Lately I've been wondering what it means when dykes have sex with men.
Everybody seems to have an opinion about it — women who are doing it, women who have never done it, women like me who haven't done it for a long time and think they probably won't but you never know.
As usual when I'm obsessed with an idea, I send out a few questions to my think tank, a group of people who identify as queer and/or dykes. Can you fuck men and still call yourself a dyke? Have you done it yourself? If a dyke sleeps with a guy does it affect the whole dyke community?
This is one of those topics like gay marriage and women-only spaces that easily deteriorate into a predictable debate: "If you have sex with a guy, you are not a dyke, you are a traitor to the lesbian nation," versus "Marry a man, never have sex with a woman — 'dyke' means what-ever you want it to."
Proponents of the latter view usually add, "It's none of your business who I fuck," or "Don't try to police my sexuality."
Can I just say that being opinionated, or even being nosy, does not necessarily lead to interfering in other people's lives or preventing them from doing whatever they want. Two different things.
Thankfully none of the people I surveyed told me to mind my own business and as far as I know none of them even de-Facebook-friended me. They actually wrote me a collection of mini-essays on the topic.
There seemed to be general agreement that identifying as a dyke and fucking guys was not necessarily a contradiction. In fact, most of them have done it.
One woman who identifies as queer said she doesn't make assumptions about others' activities based on how they identify: "If I was only into women-only women I would put that out there clearly and not rely on ID tags to sum up the sexual history of my lovers."
Another woman has political reasons for claiming a lesbian identity even though she does have sex with men and genderqueers: "I keep the lesbian identity along with the queer because I often hear homos say 'lesbian' with a misogynist tone, so it's an important word to maintain."
Others have struggled more to reconcile attractions to men with their dyke identity. One, a dyke who hasn't been with a man since she came out 10 years ago, said, "I've always said I was open to the possibility that I could be attracted to a man. However, when I actually was, it caused me a fair amount of angst and confusion."
Another woman had had sex a few times with a guy and not wondered about her identity. But then she had a relationship with a man that lasted a couple of months.
"I felt weird calling myself a dyke. I wondered if it meant I was bi, which I wasn't too comfortable with. So I just didn't call myself anything. Actually, no; thank god for the term 'queer' —I used that."
Still another woman is now in a committed relationship with a man after years of being exclusively with women. "I can tell you that it has caused a lot of questioning and discomfort around the issue of identity! I don't call myself a dyke anymore because — well — I'm with a man."
Clearly there's a lot of variation in sexual practices among dykes. Which is a good thing, in my opinion. Rules about what dykes can or cannot do tend to be difficult to apply to real life.
At the same time, "dyke" does mean something. Our communities thrive because of our differences and also because of a certain level of shared experience. There are some basics that set us apart from the mainstream and that bring us together.
The woman who struggled with calling herself a dyke and the woman who no longer calls herself a dyke —their discomfort did not result from "policing" of their behaviour by other dykes, but from their own engaging with an identity that has deep meaning for them. This wouldn't happen if "dyke" just meant whatever you wanted.
My friend who no longer calls herself a dyke didn't abandon her past and become straight. She could have; her boyfriend is straight and comes from a pretty mainstream world. But instead, straight guy has been absorbed into her circle of friends, mostly queer, lots of dykes.
She says, "I have settled on the fact that I am queer: I love the man I call my partner. And I loved the women in my past. The majority of my friends are dykes. And I would rather be in a queer-friendly environment than a straight one."
So does it matter? Does dykes fucking men affect anyone besides the people directly involved? I think so.
Friends or acquaintances of dykes who have sex with men will rarely have no reaction at all. In some cases they will condemn the rogue dyke, accuse her of not really being queer; this is more likely if she is femme and already suspect.
Friends, ex-lovers or current lovers may struggle with their own mistrust or dislike of men. Some butch or masculine women have told me that there is a certain way they feel threatened by bio men and that this would make it hard if a lover was with one.
One dyke suggested to me that most people do not know (or care) that there is a difference between dykes who choose to have sex with men sometimes and women who "switch back to being straight." She thinks that dykes having sex with men can be taken by homophobes as evidence that we could all be straight if we wanted to.
Oh dear, here it is the end of my column and there is so much left to talk about! Dykes having sex with trans men, dykes fucking fags, dykes having sex with men because they live on a Gulf island and there are not enough dykes to go around.
So, to be continued...