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 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 Bilitis 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.
March 5, 2016 at 11:21 pm
If you have to ask if Lesbians are still relevant, then the obvious answer is YES. Otherwise, why bring us up at all? Further, to question our relevance is to question our very existence. It’s like wondering if we’ve all died out yet, or decided to identify as something else instead, or perhaps we were never real to begin with. They said, “This discussion will revolve around the erasure of lesbian identity in a heterosexist context.” But I don’t see many heterosexuals trying to convince Lesbians that “sexuality is fluid” and claiming that Lesbians are attracted to “woman-identified people.” That kind of erasure comes from the queer community. Also, Equality Michigan, HRC, and NCLR didn’t publically attack the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival because of heterosexism, or because Lesbians aren’t relevant anymore, they did it because “inclusion.” And it was queer activists who claimed the end of 40 years of Lesbian gathering and culture at Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival as a victory for themselves. How can that be, if Lesbians are irrelevant? This question is just one in a series of many forms of erasure not by a mainstream, heterosexist society, but by the very people and organizations who claim to be our alphabet-soup allies. Yes, we’re relevant. We’re relevant because we exist, as individuals and as a culture. We’re relevant because you wouldn’t need to erase us if we weren’t. We’re relevant because we are a community of strong, powerful, women-loving-women. Lesbian Nation is not going anywhere.
March 6, 2016 at 8:07 am
Lesbians claiming our love for womyn and our communities will always be powerfully relevant.
July 2, 2017 at 7:38 pm
I’m a closeted lesbian who calls herself “queer” in order not to be stabbed by the scenesters (only sorta half kidding). I fear (and have endured) violence for being who I am by “queers” in the queer “community” because a woman who draws any boundaries and loves exclusively females is demonized and cast from the kingdom for not being “inclusive” with her body, her heart, her soul. So, yes, lesbians are still relevant. We inspire witch hunts. We’re feared. We’re policed. We’re shoved out of our own territory. That would be an awful lot of effort to spend on something that is irrelevant.
Lesbians are more relevant than ever, I think, for the precise reason that misogyny has gotten WORSE over the years, globally. The queer movements were bourne from misogyny, as it seeks to erase female-ness, includes males with heterosexual tendencies, and is obsessed with encroaching on women’s spaces whilst men’s spaces escape unscathed. Even “feminism” is now used interchangeably with “humanism” to accommodate men and baby their precious little egos, lest they feel left out. The status quo is to invade women’s physical, psychological, and emotional space and force her to accommodate, accommodate, accommodate. Therefore a woman who draws the line and exclusively loves women is relevant for the simple reason she defies the status quo. She is the ultimate rebel.
And to that I say you go girl.
July 25, 2017 at 7:45 pm
Yes, we are relevant…to the most important folks in our lives – one another!