The other women came from the suburbs

A “queer” woman explains why she hates lesbians so much.

Some years ago, a close friend and I developed a not-so-subtle code for queer women too basic for our tastes: We’d make an “L” with our thumbs and forefingers against our foreheads, like the loser sign that was popular when we were in middle school. In this case, the “L” stood for lesbian.

We, too, were lesbians—generally speaking. But the women my friend and I mocked (and trust, I am duly shamed by this memory) were what we’d call “capital-L lesbians.” We were urban-dwelling and queer-identified and in our 20s; the other women came from the suburbs, skewed older, and were, we presumed, unversed in queer politics. We traveled in circles of dapper butches and subversive femmes; the other women either easily passed as straight or dressed generically sporty in cargo shorts and flip-flips. A woman in this category was clearly down with the assimilationist, trans-exclusive politics of the likes of the Human Rights Campaign. She was the kind of dyke for whom the laughably niche Cosmopolitan lesbian-sex tip “tug on her ponytail” might actually apply.

I don’t “trust,” actually – I don’t think she is duly shamed by what she’s saying. I don’t think she grasps at all that a politics that is viewed as “assimilationist” and unhip before it’s had time to draw a breath is a politics that will never get anywhere. I don’t think she grasps that she too will cease to be in her 20s and thus become an L for loser to the new cohort of Hippest Of All. I don’t think she realizes how stupid and counterproductive it is to judge politics by the criteria of style or hippitude.

In other words, we shared a common sexual orientation, but little, if any, cultural affiliation. In the space between “lesbian” and “queer,” my friend and I located a world of difference in politics, gender presentation, and cosmopolitanism. Some of our resistance to the term lesbian arose, no doubt, from internalized homophobic notions of lesbians as unfashionable, uncultured homebodies. We were convinced that our cool clothes and enlightened, radical paradigm made us something other than lesbians, a label chosen by progenitors who lived in a simpler time with stricter gender boundaries. But with a time-honored label comes history and meaning; by leaving lesbian behind, we were rejecting, in part, a strong identity and legacy that we might have claimed as our own.

No shit. But how pathetic that she ever thought otherwise. How pathetic that she thought of lesbians as the tame boring conformist conservatives, as if lesbians had stopped being doubly marginalized and become the privileged marginalizers. How pathetic that she has that much internalized misogyny to go with the internalized homophobia (and doesn’t even mention it).

Cultural connotations aside, the main reason my friend and I felt (and still feel) more comfortable with queer than lesbian was practical: The word lesbian, insofar as it means a woman who is primarily attracted to women, does not correctly describe our reality. My personal queer community comprises cisgender and transgender women; transgender men and transmasculine people; and people who identify as non-binary or genderqueer. One friend told me queer works better for her and her female spouse because lesbian implies a kind of sameness she doesn’t see in her relationship or those of her peers. In her circles, as in mine, most romantic partnerships lean butch-femme or involve at least one trans or genderqueer person. Many of us have had or are currently enmeshed in sexual or romantic relationships with people who aren’t women. Using lesbian to refer to my queer sphere (e.g. “She’s hosting a lesbian potluck!”) excludes many people I consider my peers. In most young, urban queer communities, at least, lesbian, in its implication of a cisgender woman to cisgender woman arrangement, is both inaccurate and gauche.

Right? Aren’t “cisgender women” just the worst?

She goes on in that way for many many paragraphs, alternately belaboring the obvious and brandishing her superior wokeness.

Oh well. So people on the left need to come up with a new politics every five years or so, while demonizing everyone who isn’t finished with the old politics yet – it’s worked well so far, right?


7 Responses to “The other women came from the suburbs”