Separating Lesbian Theory from Feminist Theory, by Cheshire Calhoun

Separating Lesbian Theory from Feminist Theory

written by Cheshire Calhoun
Vol. 104, No. 3 (Apr., 1994), pp. 558-581
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Article Stable URL:
To be used for educational purposes only.
First, lesbianism ought not to be read solely as resistance to patriarchal male-female relationships. One misses a good deal of what it means to live life as a lesbian as well as much of the political significance of lesbian practices by doing so. Second, even if empirically and historically heterosexual dominance and patriarchy are completely intertwined, it does not follow from this fact that the collapse of patriarchy will bring about the collapse of heterosexual dominance.10 Heterosexual society may simply adapt to new social conditions. Thus it is a mistake for feminists to assume that work to end gender subordination will have as much payoff for lesbians as it would for heterosexual women.

Not hate, rational disagreement.

This is another throwback from August 2010, brought to you by special request.


Look, you don’t have to believe me, but I do not hate transsexuals. I am not afraid of them. It’s not a fucking phobia. I believe firmly that transsexuals have the right to pursue life on their own terms and to be free from harassment, violence, and other forms of social terrorism. In fact, if we were IRL and someone started talking shit about all trans people, I’d put the liberal smack-down on their ass. I’d be all: the oppressive gender binary is whack and sex roles are for tools, fools, get yo’ mind right! Or something like that. But seriously, I’m not trying to be malicious and I do not like hate-speech on my blog.

When I criticize trans politics and ideologies, it’s not motivated by hate. It’s motivated by rational disagreement with the ideas, in no particular order:

  1. that there is NO difference between bio males and trans men or between bio females and trans women
  2. that anyone can transcend their gendered social conditioning, or ERASE internalization of their past conditioning
  3. that g/jender identity has a biological basis or is an otherwise essential trait of humanity
  4. that it is politically and socially unproblematic for individual people to voluntarily pass as members of lower social class (male to female, white to black, able-bodied as physically disabled)
  5. that individual solutions (sex reassignment surgery) can materially impact structural inequalities (coercive forces of gender normalization)

Thinking trans people are freaks or immoral or don’t deserve human rights etc. is NOT the same as believing that trans survival techniques (and the I-dentity movement) fall short of political and/or social progress.

“Let’s do a thought experiment and imagine, for a moment, that reliable scientific evidence for, say, the biological origin of male violence emerges. Let’s assume that this evidence is completely incontrovertible and undeniably true. What will feminists do in response? Well, firstly, they might give up. I don’t think this is likely, though it would certainly be very disheartening to women (such as myself) who have based their entire philosophy on the assumption that social construction is all. Secondly, they might turn to science for a solution. This option is so ludicrous to me that I had never even considered it before yesterday, but I suppose we might as well have a bit of fun with it. So, even supposing that the technology exists to “correct” whatever biological thing it is that causes male violence,[4] how would it be implemented? How would feminists get control of the technology and convince everyone else to let them do it? Who would decide how to use it, and who to use it on? etc. etc. The very idea is farcical.[5]

In fact I think what would probably happen is that feminists, after the initial disappointment, would go back to doing what they were doing before the announcement: i.e., working to reduce the social and cultural factors that work to enforce women’s subordination (which, unlike biological factors, UNDENIABLY EXIST). Because even if there are biological factors involved, reducing social and cultural factors will make a real difference to women’s lives. This is what we can change, and what feminists have been changing for years, with some degree of success.[6] So in other words, caring about the science at all would have been a bit of a waste of time and energy.”

LESBIAN matters.

“That it is a Lesbian story is of great import. It details so much about the teller and her perspective. That she was a girl and is a woman. That she knows what it means to be an odd girl out to one degree or another. That she has hoped and yearned for – and hopefully known – the love of a woman. That she herself has loved a woman and knows what it means to love a woman as a woman.

It tells you that there is a high degree of probability that the Lesbian storyteller is a survivor and a fighter. And she has lived to tell, earned the right to tell. Storytelling may be the very thing that has saved her.”

A Woman's Country


“But some survive. Many of us have lived to tell our stories, to create Lesbian texts, to read Lesbian texts, even to write commentaries and criticisms of Lesbian texts. All of these activities must be pluralized, multiplied, complicated, and pluralized again, because there is no single, narrow, one-sentence definition of “The Lesbian.” The sexologists may have been the ones to name us, but we can, and do, create ourselves. Our of a mishmash of disinformation, misinformation and outright lies, each Lesbian constructs some story about who she is and who she might someday be…”

― Julia Penelope, Call Me Lesbian: Lesbian Lives, Lesbian Theory

Everyday I work my hardest to tell Lesbian stories, starting with mine. Even if I’m only able to tell them to myself for now. Even if I’m barely able to tell them to myself.

That it is a Lesbian story is of great import. It details…

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Dusk Is Falling

My email to Matt Mullenweg, owner of Automattic and Developer of WordPress:

Dear Matt,

I assume you are aware that popular blogger Gallus Mag of GenderTrender ( has been locked out of her blog and no longer has access to her account after a concerted campaign by transgender activists and their supporters. This is deeply concerning to me. The tensions between transgender issues, feminist politics and lesbian concerns are fraught and seemingly increasing rather than decreasing. Debates are heated. Opinions vary widely. That does not make it okay to silence dissenting voices. GenderTrender is a blog that is dedicated to exploring transgender politics from a trans-critical perspective – from a questioning perspective. Not everyone likes this. Not everyone has to. The blog does not support or condone violence against transpeople. There are no threats made against transpeople, though there have been plenty of documented threats made against Gallus Mag and…

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Sex matters.

1. Sex and gender are different.

Sex and gender are not spelled alike or pronounced alike. They are two different words with two very different meanings:

According to definitions proposed by the Institute of Medicine (23), “sex” is a biological construct dictated by the presence of sex chromosomes, and in animals and humans, the presence of functional reproductive organs.  “Gender” is a cultural construct and refers to behaviors which might be directed by specific stimuli (visual, olfactory, etc) or by psychosocial expectations that result from assigned or perceived sex.

(bold and color added) In pursuit of scientific excellence – sex matters, by Virginia M. Miller. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol, published ahead of print February 10, 2012, doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00073.2012.

2. Sex does not cause gender.

The presence of female reproductive organs in a particular body does not mean that a person necessarily likes pink, painting her nails, talking about her feelings, and nurturing small children. Sex…

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Feminism is not a lifestyle. Feminism is not an I-dentity.

Feminism is not about personal self-assessments of empowerment wherein individual women learn to feel good about themselves–while women as a class are substantially deprived of  intellectual authority and socio-political influence.

Feminism is not about formal equality with men, such that women emulate male behavior and strive for male-defined “success.”

Feminism is not about the infinite inclusion of social causes within our purview.

Feminism is not about fantasies of revolution, mysticism, or the divine feminine.

Feminism is political. Feminism’s subject is the class:women.

Feminist analysis is directed at political structures, institutions, and principles of social organization.

Feminism deconstructs, with ultimate the purpose of destroying, artificial power relations between the sexes.

Feminist action aims to improve the status and lives of women as a class by confronting the social structures that support male supremacy.