Queer Identity and Lesbian Erasure

Heterosexuality is undoubtedly necessary for the social and sexual reproduction of existing social conditions. For this reason, some radical feminists make the mistake of classifying heterosexuality as an institution — but this is an error. Instead, heterosexuality is institutionalised across all material and ideological state apparatus: education, the family, medicine, religion, etc. As society has liberalised, a new way to oppose and offset homosexuality has had to develop. Given the establishment of equality laws it has been necessary instead to shift culture and politics to shore up heterosexual reproduction.

Over the last five years or so, ‘queer’ has become a particularly prolific label within the larger quagmire of liberal identity politics. Queer identity acts as a soothing agent, defanging the threat of lesbianism by muddying its water, and concealing its exclusively same-sex nature.

Gay men do not pose the same threat as lesbians do, given it is women who are the means of reproduction (both sexual and social). Therefore, most ideological pressure to conform sexually is put onto women. Gay men don’t escape societal coercion, but it is women who are targeted most, particularly during our fertile years when we can be sexually reproductive. It should be no surprise that most women trying to escape that pressure cooker by ‘transitioning’, or calling themselves queer, are under the age of 40 i.e within their fertile years. In contrast most men who ‘transition’ or identify as women are typically heterosexual and middle-aged. Having already had a wife and children, they now want to enjoy their autogynephilic fetish whilst their children’s mother gets on with the washing and cleaning. Any men, at any time of life, can expect a household servant and free babysitter, whether it’s their wives or mothers. Men’s domestic and sexual freedoms remain uncurtailed throughout their lives. No one blinks when a man like Philip Schofield ‘comes out’ at age 58 after talking to teenage boys on social media. No one claimed Schofield cannot really be gay because he was married to a woman and they had several children together. No one finds implausible that a decorated male Olympic athlete may reinvent himself as a woman at age 65. Men are the masters of their own sexual subjectivity and meaning.

A litany of celebrity men and women in heterosexual relationships have sought to cultivate a safe easy social cache by calling themselves ‘queer’, without any of the dangers of actually rejecting heterosexuality. Could there be anything more politically bankrupt than ‘woke’ heterosexual couples invested in liberal-left identity politics calling themselves ‘queer’? In order to cash-in on a landslide of no-risk virtue signalling, predicated on a social marginalisation that they do not actually experience.

As queer politics starts to neatly include heterosexual couples and same-sex couples we see the establishment of a category that obfuscates the entirely different nature these sexual partnerships. Sometimes when heterosexuals call themselves queer it is for superficial silly reasons, such as trying to seem less boring, or novel, or whatever. But the reason straight couples calling themselves queer are promoted and celebrated by the mass media is because it collapses any distinct boundary of queer identity meaning exclusive same-sex attraction, again, curtailing the threat to heterosexual society that same-sex relationships pose.

Ideologically, queer identity functions as a way of removing the boundary of same-sex attraction by making it unclear whether the person or couple who identifies as queer are really exclusively same sex attracted i.e the threatening social form that undermines heterosexual society. Queer today functions ideologically to shore up heterosexual social relations, no matter who is calling themselves queer.

Readers might wonder why I am not addressing bisexuals and bisexual identity. That is because according to the massive 2013 Pew Research LGBT Survey almost 9/10 people who call themselves bisexual are in relationships with the opposite sex. Therefore, bisexuality is overwhelmingly politically and structurally irrelevant in regard to analysing homosexuality. Bisexual identity might mean a lot to a particular individual who indeed just really ardently fancies men, and really ardently fancies women as well, but I am only interested politically in social relations and how sexuality exists at a structural level.

When lesbians take on the mantle of ‘queer’ it is preferable to wider society because it does not signify the sexual rejection of men. That is because the term ‘queer’ does not explicitly rule out opposite-sex romantic relations in the way lesbian does. Men do not actually care about women having sex with other women (in fact the thought turns many of them on) – what they object to is women’s refusal to have sex with them or other men (fraternal brotherhood). The issue is one of sexual access and the term lesbian signals a clear boundary foreclosing sexual access to men.  

Queer identity can also quell internal worries of lesbophobia and panic. Like bisexual identity, queer can sidestep lesbophobic misogyny and is therefore a much safer option for same-sex attracted women. For lesbian women who adopt it as an identity, queer is both a defensive shield and a denial of their lesbianism. Internalised lesbophobia plagues many lesbians for years and queer is a helpful soothing balm for them individually, just as it is for the rest of society. Queer means lesbians can in practice be lesbians, flying under the radar, but not act as a beacon to other women to be freely lesbian. 

When lesbians today call themselves queer to avoid lesbophobia they erase themselves as lesbians. Lesbian invisibility is a major problem to the cultural advancement and existence of lesbianism, but because of the threat of male violence and lesbophobic misogyny, the upside to collective invisibility and erasure is individual safety. For many women that appeal is too strong to resist. The dual system of patriarchy as both predation and protection is present here in its own unique way: to avoid the predation of men lesbians must hide, but in seeking out pockets of protection we bury ourselves.  

When Sartre said that when men choose for themselves, they choose for all men, he was right. Specifically, in his 1946 lecture Existentialism is a Humanism, Sartre stated:

‘When we say that man chooses himself, we do mean that every one of us must choose himself; but by that we also mean that in choosing for himself he chooses for all men. For in effect, of all the actions a man may take in order to create himself as he wills to be, there is not one which is not creative, at the same time, of an image of man such as he believes he ought to be. To choose between this or that is at the same time to affirm the value of that which is chosen; for we are unable ever to choose the worse.’ 

Satre, Existentialism is a Humanism, 1946

In the same sense, when a lesbian chooses to erase herself through an adopted queer identity, she demonstrates to all other lesbians that this is how women are to be lesbians nowadays in contemporary life. The shaping of lesbian subjectivity and its narrowing under the queer rubric creates a self-reinforcing circuit of self-erasure and self-censorship for future generations. 

When lesbians are encouraged to shy away from naming ourselves correctly as lesbians, or having pride in being lesbians, there is cultural persuasion and social construction taking place. This comes in the form of mainstream media preference for the term queer instead of lesbian. It is also delivered in the form the negative responses of those around us.  Even just the oddly pervasive idea that lesbianism is simply jolly friendship with a bit of occasional fumbling. All of these construct the limits of how what a lesbian is and how lesbian all women can be. It demonstrates the curtailments imposed on women’s freedom of speech and expression. All of those negative barriers result in a cautiousness and fearfulness of expressing ourselves. 

How many women would feel a fearful reticence in saying openly that life with a woman is preferable? Or that sex with women is better for women? Or that any woman who can should be a lesbian? There is likely a limit on how many women realistically could be lesbians, even in a perfect world, given structural indeterminancy, but we do not yet know that limit. We do not know whether future generations of women might be majority lesbian, if we were allowed to claim it as the ideal and safest form of sexuality for women. This is nowhere in public discourse and there is an absolute fearfulness and alarm around this set of sexual politics. Try handing out lesbian flyers outside your local train station for an evening and see the sort of response you get. I don’t mean that passers-by would hurl verbal abuse, but that no women would join you. Fear of social reprisal or violence by men secures in advance that almost no women are willing to do that sort of outreach (they do however in South Korea because there they have collective politics, organising beyond minuscule friendship groups, ensuring safety in numbers). These kinds of lesbian politics are either marginalised through being ignored or attacked as ridiculous or ‘hateful’ against men.

There is a stark contrast between what gay men are allowed to do and say, and how suffocated and silenced lesbians are.

Consider the gay male activity of ‘cruising’, which tends to involve walking around a public place at night, like a park, looking for other men to initiate sexual contact with – women are too afraid to go at night most of the time, especially to unlit places, especially where men might be. That contrast, between the freedom of gay men and lesbians demonstrates how men and women might both exist on Earth but we inhabit different planets. 

That core social difference based on biological sexual difference between lesbians and gay men shows up again in how freedom of expression is entirely different according to sex class: gay men can speak freely about their lives without women, about how much they love men, and wander around in chapless leather trousers on Pride Parades. Whereas lesbians tend to seek inaccessible space away from society to express themselves (separatist events), which runs the risks of becoming out of touch and no longer being able to articulate to most people the positives of lesbian politics (what Janice Raymond calls developing a “worms-eye view” of the world). 

Is it any wonder lesbians look to find their own space away from everything given the social coercion on women’s sexuality? Most ideological inculcation into married life and domesticity is aimed at girls. Weddings are aimed at women as the ‘happiest day of your life’, not men. This is because marriage for men needs no advertising; it is a better deal on all fronts. Who wouldn’t want a domestic servant? Who will socially reproduce them, taking their surname, gestating their children, and then even naming those children after the one who contributed least and did zero labour! A free cook, cleaner, secretary, personal assistant, nanny, nurse. What a deal. Whereas for women, I hope it is not too obvious or controversial by this point to state: marriage is a trap. If it wasn’t a trap it would not need the lure of the Big White Wedding, where focus is on the ‘beautiful bride’, as she is hoodwinked into an arrangement where she has the least power institutionally and sexually.

A wedding day is, in reality, the day where a woman takes on more responsibilities in life than ever before (the shared household and her husband’s health, often even his family relatives health). Her freedom becomes limited — and is made more limited if she has a child. Pregnancy ensures that she (not the father) will be indoors, at home with that child almost every evening for the duration of its childhood. Correspondingly, the ‘gender’ pay gap is more of a ‘mother pay gap’, with pregnancy signalling statistically that a woman’s personal economic prospects are to plummet.

We all know the children’s nursery rhyme: so-and-so and so-and-so “kissing in a tree, K.I.S.S.I.N.G, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby’s carriage”. Is it any wonder, that for such a terrible package deal, all of society must collaborate to coerce women into it? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could sprinkle some fun glitter on that dull horror by calling it ‘queer’? 

The rise of queer identity is not a random or natural progression of a society becoming more accepting of homosexuality, but forms part of a backlash against women’s rights and gay acceptance.

That backlash is complicated. With the advent of same-sex marriage within the Western world in the last decade it is no surprise that assimilation brought with it both a gentrification of lesbian and gay politics, unevenly combined with queer politics, operating as a bid to obfuscate homosexuality as significantly different from heterosexuality. Both work to conceal the revolutionary social potential of opting out of heterosexual life (if it were to be opted out of en masse). Any form of identity or politics that is upheld by state apparatus and celebrated by corporate market giants alike is suspect. What is important to realise is that queer identity, in its purpose today of offsetting and obfuscating lesbian and gay existence, is a form of homophobia and lesbophobia. 

The story does not stop there. We within the lesbian cannot simply look blamefully outwards at heterosexual society, taking no responsibility for how much queer politics has come to dominate, when we are creating no alternative. One reason so many lesbian couples look to marry, have children, or find ‘domestic bliss’, is that there are few other adult developmental life milestones outside of professional life. We haven’t invented them and we are hampered in doing so. As Marx stated, we are born into circumstances not of our making, writing in the 18th Brumair of Louis Bonaparte (1852):

‘Men [Ed: and presumably women!] make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.’

Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852

Everyone wants to have a meaningful existence and there are only so many options to subjectively reproduce ourselves in the world. One of the most encouraged ways is consumerism, and that’s why identity today increasingly resembles consumption in the form of supermarket style selection, but if we are honest, this is not enduringly meaningful. Relationships can be, both platonic long-term friendships and romantic love. But those are limited in their revolutionary potential at the site of the individual. We as lesbians are in fact encouraged to have both, as individuals (though once numbers of lesbians reach a critical mass, as discussed previously, it would pose a problem for society). What we are not encouraged to do is take one another as political colleagues, as serious interlocutors, and allies who engage one another critically in order to work together to radically make lesbian society more viable. To have more than the private. Something stronger than the frail social bonds of feminised friendships or arbitrary romantic expectation and all of its crooked entitlements. The heterosexual-approved, superficial appeal of queer gender fun continues to outdo us.

Until we create something other than traditional social relations, alternative bonds, different social forms, and alternatives to the rotten ideological values that dominate our society, we will not get very far.

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