Almost as an experiment, I began calling myself a lesbian instead of a queer. In the decade since I began dating my first girlfriend, I could count the number of times I had used that word as a self-descriptor on my fingers. Lesbian felt foreign and ugly in my mouth; the aftertaste is still something I am getting used to. Almost immediately, I was subject to queer community backlash. I was told that I am “an essentialist,” “slut-shaming,” and “reinforcing the gender binary,” amongst other things. It was suddenly expected that I justify my attraction to women by deconstructing why “woman” meant every time I referenced my sexuality. I did not expect this substitution to stir up such a reaction in either myself or in others; after all, wasn’t lesbian versus queer a mere matter of semantics?
My definition of a lesbian is of a person who identifies as a woman and is primarily attracted to other people who identify as women. Lesbian is not mutually exclusive to queer, however queer is often presented as a rejection of lesbianism…Meanwhile, lesbians are often categorically dismissed by queer people as being “homonormative,” privileged, and sometimes even oppressive. Lesbians are supposedly the ladies who insist that LOGO’s sitcoms and the L Word will eventually shatter the glass ceiling…
Unfortunately, if and when lesbian present themselves as militant and politicize their identities, they are dismissed and chastized. This becomes the ultimate catch 22. A transgressive lesbian is rarely taken seriously or at face value. Instead, she is preemptively either laughed off or dismissed as being a passe, yucky, anti-sex, and male-castrating “second-waver”.
Unfortunately, many queer spaces operate upon a simplified notion of sex positivity in which sexual exploration is linked with progressiveness. In some queer spaces, there is a pressure to avoid stating that you only want to sleep with women; this makes you appear frigid or close-minded.This is because in a liberal supposedly “sex-positive” individualist framework, women’s sense of agency and empowerment is often still configured in terms of men’s access to women’s bodies.
I’ve come to the unsettling realization that identifying as queer over lesbian has been, for me, a way of paying lip service to men…I began dating women years ago and spent most of my adolescent years trying to articulate my sexuality in such a way that I would not be read as a lesbian…I was ashamed to use the L word because that meant admitting I would probably never be in a committed hetero relationship in the future. I did not know what to call myself, so I stopped saying anything and briefly went back in the closet... Lesbians…were the “masculine,” unkempt, socially awkward inept girls; they represented a failed femininity which I wanted to believe was incongruent with my personality. Even after I graduated with a Women’s Studies degree, I still did not want to associate myself with those people.
I have never been very invested in the idea of queer as a reclaimed slur because I have never been called queer in a derogatory manner…Lesbian, however, had consistently been applied against me from all corners as a term of disempowerment.
Reclaiming the word lesbian has become a method of militantly defining my sexuality on my own terms. I have begun consciously using the word to directly challenge the idea in queer circles which tells us that women who only want to get with other women cannot be critical, mindful, or progressive. I say it out loud because the knee-jerk, paternalistic reactions on the part of other gender and sexual minorities, as well as my own internalized disgust which is only now coming to the surface, is so very telling. Lesbian does not have to mean any of those nasty things I was conditioned to believe it does.
Not ‘Queer’ as in ‘Radical,’ but ‘Lesbian’ as in ‘Fuck You’, anti-copyright, february 2012, firstname.lastname@example.org
(i searched & found the zine on etsy, so i’m linking that as a source. the author is ineffableshe on tumblr. this is an abridged version. if you want the full version, please support the creator! )
i think i got this zine at a freecycle, maybe? either way i read it on the bus yesterday and wow this speaks to me so much.
non-lesbians, please read this and hear this.