Art and writing by Raegan Boettcher
“I became a Lesbian because of women, because women are beautiful, strong and compassionate. Secondarily, I became a Lesbian because the culture that I live in is violently anti-women. How could I, a woman, participate in a culture that denies me my humanity?” — Rita Mae Brown, “Take a Lesbian to Lunch” from A Plain Brown Rapper
“What is a Lesbian? A Lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion.” — Radicalesbians, “The Woman-Identified Woman”
I think being a Lesbian is the most beautiful thing I have ever done.
It feels like a revolution to even utter the word.
I was not comfortable describing myself as a Lesbian until I was in college. In high school, I hesitated to call myself anything. Most of the time, I avoided the topic altogether — years wasted feeling like I could not say the word, like I could not put a name to my feelings and desires. The time that my best friend asked me to the homecoming dance, I could hardly look at her without feeling nauseous — simultaneously from the butterflies in my stomach and the fear that someone would see us dancing together.
I struggled with labels and finding out how to explain myself. Labels almost always fall short of describing real queer existence. Often, a word is simply another box to squeeze into, even if it sometimes feels better — a word to give to other people to clarify exactly what you are so they know how to deal with you. I did not need something to explain myself, but I found a lot of power in the word “Lesbian.”
Because Lesbian did not feel like a box. Describing myself and my life experiences as Lesbian felt massive. It felt like a supernova that birthed possibilities I never could have imagined.
Understanding and accepting my own Lesbian existence required a confrontation with two things: 1. My internalized homophobia, and 2. My internalized misogyny. Denying my Lesbianism meant denying other women and the love that I had for them, denying the joy that grew there, and denying the pleasures of associating with other women. It meant denying myself and my desires.
Although Lesbian existence implies some relationship to womanhood, this relationship is tenuous and often contradictory in nature. When I refer to women or womanhood in relation to Lesbianism, however, what I really mean is an absence of men, though certainly not an absence of masculinity or strict adherence to societal expectations of femininity. Being a Lesbian does not necessarily mean being a woman; Lesbian existence is a way of being that resists such simple categorization.
Often, Lesbians are denied the coveted status of womanhood. Womanhood is constructed to fulfill a specific role within the patriarchy — i.e., to serve men, to embody the characteristics of the subservient class. Lesbians are oppressed both for being women and for not being women under patriarchal conditions. When you look outward from this, when you break from sexist expectations to submit to men and embrace loving other women, it is revolutionary.
As Adrienne Rich explains, “Lesbian existence comprises both the breaking of a taboo and the rejection of a compulsory way of life.” Lesbian existence is a continuum, it is nonessentialist, and exists outside of any bounds.
To recognize the humanity of a Lesbian is to admit that women are not passive, receptive beings; to admit the validity of Lesbian existence is to admit to radical, unconfined sexual and emotional understanding.
Popular misconceptions of Lesbians insist that we are merely bitter women who are unable to secure relationships with men; or rather, that we just have not yet met our Mr. Right. These misconceptions, at best, invite the erasure of Lesbian existence, and at worst, create the conditions for homophobic violence and sometimes corrective rape.
Denying the existence of Lesbians, and inciting fear at the mere utterance of the word, is a hidden, yet nonetheless insidious tool of the patriarchy. At its core, it is a mechanism of female control. Rita Mae Brown said the worst thing that a woman can be, for the patriarchy, is a Lesbian. Audre Lorde, self-described Black Lesbian, mother, warrior, and poet, noted that “Lesbian-baiting” is used to obscure sexism, and racism in the case of Black women.
Patriarchy weaponizes the word Lesbian against women as a way of silencing rebellion against female subjugation. Men require that women eschew relationships with other women to maintain the possibility of male attention. Earning basic recognition and respect from men requires distancing from other women, in order to belong solely to men.Men perpetuate anti-Lesbian hysteria because the alternative is women existing free of male control and compulsion. Heterosexuality is assumed and enforced by patriarchal and heteronormative ideals, particularly for women, forcing a male-centric conception of desire. When you deny outside heterosexual compulsions — when you identify yourself entirely with women — men can no longer control your desire or your intentions.
Because why would I care for what a man thinks if all I desire is the love of another woman?
Heterosexual people are posited as the ideal and only valid romantic and sexual pairing, yet are simultaneously socialized to despise each other from their respective social positionings. Heterosexual men and women do not really like each other; or at least, their respective positionings as the subjugator and the subjugated creates this illusion. (See: reluctant heterosexual wedding cake toppers where the wife drags back an escaping fiance, men referring to their wives as “the ol’ ball-and-chain,” the constant desire to be away from each other.) Marriage is a social institution and an obligation, an expectation more often accepted than enthusiastically chosen.
This paradox of misogyny requires that queer women are further subjugated to maintain heterosexual marriage as the only valid union — you might hate your husband, but at least you are not a Lesbian (or, alternatively, a man-eating Dyke).
Emotional and sexual relationships between women are not built on such a crisis or an obligation. Above all, it is a conscious choice to embrace new possibilities. Begin with a generous serving of mutual respect and end with mutual satisfaction. Women become more than passive sexual commodities, more than meat hanging on a hook waiting to be chosen at the deli.
Forever, Lesbianism has been weaponized against feminism. Male supremacy would seek to paint Lesbians as a social blight; any and all association with no regard for men is necrotic. Audre Lorde argues, “For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power is rediscovered. It is this real connection which is so feared by a patriarchal world.”
Lesbian existence is a peek into the liberated future of women — free of gendered expectations, free of subjugation. Free of compulsory relationships and instead filled with genuine devotion. We need no savior but each other.
I have danced around for months — if not years — contemplating why “Lesbian” mattered so much to me. The idea pestered me, a buzzing in my ear that finally spilled onto the page. And after all of this, the answer is simple.
I love being a Lesbian. And I want to share that love and the pure joy of it.
I could write sonnets to my lover’s hands and sing hymns about the way she touches me. I love the way our fingers intertwine and the dimples that press into the sides of her mouth.
More than that, I love being in love with another woman and choosing to create a life outside of what is expected of us. I love the way that our relationship is founded on mutual respect and genuine devotion, rather than an obligation to put up with each other for the rest of our lives. I am building this life with her from the ground up, giving myself a strong foundation and letting the ivy slowly creep up the walls as I settle in this place I have made.
This is a life that I am choosing to live, and it is one that I am proud of.
 For a classic example, consider Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues — a seminal Lesbian novel exploring the multitudes of Lesbian existence across and beyond the spectrum of man & woman, femininity & masculinity. Lesbian, in its truest and most liberated form, recognizes no boundaries.
 Rich, Adrienne. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” Signs 5, no. 4 (1980): 631–60. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3173834.
 Corrective rape refers to rape intended to “cure” queer people of their sexuality and turn them heterosexual. Although the term was originally popularized in South Africa in response to the assault of several Lesbian women, It has been wielded against any and all queer people historically and the practice is nonetheless a global phenomenon.
 Brown, Rita Mae. “Take a Lesbian to Lunch.” In A Plain Brown Rapper, 79–95. Oakland, CA: Diana Press, 1976.
 “Lesbian-baiting” refers to the homophobic and misogynistic practice of discrediting a woman or diminishing her by calling her a Lesbian — unrelated to the popular media term “queer-baiting.” It is a method by which male power attempts to keep women in line. Because, of course, a Lesbian could never say anything credible or worthwhile.
 Lorde, Audre. “Scratching The Surface: Some Notes On Barriers To Women And Loving.” The Black Scholar 9, no. 7 (1978): 31–35. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41066481.
 Compulsory heterosexuality, a term popularized by Adrienne Rich in her work “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” refers to the obligation for women to engage in heterosexuality — a presumption and expectation that all women desire men due to patriarchal and heteronormative ideals. Due to this, it can be difficult for many Lesbians and other queer women to differentiate between real desire for men and imposed social conditioning. Freeing yourself from this compulsion is liberating, like finally learning to breath air.
 Want more thoughts on consuming women and the sexual politics of meat? Check out Sophie Williams’ “Living Meat” from the Spring 2022 Apparition edition: https://www.spareribdartmouth.com/post/living-meat
 Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” In Sister Outsider, 110–113. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press, 2007, p. 111.