If “trans women are women, full stop” – even if they retain male genitals, as most do – then what it means to be a lesbian changes dramatically. A lesbian who refuses to consider a trans woman as a sexual partner is guilty of denying that trans woman’s gender identity. Online, such women are derided as “vagina fetishists” and transphobes.
Why does this matter so much? Because lesbians have consistently faced everything from mockery to violence for insisting on boundaries to their sexuality. For lesbians who know the history of “corrective rape” as a weapon against gender non-conforming women – the practical application of the old saw that all lesbians need to “fix” them is a dose of penis – this is a deeply alarming development in LGBT politics.
This isn’t a frivolous concern. In 2012, Planned Parenthood ran a conference called “Pleasure and Possibilities” which included a workshop on “Overcoming the Cotton Ceiling: Breaking Down Sexual Barriers for Queer Trans Women”. The title referenced the feminist concept of the glass ceiling – that is, the invisible barriers to promotion at work. Cotton meant underwear. Getting inside women’s knickers was treated as a discrimination issue equivalent to failing to become a CEO.
Misogyny doesn’t vanish at the flicker of a rainbow. . . . Lesbians are even losing themselves as a group, as it becomes impossible to organise woman-only events without foundering on the controversy of how to define “woman”. Butch lesbians like the comedian Hannah Gadsby are asked when they’re going to “come out” as trans men, as Gadsby relates in her Netflix special Nanette. If you don’t look feminine, some gender identity schools of thought say you must be a male in your deepest self.