Carrie Wooten

"Are You a Lesbian?"

Filed By Carrie Wooten | August 02, 2006 2:29 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
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Before officially becoming a Bilerico.com contributor, Bil asked me to send him the link to my summer reading list blog to check out my work and make sure my voice was appropriate for Bilerico. After reading my entries, the first thing Bil did was ask if I was a lesbian. After saying no, and that I was in a serious relationship with a man, I asked him what had led him to think that.

"I just thought you really didn't like men."

This knee-jerk reaction is interesting to me on a few levels. First is the perpetuation of male-induced dogma designed to keep women from getting silly ideas in their heads. If we can turn feminist and feminism into terms that no woman wants to be associated with, then the male-favored status quo will endure. This is just what has happened, and as Moya Bailey points out in her article Pride or Prejudice, it's been highly effective. By giving feminism a negative connotation, lesbianism also recieves a negative connotation. Many heterosexual women fear being labeled a lesbian so much that it keeps them from being active in movements for social justice like feminism. I myself, in the beginning, didn't want to be labeled a "feminist" or "bra burner" or a "radical" because I didn't want to be alienated or ostracized by both men and women.

The second striking element of this typical knee-jerk reaction is the "man-hater" part. It is very telling that speaking up about the horrors some men are capable of apparently means I'm spewing an anti-male campaign. Can nothing ill be said of men without it being turned around as my problem or issue? If all feminists/lesbians hate men then shouldn't gay men hate women? I don't find either to be the case, yet we perpetuate the stereotype that to be a feminist means to do away with men. And this in turn contributes to a lack of male and female involvement or interest in the movement.

How do we retrain our phyches to ignore the conditioning of an entire society or to even recognize it in the first place? Is it possible to do away with these preconcieved notions that are not our own, but are rather historical institutions in place to ignore and disable the idea of "independent and equal woman?" And how do we refuse to be programmed by such subliminal forces?


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Ellen Andersen | August 2, 2006 10:21 AM

Welcome, Carrie! Now *I* want to see your reading list too, if only to figure out what got Bil's knickers in a twist. And hey, Bil, what's your take on my lesbianism? Is it all about men and my distaste for them, or is it, to quote from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, more centered on the "girl-on-girl action"? Just curious....

You really know how to get the conversation started, Carrie! *grins*

First let me address Ellen's comment. My take on your lesbianism? Hmmm. Hadn't really thought about it. My answer would have to be 'cuz I assumed you thought girls were pretty and you fell in love with one (or more).

Now, my comment on Carrie's posts about "I just thought you really didn't like men." I tend to be a rather nuanced person, I'd like to think. When we were instant messaging last night I did what I usually avoid doing. I gave a knee-jerk reaction based on a few skimmed blog posts. I thought you painted with a broad brush so I said the generalization I made about your writings.

I apologize.

However, I feel I must point out what I'm talking about. In your post you said, "This knee-jerk reaction is interesting to me on a few levels. First is the perpetuation of male-induced dogma designed to keep women from getting silly ideas in their heads. If we can turn feminist and feminism into terms that no woman wants to be associated with, then the male-favored status quo will endure... By giving feminism a negative connotation, lesbianism also recieves a negative connotation."

By no means was I implying that being a lesbian was negative. Or that being a feminist was negative. As an LGBT organizer, I happen to think all the letters are important. :) I argue strongly every day on behalf of the LGBT community that we are worthy of respect and, even, admiration. To imply that I somehow would think of lesbianism as negative is simply untrue. The stroke of your brush was too wide there.

There's nothing wrong with "speaking up about the horrors some men are capable of." All that I ask is that we remember that it's some men.

I think you have a spectacular voice and I can't wait to hear more from you on the blog. I think other readers will find your posts both interesting and intelligent. And I'm positive that they'll inspire lots of conversation - which will be excellent for all of us. :)

Bil! I certainly didn't mean to imply that you thought feminism and lesbianism were "bad." I was merely talking generalizations about how certain assumptions of feminists can be used as weapons, but didn't mean to say that *you* were using them as such. Does that make any sense? I hope so!

Bruce Parker | August 2, 2006 9:00 PM

Bil and Carrie,

Quoting from bil who quotes Carrie:

"There's nothing wrong with 'speaking up about the horrors some men are capable of.' All that I ask is that we remember that it's some men."

I am of the mindset that men are essential allies in the struggle to end sexist oppression. A struggle I feel compelled to point out that has deep implications for lgbt efforts to achieve equality and safety from violence. I myself am a male who identifies pretty aggressively as a feminist. I truly understand feminist principles to be at the root of the majority of my work with INTRAA and at the heart your blog that goes above and beyond to make "the personal political."

Defensiveness regarding generalizations is natural however in times of life and death it is frustrating to ask prisoners of war to be cautious with their words... To not offend the good people that are a part of the larger group that is oppressing them.
I very much understand women as prisoners of war in this country with estimates landing pretty consistently at a woman being assaulted, raped, or battered in her own home somewhere in the United States every two minutes. If women aren't under siege, I am unsure who is. I find it poignant that those numbers don't show up on the news very often.

The best comparison I have is AIDS. When ACTUP, which if I am not mistaken you were a very active part of here in Indiana, campaigned against drug companies and the government they very much said the government was killing gay people by not working on AIDS. My post-woman has little to do with this, but is clearly a part of the government.

Sometimes, painting with broad strokes is essential if we are to organize and fight oppressive structures.

I would argue that Carrie may need to expand her thinking beyond individual men as the cause of these problems. But constructions of manhood that are built on domination, aggression, violence, and treating women as sex objects are to blame. Perhaps our responsibility as men is to look deep within ourselves for these dangerous ideas and toxic constructions of "man" that seep into our daily lives and our functions.

Finally, women are pretty active in maintaining the status quo, as well.
Patriarchal society is not a problem that will be solved only by changing men. We must all work on it together

Thanks,

Bruce

Marla R. Stevens | August 4, 2006 3:31 AM

Bruce, I'm confused by your AIDS paragraph. As another who was very active in ACT-UP, I went to jail to try to bring to the government's attention that its old definition of AIDS was excluding women's AIDS diagnostic criteria and preventing women from getting much needed fiscal aid and treatment.

Are you trying to say that AIDS isn't a women's issue?

I think what Bruce was trying to say (and I'm just guessing - he can speak for himself) is that ACT UP painted in broad strokes to raise awareness of the issue of AIDS and Carrie was doing the same to bring awareness to women's issues.

Bruce Parker | August 4, 2006 9:17 PM

Marla,

bil is correct that is what I was trying to say. I didn't know you were in ACT UP. Your pretty amazing.

Bruce