Trouble Making So & So

Trouble Making So & So

On Passing And Belonging

From Like There’s No Tomorrow: Meditations for Women Leaving Patriarchy by Carolyn Gage (1996)

"But the reality is that there is no privilege in a life that is a lie… The lie is always in the way, the lie always obscures intimacy and possibility." - Victoria Brownsworth

On this, Carolyn Gage asks, “If passing does prevent intimacy, and doesn’t bring privilege, then why do so many people do it? Because it creates the illusion of belonging.”  She writes of how there is not only the lure of privilege, but the desire to remove oneself from less than desirable family origins or other things that we consider “wrong” about ourselves, such as the neighborhood we grew up in or the type of hair we have. She points out that these things are loaded with negative values, like stupidity, ugliness and a lack of self-worth.

However, she says, “Giving this kind of life-and-death power to the outside world is a fatal strategy, because even if we can manage to ‘arrive’ on these terms, our struggle to retain our foothold in this slippery world will remain a desperate one. Acquisition is not the same as claiming qualities as part of our intrinsic nature.

"So many, many lives are wasted in the pursuit of worthless goals! Our indoctrination by school systems whose primary purpose is to teach fear of outside authority, does not aid us in critical thinking. The radical feminist must daily put herself back at the center of her reality, must make her highest understanding the perpetual standard for evaluating who she is and how she locates herself in relation to others."

(note: This does not invalidate or negate the necessity of passing for physical safety, financial survival, etc.)

"As we grew in knowing ourselves, we put aside the language we had once cherished for its ambiguities, although we had called those ambiguities ‘subtle nuances.’ We had once been proud to speak a language in which we ha no means of speaking our meanings clearly, even to ourselves. …
"The language that evolved out of our learning together was a language of acting in the world, rather than ‘events;’ it was a speaking our living, not our ‘lives;’ of our doing, not our ‘deeds;’ of our touching, eating, tracing, dancing of moving, not ‘motion,’ of dying, not ‘death.’ The nouns of men became our verbs, what had been ‘objects’ became doers."
— Julia Penelope, “A Cursory and Precursory History of Language, and the Telling of It,” from Lesbian Culture: An Anthology, ed. Julia Penelope and Susan Wolfe. Required reading for all dykes - old and young alike. 

"As we grew in knowing ourselves, we put aside the language we had once cherished for its ambiguities, although we had called those ambiguities ‘subtle nuances.’ We had once been proud to speak a language in which we ha no means of speaking our meanings clearly, even to ourselves. …

"The language that evolved out of our learning together was a language of acting in the world, rather than ‘events;’ it was a speaking our living, not our ‘lives;’ of our doing, not our ‘deeds;’ of our touching, eating, tracing, dancing of moving, not ‘motion,’ of dying, not ‘death.’ The nouns of men became our verbs, what had been ‘objects’ became doers."

— Julia Penelope, “A Cursory and Precursory History of Language, and the Telling of It,” from Lesbian Culture: An Anthology, ed. Julia Penelope and Susan Wolfe. Required reading for all dykes - old and young alike. 

“Turning away from women, however, in the wake of horizontal violence and betrayal, is like proclaiming that no one can deal more mortal blows to women than other women. Of course, there is one level on which this is true. Because we expect much more from women, women do wound more deeply. This is only a partial truth, however. Partial truths can be enveloping, but the trouble with partial truths is that they are simply not whole truths. The whole truth is that, in a woman-hating world, women will internalize and externalize antiwoman values and behavior. The best that women can make of this is to know precisely that this behavior will occur, face this knowledge head-on (but perhaps more importantly “heart-on”), and act in a more Gyn/affective way because of and in spite of this knowledge of the mind and heart.”
— Janice Raymond, A Passion for Friends
“The strength of our commitment to women is finally tested in hard times—even when women throw female friendship back in our faces. As women of reality, we must know all of the forces that are ranged against us, including the awful force of women-betraying-women. We must grasp this knowledge, feel it, and then move on—to other women. This requires persistence and stamina—the power to stay with women.”
— Janice Raymond, A Passion for Friends
“There have been real betrayals of women by other women—by women who supposedly shared a similar feminist spirit and vision and by women whom one once called friends. Women have also held unrealistic expectations of women friends such that when these were not fulfilled women felt disillusioned and abandoned. It is important to distinguish between the real betrayals and the unrealistic expectations, although the two often produce the same results—disaffection from other women.”
— Janice Raymond, A Passion for Friends
“Through all this period lesbians somehow managed to love each other and make love without paraphernalia, whilst in the heterosexual world, sex without ‘how to’ books, pornography and equipment was made to seem all but impossible. Lesbian sex was innovative, imaginative, self-taught, low-tech, did not cost any money or provide any sex industrialists with an income. In the eighties this changed and a lesbian sex industry developed. In order for a lesbian sex industry to be profitable it was necessary to transform lesbian sexuality so that it would take the objectifying form necessary to construct lesbian sex consumers, consumers not just of mechanical products, but of other women in pornography and prostitution. At last lesbian sexuality began to attract the attention of entrepreneurs, sex therapists, pornographers.”
— Sheila Jeffreys, The Lesbian Heresy, p. 18
“The creation of an objectifying lesbian sexuality will increasingly lead to the use by lesbians of other women in prostitution. Since sexuality is socially constructed it is possible to train women to objectify. It would not be possible for women to effectively objectify men since the attraction of men in heterosexuality is precisely their power and ruling class status. This is evidenced by the failure of attempts to create heterosexual women into a market for male beefcake magazines. The magazine Playgirl an example. The photos of naked men standing or reclining, even in fairly dignified positions, strip the models of power along with their clothes and the magazine now resides on the gay men’s shelves in sex shops. The dynamics of heterosexual desire by which both men and women eroticise women’s subordination, not men’s, are broken down by the objectification of men. A generalised objectification of men by women would not be possible unless women had power over men as a class. Objectification is a part of ruling class sexuality. In an egalitarian society objectification would not exist because no class or group would be seen as dispensable and inferior. It is possible for a small group of lesbians to have access to some of the male privilege that is expressed in the use of women as expendable sex toys without offering any threat to male power. Lesbians can identify with the male gaze and sexual position towards other lesbians. They become an honorary and co-opted part of the ruling class, but they will receive no privileges save a share in the degradation of other women. Their feeling of power inspired by their treatment of women is not real power in the world vis-a-vis men.”
— Sheila Jeffreys, The Lesbian Heresy, p. 37
“But both erotica and pornography require the use of women in the sex industry. They are unlikely to be `really’ making love - whatever that means - but earning a crust. They are certainly unlikely to be there out of `shared pleasure’. The new pornbrokers argue that the new lesbian porn stars are there by ‘choice’ as if the choice to be a porn video star was one that any woman might make. But most lesbians would feel uncomfortable with the idea of starring in this way and should really ask themselves why they think it reasonable to expect other women to do it. Before using women in the new lesbian sex industry it is important to think about how such a woman got into the industry. Was it through poverty, homelessness, child sexual abuse, drug use, through learning at the hands of men that the only way to get praise or status was to be sexually used? Lesbians who want to use women in pornography must take responsibility for their abuse of women and for the way that they are profiting from the results of women’s oppression.”
— Sheila Jeffreys, The Lesbian Heresy, p. 36

The language of liberalism has been used to defend all the new developments of the lesbian sexual revolution. Consent and choice are the catchwords. A model of sexuality based upon the idea of consent is a male supremacist one. In this model one person, generally male, uses the body of another who is not necessarily sexually interested and possibly generally reluctant or distressed, as a sex aid. It is a dominant/submissive and active/ passive model. It is not mutual.
It is not about the sexual involvement of both parties. It bespeaks not equality, but the absence of it. Consent is a tool for negotiating inequality in heterosexual relations. Women are expected to have their bodies used but the idea of consent manages to make this use and abuse seem fair and justified. In certain situations where this use might seem particularly and obviously unwelcome, such as street rape, women are given a limited right to object, but in general the idea of consent allows the sexual use and abuse of women to remain invisible as harm or a contravention of human rights. In this liberal approach to sex it is vulgar to ask political questions such as how the consent and choice are constructed.

Women’s consent, the kind that can cause them to undergo furiously resented sexual intercourse in marriage, or just to accept that they should be used as a masturbation aid, is constructed by the pressures exerted upon women throughout their lives. Such pressures include economic dependency, sexual abuse, battering, and a cultural barrage of propaganda about what women are good for. They can induce a profound lack of self-determination. Lesbians are women too. That any lesbian should think consent a useful concept when it emerges from the circumstances of women’s oppression and relates to the material inequality of women is a surprise.

— Sheila Jeffreys, The Lesbian Heresy, p. 39
“Given that we all exist under patriarchy, it influences us at all levels of our being, including our sexuality. Changing these conditions cannot be accomplished in a vacuum or through withdrawal. We may choose to withdraw from individual relationships that are intrinsically unequal and oppressive, in which sexuality cannot occur without the burden of that inequality. Extrinsic to all sexual relationships is the context of gender inequality, which must be recognized and struggled against as it impinges on the relationship. In some situations it is survival to withdraw. In others, however, it is accepting disenfranchisement and ghettoization not to stand firm and demand change. Demanding change within institutions and within relationships is a crucial and effective way to push back the boundaries of patriarchy.”
— Wendy Stock, “Toward a Feminist Praxis of Sexuality” in The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism, Dorchen Leidholdt and Janice G. Raymond, eds. 1990

So I’ve decided it’s time for me to refuse that seasoning. It’s time to deprogram myself and to stop concentrating at all times upon the mas­ters, upon the pimps of the world, stop doing all I do in relation to them, in reference to them, in reaction to them; stop making my feel­ ings of well-being contingent on their behavior; stop thinking about them— they are so boring, so numbingly boring! We can predict every­ thing they will do, every savage, gruesome, gross, crass thing they’re going to do. We know it all by heart. We don’t need to watch it any­ more, do we? Do you? I certainly don’t. I’ve seen plenty of it, and I know it inside out.

It seems to me that what I have to do is what my deep conditioning tells me not to do, to do the thing that scares me most of all, to do what I’ve been taught never to do or I would die— and that is to take my eyes off the guys and to take myself seriously. To stop enabling men’s system, patriarchy. To stop believing that they are going to change the world, that I ever have to try to get them to do anything redemp­ tive again. They will not, could not if they would. And to come to grips with the truth that if I want the world another way, I must make it that way myself.

The most important message my wise old woman within has ever given me is that the transformation of this world is up to me—and you. What a relief! Thank goodness it’s up to the women because now it will get done!

— Sonia Johnson, “Taking Our Eyes Off the Guys,” in The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism, Dorchen Leidholdt and Janice G. Raymond, eds, 1990

Our behavior, not the men’s, will determine the course of human events.

But conditioned, seasoned as we are, this is the most difficult pos­sible conception for us, and most of us continue to believe that we must make men change their ways, that we are dependent upon legis­lators to pass laws, for instance. Good grief! When have those in con­trol ever given up a significant amount of it to those they control? Can you think of a single time in history?

Well, it has never happened and it’s not going to happen. We should have learned that with the Equal Rights Amendment. If we didn’t learn it then, what is it going to take to teach it to us? Our not learning it is part of our seasoning, our profound conditioning. We’re deeply depen­dent, deeply servile in ways that our surface militance camouflages.

That is the main goal of seasoning: to make us believe the men must change the world for us and that we’re powerless to change reality unless the men change first. But the truth is that they’re not going to change—can’t change—so we don’t have to waste our time trying to get them to any more. We are the ones who must change, because we can. And when we change, everything outside us will have to change to accommodate our new way of being in the world— including men, but that’s beside the point.

The principle underlying all seasoning— how you get this effect, how you reach this goal of getting women to believe that our salvation de­pends on someone else’s behavior — is that you get someone to do everything in relation to someone else who they perceive as more pow­erful; you get them always to consult an image of someone else in their minds, to say to themselves—to say to ourselves as women, for in­stance— “Now, how will the men respond to that?” every time we make a decision, or “If we do this, what will they do?” Always to be rela­tional, to consult the masters in our psyches every time— this is bond­age.

— Sonia Johnson, “Taking Our Eyes Off the Guys,” in The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism, Dorchen Leidholdt and Janice G. Raymond, eds, 1990
“When I say that all women have been seasoned as slaves and pros­titutes, I’m talking about seasoning that began at home. All other so­cietal institutions avidly participated in it, of course. But no matter how we’re seasoned—as prostitute or as wife, which is the same thing— we’re seasoned in the patriarchal family almost exclusively to serve sexual functions.

No matter what form seasoning takes, it always has the same goal — to make us feel worthless and dependent. Obviously, incest is a sea­soning tool par excellence; one incident of incest is really all that is necessary to teach us our role in patriarchy. It is such a profound be­trayal of trust, primarily of our trust in ourselves. It is designed to make us feel powerless, to shatter our inner core of confidence, and therefore to make us feel utterly dependent on men. It functions to make us believe passionately that we need a savior, that men must save us, that we have to go through them to be saved. That somehow we’ve got to get them to change their minds about us. We’ve got to make them agree that their behavior is terrible and get them to stop it. Our seasoning teaches us nonsense: that we’ve got to get the slaveholders to free the slaves.”
— Sonia Johnson, “Taking Our Eyes Off the Guys,” in The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism, Dorchen Leidholdt and Janice G. Raymond, eds, 1990

The system of gender polarity requires that people with penises treat people without as objects, as things, as empty gaping vessels waiting to be filled with turgid maleness, if necessary by force. Homophobia is, in part, how the system punishes those whose object-choice is de­viant. Homophobia is a kind of sexualized contempt for someone whose mere existence—because he is smeared with female status—threatens to melt down the coat of armor by which men protect themselves from other men. Homophobia keeps women the targets. And to men who sexually objectify correctly, this homophobic setup assures a level of safety, selfhood, self-respect, and social power.

Most men internalize cultural homophobia whomever they are at­tracted to. Inside men’s bodies, homophobia becomes an ongoing dread and loathing of anything about themselves that even hints at gender ambiguity; it means a constant quest “to be the man there,” whatever that takes.

— John Stoltenburg, “You Can’t Fight Homophobia and Protect the Pornographers at the Same Time—An Analysis of What Went Wrong in Hardwick” in The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism, Dorchen Leidholdt and Janice G. Raymond, eds, 1990