Lesbian Ethics Part 4 – Expanding Lesbian feminist communities – Angela C. Wild

Lesbian Ethics. Lesbian History Group Event 3/06/2016

Lesbian Ethics Part 4 – Angela C. Wild PDF

I am going to talk about Lesbian ethics, anti-political lesbians and expanding Lesbian feminist communities.

Because this particular topic has been discussed online in more or less heated debates I want to clarify that my position here is a political one, I am after deconstructing an ideology, not individual women who recognise themselves under that name

I am going to discuss here where the “born this way” narrative is coming from, what it is doing to women who are not “born this way” lesbians, what impact it has on women’s ability to access a political awareness of sexuality and their sexuality, the impact it has on women ability to reach a stage of self determination and the impact it has a the wider movement. And how this particular rhetoric seems to prevent a sense of lesbian feminist community   or makes it harder to expand our community.

 

A few definitions:

Born this way lesbians : otherwise known as essential lesbian, natal lesbian…:

That theory defines sexuality is innate, sexuality is sometime defined as a genetic reality or a mix of genetic/ social constructivism.

Women who agree with that narrative say they were lesbians from birth, lesbianism is said to be an essential part of themselves, something that was always in them since birth. These women knew very early they were lesbians and have had very little or no sexual experiences with men.

The issue isn’t that some women say they are born lesbians, but that the only way to be a lesbian, is to be born a lesbian, you cannot become one later in life.

 

Political lesbian: I use the term political lesbian rather than lesbian feminist because it is most of the time misunderstood for meaning “lesbian” and “feminist” As if these two things have nothing to do with one another.

A Political Lesbian is a woman who has chosen to become a lesbian because or thanks to her politics. A woman who has chosen to put women first in all aspects of her life including romantically and sexually.

Political Lesbians define sexuality as socially constructed, it is uncompromisingly anti-essentialist,  it comes hand in hand with a political critique of heterosexuality as an institution and defines heterosexuality as politically enforced on all women by violence and a relentless propaganda, to ensure each men has access to women for sexual but also domestic servitude.

Political Lesbian define lesbianism as political act of resistance because it is denying men access to women. It often means that for the women who call themselves Political Lesbians, politics got them to lesbianism, they couldn’t have been lesbians without the feminist process.

As sexuality is socially constructed, it can and should be deconstructed, women forced in heterosexuality should be freed from it.

 

History

The born this way narrative is an ideology that actually comes from the gay men movement. In the 70’s, the gay liberation movement and Lesbian feminists were together challenging that ideology that sexuality is biological.

In the 80’s there was a big return to the biological model to explain homosexuality. It is an argument that is directly drawn from the Victorian sexologists (who were notoriously not very pro women)

Homosexuality is according to that model a deviation from the norm (the norm being heterosexuality), a perversion.

In the 80’s the gay men’s movement makes the strategic decision to argue that homosexuality is innate. The shift is supposed to attract mainstream sympathies on the basis that homosexuals have to be accepted for who they are as they cannot help themselves.

Lesbian feminists at the time disagrees and opposed the move because it didn’t represent their experience and was anti feminist and counterproductive.

 

 

One of the opposition to Political Lesbianism by women who call themselves “actual Lesbians” on the basis that they have been lesbians since very young is that it is appropriating and insulting to Lesbian who have suffered from anti lesbian oppression since they came out. Supposedly, women who came to lesbianism later have not suffered from that oppression because they were straight.

If we go back to a critique of compulsory heterosexuality by Adrienne Rich and how she describes the “pervasive cluster of forces, ranging from physical brutality to control of consciousness, “. “within which women have been convinced that marriage, and sexual orientation toward men, are inevitable, even if unsatisfying or oppressive components of their lives.”  we can see that this assumption is completely unfounded.

No woman is heterosexual.

The one amongst us who are or have been in heterosexual relationships are the ones who Patriarchy anti lesbian oppression has successfully formatted.

These women have experienced precisely that: Anti Lesbian oppression and Compulsory heterosexuality are one and he same thing and no woman straight or lesbian has ever escaped it.

Talking about appropriation in that context is dividing women and prevent us to see our common experience of oppression.

 

 

 

Another anti political lesbian argument that we hear a lot is that Political Lesbians desexualise Lesbianism.

The famous line from the Leeds pamphlet “Love your enemy” that states that “political lesbianism doesn’t mean compulsory sexual activity with women

This line has been used and twisted to prove that political lesbians are not real lesbians, because it has been understood to mean political lesbians don’t actually have any sexual activity with women and that lesbianism is about holding hands while reading feminist books with women. This is of course ridiculous as political lesbians defines as loving women and putting women first in every way including emotionally and sexually.

The born this way narrative basis the very definition of lesbianism on and ONLY on sexual attraction and sexual activity with women.

That is problematic.

Political lesbians argue that lesbianism is more than just about sexuality. It is about culture, politics, building communities, sisterhood, revolution etc. Sexuality is one part of that.

Because political lesbianism  has by definition a political analysis of sexuality, we get named anti sex by anti feminist men. Why would women who call themselves feminist use the same argument as our oppressors?

One of the way non political lesbian justify being more lesbian that political lesbians is by saying they “lust after women’s bodies since they were teenagers”.

It is one of the effect of basing ones definition of lesbianism on men’s culture and men’s values, then we have the incredible situation where women who objectify other women get to be more of a lesbian than women who actually made the decision to love women in a non objectifying way.

Political lesbianism  rejects the definition of lesbianism as women’s right to objectify and prey sexually on other women. This is what men do. It is misogyny.

The point of saying “Lesbianism doesn’t mean compulsory sexual activity with women” is obvious.

No woman is sexual all of the time, women don’t walk around in a constant state of sexual heat. Further more women are constantly assumed to be straight whether they are having a relationship or not, one do not loose ones sexuality if we do not have a sexual activity at one point of our life!

Does a lesbian who has broken up with her lover stop being a lesbian?  As Ann Tagonist asked Do older lesbian who do not have sex anymore stop being lesbians?

 

Very ironically I have read recently that political lesbianism’s view of sexuality is creating a hierarchy amongst lesbians. The idea is that political lesbians would be more worthy lesbians than the born this way lesbian.

In my opinion, political lesbianism is the most women inclusive movement within feminism. It argues every women is shaped and oppressed by hetero-patriarchy.and that it is possible for every women to fight that conditioning and escape what patriarchy has build us and name us for.

The idea of an essential sexuality on the other hand is an invention of patriarchy. That some women are innately straight and some other women (a minority) are innately lesbians both serve the patriarchy.

Arguing that some women are innately heterosexual mean these women are biologically determined to be sexually used by men. this is deeply misogynistic and anti feminist idea.

Ironically the hierarchy of lesbian does exist and is an invention of the anti political lesbian propaganda and lesbians who are not feminists.

In that model, lesbians are judged to be more or less worthy according to how much contact they have had with men. It is nothing more than a cult of purity and how women are deemed as unworthy if they ve ever been touched by a penis

Typically it goes like this:

“GoldStar Butch / Butch Lesbian / Fem lesbian / ex het lesbians / heterosexual women”

In this model women who have had any kind of sexual activity with men are called sells outs, traitors and collaborators.

In contradiction to that, political lesbians acknowledge that women have been coerced to be heterosexual in the first place and recognise that heterosexuality is the core of the oppression of women. The closer to men the more in danger.

Blaming women for their oppression is anti feminist.

 

It is not surprising that some of the opponent to political lesbianism are stating  “lesbianism is not a threat to patriarchy.” 

  • Indeed if ones definition of lesbianism is male centred it is not a thread to patriarchy.
  • If ones definition of lesbianism is condemning women to a lifetime of heterosexuality, it is not  a threat to patriarchy.
  • If ones definition of lesbianism is that of an elitist club one can only access by being born into, it is not a threat to patriarchy.
  • If ones definition of lesbianism is about blaming women for their oppression it is not a threat to patriarchy.

A Lesbianism which is part of a conservative patriarchal gay movement isn’t threatening because it argues homosexuality is innate and cannot be promoted.

Political Lesbians argue that Lesbianism can be promoted and indeed it should be.

Surely conservative male government officials were feeling threatened enough by lesbianism when they passed Section 28.

Why else would they push a law forbidding the promotion of homosexuality and pretend families (read Lesbian mothers) in primary and secondary education? This followed a time in the mid l980’s when Lesbian feminism had been at its height, challenging compulsory heterosexuality in the mainstream in London local government.

 

To conclude, the born this way / anti political Lesbian narrative, has become stronger and stronger over the decades. Women used to choose lesbianism more in the 80’s, now its harder and harder for women to challenge their heterosexual conditioning because the world lesbian is locked to define the ones who knew they were lesbians since they were born.

The born this way anti political lesbian argues that women who were once straight should never call themselves lesbians if they became lesbians later in life as a result of their political awareness.

its a political problem for women who are looking for their way out of heterosexuality and are pushed out of lesbianism and bullied to call themselves “celibate or “Female exclusive bisexual”, forever outsider to the wider lesbian community.

As a woman who was once straight and who survived heterosexuality I am grateful I once heard one didn’t have to be born a lesbian to become one. I am grateful I had sisters around me who had walked this path before and told me it was possible.

As we are trying to free ourselves from men’s sexuality and colonisation over our bodies and minds, as we are trying to redefine desire, love relationships while the whole wide world tell us it is impossible to do so,  it would be good to have the support from our sisters.

 

Copyrights © Angela C. Wild / Lesbian History Group and lesbianhistorygroup.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lesbian History Group and lesbianhistorygroup.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Lesbian Ethics Part 4 – Expanding Lesbian feminist communities – Angela C. Wild

  1. I believe that every woman chooses to be lesbian, bi or het, whether she is conscious of that or not. You want to have it both ways and say sexually is both a choice, and is literally compulsory. Obviously heterosexuality is not literally compulsory, or else they would be no lesbians or bi women at all.

    We all weigh up the pros and cons when we make decisions, and our experiences also influence those decisions. Women who become lesbians when young, have decided that the benefits of partnering with women outweigh the negatives, and so make the choice to be lesbian, even if unconsciously. Women decide to be het or bi because they are given more social status if they partner with men, some bi women openly admit this. There is a reason why most women consider being called a lesbian the worst thing they can be called. A lesbian who makes the choice from when she is young to love women, has resisted the massive pressure from the male dominated world to worship men, she should be celebrated for that, not maligned.

    She has to pay a huge price for that, and looses social status; this has a massive impact on her in many, many ways. If others know she is lesbian she is treated like crap from everyone she knows. So she may choose to keep it to herself, this will then lead her to develop anxiety, because she will worry about being discovered. She is taught that she is shameful and dirty for loving other women, all lesbians internalize that to some degree. Het women also treat her like she is predatory and over sexualised, basically they project what men are onto her. It leads her to develop low self esteem and depression, which can lead to self harming behaviours. She experiences all of this because she has had the guts to resist what men want her to do.

    “Supposedly, women who came to lesbianism later have not suffered from that oppression because they were straight.” No het women do not experience the above. They may sometimes feel ashamed about eroticizing the S&M of het sex. But that is not the same as being taught you are dirty, shameful and inferior to other women, because you have actively resisted partnering with males. It is clear by what you have written you have no idea what we go through. Otherwise you would not have written this; “women who objectify other women get to be more of a lesbian than women who actually made the decision to love women in a non objectifying way” or this; “Political lesbianism  rejects the definition of lesbianism as women’s right to objectify and prey sexually on other women. This is what men do. It is misogyny.”

    The above is exactly what het women have said to us all along, that we are just like men (usually that we are worse than men) and sexually predatory. It is statements like this that are male propaganda that het women have internalized as truths, when it is really men who do this NOT lesbian women. Lesbian women love women and just because we feel sexual attraction to women does not make us sexually predatory or sexually objectifying. For most of us our emotional and sexual love for women is in alignment from the get go. This may be a difficult concept for het women to understand, but it is true. When you make statements like this to try and shame us for feeling sexual attraction to women, it is impossible for lesbian women (who have been lesbian since we were young) to support you. This is exactly what we have had to put up with all our lives, and has caused us so much pain.

    “Very ironically I have read recently that political lesbianism’s view of sexuality is creating a hierarchy amongst lesbians. The idea is that political lesbians would be more worthy lesbians than the born this way lesbian.”

    You are because you say lesbians who feel sexual attraction to women are “predatory” and “sexually objectifying” women. Where as those who do not feel sexual desire for women are pure lesbians. Why not just call yourself a lesbian without the qualifier “political”? It seems to be because you do not want to be mistaken for those filthy dirty lesbians who actually are attracted to women body and soul. If a het woman later thinks she has made the wrong decision to conform to heterosexuality (for whatever reason), it is more gutsy to admit that. If you did that you would receive a lot more support from lesbians and we would take you seriously. Trying to demonise lesbians as something we are not only, will only ever result in us dismissing you as lesbian hating, that is just what men and het women already do to us.

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    1. You clearly read a totally different essay to the one posted above. ‘One of the way non political lesbian justify being more lesbian that political lesbians is by saying they “lust after women’s bodies since they were teenagers”.

      It is one of the effect of basing ones definition of lesbianism on men’s culture and men’s values, then we have the incredible situation where women who objectify other women get to be more of a lesbian than women who actually made the decision to love women in a non objectifying way.’

      Precisely – many non-political lesbians/non-feminist lesbians (I mean the real feminists who know issue is all about male oppression over us women) continue to claim their reason for being ‘lesbian’ is because they constantly sexually objectify other women!! The adult boys have always claimed women are just ‘sex’ hence this is why females exist – to sexually service males (aka the adult boys!). Those lesbians who claim they are ‘constantly lusting after other females are parotting mens’ women-hating language in a vain effort to have their lesbianism accepted by the boys. But the core issue is the fact men collectively believe women and girls only exist for male sexual gratification and this is why lesbianism is demonised by the boys because how dare some women and girls deny the boys their pseudo male sex right to female bodies! Do not forget the men enshrined their male sex right to have male sexual autonomy and male ownership/control over their bodies – whereas we women have no such rights.

      The female writer did not make the claim ‘ You want to have it both ways and say sexually is both a choice, and is literally compulsory. Obviously heterosexuality is not literally compulsory, or else they would be no lesbians or bi women at all.’

      Remember despite mens’ demands/threats/punishments levied against women – not all women enact heterosexuality because there will always be some women/girls who refuse and this female refusal is why the boys are so angry and determined to enforce their male social construction of what supposedly passes for ‘human sexuality!’ Meaning mens’ definition of their male sexuality means women only exist to sexually service males!

      Female and male slaves of white male masters didn’t all meekly submit to their male masters because there were slave rebellions but obviously this can’t be true because one can’t have ‘slavery and freedom at the same time!’

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lesbians desire for women originally comes from a completely different place than heterosexual mens. Our sexual feelings come from a desire to women please women and make them feel good. Coupled with a strong desire to be close, intimate and bonded with other women; it develops from loving women. Lesbian sexuality has a completely different root from heterosexuality, this needs to be recognised. The article conflates heterosexual mens desire for women; which stems from dominance. With lesbians desire for women; which stems from love. It then posits lesbians desire for women as inherently “objectifying”, which it is not.

        Yes there are some lesbians who have internalised and eroticised het power dynamics, and apply them to lesbian relationships. But it needs to be made clear that this is a result of being influenced by het culture. It is het culture that needs to blamed, not the lesbians that have been influenced by it. This article does not do that adequately, instead it implies that lesbians desire for other women is in itself anti woman, which it is not. Lesbians desire for women can become tainted by het culture. For example I was speaking to a lesbian woman who had rape fantasies. I explained to her that they came from being influenced by het culture, she then understood this, it puts the blame where it belongs. Explaining it this way is more conducive to creating unity between longtime lesbians and new lesbians, as both can become aware that we have a common enemy; het culture.

        The common myths about lesbians is that we are overly sexual, predatory, aggressive to other women, and manlike. This article (unintentionally or not) panders to those myths, by not making things clear. It also needs to be remembered that lesbian women have had it ingrained into us, that any sexual desire we have for women is always dirty and shameful; that we are “bad” simply for being attracted to women. When a lesbian woman believes this is true and concludes she is actually bad, it is internalised oppression. The article with its way of phrasing things, only contributes to this, it shows us that women who come to lesbianism from heterosexuality also believe these lies about lesbians. This makes it impossible for longtime lesbians to be supportive.

        Longtime lesbians can be supportive, of previously het women becoming lesbians. However, women exiting heterosexuality need to move away from their preconceived notions about lesbians. And also acknowledge that lesbians are punished in many ways for resisting partnering with males, which can have a profoundly negative impact on lesbian women.

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  2. Women do not have an equal choice to be heterosexual or lesbian. Compulsory heterosexuality is a concept which points out that though girls and women think heterosexuality is just natural, there are in fact many forces which impose it. One is the invisibility of lesbians. Another is the idea that lesbianism is something innate and obvious in childhood. Others include the attentions of men and boys which attune women to be receptors even when they have not been sexually assaulted. They include the compulsory propinquity of men and boys, lack of female only facilities, meetings, social events etc. They include the suppression of women’s sexuality, i.e. sex education which does not include women’s sexuality independent of the penis and the positives of lesbianism, i.e. no birth control needed, sex focused on a woman’s pleasure, sharing of housework and childcare, less chance of violence and so on. The idea that women who choose to be lesbians for political reasons and/or later in life are somehow lesser does create a hierarchy and prevents lesbianism from spreading. As Marie Stopes said in the 1920s, lesbianism was spreading like an underground fire in a peaty moorland, and she was worried. We need that to be happening now and it cannot if any kind of hierarchy is created! Let us recruit widely and well.

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    1. Yes there is very strong pressure on women to partner with males. We are all subject to that pressure as women, regardless of whether we later consider ourselves het, bi or lesbian. None of us escapes it, but lesbians do resist it, that does need to be acknowledged. It is unfair on lesbians to imply that we are somehow in a better situation to resist it, than het or bi women. We all weigh up positives and negatives, as we do with almost everything else. Sometimes it can be unconscious, and sometimes knowledge of this can be repressed. And experiences do very strongly influence things, but still we choose.

      For example I had a school friend who I was physically intimate with, and I know I was not the only female she was intimate with. However, she used to bully other girls and call them lesbian hating names. She did this in order to draw attention away from herself and onto other girls. She later made the choice to partner with males, as did many others I had intimate relationships with as a young person. They chose to partner with males, because they did not want to loose social status, and be considered a lesbian. One said outright to me “we cannot do this anymore or else we will be lesbians”. I also was extremely worried of social disapproval if I chose women over men. So even though we are bombarded with het propaganda, when het women claim they do not have a choice, many of us know from personal experience that is just not true.

      Women who consider themselves bi, often admit they do not like the discrimination they receive, when they are in relationships with women, so find it easier dating men. Some bi women say to their therapists that they prefer using dildos with their female partners, because they are frightened of the intimacy of lesbian relationships. (Their therapists are diagnosing them as Ftt’s because of this, but that is another issue.) This comes from internalising messages from het culture. These women can be harmful to lesbians, who have not internalised these messages, if they have relationships with them. Some bi women openly admit they use other women for intimacy and love, then have sex with their husbands and boyfriends. They get all the social privileges of partnering with men, whilst using women as emotional comforters. This is why bi women are often not liked in lesbian communities, and why some lesbian bloggers insist on calling them “straightbians”.

      These things all need to be addressed, rather than being swept under the rug, this article for example does not mention bi women once. I do agree that we shouldn’t create a hierarchy between women, but one already exists and needs to be fought. Women who partner with men, or are open to doing so (het/bi), are valued more by male created society than women who flatly refuse to (lesbians). Ignoring this fact does not make the hierarchy disappear.

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  3. Janis
    “you say lesbians who feel sexual attraction to women are “predatory” and “sexually objectifying” women.”

    Yes, some lesbians have a predatory behaviour, some lesbians objectify other women.did I define this as lesbian sexuality, certainly not.
    yet It is perfectly possible for a lesbian to desire sexually another woman in a non objectifying way. In fact this is what becoming a lesbian is all about. I know it’s difficult concept in patriarchy where objectification and the erotisation of power difference is how sexuality is defined by men, but this is not what lesbian feminists are after. Rejecting this doesn’t mean rejecting sexuality or finding Lesbian sexuality “filthy”. It means we are looking for different ways to relate to one another including sexually. Your implication that political lesbians somehow do not feel sexual attraction to women is wrong of course.

    On another note I find calling myself a political lesbian and incredibly powerful act.
    yes I could call myself a “lesbian” and do away with the “political” but I choose to keep the world political in order to keep the process visible.
    I am grateful for the lesbian feminists who showed me it was not necessary to be born a lesbian to become one. without them i wouldn’t be there writing this. By using the term “political” I make sure the process I went through is not invisibilised. It shows other women in situation of heterosexuality what I have done, what I have chosen and that it is possible for them to make that choice also.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you have misunderstood me, I am saying lesbians attraction to women is not inherently based on eroticised dominance, like heterosexual attraction is. Lesbian relationships do not have the power dynamics that het relationships do. Obviously some lesbians do create pseudo power dynamics with each other, but they are not inherent to lesbian sexuality, like they are to het sexuality.

      Referring to lesbians as “predatory” is highly offensive, it is a false stereotype invented by men. It overtly suggests lesbians sexuality is aggressive or rapey, like het mens. In reality a very, very small percentage of lesbians are rapists or “predatory”, it is such a tiny figure that using it to prove a point is disingenuous. It is very disheartening to see women, especially those who claim to be feminists, propagating the worst stereotypes about lesbians. Lesbians are despised enough, we do not need women repeating male lies about us. If you want lesbian’s support then you need to refrain from doing that.

      I understand why you want to use the term “political lesbian”, but the problem is it does create divisions. For example I’ve considered myself a lesbian since I was a young teen, I’ve never believed in “born this way”. I made a choice when young, based on experiences, and knowledge acquired through observation, as we all do. Even lesbians that do consider themselves BTW have chosen really, despite the fact they are not aware of having done so. Therefore, using the words “political” and “BTW” to describe lesbians creates a false dichotomy between women. We could invent a new term for all women who do not believe in “BTW”, which could be prefixed to lesbian, bi, or het. Or we could just call ourselves one of the above. Either of these options I feel would be better, and create less division.

      If as a movement we are going to oppose the idea of a BTW sexuality, then we have to raise consciousness that every woman chooses (often unconsciously). Het women do need to be made aware of how damaging heterosexuality is, the level of coercion involved, and that they can change. Lesbians also need to be made aware that they are not just “born wrong”. That instead they have figured out (often unconsciously) that partnering with males is not in their best interests. This will also help lesbians fight internalised oppression and engender pride. I think this is more constructive, as well as being truthful, it helps all of us, rather than just one group of women.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I think you have misunderstood me, I am saying lesbians attraction to women is not inherently based on eroticised dominance, like heterosexual attraction is. Lesbian relationships do not have the power dynamics that het relationships do. Obviously some lesbians do create pseudo power dynamics with each other, but they are not inherent to lesbian sexuality, like they are to het sexuality.

      Referring to lesbians as “predatory” is highly offensive, it is a false stereotype invented by men. It overtly suggests lesbians sexuality is aggressive or rapey, like het mens. In reality a very, very small percentage of lesbians are rapists or “predatory”, it is such a tiny figure that using it to prove a point is disingenuous. It is very disheartening to see women, especially those who claim to be feminists, propagating the worst stereotypes about lesbians. Lesbians are despised enough, we do not need women repeating male lies about us. If you want lesbian’s support then you need to refrain from doing that.

      I understand why you want to use the term “political lesbian”, but the problem is it does create divisions. For example I’ve considered myself a lesbian since I was a young teen, I’ve never believed in “born this way”. I made a choice when young, based on experiences, and knowledge acquired through observation, as we all do. Even lesbians that do consider themselves BTW have chosen really, despite the fact they are not aware of having done so. Therefore, using the words “political” and “BTW” to describe lesbians creates a false dichotomy between women. We could invent a new term for all women who do not believe in “BTW”, which could be prefixed to lesbian, bi, or het. Or we could just call ourselves one of the above. Either of these options I feel would be better, and create less division.

      If as a movement we are going to oppose the idea of a BTW sexuality, then we have to raise consciousness that every woman chooses (often unconsciously). Het women do need to be made aware of how damaging heterosexuality is, the level of coercion involved, and that they can change. Lesbians also need to be made aware that they are not just “born wrong”. That instead they have figured out (often unconsciously) that partnering with males is not in their best interests. This will also help lesbians fight internalised oppression and engender pride. I think this is more constructive, as well as being truthful, it helps all of us, rather than just one group of women.

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