Lesbian and feminist are not synonyms (or “political lesbians” are not lesbians)

I don’t know how many times I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Lesbians are just lesbians. There is nothing inherently feminist about them. If you’ve never had the misfortune of meeting a male-identified lesbian, allow Ariel Levy to introduce you to the woman-hating attitudes of some lesbians in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs. Lesbian is not a synonym for feminist. Lesbian is not even synonymous with actually loving women.

Still, there is a long history of lesbian feminist literature encouraging heterosexual women to declare themselves as lesbians. One of the most famous is a pamphlet entitled Love Your Enemy? The Debate Between Heterosexual Feminism and Political Lesbianism. It’s essentially a political statement encouraging Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) women to cease participation in heterosexual relationships. This is followed by letters of response.

Love Your Enemy? boldly asserts:

We do think that all feminists can and should be political lesbians. Our definition of a political lesbian is a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men. It does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women.

Surely, no woman is obliged to engage in any sexual activity, but what is specifically lesbian about a woman’s political rejection of heterosexuality??

Framing woman-identified feminism as “political lesbianism” misappropriates lesbian experience by modifying the concept of “lesbian” such that the fundamental characteristic of lesbianism— eroticism between women– is no longer required. I am sorry to say that it feels very much like tacking “trans” onto the front of “woman” and insisting that the meaning of “woman” is not altered. As illustration, the mantra “trans women ARE women” falsely posits “trans” as an adjective that describes an additional characteristic of “women” who simultaneously possess the qualifications necessary for membership in the larger group. An adjective is used to provide more information about an existing noun, not less. “Trans,” however, is not an adjective but a modifier that actually serves to eliminate an axiomatic characteristic of the host word “woman.” The effect of adding “trans” to “woman” is to intentionally erase the relevancy of girlhood socialization on “women.” Similarly, the effect of adding “political” to “lesbian,” is to negate sexual connection between women from the meaning of “lesbian.”

“Political lesbians” are not lesbians at all. They are simply women who reject heterosexuality on a political basis. Lesbians also reject heterosexuality, but our motivations for doing so are not primarily political in nature, they are sexual.

Lesbian and feminist are not synonyms.