Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Oprah's Welcome in My Family

All this brouhaha about Oprah's sexuality has me confused, and when I'm confused, I try and write it through to at least clarify what it is that's confusing me. So...

There is an argument to be made that accusing powerful women of being lesbians is a way of undermining their power, aka, she can't be powerful and be a real woman. And there is definitely some validity to that argument.

But pause and think about that for a minute.

Let's set aside the fact that among the lesbian community, it can be very tempting to claim strong women as one of our own. How tempting it is to imagine that Oprah and Hillary and Eleanor and sometimes even Condi, (when she's dressed like this and you squint in just the right way and you're facing due east and you have temporary amnesia so that you forget for a moment her politics) play for our team. My brother teases me that when I watch the Oscars, I see a different show than he does, because I'm convinced that every third person who crosses that stage is queer, although I'm sure some of them really really are because where there's smoke... but I digress. My point is that there's a difference when lesbians claim someone as their own, and when the world at large starts to accuse someone of being a lesbian.

This is a multi-facted issue. You've got, on the one hand, a powerful woman whose power others attempt to undermine by slapping the lesbian label on her. And then you've got feminists pointing that out - why does a woman always get called a lesbian when she's powerful, they rightly ask. And you've got lesbians saying, I knew it, she's one of us.

But wait - back up for a second. Feminists (and I count myself as one of those as well) are saying that it's an insult to be called a lesbian? Of course, for the folks who feel the need to cut a woman down to size because she's gotten too powerful for their comfort, being called a lesbian probably would be an insult - powerful women are bad, lesbians are bad, powerful lesbians are the worst, in this paradigm.

And it's true that saying a woman is a lesbian merely because she's powerful (and therefore must be somehow manlike) is insulting - to women and even to lesbians (c'mon, it takes all types, even in the lesbian community, and we run the full gamut from masculine to feminine, and from weak to powerful - sometimes even within one single lesbian, so don't lump us all into one basket and call it a day; take the time to get to know your local lesbians - and there are some, I promise, no matter where you live - and you'll realize we're just as complicated and varied as the rest of you folks).

What bothers me is when it's left at that - you've insulted this woman's power by calling her a lesbian. I'm left wondering, is it okay if you are powerful and a lesbian? Or would that be a problem for feminists? I'm torn between understanding that inherent in the accusation is the reality that as far as we've come, women have a long way to go, and my realization that as far as we've come, lesbians have a long way to go, too.


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