This is our truth, tell us yours
Recently I introduced a man to pegging and anal play for the first time. Depending on your particular prejudices and stereotypes you may have already created an image of what he was like. This may not resemble the reality of a working class, heavily tattooed mid fifties man whose smiles of pleasure made him beautiful. Afterwards he jokingly asked the question I had heard before “Liking that stuff doesn’t make me gay does it?” I knew the genuine fear that lay behind the question, one Carter has written of, not casual homophobia but a fear born in a particular age and class, and deep rooted. I reassured him that if liking anal made you a gay man, then I was one, and added that going down on a woman didn’t make you a lesbian, and he left with a smile and a promise to be back.
The idea of sexuality being determined by the sex acts you perform would seem like something out of the ark if it was not the idea pushed also by radical feminists. The existence of political lesbianism is no different from the man who believes liking a strap on makes you gay. The fact we would laugh at a 15 year old troll asserting the latter, but have allowed it for the former says a lot about the classism and worship of academia in our society. A sex act no more determines your sexuality than wearing make up, drinking pints or owning dungarees. A woman who is sexually attracted to men and women is bisexual, or possible pansexual if that is a term they prefer, to claim that they are a lesbian because they are not having sex with men at any particular moment makes as much sense as saying I am straight because my partner is a man. (Although many LGBT people have claimed exactly this of course)
This is not to deny the right of people who have had sex with men in the past to identify as lesbians, sexuality does change, as does ones understanding of oneself. As I wrote here there is a parallel world where my sexuality developed at a more natural pace and i am happily married to a woman with a houseful of cats. However if you insist, as political lesbians do that sexuality is all about the outer, the performance, then you must also accept that liking pegging does indeed make one gay.
This goes deeper however, as the kind of rad fems who say sexuality is nothing more than a performance of certain acts also say the same about gender. for them gender is a social construct with no real meaning outside of performance. There is an exampe of their thinking here. (Content note Imadildo is a known swerf/terf and abusive in the extreme) Now gender and sexuality are often muddily conflated, and we have to be careful not to make the same mistake. What I want to point out here is the thought processes that go into saying both sexuality and gender are about the outer performance and not the inner feelings.
In the opening of the piece it is claimed that everyone accepts that gender is merely constructed out of behaviors, in the same way no doubt that “everyone” accepts that liking a strap on makes you gay. Everyone being short hand for the few small minded bigots the writer hangs out with. I have written before of my concept of being cis. To summarize were I brought up on an island without mirrors, or any concept of gender I would know myself to be a woman. Other cis women have performed the same thought experiment I did, to imagine having a penis, being male, in detail, and reported the same feelings of distress and even nausea. This is not to say that everyone who identifies as cis needs to have such a strong, almost dysphoric reation, gender is no doubt a spectrum rather than a zero sum game. However what this, admittedly anecdotal, shows is that it is not just trans people who have an inner sense of their gender, cis people share that too. We are simply not asked to prove what we mean when we say I am a woman or I am a man. The outward expressions of gender, the behaviour that radical feminism confuses for gender, are simply set by time, place, class and culture. The wigan pit brow lasses wore trousers, and had their femininity questioned, but even the Victorians did not question their gender. They broke the norms in dress and behavior, but were still women.
Of course the idea gender is mere behaviour is also racist, positing a white, eurocentric norm as the definition of womanhood. Sojourner Truth touched on this with her famous aint I a woman speech. Women of colour have consistently been denied admittance to the class called woman by white men and women. They agreed that gender is performative, and that women of colour did not fit the prescribed looks and behaviors necessary to be seen as women. There is a direct line of descent from this reasoning to the radfems of today, one they seem proud of and unwilling to address.
The idea that gender is mere behavior has at its root the belief that we can all chose the most fundamental aspects of our identity, our gender and our sexuality. Oddly radical feminists attack choice feminism but their very theology is based on the idea of choice, they chose to be lesbians, and appropriate the lesbian identity as something to do with having sex with other women, and this leads them to believe gender is a choice. In doing so they also reinforce the gender norms that oppress all, of any gender. In the FWSA piece the author attempts to write about language, as if Nozick never happened. One of the few things modern philosophy of language can agree on is that all language is innate, not in the learning it sense, but in that my private language and your private languages are merely attempts to express our innermost beliefs about an event. That communication occurs at all could be seen as a miracle, or perhaps proof of the existence of the babel fish. The word woman has meaning to me, another meaning to Butler, but neither of those meanings is anything but a private internal belief about the world. Which is exactly what trans women and men I know report about their gender. None of which is performative, and none of which reifies the gender norms the radfems so heartily endorse.