Womankind Article on Lesbians

CWLU News | November 1971


Dear Lavender Woman: 

I submitted the following article to WOMANKIND a feminist newspaper, about a month ago. They refused to print it, offered no explanation, and never returned it. I think my letter reflects attitudes held by many Lesbians. I am sad and frustrated with much of the Woman's Movement in Chicago. I cannot be a sister to many of the straight women - I can be only a name—Lesbian. It is too late for liberalism structured around the phrase, “I understand”. I no longer understand. Even Time Magazine prints 'Letters to the Editor" that are expressing dissenting opinions.


I call you sisters and yet our kinship has been distant. Most of you are afraid of me and yourselves. You have frightened yourselves into political factions and closets to avoid yourselves. I am a Lesbian. 

The Women's Movement in Chicago is crucial for every woman. But to whom are the straight women in the Union trying to relate? I get a strong sense of white middle class heterosexual networks. These networks continue to ignore Lesbians, third world women, (straight or gay). 

In the first issue of WOMANKIND the word Lesbian is not in print once. On the back page, “Who we are…” I see “single, divorced, widowed…” This is confusing. The categories exclude any woman who does not define her existence in terms of a man—past, present, or future. Even if there was not one gay woman on the paper staff who considered herself gay, the implications of heterosexual eliteness are strong. If no Lesbian bothered to express herself in the paper, the connotations are not subtle, and are impotent. There has been no comfortable alliance made— no outreach to Lesbians—and no concern for the gaps. But we cannot superimpose that concern on you in the Women's Union. We won't ask you to learn for us. We just keep waiting for you to want to learn for yourselves. I cannot teach my oppressor until she realizes she is my oppressor. 

My concerns with women are strong on many levels. My personal struggles, as vours, are draining. My commitment to live outside of the closet as a Lesbian is often mind—fucking. 

We all suffer oppression from a male-oriented, role-oriented, violence-oriented society. But how long must I continue to suffer oppression at the hands of sisters?

How many of you know anything about Lesbianism on a gut level? How many of you have exploited my sisters in order to “come out” so you could be “right on”? How long can you avoid the topic in your rap groups? How many of you thought it was okay that no homophile organization had been contacted regarding the “Lesbian plot” course you offered through the Union? How many of you consider your Lesbian sisters image-damaging to the Movement? And how many of you base your opinions of Lesbianism on myth derived from the writings of straight male psychiatrists whose interests lie in penis protection? 

It is time we were honest with one another. It is time we talked. It is time we realize the battles we fight are the same. 

I wear an abortion button next to my gay pride button.

Linda Shear

Dear Linda, 

We were glad to see your letter reprinted in the Feminist Voice, because we think that there should be much more open discussion within the women's movement about gay liberation, and especially the relation (or lack of it) of Lesbians to the women’s movement. In order to grow we all need to be more aware of where each other Is coming from, and why things happen the way they do - in other words, to be self-critical and to criticize each other. 

We’d like to do this regarding your letter, which was sent to us and not printed in WOMANKIND. It seems that there are two different aspects to this – theoretical and practical. It was a conscious collective decision to not print your letter (theory), but it was because of a fuck-up that you weren’t answered personally (practice). 

Because we see WOMANKIND as an outreach paper, not as an internal movement paper print letters or articles that are directed toward a movement audience. This means that we feel that gay liberation and Lesbianism should be, and is, a part of WOMANKIND, but that struggles between gay liberation and women’s liberation or between gay and straight women in the women’s movement should be in more movement oriented papers. This is why we're glad your letter was in the Feminist Voice, because from a recent meeting with their staff, we understand that they see themselves as more of a forum for movement discussion. We also realize now that we should have (and will) put your letter in the Union's membership newsletter - because it really was addressed to the entire Union, not only to WOMANKIND. We also want to see WOMANKIND as more of a totality — so that issue isn’t isolated, and that they will be seen as a continuing, growing process. Because of this, we went ahead with the first issue when promised articles on lesbianism didn’t come through. Articles are another problem — most articles on Lesbianism are written to a movement, or at least “hip” audience, with jargon and references that would need explaining, in order to not be elitist. We really need articles for a straight — both sexually and culturally — audience, that don’t assume they are sympathetic to gay liberation, or know about current hassles/problems. We’d like to encourage people to write, and would like to hear from you again if you know of and or have suggestions.

Our not responding to your letter and explaining this, was purely a fuck-up. Because we don’t have a way of ensuring that collective decisions are really carried out by the person that volunteers, we all thought that you had been told what was going on and your letter returned. We’re going to try to correct this by having one or two people responsible on a rotating basis for specifically making sure that criticisms, suggestions, etc. are followed through (taking a tip from our Feminist Voice sisters). This is one of the problems of trying to working together, collectively instead of hierarchically.

We make stakes, because we doing something new, but by reevaluating our work in theory and practice, we’ll be able to correct them. Your letter has helped us do that by creating discussion which better defined for us what we’re trying to do, and by pointing up mistakes in how we’re going it. Thank you. 

-- WOMANKIND work group

Any forms of behavior that don't fit into the image that television and Reader's Digest believe the American people should be like is usually categorized as either subnatural or supernatural. The myths about homosexuals fall into both categories, depending on how close it is to being you. Lesbians are subnatural when they live next door and supernatural when they live in Paris and write books. 

Most people's ideas about lesbianism come from pornographic films and magazines, all of which are produced by and for men. It's a very strange thing to find your existence defined as a part of somebody's pornographic fantasy library — sex episode No. 93. 

One night at my regular women's liberation group meeting, one of the women said, “You know, the first night you told us you were a lesbian, I sat in terror the rest of the meeting, waiting for you to attack me or something.” 

Men who are obsessed with sex are convinced that lesbians are obsessed with sex. Actually, like a lot of other women, lesbians are obsessed with love and fidelity. They are also strongly interested in independence and in having a lifework to do, but other than that, lesbians are not extraordinary. 

I once met a lesbian who had built her own house, with her own hands, to her own specifications. (She was about 4’ 11” tall.) But I have no doubt that any woman probably could — except that she probably married an architect or a builder instead. Homosexuality and other “bizarre” characteristics are associated with art and artiness partly so that artists can be considered that much more supernatural. This keeps people in general from considering themselves as artists; if you can't cut off an ear, you can't paint. 

It wasn't because she was a lesbian that Gertrude Stein wrote well; she wrote because she wanted to, and she had a disciplined, 

sensitive mind, and she didn't have to work in a dimestore eight hours a day. 

The women in history who were the less fortunate counterparts of Gertrude Stein, unable to retire on Papa's. money, cut off their hair and joined the merchant marine; or sneaked out West and had a life of adventure as cowboys. Some were never discovered until the local mortician … all astonished … came running out of the funeral parlor. “My God, guess what I just found out about Harry Willets….” 

As a matter of fact, old Harry may never have thought of loving another woman in her life, but she still goes down in history as a lesbian. Every woman who steps out of line gets assigned a. sexual definition — lesbian, whore, nymphomaniac, castrator, adultress. 

Lesbians who dress and act in a particular manner do so as a means of mutual recognition — that's how they know who's eligible to fall in love with, since you're not allowed to just ask. If anybody was allowed to fall in love with anybody, the word “homosexual” wouldn't be needed. It’s used now only to set people off in separate categories, artificially; so they'll know who to be afraid of — each other. 

Bogeymen and bogeywomen function to keep people off of the streets, and home watching television and reading Reader's Digest. 

Lesbianism isn't something you are — it's something you do. Specifically, it's the love you give somebody who happens, also, to be female.

Judy Grahn

Gertrude Stein was a well-known, American-born writer. She lived in Paris in the early twentieth century with Alice B. Toklas, who was her companion, secretary, and lover. Stein, who was supported by her father’s money was influential as a writer and a patron of the arts.  —editor's note

I was walking down the road holding hands with the woman I love. It was late at night, very dark, so no one could see us. I didn't really care whether anyone saw me or what people would think, but she was embarrassed about showing our love when straight people were around. I didn't care what they know; for me it was a great act of courage to openly show affection for another woman. 

I haven't always been like that. Most of my life, I couldn't bring myself to show affection for women, for fear of being thought a Lesbian. In high school, the boys teased girls who were involved in close friendships with other girls. Ironically, I generally wasn't teased because I kept away from such friendships. But at the same time, I was reluctant to get involved in “normal” relationships with boys. 

When I was 20 1 was a camp counselor for teen—age girls. I held myself aloof from the girls - even when they were going through some crisis, I couldn't touch them or show any affection. Somehow it just didn't seem quite right. 

Even after I became involved in the Women's Liberation Movement, I was disturbed when I saw women acting affectionate toward each other. Once when I saw two of my friends with their arms around each other, the only way I could justify that in my mind was to think, “at least, they aren't Lesbians!” (That was a year and a half ago. They may not have been gay then, but they are now.) And when women

talked of the beauty of other women, I hid behind my camera and told myself that the only reason why I admired women's beauty was that I was a photographer and had a purely esthetic interest in it. 

But gradually things changed. I developed friendships with women of a sort that I hadn't had since before high school: close, trusting, loving relationships. I found that being a Lesbian is not as bad as I thought; to love another woman can be a beautiful and enjoyable experience. 

And the change is not only within me; it is among a great many women I know. Within the last year or two many women have become freer in their manner of relating to women. These are women who don't necessarily define themselves as gay, but they feel free to show their love for women. Not too long ago, I again saw two women I know with their arms around each other. These two probably consider themselves straight —— at any rate, one is married and has children and the other is living with a man. I didn't think that they were or were not Lesbians, because it doesn't matter to me anymore.