Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Comforts of Community: A Reading Response to Adrienne Rich's "Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence"

Jessica Mason McFadden
WS455 Feminist Theory
Dr. West
December 1st 2005
Reading Response 5

The Comforts of Community

In Feminist Theory 455, we discussed Adrienne Rich’s essay, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” and I was impressed with the sensitivity and receptiveness to the new ideas that were evident in the discussion. I was particularly impressed with Dr. West’s admission that she wasn’t comfortable identifying as a part of the lesbian continuum. Dr. West’s honesty about her discomfort and my honesty about my comfort with Rich’s theory set the stage for a balanced discussion and comfortable classroom environment.

A continuum is a very healthy way of framing information because it provides a bridge between two extremes, as opposed to the chasm that exists between dichotomous positions. A dichotomy makes it difficult for people to modify their beliefs and choices, whereas a continuum allows people to be flexible in their choices. A continuum is infinite, in a sense, and certainly roomy, whereas a dichotomy is limiting. It seemed that we, as a class, set the stage for a comfort continuum in our discussion of Rich’s essay. Each student fell somewhere along the continuum of comfort with Rich’s theory—I being closer to the comfortable end.

I am comfortable with Adrienne Rich’s proposal of a lesbian continuum. In fact, the idea excites me because it supports some of my own, unpublished ideas. Each of my experiences gives me insight into my self, my life, and my purpose, as a woman who identifies as a lesbian. Each day I try to make sense of my choices and my reactions to people and their ideas. My desire to grow requires that I be flexible, and so I have to fight some of my natural tendencies to become defensive. I do not welcome certain changes because I am happy with what I know, but I still need to be open to new information in order to learn and change with confidence. Sometimes I fear change, and I think many other people do, too. I try to understand why I fear some changes and not others.

Even as I encourage open mindedness when it comes to my lesbian identity, I am not always open and receptive to new ideas myself. Sometimes I feel threatened by certain behaviors, such as polyamorous relationships, and then I feel disappointed for feeling threatened. It’s okay for me to feel uncomfortable, but I think it is important to question myself when I feel threatened. When this happens, I try to ask myself questions: how do I feel, why do I feel that way, what will happen to me if I learn to accept the behavior?

Growth also requires vulnerability. In order to welcome change, which is fundamental to growth, I must first open myself up to new, uncomfortable ideas. In my journey of becoming more open and aware, I appreciate that my fellow students and Dr. West have been willing to be vulnerable in class (sharing their ideas and listening to new ideas).

In Feminist Theory 455, I have learned to value community (human connections). As a lesbian, I spend a lot of time closed-off from other students. I avoid interaction with many people because I am afraid of being disappointed in their character, but my interactions with students in this class have shown me that my attitude may be preventing me from experiencing the joys of being a part of a community. Like Feminist Theory 455, Adrienne Rich’s theory of a lesbian existence is attractive to me because it embraces connectedness.

I believe that it is an honor to have a place within the lesbian continuum, because I interpret the lesbian continuum as a loving, embracing, and affirming community of people. I identify as a lesbian and as a member of the lesbian continuum. They are closely linked together, but I feel connected to the identities differently. My lesbian identity connects me with others based on otherness, rebelliousness, sexuality, and political awareness. My identity as a person on the lesbian continuum connects me with even more people than does my identity as a lesbian. On the lesbian continuum, I connect with people who share in qualities of my lesbian identity and people who are dissimilar. Through the lesbian continuum, I am able to connect and identify with those who may not be comfortable identifying as lesbians.

Rich’s theory broadens the lesbian’s experience, allowing her to connect with those around her. Frankly, I love being a lesbian. It’s hard for me to imagine how lesbianism might be uncomfortable to someone else. It feels natural to appreciate women, and that is a central element to my identity as a lesbian. I am a lesbian because it feels natural and positive. Discovering my lesbian identity was an easy experience because I understood myself. Everything about being a lesbian and a woman on a lesbian continuum feels good to me, which causes me to wonder if the lesbian existence, itself, is not one of the happiest existences possible. But it is not the lesbian existence alone that creates happiness; it is the lesbian existence coupled with the strength of an individual that creates happiness.

The lesbian existence, according to Rich, is expressed in various forms. Rich describes the lesbian existence as being an act of resistance against patriarchy—a broad classification that I find particularly helpful (349). While the word “lesbian” may intimidate some people, the act of resistance may be able to overcome their fears of the word. Rich is bold to be so inclusive, but her ideas have an important place in present feminist discussions and will continue to have an important place in future discussions. Her theory challenges us to embrace our connections, in the midst of our individual differences.

No comments: