The Official Blog for ENGL 41416.

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.

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Comments on: "The Lesbian Continuum: A Personal and Historical Timeline" (2)

  1. merrrrkate said:

    “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.”

    I completely agree with this. The word “continuum” is just as loaded as the word lesbian. And although I agree that all appropriate consensual relationships between females should be encouraged and have the right to exist free from judgement, I don’t believe “lesbian continuum” is the right notion to apply to such relationships. Continua are one dimensionally linear, and imply levels, to use your word, of that one dimension. In what universe is human sexuality one dimensional? Definitely not one that is still somewhat taboo and carries around a history of being shamed and persecuted. What about women who only prefer women erotically and men for all other relationships? Where to they fall? What about straight women who only befriend with gay men? There’s too many exceptions that wouldn’t have a place on the fine line connecting full lesbian and not lesbian at all. A way of describing these relations that considers more variation needs to replace the idea of the flat continuum.

    • This is what is so frustrating about language. I liked her use of the continuum because it can represent so many different things. However, like you pointed out, the word is loaded. If someone concluded that Rich meant for the continuum to rank lesbian experiences on a spectrum, I wouldn’t be sitting here spitting about how wrong they were, because I can understand why they took her term that way. However, I don’t think that this is what Rich meant or intended her audience to glean from her writing. The reason I liked continuum is that I think it provided a rich(no pun) image with which to view lesbian experiences. They occur both on a personal time line and a historical and century spanning timeline and are therefore timeless. The continuum image provides a way to skim back and forth throughout history in a linear, but non directional way. It is not so much that it is flat, but the problem really lies in the ambitiousness of the word. damn, language.

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