Someone I love has dyslexia and I see how it affects her ability to navigate driving in a car or walking around in a city. Which way to turn? Left or right? Does it mean that if I think I should go right, I should really go left? And so on.
I realized that something comparable has at times affected me when I need to make a difficult decision. It’s possible to lose my way, not because I secretly want something that I am ashamed of or because am not ready to have good things, but because of a cognitive or perceptual uncertainty that leaves me in a state of anxiety where I am likely to act quickly out of fear of doing something wrong.
Reading the book Spirited Lesbians, by Nett Hart (which should be known as a classic of lesbian feminism / feminist lesbianism), I was swimming through the chapter ‘Yellow’ where they (the book is written as ‘we’ and feels like ‘we’) talk about losing fear.
Sometimes as girls, our mothers try to protect us from rapists and other harms by teaching us to react to danger by telling authorities, calling home, doing the right thing that will get someone to come for us. They didn’t teach us (mine didn’t teach me) to take care of ourselves out in the world. To see clearly, look around for sisters, stand our ground, growl, or walk past stiff legged, raise our eyes and see where we are, who’s around, how we move. Sometimes the best answer is, yes call home and have them come and get you. But not always. Sometimes home is where they will betray you into the hands of the violent state.
And, even with the best intentions home doesn’t take care of everything. Reliable friends who love you don’t take the fear away. Being in ourselves and for ourselves, knowing ourselves and our world, we act and do not second guess ourselves. Second guessing is living with obedience, asking ‘what would jesus do’ or ‘how would my father/mother/sister think of that’ and it leaves us divided against ourselves. Conscience comes not by internalizing shame but but externalizing justice.
Conscience is formed through living in community, acting in and on our relationships with other beings, human and non-human. By attending to these relationships, not denying them and staying present with them, we can face the choices we have to make and the growls and howls and yelps we may need to express our truths, what we know. We can also observe with increasing pleasure as others express their truths even if they contradict ours.
For me, all this is lesbian, lesbian feminist/feminist lesbian in origin, the principle of original female wholeness that is desire and self for itself as Nett Hart writes so beautifully in her book. Don’t mistake what we’re talking about for patriarchal notions of ‘two vaginas for/from the male gaze’ – for patriarchy lesbians are nothing in ourselves, when we relate to each other and deny men we are a double negative. For ourselves we are complete fullness, we are everything.
This connects to the ‘Double Female’ that Giti Thadani described in ‘Sakiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India,’ and to my exploratory writings on the theme of female autonomy as a first principle (including in my thesis Female Autonomy vs Gender Identity: A critical examination of gender identity in CEDAW jurisprudence and the Yogyakarta Principles). It connects to my sense of intersectionality when I first explored it and tried thinking about the connections between feminism and abolition of forced psychiatry/ women’s oppression and psychiatric oppression, as a gap rather than a fertile space. When we are ‘othered’ in the lesbian / feminist community itself, and have no secure home as lesbians in the psych survivor community, we find ourselves in multiply uncharted waters. Some of us are uniquely alone and embrace that as a way of being in the world that does not have to be unsafe and is rather free to engage with all beings. Nett Hart’s book acknowledges this also, that as lesbians swim upstream collectively and do not look at the banks but at our collective movement, some lesbians are in tributaries of their own also swimming upstream. I love this recognition of the ways that we express our lesbian selves as part of a whole.