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Blog: “Sexual Identity Politics”

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Sexual Identity Politics

In Off Our Backs, the lesbian/feminist journal, writer Jennie Ruby complains that “…the gay rights movement has (for many good, practical reasons) adopted largely an identity politics: we were born this way, we can’t help it, and we should have civil rights just like anyone else.” (Off Our Backs magazine,Oct. 1996, pg. 22)

But Ruby protests, “I don’t think lesbians are born…I think they are made.” Becoming a lesbian is about “valuing women as human beings—and that other women can choose to do this too.” (her emphasis) And, to “call lesbianfeminism simply lesbian is to seem to close the door to currently heterosexual women completely.” She adds, “We need to know that any woman can decide to become a lesbian,” and “lesbians” are just “women who have imagined ourselves lesbians.” (Off Our Backs, Oct. 1996, pg. 22)

Lindsy Van Gelder, a lesbian writing for the mainstream feminist publication, Ms. (May/June 1991, “The ‘Born That Way’ Trap,” pgs. 86-87), emphasizes the same point. The gay political line is: 
“…being gay is something a person has no more control over than race or bender. Therefore, it’s unfair to deprive us of our rights…I personally don’t think I was ‘born this way’…Until I was in my early thirties, I fell in love with men, took pleasure in sleeping with them, and even married one.” (MS., May/June 1991, pg. 86)

But Lindsy became a lesbian to have close emotional relationships—“that intense female intimacy.” (Ibid.) Lesbians “talk about these differences within the lesbian community (and we bitch about the other side of the born-again syndrome—women who choose to stop being lesbians and go off with men).” (Ibid.)

The public propaganda “born gay” claim: 
“means that we’re subtly putting the word out that it’s O.K. to regard us as sexually handicapped…” (Ibid.) In other words, gays are helpless, sexually. But the “we-can’t-help-it argument is a cop-out. It pretends that sex is something that white rats in a maze do because their hormones tell them to—not something humans do for fun.” (Ibid., pg. 87)

Lindsy concludes that the public should accept homosexuality as a choice: 
“If there’s anything we as feminists ought to be supporting, it’s a frank, unapologetic celebration of sexual choice.” (Ibid.) 

Rebecca Walker and Friends

Writer Rebecca Walker (daughter of bisexual author Alice Walker of The Color Purple fame), also identifies as bisexual. She relates: 
“I do my best to help people understand that sexuality doesn’t have much to do with prescribed notions of gender…But that gets back to the whole question of ‘What is a lesbian?’ Because you look at studies now, and obviously lesbians are sleeping with men. I think we are batting our heads against these categories right now.” (Girlfriends, May/June, 1996, pg. 21)


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