Butches & Trans Guys

June 23, 2009  |  on butches

I know what butch is. Butches are not beginner FTMs, except that sometimes they are, but it’s not a continuum except when it is. Butch is not a trans identity unless the butch in questions says it is, in which case it is, unless the tranny in question says it isn’t, in which case it’s not. There is no such thing as butch flight, no matter what the femmes or elders say, unless saying that invalidates the opinion of femmes in a sexist fashion or the opinions of elders in an ageist fashion. Or if they’re right. But they are not, because butch and transgender are the same thing with different names, except that butch is not a trans identity, unless it is; see above.

- S. Bear Bergman, from “I Know What Butch Is,” the first chapter from hir book Butch Is A Noun.

 

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25 Comments


  1. People on Feministing have been pretty hardcore and mean about the inclusion of transmen. I'm so unknowledgeable about the whole thing that I can't even make a statement on it. I know you meant no offense. Could someone explain why they're complaining, or why they were included? I'm not complaining, I'm really just confused about the whole thing. But either way, I love the list, and it seems to be really popular! I think you did a fabulous job.

  2. Em, I haven't read what people are saying at Feministing, but I can say that including trans guys in the label "butches" makes me uncomfortable only because of the anti-trans argument that "trans guys are just really butch lesbians." This is highly offensive because while there may be some trans guys who also identify as butch lesbians, or butch lesbians who also identify as trans, saying that these two identities are the same denies the legitimacy of trans guys who identify as MEN, not butch women. Publicly grouping trans guys into butches runs the risk of reinforcing this kind of thinking, which at its most extreme suggests that no transgender or transsexual identity is valid, and that transgender and transsexual men can never "really" be men.

  3. Em,

    I haven't seen what other people are saying, so I don't know how this fits in with what you've heard, but:

    The general gist of why transmen wouldn't want to be included on the list is that being a transexual man isn't like being a transgendered or transmasculine. Usually, the term 'transsexual man' is reserved by someone who is completely male identified. That person may feel that by being included in a list of people who are essentially female is compromising their identity. In other words "You wouldn't put an XY man on a list of butches, so why are you putting me? You don't really see me as male, do you?"

    On the other hand, the reason why it might be appropriate to include some transmen on the list is that some embrace a butch or queer identity, while still being, in their own eyes, male identified.

    The whole thing depends on the guy in question, basically. It's a really delicate line to walk.

    ps. Sin, your list completely destroyed my productivity today. Well done :)

  4. "Butch is not a trans identity unless the butch in questions says it is, in which case it is, unless the tranny in question says it isn’t, in which case it’s not."

    I think that most (if not all) of the complaints that I've read over the past 24hrs about the Top Hot Butches list would never have been raised if Sinclair had followed (and documented, where possible) that the people on the list actually self-identify as butch. Otherwise, to paraphrase (and quote) a commenter on Feministing, Sinclair is doing the same thing that he complains about the Top 100 Hot Lesbian list of doing: "putting up images of folks they imagine to be butch instead of all…self-professed butches."

    For anyone interested, I highly recommend following (and perhaps joining in) the discussion going on on Feministing at the moment. Em is correct that the commenters have been pretty hardcore, but I disagree that they've been mean. What I've read there until now has been by far the most mature, respectful (but still forceful), enlightening discussion I've ever read on an internet message board.

    http://www.feministing.com/archives/016273.html#c

  5. i appreciate Bear's perspective and the nuance that he brings to this issue, and i appreciate that real life isn't always as black and white as identity politics necessarily make it seem. but, a list called "top 100 butches" is exactly identity politics and, in that context, the black and white version of reality wherein men of trans experience/history and butches are completely un-related identities is the only appropriate way for cis* people to completely avoid co-opting the language and experiences of trans* people. including male-identified trans men as butches, when you wouldn't include male-identified cis men is walking all over people's right to self-identify, and it is exactly bio-essentialist. if we're playing that game, i might as well include you on a list of the top 100 smartest female-lesbian-lady-girl bloggers or something.

    as far as i'm concerned, in this context, the "except when it is" in Bear's quote is equivalent to "except when butch people appropriate and co-opt the language and identity of trans folks".

  6. I don't know why people insist on labels!!

    I dated a woman who put me in the Ellen category on our first date but failed to see and didn't stick around to discover the real butch inside. She missed quite a lot actually, all the while professing a love of butch women. The sad part is I was on the verge of telling her exactly who I am and what I wanted when she dumped me.

    How you look is not who you are, the person inside is often very different and sometimes very scared of showing parts of themselves to others. It's a trust issue that needs to be considered especially when you have been ridiculed for a lifetime and have learned to cover up.

    Don't put a label on people unless they tell you how they identify, it's all about how you feel inside not how you present to the world at large.

  7. I will not say anything useful, so, beware… but in some way, it feels like reading Gertrude Stein…

  8. Ephraim is one smart cookie.

    Well said, I second.

  9. A genderqueer quoting a genderqueer to justify misapplied language is just more of the same, isn't it? ;~)

    The transsexual and transgendered communities frequently not only sport issues, identities, and language that differ, but those issues, identities and language sometimes actually *conflict*. Of course it's important to acknowledge the grey areas where they intersect; but it's also just as important to be aware of and acknowledge their distinctions, because to the classic transsexual man, being recognized as wholly male is what their entire fight is all about.

    Sinclair, you made it clear from the git-go where you're coming from and didn't need to re-justify it. But it demonstrated that you really don't get the highly charged, highly specific, highly politicized, unique subculture that is transsexual men. They're not dykes and they're not butches – those are lesbians, which are women. Period. (no pun intended.) ;~)

    ~ hb33 ~

  10. um … that said …

    *D-A-M-N.* that list is *hawt*. ;-D~~~

    ~ hb33 ~

  11. that makes very little sense.

  12. What Ephraim said. There may be nuances but it is not your place to put transmen in the category of "butch" when many have been trying so hard in the queer community to be seen as who they are: men, plain and simple. Many of the transmen on your list aren't even *butch* men! And we see no non-trans men on the list. This is a great illustration of the ways that segments of the queer community often claim trans people as "theirs" without doing the work necessary to be a real ally and respect trans peoples' identities.

    I find your excuses to be disingenuous – How about being accountable to the trans community and actually apologizing for hurting so many FTM's? All over Livejournal and Facebook today I've been hearing transpeople's pain (yes, pain) over being made invisible yet again by this list. Over being disrespected. Over having their identities and their lives and struggles be less important than who you find hot.

    -A butch who isn't very happy about "100 Top Butches" including a lot of non-butches

  13. First of all, I loved the list. The folks on it were handsome & fabulous & it was so stunning to see butchness represented publicly. And did I mention it was totally fucking hot!

    I'm also beginning to feel positively simple-minded about the issue of whether trans folks can be included in a list of what Sinclair described as "“….transmasculine representation in mainstream lesbian culture…Even in queer-focused top 100 lists, masculine women and transguys are rarely included.", and later in the introduction explains, "I use the term here in the broadest sense – as an adjective descriptor, meaning an intentional display of masculinity." Sinclair has explained why she is using the word butch within this context, is aware that it may be contentious, and asks us to examine our assumptions about gender, including both female masculinity and compulsory femininity.

    (And for what it is worth, in my personal world of identity politics, most trannies that I'm friends with do not consider themselves male, but transgender. Maybe I'm just sheltered. I don't know.)

  14. Birdie, WTF is up with using the slur "trannies"?

  15. Birdie, I agree with you entirely. I know this is a sensitive issue, but I think Sin made it very clear at the outset what the parameters and guidelines of the project were. And in my experience also, transguys do not identify as men, but as trans.

    Sin, I think this is a great attempt to raise awareness, visibility and discussion (as we can see) about genderqueer identities generally. Well done. Love your work.

    x

  16. If you really think that trans men don't identify as men, then i strongly suggest you both broaden your experience and stop speaking for a group of people that you're not a member of.

    This is exactly what i mean when i say that non-trans people have appropriated the language of trans people. That's the only way that anyone could suggest that ftms aren't men or are somehow butches and have it not be patently ridiculous.

  17. "Transmen may or may not be men"

    This is precisely illustrative of my point. The only reason this statement makes any sort of sense to anyone is because people who are not men appropriated (i.e. STOLE) the word "transmen" from people who are; and they used it to mean something clearly very different, to apply to a vastly different set of identities and experiences, than that for which it was originally intended.

    And, again, "queer masculinity" necessarily also includes queer cisgendered/cissexual men as well.

  18. I liked the project, Sinclair, but you pretty much asked for all of this outrage by going the way you did with it. I see where you were coming from, but you have run up against the brick wall that is as follows:

    *Transmen may or may not be men. They may or may not be masculine. But they are almost always not women. And they get to decide for themselves.

    *Butches may or may not be women. Sometimes they are men. But they are almost always masculine. And they get to decide for themselves.

    Gender expression does not equal gender!

    You wanted to showcase queer masculinity, but you called it butchness. Putting transmen (who are usually men and almost always not women) in a list of butches subordinates their sense of their own gender to your sense of their gender expression without their permission. Many transguys aren’t going to want you to do that even if you are glorifying their masculinity.

    I know there are other people who aren’t strictly queer butch women on the list – like Moennig, who’s some hot and fantastic form of not-queer. In fact most of the people on that list aren’t butch in my eyes.

    I want to see queer masculinity glorified the way you wanted to do it, and I loved seeing people of different genders together on the list.

    And Sinclair, I know the word “butch” is as dear to your heart as it is to mine. But not all queer masculinities are butch. You list all sorts of great queerly masculine identities (andro, genderqueer, etc)…but then you subsume them under butch, where they just don’t belong.

    There may not be language that quite conveys all of those hot people together, and that’s really frustrating to me.

    In the meantime though, if you set out to do this again or to fix it, a suggestion:

    Make sure you have a transguy on your judges’ panel if you’re going to include cis or transmen in the list (which I think you should). Someone identified as a transfag, for example, could give you great suggestions. Consider also tracking down a butch-loving-butch, who may have different tastes in masculinity from a femme.

  19. "If you really think that trans men don’t identify as men, then i strongly suggest you both broaden your experience and stop speaking for a group of people that you’re not a member of."

    Well, the transguys I know don't identify as men, they identify as trans, so perhaps the range of trans experiences is broader than you are personally aware of.

    Ephraim, I didn't attempt to speak for any 'group' of people, whether or not I am a 'member' of that group. I was just repeating what my transguy friends have told me about how they view their identity, hence the phrase "in my experience". Obviously not everyone feels the same way, and I certainly don't know enough trans folk to cover the entire range of experiences and attitudes, and nor did I suggest as such.

  20. Then, Kim, if you're going to speak ABOUT (not "for!") an entire community based on your (limited) personal experience, it might be time to broaden your personal circle.

    ~ hb33 ~

  21. >>And, again, “queer masculinity” necessarily also includes queer >>cisgendered/cissexual men as well.

    Yes it does, and that is how I meant it.

    >>“Transmen may or may not be men”

    >>This is precisely illustrative of my point. The only reason this statement >>makes any sort of sense to anyone is because people who are not men >>appropriated (i.e. STOLE) the word “transmen” from people who are; and >>they used it to mean something clearly very different, to apply to a vastly >>different set of identities and experiences, than that for which it was >>originally intended.

    You're right. That this is not the way to put it, and I apologize. I am uncomfortable with the way people say "such and such identifies as x" in a way that means "we couldn't tell they're x, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt". So I try not to do that. But, I wanted to be clear that those who identify as men, cis or trans, are men, regardless of how they present. AND that those, cis* or trans*, whose identities as men are also queer should be given the same respect. And I botched it.

    But "people who are not men" are not the only ones using the word "transmen" that way.

  22. A friend advised me to read the many, many comments & outright dissertations on feministing etc. in regard to The List. With respect to the author, webhosts – if the list is about the people as humans: I've met about 14 on this list that I would not deign to invite into my home based on their behavior in my presence (Rachel Maddow and Alison Bechdel, you are not of the 14 and are always welcome for tea or something mundane like bird watching). If it is about simple physical objectification, I guess I just don't care anymore. But I am old and leaving, so that matters little.

    To the large part of the discussion where so many people are absolute in their being right / that demonize others – and there is no room for regionalism or dialect, good faith or loving error, intelligent discourse of sharing and creating a new language without vitriol:

    After decades as an out butch – I consider myself utterly neutered by what I've read. Additionally I will not attend SF Transmarch, Dyke March or even the off chance of Sunday. I started attending Fri/Sat when they first began – and now I know- if these are the minds and hearts that are behind those faces that have surrounded me in some declaration of community… I don't want to mingle there anymore. We've celebrated so many years, overlapping Trans/Dyke celebrations, joining each other's parties out of love and blind support. Here I see massive evisceration and loathing. I am retired.

    Please note: no disrespect to anyone involved in this regarding any assault and or rape that you endured. It is not you that I speak of and I'd be heartbroken if any took it that way.

    Thank you to the webhost for the space to make my overall comments. Moments like this always remind me of a language I read of (Greenland / Inuit?) that has 10 or 20 (?) words for snow. Lacking personal eloquence myself, I wish our language had such extensive nuance. I wish that in a process of injecting hormones- or not, having surgeries- or not, a transition of such magnitude that in the time line of our (queer, not born biologically male) people is yet so young – that a common language could be crafted patiently, over time and as a group that proclaims inclusive love – not with such jaw-dropping ugliness and the precision of a cold sharp weapon.

    - Naive; and goodbye.

  23. I think putting people in this list without asking them if they see themselves as butch is problematic without even getting into the clear error of putting men with a transgender history on the list. There are plenty of women that others would like to see as butch who DO NOT see themselves as butch. A butch lesbian is a clear and chosen identity and labelling someone else cause you want to see them that way is just wrong. I can imagine that there are quite a few women and genderfluid folks who do not id as butch just cause they sometimes look "masculine".

  24. S. Bear Bergman identifies as both trans and butch, so using hir words only serves to give you credibility, not listen to what people are telling you. The vast majority of butches and trans men do not want to be considered both, nor do they want one confused for the other. When people tell you its offensive, its because it is offensive to them, not you. It also may not be offensive to every single trans man or butch woman, but to ignore the majority so that the rare ones that stay in both worlds can be happy is not the way to go.

Trackbacks

  1. today i am thinking about: MY GENDER IS NOT YR GENDER « things to think about
  2. On Removing Transmen from the Top Hot Butches list – Sugarbutch Chronicles
  3. The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You by S. Bear Bergman – Sugarbutch Chronicles

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