"Some are born gay,
Some achieve gayness,
And some have gayness thrust upon them."
--Shakespeare, sort of.
"The lesbian personality manifests itself in independence of spirit, in willingness to take responsibility for oneself, to think for oneself, not to take 'authorities' and their dictum on trust. It usually includes erotic attraction to women, although we know there have been many women of lesbian personality who never had sexual relations with one another."
--Elsa Gidlow, quoted in Surpassing the Love of Men, pg. 385
Yes folkswagons, I've finished Surpassing the Love of Men. There are way too many quotes that I want to share with you. One amazing thing about the book is that it gives you gaydar. Since I started it, I suddenly see lesbians everywhere. I don't know how to explain that. Someone even thought I was a lesbian, which has never happened before, to my knowledge.
Anyway, magical powers aside, it's the end of the book, about the modern lesbian, where Faderman's more unusual ideas come into play. Lesbians, she seems to say, are not a sexual orientation, but a socio-political category. She divorces lesbians from gay men entirely, and wonders what feminist in her right mind wouldn't seriously consider becoming a lesbian. I have to say, I admire the abandon with which Faderman rejects the defensive "we were born this way!" credo that every minority sexual orientation hangs onto. Like Faderman might, I also believe that the obsession for finding scientific "causes" for our orientations are just distractions from our acceptance. If you're not looking for a cure (yuck!), why bother with a cause?
Saying that you choose to be a lesbian because you hate the patriarchy is the biggest screw-you to hetero norms that I can imagine. I have to give that mad respect. Faderman also takes sex out of the lesbian equation (like Elsa Gidlow above), which I appreciate. But what is the implication for everyone else's orientation? Faderman would probably call me a lesbian, because I'm a feminist (and the most logical choice for feminists is to be lesbian) and I see her book's "romantic friendship" as my ideal. Never mind that my few experiences with attraction have all been with men, I'd probably be a lesbian anyway.
Maybe when you're sexual, it's easier to change the gender of your desire than to produce desire that was never there. I wouldn't know. I wish I could say, "I choose to be asexual!" but I can't, because I was definitely born this way. I've tried to manufacture attraction, and I couldn't do it. Does it make sense that asexuality is inborn (at least for me) but lesbianism is a political choice?
Cause is probably, like Shakespeare might say, a multi-faceted thing. We may not choose to be asexual, but choosing to identify as such is just as much a socio-political stance as the choice to be a lesbian. As asexuals, we're also independent spirits who want to choose our own destinies. If we weren't, we'd pretend to be straight. Faderman emphasizes all the things that lesbians gain by so identifying. Asexuals tend to focus on the negative-- but we have just as much reason to hold our heads high as we surpass the love of...well, everyone.