Lesbians Lust for Everything

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BY KELLY JEAN COGSWELL | I should stop being the dyke whining in the godforsaken wilderness and complaining to the cactuses about how lesbians barely make a blip in mainstream culture. Straight men are satisfied with our cameos in porn as two housewives making out until a carpenter or plumber turns up with his big tools. Women shy away from the lavender menace as if we have nothing to do with them because we only dance around Maypoles in May. (Yes, that was a dick joke).

The LGBT community is often no better. Lately, trans- and gender issues are way more compelling than our own while G men still use the L word as a punch line, pretty much like they always have. A couple months ago, when blogger Alan Jacobs suggested that relationships should “start with the kind of intimacy that is more like friendship than anything else, and to trust that sexual satisfaction will arise from that,” noted gay writer Andrew Sullivan’s hilarious response was, “On what planet does Jacobs live? Planet lesbian?” BWAH HA HA. What a douche bag.

It was tempting to blast Sullivan for the sneer in that word, “lesbian.” He embraced the Victorian assumption that two wimmins together never actually screw, or go mad from desire: we just hold hands and simper at each other, making our experience so absolutely foreign to his gay, manly one, we deserve a whole separate planet. But I didn’t write anything at the time. I couldn’t muster the energy, not when lesbians so often seem to agree.

Last column I dumped on the new Lesbian Political Action Committee, because with their focus on reproductive rights and women’s issues, the most lesbian thing about them was their name. In fact, lots of young female homos reject the label, declaring that they prefer the noncommittal “queer,” which is ever so radical and chic. Or even “gay woman,” because it sounds more ladylike, and with the “woman” on board, it doesn’t quite bar the door to men, which we're told is rude, prehistoric, and unlikely to advance our careers.

You can hear them worrying about what the neighbors think as they declare labels conveniently passé and defend their position so vigorously they give off the sulfuric stench of lesbophobia, afraid the word lesbian will make them small and ridiculous. As if generic humans were so great, so dignified.

I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered the indy girl-on-girl site, which doesn't shy away from the word lesbian and is as comfortable with culture as politics, publishing articles on the endless possibilities of peanut butter and the realities of dyke life in African countries. Because sometimes lesbians bond over politics and sometimes it's a shared passion for the gooey brown stuff.

Last week, I remembered a different kind of food. Dyke books, dyke art. The kind you get when you remember that labels aren't nooses, but fuses, which can go off with a bang.

First, I read Eileen Myles' novel, "Inferno." What a wonderful, ambitious work. She claimed a prominent place in the literary canon in the name of dykes and poets everywhere and stuffed it full of her own life, which could have been mine, or yours. I'm an amnesiac, and her story reminded me how growing up in a hetero world I just kind of assumed I was straight even though I mooned after beautiful women and was struck dumb by them. One of her most important themes was that coming out as a dyke, as a lesbian, was as much a leap of imagination as it was a pussy on pussy act.

And Friday I went to Dixon Place to see the show, "Gomez and Tropicana Do Jan Brewer." They turned their two dyke Latina bodies, a smear of lipstick, some cowboy hats and a doll, into the raunchiest, funniest, most irreverent, most obscene performance I've watched in I can't remember how long. They were so fucking daring, so fucking free, being homo and hetero, men and women, white and Hispanic, hell, even goddesses and demon Chupacabra politicians like you'll only see at the Republican National Convention. It boggled the mind.

I sometimes forget that dyke artists exist, leading the way to creating a multiverse inside the boundaries of that terrifying word "lesbian" that we haven't finished with yet. And never will, because that's the thing with identity and language. Words shift. Or the world does. I like it best when we rock it ourselves instead of cowering.

So what if we're shoved to the margins? There are all sorts of interesting things in the folds of couches, jettisoned at the side of the road, in the wilderness. Every one of our lesbian lives redefines the syllables assigned to us. Breaks the mold. Or could. If we weren't so afraid. If we dared to grab it and run.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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Reader feedback

Eloise Klein Healy says:
Dear Kelly Jean Cogswell, Thanks for the reminder--and well stated--that lesbians are still the invisible "letter" in the LBGTWI algorithm. I think some of the problem is generational--but the fear of the real word is one that continues to persist. It's the synonym behind the curtain of "lady-like," "professional woman," and "woman athlete." The main reason lesbians are so invisible is that we are very scary to every culture that is still hetero-normative & patriarchal--and that's just about everyone of them. Well, it is everyone of them. I invite you to view the website of Arktoi Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press. I still use the word lesbian there in asking for submissions of manuscripts. Eloise Klein Healy
Aug. 9, 2012, 7:35 pm
Puck Duimdus says:
Being a Dutch tourist in NYC, I stumbled upon the newspaper somewhere on the Upper West Side and I couldn't agree more with this article. The only lesbian club in Manhattan I found so far googling 'Lesbian Bar NYC ' is Henrietta Hudson and that is probably because I simply have no idea what to look for. I might not be a typical 42-year old blue-eyed, once dark, now grey haired white Dutch lesbian, but I definitely adhere to the geuzennaam 'dyke'. In the Dutch language the word geuzennaam is used for linguistic reappropriation: a pejorative term used with pride by the people called that way. It could be interesting to examine the reasons behind the 'cowering' as you call it, but I think it would be much more relevant to just come out and stand for who and what we are, just like you encourage us to do. Or -as they used to say in NYC if I am correct-: ACT UP!
Aug. 14, 2012, 9:02 pm
paradiso says:
I read Eileen Myles’ novel, “Inferno.” What a wonderful, ambitious work. She claimed a prominent place in the literary canon in the name of dykes and poets everywhere and stuffed it full of her own life, which could have been mine, or yours.
Sept. 16, 2016, 5:03 pm

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