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 chaired and introduced the workshop. Below is the transcript of Liane’s speech. Credit to Louise S. for the above picture. As far as I remember I always liked girls – and I never was attracted to boys. All the girls loved me, they used to say to me: “if you were a boy I would go out with you”. They all wanted to cuddle with me. I was depressed that I wasn’t a “boy”. I used to think there was something wrong with me. There was absolutely no pressure in my family for us children to conform to stereotypical gender roles, no “girls’” toys were enforced on me. Before puberty I had no problem with my body. At the age of 10-11 I used to run around topless, playing with the boys, like a “boy”. As my period were not coming and I had no breast I was not sure they would ever come, I thought maybe I WAS a “boy”. Maybe there WAS something wrong with me. When I had my period I was very proud. I was very proud to become a WOMAN. But then came my breasts. I realised I had to wear a bikini costume to go swimming and couldn’t run topless anymore. It made me really depressed. I couldn’t play with the boys anymore, I was expelled from football at that age because there was only a boys’ team and no girls’ team. Football was my life. It was heart-breaking. Before my breast came I used to look like a “boy”, not like a “girl”. This gave me some power in my friends’ group. I was physically active, always climbing trees, playing football and so on, and leading my group of friends – who were mainly boys. When my breasts arrived, all this stopped, my life changed. I felt sexualised, objectified, and vulnerable for the first time. From the age of 12 until the age of 15 I felt deeply uncomfortable with my female body because of this. I used to have fantasies that if I laid in the sun, cover my body but leave my breasts out the sun would burn them. At 15, I changed school. My friend circle changed as well. I started to come in contact with the women’s movement and women involved in it. Some lesbians were out in my school. I started to feel more comfortable with myself. I was already active in the squatting movement, occupying building that sort of thing. Loads of lesbians were involved in this kind of activism then. At 17, I left home and lived in an alternative house share of several people including a lesbian. She became a close friend. This is how I got in the women’s movement. In those days in Germany – and it was similar in the UK – we had women’s centers, women’s bookshops, women’s cafes, women’s disco, were we would hang out and meet each other. There was a woman culture and lesbians were central in that culture. Lesbians were everywhere. We were very visible. We had lesbian consciousness-raising groups and discussions. It was so important being in constant contact with lesbians like me and share our experiences. Their presence validated mine, their stories made sense to me. I came from a religious background and was always against the church, even as a child. When I spoke about this in my group, I was advised to read Mary Daly’s book Gyn/Ecology, which had then just been translated into German. I was 17 then, and suddenly my life made complete sense, everything fitted. I realised what patriarchy meant. I knew there was nothing wrong with me. I also felt strongly that there was something seriously wrong with everyone else: society. My lesbianism made sense in that political context. I was able to be comfortable in my life and in my own body because of the strong presence of lesbians around me. I was able to understand lesbianism politically because I was raised in the women’s movement and the understanding that lesbianism is political was obvious, always present. A couple of month ago I attended the Detransition Advocacy Network launch in Manchester and heard the testimonies of the “detransitioned” women speaking there. All of them were lesbians. Their stories was mine in my early years, their hatred of their bodies, their confusion about being female because they didn’t fit sexist stereotypes and loved women. I identified with all of it. I felt strongly connected to their lives and how they felt about their bodies. I was horrified at what had happened to them. If I hadn’t been born and raised in the middle of the women’s movement with lesbians all around me, if the trans ideology had been around in my days there is no doubt that I would have been a victim of this ideology and might have thought of myself as “trans”. Many lesbians of my generation feel that same connection to young lesbians who feel pressure to “transition”, have “transitioned” or are “detransitioning” This is why we at Get The L Out UK do what we do, because lesbian visibility help lesbians everywhere.
Get The L Out UK was present on two levels at FiLiA Conference in Bradford (19th and 20th October 2019): Angela Wild spoke at the Violence against Lesbians panel and several Get The L Out UK organisers and sympathisers were involved in the security team led by Liane. Thank you FiLiA for providing a platform to lesbian radical feminist activists. Angela presented transgenderism’s violence against lesbians in a talk outlining the main ideological and political underpinnings of the “Cotton Ceiling” as part of the latest version of rape culture against lesbians within trans, queer, and gay communities [see the video of her talk above] The panel also included Susan Hawthorne, Consuelo Rivera Fuentes, and Hilary McCollum. The recording of the whole session is available here. Angela had previously took part in a FiLiA podcast in which she talks about lesbianism, radical feminism, motherhood, anti-racism, and other important feminist issues. As Claire Heuchan wrote in AfterEllen, “each panelist took the discussion about violence against lesbians in a different direction. This mosaic of women’s perspectives builds an extraordinary picture. There is the sorrow of life in a world where violence against lesbians is endemic. And there is the magic of women uniting, resisting, building our own platforms and communities”. On the same day, the security team had to deal with a handful of transactivists [picture right below] who protested the Conference for a few hours outside of the venue.
Pictures of some women of the security team and Get The L Out UK activists and sympathisers
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 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!
On Saturday 24/08/2019, a group of women marched in front of Manchester Pride to stand for lesbian rights.
Like every time, this action would not have been possible without the sisterhood between women and the presence and determination of the women who marched but also the help and support of the team of invisible women working behind the scene. We thank Paula, our amazing Welfare & Entertainment manager, Jackie and Sofia for their brilliant work as part of the Twitter team, and the countless Twitter activists who have shared our action. We also thank CM, Thomasin, Charlie, Katy, Rebekah, Helen, Lou, Janice, Suzan, Hannah and all the other activists who want to remain anonymous. We are proud to have marched with you. And thank you ResistersUnited, Object!, and Make More Noise for the support and participation. Amongst us were detransitioners, cotton ceiling rape survivor, trans widow, mother of transitioning children, lifelong lesbians, late bloomers, political lesbians, lesbian allies, prostitution survivor, domestic violence survivors, rape survivors, disabled women, women with PTSD, mixed-race women, white women, women from different countries and ethnic background, working-class and middle-class women, mothers, childfree women, with ages ranging from 19 to 60+ All of us came to this fight with our background and our own experiences. We respect and honour each woman’s trajectory to feminism and lesbianism. We need each of our perspectives because it makes us stronger. As lesbians, we are united by our exclusive love and desire for women! And we are united with all women by our sisterhood! ***A gay male photographer was later expelled from Manchester Pride for documenting our action as Claire Heuchan reports in AfterEllen.