Ageing into Lesbian-Feminism – An Excerpt from a Life

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It was 1969, I was just 12 years old, and Stonewall had not yet happened. My best friend Linda and I hung out at the local schoolyard wearing army jackets with male names emblazoned on the pocket. She was not just my friend, though I had no name for what we were.

When I smacked a boy upside the head who tried to grab my breasts, the home economics teacher said if I couldn’t stop acting like that no boy would ever marry me. I had no vision of what life could be without marrying a boy and gay marriage was still an oxymoron; I decided that marriage was a trap that I would never willingly step into. I mostly still think that.

I discovered feminism with an insatiable hunger. I read every book, bought every woman’s music album and joined consciousness raising groups, and coming out groups.

Today my female students often insist they are not feminists. My feminism is quaint to them, not the radical edge of human transformation, but nostalgia from a bygone generation. In their eyes I am a woman who still thinks that gender matters. Of course they believe in equal rights and equal pay for equal work. Of course they think that “girls” should go to college and become doctors. Their definition of feminism is: a woman who hates men. I try to explain that it was actually men who hated women, and we rebelled, us feminists. I tell them that all they have in their lives today is the fruits of a movement that women planted with our own hands, the soil was our very bodies. Gender, I insist, still matters.

The lesbian-feminist community that reared me does not exist anymore. The small coffee houses, the sense of commonality are relics of another day. Partially the movement that was, has been absorbed into the larger LGBTQQI-alphabet soup movement for queer civil rights. Partially it became transformed into academic women’s studies programs. Partially it has been co-opted, sold out to the dazzle of consumer capitalism and the lure of romantic security, represented by gay business and gay marriage. A friend smiles and says, “We really thought we could change the world,” and I remind her: we did. We changed the world.

I work for transgender rights and argue queer theory, and insist that it is feminism which was the mother of these freedoms. I give credit to women’s liberation for not only changing my world, but for changing the whole world, for starting a dialogue about rethinking gender that continues on today. Like all important tasks, dismembering patriarchy is the work of my many lifetimes.

I am nearly a crone now — more than half a century on this blessed planet, and I’m still doing my work. I still devour feminist books, but I do not allow feminism to devour me. I am critical of some of what has been done in the name of feminism, but I will not let other women define feminism for me, or dictate which acts of mine are feminist and which are colonized. I keep insisting that feminism is not a dirty word, but is a movement that has made possible all that has come since.

I embrace the queer youth of today, and I know they can do what they are doing precisely because we did the work of feminism. I plan to get old, grow my facial hair, get another tattoo, and wear bright red lipstick. Feminism has given me the freedom to be fully myself.

By Arlene Istar Lev LCSW, CASAC

Arlene Istar Lev is a social worker, family therapist, activist, and mother. She is the Founder of Choices Counseling and Consulting (www.choicesconsulting.com), and The Institute for Gender, Relationships, Identity and Sexuality (TIGRIS – www.tigrisinstitute.com). She can be reached at 518-438-2222 or Arlene@choicesconsulting.com.

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The Psychological Burden Associated with the Stigmatization of Homosexuality

imagesThe Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) has long focused on the psychological burden associated with the stigmatization of homosexuality and, in articles over the past decade, explored the roots of public opposition to marriage equality; examined the rights and responsibilities of gay parents; and critiqued the “psychological” arguments that are typically put forward regarding gay rights.

In “Social Advocacy for Equal Marriage: The Politics of ‘Rights’ and the Psychology of ‘Mental Health’, (Analyses of Social Issues of Public Policy, December 2004), Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson argue against the discipline’s dominant narrative regarding homosexuality, with its focus on social stigmatization and the mental health damage or deficit that such stigmatization imposes. They argued instead for a discourse of rights, which “asserts universally applicable principles of equality, justice, freedom, and dignity.” The psychological approach, by contrast, seemed fundamentally “antithetical to the conceptual framework of human rights, as a basis for social justice.”

In “The Rights and Responsibilities of Gay and Lesbian Parents: Legal Developments, Psychological Research, and Policy Implications,” (Social Issues and Policy Review, December 2008), Jared Chamberlain, Monica Miller, and Brian Bornstein enrich the discussion about how courts should deal with gay parents who chose to end their relationship. They argue that children benefit from having continued contact with two parents—even if in gay relationships there may be a biological connection to only one of the parents—and that the children’s well-being is unaffected by their parents’ sexual orientation. The same “best interest” standard that prevails among heterosexual parents in determining child custody should prevail among gay parents, with visitation rights allocated accordingly. A review of the literature reveals that children of lesbian parents showed no differences in terms of “psychological development and family functioning,” exhibited similar levels of self-esteem, and experienced similar gender identity formation processes. They concluded by urging psychologists:

to continue to conduct and publicize the results of research on children of same-sex parents, especially in new areas such as dissolution of the same sex-relationship; they can conduct research comparing families with lesbian gay and heterosexual parents; and they can evaluate children in custodial disputes that result from the breakup of same-sex relationships in the same manner that they work with the children in heterosexual divorce cases.

In “Anti-Equality Marriage Amendments and Sexual Stigma,” (Journal of Social Issues, No. 2, 2011) Gregory Herek summarizes the stigma-based analysis of anti-equality marriage laws and campaigns. He discusses how being denied the legal right to marry because of one’s orientation constitutes an instance of stigma; and being subject to political campaigns promoting anti-equality marriage amendments are a source of heightened stress for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. The personal and political are interrelated: The initial enactment and continuing existence of anti-equality marriage laws depend on the continuing salience of such attitudes among the voting public. He closes by asking two questions: How the process of coming out and discussing one’s sexual orientation impacts one’s friends, relatives, and acquaintances; and second, how and why some heterosexual friends and family chose to become allies in the struggle for marriage equality and related structural stigma and prejudice.

Finally, Melanie Duncan and Markus Kemmelmeier focus on what attitudes fuel opposition to same-sex marriage, in their article “Attitudes Toward Same-Sex Marriage: An Essentialist Approach.” They argue that the negative same-sex marriage (SSM) attitudes are the result of essentialist thinking about marriage—that is, thinking that categorizes marriage as universal, unique, invariant, and not the result of human agency. In fact, “essentialist” attitudes about marriage were a more potent predictor of negative SSM even than essentialist conceptions of homosexuality. In that respect, marriage is often conceptualized as if it predated or had an existence independent of the society in which it is practiced; marriage is viewed by opponents of SSM as if it had an “objective” reality, whose essence is formally enshrined. These attitudes are revealed in studies probing essentialist beliefs about homosexuality and essentialist beliefs about marriage: “Although opponents of SSM may be likely to harbor prejudices against homosexuals, their opposition to SSM seems to be more critically motivated by their essentialist perspective on marriage itself.”

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Sexual Jealousy

Angelo Bronzino

A Portuguese celebrity, Carlos Castro was recently found dead in a New York hotel room. He had also been castrated. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/10/portuguese-model-killing-carlos-castro?INTCMP=SRCH. Though who killed Castro, and what their motive was, is yet to be proven, it is thought that Castro may have been murdered by his lover, and that the motive may have been sexual jealousy. If this is true, Castro is not the first victim of jealousy. As Wilhelm Stekel remarked in 1921: ‘Has anyone counted the victims of jealousy? Daily a revolver cracks somewhere or other because of jealousy; daily a knife finds entrance into a warm body; daily some unhappy ones, racked by jealousy and life weary, sink into fathomless depths. What are all the hideous battles, narrated by history, when compared to this frightful passion jealousy?’

To give one more example of the victims of jealousy, on June 28th 2008 a 17 year old boy called Simon Everitt was tied to a tree, made to drink petrol and was then doused in it and set alight. He was so badly burned that it took a week to identify his remains. The motive for the murder was said to be sexual jealousy – two of the three murderers had previously been in a relationship with Simon’s girlfriend, Fiona Statham http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8048281.stm A few months after these killers were convicted, peers in the House of Lords voted 99 – 84 against a bill which would have stopped people from being able to use sexual infidelity as a partial defence for murder. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8329444.stm.

Sexual jealousy deserves consideration. Though the murders mentioned above are clearly extreme cases, few people are lucky enough not to have suffered the torments of sexual jealousy at some point in their lives. It is the ‘green ey’d monster’ (Othello, Act 3, Scene 3) that can destroy relationships and take over lives. Jealousy seems to be an inevitable part of life, tied to our need to be loved and to the fear of losing love. Indeed, jealousy is often seen as a sign of caring, hence the practice of ‘making someone jealous’ in order to induce loving and protective feelings in them. However, whether jealousy is natural and inevitable or otherwise, allowing sexual infidelity to be used a partial defence of murder seems to be based on out-dated assumptions about marriage partners being each other’s property. If not, then why shouldn’t other anger-inducing behaviours (leaving your clothes all over the floor, spending all of your joint money in the pub etc.) also count as partial defences for murder? Allowing jealousy to occupy such a privileged position in society serves only to make us less likely to try and control our jealous urges and the subsequent destructive behaviour they may cause.

Related Articles

Tyler Doggatt: Recent Work on the Ethics of Self-Defence

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1747-9991.2010.00382.x/abstract

‘I now pronounce you man and wives’: Canada and polygamy

Mohamed Osman, 2010

A court in British Columbia is currently deciding whether Canada’s anti-polygamy laws are unconstitutional. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11776534) Those in favour of the legalisation of polygamy suggest that by not allowing it, Canada is failing in its duty to guarantee the freedom of religion for its citizens (there is a large Mormon community in Canada). If polygamy is legalised, then Canada will become the first developed country to allow it.

82% of Canadians oppose legalising polygamy, but this is not due to sheer disgust for alternative lifestyles. The opponents argue that polygamy harms women and that the men who are ‘leftover’ will be unable to secure a wife for themselves. Interestingly, the debate has not focussed on the more fundamental issue of how far the state should be able to intervene in determining how adults arrange their lives. Furthermore, the lawyers are Continue reading “‘I now pronounce you man and wives’: Canada and polygamy”

Let’s Talk About…Monogamy?

Screenshot of Greta Garbo and John Barrymore from the trailer for the film Grand Hotel. MGM: 1932

In the spirit of St. Valentine’s Day, we turn to the subject of romance. But the outlook for monogamy seems to be bleak. In a study conducted by researchers at Oregon State University, soon to be published in the Journal of Sex Research, 40% of a sample of 434 young heterosexual couples, married and unmarried, gave conflicting answers when partners were asked individually whether they had agreed to be monogamous. Furthermore, of those who were in agreement about monogamy at least in principle, 30% reported that at least one partner had not kept to it. Continue reading “Let’s Talk About…Monogamy?”