(We are a group of activists who are revisiting the statement by Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group (“Love Your Enemy”,1979) about political lesbianism. Building on our sisters’ work, we’ve addressed the challenges we face today as radical lesbian feminists by producing a new statement.)
- In the fundamental power of a POSITIVE ALTERNATIVE to compulsory heterosexuality
- Erotic desire between women can be politically and personally life-changing
- All women have the POTENTIAL to be lesbians (but we recognise that, sometimes, it can be a long process and some women never choose the option).
- The fact that a POSITIVE option EXISTS is an important message for all women.
POLITICAL LESBIANISM IS……a radical lesbian feminist-centered collective resistance to compulsory heterosexuality. Compulsory heterosexuality is a patriarchal construct designed to permanently trap women in emotional, financial, sexual and economic dependency on men. In this context, we believe that it is a political and feminist act to choose to love other women. It’s a POSITIVE alternative to compulsory heterosexuality within a context of radical lesbian feminist activism, with the aim of dismantling and resisting hetero-patriarchy.
A POLITICAL LESBIAN IS…a woman who is politicized through her radical feminist consciousness to choose to be/come out as a lesbian as a cornerstone for her radical feminist political activism. It means being a woman-identified woman and feeling/experiencing erotic and other kinds of love and attraction for women. We believe that a radical feminist’s politics, intellect, ethics, sexuality, and activism are integral to her resistance and liberation. These parts form the whole self and cannot be compartmentalized.
Politicized lesbians become lesbians at different times in our lives. We rejection the notion that being a lesbian is only about sexual acts or activity. We believe such a narrow focus is a hetero-patriarchal concept and trivializes the numerous ways which women can love each other. What is important is whether we make connections between our radical feminist politics and the political potential of the radical lesbian feminist movement.
CONNECTIONS BETWEEN RADICAL FEMINISM AND POLITICAL LESBIAN ACTIVISM
As radical feminists and political lesbians, we will:
- Dismantle and attack patriarchy while being as free as possible from our oppressors.
- Analyze and name compulsory heterosexuality as a way of culturally, institutionally, and personally oppressing women and keeping them intimately engaged with their oppressors.
- Carry out women-only direct action and other political acts with the sole goal of destroying patriarchal institutions, cultures, and social norms.
- Diminish and erase our patriarchal socialization that tells us that relationships should be/have to be “in a power hierarchy”.
- Recognise and confront racism, classism, ableism, lesbian-hatred, etc .
- Collectively build a lesbian-feminist “culture of resistance” which sustains, organizes, and promotes our women-only activism.
- Understand that women-only (real life) radical feminist activism will, often, lead to strong bonds of sisterhood between women, including erotic desire
As radical feminists and political lesbians, we:
- Believe compulsory heterosexuality is a social construction designed to permanently subjugate women. There is nothing “natural” about it; attraction to women is erased, trivialized, appropriated, and punished.
- Name a patriarchal “Stockholm”-like effect where women feel forced to defend patriarchy or individual oppressors because their lives are so intricately tied up with one or more men. Political lesbianism frees them to focus on fighting patriarchy.
- Argue being attracted to WOMEN is political as well as personal within a radical feminist context. Therefore, we exclude those who call themselves “lesbians” but are biologically male. We object to this insidious attack on, and subversion of, lesbian and women-only spaces by those who do not share our common goal of women’s liberation. We believe that women have the right to set boundaries based on sex.
- Asserting boundaries is politically and personally important for lesbians. We advocate for lesbian separation from the “queer” movement, trans*, and gay men who actively try to prevent us from having, or enforcing, boundaries, sexual or otherwise.
- Reject the heterosexual constructs of butch/femme dynamics, including that a woman who is “masculine” is more oppressed than other women. We recognize that non-conforming women are oppressed in different ways; we seek to abolish the concepts of “femininity” and “masculinity” as a core goal of our radical feminism.
As radical feminists and political lesbians, we will:
- Create, love, and maintain lesbian feminist spaces, increasingly under attack by patriarchy and “queer” politics.
- Challenge the notion that sexuality is about individual acts of pleasure and choice, free from political implications.
- Place (hetero)sexuality and lesbianism into the political arena by asserting that relationships between women are free from the hetero-patriarchal power dynamic which exists as a necessary condition of relationships with men, no matter how lovely, or otherwise, a particular Nigel may be.
- Recognize that a radical lesbian feminist wants her personal life to reflect her political views and she will seek equal, respectful, relationships free from abuse, whether those relationships are with women friends, lovers, or ex-lovers. This is political in a world where women are taught to compete, disbelieve, dislike and fall-out with each other while prioritizing men.
- Choose to explore alternatives to the heterosexual model of living where individual women are trapped economically, personally, and politically by her dependence on a man, often with dependent children. This includes rejecting two lesbians aping the heterosexual model, e.g. by embracing same-sex marriage. Non-monogamy, asexuality, celibacy, polyamory, communal living, a variety of living arrangements are all options a radical lesbian feminist can explore individually and communally as part of her political opposition to compulsory heterosexuality.
- Explore new and different ways of being sexual with other women, should we choose to be sexual at all, which don’t imitate oppressive heterosexual norms of domination and submission. We will articulate our ways of being so all women may benefit. In a patriarchal world where women are taught to put their sexual needs last, this is political.
- Believe all women who choose to “come out” as lesbians and accept them into our lesbian feminist spaces and reject the idea that women have to “come out” in particular ways in order to be “real” lesbians.
So many false myths are perpetuated about political lesbianism by external critics, it is important we explode them.
It is a myth that:
- Political lesbians are not real lesbians.
- Political lesbians are celibate women who identify as heterosexual or heterosexual women who continue to have sex with men, however sex is defined.
- We are pressuring radical feminists to be lesbians because we say political lesbians/radical lesbian feminists opt out of compulsory heterosexuality and all women have that potential.
- That sexuality, for everyone, is reduced to who you have sex with and, therefore, is apolitical
- A woman has to have had sex with a woman prior to becoming a (political) lesbian.
It is a myth that:
- Someone born biologically male and/or has a penis can be a “lesbian”.
- “Misgendering” someone is more important than a lesbian being pressured to be sexual and intimate with someone she doesn’t consider to be a woman.
- Political lesbianism is a negative choice about withdrawal from men.
- Lesbians can be “just as bad” as men, despite not having the cultural status and power men have.
- We are born with, or develop through our childhood experiences, an “in-built” and “natural” sexuality which is fixed and innate for the rest of our lives – we believe this false theory is the stepping stone for compulsory heterosexuality.
It is a myth that:
- Women becoming lesbians, by itself, is enough to dismantle patriarchy.
- Political lesbianism is individualism or “lifestylism”.
- Sexual activity, rather than woman-centered love for women, is at the heart of political lesbianism/radical lesbian feminism.
- Previously self-identified “bisexual” women, aren’t real lesbians. Some lesbians may have had experiences with men in the past, but lesbians choose to only love, and have sex with, women in their present and in their future
- When a woman explains she’s come to lesbianism through politics this is not as real, genuine, or legitimate as any other way – we believe that no other way of a woman “coming out” would be dismissed and ridiculed in this manner. We object to this myth not just for existing political lesbians/radical lesbian feminists but also for all the women who would potentially “come out” via this route but believe others will not accept it as real.
We believe lesbian visibility is important and positive. It reclaims the patriarchal notion that “sexuality” is something which men define and own by narrowing it down to sex and sexual activity. For that reason, we are proud to present this contemporary view of political lesbianism
Poli Lez Collective, August, 2012
Rubyfruit, Terri Strange, dubsh, Sarah Wallace, Maribel Griggs, kathleen de vries
(Contributors also include radical feminists who are pro-political lesbianism)