Unstraightening Lesbian: Removing The Heterosexual Lens: Minnie Bruce Pratt

This is the final (for now) addition, originally posted here, in our Unstraightening Lesbian series, which profiled 12 of the numerous Straightbians who have co-opted “lesbian” and purported to be lesbian experts when, in fact, they are neither lesbian nor expert.

Our final offender is Minnie Bruce Pratt, who is probably known as much for her disjointed thinking/writing as for whom she was partnered/married (Leslie Feinberg).

Self-described per her Twitter account as:

Lesbian writer poet, anti-racist anti-imperialist activist, teacher mother grandmother, life-partnered with beloved Leslie Feinberg for 22 fabulous LGBTQ years.”

Before discovering Women’s Lib Pratt was married with children; after discovering Women’s Lib, she leaped joyfully into free love with other straight women pretending to be lesbians.

“…we would take other lovers, and we did, and there were quite a bunch of different complications, including, you know, just this sort of daisy chain of lovers stretching all the way to Tennessee at one point, all the way to Tennessee at one end and to Washington at the other end, you know. And we would make jokes about that.”

Her definition of lesbian is as shallow as her understanding of it:

“As I say somewhere, one definition of a lesbian is a woman who has a job.”

Rather than by-products of birth, through Women’s Lib, Pratt came to believe her heterosexuality, like her femininity, could simply be unlearned. Were that true, even in the slightest, Pratt’s heterocentric behaviour/lens obviously weren’t unlearned enough.

“And Julia was being very — you know, like, oh god, something about toilet seats, I can’t remember. It was some outrageous thing, you know, [like] Lesbianism is catching, a lesbian just sat here on the toilet seat, or something, I don’t know…And Julia was furious, and just screamed at me. But the thing that really got me the most was that she said my name in this very belittling, contemptuous way. And I know it doesn’t sound like much, but to have someone use your name in this very contemptuous, sarcastically demeaning way was just devastating…So I left that session and I went into the bathroom crying. I was just crying. Sitting in the stall, crying. And Harriet Desmoines, Ellenberger now, came after me and said to me, “I thought you might be upset. Don’t be so upset. Don’t be upset. Julia always talks to femmes like that.” Now Harriet, being a femme herself, having dealt with Julia, because they moved Sinister Wisdom to Nebraska, I’m sure knew what she was talking about.”

“…what was happening is that we were a generation of women who had been acculturated, all of us, into femininity, so we had to break with our acculturation into femininity, and learn how to change the oil in our cars, or how to change tires and how to do all this stuff that we had not been allowed or taught to do-wear pants, wear fatigue pants, which I did for years. I had got, wore this stuff out of Fayetteville. I would to go the army stores and buy, you know, these paratrooper pants. I was wearing boots and paratrooper pants. But I was also wearing little pink voile tops with  orange ribbons.”

So, breaking with that femininity, learning how not to be passive-aggressive, not sneaky, not, you know, not woman-to-woman passive-aggressive, you know, all that stuff, we had learned. About how to be with each other as women. We had to unlearn it all. So we went in this other direction which, to us, was around androgyny. It’s like, OK, we’re not going to be feminine women. We’re going to be androgynous. Not all of us did that, um, but I certainly did, because I had a lot to unlearn. A lot to unlearn”

It is clear from Pratt’s hissy fit and Straight(bian) Women’s Libber ideas that she thought that (her) femininity could simply be removed from (her) mind and body and replaced with sensible shoes and a few basic life skills outside her comfort zone.

In what seems to follow a typical STRAIGHTBIAN behaviour, Pratt too says her and associated feminist STRAIGHTBIANS “were all being non-monogamous. Everybody was being non-monogamous”. At one such lesbian feminist party Pratt says:

 “So it was a house party. It was a D.C. house party. African American women, white women,all lesbiansraunchy, raunchy, raunchy. You know, great music and porn movies on downstairs, lesbian porn movies, and women looking and saying, How come all these women have long fingernails? That is not right. And us doing – and I’ve written about this — doing this circle thing where all the femmes will get in a circle and put a butch in the middle and say, OK, how butch is she? and rank them, and us saying a seven, and the butch saying, “No way, I’m a ten. I do not accept a seven.””

Were you to have nothing else ever written by Pratt, this blurb alone would be enough to reveal Pratt’s heterosexuality (Straightbian). First: where on earth would there be enough Butches and Femmes to do this, and, more importantly no Femme, let alone a party full of Femmes, would put a Butch in a circle and judge her degree of butchness. Butch is Butch, it isnt about degree thereof. Its grossly clear in the Butch department Leslie Feinberg wasn’t a ten and needed testosterone to measure up to Pratt’s tastes.

As we’ve noticed with other Straightbians in this series, Pratt couldn’t do anything herself, she instead hooked up with men and/or lesbians whom she believed she could feed her political ideas through and have them turn them into action:

“I never wanted to be with someone for purely personal reasons. It was always about a larger horizon, you know. I was interested in their politics”

And Feinberg fit her political bill, and based on Pratt’s (less than impressive) first meeting with Feinberg, meeting her romantic bill would take a little spit and polish or in Feinberg’s situation, testosterone.

“Somebody asked me to show her the way to the auditorium. So, it’s very interesting. I remember meeting her, very handsome, great shirt. I don’t think she had a tie on. No, I don’t think she had a tie on. I remember that first moment where I saw her as more slight and smaller than I ever, ever remember again feeling that she was. It was an interesting moment. I remember seeing her and perceiving her as a slight butch lesbian. Thin, but slight I think might be the word. And I’ve never again seen her that way.”

I mentally juggle your female birth sex, male gender expression…”

Pratt co-opted Femme in the same way she co-opted Lesbian, in the same way she heterosexualized her relationships with lesbian lovers. Pratt climbed lesbians like ladder rungs, with each step up hoping to create the perfect man. In the end, Pratt got neither, man nor perfection.

Dirt and Mrs. Dirt

2 thoughts on “Unstraightening Lesbian: Removing The Heterosexual Lens: Minnie Bruce Pratt

  1. Brava to you and to Dirt on completing your twelve Herculean labours – though perhaps they can all be likened collectively to Hercules’ fifth task, cleaning out the Augean stables. Unlike the preceding 10 phonies, the last two were previously unknown to me (except just Minnie Bruce Pratt’s name, as the ‘widow’ of Leslie Feinberg).

    Boy, that Loree Cook-Daniels sounds like a piece of work. Many of her statements are self-contradictory even on her own terms. “Many (lesbian) partners discover they actually have a preference for FTMs” is literally meaningless. It would make some kind of sense if she had placed the word ‘lesbian’ in shriek-quotes rather than parentheses, but that would have meant admitting that her formerly much-vaunted ‘lesbianism’, around which she prides herself on having “constructed [her] career”, had always been a pretence, or, let us be generous, a self-misperception.

    Moreover, her current work as a ‘trans activist’ necessarily involves her asserting the reality and authenticity of ‘sex change’: that FTMs really do ‘become men’. To proclaim an erotic preference (or obsession, as it seems in her case) for FTMs, rather than simply for ‘men’, is an open negation of that assertion. I read in the Milwaukee biog you mention that she was at some point “marginalized by the female-to-male (FTM) community”; frankly, I’m not surprised.

    The propensity of heterosexual women to choose highly unsuitable or inadequate (male) partners with a view to ‘remoulding’ them into the perfect man is well known and has often been satirized (most amusingly, to my easily-pleased mind, in various episodes of The Simpsons). I would be surprised to learn that many such projects have had a successful outcome, but I know little of such things. To take that endeavour a stage further, and choose females rather than males as the clay out of which to build your perfect man, at least deserves a little hat-tip, I suppose, toward the audacity and magnitude of Daniels’ ambition.

    It’s hard to know (and I’m too lazy to look them up) how many of your quotes from Minnie Bruce Pratt are from her writing and how many are just reports of her spoken words. In either case, I would expect anyone who has the chutzpah to describe herself as, among other things, a ‘poet’ to take more care about expressing herself. Her own incoherence makes it more difficult to comment about her, but the antics she got up to with her ‘lesbian feminist’ pals at their house parties seem to me only a whisker away from ‘soggy biscuit’: if you don’t know what ‘soggy biscuit’ is, trust me, you’re better off not knowing.

    But it all sounds uncannily like the kind of stuff that semi-secret groups of ‘cock-buddies’ got up to at my (all boys) boarding school. The big difference is that none of those involved there claimed to be gay, and indeed resented (sometimes with their fists) any suggestion that they might be. Needless to say, any boy identified as really being gay was never invited to participate. Is it stretching the comparison too far to note that (in England at least) the ‘neo-lesbians’ of the 1970s shunned contact with established lesbian culture, apart from an early appeal to femmes to ‘liberate’ themselves from their butches, just as the lesfems had from their men?

    I can’t get over some of the things you quote Pratt as saying:
    “I never wanted to be with someone for purely personal reasons. It was always about a larger horizon, you know. I was interested in their politics.”
    If I was her current girlfriend when she said that, then thanks a lot, honey.

    Most puzzling of all, “one definition of a lesbian is a woman who has a job.” Maybe there was an appropriate context for that, but fuck me, she is or was a communist, she knows that working-class women always had jobs, badly paid and in bad conditions, but jobs nonetheless.

    Liked by 3 people

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