This piece is an extended version of a comment I posted on the LGBTPOV blog on the insane case of Joe Mannetti, an ex porn performer and bear who was removed from his position in GLIDE in LA for having previously acted in porn. It is believed that this was done at the behest of a complaint from one of the lesbians in the organization and taken as representative of a split between the "new school" activism which is perceived as prudish and aping heterocentric mores and the "old school" which fought hard to represent hard-to-represent groups such as those living with HIV, sex workers, those who used saunas and more marginal people within the bigger family.
As I'm familiar with the LA scene I am kinda shocked that this has happened here as the women's scene there is probably one of the most progressive in the world in terms of age, culture, style, lifestyle choices and sociality. The best example of this is the Dinah Shore weekends - there are at least 3 or 4 different groups organizing events in Palm Springs. None of them are the same and each caters to a very different demographic or bunch of demographics. For example there is one (the Lina Shore) which caters to an older, more conservative age group and centres around a golf tournament, and is based in an entirely gay owned hotel. Mariah Hansen's Club Skirts event attempts to give something back to the community, and caters heavily to the celesbian and media set. Robin Gans and Sandy Sachs go for a slightly more social (and possibly more lipsticky?) Dinah at the Girlbar Dinah with a heavy influence of mens white parties. Finally I think the team behind Truck Stop Girls also do a weekend. Similar to Girlbar - this does seem to be the direction the LA scene is turning - towards big events, less worry about "contamination" by men (I was surprised to note that Girlbar are happy to let the odd guy in - although in reality this is probably 4 or 5 out of thousands!)
While some women might lament the days of women not glaming up á la the latest celeb fashion trend and the shift from a very social but largely desexualized environment to one that prides itself on being hot and sexy, its certainly shifted this way in LA. SF has a different scene - oddly enough all the different subcultures seem to coexist between groups like Tantric yoga adherents, leather & BDSM girls, transfolk and others. The bars vary from the terminally scruffy but charming Lexington to the Cafe, the Bar and the Metro. The point anyway, that I am trying to make is that in these cities, there is a progressiveness to the womens scene that women go to mixed bars and there is less ghettoism on the scene in general.
It also means that niche interests such as BDSM, leather, bear-type (I guess this is in its infancy for girls), bathhouses/darkrooms or whatever else takes your sex-positive fancy takes you are more likely to pop up from time to time in a scene where Go-Go girls are quite established as quite normal.
The case of Mannetti, who seems like a genuinely lovely guy, is being put down to a case of "pearl-clutching" po-faced and sex negative lesbians complaining. And the reason I suspect this is the case is because it is true. There is a huge element of obstructionism in the dominant dyke leaderships worldwide, one which obstructs sex-positive activities, ghettoises itself away from gay male communities, puts on a po-face at the idea of boys bonking away in darkrooms and the sea of half naked flesh you get at typically huge dance events. (Although to be honest this doesn't actually bother me at all). I think some women do still find the open expression of male homo a gogo more than a bit repulsive - and after all they are gay women. What bothers me, however, is when they start to try to refuse gay women the right to enjoy a female-centric parallel.
Whats disturbing is the internalized homophobia and self-hatred that this kind of mentality sometimes can symbolize. Where I live the local lesbian mafia subtly exclude anybody who doesn't fit into their narrow definition of what they think a dyke should be: cis-gendered, over 40, a parent, came out later in life, socially disadvantaged (the more so the better). Any lesbian who is feminine and pretty is outright excluded from their ghetto. The cardinal sin of course is being young. But ANY perception of privilige at all is tantamount to a betrayal of their paradigm of victimhood.
I really have spent a lot of time wondering as to why this situation continues as its clear that the number of young women rejected and excluded are now far greater than the totality of the dyke ghetto. I think its about power and funding: they are afraid of losing their "victim" status because it could result in a loss of funding which in turn would mean that the power brokers lose their cushy jobs in these organisations.
There is little openly on offer outside of the traditional "bad wedding" model for gay women in much of the world. The idealization of the separtist commune model in the 70s is stuck firmly between the rotting teeth of the decaying elders of this paradigm, firmly clutching their newly earned pearls on the back of vast funding from public instutitions and philanthropies alike. There are vast swathes of dykes who've made entire careers out of the dyke-as-victim paradigm, which is why I suspect they are so terrified of it becoming replaced by a newer set of models - which vary from young, educated career girls, successful businesswomen, fashionistas, journalists, entrepenuers, dominatrices, transwomen and men, and most of all, just ordinary women who happen to prefer their own but don't politicize it and often eschew the entire old scene in the process. This is why I suspect that the old school desperately cling onto their wimmin-only territories in order to preserve their power and thus their entire incomes on preserving an image of gay women as sad victims of an unloving world - hated and depised, ridiculed and discriminated against.
But this isn't what is happening in the real world. Back in 2000 I left my strung-together music teaching career for a new one in IT, and was faced with a scenario that was to become familiar - several of the most senior managers were gay women. In fact gay women were disproportionately represented in many of the management teams I was about to meet in my IT/business career over the last 10 years. I've estimated that of the women I've encountered in senior management positions over the last few years, about 40% are gay or bisexual. This jars entirely with the traditional image of the lesbian as a passive victim of a combination of multiple deprivations. Far from it. The lesbian, as somebody only 30% likely to give birth by the end of her childbearing years as compared to about 75% of the overall womens population, manages to miss out on some of the biggest disadvantages of being a woman in the modern workplace.
Dodging parenthood for a large chunk means no big career interruption, none of the costs or time complications of parenting, and total freedom for further study or the time demands of "big" jobs. This is hugely advantaging gay women over straight women in the workplace and why is nobody else noticing this? Another thing this does is hugely alters the workplace politics where many women, including many talented women I know, have their careers harmed by affairs with male managers and subordinates. I think this does immeasureable harm to those women in the workplace - they sort of lose credibility. For the gay female manager - there is little risk of this happening so she is less likely to suffer the consequences of inevitable interrelations in the workplace. As a result they manage to retain respect and perhaps a little mystique from a male workforce still unsure what to make of such women.
Recently I was reading a commentary on a forum of mainly male respondents on an interview with a well known public professional who was declining to give away the details of her private life to the interviewer. It was curiously interesting to read that a number of the guys read her lack of a wedding ring and refusal to detail her romantic status as evidence that she "bats for the other team." Admittedly this lady is rather popular with the boys for various reasons and has a public image of being masterful, strong and intellectual, but I found it interesting that a refusal to admit being single (or not) was read as evidence of non-heterosexual leanings, which in her case I find unlikely. Its interesting that even an extremely feminine woman such as this one is read as being gay (probably inappropriately) merely for not having an obvious man in her life. This shows the extent of the social assumption that if a woman is still single in her middle aged years, there must be "something wrong."
But back to GLIDE.
Over here, small community groups over the last 20 years, much of it on the back of mickey-mouse Fás funding designed to artificially deflate real unemployment stats, have gained large amounts of funding for roles once carried out by unpaid volunteers. This has created an entire cottage industry, known as the "social platform" for professionals and non professionals alike, to make minor careers out of strong feelings while often its the public who ends up subsidizing it, whether its agreeable or not. For gay and womens organizations it is necessary to maintain some kind of "victim" status in order to keep this funding flowing - after all, who wants to throw public money at a group who in fact are not all helpless martyrs, but a mixture of people with very diverse experiences?
I suspect its similar reasons for the likes of GLIDE. In order to represent a "presentable" and "easily fundable" image they try to conform to a more heterosexist paradigm, a "clean living" image. In doing so, they simply reinforce the arching concept in society that gay people should be "just like straights" if not straight altogether. It is unfortunate that there is not more hard resistance to this approach from within the LGBTQ community and especially at the compromised worldview that values power and funding at the expense of the reality of life for fringe subcultures within the LGBTQ family.
Nowhere is this moreso represented than in the campaign for gay marriage. Recently I was invited to a letter writing campaign as activists had heard that a large bag of hate mail had gone to the committee for having any kind of legal recognition for gay relationships at all. What did the "sample" letter say? It also insinuated a rejection of the bill. Why reinforce the position that conservatives have of wanting to throw the bill out entirely? This reminds me of the 1992 abortion referendum where in a case of the pro-choice lobby advocating a Yes-No-No vote and the anti-abortion lobb(ies) advocating a No-No-No vote with government looking for Yes-Yes-Yes, the Yes-No-No result was claimed as a victory for both lobbies! If the CP bill was to collapse at the last hurdle, both the pro-marriage and conservative right will claim a victory!
To summarize, I do feel that the LGBT community is now creaking under the weight of its own diversity and one of the unintended consequences of this is the highlighting of differences in values and lifestyles. However these should not be swept under the carpet, and societal discrimination should never, ever be reinforced by activist or lobby groups. We must take everything at face value and consider the outcomes of different interventions. Most importantly, we cannot alienate younger, newer or kinkier subgroups simply because they don't fit a desireable stereotype. We need to work on models of inclusivity, and stop discriminating against butch guys, femme women and young people, as well as trans people of all kinds. Only then will we start to make meaningful progress.