The Disappearing Lesbians
There is an ongoing need for research and population-based trends of research within the LGBTQ constituencies. Readers saw in last month’s issue how critical this has been to properly informed CDC guidelines for the health and well-being of the group. Lynne Stahl has shone a spotlight on several writers who claim that “lesbians are ‘going to become extinct’ as individuals increasingly identify as trans.” This remarkable discovery has been put forth by the British LGB Alliance, and endorsed by others.
Ms. Stahl is the humanities librarian at West Virginia University. She recently wrote an article for the Washington Post, titled, “The latest form of transphobia: Saying lesbians are going ‘extinct.’” She describes herself as “a lesbian researcher of tomboyism trained in queer theory.” That may sound like a mouthful, but as she clarifies, “I am a cisgender lesbian and I work in academia. In the context of the article, the line is meant to debunk [one writer’s] allegation that queer theory is somehow leading butch lesbians to transition.”
Several journalists and writers claim that lesbians are leaving the sisterhood in order to transition. As Stahl writes, [another writer] “draws a direct line from disappearing lesbian bars to the extinction of lesbians themselves.”
What drew Stahl to address this topic in the first place is the recent wave of transphobia rampant in our country. Trans people have been urging cis persons to fight this for years. “The claims that allowing trans kids to participate would ‘destroy women’s sports’ just makes me see red. Sexism and inequitable funding and the assumption that having a penis automatically makes somebody a better athlete than somebody who doesn’t have one hurt women’s sports. Trans girls and women don’t.”
Stahl succinctly and successfully dismantles these writers’ premise of the disappearing lesbian. She writes, “Extinction anxieties have long fueled nationalist, fascist and white-supremacist movements and often beget eugenicist agendas…. Lesbians face daily adversity on political and cultural fronts, but attributing our fears to the growing trans population dangerously redirects attention from the institutions that actually harm us.”
In the interest of thorough research, it seemed apropos to reach out to several local out lesbians to get their insight into Stahl’s article. Dee Speck shared these thoughts: “I don’t feel either a desire or a need to voice my gender identity...what is so important that I need a label on social media identifying myself as a woman, man, cis, non-binary, etc.? I find those in our generation have not disappeared but are much more visible certainly because of the societal acceptance of gay people. [My wife and I] are two happily married lesbians who celebrate each day that we are not slammed in some closet someplace.”
Lori Jacobs and Anne Davey, who comprise the band duo known as Bettenroo, also shared their perspective on Stahl’s article. Lori wrote, “I’ve never been keen on labels of any kind, but it sadly needs to be there to give visibility to our diversity as humans and to chip away at the oppression that goes along with being anything but a white straight male…. It’s excellent that people have safe avenues now to be who they are.” Anne added, “I personally don’t care for the term ‘lesbian,’ probably because of the past labels. As a gay woman who used to be straight, I feel that having any label that a person identifies as is a good thing for now. Human beings are so complex. It’s not black or white. Personally, I do not feel threatened in any way, and I do not think that ‘lesbians’ will become extinct.”
Diane Bruce offered her unique perspective. “I’m old school. I’m an old lesbian. Is it necessary to precisely categorize every possible nuance of a female’s gender, the subject of her sexual attraction, or her identity on a continuum? It just seems to me that too many folks are quickly assigning themselves a category, or creating new categories of identity, before living life. I was not a radical lesbian or a radical feminist. I made my way, and fortunately never suffered prejudice or discrimination because of my sexuality. Lesbians won’t disappear. We are God-made.”
Stahl sets the context of her research—and herself—into an inspiring pinnacle of hope and vision for a better world. She writes, "Lesbians are not a species, and we feed existing racist,k ableist, and homophobic agendas when we invoke extinction. For me, 'lesbian' still fits. And if fewer people call themselves lesbians in the future, it’s not necessarily a loss for lesbians, so long as we’re all free to move through the world as we want to and be called as we ask to be called....That’s cause for celebration.”
We owe a debt to Lynne Stahl for pointing us in the right direction. It is, indeed, cause for celebration!
David Garrett, a CAMP Rehoboth Board member, is a straight advocate for equality and inclusion. He is also the proud father of an adult trans daughter. Email David Garrett at email@example.com.