Growing up in rural Southern Oregon in the 70s and 80s, I barely knew the word lesbian, much less what it meant. I mean, I sang the song, “I love you, you love me, homosexuality. People say we’re just friends; really, we are lesbians.” I guess I understand its meaning, but mostly I just got that it was gross and wrong. I sang that song when I was 8 or 9, a good 3-4 years after I had already come into a knowing that I was not in this world the way a girl “should be.” At 8, I could already foresee a future when that word would have very personal meaning, and I feared extensive consequences.
So, by 8, I hated the word lesbian. I hated that part of me knew its relationship to the word. It was easy to hate both because there was so much support to do so. Silence. Silly, hurtful songs. Sneering boys who were peers calling names, making innuendos. Religious crusades against lesbians being allowed to be teachers. Partners being kept apart by grieving parents who did not want to let their injured daughter be with the love of her life. All of this was just the tip of the cultural shaming that taught me to relegate myself to the shadows.
And then you throw into this mix of confusion and self-loathing my gender experience. It was all a recipe for a complicated survival defense mechanism by which I internalized cultural misogyny, and cis/heterosexism leveled it at myself and carved out space/place to distance myself from the cultural disgust (aka misogyny) with lesbian.
I never called myself a lesbian, not when I “came out” at UC Berkeley, 5 seconds after arriving on campus. Not when I started dating women and identified as a woman. Not when I told my parents. Not when I came out on the front page of the Grants Pass Daily Courier to fight anti-gay Measure 9. Not ever.
Y’all, I had internalized misogyny to such a great extent that I distanced myself from a word, from a community, from myself, from the women to whom I was most attracted, from my life. It would take me 26 years from the time I first said out loud, “I’m gay,” to unravel the trio of misogyny, cis/heteronormativity that I had twisted into a knot throughout my body.
When I finally did, I was overcome with grief for how I had failed to love not just myself but all of the intrepid lesbians, same-gender-loving women, butches, femmes, aggressives, bull dykes, bulldaggers, lesbos, homos, sapphists, lezzies, girl kissers, and more.
Misogyny and misogynoir are like the stealth biological weapons of heteropatriarchal White supremacy. They seep into all of us, infecting our brains, our bodies, and our actions, often in ways that we do not recognize, often in ways we cannot make others understand, often in ways we cannot articulate, and somehow femmes, women, NBs, and trans folks, the very targets of these weapons have been positioned as the transmitters of these cultural norms. Don’t get me wrong, men and often masculine folks are the policers, punishing those who attempt to cross the boundaries and terrorizing regularly and at random just to keep the boundaries tight.
So, today, on International Lesbian Day, I am outing myself as a recovering misogynist/misogynoirist, as always re-stating my commitments to moment-to-moment critical anti-racist intersectional praxis, and I am celebrating my love of women and Lesbians. So, let’s hear it for lesbians and same-gender-loving women who have been justice warriors, cultural luminaries, prominent educators, healers, changemakers, and spiritual leaders since the beginning of human existence. Thank you, ancestors, contemporaries, and those of you to come (however you identify or don’t).
written by Jen Self
This story was originally published on Medium.