Lesbian feminism is a cultural movement and critical perspective, most influential in the 1970s and early 1980s (primarily in North America and Western Europe), that encourages women to direct their energies toward other women rather than men, and often advocates lesbianism as the logical result of feminism. Some key thinkers and activists are Charlotte Bunch, Rita Mae Brown, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Marilyn Frye, Mary Daly, Sheila Jeffreys, Barbara Smith, Pat Parker, Margaret Sloan-Hunter, Cheryl Clarke, Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga, and Monique Wittig (although the latter is more commonly associated with the emergence of queer theory).
- Key ideas
- Biology, choice and social constructionism
- The woman identified woman
- Womyn's culture
- Lesbians and mainstream feminism
- Tensions with queer theory
- Views on BDSM
- Views on bisexuality
- Views on transgender people
- Lesbian feminism of color
- Black lesbian feminism
- The Combahee River Collective
- Visual art works
- Chicana lesbian feminism
- Genres and main themes
Lesbian feminism came together in the early 1970s out of dissatisfaction with second-wave feminism and the gay liberation movement.
In the words of lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys, "Lesbian feminism emerged as a result of two developments: lesbians within the WLM (Women's Liberation Movement) began to create a new, distinctively feminist lesbian politics, and lesbians in the GLF (Gay Liberation Front) left to join up with their sisters".
According to Judy Rebick, a leading Canadian journalist and political activist for feminism, lesbians were and always have been at the heart of the women's movement, while their issues were invisible in the same movement.
Lesbian feminism of color emerged as a response to lesbian feminism thought that failed to incorporate the issues of class and race as sources of oppression along with heterosexuality.
Lesbian feminism, much like feminism, lesbian and gay studies, and queer theory, is characterized by the ideas of contestation and revision. At the same time, one of the key themes of lesbian feminism is the analysis of heterosexuality as an institution. Lesbian feminist texts work to denaturalise heterosexuality and, based on this denaturalization, to explore heterosexuality's "roots" in institutions such as patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism. Additionally, lesbian feminism advocates lesbianism as a rational result of alienation and dissatisfaction with these institutions.
Sheila Jeffreys defines lesbian feminism as having seven key themes:
Bonnie Zimmerman is a lesbian feminist literary critic who frequently analyzes the language used by writers from within the movement, often drawing on autobiographical narratives and the use of personal testimony. Lesbian feminist texts tend to be expressly non-linear, poetic and even obscure.
Lesbian feminists of color argue for intersectionality, in particular the crossings of gender, sex, class, and race, as an important component of lesbian feminist thought.
Biology, choice and social constructionism
As outlined above, lesbian feminism typically situates lesbianism as a form of resistance to "man-made" institutions. Cheryl Clarke writes in her essay New Notes on Lesbianism "I name myself “lesbian” because this culture oppresses, silences, and destroys lesbians, even lesbians who do don’t call themselves “lesbians.” I name myself “lesbian” because I want to be visible to other black lesbians. I name myself “lesbian” because I do not subscribe to predatory/institutionalized heterosexuality".
See also political lesbianism or queer by choice. Indeed, it could be argued that lesbian feminism pre-empted if not laid the groundwork for queer theory to posit sexuality as culturally specific.
Lesbian separatism is a form of separatist feminism specific to lesbians. Separatism has been considered by lesbians as both a temporary strategy, and as a lifelong practice but mostly the latter. In separatist feminism, lesbianism is posited as a key feminist strategy that enables women to invest their energies in other women, creating new space and dialogue about women's relationships, and typically, limits their dealings with men.
Lesbian separatism became popular in the 1970s as some lesbians doubted whether mainstream society or even the LGBT movement had anything to offer them. In 1970, seven women (including Del Martin) confronted the North Conference of Homophile [meaning homosexual] Organizations about the relevance of the gay rights movement to the women within it. The delegates passed a resolution in favor of women's liberation, but Del Martin felt they had not done enough, and wrote "If That's All There Is", an influential 1970 essay in which she decried gay rights organizations as sexist. In the summer of 1971, a lesbian group calling themselves "The Furies" formed a commune open to lesbians only, where they put out a monthly newspaper. "The Furies" consisted of twelve women, aged eighteen to twenty-eight, all feminists, all lesbians, all white, with three children among them. They shared chores and clothes, lived together, held some of their money in common, and slept on mattresses on a common floor. They also started a school to teach women auto and home repair so they would not be dependent on men. The newspaper lasted from January 1972 to June 1973; the commune itself ended in 1972.
Charlotte Bunch, an early member of The Furies, viewed separatist feminism as a strategy, a "first step" period, or temporary withdrawal from mainstream activism to accomplish specific goals or enhance personal growth. Other lesbians, such as Lambda Award winning author Elana Dykewomon, have chosen separatism as a lifelong practice.
In addition to advocating withdrawal from working, personal or casual relationships with men, The Furies recommended that Lesbian Separatists relate "only (with) women who cut their ties to male privilege" and suggest that "as long as women still benefit from heterosexuality, receive its privileges and security, they will at some point have to betray their sisters, especially Lesbian sisters who do not receive those benefits".
This was part of a larger idea that Bunch articulated in Learning from Lesbian Separatism, that "in a male-supremacist society, heterosexuality is a political institution" and the practice of separatism is a way to escape its domination.
In her 1988 book, Lesbian Ethics: Towards a New Value, Lesbian Philosopher Sarah Lucia Hoagland alludes to Lesbian Separatism's potential to encourage lesbians to develop healthy community ethics based on shared values.
Bette Tallen believes that lesbian separatism, unlike some other separatist movements, is "not about the establishment of an independent state, it is about the development of an autonomous self-identity and the creation of a strong solid lesbian community".
Lesbian historian Lillian Faderman describes the separatist impulses of lesbian feminism which created culture and cultural artifacts as "giving love between women greater visibility" in broader culture. Faderman also believes that lesbian feminists who acted to create separatist institutions did so to "bring their ideals about integrity, nurturing the needy, self-determination and equality of labor and rewards into all aspects of institution-building and economics".
The practice of Lesbian separatism sometimes incorporates concepts related to queer nationalism and political lesbianism. Some individuals who identify as Lesbian separatists are also associated with the practice of Dianic paganism.
The term 'womyn's lands' has been used in America to describe communities of lesbian separatists.
Elsewhere, lesbian feminists have situated female separatism as quite a mainstream thing and have explored the mythology surrounding it. Marilyn Frye's (1978) essay Notes on Separatism and Power is one such example. She posits female separatism as a strategy practiced by all women, at some point, and present in many feminist projects (one might cite women's refuges, electoral quotas or Women's Studies programmes). She argues that it is only when women practice it, self-consciously as separation from men, that it is treated with controversy (or as she suggests hysteria). Male separatism on the other hand (one might cite gentleman's clubs, labour unions, sports teams, the military and, more arguably, decision-making positions in general) is seen as quite a normal, even expedient phenomenon.
Still other lesbian feminists put forward a notion of "tactical separatism" from men, arguing for and investing in things like women's sanctuaries and consciousness-raising groups, but also exploring everyday practices to which women may temporarily retreat or practice solitude from men and masculinity.
Margaret Sloan-Hunter compared lesbian separatism to black separatism. In her work Making Separatist Connections: The Issue is Woman Identification she stated "If Lesbian separatism fails it will be because women are so together that we will just exude woman identification wherever we go. But since sexism is much older than racism, it seems that we must for now embrace separatism, at least psychically, for health and consciousness sake. This is a revolution, not a public relations campaign, we must keep reminding ourselves".
Some of the lesbian feminist groups, however, were skeptical of separatism. As such, a prominent black lesbian feminist group The Combahee River Collective stated that separatism is not a viable political strategy for them.
The woman-identified woman
If the founding of the lesbian feminist movement could be pinpointed at a specific moment, it would probably be May 1970, when Radicalesbians, an activist group of 20 lesbians led by lesbian novelist Rita Mae Brown, took over a women's conference in New York City, the Congress to Unite Women. Uninvited, they lined up on stage wearing matching T-shirts inscribed with the words "Lavender Menace", and demanded the microphone to read aloud to an audience of 400 their essay The Woman-Identified Woman, which laid out the main precepts of their movement. Later on Adrienne Rich incorporated this concept in her essay Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, in which she unpacks the idea that patriarchy dictates women to be focused on men or to be 'men-identified women. Becoming women-identified women, i.e. changing the focus of attention and energy from men to women, is a way to resist the patriarchal oppression.
Contrary to some popular beliefs about "man-hating butch dykes", lesbian feminist theory does not support the concept of female masculinity. Proponents like Sheila Jeffreys (2003:13) have argued that "all forms of masculinity are problematic."
This is one of the principal areas in which lesbian feminism differs from queer theory, perhaps best summarized by Judith Halberstam's quip that "If Sheila Jeffreys didn't exist, Camille Paglia would have had to invent her."
The overwhelming majority of the activists and scholars associated with lesbian feminist theory have been women; however, there are a few exceptions. For instance, political theorist Eugene Lewis, whose critique of patriarchal society explores the parallels between the theatrical mockery of women in the works of C.S. Lewis (no relation) and underground male prostitution rings, describes himself as "a lesbian feminist in the ideological sense."
"Womyn" along with "wimmin" and "womin" were terms produced by parts of the lesbian feminist movement to distinguish it from men and masculine (or "phallogocentric") language. The term "women" was seen as derivative of men and ultimately symbolized the prescriptive nature of women's oppression. A new vocabulary emerged more generally, sometimes referencing lost or unspoken matriarchal civilizations, Amazonian warriors, ancient – especially Greek – goddesses, sometimes parts of the female anatomy and often references to the natural world. It was frequently remarked that the movement had nothing to go on, no knowledge of its roots, nor histories of lesbianism to draw on. Hence the emphasis on consciousness-raising and carving out new (arguably) "gynocentric" cultures.
Salsa Soul Sisters, Third World Wimmin Inc organization united lesbian feminists and womanists of color.
Lesbians and mainstream feminism
As a critical perspective lesbian feminism is perhaps best defined in opposition to mainstream feminism and queer theory. It has certainly been argued that mainstream feminism has been guilty of homophobia in its failure to integrate sexuality as a fundamental category of gendered inquiry, and its treatment of lesbianism as a separate issue. In this respect, Adrienne Rich's (1980) classic text "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" is instructive and one of landmarks in lesbian feminism.
Lesbians have been active in the mainstream American feminist movement. The first time lesbian concerns were introduced into the National Organization for Women came in 1969, when Ivy Bottini, an open lesbian who was then president of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women, held a public forum titled "Is Lesbianism a Feminist Issue?". However, National Organization for Women president Betty Friedan was against lesbian participation in the movement. In 1969 she referred to growing lesbian visibility as a "lavender menace" and fired openly lesbian newsletter editor Rita Mae Brown, and in 1970 she engineered the expulsion of lesbians, including Ivy Bottini, from NOW's New York chapter. In reaction, at the 1970 Congress to Unite Women, on the first evening when all four hundred feminists were assembled in the auditorium, twenty women wearing T-shirts that read "Lavender Menace" came to the front of the room and faced the audience. One of the women then read their group's paper "The Woman-Identified Woman", which was the first major lesbian feminist statement. The group, who later named themselves "Radicalesbians", were among the first to challenge the heterosexism of heterosexual feminists and to describe lesbian experience in positive terms. In 1971 NOW passed a resolution declaring “that a woman’s right to her own person includes the right to define and express her own sexuality and to choose her own lifestyle," as well as a conference resolution stating that forcing lesbian mothers to stay in marriages or to live a secret existence in an effort to keep their children was unjust. That year NOW also committed to offering legal and moral support in a test case involving child custody rights of lesbian mothers. In 1973 the NOW Task Force on Sexuality and Lesbianism was established. In November 1977 the National Women's Conference issued the National Plan of Action, which stated in part, "Congress, State, and local legislatures should enact legislation to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sexual and affectional preference in areas including, but not limited to, employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, public facilities, government funding, and the military. State legislatures should reform their penal codes or repeal State laws that restrict private sexual behavior between consenting adults. State legislatures should enact legislation that would prohibit consideration of sexual or affectional orientation as a factor in any judicial determination of child custody or visitation rights. Rather, child custody cases should be evaluated solely on the merits of which party is the better parent, without regard to that person's sexual and affectional orientation."
Del Martin was the first open lesbian elected to NOW, and Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were the first lesbian couple to join NOW.
Canadian photographer Deborah Bright created a series called Dream Girls that challenged mainstream gender-sex identities that 1980s Hollywood chose to propagate.
In 2014 Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (OLOC) issued an "Anti-Sexism Statement", which states, "Men run the world and women are supposed to serve according to the belief that men are superior to women, which is patriarchy. Patriarchy is the system by which men's universal power is maintained and enforced. OLOC works toward the end of patriarchy and the liberation of all women."
Tensions with queer theory
Queer theory's emergence in the 1990s built upon certain principles of lesbian feminism, including the critique of compulsory heterosexuality, the understanding of gender as defined in part by heterosexuality, and the understanding of sexuality as institutional instead of personal. Despite this, queer theory is largely set in opposition to lesbian feminism. Lesbian feminism is traditionally critical of S&M, butch/femme identities and relationships, transgenderism and transsexuality, pornography, and prostitution, whereas queer theory tends to embrace them. Queer theorists have critiqued lesbian feminism as having an essentialist understanding of gender that runs counter to their stated aims, and subsequently embrace gender fluidity. Lesbian feminists have critiqued queer theory as implicitly male-oriented, and a recreation of the male-oriented Gay Liberation Front that lesbian feminists initially sought refuge from; queer theorists have countered by pointing out that the majority of the most prominent queer theorists are feminists, and many (including Judith Butler, Judith Halberstam, and Gayle Rubin) are lesbians.
Barry (2002) suggests that in choosing between these possible alignments (lesbian feminism and/or queer theory) one must answer whether it is gender or sexuality that is the more "fundamental in personal identity."
Views on BDSM
Because of its focus on equality in sexual relationships, lesbian feminism has traditionally been opposed to any form of BDSM that involve perpetuation of gender stereotypes. This view was challenged in the late 1970s, most notably by the Samois group. Samois was a San Francisco-based feminist organization focused on BDSM. Samois members felt strongly that their way of practicing SM was entirely compatible with feminism, and held that the kind of feminist sexuality advocated by WAVPM was conservative and puritanical.
Views on bisexuality
Bisexuality is rejected by some lesbian feminists as being a reactionary and anti-feminist backlash to lesbian feminism.
A bisexual woman filed a lawsuit against the lesbian feminist magazine Common Lives/Lesbian Lives, alleging discrimination against bisexuals when her submission was not published.
A number of women who were at one time involved in lesbian-feminist activism have since come out as bisexual after realizing their attractions to men. A widely studied example of lesbian-bisexual conflict within feminism was the Northampton Pride March during the years between 1989 and 1993, where many feminists involved debated over whether bisexuals should be included and whether or not bisexuality was compatible with feminism. Common lesbian-feminist critiques leveled at bisexuality were that bisexuality was anti-feminist, that bisexuality was a form of false consciousness, and that bisexual women who pursue relationships with men were "deluded and desperate." However, tensions between bisexual feminists and lesbian feminists have eased since the 1990s, as bisexual women have become more accepted within the feminist community.
Nevertheless, some lesbian feminists such as Julie Bindel are still critical of bisexuality. Bindel has described female bisexuality as a "fashionable trend" being promoted due to "sexual hedonism" and broached the question of whether bisexuality even exists. She has also made tongue-in-cheek comparisons of bisexuals to cat fanciers and devil worshippers.
Lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys writes in The Lesbian Heresy (1993) that while many feminists are comfortable working alongside gay men, they are uncomfortable interacting with bisexual men. Jeffreys states that while gay men are unlikely to sexually harass women, bisexual men are just as likely to be bothersome to women as heterosexual men.
In contrast, the book Bi Any Other Name (1991), an anthology edited by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Ka'ahumanu, which is one of the seminal books in the history of the modern bisexual rights movement, contains (among other things) the piece, "Bisexuality: The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Lesbian Feminism?", by Beth Elliot.
Views on transgender people
Though lesbian feminists' views vary, there is a specific lesbian feminist canon which rejects transgender people, transsexuals and transvestites, positing trans people as, at best, gender dupes (or functions of a discourse on mutilation); at worst shoring up support for traditional and violent gender norms. This is a position marked by intense controversy. Sheila Jeffreys summarized the arguments on this topic in Unpacking Queer Politics (2003).
In 1979, lesbian feminist Janice Raymond published a book on transsexualism called The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. Controversial even today, it looked at the role of transsexualism – particularly psychological and surgical approaches to it – in reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes, the ways in which the medical-psychiatric complex is medicalizing “gender identity” and the social and political context that has helped spawn transsexual treatment and surgery as normal and therapeutic medicine.
Raymond maintains that transsexualism is based on the "patriarchal myths" of "male mothering," and "making of woman according to man's image." She claims this is done in order "to colonize feminist identification, culture, politics and sexuality," adding: "All transsexuals rape women's bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves .... Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive."
These views on transsexuality have been criticized by many in the LGBT and feminist communities as extremely transphobic and as constituting hate-speech against transsexual men and women.
In The Transsexual Empire Janice Raymond includes sections on Sandy Stone, a trans woman who had worked as a sound engineer for Olivia Records, and Christy Barsky, accusing both of creating divisiveness in women's spaces. These writings have been heavily criticized as personal attacks on these individuals.
Lesbian feminism is sometimes associated with opposition to sex reassignment surgery; some lesbian feminist analyses see sex reassignment surgery as a form of violence akin to S&M.
Lesbian feminism of color
Lesbian feminism of color emerged as a response to the texts produced by white lesbian feminist authors in the late 1970-s. Typically, lesbian feminism failed to recognize issues related to intersectionality between race, gender, and class. Apart from that, lesbian feminists of color addressed the relationship between feminism as a movement and "ideology of cultural nationalism or racial pride" as well as the differences from the white feminist movement. Among the most influential lesbian feminists of color are Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga, Barbara Smith, Pat Parker, Kate Rushin, Margaret Sloan-Hunter, Cheryl Clarke, and Ochy Curiel. Audre Lorde addressed how these movements should intersect in her 1979 New York speech “The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House”. In particular, she stated “As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.”
Black lesbian feminism
Black lesbian feminism originates from black feminism and the Civil Rights Movement in the beginning of the 1970s. A contemporary black lesbian feminist scholar Kaila Adia Story defines black lesbian feminism "as the thought and praxis of an intersectional gendered and sexual analysis of the world’s relationship to queer women of color specifically, both cis and trans". The prominent authors who where at the roots of black lesbian feminism include Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Pat Parker, Kate Rushin, doris davenport, Cheryl Clarke, Margaret Sloan-Hunter, and a number of others.
Black lesbian feminism emerged as a venue to address the issue of racism in the mainstream feminist movement, which was described as white, middle-class, and predominantly heterosexual. According to Barbara Smith "the reason racism is a feminist issue is easily explained by the inherent definition of feminism", which is "the political theory and practice to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor women, physically challenged women, lesbians, old women, as well as white economically privileged heterosexual women." This is the statement she made in 1979. Later, in 1984 she extended her views on black lesbian feminism mission to "a movement committed to fighting sexual, racial, economic and heterosexist oppression, not to mention one which opposes imperialism, anti-Semitism, the oppressions visited upon the physically disabled, the old and the young, at the same time that it challenges militarism and imminent nuclear destruction is the very opposite of narrow.”
Most prominent black lesbian feminists were writers rather than scholars and expressed their position in literary way. Allida Mae Black states that unlike black feminism, in 1977 the position of black lesbian feminism was not as clear as the position of black feminism and was "an allusion in the text." Apart from that, the position of black lesbian feminists was expressed in their interviews and public speeches. As such, Audre Lorde in her interview published in American Poetry Review in1980 states that a "true feminist deals out of a lesbian consciousness whether or not she ever sleeps with women" as well as that all black women whether they admit it or not are lesbians, because they are "raised in the remnants of a basically matriarchal society" even they are still oppressed by patriarchy.
Pat Parker's work reflected the oppression she suffered and observed in lives of other women. In her poem "Have you Ever Tried to Hide" Parker calls our racism in white feminist movement. In her multiple works, including the famous poem "Womanslaughter", she drew attention to the violence Black women experience in their lives. Among others, Parker defended the idea of complex identities and stated that for her revolution will happen when all elements of her identity "can come along."
The Combahee River Collective
The Combahee River Collective is a Boston-based black feminist group that was formed as a radical alternative to National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO) founded by Margaret Sloan-Hunter in 1973. For the organization's members NBFO lacked attention to the issues of sexuality and economic oppression. The Collective united the women that were dissatisfied with racism in white feminist movement and sexism in civil rights movement. The name of the organization alludes to Underground Railroad Combahee River Raid that happened in 1863 under Harriet Tubman's leadership and freed 750 slaves. The Combahee River Collective issued a statement in 1977 that described the organization's vision as being opposed to all forms of oppression — including sexuality, gender identity, class, disability, and age oppression (later incorporated in the concept of intersectionality) that shaped the conditions on black women's lives.
In its "Statement", The Combahee River Collective defined itself as a left-wing organization leaning towards socialism and anti-imperialism. The organization also claimed that unlike some white feminist groups or NBFO The Combahee River Collective members are in "solidarity with progressive Black men and do not advocate the fractionalization" and emphasizing that "the stance of Lesbian separatism ... is not a viable political analysis or strategy."
Other organizations under the stance of black lesbian feminism include Salsa Souls Sisters, which was formed in 1974 in New York City and is considered to be the oldest Black Lesbian Feminist organization, and Sapphire Sapphos formed in 1979 and based in Washington, DC.
Visual art works
The more recent art form used to express black lesbian feminist ideas is film. In particular, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, an award-winning black lesbian feminist, authored NO! The Rape Documentary (2006), a documentary movie that explores how rape is used as a weapon of homophobia. For Simmons, a sexual assault survivor herself, this also an exploration of how rape impacted her Black feminist lesbian journey.
Chicana lesbian feminism
Chicana lesbian feminism emerged from the Chicana feminism movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During this time, Chicana feminism started to form as a “social movement aimed to improve the position of Chicanas in American society.” Chicanas separated from Chicano movement, began drawing their own political agendas, and started to question their traditional female roles. Specifically, Chicana feminists (see also Chicana literature) started to address the forces that affected them as women of color and started to fight for social equality.
In Catriona Rueda Esquibel words, the author of "With Her Machete in Her Hand: Reading Chicana Lesbians", the first monograph dedicated to the work of Chicana lesbians, "Chicana lesbians are central to understanding Chicana/o communities, theories, and feminisms." Similarly to black lesbian feminists, Chicana lesbian feminists use literature as a way of naming themselves, expressing their ideas, and reclaiming their experiences flagged with a number of accusations. They are accused of being lesbians, of betraying society by denying men of their reproductive role, and of betraying their Chicana identity by adhering to feminist and lesbian ideologies, both things considered by Chicano culture "white" notions. The key Chicana lesbian feminist thinkers include Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, Lidia Tirado White, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Emma Pérez, Carla Trujillo, Monica Palacios, Ana Castillo, Natashia López, and Norma Alarcon.
In the feminist anthology, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, Moraga and Anzaldúa describe Chicana lesbian feminist mission as follows: "we attempt to bridge the contradictions in our experience. We are the colored in a white feminist movement. We are the feminists among the people of our culture. We are often the lesbians among the straight. We do this bridging by naming ourselves and by telling our stories in our own words."
One of the foundational concepts of Chicana lesbian feminist movement is “theory in the flesh”, which is "flesh and blood experiences of the woman of color." Specifically, as described by Moraga and Anzaldúa, "a theory in flesh means one where the typical realities of our lives —our skin color, the land or concrete we grew up on, our sexual belongings—all fuse to create a political born out of necessity." In Moraga's article La Güera, she continues making reference to the theory in the flesh: "it wasn't until I acknowledged and confronted my own lesbianism in the flesh, that my heartfelt identification with and empathy for my mother's oppression —due to being poor, uneducated, Chicana— was realized." Furthermore, this theory incorporates the ideas of finding strength in and celebrating each other's difference as well as reinterpreting the history by “shaping new myths”, and lays in a process of naming themselves but also naming the enemies within oneself to break down paradigms. As Moraga explains in her prose "Loving in the War Years: Lo que nunca paso por sus labios": "in this country, lesbianism is a poverty —as is being brown, as is being a woman, as is being just plain poor. The danger lies in ranking the oppressions. The danger lies in failing to acknowledge the specificity of the oppression. The danger lies in attempting to deal with oppression purely from a theoretical base. Without an emotional, heartfelt grappling with the source of our own oppression, without naming the enemy within ourselves and outside of us, no authentic, non-hierarchical connection among oppressed groups can take place."
Genres and main themes
Chicana lesbian feminists challenge traditional forms of knowledge production, and introduce new ways of knowledge creation through new forms of writing. Many Chicana lesbian feminists use what Teresa de Lauretis named “fiction/theory”, “a formally experimental, critical and lyrical, autobiographical and theoretically conscious, practice of writing-in-the-feminine that crosses genre boundaries (poetry and prose, verbal and visual modes, narrative and cultural criticism), and instates new correlations between signs and meanings.” They combine genres such as autobiography, poetry, theory, personal diaries or imaginary interviews. At the same time, Chicana lesbian feminists today navigate and struggle across a variety of discursive contexts (as activist, academics, feminists, and artists).
Through their literature and art, Chicana lesbian feminists explore their body lived experiences, a fundamental aspect in the construction of lesbian identity. They reclaim the idea of the real body and the physical aspect of it. Chicana lesbian feminists bring into the discussion the conflicts with the concept of la familia, the new familias they create, and their right to choose their own sexuality. Martha Barrera writes “we are just as valid a familia as we would be if she were a brown man who I married in the Catholic Church.” At the same time they try to find reconciliation with their familia. Juanita M. Sánchez, writes “my father wanted me to go to work my grandmother wanted me to speak more Spanish she couldn’t speak English i wanted to make a living selling popsicles on my 1948 cushman scooter nothing turned out like they wanted but my mother did say, “if you want to be with a woman, que le hace, as long as you’re happy”.
Chicana lesbian feminists confront their lesbian identity with their Chicano identity. This constitutes a central aspect of Chicana lesbian literature. Renée M. Martinez expresses her impossibility to reconcile the two identities: "being a Chicana and a lesbian, my parents' daughter and a lesbian, alive and a lesbian", lesbianism “would sever me from everything that counted in my life: homosexuality, the ultimate betrayal of my Mexican heritage, was only for white people.” Moraga writes how “the woman who defies her role ... is purported to be a “traitor to her race” by contributing to the “genocide” of her people ... In short, even if the defiant woman is not a lesbian, she is purported to be one; for, like the lesbian in the Chicano imagination, she is una Malinchista. Like the Malinche of Mexican history, she is corrupted by foreign influences which threaten to destroy her people. […] Lesbianism can be construed by the race then as the Chicana being used by the white man, even if the man never lays a hand on her. The choice is never seen as her own. Homosexuality is his disease with which he sinisterly infects Third World people, men and women alike.”