#FTF: 7 ways heterosexuality is still compulsory

In this week’s installment of Feminist Theory Fridays, Susan Cox explores compulsory heterosexuality and the lesbian continuum.

Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are Alright.”

Justin Trudeau lived up to his liberal dreamboat reputation by joining the Toronto Pride March last month. With a rainbow maple leaf on his cheek and Pride flag in-hand, Trudeau offered a few vague platitudes:

“We are celebrating what is extraordinary about Canada, the inclusivity that makes us great, the respect for each other and a willingness to celebrate our identities.”

Notably, Trudeau’s empty politician-speak was no different than most of the political rhetoric surrounding Pride this year, where a specific message about homosexuality has been replaced with a general emphasis on “being yourself” and “living your truth.”

The contemporary queer movement has watered-down Pride’s political struggle to “celebration of identities” and the ability of individuals to authentically express “who they truly are.” In this context, oppression is not understood as systemic, but simply what happens to people who are a considered strange/deviant (aka “queer”) because they don’t fit into the dominant categories of self-definition.

The refusal of queer politics to name the systems of power responsible for punishing individuals who transgress social norms (like gays and lesbians) is disappointing.

Adrienne Rich’s 1980 essay, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” illustrates the way in which homophobic violence is connected to patriarchy. Heterosexuality, as the basis of patriarchy, demands conformity in order maintain male power. Patriarchy has yet to fall, so despite current liberal lip-service to “inclusivity” and Facebook’s rainbow reactions, here are seven ways heterosexuality remains compulsory

1) No, you’re not born this way

Rich criticizes the prevailing understanding of lesbian existence as simply a “sexual preference” or “innate orientation,” arguing instead that heterosexuality must be recognized as a political institution that enforces women’s “emotional, erotic loyalty and subservience to men.”

This is one of the key ways feminism demonstrates that “the personal is political.” Sexuality is not merely a personal preference or something limited to to the bedroom — rather, it is foundational to social relations between the sexes and male power under patriarchy

2) Heterosexuality is the norm

Rich claims that, although heterosexuality is treated as natural and normal in our society, this doesn’t tell the whole story.

She argues that women are channeled into marriage and heterosexual romance through “covert socializations and overt forces” — “pressures ranging from the selling of daughters to the silences of literature to the images of the television screen.”

Women are taught from a young age that their value comes from being sexually attractive to men and that it is a primary means for their survival. This continues, despite the fact that studies have found that lesbians actually make more money than heterosexual women and that unmarried women are more likely to live longer, healthier, and happier lives.

Hmm… It could perhaps be the case that…

3) Heterosexuality is the norm because it benefits men

Rich argues that heterosexuality serves male power in a number of ways. Chiefly, that it aids men in securing women’s unpaid domestic and reproductive labour. Another is that heterosexuality allows men to use women as objects in male transactions as “gifts.” We see this in  practices like pimping, arranged marriage, and the use of women as entertainers to facilitate male deals (e.g. the wife-hostess, the cocktail waitress required to dress for male sexual titillation, call girls, Playboy “bunnies,” geishas, and secretaries.

Rich contends that the taboo around homosexuality and the fact it is marginalized fails to accurately explain the cultural prohibition on lesbian existence, which can only be understood by recognizing that the entire reason heterosexuality is compulsory is because it benefits men.

This means that homosexual oppression can never be fully understood without a feminist analysis of patriarchy.

So, no. Lesbians aren’t oppressed because society is made up of prudes. And homophobia as some kind of sex-neutral cultural force cannot fully describe what’s going on. According to Rich, gay males and lesbians (though both stigmatized) have a completely different relationship to the machinery of sexual oppression, which exists in order to exploit the female class

4) Lesbians are socially punished

The penalties for resisting the patriarchal order are severe. Men may attempt to reinstate their sex-right over lesbian women through sexual harassment or even “corrective rape.” Lesbian writer Jocelyn Macdonald captures this scene:

“I can’t walk down the street without some man telling me that I look unfuckable. I can’t hold my sweetie’s hand in public without some man yelling ‘Why don’t you let a real man try? I could fuck you straight, girl.’”

Rich notes that, throughout history, “attacks against unmarried women have ranged from aspersion and mockery to deliberate gynocide, including the burning and torturing of millions of widows and spinsters during the witch persecutions of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries in Europe.”

Lesbian feminist theorist Marilyn Frye argues that “access is one of the faces of power;” so, when women deny men sexual access, it is an affront to their male power. “The slave who decides to exclude the master from her is declaring herself not a slave,” Frye writes in her 1978 essay, “Some Reflections on Separatism and Power.”

Many women have learned, through first-hand experience, that sexual rejection of men is punished. Turn a man down at a bar, and his smile fades as he says, “You’re an ugly bitch, anyway.”

This means it’s not going to be “Asexual Visibility Day” that liberates asexual women from being labelled as “frigid prudes” — we’re going to have to challenge male sexual entitlement

5) Lesbians are erased

Lesbians are erased in two ways: Historically and politically. Rich writes:

“The destruction of records and memorabilia and letters documenting the realities of lesbian existence must be taken very seriously as a means of keeping heterosexuality compulsory for women, since what has been kept from our knowledge is joy, sensuality, courage, and community, as well as guilt, self-betrayal, and pain.”

Women are channeled into heterosexuality when lesbianism is erased from our history and consciousness because it is removed as an option. Lesbians are erased politically when it is subsumed into gay male politics or a generalized, sex-neutral “queer movement.” Rich argues that lesbian political interests cannot be fully addressed when lumped in with the interests of gay males, as a political struggle seeking to end homophobia in general.

The contemporary queer movement presents an even more egregious example of lesbian erasure through “inclusivity,” as queer identity includes practically everyone and everything, today. “Queer” used as a stand in for anything that is at odds with what is “normal” or legitimate. Therefore, things like wearing bizarre clothes or being a sexual sadist can qualify a person as “queer.” The golden rule is: If you identify as queer, so mote it be!

Lesbians disappear in an ever-expanding alphabet of queer identities, along with their specific political interests as women.

6) Lesbian sexuality has been colonized

I was mortified as a teenager when, as I gave my girlfriend a quick kiss, a man driving by yelled “Whooooo!” out his car window. This was just another friendly reminder from patriarchy that, as a woman, you can never escape the male gaze.

Women loving women are forced to be careful with any public expressions of affection. They need to watch out, not just for lesbian-hating bigots, but also for men who claim to “love” lesbians (aka have watched a lot of porn).

According to Rich, since it’s no longer cool to burn women who refuse heterosexuality at the stake, the multi-billion dollar porn industry has become a potent tool for enforcing male supremacy. Even lesbianism had to be “for men,” so pornography colonized lesbian sexuality, turning it into a performance for the voyeuristic male gaze.

The pornification of the lesbian experience relegated it to the sexual realm. Rich contends that patriarchy has limited women’s sexuality by excluding the joys of female comradeship from the erotic. She therefore created the term “lesbian continuum” to describe a range of “woman-identified experience.”

7) Lesbians are now considered bigots for refusing penis

As Marilyn Frye noted in 1982, lesbians have the added burden of “being assumed by many to be a morally-depraved man-hating bigot.”

It’s nothing new for men to call lesbians and feminists “man haters.” It is new, however, for people who claim to be progressives to accuse women of bigotry for sexually refusing males (people with penises). “Genital preferences” are said to be “transphobic” because this refers to a sexuality based on sex and not a potential partner’s self-conception. Lesbians are therefore guilted into thinking they need to be re-educated — that they must learn to be “open to the possibility” of having sex with males, so as to honour the identities of any potential sexual partner they may meet.

The situation for women’s sexuality looks grim. While heterosexual compulsion is strong, Rich believes it can be resisted. In fact, she says it has been resisted — as demonstrated by women throughout history: “witches, femmes seules, marriage resisters, spinsters, autonomous widows, and/or lesbians [who] have managed on varying levels not to collaborate.”

And to those who resist, Frye offers some fortitude: “If you are doing something that is so strictly forbidden by the patriarchs, you must be doing something right.”

Susan Cox
Susan Cox

Susan Cox is a feminist writer and academic living in the United States. She teaches in Philosophy.

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  • Bruce Gilchrist

    Sometimes those of us who are male and politically and psycho emotionally supportive of the rights of gay and lesbian individuals find ourselves marginalized by unbalanced articles such at this one. I am aware of the negative elements of the patriarchy and also suffer from its narrowness-not as much as females perhaps but in ways I think many women don’t understand. Heterosexuality has to be the “norm default” for the survival of the species-that much must be obvious. In that sense there isn’t a conspiracy to suffocate those individuals who are born with non heterosexual traits. We as a society have a long way to go until inclusion not only for sexual orientations but for ethnic differences and respect for individuals with disabilities. We have evolved with certain gender based sexual roles biologically and different mating strategies-something we share with all living species. The problem as I see it is that the female way of being in the world has been denigrated as inferior and unworthy for thousands of years-I place the blame at the feet of religions all over the world who have promoted this ideas for their own benefits. Tribal groups -hunter gathers- in the Amazon basin have a mutual respect for each genders roles in the way that their society is organized. There is the reality of the species in its purest form. I don’t know how non heterosexual individuals are treated. I find myself becoming somewhat weary of the on going guerrilla war promoted by articles like this against anything that isn’t 100% compliant with the reality as described by the more hostile fringes

    • Alienigena

      “individuals who are born with non heterosexual traits.”

      Did you miss point one in the article?

      Quote
      Rich criticizes the prevailing understanding of lesbian existence as simply a “sexual preference” or “innate orientation,” arguing instead that heterosexuality must be recognized as a political institution that enforces women’s “emotional, erotic loyalty and subservience to men.”
      End Quote

      Some lesbians assert that lesbianism is a choice, a political statement, for example, Julie Bindel.
      http://www.newstatesman.com/society/2014/07/julie-bindel-theres-no-gay-gene-and-i-love-idea-i-chose-be-lesbian

      “…University of Utah psychologist Lisa Diamond and others demonstrates that women have greater “erotic plasticity.” Their sexual orientation can be shaped by cultural influences, altered by positive or negative experiences and intensified by feelings of love or attachment.”
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/14/lesbianism-genetics-gay-women-sexuality_n_1597148.html

      Your comment just reads like another “what about the men”. Are you going to talk about the bias of divorce laws towards mothers next. Your comment is just really offensive given this article is about the erasure of lesbians as a group and compulsory heterosexuality. Unless you take the time to read about the experience of lesbians and all women in patriarchy I am not interested in what you have to say. The hostility that lesbians get from men (straight and gay) and from trans identified biological males is extreme and frequently violent or violent in tone. Look up the term ‘cotton ceiling’.

    • Zuzanna Smith

      If heterosexuality is so natural why does it need to be so strictly enforced?

      The little Mormon girl who was cut off while coming out in church was treated that way because men cannot deal with females rejecting them, ever, it is a personal affront to them since they are raised to believe that women are their sexual property.

    • marv

      “Heterosexuality has to be the “norm default” for the survival of the species-that much must be obvious.”

      The species wouldn’t become extinct if heterosexuality was demoted. What a hysterical view you have. Try tranquilizers.

      “We have evolved with certain gender based sexual roles biologically and different mating strategies-something we share with all living species.”

      Male power has produced gender roles and mating strategies to dominate women. Evolution on its own doesn’t follow your confirmation bias.

      “Tribal groups -hunter gathers- in the Amazon basin have a mutual respect for each genders roles in the way that their society is organized. There is the reality of the species in its purest form.

      It is racist and sexist to romanticize stereotypes of indigenous cultures as uncorrupted from patriarchy by possessing an innate nature based wisdom – noble savage ideology. All societies have socially devised beliefs, values, roles and structures. They like us can’t be reduced to biologically determinations without distorting reality.

      It’s not only wearisome and unbalanced to put forward these narrow views but serves to further marginalize women’s quest for liberation from male supremacy. Stop being an advocate for the hostile phallic center of the world.

    • Topazthecat

      There is no real proof that ”we evolved with certain gender based sexual roles biologically and different mating strategies.” and why are you even reading this radical feminist site and posting this sexist BS here? humans are not fixed and unchangeable like simple animals and insects!

      Also there is a lot of evidence from sociologists and anthropologists that there are androgynous cultures. Many anthropologists like Walter Williams author of the award winning,The Spirit and The Flesh,and many other anthropologists have done field work for decades in places like Tahiti and Malaysia, women and men are encouraged to have androgynous roles there and they are not polarized into “opposite” categories and gender roles,and they are more alike in their personalities and behaviors. This is thoroughly explained in the good book, Manhood In The Making:Cultural Concepts Of Masculinity. And the men there unlike in our very gender divided,gender stereotyped, sexist male dominated society ,aren’t punished for being similar to women, they are encouraged and rewarded for it! And it’s in the very gender divided, gender stereotyped sexist male dominated societies where the sexes are polarized into “opposite” categories and gender roles that makes *more* gender differences! As I already explained,here are also a lot of studies by good parent child development psychologists that clearly demonstrate that female and male babies are actually born biologically more alike than different with very few differences,yet they are perceived and treated systematically very differently right from the moment of birth on from parents and other care givers.

      There is also tons of psychological studies from decades showing that most psychological differences between the sexes are very small in most areas and that most large differences are actually individual people differences. And there are also plenty of very good academic studies by communication professors and experts that have actually found very small differences in communication between women and men. Women and men are actually biologically and psychologically more alike than different and gender is mostly an artificial socially constructed category.It’s more like 90%. Our brains are actually more alike than different just(which is a miracle considering how the brain’s structure and function are shaped and changed from different life experiences and different learning and environments even adult brains) as our external genitals are and plenty of research shows that the structure and function of the brain can actually be changed by the interaction with different life long environments,different life long experiences,and social and cultural conditioning.

    • Hekate Jayne

      I lol at how you feel like this article is marginalizing you.

      We understand how males are affected by patriarchy. Really. You males get all of the advantages and none of the responsibility for anything. Rape isn’t your fault. All manner of male violence isn’t your fault. The planet being destroyed isn’t your fault. Males spend an inordinate amount of time explaining how they are victims, and how they are suffering, which is idiotic because males control everything.

      And you blame religion? You do know that males created religion as yet another tool to oppress. Go ahead and blame “religion”, like males didn’t create it, lol.

      And no one cares about “survival of the species”, dude. If women could control their own bodies and reproductive choices, we wouldn’t have 7 billion people on the planet. Males control our fucking reproduction, because you are parasitic, selfish, and entitled.

      You sound stupid. But males always do when they pontificate about the state of things. Because if you were honest, then you would have to change your own behavior. And males are way too lazy and privileged to do that.

    • Arum

      “We have evolved with certain gender based sexual roles biologically and different mating strategies-something we share with all living species.”

      No, we don’t. Go to another culture, and you won’t be able to ‘man’ any more than I would be able to ‘woman’. Who wears the make up, who covers their faces, who dances to get attention, etc, varies widely. There is no single ‘mating strategy’ that we have all adopted, it is entirely cultural. And many of your tribal hunter-gatherers, “the reality of the species in its purest form”, practice rape against pre-pubescent girls, as they can’t get pregnant. Is this your idea of ‘man’, of “mutual respect for each genders roles”? Stop romanticising people you consider to be less civilised than you. It’s you who don’t respect reality.

    • Lavender

      Get over yourself. Feminist analysis doesn’t marginalize you. It provides the tools for women to liberate themselves from men – including men like you who come here to tell radical feminists they don’t understand masculinity. Wanna bet? The best (and only legitimate) analysis of gender is what radical feminists AKA gender abolitionists live and breathe. While liberals are trying to make masculinity just a little bit more bearable, we’re the only ones trying to kick it in the balls. You should be thanking us, not whining like we owe you something. We don’t.

      Human beings for a very, very long time haven’t had a good reason to feel the need to grow our population. When’s the last time humans were so few in number that we had to worry about becoming extinct? Men have always wanted to rule and that means controlling the means of human production and that means using the bodies of women. Humans aren’t robots who just have to fuck and reproduce. Men will always try to dismiss the things that benefit them as natural and editable. Sorry to break it to you but you have no captive audience here!

    • susannunes

      Sex roles are not biological. They are totally social. You have “gender” and “sex” precisely backwards.

    • radwonka


      We have evolved with certain gender based sexual roles biologically and
      different mating strategies-something we share with all living species.”

      “different mating strategies”

      wut?

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b3cd0121470dae4b6687e9f22d057a554badb9bd02d9f749e6beb389cff64537.png

  • anne cameron

    Gee, Bruce, thanks for mansplaining the issue. I might never have understood it, otherwise.

  • I’m somewhat disappointed to see political lesbianism being promoted on FC again. I went through a long period of time exploring this concept and finally took a stand against it. It’s not true that anyone can choose their sexual orientation and it’s harmful to both gays and straights when we promote this theory as if it were reality. There are lots of things to like about Adrienne Rich’s essay–for example, she provides excellent analyses of the multiple types of male violence. She also demonstrates how heterosexuality has been institutionalized. However, heterosexuality is a real sexual orientation and we can differentiate our natural feelings from the culture that we’ve been indoctrinated into. To quote the blog post I wrote on this subject: “Heterosexuality is institutionalized, but it’s also a real sexual orientation. We can separate the institution from the sexual orientation by separating aspects of culture from people’s personal feelings. The institution of heterosexuality can be found in religion, law, language, and the arts; it’s located in many patriarchal institutions that give men power over women, such as forced marriage, prostitution, and the lower wages given to women for paid labor. These are some of the things Adrienne Rich gets right. However, the romantic and sexual feelings that straight women feel towards men are real feelings, they are not mere products of socialization. Socialization influences our behavior but it cannot construct a sexual orientation. Neither can women construct a sexual orientation by changing their politics. Most women are indeed heterosexual; homosexuals are a minority group. Stating this fact does not limit straight women to a life of being abused by men; male violence against women is a product of patriarchy, not a product of legitimate human sexual orientation. After the feminist revolution, women and men will likely still bond together in love relationships, but they will do so on equal footing.” It can be empowering for women to direct their energy toward the feminist revolution instead of taking care of men, but this should be called political celibacy, because it’s not homosexuality.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I think there is room for sexuality/sexual attraction that is hard-wired into people, as well as acknowledging that compulsory heterosexuality is a thing, and that humans are socialized into heterosexuality, under patriarchy. I also know women who have chosen lesbianism for political reasons, so what do we say to them?

      • Wombat

        Could be that bisexuality is a lot more common than most people would own up to?

    • Nan

      Thanks for this. You’ve written it much better that I could have. I am weary of claims such as “there are no heterosexual women, only women brainwashed by patriarchy”. I also felt that is what Susan Cox is hinting at, though not writing directly.

    • fxduffy

      Wow. Why would sexual attraction be anything but socialized?

      Since men are in a dominant social position, they have the power to eroticize both persons and their body parts. This is what sex is in this patriarchal culture. All sex, to one degree or another, conforms to this male defined sexuality. It’s unilateral. It demands an object. It is not subject-to-subject. It is what men do to women. It is how men act on women. It is how men rule women.

      It’s not some New Age phenomenon. Heterosexual women are no more naturally so than are lesbians. While socialization may not be absolute, it comes amazingly close as it can without turning women into robots. In fact, it works at so many different, distinct, and profound levels, that it is astounding that say 5% of women escape its tentacles.

      • Jeanne Deaux

        If all sexual attraction is socialization, how the fuck does an enforced-heterosexual culture produce gay and lesbian people?

        God.

    • Kendall Turtle

      I too disagree with this article but it’s always fascinating to me to see differing perspectives from my own.

      I personally believe that humans are probably bisexual by nature while leaning toward one sex more than the other, and that most of us suppress that sexual attraction to the same sex due to heterosexuality being compulsory. I would love to know you opinion on my idea 🙂

  • Spasmolytic

    Let me state the obvious: The vast majority of people are heterosexual because that guarantees the survival of our species.

    • radwonka

      There are too much humans on earth though.

    • By that extraordinarily simple logic, the vast majority of men on the planet are redundant since they’re not required to guarantee the survival of the species. Oh wait, they’re more than redundant — given how many members of the species men kill, they’re actually toxic, poisonous, cancerous (pick your label). Would you like to correct that biological aberration? Oh wait — maybe men are biologically hard-wired to kill in order to keep the population under control?? That must be it. But then, gosh, homosexuality must also be hard-wired into people for the same reason!!

  • radwonka

    off topic but…

    women’s unpaid domestic and reproductive labour”

    why do so many people call exploitation, including slavery, “unpaid labour”? just like emotional abuse is now called “emotional labour” or “sexual work”? Is the word “exploitation” not enough? because: even if it was “paid”, it still wouldn’t be a good thing. Would it really change something if it was “domestic paid labour” and “reproductive paid labour”? Because in both cases the hierarchies are still here, in both cases it’s still exploitation, in fact, hierarchies are harder to fight if money is seen as the main problem (or as a way to make hierarchies non existent). Just like men shouldn’t be seen as clients (if we think of society as a purely economical place…).

    Ex: Many labourers work hard to clean others houses and offices but they still get diseases and still have a difficult life (low salary, children, difficult “job”): money didn’t solve anything, it just made people (boss and the bourgeoisie/clients) more entitled to abuse others physical abilities. If marxists can’t see that one class acts like a spoiled brat and that the other one is abused…

    And worse, they can even blame workers (ie “it’s not my fault, and I paid them anyways”). How come marxists rarely criticize this? Or are they just fine with this? Or are we supposed to think that people will serve each other until the end of time? Because if so, that’s a rather disappointing ideology…

    Like money doesn’t make something non exploitative or positive? Furthermore the problem is not the money/economy but people, men, themselves and how they manipulate others to create hierarchies.

    There should be more talk about the marxist rhetoric which reduces abuse to a simple matter of “paid or unpaid labour”. It’s that same rethoric that is now used to promote prostitution (ie “it’s not a bad thing, women get paid”, “everything in life is just labor”, etc). Likewise we all know that the market has been used against women (economical coercion) for a long time so…

    Compensations, money or something else, won’t solve anything, imho.

    Just some thoughts…

  • Meghan Murphy

    “I don’t think that women that are practicing political lesbianism are claiming a sexual orientation as much as they are rejecting relationships with males.”

    Hmm yes fair enough. But choosing to reject relationships with men and choosing relationships with women instead still would constitute lesbianism, wouldn’t it? I also didn’t really read this article as promoting political lesbianism so much as it was acknowledging it and discussing/exploring Rich’s theory. But that’s a question better answered by Susan herself, I’d say.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Sheila Jeffreys too, I believe? Also I know a number of women personally who have chosen it.

    Anyway, I see what you’re saying and you may well be right. I don’t think I’m in a position to say for certain, one way or another, or to speak on behalf of women who’ve chosen lesbianism.

  • shy virago

    This is so well done, I will re-read it again as soon as I’m free.
    You state the obvious (to some of us!) but present it in a new light.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Sheila Jeffreys defines political lesbianism as “A woman-identified woman who does not fuck men. It does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women.’ Although many of the more radical feminists agreed, most went wild at being told they were ‘counter-revolutionary.'”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/jul/02/gender.politicsphilosophyandsociety

    Obviously there are disagreements about this issue and I am not the person to say who is right and who is wrong.

    • Alienigena

      Interesting. I guess I would qualify as a political lesbian, sort of. I generally don’t have male friends and once the work week is over I don’t really want to deal with men. My head doesn’t explode if I have to interact with men in the course of doing something I like or if I want to learn a new skill like rowing which is what I am doing currently. There are no female instructors at the one rowing club in my city. Another activity that I would like to do is open water swimming, again no female instructors or facilitators that I can find. Maybe I am just too lazy to look for such instructors.

  • Hekate Jayne

    My personal feeling is that female sexuality has been completely destroyed. Just like males destroy anything that gets in the way of what they want.

    I have no way of knowing what my preferences or inclinations are. The best that I can do is to say no to whatever I don’t want. And some of us don’t even have that right.

    And Freud was a sexist, misogynist asshole.

    • Hanakai

      Freud was a product of his times, ahead of his times, actually, in taking the somatic symptoms and suffering of female patients seriously, something for which other physicians of the day ridiculed him. His sexism does not negate the veracity of much of his work, including the importance of the subconscious mind and childhood experience. Darwin, too, was sexist as per his times, but that does not negate the reality of evolution and natural selection. A lot of inventions that benefit women were created by sexist males, shall we eschew the inventions? I think not. Freud and Jung, particularly in the original German, shed a lot of light on the nature of the the human mind and psyche; to dismiss every idea in the writings of the founder of modern psychology with shotgun profanity is sophomoric at best. Freud supported the education of his daughter, Anna Freud, who went on to become a brilliant and renowned analyst and child psychologist, with particular focus on stress and resilience in children and who gave us the insight: “Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training.” But my point here is not to write a tome on Sigmund.

      I am surprised to read that you do not know what your inclinations are or were. Most people have a sense already in childhood who attracts them. I knew who I had crushes on in the first grade, I suspect most people do. Many gay people say they knew their orientation as children. Observing the children, it is often obvious quite early what a child’s bent is.

      One is very influenced by early childhood experiences and so I would wonder what in your childhood prevented you from knowing your own heart and mind, or the desires of your own body? Can you feel the passion rising in your own body? For whom does it rise? Can you feel your feelings or has life experience numbed them?

      I have seen that religion, particularly the Christian anti-woman anti-body anti-sex thing, ends up giving lots of modern people guilt and neuroses around sex and sexual impulses. It is clear the message Mormonism gives a girl who knows herself to be lesbian, this will cause her cognitive dissonance and mental gymnastics. I have also seen that in some cultures not poisoned by monotheistic Western ideas, sex is often a more relaxed natural fact of life without the twisted hypersexualized insanity of the capitalist First World where sex is used to sell and manipulate, where the nation-state manipulates repressed sexual energy into war frenzy.

      Our cultures, our environment, our experiences are instrumental in shaping who we are. Some of us get to adulthood relatively unscathed and able to listen to the voices of our hearts, minds, consciences. Some of us get to adulthood with terrible scars and damage. And yet, the human organism has an amazing capacity to heal and is this not the task, to heal, to become whole, hearty and holy? Many have before, people damaged by Nazis, by Holocaust, by genocide, by war, by violence, many go on to be who they essentially are and to craft happy meaningful lives.

  • Kendall Turtle

    I don’t really find anything you said to be very compelling, and I did not mean to offend, but I’m just offering up an idea for discussion I have no idea whether it is true or not and wanted to have someone who has thought about it very deeply respond and offer their ideas for or against it. Thanks anyways.

    • lk

      “I did not mean to offend, but I’m just offering up an idea for discussion”

      There was nothing remotely offensive about your statement.

      Sexuality is such an intimate topic that I think we are often scared to discuss or really even think about it.

      But I think its very important that we share and consider different ideas about sex and sexual attraction.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I understand what Purple Sage is saying too. But I don’t agree that compulsory heterosexuality/socializing women towards heterosexuality is not real. When practically all media promotes and sells heterosexuality/heteronormativity, I think it would be irrational to argue that this doesn’t have an impact on women’s choices and sexualities, considering we, as feminists, argue that media/socialization shapes women’s choices and sexualities in every other regard.

    • Rich Garcia

      @meghan_murphy:disqus I read the blogpost again upon further examination, and I understand the points you, the author of this article, and the blogger I linked to make about heterosexuality being shoved in women’s faces when they are young girls. The point I wanted to make in respect to actual lesbians is that their choice to be with other females is anything but political, but that of personal preference, even though they can be political in their desire to help other women.

      I’ll also add that rejection of males is a political and personal act in itself, and it doesn’t necessarily have to imply that the woman choosing to live life on her terms and in solidarity with other women is a lesbian, since you can be a heterosexual woman who rejects males completely. No girl or woman should be forced to interact with men, and as a male myself I acknowledge the potential threat I pose to females everywhere.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Yes, fair points.

  • Alienigena

    I understand why Janeane Garafalo has described herself as asexual, I have done so at times, it is sort of a ‘leave me alone’ (to both men and women and everyone (who claims to be) in between). Almost 100% of my friends are female. Every time I try to fit into an organization or profession that has (or had) a masculine bias (animation (arts-based), technology (my current job is in ed tech), etc.) I find myself alienated and ticked off at the men and the women, many of whom seem to pander to the men who are considered to be the real artists, the real professionals and so sensitive that they have nervous breakdowns if you get angry at them or dare to defend yourself from them. I am not interested in competing with men, I don’t admire or like them enough. I’m not really a competitive person so also don’t want to compete with women. Lesbians have thought I was a lesbian. Women have insulted my physique,and insisted that I be nicer to men (or pity date them (and shouldn’t that go in reverse, they should pity date me, since I am such a mutant), even the abusive ones (e.g. my father). So, I don’t really want romantic relationships with them. While nominally hetereosexual my dislike of men means that I think any attempt at such relationships would be doomed and frankly too much work (I am heavily sleep deprived to point of suffering from secondary hypersomnia, sleep is more appealing than food most days). ADHD for me means that I get fed up with people and their BS pretty quickly. I can be quite enthusiastic about female friends (I am not a physical person, so don’t hug or touch them), I guess it intimidates them, but I don’t want to jump their bones. My goal is not to confuse people. I find that I am really having to evaluate my friendships with women as I have so little in common with most heterosexual women many of who seem to live according to a set of rules I have long since rejected. Witness my affection for flannel shirts (even in summer in the evening). They are not just for male hipsters. You can get that pajama like feel during the day without being censured for wearing sleepwear in public.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Are you arguing, then, that Sheila Jeffreys is homophobic?

    • moionfire

      Yes. She is bisexual, but keeps saying she is a lesbian. Either way you can be gay yourself and still push homophobic ideas.

  • FierceMild

    I don’t follow your thought here. Can you lay it out at a. It more length, please?

    • moionfire

      This comment from another person sums up my feelings:

      Some things I can guess she took issue with (they are things I disagree with, at least):
      Rich criticizes the prevailing understanding of lesbian existence as simply a “sexual preference” or “innate orientation,” arguing instead that heterosexuality must be recognized as a political institution that enforces women’s “emotional, erotic loyalty and subservience to men.”
      Yes, patriarchal society pushes heterosexual norms on everyone and especially girls, but there is a difference between saying that and saying heterosexuality itself is a political institution. Heterosexuality itself is a value-neutral biological phenomenon that has made the continuance of the species happen. Frankly I do not appreciate the insinuation that being a lesbian is about anything more or less than exclusive biological attraction to women. That biological fact, too, has social ramifications, but the political conception of lesbianism takes social consequences of misogyny and posits them as motivating factors for lesbianism.
      3) Heterosexuality is the norm because it benefits men
      Of course heterosexuality benefits men, but that is not the reason most women are heterosexual. It’s a major reason why girls are pushed into future wifehood and motherhood and why lesbians are disparaged, but it’s not the primary reason women are attracted to men.

  • FierceMild

    Strongly agree.

  • FierceMild

    Very interesting and almost exactly my take on it.

  • FierceMild

    You had me right up until Freud who couldn’t distinguish between wanting a penis and wanting to participate in life outside the home.

    • Hekate Jayne

      I read a book that contained some of Freud’s personal diary entries. And he was writing about males that sexually abuse their daughters.

      I’m paraphrasing what he said :

      “If males are raping their daughters and other women, then they are truly monsters. Unless……….women actually want to be raped. That must be it! Otherwise, males are monsters, and that can’t be right! Also, women that need clitoral stimulation to orgasm aren’t sexually mature, like the ladies that orgasm via penetration alone. Also, all women want penis, and they ask to be raped.”

      Yeah. I don’t care what contributions he made. Maybe if he hadn’t participated in perpetuating a culture of keeping women out of education, a woman would have found out whatever little bit of useful information he did. And psychology is a male made tool fixed to fix broken women that can’t properly serve a male.

      Fuck Freud. And Fuck Darwin, too.

  • lk

    Valid points.

    Perhaps our sexual orientation is innate, but what sexual attractions and how we act on them is socialized…ie. a woman might only be attracted to women, but make the decision to marry a man because of the society she lives in. But in that case, she would still be a lesbian b/c the only people she is attracted are females.

    Edit: I just saw your earlier response to Meghan’s comment..you said “We can choose our sexual behaviour, but not our orientation.”

    I think this is what I was trying to say in my post above.

    So then a woman who is straight could choose to participate in lesbian behavior..ie. choosing to date or marry only women…wouldnt that be a political lesbian?

  • lk

    “but I also think humans choose many things that might go against our wiring”

    Is it possible though that our sexual wiring is so wrong that we can’t go against it, the way we may be able to go against other things that may be wired into us?

    I think you are saying that humans may be wired a certain way sexually (straight, gay, bi)..but that they can choose to go against their wiring for whatever reason (political, financial etc).

    But I think Purple Sage’s larger point still holds: choosing to participate in one kind of sexual behavior does not actually changes one sexual orientation. Like a lesbian forced into a marriage with a man is still a lesbian.

    Idk…I think human sexuality is more complicated than: You are born with X sexual desire and it cannot be influenced/changed by society and will remain the same until you die.

  • lk

    Radical feminism has nothing to do with denying women’s agency.

  • Hekate Jayne

    Ethan knows that.

    But males that pay women that don’t want to have sex with them, but do so because they need money to survive, are the women that Ethan needs.

    Ethan will gleefully pay a woman to have sex with him and get off on the fact that she needs to make a living. He knows that money is force. He knows that if the choice is “you only eat if you allow a male to fuck you when you don’t want it” that it’s not really a choice.

    Dudes that enjoy rape defend it. Ethan is one of those dudes. In fact, I bet little man thinks he is a feminist! Because he is standing up for 2 prostitutes that told him that they love banging disgusting dudes for money, right after he paid them, of course. I mean, why would they lie? They just had sex that they didn’t want to in order to make money they needed!

    Also, Ethan likes ignoring the large majority of women and girls forced into the sex trade. Because if he had to think about all of those women, well. That just kills his boner. And that gives him the sadz.

    He is an asshole that likes rape. So he defends it. Not surprising. At all.

  • lk

    I won’t speak for Kendall…but I never suggested that everyone is bisexual.

    Kendall and I were discussing the possibility that perhaps more human beings may be bisexual and because of constant social pressure to be heterosexual that people who are bisexual may only act on their desire to one sex. (I would even say that there is general pressure to not be bisexual…ie. comments that people make that bisexual people need to just make up their mind).

    “You’re saying gay people don’t exist.”
    I would never and did not suggest that gay people do not exist.

    “That implies that gay people, and straight people for that matter, weren’t born that way, that what they are is wrong.”

    No it doesn’t, suggesting that someone is not born gay is not the same as suggesting gayness is wrong.

    My standards for right or wrong as it relates to sexuality isn’t about if someone was born that way. I don’t see anything unethical or wrong about homosexuality..whether it is a matter of choice, social upbringing, genetics or some combination.

  • Jeanne Deaux

    She’s talking about what people might naturally be, not about whether anyone else would force anything on them as a result. Anyhow, it could be proven we were all bisexual tomorrow (unlikely but you never know) and they still wouldn’t actually accept it BECAUSE of society’s homophobia.

  • Jeanne Deaux

    If you are bisexual YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SEEK OUT AN OPPOSITE-SEX PARTNER.

    YOU are projecting that. No one here said it.

  • Jeanne Deaux

    BISEXUAL PEOPLE STILL HAVE HOMOSEXUAL INCLINATIONS. THAT’S WHAT THE WORD FUCKING *MEANS*.

  • Jeanne Deaux

    Learn the difference between legal force and social coercion. And institutionalizing something IS making it compulsory, just not necessarily under color of law.

  • Jeanne Deaux

    That’s political celibacy. If I’m not actually interested in screwing around with women, I could go without the D for the rest of my life and I still wouldn’t actually be a lesbian.