I’ve been thinking lately about how I came to feminism. I wouldn’t really have called myself a feminist until about a year ago, despite clearly holding feminist ideals dear. In fact, I was pretty turned off by what I saw as feminism when a woman told me that the movement could use “women who look like [me].” I didn’t feel like being anybody’s token dyke, and I was more than a little offended.
Are we really some kind of endangered species? I’m sure she meant well, but the whole thing was really off-putting. But lately it’s gotten me thinking about where feminism and sexuality and gender identity collide, because that’s where most of my writing and my thoughts these days fit in.
I’d like to think that the days of “We’ll get to you when the bigger issues are hammered out, ladies” are gone (If These Walls Could Talk 2, anyone?), but unfortunately I think there’s still some friction between “mainstream” feminists and so-called “lesbian feminists.” In my mind, there shouldn’t be a distinction. But I don’t want to bash anyone’s chosen identity, and it would be equally wrong to ignore the ways that feminism and lesbian feminism fail to overlap.
Part of the problem, as I see it, is a problem of representation. When we talk about sexual harassment, we often don’t talk about how frequently lesbians are harassed. When we talk about wage and job equality, we often fail to mention that lesbians in many states aren’t protected from being fired in the private sector due to their sexual orientation. When we talk about balancing career and family, we often ignore the fact that many women who would love to be starting a family face serious obstacles because they can’t legally marry.
As for gender identity, unfortunately it seems there’s still considerable backlash against lesbians and trans folk. A lot of women still seem to see us as the patriarchy. If we’re dressing in men’s clothing, adopting male pronouns, or taking on “masculine” behaviors and identities, we can’t possibly have a stake in women’s equality, right?
Let me put it bluntly: The fact that I wear boxer briefs and neckties is never going to magically bestow male privilege upon me. I’m still at risk for rape and sexual assault. I still may face significant barriers accessing birth control. I can still recognize that women all over the world are being oppressed, abused, and killed because of their gender. And because I’m a lesbian, and a gender deviant at that, I face the additional risk of being fired for my sexuality, having my access to health care blocked, not being able to have children (either naturally or through adoption), not having my (future) marriage recognized throughout the country, and getting security called on my ass in the bathroom.
I should say that a lot of the feminist blogosphere gets this. Feministe, Pandagon and Feministing are all very inclusive. But even on those sites (and elsewhere), every once in a while the tiny cry of “What about the homos?” gets shot down immediately.
Queer issues are feminist issues. Gender issues are feminist issues. We should be forging alliances, not splintering. Why can’t we get more straight women to fight for same-sex marriage? Why don’t more lesbians speak out about the wage gap? Until we find some kind of solidarity, divide and conquer is working against us.