Thursday, 21 June 2012

Getting political about sex

Thanks to Emma at The Lady Garden for alerting me to a true piece of bile from Britain's own kinda what-Michael-Laws-would-write-like-if-he-was-a-lesbian-feminist, Julie Bindel.

Go and read it for yourself.  I'll content myself with deconstructing this quote, which is the crux of the matter I think:
For bisexual women living under the tyranny of sexism, choosing to be lesbian is a liberatory act. Those of us who grew up in a time and context where there was a political analysis of sexuality were able to make a positive choice to be a lesbian. I believed then, and I believe now, that if bisexual women had an ounce of sexual politics, they would stop sleeping with men.
Now, I have no problem with people choosing to sleep with whoever they damn well please, provided it's consensual.  Are there women who feel that deciding all their sexual partners will be women is desirable because we live in a heterosexist and sexist world?  I'm pretty sure there are, and that decision is their own to make.

But telling other women who they can and can't sleep with in order to have "an ounce of sexual politics"?  Oh, sorry Julie, f**k off.

In one fell swoop, you write off all women who have sexual relationships with men as not being "real feminists."  That's right, all heterosexual women, bisexual women who have sexual relationships with men, presumably any women who have relationships with transmen?  The only place where sexual politics is adjudicated is your bed (or anywhere else you like to play with lovers).  Not in your activism, or the way you mother, or how you participate in paid or voluntary work, or how you support and interact with other women.  Nope, just in bed. 

Sexual politics is about how we live in the world, the ways we challenge gender inequality, the ways we try to confront oppression, power and privilege based on gender (and for those of us who know oppression is multi-faceted, other kinds of power and privilege too).  Who we sleep with is part of it for many feminists for sure - I've never slept with an anti-feminist person, and I can't imagine I ever will.   But if I desire and sleep with a man, does that cancel out my more than two decades work in Refuges and sexual violence agencies?  Does it cancel out the feminist marches I've organised, the women's festivals I've helped run, the hundreds of protests I've attended?  The very idea is insulting and ridiculous.

The roots of biphobia within lesbian culture are deep.  Some of my best friends are lesbians - and a couple of my favourite ex-lovers - and I know many, many lesbians who try very hard to challenge biphobia whenever they see it.  I also know many, many bisexual women who hide their sexuality, and who carry an enormous amount of pain because of how they have been treated in lesbian-dominated environments.

The bright spark in this article are the comments.  It's wonderful to see such biphobic nonsense being consigned to the dustbin of the 1980s - where it belongs.  Julie, there's another kind of "political analysis of sexuality" - the idea that respect, mutuality and consent are critical to sex being pleasurable and ethical - whoever we choose to make love with.  I'll take that over being told I'm not a real feminist because I've slept with men and might again.

UPDATE: Anthea has just very gently pointed out to me that my phrasing concerning transmen above is not very clear.  Apologies if anyone has read that as my doing an Anne Tolley and not accepting transmen are men.  I should have stated that due to Julie Bindel's repeated and vicious transphobic hate - which has included some of the most revolting statements I've seen published, I'm not clear about how she would view women in relationships with transmen.  Thanks Anthea.


Amanda said...

You have one quote from one lesbian and are willing to generalise that there is entrenched biphobia within the lesbian community? Yet you readily admit that the lesbians you know are not biphobic. How are you qualifying your accusation?
Why is the entire lesbian community being attacked for the words of one woman? The whole heterosexual community isnt being blamed for producing Michael Laws.
The staunchest of feminst women I know are actually heterosexual. They go home and sleep with their male partners and do so without judgement. They acknowledge heterosexism willingly so whats to mind?
What bites me about your post is that not once do you acknowledge the privilege that comes with being bisexual. Do you even see it I wonder?
Being feminist isnt based on a womans sexuality. It is ridiculous to assert lesbians dont think bisexual women can be feminist on the basis of the words of one.

LudditeJourno said...

Hi Amanda, I'm really glad you are continuing to read my writing, even though my critique of some lesbian behaviour towards bisexual women clearly irks you. Hopefully over time the varied experiences I'm writing about will illuminate lesbian privilege within queer women's spaces (as in failing to recognise the ways in which bisexuality it trivialised and invisibilised because it's not your experience) out there. Have a look through previous posts on these issues if you want to see more, including the times I name and consider when bisexuality privileges my experiences in comparison to lesbian experience.
RE: why Julie Bindel is important - she has a huge public platform, she writes in a variety of queer spaces, she espouses discriminatory views very familiar to me and many other bisexual women because we hear them repeatedly.
Thanks, LJ