For lesbians, inhabiting the queer slant may be a matter of everyday negotiation. This is about (…) the everyday work of dealing with the perceptions of others, with the ‘‘straightening devices’’ and the violence that might follow when such perceptions congeal into social forms.
Sarah Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 2006, 107
While navigating both patriarchal and heteronormative norms, lesbian, bisexual, and queer women face particular struggles. This intersection entails specific issues, namely sexual assault, gender-based violence, mental health struggles, substance use, and other social and economic inequalities. In Canada, in 2020, 68.7% of sexual minority women and 40.6% of sexual minority men had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in public in the previous 12 months, compared to 30.5% of heterosexual women and 12.5% of heterosexual men (Jaffray 2020). Action ontarienne contra la violence faite aux femmes (AOcVF) reports that lesbian women are twice as likely to experience violence as heterosexual women, with the figure rising to 4.5 for bisexual women. A 2022-2023 survey conducted by the Quebec Lesbian Network across 1108 participants identified within the lesbian/lezbiqueer community finds that 60% of participants suffer from diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues, 29% have experienced a sexual aggression, and 41% earn under $30,000 per year.
Analyzing gender-based discrimination while also adding queerness in the mix is a complex task. Indeed, while structural inequalities already affect women, heteronormativity presents additional normative and discursive pressures as “we turn the wrong way.” Lesbian, queer, and bisexual women can thus often feel invisible in both 2S/LGBTQIA+ and women’s rights groups and communities. While many studies focus on either homophobic violence or violence against women, very few examine the particularity of violence against 2S/LGBTQIA+ women, which lies at the intersection of homophobia/lesbophobia and sexism. This double oppression results in violence not only in terms of physical and sexual assaults, but also in terms of invalidation and microaggressions within public and private spheres (Bermea et al. 2018; Martin-Storey et al. 2015; Walukevich-Dienst et al. 2019).
The multiple marginalization of sexually diverse women is even more significant when viewed through lenses of racial, immigration, and class issues. Struggles also arise within our communities about the definition of women’s experiences while being inclusive of gender diversity, expressions, and identities – notably, how to be better inclusive of non-binary and agender folks who identify within the lesbian or lezbiqueer community. On International Women’s Day this year, we invite everyone to celebrate lesbian and lezbiqueer communities in all their beautiful diversity — lesbian, pan, bi, queer, fluid, non-binary, agender, trans women, and cis women.
The Quebec Lesbian Network’s visibility campaign this year is Naming to Exist as we raise our voices against invisibility, channeling vulnerability into empowerment. As Sarah Ahmed phrases it, “lesbian desire can be rethought as a space for action, a way of extending differently into space through tending toward ‘‘other women’’ (Ahmed, 2006, 102). We are hopeful to see many more community and research projects develop around lezbiqueer needs in terms of sexual and mental health, initiatives against gender-based violence, and to address structural and economic inequalities. The richness of lezbiqueer perspectives and experiences can surely teach us a lot about resilience, innovation, and change.
By Tara Chanady, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Quebec Lesbian Network