It's about time I talked about this, isn't it?
Part of me wants to wait to talk about this sometime later, when I have a bigger readership and possibly more to say. But, something came up recently that reminded me of it and, well, I feel that it's that time.
Labels and I have always had a love-hate relationship. I think the majority of the rest of the world would probably say that they feel the same way.
I love labels because when I can label myself as something, I feel like I am part of a group. Labels are like group hugs. Saying, "I am ______" means that, unless I have created this word entirely on my own, I share something with someone else and that means that I am not alone. My timeline of labels goes as follows: bisexual -> lesbian -> trans -> genderqueer -> queer -> (?). I'm not sure where I am now, because I'm not sure that I want a label anymore.
Unfortunately for labels, I have more reasons to hate them than to love them.
What reminded me of this was a debate on Twitter (shut up) started by a popular podcast called The Lesbian Mafia.
If you haven't heard all the ruckus about the new film "The Kids Are All Right," let me brief you: the movie was directed by an out lesbian and depicts the life of a lesbian couple and how it changes when their children seek out the anonymous sperm donor that helped create them. Apparently, in the film, the character played by Julianne Moore has an affair with the sperm donor, played by Mark Ruffalo. I haven't seen it, so I don't know the context or to what extent this happens or anything. I just know that it does, and it's pissing a lot of people off.
The Lesbian Mafia "tweeted" (yes, I'm nauseated, too) a statement in response to the film, stating that lesbians were defined as strictly women who had sex with women and if a woman had sex with a man, that immediately revoked her identity as a lesbian.
I have a lot of feelings. Are you ready for them? This would be a good time to go to the bathroom or grab a drink, 'cause this might go on for a while.
Any possibly positive feelings I may have had about the labeling of sexual identity is completely gone. It goes to show you how flimsy my support was to begin with, that this one thing chased it away forever, but that's not surprising. I went from trying for years to define myself as something, anything, to working as hard as I can to identify as a person and nothing more. I'm not quite there, but I'm working on it.
I am enraged at the idea that the lesbian community would not only tolerate but encourage the exclusion of anyone based on something so trivial. Believe me, I am the first person that will admit to having a bias against women who leave female lovers for males, but I am working really hard to fix that and I think it's going really well. I do understand that this bias is not out of the blue; lesbians/females who pursue females have had to live for far too long with the thought in their head that what a woman needs is the "right man," some "good dick," and she will never be satisfied without that, that you, woman, will never truly be enough for her. I've had my fair share of girlfriends who have left me for men because "the gay thing is just not working out." As a female with gender identity issues, that hit home twice as hard every time I heard it.
But as I get older, as I experience more of the world, I realize that all of this essentialist bullshit is... well, essentialist bullshit. So what if your girlfriend leaves you for a male? Why should that hurt any more than leaving you for a female? Especially with the increased availability of the strap-on, I mean, this shouldn't even be a question anymore. If you can't make it work when she can pick the dick she wants you to use, then you've got bigger problems than gender. I am no longer in high school; I can safely assume that my relationships are mature enough that if someone decides not to be with me, it has very little to do with what is or isn't between my legs. I am significantly less threatened by males every day and I am exquisitely proud of myself every day that I feel more and more progress in this area.
So, let me ask this:
Is a woman still a lesbian if she only enjoys strap-on sex with her woman-identified female partner?
What if her partner is a pre-op FTM?
An FTM with top but not bottom surgery?
An MTF who still uses her penis?
What about a male-identified partner who doesn't use his penis?
What about a male-identified partner who doesn't have a penis?
I worry about asking essentialist lesbians to answer those questions because I fear that it will completely demean the gender expression (or lack thereof) of the people involved. This is what I call straight lesbianism. There is straight gayness as well, and even straight trans (I know, I know, more labels, but as much as I hate them, sometimes you need to call something something in order to talk about it). This is the phenomena when a group, despite being part of an "alternative lifestyle" community, confines itself to the heteronormative boundaries of society. A lesbian who believes that lesbians are only females who have sex with only females, though redefining gender boundaries, is still holding them firmly in place. This is probably fine for transfolk who conform to the binary (and nothing against that, I assure you), but this eliminates the expression or even the existence of those (like me) who choose to live somewhere else far, far away from the line.
My girlfriend does not identify as a lesbian, and neither do I, but we are constantly referred to as such and it gets increasingly frustrating every time it happens. Why are we automatically given this title? Because we both are biologically female and in a relationship with one another? The point doesn't drive home as well for me, because I have identified as a lesbian for a long time and none of our friends are aware of my increasing rejection of a woman identity. But my girlfriend is a woman-identified female who has not previously been in a relationship with a female until lucky little ol' me. If all it takes is one female sexual partner to make a woman a lesbian, then why does it only take one male partner to make her something else? If these labels are so fluid, then why are people so goddamn adamant about deciding who is and who isn't?
I say, you are whatever you want to say you are, but when it comes down to it, you're a person. You're a person who has sex. You're a person who pursues romantic relationships. Maybe you're a person who doesn't have sex or doesn't pursue romantic relationships. Either way, you're a person, flesh and bone and muscle and all that wiry crap woven in between and at the end of the day, that's all that should matter.
Fellow blogger/friend of mine, Jessica Who?, made a great YouTube video about labels a little while back that I just found via en|Gender, blog of author Helen Boyd (whose book, She's Not the Man I Married, I just bought and intend to write a response to on here soon). Check it out (and the comments on it) here.