Author Archives: feedthefishes

Shame and Choosing Lesbianism

I had a friend ask me recently, “What about shame?  If you decided to change your sexuality, you must have been ashamed of your heterosexuality.”

For my own purposes, I define shame as the feeling of reduced self-worth due to something I have done or something I simply am.  And because it’s related, I’ll say I define guilt as the feeling of moral or ethical failure.  Sometimes guilt and shame overlap, sometimes they do not.  For instance, I used to feel ashamed that I was “fat” and “ugly.”  No moral or ethical failure there, just a feeling of reduced worth.  Sometimes I feel guilty for not holding up my end of a project at work, when I’ve promised to.  Ethical failure, but since I’ve now accepted that I’m not perfect and I fuck up sometimes, a little blip doesn’t affect my self-esteem.  For me, shame is about feeling like shit, and guilt is about acknowledging an actual mistake.

Because I was never a lesbian kid and never in conversion therapy, I don’t know this, but I imagine the experience summarizes to something like “I’m a sicko sinner and inherently an unworthy piece of human garbage but I’m so lucky my abuser God is willing to give me a second chance.”  That’s what I call shame, that’s what I imagine there.  That’s bad.  Shame is something like internalized emotional abuse, whether the abuse comes from one person or a whole culture.  Emotional abuse is bad.  We’re on the same page here.

Sister Carolyn of the Sisterhood of the Sacred Synapse says in her sermon on attraction to women that comparing conversion therapy to deciding to be attracted to women is a false syllogism, and I agree.  She and others have written that since we were all naturally oriented towards our mothers as babies, we all have attraction to women naturally in us.  Makes sense to me.  I also think it’s a false syllogism because choosing lesbianism doesn’t involve emotional abuse and coercion to adhere to the belief system.  You don’t get eternal punishment for not being a lesbian.  The legal system isn’t stacked against you as a heterosexual.  Your dad doesn’t cry over how your perversion will disgrace the family when he hears you have a boyfriend (before he disowns you).  When you choose to love women in a lesbian-hating culture, you’re probably actually into the idea of women-loving for yourself.  It’s not shame that drives it.

So was I experiencing a reduced sense of self-worth due to my heterosexuality?  Did I feel like shit?  Well yes, but it was indirect and not my fault.  I felt like shit after a BDSM session with my boyfriend who soon after dumped me.  I felt like shit when a fun casual date turned into being held hostage in my own car by an obsessed dude.  I felt like shit when one boyfriend was clearly enacting porn scenes on me.  I felt like shit when I discovered months into a sexual relationship that the guy didn’t think abortions were okay.  But did I feel like shit for being attracted to these men, for being interested in the possibility of heterosexual relationship?  No.  The problem wasn’t with me but with them.

Of course, I’m not interested in that anymore.  I did my work on that.  The more I looked at the relationships I’d had with men, or tried to have, and the more I thought about the creepy shit that had gone down thanks to the men in my life, the more I saw the patterns (of violence, disrespect, inequality).  And the more repulsed I became by men in general.  I know that makes a lot of lesbians twitch, the idea that one comes to be a lesbian by hating men.  Hate for men, yes, but also a growing self-respect.  As in, fuck this shit, I’m done with this.  Boundaries are about self-respect, about having something worth protecting.  You say to yourself, “I matter.”  Which is opposite of feeling ashamed.

Then after you take out the trash, sooner or later comes moving towards the new good thing.  The thing that makes you feel good about yourself, that makes you feel nurtured.  The thing that makes you ask yourself, “How did I ever get on with my life before lesbianism?  This is so perfect…did I really choose this or is it innate?”  Congrats: You’ve arrived.

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Lesbian as a Blessing

Goddess I was so turned on today.

I could not get my (hairy, be-cunted, female) partner out of my mind.  Her thighs and where they come together.  The feel of her clit in my mouth and her round belly in my arms.  How wet she gets–I marvel at how wet she gets!  The shape of her hands.  The curve of her waist.  The texture of her beard.  Female is gorgeous.  Lesbian sex is from heaven.  Blessed be.

I look back on my old self–and, self-consciously, on my old posts here–and see the me that was with men, was exploring women, was wanting to be Lesbian but was afraid to claim it, not sure I deserved it.  I AM glad that I took time with it, didn’t take the word while I was with a man or soon after.  Thought about it.  Took care.  Treated it as sacred.

I pray that I may be able to have sex with many more women in my life, whether in a poly context or after my current relationship (or maybe I’ll have sex with my current partner for many many years, and that would be fine too).  If it pleases the Goddess, I’d like to worship at her altar.  In my first relationship, I was the novice–a la nuns–in my trial period, not ready to take my solemn vows.  Three years into that relationship, I finally called myself a Lesbian with conviction.  And now in my second relationship–yes sisters!–if there were a Lesbian Sisterhood I could make vows to, I would.  I would vow my adoration and service.  And chastity (at least in the hetero sense).  The Goddess works in mysterious ways.  I did not ask for this, but S/she came to me.  And came, and came.

At the time it was a choice.  Now it seems inevitable.  Hindsight.  I am not willing to let go of the choice, though.  Without the choice, it would not have happened for me.  You can choose.  I need you to know that.  Still, not everyone is ready, not yet.  I think that can be true too.  Be quiet if you must.  Listen to yourself.  Are you ready to do this?  Without hurting your sisters?  Will you dig out the misogyny and heterosexism–the patriarchy–and light them on fire, and worship her body in the alchemical glow of their destruction?  How much do you want her?  How much do you want Her?  She wants you.

I look back on my only certainty being that what was given to me was not grown by me.  I did not know if I could love or desire a woman, but I knew I had to try.  It has been worth it.  For all the pain of that first relationship/breakup (still a current pain), I know she was the perfect one to show me this part of me.  I am so much more than I ever imagined because I loved this woman.  Sex, desire, love–all deepened tenfold when I let myself be a Lesbian.

And the desire that I wasn’t sure was possible, then wasn’t sure was real, then wasn’t sure I deserved–it is now a daily blessing I take for granted.  The pulling ache in my clit when I think of my lover’s mouth.  The breath that steals out when I feel her tighten around my fingers.  The space between us that is full of magic as we pause, and pause…and succumb.  I want to tell my past self: “Don’t worry.  You found it.”

Waking Up Together

Warning: Contains descriptions of cutting and compulsive hair-pulling.

For some reason today I was thinking about waking up with people, and worrying about being seen.

I remember reading about transmen who sleep in their binders.  My biracial friend told me about waking up before her white boyfriend did to make her hair look “whiter” for him.  And I thought about the women I met online, who woke early in the morning to put on eyeliner, so their boyfriends wouldn’t know they pulled all their eyelashes out.

Trichotillomania is compulsive hair-pulling.  It usually comes on in adolescence, and usually affects girls.  It is characterized by a strong compulsion to pull hair out of the head, face, or body, and has nothing to do with grooming or beauty.  Those affected usually pull from a specific part of the body; eyelashes are common.  And, those affected usually want to stop, but can’t.

It’s difficult to describe this compulsion to someone who has never felt it.  Why would you do that?  Doesn’t it hurt?  Don’t you think it makes you look funny?  Yes, it hurts, but the pain is irrelevant next to the need.  Yes, I’m worried about making a bald spot, but I can’t control my fingers when they go there.  Lots of us report feeling a “trance” state when pulling.  In this state I lost hours every day, unaware of time except for brief blips of clarity, too short-lived to pull myself away.  My parents thought I was obsessed with my appearance, following some kind of extreme beauty regimen, but it was so much stranger.  If I saw or felt a hair that had that special something, I HAD to pull it out.  If I lost it, I had to find it.  Isolate it.  Sometimes I would hold it, stroke it for a few minutes, trying to satisfy myself without pulling it out.  But the urge would grow, and the tension would rise, and there would be nothing more important to me than to pull it out.  In the moment that I ripped the follicle from my scalp, the tension would release, momentarily, barely.  It was not a long-lasting pleasure, because as soon as I pulled the hair in my grasp, I would drop it and search for another, needing another release.  This was when I was aware, of course.  Sometimes I would have the specific thought, “I am not going to pull my hair right now,” and my next moment of awareness was leaning into the mirror, hair parted, searching for the right one.  I was not conscious of how I got there; I had dissociated and lost time.

For someone who hasn’t experienced hair pulling, it makes no sense.  You might try to pull your hair out–maybe you’re hiding your early gray, maybe you’ve got something witchy in mind–and it hurts.  You don’t want to do it.  You probably don’t understand why someone would want to pull their hair out for hours every day.  I feel this way about cutting.  I tried it one time, to get blood for art.  It took so, so long to get a few drops.  I was repulsed by the thought of cutting myself.  I could not drive the knife to my skin, or when I did, the pain was very discouraging.  I cannot imagine pleasure or release in performing this activity.  Except for me, I can imagine doing a thing that is painful, where the pain is not really noticeable under the OTHER feeling.  I can certainly imagine the feeling that I NEED to do something unusual, or destructive, to my body, or else I won’t feel OK.

For me, hair pulling was a compulsion that came on at adolescence and mostly left by the time I left home.  Say a solid six years.  I still pull, but I don’t trance out, lose time, or worry myself about it.  I noticed that I pulled more in situations of stress–and of course female adolescence is one big stressor.  For some, trich doesn’t go away, and for me it did.  Maybe because I stopped hating myself and got some good things going on in my life (accepted my weirdnesses, got some hobbies, got independent from my parents).  Most sufferers are women, though.  Hard to imagine, right?  Patriarchy and all…

For many, when the stress goes away, when the underlying issue goes away, the trich goes away as well.  Trich is a sign of something bigger at hand.

Just like I will never understand cutting, I will never understand binding, or transition. Not really. This is as close as I come. But I am still confessing this because I can’t help thinking that there’s something similar in what we do to ourselves, and why. Because I think I do understand a little. I am holding on to what we have in common. I want you to know that I am ok with you seeing me, and I hope you feel ok with me seeing you. If, one day, we wake up next to each other, please understand that we are in this together. You do not have to hide.

Two-Out-Of-Eight

I played a bit with the Riddle Scale of Homophobia in a previous post, and now I’d like to look at the scale again.  As before, a significant contribution of the Riddle Scale is that it names attitudes more than the most clearly violent and prejudiced as homophobic.  The point I plan to make–that “born that way” arguments are homophobic–has been made before, but not, I think, with the Riddle Scale to lend its particular clarity.

Also I’ve been sitting on this post for over two years, and I’m a little tired, so it might not be that clear after all.  Also, critiques of “X-phobia” are valid, and generally I prefer the lens of “heterosexism” to “homophobia.”

The Riddle Scale was developed by psychologist Dorothy Riddle in 1974/5.  Have a look.

NEGATIVE

  • Repulsion: Homosexuality is seen as a crime against nature. Gays/lesbians are considered sick, crazy, immoral, sinful, wicked, etc. Anything is justified to change them: incarceration, hospitalization, behavior therapy, electroshock therapy, etc.
  • Pity: Represents heterosexual chauvinism. Heterosexuality is considered more mature and certainly to be preferred. It is believed that any possibility of becoming straight should be reinforced, and those who seem to be born that way should be pitied as less fortunate (“the poor dears”).
  • Tolerance: Homosexuality is viewed as a phase of adolescent development that many people go through and most people grow out of. Thus, lesbians/gays are less mature than straights and should be treated with the protectiveness and indulgence one uses with children who are still maturing. It is believed that lesbians/gays should not be given positions of authority because they are still working through their adolescent behavior.
  • Acceptance: Still implies that there is something to accept; the existing climate of discrimination is ignored. Characterized by such statements as “You’re not lesbian to me, you’re a person!” or “What you do in bed is your own business.” or “That’s fine with me as long as you don’t flaunt it!”

POSITIVE

  • Support: People at this level may be uncomfortable themselves, but they are aware of the homophobic climate and the irrational unfairness, and work to safeguard the rights of lesbians and gays.
  • Admiration: It is acknowledged that being lesbian/gay in our society takes strength. People at this level are willing to truly examine their homophobic attitudes, values, and behaviors.
  • Appreciation: The diversity of people is considered valuable and lesbians/gays are seen as a valid part of that diversity. People on this level are willing to combat homophobia in themselves and others.
  • Nurturance: Assumes that gay/lesbian people are indispensable in our society. People on this level view lesbians/gays with genuine affection and delight, and are willing to be their allies and advocates.

I really appreciated the Riddle Scale when I first saw it in my Ally Training long ago.  It showed the nuances in between “Gay is good” and “Gay is bad.”  At the time, I found myself on the verge between Acceptance and Support, but I really didn’t understand the last three categories.  They all seemed the same to me–because they were beyond my grasp at the time.  (It took Michfest to show me all that was possible, and get me to Nurturance.  Thanks Michfest.  I needed you.  We all still do.)

“Born that way” is an explanation for homosexuality saying that sexual orientation is genetic, inborn, designed by God, and completely unchangeable.  It is used as a argument to grant basic legal rights to homosexuals.  No longer a “crime against nature” (or the state), homosexuality need not be punished via sodomy laws, DADT (in the military or other fields), or prohibition of legal marriage.  “We’d change if we could, but we can’t, and are you really going to punish us for things we can’t change?”  So we are a step up from rock bottom.  We have a basis for decriminalizing homosexuality.  Yay.

But look again at the Riddle Scale. The attitude that “We’d change if we could, but we can’t” falls under Pity or Tolerance, on the negative end of the scale.  We can’t help it.  Pity us.  Tolerate us.  Protect and indulge us.  If rights are based on not being able to help ourselves, that implies that were homosexuals able to help themselves, homosexuality would not be ok. The OK-ness of homosexuality is not a given, then.  Hmm.

And if you think homosexuality is not ok, isn’t that…homophobia?  Positions based on “we can’t help it,” even when advocating for protective laws, even when based on (pseudo)science, ARE homophobic. How can you consider yourself an ally for homosexuals, when you come from pity or indulgence, i.e. “the poor dears can’t help it,” instead of coming from “gay and lesbian relationships are AWESOME!”  On an eight-point scale, are we really settling for two-out-of-eight?  Are we really giving those folks cookies?

Don't stay where you are tolerated, go where you are celebrated

When we start to realize that born-this-way arguments see lesbians as “poor dears” instead of healthy and whole and happy women, we can recognize this argument as one of desperation.  If we grovel in self-effacing ways, if we swear to the moon that we don’t think much of ourselves, if we promise to toe the line, they will give us our limited reward for feminine obedience.  Really?  This is the tack we want to take?  Demeaning ourselves?  I know it is still a dangerous world, and the threat of violence is real, and born-this-way offers limited protection, but it will only get us so far.  Meanwhile, women who want to choose lesbianism for their liberation are called fakes.  All to protect the two-out-of-eight.

I know, we’re afraid that if the public gets wind of women choosing to be lesbians, they’ll start thinking that we can choose to be straight and the conversion therapy will kick back in.  Granted, some people who try to become straight suffer.  Immensely.  Unfulfilling relationships with people you don’t love, sex that repulses you, trying to conform to undesirable gender stereotypes—all bad. I haven’t experienced it and I hope never to.  Trying to change out of shame, guilt, or self-hate doesn’t work. When we say that sexual orientation can’t be changed, what we should be saying instead is that sexual orientation can’t be changed through self-hate or external pressure. But changing organically because that’s who you grow into intellectually and emotionally, as Radical Feminists who become Lesbian do, that is possible and good.  Fantastic, life-affirming, and joyous, in fact.

It’s not that you were born that way to begin with, discovering it later. It’s that you were born merely with the possibility for attractions, and your upbringing, your environment, your culture, your life experiences have the power to shape your sexuality over time. You are not static. You grow and change. That’s what life is. We change hobbies, friendships, politics, religion, opinions, tastes, goals…and sexuality* is not exempt. It too can grow and change with us.  We move through the stages, and come to understand Lesbianism as beautiful.  Delightful.  Indispensable.  Which, interestingly, is at the other end the of scale.   Nurturance.  Eight-out-of-eight.

Y’all, I know that there are fake lesbians in the world.  I know lesbian sexuality has been commodified.  I know there are men out there changing the definition of the word.  I’m not asking us to drop our boundaries.  I’m asking us to re-examine them, to make sure we’ve built the right ones.  “Born that way” is a sad, desperate argument, and it’s hurting all of us, not just us ex-hets.

Today is a good day to become a Lesbian

I love this one.

* But see my previous post, WTF is Sex, Anyway?

Deprogramming How-To

Here’s a little something I posted on Tumblr, but I think I’ll put it here too.  I  have found quitting porn, quitting violent fantasies, and learning attraction to women to be interconnected.  Love women.  Love yourself.

____________________________________________

Want to stop watching porn?  Just stop; that’s the easy part.  I did.  The harder part is quitting masturbating to fantasies of abuse.  And it is super hard when you start this deprogramming.  You and your culture have wired your brain to respond to degradation, and change is not instantaneous.  It takes actual mental effort to imagine people being loving and kind mutually powerful and mentally and physically present…and then convince your brain to find that stuff exciting.  But the good news is, if you’re patient with yourself and keep at it, it really works.  You rewire your brain.  The new pathways replace the old.

Finding yourself going down the same pathways?  As soon as you notice it, before giving yourself a chance to think about it, interrupt whatever you’re doing to break the spell.  Jump out of your chair, sit up in bed.  Start singing a silly song, out loud, to yourself.  Or say “Stop!” out loud.  Or maybe “Fuck patriarchy!” for good measure.  And now that you’ve interrupted, redirect.  Do something physical.  Go get a snack, go to the bathroom.  Play with your cat.  Trim your toenails.  Shoot some hoops.  It gets your brain out of where it was.  You are not trapped there.  You create new possibilities, new pathways.  You are literally building new connections in your brain.  Each time you do it, it makes it a little easier the next time.

Remember, just because something is inside you, doesn’t mean it’s yours, doesn’t make it native.  “We have all been seriously messed with,“ as Carolyn Gage has said.  We don’t have to be ashamed.  We can kick the colonizers out of our heads and still love the heck out of ourselves.  In fact, those things seem pretty compatible to me.

Sapphic Garden

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:

  1. Decided I wanted to be a lesbian.
  2. Started dating my girlfriend.
  3. Stopped dating men.
  4. Had lesbian sex for the first time.  Actually started enjoying sex for the first time.
  5. Came out as bisexual (still wanted to be a lesbian, but didn’t think I deserved it yet).
  6. 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.”
  7. Changed what turns me on. (Spoiler: It’s women.)
  8. Continued to date my girlfriend.  Continued enjoying sex.
  9. Started coming out to people as a Lesbian.
  10. 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.