someone slightly more articulate

August 13, 2007  |  essays

[O]ral histories have demonstrated that butch-femme couples were seen in America as far back as the turn of the twentieth century [... But] the lesbian feminist movement beginning in the early 1970s, dismissed butch-femme culture as politically incorrect. [...]

Criticism of butch-femme was usually based on the claim that these identifications are an attempt to replicate heterosexuality by designating one member of a couple as male (the butch) and the other as female (the femme). Even today this argument is frequently aired. However, it is highly problematic because of its own underlying assumption of heteronormativity–that is, the tenet that heterosexuality is normal, and that all other forms of sexuality are only weak imitations of it. Butch-femme need not be an imitation of anything; it is a unique way of living and loving.

from the entry for Butch/femme in the GLBTQ encyclopedia

See also:

Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity by Chloe Brushwood
Butch Is a Noun by S. Bear Bergman
Dagger: On Butch Women edited by Lily Burana, Roxxie, and Linnea Due
Femme/Butch: New Considerations of the Way We Want to Go by Michelle Gibson and Deborah T. Meem
The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader edited by Joan Nestle
… and don’t forget the upcoming Visible: A Femmethology edited by Maria Angeline

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7 Comments


  1. These arguments can go on and on and on. All I know is that I see so many different couples these days: butch-femme, butch-butch, femme-femme. Isn't that's where freedom and progress are in being able to pursue that which makes you happy without being judged for your choices?No one says you need to rigidly stick to a role either. I've always seen myself (in that bi-sexual way) as a femme who was attracted to other femmes. I thought of it as sort of an acknowledgment of self-love and self-acceptance. However, being in the company of, ahem, a certain very sugary butch has made me question my own assumption. I think for me it comes down to a very basic fact; I am not attracted to people because they identify one way or another, I am simply attracted to spontaneous, real, smart, witty and compassionate people be they butch, femme, Martian, dominant or submissive.

  2. it was a revelation to me to realize that butch & femme & sissy & all that stuff was not trying to be something we aren't, but instead is that masculine or that feminine in the divinest sense expressing through certain biochemical, environmental & experiential make-ups. by being butch, you no more want to be a man than my shoe. it's just the way the energy comes through, manifests in the animal. dualities and binaries are just ideas trying to explain the inexplicable. in reality, there are no linear & exclusive states, just attempts to explain them w/words.i say to hell with the descriptions, let's all just be.

  3. i'm going to the book store right now. And i'm with tongue tied. Can't we all just be?

  4. Well, i know it's not the thing to say in queer circles, but i have no interest in just being. I like stereotypes and roles.The challenge is to hold on to my labels, and let you just be.

  5. yeah, I'm skeptical of the "just be" role too. If you don't find labels and roles and categories and definitions that work for you, then hey, whatever. But I like that I am a "kinky queer butch top." I love that I finally, finally feel comfortable and confident in who I am, how I am defined and self-defined, and what that means for my relationships, lovers, and world view perspective.

  6. don't misunderstand my "just be" as a "just shut up and don't try to figure out who you really are." self-exploration is not only good, it's necessary to live authentically. my point is only that labels are only that – labels. they are the map and not the territory, and do not represent reality in any way of wholeness. labels can be freeing to own, pushing your head into new places, but can also be limiting to wall yourself in with.

  7. Oh, and part of tongue-tied’s comment (and this whole discussion) reminded me of this:

    “At that point I had no notion of sexual politics, but I knew that a homosexual is farther away from a woman than a rhinoceros.” – Jeanette Winterson – Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

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