“In the heyday of the Women’s and Gay Liberation Movements, the view was widely held that sexuality was socially constructed, and indeed relatively plastic: lesbianism, in particular, was presented by some feminists as a political choice. But in the last 20 years this view has largely withered away. Faced with well-organized opponents denouncing their perverted ‘lifestyle choices’, some prominent gay/lesbian activists and organizations began promoting the counter-argument that homosexuals are born, not made. Of course the ‘born that way’ argument had always had its supporters, but today it has hardened into an orthodoxy which you deviate from at your peril.
Since ‘born that way’ became the orthodox line, there has been more mainstream acceptance of and sympathy for the cause of gay/lesbian equality, as we’ve seen most recently in the success of campaigns for same-sex marriage. Though it is possible this shift in public attitudes would have happened anyway, it seems likely that the shift away from social constructionism helped, by making the demand for gay rights seem less of a political threat. The essentialist argument implies that the straight majority will always be both straight and in the majority, because that’s how nature has arranged things. No one need fear that granting rights to gay people will result in thousands of new ‘converts’ to their ‘lifestyle’: straight people won’t choose to be gay, just as gay people can’t choose to be straight.
If you adopt a social constructionist view of gender and sexuality, than lesbians, gay men and gender non-conformists are a challenge to the status quo: they represent the possibility that there are other ways for everyone to live their lives, and that society does not have to be organized around our current conceptions of what is ‘natural’ and ‘normal’. By contrast, if you make the essentialist argument that some people are just ‘born different’, then all gay men, lesbians or gender non-conformists represent is the more anodyne proposition that diversity should be respected. This message does not require ‘normal’ people to question who they are, or how society is structured. It just requires them to accept that what’s natural for them may not be natural for everyone. Die-hard bigots won’t be impressed with that argument, but for anyone vaguely liberal it is persuasive, appealing to basic principles of tolerance while reassuring the majority that support for minority rights will not impinge on their own prerogatives.
For radical feminists this will never be enough. Radical feminism aspires to be, well, radical. It wants to preserve the possibility that we can not only imagine but actually create a different, better, juster world. The attack on feminist social constructionism is ultimately an attack on that possibility. And when radical feminists take issue with trans activists, I think that is what we need to emphasize. What’s at stake isn’t just what certain individuals put on their birth certificates or whether they are welcome at certain conferences. The real issue is what we think gender politics is about: identity or power, personal choice or structural change, reshuffling the same old cards or radically changing the game.” Delilah Campbell
After reading this article, I began to question the idea and/or political agenda that people are born gay or born heterosexual. If you believe this agenda, then you believe in the biological essentialist agenda, that people are born with a gay or a straight brain. That somehow our sexuality is programed in our DNA, predetermined in the womb or even before that. I understand this stance being taken within the context of patriarchy and its restrictive ideas about sexual orientation. I understand it in the context of fighting against the patriarchal idea that heterosexuality is normal and anything else is deviant but by taking this stance aren’t we actually agreeing with this idea? By adopting the biological essentialist agenda, instead of questioning our patriarchal ideas about sexual orientation, we solidify the belief that anyone that is not heterosexual is deviant. It plays right along with the idea that heterosexuality is the norm and that some unfortunate people just happen to be born gay and that we should not discriminate against them because they have no control over this “biological condition.”
This platform has been used politically in the past with the LGB community and now it is being used by the transgender community to gain rights and protections that were not there before, some of these rights perilous to women. The problem with this platform is that it doesn’t question the social idea that heterosexuality is normal and anything else is not. By not questioning the role our society plays in our ideas or restrictions regarding sexual orientation and by claiming it is biological instead, we completely limit the conversation and do an injustice to humanity.
Sheila Jeffreys wrote in her book, Gender Hurts:
I am very aware that new generations of feminist, lesbian and gay activists and thinkers may find the idea of social construction difficult to accept. The idea that homosexuality and transgenderism are innate has become quite dominant today, whereas at the time of the second wave feminism, the understanding that gender and sexuality were socially constructed was commonplace.
By claiming that our sexual orientation is biological, we admit and agree with the patriarchal agenda that heterosexuality is normal and anything else is deviant. In order to gain protections and rights in this socially restrictive environment, the LGB community had to go with the biological essentialist model because doing so was less of a threat to the patriarchal status quot and their adversaries could feel comfort in allowing these rights because it didn’t affect them, their world wasn’t being threatened in the least because examining the social environment that they lived in and relied on was not being discussed. Instead, giving “those” people rights wasn’t such a bad thing because “those” people are the problem, not us, not our social ideas.
The implication here is that being gay is a condition, just like being transgender is a condition because both are abnormal. Gay people are then seen as deviants in our society and society itself and its inherent restrictive ideas are never questioned and therefore never threatened. Nothing threatened, nothing gained, at least not really. This works for political platforms to gain rights and protections for what our society considers deviants, but it also harms them and our society by not bringing into question our restrictive patriarchal social ideas that are unhealthy to all human beings. The transgender political agenda is also based on biological essentialism. Again, they are using a political platform that has worked within patriarchal constraints to afford them rights and protections, but again at what cost?
When a person claims that he or she is born in the wrong body or sex and that he or she has a male or female brain at birth and that for some unfortunate person this goes wrong and his or her brain doesn’t match his or her genitals, this is a very small limited viewpoint of a much larger issue. Males may exhibit feminine behaviors and females masculine behaviors, both seen as deviating from the socially dictated gender constructs and in both cases these people are actively ostracized. We then instead of looking at our society and the ideas we have of gender as the problem, look at the individual and claim that they are “transgender”, a condition that they were born with; therefore, they are the problem, they are abnormal.
But what if these children aren’t the problem? What if the social constructs of gender, femininity and masculinity are? What if masculinity and femininity aren’t biological at all but instead dominant and subservient behaviors, patriarchal mechanisms, created by men to keep men in power and women oppressed? For men, aggressive, dominant behaviors and for women passive, subservient behaviors? In the book, Loving to Survive, Dee L Graham argues that feminine behaviors are identical to submissive behaviors. That all human beings including men who are being dominated act “feminine”. Do we really want to believe that females are born subservient and that males are born dominant? That this is the natural order of things? Are we really all just hair challenged apes? I believe and so do most radical feminists, that the pressure all human beings endure to act masculine or feminine depending on their genitals needs to change. The restrictive idea of gender has to change. Would anyone want to have sex changes if the masculine and feminine gender roles weren’t there? If it didn’t matter whether or not a person has a penis or a vagina and both were not attached to specific behaviors?
The construction of transgenderism in the late twentieth century resembles, in important respects, the construction of the homosexual. The 1960s and 1970s were the glory days of social construction-ism in the social sciences. Lesbian and gay theorists and historians, educated in the values of those times, argued that the idea of the homosexual, as a particular kind of person who was destined by a congenital abnormality to be exclusively attracted to others of the same sex, was in fact a social construction (Mackintosh, 1968;
Weeks, 1977 ).
If radical feminists currently agree that gender is a patriarchal construct then why are we not questioning the idea that being gay or straight is also a patriarchal construct? Why are we not questioning the biological essentialist agenda that some members of the LGB community believe in, like we are questioning this very same agenda in the transgender community? And further, doesn’t the very idea that there are separate communities tell us something? If we buy into the idea that we are born gay or born heterosexual, we refuse to recognize that sexual orientation much like gender orientation could be a patriarchal social construct and in so doing the enormous implications of this are lost. We then truncate the analysis and truncating any analysis is not radical feminism. I think we need to explore the subject of sexuality like we do anything else in patriarchy. We need to pick it apart and take it to the root of the problem. Is heterosexuality normal or abnormal? Is being gay normal or abnormal? How does our patriarchal environment factor into the analysis? If patriarchy dictates every belief we have about what is normal and abnormal including our ideas about gender and sexuality, how could it not?
In Gender Hurts:
The first detailed articulation within sociology of the idea that homosexuality was not a ‘condition’ but a ‘social role’ was by the lesbian sociologist Mary Mackintosh in her path-breaking article, ‘The Homosexual Role’ (1968). She applied understandings from labeling theory to homosexuality and argued that conceptualizing the homosexual as a certain kind of person who suffered from a condition operated as a form of social control, which ‘helps to provide a clear-cut, publicized, and recognizable threshold between permissible and impermissible behavior’ (Mackintosh, 1968: 183). Mackintosh explained that, in relation to homosexuality, ‘[t]he creation of a specialized, despised and punished role of homosexuality keeps the bulk of society pure’ (Mackintosh, 1968 : 184). She says that psychologists and psychiatrists take part in the labeling process in relation to homosexuality and thus in the ‘mechanisms of social control’.
This way of seeing homosexuality is useful for understanding transgenderism too. The creation of the transgender role can be seen as a way of separating off unacceptable gender behavior, which might threaten the system of male domination and female subordination, from correct gender behavior, which is seen as suitable for persons of a particular biological sex. In the case of homosexuality, the effect is to shore up the idea of exclusive and natural heterosexuality; and, in the case of transgenderism, the naturalness of sex roles.
In patriarchy, we have been socialized to believe that heterosexuality is normal and being gay is deviant and for some reason most of us don’t question this idea. So I ask you now, why not? Could heterosexuality be a patriarchal agenda created like gender for men to control women? More specifically, and more importantly, the question I want to ask is, is heterosexuality normal in patriarchy? Isn’t it counter intuitive to be heterosexual if you get into the actual semantics within patriarchy? For example, women throughout patriarchal history have been enslaved, oppressed, victimized and murdered in epidemic proportions by men; yet, we are still being taught that we should not only love men, but also live with men. Isn’t it more true that in reality, we should be removing ourselves from the vicinity of men; thereby, removing ourselves from the danger of violence and death? Women live in terror on a minute by minute basis due to the threat of male violence and we are taught to deny this threat. Male violence is so normalized that it exists as a low level anxiety for most women and an extreme danger signal for other women depending on their circumstances, yet we are being told that men aren’t the problem and that it is men who will protect us. If we lived in the land of opposites (which we do in patriarchy) then this all makes perfect sense. But if you look at it logically, rationally and reasonably, heterosexuality is dangerous for women in patriarchy.
Since the patriarchal agenda is for men to control women, heterosexuality is a social mandate that does just that, it enforces female relationships with males. It is a patriarchal mechanism that works like no other mechanism, including gender. Gender constructs such as femininity and masculinity are detrimental but they come into play within the confines of heterosexuality. Feminine or subservient behaviors are roles that women are forced into, the men doing the forcing through masculine pressure within the heterosexual relationship. If heterosexuality didn’t exist, gender roles would also not exist. Heterosexuality keeps women in close proximity of men and this accompanied by male violence keeps women under male control. Women under male control ensures free domestic labor. Free sex. Free emotional support and so on. Heterosexuality is beneficial for men but in this same society, heterosexuality is extremely detrimental for women. But we don’t ask whether or not heterosexuality is beneficial for women. In a world where women don’t matter, what is good or not good for them doesn’t matter either. We don’t question gender or sexuality within the confines of patriarchy because to do so brings females into focus, where normally they are invisible, obscured behind the default male. If we question heterosexuality, She will materialize. She will demand to be dealt with.
In patriarchy, heterosexuality for females is counter intuitive. You might argue that heterosexuality is a biological imperative. That we need to propagate, but do we really? Aren’t we overpopulated with people? Further, isn’t it true that women don’t need to be intimate or even in close proximity with men to get pregnant anymore? Also, in ancient times, women weren’t isolated with one man, they lived with groups of women separate from the men and the women still had babies. Women are being isolated from each other in nuclear families and we are told that this is normal and the only way to live. But is it? Women living in nuclear families isolated with one man, in fact has proven to be deadly for women. Although random male violence does occur, in most cases, it is men who have sole access to women in intimate relationships that violate, rape and murder women. Let me ask you this, if women removed themselves completely from the reach of men, would there be any rapes, abuse and murders? Would women still be in danger?
Removing women from the proximity of men is the only way to keep women safe–but this idea doesn’t ever surface in our consciousness. If you look at how men treat women globally, you could even say that the idea of loving or even liking men is unnatural, that heterosexuality is unnatural. Women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Women are taught to believe that they need men to survive. They need men to be something in a male dominated world where otherwise they are nothing. But the opposite is actually true. It is men who use women. It is men who need women. Women in all aspects of life are better off without men.
So then I ask the question again, is heterosexuality normal for women in patriarchy?
If we begin to analyze sexual orientation within patriarchy and come to realize that like gender, sexual orientation is also a patriarchal construct that furthers the patriarchal agenda, then we must also question the born gay or straight agenda. Radical feminists have always argued against biological essentialist agendas and have adopted the social constructionist one, patriarchy being the environment where all of these male social ideas are born and conditioned into us all. Of course never forgetting that patriarchy itself was created by men. I also want to distinguish here that when I talk about gender and sexuality as social constructs and not biological, I am not throwing out the idea that men are biologically different than women and vice versa. This idea is a completely different discussion for another time. Radical feminists believe that gender is a social construct created by men, one of the many tools within patriarchy to oppress the female class. In other words gender was created by men as a tool to oppress women in patriarchy. Gender constructs are entrenched in patriarchy and in all human beings who live in the same and they are anything but superficial or trivial. Because these gender constructs are so pervasive in our society and also deep within us all and because they are also invisible due to normalization, they are extremely difficult to eradicate because we don’t question them.
Case in point, the biological essentialist political agenda came into fruition because of this difficult fight. It was easier to fight within the patriarchal box, with patriarchal tools, then to try to destroy the box.
If we are born gay and it isn’t a choice, then patriarchy remains safe. The patriarchal agenda of making sure women are heterosexual and in the control of men is not threatened. If women weren’t coerced and brainwashed into believing that heterosexuality was normal and everything else deviant, and if women were seeing clearly through their authentic selves and not through the eyes of terror due to male violence, they would never choose to be heterosexual. they would never choose to be in relationships with other human beings who not only disrespect them but violate them. Why would they? Who chooses to not only live with but love human beings that treat them so badly? The very fact that women believe they are heterosexual is a testament to the power of patriarchal conditioning. Against all evidence, all rationality, all sanity, women are choosing to be with men, or are they? in order to make an intelligent rational choice, you have to be provided with options, not coercion. So then we must ask the question, are women really choosing to be heterosexual?
There has been a lot of talk in the LGB community and within the feminist community, including radical feminist, that heterosexual women have privileges that lesbian women do not. That there are benefits afforded to straight women that are not afforded to lesbian women. In my opinion, this idea needs further analysis. If we come at this idea from a biological essentialist stance that lesbians are born gay and they have no choice in the matter and therefore are considered deviants and outcasts, then yes, straight women are more embraced in our society and afforded more rights, but at what cost, and whose rights are they really? If we ask the question. is it a good thing to be embraced into a society that hates, oppresses and violates women, then wouldn’t we come to another conclusion? How can being embraced by a sick society be a good thing? Instead of calling it “embraced” shouldn’t we be calling it “enslaved”? Why would you want to be a member of a society that uses, abuses and spits you out when it has no more use for you? If you approach this issue from a social constructionist stance, women being embraced in patriarchy is like a lion giving a rabbit permission to lick his balls before he eats the rabbit.
Women are being embraced in direct correlation to serving the needs sexual and otherwise of men; the embrace is conditional and deadly. Moreover the so called rights heterosexual women are afforded in patriarchy are not their rights at all but instead rights that belong to the men they are in relationships with. If you are a woman and a heterosexual, your identity is dependent on men. Your worth is dependent on men. Your autonomy as a human being doesn’t exist apart from men. From this point of view, it would seem that lesbian women are more liberated from male enslavement then heterosexual women. Lesbian women for the most part do not live in close proximity to men; therefore, they are also safer. Yes I understand that lesbians are raped, violated and murdered and persecuted by men because they refuse to have sex with men and because they are women, but because they are removed from intimate relationships with men and the nuclear family environment, they are removed from that particular danger and more removed from male violence then heterosexual women.
Lesbian women actually seem in my eyes to be the sanest human beings on the planet because it literally makes more sense to be a lesbian than to be heterosexual in patriarchy. All of the facts scream at us that women are not safe around men. That men hate women most of the time and yet we are being conditioned and coerced into dismissing these facts. Women are being coerced into heterosexuality by a male dominated system that absolutely needs them to be heterosexual. From birth, women are groomed for this role, to be under the control of men. This is imperative for the survival of patriarchy and the rule of men. If women didn’t do the domestic labor or take care of men in all facets, patriarchy would crumble. If you believe that being gay is biological, that you are born gay, then the social implications of our patriarchal conditioning is dismissed and this is a good thing for patriarchy. If we all believe that being gay is an abnormality a deviation from the norm, then patriarchy remains safe and men can continue to spew heterosexual propaganda to its female population.
If you believe you are heterosexual, I must ask you to really question this belief and where the belief came from. Women are being conditioned to go against their own intuition about men in our society to our own detriment. I never questioned whether or not I was heterosexual, even though I had one of the most beautiful relationships with a woman, so much deeper than any man I have ever known. I never questioned it because, much like the male gender is the default in patriarchy, it is the default sexuality as well. To be anything else is considered deviant and deviating from the norm is hard to say the least. So I ask you, what if being heterosexual in patriarchy is insane? What if what we think is normal is not normal? If we do our fact checking and we really, really look at men, even the men we live with or love, we can begin to see behind the vale of our patriarchal conditioning. We can begin to see that within patriarchy, heterosexuality is counter-intuitive for women. If it is in fact dangerous for women. If heterosexuality is instead socially constructed by men to benefit men and women who choose to be with men are doing so due to coercion, brainwashing and out of terror of male violence (Stockholm’s Syndrome), then heterosexual women are– to put it mildly—fucked. If heterosexuality is ultimately the result of terrorizing women into submission and most women are not able to break free of this terror, we have a social pandemic on our hands.
Lesbians then are the only ones who are not in denial. Who are not suffering from Stockholm’s Syndrome. If lesbians then are the sane ones and thereby the normal ones in our society and heterosexual women are not, how can we continue to claim that we are born gay or straight? How does this benefit women in patriarchy? Ann Tagonist wrote at her blog: http://anntagonist.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/lesbian-identity-politics/
“Political Lesbianism offers women a framework from which to view the institution of heterosexuality. It offers women choices. It tells them it doesn’t have to be that way. There is nothing whatsoever to be gained from telling women, “You were born hetero,” and there is so much to be lost. Why do it?”
If you are being ostracized from society and seen as deviants and not being afforded the same “benefits” rights or protections legally that heterosexual women appear to be given, would you even consider that these women are actually being harmed by these so called “benefits” “rights” and “protections”? Instead do you fight for the right to be able to get married and have community property with your spouse? Looking at it through these lenses, I can understand how this might be interpreted. But lets face it. These so called benefits are not benefits at all. Instead they are laws that further the patriarchal agenda–oppressing and dominating women. They are coercive laws to ensure women are in close proximity to men. Why else is it so difficult to pass laws for same sex marriage? Could it be because the institution of marriage is one of the coercive tools in patriarchy to isolate women from each other and put them in the hands of individual men and any deviation from this is a threat to patriarchy? In my opinion, same sex marriage is the only sane type of marriage for women. When a woman marries a man, she enters into dangerous ground. She loses her last name without a thought. She becomes Mrs. John Smith. She loses her identity her self and he gains everything. He doesn’t lose his self, his identity. He keeps it and gains hers. They become one, but He is the One.
If we took the religious moral idea out of the equation that men must be with women and vice versa, there is no reason why same sex marriage legally shouldn’t already exist. The legal financial benefits should be afforded to all people regardless of who they love. However, because the institution of marriage was created by men in patriarchy as a tool to keep women under male control, losing this tool is a threat to patriarchy. This is why gay people are having to fight so hard to get same sex marriage legalized. If you can get what you need, rights and protections without fighting the system itself, without fighting men, then why would you? I think this is where the LGB community has gone astray from feminism and where we we can be at odds, especially from the radical feminist community. Don’t get me wrong, there are a majority of lesbian radical feminists; however, the radical feminist women who are lesbians can be at odds with the LGB agenda specifically the biological essentialist agenda, but most of the time, this is not questioned because we walk on eggshells around it as to not stir the pot and create further division amongst feminist women.
The side effect however is that this keeps a lot of the LGB community away from feminism, which is not a good thing. I think we need to address this division by talking about our differing ideas and trying to get to common ground. If the radical feminist agenda is socially based, trying to abolish the constraints of gender and sexual orientation then how is this a bad thing for anyone? If there were no constraints, if all human beings were just human beings making choices from a basket of numerous choices, instead of “normal” people and “deviants” who have to fight for rights to exist outside of the norm, wouldn’t everyone win? It is our societal restrictions that should be questioned and cast out, not the people who try to deviate from them. After all, it is what we call deviant that is normal in this patriarchal land of opposites.
We aren’t born with male or female brains. Similarly, we aren’t born with specific brains dictating our sexuality. We are born into a patriarchal society that has a specific male agenda to promote and uphold and instead of questioning this male agenda that is extremely unhealthy and try to change it, we are labeling people who deviate from this agenda as abnormal and casting them out of society. Then in order to gain access back into the fold, into this sick society, the people we consider deviants must be embraced through our compassion, because they have a disorder. The deviants must then fight for rights that the “normal” people have. Fight for rights that are inherently unhealthy– rights that need to be abolished.
Radical feminists all the while have critically questioned gender in the social context as well as the idea that heterosexuality is normal and have tried to change this restrictive environment so that the idea of gender can be some day eradicated which in turn would eliminate all discrimination against who we see now as deviants including women, transgenders and homosexuals. Consequently, radical feminists have been called trans phobic and deemed the enemy by the transgender community. Some day we will realize that the biological essentialist agenda regarding gender and sexuality due to its confines, doesn’t serve humanity as a constant evolving entity that needs space to grow but instead serves to further the patriarchal agenda in imprisoning us. Similarly, if we can imagine eliminating the biological essentialist agenda and seriously talk about the idea that gender and sexual orientation are both patriarchal constructs, created by men as tools to dominate women, we could create positive change.
Some radical Feminists will argue that if we throw out biological essentialist agenda, men then will claim to be victims to patriarchy too because they can’t control their biological urges to be violent. If we radical feminists are saying that gender is a social construct and not biological, we can’t then say that men are different biologically. I disagree with this. What we are questioning is the ideas that are dictated by patriarchy; therefore, we must ask ourselves, who created patriarchy and who’s ideas are being dictated and to who’s benefit? Then we can begin to understand that men created the social system that mirrors their own behavior; consequently, the behavior was there prior to them creating patriarchy and the social constructs within patriarchy.
Therefore, males can be seen as biologically different than females with the propensity to dominate others, especially women. The chicken or the egg? Patriarchy didn’t create itself. The idea of dominating women didn’t come from women. The idea of masculinity (dominant behaviors) and femininity (subservient behaviors) didn’t come from women. All of the above came from men. Male violence comes from nature and nurture (and men created the nurture). Men are biologically stronger and they also have testosterone and some studies show less empathy for others, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t “choosing” to use that biological equipment for violence. It seems to me that if you know you are physically stronger and have the propensity towards violently acting out you would try to suppress those tendencies and not use them against physically weaker human beings. This in itself tells a tale about the human male and his weaknesses.
If we were to discuss the fact that both the gender and sexual orientation constructs are part of the foundation that keeps patriarchy erect, and begin to dismantle these ideas, we could weaken its foundation. We could imagine a world where there is no such thing as transgender or homosexuals. Not because they won’t exist, but because they won’t have to label themselves as such because being either / or is not deviant but a choice out of the basket of numerous choices all human beings have access to. We are human beings who have been socialized within a social system that dictates what is normal and what isn’t. Everything we do. Every choice we make can either be dictated by our patriarchal socialization or we can look at it, dissect it and understand on a very deep level what it truly is–conditioning. If we are aware of it. If we know what it is and what it isn’t. If we question every idea that we have and trace it back to its origins, we can then begin to choose from a place of liberation instead of societal coercion. We can make informed choices to oppose and resist or if we want to, choose to acquiesce, either way we choose from a place of knowledge, not ignorance, not terror. Those are our only real choices. If we continue to use tools from within the patriarchal tool box to fight for gay or transgender rights, patriarchy wins.