Lesbian Visibility Day 2019 Roundtable: Celebrating Our History and Our Future

Today is Lesbian Visibility Day! Last year on this day, we published a roundtable asking our writers who identify as lesbians to talk about why they chose that label and how it affects the way they move through the world. This year, we asked: What are you most proud of about the lesbian community/our history? If you also identify as a lesbian, we’d love for you to share your answer in the comments!

Riese , Editorial & Strategy

I think historically, even before we had any hope for lesbian representation or to have out lesbians to look up to — let alone vote for or work for or see on the teevee —it was lesbians who often pushed forward the idea that it was cool and sexy as hell to be powerful and bossy and outspoken and empathetic. We have been at the front lines of so many civil rights and political and social change movements. We have been abolitionists, environmentalists, Warrior Princesses.

I’m proud of the women who were openly lesbian even when it meant losing everything and the women who wore “men’s clothing” when it was literally illegal to do so. These days, I’m proud of the other lesbians who participated in the “Not In My Name” statement we released last year. If you’re an ally to les/bi/queer trans women, TERFs are very eager to declare that your publication cannot possibly have any lesbians controlling or writing for it. This has always been bizarre to me — we are 100% lesbian owned, 4/6 of our Senior Staff are lesbians, and as this roundtable displays, we are chock full of lesbians. And yet! All of us believe trans people belong here too.

It felt really good to stand up with a bunch of other lesbians in media and be like, fuck y’all, trans women are women, the end. We haven’t changed, we’ve evolved.

Heather Hogan, Senior Writer + Editor

I’ve been thinking so much lately about lesbians whose lesbianism was very nearly erased from history by the men around them. Anne Lister set me off on it when I started reading her diaries again to prep for the HBO series. Then I went down an Emily Dickinson rabbit hole. I mean, Emily’s brother’s mistress literally erased Emily’s lover’s name from so many of her poems and even when it was restored in recent years due to forensics and the tenacity of one lesbian scholar, critics still try to explain it away as gal pals. (So many straight women out here writing poems about burrowing into their friends’ breasts.) Even Sappho! Sappho! Her legacy endured a century of straightwashing! I’m so proud to belong to an ancient community that people have tried to make invisible since its inception, but we’re still here and louder and prouder than ever. And personally, I’m proud to wear a label that the religion of my childhood and early adulthood demonized; I wear it like a badge of freedom.

Drew Burnett Gregory, Senior Editor

I don’t know the lyrics to any songs. Anyone who knows me will confirm this. I happily sing-a-long incorrectly and after I’m corrected revert back to my made up lyrics almost immediately. But before I came out as a woman and a lesbian I already knew all of the words to “Ring of Keys” and “Changing My Major” and pretty much the entire Fun Home soundtrack. Did it raise a few eyebrows that a cis straight guy loved Fun Home so much? Or was well-versed in Cheryl Dunye’s filmography? Or didn’t care much about his Judaism except as an excuse to discuss pre-Holocaust Berlin? Sure, a bit. But it was just art. It was just history. It was just stories. And those stories were there for me until I could start telling my own. So I guess what I’m most proud of about the lesbian community is how much we care about our history, our personal histories and our ancestral histories, and how eager we are to share it with others. It’s such a generous gift to all those in the closet who will someday do the same.

Vanessa Friedman, Community Editor

When I think about lesbian history and lesbian community, I feel really proud of the way we have always told our own stories. The very first article I ever wrote for Autostraddle was about the Lesbian Herstory Archives, and the headline proves my point: “The Lesbian Herstory Archives: A Constant Affirmation That You Exist.” A few months ago I wrote about the Archives again; this time the headline read: “The Lesbian Herstory Archives Guard Our Past, Give Us Hope For Our Future.” And that’s kind of exactly what I am so proud of when it comes to our community. Lesbians have always been motivated to tell our own narratives because we couldn’t trust that anyone else would get it right. We self-published zines, magazines, books, newsletters, directories. We took photographs of the direct actions we performed, of our lovers in bed in the early morning light, of late nights at leather bars, of concerts and camping trips and every day living. We sent journals and love letters and button collections and leather jackets and bits and pieces that, when put together, made us whole, to the Lesbian Herstory Archives so future generations could hold our herstory in our hands and understand where we came from, and what that means for who we are today. We’ve told our story on Autostraddle for ten years, and we’ll keep telling our stories for forever. We know it’s important, and we know that only we can do it right.

Erin , Writer

Identifying as a lesbian is experiencing a bit of a renaissance, no? It’s very chic and sexy and unique to identify as one at the moment, on Instagram and other various social media platforms. But I’ve been one in practice for long enough to know this hasn’t always been the case (at least in my experience) both within our community and outside it. When I came out in 2004, it was not cool to be or call yourself a lesbian. Around 2010, it was cool to be a lesbian but it was not cool to call yourself one for reasons that if we’re being honest were unclear to me but have also since been abandoned. Around 2016, it seemed everyone was experiencing a burnout about what was or wasn’t offensive to identify yourself as and so everyone just existed in this catch-all existence that radicalized a bunch of terrible people who missed the point entirely. And now three years later it is semantically and conceptually cool. Good for us! I guess where I’m going with this is it’s an identity with a complicated history, but holding it at its foundation as we figure it out are some of the most resilient people you could have on your side. I feel proud to be associated with them!

Molly Priddy, Writer

I’m proud of being lesbian because that wasn’t always an easy identity to have! I came out just before college, so around 2003/4, and it was a scary thing to do; I’d been raised thinking lesbian was almost a bad word, and the world treated the word like a punchline, something to be mocked. That wasn’t a cool feeling, but I was what I was: a lady who liked ladies. It’s been interesting to watch the explosion of gender and identity in these recent years, and I’ve enjoyed watching the word lesbian make a comeback. But it’s also still a rare bird, as there are so many options of what and who we can be. I’m still a lesbian, have been for my entire life, and I’m proud that I’ve always been able to find community and support within that identity, no matter what the outside world thought of us.

Ari , Writer

I came out as a lesbian in 2004 on MySpace, came out as a bisexual in 2007 to my mom, came out as trans in 2016 (?), and then decided I’m a lesbian again sometime since then. Being a lesbian is a huge part of my identity. When people talk about me, I want them to know that my affinity is towards WOMEN first and foremost. Do I only sleep with/feel romantic towards women? No. But do I think women aren’t centered enough and want to do my nonbinary part to center them? YES. That’s what I’m most proud of about the lesbian community, that in this stupid world which loves to shit on women, especially trans women, we’re like HEY FUCK YOU WOMEN ARE PERFECT AND BEAUTIFUL AND WE LOVE THEM A LOT. Society does not respect women, but that’s the whole thing about lesbianism. Women are literally the whole thing. Loving women, thinking women are hot, supporting women, fucking women, building communes with women. Women are my foundation and they are the foundation of lesbianism and lesbians and I just think that’s great.

Valerie Anne, Writer

It should come as no surprise to you that my answer will be representation on TV. We’ve come so far since The Puppy Episode, and while of course we have so far to go, every time a character calls themselves a lesbian on TV I get a surge of pride. From the off-hand remarks like, “Now might be a good time to tell you I’m a lesbian,” mid-fight in Wynonna Earp, to the broader implications of Anissa being the first black lesbian superhero on TV, we’re a long way from the days where queer TV coverage was made up of mostly subtext ships one single-episode arcs. We also have more out lesbians behind the scenes, whether it’s actors or writers or creators, and it makes me feel powerful to know that people like me are helping shape the stories the world sees.

Carrie Wade, Writer

I still remember the revelatory moment when I realized that being a lesbian means I will well and truly never need a man for anything. I can invite them into my life and enjoy their presence there (and I do), but they will never be the point and I will never owe them that. What a relief. I feel very similarly to Al here, I think, and they say it better than I can. I am so proud that lesbianism means making women — women’s ambitions and victories and feelings and communities and ideas — a priority in my life. That’s the life I’ve always wanted to lead, as it turns out, and it’s because of my own circle of badass women that I know I’m getting closer to that goal all the time.

Historically speaking, I’ve also always appreciated how lesbians stepped up and fought back during the AIDS crisis.

Hello being a lesbian has been one of the greatest gifts God has bestowed upon me, amen. There are many reasons being a lesbian is the best but among them is just finding out things about myself that I knew couldn’t be true. Before, you couldn’t pay me to care about love stories. I was the very annoying person who couldn’t pretend to be #TeamEdward or #TeamJacob because the entire time I was like love is a lie who cares, though actually maybe Twilight isn’t the best example, let me try this. I was one of those people who was like I guess it’s cool for Troy and Gabriella to get together if that’s a thing we’re gonna believe here, but I don’t see how that’s true love. When I came out? OF COURSE IT MAKES SENSE SANTANA AND BRITTANY ARE IN LOVE I WILL FIGHT YOU TOOTH AND NAIL FOR THIS LOVE. After coming out as a lesbian, I realized I’m a ridiculously sappy and hopeless romantic forever longing for everyone to have epic love stories and it’s made life a shit ton more fulfilling. I’m not going through life like I guess we gotta put up with each other and call that happiness, I’m going through liek YOU GET LOVE and YOU GET LOVE and YOU GET LOVE WE ALL DESERVE IT. Being lesbian teaches me that you’ll only learn about the parts of yourself you suffocate once you feel safe enough to let at least one of them come up for air.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Managing Editor

Like a lot of folks here, it was not always easy for me to identify as a lesbian. Something finally clicked shortly after college for me, and I finally embraced the identity I so often celebrated in others (I was reading lesbian theory during a lot of the years that I identified as “straight” lmao) for myself. Lesbianism goes way beyond who I date and love. It’s a centering of women in all aspects of my life. I’ve had incredible lesbians as mentors for my entire life, and the resilience and passion within this community is constantly astounding me. Finally identifying as a lesbian radically altered my life even just on a very personal level—it was suddenly easier for me to cry, be physically close with people, and open myself up.

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  1. Alexis, Thank You! your story made me realize this is true for me tooo and I just had like blurred out that change in my memory and thank you for restoring a part of myself.

  2. I loved last year’s roundtable and I loved this year’s roundtable. Thank you for sharing all of your beautiful stories. I am weeping into my morning coffee.

  3. I loved this, and shouts out to reading a lot of lesbian theory while “straight”. 💜 Thanks Kayla for making me feel so seen!!

  4. I always love these, and ever appreciate that as my gender identity has evolved Autostraddle as a platform has always been inclusive and smart about trans folks. Y’all are so good.

  5. I have been reading a lot about lesbians of history this past year or so, and I would say that I am most proud that so many of them were weirdos who got shit done.

    This provides inspiration for me, a weirdo, to get shit done.

  6. I love how much potency of feeling & experience y’all were able to pack into single paragraphs. Thanks for this roundtable.

  7. I was going to mention lesbians stepping up during the AIDS crisis but then Carrie did it for me! Yes!

    Carrie, I also really related to this: “I will well and truly never need a man for anything. I can invite them into my life and enjoy their presence there (and I do), but they will never be the point and I will never owe them that.”

    Alexis, I never explicitly put this together, but hard same on feeling like I was never really a “romantic” or even a shipper, to the point that I wondered if I was aromantic (although not in those terms; I didn’t know of that precise concept at the time). Turns out, nope, I’m just real gay.

  8. AL YOUR WHOLE SECTION. I’ve reread it a dozen times. It sums up so many of my thoughts on lesbianism and identity and who we choose to center in our lives and loves and you do it so beautifully and powerfully and wonderfully and just plain fully. Thank you.

  9. Also, my (bi) gf just told me “Don’t do any robberies; they can see you today” and I felt this was a useful warning to share here.

  10. “Hello being a lesbian has been one of the greatest gifts God has bestowed upon me, amen” Thank you Alexis, AMEN is right!!

  11. ok so uh i have an important question which is:
    as a trans lesbian, am i fully visible two days of the year, or half-visible on both? am i translucent today?? (pun not originally intended but we’re gonna roll with it)

  12. “Being lesbian teaches me that you’ll only learn about the parts of yourself you suffocate once you feel safe enough to let at least one of them come up for air.”

    Alexis, I FELT THESE WORDS. <3

  13. There is soooo much to be proud of! So many women worked so hard to make us possible. Without the amount of work these women did, and courage they mustered, and the fortitude they showed by sitting through endless processing meetings, know I would be a confused, bitter, and depressed housewife today.

    Caveat- these are the women who popped first into my head. I know I am missing/forgetting many, many more.

    I truly appreciate the women who lived their truth and worked their asses of to create a lesbian community from a complete vacuum, especially the women who weren’t rich enough to afford a fuck-you-all attitude (e.g. Gertrude Stein, Natalie Barney, and Joe Carstairs). Big thanks to Barbara Gittings (librarian pride!) and Del Martin and all of the other Daughters of Bilitis, Audre Lorde, Joan Nestle, Barbara Grier, Mab Segrest, Mandy Carter, Urvashi Vaid, Ann Northrop Leslie Feinberg, and Minnie Bruce Pratt, just to name a few. I appreciate the work of Susie Bright, Dorothy Allison, JoAnn Loulan, and Pat Califia for helping us live our sexual truths no matter the pushback.

    I don’t know how long it would have taken me to come out if I hadn’t been given Rita Mae Brown’s “Rubyfruit Jungle” by a woman who realized who I was before I did. Because of that book and her Lesbian Menacing, I don’t say anything about her Sneaky Pie books.

    Attending the 1987 March on Washington and seeing so many out women made me realize I was part of a bigger thing. Thank you to those organizers.

    Books, magazines, theater, music, film…So much to be proud of.

    I was formed by:

    Reading publications such as On our backs and Off our Backs and Outweek and Lesbian Connection and Curve and Deneuve.

    Going to concerts by the Indigo Girls, Two Nice Girls, Ani DiFranco, Girls in the Nose.

    Laughing at the comedy of Kate Clinton, Suzanne Westenhoefer, Karen Williams, Lisa Koch, and Marga Gomez shows.
    What else? Ann Bannon and Desert Hearts and Ellen’s Puppy Episode and Madonna’s Sex book…
    Even though at the time I balked against the earnestness of the “scene”, I am proud of and eternally grateful to all of the lesbians in Durham, NC in the late 1980s and early 1990s who created lesbian community through: The Newsletter mailed out to let us know what the heck was going on; the Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists; the women who put on all of the women’s dances at the Universalist Church spaces; the women’s concerts produced by Real Women Productions (even though I really didn’t love the white-girls-with-acoustic guitars sound)); the lesbian-owned businesses where almost every local lesbian worked at one time (Francesca’s Dessert Café, Travis Place (mail order underwear),and Ladyslipper Music label/distributor (I worked at Ladyslipper, FWIW.)); the women who organized Durham’s Pride Marches; and those who worked to buy the house for the early 90s lesbian only space “Our Own Place.”

    Although I am too much of a candy-ass for direct action, I am so proud of the Lesbian Avengers and the Garden Variety Lesbians (Garden Variety Lesbians was an action taken by the Lesbian Avengers in response to lesbian bashing by NC senator Jesse Helms. In 1993, when then-president Bill Clinton wanted to appoint ‘out’ lesbian Roberta Achtenberg as assistant secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Helms held up the confirmation, stating, “I’m not going to put a lesbian in a position like that. If you want to call me a bigot, fine,” and adding, “She’s not your garden-variety lesbian. She’s a militant, activist, mean lesbian.” In response, Anna Clark, Katherine O’Brien, Barb Smalley, Catherine Nicholson, and perhaps others went to Helms’ office in protest.- http://www.durhamlgbtqhistory.org/)
    I am also proud of the work of (and my small contributions to) The North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (renamed OutSouth Queer Film Festival in 2020) and lesbian theater (acting in the Lesbian Thespian Productions and Dale Wolf’s piece, In the Outfield, which is about growing up as a butch lesbian, and performing a monologue as a woman leaving an abusive lesbian relationship which Dorothy Allison saw (and told me that she thought I was cute as she liked herself a soft butch! Peak life experience that one.))
    As for the lesbian world today, I am proud that we keep evolving. Although arguing amongst ourselves is always-and-probably-will-forever-be a lesbian/queer thing, I am proud that we keep redefining ourselves, keep each other honest, and that our umbrella canopy has gotten bigger. Oh, and thanks for the body positivity ethos.

    • ❤ for all the NC! I was in Durham 1989-1991 right before I came out and in Carrboro 2002-2004 long after I came out. I have fond memories of Francesca’s, Travis Place, & Ladyslipper.

      • Also I was first exposed to Dykes to Watch Out For thanks to the magazine & newspaper section of Regulator

      • Hey, Meghan! We might have passed each other on 9th St! How did you get to Minneapolis? I have a deep fascination with that city, but have never been there. It seems from my Instagram exposure, that EVERY SINGLE PERSON THERE IS QUEER.

        • We might have passed each other at some point!

          I got a job here in 2004 and have been here ever since. I never thought I’d stay more than a few years. And here I still am.

          Almost all my family is in NC so it still has quite a pull on me.

  14. Thank you, Al(aina,) for helping a non-binary person (me) who does date some non-women feel like it’s okay to identify as a lesbian. I came out as a lesbian in 2007 and then queer later and then non-binary and lately swinging back around to lesbian because I just love women so much and want to celebrate and center them all day every day.

  15. Oh wow Carrie same same same same same. Realizing that I had no need for cis men at all in my life for anything, that I didn’t *have* to depend on them or honor them or center them in any way was the most freeing moment of my entire existence. The amount of conversations I have with straight women where I say some version of “yeah but I don’t care about men’s opinions/feelings/priorities like AT ALL” and they look at me like I just told them we can really fly if we try hard enough is pretty amazing.

    Also not feeling obligated to wear heels literally ever again has been the other best part of being a lesbian.

    • “yeah but I don’t care about men’s opinions/feelings/priorities like AT ALL”

      This is a WORD. Thank You!

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