Some Comments on Linda Riley’s Dismissal of Angela C Wild’s Call to Get the L Out of the LGBT+ Community and of her Research, Lesbians at Ground Zero
Wild’s Research, Lesbians at Ground Zero Here
Wild’s Article in Openly Here
Riley’s Counter Article in Thomas Reuters Foundation News Here
Linda Riley opens her critique of Angela C Wild’s call for lesbians to organise outside of the LGBT+ community by claiming that such a move would contribute to lesbian erasure rather than reverse it.
Riley’s rationale for this is that by ‘opening one’s hearts and minds to a community that has been … vilified and marginalised by much of society,” lesbians will somehow benefit as a group. This reflects a common call to women to include everyone, every struggle, every injustice in the world in our own cause. We are not allowed to centre women and because lesbians are women, we are not allowed to centre ourselves, we have to include other groups.
Riley does not explain how ‘opening our hearts’ to this group of ‘vilified’ trans people will help our cause. She just reprimands us for being mean.
Her next attack is on Wild’s account of a protest she and others took part in last year when they brought banners proclaiming lesbians to be female homosexuals to the front of the Pride march in London. Many lesbians saw this as a classic tactic in the tradition of abseiling into the House of Lords during the long fight against Section 28. But not Riley, she wants things done properly, according to the rules.
Riley suggests that Pride was not a wise choice of event at which to stage this protest. She points out that lots of lesbians are allowed to gather at the DIVA Women’s Stage in Leicester Square and suggestions that we should organise separately could hamper this privilege. Better to keep our heads down and do as we are told. She seems to have forgotten how we used to have Lesbian marches and events and festivals and we seemed very capable of having a good time without placing ourselves under the control of organisations and committees that tell us we must include male bodies in lesbianism.
Riley asks if Wild and her colleagues ‘really want lesbians not to enjoy the sort of visibility that, frankly, we never had before?” What she does not say is that it is the new version of the lesbian community that is celebrated here, the one that includes all the men who want to call themselves lesbians. We can have a fab day out at Pride, as long as we erase the idea that lesbianism is all about female to female sexuality.
Riley next attacks Wild’s research. She calls it ‘unconvincing’, saying that 80 respondents were not a useful sample. My first response to this is amazement that the publisher of a magazine supposedly dedicated to lesbian issues has not the slightest interest in the specific experiences of 80 lesbians. I have personally read a Report by TENI (Trans Equality Network Ireland) about the experiences of trans children in Irish schools. It highlights lots of findings and makes plenty of recommendations. Was it blasted for not having enough respondents? No, it was heralded as groundbreaking and now it is being used to try to change government policy. This report is based on the experiences of 11 children and 7 educators. We are constantly hearing that more research must be done on the needs and experiences of trans people, that we need a clear picture so we can provide the proper levels of support etc. I have no problem with that. But I would like the same courtesy extended to lesbians researchers.
What I would have expected from the publisher of a lesbian magazine in relation to Wild’s report is shock and indignation that lesbians are going through such terrible experiences. I would expect a lesbian magazine to demonstrate some sense of alarm. Then a clear, unequivocal call for more research, perhaps an offer to help fund it. Perhaps an interview with the author of the report. Perhaps an offer to use the pages of said magazine to reach even more lesbians. But not Riley, not DIVA. From her we get dismissal and ridicule.
Riley has nailed her colours to the mast. She has thrown her lot in with the men who present themselves as lesbians and demand to be treated as such by lesbians. She seems to have no problem accepting the definition of ‘lesbian’ to be ‘anyone who says they are’ which is what these men demand.
Now she must defend that position. She says she has not seen any evidence of anyone being coerced into having sex with a trans woman. Well, she’s never going to see it if she decides that it just does not exist, no matter how many lesbians say otherwise. She’s never going to hear about it if she won’t listen to the lesbians who are saying it happened to them.
Concentrating on the issue of rape, which Wild highlights among many instances of harassment and psychological coercion, Riley says this:
‘Of course, there are people of all sexualities and gender identity who do not understand that no means no – mainly straight cis-men – but I see no evidence of any greater incidence of this reprehensible attitude to sex among trans people when compared with men and women across the wider UK population’
Her assertation that it is mainly straight men who are the chief perpetrators of rape is true. But she fails to acknowledge that trans women follow male rather than female patterns of committing violent crimes. Study Here A big factor in separating people who commit sexual assault from those who largely do not, is the possession of a penis. Incidentally, rape is not a matter of not understanding that ‘no means no’. It is about knowing that and doing it anyway.
Riley has nothing to say about the lesbians in the study who recount their experiences of being ridiculed, isolated, accused of transphobia and ejected from LGBT organisations for not accepting, or even questioning the trans lesbians are lesbians dogma. These experiences don’t appear to be worthy of comment.
Riley recounts how she was verbally attacked by lesbians for simply saying that DIVA was trans-inclusive and that she had not seen any evidence of lesbians being forced to have sex with trans women. She says some of the abuse she was subjected to was obscene. I do not condone such treatment of anyone. I commented on twitter myself at that time and I stuck to the point, as many did, but obviously, some went beyond that, regrettably, in my opinion.
Riley then states ‘If a trans woman says she is a lesbian, nobody has the right to question that self-identity.’ Well, surely lesbians do. Surely the women who find the female body erotic, whose sexuality is based solely on the female form do. Surely the women who will be expected to open their dating pools to this trans woman do.
Surely the women in Wild’s study who repeatedly recount the difficulties they encounter, the expectations demanded of them, the pressure to accept straight sex as a lesbian encounter, have the right to question that self-identity.
Riley then evokes the age-old chestnut levelled at lesbians, the accusation that ‘they haven’t met the right man yet’. Somehow this is supposed to equate to lesbians asserting that lesbianism does not include male bodies. I think she is making Wild’s point for her. Saying that lesbians just haven’t met the right man is saying that female to female sexual fulfilment cannot exist. That sex has to involve a penis. What’s the difference between that and Riley’s view there can be no sexuality that includes only the female form, that penises have to be allowed in?
She then trots out the ‘individual choice’ argument. This is followed by the assertion that trans women are unlikely to want a relationship with ‘transphobes’ anyhow. So, you can assert your right not to have an intimate relationship with a ‘trans lesbian’ but that makes you a transphobe. She likens this choice to straight women in the 70’s and 80’s who avoided lesbians for fear of the lesbians pouncing on them. She says ‘we did not want any sort of intimacy with lesbophobic people who thought like that’. So, it’s an individual choice but beware the consequences of making it.
Her likening of the experiences of butch women in female public facilities to that of trans women is bizarre. Overwhelmingly trans women present as ultra feminine. They reinforce the very gender stereotypes that hinder women who do not conform to those strict presentations. Fighting for the acceptance of a wider range of female expression does not mean fighting for the idea that the female body does not exist.
Riley then asserts that she has never met a trans person who wants to erase or marginalise lesbians. This statement is meaningless. It’s not about what trans people want to do, men have always wanted to invade lesbian spaces, it is about what people like her are allowing them to do. By failing to defend the only sexuality in the world that does not involve a penis. By capitulating to every demand, every whim of the trans lobby, it is magazines like DIVA and organisations like Stonewall and Pride that are effecting lesbian erasure.
It is individuals like Linda Riley, individuals with a platform, who refuse to listen, who turn away when lesbians recount their experiences, who stigmatise and belittle the women who are fighting to defend our right to a female based sexual orientation, those are the people who are furthering lesbian erasure.
Riley finishes by saying that she expects to be attacked for her article. Instead of positioning herself as a martyr, why does she not invite discussion, argument, actual discourse, there is plenty of it around but she chooses to ignore or discredit it.
Her final wish is that we all spare a thought for the unfortunate trans women whose lives are blighted by bullying. Not a jot of sympathy for the 80 lesbians in the study, nothing, it seems, could be further from her mind as she calls again for us women to ‘find some compassion and understanding.’ But only for some.
When lesbians organised against Section 28, we were fighting for our right to assert a sexual orientation centred solely on the female body. Today that right is under attack again. This time the threat is coming from the very organisations and publications that purport to speak for us and defend us. They are redefining who we are, demanding that we change our sexual orientation and pretending there are no consequences to consider, beyond the happiness of other groups.