Femming the Strap-On, Guest Post by Artemisia FemmeCock

I used to think I wasn’t gay enough to have a cock.

I cringe at that now, wondering what the hell it even means to be “gay enough” for anything. My 16-year-old self had some very ingrained assumptions though, assumptions that formed an identity radically different from the one I inhabit so comfortably today.

It seems natural to introduce myself as a “queer femme dyke” now, but to my newly-out teen self, those were three very incongruous things: queer was a slur, femme was the counter-identity to masculine, and dyke was a term reserved for only the most visible, butch lesbians.

These were conclusion influenced by the community I found when I first came out as a freshman in high school, a community that assured me I was a lesbian without ever asking because I am a cis woman attracted to women. It was like a scratchy, ill-filling sweater, but amongst the many other discomforts of high school, it was warming to feel welcome somewhere.

However, this meant that an identity was crafted for me before I could even begin to claim one for myself. Part of that identity was my presentation as a femme woman who was dating a butch woman, which coded me as the submissive and receptive partner, while they were perceived as the dominant, the pleaser, the one who wore the strap-on.

We were swathed in binary stereotypes by others, queer or not, and there were endless jokes about how gay my partner was for being a visible butch woman. The most vivid being when a group of friends attempted to quantify our collective “gayness.” It was decided that my partner constituted two whole gays, while I could only claim one half. I don’t like math to begin with, but when that math is based on the idea that sexuality can be calculated from one’s appearance, I really don’t like math.

I played into this role of “half gay” though, laughing along with jokes that dismissed my sexuality because of my femininity, about being hit on by men or asked if I had a boyfriend because I didn’t “look gay,” and accepting generalized assumptions about my relationship and sex life.

I was so compliant because many of their assumptions were true: I could have had a billboard above my head that read “I’m fucking GAY” and I would still hear the dismissive rhetoric “but you’re too pretty…” and “are you sure?” In my relationship, I was submissive and my partner was dominant, I chose the cock but she always wore it, and she didn’t enjoy being penetrated while I did. Presentation and sex became linked in my mind, and I conceded to the stereotypes.

It wasn’t until I went to college and saw unabashed, gender fucking, non-binary femmes that I began to see my identity as more than half: the half gay, the receiving half, the other half of butch. I started to understand that my presentation isn’t complimentary, it’s individual and multi-faceted. I can like, do, dress, and fuck however feels right to me. So I took off the itchy sweater and all the assumptions that were pinned to it.

From there, I started playing with my femmeness, seeking to reclaim my body as strong and loud and queer. I grew out my body hair and dyed it pink, I gravitated towards bold lip colors and nails, and I found power in ritual: taking time to get dressed, do my hair, apply copious amounts of glitter. I embraced my femmeness in my sex life too, savoring snapshots of deep red lipstick smudged on a silicone cock, masturbating with nails that matched the color of my vibrator, and styling the cutest pony tails to be pulled on.

I found a partner who has shifted and changed with me over the past two years, and though our journeys of sex, sexuality, and presentation are undeniably different, we’re able to express our needs and wants in dynamic ways. For so long, I just didn’t have the language or references or support to communicate in that way, and a large component of my shift in understanding is centered around exchanging that sweater for a strap-on.

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My first cock was a milky pastel pink that coordinated so well with my mint and pink lace harness. When I put it on, the wispy hairs on my thighs, two chubby bumps for knees, and slightly pigeon-toed feet all defocused, obstructed by that new view. I began to bob and sway as my hips swung and my legs lifted off the ground. I danced around in my new naked, the weight of my cock against my pelvis, brushing my skin as I shook and spun. It was like the queerest tampon commercial dance montage you’d ever seen, and I would have gladly accepted a trampoline to complete the image.

There was reclamation in that cock, feeling my queer femmeness in something that I had known as a symbol of masculinity and dominance. That was years ago, and since then, wearing a cock has become an ever present part of my life. Literally, it’s in my name, but it’s also my identity. Albeit, a very condensed identity, but it took me years of unlearning a selfhood formed by others in order to get to the point where it seems comfortable to join “femme” and “cock” together in a declaration of who I am.

Microagressions & Misgendering: “Right this way, ladies.”

Interacting with service industry folks—in restaurants, at retail stores, at airports, schools, or health care offices—can be daunting and exhausting for genderqueer folks like me. It is so, so common for me and the group of queer folks I’m with to be referred to as “ladies” (which tells you that I don’t spend a lot of time with genderqueer or cis or trans men, which is true actually, I’m very much in a dyke bubble), and I feel so deflated when that happens.

No, no. It’s not just ‘deflated,’ though yes that’s part of it. It’s also a very real microagression. It’s a very real way that the larger culture, made up of thousands of individuals, gender polices us into binary categories and reminds anybody outside of those categories that we are wrong, unseen, invisible, and unimportant.

This has happened to me for years. It’s kind of related to the thing that happens when genderqueer folks have to pee in public and get hassled in both the women’s or the men’s bathrooms (and there’s a variety of pieces of activism and public awareness happening around that one, too—see, for example, Ivan Coyote’s recent Tedx talk We all need a safe place to pee). But while I can actually hold out and only pee in certain (single-stall) bathrooms, and I can have some control over peeing in public, it’s much harder to just not go interact with any service people, so as to avoid this issue.

Look, I get it. Caring that I’m addressed as “miss” or “ma’am” or that friends and I are called “ladies” sometimes seems like a very small thing on a trans activism scale, especially when so many trans women were murdered in 2015. Sometimes I think this issue of language is a tiny, “politically correct” thing that I should just let go and stop caring so damn much.

And I’ve heard folks say, “Hey, I don’t care if they call me/us ‘ladies,’ because at least they’re being nice to us and not kicking us out of this restaurant.” Which also tells you that I have primarily been queer and genderqueer and visibly different in cities and liberal small towns not so much in places more dangerous to queers.

This issue of gendering groups as a microagression has a certain amount of privilege in it. Absolutely.

And, as someone who continues to move in liberal circles, in large urban areas, in trans- and queer-centered communities, this hurts my feelings. Frequently. Daily.

Gender Perception & Getting a Thicker Skin

Part of the answer, I think, is actually to get a ‘thicker skin’, and I think in general folks who are outside of the mainstream do need to develop a good, solid sense of self, bolstered by community and lovers and theory and random strangers on the internet, to just deal with the reality that not everybody gets us. And for genderqueer and gender non-conforming and masculine of center and feminine of center folks, and trans folks who aren’t exactly ‘passing’ to some cis standard, developing a thicker skin is important. I think we also just need to be very discerning about when we want to offer some education, or feedback, and when we want to just go about our lives. Sometimes it’s exhausting to try to change the world all the time, to come up against gender norms, to fight against the binary system. And sometimes I just need to buy some eggs and get off to my meeting, and who cares what that person sees me as or thinks of me or what words they use.

That’s kind of about “gender perception,” right—the idea that part of your gender identity is how you are perceived by others. (The Gender Book has a great page on gender perception, click on the image in the 4th row 1st column here.) Personally, I’ve struggled with this—not that there’s some way I want to be perceived and am not, but rather I’ve struggled with the idea that what other people think of you matter or should affect one’s sense of self at all. It’s taken me some time to see how important it is, and to go through some of my own identity developments where my identities are then somewhat invisible, and aren’t perceived by others, and to have that really piss me off, has helped me understand how valuable it is at times in people’s lives.

Sometimes, I think how others perceive me is very important. Especially if it’s someone I interact with all the time—my family, my friends, my close community; even someone who works somewhere that I regularly frequent. Those are all important, and I do tend to (eventually) say something about gender, or make a comment about my pronouns. But for the person who is checking me out at the grocery store, or the server at a restaurant I rarely (if ever) go to? Most of the time, I just don’t have the energy to have that conversation. I used to, I suppose, but after more than 15 years of this happening? I just don’t anymore.

Okay wait: a note on class

This kind of misgendering most often happens in the service industry, so I want to write something here about class. I hope we are being aware of the class implications of speaking up or attempting to shift the way a server or service provider is gendering you/us. As a working/artist class person my whole life, I am acutely aware of how we treat folks in the service industry, and I think it’s SO important to enter into conversations with service folks with respect. The amount of pejorative, condescending language and tones that are used with service folks is horrible. And there’s a lot of unexamined privilege in folks who have never really been in a service position, or who have been out of the service industry for a long time. They’re a person, you’re a person. So I just want to encourage us all to watch our conversations here, and to do some examining about what we think of the service industry, and to ask ourselves if that’s really true. (For example: That everyone who works there isn’t smart enough to get a job anywhere else, or must have failed at other jobs, or must not be very good at anything. Probably none of those are true, but they are common stereotypes about service folks.)

Also: as a genderqueer/GNC person, I know that I don’t always have the patience and clarity it takes to interact in moments of microagressions with lots of respect and precision. I just don’t—sometimes I snap and it comes out yucky. Which is another reason, I suppose, why I’ve kind of stopped speaking up in most of these moments of misgendering—because I don’t want to be rude to someone who is just doing their job.

But sometimes, I do want to say something. And I do love how there are some new options (I’ll get to that in a minute, I swear—down at the bottom of this post) for conversations and becoming more aware of gendered language.

Ultimately: I want to strive for respecting folks when I am consuming their services, and be aware of the class implications.

Oh hey, here’s another question: I assume servers at restaurants and cashiers at shops aren’t trained to say “ladies” and “guys,” right? I’ve never actually been a server (though I’ve been a cashier for many years), so I’m not totally clear. It’s so SO so prevalent in the restaurant worlds that sometimes I think it must be in the handbook! But maybe it’s just in the culture? Unspoken, uninforced, but somehow we all absorb it? I’m curious about that.

Download the Gender-Neural Language Sheet

So this is a new possible way to interact with this service/misgendered language issue: the Queer Resource Center in BC adapted a card into a “gender neutral language sheet”, and you can download them for free here.

Toni Latour released “Hello There” cards earlier in 2015, in collaboration with Jenny Lynn and James Alexander Kelly. She’s not the first person I’ve heard who had this idea—in fact, when I first saw the image, I thought, drat, I wasn’t fast enough. I’ve had this thought many times, and I even remember sketching up a draft of it in Oregon on a road trip with rife in 2013. But Toni Latour is the one who made them and printed them up.

And now, the BC Queer center adapted Latour’s “Hello There” cards to be more inclusive and less “ladies” specific. Latour’s cards read:

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When greeting customers, instead of saying ladies, gentelmen, ma’am, sir, girls, guys, and the like, please consider using gender neutral language. Here are some options: “Good morning folks.” “Hi everyone.” “Can I get you all something?” “And for you?” “Thanks friends, have a wonderful night.” Why? Shifting to gender neutral language respects and acknowledges the gender identities of all people and removes assumption. Join the movement to be more mindful of language. And if you make a mistake and misgender someone, it’s okay, say sorry once and move on. Thank you for making an effort!

The revised cards from QBC read:

hellothere

When greeting others, avoid ladies, gentlemen, ma’am, sir, girls, guys, etc. Consider using instead: “Thanks friends, have a great night.” “Good morning, folks!” “Hi, everyone!” “And for you?” “Can I get you all something?” Why? Shifting to gender-inclusive language respects and acknowledges the gender identities of all people and removes assumption. Be mindful of language.

A note about “guys.”

A lot of folks have said that they use “guys,” and that that is gender neutral. I just want to go on record and say that I disagree, actually, it is not. I do understand that in this culture, we very often hear groups of various gendered people referred to as “guys,” and that it’s presumed to include everyone in the group, not just the young-ish men. I do understand that it is intended to mean “everyone” or “people” or “hey you folks over there.” However, in the realities of language, it is not neutral: it is masculine.

That this society treats the masculine, the male, the man, as the default and indeed as the ‘neutral’ is precisely one of the most sexist issues at play here. When something as fundamental as our language says that men are the norm and the default, and women are the other and the strange, then it affects every other aspect of our culture, too. (There are many writings and resources on this concept out there, I’m sure … I remember studying it extensively in language & gender studies classes in college in 2002. I’m not sure where to point you for more on it, though. Anybody have a good resource to recommend?)

I can often default to calling everybody “guys,” especially when talking to masculine of center queers and genderqueer folks, but I try not to. It’s inaccurate, and frankly it perpetuates the notion that masculinity is the norm, and I don’t want to do that. But, I’m a total nerd about language and gender, so I know that not everybody wants to do that kind of work on how they see the world and interact with words. I’m hoping, though, since you are still reading, that you have that interest and intention.

On Standing Up for Someone Else

Funny enough, this whole thing just happened this weekend, when the server referred to our table—two butches and a femme—as “ladies,” and I had a similar conversation about what we can/should do about it. The femme who was there asked us what our reaction was to it, and if it felt appropriate for her to say something, which I really appreciated. Honestly, when I’ve been in mixed gender groups, often it’s the folks who do not identify as ‘ladies’ who speak up the least, and sometimes having someone else speak up on my behalf makes me feel even more tired and exhausted and segregated and spotlighted—which doesn’t feel good. I think it has in the past made me feel very taken care of, and protected, but these days, it makes me feel annoyed and too singled out to have someone say something on my behalf.

I mean, if you want to speak up about this because it bugs you, by all means please do so, and I got your back. But if you want to speak up because you think that I am insulted and deflated and am now reacting to a microagression and want/need/would appreciate someone else speaking up for me, please don’t.

So if you’re someone who wants to speak up on behalf of someone else, perhaps you could just check in with them and make sure that you are acting in their best interest, and not just projecting your discomfort onto them.

Is this conversation completely among trans/masculine people?

I’m glad that the edits between the first “Hello There” cards and the new Gender Neutral Language Sheet have moved from being less lady-centric, but it makes me wonder: How does this happen in the service industry for folks who are not masculine of center or trans masculine? I imagine similar things happen, getting addressed as “gentlemen” or “guys,” but maybe not? I’ll have to ask around and see what I can find about that.

Most of the dialogue that I’ve seen already around this is dominated by trans masculine folks, so I wonder how we can take up a little less space and ask more questions and talk about this in ways that are relevant to other folks. Or maybe it’s just a very trans masculine issue, and there’s nothing wrong with that really—it just could mean that the conversation is a bit different.

Regardless, I’m curious about why this is so centered on masculinity, and if that’s because of old fashioned sexism and overvaluing the masculine (which is my guess). Still gathering more data about this.

I’m also curious about server’s experiences of this, if you all have been corrected and what you’ve done about it, and where that form of address comes from.

This is not a conclusion

This is not the end of my thoughts about this, but it’s a start. I am curious to see these cards gaining in popularity and making the rounds, and glad to see a second version of them made. I definitely plan to carry some around with me.

Queer Masculinity in Porn: Heavenly Spire, Stepfather’s Secret, & More

Weekly, rife and I have a private little ritual on Saturday mornings where we make pancakes and watch porn. I’m not sure exactly how it started, we probably did that one Saturday and decided we should do it again. (I have discovered that I don’t really like watching porn while I’m eating, it makes my mouth feel all weird. So the porn and pancakes are separate. Just in case you were wondering.)

I don’t have much of a history of boy-on-boy action, but being involved with this boy has made me more curious about gay porn. I’ve watched a lot of queer porn over the years, with lots of trans folks and genderqueer hotties and butches and femmes, but not a lot of cis guys. (Also, have you noticed that porn with trans women is kind of booming? Maybe it’s just because I started following Chelsea Poe, but I am really inspired by the activism and visibility that’s been happening. And the fucking hotness.)

So the boy and I have been exploring all sorts of fag porn, looking into the things we think we’d like, from leather BDSM porn to daddy/boy explorations.

So far, Stepfather’s Secret on men.com has been my favorite, though “Sexual Education” with James Darling and Allen Silver on Pinklabel also stands out.

I’m surprised how much tenderness is depicted. I suppose partly it’s because of the genres I’ve been primarily watching—leather and daddy/boy—I think those tend to be more tender than average. But I’ve been really touched by the variety of depictions of masculinity.

I’ve also noticed the wide range of types of bodies. Perhaps it’s that the big-ness of men and masculine bodies is what’s fetishized, while with women (and feminine bodies) usually the slightness, thinness, and smallness is fetishized, but I’ve been enjoying seeing the sizes depicted as desirable and sexy.

(I still struggle with this, personally, around my own body. Sometimes I can fetishize the size—that I’m kind of big, thick, heavy, whatever word you want to use—but most of the time I feel bulky and awkward. I know rife and other lovers I’ve had have specifically commented on my size or shape as desirable, so it’s not that I don’t exactly see it reflected, but I don’t feel it. I remember the relief of starting to shop in the men’s department: I went from an XL in women’s to a M or S in men’s, and that just felt like such a more accurate size for me. Plus, the clothes fit my body better, or fit my energetics better, or something, and wow it was such a relief. It’s been more than 15 years now since I officially made that transition to butch.)

Maybe the tenderness in gay porn shouldn’t be surprising, particularly as most of my critique of masculinity comes from the male gender role that tends to be heteronormative, but as a queer feminist butch dyke, I’ve often been critical of the gay depictions of masculinity too, and made assumptions that it was more like the normative male gender role than it was radical and transgressive. But hey, I like to be wrong about things like that! (And certainly there’s plenty of gay porn that reinforces normative gender roles—I just happened not to pick it up during porn and pancakes, apparently. I’ll try harder.)

Really my first introduction to depictions of masculinity in porn was through Heavenly Spire, launched in August 2010 by filmmaker Shine Louise Houston, the director and producer behind the revolutionary queer porn Crash Pad Series. Heavenly Spire is short films, released on Sundays (get it? Spire? Heavenly?) devoted to all kinds of men and their sexuality.

At the time, it was new, raw, and beautiful—and it still is. I don’t know about you, but watching it over the past few years has changed the way I think about male sexuality and erotics.

I interviewed Shine for Carnal Nation when it was first released, but Carnal Nation has since folded and the interview is now only found in the wayback machine. So here it is, reprinted, because the first volume of Heavenly Spire has been compiled and is available from PinkLabel.tv—and it is stunning.


Heavenly Spire: Interview with Shine Louise Houston

Reprinted from Carnal Nation, August 2010

Filmmaker Shine Louise Houston, who brought you the queer porn Crash Pad Series web episodes and the feature-length films Champion, The Wild Search, and Superfreak, has started a new online web project depicting masculine sexualities in a visual medium. Heavenly Spire began in late July. I gladly sat down for a long-distance chat with her about the new site, masculinity, the personal things that had to happen in order for her to embark on this project, and what’s next for her and her growing companies.

Sinclair: I’m excited about Heavenly Spire, the new project! I haven’t seen behind the scenes yet, but the stuff that’s up is lovely.
Shine: The format is different from Crash Pad Series; there are no interviews, no behind the scenes. I’m not too sure if I’m going to do that, I’m going to see how the site goes. We shoot lean on this project, there’s not a whole lot of extras.

What do you mean by lean? You don’t spend a lot of time sitting around, hanging out with them, asking them what they think about sex?
Yeah. The interviews I do for Heavenly Spire are more really about delving into what their sexualities are, what their turn-ons are, has it changed over the years, what do they do now, physically what do they like about themselves, or physically what do they like about each other. I’m approaching it from a totally different angle than I approached Crash Pad Series.

Is that angle also about a focus on masculinity?
Yeah, I really wanted to start thinking about masculinity, and asking whether masculine sexuality is different. Heavenly Spire is a personal project for me. Accepting my own masculinity has really allowed me to feel okay with desire for masculine people. Exploring it on the site really looks at male bodies the way I want to. Maybe not everybody feels the way I do, but this is good for me. For a long time, I just didn’t get guys. But as I got more comfortable, I realized they’re not that different, and they’re not all that scary, and actually they’re pretty cool. And actually, penises are pretty cool. But it’s been a long process, and eventually bringing that to the screen is just where the process is supposed to go.

It makes sense that you would take your own creative medium to explore that sort of thing. What about your own personal masculinity process? What has that looked like for you? Has it been a long time coming, have you always been a tomboy?
It’s been a long process, definitely influenced by time and location. I grew up as a tomboy, but I also remember having favorite dresses. In my twenties, I definitely knew that I liked girls, and I was into the dyke/lesbian identity, but at the time – this was the early 90s in southern California – it was very much anti-butch/femme, pro-androgyny, and that had an influence on me. It was a very cool scene, and things were very open about sexuality. But right after that, mid-90s, I moved to San Francisco, and at that time, it was this huge butch/femme revival.

I knew I was definitely not femme, but I felt a lot of pressure to be one or the other. So the kind of masculinity I kept bumping into within that community was this really intense macho masculinity. I realized trying to put on that performance, that I’m not very macho. I’m really a fag. I went through my fag period, where I dated other fag dykes, but then I think the next big jump for me was realizing that I was into femmes! I remember looking at this girl, and her earrings, and they were kind of … bouncing. And it clicked. So that started me exploring a more masculine, pansexual identity. I’m definitely on the more masculine side, I’m kind of swishy, and I definitely like femmes. In the last six or seven years, I’ve really become comfortable with where I am: my masculinity, my sexuality. I needed to have a strong root in masculinity in order to take on a project and not be freaked out.

Freaked out by worrying about what you were going to be depicting, or not being solid enough in it?
And just not being intimidated by guys! At this point I’m so comfortable with myself, I’m not intimidated to ask guys to take their clothes off.

Do you think the recent work on masculinity has set the stage for this kind of project to be launched? It seems time-specific to me, that maybe we didn’t have enough radical depictions of masculinity, especially not of male sexuality, even four or five years ago.
Yeah, the queer movement, the trans movement – all of the work is completely reshaping what we think about sexuality and how we manage that in our lives. There’s a lot more acceptance for genderqueer and performative genders. The project is a lot about timing—a lot of people have done tremendous work at softening up the ground for it to come along.

Going back to my personal experience, I’m affected by all the waves of thought that have been coming through the Bay Area. There are a lot of people in the porn community who are really changing how they depict sexuality, whether it’s gay, straight, lesbian, bi. This is a drop in the bucket of a larger movement that is sweeping across the porn industry. When I went to Berlin for the porn film festival, I really felt that. I’m not alone, this is going to explode across the industry. And when I got back to the United States, it seemed like maybe it wasn’t here yet, but it’s coming.

It definitely seems like we still need work on the depiction of masculinity in porn.
Definitely. There’s also a new project I’m going to start working on in August that’s definitely going to challenge male homophobia while at the same time satisfying homosexual desire in men who might not otherwise get to experience it. There’s going to be some interesting stuff happening in the next year.

Do you expect some backlash for this? Have you had backlash for including cis men, like Micky Mod, in Crash Pad?
We have a very polite question in the forums in Crash Pad Series, and before I even had the chance to respond, other members of the site said pretty much everything I would have said. And the person who asked the question responded, “Oh, okay.”

And that was it?
Yeah, that was it! I was at the last Feminist Porn Awards, in Toronto, and they screened that scene, Mickey and Shawn. And I answered some questions about them, everybody seemed to like it. But then it won the Viewer’s Choice Award! So I thought, okay, the audience is listening! They loved it.

I also wonder if this is more part of queer women’s culture, not necessarily gay culture. A lot of butch women are watching fag porn. When I started out watching porn, my favorite pornos were fags. This community has been able to really transcend their fantasies, so they can apply to any type of body. They aren’t restricted to just one. In gay culture, which I’m learning more about, they don’t watch dyke porn. We watch fag porn, but they don’t watch dyke porn. So there’s a realm that they haven’t gone into yet, they haven’t applied their fantasies to different bodies yet. Heavenly Spire looks at masculine people, but not every male has a dick. So this is about pushing their boundaries, pushing the male viewer boundaries. I bet they’ll think it’s hot. We’ll see—the site’s been up less than a month.

I’ve only seen the clips so far, and the clips are teasers, but it seems a little less focused on cock-centricity than I would have imagined.
Well—it’s definitely about cock. But what I really want to capture is a person having a good time, really having genuine pleasure, and to translate that into a visual medium. And it’s about building a narrative about the person’s relationship to their own body or to the other person that they’re having sex with. And I’m just having fun with visual language. It’s true, the trailers are very much teasers, and they don’t give you much.

But they’re beautiful.
The clips are, according to porn standards, a little short, but I’ve been struggling with length. So with this, I decided I’m going to cut it the way I think it should be cut, and I’m editing it so the viewer doesn’t get bored. Really picking out the best parts, and splicing the best parts together into a narrative. Sometimes I feel like, yeah, this thing is half an hour long, but is it pretty, and is it working? So this is a bit of a self-indulgent project, because I’m really letting myself go with my ideas, asking myself, how long should it be? What makes it good?

Do you anticipate it having lots of episodes, like Crash Pad does? Or is it a different structure?
No, we update every Sunday. It’s different from Crash Pad, because each week is something new, there’s no behind the scenes, just something new once a week.

If a new performer is coming in, how do you tell if they’re going to be a good porn star? Did you have a sense that Mickey Mod was going to stick around and be amazing?
Not really. Mostly, we have model applications and if we can make a date, we go for it. Some people who work with us find it fun and want to do it again. Dylan Ryan, Jiz Lee, Shawn [Sid Blakovich] all did Crash Pad, and are now doing awesome stuff. We’re the launching pad! Shoot with us, we’re good people, we’re a good place to start.

Is it easy to pair people together? Or do they do that themselves?
For Crash Pad, I work with a booking company who does all of that now. I used to do that, but it’s work. But Heavenly Spire is a different approach. With men, and a gay site, I’m really interested in getting couples who already know each other and already have that connection. People apply, so if you apply by yourself you’re going to be solo. If you want to perform as a couple you have to apply as a couple. I want to make sure the couples like each other. Especially since so much of the gay male porn is all about fucking, I want this to be about connection. I want to see two big dudes who are totally tender with each other.

Are you finding that guys are interested?
As viewers or as participants? We’ve had a decent amount of model applications. We paused the project for a while, but we started to get this influx of models, both trans men and cis men alike, both solo or couples. I have some speculation about viewers, but I’m not 100% sure who is going to be our audience for this new site. I kind of wonder if it’s not going to be straight guys. I think they’ll like it. But gay men, I’m not sure if they’ll like the format. Possibly straight women as well. I’m not sure how it’s going to shape up.

What else do you still want to film?
I have three features I’d like to do, but right now the company is growing, expanding, changing. We’re kind of in the teenage phase, not super big, but not tiny either. So in the future that’ll help us get more what we want with big features. Right now, we’ve got the web projects going on, short videos, and that’s setting the foundation to create these larger features. We’ve really pushed the limits of what porn is. It’ll be self-evident, when I actually announce those projects.

Do you have an over-arching mission for your work, or goals you set out to accomplish? Or was it born out of a love for filming people fucking?
When I first started filming I didn’t realize this was how the mission statement was going to be, but the mission statement came later: We’re dedicated to making really well produced, beautiful images that represent queer sexuality. That was the driving force, but I continue to push myself as a filmmaker, and pornographer (though I identify less with that word). I want to make good stuff, and I want to make good stuff about sex. Everything I do is moving in that direction.

Do you see it as political and social activism?
It is … and here’s the weird thing. I feel that if I approach it as social activism head on, I’m going to do it wrong. I’ll stick my foot in my mouth! So I internalize my own politics, and turn them to the creative mill, and then spit them out and use them in a project. And that way I fulfill certain goals. But if I say, first, that I’m going to do political activism, then I miss the mark of what I really wanted to accomplish. So I take the personal and churn it through my internal politics, and that moves me in the right direction.

Have you had trouble with BDSM being misconstrued as abuse in your work?
Not from people on the site, but at the film festivals. I was at the Hamburg festival, and people walked out. It seems like that’s prevalent in places where they’re not doing the same things we’re doing here. I get really weird stuff about race, and violence. But I feel like ten years from now, it won’t be a problem.

Do you struggle with taking the criticism personally?
I try not to … I think maybe every six months I Google myself. I can’t do it on a regular basis, I have a fragile ego and I’m harder on myself than anyone. There can be fifty great reviews for what I do, but if there’s one bad one, that’s the one I remember. I try to focus on what’s working. If we keep showing at festivals, and people keep downloading it, somebody must like it.

And if you’re satisfied with the work you’re putting out there, how your art is growing, and if you’re continuing to get opportunities, that might be a better scale. But it’s hard! Especially when the work is so personal, when the work we put out into the world is about our own bodies, and our own desires, and our own deepest, splayed open selves, it can be really easy to take in the criticism.
Yeah.

I ask about the problem with BDSM and abuse because I have actually seen queer porn that triggered me—I’m not easily triggered, it really surprised me. But I don’t see that in your work at all.
It might just be because I have such intense aversions to bleed over. Things stay very clear in my own life. I definitely pay attention. If I ever see something that makes me wince, I know it’s not quite right.

I think that exhausts my questions. Is there anything else I should know?
Check out the site! Check out Crash Pad Series, and the new Heavenly Spire.

I’m looking forward to seeing more on Heavenly Spire. It’s a pleasure to talk to you, thanks so much.

Things I, as a white sex educator, do to foster inclusivity in this community

On Facebook recently, Mollena asked: “White ‪#‎SexualityEducators‬: what are you doing to actively foster inclusivity? Diversify your audience? Support your Peers of Color?” [link.] I’ve been writing and writing and thinking about all of the things I’ve been reading and digesting around #blacklivesmatter and race and inclusion, and this question got me thinking hard, and answering with some clarity, and identifying some places I need to keep working.

1. Read, read, read.

And listen. And pay attention. And shut up. And witness. And try to learn, and unlearn.

2. Pay attention to whose voices I amplify.

I have a small reach, a small field of folks who read what I share, and I pay attention to what I put into that sphere and recommend. When I don’t pay attention, I tend to stay within my white privilege bubble and retweet, link to, and recommend other white folks. This is not because people of color are not saying things that are relevant to me (and to you all) or that they are not brilliant—because duh, they are. Rather, I think I do this because of my personal (and often invisible to me) bias of whiteness. It takes conscious work for me to not default to whiteness, but I want to change that. So I pay attention to who I share and follow and who I surround myself with.

3. Decline to participate in (unconsciously) all-white spaces and events and publications and projects.

To be fair, I’ve only declined a few times, and this is something I’m working on improving. I don’t always think to ask who else is in the book or on the panel before I say yes, especially if it’s something I know of and admire. But recently, a sex education book came out with twenty photos of the white faces of contributors on the back, and Aida Mandulay called it out and WOC Sexual Health Network followed up, it is incredible to me that nobody noticed that before publication, or that if they did, nobody worked to change it. However, I am sure I have been in anthologies that were all-white, but since most of my publications are erotica, photos of the authors are included very rarely. And the sexuality education field is incredibly dominated by white folks (because most fields are, because racism). Personally, I have noticed often recently that many of my small group collaborations are all-white, and I need to think about that more (and to keep noticing that most of my communities are white, and work on the underlying issues of why that is).

4. I pay attention to the language I use.

As a genderqueer non-binary person and a feminist queer, I know how much language matters. I pay deep attention when someone talks about racist language—mine or others—and I do my best to pay attention to the words I use, their origins, and their uses.

a) I love reclaimed language, but when there are words that have been used against a minoritized group, I recognize that I don’t have a claim to use them. I can reclaim words that have been used against me. As such, there are certain words I just don’t use, whose histories are too controversial, and whose communities I respect.

b) There are a lot of words that have snuck into our language which have oppressive and racially-based origins, and often I’ve just never thought about it or made the connection. Recently, with the protests in Oakland and Berkeley, my neighbors and I have watched a lot of the live feeds, and have seen the police show up with “paddy wagons,” and then we all had a brief chat about how that is a derogatory slur referring to Irish folks, and tried to figure out what else to call them instead. And when I hear folks use the word “gypped” to refer to being ripped off (which happens more often than I’d expect) I remind them that comes from the oppression of Roma people. Often, people reply with things like, “Oh yeah, right, I never really thought of that …”

c) Know the words I use and where they come from. The queer reading series I co-hosted and -produced with the late Cheryl B from 2010-2011 was called “Sideshow,” and once, a colleague pointed out that the “sideshow” has a pretty terrible history of showing off the “freaks,” and that they wouldn’t be participating. I liked the feel of it at the time, but I wouldn’t use that word again on a project. Especially because I recognize that as an able-bodied and generally mentally well person, it is not my word to reclaim (see 4A), it is my word to respect and stop using (see 4B). See also: Strange Fruit PR Firm [Changes Their Name] After Getting a History Lesson From Twitter.

d) Very deeply engrained in the english language is the dark/light dualistic binary and the use of the concepts of “shadow” and “dark” for bad, unknown, dangerous, and uncharted territory, and of “light” as all things good and holy. I would guess these concepts have more to do with the human psyche than race—however, when used in a racist culture, they reinforce racism subtly and intrinsically. I want to know more about this and do a bit more research on language and archetypes. Meanwhile, though, I am doing my best to avoid the dark/light dualism to stand in for bad/good, particularly when there are thousands of other more thoughtful and interesting metaphors to use.

Language is always changing, and I try to stay flexible in my relationships with words, even if I happen to love them (or have used or over-used them in the past, see 4D). Recently I’ve been discussing the usage of “minoritized” instead of “minority,” for example (still working on that distinction and curious about the reasonings). I’m curious how language changes and moves, how it both reflects and changes culture. This is some of my favorite language-nerdy stuff.

5. I call myself on my privileges.

When I talk about identities as concepts, and my own concepts, I don’t just give my marginalized positions (like queer, kinky, genderqueer, working class, survivor) but I also share the areas where I have privilege and am working to have more awareness (like white, able bodied, american, college educated).

6. When I’m up in front of a group or workshop, I listen when someone challenges my positions, and I call participants out.

I particularly listen when someone challenges me in areas where I am less expertise or have privilege and am less aware of how those oppressive dynamics work. I don’t always know I try to notice it when someone says something that expresses a bias or privilege, and to say something, to call them on it. That’s pretty hard for me and I’m not perfect at it, and I often freeze up or get caught in holding the space of the workshop, and I can’t think of what to say. So I’ve taken to at least saying exactly that: “I heard you just say ___ and I can’t really think of what to say, but I think you have some bias there.” Then I try to move on.

7. I call out (or call in) when I see something.

I do call out when someone I know and feel some closeness with has done something I think has some overlooked bias in it, but I mostly do that privately and offline. I don’t spend much time calling out in the general conversations online, or chiming in when someone else has been called out. I sometimes fear that I should and have some guilt that I should participate in that more, but I also know how I am deeply introverted and more witness is better than more conversations for my energetic ability. I witness other’s calling out constantly and I read read read and listen and try to learn what went wrong, what was going on, and to apply that to my own work. With some folks I’m close to, we have spent a lot of time digesting and thinking about the project and how to do better in the future. See also: Calling In: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable.

8. When I fuck up, I apologize, listen, fix it (if I can), and do better next time.

There’s a fine balance: I am trying to recognize that we’re all human (including me) and I fuck up sometimes, but not to dwell in the fucking up so much that it makes me paralyzed to keep trying, and to still do the best I can to make up for, apologize for, and understand for my mistakes. I am a creator and I want to make art and writing that reflects culture and my inner world, and a huge piece of that is my desire to make it better through social activism. And because I am making things, not just witnessing and critiquing, I have messed up before and I will mess up again. I am doing my best to be okay with that inevitability, and to know that messing up is a necessary part of the process of trying and improving. I have strategies to both protect myself (and my highly sensitive person / high reactive / intuitive empathetic poet self) but also to listen, learn, back up, integrate changes, apologize, and move forward.

I’m sure there’s more I could do.

I am always pondering the ‘more’ of activism and the new, previously unknown parts of my own privilege to which I am still blind. But for now, this is what I’m doing, and I see a lot of room for growth in just what I’ve laid out here and what I’m already doing.

It’s been very interesting to reflect on what I am doing, actually. Reading the original thread on Mollena’s Facebook page gave me lots of ideas and more insight into how I engage the way I do, and what is good for my particular personality and skills. I’d love to hear what you all are doing, too, if you feel like sharing.

Long Live the Butch: Leslie Feinberg & the Trans Day of Remembrance

leslieI sit in shock at my desk, though I knew it was coming, knew Leslie Feinberg was sick, and know how deadly lyme disease can be is.

I sit feeling the shock of grief: Leslie Feinberg died this past weekend.

And today is the Trans Day of Remembrance, and that of itself gets me all weepy about all of those we’ve lost, all the hate, all the fear, and how far we have left to go. It makes me think about “butch flight” and the relationships between butch identity and transmasculine identity. It gets me thinking of my lineage, the legacy I am a part of, and where I came from.

For me, Leslie’s book Stone Butch Blues invented butch identity. If I had the word before the book, it was only as a slur, only as something nobody should want to be. If I had the word before Jess’s story and her tortured restraint of passionate love, it was only used to describe ugly women, unattractive and unwanted. It wasn’t until I read Stone Butch Blues that I realized it described me.

I’m not sure I wanted it to, but I knew that it did. That book made me feel exposed, like someone had found me out. Vulnerable, like someone could come along and pluck my heart from my unguarded chest to do with as they pleased. But also, strangely, it made me feel powerful. I could feel the power that came from being butch, the paradox of growing up a girl and then becoming the suited partner of a beautiful woman, the torture of being such a social outcast, and the deep craving hunger for being accepted.

“My life, forever changed because of Stone Butch Blues. And Leslie Feinberg.”
—Felice Shays
I wasn’t even 20 when I read it, wasn’t identifying as butch yet myself, though I was starting to realize that was growing in me. I was barely out as queer. I recognized myself so much in that book that I hid it in the back of my bookshelf and didn’t pick it up again for almost ten years.

But it is potent, and it seeped into me. It inescapably linked the words butch and stone, and for years I thought that being stone was the only way to be butch. It still feels like the butch/femme culture overly values stone in butches, that the stone—by which I mean, not receiving sexual touch—is one of the measures of the amount of gender dysphoria felt, and therefore the more stone a butch feels, the more butch they are. There is so much belittling in queer culture about masculine-presenting folks who want to be touched in bed, or—gasp!—are bottoms, and they are so often chided for not being a “real butch.”

I have been fighting fighting fighting this for years, both as a queer cultural community wound and internalized in my own body.

I have heard so many butches cite this book as their coming out root, as finally recognizing who they are by reading Jess’s story (Leslie’s story), and so many femmes cite this book as finally feeling like they could be queer and crave a masculine partner, or that it’s the “heartbreaking holy grail of butch perspective.” They have told me they see themselves in Theresa’s butch devotion. For so many of us, Feinberg’s book made our secret budding desires make sense.

“Were it not for Stone Butch Blues, I’d still be stranded on a lonely island of inexplicable gender and sexuality. Many of us would.”— Tara Hardy
Stone Butch Blues came out in 1993, but was set in the 1960s, and I wonder if it wasn’t one of the major seeds which planted 1960s butch/femme nostalgia into our heads while so many of us were coming out in the 1990s. It contributed to how we crave the supposedly thriving butch/femme culture of yore.

I understand being nostalgic for a time that is now romanticized—not only in queer culture but in butch/femme lore and history. Beyond that, it is romanticized in the larger US culture as well, as it is the time post-WWII where this country was thriving, and idealized visions were planted in our collective (un)consciousness. But I also want to remember that while it might seem like butches come from that time, and thrived in that time, what we have now—and the myriad gender identity, expression, and presentation options available to us—is much improved.

“Losing Leslie Feinberg is a gut blow. Hir work has been instrumental in my own life, & the lives of so many queer & trans folks.” — Corey Alexander
Because here’s the thing: There are a lot of problems with those idealized versions of butch/femme relationships. A lot of problems. Beyond the linking of stoneness with butchness, there is an overvaluing of queer masculinity and undervaluing of femininity. This isn’t just in Stone Butch Blues, though it is there—it is all over mainstream culture, and we queers haven’t escaped it: it has permeated queer culture to the core. It has at times felt present even in the articles I’ve read about Leslie Feinberg’s death, where her partner, poet Minnie Bruce Pratt, has often been skipped over. The scholars I know who are studying femmes have a hard time locating them in queer archives, and have often best identified them by looking for their more visible butch partners. This is not good. This is a version of butch that puts femmes as an accessory, as a tool to validate and enhance butch masculinity.

I adore the butch/femme culture. As someone who highly identifies as a femme-oriented butch who is currently dating a trans boy, I adore it even more, and as I have a bit more distance now that I’m a little bit outside of it, I see copious places where the butch/femme culture reinforces the cultural binary gender roles, where it pigeonholes people into boxes of expectation, where people are shaved down to fit labels and not the other way around.

Stone Butch Blues may have invented butch identity for the current queer cultural movements, but we need a reinvention.

We need the new butch.

We need a butch identity where the masculine gender role is criticized and reinvented to include access to all aspects of emotionality, psychology, caretaking, feeling, hobbies, interests, and play.

We need a butch identity where we actively work toward undoing the racist culture that keeps people of color oppressed, their voices marginalized, and their bodies under attack. We need a butch identity which recognizes that butch has been historically a white identity, and that radical queer masculinity looks differently in other cultural contexts.

We need a butch identity where any kind of surgery and hormone taking and body modification is acceptable, supported, and celebrated without commentary on how we knew that butch was “trans all along” or that they are “betraying their womanhood” or teased, “another one bites the dust.”

We need a butch identity where the identity expands to fit who those claiming it, rather than those claiming it shrinking to fit inside of it.

We need a butch identity where it is okay to transition. We need a butch identity where it is okay to wear a dress. We need a butch identity where “butch” is just the starting point of the conversation, and where nobody assumes they know anything about you just because they know you are butch.

We need a butch identity that doesn’t assume topping and dominance as the norm, and that doesn’t put down butches who bottom, who receive touch, who submit beautifully and skillfully and with agency, who crave giving over, who crave being owned. We need a butch identity that doesn’t assume femme partnership as the norm, and that recognizes butches loving butches as a real and valid desire.

We need a butch identity that sees femmes as more than accessories, and that values femininity as solid, legitimate, and radical. We need a butch identity that doesn’t joke that femmes are having “a butch moment” if they fix something or play sports or act tough.

We need a butch identity that embraces the myriad mashup versions of in-between genders, of genderqueerness, male feminity, fagginess, swishiness, and fabulousness. We need a butch identity that rocks glitter and leggings without shame, that encourages purses and boas, and that never makes fun of someone’s “girly drink” or pink button down shirt.

We need new butch icons, we need new butch events. We need to show up at events where butch and femme genders are celebrated and made visible (there are many already out there! Go to them! Participate!). We need to stop prioritizing and privileging masculine versions of queerness. We need to read femme authors like Minnie Bruce Pratt (seriously, have you read S/he? It is one of my top 5 of all time, it’s stunning), we need to work on dismantling white privilege. We need to read trans women like Julia Serano and Janet Mock, we need to listen to Laverne Cox, we need to listen to Ceyenne Doroshow and watch things like the Red Umbrella Project documentary about sex workers, we need to keep refining our activism, we need to work on our own privilege, we need to stay alive.

We need new butch clothes, despite Saint Harridan and Tomboy Tailors and all the other dozen (more?) creators of clothes for dapper queers that have popped up in the last few years, not because we don’t look good in those (damn, we do) but because most of those are suit-and-tie shops, and there are so many more ways to be butch than with a suit-and-tie. Let’s reinvent dapper fashion, let’s never be limited by the narrow masculine options that have existed so far, let’s go farther, let’s have it all.

Even as attached as I am to the word “butch,” we probably need new words. Language evolves as we do. We may even end up turning butch over for some new way to talk about the in-between space we occupy, that tortured passionate place of wanting, that marginalized place of vision and truth.

As much as I would like butch to thrive and live forever, and as invested as I am in this identity, it has roots in dangerous masculine and white culture. I see so much fear that butches are “a dying breed” or that butch/femme culture is dying. I still think it isn’t—Long live the butch!—but if it is, perhaps it is at least a tiny bit in part because we are in a queer culture now that is working to decenter masculinity and whiteness. Perhaps when we fear we are losing butches or losing butch/femme, we are really losing the cultural way we have privileged masculinity and butchness. Perhaps along with this reinvention, we are losing the huge amount of body shame we are forced to carry as butches. Perhaps we are losing the social ostracization that came with butch masculinity and femme femininity.

Perhaps we are moving toward something new, and even better.

I wish we had our own words to describe ourselves to connect us. I don’t want another label. I just wish we had words so pretty we’d go out of our way to say them out loud.” —Jess, p254 in Stone Butch Blues

On Gender Perception, or: Break Your Eyes Open to Genderqueers

This essay, as with pretty much everything I write, is purely my own experience and my best understanding. I’m not trying to tell you what you should or shouldn’t care about, just sharing what my process has been around gender perception and genderqueerness.

For a little more than three years, I’ve been using they/them/theirs/themself pronouns. Notice that I’m avoiding saying that I “prefer” they/them pronouns, because, as many gender activists have been discussing lately, it’s not exactly a “preference.” I prefer green grapes to red grapes, I prefer almond milk to soy milk. But the accurate pronoun for my gender identity is they/them/theirs/themself.

Using a pronoun outside of the standard gender binary is a lot of work on a daily basis. Sure, I do spend most of my time inside of genderqueer and trans communities, and many of those folks are super smart about gender and either ask about pronouns or already know mine, and like to call people what they like to be called. I’m surprised how good it makes me feel when people get my pronouns right, actually. And because often I don’t hear people talking about me—which is the only time they really refer to me in the third person—I don’t hear it very often. The recent Sweet & Rough blog tour is a thrilling example: it pretty much brought tears to my eyes every time the folks on the tour referred to me using they and them. My inner kid—you know, the one who thinks I’ll never be understood or seen or valued—gets all hopeful and touched, and feels vulnerable and seen. I think things like, “Really? You see me like that?” and “You get it! Omg you get it!” and “Are you just humoring me? Or do you really get it?” and “Ergh, I hope it isn’t too much trouble for you to understand that!” and … I feel such relief. My shoulders relax and my body lets go of just a little bit of the tension I always carry.

This is box title
Am I mad at the system? Fuck yes. Am I working on changing it? Absolutely.
Every day I encounter a world that doesn’t see the in-between, and that either addresses me as “sir” or groups me in as part of the table full of “ladies,” aka queers of sometimes five different gender identities. I suppose worse still is “miss,” but that just gets me on a feminist rant about women having multiple honorifics dependent on their marital status and all men are addressed as “mister.” And then I remember that the second wave popularized “Ms”—oh right, we already fought this fight, except that clearly it hasn’t permeated society enough because this guy in front of me is still calling me “miss.”

Am I mad at the system? Fuck yes. Am I working on changing it? Absolutely. Are these moments microagressions? Fuck yes. Do the little needles that are microagressions add up, becoming a seeping wound by the end of any given day? Yeah. Could I just take my toys and go home and become a hermit to avoid dealing with this? Yeah. And sometimes I do, and sometimes I really want to.

But after three years of really claiming the identity of genderqueer … honestly? Being misgendered doesn’t bother me as much anymore.

I rarely correct the pronouns people use for me. I tell them if they ask, absolutely. I have lots of conversations about why they/them is the best choice for me, why I use it rather than ze/hir or other gender neutral pronouns, or why it’s grammatically correct despite the rules saying it is plural.

(Short version: I believe language is fluid, and our uses of it change over the years. I find it to be the least awkward in speech and written flow because we’re already used to it as a pronoun in other contexts. If people want to prioritize holding tight to grammar rules instead of smashing the gender binary and evolving our language to reflect the changes and include thousands of folks who are in-betweeners, well then, I guess I have to reevaluate just how close I want to be with that person. As much as I get a boner for really strict grammarians, to see the rules as so rigid that they cannot be malleable to include folks who are marginalized out of our language is not the kind of poet activist I want to be.)

When all those folks out there in the world out there misgender me, calling me sir or ma’am or ladies or she or bro or miss or whatever they might be using, I let it go. It might prick me for a moment, so I store that away as fuel for my activism, and then I try to remember: I don’t need their validation.

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It might prick me for a moment, so I store that away as fuel for my activism, and then I try to remember: I don’t need their validation.
I have so much validation from my genderqueer and trans communities, from my family of origin, from friends far and wide, and from folks I never would’ve expected to step up and be an ally. I feel so seen and honored, so often. I recognize that my position is possibly a unique one, where I really haven’t had any fallout from coming out genderqueer to my family or at my job (which, ahem, is what I’m doing right now). I know many folks don’t have that kind of acceptance from their families of origin, or their closest friends, or coworkers, or the communities in the cities where they live, or even sometimes their partners. But many of us do get lots of support, too.

Because I have so much validation from my close, inner circle communities, and even validation from broader queer worlds, and hell, from more and more people even outside of my inner circle, I don’t need the validation of the bus driver or the guy at the deli counter or the barista at the coffee shop. I just don’t. They don’t see me as genderqueer? Okay, whatever. Or hey, maybe they DO see me as genderqueer, but they don’t really have language and words for it, and even though they’re feeling that hey-you’re-not-quite-the-usual-kind-of-person-with-breasts thing, it doesn’t occur to them that that means not to use the term “lady” to address me. I am interested in doing more activism to educate folks in service professions to use words that aren’t so starkly gendered to address people who are in-between. (I even have a super secret project in the works about this.)

But I don’t need them to understand my gender in order for my gender to be real, seen, valid, and honored in the world.

It’s the difference I suppose between “gender identity” and “gender perception.” It’s only in the last 100 years that the concept of one’s “sex” has been divided into “sex and gender.” As gender theory has evolved, there are many words within the concept of “gender” and what it is. Gender identity is generally (I mistyped it as “genderally”) the identity that I see myself as. For example, I see myself as genderqueer, trans, and butch. Gender expression is usually how you’re expressing your gender verbally and with energy, and gender presentation is usually how you have decorated your body and the visual presentation of it. For me, that’s usually butch and masculine.

Gender perception is how others see your gender.

perception
“Gender Perception” page from The Gender Book

I do understand that gender perception is a serious source of distress for many folks, feeling that if the world doesn’t see and reflect that I am a certain gender, then I am not that gender. It can be devastating to not be recognized, I do understand that. But for whatever reason, it’s not that important to me.

Or wait—let me rephrase that. It’s very, very important to me to be seen and recognized and understood by my communities and my lovers and my family, and sometimes it takes a lot of work to educate and inform and correct and encourage folks to do so. But it’s not that important to me that the world at large understand and get my gender identity and pronouns right this minute. I just understand that the majority of people haven’t deconstructed the gender binary in a way where they can even see beyond it.

Remember that part in the HBO series Six Feet Under, where Claire, in art school, is trying to “break her eye open,” to see new perspectives and outside of her habits? Most people haven’t broken their eyes open to see more genders, yet.

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Most people haven’t broken their eyes open to see more genders, yet.
When it comes to my communities and inner circles, seeing me and reflecting that they see me is important to me. And that’s partly because of validation, yeah, but it’s also because of intimacy. The more they really see me, the more I feel like we are close and that they really get who I am and how I work in the world. That makes me feel vulnerable, touched, and honored. So really, my genderqueer identity and in-between marginalized place and pronoun use mostly matter for intimate relationships and moments.

I want to encourage that process of breaking your eye open to see more genders for everyone, not just within my communities of radical sex and gender minorities. But the frustration I feel when the larger society doesn’t get my gender stems from my unrealistic expectation. In a way, it’s just arguing with reality.

I’d love to figure out a way to address those misgenderings more easily in the moment, but usually it takes more than just, “hey, don’t call me lady,” for someone’s eyes to break open.

Right now, I can’t change this thing—this problem that the larger culture hasn’t broken their eyes open to more genders yet. I’m doing what I can, and being part of movements that are trying to get that culture broken open, and it is happening right now, the effects are huge and frequent. I can’t change this thing, but I can change my relationship to this thing. I can choose to funnel the pinpricks of not-belonging into more activism and work. I can keep encouraging people to break their eyes open to myriad genders, and I can look to my communities as a source of my validation and intimacy around my gender identity.

Illustration of “Gender Perception” by The Gender Book, reprinted with permission

Let’s Talk About Bleeding While Butch

I have always had very heavy periods. Lots of blood, serious cramps that vary from keeping me flat on my back watching movies until I can stand up again to drugging myself heavily to throwing up from the pain. They’ve always been very regular (which is one of the things that rules out PCOS), and because any conventional doctor I have had wants to put me on supplemental hormones (like the pill form of birth control, usually containing heavy doses of estrogen), and I immediately say no, I’ve never been treated for this well. (I must not be adequately expressing how much pain I’m in when I’m actually talking to the doctor. They dismiss it so easily.)

I’ve tried all the things—from hot baths to raspberry leaf tea, from supplements to hot water bottles to yoga to orgasms. (The orgasms kind of help.) None of it really hurts, but all of them only take the edge off, they don’t actually help the pain. Menstrual pain is kind of like curing the hiccups: everybody has an opinion on how best to do that, but your body may or may not take to any of them. I have routines, my best ideas of what work (most of which involves taking lots of Aleve and watching favorite childhood movies and not talking to anybody), but I’m coming to realize that it’s not enough.

Things have changed a lot for me lately. In the past year and a half, since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area from New York City, my system feels very different. My grieving process has mostly passed, at least the most intense of it has, I’m pretty sure; and I’m no longer in a very high-stress and high-conflict relationship. I’m also no longer living in one of the most high-stress cities on the planet, trying to make it on a shoestring artist budget. Now that my day to day life is significantly less anxiety- and depression-producing, I’m noticing this other thing happening: I am significantly affected by hormonal mood swings. Depression, anxiety, and wacky all-over-the-place emotions in the few days up to when I start bleeding. (Usually, when the bleeding actually starts, things settle a bit.)

I’ve tracked my monthly cycle on and off for the whole twenty years that I’ve had it, and it’s almost always very regular and consistent. It’s also almost always been like this: heavy, with big repercussions on my mood, outlook, energy, and body. The feminist communities I ran around with when I was in my teens and early 20s were very encouraging of things like charting one’s cycle against the moon phases, which I still do and find very fascinating and comforting. It helps me see the Quiet Days coming, the days before I start bleeding when sometimes I am entirely too sensitive to be interacting with people in any significant way.

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So lately, the past year that I’ve lived in this sweet little house with my boy and my cat and the boy’s dog and a little garden and a really good kitchen and a bedroom slash temple, I’ve been tracking. I started being treated by an herbalist in May of this year and that has helped, that has changed things. But even after three solid months taking herbs, my cycle hasn’t really changed, and my periods are still harsh, interruptive, heavy, and affect me deeply.

A few weeks ago, the last time I was bleeding, when I was in tears on the way to an event (and eventually ended up staying in the car crying instead of going to participate because it hurt less to lay flat), I said to rife, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” I’ve been exploring some other options, and I keep worrying about the side effects, but really? The side effects might be worth putting up with if it helps me with the heavy bleeding and the pain and the moods. I’ve been doing a bunch of reading on the menstrual cycle since I’ve been looking into this lately, and it’s funny: I can’t quite tell what is off-balance in my cycle. Too much progesterone, too little? Too much estrogen, too little? Something other than hormonal releases? I just don’t know, and most of the primary care type of OBGYN doctors I’ve seen aren’t hormone experts enough to be able to tell me.

And then there’s the trans/genderqueer thing, too. I went to get an annual pap exam a few weeks ago (thank you, Obamacare) and as I was waiting in the Women’s Clinic, I thought: What if I didn’t have to go to the “women’s clinic” anymore. Why am I still going to the “women’s clinic”? Am I still not trans enough? What is worth it to me that I don’t go out of my way to go to the places that have good trans care? I almost always went to Callen Lorde, the gay community health center, in New York City, and honestly I got (and witnessed) some pretty shitty care there around my (and others’) gender identity, so it’s not like it’s exactly a given, but it’s a step at least. (I found out after my appointment that the San Francisco clinic, Lyon Martin, takes my insurance and has openings next week. So, yeah, I’ll be there from now on kthanksbye.)

(I could so easily slip into a rant about health care and trans-ness and my experiences and what I’m struggling with, but I’m trying to keep this on topic to bleeding while butch.)

I’m considering an IUD—an “intrauterine device” that would be inserted into the uterus and affects the menstrual cycle. It’s primarily used as birth control, as it’s very effective at getting the egg not to implant, but it’s also good for a variety of other things: like significantly reducing the blood flow during a menstrual cycle (because the uterine walls don’t get a chance to build up blood) and reducing cramps. I’ve been doing research about forms of birth control that don’t interfere with hormones like estrogen and testosterone that the body produces, and long term birth control options that are safe for trans men (or genderqueer folks like me) to use. (I’m not taking testosterone, but I don’t necessarily want to change the hormones in my system. I like my goatee and my sex drive, thanks.)

I’ve come across one in particular that seems to come highly recommended these days: Mirena. It’s progesterone-only, which doesn’t interfere with the estrogen or testosterone in the system, and it’s based in the uterus (as opposed to the implant in the arm or pills, which affect the whole body) so it’s localized. I’m seriously considering it, especially now that I have health insurance (thank you, again, Obamacare).

Aside from that, I have also found a couple of really good tools that I want to recommend if this by chance resonates for you.

Recently I bought a new menstrual cup. This is the third I’ve had in about fifteen years, having started using them when I was about twenty, when the only option was the Keeper, made from rubber. It lasted me about six years, until it started having a smell that I could not boil or tea tree out of it, which seemed to be a common problem. I upgraded to the Diva cup, the only other option on the market (that I knew of, anyway) around 2006. It was better—silicone, and absorbed less scent, but after about eight years it too got a little too stained. It is almost clear silicone, so it started getting stained, which visually started being … just not good enough to continue using. I tolerated the stain for a while, but when it started building a scent, I was done.

So I went online to possibly reorder the Diva cup, and while I was researching it, I realized that the landscape of menstrual cups had changed significantly since 2006 when I last bought a cup. I found a few other options like the Lunette and the Fleur, but the one that got me this time was the Sckoon. I LOVE it. I like that it’s marketed in significantly less feminine ways, and I like the design: They really took into account some of the other design flaws in the Diva and Keeper and Fleur, and they made bigger air holes (so it creates less suction) and fewer ridges (which are hard to clean). I like that it comes in colors, too (mine is red).

The thing about a cup, however, is that I don’t have to buy menstrual products every month. That might seem like kind of a small thing, but the process of buying them really was sometimes dysphoric for me. It’s not that I don’t acknowledge and celebrate that my body and sex is female—I do—but having to engage in realms that are marketed for the socialized feminine gender role just makes me so frustrated and angry and sad sometimes. On my best months, I roll my eyes and just do it, like paying a parking ticket or overpriced gas bill. Argh, but okay. It’s just part of it. But on the bad months … it can send me into a tailspin. Especially with all the hormone-induced mood sensitivities (see above)!

Menstrual cups generally come in two sizes: before childbirth, and after childbirth. The “after” is slightly larger, as you can imagine. But until I saw the Sckoon literature about the difference being how much liquid the cup holds (23 vs 30 ml), it didn’t occur to me that getting the larger size cup would, perhaps, enable me to sleep through the night without having to get up to empty the cup (sometimes more than once). Of course! Heavy flow = more blood! And if I have a slightly larger cup, I don’t have to change it as often!

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Even the small size cups you don’t have to change as often as tampons. But this new larger size of cup has been making a big difference. I didn’t really think about it as one of the things that supports genderqueer and trans folks who have a menstrual cycle and don’t want to deal with all that “feminine hygiene products” crap, but it has been a really excellent tool for me to use.

Yes, I have to use my fingers and touch my cunt (and the blood). Yes, I have to deal with emptying it in public restrooms, so I have to either be willing to bring the cup to the (communal) sink and empty it and rinse it, or to make do in a stall with a toilet paper wipe. Yes, it is not the most comfortable thing in the world, but whatever—my public bathroom experiences are already full enough of weird looks that I’ve just said fuck it, and gone for it. People are kind of trained to keep to themselves in bathrooms, so I’ve never had a problem, and very rarely has anybody even really looked at what I was doing. Yes, they are kind of expensive—but a $30-40 investment has lasted me 6-8 years in the past, so it’s definitely worth it.

So now you’ve got a couple of my secrets to how I have this monthly blood ritual of bleeding while butch:

  • A moon chart
  • A menstrual cup
  • Quiet Days

… And maybe Mirena, the IUD, in the near future, though I’m still weighing my options. I had some bloodwork done and will hopefully be able to talk to some folks who have more expertise about hormones and the cycle and trans stuff than I do. That stuff is fascinating to me, but come on, my main knowledge is my own body and that one Psychobiology of Women class I took in college—there must be experts I can talk to.

What about you? What are your secret tools for bleeding (while butch, or otherwise)?

Is genderqueer (or butch) a stepping stone to transitioning?

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Question: if you had been assigned male at birth, all else remaining constant, do you still think you would have identified as genderqueer? i.e. how much of it do you think is an innate identity inherent to who you are, and how much of it political? In a hypothetical society where we actually had full gender equality and the boxes of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ were much wider than they currently are, do you think you would still consider yourself genderqueer, or would you then be comfortable being one or the other?

I’m a trans guy who used to identify as genderqueer, but for me it was more of a stepping stone because I was afraid to come out all the way (like gays who falsely identify as bi at first). A lot of what you’re saying resonances with my own gender history, so I’m curious where the difference lies, given that I’m someone who continues to be uncomfortable with misogyny and male privilege but still wants very much to be seen and treated as male. Or is *that* the difference?

—ASQ, on Coming Out Genderqueer

It is definitely true that I don’t have investment in being seen and treated as male, but I DO have investment in not being seen or treated exclusively female. There’s a subtle difference there. And sure, maybe that is the difference between me and a trans guy. Definitely a few of my close trans guy friends have a very similar gender history to mine, too, and then at the final step 128 or whatever, mine says, “and that’s why I’m butch!” and theirs says, “and that’s why I’m a guy!” Being seen or treated as male doesn’t feel important to me or my sense of self, at least not currently. I reserve the right to change my mind on that at any point, if and when it shifts, but that’s been true for almost fifteen years now, so I am starting to relax into thinking it will remain true for a while. Butch feels good. Genderqueer feels good. Trans feels good, but mostly as an umbrella descriptor, as a community membership. More trans-asterisk (trans*) than capital-T Trans, but either are okay. (Kind of like how lesbian and dyke are okay, too, almost good, but mostly just adequate, though not quite accurate.)

I have a LOT of thoughts about all of this—especially how I identify, and my own gender journeys—that are way more complicated than the “Coming Out Genderqueer” article above. That article is purposefully distilled, attempting to talk to people who aren’t in any gender worlds. It’s a rough sketch beginning of all of that, at best, and sometimes broken down more simply than I mean to for the sake of accessibility.

Honestly, there’s no way I could answer “if I had been born male would I still be genderqueer” etc etc. I have no idea. For as much as I study gender constantly, I’m not really sure what being born male would have changed. Everything? Nothing? I just don’t know. I have speculations, but it seems unnecessary to entertain to me. And “if we had full gender equality and the boxes of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ were much wider than they currently are, do you think you would still consider yourself genderqueer, or would you then be comfortable being one or the other?” I have no idea. A society which had wider expression of gender than ‘man’ or ‘woman’ wouldn’t be where I live, so how many other things would have to change too? I’m a buddhist, I believe in interdependence—I don’t think we could change one big thing without a whole lot more changing, too.

I’d say that my most important identification is in being in-between, or outside of, a binary system. Would that still be true if I was male? I don’t know—probably. Assuming that I would have roughly the same personality, would still be a writer, would still really love satsuma oranges, would still crave the ocean, would still get stunned looking at the stars, would still find so much joy in swing dancing—assuming all those personality things were still true, then yes, I assume I would still crave being on the outskirts of things, the margins, where the weirdoes live, on the borderlands (to borrow from Anzaldua). I like the view from here. I get a better view, though it disenfranchises me a bit, too. The edges of things, more than anything else, seem to be where I am drawn. Not to one particular thing—masculinity, or genderqueerness, or transness. It isn’t about those things so much as it’s about being on the edge, for me.

And, a part of me is softly hurt by your comment, of yet another person asking me yet again, basically, if or when I am going to transition. Or rather, if butch is a stop over on the train to maleness. Or, if I was male, would I “have to” be genderqueer. I can’t tell you how many dozens (hundreds?) of people—butches trans men femmes, genderqueer agender androgynous queers, all sorts of genders, over the years, friends and lovers and people who talked about me rudely behind my back, so many of them at one point or another said something, either directly or indirectly, about my—and often, EVERY butches’—inevitable transition. I think butches get this all the time.

I think it’s quite a common story for many trans guys to spend some time presenting as butch, or as masculine identified women in some way, or as genderqueer, or as rejecting gender in some way. Like you wrote—(like gays who falsely identify as bi at first). Yes, that is sometimes part of the story. But it doesn’t apply to everybody all the time, and just because it happens sometimes doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who find a butch identity and stay there, people who never transition to male, who never secretly wish for maleness, or to be seen and treated as male.

Folks in the bisexual identity—to continue to borrow your example—get this all the time too, with people around them assuming, at least for quite a while in the beginning, that bi will be a stopover to gay town. Sometimes it is. But sometimes, it isn’t.

So, is genderqueer a political identity for me? Fuck yes it is. Is it an innate identity? Uh I mean how can we know what’s “innate” and what’s learned, especially when it comes to gender? But say, for a minute, that I do know—I would answer, Absolutely yes. Which one is more powerful? Fuck, I have no idea. That’s like asking me to rank my oppressions, or tell you whether I identify as an Alaskan or a writer first. I can’t hierarchize those. It is a radical, political act to reject the two-party binary gender system, and I like radical acts. I get off on ’em. It also feels like home in my body in a way my body never felt like home when I was dressed up more femininely, and never felt/feels like home when people refer to me by he/him pronouns. They/them and genderqueerness and in-between feels like all kinds of parts of me can be acknowledged—not “the man and the woman,” because for the most part I feel like those don’t even apply. None of the above. But the writer and the Alaskan, the swing dancer and the cockcentric top, the pretty good cook and the freelancer, the stargazer and the reader, the masculinity and the love of ice cream. The traits that I have that are traditionally masculine, the traits that I have that are traditionally feminine, and whatever in between.

I want to be able to pick + choose whichever ones suit me from whatever possible category. And I want others to have that ability, too, should they want it. I think it’s possible.

Also, I’m sorry—I don’t mean to be snappish about this, and I explicitly DID say, go ahead and ask questions. So, thank you for asking. I’m trying to answer honestly as best as I can, and honestly? Part of me is frustrated with that question, and the commonness in the queer worlds. I am heavily invested in butch as an identity all its own, regardless of the other genders or identities that that person carries too. I am invested in butch identity not only politically, not only for other people, but for my own sake. I am invested in my butch identity. Am I going to always be butch? I don’t know. Do I have secret longings to be male that are unrealized? Not currently, from the best that I know about myself, no.

Do I reserve the right to decide otherwise in the future? Fuck yes.

But … I hope, if I do decide I want to transition, to identify as male, to be perceived as male and treated as male, that I will honor the 35+ years (or, I suppose, arguably, the 15+ years, since I was mostly some other figuring-out-puzzling-frustrated version of me until I was about 20) I spent as a female genderqueer trans masculine butch. One of my most touching moments at BUTCH Voices in New York City in 2010 was when someone, during our ritual/keynote, held up a stone and offered: “My commitment to my trans voice is to honor the butch woman I was for 40-some years.” I know that many trans men were never butch, that if they were a masculine-presenting-woman for some length of time it might’ve been part of their transition, part of their path to male, part of survival, the only option they had, or who knows what kind of other things, and perhaps they never fully occupying the claimed identity of butch. And, similarly, some butches are never secretly wishing to be men.

I only speak for myself, but I, for now, am eagerly comfortable and loving the in-between of genderqueer.

Why Lesbian Erotica is Valuable Activism

ble14I’m reading some erotica—along with Jen Cross, Carol Queen, Amy Butcher, Xan West, M’kali-Hashiki, Cheryl Dunye, BD Swain, & Jiz Lee—to celebrate the release of Best Lesbian Erotica 2014 this Thursday night. (Details here and here and here.) I’m so excited to have helped curate an amazing lineup, and I am now sacrificing all the luck I have to get a good audience to show up. If you’re in the area, come!

I’ve been thinking about “lesbian erotica” lately, how edgy it is, how valuable it is. There’s a bit of controversy around this particular publication of Best Lesbian Erotica, and while I have a lot of thoughts about that article, I still have a lot of my own feelings about how important lesbian erotica is, and how it helps on the process of building one’s some people’s identities. (“One” here meaning someone FAAB who tends to prefer to sleep with other FAAB people, at least at some point in their life.) [ UPDATE: Katherine commented, “So, why don’t you feel that lesbian erotica is important to building the identity of trans-feminine spectrum lesbians?” And of course that’s a valid point. I’m sorry to have excluded trans women from that statement, and that was an oversight on my part. I was trying to be specific, and ended up being TOO specific. It doesn’t really matter who “one” is in that sentence above, all that matters is that some people use lesbian erotica to develop their own identities, and that’s my point. It is valid for all kinds of genders and orientations, and I never meant to leave anyone out. I’ll try not to write so hastily in the future, and be more careful. See my comment for a bit more of my thoughts. ]

I realized I wrote about my own experience with it, and why I think queer smut (“lesbian erotica”) is valuable activism, in my introduction to the 2012 Best Lesbian Erotica anthology, so I figured I’d share it with you here.

See you Thursday night, right?

Introduction to Best Lesbian Erotica 2012

I know what I want.

I knew exactly what I was looking for when I read the submitted stories for this anthology: dirty, smutty, smart about gender, smart about power, packed full of sex with the bare necessary descriptions of setting and context, and, oh yeah, good writing. It doesn’t have to be dirty in my personal favorite ways—with sultry accoutrements and costuming like stockings and strappy sandals, or with strap-ons and lots of fucking, or with blow jobs and dirty talk. I like stories where the characters are so turned on and lusty that I feel it too, even if it is not my particular kink or pleasure. I like stories with unique descriptions and rolling prose and insatiable narrators and rising and falling action. I like stories where I want to recreate the action for myself, when I am inspired by the delicious positions and settings and words.

Yes, and the words, let’s not forget the words. That’s what these kinds of books are all about, really. If you wanted a quick, easy turn on, you could load up any of dozens of queer porn sites—there is no shortage of real, good queer porn out there these days. But for some of us that is too crass, and a well-done turn of phrase gets us swooning and biting our lips and rubbing our thighs together even more than a dirty video.

I didn’t always know what I wanted. When I was coming out in the late 1990s, though there was a serious lack of queer porn in the video stores, there were plenty of people paving the landscape for what would become the blossoming queer porn of the 2000s. Diana Cage, On Our Backs magazine, Good Vibrations, (Toys in) Babeland, Annie Sprinkle, Susie Bright—and, of course, Tristan Taormino. It was Tristan’s 1998 Best Lesbian Erotica anthology that for me clicked something into place, something I could no longer pretend wasn’t there. I would hide the book in the back of the shelves at the bookstore where I worked so it wouldn’t get purchased, and I’d sandwich it between two others and sneak it into the stock room to read when it was slow. I wore creases into the spine with Toni Amato’s story “Ridin’ Bitch” and Karlyn Lotney’s story “Clash of the Titans.” I was genuinely confused as to why I liked these stories so much. What was this affect they had on me? Why did I love them so much? What did it all mean?

I began to find other books, short stories, and essays that helped move my budding baby dykery along: Nothing But the Girl—oh, swoon. That essay by Anastasia Higgenbotham in Listen Up: Voices From the Next Feminist Generation. Cunt by Inga Muscio. Breathless by Kitty Tsui. And the Herotica series, which was erotica for women before Rachel Kramer Bussel’s prolific erotica editing career.

I bought one of the Herotica books at a little indy bookstore—now gone—on Capitol Hill in Seattle when I visited one summer, before moving there. But it proved to be too threatening to my boyfriend who, enraged some night after yet another argument about my sexuality, stabbed that book and two other lesbian erotica books with the wide-handled screwdriver which I’d used to masturbate since I was a teenager.

These books are filled with three powerful things: 1. women, who are 2. empowered, 3. about their sexuality (which, by the way, does not involve men). Even the books themselves are threatening.

These books of lesbian erotica are not fluff. They are not nothing. They are not frivolous or useless.

For queers coming out and into our own, they are a path.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve managed to snag myself a lesbian bed death relationship, going out of my mind with desire and disconnection. I stopped writing, because the only thing that I was writing was how miserable I felt, how much I wanted out of that relationship—a reality I wasn’t ready to face. I decided that to work off my sexual energy, I would either go to the gym or I would write erotica. Well, I ended up writing a lot of erotica, rediscovering this tool of self-awareness and self-creation that had led me to smut in the first place, and I began writing myself back into my own life, back into the things that I hold most important: connection, touch, release, holding, witness, play.

My first published smut story was in Best Lesbian Erotica 2006. Between the time I wrote it and the time the book came out, I was beginning to end the bed death relationship, in no small part because I’d reminded myself of the value of the erotic, of my own inner erotic world, of erotic words. Between the time I wrote it and the time it came out, I started Sugarbutch Chronicles, which has carried me through these last five plus years, often being my sanctuary, support circle, best friend, and confidant.

Writing these stories, for me, has not been frivolous. They have not been nothing. They are not fluff or useless.

For me, they were a path back to myself when I got lost.

When I was lost, I had no idea what I wanted, aside from the basic daily survivals: work. Eat. Pay bills. Sleep. Shower. But when I wrote, when I connected with my own desire, I felt a little piece of me bloom and become in a bigger way. I felt more like myself.

I turned again to the great books of smut to help me find myself, to help me find a way back to a partner, a lover, a one night stand—hell, even an hour with a Hitachi was sometimes enough. The Leather Daddy and the Femme. Mr. Benson. Switch Hitters: Gay Men Write Lesbian Erotica and Lesbians Write Gay Male Erotica. Back to Basics: Butch/Femme Erotica. Doing It For Daddy. And Best Lesbian Erotica, always Best Lesbian Erotica. I still eagerly buy it every year to see what the guest editor’s tastes are, to see what the new trends are, to read the emerging new writers, to get my rocks off.

I rediscovered what I wanted through reading smut and writing it. Through carving myself a path in connection with a lineage of sex positive dykes and sex radicals and queer kinksters and feminist perverts.

After six years of writing and publishing erotica, I am thrilled to be a guest editor for the series which sparked me into queerness in 1998, thrilled to be choosing stories for the same series that published my very first piece, “The Plow Pose,” in 2006, which helped spark me back to myself. It is so exciting to be contributing to this queer smut hotbed that Cleis Press has helped nurture all these years, and I’m so glad to continue to be part of it in new ways.

I know what I want, now. And lesbian erotica, or as I prefer to call it, queer smut, has helped me not only visualize what is possible, but create a path toward getting what I want.

The stories in tis book reflect my taste, my favorites, my personal hot spots, certainly, but also the best-written stories from a large pile of well-written stories by some of my favorite authors, like Kiki DeLovely and Xan West and Rachel Kramer Bussel. There are some less-well known writers in here whose work you may not be familiar with, yet, but who will leave an impression on you, writers like Anne Grip and Amy Butcher. I found dozens of moments of signposts, signals directing me toward myself, words illuminating my own meridians of ache. With each story, with each act of lust, with each dirty command or submissive plea, I rediscovered my own want.

I hope you find some of what you want within these pages, too.

You can still pick up print copies of Best Lesbian Erotica 2012 via your local queer feminist independent bookstore, or, if you must, through Amazon.

And: Come see me & Jen Cross, Carol Queen, Amy Butcher, Xan West, M’kali-Hashiki, Cheryl Dunye, BD Swain, & Jiz Lee read smut from Best Lesbian Erotica 2014 this Thursday night, 12/12, in San Francisco at the Center for Sex & Culture. $20 at the door includes a copy of the book! Details here.

To the femmes on whom I’ve crushed this past year

If you think I’m not kicking myself for not making a move when I had the chance, you’re wrong.

I wish I made a move. Although really, I wish I had had the capacity to make a move. Explain it through the spoon theory, call it the grieving process, call it heartbreak, call it post-poly trauma and fear—whatever it was, I was not in the place to play, fuck, open myself up, make an offer, make a move, or hell, sometimes even flirt. I wish I had been.

These past eighteen months, there were moments my life continued on without me, me being pulled along behind the autopilot me who somehow managed to eat and sleep (no small feat). Sometimes, I had no idea you, beautiful kick-ass femme, were there, making a move on me, giving me The Eyes, putting yourself out there. Sometimes, three months later I found your email in my inbox and felt puzzled, where’d that come from? Why didn’t I even see that before? Wtf? Sometimes, I got so excited and turned on and pleased to receive an offer from you, and I plotted scripted wrote schemed what I would say back, and by the time I actually went to reply, it’d been too long and the connection felt broken.

Time is wonky in grief, in heartache. I wanted to be in an open poly playful place, and so I think sometimes I came across that way. But in retrospect, I was more shell than soul, more fear than fire. I couldn’t bring myself to our interactions—maybe you didn’t know. I didn’t know, either. Rather than defend myself, I just want to tell you that our moments, whatever we had, were special to me, and let you know that I wished I’d been there with my whole self instead of the half-ghost version you got of me.

To D:

Who took me out on a walk and talked so sweet of flowers and foliage, who held my cheek so gently in your palm before we kissed. Who wrote me a tender-hearted letter that broke my heart a little with kindness. Thank you.

To N:

Who fed me the most amazing wine and cheese and pot and smiles (that way your eyes smoke your lips part velvet you toss your bangs), you nourished me when I was incredibly dark. I’m sorry I didn’t know it better at the time. I still feel I owe you an apology. I still think of your hair falling in my face and on my skin, and how your lips felt when you whispered in my ear. Birds and photographs and more wine, and I hope you found an amazing place in New York to shine your gifts.

To A:

Your legs for miles and the way you move, your laugh and quick wit and ease. We’ve basically co-topped, more than once even, and when you made it clear you wanted to play (I think your text said, “I’d like to suck your cock,” thank you for being direct) I froze. Saw you the next day and neither of us spoke on it. Didn’t even text you back until later. In another context, I would’ve begged for the chance. I still feel like a dunce for that one. I’ve learned so much about poly watching your relationship(s) from a friendly far, and I admire how you play and hold people in such high respect. I can’t wait to see you perform again. The way you move your body … I can’t take my eyes off of you.

To C:

And your curls and handfuls of ass and knee socks and drag act. I still have your dirty story in my inbox and I feel stupid for not writing you back. I hope that wasn’t our only chance to play, because I can fuck better than that. Maybe someday I’ll work up the courage to ask you if I can prove it.

To J:

My beautiful (temporary) canvas, thank you for letting me mark you up, paint bruises and scratches and teeth marks into your gorgeous skin. And thank you for the photos after, they came at a time where it helped to be reminded of my own power, and the ways stunning creatures like you will sometimes allow me to borrow some of yours.

To T:

My fellow judge, the only one who asked me about my pronoun, the one I knew was ‘my people,’ particularly when you dipped your head just a little and then egged me on in writing: “And then what happened?” I barely remember the dirty fairy tale we started to tell, but maybe sometime we’ll get to finish it.

To D:

A kind of femme I almost don’t recognize in writing, but I recognized your markers. I recognized you in person. Your ferocity calls me still. I wish I’d had time energy spoons spunk to write you languid sexy stories you would read over your tea, slitting open the envelope with a dirty knife. I’m intimidated by your politics and youth and clarity. I ache to think of your mouth, my hands on your skin. How will I get another chance? I hope to be more ready when I do.

To L:

And perfect crisp white hotel sheets, and joints in the park, and your lipstick that never came off, and the way your hair looked in curls on the pillow in the mornings, and how much I wanted to stay sequestered with you, and your patience empathy understanding holding, and your gentle fist, and your heart-shaped mouth, and your jeans on the grass by the airport. I got a piece of myself back because of that weekend, a piece I didn’t know I was missing. Watching your hands speak I remembered those words I’ve hidden deep, wondered if you were speaking to those places when you slid inside me. I have already mailed you a dozen little ‘thinking of you’ packages in my mind, but in reality I have had no follow through. (Not just with this. With everything. Unopened mail unpaid bills unorganized paper.) I know you understand grief. Do you also understand how much I am grateful for you taking your time with me? How rare it has been for me to let someone explore those inner canyons? Thank you for being strong enough to offer to hold me, and for letting me return the exploration of your own folded in secrets. I want more of you, want to fist your hair again, bruise your knees against the floor, hold you down. Want to kiss your ankles and make an offering on my knees, though nothing really compares to what you gave me when you plucked me out of my chest and handed me back to myself. Thank you.

And to you:

You who attended my workshop in Noho or DC or Seattle or Chicago. I noticed your eyes, the way you bit your lip, how you looked me up and down, how you checked out my package, how you waited your turn and didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to say either. There is often a performer/audience teacher/student power dynamic I try not to exploit (unless, you know, I have permission). But let me be clear here, now: I noticed you. Fuck, I wanted you. My mouth watered at that glimpse of your skin. Maybe I was particularly worked up that night before I even arrived, but more than once I didn’t wait to get back to my hotel before remembering your mouth and twinkle and just-barely-too-long of a glance, and I got myself off. Coming with a grunt and a sigh in a stalled bathroom, keeping someone waiting, licking off my fingers and thinking of your lips.

At another time, in a different year when I was not so lost, I would have tried to ask, to flirt, to be bold, to make it clear I was game if you were, to have boundaries, to ask for yours, to try things, to write you back, to be curious, to connect, to feel our hearts beat together (if only temporarily). I may have missed my chance, but I still want you to know that I think you’re extraordinary, and whoever did get the chance to feel your fingertips roam, to taste your skin shined with sweat, to read the book of your scars, to hear your breathing shallow and release, to be anchored down by your weight, was lucky. I barely know you, but it seems clear to me that you are luminous.

Ask Mr. Sexsmith: First time with a girl

coaching-buttonHi Sinclair,

I’m in a bit of a pickle. I’ve been out for ages, but for reasons not worth getting into (for instance mostly due to lack of opportunity, not lack of interest or any deep seated issues) I’m still completely inexperienced when it comes to girl-on-girl sex. I have however had a fair amount of boy-girl sexcapades.

But now I have the opportunity to get some girl-on-girl action and I don’t want to tell her it’s my first time. I know I should, but I’m too embarrassed to admit that despite years of being out I’m a 28 year old queer virgin. I want to be a good partner and please her in bed but I need some direction. Will she expect me to go down on her the first time we go to bed together? Any websites or great tips to impart? Any help you can offer would be great.

Thank you Sinclair. You and your words have been helping me get off for ages. Now I’m hoping you can help me got off with a partner.

—Carly

Hi Carly:

As a budding baby dyke, I relied on books. Nothing But the Girl and Best Lesbian Erotica 1998 spring to mind, because in 1998 and 1999 I was obsessed and barely out. I left my boyfriend of six years in August 1999 to move into a crowded little apartment on Capitol Hill in Seattle with a dyke I barely knew, eager to have my own room, my own space, a place for my own desires. It wasn’t until April 2000 that I slept with a girl. She was in my nutrition class, and we had the same birthday. “Did you just say it’s your birthday?” “Yeah.” “It’s my birthday today too!” We talked and started sitting together. I put my hand on her knee under the table, and she let me. Kissed me in front of the school after class when we went our separate way. “You’re bold, touching my knee like that,” she wrote in a note later. “I like bold.” She invited me to her house for lunch.

She’d never been with a girl either, but she like me (and you) knew she was interested and had some sexcapade experience. When we started getting undressed (awkward light from my only bedroom window that faced the parking lot, shaded by a fringed grey shall, moon poster up over my bed, feminist books stacked in every spare space), kissing, oh she was a good kisser, I had no idea what to do or what it would be like or how to please her. But when she paused and said, “I don’t know what to do,” I could feel my relief, at her admission of what we were both feeling, and knowing that she didn’t know what would to do meant I could step in and take the (gentle) lead.

Oh, I thought. I know what to do.

I didn’t, not really. But I suppose in some ways that was the beginning of me as a service top, taking some limited control and having bodily permission to touch in ways that pleased her. That’s all I wanted to do: feel her, please her, touch her in ways that she liked, connect with her.

That’s all sex is, really. Sure, the orgasm part is a really nice added bonus—but not everybody comes at all, not everybody is able to get off with a partner, and almost nobody comes with a new person the first time.

Carly, you wrote this to me in March 2012 (and I am so behind on advice/ask me anything questions, this year has been impossible, see: the Making Peace series and the last 18 months of this site), so I presume you weren’t waiting on my small piece of advice before you went for it. So hopefully, this advice comes too little too late. Hopefully this is all irrelevant. Hopefully, you’ll comment on this saying, Oh! That was me! But I totally forgot I even asked that. I’ve been fucking for eighteen months now, I have this completely different other question now.

But just in case you haven’t, and just in case there are other folks out there who read Sugarbutch and dream about queer sex but maybe haven’t had much of it yet, this is my advice to you.

Will she assume that you will go down on her? I have no idea. Depends on the person. Personally, I think going down on someone is an incredibly intimate act, and I wait quite a while after starting to date someone to do it. Also, I am STI-aware and don’t go down on someone without a barrier unless we are fluid bonded, which also often happens after a few (or quite a few) dates (or never), depending on our agreements and how in-depth we go into our own STI histories and whether or not we have other partners or whether we’re going to go get tested again. I have dealt with this differently with everyone I’ve dated, but the short answer is, I think, no, you shouldn’t assume you will go down on someone on your first date or in the first month or so, and if you decide you want to, it should be after you get to know them more and have some safer sex conversations.

Don’t assume anybody is going to come the first time. I believe you are responsible for your own orgasm—in general, not just the first time—so if you want to get off, assume you’ll be getting yourself off. And make it totally okay for her to get herself off, too. Offer to watch, if she finds that sexy. Or offer to help, in whatever ways would be helpful (lick her nipples? Kiss her? Hold her down? Whisper sexy things in her ear? Shove your cock in her mouth? To each their own …).

Unless you have a strong power identity established already, and do a bit of negotiating, don’t assume who’s going to top and who’s going to bottom. Just feel each other. You’re getting to know each other in a new way: physically, energetically. Go easy, take each other’s cues. It’s a complicated physical dance.

To get ready for your first girlon-girl time (or whatever—y’all know that I mean to extend that to other genders too, right?): Jerk off a lot. Notice what you do, how you touch yourself, what feels good. Try those out on her body.

And pay a lot of attention to how she responds. If you can talk, ask how to touch her, ask what feels good.

Feel into your own body, and follow the pleasure. What would feel good right now? Tell her that, and ask: “I really want to kiss you right now. Is that okay?” “I have this urge to spank your ass, would that feel good for you?” “I have some soft pretty rope just … right there … I wonder if you’d like it if I used it?” “Can I introduce you to my favorite vibrator?” “I really love using a strap-on, do you like penetration?”

As I have been thinking on this answer, I kept saying to myself, Self … damn. If only there was a Girl Sex 101 primer that I could point Carly to for more tips and tricks and ideas about communication and negotiation and following pleasure and how ladyparts are awesome and different and the same.

And then I realized that maybe there’s not a perfect one of those right now, but there’s this:

That Allison Moon and KD Diamond are building, and you’re just in time to get a copy for yourself by supporting their Kickstarter.

What is it? Well …

Girl Sex 101 is a road trip in a book! Combining fiction & comics with solid sex-education, Girl Sex 101 does what no sex-ed book has done before.

A collaboration between author and sex-educator Allison Moon (the Tales of the Pack novels about lesbian werewolves) and artist kd diamond (founder & editor-in-chief of Salacious Magazine) Girl Sex 101 is loaded with fun, color illustrations and entertaining stories that offer far more than the standard sex-ed fare.

Plus, “Girl Sex 101 is a collaborative effort of over 15 independent educators and artists, featuring fun & informative guest viewpoints by sex-ed superstars” like Megan Andelloux, Tristan Taormino, Jiz Lee, Carol Queen, Julia Serano, Tina Horn, Ignacio Rivera and more!

So clearly you should try that too.

I also recommend these books:

  

Take a look at the rest of my women & sexuality category on my Amazon A-store, maybe some of those books will resonate?

I wish I knew of other good resources! So I figure this is a great time to ask the readers. Hey, readers! What do you recommend? What books or websites or sources? What are your best tips for queer sex for the first time?

PS: If you asked for advice from me in the past few years, and never received it, I’m sorry. I know many (hundreds, actually) of you have emailed me questions or asked me questions, and I haven’t replied. It’s because I have not been on top of my shit in the ways I would like to be—it’s not because your question wasn’t fascinating. It probably was. It’s just that I haven’t been on a schedule or replying or corresponding in the ways that I want to be. But, I’m sorry you reached out and said something possibly vulnerable or sweet or real, and never got anything back in return.

If that question (or a different question) is still relevant to you, the way to skip the queue and come to the top of the list is to send me a donation or book a 30-60 minute session with me over Skype or over the phone. I’ll address your question, and more.

Ask Mr. Sexsmith Anything: What words compliment a butch lover?

coaching-buttonDear Mr. Sexsmith,

My butch lover refers to me as gorgeous, luscious, beautiful… [but] I just don’t think those kind of descriptive words work for her. What would you suggest? Thanks!

— Sho

Dear Sho,

My personal favorites?

Handsome.
Strong.
Sexy.
Gorgeous.
Hunky.
Powerful.

Some more ideas?

Striking. Charming. Dazzling. Gentleman. Stud(ly). Rough. Tough. Hero(ic). Attractive. Big.

And, do delve a little deeper:

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling someone masculine gorgeous or beautiful or any of those words. (I don’t know if I’d use “luscious” … not sure what it is exactly, maybe it implies curviness to me, and it wouldn’t resonate if someone used that for me. But I can think of some very luscious butches who would probably like that word used to describe them, so don’t take my preference as the norm.) I think we separate complimentary words by gender, and while many people have certain resonances with certain words regardless of their gender identity—and I think those should be respected, and it doesn’t really matter if the words someone likes happen to all fall in one generally gendered category or not—I think it’s good to take a look at why some of them resonate over others, and whether that’s personal preference or cultural habit.

I remember reading somewhere that “men want to be powerful, women want to be beautiful,” and while I think there’s some heteronormative/patriarchal/misogynistic deconstruction that should probably happen around that idea, I also think it is largely true and reproduced in this culture. And, I think we tend to compliment along those lines when we’re talking about complimenting someone feminine verses complimenting someone masculine. So first of all, women are powerful and beautiful, men are beautiful and powerful, genderqueer and trans and butch and femme folks are powerful and beautiful, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being both. In fact, I think it’s a radical act a) to recognize that our gender roles operate by trying to keep men striving for power and women striving for beauty, which reinforces the kyriarchy, and b) to intentionally break those gender roles by complimenting people for the incredible, sparkly, dazzling things that we notice them doing, by which we are touched and changed.

I think this topic of complimentary words warrants a fascinating conversation between partners. E.g., “Hey, when I use words like attractive and sexy and beautiful when I describe you, do you like that? What kinds of words do you like to be called? Are there words that I call you that sometimes bug you? Isn’t it interesting that certain words are reserved for femininity and others for masculinity? Would it feel strange if I called you pretty/strong/luscious/my hero?”

Brainstorm. Make a list. Do some google searches. Ask around to your friends next time you’re out and about and see what kind of lists they make of compliments for their girlfriends/boifriends/partners. Go back to your partner and try out some of those words, see what the response is. Maybe they just don’t like their body to be talked about or commented upon, even if you are in awe of their gorgeousness and want to tell them so every day. Maybe they like certain words to be used and they just don’t know why, but it makes more sense and resonates deeper. That’s okay. Listen to each other.

I like to use words that have the intended effect, and if I intend one thing and they take it another way, it isn’t actually effective, even if I intend it to be so. And regardless of gender identity, I like to call people what they want to be called.

Would y’all like to weigh in on other complimentary words for butches (or for anyone, for that matter)? What words do you call your butch lover? What words have you found that butches like to be called? What compliments stick?

“10 Hottest Butches of 2011” & the End of the Butch Lab Project

So this happened:

What? Thank you, brand new Advocate website SheWired! I’m honored you noticed my little Top Hot Butches project and I’m thrilled to be mentioned in this list. It’s a great list, too—check it out.

I’ve been debating for months how to tell you that the Butch Lab project is over. I have started mock interviews with myself about it, I’ve written rants in my journal. I want to put up a splash page over there, but to be honest—ha—it doesn’t get enough visitors for that to be actually noticed.

And that’s why the project is stopping. It never really got off the ground.

That could be because I didn’t throw enough energy over there, and if I had the time and energy to maintain another blog, maybe it’d grow into something. I can’t really expect it to jump into some big deal thing right away—but I guess I did, given the intensity of Top Hot Butches. Butch Lab never got the media attention, and that’s in part because Top Hot Butches had all that controversy and oh my god don’t we queers love controversy, especially when we know better than whoever is doing the stupid thing of insulting someone’s identity. The thing is, I took all of that feedback, scoured it, and spent months working on Butch Lab, incorporating all the feedback, and then it felt like it launched to silence. Sure, there have been many loving & supportive emails and many great comments about what the site has meant and how great it’s been to see all the mini-interviews (all of that is archived under on butches here on Sugarbutch, fyi), but it wasn’t really enough.

Beyond that, my life has moved more and more offline, teaching classes and leading workshops and organizing in-person events, and I just don’t have the time in front of the computer to hype butch-related things that perhaps I would’ve had a few years ago.

So, for all of these reasons, Butch Lab is closing. It’ll be up through the domain’s expiration in fall 2012, and I’ll be leaving Top Hot Butches up. When I made that decision, I wanted to continue doing the Symposium (writing prompts about butch identity and a blog carnival/roundup) and the mini-interviews, though I haven’t done that yet. I’d like to, perhaps I still will. I’ll add it to my 2012 Sugarbutch goals and see what I can do to make it happen.

Thanks, everyone, for being so supportive of both of those projects. Time to move on to more things, I guess.

What is even DISCUSSED at a “femme conference”?

I caught sight that the 2012 Femme Conference dates and location have been announced—it’ll be in Baltimore, MD, August 17-19, 2012. I’m looking forward to attending and I think I can make it, at least for now I don’t have anything scheduled, so I’m adding it to the calendar. I haven’t been since 2008 so it’s time to go again.

The Femme Conference “provides a weekend by, for, and about queer femme-identified people and our allies. Every other year the Femme Collective co-creates a femme-centered space and brings you workshops, brilliant keynotes, glittering performances, resource sharing, community building and much more. Our 2012 event aims to explore how we grow, build, nurture, and align the many pieces of our communities and identities while building femme community and power,” according to femmeconference.com, which has (or will have) more details on the conference going forward.

I first saw this announced on the fuckyeahfemmes tumblr, which is brilliant in case you don’t follow it, and of course in true Tumblr style, some ignorant commentary got quickly added to the thread. Fuckyeahfemmes alerted me to that as well.

The original post:

“… really? is this an actual thing? what is even DISCUSSED at a “femme conference”…? how to continue reinforcing stereotypes and relegating people to specific, pre-determined categories based on SUPER out-dated notions on what it means to be a gay woman? laaaame.” —juliaperchance

And Fuckyeahfemmes wrote back:

Probably anyone who would attend a femme conference wouldn’t feel that they were “relegated” to that category, they would self-identify as femme (asserting their own sense of agency around their sexuality and gender identity) and they would probably want to discuss issues such as stereotypes about queerness and femininity, thus proving that “femme” is something that is constantly being redefined and redetermined, not something that is simply forced upon them. Not everyone who identifies as femme is gay or a woman either. The fact that people have such negative associations with femme identification, (even and especially within the queer community) is the reason that this annual event happens- providing a space to think through such issues in a non-threatening environment.

And of course lots of other folks on tumblr jumped in as well, including myself. I wrote back:

What is discussed? Femme invisibilitycreating femme identity in radical & responsible ways, community, queer markers …and tons of other stuff.

And by the way, femme identity is not “outdated.” There are thousands of people creating and re-creating femininity in queer contexts which are liberating and celebratory, not full of restriction or judgement, and which are created for the person to feel good in their body and with their gender expression. To lump femme identity in with some notion of the binary gender roles reproduced on “gay women” is to seriously miss the gender revolution that is happening right now.

Ohbettinadear responded:

yikes. it’s so seriously sad to me that some queer women don’t undertand that no one is asking them to identify as femme. but me? i AM femme. i know it in my bones. so please don’t be so myopic to assume that this is an outdated notion, because femme, to me, feels right. i’m so glad this conference exists, so that we CAN play with and celebrate that identity, so that we CAN recognize each other in the absence of a heteronormative lens.

and stefi-leekx.tumblr wrote:

I’m so sick of anti-femme bullshit. Shaming women for stuff like this is fucking counterproductive. Also “lame”? Nice ableism there.

I am really sick of anti-femme bullshit too, though my response is more “ugh, sigh,” than “omg !#$(@!&*.” It’s clear that most people really just do not understand how femme identity can be radical. It’s also clear that a lot of feminine-of-center queer women (and people who don’t identify as women, but very commonly women, I think) end up with a lot of flack, baggage, and bullshit around their femininity and the ways that this culture commodifies, consumes, degrades, and devalues women, queer women, femininity, and femme. And it’s even more potent when they are all in combination.

The ableist bullshit came to my mind, too. “Lame” is a loaded word, let’s remove that from our vocabulary as much as we can, like “retarded” and “gay” (as a derogatory slur, I mean).

Clearly, there are a lot of people out there who understand, embrace, and celebrate the need for a femme conference. It still surprises me to come upon folks who don’t get it, who reduce it to “makeup and dresses,” who devalue femininity. (Sidenote: read Whipping Girl, folks who don’t understand why this is femme-phobic. And anyone who cares about femmes. And everyone else.)

But let’s also not let comments like juliaperchance’s keep us away from answering equally important questions, like this one from cybercarnet:

I’ve been wanting to go to the femme conference for a long time, but I’m worried I will just feel inadequate the whole time, not “femme” enough. Have any of you gone? Is there a lot of femme policing? Like, for example, I think makeup looks great and all, but unless I’m dressing up for a costume party, I never wear makeup. I hate wearing makeup. I rarely have the spoons to get all dolled up anymore. How is the disability and fat-positive representation here?

I have so many questions! If I’m going to fly across the country and spent beaucoup bucks, I need to know I’m not going to feel like shit the whole time, you know?

First: YOU ARE FEMME ENOUGH. If you feel aligned with this identity in any way, even if it is a complicated issue for you, you belong there. You don’t have to be a sing-it-from-the-rooftops femme to attend. You can go and be reluctant, and curious about what this building community might have to offer for your own understanding of your place in this world and your own gender identity.

I didn’t go in 2010, but my answer is: GO. There is space for disability and fat-positive representation. Even if it isn’t executed the best possible way it should (and what is), it is there, and people are trying. I have known some of the folks who have been on the Femme Conference board in the past and they are great. I support not wearing makeup if that’s what you like (and/or do because it is better for you). There is not a lot of femme policing, in my experience (and from what I’ve heard from femmes, too). Other folks want to weigh in on this? Have you been to a Femme Conference? Would you recommend it to this person?

Last but not least, as long as I’m on a femme+tumblr kick, let me present you with this little piece I found from delisubthefemmecub, a trans femme boy, who has this to say about femme, and I think perfectly illustrates why we need this conference, why we need to do this work, and why I love femmes:

For me, femme is about healing

it is about the rituals of adornment that I use to calm my anxiety, and quell my tears after days where transphobia slips under my skin like stubborn splinters

it is about reaching across time, bridging the distance between the man I am and the girl I was.

it is about finding that girl in the recesses of my heart, holding him in my arms, and saying “it will be okay, we made it out alive.”

it is about finding a way to be a boy that doesn’t hurt.

it is about nurturing all the femme parts of myself that I suffocated, just so the boy part of myself might be visible to other people.

For me, femme is about resistance

it is about refusing to believe that there is a right way to be a man

it is about glitter armor and gestural fierceness coating my spirit so that I might just be strong enough to survive

it is about reclaiming and flaunting all of the parts of my femininity that have been used to say that the sexual assaults were my fault

For me, femme is about healing, resistance, survival.

Somedays, femme is all I have.

Thank you delisubthefemmecub. Finding ways to be us, in whatever gender we are, whatever part of the gender galaxy, without being hurt by it, is one of the biggest missions and purposes behind this work that I do. I think it’s possible, and I want us each to do our own exploration and our own discovery, and be uniquely ourselves in whatever ways help us heal, resist, and survive.

A Little Bit About Butch Voices, Butch Nation, and “Masculine of Center”

So, a group of folks who were on the Butch Voices board have broken off and created a new organization, Butch Nation. If you keep up with this kind of drama news, you probably have heard about it. See the press release Butch Nation released, Butch Voices press about it, Sasha T. Goldberg’s letter about what happened, and an interview with Krys Freeman on Velvetpark.

I’ve been asked for my thoughts on what’s going on by a few folks. To be honest, I’m not sure what I think exactly. My understanding, based on reading those links above (and more), is that it is a) partially a personal rift, based on who knows what, and b) partially an issue of semantics, about the terms “masculine of center” and “butch” specifically. I can’t really speak to what’s happened personally between the groups—I don’t know, I wasn’t there, and for the most part, I’m not that interested. I mean, my wish is for us all to get along, but people have different ideas about how to run things, and it’s ever possible for rifts to arise when working closely with anyone (in fact, it’s nearly inevitable).

So I don’t know what to say about that part. But I can speak to the semantics, and my opinion about these (incredibly loaded) terms.

(While fully acknowledging that words are powerful, and the right word is incredibly important, and identity is complicated, I also think it isn’t worth the community rifts, and I’m not eager to get involved in the nitpicking of the argument. Still, I’m putting forth my two cents.)

The word “masculine of center:”

My understanding is that the Butch Voices revised mission statement includes this word as an umbrella term, to encompass a myriad of identities. Also from the mission statement: “Masculine of center (MoC) is a term, coined by B. Cole of the Brown Boi Project, that recognizes the breadth and depth of identity for lesbian/queer/ womyn who tilt toward the masculine side of the gender scale and includes a wide range of identities such as butch, stud, aggressive/AG, dom, macha, tomboi, trans-masculine etc.”

The term is meant to be more inclusive than a term like “butch,” which is loaded for many people, and which has historically been predominantly adopted by white folks.

This isn’t the first term to come around that has attempted to encompass these many masculine queer identities—remember transmasculine? That was a hot one for a year or so there, but was declared too problematic to keep using, particularly in the ways that it wasn’t inclusive enough of trans women.

Maybe this begs the question of whether or not an umbrella term is necessary at all. As someone who writes about this stuff frequently, my opinion is that yes, it is important to have a term. Not only that, but it’s important to see the connections between us, to look at the places where we overlap, and to use those to build bridges and build stronger community activism and connection around our shared oppression. Because all of us within these individual identities, we may or may not date the same type of person, we may or may not have the same spiritual beliefs, we may or may not identify as feminist, we may or may not wear the same type of underwear, but there is something that unites us: our masculinity.

(I would argue that our masculinity is intentional, though I know there’s some disagreements about that. I’ve also heard, lately, people arguing that they are “butch women,” and therefore “not masculine,” but I’d like to challenge that there is a fundamental difference between male and masculine, and that a woman can be masculine and still be women.)

Having something to unite us is powerful, and most of the words that this world has come up with to use as an umbrella term haven’t been far-fetched and uniting enough. Is this term? I don’t know. Personally, I like the term “masculine of center.” I wouldn’t use it in a sentence to describe myself, like I wouldn’t introduce myself by saying, “I identify as masculine of center,” but I would absolutely say that I identify as butch and that I believe butch falls under that umbrella, just like it is a sort of trans-ish identity, sometimes, for me, as well. I wouldn’t correct someone if they said I was masculine of center. I also don’t tend to identify myself as a “lesbian,” I’m much more likely to call myself a dyke, or, even more so, queer, but I wouldn’t correct someone if they called me that. It’s not my identity word of choice, but it is accurate.

Holding so tight to one singular identity word and no others gets us into such rigid places. When one word and only one word is an accurate description of one’s self, then of course a larger umbrella term will feel bad. And of course one will only feel good about being connected to and associated with other people who identify with that term. The problem is, I think, that the term itself is just a starting place. It’s just the thing that starts these deeper, elevated conversations, the invitation to say, “Okay, what does that mean for you? How did you come to that word, that identity? How does that identity play out in your daily life?”

Because, like Dacia reminded me when we talked about this last week, the map is not the territory. Even if we have mapped something out with language, what matters is the application to our daily, minute-by-minute lives. And what matters is, to me, the connections that we make, the interconnectivity we find with others who are struggling through similar issues that we are, and what we do about it to move ourselves forward.

I know identity politics are incredibly loaded—fuck, the words I call myself have been vastly important to me, I’m not trying to belittle that struggle. It is huge. The act of naming one’s self, especially in the face of oppression and marginalization, is complicated and powerful. I just hope that we can have more looseness in some of these discussions, as they go forward.

One more thing about masculine of center … I’ve read a few places, in response to this Butch Voices/Butch Nation stuff, that the word “masculine of center” reinforces the binary, and that gender is more complex than a linear spectrum, etc etc.

Funny, I never think of “masculine of center” as implying a linear, 2D scale, with masculine on one side and feminine on the other. All sorts of shapes have centers, and I tend to think of the gender map as a 3D circle, a galaxy even (though that is much harder to map), or perhaps a shorthand of a 2D circle if I’m trying to simplify it a little more.

I ran across this on Tumblr not too long ago, and it’s stuck with me:

From the creator:

Because it’s already established, I have put F, standing for Feminine gender, as red, and M, standing for Masculine gender, as blue. Going nicely with the pansexual flag colours, I have put O for Other gender (though part of me feels I should have put Third gender) as yellow. … Each gender/colour fades down to centre, where I have put A for Agender. …

With this wheel, you can say “I am somewhere between masculine and other, but it’s not a really gendered gender” and it makes sense, because you point at light green (which looks like turquoise, but this was the best wheel I found). You can say “If I’m anything, I’m feminine” and it makes sense, because you point at light pink.

And bigender? Sometimes *here* and sometimes *here*. Genderqueer is anything that isn’t red or blue, I think.

I think there are more genders than just this, but I also think it’s a pretty good place to start. Definitely a vast improvement from the linear spectrum, and I like the idea of all those gradient colors.

So my point, if I have one, is that I like the word “masculine of center,” and I think it’s useful for trying to unite many, many folks who struggle with a masculine identity in the queer worlds. As I’m continuing to be a part of building a better understanding of female masculinity and butch identity in this world, I think it is incredibly important to be talking to other people who have overlapping or complimentary experiences to my own, and to swap theories and survival tactics, to share war stories over beers, to have some respite before we go back and fight the good fights.

I believe the folks behind Butch Voices are doing an incredible job at being inclusive, open, and transparent in their vastly difficult task of bringing together dozens of identities to connect and unite in these conferences. I haven’t been to the national conference yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it next week, and as someone who has spoken quite a bit with Joe LeBlanc and other BV core members, and who was part of the Butch Voices NYC committee last year, and who this year has been volunteering as part of the national web team, I have some knowledge of how this organization is being run, and it seems professional, open, and excellent.

That’s not to say that, if I knew more of the details about what’s going on, I might not have some critical feedback, but it seems clear that they are doing their best, and I’m impressed with what’s happening.

I hope this conversation will continue next week, and I imagine it will. Perhaps as I learn more I’ll have more to share with you all about what I think and what’s going on. Meanwhile, I feel open and curious about these conversations, and interested in finding out more ways to have better, and deeper, connection, and elevated discussions around all of our identities, singular and collectively.

Living Gender

Ellie Lumpesse has been curating a Gender Celebration Blog Carnival, and today’s my day to participate. The topic is “living gender.”

You can check out a few of the other participants, if you like: Curvaceous Dee wrote about what makes her a woman; Sexpert Jane Blow wrote about her perceived gender; Eusimto wrote about gender anarchy; Dangerous Lilly wrote about labels and being politically correct. Still to come are neamhspleachas and Ellie.

I hope this Gender Celebration Carnival will keep going! I think it could drum up some great conversation.

I don’t know when it happened exactly.

One day I just woke up and felt good in my skin. I went to my closet and felt good about the choices of clothing I had to offer. I dressed and looked in the mirror and I felt good about my reflection. I saw a photograph of myself and I smiled, and saw me.

It wasn’t always that way.

I didn’t used to recognize myself in photographs. I didn’t used to feel good about the pieces of clothing I would pull on to pull together an outfit. But somewhere along the way, things started shifting, and improved.

I probably can’t even put my finger on it. Not an exact date or time.

I remember when I threw out most of my clothes that were purchased in the girl’s department, going through my closet and my drawers with each piece: where did this one come from? This one? This one? and sifting them all into neat piles. I remember bringing home bags full of button-downs and polo shirts from the thrift store to try to rebuild some new version of me, some version that had swagger and dated girls and knew how to fuck. I remember buying three-packs of undershirts and three-packs of briefs and trying to figure out from the packaging what size I would be.

I remember trying on various versions of these in photo sets, self-portraits I would take of myself on my bed, against a wall, with an upturned lamp pointed at my face. Sometimes with a timer, sometimes from arm’s length. I have found folders and folders of these photos recently, with titles like “playing butch dressup” and “self butch” and “new clothes” and “wife beater a-shirt.” There were others: “lipstick” and “cat costume” and “corset” and “cleavage,” all carefully labeled in folders, back in the digital day before Picasa and iPhoto would keep everything organized for you.

But it wasn’t all about clothes and presentation.

They say there are many components to gender: chromosomes, genitals, hormones, external presentation, internal sense of self, and yes, of course, socialization and performance. Gender is not all of any of these things, it is not all performance, it is not all socialized. Some of it is innate. Some of it is about genitals. I believe there are many factors.

Gender is also about energy.

I remember studying some classmates in college: the way they sat, the way they held their pens, the way they slung their bookbags over their shoulders and defiantly walked out of the classroom door, shoulders back head high chin up. A little daring, a little rebellious. They sat with their legs open, taking up lots of space. I mimicked them. I practiced sliding low in a chair and splaying my knees.

I noticed that these people got lower grades than I did for doing the same work, because they were perceived to be not paying attention.

And then, when I started mimicking them daily, when my mimery became mine and became a slightly altered version of a copy of a copy of a copy, I started getting ignored by those same professors, started getting glossed over when my hand was up, started wondering why I wasn’t perceived as the straight-A front row apple-for-the-teacher student that I was.

Oh. Right. My gender.

But it wasn’t always like that. It was easier to recognize a straight-A student as a girl, apparently. My board shorts and polo shirts were not proper enough to be seen as part of academia, but my brain hadn’t changed. Curiouser and curiouser.

(That was workable, however. All it took was a few office hours visits with those professors and my participation in class looked much different.)

The other thing that changed was the girls. Suddenly I was visible, a catch, someone dateable. I had three dates in a week, once, in college, and my mind was a little bit boggled. (I didn’t sleep with any of them, or rather, none of them slept with me, but hey, at least I was getting out there! At least I was being noticed!)

I got a Facebook message from the mom of one of my childhood friends recently that said, “You look exactly the same.” I’m not sure what she meant by that, because to me I look so completely different. But I think she was trying to express some gender validation, some gender celebration, telling me that though my external appearance may seem radically different, that there was a similarity, a thread running through all of my life experiences that was me, at the core.

What I want to tell you is that now, I recognize myself in the mirror. Now, I don’t get up and obsess about gender before I even put on my clothes. Now, I get my hair cut every three weeks and keep it shorn tight in the back and on the sides. Now, I don’t debate if it’s a cliche to keep my hair short, I don’t wonder if perhaps I should grow it back out because lesbians should have options, I keep it short because I know I want to. I keep briefs in my underwear drawer because I know all the options, and those are what I like. I collect ties and cufflinks. I shop unapologetically in the men’s department and I don’t even know my sizes translated into women’s anymore: I’m 8 1/2, 34/30, M, 16. I feel handsome and beautiful and attractive and at peace with my body—at least, most of the time. It has taken time, I’m 32, but I don’t think about my own gender, and wonder what it would be like, living daily, if it felt comfortable, anymore.

Unsolicited Advice to a New Butch (aka The Butch Poem)

There is more to you than this identity. It makes everything make more sense, and without it you might be lost, but with it you are only ever on one path. You contain more multitudes than that.

Dance. Cook. Read. Make peace with your body. Look at the stars.

Don’t make everything about you. Willingly admit you are wrong, even if sometimes you know you are right. Eagerly say “I’m sorry.” Easily say “I love you,” but learn to recognize your own worth. Keep the borders of your kingdom well-watched and flexible. Keep your muscles flexible. Climb mountains. Pick wild flowers, even though they wilt. Because they wilt. Don’t let people make you wilt. That’s doesn’t have to have anything do with you. Listen to their stories. Remember that we yell because we do not feel heard.

Make a list of ways you feel heard.

Learn how to partner dance so you can make your partner look beautiful, spinning and open-mouth laughing on the dance floor. Cook. Read. Make peace with your body.

Elevate the discussions over brunch with your buddies and use them to try out your date outfits. Downgrade your tee shirts to workouts and loungewear and upgrade your presentation. Make a list of places you can wear your very best suit that are not weddings or funerals. If you don’t have a suit, invest in a suit. There’s a reason it’s a classic. It’s okay to get it at a thrift store. It’s okay to stop shopping at thrift stores now that you know how to use money. Practice rocking a tie on special occasions. Make a list of special occasions. Thursdays can count as special occasions.

Remember that your lover craves your skin and friction and kisses not despite but because of your masculinity.

Dance. Practice cooking at least one impressive date meal and, if you like watching them put something you made in their mouth, teach yourself more. Read. Make peace with your body.   

Get a traffic cop vest, because you are stuck directing and deflecting in the middle of the intersection between male and female, and though the fifty-car pileups have mostly ceased, though they have cleaned the rubble from the ditches, though the seasons have faded the bloodstains on the concrete, you are still there, in the middle, while a pickup truck brushes past close enough to touch the hairs on your calf and a Mazda full of machismo is threatening you from the window.

Know you can survive this. Your body crosses borders most of them never question.

Dance. Cook. Read books like Stone Butch Blues and Dagger and Butch is a Noun and learn where you came from. Learn who else is out there in the world with you. Suspend your own stories and practice seeing another’s perspective. Make peace with your body.

Learn to recognize femmes, even if you don’t date them. They recognize you. When a girl on the subway gives you The Eyes, she’s a femme. When the only straight girl in the dyke bar says she likes your tie, she’s a femme. When your waitress jumps in on your conversation with your buddies to ask “so what’s a good drag king troupe?”, she’s a femme.

But two femmes in bed are not just waiting for a butch to come along (necessarily), so don’t laugh when someone tells misogynistic jokes in bad taste. Be a gentleman. Practice the art of consensual chivalry, always be on time, and remember: it’s better to have a cock and not need it than to need a cock and not have it. Always be prepared. 

When the girl you thought you’d spend your life with leaves you, know you can survive this. Pour the whiskey down the drain, keep your stovetop spotless, and delete her number from your phone. Move your best friend up to her speed dial spot and call just to say hi. Cultivate your friendships before your breakups so you are not alone.

You are becoming more like yourself than you’ve ever been. Trust in your own deepest experience. Trust in your own evolutions.

Dance. Cook. Read. Make peace with the supposed conflict between your breasts, your inner folds, your monthly bleeding, and your cufflinks, your swagger, your monthly boy-cut #4 and the razor-shave on your neck. You possess this innate ability to contemplate apparent opposites and hold them both; to dance with two seemingly contradictory things simultaneously—a talent most people can never perfect. But you can. And you are not alone. These mentors, this legacy, this lineage, this heritage, this style—this is where you fit, this is where you are not dismissed, this is where you finally get kissed exactly how you’ve always wished.

This is the process of blooming into whatever multitudes you are at the core of your being.

Look at the stars. Remind yourself how small we all are, how big your life is, how many paths you are exploring. You can do more than survive this—you can thrive in this.

Mini Interview: Just Jess

Just Jess (From the Beaver Bunch)
mentor, vlogger, activist
www.youtube.com/user/beaverbunch, www.youtube.com/user/cautiousplay, @JessfromBB

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

I’m not sure that I identify with the word “butch”. I mean, people may see me as butch, but I wouldn’t say that I am. I absolutely love my butch sisters but I just don’t feel like it describes me the way that I see myself. I think that stems from the misconceptions that come with being labeled as butch. I don’t wear the pants always, nor do I want to. Although I do have a butch attitude… does that count?

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

I typically use “queer” to identify; sometimes I’ll go so far as to say genderqueer, but even that puts me in a box that I’m not completely sure of. Although I am sort of a guy and sort of a girl, so it does make sense. I’ve lived in and visited big cities and the queer/genderqueer communities are vastly different. I’ve felt more comfortable visiting Portland, OR than I’ve ever felt living in San Diego as a queer person and I’ve been here for almost five years.

When it comes down to it, I’m just a sensitive kid with a gang of bike tools and a love for romantic comedies. I’m just Jess. Mostly masculine on the outside and feminine at my core.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

I would tell my younger self to be more open to gender and sexuality. I came out very early and immediately called myself a lesbian before I really knew what that would entail. I love women and enjoy being a woman, of course, but it took me several years to come into my own as queer and to not feel the need to identify as a lesbian. I just wish that I had given myself more of an opportunity to learn about who I was at an earlier age – it gets harder once you establish yourself within a community.

I would also tell myself to slow down a bit and be more present. I was sort of a crazy kid when I first came out, always running around looking for a cute girl to kiss. I guess some things never change :)

Lastly: I love butches and the history that comes with them. The struggles and triumphs hold a beautiful place in my heart. And thank you, Les Feinberg, your words are inspiration.

My Favorite Binder (More On Butch Bras)

A few weeks ago, Autostraddle wrote a long post on bras: What the F Should I Do With These Boobs?—particularly, bras for folks who don’t really want the standard lace-and-bows versions that are the most common at stores. They linked to one of my old posts, More On Butch Bras, where I talked about getting properly measured and how life-changing that was. I’d like to write more about that—and I still think everybody, EVERYBODY, should go get properly measured, because there actually is a difference between a 34D and a 36C, and if you say you wear either one, you are probably not wearing the most comfortable bra for you that you could.

That’s my size, by the way. Or rather, that’s the size I thought I was for a long time. Turns out I’m more of a 34DD, though right now, given the amount of biscuits I’ve consumed in the past year, I’m probably more like a 36DD. Knowing that helped—though that’s also assuming that you’re buying bras which have separate ribcage measurements and cup sizes, which sports bras generally don’t.

I resisted sports bras for a long time. I didn’t like the uni-boob look, something I finally identified as left over from my first girlfriend, who used to say that all the time (who has since transitioned and had top surgery, by the way, so I suppose found a solution for that). But when I started doing “drag nights” in college and wearing more button-downs, the advice from my friend was to wear a one-size-too-small sports bra as a binder, and that ace bandages were really not the way to go.

Still, it took a while before I went through my underwear drawer and got rid of ALL of my traditional back-clasp two-cupped bras in favor of more of a binder. I found this Adidas back-clasp sports bra that gave me enough of a bind, and quickly bought four of them, tossing everything else out.

These dozens of suggestions that Autostraddle posted are great, but for larger breasted folks like me, there was not a single bra on there that I would wear. Though perhaps that’s not so fair, really, because there’s only one that I really wear anyway: the Enell bra (you can get ’em on Amazon too).

There is an Introduction to the Enell bra on YouTube, but it’s so cheesy that I can’t bear to embed it here. I will however embed the fitting and measuring video so you can see how to wear it:

It has significantly changed the way I look in shirts, and I have yet to find anything better. I used to have a size 1 that I would use for extra-tight binding and a size 2 that I wore for everyday stuff, but I can’t fit into the size 1 anymore. Hitting 30 really has changed my body, my metabolism. I’m trying to be more careful about what I eat and hope I can fit back into the size 1 someday … but that’s kind of another post.

When “Gender Expression” Means “Masculine”

So you’ve heard about Babeland’s new “Gender Expression” category, which I for one thing is awesome. But I want to call your attention to a couple comments on that post, because I think it’s important, and it crossed my mind as well:

Perry wrote:

Not to be rubbish, but shouldn’t it be called “female-assigned or potentially mtf-post-op-folks-i-suppose expression” instead?

And Krista from Babeland responded:

It is our intention to make this category a place to find products for expressing any and all gender possibilities. We welcome suggestions of other products that you think might fall into this category. I hope that helps. Feel free to contact us with any other questions.

To which perry replied:

thanks for your comment, Krista. I don’t really have any suggestions per se, I’ve just been noticing that often when female-assigned queers talk about “genderqueer” and “transgender” they often seem to be talking about female-assigned folks who express a certain masculinity via clothes, hair, and yes, toys. I rarely meet male-assigned folks id’ing as genderqueer. 20-30 something college educated white female assigned people who have sex with the same seem to be “the” face of trans/gender and genderqueer movements in a way (if you look at profiles on genderfork and on lots of tumblrs you’ll see what i mean), and i think it’s important to make other identities visible. Thanks for selling great stuff babeland, this is not a dig at you.

And I really see perry’s point here. I don’t really mean to drag Babeland into this, because really this is just something to point to indicative of a larger issue, and, well, I like to link to the gender expression category, which is why I’m using this conversation as an example.

Thanks, by the way, to perry and to Krista for this conversation. I don’t have a lot to add, but I want to highlight this issue because I’ve thought about it frequently myself, and I’m interested what we can do about it. I guess this is the part where I ask for your opinions on the subject. Thoughts?

I do want to say, in Babeland’s defense and in defense of many other sex toy stores which have “gender expression” type of categories, that I think there are just a lot fewer sex products for trans men and masculine of center folks than there are for trans women. Maybe I’m wrong about that and I just don’t know as much about it—correct me if I’m wrong—but my understanding is that a lot of the products for (feminine) trans women are things found in traditional feminine departments, like bras and lingerie. I suppose there could be binding underwear or stuffed bras? I don’t know much about those products, and I certainly don’t see a lot of that—hey Babeland, maybe you should look into those.

I have met some men who identify as genderqueer, though not many. I’ve often mused about this subject, mostly in terms of the myriad words we have for masculine of center identities, and how frequently it seems that people who identify as genderqueer or androgynous are people who were assigned female at birth, who would not express traditionally feminine markers like make-up and dresses—folks who “express a certain masculinity via clothes, hair, and yes, toys,” as perry put it.

I think there might be some misandry in that, to be honest. Or, at the very least, some feminist and queer skepticism about masculinity and maleness in general. And probably some internalized misogyny, as a commenter pointed out.

Let me state for the record that I think people should identify however they feel most comfortable, and I’m not trying to change that, for anybody. But I have noticed it as a trend and I’m curious how we, as people who are doing work on expanding gender categories, can support the widening of these identities, and to continue to build movements that include ALL gender identities and expressions, and not just masculine of center queer folks assigned female at birth.

So, what other products should Babeland add to their gender expression category that are not aimed at masculine of center folks? Any ideas for what they can add to their category?

Mini Interview: Jiz Lee

Porn star, JizLee.com, @jizlee, Facebook

Photo by Nikola Tamindzic (homeofthevain.com) for Fleshbot.

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

My relationship to the word “butch” was integral to my current identity as genderqueer. It’s a verb I like to visit now and then to describe my experiences within androgyny. My butch is generally easy-going, and brings me closest to my casual, gender-neutral life-style. Dress-up occasions tend to bring out the more flamboyant parts of myself, depending on the context, my butch helps me stand apart and express genderqueer visibility.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

Lately I have been enjoying the flexibility of the words genderqueer and queer. I feel like the fluid nature of identity can allow me to feel free and open with others about the complexities of my gender as well as the variations of my lovers’ genders. Also, I’m falling in love with the word “androgyne” again.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

I wish I could teach my younger self about sex ed and open relationships, so that my younger self could not only be more responsible, but also help my peers around these issues. I don’t regret anything of course because it’s all added to who I am now, however I wonder what might have changed had I even known the difference between sex and gender as a youth. I’ve met some young adults who were raised in progressive educations and it is so wonderful to observe this openness. It makes me optimistic for a more sex-positive culture.

Butch Lab’s Symposium #2 is Up!

I posted way too much on Friday, so while the Butch Lab’s second Symposium topic went live on Friday too, I waited until today to cross post it to Sugarbutch.

I challenge y’all to comment on every single post. They’re beautiful, and I think this conversation is important.

Butch Lab’s second Symposium is about Stereotypes and Misconceptions around butch identity.

Ali Oh at Made of Words: Bottoms Up, Thumbs Up:

Now apparently masculine-of-center people aren’t supposed to be bottoms. In fact, one of Jae’s former girlfriends called her appearance misleading. Um…wtf? How Jae responded and responds is by making her sexual preferences really obvious and open. Have I mentioned that we met on OKCupid? “Bottom” was in the first sentence of her profile. I think she should have responded by leaving that tool. … If we’re talking about who wears the cock, that’d be me. If we’re talking about who has shorter hair, that’d be her.

Madeline Elayne: Butches Don’t Wear Pink (and other fallacies):

It’s actually a fairly simple thing to avoid, too, though it takes a conscious effort. DON’T ASSUME. It’s just that easy. Just because K is butch doesn’t mean that she will bristle or bite your head off if you open the car door for her. The fact that she doesn’t like acts of chivalry directed toward her means that she might just bristle or bite your head off if you open the car door for her. G loves pink. Doesn’t mean she isn’t butch. That hot pink cowboy shirt she had on yesterday was WAY masculine, and super hawt, too! The only cure to making assumptions about people is not admit to yourself that you don’t know what they like ,what they don’t like, or how they’ll act in a specific situation based on any group that they belong to. You only know these things about them once you get to know them personally, as people, and not as gender identities.

Victoria Oldham at Musings of a Lesbian Writer: Misconceptions

The misconception: Butch is a dirty word. Something less than, something too extraordinarily ‘other’ to be acceptable. Butch is threatening as an in-between, an indefinable and therefore unknown entity. Our hair dresser keeps trying to give S a softer haircut, until we explain that S identifies as butch, and expects to look butch. The hair dresser laughs and blushes a bit, but starts getting the cut right. The truth: Butch is hot. Butch is cocky and shy and gorgeous and loving. Butch is an identity one can be proud of.

Wendi Kali at A Stranger in This Place: Butch Stereotypes, Cliches, and Misconceptions:

I am far from being a stone butch. I have my moments of weakness both physically and emotionally. I feel all kinds of emotions and most of the time I have absolutely no way of hiding them. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I definitely want to be touched, bitten, kissed, licked, penetrated and everything else when it comes to sex. … While it’s true that I can fix a lot of things, I definitely can’t fix everything nor do I want to. I am, sadly, not the owner of many tools, although I really would like that assumption to be true some day. I like tools. I like them a lot. I certainly am not threatened by a strong, independent femme. As a matter of fact, I’m really turned on by them. I mean, think about it. A femme fixing things or building things, knowing how to use her hands and get dirty? Yeah. So sexy.

RM at Letters from Titan: Butch Isn’t Ugly:

Being butch doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, mean I have to have certain interests (e.g., sports, which I largely don’t care for), skills (e.g., Patty changes lightbulbs and deals with tools because I am largely useless at these things), and social and sexual roles (my own being unnecessary to describe for the sake of this entry). And it certainly shouldn’t require me to be misogynist, which is something I see more and more gay women complaining about lately — butches that assert their butchness by denigrating femmes in all the same ways that women get denigrated by men in het culture. But, if I reject the external assumptions of what a butch is, what’s left to define me as butch, at least on the days where I would consider myself such? The answer, is, simply, that I don’t know.

Kyle on Butchtastic: Butch Stereotypes, Cliches and Misconceptions:

We are inundated by images and stereotypes equated with masculinity. As a young queer person wanting to express my masculinity, it seemed to me there weren’t a lot of options. If I wanted other people to recognize my butchness, I had to copy the attitudes and behaviors of the boys, and other butches, around me. I played along for a while during high school, ending up with a combination of chivalrous and sexist behaviors. I was sweet to my girlfriend, holding the door for her, doing all I could to be the gentleman. However, I also went along with my butch buddy and other guys when they spoke in not-so-complementary terms about their girlfriends and girls in general. As time went on, it was clear to me that if being butch meant being sexist and chauvinistic, I would have to find a different identity.

EST at A Lesbian Christian on Butch Stereotypes:

Butches hate men. Butches drive motorcycles. Butches wear leather jackets. Butches are the “man” in the relationship and perform all the “male” duties. Butches work with their hands. Butches aren’t intellectuals. Butches can only have short hair in a men’s style. Butches like beer and sports. Butches are mean. Butches cannot access their feelings. Butches want to be men. Butches will only date Femmes and do not date other Butches. Butches are (always) the sexually dominant ones. Butches only wear masculine attire. Butches under the age of thirty do not exist.

Joliesse Soul at This Side of Changed on Butch Stereotypes:

I’ve heard a range of cliches, misconceptions, and flat-out assumptions that would make your hair curl. Butches are sexist, chauvinistic, misogynistic. They’re all blue collar. Butch and stone are the same thing. Butch is the queer equivalent of a “strong, silent type.” Butches are only attracted to femmes and straight women. … It’s almost like the image of butch, even (and maybe especially) among gay and queer society is some kind of adaptation of the Marlboro Man, crossed with Rooster Cogburn. … I’ve written a zillion blog posts about how these stereotypes annoy, irritate, and generally piss me off.

Laina at The Bookish Butch:

For many people that I know, “Butch” means man. To identify as butch would signify an identification with men, and therefore would want to be a man. I run into the assumption that I’m actually trans, due to my supposed “strong desire to be a man.” The difference is that my gender identity is female, rather than an identity as male. When I finally settled into a masculine style of dress, I felt like more of a woman than I ever have in my entire life.

Harrison at How to Be Butch on Stereotypes, Cliches, and Misconceptions:

My academic background is in math: specifically, probability, and a growing knowledge base in statistical theory. … Gender is pretty much THE example of a binary variable in introduction to statistics classes. I can’t tell you how many times I sat through an explanation of a binary variable only to hear, “The categories are male and female: each person belongs to one, and one alone.” And every time, it really really hurt. But it doesn’t have to. Consider that there are different types of variables. We, readers of gender blogs, already know that gender does require interpretation. How are you measuring it? Self-reporting? Survey collector’s impression? How are you accounting for error or bias? The truth is that gender alone could be its very own statistical model. To us, it is vastly complex. Why is that? I’d argue it’s because of something that a professor once said in lecture: No model performs well on its boundaries.

Lenore Louhi at Twenty Pebbles, from a piece titled “Smoke”

“Well,” I replied, “I have a pretty good sense of people. But mostly, you were by far the hottest butch in that bar, and I wanted you.”

“Oh,” she said, smiling, “I’m not butch.”

“Yes, you are,” I said, eyebrows raised. Is it possible that she doesn’t know? It’s not like she’s some college kid, she’s old enough to have figured out at least some of this identity stuff.

“No, I’m not,” she said again. “I used to think I was butch. I lived in the city after college and I played pool with all the butches at the lesbian bars, and they thought I was one of them. I thought I was one of them. And then I realized, spending all that time with those butches — that wasn’t me. I’m not that kind of tough. I’m a faggy genderqueer.”

Cody on Cowboy Coquet on Stereotypes, Cliches, and Misconceptions:

For years, I was afraid to appear masculine; I struggled with feminine gender presentation, referred to myself as a ‘lesbian’, and felt totally…awkward. I also grew up in a conservative town, where any woman seen as not being feminine (i.e. passive, submissive, quiet, etc) was sometimes referred to as ‘butch.’ This word was bad, it meant nasty, un-feminine, not to be trusted, disgusting. … In the gay community, I think that stereotypes of butch-ness exist too. Specifically in communities where there may not be a lot of masculine gender presenting folks. … There was a lot of ‘dabbling in butchness’ going on. People just barely sticking their toes into the masculine gender presenting pool, afraid of being seen as butch but unable to control it, and judgment of these presentations ran rampant. People in the bar (not that I had a fake-id or anything) would openly state that they ‘didn’t want to date butch girls.’

Butch Lab Symposium #2: Stereotypes, Cliches, and Misconceptions on Butch Lab:

Want to contribute next time? Keep an eye on the Butch Lab Blog and the Symposium page for the future topic, to be due in June.

Angie Evans: Mini-Interview

Angie Evans, singer-songwriter, performer, musician.
www.angieevans.com & www.facebook.com/angieevansmusic

Photo by Michelle Bandach

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

Well, to start, I have the word tattooed on the back of my right arm, if that tells you anything. It is a central part of my identity. The word represents the way I walk in the world and represents the sisters and brothers who have come before me. It is a part of my herstory. By owning my female masculinity I own the word butch, thus, I own myself. I want to be an example for young baby butches out there, to show them that you can be a womyn in the world and have complete freedom to express your natural masculinity, because it is fucking natural! And goddess damn!, you can look good in a suit and tie. Being butch makes me feel empowered and proud! It is my other butch sisters and brothers (and definitely the femmes out there!) that make me feel special, loved and embraced. Everyone should feel that way and that is why supporting, not criticizing, each others identities within the queer community is very important.
Butch also provides me with opportunities to build community. When I attended both Butch Voices conferences in Oakland and LA, I was able to see the huge variety of folks who identify as butch, making me feel like I was not alone, yet a part of something. I think that embracing female masculinity and butch-ness is on the rise. Or at least I am pushing for it!

I was a “tomboy” all of my life and began to identify with the word when I was dating a femme and I started exploring the butch-femme dynamic, fucking and playing with gender roles. When I met the first butch-femme couple in my life, who were tied to a feminist community, I saw how the femme adored her masculine partner and thought… hey, maybe I can be as boyish as I want and maybe my hair can be as short as I want and still be a radical lesbian feminist as well as desirable in the world. In fact, I think becoming more butch has made my sex appeal go way up! Not only because it is sexy, but because I am expressing who I am in a way that makes me feel like my authentic self, and THAT is sexy! Butch is beautiful and butch is handsome.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

Queer, feminist, butch, dyke, womyn, lesbian, poet, musician, activist, lover, amazon. Sometimes the order changes, but that is how it came out today.

I feel proud to inhabit all of these labels. A lot of folks feel like labels, identity politics, etc are so passe. I find power and unity in the labels that I choose. They help guide me in the world and have been helpful signposts in the growth and change that has occurred in my life.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

Don’t worry. Your body is beautiful. You’re not confused. You do have a dick, you’re just not old enough to buy it/them yet. :)

4. Anything you would like to add?

A thank you to Butch Lab for creating space to let butch voices be heard. Praise Butch!

Wendi Kali: Mini-Interview

Wendi Kali, Writer/Photographer
wendikali.com & astrangerinthisplace.blogspot.com

Photo by Kina Williams

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

My relationship with the word “butch” has changed over time. There was a period of time when I felt it was too much of a box to put myself in and I questioned whether or not I actually identified as butch. Over the years I have learned that the word encompasses many things and has so many definitions. For me, the thing about words and titles is that I can take them and define them for myself. I like to think of myself as mostly a guy but also a woman. I like things that are stereotypically things that guys like and I present as masculine but that’s only a small part of who I am. I am a complicated being filled with thoughts and feelings and likes and dislikes with a little bit of mystery locked in there. I challenge gender stereotypes on a daily basis simply by existing in this world. I have grown comfortable and almost proud of the fact that I am called “Sir” on a daily basis. On the outside I may look like a man, but under these boots, jeans and t-shirt, I am all woman. Comfortable and confident in these clothes and in this skin. I am me.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

I identify myself as a motorcycle riding butch lesbian, writer, photographer and self-explorer learning to love and accept myself. I will answer to “Sir” or “Ma’am” but prefer to be described as “handsome” rather than “beautiful”. I am a woman who enjoys binding, packing and moving fluidly between genders.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender

Since I didn’t come out until I was 30, I’d like to tell my younger self that being gay is an option. Your parents, family and friends may have had a hard time with it in the beginning but they would have figured out how to be ok with it because you are an awesome human. It’s ok to only want to wear boy’s clothes and play sports with the guys. It’s ok to have crushes on girls and your best friends. You are a girl who likes girls and it’s ok. No matter what anyone else thinks. Love yourself just the way you are.

Tobi Hill-Meyer: Mini-Interview

Tobi Hill-Meyer
Trans Activist, Writer, and Pornographer
www.nodesignation.com, www.handbasketproductions.com

1) What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

For quite a while I felt like I couldn’t transition because it would mean that I’d have to be femme in a way that was uncomfortable for me. The genderqueer butch expression that I saw on female assigned genderqueers worked well for me, but when I was being perceived as male it was next to impossible for that to be visible on me. One day a friend told me, “You know Tobi, you can be a butch trans woman,” but it took a few years to sink in.

When I did transition and was having a hard time at work, I tried for a year or so to dress more feminine, hoping people would be more likely to get my pronouns right. It was difficult for me, but I kept a separate butch wardrobe that I only wore on the weekends – ironically, it was the most like a crossdresser I ever felt. Eventually I decided to screw trying to fit into other people’s images of gender and just be myself. Being butch is an important part of that.

2) What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

I used to call myself a butch-femme switch, because even though my life has been punctuated with social pressure to be femme in ways that didn’t work out for me, I still find occasion when I want to do femme my own way. I dropped that term, though, when I realized that I was probably butch 98% of the time. Now I keep it simple and just call myself butch, or maybe andro-butch and occasionally andro-femme. Of course I’m also genderqueer and trans, pansexual and a dyke.

3) What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

I think the key thing would be to tell my younger self “What you want is possible, you can be who you are,” and perhaps offer other words of encouragement. Any specifics or “spoilers” would only deny myself the insight and perspectives I have learned from figuring it out myself. Although, I might not be able to resist sharing a few amazing sexual experiences both as encouragement that you can be a trans woman and butch, be desirable, and have great sex, as well as reassurance that the things I was once most anxious about eventually turned out just fine.

Bonus: Anything else you’d like to add?
As a butch I think it’s important to speak to my relationship to femmes, femmephobia and the privileging of masculinity. I certainly get crap for being gender non-conforming (on top of crap for being trans), but as a butch trans woman it’s easier for me to separate being gender non-conforming and being masculine. I can easily see the difference between how people treat me when I’m gender non-conforming and masculine as opposed to when I have been gender non-conforming and feminine.

Even in queer and trans spaces I can see how masculine folks are more readily assumed to be radical, with it, and hip, where feminine folks are more readily assumed to be conformist, ignorant, and conservative. I have even noticed that difference just in how I’m treated on those days that I’m doing femme as opposed to my more usual genderfuck and/or butch. I’ve found myself connecting well with a number of femmes and I believe part of that is how my experience of transmisogyny that gives me better insight into femmephobia. Similarly I think that, at least for the femmes I’m spending time with, their experience of femmephobia has made it easier to understand transmisogyny.

What does ‘Genderqueer’ mean?

On Gina Mamone’s mini-interview, a commenter named MS wrote: “Can you post a definition of or primer on what gender queer means?Kyle Jones was kind enough to comment in reply and explain a bit, and I proceeded to ask him to write up his own primer on genderqueer. Here it is.

This is a guest post from Kyle Jones, Butchtastic.net

Genderqueer people, by definition, are united by their rejection of the notion that there are only two genders.

Beyond their rejection of the gender binary as the sole way to describe gender, there is much diversity within the group of people who call themselves ‘genderqueer’—it’s a catch-all term that includes sometimes contradictory identifications.  For example, some genderqueers identify as neither male nor female, some as both male and female.  Some see ‘genderqueer’ as a gender in and of itself, some may identify this way because they feel they are beyond gender—genderless or a-gender.

I led a discussion on genderqueer identity at Butch Voices Portland 2010 and almost everyone who attended came to this identity from a different place.  There were those who described a fluidity of gender, a sense that they were a mixture of male and female.  Some people wanted to move beyond the terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ entirely.  They didn’t see genderqueer as being a region along the gender binary axis, instead many described it as independent of that spectrum.   Based on the diversity of personal definitions expressed in that session, we started to talk about a gender cloud rather than a gender spectrum.  Because ‘genderqueer’ is an umbrella term, to really know how an individual relates to it, you’ll need to know their personal definition of genderqueer.

The term “genderqueer” can also be used as an adjective to refer to any people who transgress gender, regardless of their self-defined gender identity.  And some genderqueer individuals also identify as transgender, because their gender identity does not completely correspond to their physical sex.  Genderqueers may have any sexuality/sexual identity, any physical sex.  There is also diversity in the way genderqueers relate to pronouns.  Some prefer gender neutral pronouns such as ‘they’ or ‘them’ or the alternate forms “ze,” “per,” “sie” and “hir,” “zhe,” “hir.”  And some prefer to stay with traditional male and female pronouns, though they may use them in less traditional ways.  Other terms similar to genderqueer are genderfluid, gender-variant, bi-gender, third gender, two-spirit and gender non-conforming.

If you find all of this a bit confusing, you’re not alone.  When I come out to people as genderqueer, I’m more surprised to find people who are familiar with the term than those who aren’t.  And when I’m asked to define genderqueer, as I was for this article, I find it challenging, especially with people who aren’t comfortable or experienced in considering gender beyond male and female.  In my experience, most of the world is still not ready to go beyond the gender binary.  It takes a lot of work and effort to learn the new vocabulary and open your mind to alternative ways of seeing gender.  One challenge I still have is trying to get my head around the idea of being ‘genderless’.  I know that much of the way my brain has organized information about the world is still ruled by the existence of distinct genders.

As I mentioned, I identify as genderqueer.  Butch describes my appearance, genderqueer describes my gender and queer describes my sexuality.  My personal genderqueer definition is that I am not male or female, I am male and female.  I have two distinct gender identities, each with a name, a set of pronouns and sexual preferences.  Sometimes the distinction is obvious and sometimes more fluid and combined. One visualization I use is that of a tree with two trunks, each coming from the same root structure and base.  My male and female identities have some shared history as well as some that is separate.  As I visualize my ‘tree trunks’, they start together, then grow apart, come close again, intertwine and grow together, then diverge again as you look up the tree.  My male side has a distinct personality, accent, sexual drive and issues.  It has also been suppressed more, being less accepted by the outside world and, as a result, is the less developed and mature of my two identities.  My female side, having had more time at the forefront, takes the lead in most situations, although my goal is to become more balanced.

You may be thinking, this person has multiple personality disorder.  Though I’m not a professional, I know that’s not the case.  I have multiple genders, which means I also identify as transgender, because the male side of me does not match my female body.  I’ve had some awesome and unexpected experiences lately where strangers have seen my male side.  It’s hard to describe the feeling of being recognized and acknowledged as male—something like a rush of adrenaline combined with a strong sexual charge—a big ol’ ego boner.

This is a frustration I share with other genderqueer and transgender people—the feeling of being partially invisible, of spending most of my days being partially unseen.  I think we all share a common need to be seen and celebrated for who we truly are, and not just the easily understood fragments, but all our wonderful complexity.

This article is meant to be a starting point for people new to the term ‘genderqueer’, but it’s by no means the last word.  If you’d like to learn more about variant gender identities, here are some excellent starting places:

Kyle Jones runs Butchtastic.net and was interviewed on Butch Lab earlier this year.

Miriam Zoila Perez: Mini-Interview

Editor at Feministing.com; Founder of Radicaldoula.com. www.miriamzperez.com

1. What is your relationship with the word or id

entity “butch?”

While I think there is a whole crew of people now who are reinventing what it means to be butch, I came up feeling afraid to claim it in case people decided I wasn’t butch “enough.” My butchness isn’t particularly tough, or hard. My masculinity is more akin to queer male masculinity–faggy butch, you might call it.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

I would identify with the label genderqueer before the label butch, although I like both.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

I wish I could tell my younger self not to be so self-conscious, not to care so much about other people’s judgments. There is room for all of us inside these labels, and the way we reinvent them is what keeps things interesting.

Still Time to Contribute to Symposium #2

Butch Lab’s Symposium #2 is in progress, and I have some great submissions so far! I’m compiling them this week, so if you can get them to me by Friday you will still be included. I hope you’ll consider contributing!

The topic for the second Butch Lab Symposium is Butch Stereotypes, Cliches, and Misconceptions.

Here’s the writing prompt:

What do people think “butch” means? What are the stereotypes around being butch? What do people assume is true about you [or the masculine of center folks in your life], but actually isn’t? What image or concept do you constantly have to correct or fight against? How do you feel about these misconceptions? How do you deal with them? Do you respond to these stereotypes or cliches? How?

The easiest way to get your post URL to me is by filling out this form on ButchLab.com. You can always email butchlabproject (at) gmail.com if you have problems, but the form is preferable.

AT: Mini-Interview

AT, Psychologist, Writer, Jock, Artist, Blues & Swing dancer.

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”
Butch says it as no other label can. Butches, for the most part, present tough and perform tender. I love the word Butch as it well characterizes the stuff of Butch.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?
Butch guy and Transmasculine.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?
Thanks to me as frequently I give my younger self a big pat on my back for having never once wavered throughout my entire life in my presentation and performance of my identity, sexuality and gender as a Butch guy and Transmasculine. Everywhere I held fort, as a former teacher, getting my graduate degrees and later, in my years of private practice. I strutted my stuff and swaggered and loved special women all as the jock I was, athletic prowess and all taking my space the same as I did as a teenager able to kick a high and distant spiral while barefoot. The same too I did at thirty-something at Jones Beach out in the ocean far from shore, with my swimsuit tied around one ankle and swam naked in the deep ocean. It was my return to shallow waters and the shore fearing each time I would reach down to my ankle and discover my swimsuit no longer there. :-( It takes guts to live Butch!

Bonus: Anything you’d like to add?
Feminism near destroyed Butch and Femme, their attempts to bury us deep in a graveyard and to be forgotten and dismissed. Feminism failed at that, notwithstanding the years of pain and suffering on the part of so many Butches and Femmes forced underground, their presence denied during the many years of Feminism. Remember: only Butch and Femme existed pre feminism! I am deeply appreciative to the Butches today whose persistence of who they are validates our identity, gender and sexuality. It is the zing of the strings in my heart!

Jenni Olson: Mini-Interview

Jenni Olson is a writer, director, curator, filmmaker, and co-founder of PlanetOut.com. She is also director of e-commerce at WolfeVideo.com and author of The Queer Movie Poster Book. www.butch.org

Photo by Cheryl Mazak

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

Butch is a word that helps me speak proudly about a very important aspect of myself. I love that it enables me to embrace so many of my unique and special qualities in a celebratory way and to connect with others who are interested in dialogue about gender difference in society (especially other butches, and the girls who “get” me).

Like the word “queer,” the word “butch” has an outsider quality which reflects the reclamation of an identity that our larger society has historically (and currently) held in contempt. Proudly flying this flag is the first step in my personal manifesto of gender integrity in the face of perennial societal disapproval. It is part of a journey towards wholeness, healing and self-esteem — a journey which becomes somewhat easier as I get older, stronger and smarter. Somewhat.

2. Which words and labels, if any, do you use to describe yourself and your identities?

Butch dyke, lesbian, queer. I am not a “gay woman.” I love that my kids call me Mom! I also proudly claim Q. Allan Brocka’s hilariously honest term from his Logo series, Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All The World: “Versatile Top.” I am also a closeted bisexual.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

I would start with the currently popular phrase: “It gets better.” And then recite what I just wrote above in Question 1.

Claudia Rodriguez (aka C-Rod): Mini-Interview

Writer, activist, teacher/student, parent. agentezeroocho.blogspot.com

C-Rod is also part of the performance group Butchlalis de Panochtitlan.

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?” 

Butch is word that I’ve grown to embrace, I love being butch but sometimes I hate the baggage, mostly expectations and misconceptions others, friends and foes, impose on me because my gender presentation is butch. This is a poem which, I feel, truly encompasses my relationship with the word butch:

To my butch scholar

Butch aesthetic…
what does that mean?
Reflect what you see before you into words.
make sure you address my big boobs
and expand on how my tight ass
makes you salivate at the thought
of your fingers
sliding up and down your keyboard
as you recreate me, separate me, turn me upside down
and label me.
ME-your idea!
For you to relive every time you, she, I read.
Butch aesthetic?
that captured by your eyes
digested by your mind
and ends up on everyone’s tongue.

Reflect what you see before you into words.
Please include the smells-
is that hot wax or the smell of hot skin?
Hear that?
Your heart beating in MHz at the sound
of the whip against my back,
Um, my moans.
Butch mystique?
That surrounding my butch Papi
who stirs fag/boi/tranny fantasies
you fucking me in your mind
as you witness
gender fucker
fucking
gender fucker
performing Butch identity against what is Queer/Butch.
Gender fuckers gender fucking,
performing Butch identity against what it means to be a chicana/butch
butch violating butch…
This is butch to me…

I feel the marks of my identity
I’ve been the butch top in this femme-butch matrix
where my desire IS draped in femme fatigues
where my identity manipulates my desires
Where I’ve enjoyed being somebody’s bitch
Really, I just want to be ok
with wanting to be manipulated by you.
Feeling your cock-hard Domness
Top this sub
makes my cock hard
femme or butch both can top me the same
as long as I get spanked the way I want to be spanked.

The personal is political
but the political is not always written on the skin
I know you see me as a cabron…ladies don’t deny it
But can you tell I like to fuck boys/bois?
Yes
I am
one of those butches that flew over the coo-coo’s nest
the kind that fucks other butchas…
go ahead and say it “where are all the real butches.”
Act surprised that I’m down with getting down butch on butch?

Hola Papi,
I was thinking about you, how the other day you stretched yourself out before me, slid your hand under your boxers and touched yourself. You scooped some of your juice up! I know cause I saw as you first smelled your scent then ate it. As if nothing you slid your hand down there again. You face twisted this way and that with pleasure and lips parted with your moans. You got the legs twitching, chest heaving types of motions. I watched until your eyes rolled to the back of your head with satisfaction and closed with bliss.
Here I go again
Talking all that little boy fetish (gag motion, and bj motion)
I like short hair, ( here voice over comes on, continue bj)
peach fuzzed, tittie tottin’ cara de niño
The prettier the better
I’ll say it
Son mi cochinita pibil
Carne tierna y picosa.
Won’t I ever quit
Shed this skin
Step into the post pony-tail dyke
Post-drag king
Post-andro
Post-trans
Post post
Post Pomo
all I want is to step into my post-heroic masculinity
Stop suppressing mine to uphold others’
Does it make you feel good?
Does it heave your imaginary man pecks
to put me down? To walk around me like everything is cool
even though you didn’t play by the rules,
Then I’m down to let you
If you think you’re Top enough to top this.

Reflect what you see before you into words….

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?
Lesbian, jota, gender queer, gender fucker, papi, sub/slave, switch, Chicana, lesbiana, sinvergüenza

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender? 

The void of not having female masculinity role models will haunt you like a missing limb. But don’t worry little one, one day you’ll figure out how to step into your/my post-heroic masculinity stop suppressing your’s/mine to uphold others’. You have to have lots of love and compassion for self and it will be returned ten-fold to you.

Raquel Gutierrez: Mini-Interview

Performer, writer, arts promoter in LA. myspace.com/butchlalis & raquefella.com

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

I love butch; it is onomatopoeic. You have to say it like you really mean it for it to register its true power. Being butch scared me, which obviously means I really wanted it. I’m in my mid-30s and these boots have finally been broken in just right. So, as I age, butch feels richer, more deserved than it did when I was a baby gay colliding blindly into language of identities and anarchy of desires. It was an arduous road getting here and it was worth it.

Is butch an insult? It has never been enough of an insult to warrant my having to comment on the banality of someone’s limited observation.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

Bilingual. Brown. Butch. Los Angeles. Napoleon Complex. Performance Writer. Pretty. Queer.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

Take it slow; subvert the scarcity model of relationalities; feel emboldened to ask partners a fuck ton of questions before having sex; lovingly challenge mentors out of their uncritical machismo even if it means risking invalidation; find, create and nurture a radical gender genealogy; believe what people tell you about themselves; take extra doses of vitamin Compassion; and to state my truth like my life depended on it.

Butch Lab Symposium #2, Feb/March 2011

WHAT IS THE BUTCH LAB SYMPOSIUM?

The Symposium is a cross between a blog carnival and a round-up, where participants write about a monthly topic and submit links to Butch Lab which are then recounted. Participants are requested to a) link to the

Butch Lab Symposium in their post, b) reprint the roundup on their own blogs within five days, and c) commenting on the other participants’ entries would be an added bonus (let’s support each other eh?).

You do not need to be butch to participate, anyone is welcome to discuss their opinion.

The topic for the second Butch Lab Symposium is Butch Stereotypes, Cliches, and Misconceptions.

Here’s the writing prompt:

What do people think “butch” means? What are the stereotypes around being butch? What do people assume is true about you [or about your masculine of center friends], but actually isn’t? What image or concept do you constantly have to correct or fight against? How do you feel about these misconceptions? How do you deal with them? Do you respond to these stereotypes or cliches? How?

To participate, write about this topic in some form on your own website and email the link to butchlabproject (at) gmail.com before March 1, 2011. The full roundup will be released mid-March.

Grace Moon: Mini-Interview

Grace Moon, Writer, artist. gracemoon.net | @gracemoon

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”
Me and butch go way back. We had a brief falling out in my early 20’s, we rekindled our relationship later that decade. We now enjoy each other immensely, albeit with some disagreements here and there. Relationships are a growing process.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?
Queer, lesbian, dyke, butch, trouble, left of center but not centrist.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?
Don’t worry one of these days, one of these pretty girls will want to date you. Come to think of it, the message hasn’t changed…

4. Anything you’d like to add?
“Butch is a noun and a verb.” (c) gracemoon 2011

Daddi Dice: Mini-Interview

Dice is a 23 year old lesbian women, who identifies as a stud, and a cool collected Aries. “I have a open mind. When it comes to life, it’s to short to be shy.”
@iStrapStroke & Crashpadseries.com under the character “Dice”

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

When I think of the word “butch,” I picture the old school lesbian with a buzz cut and one dangling earring of a cross on the right ear. When I was a kid, that’s what I heard, that’s what the more masculine lesbians where called. I think of it as a old lesbian term. Also, when I think of butch, I think of the word “dyke”—both to me are old school lesbian terms.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

The term I closely identify with is stud. A stud is my generation’s butch. Some people say that within the LGBT community when they hear “stud” they automatically picture a blk, hispanic, often times Asian aggressive more masculine female, emerged in the hip-hop culture, but when you hear butch more then likely your going to think of an androgynous/masculine white female. A stud/butch to me is a beautiful/handsome women who is masculine. A stud/butch has a style close to a male and when in a relationship we wear the”pants.”

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

If I could tell my younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender I would let myself know that it’s okay to be the way I am. When I grow up there will be others like me if I would just open my eyes.

When I started dressing more tomboyish in elementary I use to have a lot of problems with the girls in school. I always got random questions like, “Why do you dress like a boy?” My answer would be, “It’s comfortable.” I realized in middle school that it was more than “It’s comfortable;” while all the girls in my grade where experimenting with make-up and shorter skirts, I was stealing my mom’s dildos and making panty harnesses for my favorite one. In high school most girls had already had sex with men and was more open to trying something new, so to speak it got easier to get laid, I was a attractive women with a boi swag, girls loved it.

Syd London: Mini-Interview

Photographer, sydlondon.com
Photo by Maro

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

When I think of “butch” I think of the women I’m attracted to rather than myself. Butch is beautifully mind blowing to me. It’s the contrasts of masculinity and hardness in a person who still has the soft skin of woman that drives me crazy. It’s the refusal of butches to kowtow to society’s “should’s” that I continually admire. There truly is nothing sexier than butch to me.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

This is a question I’ve yet to truly answer. I think of myself as a proud dyke and many other things but haven’t found a word that truly encompasses all of me. Though my drag name Syditious does contain a bit of me. In the end I’m just me. I love to play with the biggest power tools I can get my mitts on but I also like to make soap and developing fragrances. Go figure.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

There’s is so much I wish I could tell my younger self. In many ways I try to communicate those things to our queer youth now through my photography. Above all I’d tell myself to hang on. Life isn’t easy, that’s part of the nature of it – BUT things are going to get so much better than I ever dared dream. If you told me ten or fifteen years ago that I’d be a pro photojournalist covering our exquisite community I never, ever would have believed you. I wish I could tell myself about the queer family that I’ve found and am lucky enough to be part of. And I wish I could tell myself that one day not only will women actually cheer for me as a drag king but also there are women out there who will like me for me ( when I came out at 15 I thought no woman would ever like me, let alone kiss me. I wish I could tell myself about a few of the hot make out sessions I’ve had over my life). And I wish I could tell myself about the love and support the community gives me, though I don’t think I could have believed me. Or you. Or anyone.

Bonus: Anything you’d like to add?

As un-butch as it sounds, I wish I could give all the butches who came before me and helped pave the road a big bear hug of gratitude.

Ivan E. Coyote: Mini-Interview

Writer & performer. ivanecoyote.com
Photo by Eric Nielson

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

After many years of rambling and banging around in the “identity and labels” aisle of the english language, I have happily settled on butch. It is a big and beautiful enough category for me, and includes enough other folks that I can identify with and see as my family, my blood.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

Butch, queer, writer, artist, storyteller, Yukoner. There are others, but those are the first that spring to mind.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

Be kind. At least try to be kinder. To yourself, and to others around you, both strangers and intimates. You are just figuring all of this gender stuff out yourself, and things you think are absolutes right now will one day seem a lot more blurry, and complicated. Respect the differences of others, and honour who you know you are in your heart.

AJ Stacy: Mini-Interview

Host, Tuna Talk

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

I think of me, by default, or people like me, who have too much style when we walk into the men’s section at the department store. The word “Butch” is sexy, it’s strong.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

I really don’t like to label myself too much, but people always ask if I’m FTM or Butch or if I’m transitioning or whatever so, based on that, occasionally I like to clarify that I’m just BUTCH, I’m just AJ, I like to dress better than a straigt guy.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

If I could sit my 18 year old, crazy self down, I’d tell myself to go out and have fun, don’t be so shy, speak up for what you want and what you believe in and don’t wait for things to happen, make things happen.

Visit AJ’s online video blog Tuna Talk

B. Cole: Mini-Interview

Activist, advocate, teacher, community leader. brownboiproject.org

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”
I came of age as butch but it never fully reflected Cole. As I was growing up, butch was much more common in the white queer community. That’s why I came up with the term masculine of center. I wanted to be able to acknowledge my place within this amazing community of womyn, recognizing the diversity and power of defining ourselves across a spectrum.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?
I’ve been a stud, a dom, a butch, and a boi across my journey of life. It’s been important to claim my identity as a masculine of center womyn, to make peace with myself. I prefer female pronouns and as long as you don’t call me lady or m’am, we’ll be fine.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?
Spend your time with people who respect and love you for who you are, even if it’s different from them. We live in a society that has a deep aversion to difference. Love it, cultivate it all around you. It is what makes life the most interesting.

Gina Mamone: Mini-Interview

President & CEO, Riot Grrrl Ink. The Largest Queer Record Label in the world.
Photo by Grace Moon

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch”?

My relationship with butch has evolved over my life. From coming out in college in rural West Virginia in the mid 90’s to living in modern day New York City. I have a very broad concept of gender especially in regards to identity and fluidity.

I did not come into my butchness like some, I was born into it – my mother jokes to this day that there was no need for me to “come out”. I grew up in rural Appalachia in the buckle of the bible belt. In the early 80‘s before there were mandatory curriculums of inclusion and tolerance in the public school system. I was bullied and teased constantly at school, it was a hard way to grow up. Butch was full of negative connotation for me in the first part of my life. Then I came out and I learned to find positive images of butch & gender variance in my community and I learned a new definition of the word. The more people I meet, the more art I am exposed to – my definition of butch & gender gets bigger and bigger – it will always be evolving.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

I identify as a Tender Hearted Gender Queer that has a nougaty Deep Lez Center with Hillbilly tendencies.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

I was bullied and teased constantly about my gender expression in elementary school (see attached elementary school photo). By the time I was in Jr. High & Highschool, I was dressing to fit in and growing my hair long. I had learned to not let anyone know who I really was. I would go back and tell my younger self about Dapper Q, Bromance and the Flatbush Freakshow…. the big beautiful world that awaits out there once all of the queers find each other on the internet… start to mobilize & create. I would also tell myself that American Apparel Manties will change your life, have a wicked respect for your herstory / history, there is truth where you come from and to take better care of my vinyl.

I LOVE what is happening now – the fostering of butch identified community though grassroots organizing. I look at things like Butch Voices & Butch Lab happening all over the country and I see people coming together to create safe space, share resources, organize n’ mobilize, get inspired and most importantly, connect to community and I get hella excited. This generation of butch identified / masculine of center individuals are changing what it means to be butch – making it bigger and more accessible for those to come and it’s all being documented in real time through social media – it’s a very exciting & fascinating time.

Rachel Venning: Mini-Interview

Owner, www.babeland.com

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

Being butch has always been part of my queer identity. When I was young my friends and I loved to talk about “what kind of butch are you?” Now that I’m headed into my silver fox years it’s just an identity that has sat well with me for a long time. And I acknowledge other butches out there as much as I can, with the butch nod or a “hi.” I feel a lot of solidarity with other butches. It’s really not easy being butch. Just dealing with people’s reactions and my projections of their gender phobia.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

Butch, dyke, lesbian and queer. Kinky. Some feel more comfortable than others.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

My younger self thought she knew it all, so cocky! I’d tell her to be more gentle and compassionate- people have a lot of different ways of growing into themselves. Oh and I’d tell my younger self to take more risks, and have sex with more people. I was not enough of a player in my playing years. More of the uhaul type, alas.

Adrienne “Aj” Davis: Mini-Interview

Organizer for the Butch Voices conferences, www.dreadedmemes.org

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

I proudly use that word. Although it took me about ten years after I came out before I truly embraced that identity.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

Butch. Geeky butch. Nerdy butch. Nerd. Geek. Geekgirl (or geekgrrl). Academic butch. Scientist. Alpha Geek.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

I would tell myself, “Self, don’t worry about how others look at you. Don’t worry about how this might play in the black community. Embrace who you are because you ARE sexy, you ARE beautiful, you ARE alluring—but not in the conventional manner that women are seen as expressing those attributes. And yes, Virginia, you can be as academic and urbane as you wish and still be a butch.”

Shelley Stefan: B is for Butch

Artist Shelley Stefan sent on this video from her art show in Harlem in New York City in 2010. I missed this entirely, unfortunately, but I really like the work.

Here’s a description from Shelley, from an interview with CherryGRRL:

“The series “B is for Butch” is an offshoot from the work and research I developed in two prior visual arts projects entitled: “Lesbian Family Heraldry: An Achievement of Arms” (2005-2006) and “The Lesbian Effigies” (2006). These bodies of work, comprising of paintings, drawings, bronzes, and belt buckles, appropriate the art and science of medieval heraldry in order to engage queer subcultural commentary on topics of power, alliance, and family signification, prioritizing what Theorist J. Halberstam cites as the construction of “queer (female) genealogies.”[i] In 2004, I directed my visual arts practice and research into the world of heraldry and armour as an emotive response to real-life experiences of familial trauma, where I felt what it was like to be a person, a family “under siege.” My wife and I lost custody of our happy and healthy daughter due to several breaches of justice and a bigoted and homophobic US legal system. The experience and the loss left me and my lesbian partner feeling broken and beaten. I did what many artists do amidst strife: I turned to my visual arts practice as a method of emancipation, activism, and poetic justice in a world where, unfortunately and sometimes, bad things can happen to good people. Heraldry and this world of armour seemed like a perfect conceptual and aesthetic palette for me to think about notions of power and security from the “underdog” or subculturally liminal perspective, and how traditional visual symbologies (such as heraldry) have a way of legitimizing through the mere history of their visual currency. In these bodies of work, I problematized heraldry’s armigerous exclusivity and its heterosexist male monopoly on the meaning of family, as well as appropriated the heraldic medieval aesthetic to take part in what Third World Feminist Theorist Chela Sandoval calls a “Technology of Crossing” – a method to “identify and describe emotional, psychic, and social technologies that embody and circumscribe identities necessary for recognizing power, and changing its conditions on behalf of equalizing power between socially and psychically differing subjects.”[ii] I began using the power of heraldry and medieval armour as a method to transpose power on behalf of queer liminal subjectivity.

“Through this research process, I encountered many, many images of armour. Some armour just seemed inherently queer-looking to me – very dykey, very butchy, and quite gender-bendy, all of which to me are very good attributes. Some armour also really seemed conceptually loaded for me on topics of security/insecurity and subcultural interiority. I began to think about the dual signification of the term “armour” – like, how armour signifies at once a sense of security and a sense of insecurity – a toughness and a vulnerability. To wear armour is to acknowledge in some way that you are vulnerable, but also and simultaneously that you aim to and claim to feel non-vulnerable, or protected. I started really thinking about subcultural interiority, what’s underneath the rock that’s underneath the rock. Near 2008, I began to imagine how different liminal subjectivities and minorities might relate to this notion of armour and how I might be able to manipulate these visualizations to open up conceptual doors. Butch subjectivity came to the forefront, partially because I live as a butch lesbian and my art is strongly tied to self-portraiture, but also because I like to do research in queer subcultural theory and this was a topic I was interested in investigating. So, I was inspired to create this collection of works entitled “B is for Butch.””

Here’s one example of a pieces from “B is for Butch:”

Shelley Stefan, Primary Cock, Oil, 2010

Shelley Stefan – B is for Butch from Roger Kisby on Vimeo.

Kyle Jones: Mini-Interview

Writer, parent, lover, perpetual student. www.butchtastic.net

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”
‘Butch’ is one of the words I use to describe myself. I’ve experimented with different identity terms over the years, and ‘butch’ is one that I come back to over and over again. I currently use butch to describe my presentation, as an adjective more often than as a noun. When I describe myself as butch, I mean to say that I am masculine in appearance and mannerisms. I wear clothing from the men’s department, cut my hair short and don’t mind when someone refers to me as ‘Sir’.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?
When I talk about my identity, I say that my sexuality is queer, my gender is genderqueer and my presentation is butch. I also use the words transgender and trans-masculine to identify myself, as a female-born person who’s gender identity does not always line up squarely with my body.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?
I would try to explain how fluid and changing identity is, that what we see as a rock solid personal identity can change over the years, as we grow and experience more in life. I would encourage myself to explore sex more, to experiment and play, to see the fun and playfulness of sex and not be hung up on judgements about what should, or should not, turn me on. I would try to explain some of what I know about gender now, which is much less rigid than my viewpoint when I was younger. Back then, I was very much trying to find the one gender that worked for me and that kept me bouncing back and forth until recently, when I finally realized that I didn’t have to choose. Gender is not only fluid and unfixed, we can experience multiple genders concurrently, or even feel a lack of gender identity. Gender is much more fascinating than I imagined 20 years ago.

Joe LeBlanc: Mini-Interview

President and Conference Chair for Butch Voices. butchvoices.com | @BUTCHVoices

Photo by Kristin Kurzawa

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

My relationship with the word and identity of butch has been a complex one. I hesitated using it at first as a descriptor for myself since I did not “fit” the stereotype for a number of reasons. So much was wrapped up for me upon first glance in the identity of butch – hair style, clothing, class, age, race, sexual preferences, boundaries, underwear, shoes, etc… in order to use the identity for myself. Or so I thought. I thought that I had to already have it all figured out, and have it all in place in order for me to identify as a butch. Not knowing any other butches impeded this process, because I only knew what little I saw about butches. The disassociation the lesbian community was having at the time over anyone who looked butch, much less identified as butch, didn’t really help matters either.

Over time for me, it became less about my needing to fit a specific equation of x + y + z = butch. I began to see that it was more about how I felt inside. I did a lot of internal work around the various facets of myself in regards to my preferences. When I gave myself the permission to get beyond the stereotypes, I could relax and start to become at home with the word. For me, butch is an identity that is personal, as well as sexual and political, too.

With doing community organizing with BUTCH Voices, I have seen ‘butch’ as a polarizing word. For some it has become more of an umbrella term that continues to bring folks together both online and in person, who in the past would not have been in the same room. For others it is a word that gives them the idea that they can ape the worst traits in men. Being a misogynistic asshole does not make someone butch. I enjoy when people can use their preferred identities to start conversations, find commonalities, but not dismiss the differences, or abuse privileges sometimes afforded to us for presenting masculine. Finding strength in the diversity of what butch means is key for us as a segmented community. The identity we choose for ourselves is not the end all, be all about us. It’s only the tip of the iceberg. We can stay divided over semantics and assumptions, or we can find common ground and actually work together to combat the many issues that we all face no matter the language we choose for ourselves.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

I am a lover of language, so I do have some strong personal relationships with certain words around my identity such as: butch, genderqueer, transgender, masculine of center (from B Cole and the Brown Boi Project), dyke, feminist, activist, queer, and gender non-conforming to name a few.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

I would tell my younger self to not to be so in a rush with the need to figure it all out. But I’m not sure that my younger self would listen. My life’s lessons had and continue to have to be experienced first-hand, which isn’t good or bad – it just is. I am constantly learning more about myself and adding this knowledge and reforming opinions I have along the way. Such is life, and it’s more about the journey than the destination.

Anything you’d like to add?

Butch is what you make of it, and there is no one way to be butch.

S. Bear Bergman: Mini-Interview

Writer, performer, activist. www.sbearbergman.com

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

Butch was the first way I ever really felt seen, or desired. Butch is how I was recognized, and it’s how I was made. I love many of the ways of butchness, and even the ones I really do not love I can at least understand. The part of me that is a butch – not a butch lesbian or a butch woman but a butch as its own whole and true thing – is both the toughest and the tenderest part.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

I identify as queer, transmasculine, and as a butch; as a husband and father; as a Jew, and as a storyteller.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

Calm down. You don’t need to know, or do, or try, or be, or have everything sorted out right now. There’s time, and being patient will make you less annoying.

So Brown: Mini-Interview

Musician, kickstarter | myspace.com/sobrown | Bad Love video

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”
I’m not really sure about my relationship to the word “butch”; I’ve always just felt I was a male-ish spirit and tried to honor that.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?
Occasionally, when trying to convey my aesthetic to a new person, I’ll say something like, “think along the masculine spectrum. What would Johnny Cash be doing?” I’ve always done what boys did without really thinking about it. I do also love the Native-American concept of the Two-Spirit, a person who is a third gender and has qualities of both. That always resonated with me.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?
I’d say, “Young So, try to be kind to yourself, try not to self-destruct. One day you will have a really beautiful life, and you’ll be able to write awesome songs about all the hard years along the way, and you will have an important place in the world surrounded by lots of people who love you. You are perfect just the way you are and you don’t have to choose about anything. Just be.”

Anything to add?

I guess the only other thing I’d add is that I’m really looking forward to making more openly gay music videos for my songs!

Kelli Dunham: Mini-Interview

Kelli Dunham, writer, comic. kellidunham.com

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

I love the word butch for myself but also love the umbrella term masculine of center which seems to encompass a lot more folks in a very positive way. I’ve learned over the years that I don’t have to do what Grace Moon calls “Butch/Femme realism” to be butch. I don’t have to fix cars or even be tough. I’m not tough, I cry at dog food commercials, I cry on the subway. I like that part of myself, and I’m glad as I’ve gotten older that I’ve been able to move away from needing to pretend to be the strong and silent type (which I ain’t) in order to be butch.

2. Which words and labels, if any, do you use to describe yourself and your identities?

Butch, Mama Butch, Genderqueer (if describing myself to folks under 30, usually), Wanna Be Glitter Butch. And Boi, but only to those with whom I’m close. Like my girlfriend calls me boi, and have another close friend who calls Munchkin, who is her own variation, I think, on boi. I think people who are closer to me (rather than those who see my on a stand up comedy stage) see me as more Boi than Butch.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

It doesn’t matter, I wouldn’t have listened since I already knew everything. But for starters:

“Saunter in a dignified manner away from the flannel drawstring pants. NOW!”

AND

“Good fucking Lord goofball, you can wear men’s underwear and you’ll be FINE!!!”

AND

“Don’t wait for the grown-ups. They aren’t coming. You’re the grown-up now and you get to make it up as you go along.”

Elisha Lim: Mini-Interview

Elisha Lim, artist. newhearteveryday.blogspot.com

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

I’m a gay butch, I’m attracted to other butches. That seems to immediately abandon a lot of butch stereotypes. Domineering, possessing or even providing for a feminine person doesn’t profit me, and I hope I can always confront any accompanying butch sexism, in myself and my surroundings. I’m a proudly feminist butch.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

I’m queer, I’m trans, I’m a they, I’m a s/he, I’m easily confused, but one thing’s for sure, I’m always thrilled when you call me handsome. In other words butch forever.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender

Oh man, this question can bring tears to my eyes. You never needed to be a girl! You’re something else, and it’s okay, and it’s natural, and it’s as old and real and sure and plain as the birds and bees.

Bonus: Anything to add?

I’m working on 100 Butches, 100 Femmes (with Leah Lakshmi) and a wall calendar called The Illustrated Gentleman.