It pains me when well-meaning women put down political lesbianism.
I haven’t seen these “straight women” who “pretend to be lesbian,” but you know what, I can assume for a moment that maybe these women are out there, maybe on Tumblr or something. I can believe for a while that there are women appropriating the word as a political statement. People are shitty. I know it’s possible that someone is doing this thing, unseen by me.
What I have seen is women trying to articulate the path they took to coming out, and they use the phrase “political lesbian.”
What I’m saying is, I wouldn’t be a lesbian if it weren’t for political lesbianism. I’ve since dropped the “political” prefix because I’ve come to understand myself as legit, simply part of the lesbian tribe. Looking in the mirror and being able to say “This is what a lesbian looks like.” But before that, I needed a clearly articulated theory of compulsory heterosexuality to even consider the possibility that I was anything other than an ordinary straight person. I know that I would have kept being miserably straight had no one offered me the possibility that I could be a lesbian without having known it forever. Mainstream LGBT coming out guidelines didn’t offer me that. I didn’t already know it, so I didn’t believe it was possible.
Prior to reading about political lesbianism, I considered myself a 0.5 on the Kinsey scale, and called myself “mostly straight.” I kissed a few women in casual, non-romantic contexts. I could only think of one or two women I’d been attracted to, but, overwhelmingly, what turned me on was men. I knew this, and I accepted it. And this was after going to a university with a huge LGBT center, having ally training, and learning about sexual orientation as a spectrum. None of it seemed like it was meant for me. There were gay people, and there were straight people, and I was one of the straight ones.
Since first reading about political lesbianism, I have:
- Decided I wanted to be a lesbian.
- Started dating my girlfriend.
- Stopped dating men.
- Had lesbian sex for the first time. Actually started enjoying sex for the first time.
- Came out as bisexual (still wanted to be a lesbian, but didn’t think I deserved it yet).
- Attended Michfest 3 times, which changed how I think of women and of lesbians. My second year at Fest was the first time I said to myself, “I am a Lesbian.”
- Changed what turns me on. (Spoiler: It’s women.)
- Continued to date my girlfriend. Continued enjoying sex.
- Started coming out to people as a Lesbian.
- Engaged with further women romantically and sexually. (Polyamory is only a slimy liberal dOOd plot when there are actual dOOds involved. My girlfriend is wonderful. So is the breathtaking creature I’m currently trying to woo.)
It’s been four years now since political lesbianism opened the door for me, and now I’m a changed person. The thing is, sometimes we don’t know ourselves, and we also don’t know that we don’t know. Some of us had this orgasmic, ecstatic, spiritual-religious flowering of Lesbianism waiting to unfurl in us, but it needed space to grow. A garden metaphor, if I may:
A Sapphic Garden needs five things to thrive. First, a seed. The spark of possibility. I believe this is in every woman. Maybe you don’t. But it’s certainly in more women than we generally think. Second, fertile soil, closely related to your material body. Do you have self-respect? Self-love? It’s hard to relate to anyone, much less someone whose body is like your own, if you do not love yourself. Third, sunlight. Is the climate right? Do you live in a woman-loving culture, or do you struggle in the stifling dark of misogyny and homophobia? Fourth, water, which is community of spirit. Are there others like you, to nourish you? Are you emotionally satisfied, or are you thirsty for connection? Fifth is the space in which to grow. A tender sprout is very vulnerable to competition from weeds, which can steal food, water, and sun. Do you have cultural or personal beliefs getting in the way of your growth? Habits of heteo sex, performing for the male gaze, and getting value and validation from men’s attention can choke out the tiny tender seed of Lesbianism. Those weeds have to be removed, cleared away entirely, until the tiny seedling has the chance to grow deep roots.
Sapphic Gardens have always grown in less than perfect conditions. Many Lesbians came out without having role models or community, against the odds. Almost all of us have gardens growing in the dark of misogyny. We are fucking miracles, really, all of us. And some of us started with gardens, as far as we can tell, entirely overrun by weeds. Generations of weeds gone to seed over and over, never ending. It seemed to us like that was all our garden was suited for. And then political lesbianism came along like Gardening for Beginners and was all, “You know, maybe if you got yourself a digging fork and a claw and got rid of these weeds, started fresh, your garden would do better.” Paradigm shift.
I feel particularly tender towards the women like me who had to dig out the weeds of learned heterosexuality and male-pleasing before our Lesbian seeds could grow. And I want other women to know about the flowers, dormant in seed form, that could grow in their gardens if only they made the space for them.