“Man-hating dyke” is the worst thing you can call a lesbian. But in the #MeToo era, it’s time to reclaim it.
In the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings, a dyke friend in her twenties posted that, real talk, she doesn’t like men. I hit the like button super fast, feeling secretive and sort of guilty about it. She’d come through the same radical queer and trans circles I came up in, and in that click, I felt relieved to acknowledge an obvious truth: Most men treat women like something less than human, whether accidentally or on purpose, and that means it’s hard to like them.
I’d recently been scanning the men coming into my workplace, wondering about their histories of sexual assault. Is he a rapist? What about him? Where does he fall on the creep scale? It was an old impulse that had returned in force as the nation debated just how many of their husbands, brothers, and sons were perpetrators, given that one in three American women experience sexual violence in their lifetimes. Republicans insisted that men were the ones who should be afraid, while women recounted the everyday, harrowing ways we reroute our lives to avoid assault. My “woke” male co-workers made #MeToo jokes, as if the whole thing were a funny spectacle. It was enough to make me want to stop talking to men entirely.
Yet still, inside my head, the #NotAllMen chorus roared. What about the dad of two who likes all my angry tweets? Or the guy who showed up at the hospital with too much food when my spouse was in labor? Or my friends who are trans men?
Patriarchy runs so deep that I defend hypothetical men’s feelings right away, even to myself. I am a married lesbian, as far away from needing male approval as a woman can get, and I still feel it, the slow poisonous drip of cultural conditioning that tells me to prioritize men. My imagination, that thing that could break us out of American fascism, is trapped in an old feminist loop, because I’ve been trained that the worst thing I can be is a man-hating dyke. But it’s time to confront the latent homophobia in that insult and our fear that anger makes us seem too gay. Because anger, not fear, is precisely the emotion that’s needed these days.
Of course, certain women’s anger had become trendy under Trump: that of straight cis white women, the good girls of the left taking on the big bad president. Rebecca Traister, promoting her new book, Good and Mad, joked on at least two podcasts that writing about rage made her sex life better, reminding the world—perhaps unconsciously—that women’s anger needs a heterosexual qualifier.
When straight cis white women talk about anger, it’s sexy resistance fuel. When straight cis black women get angry, they get caricatured and punished. When cis lesbians talk about anger, we get Rosie O’Donnell’d, used as a shield for misogyny, since men know other women won’t defend us. “Man-hating dyke” is a classic insult, whether aimed at actual lesbians or Hillary Clinton, used to remind queer women that there’s something wrong with us. Second-wave straight feminists did whatever they could to distance themselves from lesbians, avoiding the “lavender menace” and adopting pretty, gender-conforming icons like Gloria Steinem. Straight or queer, angry or not, trans women’s mere existence is considered a threat.