Tag Archives: personal stories

Lydia Polgreen: Black Lesbian Changing Journalism

The last time Lydia Polgreen felt boredom — real boredom, the soul-crushing kind — she was 21 and working for a company in suburban Virginia that helped applicants for H-1B visas. The job was a stopgap between college, where she’d studied Marx and Hegel, and a hazy, uncertain future in which she imagined she might teach philosophy. In the meantime, there she was toiling in some random job, waiting for each day to end. “At some point I thought, This can’t be how my life is going to go. This isn’t for me,” she recalls. “I’m not a person who should ever be looking at the clock, waiting for things to be over — that’s not my destiny.”

Continue reading at: Lydia Polgreen: Meet the Queer Black Woman Changing Journalism | Out Magazine (Source)

Lesbians in the News – 24 October 2015

Lesbians in the News 24 October 2015

“Lethal threat for the whole of humankind” – ongoing persecution in Russia

anti-gay propaganda

News for Russian lesbians gets grimmer as new legislation flags the possibility of being fined or arrested for merely coming out on the grounds of homosexuality posing a “lethal threat for the whole of humankind”.  The legislation is matched by public opinion reportedly showing an increase in the percentage of the population who believe that lesbians and gay men should be “isolated from the population”, with one fifth purportedly supporting the “liquidation” of the LGBTI  community. Following previous anti lesbian and gay crackdowns, including the banning of “anti gay propaganda” in 2013, the proposed legislation would fine Russian lesbians and gay men for publicly declaring their sexuality, with proposed incarceration for making the “declaration” in a school, cultural institution or public building.
The situation for lesbians in many parts of the world remains dire, with legal sanctions complementing social sanctions including horrific rates of corrective rape, as reported by Victoria A. Brownworth.

Arts & Entertainment

  • Lesbian representation on television and in movies gets a critical eye.  Is there a ‘Need Not Apply’ sign for lesbians that are not white, thin and femme?
  • FujiTV in Japan will debut a new drama on November 7th featuring a love story between two women.  Some argue the series isn’t going far enough in portraying current real world situations for Japan’s lesbian community.
  • Lesbian playwright and head writer of The Laramie Project, Leigh Fondakowski, is opening a new play, Spill, about the BP Oil spill in the Gulf Coast in 2010.

Laws, Politics and Policies

  • The State of Utah is paying up after denying a lesbian couple a birth certificate for their child with the names of both mothers included on it.
  • Civil unions began in heavily Catholic Chile on October 22nd.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union is taking on a northern California high school that sent a student home for wearing a ‘Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian’ t-shirt.  According to the school, the t-shirt was an “open invitation to sex,” which sounds scarily similar to accusations leveraged against rape survivors.  The student fears she will be expelled if she wears the t-shirt to school again.  On the opposite coast, a lesbian teacher in New York details the harassment and bullying she experienced from the principal and assistant principal of her school.  When she complained about the bullying her son was getting at school she was told, “It is an abomination against God, and you made this child a victim of your poor choices.”  Charming.
  • Did you ever wonder how Roberta Kaplan and Edie Windsor met?  The Advocate does a great story on the powerhouse these two women created in changing the fight for marriage equality in the U.S. forever.

Social and Health Issues

Crimes against Lesbians

  • A woman in Louisiana has been arrested for cruelty towards her lesbian daughter, including suggesting on more than one occasion that her daughter commit suicide.
  • UK figures report a dramatic rise in homophobic hate crimes, although it’s not clear what percentage is against men and women, and what percentage of crimes are even reported.
  • Lesbian and gay asylum seekers face homophobia in Europe from fellow asylum seekers, according to the Washington Post. The article is notably silent on the experiences of Lesbians.

Events

Profound thanks to Lisa for compiling the vast majority of this edition of Lesbians in the News.

If you have any other stories, please add them in the comments or email them to me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

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. 🙂

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.

Interview: Queerfest and Violence against Lesbians

Interview: Violence against Lesbians

The New Standard interview: Violence against Lesbians

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…

Interview: Violence Against Lesbians

If you have any feedback or would like to know more, please feel free to contact me at liz@listening2lesbians.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.***

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.

Sanitised violence

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?

Why listening2lesbians?

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.