Posts Tagged ‘best of’
I did not ever mean to attempt that there is some hierarchy in having an “intentional gender” verses a “natural gender.” Actually, I’m kind of mad that anything I wrote even sparked those two differentiating terms, I really don’t like that distinction.
Contemporary gender theory says that there is no such a thing as “natural” gender, that all gender is a performance of some sort of impression of what gender is, of what physical cues for mating, attraction, sex, and physical communication between people.
Some people spend time studying gender, some do not. One of these things is not better than the other. I am not better because I study gender than someone who does not. It’s just something that I do, something others do not do.
I find it to be a fascinating, near endless, relevant, and insightful pursuit. But others may disagree with me – others, still, say that flyfishing, or American football, or taxidermy, are fascinating, near endless, relevant, and insightful pursuits; I don’t necessarily find that any of those things resonate with me, so I don’t study them.
But in choosing a romantic partner, a sex partner, a (dare I say it) girlfriend, I have some requirements. Yes, I know my standards are probably ridiculously high. But what can I say; I haven’t been single all that long (Callie & I broke up just over a year ago – it continues to feel like it’s been five years, three years, two years at least!), and I am not in any hurry to get heavily involved (read: monogamous) with someone. One of the requirements that I have – at this point – is that someone I date have things to add about all of this gender stuff that I kick around on a near-daily basis. I’d like those conversations to be collaborative, or at least complimentary. A slow building of an understanding of how this specific language of physical codes and symbols works.
I’m going to say it again, here, just in case it wasn’t clear enough: there’s nothing wrong with not being “intentional” with one’s gender.
I mentioned Penny’s lack of intentional gender not with judgment but thinking that this is something that I require in my relationships, and that perhaps it is not an interest she wishes to spend her time on and explore. We are both interested in sex, my interest and expertise is gender, and her interest and expertise is in relationships (she wants to go into couple’s counseling). Actually, I probably know about as much about relationships as she does about gender – I know quite a bit, in some ways, I’ve read many books, I’ve taken classes, I’m even familiar with much of the psychological theory, but it’s less my field of focus. Ditto to her and gender. She’s read the books, taken the classes. But it’s not necessarily a tool she uses to see the world on a daily basis.
As a small footnote, I had that difficult conversation with her on Friday, and we spent a lovely weekend together. We talked openly, things deepened, we got closer. I was half-expecting things to end, but instead, they got much better.
I’m working on writing up some sex stories from the weekend. I’m increasingly impressed with Penny’s kink, eager exploration, drive, and sexy fucken mouth … as a friend of mine said tonight, not only is she keeping up with me, she’s giving me a run for my money.
Hey, sounds like a pretty good idea, exploring negative lesbian stereotypes, yeah? Right away, I’m skeptical of her inclusion of “butch” in that title, but I’m curious. Let’s read.
[L]esbians and bisexual women are also guilty of holding stereotypical generalisations and assumptions about each other based on appearance and personality. The words ‘dyke’, ‘baby-dyke’, ‘lipstick lesbian’, ‘pretend lesbian’ and ‘political lezza’ are too often thrown about the lesbian community, at work, in the pub or even from a friend to a friend in a jokey and cheeky way.
So why is this still happening, in a supposedly very tolerant and gay friendly society? It’s quite straightforward for all involved – stereotypes[.] … [W]hy do lesbian and bisexual women also carelessly use the terms ‘butch’, ‘femme’, ‘dyke’[?] … Is it internalised homophobia? … most women don’t even realise they have it or are displaying it.
So, when words to describe lesbian identity categories – such as dyke, baby dyke, and lipstick lesbian – are used by heterosexual or gay men who are excluded from and based in ignorant assumptions about the group, it is because of stereotyping, but if lesbians actually use these terms, it is from a place of internalized homophobia.
The use of words such as ‘dyke’, ‘butch’ and ‘femme’ from a lesbian individual or group are almost always meant in a negative way. Often, the only positive times you will hear the words spoken will be from a lesbian who is referring to herself, such as ‘Yeah I’m a butch dyke, but so what? It’s who I am.’ For the individual and for onlookers this proud and defensive statement will seem a very noble and bold thing to say. This it is, but it could also encourage the use of such stereotypes by heterosexual and non-heterosexual people.
So here she’s saying, when I define myself and call myself what I want to be called, when I reclaim the words for myself, it appears to be “very noble and bold,” but really it’s encouraging stereotypes. Who cares if it’s empowering to me in a development of my own gender identity, in putting myself in a historical and cultural context where I recognize the gendered struggles of my foremothers and forefathers and and forebabas and forepapis, really it’s just an invitation to oppress me. Not buying it.
If we are using offensive terms to one another in our own community, then what chance is there that straight people and gay men will stop using them? Are we re-enforcing the terms? And if so why are we doing this to each other and to ourselves? … Possibly the thought that ‘stereotypical’ lesbians such as ‘butch dykes’ are re-enforcing people’s generalisations and giving lesbians a bad name. … Could it be that society on the whole has become addicted and accustomed to using labels or labelling[?]
So now this author claims that butch dykes are giving lesbians a bad name and reinforcing stereotypical lesbianism. Oh, I recognize this tune.
And also, a word about labels: where we are in our cultural identity history, right now, in the West in the early 21st century, we reject labels. Pretty much entirely. Constantly, people are saying “don’t box me in,” “don’t restrict me,” “I’m bigger than that box,” “I’m more than a label,” et cetera. We are not addicted and accustomed to labels. I absolutely think it’s true that labels can be restrictive and limiting when applied without any leniency, and I think it’s true that culturally, we used to have more of a sense of defining people by their gender, age, race, economic status, ethnicity, family history, class, social status, religious beliefs, et cetera – by all of the factors of social hierarchy. But this is precisely what the various activist movements of the 20th century have been working to change, and in many ways, it absolutely has changed. Labels are generally now seen as bad and restrictive.
The well-known and common female stereotypes such as femme , butch and dyke are only there so other people and sometimes even ourselves use to categorise all the ‘types’ or ‘breeds’ of lesbians neatly away into a fileable drawer. [Emphasis added.]
Oh, now I’m just sad. The only reason butch exists is so others – or “sometimes even ourselves,” (implying, of course, how sad that is, that our internalized homophobia is so bad that we limit ourselves so awfully) – can categorize us?
Goddammit, this is just so inaccurate. There is a long history of butch, femme, and genderqueer WARRIORS who are changing laws, making strives, marching in protests, fighting for rights, being visible, working hard, raising kids, making families, contributing to thriving communities, loving, living, and being ourselves.
And now, this perspective of the author of this article becomes even more transparent: the things she is saying here are flat-out gender-phobic. Probably out of ignorance, rather than intentionally malicious, but still. This author clearly cannot imagine that any femme, butch, or dyke would ever be authentically empowered by these labels (as opposed to falsely empowered through internalized homophobia) or claiming them out of some sort of intentional, conscious, educated, contextualized narrative of queer culture, life, identity, and empowerment.
I haven’t even started about the power of reclaiming words, here, which this author completely discounts as even remotely possible. Yes, the word “dyke,” for example, has been used by outsiders to marginalize and oppress people within that group. But part of the process of legitimizing that identity is to take the words that have been used to oppress us and revision them to be valuable, which, by proxy, revisions the identity as valuable as well. This also deflates the potential of the insult: if the word no longer has any negative connotations, and someone shouts “dyke!” from across the street, we can recognize that he’s a) being blatantly and ridiculously homophobic, b) attempting to insult us, and c) stupid and ignorant if he thinks homophobia is acceptable. It’s much easier for this type of encounter not to sting, and not to be taken seriously, when we are used to throwing around the words that are attempted to be used as insults.
Aside from that, there’s the linguistics of it all: “lesbian” sounds like the technical term, like dentifrice instead of toothpaste. It sounds like something you could contract or pick up, it’s long – three syllables – and fairly awkward in the mouth. “Dyke,” however, is short, powerful, with strong, shit-kicking consonants that pops on the tongue. Stronger, tougher, thicker, more powerful.
The author of this article closes with this:
We should all join and work together to end other people’s preconceptions, generalisations and stereotypes by not doing it in and to our own community.
Yes, I agree in part – we should end preconceptions, generalizations, and stereotypes. But what this author is describing is not “doing it in and to our own community” necessarily. People – everyone, women and lesbians and yes, even dykes – have our own agency, our own ability to define for ourselves who we are and what we are doing with it. To speak from outside of a community who uses this language intentionally about the choice of using this language is belittling and offensive, implying that I couldn’t possibly know what I’m doing by using this language.
And I know some of you are thinking, “well, Sinclair, you’re a bit different than the average butch, after all,” but ya know what? I haven’t found that to be true. I have found that most butches I know are incredibly intentional about their identities, and have beautiful things to say about what it’s like to navigate the world as a butch-looking woman, often even if they don’t identify with the label, culture, or politics. Same with the femmes. Butch and femme are no longer default identities to which one gets shoved into the minute one comes out as a lesbian. Queer, dyke, butch, femme – those words are marginalized, othered, looked down upon in many ways. It takes work to come to them, work to claim them, and work to keep them functioning.
This author, like the majority of folks out there – lesbian communities notwithstanding, unfortunately – are missing some key elements and understandings of the history of gender radicalism, what it means to reclaim language, and what it means to adopt these identities. Articles like this really get my boxers in a twist because they appear to be a conscious, intentional analysis of what’s difficult or challenging within the lesbian communities, but in fact, they are reinforcing gender misunderstandings and further marginalizing those of us who do play with gender intentionally, celebrationally, and beautifully.
“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” – Buddha
I’ve quoted that before, but I’m reminded of it again recently. It’s a quality that I always seek in those from whom I wish to learn.
I’ve been using the internet actively for the past fifteen years, since I was fourteen, and that’s not actually exaggeration; I caught a little bit of the BBS days, but really got my feet wet with the telnet chatrooms that were gaining popularity. I’d use the public library’s telnet system and my dad’s engineering computer to chat – live! with people from all over the world! – in Coffeehouse and Shadowlands.
And, as many have said, including Audacia Ray in her recent study of sex on the internet, new technologies are always first used for porn and sex. So, as a teenager, not only discovering a new technology, but also discovering a new sexuality, my primary sexual awakening was online – writing, corresponding, typing out fantasies, and asking questions to a hive mind of various perspectives and orientations and kinks.
I didn’t experiment a lot in person, it wasn’t appealing; but online, I could do anything, and it was safe. Of course, it wasn’t always safe. But I did pretty well for myself. I learned lessons, got smarter.
In 2000, two major things happened for me: I went back to college after taking four years off after high school, and I came out as queer. At college, I further my informal studies of feminism with gender studies, queer theory, and postmodern theory. I have two degrees, one in Gender Studies with an emphasis on social change, one in English with an emphasis on creative writing.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours reading books, watching films, going to workshops and conferences, seeking out mentors, reading blogs of personal expeirences, going to feminist sex toy shops, talking to friends, about gender dynamics, their personal relationships, queer oppression, social change, labeling, sex, sex techniques, sex toys, seduction, pick-up artistry, androgyny, lesbianfeminism, the 1980s sex wars, intersexuality, transitioning, binding, packing, taking T, putting on makeup, shopping for dresses or bathing suits or earrings or purses, shopping for ties or cufflinks or slacks or a tuxedo, radical acts of subversion, generational differences, strapping on a cock, the history of gender in the US, kink, domination and submission, rope bondage, BDSM, and uh all sorts of other things.
Not to mention that I, personally, have experience with these things in my relationships, my life, and my communities.
When I think about it, all of that history makes sense that here, fifteen years later, I’ve finally settled into this small niche of my varying interests – writing, inner emotional landscapes, sexuality, queer theory, gender theory, feminism, butch/femme dynamics, self-awareness, love, and relationships.
I’m not writing this to brag.
I’m writing this to show where my authority on these subjects about which I write come from.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll continue with all this research into these topics if or when I meet someone and develop a successful, fulfilling relationship, I’ll be disinclined to continue, because I can simply live it, instead of theorize about it all day every day. Perhaps I’ll move on to my next obsessive research subject – building alternative families or aging or performance poetry or who knows what. Perhaps all this has just been my own research into How To Be Me – chivalrous kinky writer, queer butch top, and feminist lover of femmes – In This World. Sometimes I feel like once I “figure it out,” I won’t have to be constantly doing all this work all the time.
Of course, there’s no easy way to simply figure this out, and once it’s “figured out” it’ll probably change, anyway, because it’s increidbly fluid; not only my own understanding of it, but the cultural understanding as well. It’s amazing how much has changed in the past ten years – even five years! Things are moving and growing, and I want to be a part of this activism, this forward motion, this quest for us all to be our highest, best selves, accepted by the world in our freakery.
My point is, I was reminded recently how easy it is to get online and create yourself as an authority about something on which you are not. And it’s sad to me, and disappointing, how easy it is for people to get sucked into something so false.
I know the internet. Know these blog circles quite well, I correspond with hundreds of people, read intimate, detailed blogs, have friends that I’ve never met but whom I’ve followed for years online. There are some amazing, lovely folks here who are using these tools, this digital medium, to express what is the most true and beautiful and real about them.
But that’s not true of everybody. I find I can usually spot those who are not authentic; they stand out, somehow, I go to their site or read their work and think, something’s just not quite right. It puzzles me, because I don’t use the internet that way, and because there’s such a better way to use this digital tool to connect, so why would you do it the other, less effective and more inauthentic way? Probably out of pure ignorance, frankly – but I don’t really know.
For y’all out there reading, especially about things as completely personal and delicate as your butch/femme gender and sexual identities, this is just a reminder not to believe somebody unless you have reason to do so, don’t take them purely on their word, wait until they prove themselves to you. Identities are fragile, and can get damaged so easily when we don’t have adequate support and validation around them. It’s so easy for one big, painful misunderstanding to put someone off of something entirely, when in fact it is not indicative of how it could potentially function.
Dan Savage had a great call on his Savage Lovecast last week (seriously, it’s now the #1 podcast on the internet, and you’re not listening to it yet?) about developing a bionic bullshit detector, which has also got me thinking about all of this.
Many of us place our trust in people too easily. And when it comes to the very personal and delicate subjects, such as what I discuss here on this site, I really hope you do (respectfully) disagree with me sometimes, I hope you don’t assume I always know what I’m talking about, I hope you question me sometimes, I hope you ask who the man (ahem, “man,” don’t get the wrong idea) behind the site is, I hope you check authority credentials and expect proof of authorty.
I also hope I’ve earned it, from you, from visitors to this site, from readers, from friends, from acquaintances, because I work hard to do so, to stand behind my philosophies by living inside of them, to have a consistent personal narrative, to have reliability in my character, to admit what I don’t know, to speak on things that I know well. In some ways, I’ve made a formal study of these things too, since the one particular ex who manipulated me into such a frenzy.
There’s no easy way to know who’s conning you and who is authentic except to be cautious, I think. (Dan Savage and his caller had a few ideas, too; see, now you really have to download the podcast, don’t'cha?)
As much as I have made a semi-formal study of these topics, and as much as I do have some authority here, I also will always say that everyone needs to figure it out for themselves. I’m thrilled that my process is useful to others, and I’m curious about the processes that don’t look like mine, too. This is me, doing this work, going through the processing, reaching these identities for my own self – now, you go do yours.
Thanks, all, for the feedback and comments on that last post. Butch breasts and binding and female masculinity are all so deep in this topic, and as one reader mentioned, too, this is also an issue relating to females with large breasts in general. Sure, the gender stuff adds a slightly different dimension, but many women go through this and are challenged by having the right, comfortable bra.
A few more tips, and also some recommendation, since I’ve had a few emails about where to get these butch bras.
First: get the right size of bra. Sports bras obviously are a little less precise in their sizing, but even if you don’t intend to wear any regular bras anymore, figure out your size. It’s amazing how hard it is for us to figure that out. There really is a difference between a 34D and a 36C, and they are not the same size. This seems to be a particularly difficult one for many of the butches I know, because bra shopping is just about The Scariest Thing Possible, and going in there and asking a professional to help figure out what size you really are is pretty much like walking into hell. But, let me just say, it has made a really big difference in my bra-buying since I actually got measured properly, figured out why the sizes are different, and what size I really am.
Now, some product recommendations:
- Title Nine store has a variety of great sports bras divided by size and by “barbell,” telling you the no-bounce factor. The Frog Bra is particular famous for binding.
- Come As You Are has some great genderqueer products such as binders and packers (and my infamous Silky), and has two of the major compression vest brands, the Double (made in Thailand), and Underworks.
- I personally run into a slight problem with many of the sports bras or compression vests because I have some shoulder issues and if the straps are too much of a racer-back shape, it can cause further problems with my shoulder injuries. So for that reason, the best one I have found is a Champion Powersleek sports bra (I found mine at Macy’s – their site doesn’t seem to list it any more, but I think this is quite similar). Also, because it has a clasp, instead of being pulled over my head, I can actually buy a size that is slightly smaller and tighter, which I love.
Bras & binders are primarily held in place with material like elastic, and the stretch on those does give out pretty easily. I’m finding that I need a new one every few months (although, I suppose if I had more of them, I wouldn’t wear them out so quickly!).
Suggestions? Recommendations? What products do you all use? Any particularly good online resources for figuring out your bra size, or that explains why the sizes are different?
I’ve returned to earth – mostly – from the altered state of consciousness of the Power, Surrender, & Intimacy workshop by Body Electric that happened here in New York City over the weekend. I have so very much to say about it, but that’ll have to wait for now, I need more time.
What I do want to write about is breasts. Specifically, mine – more generally, butch breasts.
Last week, I went for one day without my binder, which is really just a tight sports bra that clasps in the back rather than being a solid over-the-head slip-on. I wanted it laundered for the workshop, since I’ve been wearing it practically every day since I bought it.
I wore a backup bra that day, and all day long I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror, in storefront reflections, in my button-down work clothes, or when I looked down. I remembered how I used to hate the uniboob problem, which many of my friends and lovers deemed unsexy or mannish, and it’s not that I like the uniboob look particularly, but as my gender has changed and grown and dropped into itself, the uniboob doesn’t look like a uniboob anymore: it looks like a chest.
It is not that I want to do away with my breasts. Don’t misunderstand me here: I think breasts are butch, just as I think the menstrual cycle is butch and pregnancy is butch and cunnilingus is butch – everything the female body does can be butch, because butch (in my use of the word*) has to do with masculinity on a female body.
And because I believe that the things a female body does are butch, and because my gender philosophies are deeply rooted in love and acceptance of my body as it is and in not classifying human experiences as owned by one gender or another, I have been holding back my desire to delve farther into my own masculinity. I’m afraid of it. I’m afraid it means I’ll be leaving my roots in female-ness behind, I’m afraid of being seen as reproducing the heteronormative paradigm or embodying penis envy. I’m afraid of being rejected by feminist and lesbian communities for being too masculine, for becoming the ‘enemy,’ for rejecting femininity instead of reclaiming it.
Breasts are a big piece of this fear for me. Mine are not so small – part of why I rarely pass: a 36DD, and have been since middle school. I’ve said since I was a teenager that a breast reduction is the only surgery I would consider. I read about Jess’s surgery – or others’ surgeries and body alterations – and I’m jealous.
But I’m afraid of what it means to want that alteration, to want to physically change my body to better fit a gendered idea.
After that day last week of wearing a regular bra, I started wondering: why do I even have this in my closet anymore? Why do I own this? My exploration of my own masculine/butch/boy/male embodiment is young – I’ve been calling myself butch since 2001, but only in the last three years have I really embraced it and actively, consciously developed it. And now, the farther I get into my explorations of gender, the farther I want to go.
It takes time to cycle through a wardrobe, and I don’t quite have the disposable income to go purchase all new bras – but I certainly won’t be buying any regular ones anytime soon. I’ve gone through this with my underwear already, years ago now, have cycled through all the old girl undies and haven’t owned any of those in years, only have boxers and briefs now. But that feels less obvious than binders and sports bras – no one can tell I wear only briefs except my lovers, I guess, but everyone can tell I bind my chest.
And see, what’s what it is now: my chest. Very different than boobs, breasts, tits. I have those, sure, but they’re underneath, they’re the other layer, the inner ring, something that now gets protected and covered, not out of shame or denial but simply out of layering, complexities, performance, a rich inner life, a duality, a whole person – me.
* Some say men can be butch, that “butch” is a term for a queer masculinity, or a non-traditional, progressive masculinity. I’m not certain I agree, but we definitely lack language to discuss different types of masculinity, and I have definitely observed some men who have a sense of butch energy.
This past weekend and some amazing time with Penny (more on that later) has me thinking about trust and femmes. I wrote recently in a dramatical moment, “I just don’t trust femmes anymore” – with immediate caveats and retractions – and I want to expound.
It is femmes that I perhaps trust the deepest. The way I am received – not just cock-and-cunt, not just my fist inside the muscular bowl between your legs, but all of me: when my strong hands weaken and flutter, when I cry, when I laugh too loud, when I give up give in let go, when I feel my power slipping and you put it right back into place with a gentle flick of your wrist.
It is within your embrace that I make the most sense. Callie was the first femme I ever dated, the first relationship where my affections were returned tenfold (before that, I’d loved a femme, my best friend, for years, but that was tragedy. After that, The Ex, who I thought was more femme than she was and that caused constant tension between us).
I know who I am around you. My carefully manufactured, deliberately manifested masculinity suddenly has a purpose, a function, a use, and it excites you, makes you cry out and give in and let go, turns you on. My gestures are held by you, witnessed, caught gently and cradled, and oh my god thank you for that.
This dynamic runs deep in me. Who knows why – nature, nurture, socializing, fetish. I need it, ache for it, me a teenaged pretty-boy (you say), you a powerful goddess. And you must know I never use words like goddess to describe women (too cliché, too overused) but yes that really is what I mean here: magical, strong, miraculous, seductive, creational.
I was made against you. I can think of a couple of you specifically against whom I break and become myself: Callie. DateDyke. Muse. Strong enough to catch me, strong enough to let me sharpen myself against you.
And it is this power that scares me, that now brings these feelings of mistrust. Because I love this dynamic so much, fetishize it even, it touches deep primal nerves in me. I become carried by it and have trusted it – the dynamic – more than I trusted the person. I let her use her femme-ness to get what she wanted, I let her use beauty, seduction, soft skin and flirty submissive eyes. I watched it, I even knew what was going on, and I let it happen anyway.
I know better now, I guess, I hope. I should pay attention to the red flags of constant “conflict,” I shouldn’t have gone to Mexico, I should’ve been more honest, I shouldn’t have fucked her if I didn’t have the aftercare in me.
I’ve said it before – it is one of my greatest flaws: I trust what people tell me. I am convincible.
There really are charms that only femininity, only femmes, only queer femmes who know how to treat sugarbutches like me, possess. Charms that unravel me deeply, that pull me apart. When it’s good, it clears out the cobwebs, shines light into every dark corner, exposes all the cracks and flaws and structures that hold me up, and then, even, fixes them, or attempts to. I am made more whole, more complete. When it’s bad, I have been destroyed foundationally, or attempted to be. Piece by piece picked off and explained in a new way that suited her. My dick in a mason jar under a sink, punished. My every action her fist closed tight around.
It is good I am strong. I come from a strong family who gets along, a queer lineage of kisses, teachers who respected and taught me, who sheltered me and pushed me hard, who said I was worth something, who said we all are, who said stories of marginalized groups and communities must be told, who said I could and should change the world, who said I could do anything, who encouraged me to come alive, who said they liked what I had to say. And I have this place – this personal writing project I refuse to call a “blog” because it is so much more than that, it is revolution, it is community, it is self-awareness and witness and a very lighthouse.
I have built up these tools around me so I don’t fall prey to this problem of trusting femmes. It is because femmes are who I love, who I partner with, for whom I deeply ache that they are capable of such unraveling. If I partnered with butches it would be a problem trusting butches, if I partnered with straight boys or trans women or blondes or tennis players it would be a problem trusting them. And perhaps this is why women as a whole – and femininity – are seen as untrustworthy, sneaky, manipulative in our culture: because men – hetero men – are the ones who partner with this, and men are the ones who have held the pens to write our histories, to write their great love stories, which have involved many broken hearts and many malicious women, because love is scarce and precious and delicate.
Femmes are not untrustworthy. Femmes are who I trust the very most, with whom I make the very most sense, with whom I am more myself than anywhere else.
I am scared, and skeptical, about what it may mean for me to trust, to explore, especially around the specific ways that I can lose my head in this dynamic. It’s new to me, and it affects me deeper than any relationship ever has – I’ve never lost myself so completely in a lover before. So now comes the fusion: the combination of the intense, passionate sexual dynamic that comes with gender play, and the knowledge of relationship tools that I have been collecting and building upon since I began dating fifteen years ago (half my life, now. Amazing). I have the support, the community, the friends, the knowledge, the inner strength.
Bring it on.
I often have conversations with folks who say that they have been perceived femme or butch, and they really don’t like it. That tweaks me a bit, for various reasons, not the least of which is that I spent years flat out telling people, “I identify as butch,” and I would still get the response, “oh, you’re not that butch,” or “you’re not really butch.”
These identities are deeply socially constructed and policed, on all sides – those of us who do claim them, those of us who don’t. They’re loaded, complex, and largely misperceived.
Calling someone femme or butch is not necessarily intended to be insulting – sometimes, it is meant with much love and praise. But if you don’t identify as such, it can feel insulting, regardless of the intention.
This happened again recently, and it got me thinking: here’s why it doesn’t have to feel insulting, regardless of the intention.
1. This is about them, not you
Maybe you don’t identify as “femme” or “butch” at all, maybe you see those labels as confining to who you are and how you want to express yourself. Great! Good for you. Celebrate your whole self, in any way you like, you betcha.
[Hopefully you simultaneously realize that it's possible for others to find liberation and freedom inside of those categories, too, and that you don't force your philosophy of rejecting gender identities onto others. But that still never means that you have to work within that framework.]
This other person calling you these things may simply be working within the framework where they see everyone on the feminine side of the gender galaxy as femme, and everyone on the masculine side as butch.
But ultimately that is not about you – that’s about their framework. That doesn’t make your framework wrong, and that doesn’t make your perspective, presentation, or philosophies any less valid.
This is about them, and their worldview, not about you and yours.
2. Misconception of the terms
My gender-activisty self gets my boxers in a twist, because being called femme or butch is NOT AN INSULT.
These words are loaded – I get that. And sometimes, it can actually be intended as an insult – but we don’t have to take it that way.
But think about what we perceive someone else to be implying when they call us butch or femme. Where is that coming from? Who is filling that in?
It’s like someone calling you a dyke or a fag or a queer. The person slinging the insult could mean deviant, sinner, immoral, freak, but those of us who have reclaimed these words can look beyond that to laugh it off and say, “yep, that’s me. Gotta problem with that?” (Clearly, they do have a problem with that. But that’s not your problem, it’s theirs.)
Same with butch and femme: these words have deeper, personal meaning to some people, and it’s possible to take the time to go inside of the words and figure out what they hold, figure out their power and their detriments. If we knew more about the way these words worked from the inside, perhaps we would get to a place when calling someone – who doesn’t identify as one of these terms (more on that in a second) – femme or butch doesn’t make us bristle and cringe.
Because it doesn’t have to.
Here’s my basic thoughts on what we think it means when someone calls us femme or butch:
a) Femme does not mean whiny, controlling, manipulative, vulnerable, stupid, weak. Butch does not mean insensitive, thick-headed, macho, violent, emotionally stunted, controlling. Those are sexist misconceptions, and we don’t have to use those categories that way.
b) Just because you look one way one day, doesn’t mean you can’t look a different way another day. Gender is fluid, identity categories are fluid. Unless you’re chosing to identify as one of these categories, no one else can put you into these categories for you.
So, maybe this person calling you “femme” actually does mean that they think you’re weak, controlling, etc – well, then, so what? They are inaccurate on two accounts – i) that’s not what femme means, and ii) that’s not who you are (I am assuming).
They might be implying that they think you’re a high-maintenance bitch, or a thick-headed lug, but that doesn’t mean that you are. That’s just a downright insult couched in genderphobia, and you can call them on their ignorance, not take it so personally, and move on with your life.
3. Identity vs Adjective
We severely lack language to describe gender, and since we largely perceive gender to be a spectrum of masculine/feminine, butch/femme, male/female, calling someone femme or butch is simply an adjective – a way to describe which side of the binary gender scale they are perceived to fall on.
(I wish we had names for all the gender galaxy quadrants and solar systems and orbits and such, but they’re almost too big, too multi-faceted, to categorize and map. Goodness knows that won’t stop me from trying …)
In my opinion, identity categories can only be chosen by those they are describing. I think this applies in various socially charged identities – race, gender, sexuality, class, nationality.
The only time someone calls me butch and it is an identity, not an adjective, is when I myself have chosen butch as a way to describe me.
Again, the speaker here could actually mean it as an identity – but that’s about them, not about me.
Often, describing someone as femme or butch is a simple observation of their physical style – short hair vs long hair, slacks vs a skirt, heels vs boots. (Sometimes it’s much more suble, of course, as someone wearing short hair, slacks, and boots can be seen as femme.)
Usually, I’ve found the use of this word as an adjective is not entirely inaccurate (at least, not at that particular moment). The problem is that it is implying all these other things about behavior and gender performance that are then perceived to be ongoing and permanent within that person, and that’s just not true.
This is precisely the reason why I use the words to describe someone that they chose for themselves, and if I don’t know how they identify, I don’t assume.
So, in conclusion:
It really doesn’t have to be an insult, and using those terms as an insult is, in my opinion, a sexist misunderstanding.
Just because someone else doesn’t understand these categories, doesn’t mean that you don’t – even if you reject them. No need to take it personally, no need to educate them in their misconception – just let it go, don’t let it bother you, move on.
I posted a sexmix last year, in August, but I’m constantly revising my playlists. This is the current sexmix tracklist.
This is not, however, the music I put on for a day of sex – I’d rather have a few albums on shuffle. The current favorites are Me’Shell N’degeOcello’s Bitter, as much Morphine as I have on my hard drive (especially the albums Like Swimming, Yes, and Good), and Chris Isaak’s album Heart Shaped World.
Here’s the sexmix:
- Come – Kinnie Starr
- All Your Way – Morphine
- Sexual Animals – Sarah Fimm
- Right Now & Right Here – Keren Ann
- Sweet The Sting – Tori Amos
- Wrong To Love You – Chris Isaak
- Slow Like Honey – Fiona Apple
- Beautiful – Meshell Ndegeocello
- Volcano – Damien Rice
- You Look Like Rain – Morphine
- Alright – Kinnie Starr
- Grace – Jeff Buckley
- Tear You Apart – She Wants Revenge
- Counting Bodies Like Sheep To The Rhythm Of The War Drums – A Perfect Circle
- Forty Six & 2 – Tool
- Sexyback – JT
- In Tha Mood – Esthero
- Satisfy – Meshell Ndegeocello
- Swing It Low – Morphine
So, lay it on me: what would you add? What’s your favorite music to fuck to? What’s the best seduction music? What tracks just need to be on this list?
I ran across some photos this week of me and jesse james and georgia from almost exactly six years ago – I remember that night vividly. Aside from georgia’s very grabable curly hair, spaghetti strap tank top, and long string of gin+tonics (that I kept drinking for her), my gang of friends – including jesse james, and Maverick – decided we’d go out “in drag” that night, which meant slacks, button-downs, binding our breasts, ties.
(Interesting how men’s business wear is drag for masculinity, and women’s lingerie is drag for femininity – clearly some cultural values coming through there eh?)
I took many photos that night as we got ready to go – even the preparations were significant, the rituals of masculinity, hair slicked back, knotting and re-knotting my tie. It was one of the first times I wore a tie and packed out in public; in the photos I’m wearing a black shirt, black slacks, and red tie. I’m not even sure where I got that tie, now that I think about it. It just seems like I’ve always owned it. A red tie, solid – my favorite.
Interesting how, then, it was drag, it was rare, it was deliberate performance – I was so self-conscious going out like that, I felt stared at, noticed, in a new way. And I was, particularly by georgia’s attention, the clear lust in her eyes and fingertips as I lit her cigarettes and held her drinks and attempted to kiss her (with little luck – she had a girlfriend back then).
Looking at these photographs from six years ago, though, I catch a glimpse of the gender I grew into – I don’t always recognize myself in photos from that time, but in those … yeah, I think, that’s me.
It took such a long time for me to come to comfortably sit in this butch identity, for me to (if we’ll continue the metaphor) navigate the gender galaxy, and find a comfortable orbit around an identity label. Some of us don’t ever settle into that – some of us are radical little spaceships that explore treasures from all sorts of different worlds and words that we orbit. I guess the trick is, in my opinion, to simply find the routes that are the best to navigate (not necessarily the easiest, but the most satisfying), the orbits where there is plenty of oxygen, the alliances that create treaties and share resources and have excellent adventures.
We basically have to make our own gender galaxy maps. And while some gender mapmaking tools – queer theory, gender theory, postmodern theory, queer literature, smut and the language of lesbian desires – while some tools help immensely, I still couldn’t quite escape the praxis, the application of the theory, because of the ways that the social constraints and social policing affected my own process deeply.
The same friends who went out with me on that infamous red tie night – jesse james & Maverick – were very influential, and I had a lot of criticism about how they performed their own flavors of female masculinity. I don’t remember a lot of discussions about the label/term/identity of ‘butch’ specifically, but we definitely knocked the term around sometimes – mostly I remember saying, “I don’t know. If I’m butch, then am I all these other things that come along with compulsory masculinity – like misogyny?”
I remember one particular time when jesse james and Maverick were joking about attending a community class for and about femmes – identity, privilege, passing, visibility. And they kept speaking of it like it was a place to go pick up chicks – I eventually snapped at them: That’s a special place for femmes! That’s not a convenient pick-up ground! You’re like the boys who heh-heh-heh and sign up for women studies.
[I know it says "women studies" and not "women's studies," and that's deliberate. The apostrophe implies that these studies belong to women, that it is women who study them. When it's women studies, singular, then the implication is that it is the study of women. This is how my undergraduate Women Studies department operated & how I still describe that particular academic discipline.]
I’m not sure if they got it; maybe they did. I quickly gained the reputation as the hard-core feminist of the gang, and jesse james especially loved to push my buttons about it, to get a rise out of me, to make me laugh, to frustrate me with a scenario. They used to tease me endlessly.
But looking back at it, it was an integral part of my gender identity development. Because feminism, and deep respect for women, and deep rejection of the “oppressive male gaze” and gendered hierarchy, came first, I was terrified of objectifying women, of disrespecting women – and, most importantly, of adopting misogyny as part of a masculine identity. And I kept wondering, over and over: If I reject misogyny as part of masculinity, part of “butch,” then what’s left? Masculinity is, in so many ways, simply defined as not-woman; what else does that identity hold? And what does it mean for me to adopt it, to become it, to be it?
My solution, at least temporarily, was that I could look butch – hence the ties and button-downs and packing – but that I would maintain my hard-core feminist values, my inner emotional landscapes, my interests and personality traits. I didn’t know how far I could take this new idea of a masculine gender. For years, my friends & peers would say, “well, yeah, but you’re not really butch.” I didn’t like that, but I didn’t know how to only pick and choose the traits that I wanted, intentionally, within masculinity. I didn’t know it would mean to have be butch in other ways - for example, emotionally.
Even still, this puzzles me. There is something inward about gender, a sort of “gender energy,” internal traits that run through displays of female masculinity – but I still struggle with articulating that. It starts to run into the grey areas of where gender overlaps with personality, and I start feeling cautionary, not wanting gender to dictate things like hobbies and interests.
I’d like to figure this out, though. It’s on my list of Things to Explore Further.
Incidentally, jesse james – formerly known as The Closet Musician here on Sugarbutch – was known as Ice (from Iceman) back then; Maverick and Ice even had flight suits for Halloween one year. Then we had Mitchell, who joined our gang on occasion, and there were the femmes, Pepper (Maverick’s girlfriend and, later, wife) and Lola (who I was madly head-over-heels about). Who knew all those nicknames were such fabulous practice for anonymous writing?
I never had a nickname that stuck, I always wanted one. Perhaps that’s part of why I created Sinclair all these years later.
Donate to RAINN & let ‘em know I sent you – add “GBBMC2008: Mr. Sinclair Sexsmith” in the information box. (Why?)
I often get asked about how to start playing with strap-on sex, how to get your partner to stop laughing during strap-on sex, how to take your partner’s cock more seriously, how to strap it on and not feel like an idiot.
I’ve written a lot about my own experiences here, but I haven’t written a lot of the more straight(ha)forward advice on it – advice seems so variable based on the individual situation, so it’s hard to distill. So, here’s some of the ideas about cock-centricity, cock confidence, and taking butch cock seriously.
For the record: there are many femmes who strap on, many genderqueers who strap on, many who have a cock and don’t call it “butch.” I don’t mean to butch-centricize the gender play, but it is my own experience and that’s primarily the perspective of this writing project of mine. So, for the purposes of this post I’m writing it from the perspective of the butch as the wearer, and the femme as co-conspirator to this gendered sex play. But hell, some of the most skilled strap-on wearers I’ve ever seen were femmes – I certainly do not intend to leave anyone out!
- Call it a cock, dick, prick, pecker, schlong, johnson, even penis. But don’t call it “fake” – it’s not. (Calling it a “dildo” or “plastic” aren’t really turn-ons, either.)
- Touch it. Caress it, taste it, lick it, kiss it, suck it, fuck it. Treat it like it’s a part of me – it is.
- It’s not silly to suck butch cock. (I mean, sure, laughing during sex is fun – but really? If you giggle through the blowjob? I’ll probably loose my hard-on, especially if that’s what you’re laughing at.) I have plenty of nerves in my cunt that I can feel when you press it against me; you have plenty of nerves in your mouth where I can fill you, can slap against your tongue, pop into the back of your throat. And the mental turn-on I get seeing you in that position makes me crazy with desire. Don’t underestimate it’s power.
- As a lesbian, loving butch cock does not make you straight. Let me say that again (and perhaps you should repeat after me): loving butch cock does not make you straight any more than wearing one makes me a ‘man.’ There’s more to an identity than one act. It’s okay to be cock-identified! Just because you don’t to sleep with (bio/XY/flesh-and-blood-penises) men doesn’t mean you have to reject cock from your sex life. Our bodies have holes, and our muscles and nerves respond to them being filled and played with. That’s okay, and you’re still gay as a three-dollar bill, I promise.
- Consider getting a flesh-colored, realistic-looking strap-on cock. I know this is practically the biggest faux-pas of lesbo-land, as we’re supposed to reject men and therefore penises, and strap-on cocks are only okay when they’re swirly marbled colors or shaped like dolphins, but if you want to play with gendering a cock, consider something more realistic. It will enable you to take it much more seriously. Consider Vixskin (silicone, so you can boil/sterilize it! Feels real – even gives a little in your mouth, mmm), consider a thin leather or barely there harness, consider it yours.
- Packing: do it. It’s hot. Nothin’ like being able to pull your cock out at any time, and I think all y’all know how hot it is to feel it in your pants (or your partner’s pants) all night long. Get the right tools for it, though; you can’t just strap-on with your thick leather harness with all the buckles and belts with your favorite hard cock. My vote is still the infamous Silky, which bends and will fit comfortably close to the body in briefs, but is still hard enough to fuck with.
- If you don’t pack, then you will probably have to navigate That Moment of Strapping On. That can be tricky: the making out starts getting all hot and heavy, and I always felt so awkward even bringing up the idea, especially with someone new – let alone someone I knew well. I tend to use the phrase, “so, can I get my cock out yet?” which gives the impression that of course we’ve both been waiting for it, but it also lets her call the shots if in fact she just wants to make out (or trib, or fingerfuck) a while longer. And! – when it’s you’ve seen that gleam in her eye and it’s time for you to strap it on, don’t be embarrassed, apologetic, or shy. At that point, she’s gotta wait for you to disrobe (possibly) and re-buckle, test the weight between your legs, get comfortable. Don’t rush. Take your time. Savor this part; remember that you’re both salivating at the idea of what’s to come. Let her see you pulling it on and getting it all ready, if you can – that’s part of this whole process of your female body becoming able to fuck her. [And for goodness's sake, once you're strapped on, go back to the making out, don't just attempt to slide it in & start goin' to town. You already know that, though, right? Right.]
- You don’t have to – and shouldn’t – apologize for liking it, for wanting it, for craving it, for asking for it.
- Muse says: “Femmes who like cock are not unicorns – they’re everywhere.” Same goes for butches who like cock. There is a bit of stigma around gender play in lesbian communities; it might take some work to find someone who understands how to take butch cock seriously. But don’t fret, you will.
- Our gender and sexual identities don’t exist in a vacuum – especially butch/femme, I think, relies so much on the experience of the other complimentary person to bolster and develop and enhance our own identity. So what do you do if you don’t have someone with whom you can play with a cock? You can still play with it and learn to take it seriously – strap-on and learn to jack yourself off. Wear it all day Saturday when you’re cleaning your apartment, running errands. Learn to appreciate the weight between your legs, learn how to shift it right or left when it gets sweaty or itchy or uncomfortable. Give yourself permission to play with it, explore it, even if it’s on your own. Build your own cock confidence!
- This is a particular kink that not everybody likes – and that’s okay. When you’re selling it to someone, remember that it’s an asset of yours, a strength, something fun that you get to experiment with – not a weakness or a bad thing. You’ll find somebody who will appreciate you not just in spite of it, but precisely because of it.
Got more tips for building cock confidence, taking butch cock seriously, or re-valuing cock-centricty? Leave ‘em in the comments.
Donate to RAINN & let ‘em know I sent you – add “GBBMC2008: Mr. Sinclair Sexsmith” in the information box. (Why?)