My feminist consciousness means everything to me. Reading feminist theory which indicates how heterosexuality is one of the primary ways male superiority/female inferiority thrives has played an integral role in causing me to question its legitimacy. Lesbian feminist analysis was vital during my personal consciousness raising experience because it caused me to conceptualize both patriarchy and heterosexuality as problematic to female personhood. It was when I had this latter thought—one which led me to understand that patriarchy is mobilized and metabolized by the institution of heterosexuality which ensures that men always have access to female bodies—that I no longer wanted to identity as a heterosexual woman. This led to my conscious choice to identify as a lesbian.
While many feminists likely agree with the aforementioned consciousness raising process, some will probably disagree with its product: my ability to cite myself as a lesbian by choice. When this choice can be made, individuals who oppose homosexuality feel entitled to argue that one who chooses to be lesbian could just as easily choose to be heterosexual. These homophobic individuals would likely make this argument based on the false premise that heterosexuality is natural, ordained by “God” and therefore good. Yet while an individual’s choosing to be a lesbian might entail these types of assimilationist, oppressive assessments, that is no reason for me to accept compulsory heterosexuality.
While I enjoy and encourage dynamic dialogue amongst feminists regarding issues of identity and sexual orientation, I do have qualms about women asserting that another woman cannot call herself a lesbian by choice. Becoming a lesbian was indeed a choice for me. The choice resulted from reading more and more feminist books and becoming aware of the reality of my individual oppression and the collective oppression of women. While I had read feminist literature sporadically in high school and always identified as a feminist, I didn’t study it intensely or extensively enough to realize how thorough and pervasive male rule really is both in America and throughout the world until last year. Once I grasped how perversely powerful the problem was as well as the fact that the root cause of the oppression was patriarchy and the men who purport it, I no longer felt that it was right for me to participate in heterosexuality. If I choose the identity position “lesbian” and another lesbian (or anyone else) says my choice isn’t valid because it would only be real if I was born that way, doesn’t that constitute a patriarchal act because it precludes me from the right to self-definition? If I say that I’m a lesbian feminist, shouldn’t that be enough to legitimate the idea that I actually am? Shouldn’t I be able to examine and articulate what I am in terms of how my identity and sexual orientation intersect rather than having another person assert authority over me by determining whether my lesbianism is authentic or accurate?
Yesterday, I watched an incredible documentary which covered some aspects of the women’s liberation movement that unfolded in America. One of my favorite scenes from the film transpired when a group of women openly challenged a male editor who was publishing sexist content in a notable magazine responsible for shaping ideas regarding how women should appear and operate in the world. At one point, a feminist asserted that the images of Jacqueline Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor found in the magazine were unrealistic as the average American woman did not have the economic power necessary to buy the expensive pearls that these women wore. I was deeply impressed with this feminist’s assertion yet found a statement posed by another feminist even more powerful. In indicting the editor for his commitment to publishing patriarchal propaganda, she noted that it was problematic for him to depict photos of privileged women wearing jewels because it created the idea that other women needed to find a man who would give them those gems. Hearing this woman speak induced an intense merriment within me because it confirmed my understanding that many other feminists understand how patriarchal power sustains itself by perpetuating the idea that women need men to create and validate their identity. In this case, the man would make a woman a “woman” by causing her to rely on him to buy material goods which then function as proof that she is a “person” (because in capitalist regimes, one’s personhood is made plain when she can demonstrate an ongoing ability to access and display wealth). Moreover, in these capitalist regimes, it is men-not women-that tend to have access to the money necessary to confer personhood on their girlfriends or wives by buying them jewels. It is these three intersecting regimes-patriarchy, heterosexuality, and capitalism-which have engendered my deep disgust with the dominant discourse and its ongoing attempt to make relationships between men and women about the coercion and control of those in the latter group. This disgust was the springboard for my decision to be a lesbian. I make the identity position valid through my individual act of asserting it. No one else can create or negate the form of subjectivity I choose to embody by imposing their own opinions and ideas about sexual orientation upon me.