From the denial of lesbianism as a legitimate sexuality, to the notion that lesbians are simply women who “can’t get a boyfriend,” to the practice of corrective rape, lesbians have been erased and abused throughout history. The repression of lesbianism continues today, as 44 countries have criminalized lesbianism, and sham marriages within which rape and the threat of death as an alternative are on the rise.
In China, lesbians face potential death at the hands of their parents and often opt to marry gay men for self-preservation, and in India, lesbians are forced into straight marriages. A report in the Telegraph explains:
“Most [lesbians] have no option but to be forced into heterosexual marriages, meaning they may have little or no control over their sexual and reproductive choices…and resulting in a lifetime of undocumented and state-sanctioned rape.”
Today, there is yet another way lesbianism has come under attack, as the queer movement send lesbians the message that refusing to consider sex with somebody with a penis is bigoted.
Homosexuality has been criminalized and homosexuals have been discriminated against around the world for centuries. Male homosexualty was legalized in the UK in 1967, but prior to that, gay men were subjected to aggressive punishment. Between 1806 and 1816, 404 men were put to death for “buggery” and as late as the 1950s, up to a thousand men a year were imprisoned for homosexual offences.
Despite the harsh treatment of gay men in various eras and countries, their accomplishments and existence have not been erased as those of lesbians have. In The Disappearing L: Erasure Of Lesbian Spaces And Culture, Bonnie J Morris writes:
“The traditional academic canon, with its focus on male achievement and leadership, embeds many contributions by gay men through the ages, whereas lesbians have had barely a generation and a half of scholarly scrutiny (corresponding to how recently women were allowed to attend college at all).”
Female homosexual relationships were never made illegal in the UK, but lesbians were, however, forced into heterosexual marriages and subjected to corrective rape.
Women who refused to marry were labeled “spinsters” and “frigid,” or were institutionalized, “treated” with drugs (such as apomorphine which is designed to cure addictions and erectile dysfunction), and subjected to electroshock therapy to cure them of their homosexuality.
Katie L. Frick describes the process:
“Those who were admitted to the asylum for being a spinster or a lesbian were submitted to forced marriages by family members or even encouraged sexual encounters where patients were sexually abused or raped under the care of their doctors. It was assumed these women could be cured by repeated sexual interaction with men.”
In her novel Riding Fury Home: A Memoir, Chana Wilson describes caring for her mother, who was left suicidally depressed after have been institutionalized and put through such “treatment:”
“After each electroshock treatment, when she had recovered enough to move her stiff and sore body down the hall to the pay phone, when she wasn’t so disoriented that she couldn’t remember the names of friends, my mother would call anyone she could think of — my father, her parents, her friends — and beg, ‘Please, my God, they’re killing me — you have to get me out of here!'”
Today, in the US, there are 42 states where conversion therapy is still legal for minors, and its use continues to be debated by the GOP. The discrimination against and abuse of homosexuals around the world continues, though it is less tolerated than in the past.
As society became more accepting of lesbian relationships, men found a new way to deny lesbian boundaries and autonomy: by fetishizing them. PornHub, for example, announced that “lesbian” was the number one search term for the second year in a row in 2016. While invading lesbian relationships is ever a popular theme in porn, it is also present in mainstream movies and fiction.
Comedies have tried to normalize male involvement in lesbianism and pushed the notion that lesbians aren’t really lesbians — they just need to meet the right man. Numerous films show male characters becoming romantically involved with characters considered to be lesbians.
In The Kids Are Alright, lesbian couple Jules and Nic meet Paul, their children’s sperm donor. After he becomes involved in their lives, Jules is seduced by him and the two begin a sexual affair. Lesbianism is portrayed as a temporary phase in Kissing Jessica Stein. The leading character, Jessica nervously explores her curiosity and enters into a long term relationship with Helen, only to return to her ex-boyfriend when that relationship ends. Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy shows Ben Affleck’s character, Holden, falling in love with lesbian character Alyssa (played by Joey Lauren Adams). In his despair at loving a woman who would never love him back, Holden is consoled by a male friend who says, “All every woman really wants, be it mother, senator, nun, is some serious deep-dickin’.” While intended as a joke, Alyssa does eventually engage in a sexual relationship with Holden, and reveals she has been in relationships with men before, vindicating the fantasy that all women really do just want some “deep dicking,” regardless of their sexuality.
In the sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, Neil Patrick Harris’ womanizing character Barney Stinson makes light of lesbian boundaries by putting on glasses and a headband to disguise himself as woman, proclaiming, “Tonight, I pick up a lesbian.” This implies not only that lesbians cannot tell men from women, but that if Barney got a lesbian into bed, she would actually enjoy that sexual encounter, despite it having been gained through deception and being the antithesis of her sexuality.
Men seeking sex with lesbians has been a staple of our entertainment, used for laughs,by characters we consider “lovable.” The belief that some “deep-dicking’’ is something all women will enjoy once they try it encourages men to ignore lesbian boundaries and presents lesbian sex as a weak alternative to the “real thing” (which must, naturally, involve penises and penetration). This theme tells us that even if men trick lesbians into sex, lesbians will like it, no matter how much they claim to prefer women.
Far from funny, these narratives normalize corrective rape — the idea that if lesbians would only have sex with men, they will become straight.
The term “corrective rape” was coined in South Africa in the early 2000s, when aid workers noticed a growing trend of lesbians being sexually assaulted by men who aimed to “cure” women of homosexuality.
In 2014, a lesbian named Mvuleni Fana was gang raped by four men, who told her: “After everything we’re going to do to you, you’re going to be a real woman, and you’re never going to act like this again.” She was then beaten unconscious and left for dead. It is estimated that, in South Africa, 10 lesbians are subjected to assaults like this every week, and they are not alone — this happens globally.
In 2015, filmmaker Deepthi Tadanki investigated the trend of fathers in India raping their homosexual children to “cure” them. In an interview with Gaysi, Tadanki said:
“When I read about corrective rape, what shook me is the inhumane activities people are doing to the girls in the name of power and discrimination (male ego), also culture and tradition. Apart from strangers or acquaintances their own families are a party in supporting, planning and executing it. The guilty in most cases are not punished and our society is okay with it.”
While the left may believe lesbophobia and corrective rape is a thing of the past here in the West, they’d best start paying attention. Today, we are seeing a new, socially accepted form of sexual coercion — a liberal-friendly kind of bullying that condemns lesbians for not embracing sex with people who have penises on the grounds of discrimination.
In April 2017, Riley J Dennis, a writer, YouTuber, and trans activist, who identifies as “a non-binary transwoman” and is in a relationship with a woman (which you’d be forgiven for assuming is simply a heterosexual relationship), posted a video asking the question, “Are genital preferences transphobic?” Dennis’ conclusion was that if you are a lesbian who won’t consider having sex with a person with a penis, you are “cissexist.”
In the video, Dennis explains, “If you’re a woman who only likes women, go ahead, identify as a lesbian, but some women have penises.”
The idea that all lesbians have simply decided to choose to “identify” as lesbians, regardless of sexual preference, is behind the practice of corrective rape and men’s attempts to “turn” lesbians heterosexual via their penises. Claiming a penis can be “female” is nothing more than gaslighting, and has become a politically correct way to bully lesbians into sleeping with men.
On July 1, transgender writer Zinnia Jones, who claims to be a lesbian, is married to a woman, and has 13k followers on Twitter, tweeted, “Penises can be incredibly female.”
The idea that lesbians should be attracted to transwomen just as they are biological women assumes that lesbians do not specifically and deliberately reject male bodies. Lesbians are not lesbians to be politically correct, or to validate the identities of transwomen. If a lesbian is not interested in a penis it is not a reduction or a phobia, it is a sexuality. As Claire Heuchan explains, lesbianism is about “Women desiring other women, to the exclusion of men; women directing our time and energy towards other women, as the exclusion of men; women building our lives around other women, to the exclusion of men.”
Even women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan are getting on board, encouraging lesbians to put aside their aversion to sex with males, and date transwomen. In an article titled, “14 things you should know before dating a trans girl,” Evie Andrew writes:
“Try not to be overly fixated on genitals. What did I say before about it being the future? Some girls have dicks, some girls don’t, and some are in-between… deal with it. In fact, when was the last time you approached a girl on the dance floor because of the shape of their vagina? Spoiler, you haven’t.”
The message is clear: Your sexual orientation is a hang-up you need to overcome.
But this bullying goes further, as lesbians who are not willing to consider transgender partners are labelled “TERFs,” a term that means “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists” and is too-often attached to violent threats.
For some trans women who are attracted to women and identify themselves as lesbians, the word TERF has become synonymous with “lesbians.” In a Buzzfeed article titled, “Can Lesbian Identity Survive The Gender Revolution?” Shannon Keating argues that lesbians who exclude transwomen are TERFS:
“TERFs refuse to see trans women as women at all, think including trans women in women’s spaces is akin to rape culture, and advocate for separating lesbians from the G, B, and T’s.”
On June 25th, Mya Byrne, a musician, writer, and trans activist, tweeted a selfie (since deleted) from San Francisco Pride, wearing a faux blood-stained T-shirt that read, “I PUNCH TERFS.” Because Byrne was wearing the shirt to Pride (i.e. an event that would presumably include more lesbians than straight women), the message could easily be read as a threat against lesbians who disagreed with the notion that penises can be female.
For older lesbians — women who have lived comfortably with their sexuality since the 70s — these new pressures might be easier to ignore. But young lesbians just learning about their sexuality are coming out in a world where they are told that penises can be female and that to reject that notion (and the people attached to said penises) is cruel and bigoted. Instead of teaching young lesbians to embrace their sexuality, we are teaching them that they are fundamentally wrong for feeling the way they do.
Refusing to respect that some women do not want to have sex with somebody with a penis is the ultimate display of patriarchy.
J.J. Barnes writes about politics with a focus on women’s issues, feminism, and parenting, and is the author of “The Lilly Prospero Series for Siren Stories.” Follow her on Twitter @judieannrose.