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There’s lots to be said, and much has already been said, about the Queer/Trans invasion of spaces for lesbian and bisexual women. I guess what I am wondering is, how do we resist this type of colonization? Having women-centered spaces like Ovarit online is one thing, but keeping spaces and circles for ourselves in the real world is another.

I have heard so many stories about one TIM/male enby/straight female enby destroying the integrity of WLW groups. With the frequency this is happening it becomes apparent, at least to me that lesbians and bisexual women need to start becoming aggressive at pushing back against this. But how do we do this without going underground? I’m somewhat baffled as to how gay men have managed to keep TIF free spaces public while all exclusively lesbian events are now on the downlow. What are some strategies we can use in our everyday lives in our communities to be gatekeepers and keep spaces only for homo/bi women?

There’s lots to be said, and much has already been said, about the Queer/Trans invasion of spaces for lesbian and bisexual women. I guess what I am wondering is, how do we resist this type of colonization? Having women-centered spaces like Ovarit online is one thing, but keeping spaces and circles for ourselves in the real world is another. I have heard so many stories about one TIM/male enby/straight female enby destroying the integrity of WLW groups. With the frequency this is happening it becomes apparent, at least to me that lesbians and bisexual women need to start becoming aggressive at pushing back against this. But how do we do this without going underground? I’m somewhat baffled as to how gay men have managed to keep TIF free spaces public while all exclusively lesbian events are now on the downlow. What are some strategies we can use in our everyday lives in our communities to be gatekeepers and keep spaces only for homo/bi women?

21 comments

This is a good question. I have no idea how to advertise these groups or expand them and also keep the safety and integrity of the group. The only groups I have been a part of have ended up either dead (due to strict and functional vetting prohibiting growth and people eventually leaving through regular attrition / drama), they blew up or got TRA controlled after repeatedly accidentally letting in female people SHOCKED!!!!! at the AUDACITY of the TRANSPHOBIA!!!, or they dissolved due to fear/doxxing after infiltrators were let in and/or women in the group went back to being TRAs / trans.

Do not think that lesbian/bisexual only will keep you safe as some of these women end up dating trans people (NB lesbians etc.), becoming trans people, or end up having more sympathies towards them than the types of "mean lesbians" who can tolerate the pressure of holding this kind of group together.

Gay men have been able to keep female-free spaces public simply because 1.) men are broadly more immune to trans criticism, 2.) trans females do not typically have the institutional power to leverage any consequences on them, 3.) there are fewer "gay trans men" interested in bothering them to the degree where they'll push the issue than AGP males interested in pestering lesbians, 4.) the ones that do pester will often give up and leave if they're socially ostracized and shamed for trying (that female socialization!), and 5.) gay men often support trans males who are the only ones who really matter publicly so it gives them a degree of inoculation against accusations of transphobia.

I think the only thing that really helps is everyone being strict about security culture and at the same time realizing they cannot be perfectly safe. We really have to as a community understand that breaches of the "underground" are impossible to prevent and pivot to finding ways to support women materially and emotionally WHEN (not if) it happens and make our social networks resilient enough to withstand these blows.

I think the fear of being discovered is so big for many women that they want to fully prevent this from happening-- and you really can't, not for everyone individually, and definitely not for a group. There is no way to work at the local woke nonprofit for example and be active in the lesbian/feminist world without hitting a life upending conflict eventually, whether it's closeting yourself completely or getting exposed. Women really need to consider that they need to build their lives around flexibility/resilience to patriarchal interruption FIRST and not hope that an enclave can fully protect or save them from its effects.

When the effects of discovery was explainable as part of a personal or community identity, and one that meant a vivifying history of resistance, i.e. being outed as a lesbian, or second-wave feminists fighting against male institutions, the community could rally around each other and/or a woman could eventually find a way of survival through trauma that she could define as a kind of strength. We no longer have this as these descriptors have been colonized into meaninglessness, there is no community any longer, and a lot of the ways women have been fucked with are exceptionally difficult to describe nonetheless counteract. It is hard to tell a story of personal survival when no one will listen, when you doubt yourself, and when your own community members will reject you or distort your story.

The second-wavers and older lesbians literally had books full of descriptions of ways you could get messed with by the patriarchy-- we've built some of it, but it should be a community project to start naming trans techniques so we can collectively tell ourselves "oh, he's rubbing his socks together" when we run into trouble instead of flailing and asking whether we are ~truly the big meanie here~ and noping out. I think we really have to collectively encourage explicit knowledge of how to face these people to any degree of personal or political success instead of pretending we can run from them forever if we're sneaky enough. The problem with being on the run is that it's hard to do anything. (And if we're on the run, we really need to be willing to evolve a set of creative guerilla tactics...)

One of the issues with the radfemosphere is that we do not offer a meaningful alternative to trans identification and/or participation in queer scenes, particularly for young people. Part of it is simply because we are on the run. But you cannot expect people to maintain interest in these underground groups slash not go back to the queer world slash simply abandon them if they're simply functionally bunkers... not that a bunker is not needed right now, but the point of a bunker means that you don't live there and that you cannot live a full life in one. Former gay communities had their limitations as well because they were larger refuges from the straight world and many women left their communities to risk the chances of being in the wider world because of how stifling they were. The allure of the queer world is that it allows you to participate in broader reality while also feeling superior to it. This isn't healthy, of course, but the point is that women who join "our world" need to be given means of dealing with the greater world when they must exist in it.

I was once part of a group that encouraged women to believe that the feminist/lesbian world was the actual "real world" and that the rest of the world was in some way false or fake. There was a whole mythos around this that included spiritual and philosophical concepts, including group members being encouraged to go on retreats where this idea could be further inculcated. I didn't have a good idea of how deep this set of convictions went for the group members when I joined (it was ostensibly about a particular feminist topic, not obviously a weird metaphysical group) and was hounded by the leader for inadvertently breaking the fourth wall about this belief system. I can't control what individual women believe, but I do know a lot of women were extremely alienated by this set of ideas, even ones like myself who find a great deal of worth in separatism. There is this idea that if you inject in women a certain kind of mindset you can give them something like what the queer community gives its members-- i.e. hammering it in that women are morally superior, lesbians are uniquely stronger than other women, butch lesbians are special and rare protectors, detrans women are survivors with special teachings-- but ultimately I think doing this makes women dependent and more weak than they would have been.

Our alternative communities have to be able to withstand dissent and find ways of strength that don't depend on mythology about ourselves or those we are "shielding from" (men/trans people). Insularity might be a strength when you are hiding in secret but it is a also a potential means of breaking you-- one that both outsiders and hostile group members can use. It's not a question of finding the right ideological bent to keep people loyal or committed, or about keeping the right people out. I think the ideal is that whoever you bring in should be able to withstand leaving, should they decide to... that if the group dissolves, it is under conditions of your work being done... that disagreements move the group forwards, rather than destroy it... that members are supported, not dependent... that women can be given the power and courage to do things while feeling fear than being led to believe that they can be relieved of fear entirely.

Wow, I really love your response and there’s so much good insight and relevant discussion here. I was particularly struck by this:

“One of the issues with the radfemosphere is that we do not offer a meaningful alternative to trans identification and/or participation in queer scenes, particularly for young people”

I think the generational divide is one of the biggest issues facing WLW communities, the truth is there’s been a massive divide between Gen X and millennials (who grew up facing a lot of daily misogyny and homophobia) and Gen Z and below, who grew up in these insulated worlds where homophobia and misogyny still existed but the illusion of acceptance and social progress kept a lot of people from actively worrying about it.

Like you said there really is no meaningful alternative to queer theory etc presented by the radfem sphere, at least not in a way that is appealing to younger generations. As a member of Gen Z the queer issue has been attached to feminism and LGB activism to the point where most young feminists begin as TRAs or can never truly focus on a woman centered brand of feminism.

While you say that the radfem sphere cannot provide appealing community for the younger generation, I have a feeling that this will soon change. I personally came to the radfem sphere searching for an alternative to queer theory and mass market feminism, and from the community on here it seems a lot of young bi/lesbian radfem did so as well. I guess the issue will be, like you said, really reviving the community and the importance of women supporting each other. I think that the recreation of a cohesive and huge lesbian/bi feminist community is on its way to becoming reality simply due to the growing numbers of lonely, isolated lesbian and bi women who feel that they lack purpose in mainstream LGBT+ circles

The allure of the queer world is that it allows you to participate in broader reality while also feeling superior to it. This isn't healthy, of course, but the point is that women who join "our world" need to be given means of dealing with the greater world when they must exist in it.

This is such a good point. An article in the Willamette Weekly tried to find out what happened to the lesbian bar. The answer it gave was that part of it was the culture of trans-inclusiveness, but part of it was that society isn't unyieldingly hostile to WLW the way it was in the 40s/50s. Being a WLW doesn't mark you as an unacceptable freak the way it once did; you don't have to live in fear of your boss or friend finding out.

At the same time, there's still a need for these spaces. Meeting up with other WLW is often very hard. So it's a tricky balance to walk. Straight normie culture has become more accepting of WLW, but not necessarily more relatable to us. But if you look at what happened to the lesbian bars in Oregon, it's like WLW spaces can do no right. Excluding trans people who don't identify as women is evil (huh?), the labrys is a symbol of Greek fascism and violence against transwomen, and using the term "woman-identified" is bad too because it implies you might not think TWAW. Even if you're towing the trans theory party line, there's zero room for leeway towards WLW. A mistake is enough to want a bar closed.

It's just so obvious and so sad that the real problem is that WLW are able to do things on our own.

I think current-era WLW spaces can't and shouldn't be the attempted return of the 1950s lesbian bar. Things are different now; our needs have changed. The pressures on WLW look different than they did pre-2014 (which is when transgender stuff really started to take off). I don't know what that space would look like, but I believe in our ability to build it.

I'm just thinking back to my experience in a men's bar in SF. There are gay bars for everyone and then there are men's bars (at least in the bigger cities. A little backstory there are pretty much little to no public bathrooms in SF. If you want to use the bathroom the best bet is to run until a bar and buy a drink for them to let you in. So me and a friend are walking and she needs to go. We see a rainbow flag in front of a bar with a short line of only 4 people still we head over. Once we get to the guy checking IDs he asks us "do you know what kind of bar this is?" I let him know my friend needs to use the bathroom and I'll buy a drink. He rolls his eyes, thinks it over for a second, and then reluctantly says "ok, you to the bathroom and you, one drink, that's it". When I went inside I was surprised at first that there were absolutely no women. No straight women friends who tag along, no women bartenders or bar backs like you see eat other gay bars. I get to the bar which you can see from the entrance and the bartender looks confused too see me. He then looks at the bouncer who gives him a nod like "it's ok, I let her in". The bartender then says "ok, one drink only, what will it be?" Eventually I get my drink and my friends returns from the bathroom. She wanted to stay and get a drink herself but I let her know they want us out.

Tl;dr: Some things I've learned from experiences and from taking directly with gay men friends is that they might not be underground but they're discreet. Like the bar we went to that only served men wasn't listed as a gay bar online at the time. They were totally comfortable being rude and icing out whoever didn't belong. They take full advantage of the right to refuse service. Another thing is, these men must appreciate the space because the place was packed on a weeknight. The patrons/community kept the place alive.

That’s pretty cool and interesting how they were able to do that, especially when you mention it wasn’t advertised as a gay bar online. Makes me think that lesbian and bi women need to focus on being the business owners and creating our own undercover establishments…stuff that is gay friendly but wouldn’t always be advertised as such

It's not like it's underground. There's a rainbow flag and it's in Castro which is a gay district. I think it's listed online as a gay bar now and I'm sure they're still in business and male only

[–] proudcatlady bihet 1 points

Isn’t this illegal? Men cry sex discrimination when women try to create women-only spaces.

Most small businesses have the right to refuse service to anyone. Most of the gay bars I've been to have a sign posted saying as much.

Thank you for writing this. I think NOT having pronoun sharing in such groups is vital. If one is in a lesbian womens group it needs to be accepted that n goes by the pronoun she.

I agree that the pronoun thing could be useful, although how it would function as keeping communities closed is another story, especially given that a lot of lesbian and bi women never put much thought into their pronouns until recently…I just sometimes wonder if even having or stating your pronouns is a red flag

There are two ways to keep TIMs and straights out of your WLW space for sure:

  1. Require women to sign up as members to attend. It can be as simple as adding their name to a list, or elaborate as requiring membership fees and issuing laminated membership cards. Or,
  2. Register as a religious group. Religious groups can set whatever rules they like, while remaining open to the public. You don't have to believe in god to participate in a religious group. For example many Unitarians are atheists, and something like the Church of Women's Liberation was founded exactly for this kind of preservation of female spaces. Exulansic is also starting a religious organization for this purpose!

So yeah, it's totally doable!

The thing about the church is so cool and interesting to me. It’s also a great way to build community even if the group is secular focused.

I used to be a Unitarian, before I detransed. It was actually really cool, aside from the trans propaganda. It was very feminist and uplifting, and of course LGB people were fully welcomed.

You shouldn't need to believe in god to enjoy singing together with people on Sunday, listening to an uplifting and life-affirming presentation, having somewhere wholesome to bring your kids, celebrating the changing seasons, etc. etc.

I know so many people with lives of grey monotony, spending all their time in front of the computer, buying everything on Amazon, etc. I'm a firm believer in "go to the farmers' market. Go to the women-owned yarn shop. Visit the library. Plant a garden. Join the organization. Go to the protest. Spend your money on something real. Exist in meatspace, don't let them take it from us."

It's difficult when, as another commenter said, we have to watch out not only for the colonizers themselves but for their handmaidens. Ideally, I would like community for all same-sex attracted women, not just those who are radical feminists. But that's risky, because any of those female members who are either not currently particularly politically involved or actively leaning TRA could be the downfall of the group. I wonder if the way to do it is somewhat like here on Ovarit, where the organizers/leadership/founding principles/whatever are radical feminist, but the members themselves need not be.

I have felt more affinity for groups of radical feminists of all sexualities than I have for groups of WLW of all political leanings. I would personally be happy to leave the TRAs well enough alone and share a space together, but they never seem to be able to leave me alone. I've been in WLW book groups, meetups, etc., and my experience has consistently been that even if they were initially normie, they veered TRA over time. My best experience approximating WLW community so far has been meeting with irl local terves, about half of whom are same sex attracted. That's just an informal network of friends and acquaintances, nothing official or formalized. Perhaps loose networks are a better way of doing things anyway. But I guess that's underground, which you would like to avoid.

I think that maybe one way of doing this is bridging the generational divide? I am involved with some community orgs run by older lesbians (50+) and their wives. Of course these women are more like mentors to me than fun peers because they are married and have adopted kids and have their own lives plotted out.

I know that a lot of wlw stuff these days revolves around youth culture but in all honesty, for our own survival we may have to restructure the community around established lesbians and bi women who can become mentors for the newest generation

Yes, one hundred percent. It's probably a good way of keeping the gendies away too - a lot of them seem to have a very deep-seated ageism, especially when it comes to older women.

Maybe ask the gay men?

I have asked other peaked gay men about it and they just say that 1) TIFs don’t try to get in their business as much and 2) When a TIF appears they all collectively ignore them until they go away. I’m not sure if the gay male cold shoulder approach is going to work for women’s communities, but it’s worth a shot to see what icing out non homo/bi women would do to the space and whether the attention seekers would leave after a while

Men are socialized to protect male only spaces. Women are socialized to give up our boundaries. It's frustrating to see us give in to socialization and allow every male in our spaces. I'm glad there are women resisting and working to keep our spaces