“Everyone is hurting and no one is listening”
It’s time to heal our inter-community rifts, says Kesiena Boom
In the beginning there is shame. I am 15 and in denial. If I don’t desire men then how will I grow up to be real? How will I make sense of my place in the world? The word “lesbian” seems like it’s shutting me in and away from everything I’ve ever known. Fast forward nearly 10 years and “lesbian” is the word that makes my world so much vaster and sweeter and more sure. “Lesbian” is my home. It’s the place I’ve found refuge in; it no longer fills me with shame. Or it didn’t until recently. To be a lesbian in the current queer community is, it seems to me, to be marked with shame, to be thought of as shameful. This is not the homophobia of the straight world, but a different form of suspicion and distrust with a bitter history.
Here, in short, is what I see to be the problem. Lesbians are regarded by other queer women and non-binary people as dangerous and/or unprogressive and/or exclusionary. We are the dinosaurs of the queer world. Stuck in a rut. I will not pretend that this is a wholly unfounded witch-hunt – that we lesbians are perfect, non-oppressive and untainted by society’s ills. But I do think that some serious inter-community discussion is needed about the things that lesbian, bisexual, queer and trans women and non-binary people believe about each other. Because everyone is hurting and no one is listening.
Let’s start with the grievances that other queers hold against lesbians, because even though my first instinct when someone attacks lesbians is to think “not me!” and move on, I recognise that this is about as politically useful as voting Green in a safe Tory seat, not to mention deeply annoying. I wouldn’t stand a man #NotAllMen-ing me, so I’m not about to start playing that game either.
A couple of months ago I went on a first date with another cisgender woman. Eventually the topic of how we identified came up. “I’m a lesbian”, I said. “Oh”, she said. “I just don’t feel comfortable with that word... I think it is narrow-minded maybe? Or not inclusive? I just don’t like its associations. I say I’m queer.” I wasn’t sure what to say. I shifted slightly in my seat and took a swig of my drink. I thought about what she might be thinking about me. I moved the conversation on. But it stuck with me, the small disappointed sound of her “oh”, the way I suddenly felt defensive. I wanted to understand.
Read the rest of this article in the January issue of DIVA, available to buy in print or digitally here.
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