MAKING LGBTQ+ FEMINIST
WORDS BY JENNY MORRISON
“I think the worst misogyny I’ve ever experienced is from gay men,” commented a friend recently when we were talking about being women within the LGBTQ+ community. While her words might be hyperbolic – gender inequality is not created by gay men – there certainly is misogyny in the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ movements are often dominated by cis, white middle and upper class men, community spaces are designed for men, and men in the movement often reproduce patriarchal behaviour such as commenting on women’s appearance, touching women’s bodies without consent (it’s not ok because you’re gay) or generally talking women down.
A special disdain is sometimes reserved for lesbian, bi, trans and queer women, who are implied to be dowdy, strident and have sex with ‘disgusting’ vaginas. We experience all of this from the straight world too, but it can feel sharper when the people slamming you down are those you expected to be most firmly on your side.
“…splits began to open within the gay liberation movement with some sections retreating from a systemic analysis of oppression into asking merely for equality within the capitalist system for (white, middle class) gay men.”
In much of Europe and the Anglophone world, women’s, gay and other liberation movements experienced a surge in the 1970s and sought to transform the patriarchal, capitalist system. These movements challenged the reality of the gender binary and gender roles regarding how we expect men and women to dress, behave and work. Misogyny among gay men always existed and women’s groups were sometimes homophobic, but many recognised that women’s and gay liberation were deeply connected given that the condemnation of LGBTQ+ people stems from the perception that they are violating the appropriate gender norms. Yet splits began to open within the gay liberation movement with some sections retreating from a systemic analysis of oppression into asking merely for equality within the capitalist system for (white, middle class) gay men. Much of the questioning of gender roles disappeared and the male gay movement became defensive rather than confronting sexism wherever they found it.
“A special disdain is sometimes reserved for lesbian, bi, trans and queer women, who are implied to be dowdy, strident and have sex with ‘disgusting’ vaginas.”
Intersectionality is a concept emerging from black feminist theory and practice which has gained a lot of attention in recent years. It refers to how different lines of oppression, whether of class, race, gender or sexuality, are mutually constituted and cannot be tackled separately from one another. Consequently, the call for gay men to support feminism is not just asking for solidarity for women, rather our struggles are bound up together and so what harms one group also harms the other. This means the LGBTQ+ community must start having women at the forefront of our movements, our spaces and our discussions. It also means gay men must talk to other men and condemn misogyny when it rears its head within gay spaces. It is only through challenging inequality within LGBTQ+ groups that a united movement can be built that has more strength to challenge homophobia and transphobia in all their forms.