Those threatened by or irritated with women's liberation often dismiss the movement by saying, »Oh, they're just a bunch of dykes«. The response of the women's liberation movement to this charge is vital to the feminists, the lesbians, the many who accept both identities, as well as to the life and the meaning of the movement itself.
The words »dyke« and »lesbian«, especially when used by men, are charged words calculated to send shivers of horror up the spines of women who want a more independent life style. Men who pride themselves on their capacity for rational responses cannot keep a cool head on this subject. They are upset and confused by women who do not fit into categories they can handle: unmarried and seeking domination, married and dominated, frustrated career woman, or incomplete old maid or spinster. But a lesbian? »Let's face the truth,« says one feminist, »the greatest threat to men is solidarity among women and >lesbianism< epitomizes that solidarity«. Few words carry as much emotional meaning, independent of context, as »dyke«. The word brings a heavy load of prejudice with it and blocks any discriminating thought, preventing everyone — including the feminists — from discussing the real questions involved. When the word is used women usually respond with an uneasy silence.
Women need to think through the lesbian issue so that such name calling cannot be used to divide women who should be united in a common struggle. In their paper, »The Woman-Identified Woman«, members of a new Women's Liberation group, the Radicalesbians, make it very clear: »As long as the word >dyke< can be used to frighten women into a less militant stand, keep women separate from their sisters, and keep them from giving primacy to anything other than men and family — then to that extent they are dominated by the male culture.«
Lesbians have always been linked with women's liberation. Articles on the movement by the mass media alluded to them long before feminists were even willing to acknowledge their existence. But the feminists were deluding themselves. The signs were clear. They had only to examine the life style of other women in the movement or listen to their friends to see there had to be a connection somewhere. Feminists who thought the lesbians were not there for legitimate reasons and would soon leave are disillusioned by now. Conservative elements in the movement are still trying to keep the lesbians in the closet by saying lesbianism is not important and at the same time, too dangerous to deal with. From motives of safety, not honest feeling, feminists dealing with the mass media still deny there are lesbians in women's liberation. The radical feminists, however, most of whom do not cooperate with the media, have never been afraid to discuss common objectives with lesbians, and now that the lesbian's sense of self has begun to flower through the women's movement and the Gay Liberation Front, to march with them, support them in public, even aspire to a genuine exploration of the lesbian way of life.
Who are lesbians? What kind of women are they? How does their experience, both in and out of the movement, shed light on women's liberation? What do they add to the movement? To the exploration of sexism? To the idea of cultural revolution as conceived by the feminists? To the idea of self-possession?
Lesbians are women who survive without men financially and emotionally, representing the ultimate in an independent life style. Lesbians are the women who battle day by day to show that women are valid human beings, not just appendages of men. Lesbians are the women whose relationships attempt a true break with the old sexual-emotional divisions. Lesbians are the women who are penalized for their sexuality more than any other women on earth. Thus, it is no wonder that lesbians are attracted to the women's liberation movement, are active in it, and feel that they are in the vanguard of it. If women's liberation does mean liberation from the dominance of men, lesbians' opinions should be actively sought out, for in many ways the lesbian has freed herself from male domination.
Lesbians are women who have chosen to love other women. They have a positive attitude toward women and do not think of their lives as an alternative, or as an aggressive rejection of men. Because they have little interest in pleasing men, lesbians are not usually man-haters, as the stereotype so often has it. They do not see men as a threat to them personally, as feminists often do.
Any kind of woman may be a lesbian, even concurrently with marriage and children. Lesbians may be rich, poor, good-looking, or homely. In short, they are like anybody else, except for their sexual preference. Research since Kinsey's day indicates that there are more women who are lesbians than men who are homosexuals. In one study 50 percent of the women queried had had intense emotional relationships with other women as adults, which is defined by some as homosexuality—while 27 percent admitted overt lesbian experience. Other experts estimate that there are a large number of hidden lesbians among married women. There are probably more lesbians than male homosexuals.
Some feminists have reservations about supporting the militant lesbian feminists, and their reasons should be discussed. Some insist that lesbianism is merely a practice, not a political issue. However, Celestine Ware points out in her book Woman Power that »radical feminists believe that radical feminism is the only truly political cause now in existence. ... To achieve the elimination of dominance in human relationships, sex roles, i.e. stereotyped male and female identities, would have to be eradicated.« Peter Cohen comments that: »to live an alternative that is totally outside the alternative of the culture is a profoundly political act.«
One must look to the lesbians' oppression as part of women's oppression. One must look to the lesbians' desire to escape from the male power structure and achieve independent being. The penalties the feminist will face for openly denying her sex role will resemble those the lesbian now faces for showing an open preference for her own sex. To be a lesbian is unnatural—in men's eyes. To be a feminist is unnatural—in men's eyes. The price of rebellion against men's authority is living as an outcast without the approval and support of men.
The common enemy of feminists and lesbians is sexism. Sexism is not merely the preference of society for one sex, and the attribution to that sex of various preferred qualities and attitudes at the expense of the other sex. Sexism emerges from making reproduction rather than personal pleasure or personal development the goal of sexual intercourse. That society sanctions sex only for reproduction is clearly shown in various sex laws which make sex acts that do not lead to reproduction illegal, whether performed by two men, two women, or a man and a woman— married or unmarried. Clearly, these laws speak to our deepest fears of our own sexuality. Clearly too, these laws are obsolete, especially in light of our overpopulation problems and the growing popular belief that sex is acceptable for pleasure alone (evidenced by the widespread use of the pill and demand for repeal of abortion laws). This new acceptance of sexual liberation primarily benefits the most traditional male-female kind of sex. The homosexual is still considered perverted, although homosexual couples have not invented anything that heterosexuals cannot and do not do. Yet only the homosexual still bears the full burden of sexist fears.
Although women's liberation has insisted on the right of all women to control their own bodies, the subject has only been discussed in terms of abortion. In liberationist thinking the concept of the right to one's own body does not include freedom of sexual activities or freedom of sexual preference, which would logically seem to be a part of the kind of self-ownership and self-determination at the heart of feminist demands. This is probably because such a viewpoint would seem to come frighteningly close to actually endorsing lesbianism. Clearly, sexual freedom of all kinds would liberate women from guilt about sexual activities (heterosexual or homosexual), from performing on demand, and from the kind of sexual disappointment that comes from being held largely responsible for fulfilling sexual pleasure, as well as for conception, child-bearing, and childrearing.
People outside the movement are questioning sexist customs and attitudes within the scope of women's liberation, particularly in regard to same-sex marriages. The blessings of God for homosexual unions are now given in some churches, and various individuals have urged that same-sex marriages be more acceptable and common in the future. Rita Hauser, the United States representative to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, speaking to the American Bar Association, on »Women's Liberation and the Law«, argued that laws banning marriages between persons of the same sex were unconstitutional and were based on the outmoded notion that sex was for reproduction. Margaret Mead, the well-known author and anthropologist, has advocated for a long time two-career marriages, childless marriages, same-sex marriages, and communes of adults where sex is not the central organizing factor. Only one acknowledged feminist has made this case: Caroline Bird, author of Born Female, speaking to the Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian group, predicted that »in the future we will see the stranglehold of reproduction on human relations broken, and numerous life styles will be possible.«
Women's liberation's great importance is that it provides an opportunity for reexamination of modes of human behavior; this should include the idea that heterosexual relationships are the only acceptable life style. If, as some interpreters of the new Equal Rights Amendment point out, the new legislation would make homosexual marriages legal, this fact should be analyzed and accepted, even promoted, but not hidden.
The fight of all women against sexism is not the only common battleground of feminists and lesbians. Both groups are part of the larger struggle against oppression waged by all groups that refuse to be dominated by a hierarchical system in which certain groups are considered naturally superior, and others naturally inferior. In this battle, assimilation is the characteristic trademark. Lesbians who conceal their sexual preference are not persecuted; feminists who remain housewives and mothers are not rejected; prostitutes who conceal their occupations are not admonished; blacks who can pass for white are not discriminated against. It is only when oppressed people stand up and openly announce who and what they are that they are either pressured into assuming their correct roles and levels in society, or they are crucified.
Feminists who continue to live off their husband's incomes and perform the traditional duties of wife and mother at the expense of their own development are hiding and only paying lip service to their cause, much as lesbians who flirt with men in the office. They are trying to escape discrimination by appearing to perpetuate the system. But when a feminist truly joins the movement and steps off the pedestal, temporarily leaving men or defying them, she is moving from a recognized and valued position with certain kinds of privileges into a new, lonely place, one that may involve open hostility.
Today's cultural revolution consists of group after group saying, »We won't take it anymore. We want to be human«. Lesbians are now emulating some of the tactics and the practices of women's liberation, even as that movement took its cues from black liberation. What is afoot here is a general rebellion of the dispossessed of the earth; as such, feminists and lesbians are deeply tied, one to the other. It was no accident that a 1970 meeting of revolutionary groups included the Black Panthers, homosexuals, and feminists.
Out of her activism in the feminist movement, more often than not, a new kind of lesbian has emerged, a lesbian who calls herself a lesbian activist or a radical lesbian and has learned most recently the enormous power and freedom of the open assertion of who and what one is. Not only is the radical lesbian no longer ashamed of her commitment to the lesbian way of life, but after some self-searching and self-analysis, she has come to realize that most of her problems are due not to any necessarily unhealthy traits in her personality, but rather to her social oppression.
The emotional development that enables the lesbian to throw off the sex roles and sex restrictions universally accepted in our society has been commonly described as a psychopathology: a mental sickness. It is assumed that something in the individual's family environment has caused the child's development to take a wrong turn. However, some progressive psychiatrists and social workers have begun to talk about a concept called sociopathol-ogy: a sickness in society. They have found that the individuals they have treated for so-called personal problems have real problems which they are in no position to control. The environment threatens them, even physically. This continual state of threat leads to tension, which leads
to various emotional problems, which cannot be solved by treatment because they are perpetuated by real pressures from a hostile society. The concept of sociopathology fosters a need for systematic analysis of all women's behavior and sheds particular light on the society's rigidity and unwillingness to tolerate many life styles for women. It points to external reasons for lesbians* distress and emotional problems. The problems of lesbians—guilt, fear, self-hatred—can therefore be regarded as part of a sociopathology, part of what is wrong with our society, preventing whole categories of people from being happy and productive.
If women are generally dominated by men in all phases of their lives, from birth until death—and if this domination is unnatural—then all of women's modes of behavior are forms of evasive action or adjustment to survive the domination. They are all ways to live in a basically threatening environment. Thus, the clinging vine, the caretaker-housewife, and the child-woman are women who have succumbed to male dominance; the driving career woman, the feminist, and the lesbian are women who have struggled to reject male dominance. Lesbianism is one reaction on the part of the growing female to the emotional understanding, shared by all females, of what it means to become a woman in our society.
According to the Radicalesbians,
- The lesbian is the rage of all women, condensed to the point of explosion. She is a woman, who, often at an early age, acts in accordance with an inner compulsion to be a more complete human being than her society will allow her [to be]. These needs and conflicts, over a period of years, bring her into painful conflict with people, situations, and the accepted way of thinking, until she is in a continual state of war with everything around her, and usually with herself. She may not be fully conscious of the political implications of what for her began as personal necessity, but, on some level, she has not been able to accept the limitations and oppression laid upon her by the most basic role in society, the female role
The lesbian often refused to play the game by rejecting dolls, kitchen playthings, sexual cunning, and instead showed an interest in the mental and physical pursuits reserved for boys—and later men. She knew that when boys said sneeringly that they didn't want to play girls' games and she mimicked them, saying she didn't want to play boys' games, she was lying. She did want to play boys' games. This was difficult to comprehend. As a child she was natural; at the time of puberty, when she refused to change, suddenly she was considered unnatural. When her interests and feelings did not coincide with the demands of society, the pain, bitterness, and rejection began. The pressure was on and would stay on until some force greater than the individual—liberation or death—would change it.
Women who have tried to adopt any of those human qualities and attitudes not considered natural to a female have always been labeled male-identified or lesbian. This seems unfair since the man is allowed the status of a male at the same time that he seeks all those very same human qualities. To associate the woman or the lesbian with male qualities, when she is simply trying to develop in a positively human way, is to consider both the feminist and the lesbian inauthentic. That is to say, if a woman can never be considered anything but less courageous, less intelligent, less creative, and less independent, we will only have acceptable women who are less than males. Any woman who is equal to or better than a man will be considered an aberration—a non-woman.
It is generally recognized that career role playing is unforgivable for feminists as well as for lesbians. And yet some feminists say they once wanted to be generals, pilots, lawyers, or senators. The women who were forced by social pressure to give up these dreams are enraged.
Learning what careers or duties a woman could choose was only one lesson in the psycho-social education of a woman. She was also taught how to love men. During the preteen years a crush on another girl was considered natural, much the same as »immature« aspirations to »men's« careers were considered natural. The girls would grow out of both. But today, more and more, it appears that women are socialized into sex roles as well as career roles; there is nothing to prove that heterosexuality is any more normal than homosexuality. Women's liberation has not yet dealt with role playing in terms of sexual orientation.
Certainly by role playing, both in career aspirations and in love relationships, the woman is not truly living. She is living life much as an actress who assumes or is assigned a part. She is not living a fully conscious life, making her own choices. Role playing must be seen as an escape from reality, much like the use of alcohol, drugs, or hypnosis. These are forms of half-death or semiconsciousness. Implicit in the act of jettisoning the role is the need to live a fully conscious life.
In The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir expresses her conception of the natural response of women: »If nature is to be invoked, one can say that all women are naturally homosexual. The lesbian, in fact, is distinguished by her refusal of the male and her liking for feminine flesh; but every adolescent female fears penetration and masculine domination, and she feels a certain repulsion for the male body; on the other hand, the female body is for her, as for the male, an object of desire.«
People must come to realize and admit openly that there are varieties of sexuality, of which heterosexuality happens to be the most popular but not necessarily the most valid. Women's liberation must promote the issue as a nonissue of no more importance than a person's preference for Swiss or American cheese.
The return of those natural feelings for other women is a phenomenon that has certainly been released for investigation by the women's movement. It is expressed by two women from the Class Workshop who attended an all-women's dance held by the Gay Liberation Front. These feminists—not lesbians—published their reactions in the underground newspaper Rat: »I saw the possibility of having an experience that would counter the limited dance definition ... there would be present only women, in a social context of wanting to relate to women. What I experienced was a sense of emotional feeling without restriction, for women. When I danced close to another woman I was aware of how much feeling for one another we do have, yet are told not to express—and how this must stultify our personal relationships«. The second reaction: »I was moved but experienced no great upheaval. It was not anything like a religious conversion. The idea of women loving other women just became more palpable and natural to me.«
Because both feminists and lesbians lead independent lives, feminists are more likely to understand the lesbian point of view and accept their own homosexual feelings without the hysteria often seen in other women. It is also interesting to note that one of the few women recognized as a poet and a teacher in early Greek culture when women were confined to their homes was the »original« lesbian, Sappho, from the island of Lesbos.
The lesbian has taken the ultimate liberty heterosexual women are not permitted: to live and love exactly as she pleases. She does not make emotional tradeoffs for the privileges of being a lady. For this she is violently hated and tormented. Lesbianism is the one response to male domination that is unforgivable. The lesbian is labeled unnatural and forced to live unnaturally. As expressed blatantly by Simone de Beauvior in The Second Sex, »If there is a great deal of aggressiveness and affection in the attitude of Lesbians, there is no way they can live naturally in their situations; being natural implies being unself-conscious, not picturing one's acts to oneself. She can go her own way in calm indifference only when she is old enough or backed by considerable social prestige.«
Lesbians are doubly outcast, both as women and as homosexuals. Lesbians, like all women, are not encouraged to be independent or to educate themselves; as women they are always treated as inferior. On the other hand, they are denied the benefits of the sexist system: financial security, recognition in the home, maternal power. They suffer the oppression of all women but are not eligible for any of the rewards. Whereas heterosexual women are moving from a position in society that is privileged—wife and mother—to a freer position, lesbians are a minority fighting for the right to exist. The lesbian suffers the oppression of all women—only more so. Women get lower pay than men on the job, while lesbians are fired when their sexual preference is discovered. (Lesbians have not yet reached the level of tokenism.) A woman in college is fighting for grades equal to men's, but a lesbian is coping with fears and anxieties about being expelled. A divorced woman has a nearly unchallenged right to her children, but a lesbian's children are forcibly taken from her. Men are satisfied if a woman remains silent, but a lesbian triggers anger and hostility. A gigantic law suit should be instituted against schools, industry, and the psychiatric profession for severe psychic damage done to homosexuals, as well as to women.
Allies are difficult to find. Lesbians do not have the benefit of reliable support from straight sisters or gay brothers. Women—even those in women's liberation—are often sexist, in that they do not accept the lesbian's sexual preference; male homosexuals are often sexist, in that they often dismiss women or overlook them
Male homosexuals who want unity with lesbians are being confronted with their sexism, but they do have other differences that keep them from identifying completely with lesbians. Male homosexuals are persecuted by pS harassment and by legal sanctions. They suffer a fairly direct oppression, designed to limit their numbers or even eliminate them. Lesbians are spared much of this harassment, but they are ridiculed instead. Seen as imitation men, they are a laughingstock for both sexes. Although not considered important enough to harass and persecute very often, they live under an extreme form of psychological censure. Women who feel little or no threat from male homosexuals dread and are repulsed by lesbians, men who are not threatened by male homosexuals are curiously afraid of lesbians.
More than male homosexuals, lesbians are seen as a threat to the entire system based on sexual relationships. A male homosexual retains his male life style. In fact, he often views himself as a supermale, freed from the need for women and active in an all-male world not altogether different from that of a select men's club or sports team. He is promiscuous, and his promiscuity is a male privilege. He sometimes feels superior to the domesticated, suburban male. Lesbians try to live a stable life, more often they try to build a home life without men. Clearly, this is not permissible within the male sexist system. It is acceptable for a man to do without women, as in men's clubs, sports, or the army, but it is never acceptable for a woman to be without a man. A woman is defined in relationship to men and family. A female without a man and a family is not considered a complete woman, but rather a failed woman. The single man is a bachelor; the single woman is an old maid—or a lesbian.
Many women conceal parts of themselves from men, but as a homosexual, the lesbian suffers the pain of living entirely underground. In an article entitled »Gay Is Good«, Martha Shelley explains:
Understand this—that the worst part of being homosexual is having to keep it a secret. Not the occasional murders by police or teenage queer-beaters, not the loss of jobs or expulsion from school, nor dishonorable discharges—but the daily knowledge that what you are is so awful that it cannot be revealed. The violence against us is sporadic. Most of us are not affected. But the internal violence of being made to carry—or choosing to carry—the load of your straight society's unconscious guilt—this is what tears us apart, what makes us want to stand up in the office, in the factories, and in the schools and shout our true identity.
Some of the effects of living the lie are shown in the following excerpts taken from »Journals of Two Lovers«, the story of a lesbian relationship. The first entry talks about the effects of trying to live without hiding: »The only way we can imagine living as lesbians together is to have a fast car and lots of money—to set up a temporary life for a few weeks before moving on—living an interim existence between discovery and discovery. Running, like fugitives. No way to settle down and live a productive life, no matter how great the desire, knowing that whatever we built would be ruined the instant our love was revealed«. Another entry reveals the price of remaining silent: »I was sitting at the dinner table with my family ready to enjoy a beautiful meal—a virtual feast. We were celebrating a family reunion. My parents had just come back from Europe. Our hearts warmed as Pop stood up to give his traditional toast: 'When your mother and I were in Europe we had two boys at the next dinner table who were living together. It was very sad. The parents must suffer terribly. We thought how lucky we are that all of our kids are healthy. Skol.' My throat closed off and my whole body was racing. This meal was clearly not for me—a lesbian. It was for someone in my family who did not exist.«
Any well-intentioned individual, including a lesbian, needs self-respect for a positive outlook on the world. Self-respect demands honesty. For a lesbian to have to deny who she is—outright or by default—is dishonest and destructive. The guilt associated with lying is tremendous, especially when that lying is for life. The lesbian has lived the lie because honesty means confronting society's hate alone. To declare oneself a lesbian is still tantamount to a Jew declaring himself in Nazi Germany. Maybe the lesbian will not be killed, but she risks losing everything and everybody important to her and putting a burden of suspicion or guilt on anyone who accepts her.
The lesbian is bombarded daily by society's thousands of little messages that insist her very life is a crime, just as heterosexual women absorb thousands of messages that insist they are not equal to men. The lesbian may carry guilt like a criminal; during the period called »coming out«, when she begins to accept her lesbianism, she may leei very like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment: she wants to cry out to the world, but she dares not As explained by Theodor Reik, »Something of the need for punishment finds partial gratification in the compulsion to confess Fear of punishment creates tremendous anxiety even though punishment may not occur. Lesbians have committed suicide rather than confess what should be a joyous and celebrated love. They still do. It is evidence of the individual courage of lesbians that they are not jumping out of buildings every day.
m The one protection offered many lesbians is the possibility of hiding. It is relatively easy for perhaps 90 percent to »p&SS for White«. The obvious lesbians, the ones who look boyish and are usually identified as lesbians, are a f™ority within a minority. The homosexual movement is different from other movements because of the ease of concealment. As a social movement fighting for acceptance, lesbians and male homosexuals will have to find a way to mobilize the many homosexuals who still feel they cannot afford to »come out« into the open.
Lesbians early saw women's liberation as a salvation—a movement that recognized women in a new way and seemed to advocate an independent life style similar to the lesbian life style. Lesbians not only needed better jobs, education, and pay, and the benefit of public accommodations laws, but also felt an affinity with the angry, struggling feminists who want their own identities. In fact, lesbians had a sense of deja vu: they knew the frustration, the torn state of mind of the feminists very well. Their present life styles and outlook seemed to have a great deal in common. For lesbians who were still very alone and divided, it was intoxicating to be suddenly a part of a broad Societal movement for human rights that could bring about lasting social change and a recognition of women's equality and independence. That was the strong pull. The push was that the Daughters of Bilitis, a fifteen-year-old lesbian organization, »was not an activist group at a time when action became imperative. The DOB has always billed itself as »a home away from home«; it urges adjustment of the individual to society. When women's liberation opened the door to an activist role in the outside world, lesbians did not hesitate to step across that threshold, immediately joining NOW and other groups.
But there was one catch. Although active in a movement that touched on everything they lived and fought for, lesbians still had to remain silent. Early on, this silence stemmed from habit, tradition, and a sense of survival, as well as courtesy to the straight feminists, who were tense enough about the »dyke« accusations anyway. Later, lesbians hid because they were openly put down and fear was expressed that a large number of lesbians would join the movement. They were called the Achilles' heel of the movement and referred to by a star-studded NOW official as the Lavender Menace, a tag first given to Oscar Wilde. But the final blow was an open act of discrimination. A NOW official took the liberty of editing the one official press release from the first Congress to Unite Women, held in the fall of 1969. From the total of approximately fifteen organizations, she deleted the names of two lesbian groups. Then, in the report on the congress, she and another NOW woman described as »tabled« a workshop motion that was pro-lesbian. Other women recalled that the workshop motion had passed.
Discrimination was recognized in other feminist groups as well. A lesbian in Redstockings, for example, reported at the time that there was no interest in dealing with lesbian problems, no matter how often or how vehemently lesbians fought for abortion repeal and child-care centers. The lesbians became aware that only certain kinds of life styles were acceptable to the movement, and only the problems of those life styles would be considered.
Three volatile young women dropped out of NOW early in 1970. They made clear to everyone in the organization why they were leaving and published an addendum to the organization's newsletter at their own expense, damning NOW on several charges, including sexism. The notice stated in part: »We protest New York NOWs sexist viewpoint. The leadership constantly oppresses other women on the question of sexual preference—or, in plain words, enormous prejudice is directed against the lesbian. 'Lesbian' is the one word that causes the executive committee to have a collective heart attack ... the prevailing attitude is >Suppose they flock to us in droves, how horrible<. May we remind you that this is a male-oriented image of lesbianism.«
One of the three then called a meeting at her apartment to discuss the discrimination against lesbians in women's liberation. The meeting was attended by some thirty women who were active in women's liberation and the Gay Liberation Front. Three consciousness-raising groups were formed. The GLF women proposed preparing a position paper on lesbianism for the women's liberation movement. As work on the paper proceeded, the writers and others began to plan its presentation. Nothing seemed more natural than to bring it to the second Congress to Unite Women (this time the congress was not being run by NOW, but by a coalition of more radical feminists). The planning and writing group called themselves the Radi-calesbians. As they grew and transformed themselves into an action group, they began to call themselves the Lavender Menace in memory of the NOW official's indictment.
At the opening Friday evening session of the congress, the lights in the public auditorium suddenly went out. When they flashed on again there were thirty Menaces in lavender T-shirts boldly lettered with the derisive name they had taken for their own. Much as the blacks had taken »Black is Beautiful« as a slogan to reverse their image, lesbians now said »Gay is Good« and used the words »lesbian« and »dyke« in a positive, fun-loving manner. Signs they carried read »Take a lesbian to lunch« and »Super-dyke loves you«. The Menace liberated the microphone for the evening and led an open forum on sexism within the movement. One of the first to speak was a gray-haired feminist, Ruth Gage Colby. She said slowly: »This is an historic moment. For the first time in thousands of years, since the days of Sappho, these women, many of whom are intelligent and talented, and who have much to offer, have come out of hiding«. Even the Menace had not expected this reaction. The next day lesbians held workshops on sexism in the movement, and they also invited the feminists to a dance after the congress.
Predictably, reactions to the weekend's activities were varied, but many women felt in their guts (and some verbalized it) that the lesbians' openness was a kind of bravery that provided an opportunity to reevaluate their own opinions of lesbianism and the genuine issues of sexism within feminism. The feminists' acceptance of the lesbians' action was the first ... step toward ridding themselves of the sexist... and overpowering...raising....struggle, with women—both heterosexual and homosexual—fighting together openly for a social revolution that seeks to dissolve traditional sex roles and to bring about a new world of self-possession, one which must admit the emotional life of the homosexual and allow all women to live their lives as they themselves define them.
The new lesbian attitudes and actions are a kind of paradigm of the women's liberation movement: the lesbians decided to get up from the human garbage pile and walk away. As blacks had done and women had done, they took to the streets and marched for their rights. On June 28, 1970, 5,000 to 10,000 homosexuals (mass media estimates) marched up Sixth Avenue to Central Park in New York, proclaiming their new pride and solidarity and protesting laws that make homosexual acts between consenting adults illegal and social conditions that make it impossible for homosexuals to display affection in public, maintain jobs, or rent apartments. There were also marches in Los Angeles and Chicago and a Gay-in on the Boston Commons. The Rev. Troy Perry, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles, and two lesbians began a fast.
Lesbians in New York marched behind the banner »Lesbians Unite«. One tall blonde girl, who marched with her shoulders back and a ready smile, wore a gigantic sign »I am a lesbian and I am beautiful"; her picture was carried by hundreds of papers across the country. Although the call was not put out to women's liberation groups, a few feminists—even members of NOW—did join the lesbians without the benefit of distinguishing banners or signs. One woman from WITCH was confronted in her apartment building about her participation. She refused to justify her actions by saying she was not a lesbian, but rather a feminist, realizing that such a distinction would be a put down of her lesbian sisters.
Women's liberation should consider lesbianism a total life style that is valid in itself, not simply a matter of sexual union. In terms of their experience, lesbians have a great deal to offer the women's liberation movement since they live independently of men and form bonds based on much more equitable .... Also, a number of lesbians have been .... have children and so doubly understand the....f the lone woman.
..................................as she wants and needs to live, indicates that sex roles and attributes are learned or arbitrary, not natural. The lesbian foreshadows a time when individuals will create themselves from the total range of human qualities and not limit themselves to those ascribed by culture's reading of their biology.
When faced with actually developing those male-identified traits necessary for independent survival, many women are ambivalent; they feel threatened; they have no idea of how to go about acquiring independence. The lesbian has learned the hard way. Now the feminist must start learning. Lesbians develop an awareness of the reality of independence at an early age. When you are in conflict with society, you need all the assets you can get. Independence from men means total responsibility for self, for a love relationship, and even for children.
Women who oppose the basic social notion that a woman should have a man must realize that what this actually means is: if you do not have a man around, you must be prepared to take total responsibility for your life. Women must set their own goals because they will no longer be merely supporters of men's goals. Therefore, a middle-class woman, for example, must consider higher education, study opportunities for promotions and pensions, and learn about real estate, insurance, politics, banking, and stocks. She will also have to respond to the smaller challenges like caring for a car, understanding simple mechanical and electrical appliances, painting, carpentry, and doing the budget. And naturally she will have to open her own doors and light her own cigarettes. Life becomes greatly expanded. Responsibilities both small and large multiply. Because the lesbian was not trying to interest men and probably rejected much limiting and damaging advice, she has an advantage over the feminist. She knows how to survive as a loner.
Equality in emotional-sexual relationships is another feminist ideal that makes an investigation of lesbian relationships important for women's liberation. Men find it difficult really to accept women as equals. Behind every man is a woman, men say, and that is the way it has always been. It will be a long time, it seems, before men will be willing to give up their positions of power, prestige, knowledge, and privilege. A few are trying and may be into men's liberation, but they are often ridiculed by other men who consider them less than men. Men want to be accepted in the male society of club-rooms; it is important for a man to be a man's man. That means being in control of one's family, not being equal partners. Thus, in the average heterosexual relationship the woman is still forced to give up many career and educational possibilities to support her husband and be a good wife. She is also expected to give up her friends and associate with the wives of her husband's friends, robbing herself of much stimulation in areas that might have interested her.
Feminists who have men in their lives and are free to demonstrate and fight for equality complain that the wonderful feelings of independence, self-possession, and self-determination they have around other women are shot down when they come home and are dominated by men in bed. No matter what the feminist does, the physical act throws both woman and man back into role playing: the male as conqueror asserts his masculinity and the female is expected to be a passive receiver. All of her politics are instantly shattered.
Love has only recently been analyzed in terms of power, a type of mass domination of women through personal domination in heterosexual love relationships. As long as women wait, accept, and succumb to domination physically, there is no hope that they will be free emotionally. Because there are very few men at this time willing to work at truly equal relationships, certain radical women's groups have turned with an almost religious dedication to celibacy or masturbation. Some have made a conscious or political decision to be lesbians.
Freedom from sexual domination by men has left lesbians free to pursue other areas of interest, albeit guilt and fear have in many ways kept them from achieving. Thus, when men call all women who succeed lesbians, there is an unconscious recognition that these women are not devoting 100 percent of their efforts to their duty of serving men. Man goes without love, puts it second, or treats it casually because his life is so much greater than the home. It extends to the community, the nation, the world, the universe. He not only brings the bacon home, he brings the outside world home for his woman to experience vicariously. He has a much greater love than that for his wife. The wife, on the other hand, may have no other love.
Love between equals provides the most fulfilling relationship. Anything short of equality in a love relationship is destructive, as one person usually gives always and lacks fulfillment. That one is almost invariably the woman. Total love is total vulnerability and unselfishness and should allow both parties to receive maximum pleasure. A mutual giving and taking provides a mutual renewal. If a woman always gives emotionally, which is her accepted role—in and out of love-making—her emotions are not replenished, certainly not through material goods, as the system would indicate. An equal experience is an enrichment shared by two lovers; this can be two women who instinctively know each other's needs and honor them.
The lesbian both expands and curtails her activities to work things out so that both partners have maximum opportunities. She sees very clearly that there are no specific roles, that the song-and-dance about men's jobs often merely keeps women from performing tasks that are stimulating and interesting. Lesbians have found that equality requires a great deal of honesty and understanding. In the absence of roles there is no prescribed way of thinking or acting. Everything is open for new consideration, from who will wash the dishes, to who will aggress in love, to who will relocate for whom. There are no traditional, social, legal, or moral statutes to base decisions on. Like all freedoms, freedom from role playing requires work. Each couple has to find its own way and there is no »how to do it« book available.
Unquestionably decisions made with the understanding of two people are more difficult than those made by a single person—the man. Decisions between equals are always difficult and can bring on a new kind of stress. But usually it is the kind of stress that results in healthy decisions and not in practiced reactions. The equality can lead to flexibility, change, and growth.
What happens when big decisions come along, such as one woman accepting a job promotion that requires moving? Because of the simplicity of the heterosexual role as it is currently structured, the woman would simply follow the man. However, in a homosexual relationship, where both women usually have careers, the second woman is not necessarily obligated to follow; with no marriage, no children, no common property, no legal binds, and no social pressures or supports to keep them together, lesbians can and often do split. What happens here is something for feminists to observe carefully, an object lesson for the future difficulties that will come with working out the most challenging relationship of all.
With equality in relationships with men so difficult, many woman are now considering separatism—in whole or in part—as a temporary way of life. This would mean that during the struggle men and women remain apart to discover who they are and what they are capable of. A frightening idea, perhaps, but separatism for a time may be healthy. In active relationships with men, women often spend more time and energy fighting old ways of relating and defining themselves, rather than creating new ones.
A vital relationship between lesbians and women's liberation is in their mutual interest in a time of changing relationships. Lesbians are the women who potentially can demonstrate life outside the male power structure that dominates marriage as well as every other aspect of our culture. Thus, the lesbian movement is not only related to women's liberation, it is at the very heart of it. The attitude toward lesbians is an indicator by which to measure the extent of women's actual liberation. On the other hand, women's liberation undoubtedly addresses the deepest interests of lesbians, who have the greatest stake in women's social, economic, and cultural progress, as they will never benefit from the rewards and privileges that normally come only with male relationships.
Del Martin, a founder of the Daughters of Bilitis, defines the interests lesbians have in common with women's liberation:
- By her very nature, the lesbian is cast in the role of breadwinner and will be a member of society's working force for the rest of her life. Because of (women's) traditionally low-paying work, the lesbian is very much concerned with equal job opportunities and equal pay. Because of her anticipated longevity in the working force, she is concerned with equal opportunities and for professional careers for women. Because she is taxed as a single person at the highest rate, regardless of commitments, the lesbian is also concerned with tax deductions for head of houschoi4i Because she may be a working mother and alonefshe has a definitle stake in proposals for child-care centers. Because of social pressures against manifestations of lesbianism, she may even have need for birth control information, and/or abortion. Economically and family-wise, the lesbian is very much tied to the Women's Movement.
With so many strong common grievances, women's liberation should expect lesbians to enter the movement in greater numbers than in other organizations and in greater proportion than in the general population. And they will be vocal, even on those relatively establishment-type demands that concern them. If the relationship between women's liberation and lesbianism can be dealt with intellectually and without emotional fear and prejudice, lesbians could become the bulwark of the movement instead of its Achilles' heel.
Recognition of the validity of the lesbian life style and acceptance of lesbian activism in women's liberation is crucial to the women's movement's ultimate goal—a new, harmonious, cooperative, nonauthoritarian society in which men and women are free to be themselves. To end the oppression of the lesbian is to admit of a wider range of being and acting under the generic name »woman«. It is a cause that must be undertaken by women's liberation if women are truly to free themselves.