The “Lesbophobia” Scam

Heather McNamaraBy Heather McNamara

Those of us who have been in the trans activism game for a while are familiar with the mental and linguistic gymnastics that TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) perform in order to justify transphobia while simultaneously pretending they’re not transphobic. One of their little terms, however, recently went relatively mainstream as blogger Claire from SisterOutrider leveled it at bestselling author (and one of my favorites), Roxane Gay. That term is “lesbophobia.”

If lesbophobia charges were in good faith and meant lesbian phobia where “phobia” is used in line with its colloquial meaning to describe aversion or hate, perhaps it would apply to these sorts of behaviors:

  • Exclusion of lesbians from events or social situations
  • Exclusion of lesbians from discourse on sexuality or gender
  • Preference of straight or bisexual women over lesbians
  • Insistence that lesbians are actually straight or bisexual and erasing their identities
  • Violence leveled at lesbians for being lesbian

These are the sorts of things to which we refer when we discuss homophobia, so naturally it would follow that “lesbophobia” being used in good faith would apply similarly, with the exception that the target was exclusively lesbians. Roxane Gay’s words, however, fit absolutely zero of those descriptions.

For context, Arielle Scarcella has a documented history of racism and transphobia. Kat Blaque is a black trans woman who has taken on Scarcella’s ignorant viewpoints several times. In this tweet, Kat was describing a chance encounter with Scarcella which was fraught with all the tension anyone could expect. Roxane Gay’s response “slap her” served to encourage Kat Blaque’s position against Scarcella’s continuing racism and transphobia. As it referred to an event in the past that did not devolve into physical violence, it would be disingenuous to conclude that Gay intended violence against Scarcella. Yet that’s exactly what Claire suggested when she wrote:

Lesbian women are treated with revulsion simply for loving women. We are disparaged and degraded for experiencing same-sex attraction, and abused – often brutally – for living woman-centric lives. By all means, criqitue Arielle Scarcella’s videos – I’m not stopping you. But please do not suggest that violence against a lesbian woman becomes legitimate simply because she subscribes to a set of politics that are not aligned with your own. Not even in jest.

As a black trans woman, Kat Blaque is a member of one of the United States’ most murdered demographics. As a white cis lesbian, Arielle Scarcella has got very little to worry about, at least in the west. In fact, if somebody were to murder Kat Blaque in any state other than Illinois or California, they could claim that they did so simply because of her transgender status and use that as a defense! Not so in Scarcella’s case. Not all discourse is violence, even when words like “slap” are used. Discourse only becomes violent when it has potential to incite or justify actual violence toward actual people. Given the lack of any history in the United States of violence toward cis people being justified as defense against transphobia compared to the seemingly endless history of transphobia used to justify violence against trans people, the idea that Scarcella was in a vulnerable position compared to Kat Blaque is beyond absurd.

More than that, Roxane Gay is queer and seems to prefer women to men as she has said in her own defense several times since “lesbophobia” was smeared all over her twitter mentions like feces on a nursery wall. If violence against cis women who love women were suddenly to break out, it is unlikely that Roxane Gay would not be caught in that crossfire. She has skin in this game.

Helpfully (not helpfully), Claire goes on to define lesbianism in her own strange terms for her readers:

For me, it is obvious: lesbians are women who exclusively experience same-sex attraction. As transwomen are biologically male, lesbian sexuality does not extend to include them. That is not to say lesbian women would not consider taking trans-identified lovers – as I have previously written, the boundary between a butch lesbian and a transman is often blurred, and many non-binary identified people are biologically female too – but rather that our interest is reserved for those who are physically, biologically female. It is also worth pointing out that approximately two thirds of transgender people have reported undergoing some form of gender-confirming surgery, meaning that the majority of transwomen are in possession of a penis – a definite no insofar as lesbian sexuality is concerned.

Let’s ignore that she just said two thirds had surgery and also that the majority of trans women have penises because that doesn’t add up, but it doesn’t really matter. We can see what she was attempting to do. She, like Scarcella, was attempting to justify exclusion of trans women and cis women who love trans women from the pool of women who are allowed to call themselves “lesbian” based on genitals and their own contrived definition of lesbian. So, for the record, Claire and Scarcella:

  • Exclude (trans and certain cis) lesbians from lesbian social situations
  • Exclude (trans and certain cis) lesbians from discourse on their own sexuality/gender
  • Insist that lesbians are actually bisexual or straight and erase their identities

And for good measure:

  • Feign ignorance of violence against trans women in order to claim victim status

That one belongs exclusively to the transphobia roster. So good job, Claire and Arielle! All your bases covered.

Because Roxane Gay is kind of famous and lately has a new book on the bestseller list, the TERF Stygian counsel all gathered for this one and decided they could get a super lot of attention if they all piled on and made sure to call her out on their cesspits GenderTrender and GenderIdentityWatch. This could not have been pleasant for Roxane Gay who unequivocally did not deserve that pile-on or the outsized negative attention public figures receive whenever a perceived justification arises. So to Roxane Gay from the Gender Analysis team: Thank you for your courage. We’ve been there and we know it isn’t easy.

And to Claire, Scarcella, the smattering of YouTubers who agreed with them, GenderTrender, and any other fools who climbed into this pile, we leave you with some slightly modified advice from GenderIdentityWatch whose author was oblivious to her own irony and completely incapable of following her own god damn advice:

“Lesbians [and other queer women] don’t need [malignant transphobes] telling us what lesbian sexuality is.”

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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3 Responses to The “Lesbophobia” Scam

  1. Donald says:

    Given the transphobia that lies at the heart of TERF, I would not be surprised that by “trans women” she really means “trans MEN.” It seems clear that much of the heart of TERF is the right to apply THEIR labels to everyone else. Thus trans men are consigned to this weird little sub-sect of butch lesbians as long as they don’t have the audacity to get a penis or something equally icky.

  2. Emily says:

    This is well done.

    There was so much rage when I read the part about two thirds have surgery so the majority of trans ladies have a penis. Like what are you even saying?

    And yeah, I used to feel very weird still openly identifying myself a lesbian while dating a trans woman because of these people and their arguments. Now I’ve stopped giving a shit about them and just own it. As far as communities I’d like to be accepted in… Theirs is not even on the list.

    I’m glad to see someone on my side and definitely glad to see someone defending Roxane. (not that she needs it)

  3. Jeanie Wallenstein says:

    Hmmm. To be young again.
    If you don’t like me, let’s not fuck.
    It’s really that simple to start out, isn’t it?
    The disparity in shared experience between CIA-and Trans- women is an important discussion.
    Maybe better here than on twitter…

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