Lesbian, Interview Example
Qualities or characteristics of being a male or female, generally taken to engage more than an ability to play suitable roles in sexual or gender differences. These days, as much stress is placed on a single person’s understandings of and his/her reactions to ethnically and publicly derived gender disparities as on biological aspects in the growth of sexuality. Ever-increasing ‘broadmindedness’ towards homosexuality has resulted in a fundamental change of ethics and ways one thinks. Despite political, social, and legal advances by lesbians, however, a large number of Americans continue to believe that homosexuals deserve to be treated as second-class citizens – or worse. Socialists call this phenomenon “homophobia”. Homophobia biases are expressed in multiple ways.
Until the late 1980s, the Bay Area’s homosexual population was pretty much divided into two territories – gay men in San Francisco and lesbians in Oakland. Now there is a much more active lesbian community in San Francisco – particularly in the Mission District and nearby Bernal Heights – and there a lot of fun lesbian hangouts, including a number of gay bars with special nights for women. The place to be on any night is the Lexington Club, just off Valencia Street (at 19th). It has everything a girl could want: cheap drinks, a pool table, loads of lesbians, and a killer jukebox with everything from the Replacements of Edith Piaf. At Lexington Club, I have found one woman named Tina (Wrong Name) to be interviewed. She is living in San Francisco for the last 17 years, migrated from China.
Tinastated that at some point during her life she had experienced a verbally, physically or sexually abusive reaction to her sexuality. Accounts of hostility ranged from mildly annoying incidents, through to cases of extreme sexual harassment. These included: verbal insults on the street and physical and verbal abuse.
A common word used to insult Tina was the adjective “dirty”: as in “dirty Lesbo”, “dirty lesbian”. This association between lesbianism and dirt comes to the fore in the following account of violencewhen I started interviewing her. At the time of the incident, she was about 25 years old and had worked for some time in a shoe store. It was not unusual for Tina’s girlfriend to meet her after work and they often kissed on the street. Once or twice, this had been observed by some of the men who regularly drank at the hotel next door. She recalls:
“I’d been working late hours that day and waiting for my girlfriend outside on the footpath. Both of these men came out and they started calling out stupid questions like: ‘Are you waiting for your girlfriend?’; ‘Are you a Lesbo?’ ‘Don’t you know you can catch things that way?’ ‘Would make anyone sick. Filthy habit’. So I told them to piss off and mind their own business. I know I was a little bit rude… So one of them walks up to me, lands his first right in my face and says something like, “I’m not going to take crap like that from a dirty Lesbo cunt like you”… it was like they had just been egging me on so they’d have an excuse to lay into me”.
Tina quit her job after this incident. Despite the pain and humiliation inflicted, she felt “hugely justified” when the man who attacked her was a criminal. Tina’s attackers coupled their physical assault with language that characterizes lesbian sexuality as a dirty sexuality. In thinking about the sexual assumptions contained within this violent association between lesbianism and dirt, I am reminded of recent feminist appropriation of Douglas’, originally anthropological; claim that human bodies are endowed with notions of dirtiness when they disrupt the expected social order. It is possible to trace this association to long-standing Judeo-Christian traditions surrounding marriage and procreation: traditions, which mark transgressive sexual practices such as homosexuality with the trope ofbodily and emotionalfilthiness. This characterization of homosexual practices as dirt can be understood as both a means to achieve, and a consequence of, established regimes of sexual order. Naming it as dirty provides the rationalization for this to happen. In other words, one homosexuality is said to be dirty, the senseof personal disgust that follows guarantees that it will be excluded from legitimate social and political spheres.On my next day visit, I asked more of her experiences about being a lesbian, and she quoted an incident while working at other coffee shop:
“I’m gonna get you. This person knew that I’m a lesbian, knew that I worked with _____, and knew what hours I worked… A man is definitely a man. The phone calls were of a sexual nature and as time went on they became more explicit…I changed my cell phone twice, and sometimes put it on a silent mode, and gave it to [no one but close friends and the supervisors at work]… And again, two weekslater, they started calling again.They were really aggressive… The calls centered on my sexuality”.
Tina recounts again an experience of attempted rape and on-going harassment and intimidation. Not surprisingly she became deeply distressed and fearful for her safety. She located the source of the telephone harassment in her workplace, resigned, and was eventually (after difficult negotiations) awarded financial compensation by her employer. Although sexual assault was not common among this woman I interviewed, Tina is certainly not alone in her experience.
She also experienced stressed related to size discrimination, in addition to that experienced as a result of being lesbian:
“So, you know, in the lesbian community, being a big person, you know, it’s all those stresses. They take a toll on you. And sometimes you just do not want to feel it. You just want to, like, be out and have fun. And sometimes you need alcohol or drugs or whatever, because then you do not feel so self-conscious about being who you are. And that’s sad…”
The need for support and community was especially evident in her reply. She suggested that the stress of being a double minority caused her to seek bars specifically catering to lesbians of color to minimize the discrimination that she encountered based on her race/ethnicity in other lesbian spaces and in bars:
“Yeah, I think that definitely there is that pressure because for some reason there is still that division between different ethnic groups in the lesbian community…I have been to events where it is predominantly lesbians of color, and the atmosphere is different. It is much more peaceful now and we feel like we can accept each other. I mean, we can be ourselves, basically, and it is a struggle for me because I do not want to be like that. I want people to just see me who I am and do not judge me”.
From the above discussion with Tina, I have come to a conclusion that verbal insults and remarks feature prominently in this interview with Tina. As might be expected, verbal abuse – whether from strangers, work colleagues or family – was much more pervasive than physical and sexual assaults. For Tina, anti-lesbian insults and derogatory comments were so much a part of everyday life as to be readily dismissed, sometimes laughed away, as the “price she pays” for being open about her sexuality. Such remarks do not only insult or deride the woman they target, they also single her out as someone who is worthy of comment. Whilst the comments Tina received may not be insulting per se, like their hostile counterparts they are an attempt to draw attention to the woman they address and, as such, they imply that lesbian sexuality warrants this kind of scrutiny.
Most shocking of all this is that homophobes know completely well how to undermine any self-protection lesbians might escalate against these assaults. When lesbians protest that they are being attacked prejudicially, these homophobes argue against that they are suspicious; when lesbians protest that they are being discriminated against, these homophobes answer that their depressing response to them is notprejudiced but an apt one; and when lesbians protest about homophobes’ saying intolerable things to them, they intimidate them with a proceedings for insult of character.
Time is precious
don’t waste it!