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 email@example.com.
How to be an ally to Lesbians:
WHY WE ARE LESBIAN
REALITY AND NAMING
APPROPRIATION – JUST DON’T!
DON’T FUCK WITH US
LESBIANS AS A DERAIL
WHAT I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO SAY
These things happen around the world, including in YOUR country…
Don’t prioritise and centre men. Most of this flows from systemic male dominance, and the violence and subjugation used to reinforce it…
Every time I think the list is complete enough, another suggestion comes in. I’m aware this is far from comprehensive, which says a lot about how lesbians are regarded and treated around the world.
So the pointers from lesbians around the world on how to be an ally really made me wonder…..
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
* 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. 🙂
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.
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**
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…
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.
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.
In a follow up to my post When Lesbians Become Targets: Leeds Queerfest 2015, Serena Ryan from The New Standard and I discuss the meaning of publicly endorsed violence against lesbians.
Baseline: there is nothing that justifies violence against women – actual or symbolic. I don’t think this is complicated.
We might threaten the gender dynamics of male dominance gender dynamics, but the attempt to blame shift is an elaborate attempt to justify and mask the misogyny involved in threatening and silencing women.
We need to be able to discuss our political disagreements like we manage in every other area of political life, rather than responding by silencing women.
There’s nothing progressive about threatening lesbians or promoting violence against us – it’s a centuries old story of woman hating, so let’s move beyond it…
If you have any feedback or would like to know more, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
***Just a reminder, this is a blog about lesbians, and I discuss lesbians alone, as a response to the silencing. Please respect the intent.***
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
So what does this mean for the LGBTI community?
One commenter summed it up this way:
This blog is about listening to lesbians and, as such, focuses on lesbians alone.
Please respect that intent.
Today, on International Women’s Day, I was thrilled to be speaking with Serena Ryan from The New Standard.
Serena, who is known for her interview showing the Salvation Army think lesbians and gay men should be put to death, spoke with me about misogyny in the gay community, as outlined in my piece in the Star Observer, and what we can do to combat it.
The 2015 International Woman’s Day theme is “Make It Happen” – hopefully this website will be help identify and combat abuse and silencing experienced by lesbians.
Immense gratitude to this wonderful woman for sharing her experience…
23 years ago. I thought no one suspected I was lesbian, after all, I wasn’t in a relationship at the time and I ‘looked straight’. I was wrong.
As member of the student council, I was required to attend certain formal functions which often included dinner and entertainment which ran into late hours, we slept over in one of the smaller lecture rooms.
One night, on my way to the room, a huge man appeared out of nowhere on the dark staircase landing. He cornered me before I knew what happened. I can’t bring myself to think, much less write, of what happened next. Afterwards, he told me that I was the second dyke that week that he showed what a woman really needs. I was frightened out of my mind, so I agreed with him in hopes he would leave.
‘Corrective’ rape is such a sanitised word, isn’t it?
I am asking lesbians to share what can be very personal experiences, some of which will have been quite traumatic with ongoing consequences.
This will require a degree of trust that the information will not be misused, shared without permission and that there will be no blaming or belittling of victims for their experiences.
Many of us have experienced telling our stories only to have them disbelieved, disregarded or interpreted as our fault. Many of us have been blamed for our own experiences of abuse, either directly or implicitly. This is not an accident, but one of the ways in which women’s voices are intentionally silenced in our societies, with the consequence of preventing us understanding our shared realities.
Without that collective picture, we can struggle to see the pattern of what happens to us, who silences us, and who benefits from both that abuse and the subsequent silence. Preventing us from analysing and speaking out against this maintains the status quo.
All information shared with this blog will be treated with the utmost care and respect, as will the women who are sharing. All information shared will remain private unless explicit permission is given to make it public, and no information that identifies women will be shared unless they choose this.
I have asked for basic demographic information for future analysis. Information submitted may be used for analysis and advocacy purposes.
Although listening2lesbians is not covered by the Australian Privacy Principles, all personal information will be managed broadly in line with them as outlined here.
If you have any questions about how information you share will be treated, please contact me to talk about it. I want to hear from you.
After experiencing abuse while calling out sexism in the online LGBTI community, I wrote a short piece asking the community to reflect on its misogyny.
Hearing women’s responses to the article, I started to wonder about the extent of lesbian abuse and silencing, both in the LGBTI and the broader communities.
What I discovered is that we don’t know the extent of the problem, except anecdotally. Acts of violence, up to and including murder, go practically unnoted, with little or no community outrage. Abuse and silencing are not uncommon but are practically invisible, in the absence of a way to share what happens to us except on a one-to-one basis.
Without recording our collective experiences, and only hearing them as individualised stories, we cannot readily see or demonstrate patterns.
How, then, can we name, analyse or address a problem we can’t even quantify?
I care about stopping the abuse of women, particularly lesbians.
Listening2lesbians was born to allow women to submit their experiences of being abused or silenced as lesbians, of being subjected to misogyny and lesbophobia within and outside the community.
Please share your stories so we can be heard.
If you have any questions about listening2lesbians, please contact me.