What Was Happening Before ‘Just Be Nice Feminism’? Part IV: The Gutter Dykes, 1973

Image: Roaring Gutter Dike, south-west of Sandwich / David Kemp

In Part 4 of Dr Em’s series, we explore the objections of the lesbian group Gutter Dykes to the inclusion of transsexuals within the lesbian movement.

Previous parts available here: 1, 2 and 3.

The lesbian group the Gutter Dykes were reported to have handed out leaflets at the West Coast Lesbian Conference 1973 which asserted that ‘there is “a new trend of men that are invading and draining our lesbian community… men with xy chromosones and ‘normal’ male hormones who decide they are actually women, even though they have been socialised to be oppressive heterosexual men’.1 The pamphlet, to my knowledge, has not survived, however, a two page spread in their one issue magazine seems remarkably similar to what the inclusive of men lesbians described as being handed out.2 In Dykes & Gorgons the Lesbian Gutter Dykes argued that ‘there is an even more vicious and divisive trend of men draining lesbian energy that is now happening across the country: Men with xy chromosomes and “normal” male hormones who decide they are actually women, but since they too hate men, they want to be lesbians’.3 They quickly explained how these men had no relation to intersex conditions, that ‘this a different phenomenon from people who possess xxy chromosomes or some other variation, are not fully male, and were socialized as females, with all the accompanying oppression’.4 They warned that ‘some of these heterosexual males who want lesbian energy and love are actually taking female hormones and are planning to have a sex-change operation. (Even after the operation I would still consider them oppressive since they grew up with male privilege continue to use it against women, and still have the incomplete xy)’.5 They acknowledged that most trans identified males kept their penis and bemoaned that ‘that some of these men, still pre-operative and still with their pricks attached, manage to convince lesbians that they are women’.6 Indeed, these men ‘get into lesbian organizations, dances, and even acquire lesbian lovers. This is the most bizarre and dangerous co-optation of lesbian energy and emotion that I can imagine’.7 This complaint by the Gutter Dyke Collective, that their sisters were being fooled and selling women out – ‘just be kind’ – was made in 1973 and is still being made in 2020.  

One of the collective detailed her personal discomfort with men claiming to be women and attending women’s groups. She wrote,

I personally felt incredibly vulnerable and threatened when I recently went to a workshop at a local lesbian conference and saw a man there who four years ago had pressured me to be bi-sexual, give up my perverted ways, and let him fuck me. When I confronted him, he left, but later, at the larger meeting, other lesbians told me that I was the one who should leave, and that it was a personal dispute between the two of us’.8

Some women will always find a way to dismiss other women’s concerns and condone a man’s behaviour. Due to this, the sexual harassment and assault of lesbians has continued and increased, it has become cool. Sarah Masson wrote for Feminist Current in 2019 that

transgender ideology forces heterosexuality on lesbians, pressuring women to accept men as female and accusing lesbians of “transphobia” when they won’t sleep with or date men who claim to be “women.” In her report on the cotton ceiling for Get The L Out, Angela C. Wild found that “lesbians are routinely being coerced into sexual relations with transwomen [men]”.9

In 1973 a member of The Gutter Dykes expressed how ‘I never thought then that the man who was urging me to go straight with him would someday turn to me at an all women’s meeting and tell me he was a lesbian too’.10 She continued that she could not have imagined that ‘I, who have always been a lesbian, should be told to leave a lesbian meeting so that a prick could stay’.11 This exclusion of lesbians in favour of men claiming to be lesbians has only grown. In 2018 Danielle Cormier reported how ‘lesbians are being harassed and bullied out of their own spaces and events by trans activists and their allies’.12 Cromier outlined how ‘In 2018, the Dyke March has become an event where lesbians who refuse to accept males either as peers and/or sexual partners are told they are not welcome, branded a hate group, and harassed and threatened if they defiantly and peacefully participate anyway’.13 We have seen this pattern repeated globally. One wonders how or if it would be different if the Gutter Dykes had been listened to and supported all those years ago. If women, in the name of just be nice, it’s only one transsexual ally, had not capitulated and excluded their sisters. The Gutter Dykes pointed out that this man, Beth Elliott, claimed ‘he suffered oppression as a female, when I am at least one woman who feels oppressed by his heterosexual male power’.14 That is the same as what trans widows are saying today.15 The women inclusive of men were and are happier to exclude women to please the male’s feelings. Nothing has changed over the intervening years. As well as the tactical reasons for joining lesbian and women’s groups, there is also, I would allege, a sexual reason. Not only does it provide access to the male’s sexual target but what could be more of a turn on to an AGP male than the idea of being accepted by lesbians and feminists as a woman?

One particular ‘transsexual ally’, Beth Elliott, caused the most contention and split the lesbian and women’s movement, destroying their strength from the inside. A member of the Gutter Dykes warned that ‘this particular man is incredibly dangerous because he managed to become vice-president of the San Francisco D.O.B. Chapter and caused a split in that organization’.16 He had managed to force team the San Francisco branch of Daughters of Bilitis, creating legitimacy for himself – ‘these women accept me’, ‘I’ve been such an ally’ – and silencing critics. As I have outlined elsewhere,

forced teaming is a term employed by those who work on abuse, grooming and predation. It was originally coined by Gavin De Becker in his work The Gift of Fear […] The predator will create the idea that there is a shared goal, or an attitude of we are all in this together, we are allies, in order to disarm, gain trust and manipulate his target.17

Elliott managed to get lesbians and women to abuse other lesbians and women over the idea of male inclusion, it was tactical, ‘predators use forced teaming to recruit co-conspirators to fight their battles and do their bidding’.18 The Gutter Dykes recognised this. They stated that ‘the truth of the matter is that certain lesbians have been so taken in by his pathetic lie of “growing up female” trapped in a male body that they will stand behind him and fight for him — even against other lesbians’.19 It is the old ‘male trick of pitting women against one another to fight men’s battles has been used since the beginning of patriarchy. This is not an isolated incident but part of a growing phenomenon and we must be prepared to deal with it as it arises in our communities’.20 Elliott began being published as a voice for women. The Gutter Dykes recorded how ‘he has been published in three lesbian feminist publications on the West Coast, as a lesbian, and as of March, 1973, printed his own “lesbian-feminist” publication with the aid of a group of lesbians’.21 Elliott was now controlling the narrative and what is almost worse is that women were cheering on a man speaking for them, a man telling women what rights they may or may not have, what women will accept.

These women saw the inclusion of the alleged ‘transsexual ally’, Beth Elliott, as ‘the ultimate subversion and denial of our right to build our own culture free from male influence’.22 The Women’s Movement, the Lesbian Movement, had become unisex. Worse, other women had handed the movement for women’s liberation to a man. The lesbians of the Gutter Dyke Collective knew that these males were not working towards women’s rights, they stated that ‘while appearing to be sincere, these parasitic males are taking energy from women and lesbians on whatever level they can. And they will fight for their sexist survival to the detriment of women’s lives’.23 The Gutter Dykes complained that ‘As always, a “struggling” man is given precedent over any lesbian’.24

  1. The Lesbian Tide, Jun. 1973, 32., p. 37. http://revolution.berkeley.edu/assets/Conference-Report-on-Beth-Elliot-full.png
  2. See: Dr Em. ‘West Coast Lesbian Conference 1973’, Uncommon Ground Media.
  3. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 9.
  4. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 9.
  5. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 9.
  6. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 9.
  7. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 9.
  8. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 9.
  9. S. Masson, ‘Lesbian visibility matters now more than ever’, Feminist Current (18 June 2019)
  10. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 9.
  11. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 9.
  12. D. Cromier, ‘Lesbians are being excluded from the Vancouver Dyke March in the name of ‘inclusivity’, Feminist Current (13 August 2018)
  13. D. Cromier, ‘Lesbians are being excluded from the Vancouver Dyke March in the name of ‘inclusivity’, Feminist Current (13 August 2018)
  14. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 9.
  15. https://www.transwidowsvoices.org/our-voices
  16. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 9.
  17. Dr. Em, ‘Forced Teaming, Feminism, LGB and ‘Trans Rights’, Uncommon Ground Media (25 May 2020)
  18. Dr. Em, ‘Forced Teaming, Feminism, LGB and ‘Trans Rights’, Uncommon Ground Media (25 May 2020)
  19. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 10.
  20. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 10.
  21. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 9.
  22. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 10.
  23. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 10.
  24. Gutter Dykes Collective, Dykes & Gorgons, Volume 1, issue 1, May-June 1973, p. 10.

1 Comment

  1. So interesting and important. That the Gutter Dykes saw and spoke the truth so many decades ago. What goes around, comes around, sadly. Listen to women, and particularly lesbians, cause we are the canaries in the coal mine.

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