Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Let’s be honest, we’re not going to be guaranteed equal rights under the law, until we convince heterosexual people to stand beside us. While elected officials may be the key to getting our rights, more and more it becomes clear that politicians will not act without the majority of people behind them.

Some polls demonstrate that the majority of people support some forms of equal rights for gay and lesbian people, but this support crumbles under pressure. We need to stop that. We need straight people to support gay rights, unequivocally and without reserve.

In order for that to happen, the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community needs to educate, cajole, and, eventually, demand that heterosexual people support our quest for equality.

To achieve that objective, we need to refocus our social change work to speak to and persuade not only our own GLBT community but also heterosexual people. We need heterosexual people, not all of them, but a large minority, to embrace queer rights. How will we do this?

One way to begin is by telling our stories and engaging heterosexual people in our lives. Engagement is more than simply telling people that we are gay. As a community we need to move the focus away from the hyper-energized “coming out” moment.

For many of us now and for most of us in the future, being gay or lesbian is not something that we are going to hide—a fact which in itself diminishes the significance of coming out. As a result for our heterosexual counterparts, instead of reacting to this hyper-energized coming out moment, they will need to respond to openly gay and lesbian people in a wide variety of circumstances—at home, at work, and in the communities. These interactions in which gay and lesbian people do not hide their sexual orientation and in which there is no heightened moment of disclosure, heterosexual people and gay and lesbian people will be much more human and authentic than in previously constituted “coming out” moments.

Coming out is no longer enough. We must move beyond coming out to helping heterosexual people to know not only that we are gay, but what it means to be gay as well as lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. We need heterosexual people understand what our lives our like. We need them to understand that we must have the support of the institutions of our society in order to have full equality.

Fortunately, this isn’t difficult. We live and interact with heterosexual people every day.

Our greatest ally for this in the past has been popular entertainment. Intentionally or unwittingly, the presence of gay and lesbian people and our stories on television and in the movies has created a more intimate understanding of gay and lesbian people by our heterosexual counterparts. 

In spite of this success in the entertainment media, we need more visibility of gay and lesbian people in ordinary and mundane situations. People need the lived experience of knowing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in addition to the celluloid experience of watching GLBT people on the large and small screens.

Collectively, we can create a circumstance where heterosexual people cannot “change the channel” or boycott or ignore the everyday realities of gay and lesbian people in their, or rather our, communities and neighborhoods. We do that by being open, by not focusing on particular “coming out moments,” and by living our lives honestly, openly, and authentically.

When we do that, heterosexual people will know us and, eventually, will support us. When we share more of our lives and our issues on a daily basis in comfortable, ordinary, and everyday ways, we will win meaningful and long-term support from heterosexual people.

In addition to our individual actions, we need our organizations to speak to everyone – not just the GLBT communities. The combined action of organized campaigns and individual action is how we will change the people’s hearts and minds. Ultimately, this works well to embolden lawmakers to take the actions we require.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and activist living in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #5 dated June 26, 2007 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION.

Word Count: 669

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

LESBIAN SEX CULTURES: Part Two – The Right to a Pleasurable and Fulfilling Sexuality

The second value of lesbian sex culture is that everyone has a right to experience a pleasurable and fulfilling sexuality. Everyone. No exceptions.

This value has operated on two important axes in American culture in the past thirty-five to forty years. First, the right to a pleasurable and fulfilling sexuality has led lesbians to work tireless to end rape and domestic violence because of how they fundamentally violate that principle. Ask anyone who has worked in the movement to end violence against women if they knew lesbians. They did, and they can tell you about their work. Lesbians’ work, like the work of their heterosexual counterparts, was both to empower women to live a life without violence, but also to live a life that is satisfying and fulfilling. Ultimately, it is not just the absence of violence that movement to end violence against women is seeking – it is the presence of a full and fulfilling life, and that includes the healthy expression of human sexuality. The movement to end violence against women is another contribution of lesbian sex culture.

The other area where lesbians’ work has been central, and where that work is based on the belief in the right to a pleasurable and fulfilling sexuality, is AIDS prevention and education. From the beginning of the AIDS pandemic, lesbians have worked to educate about HIV transmission and ways to prevent it. This work has been done, by and large, from an impulse that was and continues to be sex positive and life affirming. The work both to end violence against women and to address AIDS is another public manifestation of lesbian sex culture. It is work that we do because of our own experiences with our sexualities and because of our desire to express those experiences in public ways. We make our sexuality visible and in doing so contribute to the lives of others—lives that include a pleasurable and fulfilling sexuality.

I don’t want to suggest that lesbians, monolithically, have a sex culture that is only positive. That isn’t true. Even in the examples I have given there are times when individual lesbians and lesbians as a community have been at odds with one another in ways that are not positive and affirmative. There are times when lesbians have been at odds with one another in ways that are painful but productive.

There are many examples of times when individual lesbians and factions of the community as a whole have been prudish and sex negative. Struggle—inside and outside of the lesbian community—is something with which we are very familiar. It may be this struggle that cause some to believe that lesbians’ sex cultures are less developed than gay men’s sex cultures or than heterosexual sex cultures. Such a perception, however, is false. Even in the times when lesbians desire to repress or suppress sexuality, there has been a public sex culture in the lesbian community that is highly developed and that seeks to strengthen and affirm a broader sense of sexuality than that expressed between and among lesbians in the community alone. Lesbian sex culture always seeks to make broad cultural, social, and political connections and contributions in the world.

Lesbian sex culture is both analytical and experiential. Lesbian sex culture is verbal and physical; it is emotional and spiritual; it is pragmatic and fanciful. Lesbian sex culture is a sex culture that engages the mind and the body, the heart and the soul. Lesbian sex culture is here for good times and bad; it is a sex culture that is expressed within the community and that reaches out beyond the community. Lesbian sex culture expresses the hope and the vision that sexuality is something that we can all experience to bring more joy and meaning to our lives.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet who lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #4 dated June 12, 2007 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION.

Word Count: 632