Lesbians face a fight for their very existence Janice Turner 13.07.19
The original article is here.
If I were a teenage girl, I’d have a poster of a purple-haired American footballer on my bedroom wall. It’s odd how Megan Rapinoe’s arms-outstretched celebration is now as famous as Farah’s Mobot or Usain’s lightning bolt when it’s the default gesture of every sportsman, from century-scorer to Wimbledon champ. Even odder that she alone is called arrogant.
Yet with a knowing smile, Rapinoe both mimics masculine triumph and parodies it. Here is that rarest quality in a woman, the one drummed out of little girls: swagger. That she is a lesbian is not incidental. It means Rapinoe doesn’t play that wearying game of feminine dress-up. She isn’t fussed about male approval, even the president’s. She is unapologetic about her athletic body, her skill, her golden moment. And for this, women — straight and gay — have acquired a passionate new crush.
Megan Rapinoe’s sudden fame has come as a welcome boost for lesbians, feeling both besieged by society and sidelined within the LGBT movement. The most shocking recent manifestation was a lesbian couple beaten bloody on a late-night London bus because they refused to kiss for the pleasure of men. It’s a common male request: what’s the point of lesbians if they won’t perform your girl-on-girl fantasies? No wonder some gay women recoil from the very word, since “lesbian” is seen mainly as an online porn category.
It is a strange paradox that while women’s opportunities have expanded, the way society expects them to look has narrowed. What if you’re a girl who recoils from dresses and long hair? What if you prefer a short crop and utilitarian clothes? In the late 1970s, you’d be a punk; in the 1990s, an indie kid. But butch girls now stand alone against an Instagram orthodoxy of Love Island sexbots and obligatory female grooming.
Within the LGBT movement too, lesbians have long been disdained, since some gay men can be vicious, unthinking misogynists. Even after the 1980s Aids crisis, when lesbians donated blood to infected men and tenderly nursed the dying, they were little rewarded. While gay guys are stereotyped as creative, gossipy and amusing, lesbians are perceived as dowdy, man-hating, humourless and dull. Not only second-class women but second-class gays.
In every charity or campaign I’ve been involved with, the bravest, most tenacious women doing the feminist heavy-lifting have invariably been lesbians. Yet often their very existence is erased. This week Jeremy Corbyn tweeted that he was proud of Chris Smith, the first openly gay MP. Except he wasn’t first: the lesbian Maureen Colquhoun preceded him and was hounded while Smith was mainly fêted. In Tom Daley or Elton John, same-sex parents are seen as a bold new phenomenon, when lesbian mothers broke that taboo generations ago.
The first brick at the Stonewall riots, which began the US gay rights movement, was thrown by Stormé DeLarverie, a butch lesbian who, for her masculine dress, is now claimed as a trans man. As are other historic lesbians who cross-dressed either through taste or to access male careers and female lovers. A recent blue plaque for the early 19th-century lesbian Anne Lister, ITV’s Gentleman Jack, described her only as “gender non-conforming”. Even Radclyffe Hall, who wrote the lesbian classic The Well of Loneliness, is often retrospectively called “he”.
“It is pretty galling,” says a young lesbian friend, “to see LGBT groups which always ignored women suddenly valorising trans women. We had to scrape for campaign funding, they get millions.” The decision by outgoing Stonewall head Ruth Hunt to incorporate the T (trans) with the LGB has created huge tensions. Not only must lesbians now include biological males at their women-only events or risk being picketed and defunded, they are pressured to accept them as sexual partners. The whole concept of homosexuality, meaning you are attracted to the same sex, has been replaced with same gender attraction. So men who identify as women, but wish to sleep with women, can now claim to be lesbian even if (as the vast majority do) they retain male genitals.
“The reason I have sex with women,” says one lesbian friend drily, “is I’m not into penises. No offence, but it’s lesbian rule numero uno. But even to say this is transphobic.” A group called “Get the L Out” have been kicked off Pride marches just for carrying a banner saying “Lesbians Don’t Have Penises”. Last weekend, members were not served at the National Theatre bar because they wore T-shirts saying “Lesbian: a woman who loves women”. Trans activists telling lesbians to “get over” their genital preferences, they argue, are practising gay conversion therapy, while there is no equal expectation that gay men embrace the vagina.
In recent years, the erasure of lesbians has moved from metaphorical to medical. The 2018/19 figures for the Tavistock NHS gender service show that three-quarters of referrals are now girls who believe they are boys. No surprise when even a prominent butch lesbian, the comedian Hannah Gadsby, is asked when she’s going to transition into a man. The women and equalities minister, Penny Mordaunt, has finally put research into this girls gender epidemic out to tender; many are watching intently to ensure this will not be a woke whitewash.
Because if a lesbian is seen as a second-class woman — or barely a woman at all — why wouldn’t girls surrender the fight and take testosterone, so they can hold a girlfriend’s hand as a straight man? We should cheer women who show being a lesbian as a swashbuckling adventure of unashamed physical prowess and freedom. I might put that Megan Rapinoe poster up anyway.