Consider it “The Sugarbutch Hot 100″

June 26, 2009  |  essays

So, now that the trans discussion is calming down a little bit, I’m starting to get a slew of feedback about calling the *other* people on this list “butch.” Either saying, these people are not butch, they are femme, or saying it is non-consensual to label people as butch on a list.

I hear you.

This is because of the name, “Top Hot Butches,” which implies that EVERYONE on this list is “A BUTCH.” And that is just not true. Come on people, of course that’s not true! That is why the subtitle included also androgyny, genderqueer, stud, AG, and trans men. A lot of people have a very specific vision of what “A BUTCH” is, myself included!, and many of the people on this list do not fit that.

I fully understand that “butch” is a specific gender identity, that it is not necessarily the same as androgynous or tomboy or genderqueer or stud or AG or trans man, that nobody else should have the right to pin a particular gender identity on anyone. That concept itself is a very firm, basic, and important foundation to the gender activism work that I do.

And I’d like to get back, for a minute, to the original intention of this list, which is to showcase a big part of the lesbian and queer communities which is often completely invisible in mainstream lesbian culture: masculinity, and gender diversity. A mainstream lesbian publication would actually call Joan Jett or Jenny Shimizu or Katherine Moennig butch, despite that there are many, many of us who are working to construct butch as something alltogether different, and that we would scoff at their excessive use of eye makeup. But still: masculinity and gender diversity in lesbian and queer culture is underrespresented, while femininity is still held as the standard of hotness.

This is what the Top Hot Butches list was seeking to address.

I’ve been viewing “Top Hot Butches” as a brand name more than a gender identity descriptor of the list. And I know that you can’t really use “butch” as a brand name in this way, because the word is defined as a gender identity descriptor, and if I redefine it as a brand name but the entire rest of the fucking world is recognizing it as a gender identity descriptor, my own redefining of it is kind of useless.

But still: It wasn’t until last night that I realized the distinction, in this specific project, between brand name and gender identity descriptor. Someone made a comment, saying, “Would there have been anything like this furor if – without changing anything else about the descriptors, explanations or rules – the list had been entitled ” The Sugarbutch Hot List”?”

And the answer is, probably not. I mean, “butch” would still be in the title of the project, so certainly that would still be a problem, but “Sugarbutch” is much more of a brand name, and it would’ve been much easier to distinguish that I am not attempting to call everyone on the list butch, trans men included!, and that I was simply compiling a list of hot people.

I considered calling it something like “the Sugarbutch Hot 100″ before I did the project, but not very seriously. I thought it would be too small in scope, I didn’t necessarily want it to be part of Sugarbutch, I wanted it to be a separate project. I didn’t think it would matter. I want Sugarbutch to be my personal online writing project, though I’ve been joking for a while that I’m building the Sugarbutch Empire. Hell, maybe it would’ve been better for the “brand” to be associated in this way. Another reason I wanted to separate it a little was because it was catchy – “Top Hot Butches” would get a lot more attention than “the Sugarbutch Hot List” and look at that, it has. I guess you could say I’m taking baby steps toward taking my work a bit more mainstream, and this was one of the ways I decided to do that. That is going to be a very hard transition, if I do it at all, especially judging by this past week.

So: there’s some finer points of gender and identity theory that are being brought up in response, to which I want to say, people, chill out. This is a Hot List, and those are by definition inviting controversy. Bottom line is, I am not attempting to claim that everyone on this list is butch.

I’m still thinking about changing the title. I know the “brand” intention is unclear in the name “Top Hot Butches.” And the internet is oh-so-fluid, after all.

One last thought though … would I have wanted to avoid all this furor and conversation and rallying and fine-tuning? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t want to have missed out on everything that’s happened in the last couple days. It’s been a learning process for me, and I am glad to have gone through it. Though I have learned that the next time someone says, “well, this could be controversial,” I will probably rethink it in some way, rather than say, “BRING IT.”

 

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25 Comments


  1. sinclair, you can't make everyone happy. especially in this hyper-subjective reality that queer theorists have created for themselves. ;)

    ok but seriously, people… tophotbutchagtransmasculineblabla.com is simply too long to type in! cut sinclair some slack!

  2. i really do appreciate that you've been gracious and thoughtful enough to revise a project that you've clearly spent a lot of time working on and that is emotionally important to you.

    that said, i think "Consider it 'The Sugarbutch Hot 100'" is about as valid as the defenders of the MWMF saying "Oh, we're not trying to define who is and isn't a woman, we're just deciding who to invite to our own private party in the woods for a week" ignoring the fact that they're a prominent, publicly recognized institution in the queer women's community, so who they disallow to their "private party" is a way of defining in a large, public way "who is a 'really' a woman". similarly, you putting a bunch of people together on a list, in a recognized public way, makes a claim that all those people have something in common (aside from general queerness, or shared humanity), whether or not it's the word "butch". and that's a public statement that allows for the continuing conflation of trans men and butch women into the same category.

    "And I’d like to get back, for a minute, to the original intention of this list, which is to showcase a big part of the lesbian and queer communities which is often completely invisible in mainstream lesbian culture: masculinity, and gender diversity."

    You know what else is invisible in mainstream lesbian culture? Cisgendered/cissexual men.

    A great rule of thumb: if it would be nonsensical to incorporate cis* men into your vision for reforming lesbian culture, then you ought not include trans* men. If you're broadening your net to include queerness in general (which i think would be great), then please, please bring on the queer, cis* men who are doing queerness and masculinity in interesting and intentional ways. They're out there, really.

  3. i don't believe that i have generally conflated butch with women. i see that in this mos recent post i did use the phrase "butch women" without appending "butches (as a noun)" as well, and for that, i apologize. i know full well that some butches ID as genderqueer or third gender. i also know that there are plenty of cisgendered/cissexual men who claim 'butch' as an adjective, and part of my critique is that that notion of butch was mysteriously excluded from this project.

    for whatever it's worth, i would never use the phrase "real man" to refer to myself…or anyone else, for that matter. this is not a masculinity pissing contest. i'm not even a particularly masculine guy…which is why it's hilarious/ridiculous to have my whole gender experience/history conflated with butchness.

    my whole point is that this project is a large, public statement. it has consequences beyond just what sinclair or you or the nominators think is hot or radical or liberatory. some of those consequences reinforce the really overdone, transphobic conflation of butches and trans men, regardless of whether or not those individual trans men feel good about being on the list or claim the word 'butch' in whatever sense.

    and, yes, i have lingering butch-phobia. i admit that freely, here and in my real life. years of being forced non-consensually into the butch 'box' will do that. that's part of why i don't want anyone else non-consensually forced into that label. but, i've thought long and hard about my butch-phobia, and i'm pretty damn sure that it's not about butches occupying third gender space ("genuinely in between" as you say). it's more about a very specific kind of compulsory masculinity. but that's another conversation…

  4. i just reread your point about trans men's participation in lesbian events and communities. random groups of friends or loosely affiliated social circles are not making large, public statements. (who people are friends with and date ain't any of my or anyone else's business) formally organized events are. having participated in this past boston dyke march, i'll remind you that, unlike the new york and san francisco dyke marches, the boston dyke march is open to allies of all genders and sexual orientations. trans and cis men alike are involved, including the boston chapter of men against sexism. any trans man who participates in exclusive, dyke-only space (or worse yet, deigns to feel badly when he's excluded) is being blatantly misogynist.

  5. I want to add my voice to those thanking you for your project and the choices you’re making in response to the conversation the project sparked. You have shown a great capacity for listening to those in our community.

    Whatever you decide to call the project, you have been incredibly articulate in describing your intent. It’s an important project, and I think that the controversy surrounding the name is exemplifies the complexity of identity within queer culture. It’s a sign of the times; an example of the work we’re all doing to understand and respect the multitude of identities in our community.

    So, good job working through this tricky stuff. I’m questioning and learning through it. And thanks for creating a list of folks that are completely underrepresented (and also make my heart beat fast).

  6. To Ephraim:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that trans men are not butches, and would never dream of arguing with you about that. However, I feel that you have made many comments on the different threads about this list, and you have said some things that I consider hurtful and phobic.

    First: many trans men, though not at all “lesbians”, do attend “lesbian” events, and participate in explicitly queer female spaces. Witness here in Boston, there are always dozens of trans men who participate in the dyke march. The DYKE MARCH. As a femme, I get hit on by trans men quite frequently, though I personally do in fact see them as *men* and as such I do not date them. Clearly, there are many trans men who feel like they are part of this community; in my experience, some are visibly hurt when they are treated as though they are NOT part of it. Experiences differ, and you are not the final authority on this.

    Second: your words have consistently conflated “butch” with “woman”, which I find absolutely offensive. My stone butch partner does not identify as a woman, though she has not decided to medically transition or use male pronouns as of now. What you have done is systematically enforce the rigid gender binary that this list was explicitly intended to combat.

    I understand that many trans men do not see themselves in any way connected to the lesbian community. That’s fine. But honestly, if you are (as you stated) a “real man”, then what’s your problem? Many trans men reject the label trans and go about their daily lives as men, pure and simple. Those men don’t have anything to do with this list. Only trans men who are open about their queerness and previous life as someone assigned female at birth were included on this list. And clearly, since many of them have since given their explicit permission to be on the list, Sinclair wasn’t as far off base as you claimed ze was. After all, ze didn’t include YOU on this list.

    Your words have been quite inflammatory, and I am now calling you out on your butch-phobia. Please think for a while about your gender assumptions, and your need to place butches into the “female” box. Is it so scary to you that there could be people who are genuinely in between? I have waited a long time to respond to you, but you are being very vocal about your feelings on this matter, and you are trying to drown out the people who legitimately disagree with you.

    Please feel free to contact me personally and discuss this further. I do think that you have the right to your own opinion, but you are doing what you are so angry with others for doing: speaking for a community, when you have only your own experience to go on.

  7. And therein one problem with labels. Labels separate and don't bring people closer in any community – the queer one either. Some people view me as feminine, others masculine – I don't care one way or another.

    I identify as human nothing more, nothing less.

    So we're all hot in my world and perhaps we're better off not bothering with the need to label, categorize and separate and look instead at our common humanity.

    peace-

    janet

  8. go, you!

    i almost commented yesterday

    to just rename the site TopHotSpiderMonkeys.com

    and see who got ruffled then

    but thought maybe i was being

    too much of a smart ass

    Sin,

    it is obvious to anyone who reads you

    that you are a thoughtful and compassionate soul

    and fiercely ready

    to stand up for yourself and others

    it's good to listen and hear well

    and respond well

    and it's also good

    to let people own their own stuff

    so, i say again

    go, you!

  9. as a butch loving femme I thank you for the hard work that you put into this list. I think that it was apparent that you put many hours into it. just remember you can’t ever make everyone happy!

  10. On (re)branding butch:

    Forgive me if this rubs you the wrong way, but I think that a lot of the recent contention stems from the fact that your conception of ‘butch’ is not the same as others’. In fact, there is no way for you to know if your ‘butch’ and their ‘butch’ have anything in common at all. This is why ‘butch’ is a poor word to brand with, and why people who create brands often use new, made-up words: so they don’t have to deal with preconceptions.

    You have already begun to re-brand ‘butch’ through publicly examining and redefining the concept to fit your particular style of trans-masculinity. You’ve created a ‘Sugarbutch Butch.’ You know, like a Marlboro Man. And of course, the identity of the Sugarbutch Butch is both public and even somewhat opensource, because that is the nature of your online identity.

    If you detach your list from Sugarbutch, you’re allowing old conceptions of the word ‘butch’ to guide what people see as what you’re claiming is embodied by the people you put on the list. When they look at your list they see “Top Hot Butches (butch, masculine, andro., genderqueer, etc.).” See how ‘butch’ is there twice? How can an identity both encompass several identities and have its own? If you have, say “The Sugarbutches: (butch, masculine, andro., genderqueer, etc.),” you’re making a brand(!) new category. One that has its own connotation, and that a) you created and can control, b) can be adopted by people who may not be comfortable labeling themselves as butch, and c) can be marketed. As a brand.

    Just my opinion on the matter.

  11. i've been kind of trying to figure out what to say, but now freedomgirl has said it exactly. so i just want to second that (minus, obviously, personal details).

  12. jumping over the moo

    third freedomgirl.

    ephraim: trans men and butches or butch people have a history that extends into present day. and that will never go away-there will always be overlap. the more and more we break down our identities the more interconnected our queer community becomes. i'm not just a queer woman, i'm an xx queer femme woman. that's four different groups i could belong with and that's not the half of it! i also feel particularly close to people with curly hair (natural or not).

    thanks for acknowledging butch-phobia, it's such an issue.

    i love your name as well.

    mr. sexsmith: thesugarbutchhotlist is inspiring, i continuously make my own-it's called the 'i'm hot for them' list and comes in weekly installments consisting of emails sent to my lover with article or video links attached. if you moon over one person long enough sometimes your date will dress as them for halloween and then you're in for a wonderful night!

    i liked (and by that i mean i like that they were being sarcastic but i was not) the feministing comment that suggested you get a scrapbook. grrrrrrrrreat idea. you should put up images of people's home made scrapbook pages of a hot person that idealizes 'butch' (as a noun, adjective, or adverb-some people just fucking fuck in such a butch way-HOT) for them. depending on their own celebrity status they could try and attain consent-or you could do it for them. what else are we going to do with all those old copies of the advocate lying around?

    now get back to smut and i'll finish gluing glitter hearts around lucas and every other member of the cliks (depending on the music video). no idea if they embrace it, but i say they fit the hipster boi butch people label i adore. (if you'd like to confirm that, please forward my email along with my adoration)

  13. More meta …

    Saw this (completely unrelated) blog-post and thought of you, and this:

    http://flipfloppingjoy.com/2009/06/27/messy-but-n

    ~ hb33 ~

  14. "trans men and butches or butch people have a history that extends into present day. and that will never go away-there will always be overlap."

    I strongly disagree.

    There is increasingly more support and resources for transexual and transgendered men (and women, but that's less to the point here) to affirm their identities at younger ages, and i think this will only become more and more true in the future. If you talk to young trans men, who are lucky enough to transition as teenagers or even as young kids, on the whole they think it's utterly ridiculous that there might be any connection between themselves and butches or the lesbian community at large. I believe that the more access trans men have to the necessary medical resources to affirm their identities as men at younger ages, the less blurring and overlap there will be. That's not to say that there won't be legitimately third gendered or genderqueer people in the world or that some of them won't ID as 'butch', but the need to ally themselves with trans men or, worse, to appropriate the word 'trans man' will be attenuated.

    If the construction and maintenance of a butch identity rests in any degree on positing an inherent commonality between butches and trans men (that they don't also share with cissexual men), then they are standing on very shaky ground.

    I really don't understand what butches (or allies and supporters of butches) have at stake in holding onto the purported (and, i believe, mythical) connection between butches and trans men with a death grip. As i see it, trans men can only stand to lose by encouraging the belief in that connection. What do butches possibly stand to gain by it? Whatever it may be, since trans men gain nothing, anything that's gained by butches is gained at our expense (the expense of the legitimacy of our maleness in the eyes of the rest of the world, that is…a pretty huge price, if you ask me).

  15. My objection to the Top Hot Butches website came primarily out of the "nonconsensual butching" part, rather than the trans man involvement part — figuring the trans men involvement part was being challenged well by other people.

    I think this is a pretty classy revision, all told. I have learned a lot thinking more about this stuff, and wanting to be very precise about my objections. I feel like all us queers are wandering around with our busted and unreflected self images and sometimes it's easy to assume that you're being hated or erased when you're not. That said, using "butches" as a brand name doesn't really work — it's doing that erasing — I'm glad it got taken out of the title.

    I think here's the thing I have really had underscored in all this: SOME trans men share history with SOME butches. Some trans men ARE a part of what would, except for their presence, be called the "queer women's community." And a lot of trans men are not. It isn't that all trans men should be left off this list, because some of them would probably want to be on it. The assumption, though, that ALL trans men are instantly the property of this other community = false, and transphobic.

  16. "I really don’t understand what butches (or allies and supporters of butches) have at stake in holding onto the purported (and, i believe, mythical) connection between butches and trans men with a death grip. As i see it, trans men can only stand to lose by encouraging the belief in that connection. What do butches possibly stand to gain by it? Whatever it may be, since trans men gain nothing, anything that’s gained by butches is gained at our expense (the expense of the legitimacy of our maleness in the eyes of the rest of the world, that is…a pretty huge price, if you ask me)."

    Ephraim, no man is an island. Using your rational cost benefit analysis, there's no reason why any of us would continue to affiliate with or support one another. Please recognize that, at least for older generations, you appear to be proposing an erasure of significant (if 'historical') bonds. Not everyone is going to be comfortable with that, but good luck to you.

  17. With gender, as with any difficult subject, it's better to talk about it and get stuff wrong than to not talk about it at all. Right? And sticking with the safe subjects that everyone agrees on is akin to not talking about it at all.

    I used to be a journalist, and am familiar with what it feels like to write a "Valentine" to a group of people you love, respect, and admire and to have members of that same group leave you truly frightening voicemails when the paper/magazine/blog comes out. "Misrepresenting other people" seems a sin in post-modernity. I felt horrible after committing it.

    (Everyone mislabels other people in their head all the time. Authors/bloggers/journalists choose to do it publicly and therefore get to feel the public, collective shame about this inevitable human cognitive process, and as an occupational hazard must often write contrite retractions.)

    Let's face it, we're queer and have all been painfully mislabled at some point in our lives. It hurts no matter who does it, no matter what their intentions.

    When dealing with hurts associated with racism, Dr. Ken Hardy recommends looking to the consequences of the action, rather than the intentions. I really, really admire how you have owned up to the consequences of the list, i.e. some people felt hurt. (But remember also that some people felt totally validated.) Your readers KNOW you have the best intentions. Just from reading your writing here, it is so evident that you are incredibly compassionate, insightful, authentic, respectful, intelligent, creative, etc. (Of course, I am "making assumptions" about you right now. Nice assumptions. I hope.) That is why I read your blog. If I thought you were a bad person I would not read your blog.

    And yes, I think the Sugarbutch Hot 100 is an awesome name for the list.

  18. Yeah, Kid. I think any way you went with this you were going to get screwed, and not pleasantly.

    Consider my ftm partner, for example, who very VERY much still considers himself butch. Consider that his transition was not necessarily "to male," but rather more "toward male." When I told him you were considering removing trans guys from the list it really hurt his feelings. As, I imagine, some trans guys have felt hurt over the inclusion.

    No one butch or trans guy or masculine identified queer occupying any space along the spectrum can really speak for "all" of the butches and trans guys, etc. I think it's important for those commenting to try to remember that just because "trans does not equal butch" might be true FOR YOU, and we honor that, it may not be true for everyone else. While complaining about having your toes stepped on you might want to watch where you're walking.

    There are several factors going on here as I see it:

    a) The queer complaint factor. Every single queer activist I know experiences burn out on this one. You DONATE your time and work yourself to death to produce something for the community only to be rewarded with the sensation of being pecked to death by a duck by a community of folks who were no where to be seen when you needed some help but are amazingly ever-present to critique anyone who does anything "wrong".

    a1) This is not to suggest that we should not criticize or discuss these issues in our communities. It is merely to suggest that organizing something huge gives one a lot of perspective about how difficult a task that really is – and hopefully compassion for future organizers.

    b) I'm sort of bummed out that all of these fine, masculine id'd folks are way more upset about being included on a list with Jenny Shimizu than being included on a list with an alleged brutal femme serial rapist. I know the femmes came looking for you on that one – and major kudos to the way you handled it, and thank you – but I didn't see so many masculine folks raising a shit storm on that. Which is a pity – because as much as masculine invisibility is a problem in the mainstream world, sexism and femme invisibility is a staggering issue in the queer world. Where are our allies at? For real?

    c) Which brings me to this…….I absolutely agree with you that the After Ellen list was uber – feminine and wtf full of straight chicks to boot! However – feminine, lipstick lesbian etc…does not always = femme. Take a look at the photos in "Femmes of Power" and see how many of us you can find in that After Ellen list…… So maybe what we need to realize is that mainstream is still completely freaked by gender more than anything. And maybe we should be thinking critically about how to unite on that front while supporting each other in our own pursuit to break through the Ellen and Portia ceiling. :)

    d) Thank you Sinclair. You worked your ass of trying very hard to bring some light to some well deserved people. When things fell apart you listened respectfully and did everything in your power – as far as I can tell – to make people feel heard and validated. I second your "chill out people." And I highly encourage those who are dissatisfied with your efforts to create their own projects and launch them into the world. I don't mean that in a snarky way either – it's just….if you don't like it stop whining and create something you do like. Then sit back and wait for the e-mails…..

    Ok, that's a little snarky. ;)

  19. Hi Sinclair,

    Thank you so much for including me on your list. I think it's fantastic and I for one am grateful for your site, your writing and your Hot List.

    I wrote about it here: http://brenryder.com/2009/06/how-to-top-a-hot-but

  20. I'm with arielariel. That was my main objection, and you've addressed it nicely. I hope you actually change the huge sign saying "Butch" on top of the whole website for all the reasons you said! It's not as simple to understand as "Top Hot Butches" but then, simplicity of understanding has its own pitfalls, as we've seen. Just by the very fact that it's more ambiguous, "The Sugarbutch Hot List" may be a classier title. Anyway, good work. I hope you find some more trans women to put on the list — may I recommend the online activist gudbuytjane, who's had a lot of successes in stomping transphobic websites recently? It may be hard to find a picture of her, but it could be done by request, I imagine.

  21. Thank you, Sinclair, for this awesome representation.

    I’m sorry that some people feel the need to dissect such an awesome and time consuming project.

    Your writings bring me much joy and inspiration. Thank you!

  22. Controversy is good! Debate is healthy!

    Thanks for the list which must have been hard work and taken ages. You can't please all of the people all of the time. Probably shouldn't say it- but sometimes I can't help feeling that all this gender politics is taken far too seriously a lot of the time.

    It's a hot list – good on you!

    BB

    X

  23. I've been thinking about this for a while and finally want to toss my 2 cents in. It's not just this list, but a pattern in our communities. How many trans women do you see at dyke events? How many trans men do you see? That disparity doesn't mean that trans men identify with dykes more than trans women, it's representative of how trans women have been systematically excluded from queer women's spaces over the past four or five decades. Things are slowly changing, but it's a longstanding issue.

    So seeing something like this (which is focused on queer women and lesbian communities even if expanded to gender benders and non-binary folks) which included a dozen trans men and only one trans woman is a dissapointing reminder of how trans men are valued more than trans women in dyke/queer women/etc spaces. Hearing about the removal of trans men (except those who personally okayed it) and the request for nominations of butch trans women, was really heartening, especially because so often trans women are considered undateable and not hot by definition in queer women's communities.

    I would suppose the reason why you don't know of any butch trans women is not because we are rare, but because of our constant rejection from community. For those identifying as women, trans and butch both individually are sometimes seen as negating that identity — combining them greatly intensifies the effect and "butch trans woman" is often seen as an oxymoron. A lot of butch trans women are either quiet about their butch status or quiet about their trans status for that reason. And those who openly attend queer women's events as butch trans women often face strong negative reactions. Noteriety in queer communities, being one of the qualifications for the list, can be more difficult for butch trans women to attain, as many are still working on acceptance in queer and queer women's communities. What you need to do to overcome that is exactly what you did, remind people specifically to nominate them, and in the process making it clear that they won't be dismissed out of hand.

    That said, I think I'd personally be dissapointed if the name of the list was changed. The name by itself wouldn't change the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion. Having significant inclusion of trans women on a hot butches list is really meaningful. If trans women were added to the list at the same time the list was de-gendered, well, even understanding that the presence of trans women was not the motivation for de-gendering the list, that would seem fairly insulting.

  24. We've learned well that language has tremendous significance and power. It's our responsibility to be cautious, thoughtful and disciplined in our use of terminology — but not to the extreme point where our concern or anxiety about using the most proper word ends dialogue.

    The abundant amount of discussion, here and elsewhere, that this list has sparked happily suggests we have not reached that extreme.

    I wonder, though, how many others haven’t joined the debate because they are afraid of how their comments might be construed.

    Mr. Sinclair can take the heat, obviously, and has done so with open arms.

    But let’s also remember to let ourselves, and others, have some fun.

    Long live the butch, and you, and our ability to name ourselves.

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