It is almost impossible to define how many genders are there in the world. It is possible that there are as many genders as there are human beings. Psychological aspects are individualistic and it is almost impossible to match for two different human beings. A person can be heterosexual male or female, but he/she might be angrier or shyer than another heterosexual male or female. Then the difference between two heterosexual males or females lies in one’s being a shyer or angrier heterosexual male/female than the other. It is better to leave the total measure of gender continuum to the individual than to society.
According to the Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries, the term “lesbian” means “a woman who is a homosexual” or “a homosexual woman”. A lesbian is a woman who is emotionally, sexually attracted to another woman. Lesbian women are not included in the conventional gender binary, and a patriarchal society does not even allow a gender orientation apart from the conventional two – male and female.
In the gender binary, according to patriarchal laws, masculine is a supreme gender, and feminine is inferior to it. Femininity always stays at the receiving end under patriarchal oppression. And if we divide genders on the basis of three biologically identified sexes; male, female, intersex, then lesbian-identified people fall on the female side of the chart.
A lesbian orientation, psychologically, is experienced by female-identified person, and it is impossible to be experienced by a male-identified person. The pervading oppression on women in general in the society and society’s identification of not more than two ‘traditional’ genders leave an effect on lesbian women that is, due to the horrible condition of women in the society, more appalling than on male homosexuality. It does not mean that gay men are safe and secure, but a woman has to fight for her free feminine identity and also lesbian identity, whereas men do not have to fight the first one due to their privileged status in the society.
Adrienne Rich, in her essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence“, explains how society tries to show heterosexuality as the only available sexual orientation, preventing women from recognizing their lesbian orientation. On the one hand, society tries to convince women about heterosexuality by saying that a woman can only be sexually attracted towards a man and therefore, for her, marriage and motherhood are the only available options. As Rich said:
“Some of the forces by which male power manifests itself are more easily recognizable as enforcing heterosexuality on woman than are others. Yet each one I have listed adds to the cluster of forces within which women have been convinced that marriage and sexual orientation toward men are inevitable-even if unsatisfying or oppressive-components of their lives.”
On the other hand, society plays the same trick to the rest of the society to convince them of its ideas. It tries to convince the society that a woman becomes lesbian out of hatred or anger towards men. It is a woman’s way of breaking the symmetry of the society. But, it is more questionable than convincing. Rich raised questions about those “women who continue to pursue relationships with oppressive and/or emotionally unsatisfying men.” So, the double-assault on lesbian orientation is a marker of the oppressive nature of a patriarchal society and its stubbornness to silent anything that is not in tune with it.
Rich continues to describe “the lesbian experience as being, like motherhood, a profoundly female experience.” She says that it is a truly feminine experience in the sense that these cannot be perceived by somebody who is not a woman.
A male being that is sexually or emotionally attracted to another male is known as ‘gay’, which, in contrast, is a completely masculine experience. And, both naturally and biologically, it is impossible for a person with reproductive organs typically classified as male to conceive a child.
Society exploits this trait of motherhood and marks this as a ‘divine attribute’ to confine women to the house. It is only possible for a woman who is sexually or emotionally attracted to another woman to define her lesbian experience. Therefore, it is not possible for a woman who identifies herself as heterosexual to describe a lesbian experience.
A male person, even when he does not have society’s approval, at least has economic freedom. He is economically independent to control his world. But for a woman, who is economically bound, and already under societal wrath for being “the other”, it is beyond the bounds of possibility to act according her lesbian orientation. Whereas a gay person is at least free in the society-constructed gender binary, a lesbian person is bound to experience more oppression as she belongs to the oppressed gender in the binary.
Alison Jaggar explained the role of men in a feminist movement by pointing out two aspects. Firstly, a male person must learn the definition and reasons and aims of a feminist movement through feminist texts written by feminist authors. And secondly, men should learn the social circumstances of a feminist movement and the situations with which a woman cope in the society from women who have experienced the atrocities. Men should have both theoretical knowledge from printer-works by women, and practical knowledge from the mouths of oppressed women. This is also applicable to lesbian experience. To understand the thoughts of a lesbian person, one needs to learn it from her, just like, to understand the thoughts of a gay person, one needs to learn it from him directly.
The only difference between the experiences of a lesbian person and a gay person is, again, the childhood disadvantages, social restrictions, and forced economic dependency of women. The rights of lesbian women are coherently a part of feminist movements, as lesbian orientation is primarily a feminine experience. Like any other demand of women’s movements, it is also an important demand that needs to be fulfilled to establish equality in the society.