Queer & Present Danger

By Alix Dobkin

From Girlfriends, August, 1999

When my friend Retts asked men why they were marching in last year's San Francisco "Dyke" March, they answered that they wanted to support Dykes. "Then go to the side and cheer us on!" she told them. They ignored her. After all, our gay "brothers" are men, and as men in a man's world, they feel entitled to be anywhere they want.

Whenever I talk about women, as I often do at universities, I can count on at least one female student asking, "But what about men?" This happens whenever non-feminist women are asked to prioritize themselves as women. So it's not surprising that many Lesbian activists now are describing themselves as part of a "lesbigay" or "LGBT" movement, thereby identifying themselves with men and men's issues.

I have a problem with that--not because I don't think it's important to make coalitions with other groups. I have a problem with Lesbians identifying as "queer" or working in a "queer" movement because a movement run by men has no use for examining power relationships between men and women--nor respect for sacred women's space. These Lesbians who identify as queer, gay or LGBT always want to include men in Lesbian events. Gender studies is replacing women's studies in the academy, and "queer" is replacing "dyke" in the streets.

Yet heteropatriarchy, the institutionalized heterosexual male dominance first identified 25 years ago by Lesbian Feminists, is still very much in place. Feminism means being deeply loyal to women and our interests and to quit serving men and their interests. When these interests conflict, feminists put women first. Feminism demands that we reverse our priorities and remake our self-image. That's just too hard for some people, not to comprehend, but to live. But why?

In a world dominated by men--and ours still is--men of every race, class, and culture enjoy universal access to women. Lesbians, like all women raised in Patriarchal societies, have been conditioned over thousands of years to feel incomplete without a man to validate our existence. Each and every woman carries in her bones the memory of the most savage penalties devised by man for disobedient woman. The centuries of his brutal punishments cast a shadow into women's most private spaces and thoughts. Logical and compelling as our feminist analysis of patriarchy is, not one of us truly escapes. But some of us try. Enter the concept of "women-only." After 25 years it is still the most courageous, most radical, most threatening action women undertake in patriarchy. Remember your first women-only event? Mine was in 1971, during my pre-Lesbian days in NYC when I had just started learning about feminism through my conscious-raising group. I walked on air for days. Women-only! I loved it instantly, then and now. It just FEELS different. But for too many Dykes, the ideas and passions of Lesbian Feminists appear foreign, and the experience of women-only space seems alien in a world where Lesbian consciousness has been absorbed into men of all genders and queers of all nations.

Think "gay culture" and "Lesbian culture are one and the same? Obviously, you haven't walked into a gay male bookstore lately. As a young gay man confided to a mutual Lesbian friend, "...gay men are teaching these young women some very bad things. They worship the phallus. All they talk about is dicks, dicks, dicks".

"I find it very empowering," rhapsodized the proprietor of a popular gay male website, "to see all these people with so much energy and enthusiasm about sucking cock." Just as "gay male" has nothing to do with women, "Lesbian" has nothing to do with men. We are connected to gay men only as victims of bigotry. But is that really how we want to be identified?

To most people, the words "gay", and the more defiant "queer," both denote men and their female auxiliary role. Both are therefore less dangerous labels than the woman-centered "Lesbian". Just ask Ellen, who could barely pronounce "Lesbian" even after she came out as one. Women gain validity by aligning with men, and men's support can help women survive Patriarchy. Plus some men are genuine allies to women. And I too include myself in "progressive," "anti-racist," "Jewish" and sometimes even "queer" communities. But I'm much more than a sexual minority which is what Lesbians have been lumped with ever since we helped everyone come out.

In a way, I like that increasing numbers of young people feel secure enough and yet defiant enough to name themselves "queer." Women standing up for women have created whatever safety exists for anyone who chooses personal freedom over conformity. That's our job and we do it better than anyone else. In a way, the current popularity of "queer" identity among young Lesbians reveals our success. It reflects women's universal desire to champion the oppressed, to enlarge a safe and comfortable community, to widen and diversify our world.

But homophobia and Lesbophobia are as different from each other as men are from women. And like men and women, they are not interchangeable. Homophobia means fear of one's own homosexual desire. Lesbophobia means fear of women-centered-being--that is, women without men. It's the end of civilization as we know it. And it can't come soon enough for me.