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On Gayness

December 3, 2008

So, this post sort of follows from the post I did on spinsterhood/lesbianism, just to give you the heads up in case you’d like to bail now 😛

What “gay” refers to is a man who engages in sexual relations with other men. As I said in the spinster post, women’s sexual preferences and proclivities have been decidedly unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Men’s sexuality, however, has always been at the forefront. Compulsory heterosexuality, after all, is about keeping men’s lust trained against women and keeping men from turning it against each other. It was not, in other words, historically about keeping women from seeking out sexual relations with one another. Men, as a class, have not cared whether or not women sleep together so long as women are still obligated in some form or another to sexually service men. This may come in the form of play-lesbian pornography targeted to men, or the many “late-blooming” women who spend their childbearing years sexing and reproducing men only to turn to women when their fertility has come to an end.

Now, while gay men may turn to women for reproductive purposes, this is not the same thing as women devoting the bulk of their lives to tending to a husband and his children (most women mark their children with their husbands’ last names, so don’t get mad at *me* for saying *his* kids). Do you think Clay Aiken,  for example, spent time with the mother of his child? Do you think he cooked for her and tended to her during her pregnancy? Do you think he took it upon himself to see to it that she was duly entertained and comfortable? Do you imagine he held her hand during the delivery? I certainly don’t. Yet most women having children for men – whether they turn out to be “late-blooming” lesbians or not – do all of those things. They cook for, clean up after, comfort, reassure, and otherwise dote on their men, both during and between their pregnancies. Gay men using women as surrogates do none of those things.

I think that spinsters and lesbians have more in common with each other than lesbians have in common with gay men. I don’t think “gayness” as a concept is very useful to women. In fact, I think the “inclusion” of the lesbian experience under the umbrella term “gay” is more an appropriation than it is a gesture of welcome. It has been instrumental in dividing spinsters from each other and in diverting lesbian women’s efforts toward making life more comfortable for men who fuck men. It has created an opening for male identification amongst a population of women who, in theory, have the potential to be the least male-associated women in the world. This is no accident.

Suddenly you have other women fighting other women in defense of gay men, simply because gay men have taken it upon themselves to juxtapose the gay male experience, which has more to do with bachelorhood, with lesbianism, which has more to do with spinsterhood. Only gay men are benefiting from this arrangement. Lesbians are consistently invisibilized by this paradigm, which is evident even in just the notion that by saying “gay” you are tacitly including lesbians.

But, of course, women cannot be men who fuck men. Women cannot be “gay” any more than we can be drag queens. It’s an entirely male endeavor. To call someone “gay” is a reference to both his homosexuality and his maleness, simultaneously. In the same way, to call someone “husband” is simultaneously a reference to his maleness and his marital status. To denigrate husbands is to say nothing of wives, after all, even though married women and married men do share a marital status, and it is patently silly when wives of husbands all jump to defend the institution of marital husbandry whenever some feminist makes a well-founded critique. Wives who felt implicated by the criticism of husbands as a class are rightly ridiculed in feminist circles as male-identified.

But because gay men have appropriated lesbianism under the “gay” umbrella, lesbian women now make exactly that mistake with regard to critiques of gay men. Say something about a gay man, and all of a sudden, lesbian women are jumping out of the woodwork to berate you for your homophobia. As if having something against gay men has anything to do with lesbian women. A woman can absolutely criticize gay men, even hate gay men, without being “homophobic” against the entire homosexual population, after all, since a sizable portion of the homosexual population is comprised of lesbian women.

Unlike blackness, obesity, poverty, disability, and any number of the other axes of oppression which can apply to both men and to women, gay men and lesbian women DO NOT SHARE A SEXUALITY. That is gay men’s framing of it, to lesbian women’s (and other spinsters’) detriment. “Nigger” is a slur used against both black women and black men, for example, because blackness is a HUMAN trait. “Fat-ass” is a slur used against both fat women and fat men because fatness is a HUMAN trait (though one more frequently associated with females). “Bum” is a slur used against both poor and/or homeless women as well as poor and/or homeless men because poverty is a HUMAN condition (though one more frequently associated with women). “Crip” and “lame” are slurs used against disabled people of both sexes, too, because disability is a HUMAN condition. “Faggot,” though? That has nothing to do with women. It’s not a slur used against women. It’s a slur used against men who engage sexually with other men. And that’s because gayness is, despite the obfuscatory efforts of the GLBT set, not a HUMAN condition, but a male one.

I may have to return to this topic at a later date because I feel as though I’m not quite getting across what I intend to. I’m also happy to clarify, if given the chance, anything I’ve written here in comments as well.

  1. hesperia permalink
    December 12, 2008 8:45 am

    I can’t think that I’ve ever seen this issue addressed properly or, I guess I should say, in a way that I agree with so totally! Thanks.

    Funny, I just wrote a brief post on the “lesbian/gay” issue in which I noted the relative invisibility of lesbians in that pairing.


  2. MargaretJamison permalink
    December 12, 2008 6:48 pm

    Hi hesperia, thanks for your comment! I’m so glad to see that it went over well with at least one woman 🙂 I thought I’d be called a homophobe for sure on this post.

    I stopped by your blog and looked at your coverage of that fiasco with the marching band being called “gay” despite the presence of plenty of lesbians. That’s exactly the kind of thing I had in mind when I wrote this. There’s also the fact that, for example, in the UK they’ve legally prohibited lesbian women from receiving artificial insemination, yet no one’s trying to put the kibbutz on gay men seeking out women to reproductively exploit as surrogates. And do you think any “gay” organization was up in arms about that double standard? Of course not. “Gay” rights are male rights, just like the “human” ones. If it doesn’t explicitly and expressly focus on female people, it’s about men only. Always.

  3. Queers United permalink
    December 13, 2008 3:08 pm

    gay is not just about sex, it is about identity, politics, and spirituality.

  4. MargaretJamison permalink
    December 14, 2008 12:03 pm

    Maybe “queer” is about identity, politics, and spirituality, but “gay” is about sexual preference. And it has nothing to do with women. Women buy into the “queer” agenda to their own detriment. That’s just my opinion.

    Thanks for commenting.


  5. Amy's Brain Today permalink
    December 18, 2008 6:13 pm

    Yeah, I totally get what you’re saying here, but I think a lot of people would need more details (ick) to understand why you are saying that gay sexuality is male. Sheila Jeffreys, for example, did a great job with that in “Unpacking Queer Politics” and, of course, got roundly denounced as a homophobe for her trouble.

    Personally I think your analysis is great.

  6. MargaretJamison permalink
    December 18, 2008 6:50 pm

    Ooh, a book for my wishlist 🙂

    And, yeah, completely there with you on the dirty details of what makes male gay sexuality different than female lesbian sexual-ness. Ick, indeed.

  7. Amy's Brain Today permalink
    December 22, 2008 5:52 pm

    So just out of curiosity and contrariness, if I, or any other lesbian, criticize gay men, am I then homophobic? How does that work exactly? Is it that I have internalized “gay hating”?

    I don’t think so. Do you remember the whole incident of Clay Aiken putting his hand over Kelly Ripa’s mouth and Rosie O’Donnell then castigating Kelly, claiming Kelly’s objection to being silenced by Clay’s hand over her mouth was “homophobic”? Seems to me the accusation of “homophobe” from lesbians in defense of gay men who act like all other men is about male identification, nothing more.

  8. MargaretJamison permalink
    December 22, 2008 6:53 pm

    From what I can understand, you’re, we’re, allowed to criticize gay men; you’re/we’re just not allowed to make mention, as part of your/our criticism, of the fact that the men in question are gay men because that’s homophobic. So, we can complain about men in general, with gay men to be presumed a part of that general population of men; we just can’t say anything about gay men in particular because their assholery should be considered part of their maleness, not their gayness.

    So, in the case of Clay Aiken (god, I hate that man), we can point out that he was an asshole for putting his hand in Rippa’s face. What we can’t do is propose that gay men, in particular, are more prone to making those sorts of gaffes at women’s expense precisely BECAUSE they are gay and are therefore not presumed to be sexualizing any and all contact with women.

    A straight man would probably never have put his hand on Rippa’s mouth that way – not in that context, on tv, in front of cameras – because it automatically would have been seen as sexual/sexist. Gay men have a kind of access to female bodies that isn’t allowed to straight men, in my opinion, and it’s that – the difference between the misogyny of straight vs gay men – which gets invisibilized by this “gay umbrella” framing. Sometimes a man is an asshole, not just because he’s a man, but because he’s a GAY man.

    And it’s absolutely about male-identification, as you point out. The whole gay/straight sexual paradigm is a model that stands to benefit men. The reality is that women are no more capable of being “straight,” in the sense of the word as men apply it to themselves, as we are of being “gay.” And I’m really annoyed when I see women accepting that framework so wholeheartedly. I mean, I’ve actually seen women argue that they have “straight privilege” over gay men. And while I’m really glad to see women who fuck men acknowledging the privileges they have over women who do not fuck men, it bothers me that they are not able to do so without also claiming a role in the oppression of gay men.

    I just don’t think that’s an honest assessment of the situation. Gay men are priests, husbands, fathers, anti-feminist political leaders, rapists of women and children, fashion designers and otherwise administrators and beneficiaries of patriarchy, just like any other men. Can’t say that about straight women, though.

    Sexuality is really beginning to seem to me like a false identity – like gender. Like gender, it can only be determined by observing external cues and behaviors, but also like gender, external cues and behaviors regarding sexuality are highly constrained by social norms. So, how are we ever to know whether or not a person abides by her/his internal “gender” or “sexuality” as opposed to whether a person simply adheres to the social norm just to get by with the least amount of persecution? And if male homoeroticism is not to be criticized on the individual level, does that preclude macro-level criticism of male homoeroticism, the corollary of which, under male supremacy, is woman-hating?

    Sorry for the long ramblingness of this response


  9. speaking up, an atheist woman permalink
    December 31, 2008 3:30 am

    I happen to love your ramblings :). They turn on light bulb after light bulb in the dark.

  10. MargaretJamison permalink
    December 31, 2008 12:43 pm

    Thanks, AW 🙂

    It’s funny you should say that, though, because I just left you a loooooooong one on that Depression thread. Ha!

  11. speaking up, an atheist woman permalink
    December 31, 2008 3:46 pm


  12. Sylvia permalink
    January 20, 2009 10:10 pm

    Well said!

    Gay men assume that the “homophobia” they experience is the same as the “homophobia” lesbians experience. Whereas the homophobia I have encountered has never been about the fact that I love women. It is always about the fact that I am unavailable for men’s sexual gratification.

    When you include the fact that lesbian issues have been consistently subjugated to gay men’s issues (I mean, in a rational world lesbians would be the only people who *didn’t* care about AIDS), and that critiques of gay culture are always assumed to be motivated by homophobia and never, say, by the rejection of male privilege in their appropriation of the female gender, and I’ve given up on the “gay rights” movement all together. If women are able to break patriarchy the assumption that they exist for male sexual gratification will go away anyway, and the 80% of women who express some attraction to those of their own gender will be able to express themselves anyway. Defeating the “homophobia” I experience has nothing to do with gayness and everything to do with feminism.

  13. MargaretJamison permalink
    January 21, 2009 3:17 am

    ***(I mean, in a rational world lesbians would be the only people who *didn’t* care about AIDS)***

    No kidding! I was saying to someone not too long ago that AIDS was an issue of male sexuality, that penises spread AIDS. I was roundly denounced as homophobic.

    Thanks for commenting, Sylvia.


  14. Erin Graham permalink
    January 14, 2010 4:54 pm

    Thank you. what a relief AROOO is. I’ve been increasingly frustrated with the whole ‘queer’ thing–in bending over backward to be ‘inclusive’, this anti-political movement has effectively excluded lesbians, and ESPECIALLY radical feminists. blech. I have so little in common with gay men, and less in common with transsexuals. Hell, i didn’t have to ‘live as a lesbian’ for a period of time before i got ‘sexuality reassignment surgery’ — i learned instead that the medical institutions are most interested in playing god and manipulating humans to become one homogenous human (okay, maybe five or six) without any messy frustrating bits. in fact, it’s kinda good that men are getting surgically altered to become a male version of woman, on account of men know what they want in a woman. we can just retire and live in spinster utopia. of course, they don’t want us to do that, they’ll cause a ruckus when we withdraw our work and attention. damned if you do, damned if you don’t. anyhow. there ya go. I’m grateful to my dear lover for finding AROOO and passing you on to me. whew.
    all the best,

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