Get The L Out UK held a workshop at the conference Women’s Liberation 2020 in London (01/02/2020). Thank you Woman’s Place UK for organising such an event and providing a platform to lesbian radical feminist activists. The title of this women-only workshop was “Lesbians in a straight world: Lesbian erasure and visibility”. Our main speakers were Maji, Liane T, and Charlie Evans. Angela C. Wild and Sarah Masson chaired and introduced the workshop. Below is the transcript of their joint speech. Transcript (and some more that we did not have the time to say during the 1-hour workshop) Introduction Hello women, hello sisters! We are Angela and Sarah, founding members of Get The L Out UK. We are going to introduce you our fabulous speakers but before that we are going to tell you about a little legend we have at Get The L Out UK. It’s quite simple really. Apparently, whenever a woman says the word “lesbian”, a lesbian somewhere in the world arises and finds the strength to say no to compulsory heterosexuality and fully live her love for women. Imagine then if all of us in this room were shouting the word lesbian three times now? Let’s try? Lesbian! Lesbian! Lesbian! Congratulations, you’ve just said one of the most forbidden words in patriarchy! Usually, patriarchy calls us bigots, TERFs, man-haters, perverts, ugly, women-who-have-not-found-the-right-man-yet, women-who-behave-like-men. But mainly, they just erase us. You see, patriarchy’s main rule and strategy when it comes to deal with lesbians and the threat we represent is simply to pretend we do not exist in the hope we will go away. When male homosexuality was a criminal offence in the UK, lesbianism was NOT. This is not an oversight; this does not denote a strange liberal view on female homosexuality that was not accorded to gay men… No, no, no. This is deliberate. You see, passing a law criminalising lesbians means publicly acknowledging that lesbians exist. And acknowledging lesbian existence is dangerous. It could backfire and it could give women dangerous ideas. Imagine ! They could want to be lesbians!!. The unspeakable L word is one aspect of lesbian erasure. Historically, lesbians are either straightened, “transitioned”or remain unacknowledged. In history books, lesbians’ life contributions are routinely ignored by mainstream historians. It’s just like they never existed. Without the work of lesbian historians, those lesbians do not even make it into history books. If the lesbian can’t be ignored, all reference to her lesbianism is erased, making it look like the lesbian was in fact heterosexual. Nothing to see here… With queer ideology, patriarchy has found a brand new way to erase lesbians: post-mortem “transition”. When dead lesbians are “transitioned”, it is the reference to their femaleness that is erased, they were really men all along. Problem solved. These strategies of erasure, straightening or “transition” are not confined to history, they are also applied to living lesbians. Today, a lot of lesbians still live in the closet, for fear of violence or being ostracised. this is also reinforcing lesbian erasure. Many contemporary lesbians only ever met a lesbian while adults. As a result many lesbians come out after one or several heterosexual experiences. Compulsory heterosexuality is a reality for many of us, many of us were coerced, pressured in heterosexual relationships in our younger years. The cotton ceiling is nothing but the latest version of that phenomenon. Transgenderism’s core aim is to conquer the lesbian body. With transgenderism, men in the GBT see lesbians as the ultimate frontier to colonise and they try to do it through the raping of lesbians and through the “transing” of lesbians, especially lesbians who do not conform to men’s fantasy about what women should look like, those who do not conform to femininity. Those of us who have survived and escaped the trap of compulsory heterosexuality what ever its shape and who finally manage to call ourselves lesbians are then told we are not “real lesbians” because of that heterosexual past, or because we used to identify as men. “It is just a passing phase” is a sentence lesbian hear a lot still today. Around the world, patriarchy is based on men’s institutionalised and unlimited sexual access to women’s bodies. The very existence of lesbians threatens this system of male domination because our exclusive love and desire for women does not include men and because we are not privately owned by men. That’s why they erase us, economically coerce us, harass us, beat us, rape us, murder us, here in the UK and everywhere in the world, today and across centuries. The lack of recognition of violence against lesbians as a anti-lesbian hate crime means that the pressure on lesbians to be invisible or heterosexual, the rape culture we have to navigate, the conversion therapy we go through, the misogynist medical abuse against those of us who are pressured to transition, AND all the consequences this have on our lives, bodies and mental health, are not given the attention they deserve, not acknowleged, not recognised as real issue, not even in most feminist circles. When lesbians are invisible, our oppression is also invisibilised. The only times patriarchy allows some lesbian visibility, it is actually humiliation through pornification or complete surrender to men’s misogynistic interests and values. This institutionalised anti-lesbianism directly benefits men: when they rape us, they get applause from their brothers. When they pornify us, they get money. When they use us as tokens for their capitalist companies or political agenda, they get power. These are also aspects of lesbian erasure. Here at Get The L Out UK, we think that, to paraphrase Black lesbian feminist sheroe Audre Lorde, our silence will not protect us. That’s why we’ve been doing uncompromising lesbian visibility actions for almost two years now. Our journeys to lesbianism and those stories you will hear today reflect some of the aspects of lesbian erasure and our collective struggle to promote lesbian visibility. This is why at Get The L Out UK we welcome and celebrate lesbians from all backgrounds and with diverse life history. In 2018, we were at London Pride. In 2019, we were at Swansea Pride, Vienna Europride, and Manchester Pride, sometimes on our own, sometimes joined by feminist groups Object! Resisters United, and Make More Noise, and always with amazingly brave and inspiring lesbians and female allies. Other UK groups have also organised actions at Pride events in Leeds, Liverpool, Lancaster, Edinburgh, Glasgow, York, Bradford. Lesbians’ thirst for liberation and autonomy is international. Our first action was inspired by the courage of lesbians who showed visibility at Pride events in New Zealand, Canada, and the US. We have had the honour of directly working with lesbians from Serbia, France, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Austria, and next month we’ll be in Italy. In the past few months, we have been pleased to see the online and offline emergence of Get The L Out Korea, Get The L Out Sweden, Get The L Out Spain, and Get The L Out Asia. All of this happened thanks to the work of lesbian feminists who do not get any funding from men’s institutions, and who refuse to work with men, whether these men are gay, left-wing, right-wing or anything else. Conclusion You have heard today of the stories of three women and their struggles to acknowledge their love for women. we have tried to bring you different perspectives across generations, race, class and countries. There are many more perspectives out there and we cannot claim to be able to represent them all in such a short workshop and we hope that this has given you some valuable perspective, and the curiosity to hear some more. We also hope that you start to understand why lesbian visibility is so important for lesbian existence. Today, as we meet to celebrate and commemorate the 50th anniversary of the women’s liberation movement, we also assess our collective situation as women and as lesbians in the patriarchy. While this is not the aim of this workshop It is useful to look back at the seven demands of women’s liberation: 1 – Equal pay now 2 – Equal education and job opportunities 3 – Free contraception and abortion on demand 4 – Free 24hr nurseries 5 – Financial and legal independence 6 – An end to all discrimination against lesbians and a woman’s right to define her own sexuality 7 – Freedom from intimidation by threat or use of violence or sexual coercion, regardless of marital status and an end to all laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and men’s aggression towards women In today’s context we have a duty to look at our feminist movement and make sure that lesbians are not yet again erased. We cannot simply appear in statements and manifestos in brackets among the “diversity” of women (i.e. those who are not white, middle-class, able-bodied, and heterosexual), and neither can women of colour, disabled women, working-class women, and other groups of women who are marginalised within the movement. It is our job to point it out today, not with antagonism but with honesty and respect and in the spirit of constructive criticism and with the hope to raise some important points leading to improvements. As lesbians we know that discrimination against lesbians is endemic. We know that patriarchy has found new ways to oppress us. We also know from the stories you’ve heard today and many others that women have not achieved our right to define our own sexuality . As lesbians in agreement with Adrienne Rich’s classic article “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian existence”, we understand the enforcement of heterosexuality upon ALL women not as a side issue affecting lesbians alone; but a cornerstone of women’s oppression. It concerns us all. This ignorance of the centrality of lesbian issues from some of our heterosexual sisters is sometimes due to lack of experience and understanding of our challenges as lesbians. It has lead to many separations and divisions in our movement at least since Betty Friedan and the Lavender Menace’s resistance. We cannot afford more divisions. Lesbians need to be heard in the women’s movement, lesbian’s work need to be acknowledged by our heterosexual sisters. So, we’d like to end this by sharing some ideas of what you could do to support your lesbian sisters: 1 – Question if you are not yourself reproducing some of patriarchal erasure of lesbians. Don’t erase lesbians, say the world lesbian when referring to a lesbian. Do you consider lesbian is a dirty world? It is your responsibility to deconstruct why. Lesbian feminists have proved again and again that we are pioneers in feminist activism and theory. This is because our material existence is such that we 1. are usually the first to get attacked by patriarchy and its various backlashes against feminism and 2. are not attached to men in our daily and political lives and therefore we tend to have a more radical and autonomous sex-class consciousness. Disengaging from lesbian erasure as a non-lesbian therefore means that you need to acknowledge lesbian’s work on the issue(s) you’re working on. 2 – Listen and engage more with lesbians stories 3 -Help amplify lesbian voices. If you are holding an event, make sure you platform lesbians with a lesbian standpoint. 4 – Read more lesbian feminist texts 5 – Donate to lesbian groups 6 – Join a lesbian action (if they welcome non-lesbians) The future is female. The future is lesbian!