In Adrienne Rich’s article, “Compulsory Sexuality and the Lesbian Existence,” the writer claims that it is necessary to examine the “Lesbian Continuum” and “Lesbian Existence” instead of looking at compulsory sexuality in terms of “lesbianism.” As she writes, “the term lesbian has been held to limiting, clinical associations in its patriarchal definition, female friendship and comradeship have been set apart from the erotic, thus limiting the erotic itself.”(349) After all, If we’re looking at nonscientific explanations for compulsory heterosexuality, i.e. societal or historical, then we cannot consider the homosexual experiences between women on merely scientific or clinical terms.
I found the idea of a lesbian continuum particularly interesting because it is a medium of analyzing history as well as the personal lesbian experiences of a woman. Since this experience is profoundly feminine, it is necessary too look at it in only a woman context. This means that in investigating the lesbian experience, we must separate if from that of gay men or other “against the grain” oppressed groups because by blurring their differences, we lose our ability to recognize “the particularly oppressions, meanings, and potentialities”(349) of woman as a group. Thus, a lesbian continuum and not a gay continuum.
It is important not to think that a continuum somehow denotes that there are levels or degrees of lesbian experiences. It is harmful to think of the lesbian experience in this way because it suggests that there are ways to be less lesbian and therefor more socially acceptable.”Lesbian existences comprises both the breaking of a taboo and the rejection of a compulsory way of life. It is a direct or indirect attack on male right of access to women…an act of resistance.”(349) All woman exists on this continuum because it is a central fact of history that woman have always resisted the tyranny imposed upon them by men. (351) Therefore, women have existed in and out of this continuum for hundreds of years. Therefor, the experiences of the independent female communities of the 12th and 15th centuries(350) are no less a rejection of patriarchal domination than the Indian wives in Fire who take control of their own sexuality and reject the compulsory heterosexuality of their community.