Last week, this image caused a stir on social media:
The flyer advertised a panel discussion to be held at DePaul University, titled “Are Lesbians Still Relevant?” Many women, who felt that the event’s title was insensitive, weighed in on the event’s facebook page.
The flyer and all commentary was abruptly removed on Monday morning, an act that disappointed women who felt they hadn’t gotten a chance to speak up, or who hadn’t gotten a chance to read what other women had written.
The organization left a clarifying statement about the event later that day, addressing concerns about the event’s title and clarifying that the panel would discuss the disappearance of lesbian spaces.
So what was the event actually like?
One woman who attended the event said she believed the facilitators had meant for the title to be tongue in cheek. And the initial purpose of the panel really did seem to be about the disappearance of lesbian spaces.
However, she wrote– “the reason why myself and so many of us had such a reaction to the title is because we already KNEW peers in our generation felt this way”– and ultimately, the conversation on Monday night focused on the wrongfulness of the term “lesbian,” despite facilitators’ best efforts to keep everyone on topic.
Overall, we here at LOE noticed that the most important part of the conversation– lesbians— was missing.
So we reached out to a few women to give them a chance to answer the question: “ARE Lesbians Still Relevant?” This time, their comments are staying up.
Bit: “You wouldn’t keep talking about us if we weren’t relevant”
“Are lesbians still relevant?” is one of those familiar insults-disguised-as-innocent-questions that lesbians seem to get a lot, like, “which one of you is the boy?” and “how do you have sex?” These questions sting because they presuppose homophobic assumptions: that it’s not a real relationship without a boy, that lesbians can’t have sex, and that as far as everyone else is concerned, it’s embarrassing that lesbians were ever relevant in the first place.
I’ve been hearing this routine since at least 2010, when Bitch Magazine published an article called, “Lavender Menaced: Is ‘Lesbian’ Going Out of Fashion?” (Issue #46, ‘Old’) I had just broken up with my boyfriend. I was feeling guilty as hell and questioning my sanity. There couldn’t have been a worse time for me to hear that the difficult choices I was making were past tense and out of fashion. How could I be a past-tense lesbian when I had never been a present-tense lesbian? Was I past tense before I had told anyone? Past tense before I had kissed a girl? What was the point? Why not just stay in the closet?
Nowadays, I’m a lot more secure in myself, and I feel strangely gleeful every time the queer community brings up the question of lesbian relevance. They can’t stop bringing it up, can they– and isn’t that the definition of “relevant?”
When was the last time you heard someone question the relevance of the hoop skirt or the dodo bird? If lesbians were truly a thing of the past, why even mention us at all? Wouldn’t you write titles like, ‘Lesbians: Amazing Facts about our Extinct Human Relatives’ or ‘New Research Shows that Lesbians May Have Lived in Caves, Used Fire,’ or, let’s be honest, ‘Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead?’
Lesbians’ continuing relevance upsets the community so much, apparently, that they’re still scavenging the trash heap of yesterday’s headlines for provocative titles about it. What’s the matter, queer academia? Your lesbian erasure project isn’t working out like you’d hoped? Running out of ideas?
Ashley: “Lesbians have always existed and will continue to do so for the rest of time”
Non-lesbians (males in particular) just can’t seem to wrap their minds around the concept of lesbianism. How difficult is it to understand that some women are only attracted to other women?
Homophobic straight people tell lesbians that we “just haven’t met the right man yet” and members of the GBT+ community hold panels in which they debate over our relevance and our right to exist. They want us to believe that lesbianism is old-fashioned and should be abandoned for a more “inclusive” or less restrictive “””queer””” identity, but when you really think about it, who benefits from that? Certainly not us.
Lesbians have always existed and will continue to do so for the rest of time, so they can take their “progressive” post-modernist bullshit and shove it.
Izzi J: “You’re asking the wrong question”
This question is inherently flawed. There are lesbians, therefore it doesn’t matter if we’re “relevant/popular/pleasing to men/pleasing to straight wimmin.” We exist. We have existed. We will continue to exist.
In the 1930’s when Butch wimmin were desperately trying to pass as men so they wouldn’t get raped and beaten to death for taking their girlfriend to the movies, were we relevant? Fuck no.
In the 1960’s when lesbians were still being institutionalized for wearing slacks, when the Daughters of Billitis officially told wimmin to assimilate for their conferences, even teaching wimmin who’ve never been feminine how to femme-out so as not to get the whole goddamn conference arrested, were we relevant then? Fucking no.
The question, I think, is a symptom of a larger problem we’re facing. But it’s irrelevant if we’re “relevant”.
Terry: “Thoughts from a Lesbian Elder”
Lesbians are relevant because of who we have been and who we continue to be.
We dared to live our truth the best we could and love ourselves and each other the best we could. We emerged from the shadows to come out when we could and march in the streets when we could. Sometimes we got fired by our bosses and disowned by our families when they could. We found each other in whatever way we could. We created safe spaces, newspapers, magazines, dances and festivals. We cried, we fought, we partied, we loved. We pushed for social change.
And our tired shoulders, our rounded shoulders, our stooped shoulders, our broad shoulders, our Amazon shoulders remain vitally relevant as we provide a platform for the next generation to stand on. To carry on what they choose, learn from our mistakes and create anew. And then to stand beside us as we also learn from them. As together we create a renewed example of what a woman loving woman can be. An example of the myriad faces we present to the world. Of the many ways we live as women, as lesbians. An example so other women will find us living our viable and vital lives despite insidious attempts at erasure.
Oh yes, our existence, our example, our naming of who we are, remains relevant. Very relevant.
What do you think, readers? Are lesbians still relevant? Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments section below.