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I read an article in the August edition of Organise titled 'What is a lesbian?'. The article claimed anyone can be a lesbian. Isn't this just linguistic nonsense. Is it not telling that the article is 'What is a lesbian?' rather than 'What is a gay man?'
by (100 points)
agree with all that, dot. particularly the past paragraph.

meanings do change, for sure. i guess that points out the relevance of the context in which a meaning exists and is mutually understood.

i can remember when wolfi self-described as "an egoist-communist". his meaning for the term communist was different enough from a more widely understood meaning, that he decided not to continue using that phrase.

that just made me think: where is the overlap between language as tool and language as intellectual exercise?
A-zed, the etymology.
For some this sort of break down of language is a tool. From my own experience, one reason I take this sort of "meaningless" aproach to queer identity directly relates to the anarchist idea of incommunicability, as well more broadly to an anti-idpol/anti-identity stance that de-homogenizes groups.

Speaking even more broadly though I think it is very difficult to differentiate between language as a tool and language as an intellectual excercise (by which I assume you just mean the use of "academic language"). While I'm unfamiliar with Stirners work directly, secondary sources (if you want the praticular sources I'd have to look back through the immediatism catalog) point out how Stirners is purely a tool and is always an insufficient one. Primarily in the naming of the unique which is precisely that which can't be named.

Similarly, I believe it is from Daoism but again I would need to look up the source, there is a teaching that summarizes as "do not mistake the finger that points at the moon for the moon" which further expands on the futility of language as something that is always pointing but is often taken as the thing instead.

I apologize if any of this comes off as the intellectual excercises you are critiqukng but this has very real implications. Stirners work is precisely on how this obsession with words and ideas affects us whether it be identification with lesbianism or with the state.

And so one can try and appropriate language for ones ends, and perhaps even in ways that are more or less successful for different aims but it will always fail in some regard. And especially in terms of labels (though perhaps also outside of this type of language) the appeal to the (true) meaning of words often reinforces these forms.

Another avenue to explore in this vein, but I'll just mention it, is that naming is not a neutral act.
a_zed, just to be clear, i am not critiquing intellectual exercise. i am questioning when that becomes conflated with language as a tool. for sure there is all sorts of nuance when thinking philosophically, as there should be imo. my only issue is when the intellectual exercise of one becomes an (attempted) imposed tool for use by all/many.
Correct-a-roo dot, the meanings of many words do change or have added meanings to the definition of the word over a period of time. Since we're on the subject of sexuality, the term faggot, comes to mind, for a word that has gained a new meaning. It initially meant a bundle of sticks/twigs bound up like hundreds (500-600) of years ago. A broom is an example since it's a tool of bound up twigs. Since a broom was a domesticated tool that was mostly used by women, men began referring to women as faggots. Then a few hundred years later it meant a male homosexual. It comes from to burn someone on a stake, you need a bundle of sticks (faggot). Male homosexuals or men accused of sodomy were burned on a stake in some areas, so faggot was a slang term that was slowly adopted to mean a male homosexual. I'm thinking the slang for a cigarette in the UK being called a fag is because it has a stick like form that's burned. So, yes, it's not only academics that try change or add new meanings to words that have a commonly held meaning, but when they do it it's less likely it'll catch on with the general population. The same for these queer activist A-Zed mentions that apparently say lesbian doesn't just apply to a female homosexual anymore. I doubt the queer activists meaning for lesbian will catch on with the general population.

It's "they" ;)

1 Answer

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Short answer:


Long answer:

In order to answer the question "Can a man be a Lesbian?" One first has to answer the question "What is a Lesbian?" There are many ways to answers this question depending on what framework one uses. However if we examine these differing frameworks (using a meta framework) we can separate these frameworks into two primary groups.

The first group is that of positively constructed identity; these are frameworks that set out to say what being a lesbian is. Another way to describe this group would be as essentialist, there are essential aspects of a person that make them a lesbian. The other group though is negatively constructed, they are focused on what a lesbian is not. This is related to the idea of queer negativity which is an aspect of queer nihlism/queer pessimism.

So if we aproach the question with an essentialist lens, of what a lesbian is, a common place to begin is to start with the essential aspect that a lesbian is a woman, but that then requires us to answer the question "What is a woman?" And here again we are faced with the same split between positive or negative construction and the multitude of frameworks that fit within each.

One of the common ways to answer this secondary question today is through the framework of biological essentialism. Which is a framework that constructs certain biological facts that make someone a woman. However just in this definition we can see that this is not a framework that identifies the biological aspects of women, but instead attributes the title women to those with certain biological aspects. To restate: a framework does not describe what an identity is, instead it defines what an identity is; it's prescriptive not descriptive.

Because of this, without a framework there is no answer to "What is a Lesbian?" There are no essential natural truths as to what a lesbian is, but instead only frameworks that aim to answer this question. You may believe your framework is "the essential natural truth", thus is especially common among biological essentialists but ultimately there isn't one, only frameworks.

Finally to give my own answer to the question "What is a lesbian?" I would answer; anything. Anyone may be a lesbian, perhaps even only at certain times. Even things can be lesbians. Pretty much every dildo I've met has been a lesbian. I've also met men who are lesbians. Personally I consider myself somewhere between a male lesbian and a female fag; depending on the day of the week.

I'll let you figure out what kind of framework I may be using.
by (100 points)
This is exactly the kind of answer I was hoping for. Someone who likes to bend definitions to their own opinion.

'"What is a lesbian?" I would answer; anything.' Is the equivalent of me defining all the 'forks' in my kitchen draw as 'knives' just because I want to. Language developed so that people and communities could communicate with each other, when language and meaning gets distorted to satisfy individual preferences communication breaks down. It's the same with people who self-define themselves a new gender and then expect everybody else to pander to it.

Why do we need labels anyway?
Did language develop so that we can communicate with eachother? Or was it developed in order to track debts? Even here, in this idea of language we see how ones framework influences ones understanding.

What is a fork and what distinguishes it from a knife? Another type of framework is that of monism which is contrasted by dualism. It sees all things as united, without distinctions.

There are no pure meanings, just as there is no essential natural truth, so I don't see how these definitions are being "distorted".

I agree, why do we need labels? And why should one try and keep to some concrete definition? The word lesbian tells you nothing about that person or their experiences, except to give you assumptions, an ideal, which surely no real person you meet will live up to.
"why should one try and keep to some concrete definition?"

no reason other than clarity of communication.

language is a tool for communication. if it does not facilitate communication, then i'm not sure what purpose it serves. changing the widely understood meaning of a word only serves to obfuscate communication outside the bubble of those making said change. which may of course be by intent - but that is kind of a different scenario than simply trying to change the commonly understood meaning of some word.

if the goal is, rather, to remove all generally understood meaning from language, then i see no benefit (other than the intellectual exercise of some philosophical ideology i personally have no interest in).