'Don't you dare say anything'
By Heather Murphy
I am sitting at a meeting of a prominent LGBTQI+ organization. We're in a flash bar in the city. It's an election forum, so the MP's and their entourages, the aspiring politicos, and the people who want to feel important sit around talking about politics and how Andrew Little is probably going to lose. This, we agree, is disappointing, though we don't let the Labour Party people hear that. They might get upset.
But like all meetings of any kind of organization, we have to go through all the agenda items until we get to what we were really there to see - which in this case is the announcing of a new board member. They get up, all proud of themselves, and the friend I'm with grabs my arm, leans over, and whispers in my ear.
'Don't you dare say anything'.
Why would I say something? Personal dislike? Hatred? My hands are clammy, my heart races, my face is twisted - a smile of gritted teeth as we all clap and applaud our new 'LGBTQI+' board member. They're dressed in the various accouterments of femininity - a sharp black skirt, a blazer, long hair. They announce they're proud to be 'lesbian representation' and that they've 'only been a lesbian a few months'.
See, before those few months, that new board member was a heterosexual, white male. This 'lesbian' has a penis. Does that make sense to you? It doesn't to me.
My friend is gripping my arm very strongly now. My teeth are gritted. I'm still smiling. I must look like a crazy person.
Did I mention that my friend and I were the only lesbians in the room who weren't politicians and hadn't begun life as a straight man?
I had to take a walk outside. I pretended to have a smoko as I raged to my friend. But the minute I go inside, I have to make nice. I'm happy for this man to steal my representation on organizational boards, to pretend to be my voice, to take my skin and wear it and claim to be 'one of the girls'. Completely happy. Not unsettled or upset or frothing with rage, at all. Because if I say anything, if I point out the emperor does, in fact, have a penis and therefore isn't a lesbian, I will be cast out, exiled, a 'TERF' (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist).
If I say I am worried about the rise of 'transgender children' - children, that in the majority of cases, desist from a transgender identification and develop into healthy gay and lesbian adults, I am reading junk science (even if by credible scientists and replicated), and I am going to kill children by invalidating them. So I watch, over and over, as girls who were like me when I was young get told they are really boys, watch those girls believe it, and worry about their futures, a future of permanent medicalization, a future where they never get to have a sexuality, because they never have any sex organs develop. I even stand by and watch as their parents proudly state that their 'son' knows 'he isn't a lesbian!'. I can't call that homophobic, even though it is. I have to be silent, and smile through gritted teeth.
There is a new malaise gripping the queer community, and that malaise has a name - cultural appropriation and colonization. Of who? Of lesbians. Worse, we cannot talk about it. Women who do, such as the protesters at Auckland Pride, and lately at Pride parades internationally, such as in Baltimore and London, are told they are bigots, promoting hate speech. Women were even attacked and told they were violent at a San Francisco Dyke March, a Dyke March that the year before, had had heterosexual men adorned in pink and blue, waving pink and blue baseball bats, threatening to 'punch TERFs'. What makes a 'TERF' these days? Saying that lesbians are female homosexuals. Saying that lesbian sex involves two women with the same set of genitals. The protesters at Auckland Pride, and their allies were derided as hateful, ignorant bigots. Their sign? 'STOP GIVING SEX HORMONES TO CHILDREN'.
Waving a baseball bat at a march? That's not violent, apparently. Say that a lesbian is a female homosexual? Now that's transphobic, violent bigotry, and you deserve what's coming to you, preferably at the end of a pink and blue baseball bat.
I have watched friends be exiled from political groups for daring to say that lesbians, by definition, aren't interested in male bodies. They stand outside now, defiantly shouting at us in the room that the emperor has no clothes. And I know, inside they are right. But to say the obvious - that lesbians don't like penis, that men cannot be women, and that sexual orientation is about sex, not gender - is verboten. I can't even say no on lesbian dating apps - I'll be banned. If I say no to one of them in person, I better have a reason that isn't 'you're not a woman!'. Point out that many of these heterosexual men fetishize women and lesbianism, and I am a disgusting bigot. So I keep quiet. I don't dare risk exile. And inside, I hate myself.
It is appropriation and colonization. I sit and smile with gritted teeth as I am told to accept heterosexual men as lesbians. They are not lesbians. Their sexual orientation - that of a heterosexual man, is not illegal in any country. They have never held another woman in their arms and been terrified, knowing that what you have just done with her can be punished by death if you did it in the wrong place. There are no countries they cannot visit, there are none of them being tossed into concentration camps. It is in not within living memory that their sexual activity could be punished by death in Australia. It is not them who faced terror in New Zealand, within living memory, for being who they are. They have never had the terror of coming out, of growing up a lesbian woman in this country, accepting as it now is, and they never have, and they never will.
Lesbianism is not a costume for straight men to dress up in, for sexual validation or otherwise. It is a sexual orientation. It is a sexual orientation, of biological females exclusively attracted to other biological females.
But I can't say that any more, obvious as it is. So I smile and grit my teeth, even if on the inside I want to cry.