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LBT Women: A Particular Experience of Prejudice?

Published: 04 March 2019 Tags: By Charlotte Goldsbrough

International Women’s Day puts the focus on women worldwide. So what particular forms of prejudice do LBT women face today and how relevant is this question?

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There is no justification for prejudice, yet it is still important that we try to understand the causes of prejudice in order to fully eradicate it.

According to womenkind.org:

“72 countries still outlaw homosexuality and 44 of them expressly or implicitly criminalise lesbians and bisexual women; over the past 30 years at least 10 jurisdictions have amended such laws to include LBT women.”

Clearly, there is a prejudiced awareness of LBT women as a specific group – so what specific forms of prejudice affect them?

Female sexuality is highly regulated – either through culture, religion or the media. Consequently, when LBT women don’t conform to strict gender norms they stand out and become vulnerable to abuse, discrimination and harassment. GBT men also experience this, but generally speaking female sexuality as a whole (including female heterosexuality) is more oppressively regulated. For example, women in many countries are subject to ‘corrective rape’ in a twisted attempt to ‘cure’ them of their homosexuality and turn them into ‘real women’; obviously this doesn’t work and only traumatises them further.

Men are also victims of ‘corrective’ rape, but the intentions aren’t necessarily identical. In too many places, female identity is still limited to roles as mothers, wives and daughters etc. in relation to men, their autonomy restricted and individuality suppressed; LBT women don’t conform to these expectations, and therefore they are often forced to comply instead.

As reported in 2014, according to Leonie Spalding (raped by her husband after coming out to him) in South Africa men also commit ‘corrective’ rape to establish dominance:

“...as a tool to assert their masculinity.”

Perhaps the existence of lesbian and bisexual women who don’t need a man as a romantic or sexual partner, threatens a certain type of fragile, insecure masculinity. Or they’re just sexual predators incapable of feeling empathy towards another human being. Either way, rape is a horrific crime that shatters lives and should be punished accordingly no matter why it is committed.

One reason corrective rape is so widely (and wrongfully) considered effective, is due to the belief that a person’s homosexuality is an affliction and can therefore change: the idea that being LGBT is a choice, can have serious consequences.

Then there’s the challenges faced by trans women.

Trans people in general experience prejudice, abuse and discrimination, whether they’re female-to-male, male-to-female or non-binary. However, women are wrongfully considered inferior to men in many cultures, and so when biologically/physically male individuals identify as, dress as, or transition to a female, this can expose them to additional pressures they did not have to endure when recognised as men. As discussed in a recent TIME article, trans women are perhaps more visible and scrutinised than trans men, partly due to a “cultural obsession with feminine beauty”, and therefore more vulnerable. Furthermore, the false, toxic notion that women are less valuable if they cannot reproduce, may also hinder acceptance of trans women. However you look at it, damaging patriarchal attitudes towards women and femininity have far-reaching, negative consequences.

In many ways and many societies women are still treated as sexual objects, LBT or not. But this treatment is often worse for LBT women; researcher Dr Nicole Johnson explains:

“The media, and pornography in particular, have long depicted women’s bisexuality as less about sexual agency and more about the pleasure of straight men, which may result in the dehumanisation and objectification of bisexual women, resulting in increased acceptance of violence [against them]. One biphobic stereotype is that they are not to be trusted [promiscuous], which has been linked to intimate partner violence, including sexual violence.”

Trans women and lesbians are fetishized in similarly harmful ways.

A Human Dignity Trust report states:

“The criminalisation of lesbians and bisexual women is often amplified by other criminal laws that have a disproportionate impact on women, such as laws criminalising adultery, abortion and prostitution, and laws that permit child marriage and rape within marriage.”

That’s not necessarily to say that LBT women experience worse prejudice than GBT men, only that their experiences of prejudice can be different. Even when hate is directed at the LGBT community as a whole, many LBT women often have to deal with additional pressures simply because they’re a woman.

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We are all in this together – all members of the LGBT community including our cis, hetero allies – and prejudice towards one is an attack against the shared humanity that unites us. But a broad perspective can lose sight of individual lives and the specific factors that affect them; sometimes it is necessary to focus on particular groups within the community, especially in a world where the needs of women are still often considered secondary to those of men.