Elana Dykewomon on owning our bodies

For me, this started as such a clear idea: to reclaim lesbian identity. We, lesbians, will get to say who we are and who we are not. Politically, sexually, emotionally, within our communities. We will have space to discuss owning ourselves.

I’ve been wanting to do this issue for a year or two, in part to explore how we understand “lesbianism” in the present, in part to respond to attacks on lesbian identity. I believe the ideas that lesbians can sleep with men, that faggots can call themselves dykes and dykes can avail themselves of male privileges by calling themselves faggots, that men can be women and women who pass do it because they’re simply “playing with gender” — are meant to divide and destroy us, to drive us literally out of our own minds.

But I feel already driven out. Or more like I’m driving a car with no brakes down a side road in the mountains and it keeps picking up speed. I don’t know how to contain myself and make a nice, neat, clear argument. I have to finish ten books first, reread everything that came out in the last twenty years, find out exactly what deconstruction and essentialism mean. How am I going to do that, edit the magazine, go to work and have a life?

But I’ve got to try. I understand lesbians’ claim to own ourselves (well, it’s a stance more than a reality) as heroic. Our minds, our bodies, our labor, our sex, our heritages are constant staging grounds for war. Vastly out-powered on every front, we manage to survive and, for moments, thrive.

Owning ourselves is, after all, no small feat. That lesbians are different from “women” means something. Consider, for a minute, women’s bodies: women have been owned for centuries…

Other lesbians of course have written papers and books on the way these things work – I think of Marilyn Frye and Monique Wittig in particular. But the point is: a lesbian is in opposition to a “woman” by her very being. Of course we have to work on men’s terms to make a living, but even so we mostly rent our bodies out. A lesbian body is, theoretically, a body that no man owns.

From “Our bodies are the flags” by Elana Dykewomon, in Sinister Wisdom 49, The Lesbian Body, Spring/Summer 1993, pp. 4-9.

First published on FR 5/3/2008

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