Sexuality, orientation & what self ID means for lesbian women

If a man can identify as a lesbian, what does this mean for the rights and body autonomy of lesbian women?

In UK law, lesbians and bisexual women are protected two-fold under the Equality Act 2010. They belong to two protected characteristics; ‘sex’ and  ‘sexual orientation’. This legislation enables lawful discrimination on the basis of these characteristics.

Why does this matter? 

Firstly it protects lesbian-only groups, for example. This could include lesbian social groups, dating apps, support groups, sexual health clinics, domestic violence survivor workshops, pattern-breaking groups, etc.

If sex self ID became law, then these sex protections are rendered meaningless. As an example, it would no longer be possible to exclude a heterosexual male from a lesbian-only support group. The law would allow him to self identify (pre and post surgery) as a lesbian women. Moreover, if his birth certificate sex marker says female there is no legal mechanism to lawfully exclude someone who is clearly male.

Secondly the word 'orientation' legally embeds the idea that same-sex attraction is an orientation and not a choice, a kink, or a perversion. In other words the notion that protects against conversion therapy. The current trend to refer to 'same gender attracted', undermines this legal protection.

In short, 'same gender' attracted is based on two people of the same gender identity. This term could, and is frequently used to describe a male and a female, or two males who have a female gender identity. This is #LesbianErasure.

Many lesbians have reported that they have faced coercion to accept males as dating partners and have had their sexual orientation framed as transphobic for not accepting males as sexual or romantic partners.  In response in 2019 lesbian activist group Get The L Out published their 'Cotton Ceiling Report'. 


Angela Wild, author of Lesbians at Ground Zero: The Cotton Ceiling Report and from #GetTheLOut speaks about the impact self ID is having on her community

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Women are also feeling silenced within their LGBT communities. Online communities are growing that host women's testimonies and invite you to add your own. We recommend 'UNSPEAKABLE finding a language for female experiences
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Gender Identity and the lesbian woman:

The concept of ‘gender identity’ is very damaging to women and girls, especially gender non conforming girls. The concept of 'gender identity' asserts that sex is a spectrum, and our ‘identity’ (personality, sense of self) defines our sex. For example, girls previously referred to as a Tomboy, now receives the social messaging that her rejection of sexist stereotypes makes her a literal boy. 

This is deeply problematic as it further embeds sexist gendered expectations into our cultural narrative. Where, historically, women have fought the idea that they must be passive, submissive, caregivers and enjoy performative femininity, we are now once again receiving the social messaging that this is the very definition of womanhood. WE must identify with our gender, the very thing that has subjugated and limited women globally.

Conversely, girls and young women who do not live up to gendered (sexist) expectations are receiving the ‘wrong body’ message. Their love for ‘boys toys and pursuits’ (whatever they are) means they aren’t a 'real girl', but they have the 'gender identity' of a boy. Any feelings of anguish or distress they may feel towards puberty, or being a girl in man’s world can be swiftly diagnosed as dysphoria. 

WE know there is evidence that lesbian and gay adults are likely to have lived gender non conforming childhoods. WE must, therefore, ask the difficult questions as to why so many gay and pre-gay/questioning children are being referred to gender identity clinics. Are we medicalising a generation of same sex attracted people? These concerns have been raised by Tavistock clinicians and were the focus of a Newsnight investigation earlier this year.

Recent data shows that more than 70% of children referred to Gender Identity Services (Tavistock Clinic) are girls.

As the growing number of detransitioning young lesbian women shows, are our lesbian youth being medicalised, rather than celebrated? This is sometimes referred to as the 'Iran Model' where homophobic societies (Iran has the death penalty for LGB people) use transition to uphold the illusion of compulsory heterosexuality and gender conformity. Please click here and here to learn more.