OTI Online
Spring 1996

Orgasm Politics
a lesbian view


"Is This Why We Did It...
So Women Could Use Whips and Chains?"

The African American lesbian-feminist poet Pat Parker composed these lines in 1983. They were occasioned by a historically specific event: "Three women," she wrote in her introduction, "were arrested for assault recently after they beat up a woman who put a swastika on another woman's shoulder during an S&M encounter." Parker, also a health activist, died of cancer in 1989 at the age of 45.

It's something you should write about.
If you talk about it
then women will listen
and know it's ok.
Now, envision one poet sitting in a bar
not cruising
observing the interactions
and then sitting face to face
with a young woman
who wants a spokesperson for
sado-masochism
among lesbians.
The first impulse is to dismiss
the entire conversation as more
ramblings of a SWG

     (read Silly White Girl:
     derogatory
     characterization
     used by minorities for
     certain members of the
     caucasian race.)

The second is to run rapidly in another direction. Polite poets do not run, throw up, or strike the other person in a conversation. What we do is let our minds ramble.

So nodding in the appropriate places I left the bar traveled first to the sixties back to the cramped living rooms activist dykes consciousness-raising sessions I polled the women there one by one Is this what it was all about? Did we brave the wrath of threatened bar owners so women could wear handkerchiefs in their pockets? One by one I asked. Their faces faded furrows of frowns on the their brows. I went to the halls where we sat hours upon hours arguing with Gay men trying to build a united movement I polled the people there one by one

Is this why we did it? Did we grapple with our own who hated us so women could use whips and chains? The faces faded puzzled faces drift out of vision. I returned to the jails where women sat bruised and beaten singing songs of liberation through puffed lips I polled the women there one by one Is this why we did it? Did we take to the streets so women can carve swastikas on their bodies?

Hundreds and hundreds of women pass by no, march by chant, sing, cry I return to the voice the young voice in the bar and I am angry the vision of women playing as Nazis, policemen, rapists taunts me mocks me words drift through

it's always by consent we are oppressed by other dykes who don't understand and I am back in the bar furious the poll is complete no, no no no this is not why we did it this is not why we continue to do.

We need not play at being victim we need not practice pain we need not encourage helplessness they lurk outside our doors follow us through the streets and claim our lives daily. We must not offer haven for fascists and pigs be it real or fantasy the line is too unclear. --PAT PARKE

"Bar Conversation" copyright © 1985 by Pat Parker, reprinted from Jonestown & Other Madness by Pat Parker by permission of Firebrand Books, 141 Commons, Ithaca, New York 14850. "Bar Conversation" also appears in Unleashing Feminism: Critiquing Lesbian Sadomasochism in the Gay Nineties, Irene Reti, ed. (HerBooks, PO Box 7467, Santa Cruz, CA 95061).

See also:

A Gay Male View

How Orgasm Politics Has Hijacked the Women's Movement


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