, whatever their sexuality. Despite your message of grudging tolerance, in criticising this campaign, you have just demonstrated exactly why it was needed.

The subtext of your comments about a militant lobby rendering heterosexuality the abnorm is clear: Be lesbian and gay if you must, but don’t be obvious about it and don’t expect support. Most of all, don’t work to support kids who are discovering or coming to terms with their sexuality.

I reject that.

Growing up lesbian or gay can be very lonely without representation and support. We won’t condemn our kids to that, even if you would.

Liz

Listening2Lesbians.com