Thursday, September 16, 2021

Stock: Lesbians Aren’t Attracted to a Female ‘Gender Identity.’ We’re Attracted to Women.
In Quillette. She's published there before.
There is commonly held to be a difference between a sexual preference and a sexual orientation. Sexual preferences include preferences for blondes over brunettes, or macho men over pretty boys. At the more exotic end, they can include predilections for cars, chandeliers, and dalliances with farm animals. None of these are sexual orientations, though. Opinions differ on what makes an orientation an orientation, but my preferred explanation says that for a preference to count as an orientation, it has to be stable in individuals, widespread among the human population, and have a range of relatively important social consequences.

Two such orientations are heterosexuality and homosexuality. They are defined in terms of specific patterns of attraction. You are heterosexual if you, a member of one sex, are stably sexually attracted only to members of the opposite sex to you. Alternatively, if you’re stably attracted only to members of the same sex as you, then you’re homosexual. If you’re stably attracted to both sexes, you’re bisexual. In addition to these terms, equally applicable to both males and females, the English language has words to describe homosexual orientations disaggregated by sex. “Lesbians” are same-sex-attracted females. There are other sex-disaggregated words, too, often pretty negative: “faggots,” “dykes,” etc.

Putting things this way will, I predict, raise the hackles of readers schooled in queer theory, and in particular fans of French post-structuralist Michel Foucault. It is a commonplace there that orientations are—just as biological sex categories are for Judith Butler—socially constructed, historically contingent, and culturally located. As trans scholar Jack (then non-trans Judith) Halberstam summarises approvingly: “Within a Foucauldian history of sexuality, ‘lesbian’ constitutes a term for same-sex desire produced in the mid-to-late twentieth century within the highly politicized context of the rise of feminism … if this is so, then ‘lesbian’ cannot be the transhistorical label for all same-sex activity between women.” My short answer is that, while obviously we need to acknowledge the interesting fact that throughout the ages, same-sex activity has had many different relatively local sociocultural meanings and names, it wasn’t invented in the 20th century. I’m talking about distinctive, relatively ahistorical patterns of sexual relationship in individuals, and not particular cultural representations of that pattern. That’s a coherent distinction to make. 

Saying a sexual orientation must be “stable” for an individual doesn’t mean you can’t have voluntary and even pleasurable sexual experiences at variance with it. It’s fairly typical for young people to take a while to figure out what their orientation is, and sometimes it takes older people a while, too. This is more likely for gay people in a culture in which heterosexuality predominates. A gay person might be less willing or even able to notice relevant clues as to where the real patterns of attraction lie. Or a person can just get drunk and have opportunistic sex with whoever happens to be there, against their normal grain. They can have sex with one kind of person, fantasising wildly about another. Or they can be romantically attached to someone in a way that temporarily causes them to seem attractive but wouldn’t otherwise. Strictly speaking, a sexual orientation should be understood in terms of the sex(es) you would be sexually attracted to under relatively self-aware, uncoerced, uninhibited circumstances, and not necessarily who you actually are attracted to right now. A sexual orientation is for life, not just for Christmas parties. 

In the last paragraph, separating would be from are,  not in terms of relationship status but emotion, Stock matches Halberstam's bullshit with her own. Arguing against the specious logic of the move from linguistic to material instability, Stock, the philosopher, indulges the equally specious move from material to linguistic stability—non-contradiction and "the excluded middle"— imposing a limitation which James Baldwin politely called "unnecessary". And that's the reason she's happy to publish in Quillette. 

Two different Modernisms, now united in idealism. And liberals can't accept the Baudelairean irony needed to face the Sadean self-disgust in Halbertam's fascist kitsch. That Halberstam's blind as well, or needs to be only confirms the point. That's the brilliance of Arendt's response to Baldwin. 

Stock in 2019, on another conservative page/rag

Can a biological male be a lesbian? If this question seems to you outlandish, it’s probably because you’re unaware of a new paradigm, in vogue in many millennial communities, progressive organisations, and University departments. This paradigm says that a transwoman can count as a lesbian; and that many do.

Though precise statistics are unavailable, many transwomen are exclusively female-attracted. Prior to transition, they’re what we would ordinarily call heterosexual, or straight: males stably attracted to the opposite biological sex. When transition occurs, this pattern of attraction usually persists. But, for some, it’s unacceptable to now think of themselves as straight – for this carries with it a lingering connotation of manhood, now rejected. Hence some transwomen self-identify as lesbians. They do so even where their transition is only social, and not medical – which is most of the time. The rest of us are now urged to accept the phenomenon of a ‘lesbian with a penis’, or even a ‘girldick’.

When a group of lesbians called ‘Get the L Out’ disrupted the London Pride procession last year with banners saying ‘lesbian=female homosexual’, many were quick to express disgust at what they assumed was transphobia. When  Labour activist Lily Madigan got involved in a Twitter argument last week with a lesbian academic about whether transwomen could be lesbians, many automatically took Madigan’s side, assuming this must be straightforward bigotry towards a vulnerable transwoman. However, a closer look at some documented background concerns here should slow down the knee-jerk outrage in both cases.  In a nutshell, the main general concern – which is a structural one, and not directed towards any particular trans individuals – is  given existing misogyny, when you admit males into a formerly female-only domain, certain predictable and harmful things start happening to females. 

I’ll focus here on two such predictable things. The first is that, to put it crudely but accurately, males start badgering females for sex. A familiar phenomenon since time immemorial, one might think, though this time with an added twist: progressives are facilitating. Some trans ‘lesbians ‘ complain that lesbians won’t consider them as potential partners. Their focus is lesbians, because hitting on straight women might threaten the preferred narrative: a straight woman is attracted to men, after all. The resistance of many lesbians to have sex with male-bodied people is framed as a matter of inequality rather than orientation, and therefore something to be corrected in the name of progress. Lesbian resistance is sometimes referred to as the ‘cotton ceiling’, crassly riffing on the idea of a promotion ceiling for women at work, but substituting images of glass with that of underwear. Equally, sometimes those resisting are called ‘TERFs’, because it is assumed that their resistance is a result of trans-exclusive radical feminism, rather than because they are homosexual.

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