In her piece entitled “Transgender Rights,” Riki Wilchins explains, “white American culture tends to be one of the few that splits sexual orientation from gender.” I am going to take a closer look at why I understand sexual orientation and gender as intimately linked with each other.
Because so much of being a woman in a patriarchal society such as ours is wrapped up in desiring men, lesbians stand outside of that framework, and therefore outside of gender norms for women. In my personal experience one of the first times I had a crush on a girl was when I was six years old and although I couldn’t put words to what I was feeling, my first thought was, I’m a boy.
Although some like to define gender identity as who one is, sexual orientation as who one is attracted to, and then treat them as though they are wholly separate spheres, I do not think it is so simple. The personal story I give above is obviously a mere anecdote, but I think it helps to exemplify why I do not think gender identity and sexual orientation can be so easily spliced apart from each other. Gender is a construction consisting of, among many other things, prescribed roles which include who one is expected to be attracted to.
Tumblr user lesbiancraft explains, “many lesbians feel a disconnect from ‘womanhood’ beyond the political aspect of it because our relationships with each other [don’t] create a constant situation where we are gendered as contrasts to something else; as opposites to men.” That is to say, a lesbian’s understanding of herself as a woman may well be different from a straight woman’s understanding of herself as a woman, and likely the same could be said for a bi/pan/polysexual woman.
It is interesting to me that in Supplement 16, although homophobia is defined, no explanation is given for why people would be afraid of same-sex attraction, specifically attraction between women, as this seems to be what Pharr and Lorde are specifically addressing.* Obviously this is a complex issue, but in terms of why lesbophobia exists in a patriarchal context, the answer is fairly salient, and it is crucial to understanding the intersection of homophobia and misogyny. Lesbians pose a major threat to the patriarchal structure because men are not part of our understanding of ourselves as gendered beings. Our relationships do not exist in reference to men, and we therefore are in no danger of understanding ourselves as their counterparts.
The patriarchy has every reason to be afraid of us.
*Lorde’s quotation is from her work entitles “Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving” and Pharr is specifically talking about compulsory heterosexuality, which is a term exclusive to women’s experiences
Image is from Shutterstock, taken by Stefano Tinti. Found here: http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/12/26/do_butch_lesbians_have_cisgender_privilege.html
Supplement 16 Activist Insight: Homophobia and Heterosexism
Transgender Rights by Riki Wilchins
Lesbiancraft’s tumblr post: http://lesbiancraft.tumblr.com/post/129301646599/the-main-reason-why-the-patriarchy-mandates