Field of Science

Won't Somebody Please Think of the Lesbians?

I'm probably going to have to apologise in advance for this post, as I'm quite possibly going to make a twit of myself while writing it. Suffice to say, it's not in my usual line of subject matter, it's not really something I'm qualified to write about, it's just something I've been thinking about for a little while and just feel the need to make a statement about.

As a homosexual myself, it should hardly come as a surprise that I have a passing interest in GLBTI rights. On the other hand, I have something of a complaint about the term "GLBTI". The problem is that the term explicitly lumps gay men, lesbians, transexuals, etc. together as if we are all facing the same issues, and the problems for one are the problems for another. They are not. These are all different bundles of issues, each with their own distinct nuances. And the solution for one set of issues will not necessarily be the solution for another.

There is another, deeper problem with the term "GLBTI", which relates to how people approach GLBTI issues - GLBTI issues become gay issues become gay men's issues. I think it's a reasonable null hypothesis that about half the world's homosexual community are women - so where are they? We are presented with the concept of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy*, but where is the Dyke Eye for the Straight Woman? Pick up a gay rights magazine or newspaper, one supposedly written for both men and women, and take a good look at just how much press time is given to lesbians. If they're lucky, they'll be given a column, somewhat condescendingly buried somewhere around page seven. Take a look at the cover - in the eternal parade of male cover models, how often does the cover feature a woman? Gay men, I am sorry to say, are just as guilty of discrimination towards gay women as are heterosexuals.

*A programme for which I also found the concept offensive, but that's an issue for another day. Suffice to say that I found it offensive in much the same way that a woman finds being told that she has nice tits offensive.

If you were to compile a history of moral and legal attitudes towards homosexuality, I think you'd find much more negative reaction to homosexual men than homosexual women (such the famous occasion [though I'm not certain of its truthfulness] when Queen Victoria supposedly signed off on a law making sodomy a crime, but refused to permit a similar law on sapphism). Does this mean that lesbians suffered less from persecution? Not in the least. Lesbians were not made the specific subject of discrimination, not because their behaviour was regarded as acceptable, but because they were women. They had already been put in their place, thank you very much. Where was the need to legislate on a woman's choice of sexual partners, when she had no rights regarding her choice in the first place? Lesbian rights are a different set of issues from gay men's rights because lesbian rights are much more part and parcel of the whole wider issue that is women's rights in general. Gay women are doubly discriminated against. And if you happen to be an overweight black gay woman confined to a wheelchair, then I quite understand if you start randomly punching people.

I have to make a confession - I am sexist. I am racist. And I probably always will be. We all are. Discrimination seems to be a hardwired part of human mentality - we are driven to notice differences and then generalise from them. Burning crosses and gaybashings are only part of the problem, and quite frankly, they're the easy part to deal with. It is the underlying attitudes - the attitudes that we all have, and the attitudes that we don't even realise we have - that are the hard part. We sneer at hardcore feminists' complaints about the "patriarchy" - but you take a look around, and really think about things, and start to come to the uncomfortable realisation that holy shit, they have a point. So the next time you start thinking to yourself that you are not discriminatory, stop. I'm sorry, but you are. Because we all are. And it's not until we recognise our own faults, and strive to correct them, that there's any hope of progress.

Thank you for your time - normal service will be resumed shortly. And in the meantime, may I direct your attention to this post of Zuska's on the question of why there are so few women working in science, and whether the supposed need for women to choose between career and family, often presented as an explanation, is a distraction from other, deeper issues. The main feeling I find coming through Zuska's post is frustration - almost like (if she'll excuse the clumsy metaphor) someone whose car isn't running, so she opens the bonnet, cleans all the connections, makes sure everything is where it should be, primed and ready to go, hops back into the driver's seat, turns the key - and it still won't bloody start...


  1. This was a fantastically written and to-the-point post. It is nice to read a different view point. I have actually dealt with all sorts of discrimination directed at me by gay men... which is just silly. My choice in women was not up to par, my bathing suit was to revealing cause "no one want's to see those," etc. It's just silly. I am not a megadyke, nor have I ever been, but it's true. it happens a lot. Then straight people find out and it's "ooh can I watch?" Why is it different? We are all fighting the same battle. We do all discriminate on some innate level. It's true. I try to look at things objectively, but I am only human. Sometimes it takes me a minute.... and now I'm babbling. Sorry. Thanks for your openness.

  2. i think you're right with your's infradiscrimination.i've learned a lot reading deleuze/guattari,where they speak of "microscopic transsexuality",thereby denouncing ALL labels and tags.there are as many sexualities as there are humans.but this is'nt going to work in society.then we're obliged to flaunt our lesbian,gay,transsexual,bisexual personalities,and,hey,why not our heterosexual personalities too?
    and NEVER are we going to return to victorian,monotheïstic,archaïc,surreel identities whitch were formulated in theories and treatises anyway to regulate what can't be regulated.hail madonna,rupaul,lil'kim,the yeahyeahyeah's,the dandy warhols,etc.,whose ennui with old fashioned sexuality demonstrate such modernity and naturalism.
    madonnatella,aad de gids,a homosexual dutchman.

  3. I knew there was a reason I liked reading your blog! Thank you for being an out scientist!

    Living in the US, and in San Francisco, I may have a skewed perception. :-) I think the Grrls are there, but not visible. It's different in each city.

    Womyn that I have talked to about this tell me that it is more scary for a woman to be as "out there" as the guys are. Attacks (physical and otherwise) still happen even here, and bashers don't find women as threatening as me.

  4. Mimi: I'm glad you liked the post. I can't promise that I always live up to the ideals I expressed (as you said, our humanity gets the best of us sometimes), but it was just something a few things had been reminding me of lately.
    Offhand, I tried to imagine how the "frog-tongue chest break" works, but I lost track of the limbs :-).

    Madonnatella: Yesterday evening I heard someone referring to "DSG" instead of "GLBTI", for "Diverse Sexuality and Gender", with the definition of who counted as DSG being whoever counted themselves as DSG. I was reminded of a transvestite whom I used to see out at a gay club I used to go to. As a man, he was completely heterosexual, but becoming part of the "homosexual community" allowed him express himself as an out-and-proud "woman".

    Steve: That's rather sad, that people feel threatened, and it reinforces what I said. For some reason, I'm reminded of the old line about how a woman has to work twice as hard as a man to be considered half as good.

  5. Thank you for posting this. As a queer woman, it is very frustrating to see so much of the public sphere taken up by the men. Male homosexuality is more visible because it's more threatening to the patriarchy. Female homosexuality is nearly invisible it seems, because we're "just women", so who cares.

    It's comforting to know that some people do recognize the inequity even among demographics that one would think should be arm in arm already.


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