Slaying Dragons

It’s been a helluva summer.

I’m grateful now to see the last week in August ahead, and more grateful for the change in weather. The windows are closed today and I’m wearing a flannel over a t-shirt for the first time in a while, after some of the hottest, wettest weeks I can remember. We don’t have air conditioning, so heat and humidity mean sleepless nights and listless days, which gets stressful over time.

I can usually handle seasonal stress like that. We’ve never gotten an air conditioner because I always say, “It’s only bad for a handful of days every year. I can survive.” (Living upstairs, I’m the one who deals with the most stifling heat.) This summer, though, it’s not what my nervous system needed. After figuring out I’d have to reboot my career, after my mom being all kinds of under-the-weather in July, after a flat tire and road trips and family visits, I’m just abuzz with all kinds of unpleasant sensations.

I just read a little article about anxiety that’s all, “Everyone feels jittery sometimes! It’s normal! Just make sure you eat well and continue to exercise!”  Tell that to my indigestion that’s been giving me chest pains for the past three weeks. Tell that to my flip-flopping heart that was flip-flopping all over while posting Maria Catt gifsets today. Tell that to the muscle in my calf I seemed to have strained trying to keep my leg from shaking yesterday, while showing my mom a Youtube video on my phone balanced on my thigh. I never could have held it steady in my hands.

The problem is, all summer I’ve been slaying dragons. All summer I’ve been coming up against my fears – coming up against the closet door – and throwing a shoulder against it. Posting these blogs, posting on tumblr – posting more and more of my authentic truth on my main tumblr, under my real name – buzzing off 2/3rds of my hair, sharing a ridiculous video of me playing the ukulele, spitting out the words “She’s stunning” in front of my more conservative family members, trying to talk, trying to be truthful, trying to be fully myself. Every time I make one of these moves my body reacts; one of the first blogs I wrote here was all about this reaction. Every little push is another battle with real physical costs. I am exhausted. I feel sick and weak and unwell and my anxieties feed off that further and tell me I must be dying, but I keep facing those dragons anyway.

Because you know what? It’s working.

On Saturday we had a family picnic, the first we’ve had in a long time, with a good number of people and kids sitting around a picnic table under a tree in the yard. Beautiful sunny day, iced tea, tasty salads, ongoing conversation about people’s lives and jobs and so forth. For the first time I can remember, I sat comfortably, not editing my posture, but indulging in my natural “lesbian slump”. When I spoke, I wasn’t nervous, and spoke naturally, with my real unedited inflections. I told the kids what to do when I needed to tell them what to do. I made jokes. I shrugged things off.

For the first time I can remember I wasn’t self-conscious in front of other people.

I’ve spent this summer surrounding myself with positive influences, with people and ideas that inspire me and make me happy, pumping myself full of them in a way I’d never let myself before. Others had always warned me off, scoffed or laughed or asked me if I thought that was really wise or perhaps ridiculous or come on you can’t be serious. This summer I said fuck’em and slayed that dragon and did it anyway, indulged like a madwoman. I don’t know if that’s some kind of therapy, but it should be.

And I’ve spent this summer revisiting my past, daring to go back and process events never processed before, things that seemed too unpleasant or uncomfortable to dissect. Along the way I revisited my journals that I’ve kept since I was fourteen, and I’ll tell you something, nothing is more harrowing or enlightening than rereading the past in first person. So much joy. So much pain. So much survival and simple continuation, the turning over of time until now.

So comforting, in a way. So comforting, in fact, that I found I could let so much of it go.

A week or so ago I came across a Myers-Brigg Personality Type testing site I hadn’t seen before, and idly stepped through the questions on my phone after dinner. Way back in 1998, a guy my mom was seeing introduced us to the personality types and had us take the great big long questionnaire, and I initially tested as an INTJ. Part of me was a bit proud of being a “rare type” but the description always seemed lonely and clinical to me, with descriptions like “The Architect” or “The Mastermind.” All that Thinking and Judging, all alone, no less. As the years passed I kept taking further tests, checking to see if that really was me, because I always thought there must be more, something else, something to reflect all I held inside. But I was always still an INTJ.

Then this test came along, and suddenly, it had changed. Just one letter – INFJ – but what a difference to suddenly be “The Advocate”. What a difference to be FEELING instead of thinking. I went around the Internet taking alternative versions of the test (as spontaneously and authentically as I could!) and it kept coming up INFJ. The profiles all spoke of emotions, of feelings, of sensitivity, of compassion and connection with humanity. They all spoke of a person I always felt I held within, too scared to show, locked away sometimes even from myself.

I realized I’ve spent my life thinking about how to feel. Buddhism tells us to stop thinking and just be, but though I’ve spent almost three years on and off the meditation cushion, I couldn’t just do it. I couldn’t just be myself. There was so much else I had to do. So much to let go of. So much to embrace. So many dragons to slay.

A friend once told me I was scary on the outside but a soft marshmallow on the inside. I balked. I have always been a fighter, I told her. I have always been slaying dragons and standing up again and trying to survive in my armor with my sword oh I am a knight surging forward. I held that image of myself in my head so hard I didn’t even know what I was anymore beneath that ideal.

Because the truth of the matter is, that soft marshmallow has been locked in a breadbox for a very long time, simply dreaming of riding out in armor to slay dragons. It was way too scary to imagine actually exposing myself to the light of day.

What I learned this summer is that even soft marshmallows can face their fears and slay dragons. Maybe it hurts every time, but at least I know it’s actually me hurting and actually me fighting, and actually me standing up again and feeling so much, learning so much, experiencing so much in the aftermath of every battle. Learning that you don’t have to be tough to survive. Learning that some triumphs can come from an offense of compassion instead of a defense of anger. Learning that it’s better to be a soft marshmallow and feel and experience all of this, if that’s what I really am.

We can change, sometimes slowly, sometimes painfully, but ultimately delightfully.

Even if it’s exhausting and we feel we need to sleep for days.

The nights are getting cooler. The sun a little lower in the sky. My mom is doing better, and I don’t have to be afraid to be myself anymore.

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What is the Deal with Female Gender Performance (really???)

This is a blog full of questions and thoughts and feelings. I smashed it out right in WordPress and almost decided not to post it, because it always seems like such a superficial topic. Let’s not split hairs, let’s not divide women, etc. But I have questions and thoughts and feelings about these things. I sincerely encourage discussion in the comments.

What is not a question at all is that Katie Ledecky is a stunning, amazing, often breathtaking young woman.

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Besides all that (and the staggering quality of her swimming, of course) she is utterly adorable.

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That smile, man. Honestly, what kind of sublime, joyful water creature are you?

Ledecky of U.S. reacts after settingnew world record during women's 1500m freestyle heat during Aquatics World Championships in Kazan

 

But the other night, while waiting to watch her race, NBC throws up this profile picture of her with all her stats or whatever:

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And I’m like, wait. What? Where has that Katie gone? Who is that? I kind of see a resemblance but… but…

This has been a thorn in my side ever since I first figured out I was attracted to women, and I think part of the reason why it took me so long to figure it out. When I see a woman I find attractive (we all have our preferences) in her natural state, I cannot stop looking at her. I cannot stop looking at her. Like just this intense enjoyment of her natural features, her expressions, her humanity. But as soon as the makeup goes on and the hair is “styled” nine times out of ten I find myself scrabbling to find that woman I admire again. And a part of me doesn’t even want to look at her anymore. It’s like with the application of a few salon products she’s lost to me.

It seems like a tremendously overreactive response to the very things that are supposed to accentuate a woman’s natural beauty. And it bothers me, because I feel like I’m probably missing out on a lot of interesting women because I can’t get past the way that look dissuades me.

Now, I know – we all know around here – that makeup and hair styling and much of women’s fashion is designed to alter womens’ appearances towards the preferences of men. To make them look younger, more sexually approachable, more closely aligned with some kind of Perfect Model Beauty Standard only a handful of women in the entire world naturally express. I also personally believe that a great deal of that standard comes from the way women are made to appear in pornography – maybe much, much more than your average neighborhood 40-something wife and mother might consider while shopping at the Clairol counter. We all know that patriarchy, the male gaze, and capitalism are shoving all these products – based on this particular look – down women’s throats.

And we know because of all that, a bit of hair and makeup styling is sometimes essential, as Maria Catt and PurpleSageFem have both recently reminded us.

I also want to leave room for fashion and for personal grooming, including makeup and all kinds of hair styling/coloring/whatever, as a form of personal expression. It can all be used to create unique looks and if that’s what expresses your personality the best, then hey, I am all for it, men and women and everyone who identifies in-between.

What I am more concerned about is the near-ubiquitous acceptance and attraction to a very particular, standardized way for women to appear. For me, living in the US with a basic cable package, if I turn on my TV at any time during the day or night, for any length of time, 98% of women will strictly abide to this standard of appearance. The outliers will be a handful of contestants on reality shows, like chefs on Food Network, or a nice lesbian couple looking for a new house on HGTV.

Ellen Degeneres and Rachel Maddow, the most gender non-conforming celebrity women I can think of right now, both wear noticeable makeup. I have to say Ellen does a great job of downplaying it, however, despite being a spokesperson for CoverGirl. But hardly anywhere can you see a woman in her natural state.

With the Olympics we have an opportunity, at least now and then. Thank goodness! But then the network profiles the athlete, and in the case of several female athletes I’ve seen profiled so far, the first – the FIRST – point made in her biography is how really feminine she is and how she likes to go shopping and do her nails just like any other girl. Let’s not forget she’s only NOT wearing makeup to do her sport, right? And those muscles don’t make her any less of a girl!!!

Okay. I know, I know, the pervasive effects of gender roles under patriarchy. I know, I know. We live in a highly gendered society. But this is the question: If I am attracted to women in their natural state, and I know others – probably even (even!) men, I’m sure – are also attracted to women in their natural state, why is there utterly no room for that to be seen or expressed? Are there no women who can safely show their natural faces – none, anywhere? Is our world truly that small and oppressive?

This is what really worries me. And it spirals down to something else, which is the issue I’ve always had with the words “butch” and “femme”.  I know, I know, lesbian terms from the days when it was best to appear in public with one woman passing as a man and the other appearing as a woman. But times have changed, and I sincerely don’t believe that in most cases “butch” lesbians are performing a male role. I think these days most “butch” women are simply eschewing feminine gender roles and dressing comfortably, perhaps with a short hair style she prefers. If a woman buzzed her head but wore makeup and a dress she would be “femme”.  It’s not the buzzcut that makes the butch. It’s the total dropping of the feminine gender role.

So is Katie Ledecky “butch” in the pool but “femme” when doing a press interview on stage?

I know it is a precious term for many lesbians, but there are times when I want to do away with the word “butch.” We are all just women in our natural state. Sometimes, some of us put on makeup and feminine fashion. Sometimes, women in our natural state choose – or are pressured into – being femme.

(The problem with this blog is that I could go off on a tangent regarding transgender gender performance now, but you can all feel free to go off there in the comments instead. 😉 )

As a person who is primarily attracted to women in their natural state, it just boggles my mind – sincerely, in a frightening way – to think that there is a natural system of attraction that we could all rely on, that would leave women to be themselves in all their individual, unique glory (as men are allowed to be) but we are so overwhelmingly manipulated that we hardly ever get a glimpse of that possibility. Women do not have to wear makeup to be attractive. I say it again: WOMEN DO NOT HAVE TO WEAR MAKEUP TO BE ATTRACTIVE TO THE SAME OR THE OPPOSITE SEX. But we are so conditioned to believe women have to that we never see anything else. Sometimes, it seems like that alternative isn’t even an option.

At least not without some reassurance somewhere. Oh, look at this glamour shot. Oh remember, she likes to have her nails done, she’s just as girly as any other girl. Oh, doesn’t she look better with some makeup on. Oh, doesn’t she look better with her hair done. Oh, don’t we love seeing her dressed up to “go out”?

Because heaven forbid she go out as she is. Heaven forbid.

I know it’s misogyny. I know it’s patriarchy. I know it’s the veils women have been forced to wear since Roman times. I know it’s all of these things.

But is it really, really, that deeply, disturbingly pervasive?  So pervasive that (I have no doubts) a woman will read this and immediately begin defending her use of styling products to make herself look like every other woman in the world, not as a social necessity, but as an innate expression of herself?

Honey, I know you’re so much more beautiful than that.

I always thought it was me. I always thought I was weird or super-picky or just not getting it. I always doubted I could be truly attracted to women because I wasn’t attracted to that standardized performance of femininity at all. But now that I’m older and wiser and absolutely sure I am attracted to women, in their most basic, natural state…

It is terrifying, at times, to think of what we’re really up against.

The detransitioners are growing powerful — Purple Sage

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via The detransitioners are growing powerful — Purple Sage

What is impressing me most about so many of these voices is the depth of perspective and experience combined with such youth. The eloquence and intelligence, the calm rationality, and the plain determined courage. If women like Cari are powerful now, imagine their strength as it grows and matures. They are going to change the world.

I look forward to seeing that world. I look forward to seeing a world in which I never would have thought myself a failed version of a woman. I think they can do it. They have every support I can give them.

Voices

“That’s just your personal experience. I get a very different story from the trans people I follow.”

This is what I have heard when I have tried to describe dysphoria as the mental health issue it actually is. This is the morass of popular allyship and anti-analytical activism that does little to actually help those caught up in gender dysphoria, due to the denial of the actual personal experiences – not just of one person, but of many. At times, it feels like you’re drowning in it, helpless, and not even your closest confidants dare break from the social herd and throw you a life preserver.

 

But a wave of voices is rising, and helping tremendously.

Maria Catt has made a video about her experiences.

 

Kat of destroyyourbinder followed suit.

 

Max of Born Wrong added another.

 

CrashChaosCats has been writing powerfully.

Equally remarkable, GuideOnRagingStars has put out a dysphoria survey on tumblr and has been posting responses. The Redefining Dysphoria tag on her blog now offers the experiences of a growing number of women who have all worked with dysphoria in a myriad of ways, all of them sharing a common narrative of being separated from their acceptance of femaleness through trauma, through mental health issues, and most often from the cruelties of a world oppressive to women of all ages.

This is not just singular, unique, personal experience. This is not one person’s perspective. This is a gathering of women finding the strength to speak their truth through all the forces against them, internal and external. This is us finding that strength through each other.

I cannot find words for how grateful I am to hear these voices.

If you feel you are alone and silenced, watch these videos, read these testimonies, and know you are not alone. Even if you cannot speak right now, others are speaking for you.

And if you are out there clinging to the popular trans narrative, that transition is the only answer, that gender is real, that we all need to be put in our proper boxes with our proper labels and just shut up about everything else – listen. The wave is rising, and with any luck, will wash us all to safer shores.

Gratitude

A year ago yesterday I woke up early to drive my mother and her friend to an opera three hours away, after having slept just a handful of hours because I’d been angsting about what bathroom I should use at the venue. A year ago yesterday I woke up and stared at the ceiling and said with all awareness and certainty, “There has to be another way.”

A year ago yesterday, after three years of seriously considering and in small ways attempting, I gave up on the idea of transition as a solution to my problems. Maybe I was just a woman after all. Just a woman, just a lesbian, just a messed-up, terrified human being with a horrifically distorted idea of herself and her place in society.

That was a terrible thing to face.

Yesterday afternoon, I sat under a tree on a very pleasant summer’s day with my laptop, typing out a self-esteem exercise: a letter of gratitude to myself. I had to, after all, thank myself for turning that ship around last year. I had to thank myself for having the courage to face all the terrible things I hated about myself and about society. I had to thank myself for having the curiosity and the patience to unravel it all and find beauty where there was no beauty and love and hope and vitality where once there had been nothing but fear and disgust.

But there are others that deserve my gratitude, too.

I have to thank redressalert, 23xx, hot-flanks and Maria Catt for their honesty and courage in sharing their stories. When I read their words, at last I saw other women like myself and knew I wasn’t alone in my struggles. My struggles were real, shared by others, and could be overcome. I will always be grateful for their compassion and continued efforts to reach out to those who are lost and confused and hurting. If any reader here happens to be a young person of female body who is having a hard time being female know there is a community that will welcome you and give whatever comfort we can. Please contact redressalert for information.

In that same vein, for anyone from the detransition/reconciliation community who is reading this, thank you for your sisterhood, your courage, your camaraderie, and your support.

The first words I searched after realizing transition wouldn’t work for me were “transgender critical”. That search lead me to Third Way Trans, and I am grateful for that compassionate, analytical perspective on the psychological aspects of the transgender experience. Nothing opened my mind more to the possibility of wrenches in my own psyche, and as I continue to dig them out I have nothing but admiration for those who make it their life’s work to do so.

Third Way Trans lead me to 4th Wave Now, and I remain grateful for the ever-vigilant defense of GNC children and my first introduction to radical feminist ideas about bodies and gender roles. The transition of children is such an enormous concern, and facing this issue head-on serves not only to possibly save these children hardships in their futures, but also informs the greater public about the more harmful and disturbing aspects of the transgender trend.

My gratitude extends to all the lesbian feminists and radical feminists on tumblr, who continue to engage in discourse and disseminate information every day, despite the constant threat of being branded a TERF and a bigot. I am grateful for the education they have provided me.

A shout-out of gratitude to PurpleSageFem, for writing about lesbian history and lesbian issues with such forthright authenticity and pride, and for being friendly as well.

I am most grateful, in fact, for the community of bloggers and commenters here on WordPress, those who have followed my blog since my first posts on 4th Wave Now and who have hung in there with me through my more personal trials. I’m grateful for every detransitioning or reconciling voice that has joined us in the past year to tell her story and add to the collective testimony. I am grateful we have a space we can make ourselves heard, at least by some.

I am grateful for the Wanted Project for recording the voices of women for women, to preserve, in a way, a space once held sacred and continue to assure others it is still out there, if only in our continued existence as ourselves.

Most of all, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to write and find out I am not alone.

My thanks to all of you.

First Draft of the Little Lesbian Handbook

The following is the first draft of the little resource PDF I’m writing for those just dipping their toes into the world of being a lesbian. Mostly, it’s everything I wish someone had told me back when I was like AHHH WHAT AM I GAY?? in the most succinct language I can manage (though I will go through it several more times with a fine-toothed comb.)

If there is anything that sounds off, or anything that seems missing or mistaken, please let me know in the comments!  I’ve tried to stay in a kind of open, middle-of-the-road place, avoiding some of the more heated terminology of our current times while still putting things plainly. I still could use additions to the resource lists at the end (I really need some websites maybe???) as well as further “Words from fellow lesbians”.

Many thanks to all who have helped out so far!

 

Lesbian is the “L” in LGBT. Women have loved other women throughout human history, but what does it mean to be a lesbian? How can we live our lives to the fullest as lesbians?

What is a lesbian?

A lesbian is a sexually-mature human female who is exclusively attracted to other sexually-mature human females. This is a homosexual sexual orientation, also known as same-sex attraction. Lesbians are attracted to both primary and secondary sex characteristics expressed by the XX chromosomes that make a female human female.

What do we mean by this? Lesbians are attracted to female bodies. Essentially, this indicates the female genitals (labia, clitoris, vulva, vagina) but can also extend to breasts, fat distribution, vocal pitch, bone structure, skin texture, and other secondary sex characteristics. Lesbians are attracted to women of all different shapes, sizes and colors, and thankfully women come in all different shapes, sizes and colors.

Homosexuality is found in many animal species, from primates to lizards. It is a naturally occurring biological trait and not a psychological condition or personal preference.

What do we mean by “attraction”?

As social animals, human beings seek out other humans for mating, physical interaction, companionship, and pair bonding. Attraction can range from finding another person interesting and subtly alluring, to outright physically desirable and sexually arousing. Attraction can grow slowly over time or come on all at once; it can be a fascination with a short interaction or the foundation of a long relationship.

Because lesbians are attracted to others of their own sex, they often bond over similar life experiences. A lesbian sees other women not just as physically or sexually desirable, but also as admirable role-models and sympathetic peers. Due to this shared experience, lesbians, unlike many men, tend not to reduce other women to sexual objects on display for their own gratification.

Lesbians are attracted to femininity only by personal preference; some lesbians love a woman in high-heels and makeup, and others prefer short hair and a tailored suit on their partner. It is the natural woman beneath and her individual expression of herself that matters.

Lesbians and men

Lesbians are not attracted to male bodies and genitals, and therefore often have different relationships with men than heterosexual women. Some lesbians are very comfortable with men and maintain healthy friendships, while others prefer to center their lives around women.

Because our culture is overwhelmingly heterosexual and we are taught from a young age that men and women fall in love, have sex, and marry, a lesbian may feel obligated to date, have sex with, and form intimate relationships with men. Some lesbians spend many years convinced they are straight until they realize the difference between their attraction towards women and the social pressures and rewards of being with a man. Their experiences do not make them any less of a lesbian.

If a woman is attracted to both male and female bodies and desires intimate relationships with both men and women, then she is bisexual.

Lesbians and heterosexual women

Many lesbians find all women attractive, including those who are exclusively attracted to men. Lesbians may idolize straight celebrities and women from history, and sometimes become strongly attracted to women in their lives. For many lesbians, falling in love with a female friend or other close female associate is their first “wake up call” to being a lesbian.

Most lesbians realize the difficulty and frustration in being attracted to someone who will never be similarly attracted, and learn to focus their relationship goals on other lesbians and bisexual women. The shared experiences of another lesbian becomes a strong point of bonding.

Accepting Yourself as a Lesbian

Because lesbians hold no attraction towards men and often feel no need to seek male approval, lesbians experience life – sometimes from a young age – very differently from other women. Many lesbians remember childhoods as tomboys, as rough-and-tumble as the boys they grew up with, and bewildered by dresses, ruffles and dolls. Other lesbians may have loved dress-up and got along well with other girls, but found themselves at a loss whenever men became the topic of a conversation. Every lesbian experience is as different as every lesbian, and as she comes to terms with her sexual orientation she often has to come to terms with many aspects of herself, from her personality to her preferences in clothing, her immediate sexual expression and her long-term goals for the future.

The realization of being homosexual can change a woman’s relationships with her friends, family, and even her faith. At the same time, fully accepting herself as a lesbian opens up new worlds of inclusion, openness, authenticity, and growth.

Lesbian Presentation and Expression

Lesbian fashion and expression runs the gamut of individuality. Some lesbians may appear like any straight woman, with styled hair, makeup, and feminine clothing. Other lesbians may prefer to wear their hair short and shop in the men’s department. Many lesbians tend towards practical clothing and a nondescript look, while others express themselves through hair color, piercings and creative fashion choices. Some lesbians may desire to be mothers, others may live on farms surrounded by animals. Some lesbians are quiet, some are loud. Some love people and parties, some love quietness and solitude. Most are a complex combination, like any other human being!

Because discovering oneself as a lesbian can be a life-altering experience, seeing and learning about as many other lesbians as possible is very important. Looking at lesbian photography and creative works, reading interviews and lesbian publications, and joining lesbian communities is essential in realizing how vast and unlimited lesbians are in their appearances, personalities, and lifestyles. There is on one way – or two ways – to be a lesbian.

Experimenting with clothing and hairstyles and allowing your full personality to express itself – sometimes after years of repression – can be exciting and liberating.

Lesbian Sexuality

Lesbians are sometimes asked, “How do two women have sex?” The answer is many ways, actually!

For many lesbians, masturbation is her first introduction to lesbian sex. Women use their fingers to stroke their clitoris and around the vulva until orgasm occurs. Penetration is not always required and not always desired. Some lesbians may thrust into or “ride” a pillow or other object to bring themselves to orgasm. Many of these experiences carry over to sex with a partner, through fingering and tribadism.

Cunnilingus, or oral sex, is the use of the lips, mouth and tongue to stimulate a partner’s genitals. Sex toys such as vibrators may also be put into play, and a strap-on dildo can be used to perform penetrative sex with no male penis involved.

Lesbian sex as depicted in pornography only vaguely resembles actual lesbian sex. Pornography is produced for the male gaze, and lesbians benefit most in learning about sex through other lesbian and bisexual women and their own personal experiences.

Lesbian sexual preferences are as varied as lesbians themselves, and every woman is different. As with any sexual activity, mutual consent is essential and practicing safe sex remains important. Although lesbians cannot impregnate each other, sexually-transmitted diseases can still be transmitted. Always consider both your partner and yourself with utmost respect.

Expressing your orientation

Aside from sexuality, lesbians should embrace and share their love and attraction for women as a healthy part of their lives. Much of this depends on the receptiveness of close friends and family and the surrounding social environment.

Every lesbian should feel free to indulge in movies, novels, music and art that feature women she finds attractive and relate to her lesbian experience. Fantasies about women and female characters enliven many lesbians’ lives. Some find creative outlets to express themselves, from drawing and painting to writing fan-fiction. A like-minded community centered around creative work can be a source of support and further inspiration.

Many lesbians find strength through centering women in their lives by nurturing female friendships and turning to women at every opportunity. This can range from taking part in women’s groups to choosing a female cashier at check-out. Surrounding herself with women’s history, women’s writing, and the work of women may be deeply healing and empowering for a lesbian.

A lesbian should be able to speak openly and honestly with friends about her likes, crushes, love life, and disappointments, just like anyone else. It is important to find supportive people and cultivate those relationships.

Coming Out

Revealing oneself to be a lesbian is a lifelong process that changes with every situation. A first coming out to a loved one may be nerve-wracking, while later in life saying “Yep, I’m gay,” will come as easily as any other personal detail.

A lesbian must first “come out” to herself, accepting herself as a homosexual woman. This can be both an enlightening and difficult time – it is normal to feel suspended between a joyous new sense of freedom and a deep-seated fear of fitting in. This first step, however, eventually leads to community, support, and the promise of a fulfilling life.

Telling a close friend or relative is often the next essential step. Whether writing a letter or requesting a face-to-face, heart-to-heart conversation, trusting another supportive adult often grants a sense of relief and connection. The confidence this first coming-out experience provides forms the foundation for having the strength to come out to others in the future.

In every situation, a lesbian must judge receptivity, necessity, and risk. Sometimes it is more important to protect personal welfare than to be forthright about sexual orientation. Other times, trusting another person with your orientation and experience may be the best thing a lesbian can do.

Coping with prejudice

Unfortunately, fear and hatred of homosexuality still exists within families and communities. Lesbians who reveal their sexual orientation may become victims of verbal and physical harassment, moral and religious bullying, and even malicious interventions in the form of corrective rape or conversion therapy. Sometimes even a careless remark from a friend can be emotionally damaging, so deeply does homophobia and ignorance about lesbianism pervade society.

In any instance of bullying or bigotry, the knowledge that no homosexual person stands alone is often the greatest source of personal strength. A supportive network of understanding friends and family is, of course, advantageous, but many organizations exist to support and shelter LGBT victims of homophobia and violence, from school-sponsored gay-straight alliances to national coalitions of lawyers, doctors and therapists.

If the surrounding environment is so unhealthy that you feel depressed or suicidal, please reach out for help. The Trevor Hotline exists to provide immediate care and counseling, and can be reached 24-hours a day at 1-866-488-7386 or at thetrevorproject.org

Lesbian Relationships

Like heterosexual relationships, lesbian relationships range from short-term dating to lifelong marriages. Although generally free from the gender roles of straight pairings, lesbian couples face many of the same difficulties, including conflicting personalities, financial strain, illnesses, and of course the loss of a beloved partner. Even so, studies show that homosexual couples often experience a greater sense of lasting satisfaction in their relationships than heterosexual couples.

Many lesbian couples mark their commitment with a marriage or commitment ceremony and reception like any straight couple, complete with cake and formalwear, and in many places lesbian couples live lives no different than their heterosexual counterparts. Although same-sex marriage is gaining support throughout the world, much more work needs to be done to provide all lesbian couples with full legal rights and social acceptance.

Whether in committed relationships or single, lesbians may desire to raise children. Some lesbians give birth to children naturally through a sperm donor, and some lesbians choose to adopt. Studies have shown that lesbians, in fact, make particularly good parents!

Lesbians may also choose to live on their own, a kind of female bachelor experience. Some may have short-term relationships or long-distance relationships; others may choose to have no relationships at all. In some situations, a lesbian may find typical relationships with other women difficult, if not impossible.

No lesbian is defined by her relationship status, however. Filling her life with personal contentment, supportive community, and expressions of her love for women is just as important as relationships with other women.

Lesbians looking for lesbians

Whether looking for love or sisterhood, a lesbian needs to know where to find others like her. Throughout history, lesbians have supported one another, creating spaces for healing, self-acceptance, and community.

Women’s interest groups, music festivals and sporting events have all traditionally provided ground for lesbians to meet and mingle. LGBT spaces and Pride events draw lesbian participants, as well feminist gatherings. Stereotypes revolving around softball teams, nature walks, and do-it-yourself endeavors sometimes hold true, as well!

The Internet has provided further tools for lesbians to connect with one another, from dating applications to informal blogging and Facebook groups. Striking up friendships through online discussions can be a great way for locally isolated lesbians to find support and community.

Lesbians and Gender Roles

Because lesbians have no innate desire to appeal to men, a lesbian’s personal expression and lifestyle may contrast greatly from the women around her. A disturbing awareness of this difference – or trauma from being reprimanded by others – can become internalized to the point that a lesbian may feel very uncomfortable with her femaleness and begin to separate her identity from her female body. She may wish to become male or anything other than female. This may also result from the oppression of misogyny and abuse from men.

A lesbian disassociating from femaleness needs the support of other women, particularly those who have survived the same challenges and learned to cope. Learning that a woman is a woman simply by virtue of her female body is often a key part in beginning to heal. No woman must conform to the feminine gender role of being quiet, servile, pretty, and delicate in order to be considered a woman. A women is a complete and perfect female human being just as she is, regardless of her personality, interests, mannerisms, or way of dress. A woman is never “masculine” or “like a man” because of her attraction to women. A long line of women throughout history have lived and spoken this truth, and becoming acquainted with these women and their contemporaries can reveal new ways to embody femaleness.

A woman’s body is a good and natural body, separate from all society demands it to be. Lesbians often need to learn to love themselves as women, apart from the objectification and oppression of women that permeates our society. Mindfulness of the body and yoga practices can help a woman reconnect with her female body, as well as exercises in self-care such as bathing, time spent in nature, and enjoyable physical activity. Learning to love oneself again is not always easy but certainly not impossible.

Some lesbians may find life is only livable if they transition to living as a male some or all of the time. This transition may include surgeries to remove the breasts and alter the genitals and continuous use of hormones to maintain a male appearance. Even so, transgender men retain their female experience and their biologically female bodies, and often maintain relationships and share spaces with lesbians.

Males who transition away from living as men to living as women through hormones and surgery neither attain a female body nor the lived experience of being female and cannot be considered lesbians. A woman sexually attracted to a transgender woman is not homosexual but rather heterosexual or bisexual.

Lesbian History

Until the last century, same-sex attraction between women was viewed with skepticism or ignored by greater society, with few words to define women who lived their lives loving other women. The word “lesbian”, however, is derived from the isle of Lesbos where the Greek poet Sappho wrote of her love for other women, bearing evidence of same-sex love and attraction between women thousands of years in the past.

Around the world, lesbians have always existed and endured amid the patriarchal oppression of women. Lesbians would sometimes set up house together in “Boston Marriages” if they could support themselves without a man. Women in marriages with men would have affairs with other women, leaving heartfelt letters as clues to the true nature of their relationships. Throughout history, women have cut their hair and donned men’s clothing to live as men, sometimes legally marrying women and living out their lives undisturbed, or undiscovered.

In more recent times as homosexuality became a topic for psychologists, religious leaders, and politicians, love between women became analyzed, pathologized, and demonized. Women have been socially ostracized, committed to institutions, medicated and mistreated in attempts to “correct” their feelings and behavior. Lesbianism became fetishized as well, a fantasy of two objectified women for men to enjoy, skewing public perception further.

Throughout the last half of the 20th century, the gay rights movement has not only revealed and sought to rectify the injustices imposed upon the LGBT community, but has also brought to light the rich and varied history of lesbians, their words, their works, and their contributions to humanity as a whole.

Lesbian Terminology

Lesbians have used many terms throughout history to describe their attraction and themselves. Some of these words include:

  • Gay woman – Many women who are uncomfortable with the word lesbian will simply call themselves gay women.
  • Dyke – A lesbian term dating back to the early 20th century, dyke is an alternative word lesbians may use to describe themselves. Used by those outside the lesbian community, it is considered a slur.
  • Butch – Used to describe a lesbian who forgoes traditional feminine gender roles such as wearing feminine clothing or long, styled hair, the term butch is derived from early 20th century lesbian couples in which one partner had to appear as a man for their public acceptance and safety. It is a lesbian-specific term denoting a particular expression of womanhood.
  • Femme – Describing a lesbian who adheres to some feminine gender roles, femme lesbians often wear makeup, styled hair and feminine clothing. This lesbian-specific term was created as the counterpart to “butch” in early 20th century lesbian pairings.
  • Queer – Still considered a slur by many, in modern times queer is used as an umbrella term encompassing various orientations and identities outside of the heterosexual norm.

Lesbian Symbology

When accepting yourself as a lesbian, sometimes the smallest details make the most difference in developing a sense of self and belonging.

  • The Labrys – A double-bladed axe, the labrys was a weapon carried by priestesses of the Minoan civilization on Crete, symbolizing strength and self-sufficiency.
  • The Triangle – In Nazi Germany, an upside-down black triangle was used to designate lesbians, as the pink triangle was used to designate gay men. Like the pink triangle, the LGBT movement has reclaimed the black triangle as a symbol of perseverance. The Lesbian Flag depicts a black triangle on a purple ground, usually with a white labrys within the triangle.
  • Interlocked Female Symbols – Two female symbols interlocked through the circles are often used by lesbians. Some lesbians celebrate the female symbol alone, as well!
  • The Nautical Star – In the 1950’s some lesbians would have a five-pointed star tattooed on their inner wrist, which could be revealed in the company of other lesbians.
  • Violets – Sappho’s poems speak of giving violets to a beloved female companion, and violets have been traditionally exchanged between female lovers for centuries.
  • Amazons – A legendary tribe of female warriors from Asia Minor, the Amazons were feared by the Greeks who wrote of women riding horses, wearing trousers, and living autonomously without any interference from men. Many lesbians from the feminist movements of the 70’s use Amazon as a designation of sisterhood.
  • The Rainbow – Created to celebrate all aspects of the gay rights movement, the rainbow flag has become a beloved symbol of LGBT people around the world.

 

Inspiring Lesbians and women who loved women

Sally Ride – astronaut

Romaine Brooks – painter

Rose Cleveland – First Lady of the United States 1885-1886

Virginia Woolf & Vita Sackville-West – authors and poets

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir – Former Prime Minister of Iceland

Lesbian Athletes

Amélie Mauresmo, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova – tennis

Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe – soccer

Diana Nyad – endurance swimmer

Brittany Griner – basketball

Clare Balding – jockey and sportscaster

 

Lesbian Books and Authors

Sarah Waters – author (Fingersmith, Tipping the Velvet)

Audre Lorde – author, poet, activist (Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name)

Anne-Marie MacDonald – author (Fall on Your Knees)

Louise Blum – author (You’re Not From Around Here, Are You?)

Rita Mae Brown – author (Rubyfruit Jungle)

Leslie Feinberg – author (Stone Butch Blues)

Alice Walker – author (The Color Purple)

Barbara Ann Wright – author (The Pyramid Waltz)

Ann Bannon – author (Odd Girl Out)

Patricia Highsmith – author (The Price of Salt)

Mary Oliver – poet (Dream Work)

Alison Bechtel – comic artist, author (Dykes to Watch Out For)

Lesbian Entertainers

Michelle Ehlen – filmmaker, actor

Jane Lynch – actor, singer, comedian

Wanda Sykes – comedian, writer, actor

Ellen Page – actress, activist

Sue Perkins – comedian, writer, actor, broadcaster

Sandi Toskvig – writer, actor, comedian

Hannah Hart – vlogger, writer, actor

Ellen Degeneres – comedian, actor, writer

Lea DeLaria – comedian, actor, musician

Sandra Bernhard – comedian, actor, writer

Cameron Esposito – comedian

Lesbian Musicians

k.d. Lang

Melissa Etheridge

Tegan & Sara

Meshell Ndegeocello

Melissa Ferrick

Alix Dobkin

Janis Ian

Lesbian Movies and Television

Tipping the Velvet

Fingersmith

Saving Face

The Incredible Adventures of Two Girls in Love

Carol

 

???? TV SHOWS WHERE THEY DON’T DIE ????

Words from fellow Lesbians

“You are allowed to be any kind of woman you want to be with any sort of appearance imaginable. You can love women deeply and earnestly and still be a woman. You can learn to love your body just the way it is, in time. You’re most probably going to go through a lot of hardship. Sometimes you will revolt against yourself because of the poisonous hatred given to you by your community for not fitting in. This revolt might be an eating disorder or a deep hatred for your body. You might become suicidal or addicted to drugs. But know that in the end, you’re a truly stunning human being, a woman, a lesbian, a lover and nurturer of other woman, a thinker, a do-er. Nothing is wrong or amiss with you because you are gay or because you want to look and act in a way society cannot tolerate. You aren’t too masculine or too this or that. And there is and will continue to be a community of strong women for you to turn to.”

“Your sexuality is yours. It is not for male consumption or for males to police. They will try, but they are wrong. You are a full person, not just a reflection of what men want from you. You deserve to be happy. There is nothing wrong about your lack of desire for men. There are other women like you and someday you will find them.”