from the Fall 1977 issue of DYKE Magazine
“We’re going to put men in camps,” a cry of Lesbian separatism collides with the recent memory of genocide for Jewish people. In this case, a cab ride with two Jewish Lesbians and two non-Jewish lesbians goes awry. The Jewish lesbians are chatting with their male cabdriver, whose ‘Old World’ accent reminds them of home. He recommends places to get Jewish food, shows them photos of his family. When he asks why ‘pretty girls like you’ aren’t married, the Jewish lesbians shrug it off. Then a non-Jewish Lesbian speaks. “We’re going to put men in camps!” ‘When they get in charge. This gives the Jewish Lesbians a terrible sinking feeling. DYKE magazine published the letter exchange between two of them as they try and reconcile the incident.
The logic of separatism pushes against these Lesbian’s Jewish selves. In this case, their need to connect with other Jewish people, the cabdriver, and the connection that they feel to him is compromised by the ethos of separatism. Men are to be put in camps, Women are to love women.
“What I saw in that cab was two gorgeous dykes giving of their precious selves to some empty headed prick. I thought you had the illusion of a nice, mellow, old immigrant man, and it bugged me that some blob was undeservedly getting so much lesbian energy.”
This logic collides painfully with Jewish experience. Men have been put in camps, some still carry this painful memory. Others had their entire families exterminated in them. For Jewish Lesbian separatists in this instance, the language of their movement was insensitive and clumsy. This language, when used by their non-Jewish peers, had collided into antisemitic territory. And their need as a Jewish people to connect with another Jewish person was misunderstood, because that meant speaking to a man without animosity. Lesbian separatism in this moment positioned their Jewishness as an opposing force to their Lesbian identity. In order to fight antisemitism and become aware of Jewish issues, the non-Jewish lesbians would have to start thinking about men.
“You didn’t think enough to realize the man was a Jew. You must start thinking about whether someone is ethnic or not. Not everyone is white and protestant and it is racist to assume someone is…there are many shades between black and white and Jew is one.”
Race and Jewish identity and lesbianism interact throughout the exchange. At various points anti-Jewish oppression or anti-semitism is referred to simply as ‘racism.’ And this is within a context of theme of ‘ethnic lesbians’ for DYKE, which here refers only to Jewish and Black Lesbians.
“I still have a lot of liberal guilt about male oppression,” a non-Jewish lesbian explains, “for example, the few times I have wanted to confront black pricks, I haven’t because of my liberal guilt. It’s so frustrating and confusing to have your fight against sexism interpreted as racist.”
What about when a fight against sexism is in racist? Or in the later part of this issue of DYKE, transphobic? What Jewish women within this space were fighting was that this logic of a separate struggle against sexist oppression and political lesbianism could also be antisemitic. The response of the non-Jewish lesbian is confounding to a contemporary reader who is familiar with the conversation around white feminism and the ways that sex, race, and gender oppression intersect. The logic that different forms of oppression are in competition and that by separating sexism as a struggle unto itself leads to a contradiction. Lesbian women who are not protestant and white, who are Jewish and Black and Trans are left out. Their distinct interests as a group at times colliding with the politics of Lesbian Separatism, because in it contained the threat of a realization: oppression is interconnected and a separate approach is bound to leave others out.
Paradoxically, women’s liberation for Jewish women will mean examining the ways that Jewish men have also been targeted, and women’s liberation for Black women will mean fighting the racism in the women’s movement and sexism in Black society.
The bankruptcy of the logic of separatism is on full display in the section on ‘transsexuals in the women’s movement,’ which includes a conversation with a therapist and medical profession
al and includes anatomical diagrams. Women who are trans described as ‘she’ and descriptions of their genitalia are also placed in parantheses. It’s upsetting. It’s replete with the kind of paranoia of invasion and medical othering that parts of the women’s movement once held toward lesbians.
This issue of DYKE on ‘ethnic lesbians’ is important to show how Jewish lesbian feminists asserted themselves against the logics of the movement that they belonged too and helped build. There is another assertion that I thought I’d include from Angela Douglas, “transsexual and very proud.”
Update: A search into Angela Douglas lead me to this biography. Angela passed away in 2007.