In "Gender Quiz," Minnie Bruce Pratt wastes no time in asking questions. She digs into the whys and hows and whos of her own sexual identity. Having been married to a man before coming out as lesbian, she was confronted also by a question of authenticity that I believe is often applied to those whose sexual attractions lie away from the extremes of the spectrum. "Was I a less authentic lesbian than my friends who had 'always known' that they were sexually and affectionately attracted to other women?" (425). Her essay hovers on that point. What does it mean to be forced to choose between heterosexual and homosexual and pretend that points between (or outside) do not exist?
In college, I met a bisexual woman who was dating a lesbian. She said that her girlfriend's lesbian friends expressed concern that she was dating a bisexual. Wasn't she worried that she would leave her for a man? The girlfriend would respond that she was no more worried about that than she was that she would leave her for another woman. For that couple, the point was not the orientation, but the fidelity to the relationship at a given point in time.
The idea that we should be boxed according to arbitrary designations is also questioned by Bruce Pratt. "After years of loving butch lesbians, I had taken as my mate a woman so stone in her masculinity that she could, and did, sometimes pass as a queer man" (428). She, as a lesbian, formerly married to a man, was now associating romantically with a strongly masculine woman. What do those labels mean, anyway? To whom do they bring comfort and clear confusion?
The acronym TERF stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminism. It is a not a term with which I have a great deal of familiarity, but, as I understand it, the basic idea is the creation of a space that is open only to biologically female women. Whether or not this is a good idea, I'm not sure. I waver and waffle in how I feel about the idea that a room full of women might include some that could, by some definitions, be called male. What does that mean? If I want a so-called 'safe space' to speak about female issues, what does it mean to include or exclude based on biological rather than self definition? I think, in the end, that I want to try and lean toward Marmon Silko's old time ways and judge people based on their actions.
Bruce Pratt questions the labels of gender as well. "How many ways can the body's sex vary by chromosomes, hormones, genitals? How many ways can gender expression multiply- between home and work, at the computer and when you kiss someone, in your dreams and when you walk down the street?" (428). With so many branching paths through life, how can fast and simple definitions be reached? What kind of workflow could possibly diagram and encompass all the branches and guarantee each twig their own safe space?
"[T]he exclusion of women who blurred the edges of what was considered legitimate as woman-because of race or class or sexuality or gender presentation-made women's space smaller and more dangerous, made this aspect of the women's movement weaker and more limited in foundation" (431). Again, again, and again, the movements split over issues, thinking that to eliminate the more objectionable pieces, they would gain a wider acceptance. The abolitionists can't include the feminists; the white suffragettes can't include colored women; the lesbians can't include bisexuals or transwomen. And instead of gaining ground, we lose it. Perhaps some small victory is achieved, and those in the vanguard get comfortable, and stop being radical.