Sharing experiences to build bridges: An open letter to LGBTQIA+ people on inter-community tension

There are 12 pride flags as follows. LGBTQ flag with people of color stripes, lesbian, gay, trans, agender, asexual, pansexual, bisexual, genderfluid, nonbinary, intersex, and genderqueer.

LGBTQIA+ people face a large number of issues both inside and outside of our community. Let’s work on unifying ourselves and facing challenges together by understanding each other’s unique experiences across our diverse subcommunities. It starts with listening and sharing, and I invite you all to be a part of this discussion.

Laying the groundwork

I want this to be the beginning of a discussion that skates along the lines of queer discourse and sinks roots in our lived experiences, with both the similarities and the differences. Over the past few months, I’ve been acutely aware of queer discourse and how this affects lesbians in particular (because I am—you guessed it—a lesbian).

I’ll start by defining the purpose of this post and why I’m putting out into the world. There is an undeniable tension between subcommunities (by which I mean gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, etc. as separate “subcommunities” within the greater LGBTQIA+ community.) This tension is especially fostered in online spaces (Twitter, Tumblr, etc.), which is a space that I–and many other queer folk–occupy and use as an outlet for discourse discussions. These discussions can often turn hostile in digital spaces because of two main causes:

  1. Many of us turn defensive before we finish letting the other person talk. 
  2. “Woke” culture “cancels” complicated/conflicting viewpoints on queer discourse, which results to mob mentality and silencing contributions to discourse conversation.

These are certainly not the only causes for poor discourse discussion etiquette, but if we can overcome these two culprits, we might be able to create meaningful discussions where all of us can be heard, listened to, and understood. This post will outline inter-community tension issues for a subcommunity, recommend options to relieve this tension, and invite all subcommunities to submit their own posts for the rest of us to learn from.

This first post will touch on my own experiences and challenges when navigating discourse on Twitter and how lesbians in particular may relate to these frustrations. I am not naive enough to think that lesbians are the only people suffering from this. Each subcommunity faces their own difficulties when it comes to feeling understood and listened to amongst ourselves, and often disproportionately so. However, this disproportion–or any reason–should not disqualify any subcommunity from talking about their experiences or expressing concerns, so long as they do so respectfully. 

So, this discussion on lesbian experiences navigating discourse may come as frustrating for nonlesbians. My assumption is that each subgroup misinterprets discussions on each other’s unique view of discourse as a message that means, “This is why my group faces more inter-community (or general) discrimination and challenges.” This is not the aim of this post. I fully recognize that lesbians are not the targets for the entire community’s hate, but I wish to highlight the ways lesbians are met with negativity, and later, to invite other members of the community to speak on their experiences with similar negative tensions among our LGBTQIA+ community. 

I simply ask that you listen to me, even if it is frustrating. In return, I hope your subcommunity will occupy the same space to be heard. To unify ourselves, we must be willing to listen to each other, to validate each other, to celebrate our differences as much as our similarities, to hold ourselves accountable, and to grow as we learn about each other. I may say things that frustrate you, or things you don’t agree with. Maybe I say something problematic. I’m here to learn, same as you. Please reach out to me privately on Twitter if something is out of line. I would love to understand your view and learn from it.

Inter-community tension between lesbians and nonlesbians

A lot of issues lesbians face in the community seems to find root in a problematic stereotype that brands lesbians as closed-minded individuals, both about their sexual preferences and about their views of other subgroups. This harmful stereotype likely stems from TERF ideology and their radical history in the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t claim that. Unfortunately, whether I–or any lesbian–like it or not, that gross history carried itself through the lesbian subcommunity for decades and still thrives today. This is precisely why lesbians are seemingly required to speak up for other subcommunities consistently. We must constantly work to offset the damage done to our reputation due to the TERFs who have done nothing but demolish the work of open-minded and inclusive lesbians for years.

Many lesbians recognize that TERF infiltration of our spaces over the decades explains some of the tension we are met with inside the community. However, at some point, this tension can turn hostile or silencing, and this is where problems arise. Members of the community seem to let TERF ideology speak for all lesbians, which has caused me to avoid talking about lesbian discourse for fearing that these messages would come across as anti-trans/bi/pan/etc. In fact, when I voiced this concern in a tweet, a fellow LGBTQ user commented with the accusation, “Maybe you are supporting transphobic rhetoric then.”

Now, I will admit that the concerned voicing was rooted in a passive tone, and I’m sure had been read this way, likely causing a misinterpretation easier and sparking the accusation. My point here is that the tension cannot be conquered through passive subtweets, accusations, or aggression. It’s a mistake I sometimes make myself. It’s hard to not be angry when we feel unheard, but explanations do not equal excuses from either party.

The reason lesbians–especially lately that I’ve been able to notice–have such an “aggressive” reputation is due to this silencing happening regarding lesbian discourse and a lack of support from other subcommunities. There is a big expectation from nonlesbians in the community to speak up for other subcommunities (likely due to TERF history as discussed earlier). This is actually not a bad thing. Lesbians, to my knowledge, are not upset about this specifically. In fact, I think this is a great thing! We all need to stand up for each other, and lesbians should absolutely, 100%, be working towards inclusivity in the LGBTQ+ community. 

The issue here is that many lesbians feel (myself included) that this support for other subcommunities is rarely reciprocated, especially when it comes to lesbophobia and messages that invalidate or talk over lesbian experiences. So, when our requests for intercommunity support is ignored, it’s hard to not be upset/angry and react on those emotions. That’s why lesbians are “aggressively” posting about “lesbians only standing up for lesbians” because that’s often how it appears to us. 

My experience of this tension

The tensions regarding lesbian discourse most often comes in a form of being silenced or a fear of being silenced, which can also be extended into the issues of other subcommunities talking over the experiences of lesbians. This has happened a few times (such as the accusation example above), but I will highlight an example that I know for certain was not meant maliciously at all. I will not be displaying receipts or giving out handles because I don’t want anyone to attack a person who did this without intending it to be harmful, I just want to highlight a seemingly innocent reply that does cause this kind of tension between lesbians and nonlesbians.

Before Pride month, a lesbian bot account on Twitter tweeted a post that said, “forgets lesbian.” I quote tweeted this with the comment something along the lines of, “Pride month: We love every member of the community, the gays, bisexuals, trans people, pansexuals, aces, intersex folk, queer people, nonbinary and genderfluid people, demigirls and demiboys, demisexual and gray-ace folk. Also Pride month: ‘forgets lesbian.’”

Without ever saying so, this tweet was inspired by my inability to ever purchase a lesbian flag at Pride vendors for the past three years when pride flags of most other subcommunities were readily available. 

A mutual had replied to this tweet with an article link about the TERFs crashing part of the London Pride parade in 2018 with transphobic messages and offered it as a reason as to why the community excluded lesbians. The mutual and I are still mutuals, and we had a private discussion about how this message came across and why they decided to share it. So, I will explain for the rest of you why I was (and other lesbians may be) bothered about this reply.

My quote tweet was inspired by my experience as a lesbian, which was valid. I have never been able to purchase a lesbian flag at a Pride vendor. The mutual’s reply instead assumed my tweet was an attack on the community for excluding lesbians from Pride events. While I sometimes may feel this is the case, it certainly was not the case in that moment. What was frustrating about this exchange is that expression of my lesbian experiences was misinterpreted as attacks against the rest of the community, which seems to be the case in many other instances of lesbian experiences/discourse. In reality, this was just an attack against Pride vendors never stocking lesbian flags.

The article link and explanation–at the time–felt like a way to invalidate my experience. I had interpreted it as, “You feel excluded because lesbians are responsible for this shitty thing,” and therefore, I was unable to feel excluded because the rest of the community had a good reason to exclude me. Which was frustrating because again, the tweet wasn’t about the community, and two, excusing nonlesbians for excluding lesbians due to the mere existence of TERFs is a gross generalization and reduction of our subcommunity. 

The point for providing an example is to highlight the ways that lesbians quite frequently face moments of similar invalidation across digital spaces, which can likely be unrecognizable to nonlesbians. I felt that my tweet had been lumped into a faceless group of transphobes, when in reality I very much remember the TERF crash of 2018 as my girlfriend was at that very parade and we had talked about it afterwards, nor have I ever condoned that ideology or supported transphobic rhetoric to my knowledge. Yes, TERFs are awful and they tear down bridges we’ve built as a community, but does their existence mean all lesbians should refrain from discussing the issues we face? Does this excuse the community from listening to these experiences or supporting lesbians through messages of invalidation? Where should we draw this line? What can and should lesbians expect from the community? 

Another example is more of the experience of a friend, who’s nonlesbian friend argued that using the lesbian label is closed-minded because it cuts off an entire gender. This is a very frustrating and invalidating thing to say about lesbians, and I believe this mindset also feeds into the “closed-minded” stereotype the community seems to have about lesbians. I know that myself and other lesbians often spread messages of validation for other subcommunites (like, “bisexuals in opposite-sex relationships are still bisexual and bisexuals in same-sex relationships are still bisexual,” etc.), yet this comparable validation for lesbians is something I rarely find spread by nonlesbians, which can be very frustrating. 

As discussed in my identity journey, I identified as bisexual for three years, and in that time, I found numerous bi-affirming posts that eased me into the LGBTQIA+ community and helped me in that time when I needed reassurance. Yet, I had not come across the same validation in regard to lesbians in that time (or the past six years). Had I seen an equal (or even more proportional) amount of lesbian-affirming content back when I was unsure of my identity, I may have been able to skip over the five years of being uncomfortable with embracing my true self as a lesbian. 

Let me restate my purpose now. This is not an attack on nonlesbians. This is simply the description of my experience as a lesbian, which does involve a fair amount intercommunity tension in a number of ways, as described. This does not mean that I think we (as lesbians or as the community as a whole) should ignore the necessary discourse of our subcommunity families; I simply mean to say that we should each be given a space to discuss these experiences and be met with validation.

When people talk about uncomfortable experiences or tension, they seek validation. This goes for pretty much everyone–lesbians, our family subcommunities, even those outside the community. Nobody wants an excuse or explanation unless they are asking for it. What they seek is validation. When that need for validation is not met–whether by straightforward neglect or by attributing the poor experience to an excuse–it creates a tension because now the party seeking validation feels unheard, and the person providing the explanation feels as if they helped the situation, when in reality the first party reacts angry and/or upset because it wasn’t helpful at all. This happens across sexualities, genders, cultures, and all people. We talk about experiences because we seek validation. If people want solutions or explanations, they will ask for it. 

How lesbians can work to ease this tension

Yes, lesbians, we are too responsible for making sure this discussion carries into action and helps prevent tension breakouts. It starts with holding ourselves accountable for any transphobic/biphobic/panphobic/etc. rhetoric that we may encounter in our own subcommunity. We must also continue to support other subcommunities, spread their messages of validation, and work towards inclusivity in the community, regardless of whether or not this is reciprocated.

Do not give the community the opportunity to call you a hypocrite. I know it’s hard to speak up for the rest of the community when so much energy is spent on validating our own subcommunity, especially when it feels as if no one else is coming to our aid and validating us in similar ways. But we must carry on.

When you feel like your experiences are talked over, maybe similarly to mine was, try your best to refrain from reacting defensively. Replying with, “This post was about lesbians, not trans people,” will only serve as proof to those who want to label lesbians as transphobic, regardless of the fact that talking over the experiences of lesbians is a problem in itself. Message this person privately, explain calmly, and don’t ever stop talking about your experiences.

Above all, simply listen to the experiences that aren’t about you. If nonlesbians respond to this post with their own submission, I hope that you will extend an ear to them as well. Their experiences are just as important and valid as ours, and we all need to be learning from each other.

How nonlesbians can work to ease this tension

In the very simplest terms, lesbians seek validation from the rest of the community. This lack of validation creates most of the tension from our point of view. Here is a list of practical ways nonlesbians can help meet this need.

  1. Share lesbian-affirming/validating content. Retweet/reblog posts like, “Lesbians, your existence is not innately closed-minded just because you aren’t attracted to men.” Put the same energy into sharing lesbian-positive posts that you do for other subcommunities.
  2. Create discourse discussions as separate posts. Lesbians do not think that nonlesbian discourse discussions are unimportant or unnecessary, but when they are brought up in replies to our experiences, the messages are interpreted as invalidating or “talking over” our experiences. Discourse discussions that do not relate to the lesbian experience at hand should be separate discussions to avoid this interpretation.
  3. Validate lesbian experiences. When nonlesbians reply to experiences with words of affirmation or validation, that proves to us that you are listening. For example, if a lesbian posted about feeling misunderstood because their lack of attraction of men gets interpreted as closed-minded, a validating response from nonlesbians (like, “this does not make you closed-minded, it’s okay to know that you aren’t attracted to men”), it recognizes this experience as an issue for lesbians and reassures them that this is not a stereotype embraced by the whole community.
  4. Hold your own subcommunities accountable. If you come across messages from nonlesbians that you think could be invalidating to lesbian experiences, please stand up for us. When lesbians stand up for ourselves, it is often read as aggressive or opposing the community, when in reality we just want to be heard, same as everyone else. Please call out your own subcommunity if they talk over us or invalidate us. This is the most important and helpful thing you can do. If you aren’t sure if a message is invalidating or not, please ask us.
  5. Listen to us. If you are a nonlesbian still reading this post, I love you. Thank you for listening to me.

Submission call for more LGBTQ+ experiences

Do you have experiences of inter-community tension that should be highlighted? Please get into contact with me, either through Twitter DMs or my contact form on this page. I want to provide a platform for all subcommunities, not just my own. If you prefer that I publish your submission anonymously, we can work this out. I don’t want anyone to be attacked for bringing their experiences to the table, and I will gladly take the brunt of it if it means people will be more willing to share their perspective.

What I’m looking for: A post of a similar structure. This could include a generalization of issues your subcommunity faces within our larger community, but should focus on a real example(s) you have experienced to highlight this for those unfamiliar with your perspective. There should also be a section for how both your subcommunities and the community at large can better diffuse the tension surrounding these issues. This is not the place to blame a specific group, but a place to express where both you and others could do better.

If you are interested, please reach out to me. You need only to show your interest, not write an entire post and then submit it to me. Get in touch first. If you are not a writer by nature or question your ability to write a post, tell me. I will work with you to craft your ideas into a coherent piece. Sharing your experience should not be inaccessible, and I will work with you to bring your experiences into the discussion as best as I can.

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2 thoughts on “Sharing experiences to build bridges: An open letter to LGBTQIA+ people on inter-community tension

  1. This was a very interesting post to read! I must say I wasn’t too familiar with everything you have mentioned regarding the struggles of being lesbian within the LGBTQ+ community. However, I had heard of what happened at London Pride last year, and beliefs that lesbians are ‘man haters’. Of course, there are people like that in the community, but you have areseholes in every community! And that doesn’t define it. So thank you for sharing your experience and for shedding some light on issues and struggles I was unfamiliar with, or had not taken seriously enough. I definitely agree that we should all uplift each other, and validate each others experiences within the community as a whole.
    And the comments that lesbians are closed-minded for not being attracted to men…my goodness! Could they be any more mysoginistic? Pretty sure gay men don’t receive similar comments.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful and validating response! I find it so important that we all share our unique experiences within the community so we can all continue learning and growing just as we expect those outside the community to do. 💜

      Liked by 1 person

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