Bi/pan lesbian exclusionism
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Bisexual and pansexual lesbian exclusionism, often shortened to bi/pan lesbian exclusionism, is an unfortunately growing form of LGBT exclusionism. It is aimed at a fractional minority within the community who identify as either "bisexual lesbian" or "pansexual lesbian" for a myriad of reasons:
- They may experience attraction to women and non-binary people (using "bisexual" to mean "attraction to the same gender and a different gender" rather than "attraction to men and women").
- They may experience no romantic attraction but still experience sexual attraction to men (cis, trans, or otherwise), while also experiencing both romantic and sexual attraction towards women (again, cis, trans, or otherwise) and nonbinary people.
- They may be sexually and romantically attracted to men as well as women, but consider "lesbian" a term that includes any woman attracted to women, not just homosexual women.
- It more accurately expresses their sexual and romantic preferences than simply identifying as bisexual or pansexual.
It has disturbing but ultimately unsurprising parallels and even connections to trans-exclusionary radical feminism, asexual exclusionism, and those who insist that "queer" is a slur. Bi/pan lesbian exclusionism is ultimately another pointless, counter-productive wedge issue meant to undermine queer solidarity and cause infighting to distract from actual bigotry, be it prejudice against bisexuals and pansexuals, transphobia, and enbyphobia within the community or from homophobes outside trying to trample on LGBT rights. Worse, it can serve as a dogwhistle and a jump-off point for normalizing more extreme exclusionist views to younger, impressionable members of the queer community. Opponents to this kind of bullying have coined the acronyms "BLERF" and "PLERF" to describe people who subscribe to these views, both of which fittingly read kind of like the sound of someone retching.
- 1 History
- 2 Rhetoric
- 2.1 Pedantry and pseudolinguistics
- 2.2 Allegations of lesbian erasure
- 2.3 Allegations of Transphobia
- 3 The Bottom Line
- 4 External Links
- 5 References
Bi/pan lesbian exclusionism has its origins in the rise of the political lesbian movement in the late 70s and early 80s, which asserted that to be lesbian is a purely conscious choice. Following that logic, many political lesbians aggressively pushed to make the word "lesbian" a purely monosexual term, meaning only (cisgender) women who are attracted to (cisgender) women.. Aside from the obvious transphobia (which political lesbianism is often a breeding ground for) and erasure of non-binary lesbians, this push alienated many bisexual women and non-binary folks who had often casually self-described or were perceived as lesbian up until that point. As a contrast, there has seldom been any notable pushback against queer men and non-binary folks who wish to self-describe as bisexual or pansexual gays.
Pansexual flag discourse
One example of the recent resurgence in exclusionism takes the form of the so-called "new" pansexual flag. In June of 2020, Jasper, the creator of the original magenta-yellow-cyan tricolor pansexual flag, expressed support on Twitter for bi/pan-lesbians. This sparked backlash and harassment from exclusionists, who began to call for a "new" flag. One proposed design was a muted and flipped teal-goldenrod-orange tricolor made expressly for this purpose, which at the time did not find much success. However, the exclusionary teal-goldenrod-orange design gained a resurgence in visibility in 2021, when several Twitter threads bringing up Jasper's bi/pan-lesbian support (as well as support for kink at pride) went viral, and exclusionary discourse became reignited.
Pedantry and pseudolinguistics
"Lesbian means women who love women, not men and women!"
Even putting aside the aforementioned push by political lesbians to make the term "lesbian" exclusively monosexual and the bigotry associated with it, for most of the history of the English language lesbian simply meant a woman who experiences attraction to other women. The word is recorded being used in such a way as early as 1732 (to describe a bisexual woman no less). At no point until the 1970s is there specific emphasis or regard to whether or not lesbians can be attracted to people of other genders. This kind of selective prescriptivism very closely resembles TERF arguments regarding the sex vs gender dichotomy.
"The word sapphic already exists! Just use that!"
Indeed, the word sapphic does exist. However, it is nowhere near as recognized in the public consciousness as the word lesbian. Sapphic also fell out of popular use in the mid-1800s in favour of lesbian, only recently saw renewed use in the 2000s as LGBT slang, and is still relatively obscure.Ultimately, whether someone wants to refer to themselves as sapphic or some form of lesbian is their personal choice and not something someone else gets to dictate.
Allegations of lesbian erasure
"Lesbians aren't into men!"
Even if we follow this strangely male-centred definition of what it is to be lesbian, there remains a very important question that oft goes unanswered in these discussions. What is a man in this context? What makes someone a man? Who gets to decide who is and isn't a man? All of these questions highlight the inherently binary nature of this line of argument. When this question is raised, the responses are often simple deflection at best and downright transphobia at worst. In addition, someone being bisexual or pansexual doesn't necessarily imply attraction to cis men.
"Lesbians don't like penises!"
The debate of genital preference is a hot one, but in many instances someone using this as an argument is more often than not indicative of underlying transphobia, transmisogyny, enbyphobia, or any combination of the above. This exact same argument is often repeated by TERFs. In both cases, there are massive assumptions being made about other people's bodies, with a complete disregard for their gender identity. In addition, the assumption that someone is less of a lesbian because they don't really concern themselves too much what's between their partner's legs (for example, a cis lesbian dating a trans lesbian who hasn't had bottom surgery) is just another form of pointless gatekeeping and thinly-veiled transphobia that only serves to alienate other queer folks.
Allegations of Transphobia
"Bi/pan lesbians were made up by TERFs!"
As mentioned in a previous section, bisexual women self-describing or being described by others as lesbians is a concept that has existed since long before the 1960s when TERFs started to become a serious problem. It is true however that some TERFs (incorrectly) claim that cis lesbians who date trans women are bisexual because they see everything through the lens of what's supposedly between others' legs, but seldom do they use "bi lesbian". Most TERFs actually despise when people self-identify as bi or pan lesbians, since one of their main deals is trying to keep anyone who doesn't fit their very narrow criteria for womanhood and being lesbian.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, how people personally identify their sexuality is up to them, not other people, and certainly not strangers with a penchant for gatekeeping. Lesbians all have the commonality of being women and nonbinary people attracted to other women and nonbinary people, regardless if some of them like men too, and that should be a point of solidarity. Bisexual and pansexual lesbians are real, valid, and deserve to be accepted in the LGBT community just as much as trans and ace people do.
- Your carrd has been declined: debunking the justsaidsapphic carrd (archive), a debunk of a commonly-linked bi/pan-lesbian exclusionist "carrd" blog that addresses most of the arguments specific to this topic.
- Debunking Exclusionists (archive) An extensive resource by the same author that deconstructs and debunks many exclusionist arguments. Not solely limited to this topic. Fair warning: Also has many, many screenshots and archived links of exclusionists going mask-off and just generally being awful people.
- Google image search for dachshund puppies in case you decided to look at the previously mentioned screenshots and archived links.
- Straight from the horse's mouth. (archive)
- Why that's just not true
- Susan Pell (November 2002). "Inescapable Essentialism: Bisexually-Identified Women's Strategies in the Late 80s and Early 90s". Thirdspace: A Journal of Feminist Theory & Culture, Volume 2. Retrieved December 3rd, 2020. (archive)
- Google search trends related to various forms of LGBT exclusionism between 2009 and 2019
- Archive, taken 27 May 2021
- Archive, taken 28 Aug 2020
- Archive, taken 25 June 2020
- Archive, taken 26 June 2020
- An Inclusive Space for Pan Folks, "So I'm not trying to start anything with anyone...", Tumblr
- Archive, taken 1 June 2021
- Archive, taken 3 June 2021
- Reddit thread referencing Tiktok trend
- Rictor Norton (Ed.) (June 4th, 2004). "The Toast, 1732". Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. Retrieved December 8th, 2020. (archive)
- Wayne M. Bryant (1997). Bisexual Characters in Film: From Ana's to Zee. p. 137.
- Google search trend data for the terms "sapphic" vs "lesbian" from 2004 to 2019
- Google books frequency data for the word "sapphic" between 1800 and 2019
- Google books frequency data for the word "lesbian" between 1800 and 2019
- A Twitter thread with a lot of screenshots of TERFs, in their own spaces, vehemently denying the existence of bi lesbians (archive)