My first step into radical feminism was finding Witchwind’s blog, Radicalwind. To this day, I regard her blog as one of the most important radical feminist blogs a woman could read. Her first post I found was one discussing Utopia and a women’s society. From her, I slowly emerged myself into the online radical feminist community. Unfortunately, I never fully read all of her work for some reason. Shortly, I stumbled upon Bev Jo.
Her online book, Dykes for Dykes, convinced me that she was a radical feminist, since, in it, she and co-authors mention their distaste towards patriarchy and men’s crimes against women and the planet. However, I would soon realize that her political views that describes heterosexuality as selling out, that ‘fems’ and ‘hets’, as she refers to them, are enemies, and that butch lesbians suffer a special kind of oppression and are ‘the most oppressed’ lesbian, are not the mark of radical feminism, which is about freeing ourselves and all other women from men’s oppression by getting to the root of that oppression, but instead was, radical lesbianism, which is about the sole visibility and focus on lesbians, and in particular, butch lesbians, and the rejection, hatred, and framing as enemies, of ‘het’ women or ‘fem’ lesbians, who, in their view, oppress lesbians and butches along with men. In this twisted way, so-called sisterhood and lesbian community is achieved, to them. Of course, this isn’t the case, but I’ll get to that.
At the time, as I said, I was convinced that Bev was a radical feminist. And since I had been isolated as a lesbian and wanted to understand more about radical feminism, I gravitated towards her, hoping she would be like a kind of mentor towards me (I would learn later to rely on my own experiences as a woman, and the experiences of other women, to help build radical feminist views and theories from). I found her on another friend’s blog, where I started a conversation with her, and was happy to meet her. She was happy too, and very friendly. She invited me to her facebook group, Radical Feminist Coffee House, a group that I believe a lot of women are familiar with.
Its seeming popularity, I believe, is due to its title, which sounds very welcoming, homey, and a source of radical feminist information and companionship. Unfortunately, and I do truly mean unfortunately, the group embodies the exact opposite characteristics. And I would find this out later.
For now, I was invited into the group, and though my memory is fuzzy about a lot of my experiences there, I simply want to make a point by drawing on key moments.
When I first arrived into the group, things quickly turned south. I was excited to finally be able to learn about radical feminism. So when I’d ask questions regarding this, I was stunned when I was snapped at. It seemed like Bev was exasperated with me. She would ask, also to other new women, “We’ve written about this before, must we go through this?”, “Don’t women read our book? Why bother writing?” things to this extent. This especially occurred when I would ask her about, ‘butch oppression’, trying to understand how these women were specifically oppressed, outside of simply being female like the rest of us, or trying to understand just what made a ‘butch’ in the first place, I received frustration from her and her friends. They treated me like an idiot who should know. It took a long post for me to understand it, and I still didn’t, not really. Worried, I would quickly stop talking and shift the conversation in order to not, apparently, come across as irritating or a burden.
Because I became dependent on Bev for a sense of community, and thought she was my only key to radical feminism, I quickly fell in line with her mindsets and tried not to rock the boat. I began copying speech patterns quickly: “Het women are such handmaidens, they need to stop reproducing.” “Fems oppress butches, especially dykes who pretend to be butches.” Saying things like this earned me facebook ‘likes’ and approval from Bev and the group. I learned to post a pic or two of photos or articles that backed up statements like these. I thought that doing this was doing radical feminism.
There were posts about how despised men were, but they were scattered between other posts that debased and despised women as well; it mostly remained that way. And made me think we were fighting patriarchy, instead of going in a self-destructive circle.
I quickly noticed the dynamics of the group. If a woman were to say something out of line with Bev’s mindset, or voice a different opinion, she’d be ganged up on by group members, loyal close followers of Bev, or Bev herself. Standing alongside Bev and others against the ‘unloyal’ woman would earn you approval in the group and would put pressure on the cornered woman until she either dipped her tail between her legs and complied to everyone, left the group, or was kicked out for, ‘being unreasonable and not listening’. The behavior of the group was very cult-like in this way, with Bev being the ringleader everyone tried not to get in the way of.
What was worse was to be the ganged up woman yourself. I’ve in been moments like that, where I quickly struggled to voice my loyalty to Bev and show that I, “truly didn’t mean it that way”. There were situations where my words and comments would raise an eyebrow and would possibly be questioned, or passive-aggressively pointed out, to which I’d panic and become horrified and desperate to prove otherwise, especially if what I said regarded butches in any way. I became such a loyalist, that I began to think I was oppressive to butches because I was, apparently, a fem (I don’t regard myself as such; labels are damaging). So I literally cut my hair and assumed ‘dyke fem’ status, it was the least I could do to be a good feminist and ‘support’ butches… (It wasn’t the first time I cut my hair, I’d cut it ‘tiny afro short’ twice, but this time it was done out of pressure)
Being thought of as a contributor to butch/lesbian oppression or invisibility was really scary, because you really thought you were, and you weren’t aware of the flawed politics behind it: Wearing makeup/being het woman=oppressive to lesbians.
Unsurprisingly, the treatment towards other women in the group was pretty bad. Bev would sometimes tell me that she was worried because a lot of the (young) women who were asking to join the group, were wearing makeup and ‘looked fem’. (I understand if women are coming into groups unwilling to learn, but the problem is that this group doesn’t have anything to teach.) She talked to me about this as if she was worried about these women deliberately destroying the group from the inside with their sinister ways. Though they most likely were young women, like me, wanting to understand radical feminist theory.
There was undoubtedly an “us vs. them” presence in the group, and automatic assumptions about other women were made. Like, we were checking to see if they were truly allies, if her politics were reminiscent of Bev’s, or if she was ‘an impostor’.
I remember a woman posting a picture of Goddesses and discussing how she wanted to really start practicing Goddess worship. I and few other women agreed with her and I thought it was awesome. When Bev suddenly came into our comment section and expressed her irritation and bafflement at this woman wanting to practice Goddess worship. She had said that it’s full of women with disgusting skinny ‘fem’ bodies, that Goddess worship wasn’t good because they were usually seen being worshiped by skinny women or the Goddesses were depicted as skinny or feminine themselves, and that if a Goddess did exist She isn’t helping women. She said she’d rather be spiritually in tune with nature or worship nature and say hi to critters.
This was around the first time I felt irritation and offended towards Bev and I can tell other women did too. She just completed halted the flow of our excitement to worship a Goddess, a female figure for once, instead being groomed since childhood to fear a male one, and called women who were skinny, disgusting. I agreed with her that becoming in tune with nature and worshiping/loving nature was wonderful as well, but so was worshiping/loving a Female deity figure or even yourself as a Female. It baffled me that Bev didn’t realize how empowering and healing that could be for other women. It also baffled me that she conflated the capitalist/religious instantaneous-miracle-male-gods with a Goddess and Goddess worship. Such a healing practice women can embark on that so much more meaningful than Bev described it as, and it was stepped upon. And since Bev’s word was law, other women stopped talking and slithered away in silence. I also was still yearning to please Bev at the same time. So I told her I could craft Goddesses who weren’t ‘fem’ but ‘butch’; I said a lot of things to appease/please her and others.
I remember scrolling down and finding an older argument with the same issues in mind. A woman had invited her friend into the group and wanted to show off her friend’s Goddess/lesbian artwork. But Bev, and one of her loyal followers, absolutely blasted and disrespected her friend, a stranger they did not know, calling her artwork insulting, horrible, and disgusting because the lesbians in it were skinny or feminine-looking. The woman’s friend obviously left. Honestly, I was thinking, there’s a way to tell other people what bothers you, or tell them what you’d like to see from them, and that was not how to do it.
Women being cornered, and yelled at, or ganged up on was a regular sport in this group though. Bev’s focus was on numbers for the group, and loyalty to the cult mattered more than having a quality, peaceful group actually centered on radical feminism.
I remember Miriam-Ben Shalom leaving the group in irritation, because she and her words were deliberately misunderstood by Bev and her company. They thought Miriam was talking snidely about them when she wrote a comment that said she, “wished women would do more than talk about other women.” Bev assumed Miriam was talking about them, and Miriam was so ganged up and interrogated on that she eventually left. After she left, Bev would say, “she didn’t have to leave, we could have talked”. But how could Miriam do that, when she was already assumed a ‘traitor’ and no one listened to her, no matter how much she tried to say she didn’t mean what she said directly to Bev and others? And even if Miriam did mean it that way, she was right.
Another woman who went through this was the authoress of the blog, Trust Your Perceptions. After she posted her latest series on the dangers of sperm, the group began posting articles of the series for everyone to read. The group was pleased at first, until everyone got to section where Trust politely informed lesbians and separatists that, based on her scientific conclusions regarding evolution and Women taking control over the genome from males, by being separatists or lesbians and not reproducing our own line to combat men’s, we simply weren’t helping to cancel men out and take control of the genome and destroy men at their biological warfare against women.
Even though this was true, and she never personally insulted lesbians and seperatists, only stated a biological fact, she pissed Bev and everyone else off, and unfortunately, I followed suit. I was caught in the middle of pleasing the group vs aligning myself with Trust’s work. I attempted to maintain the peace between both Bev and Trust so that I wouldn’t have to choose between them. I slipped into chat mode to speak to Trust alone, but still tried forcing her to see it Bev’s way and I obviously insulted her and misunderstood her intentions (that was a thing in Bev’s group if you didn’t catch that by now).
Trust rightfully became very upset and she not only left Bev’s group, but she left facebook all together. Now, when I look back on it, I completely regret putting Trust through such hell. Here I was, talking to this amazing woman, and I only ostracized and insulted her and caused her to leave. How much pain were we putting Trust in? And Miriam? Myself? And all the other women who dealt with this on a regular basis?
Eventually, I began to see just how wrong this group was. With its abusive behavior towards other women, it’s cult-like mentality and behaviors, it’s political flaws, the way screenshots were taken as a ‘gotcha’ to trap other women, the spying, the going behind other women’s back, the chatting about other women or Bev in secret, the stopping of women’s feminist flow and creativity, projects, ideas. And how much I was getting so invested in the chaos and becoming a much worse person because of it. I said of lot of ignorant things to other women inside and outside the group that I regret very much.
I started coming to these realizations, around the time I was introduced to a lesbian webshow made by Maori lesbians that thoroughly irritated me due to its lack of feminist consciousness, something most lesbian media really lacks today. So I gave it some criticism and honest opinions, and in response to my comment, Bev demonstrated that she poorly read or deliberately misread my comment, and mischaractized me and my intent and silenced me, using the excuse that, “at least there was a ‘butch’ character in the show” and “the show was made by Maori lesbians” so I should shut up. Much of what Bev only cares for is visibility, especially butch visibility. If there’s that, offensive shows like Orange Is The New Black fall off the feminist radar for her.
She also tried to tell me that, since I hadn’t apart of the ‘lesbian community’ (her faulty version of lesbian community) for long, my opinions were invalid and held no weight. This was really offensive and simply untrue. I’d never felt so invalidated before. I and another young lesbian who was present, were drawing correct conclusions that any lesbian feminist would approve of. Did I have to wait 20 years to suddenly be correct? Apparently, being apart of the ‘lesbian community’ didn’t do much for the development of one’s feminist politics, because I was ‘new’ and still understood how anti-feminist this particular show was, while Bev largely ignored it and used the silencing tactics of racist accusation and ‘not being sensitive’ to the characters to stop me from speaking. She spoke to me like she was wary of me, like suddenly I couldn’t be trusted. And now, I was starting to really see how other women felt.
After Bev had insulted my intentions, and just plain out insulted me like that, I truly began to grow resentment and anger. At first, I drew back and believed I really was wrong, and tried apologizing to her, to which Bev would kindly accept me back into the fold. She never apologized for her words towards me, however, and defended her right not to, by reminding me that I was the bad guy here. This was when I stopped, thought, and realized how pissed Bev was making me. After all that time I had spent in the group, I was being treated like a traitor and being disrespected? I wasn’t to receive an apology, at all? And I was supposed to just feel like shit?
I tried to confide in a friend in group at the time, but she acted as an apologist for Bev when I told her about how irritated I was about her recent accusations and insults towards me. She tried to tell me, “that’s how Bev is” and tried to make me feel sorry for her and excuse her by saying Bev has to deal with trolls and she’s elderly, etc. etc. This friend explained to me that her first time arriving in the group, she was yelled at too, and just had to be gracious and deal with it. Well this made me even more angry. Bev’s abuse was being denied, and now I knew that my friend had endured this crap too when she first came to the group, just like I did. The fact that this group was cult-like was made clear with my friend’s statement alone. But at the moment, I didn’t realize that yet. All I was, was furious.
I was more upset, frazzled, and angry than I had been in a long time. I stayed off the group and made no activity there for at least two weeks. Bev tried sending me messages saying she was concerned about me and where I was. And this pissed me off too. She knew why I was upset, but she was treating me like the irrational one who left for no reason. Eventually, when I managed to cool off a little, I returned, though I was still angry. Simply coming back onto the group and into that space actually triggered me a little.
By this time, and from spending time away from the group to collect myself, I was thoroughly cleansed of the group’s groupthink. I knew I was in a hive mind, but I decided I wouldn’t be bullied and I wouldn’t care whether my opinions were approved of or not. I would say what I felt like saying. And if others lacked basic reading comprehension or insulted my intentions and mischaractized me, that was on them. Bev noticed my character shift too. Because when I got back, she acted very friendly around me and gave me many likes on my comments where I put my own foot forward.
When a group member posted an article about a woman winning a beauty pageant and openly saying she was lesbian, the group blasted this woman, saying things like “the only reason she’s in the pageant is because she’s fem” “a beauty pageant? Traitor” or that “she’d better acknowledge her fem privilege” or other insults towards her. I came to this woman’s defense, saying that I myself, a lesbian, had also participated in a youth beauty pageant for a brief moment, along with another lesbian peer I’d known from high school, who wore a suit (that looked wonderful on her). This made the other members go silent and I got a reluctant ‘like’ from Bev and them.
When a woman I believe called, Crash ChaosCats, a detransitioning lesbian, posted on her blog a piece talking about being ‘butch’ and a lesbian and being confident in herself, I thought it was beautiful and honest and I posted it for everyone else to see. But Bev and others expressed their dislike of the article due to Crash apparently attempting to usurp/erase butches, because she wasn’t a ‘butch’. Even when they attempted to say that they didn’t hate the article as a whole and that they liked some things that she said, overall, the article, to them, was offensive, because the woman called herself ‘butch’. I tried to comment about why this was wrong to me, saying she was a detransitioning lesbian and could use the support, petty ‘butchness’ aside. But Bev and the women on that post stated that women and lesbians who transitioned in the first place were traitors and didn’t deserve their help.
Fed up with this, I wrote a comment back to Bev stating why I thought she was wrong. And that was the end for me. The usual started happening: I was ganged up on, my intentions were deliberately misunderstood, I was told I was, ‘taking their side’, I was insisted to that transitioning or detransitioning lesbians were traitors. When I said we should extend support to these women who obviously are undergoing issues stemmed from male/patriarchal abuse, one my friends at the time dismissed me, saying that “I could open a nursery for these women and waste my energy on them but THEY weren’t going to”. I was even given an excuse: that these women were not to be helped because one transitioned woman had apparently trashed in the group at some point, even when they tried to teach radical feminism to her. At that point, I wanted to laugh, because this group isn’t even radical feminist-centered in the first place. So they were probably subjecting that woman to their twisted politics, misogyny, and cult tactics, the same treatment all women received in the group, and this caused that transitioned woman to get fed up and leave. Which I was doing now.
The argument descended and descended, and I legitimately became infuriated towards Bev. All of the repressed irritation and anger I was harboring for her came out, all at once, as I pretty much Cap-locked almost everything I was saying. It no longer was about Crash and other detransitioning lesbians, it became a personal argument. With Bev calling me a bully, and me insisting right back towards her that she was the bully. Eventually, I left the group. And so ended my time in Bev’s group.
Though she can be misogynistic and I don’t agree with her politics or the way she harms other women with them, Bev and the group did have moments of kindness towards me. When I told them about a children’s book I was publishing, I was given support. I’ve met Bev twice in public, once to go to a Queer Women’s Film Festival and twice to go to a small Lesbian Picnic (which was nice but I felt insecure with all the radical lesbian politics buzzing in my head; I wasn’t being myself). But none of these moments were done within the toxic atmosphere I was in; and I sought for approval and a sense of community, constantly. So despite these things, they don’t add to much, to be honest. Her behavior towards me online has been harmful to me and my personal health overall. I know Bev and others will think this is trashing, even when it’s not. But I don’t care about that. I needed to explain my experience with her to show how and why I find her space toxic, so that other women can be informed. I need to be honest for the sake of my, and other women’s, health. And I hope other women will be too.
After I left Bev’s group I became very disheartened, and disillusioned with radical feminism, or what I thought it was. Now that I was out of the group, I was free but felt horrible at the same time. I thought I was without a group; I felt friendless, hurt, stunned, and lost. I also had a little PTSD from the toxic experience of this online group.
I thought I had lost radical feminism, and I still wanted it in my life. But now, I didn’t know where to look. I certainly wanted to belong, but felt more estranged than ever. Worse, Bev’s false radical lesbian concepts about ‘butch visibility’ and butch superiority was still in my mind. I was also noticing just how much patriarchal sexuality/BDSM was invaded into lesbianism and feminism at the same time. I felt alone in my views and feelings.
This whole time, it’s sadly been lesbians giving me such a hard time and saying the most non-feminist, misogynistic things to other women and to each other. And some women are afraid to call them out because I think we think that, because they’re lesbians, automatically what they have to say is valid, or we think they’re genuinely the feminists they claim to be.
Interestingly, in, The Lesbian Heresy, Sheila was not afraid to talk about this:
“I heard some lesbian feminist theorists and activists, for whom I had much respect, talking about how some lesbian conduct had become so anti-woman that they no longer put lesbians first, but their commitment to the class of women. They now sought to work with those of common values whether heterosexual or lesbian, and in some cases men, rather than for lesbians.” -151 The Lesbian Heresy.
The scenario described here sounds very familiar to what I’m feeling currently. And this took place in the 70s-80s. Things haven’t changed much at all in terms of the total lack of feminism in lesbianism. Sheila’s disliked by a lot of other lesbians, but she’s correct. When I think about it, I realize that older lesbians I’ve encountered were lesbians that lived during that time, and they’re still behaving in toxic, misogynistic manners and acting without feminism today.
There’s no true, wonderful womanloving lesbian feminism present in these online spaces that claim to be lesbian feminist. These spaces would be safe and happy and free to flow for women and lesbians, but they aren’t. And I think most women who’ve been immersed in this negative online radical lesbian community can agreed with me.
Including Alicen Gray. Who wrote a blog post titled, “Peak RadFem”. She was absolutely correct in everything she wrote. However, I think she got the name wrong. What I believe she really reached her peak with, including my own peak, was “radical lesbianism”, an anti-feminist misogynist ideology which continues to corrupt, and masquerade as, radical feminism within groups or individual women, and confuse women who are new to radical feminism. Radical Lesbianism, I believe, is truly the cult Alicen is discussing, and she completely captured the anxiety of remaining in a so-called radical feminist facebook group and becoming fed up and leaving/or being kicked out. Shout out to her for having the guts to write that post; she was severely attacked for it as far as I know.
After a few months, it seemed like I had magically come full circle, and rediscovered Witchwind’s blog once more. It was a terribly needed breath of fresh air and relief for me. From there, I began to heal myself. I was re-immersed in real radical feminist theory and the discussions held by actual radical feminists, and enjoyed reading the previous discussions that the women had on several of her posts. Then I came across a post from Witch that helped me tremendously. It was called, “Radical Feminist, you say?”, and another post where she discussed how radical lesbianism and radical lesbians were often mistaken for radical feminism and radical feminists.
Why hadn’t I read these posts months ago? They explained everything that I had to learn the hard way to figure out. I had to learn the hard way that radical lesbianism consists of damaging anti-feminist views, and that, ironically, contrary to what Bev and some other lesbians will tell you, it’s mostly misogynistic lesbians who are making the situation of a crumbling lesbian community worse, not the so-called ‘traitors and sellouts’. The traitor and sellout thing is a reversal. It’s they who are unknowingly helping to destroy their own community, which was founded upon lesbian feminism, womanloving ethics, and true radical feminist principles. If you don’t have that, you don’t have a lesbian/women-only community (why would any lesbian or woman commune around another hateful or misogynist women and subject herself to their abuse? She wouldn’t, or at least, she shouldn’t). They are driving other lesbians and women away, they are stopping feminist flow and consciousness-rising. They are harming the radical lesbian feminist movement, halting women’s liberation, chastising female victims of patriarchy, abusing other women and lesbians, and themselves.
Hopefully, if you are new to radical feminism, like I am, maybe you can use my experience as a tool to help you not to fall into the trap of radical lesbianism politics disguised as radical feminism. Or help you avoid dealing with certain women/lesbians. Or give you some validation of your own experience with these groups.
I want to keep my blog a safe space for women to discuss things like this or find some companionship.
I wish you the best! Thank you for reading ❤