I am lesbian and conservative, (rather like Florence King, I suppose). I have spent some time pondering your thoughtful post titled “Why Lesbianism?” and have come to think that there is much truth in what you say. While once a man would be obliged by societal expectations to stay with his wife despite his love and attraction for her fading, people in modern relationships are bound together by nothing more than personal desire. And aside from my purely sexual preferences, it is my opinion that, in that absence of social pressure, another woman is more likely to be faithful to her partner. Reading about relations between the sexes today, I can only think how glad I am not to be a part of the whole sordid process. Perhaps a guilty conscious and a desire for children would be enough to make me try to put aside my distaste for the male body and marry if only I had some assurance of permanence and stability. But alas, faced with the prospect of ending up an embittered single mother, I suppose there is little reason not to ‘follow my bliss.’
However, there is another aspect to the growth of lesbianism you have not considered and that is the death of romantic friendships. I quote historian Stephanie Coontz writes of premodern customs in the United States:
“Perfectly respectable Victorian women wrote to each other in terms such as these: ‘I hope for you so much, and feel so eager for you… that the expectation once more to see your face again, makes me feel hot and feverish.’ They recorded the ‘furnace blast’ of their ‘passionate attachments’ to each other… They carved their initials into trees, set flowers in front of one another’s portraits, danced together, kissed, held hands, and endured intense jealousies over rivals or small slights… Today if a woman died and her son or husband found such diaries or letters in her effects, he would probably destroy them in rage or humiliation. In the nineteenth century, these sentiments were so respectable that surviving relatives often published them in elegies….
[In the 1920s] people’s interpretation of physical contact became extraordinarily ‘privatized and sexualized,’ so that all types of touching, kissing, and holding were seen as sexual foreplay rather than accepted as ordinary means of communication that carried different meanings in different contexts… It is not that homosexuality was acceptable before; but now a wider range of behavior opened a person up to being branded as a homosexual… The romantic friendships that had existed among many unmarried men in the nineteenth century were no longer compatible with heterosexual identity.”
It seems that long ago people were allowed to have love relationships with another of the same gender without the taint of sexual suspicion. Anthony Esolen in his “A Requiem for Friendship,” marks the death of true friendship among men and places the blame on the homosexual movement, but I believe that he has things backwards. It was when romantic friendships began to decline in popuality in the late 19th century (mostly because of physiatrists and sexologists) that men and women began to see homosexuality as their only chance for intimacy with someone of the same sex and so the ‘gay movement’ grew. Perhaps I wouldn’t pursue other girls if I could find a straight woman willing to pledge undying non-sexual devotion to me, but alas….
I end here with the assurance that despite my leanings I will never “marry” another woman nor bring a fatherless child into this world and I condemn all such behavior on the part of other Sapphics.
Thank you for writing. This is a very moving and thoughtful reply. I am heartened to know such longing for intimacy exists. The desire for friendship runs deep in a woman’s heart. I strongly believe, and you seem to confirm the point, that this healthy desire for intimacy in a soulless world explains the rise of lesbianism. This desire is good and noble. Its corruption is tragic.
Those Victorian friendships seem characteristic of a very literate culture, in which women often communicated to each other in letters. One can be forthright and sentimental when not face-to-face. Compared to the Victorians, we are comparatively free with sexual expression and straight-laced with love. All kinds of love. I think of how Wordsworth wrote in what we would consider to be sexually florid language about his love for his sister. Totally unacceptable today, when any subtleties in love are erased and are viewed as purely sexual. Have you noticed how so many people blurt out, “I love you!” to their spouses or parents or kids on their cell phones? That’s not what I mean by articulating love.
Feminism has helped kill off deep friendship. Not only has the taint of sexual suspicion been added to any close friendships, women are too busy. Those vows of undying love were the culmination of hours of idle longing. Also, women don’t share similar experiences. What does a woman investment banker have in common with an elementary school teacher? They live in different worlds. Women were once drawn by the universal experiences of motherhood, marriage or even spinsterhood.
Lesbianism has become common among women at certain colleges. Here, I think feminism has warped the natural longing at that age for deep attachment. These young women want a close bond without the commitment or demands of a relationship with a man. Too bad they can’t be encouraged to have very affectionate friendships without making it sexual.
I’m impressed by your condemnation of marriage and motherhood for lesbians. Private and inconspicuous love between women is one thing. The move for marriage and motherhood is the ultimate expression of self-hatred by lesbians.
A male reader writes:
I’ve always thought that lesbianism sprang from women’s disappointment with men. Women live on a different plane of existence. They can understand each other so much better than men.
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