The Queers Aren’t Alright: Consequences of Political Lesbianism

I – Radfems

Radical feminist theory is a school of thought or analysis of the structures of power which oppress the “female sex”.  This second wave of feminism which began in the early 60s generally maintains that women (used interchangeably with “females”) as a strictly biological class are globally oppressed by men (used interchangeably with “males”) as another strictly biological class. It also posits that said oppression is “sex-based”. Whether or not this oppression roots from capitalism—which would be a more materialist view—or from innate “male” evil has been a point of contention. Now we have the terms TERF and SWERF, meaning Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist and Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist; respectively, though these views tend to go hand in hand.

In the 1970’s, during the Women’s Liberation Movement, there was this new idea among the radical feminists that lesbianism—whatever that means in context—is the solution, and heterosexuality as an institution, is the problem. What this resulted in was political lesbianism, meaning women separating themselves from those they deemed men in every way possible, often engaging in same-sex relationships (or attempting to) or choosing to remaining celibate, in an attempt to combat the heterosexual institution. However, lesbians did not begin existing in the 70’s, and this movement affected general lesbian identity heavily in ways we are still recovering from. Prior to the political lesbianism, “lesbian” was solely a slur applied to non-men who were interested in or involved with non-men. But with cis, ostensibly heterosexual women moving in and claiming lesbianism as their political tool for this movement, the idea of what a lesbian was forcibly narrowed. 

With the language we have now, radical feminists often say they want to abolish gender. They believe we—trans activists—want to erase biological sex in favor of social gender, and create a world of choice-based identity. They self-identify as “gender-critical”, meaning they—perhaps in roundabout ways—understand the violence inherent in forced gender roles but prop up trans people as patriarchal rather than seeing transness for what it is:a natural reaction to a violently gendered society. There might be radical feminists who would agree there as well, but would any go farther and say that that is evidence of a community that knows gender trauma better than most? Trans people are not a monolith, and we have made countless observations about gender that contradict, sometimes peacefully, and sometimes with violence. Radical feminists criticize the poetry we make of the language we are taught, while claiming to be criticizing an ideology, a nebulous trans agenda. For a more nuanced analysis of gender versus sex, read the Gender Accelerationist Manifesto.

II – Discourse

It’s been quite a few years since [mainstream gay celebrity] invented queerness, and I, for one, am thankful. We’ve come a long way since the beginning of our movement, back when [politician] advocated for us in the court of law and passed [this or that reform which improved quality of life], which, as you know, was repealed only a short time after, because of course we can’t trust reformists to make the changes we need and maintain them. Various umbrellas for aspects of queerness have been created, such as the a-spectrum; encompassing aromantic, asexual, demisexual, and other similarly grouped identities, or the transgender spectrum; encompassing all sorts of men, women, and the vast array of identities beyond that.

It’s true that being a radical is isolating. It‘s also true that being a queer or a trans person is isolating. It can often feel like one is a victim to their own geography—to their small town, to their alienating schoolhouses and workplaces; and, well, they often are. So it goes without saying that with the internet came more opportunities for queers to talk. And so they did, and never before has something like this been seen: the amount of solidarity, support, love, power between people who otherwise wouldn’t be connected is pretty incredible. 

Predictably, I want to talk about the other end of the double-edged sword, the Discourse(tm). Discourse in the context of social justice, feminism, and LGBTQ+ identities tends to refer to polarizing issues that are given much attention online and often involve those who wish to exclude, and those who don’t. For a bit, I kind of assumed it would make sense to operate on a case by case basis, looking at each discourse topic individually and coming to my own conclusions. I can now see the ways they intersect, and I no longer think it’s ideal to pick and choose. There’s so many kinds of queer or social justice discourse and only so many are bound to apply to you, so picking and choosing based on hearsay from people who might not even be part of the communities isn’t a good approach. A lot of intracommunity discourse is just that—intracommunity discourse.

An example of queer discourse is truscum, referring to trans people who believe dysphoria is a requirement for True Transness. Cis people who agree with truscum, are not truscum, they are just transphobic. Truscum rhetoric revolves around respectability politics, medicalizing transness, and appeasing the feelings of cis people. Truscum (or transmedicalists, as many call themselves) tend to espouse gender binarism ranging from casual binarism and binarist assumptions to outright denial of nonbinary identity.

I personally do not want my existence as a trans person medicalized, under the knife, trapped in the lens of the cis gaze and expected to be grateful. I don’t need or want neurosexist pseudoscience to tell me I have a “ladybrain”. Cis people elevating studies about transness that attempt to explain our existence with science don’t recognize that many of these are debunked, such as the idea that there are male and female brains, and that institutions of science don’t need to justify our existence. The real science supports us, yes, but institutions of science built on stolen land have neo-colonialism coursing through their veins and it may not be possible to separate these institutions as we know them today from their roots in white-supremacist imperialism. Man and woman, or this European idea of man and woman, have evolved throughout time to suit the imperialist status quo. Please read the Gender Accelerationist Manifesto.

With regards to people on the a-spectrum, people are similarly exclusionary and will state that people on the aromantic and asexual spectrum cannot claim to be LGBTQ+, or even queer. Besides the fact that people on the a-spectrum are very much oppressed and marginalized by the allocishet status quo, the A in the commonly used LGBTQIA and similar acronyms has always stood for a-spectrum in some way or another. The status quo punishes a-spec individuals for deviating from the norms it has set, just as it does the rest of us queers.

Most discourse is similarly a matter of inclusion and exclusion, and lesbian discourse is no different. There is the argument of nonbinary lesbians and our validity as lesbians, who can reclaim “dyke”, and so on. There is the argument of bisexual and pansexual lesbians, if they can exist, if they can be butch or femme. Political lesbianism dug its roots into the word before it could even develop as a distinct identity in a healthy way, and nearly every type of lesbian discourse can be traced to the political lesbian movement.

Baeddellism is an ideology named after the Olde English slur for an effeminate man, baeddel. It expresses—in a trans context—prioritizing those who were assigned male at birth (AMAB), especially those who are intersex (coercively assigned male at birth, or CAFAB), over those who were assigned female at birth (AFAB). It’s essentially a vague separatist movement that mirrored lesbian separatism. Regardless of what baeddels claimed baeddelism stood for, it is continuing to have effects on the trans community as a whole just as lesbian separatism did to lesbianism. Namely, there is continual dehumanization of those who were AFAB among some trans circles. When trans people who were AFAB speak of their experiences with misdirected misogyny, they are often called transmisogynist by the lingering baeddel tendencies or transphobic by people who seem to think bigots ask how you identify before deciding how to violently address you. 

Like lesbian separatism before it, baeddelism has again demonstrated that it is in the interests of the status quo to keep us separate. Separating and segregating people by their assigned gender at birth (AGAB) is harmful to everyone, with or without the trans inclusive language we have now. Neither AMAB nor AFAB could exist as lone terms without the other; the full picture is needed to contextualize either. It is integral to queer liberation that we are not divided. All of these forms of queer discourse are similarly helpful to the status quo as they seek to minimize solidarity among the oppressed.

III – From Exclusion to Where?

Queer discourse is a place we can identify prescriptivism in action—the attitude or belief that theres a single correct way to use language, in our context, labels and slurs. So many people unconsciously promote the idea that labels choose you, rather than the other way around, even when this isn’t always consistent with their beliefs. We see this possibly in the way questioning individuals might share their feelings, thoughts, or experiences, and ask if they make them a certain identity. This shows how the default assumption is often that there is an innate sexuality and gender which is more important than an individual’s autonomy or right to self-identify.

This cannot be the case. Man and woman as we know them today are formed by the European colonialist history that has shaped them, and there can be no gene or chromosome corresponding to a social construct. So instead, we must opt out of, reclaim, and transform what is forced on us all. 

To group all instances of gender with the oppressive traditions descended from that which spread through genocide and conquest is erasure of already marginalized cultures and only serves the dominant culture. Instead we target the European gender binary, in conjunction with white supremacy, the state, capitalism, patriarchy and any other forms of systemic oppression. We respect the word of someone who declares themselves an identity because their word is what makes it so. We accept infinite definitions for the same label, because as soon as you try to introduce a universal definition for a sexuality or gender, you are, by default, going to be excluding some part of that label’s history. We can have different relationships to the same words, that’s part of what makes us human.

Edited by Charles Maria Tor

Recommended reading:

Alyson Escalante – Gender Nihilism: An Anti-Manifesto

Alyson Escalante – Beyond Negativity: What Comes After Gender Nihilism?

Kaspar the Friendly Geist – Gender Egoism – On Ownness and Identity

Eme Flores and Vikky Storm – The Gender Accelerationist Manifesto

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