Looking at Gay Oppression and Internalized Sexism between LGBTQF and Heterosexual Women

I helped organize a workshop called Ending Gay Oppression and Internalized Sexism between LGBTQF [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Formerly] and Heterosexual Women. It was led by “Jeanne D’Arc” (the International Liberation Reference Person for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, and Transgender People) and Diane Balser (the International Liberation Reference Person for Women).

Thank you, Diane, for encouraging us to write. Although I always have a lot of thoughts, as a woman of Asian heritage with a Gay identity I struggle with putting them into words. I’ve internalized the messages of Gay oppression that say that Gay people are “perverted,” “disgusting,” and “abnormal,” and any time I try to write something as a Gay woman, these messages come up and I feel exposed. In addition, when I was young my father would dominate and humiliate us at the dinner table by using our words against us.

When I heard about this workshop, I was thrilled. As a Gay woman of color who leads wide-world women’s work, I’d been looking for spaces in which people work on both sexism and Gay oppression. They are difficult to find.

I have been in RC for twenty-five years, and for most of that time I have struggled with feeling like sexism really doesn’t matter. Racism and Gay oppression have always felt like key issues to me, but working on sexism has felt “stupid” and “useless.” I’ve known theoretically that this feeling is the result of oppression, but I haven’t figured out how to fight for myself as a female.

At the workshop the work on male domination shifted things dramatically for me. If you had asked me, “How does sexism affect you?” I wouldn’t have had a concrete thought. But when asked to notice where men had dominated my childhood and my growing up as a female, I could think of a lot of things and discharge hard.

We talked about several key things at the workshop that resonated with my experience. One was that all women’s bodies have been heavily targeted by sexism. Being “heavier” and “darker” and having “curly” hair were ways I was targeted for not having positive Chinese/Japanese female attributes. My physical features, combined with being third-generation Asian American and not raised with the languages or cultural elements, left me with a heavy feeling of being different and not belonging. I did not belong as Chinese or Japanese, because I did not speak the languages or know the cultures, and I definitely did not belong as a female.

The Gay community was one of the only places where I felt like I could breathe, where I didn’t feel targeted for being the “wrong” kind of female. Being “other” is largely what brings those of us in the Gay community together. I could be with women who accepted and respected other women who lived outside of gender norms.

Gay-identified women (“Gay” for me is short for any sexual identity targeted for being outside of heterosexual) have fought incredibly hard against oppression to be open about their lives. At this workshop it was a huge contradiction [to distress] to have heterosexual women understand that. Working together with heterosexual women, and particularly heterosexual women of color, contradicted the isolation I feel. I could easily tell [notice] that we were working together, hand in hand.

A heterosexual woman wondered if someone was still Gay if she was in a committed relationship with a man. I think this is an important question. Those of us who live somewhere in between the identities of Gay and heterosexual will have our own answers, but something “Jeanne D’Arc” said resonated with me: that once you’ve had an experience, you can’t “un-have” it.

We have been using the term “formerlies” to talk about those of us who at some point identified as Gay women or were in a Gay relationship but who no longer identify as Gay. Once you have internalized a Gay identity or had the experience of being Gay, you can’t pretend that you didn’t have it. So it’s important not to focus on the identity per se but on how the oppression has targeted or continues to target you. We formerlies are not now heterosexual. Even if we are folded into heterosexual culture, a large part of our lives is still invisible, and we are always monitoring whom we can share what with. That “monitoring” will transfer to other areas of our lives that we feel won’t be accepted.

We discussed many useful things at the workshop that will help us counsel each other better. One was that heterosexual women generally assume that Gay women will not work on Gay material [distress] with them because we don’t feel safe, while Gay women will assume that heterosexual women won’t ask us about it because they don’t have the slack or attention to listen to the details of our lives. Thinking about this was helpful for me in taking charge of my sessions as a Gay client. The above dynamic has often had me unawarely hiding out in my sessions. If I can remember this, and remind my counselor to think about it, we can get closer and have much better sessions.

“Susan Wong”

Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of women

(Present Time 189, October 2017)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00