The Women-Identified Women

What is a lesbian? A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion. She is the woman who, often beginning at an extremely early age, acts in accordance with her inner compulsion to be a more complete and freer human being than her society — perhaps then, but certainly later — cares to allow her. These needs and actions, over a period of years, bring her into painful conflict with people, situations, the accepted ways of war with everything around her, and usually with her self. She may not be fully conscious of the political implications of what for her began as personal necessity, but on some level she has not been able to accept the limitations and oppression laid on her by the most basic role of her society — the female role. The turmoil she experiences tends to induce guilt proportional to the degree to which she feels she is not meeting social expectations, and/or eventually drives her to question and analyse what the rest of her society more or less accepts. She is forced to evolve her own life pattern, often living much of her life alone, learning usually much earlier than her “straight” (heterosexual) sisters about the essential aloneness of life (which the myth of marriage obscures) and about the reality of illusions. To the extent that she cannot expel the heavy socialisation that goes with being female, she can never truly find peace with herself. For she is caught somewhere between accepting society’s view of her — in which case she cannot accept herself, and coming to understand what this sexist society has done to her and why it is functional and necessary for it to do so. Those of us who work that through find ourselves on the other side of a tortuous journey through a night that may have been decades long. The perspective gained from that journey, the liberation of self, the inner peace, the real love of self and of all women, is something to be shared with all women — because we are all women.

It should be first understood that lesbianism, like male homosexuality, is a category of behaviour possible only in a sexist society characterised by rigid sex roles and dominated by male supremacy. Those sex roles dehumanise women by defining us as a supportive/serving caste in relation to the master caste of men, and/emotionally cripple men by demanding that they be alienated from their own bodies and emotions in order to perform their economic/political/military functions effectively. Homosexuality is a byproduct of a particular way of setting up roles (or approved patterns of behaviour) on the basis of sex; as such it is an inauthentic (not consonant with “reality”) category. In a society in which men do not oppress women, and sexual expression is allowed to follow feelings, the categories of homosexuality and heterosexuality would disappear.

But lesbianism is also different from male homosexuality, and serves a different function in the society. “Dyke” is a different kind of put-down from “faggot,” although both imply you are not playing your socially assigned sex role… are therefore not a “real woman” or a “real man”. The grudging admiration felt for the tomboy, and the queasiness felt around a sissy boy point to the same thing: the contempt in which women – or those who play a female role -are held. And the investment in keeping women in the contemptuous role is very great. Lesbian is the word, the label, the condition that holds women in line. When a woman hears this word tossed her way, she knows she is stepping out of line. She knows that she has crossed the terrible boundary of her sex role. She recoils, she reshapes her actions to gain approval. Lesbian is a label invested by the Man to throw at any woman who dares to be his equal, who dares to challenge his prerogatives (including that of all women as part of the exchange medium among men), who dares to assert the primacy of her own needs. To have the label applied to people active in women’s liberation is just the most recent instance of a long history; older women will recall that not so long ago, any woman who was successful, independent, not orientating her whole life about a man, would hear this word. For in this sexist society, for a woman to be independent means she can’t be a woman – she must be a dyke. That in itself should tell us where women are at. It says as clearly as can be said: women and person are contradictory terms. For a lesbian is not considered a “real woman”. And yet, in popular thinking, there is really only one essential difference between a lesbian and other women; that of sexual orientation – which is to say, when you strip off all the packaging, you must finally realise that the essence of being a “woman” is to get fucked by men.

“Lesbian” is one of the sexual categories by which men have divided up humanity. While all women are dehumanised as sex objects, as the objects of men they are given certain compensations: identification with his power, his ego, his status, his protection (from other males), feeling like a “real woman”, finding social acceptance by adhering to her role, etc. Should a woman confront herself by confronting another woman, there are fewer rationalisations, fewer buffers by which to avoid the stark horror of her dehumanised condition. Herein we find the overriding fear of many women towards exploring intimate relationships with other women; the fear of being used as a sexual object by a woman, which not only will bring her no male-connected compensations, but also will reveal the void which is woman’s real situation. This dehumanisation is expressed when a straight woman learns that a sister is a lesbian; she begins to relate to her lesbian sister as her potential sex object, laying a surrogate male role on the lesbian. This reveals her heterosexual conditioning to make herself into an object when sex is potentially involved in a relationship, and it denies the lesbian her full humanity. For women, especially those in the movement, to perceive their lesbian sisters through this male grid of role definitions is to accept this male cultural conditioning and to oppress their sisters much as they themselves have been oppressed by men. Are we going to continue the male classification system of defining all females in sexual relation to some other category of people? Affixing the label lesbian not only to a woman who aspires to be a person, but also to any situation of real love, real solidarity, real primacy among women is a primary form of divisiveness among women: it is the condition which keeps women within the confines of the feminine role, and it is the debunking/scare term that keeps women from forming any primary attachments, groups, or associations among ourselves.

Women in the movement have in most cases gone to great lengths to avoid discussion and confrontation with the issue of lesbianism. It puts people up-tight. They are hostile, evasive, or try to incorporate it into some “broader issue”. They would rather not talk about it. If they have to, they try to dismiss it as a “lavender herring”. But it is no side issue. It is absolutely essential to the success and fulfilment of the women’s liberation movement that this issue be dealt with. As long as the label “dyke” can be used to frighten women into a less militant stand, keep her separate from her sisters, keep her from giving primacy to anything other than men and family – then to that extent she is controlled by the male culture. Until women see in each other the possibility of a primal commitment which includes sexual love, they will be denying themselves the love and value they readily accord to men, thus affirming their second-class status. As long as male acceptability is primary – both to individual women and to the movement as a whole – the term lesbian will be used effectively against women. Insofar as women want only more privileges within the system, they do not want to antagonise male power. They instead seek acceptability for women’s liberation, and the most crucial aspect of the acceptability is to deny lesbianism – ie deny any fundamental challenge to the basis of the female role.

It should be said that some younger, more radical women have honestly begun to discuss lesbianism, but so far it has been primarily used as a sexual “alternative” to men. This, however, is still giving primacy to men, both because the idea of relating more completely to women occurs as a negative reaction to men, and because the lesbian relationship is being characterised simply by sex which is divisive and sexist. On one level, which is both personal and political, women may withdraw emotional and sexual energies from men, and work out various alternatives for those energies in their own lives. On a different political/psychological level, it must be understood that what is crucial is that women begin disengaging from male-defined response patterns. In the privacy of our own psyches, we must cut those cords to the core. For irrespective of where our Jove and sexual energies flow, if we are male-identified in our heads, we cannot realise our autonomy as human beings.

But why is it that women have related to and through men? By virtue of having been brought up in a male society, we have internalised the male culture’s definition of ourselves. That definition views us as relative beings who exist not for ourselves, but for the servicing, maintenance and comfort of men. That definition consigns us to sexual and family functions, and excludes us from defining and shaping the terms of our lives.

In exchange for our psychic servicing and for performing society’s non-profit-making functions, the man confers on us just one thing: the slave status which makes us legitimate in the eyes of the society in which we live. This is called “femininity” or “being a real woman” in our cultural lingo. We are authentic, legitimate, real to the extent that we are the property of some man whose name we bear. To be a woman who belongs to no man is to be invisible, pathetic, unauthentic, unreal. He confirms his image of us – of what we have to be in order to be acceptable by him – but not our real selves; he confirms our womanhood – as he defines it, in relation to him – but cannot confirm our personhood, our own selves as absolutes. As long as we are dependent on the male culture for this definition, for this approval, we cannot be free.

The consequence of internalising this role is an enormous reservoir of self-hate. This is not to say the self-hate is recognised or accepted as such; indeed most women would deny it. It may be experienced as discomfort with her role, as feeling empty, as numbness, as restlessness, a paralysing anxiety at the centre. Alternatively, it may be expressed in shrill defensiveness of the glory and destiny of her role. But it does exist, often beneath the edge of her consciousness, poisoning her existence, keeping her alienated from herself, her own needs, and rendering her a stranger to other women. Women hate both themselves and other women. They try to escape by identifying with the oppressor, living through him, gaining status and identity from his ego, his accomplishments. And by not identifying with other “empty vessels” like themselves, women resist relating on all levels to other women who will reflect their own oppression, their own secondary status, their own self-hate. For to confront another woman is finally to confront one’s self the self we have gone to such lengths to avoid. And in that mirror we know we cannot really respect and love that which we have been made to be.

As the source of self-hate and the lack of real self are rooted in our male-given identity, we must create a new sense of self. As long as we cling to the idea of “being a woman”, we will sense some conflict with that incipient self, that sense of I, that sense of a whole person. It is very difficult to realise and accept that being “feminine” and being a whole person are irreconcilable. Only women can give each other a new sense of self. That identity we have to develop with reference to ourselves, and not in relation to men.

This consciousness is the revolutionary force from which all else will follow, for ours is an organic revolution. For this we must be available and supportive to one another, give our commitment and our love, give the emotional support necessary to sustain this movement. Our energies must flow toward our sisters, not backwards towards our oppressors. As long as women’s liberation tries to free women without facing the basic heterosexual structure that binds us in one-to-one relationship with our own oppressors, tremendous energies will continue to flow into trying to straighten up each particular relationship with a man, how to get better sex, how to turn his head around – into trying to make the “new man” out of him, in the delusion that this will allow us to be the “new woman”. This obviously splits our energies and commitments, leaving us unable to be committed to the construction of the new patterns which will liberate us.

It is the primacy of women relating to women, of women creating a new consciousness of and with each other which is at the heart of women’s liberation, and the basis for the cultural revolution. Together we must find, reinforce and validate our authentic selves. As we do this, we confirm in each other that struggling incipient sense of pride and strength, the divisive barriers begin to melt, we feel this growing solidarity with our sisters. We see ourselves as prime, find our centres inside of ourselves. We find receding the sense of alienation, of being cut off, of being behind a locked window, of being unable to get out what we know is inside.

We feel a real-ness, feel at last we are coinciding with ourselves. With that real self, with that consciousness, we begin a revolution to end the imposition of all coercive identifications, and to achieve maximum autonomy in human expression.

Ed: This article was written by a collective of women in New York, and has been reprinted in several journals, including Come Out and The Radical Therapist. Gay News reprints it from Vector, which is the publication of the Society for Individual Rights. They are based in San Fransisco. To them we send love and thanks, and wish them much success in 1973.

Your Letters

Please note that any letters received by us at Gay News
unless you state otherwise.

Not All Cock-Happy

Finchley

Dear Gay News,

Philip’s letter (GN8) on those bloody mincing unwashed queens greatly cheered me.

These people seem to delight in offending people generally and do nothing but harm to the homosexual cause.

It has been largely due to these gyrating freaks that we have so long been regarded as peculiar in every way.

I, like Philip, am gay and proud of it, but for the greater part of every day, live what I regard as a normal existence.

My main objection to the so-called liberation groups is that they seem to be obsessed with the sexual side of life and create the public image that we are all sexual perverts.

Their time would be better spent, and our cause better served, if they’d stop flaunting their ‘differences’ and merge with society generally like other minorities such as redheads, lefthanders and the Lord Longfords of this world.

I would be glad to hear from other like-thinking ‘friends’ to see if there is anything we can do to redress the balance and bring reasoned pressure to bear on the powers that be to let us live the lives we have a right to.

Let’s set up a force that will show people we are not all exhibitionists or cock-happy.

J. B. Marr
6 Stanhope Avenue
Finchley N3 3LX


Lurking in Public

Cheltenham.

Dear Gay News,

It may interest your readers to know that the following is happening in this borough.

In a certain public convenience a ‘member of the general public’ is to be found, apparently waiting his turn to go into the cubicle. At the first sign of anything even remotely sexual, he becomes abusive and nips upstairs to fetch a waiting constable.

At this point the culprit (or victim, depending on one’s point of view) is ‘invited’ into the nearest police station. Depending on whether the culprit is a big fish or a little fish he is now subjected to ‘heavy patronage’ before being allowed to go free, or hauled before the magistrates court and charged with insulting behaviour to a member of the general public.

The prosecuting officer makes no attempt to put this ‘member of the general public’ on view in the court.

So my friends, beware of that lurking ‘member of the general public’ is the moral of this letter.

It appears we are still the most persecuted minority in this country.

J.A.


Screaming Queens

London EC13

Dear Gay News,

This is just to tell Phillip (GN8) how much I sympathise with him about the screaming queens giving a totally false picture of gays in general. There is, in fact, all the difference in the world between them and us, since they want men because they fantasise themselves as women, and are thus pseudo-heterosexuals, while a true homosexual wants his or her own sex because that’s the way he/she is, and a good way it is to be, too.

Surely CHE is the organisation he is looking for: if he finds it a bit too sedate, he could liven it up. It is dedicated to the acceptance of homos into society, and he sounds just the sort of person it needs.

Michael Harth


Personal Ads Discrimination

Dear Gay News,

Replying to your invitation to comment on letters about the small ads (Gay News No 7) of course there is something wrong with stating a preference for a “hairy homo Hindu”. It would be racialist and discriminatory.

But it would be inconsistent to refuse to print it, because, as your correspondent points out, most of the ads are equally discriminatory. On the other hand it is certainly expedient to refuse ads that are clearly a front for prostitution and expediency justifies the refusal.

Almost all the discrimination expressed by advertisers is irrational, especially when relating to physical qualities. It is a platitude that race and colour are irrelevant to a person’s character, and they are equally neutral in regard to beauty.

Preference for an oriental, for instance, would only make sense if the person concerned was indoctrinated with the Thoughts of Mao tse-Tung, thus affecting his or her outlook on life. People cannot be judged by whether their credentials match up to advertised criteria which merely limit the field. But the small ads are as entertaining as the editorial pages, and at least one, from John Hiscock, is puzzlingly obscure. Is it just a vague (and costly) expression of goodwill to all readers7

J.E.


Gay Ads Vanish

Teddington.

Dear Gay News.

As a regular reader of the musical weekly ‘Melody Maker’ I noticed over the past year an increasing amount of gay ads appearing in the personal column. One could find at least a dozen ads in each edition then suddenly — no gay ads at all!

Obviously pressure has been brought to bear — but from where? Was it internal or external and why?

As the Melody Maker has a circulation of several hundred thousand, mostly young people, I think it vital that the matter is investigated.

A. Dickenson


Success Makes Enemies??

Campaign for Homosexual Equality,
Manchester Student Group,
c/o The Treasurer,
81 Egerton Rd.,
Manchester 14.

Dear Gay News,

I suppose CHE has been too successful not to have made some enemies. It seems from the misleading propaganda in issue 8 that Gay News wants to be one of them.

Peter Kelsey states that CHE members must be over 21. This is untrue. I joined at 20, and am treasurer of one of CHE’s groups for students and young people which play a big part in the organisation. Why did your editorial comment not correct this?

In Doug Pollard’s snide review of CHE’s Radio London programme he declares that marriage can’t work for anyone. This is dictatorial. People, gay or het, should be free to try stable relationships if they want to.

Denis Lemon states that CHE ‘is very much against cottaging’. Yet on the same page is an article by Bernard Greaves, member of CHE’s Executive Committee, about his Campaign against police harassment of cottagers. CHE has also issued a card advising people on their rights if arrested while cottaging.

Lemon also complains that the CHE national office did not supply information about gay rendezvous in Norwich to a telephone enquirer. If he had bothered to find out CHE’s version of the incident he would have found that such information is just not kept in the office. The enquirer could easily have joined CHE’s local group there if he had really wanted to.

Despite its length, I hope you will print this letter to set the record straight and to show that you are not hopelessly biased.

best wishes,

R. J Elbert

ED: As Gay News does not pretend to be the organ of any movement or party, its columns are open to anyone who wants to write for it (including you,R. J. Elbert).

So the opinions expressed in articles, which we do our best to check out, are those of the people whose name appears in the by-line on that article. If you think there is any anti-CHE bias in Gay News we’d like to point out that the Campaign for Homosexual Equality cannot even be bothered to send us a copy of its regular bulletin. Also, you seem to be under the illusion that we are biased against your organisation, in the same way that some members of the Gay Liberation Front tell us that we are towards their movement.

We remain the only unaligned gay information paper in Britain. And CHE, like everyone else, is welcome to use our columns.


Our Failure?

Dear Friends,

…I think Gay News is the best paper on the market at the moment, it’s straight to the point. Only one complaint though – there isn’t enough in it about Lesbians, or if you would prefer female gays.

Love, peace, freedom,
and happiness to all gays.

Betty

ED: We know that this is our outstanding failure so far, but sisters, we need your help if this situation is to change.


The Other Ads

Mountain Ash,
Glamorgan

Dear Gay News,

I am very glad to see we at last have a newspaper of our own, not just another pin-up mag. I appeal to all gays and liberal minded people to support it in any way they can, by advertising, not just personal ads. By using it to Buy / Sell. Houses / Flats / cars / any new or secondhand goods, and by using the employment section. Also by recommending it, and by giving it to all your gay friends.

Roger E Hawkins

Your Letters continued on page 6.

Gay News By Sappho

So the egg has finally chickened off the inside pages altogether. No wonder for eggs are solely dependent on the hen. (No — it’s the chicken that needs a cock).

GN No 7, together with the previous issues, gives the impression that homosexuality is exclusively male/drag-queen orientated. (Oh, there was the odd roaring lesbian, Homosexual Woman and VD and Het GRANDMOTHERS, for gods sake, – Barbara Cartland, Mae West and Marlene Dietrich.) It’s enough to make an egg boil, let alone disappear, that lesbians have such indecent exposure. Don’t give me that bit about information is hard to come by; sisters are too shy; we could have a women’s page. Homosexuality cuts across role playing, income and class structure. GN, as the alternative press collective, has the whole field to itself to prove this fact. The content, in the main, is based on politics of experience and rightly in these emergent times – the experience of the male dominated collective, who are marvellously militant about police harassment, social oppression and legal discrimination. By all means continue the in-fighting. At the same time the politics of experience have a wider range than cottages and courts. Besides knocking the ioiquitous areas GN must publicise the positive progress between the gay community and the uncommitted heterosexuals and write about it with the same ardour as in outrage.

Your editorial in No 5 states ‘We here at Gay News don’t want two worlds, gay and nongay. We want one world for everybody.’ So you know. So you don’t need telling. You just need to be doing – editorially that is! And you can start right away with more lines for the lesbians. The ladies have learned a lot about the lads in your columns, it’s now time that the lads knew more about the ladies.