Radical lesbian feminists have long felt that there is some peculiarly powerful potential in the combination of lesbian life and feminist values; some have gone so far as to say that a lesbian life is the only way to live one's feminist principles. This argument has sometimes been transformed into the untrue proposition that anything lesbian (lesbian sex, in particular) is necessarily feminist, radical, and destructive to patriarchy.
What I observe is that lesbianism ceases to be threatening as soon as it's put in a context where it serves men. Lesbian sex shows have for years been a staple of commercial sex entertainment. While male homosexuality is completely absent from porn videos available at your average video store, 57% of females are shown in heterosexual situations, 35% in bisexual situations, and 8% in homosexual ones.
Female sexuality itself is not threatening: 95% of masturbation done or simulated in these videos is by women. So long as men can watch, so long as men have imaginary or real access, visual or physical, to the women, sexual activity of any kind on the part of women is not in the least threatening to male power or privilege. The simple fact of two women having sex is, to the average man, merely titillating. In virtually every commercial porn scenario involving lesbian sex, the action is either observed by a male voyeur (besides the consumer, that is) or a male character eventually appears to provide a climax by fucking both women.
What current theorists confidently describe as radically deviant sex is in fact perfectly acceptable and always has been, so long as it is rationalised into the realm of capitalist exchange and entertainment, so long as it has no intrinsic value but is a performance for a (usually but not always male) observer, as long as someone is paying for it and someone else needs the money. And, like foreplay, as long as it is merely the overture to the main event, which is male sexual satisfaction.
The increasing emphasis on fantasy as the dominant (you should pardon the expression) operating mode for sex among trendy lesbians and gays is likewise hardly a radical experiment in gender, or a manipulation and disassembly of prevailing power structures. It seems to me more like a public reassurance to the watching and hostile world that lesbian and gay sex is just make-believe, play-acting, and performance after all. And the welcome extended by the lesbian community, or certain of its members, to the various aspects of the sex industry, is the same kind of assimilation. If we are a market for product, we are less likely to be disposed of; someone has an interest in our continued existence.
Many lesbians sincerely believe that the consumption of pornography makes them more radical; like the belief that using drugs instantly makes you a revolutionary, it's a tragedy, a farce, a splendid triumph of market forces over good sense and the soul of the individual. Alas, we can't buy radicalism, any more than we can buy romance or adventure or good looks or luck - though all the finest minds of Madison Avenue are dedicated to convincing us that we can. We cannot buy a better world, either; in fact, most of the time, we can only buy a worse one.
Having sex is not enough. Simply being a lesbian is not enough. So where on Earth does it make sense for lesbian-feminists to make a stand?
The liberation of women from sexual servitude should be of primary interest to lesbians. Lesbians are women - meaning that even though we may screen men and male influence from our private lives, most of us walk the same streets and do business with the same men as every other woman. It is in our best interest not to have to deal daily with a male population raised from boyhood on hostile and exploitative imagery of women and accustomed to sexual placation and service from women.
Lesbians have relationships with other lesbians, and those relationships are conditioned by the atmosphere of the surrounding culture, especially in this climate of assimilation. If we would rather not be exploited and objectified by other lesbians, it is in our interest to challenge and attack the objectification of women everywhere.
We cannot afford to let the Right monopolise such essential words and concepts as decency, safety, morality, respect . We cannot fall into the trap of adopting indecency, danger, amorality, and contempt as the banners of our revolution. To be fooled by the deeply amoral demagogues of the Right into rejecting wholesale the ideals of civic responsibility, of lawfulness and social justice, of peace and an orderly and secure existence, is to be fools indeed.
For women, including lesbians , have absolutely nothing to gain from nihilism, fascist chic, self-conscious decadence, and a romanticisation of the crimes of dead privileged men. That is not the way to legitimise our lives and lovers. When life is valued cheaply and pain is in vogue, it is women's and children's lives which will be valued cheapest of all, and women's and children's pain which will be the raw material for entertainment. When fantasy is valued over truth, it is the truths about our lives and deaths which will be hidden, and the fantasies of others which we will be made to serve. When brute force is admired and bullies are cultural heroes, the vast majority of women and children will be the losers.
It is therefore in our simple self-interest, if we want a world where women and kids might live secure and happy lives, to be steadfastly opposed to exploitation, to arrogance, ruthlessness, violence, hyper-masculinism, war, sadism, objectification, slavery, and all those forces of which we are traditionally the victims and targets and of which we do not, in our right minds, ever want to become the perpetrators. It was Dr. Einstein who said that you cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war; I firmly believe that you cannot simultaneously oppose and worship violence. People who find whips exciting and bruises alluring, Nazi regalia attractive and slavery titillating, will have a hard time suspending their love affair with evil for long enough to oppose it.
And it is in our self interest, as human beings in a tottering economy on a ravaged planet, to challenge the commodification of all things - sex, women, the natural world - and to oppose objectification and the raw free-market ethic. In opposing these things we cannot very long avoid confronting them among ourselves, in the form of lesbian sex capitalists and lesbian apologists for sadomasochism.