The Official Blog for ENGL 41416.

Lesbian Continuum

I was surprised to see Adrienne Rich’s philosophy of lesbian continuum within her essay because she seems to see heterosexuality and male homosexuality as so opposed to lesbian existence. Rich seemed to come up with a plethora of examples for how women are obligated to be heterosexual, but she also seems to have as many ways that a woman could be on her lesbian spectrum. Given that there is a boundless notion of woman’s attraction to woman and that her sensuality is so multi-faceted, she draws harsh divisions between the heterosexual world and the lesbian world. She reminded me of Irigaray’s theories in that sense, with the complicated views of female sensuality, but a view of the masculine presence as threatening. However, Irigaray writes on a largely symbolic level, and Rich seems to have more complaints about societal binarisms she sees are true and dangerous.

I had a difficult time sorting through the two tensions of a unique lesbian existence and a lesbian continuum. I was especially confused based on how extraordinarily broad her definition of the lesbian continuum is:

” many more forms of primary intensity between and among women, including the sharing of a rich inner life, the bonding against male tyranny, the giving and receiving of practical and political support… marriage resistance,” (292)

This puzzled me because virtually every feminist would fall under this category. If you are a person who supports female freedom of expression and equality and who feels a strong kinship towards women, you are a lesbian, according to this definition.

I thought her definition of lesbian existence might make the lines between lesbianism and heterosexuality and highlight how lesbianism is a specific issue in the feminist community. However, I became more confused when she defines it as “breaking a taboo and the rejection of a compulsory way of life. It is also a direct or indirect attack on male right of access to women,” (292). If given this definition out of context, this could easily be identified as the definition for the feminist agenda.

This brings me confusion to a head. According to these definitions it seems that all feminists are automatically on the lesbian continuum. This does not personally bother me as a conclusion, but based on Rich’s assertion that lesbians have a very unique existence that needs to be celebrated, I feel that I should not be included. I wonder why Rich constructs much of her essay as a cry for rising up against an opponent, when by this very definition, it seems that a feminist man, who is attracted to men could even be a lesbian as well.

I hope to puzzle through this more during class, but I am at least pleased to find that the issues and confusion I am having are because of issues of blurred divisions between binaries. I found this argument to be a far more compelling aspect of the compulsory sexuality discussion than the Rich’s additions to Kathleen Gough’s descriptions of how men impair the sensual rights of women. It was intriguing and compelling because it was so difficult for me to reason through.

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Comments on: "Lesbian Continuum" (2)

  1. “virtually every feminist would fall under this category. If you are a person who supports female freedom of expression and equality and who feels a strong kinship towards women, you are a lesbian, according to this definition.” She’s not only saying that, EVERY woman eventually lands herself on the continuum at some point in her life by rebelling against patriarchal domination (a form of which is compulsory heterosexuality.) I think where you’re getting bogged down is not your understanding, because you understand what she’s arguing, but in her usage of words. It’s why it’s important to define your terms when you write, words are just tools. In the beginning of her essay, she throws out the term lesbianism because it’s too limiting and clinical and uses lesbian experiences instead. It’s almost easier to pretend now that the word lesbianism(and the definition that goes with it) no longer exists. So when she says women have lesbian experiences or are part of the lesbian continuum, don’t look at those words part of “lesbianism” because for the purposes of this essay, that word is meaningless.

    • I hate saying that I outright disagree with Rich’s essay in the same way that I took issue with “The Sex Which is Not One,” but I think we can all agree that there were some problematic parts of what she was saying.

      Kaitlyn’s point about diction reminded me of Butler’s critique of Wittig. First Rich wants to reject the term “lesbian” as Wittig desired, that the word was too bogged down in meanings created by heterosexual society that it didn’t serve a purpose within the context of her essay. Then she seems to realize that to one cannot reject something and claim it doesn’t exist at the same time, that is to say, to reject the confines of the word “lesbian” is to at the same time accept the existence of such confines. You understand the text, Laura; don’t write as if you are at its mercy!

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