I just finished watching The L Word all the way through for the first time. I know, I’m late AF to the party, seeing as the last episode aired in 2009. I was graduating high school that year and was NOWHERE close to admitting to myself that I was gay. Not to mention, in my hometown The L Word was seen as some weird, fetish-porn, “gay-agenda” TV show and basically spoken about like a demonic betrayal of all things wholesome and divine.
However, now, as a newly self-recognized and Out Lesbian, I loved watching it. It was so validating! Sure, it’s dated, missing a lot of broader and diverse representation, doesn’t address transphobia within the gay community, and guilty of stereotyping–but it’s also incredible to see a show that just disregards male significance and necessity altogether. It really shows the intimacy of the world of womxn. Lesbians specifically–womxn who do not identify AT ALL through their need to be connected to or validated through their relationships to men (or at least go through the struggles of that being their truth in a world that tells us we need male approval for survival).
It’s insane how cishet-white-male centric our society is–especially in the States. I watch my female heterosexual friends put up with such bullshit out of the men they date and pursue–and I used to put up with such bullshit out of the men I dated. They continue to put up with it though. The need for male acceptance and approval is so strong, so subconscious, and so necessary for hetero survival in this toxic society. Women are taught by society that we need to be accepted into the Male World (aka, the Patriarchy’s Constructed Society, because there is nothing real or natural about it). I see women who won’t call men out on emotionally abusing them or their friends.
How many women put up with emotional silencing or abuse for the sake of financial security? How many more will endure physical abuse or psychological manipulation for security and acceptance in a world run by men? How many do you personally know–because I know soooo many of these women personally. In many ways, I am still one of these women and trying to empower myself out of the mindset every day.
Why are we so trapped?
Internalized fear? I know my father made it seem like if one man didn’t want to fuck me they’d tell all other men in some secret MALE ONLY social network and I’d be forever blacklisted from being in a relationship with any male ever. I was convinced of that, ridiculous as it sounds.
Stockholm Syndrome? Learned Helplessness? We have been so oppressed by the patriarchal forces that be, accepting our roles (shitty and demeaning as they are) is a necessary means of survival without facing the severe internal depression that becomes expressed through “hysteria” and “women’s troubles” and now mental illness. (Not to say mental illness isn’t legitimate, but that we often don’t acknowledge that it’s cause is traceable and many of them are results of abuse.)
So many heterosexual women, even feminists, will cut men slack when they emotionally abuse others or gaslight women into thinking they’ve overreacted or are being overly-sensitive when we call them out for mistreating us–and why? We make it seem like they’re incapable of the emotional depth we have to get over their shit, and aren’t we all one species and one existence? The trap of seeing men as a NECESSARY part of one’s worth, value and ability to succeed is one deeply engrained in the average American woman. Ever so subtle, but undeniably present.
Since coming out, I have been able to see things in my own life clearer. Suddenly, interactions that were once confusing make complete sense. For example, I have always found myself to be the strong, independent girl in the crowd. The one who called men out of their assholery if they hurt my friend (though never able to stand up for mySELF), dead-eyed them for making sexist comments, and didn’t laugh at jokes that degraded other humans. When I was being myself, and not the Self I had to be to be accepted and approved of by men, I was a bad bitch–and I’m becoming that bad bitch again the more I permanently pull away from the belief that I need male acceptance and love to survive and succeed. I’ve definitely had moments of feeling down on my own worth because all of my other friends were receiving male attention and I wasn’t. It has made me doubt myself so much in the past–Am I too cynical? Too harsh? Too aggressive? Intimidating? Miserable? Ugly? Fat? Annoying? What is wrong with me that I can be hilarious and beautiful to all my friends and no men want me? How do I change myself to be more what they want? How do I become submissive, enjoyable, complimentary–fake–for their acceptance?
Well now that all makes sense. I never wanted them, and getting their approval was a temporary fix to a much larger problem. Plus male approval isn’t as satisfying as it promises to be when it’s first offered. The attention I sought from men was nothing like what I want (and deserve) from a real, loving, intimate relationship. It’s nothing like what I know Love to be. My reaction to men is nothing to how my body reacts to other Lesbians, or womxn in general. My attraction to men was simply a need for attention that validated that I fit into a world–a world I only wanted to fit into because I was convinced I needed to fit into it to survive. But many other worlds exist, and I’ve found I fit into another one entirely. It’s actually one I’ve been a part of for my entire life–though secretly and in the intimacy of my one-on-one relationships with significant carers in my life–my mother, my best childhood friend and first romantic love, etc. It’s a world I’ve live in, but closeted. Now, it seems the doors have been opened and I’m ready to exist in this world more openly. It’s always been here, but the world is only felt by those who know it and believe in its existence–the world of non-male centrism.
My roommate is a brilliant person. She’s a writer, currently in grad school for English. We have had many conversations about the significance of Lesbian visibility. She’s been Out for a long time. As I watched The L Word, she rewatched it with me and we had a lot of conversations. Recently, we were talking about how the word “Lesbian” is not just a term that means “Gay Woman”. If we look at the analysis of words, being a Woman is another reminder of how we are simply seen as an extension of Men, about how our greatest sense of identity (where limited agenda, white feminists seek their empowerment even) is from a word that references to that which we are not–to our Oppressors!
I don’t want you to think I’m saying anyone who uses this word is bad. I’m just proposing that there is another option, and possibly to be aware of these things will help us move forward with more conscious use of our words, especially in regards to our self-identity and self-worth.
Words matter. Their context, origin, and implications validate, create, and instill our beliefs about them. Only half of your brain recognizes a word as a collection of letters strung together. The left brain understands and interprets language, but it is not the knower of conceptual understanding altogether. The right brain, on the other hand, takes these words (strings of symbols put together in a linear fashion and assigned meaning) and assigns them meaning on an experiential basis. The right brain understands wordless concepts outside of time or place. It can understand time and space if necessary for context, but it doesn’t think through things linearly–it comprehends them all at once. Like vision in a fourth dimension would be, the right brain sees all sides of the concept it looks at, all at once. The left brain then interprets that linearly. So if we have a word for something, we have to respect that the development of that word comes from a larger conceptual understanding with a whole lot of context, and psychological and historic implications. Your left brain receives the word, but then your memory recall triggers a whole UNIVERSE (made of many worlds) of meaning and connotation for that word. The collection of these meanings is taught in our use of language for understanding the past, and we are bound to the larger concepts after a certain level of knowledge has been gained.
That said, the etymology of the words “Women, Woman, or Female” does not necessarily prove that they were developed or derived in reference to “man, men or male,” their modern context and implication must be considered. The history of masculinity taking claim of everything must be remembered. When these words were developed, they were developed from the latin, and the “men” and “male” aspects of the words referred to humankind, not to a specific gender or sex. However, since the development of these words, a book has been written and widely regarded as Ultimate Divine Truth which states that the first ever woman was made out of a man’s rib, and that man was created by another masculine figure–God. (Yes, I’m talking about Ye Olde Testament–The Bible.) So while the word “woman” may not necessarily derive from this concept or principle, those brought up in a western, Judeo-Christian influenced society have an unconscious internalization of this concept as a means of our creation. Even those who don’t believe in Christianity will have a hard time reminding ourselves that the principles it instilled in us through societal conditioning aren’t real.
I know a woman who has a bad relationship with her birth father and, convinced that she needs love from a father figure to survive, she told me I needed to seek a relationship with the Heavenly Father like she had and I would feel whole and loved. Now, this may work very well for people who can’t get out of the christian dogma, but I’ve been doubting the details of that Patriarchy since I was about 8 years old so that didn’t sit well with me. On a personal level, I have a relationship with divinity but I think it is a concept beyond simplicity of our concept of gender identification and to assign it masculinity and tell people they NEED to seek HIS approval for an understanding of eternal and unconditional love from creation is just manipulative. God is not a man, and you don’t need HIS approval to feel whole. Frankly to gender the concept of God is to make God small–boxed into a definition that makes the incomprehensible into something minutely understandable.
Now, I’m not trying to say that I am not a woman, or that I am not perfectly happy identifying as a woman overall. In the context of society, I am a Cis Woman. For the recognition and importance of my trans family, I recognize my role of having the outward identity of “woman”. Maybe one day I’ll identify as non-binary but for now I don’t feel that is necessary for me. I won’t claim being misgendered (yet) if someone calls me a woman, because what I am about to propose is not a widely acknowledged concept and it will take time for people to understand it and me to further develop what this means to my gender identity. However, I think it is much more appropriate to say that my entire identity, both sexual preference and gender identity, is embodied in the word Lesbian.
Lesbian is a word that stands outside of the traditional need to identify through an attachment or relation to men. My roommate mentioned something this morning about how the word Lesbian is non-human. This isn’t to say we are lacking in what is commonly referred to as “humanity”, or that we aren’t a part of our species, or that we are aliens (though lez be honest, I could be an alien). It means that calling our species “Human” and then giving one acknowledged gender identity in the forced binary the default option of being called “Man” and the other a connection to that with a prefix of “wo” is an immediate means of establishing inequality. It established 1)a binary in an unlimited universe of options and 2)a “Default” and an “Other”. (Another thing instilled in us through Judeo-Christian dogma is the idea that there is a good and evil, and that which is not like you must be against you.)
I want to further this idea by comparing it to the oppression and struggles of Black Americans. They, too, are seen as the “Other” and White is thought of as the “Default”. Everything between is seen as a part of some weird greyscale by White America, rather than seen as the true diversity that racial and cultural diversity is in truth. This has been the case for a long time, far before American Slavery (as the roots of White Supremacy are not strictly North American). The greater piece of toxic society in America doesn’t even really consider Black Culture to be a part of American Culture, calling their own world “America” without being inclusive of any experiences People of Color have with oppression, immigration, racism or prejudice.
This said, I feel the word Lesbian does not attach me to this archaic, binary concept that the word “Woman” with the adjective of “Gay” does. For the sake of society understanding and putting a simplified, reductionist label on me–sure. I guess I’m a homosexual woman. For the sake of a binary believer’s need to understand me–tell yourself whatever you must to get to sleep at night. However, there is so much more to who I am than just being an Other-who-likes-Others.
There is a mindset, an intimacy, and a private world in which non-men exist. Toxic masculinity couldn’t understand it even if we let it in to try (and it has been let in plenty of times, trust). It’s a deep sharing of stories, feelings, pain, pleasure, and endurance. It’s the intimacy of having shared similar oppressions, as well as the multitude of intersections at which our DIFFERENT struggles can be related to with vulnerable empathy and understanding. It’s the inclusion of more and more people into our world–not because they identify a certain way or look a certain way, but because they have become in touch with themselves and their self worth OUTSIDE the world of male approval. This world is ethereal, abstract, made up of feelings and based on the principle of true equality. It is the recognition of Namaste–That which IS in me acknowledges that which IS in you. We are both valid in our existence as we experience it simply because we exist, not because we exist in relation to others. This is a world all its own–like a secret and special club in which our main goal is to live our lives the way we were born to live them, not the way we were taught to live them.
Not everyone in this “club” is a lesbian, and not all those who identify as Lesbians fit into or understand or seek to remain in the understanding of this empathetic existence. However, I find that I know who I am when I am here, and I know who I love and how I love them. I found this world through finally accepting that I am a lesbian. It didn’t come when I accepted myself as a woman–and that never felt like a full or apt definition of my existence.
Another reason I love the word lesbian is the connotations it has been assigned historically. Lesbianism used to be considered a mental illness. Literally, men couldn’t comprehend that women didn’t need or want them and so they decided it was an ILLNESS that could be treated with electro-shock therapy. Let that sink in for a moment. Men were so threatened by the idea that women would leave them, that they could do NOTHING to manipulate them to stay, because some women just weren’t attracted to them at all that (white, cishet, male) Doctors decided it was a condition which needed SEVERE treatment. If we consider this on a large scale, its a disgusting show of dependency, not to mention oppressive AF.
The word Lesbian has also been used as a derogatory slur, along with queer, fag, dyke, butch, and others. Like those words have been reclaimed by our community, the reclaiming of the word “Lesbian” is an act of empowerment for me.
Some of the lesbian community are TERF af, I’ll admit, and seek to make the word more about being a cis gay woman who is attracted to other cis gay women. I’d like to reclaim the world from them too, as this is a grave reduction of the word’s importance. Some lesbians are trans! Some lesbians date trans men! Some lesbians date trans women. Some lesbians care about your genitals and some don’t! Some lesbians fall in love with non-binary folks! Some lesbians are non-binary themselves! Some lesbians even date a cishet male once or twice (or for the first 23 years of their lives in my case). All of these intersections are valid in the identity of “Lesbian”, because being a lesbian isn’t just about being a “gay woman”. That is an outdated definition, in my understanding. I don’t have to be dating anyone to be a lesbian–not a man or a woman or any other gender outside those.
To speak to my sexual preference, I find myself personally attracted to all kinds of womxn. However, I also am constantly having my definition of “womxn” challenged and broadened to be more inclusive of more lives and experiences that differ from mine. I believe that anyone who truly lives their identity and calls that identity womxn IS a womxn and thereby defines the word itself. We are the creators of words, afterall. We control them, and we can’t let them (and such specific, manipulative definitions) control who we are–its unnatural. We are the existence, we are the creator of the word, why would we have to be forced to its definition.
To be a Lesbian is about so much more than the simplified, patriarchal definitions of identity. It is to live outside of the definition of existence which attaches us, our worth, and our identity to others, specifically Men.
To be a Lesbian, for me, is to be Free—
—Free of the mental conditioning, free of the isolated emotional pain, free of the chains that bind me to a false Self I created to survive 20 years in a homophobic environment I couldn’t escape.