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.

John Gagon: Butch Mini-Interview

John Gagon, data application programmer

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

My relationship with the word is that it carries with it something that’s not necessarily pure masculine and not necessarily rough and tough, it’s more the voice, appearance, trim hair, compatible with leather and less so with silk/feathers/lace or ghetto-silk (nylon). It’s not too stylish, it’s plain, feels Jimmy Dean, cool and relaxed and comfortable in skin. It also has a ballsy feel and while not necessarily rough and tough, it can be and it can be prone to a little anger. It’s adventurous and playful, not overly ticklish. Can be emotionally sensitive but not too physically sensitive, can play dom and appreciate masochism. Not too shy of verbal… or anything. The masculinity is incidental and it’s not always macho or aged. A spikey haired boy is butch just as say a biker. There’s often a mechanic penchant, it can be a little intellectual too and suave. It’s more rough around the edges than just leather and chain with cigar and scowl. It’s all a bit butch but the visual is less soft, shiney, no sequins, not flashy or sensitive/impractically fashioned. It’s pragmatic and useful. Someone who is butch can serve but also expects some loyalty or submission in return. Butch lesbians are butch if they like to crop their hair but they can have long hippy hair or something else. A good pair of jeans and cap, tshirt are butch. Usually not in a dress unless it’s cultural like sarong/kilt etc. But it can bend and mix. A bearded dude in a burlesque wedding dress or a female in a suit can be butch but a bearded man with lipstick and a roll of the eyes/queen is not so much. A soft lipstick lesbian is not going to seem butch except in that general appearance just like bears and leathermen can have lisp and peakybrows.

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

Butch, burly, scruffy, woofy, natural, bearish, (insert animal here), hairy, wolf, pup, dog. The butch honorifics tend to be masculine: master, sir, boy, pup.

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

I would tell my younger self that sex isn’t evil, isn’t going to damn me to hell if I love someone or fornicate. that religion is dogma and unrealistic. That gender is flexible. We are all a bit hermaphroditic in our brains. I would promote safer sex, responsible sex (disclosure of risks), honesty with self. Don’t do things for others, do things for yourself. Rules are not absolute. I would reveal more of what I’ve found out through genetics and research… that while it’s not a choice, honesty is a choice and so in a sense, you can promote the freedom for people to define themselves. I’d teach myself love, trust, a bit more about what BDSM is all about. A bit more about finding the right guy.

Kestryl Cael Lowery: Butch Mini-Interview

Kestryl Cael Lowrey
Performer/Writer/Activist
pomofreakshow.com/kessmain and/or kestrylcael.com

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

I didn’t learn what ‘butch’ was until I had been out for several years. It was the same summer I got my first motorcycle jacket, and a lover asked if I had read ‘Stone Butch Blues.’ Of course, I hadn’t; I devoured the text within days, which then led to library searches and more and more reading as I found a sense of history. I was amazed to learn there was a word, an identity, a community that matched what I’d been doing (I thought) on my own. Looking backwards, I came into butch.

For me, butch is the best word I’ve found to articulate the way that I do gender. Over the years, my own interpretation of ‘butch’ has grown and shifted—and I know this will continue as I live in/with ‘butch’.

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

I’m suspicious of labels, but I use a lot of them. Queer, butch, dandy, trans, leather, Daddy, performer, artist, activist, writer, scholar, and theorist are the ones that I use most frequently.

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

For sex and sexuality: It’s okay to have a lot of sex. It’s also okay to not have a lot of sex. Either way, get your first cock, and make sure it’s a good one. It will make all the difference.

As for gender: It will always be complicated. Trust me, you don’t want it any other way.

Ellis: Butch Mini-Interview

Musician, ellis-music.com

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

I identify as a butch woman. I think of “butch” as being a synonym for being a more masculine woman. When I was younger, I thought that butch meant tough, and I worried I wasn’t tough enough. I love pretty ladies and I used to think the only way to have a pretty lady love me back was to be more tough.

But now I’m realizing that toughness isn’t as strong as I thought it was, or at least it is different than I thought it was. Now, for me gentleness is king and I’ve found kindness to be the path to a more steadfast and stronger me.

So my understanding of what it is to be a butch woman looks different then it used to, maybe softer in some ways, less defensive. And, happily, it turns out that my pretty lady loves this gentle butch!

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

Butch, queer, woman loving woman, woman, buddhist, peaceful warrior, runner, musician, songwriter, human …

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

Hmmm… I would tell myself to relax and be patient more.

I’d tell myself that sex isn’t about being someone who is good in bed or having to perform. When I was younger, I had a bit of defensiveness about wanting to be as good as I thought maybe a man would be. Now I know that it’s so not even the point! Loving someone is loving someone. The parts aren’t a big thing. Connecting to the person you are with and loving them is better when there is vulnerability and real sharing.

I would also tell myself that there is a joy in discovering who you are and really the thing that matters most is cultivating the heart. I would encourage myself to care about the feelings that come up as a butch woman living in a culture that doesn’t see or recognize butch. I would tell myself that the fear, inadequacy, anger, and sense of outsider-ness that I felt wasn’t about me, and that it is a result of being in a culture that doesn’t recognize the butch woman.

Vittoria repetto: Butch Mini-Interview

poet, poetry host, chiropractor, applied kinesiologist
vittoriarepetto.wordpress.com
www.drvittoriarepetto.com

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”
It’s an ID that I’m comfortable with and femmes and other butches see the butch in me. Old guard lesbians from my life have a problem seeing it but that is their problem.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?
My tag line is the hardest working guinea butch dyke poet on the lower east side.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?
I would tell my younger self that you didn’t have to be freaked out as a feminist because you wanted a “penis” to make love to your girlfriend.

Emma Crandall: Butch Mini-Interview

Emma Crandall
Brooklyn, New York
writer, college professor, organizer, fashion inspiration

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

I haven’t always identified as “butch,” but it was definitely my first queer identity. There have been people who have told me I’m not butch, and people who have laughed in my face if I said I wasn’t. So many people assume “butch” is a rigid category, but I don’t find that to be true. Still, I like how polarizing butch can be as an identity/identification. I love our history as butches. For me, butch is the only word that explains my past experiences, my particular lesbian heritage, and my style of queerness.

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

BUTCH BRUT.

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

I think I had really good instincts as a young queer, but I should have trusted them more. I always interrogated identities and made up my own vocabulary. I understood my queerness as something that was inborn but also creative. I feel really lucky that I had that knowledge at a young age.
Oddly, I think the biggest thing I would teach my younger self would be about self-protection. I put myself in damaging situations just because I didn’t feel valuable yet, or didn’t know how to love myself. I want queer kids to know they don’t have to put up with all the damage that’s thrown at them, from within our communities or outside of them. Standing up and saying, “This is violent and damaging to me and it has to stop” is one of the most empowering things you can do.

Butch Enough: Butch Lab Symposium #1

The problem with butch identity—well, any identity category of social, sexual, political, geographical, or other significance really—is permission. If you get past the problem of stereotyping, of course, and how stereotypes are based on fact but simplified, sprayed down with fake plastic snow and called a tree when in fact they don’t grow or move or change or catch breezes or encourage nesting.

The problem with butch identity is permission. Who gives you permission to be butch? Are you butch “enough?” I questioned myself. I wasn’t sure I bought in to what I saw reproduced around me. So I sought out mentors: S. Bear Bergman, Ivan E. Coyote, Patrick Califia, Karlyn Lotney, Jack Halberstam. People whose writings I could adore secretly in the dark and examine with a microscope, searching for myself hidden between the lines.

“You’re not that butch,” others would say to me. “Oh don’t say that,” they’d shush me with pursed lips after I dropped That Word into casual conversation. As if I’d just called myself something insulting, something demeaning. A bad word. Butch is a bad word, one of those locked and loaded words used against us by classmate and teacher alike. Such a different, awkward, not-right way to be, according to the eyes of the world.

But I didn’t see it that way. From the minute a girl—a femme—I was madly, stupidly, unrequitedly in love with leaned in and whispered, “I think you’re butch,” I knew it was tattooed on all the walls of my heart and when they split this body open they’ll find those five simple letters ink-stamped over every organ. Butch heart. Butch lungs. Butch stomach and trachea and diaphragm and sternum.

I saw it as an honor.

(I still do.)

And so I started reading, and I saw it as a lineage, connecting me to dozens of other writers and thinkers, radical activists and dapper dressers, people I could look up to for style, advice, insight.

But still: Was I enough? Was I “faking” it? Was I an imposter? Goddess knows that’s the most dangerous thing to be.

My experiences told me no, this is real, but my head took convincing. I craved permission. A card to carry, a gold stamp: certified, verified, “real” butch. I tagged along, hanging on my mentor’s every room for approval, validation. I consumed like I’d been starved of knowledge of my own people—which I had.

Ultimately, it wasn’t anyone else who gave me permission: it was me. I splashed around enough to know that while I didn’t have the answers, no one else did either. They only had guidelines, ideas, what had worked and what hadn’t, the stories of their own piecemeal patchwork lives. But boy, did we have questions.

Questions like: What is butch? What does it mean to me? I savor these questions like a fine rich dessert. I turn them over and over in my mouth with my tongue. And as much as I crave their answering, I crave the questions they raise even more.

So here’s what butch is, for me: Permission. Permission to be myself, that little solid stardust shiny nugget I feel somewhere in my core, like a diamond lodged between L5 and L4 of the lumbar spine vertebrae. Permission to wear what I like, to love who I desire, to play how I crave, to decorate and adorn my body how I choose. To experience all the things this world has to offer, without guilt or obligation, but with curiosity and an open heart and experimental hands. Permission to be right where I’m at, regardless of whether that’s where I was yesterday. Permission to explore and seek pleasure, to connect and create friction, to question and make change. Permission to be exactly who I am, doing exactly what I’m doing, to have bright burning faith that everything I do works toward the greatest liberation for everyone, as much as possible, all the time, in all ways.

And just in case you need it: I give you permission, too.

Patricia “Cacahuate” Manuel: Butch Mini-Interview

Patricia “Cacahuate” Manuel
Elite amateur boxer
USA Boxing profile

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

The older I’ve become and the more comfortable I have grown in my own skin, I have realized how much of myself is tied into the word “butch”. When I was younger, I was self-conscious of having my sex misread by other people. Eventually as I grew up I realized that there wasn’t necessarily a contradiction between my female sex and my masculine gender identity. For me, this is the meaning of butch and it truly expresses who I am.

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

Like I stated earlier, butch is probably the best word/label to describe me. I usually don’t care much for whatever words people use to identify me. Unless of course I feel like I can make a joke of it.

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

I’d definitely tell my younger self, “Cut your hair off. The chicks will totally dig it.”

“The Complexity of Butch and Femme”

Perhaps you remember: about two summers ago Esther D. Rothblum, Ph.D., who is a Professor of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University, was conducting an extensive survey about butch and femme identities, both independently and in relation to each other.

I put the call up here and she let me know that many of the participants interviewed were from having announced it here.

The article is finalized and now out, published in Psychology of Sexualities Review, Vol. 1, No. 1.

Dr. Rothblum sent me a PDF copy and said it was fine to reproduce here, so in case you’d like to read it, here it is: The complexity of Butch and Femme among sexual minority women in the 21st century.

Welcome to Butch Lab!

I’m so thrilled you’ve stopped by! I’m your host, Sinclair Sexsmith. I run the online writing project Sugarbutch Chronicles, and I study gender and sexuality. I identify as butch myself, and a huge part of my journeys in recent years of coming to myself has been about my gender identity.

I’ve been working on Butch Lab for most of the fall of 2010, and I’m really excited to share the space with you.

I want to thank Kyle, Lauren, Yvette, Roxanne, and Sarah, who have been helping me set up this space and research hot inspirational folks who are featured on this site.

And I want to thank my lovely partner Kristen, who has been holding my hand since the beginning of this project, urging me onward and listening to my complaints throughout the process. I so appreciate the love and support.

Here’s some of the background about this project:

THE MISSION OF THE BUTCH LAB PROJECT

The mission of the Butch Lab Project is to promote a greater understanding of masculine of center gender identities, expressions, and presentations, through encouraging: 1. visibility, because we feel alone; 2. solidarity, because there are many of us out there, but we don’t always communicate with each other; and 3. an elevation of the discussion, because we have a long history and lineage to explore and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

THE HISTORY OF THIS PROJECT

BUTCH LAB is the 2010 relaunch of Sinclair Sexsmith’s 2009 Top Hot Butches project, which was a list of the 100 “top hottest” butch, stud, AG, androgynous, genderqueer, and trans folks. What began as a visibility project, intended for fun and amusement and to encourage eye candy objectification, has evolved into a community-focused site discussing butch identity in its many manifestations.

Borrowing from the recent Butch Voices conferences, Butch Lab is a place for a myriad of masculine of center* identities, including, but not limited to, stud, macha, boi, andro, and genderqueer.

We are Butch Voices: We are woman-identified Butches. We are trans-masculine Studs. We are faggot-identified Aggressives. We are noun Butches, adjective Studs and pronoun-shunning Aggressives. We are she, he, hy, ze, zie and hir. We are you, and we are me. The point is, we don’t decide who is Butch, Stud or Aggressive. You get to decide for yourself. (From ButchVoices.com

Cis and trans women who are masculine of center or not feminine presenting in some way are included. Trans men are welcome and included, as are cis men, gay or straight, who identify with butch or intentional, radical, responsible masculinities.

THE BUTCH LAB WANTS YOU! TO CONTRIBUTE!

Butch Lab is seeking submissions! Here’s what you can do to contribute:

  • Comment! Talk to each other, engage in the disucssions about these identities.
  • Submit an image, video, or other media to the Fuck Yeah Butches tumblr site. It can be a depiction of yourself, someone who identifies as butch, someone who represents butch identity for you, or someone who serves as butch inspiration.
  • Submit to the monthly Butch Lab Symposium. It’s a cross between a blog carnival and a link round-up. Monthly, there is a question posed on the Butch Lab blog, and blogs which write on the question are featured on Butch Lab the following month in a carnival-style roundup. In exchange for participation, please repost the Symposium; see the full guidelines here.)
  • Submit an article to the Butch Lab blog. It can be reprinted from elsewhere. We can’t afford to pay you (yet), but we will provide you a byline. We are seeking writings on topics such as, but not limited to: why I don’t call myself butch; dapper fashion on a dime; bridging butch and trans; being better in bed; navigating the health system’s gender discrimination; haircuts, grooming, and the best products; radical masculinity; and more.
  • Participate in the Butch Lab Interview series. Email butchlabproject (at) gmail.com if you’d like to participate.

Please, have a look around!

Butches with Cute Animals

Kristen started it.

Submit photos or videos of yourself, your lover, or your friends along with cute animals … though please make sure you have their permission to post their image online first.

People have asked about the “butch” part … it doesn’t matter to her if you identify as butch or not, she is not on this side of the computer assessing the photos about whether or not that person is “butch enough.” Mostly, it’s a self-selection thing: if you’re willing to have your image on there, she’s willing to put it up! You can (as others have) write in the comments that you don’t identify as butch, if you’d like to specify that.

It’s been going nuts! She’s already had more than 100 submissions of photos with hottie masculine-of-center folks and cutie animals. This is the kind of thing I was intending to do with Queer Eye Candy, which, by the way, has pretty much expired at this point. I put that together just before Tumblr really took off, and now that that’s around, the image-submission sites are so different. In fact, I run fuckyeahbutches.tumblr.com, and am always looking for submissions if you’d like to contribute.

But meanwhile, check out butchesholdinganimals.tumblr.com if you need a little pick-me-up, or something to make you go “awww!” in the middle of your day, or a little bit of swooning, or if you need some good fashion tips. There are lots of many good shots on there already. You might even recognize some queer celebrities!

PS: While I’m pimping Kristen out (no, not in that way), take a look at her interview on AfterEllen about her new baking business, Kitchentop Catering.

Update on the New Butch Project

Okay, so. It’s the 16th, and it’s probably obvious, but the new butch project, the relaunch of the Top Hot Butches from last year, hasn’t launched yet.

I’m behind. I’ve been working on it a lot in the past two months, but I’ve also had workshops and columns to write and deadlines and other websites I’ve been building and it isn’t ready. On top of all of my other demands (the ones that, you know, actually pay me some money), I have received dozens of emails and comments with nominations for butches to add, many of whom I have little knowledge, some of whom I already have on my radar.

I’m still looking for interns to help me with this project. If you have some time to help compile the database of butches (meaning, research website URLs and save and sometimes edit photographs from a name that I have), I’d love some help. It’ll get this project up and running much faster.

The “nominations” I’ve been seeking are rolling; they have no deadline, they are ongoing. I am not limiting this database to 100, there will be any and as many as I can find to include. Look at this post for details about who I’m looking to include, and what I hope you’ll send on if you’d like to include someone. You can absolutely nominate yourself, that’s fine.

I’m bracing myself a little bit for some backlash from this project; I guess I can’t help it, it became a whirlwind so fast last year. And doing anything based on identity, especially gender identity, gets tricky and problematic before the idea even forms in one’s head, so I’m not surprised that already I’ve had some questions and skepticism about this new project. Here’s a few things I want to state, clearly.

This project is not comparing anyone on the basis of hotness, it is not a hot 100 list anymore, it’s not even really a list so much as a database. It is not so much about the eye candy anymore (though there will still be eye candy, I promise) as it is about the community, social, and individual construction of butch identity.

I am including cis and trans men in this project, because butch identity can and has been constructed on any sexed body, but I will not be comparing butch women’s hotness to cis men’s hotness so there will be no danger of any butch “losing” and being less hot than a man.

I am not intending to externally impose any gender identity upon anyone else, despite my compiling of androgynous, genderqueer, and gender-non-conforming famous (and semi-famous) women who may or may not actually identify as “butch.” I know there are problems with this. One of my basic gender tenets is that no one can label you, that you label yourself. And by including someone on a list I don’t intend to state that they are butch and that I know oh so much better than they do about their identity, but rather that they have been visibly not feminine in the world, and for a woman to go about their life in such a gender expression is both difficult and inspiring to those of us who relate to it. It’s more of a “butch inspiration” list than anything else, so I am thinking I might rename it such—inspiration, instead of Top Hot Butches. I’m a little wedded to that phrase, since the original list from last year was called that, but what good is using a digital medium if it can’t be completely changeable?

Um what else.

Because I’m behind the launch date, I’m still accepting submissions for the Symposium #1. I have about half a dozen right now and I’d gladly add more. See this post for details, but basically it is this: you write a post on your blog writing about the prompt (this time, it is “What is butch? How do you define butch? What do you love about it? What does it mean to you?”) and send me the link. Then I’ll do the round-up of all the posts, and you can reprint the roundup (that would be kind) and promote the links of others, and comment on the other posts, keeping the discussion open and going.

I think that’s all for now. I’ll keep you posted as soon as I know what my real launch date will be, I promise! I have a couple more events in New York this week, and a few more deadlines, but then I’ll be back to working on this full time. By which I mean, obsessively, until it’s birthed launched. Really looking forward to sharing this with you all, and thanks for being a part of it, in whatever way you are.

Nominations Needed for Top Hot Butches

With the relaunch of the Top Hot Butches project, I am including different people than last year, in a totally different way.

I think this is some of the confusion about including cis men. The Top Hot list is not a top 100 butches list like it was last year. I’m not that interested in hierarchizing everyone based on hotness. Hotness is all relative, anyway.

What I am interested in is community, and bringing people together who experience similar gender identities. I’m also interested in the word “butch” itself, and how it scares many people, how many of us have such a strong reaction to it, like it’s a slur, as it has been used against many of us for lifetimes. And how it becomes a strong, defining word for others, a major hook on which we hang ourselves and by which we define ourselves. Many different kinds of people use this word to talk about who they are, and I’m curious about that.

The new site is more community-focused, with a whole blog component, Tumblr site, and Symposium, as I mentioned the other day. And there is still a Top Hot section. It’ll be more like a database of people you can go browse through and find their work and be inspired by, not a numbered list. Just people, doing good work, going about their lives, with a butch or masculine of center gender.

I’m much more inclined to include women than men, and it will be harder to find men to include, since I am restricting the men included to being butch-identified (more about that below).

I am especially looking for trans women who identify or present as butch, men (cis or trans) who self-identify as butch, and people of color along the masculine spectrum. It’s been easier to find the white butch dykes than anyone else, but I know there are a lot of other folks out there!

Check last year’s list to see who was on it before you nominate somebody. Everyone from the list last year, unless requested otherwise, will be included in the new project.

Rules for nominations:

ALL nominees:

  • Must be active in the public sphere of some sort, or a leader, and well known, in their field. Performers, writers, and activists are particularly easy to point to, but anyone notable in any field is applicable. Yes, this means your girlfriend/boifriend/boyfriend might not qualify. No, having a blog is not necessarily qualification enough.
  • Must have been doing work at some point in the last decade. There are plenty of people we can dig up who are no longer alive, or who were notably butch or visibly masculine women from decades past, but this project is about what’s going on now. Perhaps at some point in the future we’ll tackle Top Hot Butches pre-Stonewall, but for now, let’s focus on who is around now.
  • Can be of any age, though generally we’re talking about folks who are post-puberty, and even more frequently folks who are post-Saturn return, as it sometimes takes quite a bit of time to really know oneself enough to come to an alternative gender identity and expression like these. Age doesn’t matter.
  • Can be of any race, religion, ethnic background, or sexual orientation. That probably goes without saying, but I’ll make it clear anyway.

Inclusions of women, cis or trans:

  • It would be GREAT if they self-identify as some some of masculine of center identity: butch, macha, stud, ag, tomboi, genderqueer, etc.
  • If they do not self-identify this way (or they have a level of fame where they wouldn’t reply to an email asking if they do or not), they will be considered for inclusion based on these things: 1. rejection of traditional femininity, including but not limited to dress, style, and hair; tendency to shop in the men’s department and display a masculine gender expression most of the time; 3. swagger, meaning some sort of masculine energy in their movements; and 4. are out as queer. Some exceptions will be made to the requirement that they are out as queer, such as in the case of Katherine Moennig, where she is very clearly queer but has not made official statements regarding such.

Inclusions of men, cis or trans:

  • Must self-identify as butch. Either you know that they identify as butch, because they’re your friend or you’re aware of their work, or they have made some sort of public statement that says they identify as butch.

Inclusions of genderqueer folks that identify as outside of the binary:

  • Should self-identify as some of masculine of center identity: butch, macha, stud, ag, tomboi, etc., and be interested in being included in a database of butches.

How to nominate:

Email me, or comment on this post, with the following:

  • Name of the person you’re nominating
  • What they do (writer, performer, activist, lawyer, whatever)
  • Link to or attached recent photograph, at least 640×480 (landscape) and better yet, cropped to 700×400
  • Link to their website, Myspace, Twitter, or other web presence for more information about their work

Aside from Top Hot Butches, I am also compiling a list of butch-identified bloggers. If you are a butch-identified blogger, or if you read a blog by someone butch-identified who you like, will you please leave a link to them here and I’ll add them to my list. I have quite a few that I know of, of course, but I’m sure I don’t know you all! Even if you think I probably have yours, leave it anyway just to make sure?

And a huge thank you for your help with this project! It is coming together, and I’m really excited to show it to everyone.

Define: Masculine of Center

I’ve been throwing this phrase around a lot lately, but I realize I haven’t actually defined it or credited it. For me, it came out of working with and attending the Butch Voices Regional Conferences this year, as we used it frequently to describe the myriad of masculine identities we were seeking to gather and discuss.

According to Butch Voices:

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.

In contrast to transmasculine, which was the last catch-all masculine identity label that made the rounds, masculine of center doesn’t necessarily imply a linear progression or hierarchy, I even think of it as a circle, kind of like a color wheel where the center point is gender-less or genderfluid or all genders and all the various kinds of gender expression and identity dance around it. And while “masculine of center” is definitely in contrast to “feminine of center,” it isn’t necessarily in opposition, as they play off of each other, interdependent and interwoven.

Seems like a useful term, to me, to describe the breadth of masculine identities to which I sometimes want to refer. What do you think?

The Relaunch of Top Hot Butches

So you may have seen me Tweeting about the relaunch of the Top Hot Butches project, which I’ve been working on for the past few months. I’m getting set to launch it in mid-November, I’m aiming for November 15th.

And it’s time to start asking for your help.

But first.

Addressing the Controversy

A friend of mine asked this week what I was going to do to address all the controversy around the original list. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’m ready to open up the project, to take it to new levels, so I am approaching it differently.

The controversy was around including trans men on a butch list. There are many reasons this is problematic, but the main one is that trans men are men and a butch identity is usually a female masculinity, and aligning trans men with female masculinity is demeaning to their identity. However, there are many trans men who do have an allegiance with the butch identity, and I still feel it’s important to include them in this project.

Dykes and queers and trans men are not the only ones who use the word “butch.” When I spoke with Buck Angel about his inclusion on the list, aside from saying he doesn’t care, he also said he associates “butch” with the gay male communities much more than with dykes. It has a long history of being used for guys, and indeed if you do searches for “butch” you come up with it as a nickname for cis men more often than anything else, it takes some time to dig for the queer women’s angle on it.

So I am including cis men in the new project as well, queer or straight. Don’t worry—this will not take away from the focus of the site, which is the exploration of butch identity, which is still primarily a female masculine identity.

Of course, that begs the question: what makes cis men butch? What makes anybody butch, really?

I’m still not really sure. Nearly ten years into this butch identity and I still don’t have a good definition. So for now, I’m going with: self-identification. I don’t decide for you whether or not you’re butch, you get to decide for yourself.

There is still a Top Hot Butches-style list on this new project, however, and I don’t want to uninclude folks like Joan Jett or Samantha Ronson because they don’t self-identify as butch (or, hell, maybe they do, but I can’t seem to get ahold of them, wonder why). I still will be including androgynous, genderqueer, and other masculine of center women who are in the visible public realms who have an obvious rejection of feminine style and who have some swagger.

So what is this project?

I’m keeping the name of it secret, for a little longer. But don’t worry, it will be all over soon enough. The mission of the new project is:

to promote a greater understanding of masculine of center gender identities, expressions, and presentations, through encouraging: 1. visibility, because we feel alone; 2. solidarity, because there are many of us out there, but we don’t always communicate with each other; and 3. an elevation of the discussion, because we have a long history and lineage to explore and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

The site will include: a revised Top Hot Butches section, with photos and short profiles of people in the public eye who are butch-identified or who present a dapper, radical masculinity; a tumblr blog for butch media submissions and perusal; a blog with interviews, articles, and announcements about butch-related information by multiple authors; and a monthly symposium, a cross between a blog carnival and a link round-up with monthly writing prompts.

Speaking of the symposium …

Call for submissions for bloggers & writers: The first Symposium

I am planning to launch the new project’s monthly Symposium with the site’s launch on November 15th, and I need your help. I’m looking for writers who have something to say about butch identity, who are wiling to post their thoughts on their own blog (or email them in, if they don’t have a blog) and link back to the Symposium in exchange for the promotion within this project. Here’s the topic for the first Symposium:

Symposium #1, November 2010: What is butch? How do you define butch? What do you love about it? What does it mean to you?

Prepare a post for publication on November 15th, and I’ll be gathering all the links and putting forth a round-up of all participants.

This new project needs more help than just writers, however. I’m also looking for interns.

Interns

The new project is seeking interns. I am looking for people interested in learning how to moderate an online community, engaging in a digital environment; learning the ins and outs of blogging, including search engine optimization, WordPress coding and template modification, and basic photo editing. Email me with a statement about why you’d like to be involved and your relevant experience before November 1st, please.

I will also be seeking out writers for the site. If you’re interested in that, the best place to start is by participating in the Symposium. More information will be available on other calls for submissions to this project soon.

Okay I think that covers it! I’m really excited about this, I hope it will be as good and solid and successful as my vision for it.

Ten Ways I Am A Gender Outlaw

Today is the last day on The Great Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation Blog Tour, and I’m closing it out. Thanks, Kate and Bear. Thanks, Seal Press.

It’s a fantastic book. I laughed, I cried. Would you expect anything less?

There were a lot of pieces about trans experiences, not as in one singular trans experience, but people writing about their lives and what it’s been like to have the experience being gendered like they are in the world. A few other pieces were by cisgender femmes—but I have yet to read a piece in there talking about butch experiences. Now, it is a book focusing on trans identity, primarily, so maybe stories and essays about butch experiences don’t even belong here. That’s okay, I don’t have to see myself reflected in every single book about gender, sometimes it might not fit.

But it got me thinking: what’s my relationship to the term and identity “trans?” Is butch a trans identity? And what are the ways that I am a gender outlaw?

I do see butch as falling under the trans umbrella, as a sort of trans identity, because butch is a masculine identity on a woman (or, should I say, “woman”), and that is not what our culture defines as what a woman does. I am trans in that I transcend the binary, I transform the binary. I believe in more than the binary, and partly because of that I also believe that a masculine expression on a female body is a completely legitimate expression of “woman,” and that therefore it may not be a trans identity.

However … that’s not the dominant cultural acceptance of the way woman-ness can be expressed, that’s for sure. And I have learned more about gender—both mine and cultural systems of gender—from the trans movements than anywhere else. I find my gender has more in common with many trans folks than it does with anybody else, in part because of the intentionality and thoughtfulness behind it. So I still have an identification with trans. Though not without hesitation—which is why I say “a sort of trans identity” whenever I’m talking about it. I do understand how it could be, and I understand how it could not be. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle, sometimes feeling more trans than not, sometimes feeling not trans.

Regardless, though, a butch identity is outside the law, and is an outlaw. In this case, it’s not necessarily that I’m outside of the actual legal law, though we could talk about the ways that we still haven’t passed an ERA (wtf?) and that my sexuality in this country makes me a second-class citizen, but we’re not talking about sexuality here: we’re talking about gender.

And my gender, though perhaps not outside of the legal law, as it is no longer dictated that I wear at least five pieces of women’s clothing (can you imagine!? It was not so long ago), is outside of social law. Society has certain laws that I break all the time, by crossing back and forth between “male” space and “female” space, by presenting masculine in this world, by passing sometimes and not passing other times, by dating women, by being a feminist, by challenging misandry and misogyny and other ways that masculinity is constructed.

Here’s some other ways I’ve been thinking about that make me a Gender Outlaw:

10. I shop in the men’s department. I know this seems both like a given (duh) and like not a big deal, it actually can be. Getting a salesperson to help me is pretty difficult. Making a decision to either use the dressing room in the men’s department, or carry everything back to the women’s department, or not try on anything and make my shopping trip twice as long when I need to come back to return the things that don’t fit, can take up more space in my head than it needs to. Sometimes I get shoo’d out of the women’s dressing room, or at the very least I get disapproving and confused glances by other shoppers—both in the men’s department, women’s dressing rooms, and at the check-out. It’s more complicated than one would expect to keep shopping for men’s clothes, to crossdress, basically. And at this point, the only thing I don’t buy in the men’s department is binders (bras).

9. I visit a barber once a month. Inserting myself into traditionally men’s spaces is tricky, sometimes dangerous. Though I live in a very tolerant city, I still come across plenty of men in these spaces who are skeptical, giving me shifty sideways eyes, at best, and outright homophobic at worst. I continue to walk in there like I belong and request the same services (at the same price—which is also sometimes a problem) that any of the guys get. Aside from the barber, I get my shoes shined, I sometimes get my nails done or my eyebrows waxed—yes, I admit to a certain level of metrosexuality that goes with my masculinity. But it’s all for sex, people. I do it for the sex. And the pure joy that comes with a dapper presentation.

8. I disrupt the assumption that misogyny comes standard with masculinity. I treat women well, and I take that seriously. I do not believe femininity is any easier (or harder) than masculinity, and I do not believe it should be in a hierarchy of any time. I strive to not only believe that, but to live that belief.

7. I like what I like—I don’t let my gender dictate my interests, hobbies, or personality. I enjoy cooking, yoga, reading books, amateur astronomy, meditation, the psychotheraputic process, building community, and I don’t really like sports, or monster trucks, or remote control cars, or many of those “typical” masculine hobbies. I challenge the idea that any hobby belongs to any gender. These are human experiences, and human expressions, and human things to do, and I can choose from any one of them.

6. I research the butches and genderqueers and other masculine-of-center folks who came before me. I know I’m not alone in this lineage, this way that I walk the world, and even though sometimes it feels like I made it all, I only made myself in a long context of many others, and I pay homage as often as I can with respect and props.

5. I read everything I can about gender, keeping up with the latest books (like Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation!) I (try to) keep up with the myriad of butch and masculine-of-center blogs online, to keep hearing people’s stories, to watch as they unfold, to keep up with the conversations. I feel lucky that I have so many stories to read!

4. I see a gender identity as a beginning, not an end. As with any identity, the minute someone tells me they identify as a certain thing—femme, butch, genderqueer, gender-fluid, trans, male, female, whatever—I take that as a starting point, and I am curious to know more, not as the end point, where I fill in my own assumptions about what that means. I keep my assumptions in check. I keep my inner gender police in check, and instead of expressing anything like, “Whut? You don’t seem x to me,” I ask, “Oh? What does that mean to you?” It’s a starting place, a jumping off point, not something to close down the conversation.

3. I make friends with straight men—or at least, I’m friendly with them—to challenge their assumptions about masculinity (and butch dykes). I don’t see them as the enemy. I don’t assume they’re all the same. I challenge misandry in the queer circles. Marginalized communities, especially those who have come up from the lesbian and feminist histories, have a lot of man-hating built in to them. (I know, I’m not supposed to say that, but it can be true.) There is a difference between challenging a system of patriarchy vs challenging an individual man, who may or may not be as much of a subscriber to feminist beliefs as any of us are. Aside that, many queers are skeptical of masculinity—I have seen that as I get further into my identity as butch, and I’ve seen it happen to many of my trans guy friends. I do my best to challenge it when I see it, and ask what’s behind that comment, jab, or joke. Gently, and kindly, but still, to challenge.

2. I am a fierce feminist, and see the intersectionality of many different kinds of oppression and do my best to analyze and check my own privileges while standing up for those that are marginalized and oppressed. I think most homophobia and transphobia is still about a basic, fundamental sexism that believes men are better than women and therefore masculine-identified people are better than feminine-identified people, and I think the feminist theories can be a way to untangle those underlying cultural beliefs systematically.

1. I love my body. I just heard Tobi Hill-Meyer read a piece at the spoken word performance at Butch Voices Portland about how much of woman-ness is tied to hating one’s own body, and it really resonated for me. Despite being raised a bit non-traditionally, despite growing up into a butch gender, most of us are taught by this culture to hate our bodies, and I continue to treat myself with care, respect, and love, in the face of a culture which would have me buff, pluck, shave, cut, dye, powder, or hide the skin, stretch marks, and “flaws” of my body.

What do you think, y’all? Did I forget something? What are the ways that YOU are a gender outlaw?

Don’t forget to pick up Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation at your local queer feminist bookstore.

What happened at the BUTCH Voices NYC Conference

So BUTCH Voices NYC is over …

And it was fantastic.

I want to tell you all about it, and I barely know where to start. It was thrilling to work on a committee which was so invested in working, and whose skill-sets were all so complimentary. Primarily, I worked with promotion, copy, images, and event planning & promotion, as well as hosting some of the events over the conference weekend too. Which tend to be the things I’m good at, and the things I most like to do, in terms of putting on an event. There were a lot of logistical details that I was less concerned with, personally, but the rest of the Core Committee was so on top of it, I didn’t have to worry about it—I could just do the parts I was particularly good at.

It’s the first time I’ve been such a key organizer for a regional conference, and I had a wonderful time. I learned a lot about organizing and producing big events. I think I might go into a little bit of withdraw after working so closely with the other organizers—Kelli, Kawana, Lea, Paris, Emma, Emilie—I’m hoping we can organize a post-event gathering to debrief and talk about what’s next. (There’s already some discussion about another New York regional conference in 2012.)

But: what happened at the actual conference?

The Friday Night Social Event

Friday night kicked off the conference with Speed Friending at Anti-Diva. I was surprised and impressed at how many masculine-of-center folks came out for that. It was great to have a kick-off event where everyone came with the assumption that they would meet other people, everyone was more open and talkative than usual. We planned on having Melissa Li perform an acoustic set, but there were some technical difficulties and Melissa never did go on. But oh the rest of us did … on and on, talking to each other and about the conference the next day and about the other events that were planned for the weekend. Many folks were in from out of town, and not everyone who came planned on attending the entire conference, but was interested in meeting butches (for various reasons).

Just about as I was ready to retire, a text came in from Kelli, conference “chair,” if we had one of those, to both myself and to Emilie, along with a photograph of the conference space: we had a wall! A genius contractor had saved our asses at the very last minute by coming in to help us divide up the very large QEJ Performance & Conference space into three separate spaces where we could hold two workshops, registration, and the hospitality suite. Not only did it look amazing, it ended up being constructed out of cardboard, twine, and tarps. It was more than I would have expected—when I arrived on Saturday morning—and it was perfect. Em and I were so thrilled, we actually high-fived—a move I do not usually participate in, but it was apt.

And then the conference started …

After getting things up from the car and helping to open up registration, the first thing I did was to attend a workshop with Corey Alexander called Doing Relationships with Emotional Armor: For Stones and Our Partners. I’ve flirted with stone identity, and definitely have some emotional armor, so it was interesting and intense to bring those things to light and discuss them openly. It was a difficult subject to begin the conference, but set the tone for the depth and personal level of discussion throughout the day.

I took a brief break to prepare for the Cock Confidence workshop I was leading in the third workshop block, and then joined the impromptu discussion. Conference organizers intentionally left some physical space empty such that active discussions could happen, either folks could bring up new topics they felt weren’t being addressed or could continue discussions started in the workshops if they felt inspired to do so. So a few people decided to lead an open discussion on responsible masculinity, which was very fruitful and touched on many topics and conundrums of masculinity that I frequently contemplate. It was great to hear other perspectives on these things that often really get to me, that I spend days thinking about, or talking about, or writing about. The question of “What is responsible masculinity?” was posed, and much discussion of misogyny and feminism commenced. One of the major points made was the ways that expectations can be oppressive, and that though our identities may appear to be something someone knows and can identify, and therefore draws all sorts of conclusions about (e.g., masculine of center -> butch -> top -> dominant -> dates femmes), that one has to actually ask and observe that particular individual to see if any of those things are true for them—and they may not be!

We also discussed butch competition and policing, and how to build more butch community. Someone said, “The only way to eliminate butch competition and enhance butch camaraderie is to acknowledge each other.” Which, I think, was beautifully put and I wholeheartedly agree. We spend a lot of time circling each other silently, and it is a thin line, if at all, between that and competing.

Cock Confidence

Next, I ran downstairs to Cock Confidence & Strapping It On, which is a workshop I’m doing many times this fall (already at Purple Passion and Conversio Virium in New York and Good Vibrations in Boston). I was greated by a packed room, and people just kept streaming in—it didn’t hurt that I had two Aslan Leather harnesses, three Vixen Creations cocks, and one Tantus cock to give away, I’m sure!

I started in on my workshop contents about confidence and communication when there were a few questions and comments, rapidly, from attendees. I’m paraphrasing here, but basically what was said was, “What about butches who bottom, and the ways that can be seen as emasculating?” and then, “What about women who are survivors of sexual assault, and for whom penetration is difficult or traumatizing?”

Whoa. Big, huge topics.

Which I will gladly write about here, I have plenty to say about them (watch for future/soon essays), but on which I was not prepared to speak, or lead a discussion. I had a lot of (prepared) material to get through, so I explained that, and said, those are both way important questions and I would love to have a discussion about them, that I was not prepared to hold the space for that discussion now. But, I proposed, I will do some talking about toys, do the raffle, then adjourn early and folks can go off and explore another workshop, or stay here for Q&A and we can discuss those things. I also said: Thank you, for bringing that up. I am used to doing this workshop at sex toy stores (mostly with an audience of hetero couples) so those questions are definitely Cock Confidence 301 instead of 101, and I love that the Butch Voices NYC crowd really raised the caliber of the discussion.

Thank you for that, all of you who were there.

I think the room understood my point, so I kept moving on. I talked about toys, my favorite and the most popular harnesses and cocks, answered some questions, and pulled names out of the bucket to see who would take home some new toys. I’m going to work on a Cock Confidence Product Guide and let everyone know the things that I recommended and where I recommend getting them.

The conversation, when it continued, was a much smaller group and we ended up more CR-style, discussing our personal challenges and experiences.

It was definitely the best Cock Confidence workshop I’ve ever facilitated, and it was so much fun. Wish I could give away toys every time I do that workshop! To be clear—I give away these toys, and I work with these companies as a sponsor (of sorts) of Sugarbutch because I adore their toys so much, not the other way around (I don’t adore their toys because they’re a sponsor). I’m pretty picky about the toys I give away, and while I have tried out all sorts of products, even if I suspected they would be awful, I won’t give away things I think are awful.

Butch Representation in Media

Off I rushed to the Media Panel, where I moderated a discussion about butch visibility, mainstream media, working in the media, and how we use the media to further authentic images of ourselves. It was a great discussion with Madison, Grace, Mamone, and Dasha, and the attendees had many questions and comments about race, participation, othering, and success. I didn’t feel like we had a point that we really hammered home in this workshop, but then again, we didn’t really have a point that we set up to make when we formed this panel, so that was okay.

At the end of the panel, we went around the room and everyone there introduced themselves and did their thirty-second elevator pitch about what they do. It was fascinating to see the caliber of talent we had in that room, all together.

The Community-Building Keynote

The keynote at Butch Voices NYC was non-traditional in that we didn’t want to have one singular person speak for all aspects of masculine of center communities, and since it was a one-day conference we didn’t have time—or money—for multiple keynote addresses. So Kelli and I planned a community building keynote ceremony that was a commitment to our butch voices, and it turned out beautifully. It was incredibly moving, from start to finish.

It all started with a pebble, a river stone—everyone received one at registration. I took them from my own rock collection (remember my this I believe poem? “rocks in my pockets”?) I counted out 180, which didn’t even make a dent in my collection, to make sure we had enough for everyone, then added a few handfuls more for good measure. I have collected rocks over the years from just about any place I have visited, from Bournemouth in England to Ocean Shores in Oregon to Washington state to Southeast Alaska, where most of the rocks are from. The pebble beaches are the best up there. It’s become a bit of a collection, that therefore I subsequently have no idea what to do with. It doesn’t make sense to display them, not really, not beyond a few rock stack formations here and there, so they’ve been in a box for years. Seriously. A box of rocks. Useless and taking up valuable New York City apartment space. I’d be glad to donate them to a garden or beach, but most green spaces around New York are so manicured it doesn’t make sense to leave them there.

But a ritual—it was a perfect use for (some of) them. I was so pleased to pass them on in that way.

Before we started the ritual, we spent a moment with the Memory Wall we had constructed to add names to, people who are no longer with us but who came before us and whom we want to remember. And right away, the room got heavier, we focused, I felt immediately moved.

We all got a rock when we checked in at registration. The seven of us organizers stood up to explain about the ritual, what we were going to do and why, each taking turns. We explained that the rock had absorbed our personal experiences of the day, our individual voice and perspective, and that we were going to add that rock to the collective pile of our community’s experiences, similar and related, yet different and varied. We invited anyone who felt moved to participate—allies too, but whom were also invited to witness if they felt so inclined, as we need witness to our statements, commitments, and very existence—to come up to our make-shift alter, one at a time, and speak aloud the sentence, “My commitment to my butch voice is,” or “my commitment to butch voices is.” Folks were invited to substitute whatever words they wanted to for “butch,” if that wasn’t their identity word of choice, such as queer or genderqueer or stud or aggressive.

I wasn’t prepared for how moving it would be. I wrote the majority of the script that we read (which only dawned on me about halfway through the ritual, I wrote the keynote), and the whole time I was just crossing my fingers that it wouldn’t be cheesy, but would be honored and respected and come across the way I wanted it to. It did—and it went beyond my expectations, like much of the conference did, above and beyond. It was moving, enlivening, big. Many of us teared up. Many of us said hard things that would not have been easier to say in other places, but which felt safe to reveal. Many of us murmured or clapped or responded as each person who felt moved came up to place their rocks in the wooden bowl on the make-shift alter.

Paris closed the ritual by having everyone repeat a line that Kelli and I came up with, based on the Core Initiatives of the Butch Voices conference: “Our commitment is to stand together, to take care of each other, and to make the world a more just place.”

And with that, everyone could take a rock home with them, if they felt so inclined, and we adjourned.

What a day.

I’m still reeling from it all.

And yet … right after the keynote, Kristen and I rushed downtown to get to Bluestockings Bookstore for the Butch Voices Speak Queer Memoir/Sideshow mash-up reading/performance. I posted photos and a wrap-up of it over on the Sideshow blog today, but expect more photos from Syd London (official Butch Voices NYC photographer!) as those get processed.

And more articles, more thoughts, more things from me, too, as that all gets processed.

I feel so much gratitude toward the folks who came and were involved. I’m thrilled to have been a part of it.

The Butch Voices NYC Conference Starts Today!

The Butch Voices NYC Regional Conference is almost here!

The conference itself is tomorrow, Saturday the 25th, with registration opening up at 9am and workshops beginning at 10am. I’m doing a Cock Confidence workshop at 1:30pm tomorrow, and I have two Aslan Leather harnesses, three Vixen Creations cocks, and another Tantus cock to give away. I’ll also be showing off the brand new hot-off-the-presses VIP Super Soft pack-and-play cock that is barely even released.

I’m also modering a panel called “In the Public Eye: Visibility in Media” with some fabulous folks: Denise Madison from GirlzParty, Grace Moon from Velvet Park Media, Gina Mamone from Riot Grrrl Ink, and Dasha Snyder of The D Word fame who writes at Digital Goddess.

But aside from my own involvement in the panel, there are many more things going on! Tonight is a social event to meet & greet conference attendees at Speed Friending/Dating at Dixon Place, tomorrow is a special Queer Memoir/Sideshow Reading Series Mash-Up at Bluestockings Bookstore, and there’s a special Butch Voices Submit play party in Brooklyn late tomorrow night.

I don’t know if I’ll make it out to play, but I’m really looking forward to meeting people, hanging out, and talking about butch things all weekend. Kristen is baking her “face off,” as she is prone to saying, making her famous rosemary sea salt chocolate chip cookies, savory corn and cheddar muffins, and a special treat for someone’s birthday tomorrow.

If you miss these events, there’s another Butch Brunch on Saturday, October 16th which will be a nice follow up to the conference for those who miss the company of other butches.

To tie up this nice countdown, I’m featuring a recent novel from 2004 called Crybaby Butch by Judith Frank, published by Firebrand Books. It won the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Debut Fiction in 2005. My (lesbian) book group read it about a year and a half ago, and we all liked it quite a bit—which is hard, usually novels especially are hotly contested. I remember there being some disapproval of how the femme partners were depicted (as controlling, fairly stereotypical “women”, perhaps with not enough depth) but we liked the butches.

Here’s the premise, from the publisher’s website:

Drawing on her experience as an adult literacy tutor, Judith Frank’s first novel traces the difficult and sometimes hilarious connection between two butches of different generations – a middle-class, thirty-something adult literacy teacher and her older, working-class student. With a disparate group of adult learners as the backdrop, Frank examines, with warmth and wit, the relationship between education and gender, class, and racial identity. Judith Frank is a winner of the Astraea Foundation’s Emerging Lesbian Writer’s Fund prize in fiction. A professor of English at Amherst College, she lives and writes in western Massachusetts.

There are not very many books out there with “butch” in the title, and even fewer of them published in the last ten years. It’s a good read that is complex and interesting, engaging and emotionally enthralling. A few folks mentioned Crybaby Butch in the comments when I featured Stone Butch Blues two weeks ago, all of them with praise for the book.

Buy it directly from Firebrand Books, from your local independent bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.

So now that I’ve gone through some of the major butch books, tell me, which ones did I leave out? Are there others I should have featured?

Butch Brunch in NYC Tomorrow

September’s Butch Brunch is coming up tomorrow, September 18th, at 11am in the East Village of New York City, at Cafe Orlin at 41 St. Mark’s Place. Want to come? Please make sure to RSVP to me—either by email or by Facebook—so I will know how big of a table to get.

I’m sorry to say, it’s Yom Kippur, so the folks are fasting or observing might not be able to attend. I am sorry about that—it was the only Saturday available in September for me to host it, so it was the only option. There will be one more, after the Butch Voices NYC Conference is over, on October 16th, so hopefully if you are observing tomorrow you can still attend that one. Or, of course, perhaps I’ll see you at the Butch Voices NYC Conference!

Check out the photos from the Butch Brunch in August, it was a great time. We chatted about our relationship to the word and identity butch, how we identified, what we thought about the evolution of this identity. It was a great casual conversation.

Butch Brunch is co-sponsored by Butch Voices NYC and Sugarbutch, so we are adapting Butch Voices opinions about what butch means. From ButchVoices.com: “We are woman-identified Butches. We are trans-masculine Studs. We are faggot-identified Aggressives. We are noun Butches, adjective Studs and pronoun-shunning Aggressives. We are she, he, hy, ze, zie and hir. We are you, and we are me. The point is, we don’t decide who is Butch, Stud or Aggressive. You get to decide for yourself.”

Cafe Orlin i a pretty big place and they’ve got a $6 plate of eggs & potatoes & toast, and it doesn’t get cheaper than that in Manhattan. Please RSVP on Facebook or email me to let me know you’re coming so we can get a head count. They don’t take reservations on the weekends, so I plan on being there early to get a big table. See you there?

Review: Female Masculinity by Jack Halberstam

Countdown to the Butch Voices NYC Conference: 1 Week!

I’m counting down the Fridays with classic and modern butch book titles that I highly recommend because the Butch Voices Regional Conference in New York City (and then in Portland and LA) is coming up in just a week.

If you haven’t registered yet, you better get to it! We probably have something like twenty tickets left, and it’s filling up fast. The workshops and the schedule, and don’t forget that there are other events on Friday and Saturday nights. More information on those events (open to the public!) shortly.

This week’s book is the classic text Female Masculinity by Jack Halberstam. See how I called it a “text” instead of a book or a pile o’papers? Well that’s ’cause it’s pretty academic. But don’t let that stop you—it’s an important, classic piece of writing on masculinity and femaleness, and deconstructs gender in ways that paved the way for gender activism and theory in the years after. It was first published by Duke University Press Books in 1998.

I know it sounds like it’s unreadable and intimidating, but it’s worth struggling through. I haven’t read it since college but it kind of blew my mind. I should add it to my list of books to re-read, especially with all this butch stuff coming up, I’m inspired to delve into the theory again.

Here’s the description of the book:

Judith Halberstam’s deft separation of masculinity from the male body in Female Masculinity. If what we call “masculinity” is taken to be “a naturalized relation between maleness and power,” Halberstam argues, “then it makes little sense to examine men for the contours of that masculinity’s social construction.” We can learn more from other embodiments of masculinity, like those found in drag-king performances, in the sexual stance of the stone butch, and in female-to-male transgenderism. Halberstam’s subject is so new to critical discourse that her approach can be somewhat scattershot–there is simply too much to say–but her prose is lucid and deliberate, and her attitude refreshingly relaxed. Essential reading for gender studies and a lively contribution to cultural studies in general.

In addition to this book, Halberstam is the keynote at Butch Voices LA on October 9th! She’s scheduled for 1:30 – 2:30pm on Saturday, and boy I would love to be there. I had to pick between the LA Butch Voices conference and the Talking About the Taboo conference at the CSPH, and with other travel I’m doing, it made sense to stay in the region. Plus, Megan is kickass and the lineup at the CSPH conference is going to be fantastic, and I’m attending two other Butch Voices conferences, so … not much of a contest. But if you’re going to LA, know that I am envious! And I hope her keynote is amazing and inspiring.

Jack Halberstam currently writes online at Bully Bloggers. Here’s her recent bio, lifted from there:

J. JACK HALBERSTAM, Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity and Gender Studies at USC. Halberstam works in the areas of popular, visual and queer culture with an emphasis on subcultures. Halberstam is the author of Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (Duke Up, 1995), Female Masculinity (Duke UP, 1998), In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (NYU Press, 2005). Halberstam was also the co-author with Del LaGrace Volcano of a photo/essay book, The Drag King Book (Serpent’s Tail, 1999), and with Ira Livingston of an anthology, Posthuman Bodies (Indiana UP, 1995). Halberstam is currently finishing a book titled “Notes on Failure” and beginning another on “Bats”…yes, the ones with wings and teeth.

Pick up a copy of Female Masculinity from your local independent queer feminist bookstore (if you want it to be around next month, ya know), or, as usual, if you must, from Amazon.

Review: Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

Countdown to the Butch Voices NYC Conference: 2 Weeks

Did you see that? Does it really say “2 Weeks” up there in the title. Um, reality check. So much to do! And I’m going camping with Kristen this weekend. She’s already made her famous (or what should be famous) potato salad. Which seems like a bad plan (the camping, not the potato salad) because there is so much to work on. But I’ve been working all week, and am still re-integrating after the New Mexico trip, so this will be good for me, I know. And we’re going to our favorite campsite that we’ve visited so far, still on the hunt for the perfect one, far enough from the city that it’s quiet and spacious but not so far that we have to drive all day to get there. I think I will be sneaking away during the days to find a coffee shop with wifi in the northwest Catskills so I can spend a little bit of time on The Smut Machine, aka my laptop, working on Butch Voices media.

Meanwhile: I’m counting down the Fridays with classic and modern butch book titles that I highly recommend because the Butch Voices Regional Conference in New York City (and then in Portland and LA) is coming up in just two weeks. If you haven’t registered yet, now is the time! We are very near capacity and can only hold so many folks in the space, so make sure you put your name down if you want to come. The workshops and the schedule have been announced, and they look fantastic, it’s going to be a great day. Stay tuned for the full announcements of events around the conference, on Friday and Saturday nights.

I’m really talking about classic butch titles here, so I can’t not talk about Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. How many of us have had someone give us a copy of this book, early on, perhaps before we even know ourselves, and say, “I think this is you”? How many of us first felt like we were tapping into something larger than our own struggle when we started reading about Jess.

I had the opportunity to hear Leslie speak here in New York a few years ago, for her newer book Drag King Dreams, and it was thrilling. I love that about New York, that sooner or later, everyone does some sort of gig here, everyone comes through. It’s a magnet for some of the most amazing writers and activists and I do not discount the value of that (even in all my complaining about the big city).

If this book has been on your list for years, if you always meant to get around to it, if you kept meaning to read it, consider this a sign: it’s time. Go pick up a copy from Paperback Swap or your local indy bookstore or heck, even Amazon.

From Alyson Press, the publisher:

Published in 1993, this brave, original novel is considered to be the finest account ever written of the complexities of a transgendered existence. Woman or man? That’s the question that rages like a storm around Jess Goldberg, clouding her life and her identity. Growing up differently gendered in a blue–collar town in the 1950’s, coming out as a butch in the bars and factories of the prefeminist ’60s, deciding to pass as a man in order to survive when she is left without work or a community in the early ’70s. This powerful, provocative and deeply moving novel sees Jess coming full circle, she learns to accept the complexities of being a transgendered person in a world demanding simple explanations: a he-she emerging whole, weathering the turbulence. Leslie Feinberg is also the author of Trans Liberation, Trans Gender Warriors and Transgender Liberation, and is a noted activist and speaker on transgender issues.

Leslie Feinberg’s website has some other great information about the book, including the covers that were published in countries outside the US, a video of her reading from the book, and her afterward to the 10th anniversary edition.

When I was at the Lambda Literary Awards last year, the honored Leslie Feinberg, but she was too sick to appear and give her speech—someone else, her publicist I believe, gave it for her. So she hasn’t been doing many appearances, but I hope she is still writing.

She has been publishing quite a few photographs through Flickr and Twitter (@lesliefeinberg) if you’d like to follow her there. And of course more information about her work is over on her site, transgenderwarrior.org.

Pick up a copy of Stone Butch Blues directly from Alyson Books, or head out to your local independent queer feminist bookstore, or, as usual, if you must, from Amazon.

Review: Butch Is A Noun

Countdown to the Butch Voices NYC Conference: 3 Weeks

The Butch Voices Regional Conference in New York City (and then in Portland and LA) is coming up in just three weeks. And in honor, I’m counting down the Fridays with classic and modern butch book titles that I highly recommend.

Butch Is A Noun, S. Bear Bergman’s first book, has been re-released by Arsenal Pulp Press just in time for the fall series of regional Butch Voices conferences. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a personal collection of essays about what it’s like to live outside the binary gender system, in more ways than one, and what the identity, word, noun, verb, and adjective “butch” means to Bear.

The first chapter of Butch Is A Noun, “I Know What Butch Is,” is one of my favorite essays that I think I have ever read. Bear has a PDF of it over on hir website, if you’d like to read it as a preview to perhaps buying the book, and there’s also a great video of Bear reading the first chapter (that I have posted before, but it’s time to post again):

(Just ignore the girls in the background. Seriously.)

One of my favorite comments about the book comes from Kate Bornstein, who says: “Butch Is A Noun is a book that… a) should be required reading in any gender studies curriculum, b) femmes should read whenever they’re feeling unloved, lonely or misunderstood, c) butches should read, d) all of the above. The answer, of course, is d. Thank you, dear Bear.”

There’s lots in there for not just butch-identified folks, but also for folks who love butches, regardless of your gender.

Here’s the description of the book from Arsenal Pulp Press:

Butch is a Noun, the first book by activist, gender-jammer, and performer S. Bear Bergman,won wide acclaim when published by Suspect Thoughts in 2006: a funny, insightful, and purposely unsettling manifesto on what it means to be butch (and not). In thirty-four deeply personal essays, Bear makes butchness accessible to those who are new to the concept, and makes gender outlaws of all stripes feel as though they have come home. From girls’ clothes to men’s haircuts, from walking with girls to hanging with young men, Butch is a Noun chronicles the perplexities, dangers, and pleasures of living lifeoutside the gender binary.
This new edition includes a new afterword by the author.

There’s lots of ways to connect with Bear online—read hir livejournal, follow @sbearbergman on Twitter, and of course sbearbergman.com.

In case you don’t know about it, Bear also has a new anthology, co-edited with Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation just released from Seal press. Pick that up directly from Seal Press, at your local independent queer feminist bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.

Pick up a copy of Butch Is A Noun directly from Arsenal Pulp Press, or head out to your local independent queer feminist bookstore, or, as usual, if you must, from Amazon.

Review: Dagger: On Butch Women

Countdown to the Butch Voices NYC Conference: Four Weeks

I’m still on vacation. But I wouldn’t deprive you of the Butch Voices countdown! Sugarbutch will resume regular posting on Wednesday, September 1st.

The Butch Voices Regional Conference in New York City (and then in Portland and LA) is coming up in just four short weeks. (And as someone who is part of the organizing committee, can I just say: GULP. So much to do!) And in honor, I’m counting down the Fridays with classic and modern butch book titles that I highly recommend. Just in case you want to start that butch library you’ve always been saying you might.

Dagger: On Butch Women edited by Lily Burana and Roxxie Linnea Due is, heartbreakingly, out of print. But it still exists out there in the world, especially with all the online booksellers. It was published by Cleis Press in 1994 and remains one of the only anthologies about butch identity out there … in fact, it’s the only one that I know of. There are other books on butch identity (as I’ll feature in the next few weeks!), but nothing quite like this.

I came across it when the Femme Top loaned me her copy and I immediately went out to pick up my own. It remains something I flip through and contemplate frequently, full of interviews, personal essays, analysis, gender dynamics, love letters to femmes, and touching stories of female masculinity out of compulsory femininity.

Pick it up at your local bookstore (who does used book searches, hopefully) or online, if you must, through Amazon.

And don’t forget, there are lots of great events coming up in September around the Butch Voices conference, starting with Butch Brunch on September 18!

Femme Conference Begins Today! & Countdown to the Butch Voices Conferences

It’s happening right now! Well not quite right now, since it’s earlier in New York City than it is over in Oakland, on the other coast where the sun sets over the water just like it’s supposed to.

The 2010 Femme Conference: No Restrictions begins today and an extravagance of femmes have gathered, including Kristen.

The hashtag for the conference is #femme2010 if you’d like to follow along on Twitter.

How do you like that collective noun, by the way? An extravagance of femmes? Not bad really. There’s a fascinating collective noun site connected to Twitter so that when you tweet your suggestion for the collective noun with the hashtag #collectivenoun it gets automatically updated and counted on the site. Plus, you can “like” other people’s suggestions (which also goes to Twitter). So what say you—what’s the best collective noun for femmes? Tweet it, or leave it in the comments. And check them out as they come in.

Okay, enough of that. You’re dying to know what the femme book is for today, right? Since we’ve got the Butch Voices regional conferences to count down to now, in NYC (September 25), Portland OR (October 1-3), and LA (October 8-10), I figured I’d do a butch/femme joint anthology.

There are other good femme books out there, though, don’t let me mislead you into thinking that Visible: A Femmethology, Femmes of Power, and The Femme Mystique are the only ones. There’s also:

And there’s Glamour Girls: Femme/femme Erotica by Rachel Kramer Bussel (Harrington Park Press; 2006) and With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn by Amber Dawn and Trish Kelly if you’re into erotica. Which, you know, you might be.

So now that I’ve recited pretty much every femme book that I know of and think are worth knowing, let’s get back to today’s feature. The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader edited by Joan Nestle, published by Alyson Books in 1992. It looks like it’s out of print, but you can probably still get it used in various places, like Powell’s online or, of course, Amazon (but only if you have to. Don’t you want independent bookstores to stay in business?).

The description of The Persistent Desire from Library Journal is as follows:

This anthology of stories, poems, and nonfiction accounts pays homage to a host of femme and butch lesbian relationships that have flourished over four decades. The narrators recount their experiences, describing how they met, how they took care of one another, and how they tried–or defiantly tried not–to fit in. The selections themselves bubble with passion and pain. Some dive beneath the surface to explore the varied meanings of gender roles, but most describe highly ritualistic manners of dress, hairstyle, and gesture that at times left the protagonist open to ridicule. In collecting these pieces into one volume, Nestle has made sure that the integrity and diversity of femme-butch relationships will not be lost. She has included narratives from women of many backgrounds and ethnic groups and from outside the United States.

This book was for me, as it was for many people, eye-opening, validating, breathtaking. I found it while I was still trying to articulate my own butch identity, and come into my orientation of dating femmes, and it blew past most of my doubts as if doing 80 on a motorcycle. I wanted to be part of that, I felt so connected to it. It changed the way I thought about myself and the way I thought about femmes.

It’s dated now. It was published almost two decades ago, and it reflects a different era of thought about gender identity and alignment assumptions. And while the trans movements were alive by then, much has happened on that front in the past 18 years since it was published and much transgender theory has affected gender theory deeply in wonderfully deliciously complicated ways.

We’re really due for an update.

And how about that, one is just on the horizon! Partners and butch/femme couple Ivan E. Coyote and Zena Sharman have been working on an anthology titled Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (see the connection to the first anthology’s title? Smart!) that is due out from Arsenal Pulp Press soon. Not sure what the exact date of publication is yet, but you can be certain I’ll be mentioning it here again. It looks like Ivan just picked up the postcards for the book from her publisher the other day, so it must be coming fairly soon! I will report back as I know.

There are more books, especially more butch/femme books, and more books just on butch identity by itself (look for more of those featured on the upcoming Fridays as we countdown to the Butch Voices NYC conference). I’ve made a new section in my Amazon Store exclusively for butch and femme books, so if you’re curious what else is out there, that’s a good place to start. And if you’ve got suggestions for what I missed, I’m glad to hear ’em!

UPDATE! Persistence: All Ways Butch And Femme has a webpage on Arsenal Pulp Press, a description, and is due out in the spring of 2011. Isn’t that cover great? It’s done by Elisha Lim, who also has a book of her own newly out from Alyson, 100 Butches, Volume 1.

If you see Zena at the Femme Conference, she supposedly has postcards for Persistence, so that’ll give you an excuse to say hi. She’s aka “The Silver Fox” because (guess) of her hair, so that should narrow it down for ya.

(Don’t you just love the Internet? I do. Thanks, Arsenal, for answering those questions.)

On Masculinity, Mine

From the Ask Me Anything questions from Sugarbutch’s 4th anniversary:

I’m interested to know how you feel your masculinity and your perceptions of masculinity have changed over the time that you have been writing here, and by this name.—Miss Avarice, of Miss Avarice Speaks her Mind

My masculinity and perceptions of masculinity have significantly changed since I started Sugarbutch four years ago. Or, wait. Maybe it hasn’t exactly changed as much as bloomed, you know? It is different than it used to be, both my own presentation and my understandings of it, but I had the seed of it then, even the bud, I just couldn’t quite manifest it the way I wanted to. (I’d be curious what some photographs of me look like from four summers ago, to do a side-by-side contrast. A lot has changed since then!)

So, first part, yes, it has changed. But you asked how has it changed? That’s harder to pinpoint.

I’m not so apologetic about it anymore.

I’m a lot more confident in the differences between masculinity and misogyny and chivalry. I’ve learned to differentiate between consensual chivalry and forced chivalry, and actively read the (verbal or physical) communication around chivalrous attempts and acts.

I wear more vests and suit coats and belts and suspenders and french cuff shirts. I own a (small) cufflink collection and a (kind of unnecessarily large) necktie collection. I don’t receive flower-smelling bath products as gifts anymore. I donated that box of feminine clothing that I was keeping around because I never bothered to toss it out.

I pay attention to men’s style icons and got (more) serious about my haircut. I stopped feeling guilty for wanting my hair short and liking it short, I stopped saying I was going to grow it out again because wasn’t it compulsory for lesbians to be short-haired? and I didn’t want to be compulsory.

I claimed some firm ground on which I feel comfortable standing.

I researched butch icons and butch history and butch characters in tv shows and on films and in novels. I pay attention when the word butch gets used in articles. I challenge the way the word butch gets used in (many) articles.

I started dating femmes.

I always knew I wanted to, but actively partnering with femmes changed my masculinity, finally gave it something strong to forge itself against, to nuzzle into, to be protected by. Gave it a reason to be the protector, sometimes. Gave me a compliment, an understanding of the ways that I-in-this-form am received.

Plus there’s all those other identity labels I have been actively not only identifying with but developing, challenging, studying, and attempting to embody: like kinky, sadist, top, daddy, dominant. Even non-sexual words like misanthrope, HSP or highly sensitive person, buddhist. Plus that ever-evolving one: writer. And now, trying to make a living as a writer. Interacting with all of these various identities, spaces, versions of myself, and weaving them into each other, has all affected my masculinity and gender identity.

Studying tantra has changed the ways I think about masculinity, too. I’m far from an expert at tantra, I’m just beginning to study it seriously and take it on as a path, but I know that what we in the west have usually been presented as the concepts of yin and yang as feminine and masculine are too simplified and a bit misleading. It has very little to do with men and women, but rather different types of forces of life and energy, and it’s much more complicated than yin/yang = feminine/masculine.

Being in a new, serious relationship has changed my masculinity, has I think softened my edges, has inspired me to open up in challenging and messy ways. It has brought things to question, made me wonder how or if they are connected to my masculinity, and how or if they should change.

Just talking about my masculinity on a regular basis, through spaces like Sugarbutch, through my Carnal Nation column on Radical Masculinity, and through my friends and lovers in recent years, has changed my relationship to my own masculinity and to my observation of others’ masculinity. According to quantum theory, observing an object changes it (I can’t find out if that theory or principle has a particular name, though, and I’ve been reading through Einstein quotes and Googling “copenhagen interpretation” for a while now. If you know what this is called, pass it on, please? I have a whole theory about blogging based around this and I’d like to know what it’s called!)—and I think that’s true of gender and sexuality, too. Just the very act of observation, of watching oneself, of taking note of how one works, will bring about some change and movement and, inevitably, growth.

(Oh, also: For more on this topic, take a look at My Evolving Masculinity series from a few months back.)

From Not Stone to Stone-ish

I’m finally getting around to the Ask Me Anything questions from Sugarbutch’s 4th anniversary. I hope to get through them all, though it might take a little bit of time!

My question: How do you relate or not relate to stone identity? To what extent do you ID/not ID as stone and how do you feel about that? Maybe you’ve written about this here before and I missed it … I’ve had a big process going from not stone to stone-ish to stone, and I’m curious about how other butches feel. —Bond

I haven’t written much about this, I don’t think. I don’t identify as stone, but I do identify as stone-ish. I’ve never been all the way stone, but I do remember on my first date with Kristen I said, “I’m basically stone,” as I was trying to describe the ways that I was a top and wanted to be in charge perhaps ninety percent of the time. I’d told this to other lovers on other first dates, but it didn’t always make sense to the other person, and I was trying to put it out there stronger and more specifically this time, lay everything out clearly as early as possible in hopes that she’d get it.

(She did, she does.)

But that is really new in my history—I’ve dated girls even in the past four years that I’ve been running Sugarbutch that were tops, or toppy, and to whom I bottomed. My first long-term relationship with my ex-boyfriend of five years was kinky, in a kind of entry-level kink way (light bondage, light percussion) and we experimented with some switching, but mostly I was bottoming to him. As our relationship drew on, we started taking some classes on kinky sex (at places like Babeland) and I started learning more and more about topping. It wasn’t until I got out of that relationship entirely and had a series of revelations that I started realizing I was more of a top than bottom, and that perhaps I’d never really been submissive as much as bottoming.

I’m mentioning all this because stone is tied to topping, for me, because I’m not stone so much as I’m a top. I’m not opposed to being touched or penetrated, and I don’t have strong emotional reactions to those things, as I know some other stone folks that I’ve talked to do. (I don’t think that’s the only way to be stone, but in my experience stone often goes along with a gender dysphoria and a disagreement of gender between body and mind.) As I’ve been dating (and chronicling my dating here), I started getting more and more specific about who it was I wanted to date, especially in terms of identity keywords like bottom and submissive, and I did start describing myself as stone or stone-ish to girls I was flirting with or on first dates. I wanted to see what their reaction was, what their relationship to stone was, and whether or not they knew what to do with that. More than one girl seemed to understand and then behaved differently in bed, which was not what I wanted.

There is a relief that comes along with not being touched (very much), though. It means I don’t have to try so hard, I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’m going to get off ‘that way’, whatever way she’s touching me, it means I don’t have to be in that particular position of surrender when I often (at least nine times out of ten) do not want to be. I much prefer getting off while strapped on and fucking … and yes, I suppose that does have something to do with gender, that I prefer my orgasms to be related to my cock and not necessarily while being penetrated.

I don’t always prefer to get off that way—I was just writing about masturbation and My Ultimate Masturbation Toys, one of which is that genius Pure Wand, which is just the right size and shape for me. And sometimes, especially it seems right before I start my period, I crave getting fucked, sometimes hard. That tends to be when I ask to be fisted. I don’t do that often, maybe three times in the last year and a half relationship with Kristen, but when I have, I think they have all been around that time of my cycle.

But generally, when I’m with someone else, when I’m with Kristen, I want to get off through fucking, through my cock. I want to be dominant, in some way, using some sort of physical strength that tightens my muscles and makes the getting off all the more intense. I want to be using my gender fetish, which I don’t ever fuck without, anymore. I want there to be a gender component and a power component, with me in particular places on those spectrums, and usually, that involves me strapped on, on top.

That doesn’t quite make me stone, at least not the way I understand it. But there’s something useful in the language of stone that helps get across that top identity, that dominant identity, and that butch identity, so I have relied on stone in the past to help me make all those identities come together.

What about you? Do you identify as stone? Stone-ish? Not stone? Why or why not? What’s your relationship to the identity of stone? What do you define it as, what do you think it means?

My Evolving Masculinity, Part Four: Personal

See also: Part One, Introduction, Part Two, Yin & Yang, and Part Three: “Daddy”

I started this series in the summer, nearly six months ago now. I have already written a post about some of what I dealt with personally in the late summer and early fall, and some of my point of part four I have already gone through – some of it was about me processing through what I was struggling with in light of masculinity and the ways that thinking about maturing my gender helped me overcome some of the hardships.

There were a variety of things I was struggling with—all of the major elements in my life were shaken, just a tad, and then there was a personal crisis (related to someone who I continue, somehow, to allow to haunt me) that was the straw that broke the Jameson glass. And I kind of lost it. I was full-on in crisis, fairly unable to keep myself stable. I have a lot of tried-and-true “coping mechanisms,” tricks that make me feel whole and solid and thoroughly like myself, and are comforting and grounding, but they were failing me too. Nothing was working.

Here’s what’s interesting: everywhere I went, in my own writing, in my conversations with Kristen, in my psychotherapy work, in my bodywork, I was hearing from everyone that I needed to be stronger. To contain more, let it out less. Hold my own better. To “man up,” in other words.

Part of me oh so resented that! I mean, excuse me? I am a dyke, by definition I overprocess! Are you telling me that because of my gender? Would the universe be telling a femme the same things?

But once I got over myself a little, I thought, what the hell. I can’t keep going like this, I may as well try anything because I can’t continue this way. So I tried some new things on. I tricked myself into being stronger for a while, to see what happened.

It’s kind of the psychic equivalent of holding your breath, and letting it out in a slow, controlled stream.

But – this is a double edged sword, isn’t it, for someone masculine? Hold back your emotions? Don’t express yourself? Handle it on your own, don’t ask for help? These are classic PROBLEMS with masculinity, not necessarily what should be encouraged in someone masculine.

But despite that, I was willing to give it a try, because I could tell I was in dangerous slippery territory and needed to get myself back to somewhere stronger. Things started shifting. I attended a yoga class where the instructor spoke about making the pose effortless, and I thought: that is my problem. I extend so much effort to everything in my life. What would happen if I didn’t? I mean, do I really need to extend so much effort in getting on the subway and commuting to my job daily? Or in meeting a friend for drinks? Or in writing, or meditating, or doing yoga, or preparing food? These things could be effortless parts of my life, why do I waste so much energy thinking they are hard and require so much work? They could be easier than I let them be.

And then there was the Modern Love column in the New York Times, Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear:

You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “The End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

And there was Nicole Blackman’s poem, You Are Never Ready:

You must change your life. You are never ready.

There were other things, too. The new Tori Amos album was comforting. I re-read Tim Ferriss’s article on Stoicism 101 and was reminded of my coworker who used to say, “I like to be stoic about my suffering.” I re-read some of my notes from a recent Buddhist class, and meditated on suffering, and on effort, and on lovingkindness.

Something started unraveling, and my grip on whatever this suffering was started to loosen. I started thinking myself out of my fear of the forward movement, and into what is really happening for me: I’m growing. And growth requires the temporary suspension of security.

I know what I need to do to get to where I want to be. I know how I want to spend my days, I know what I want to do with my time, I know the subjects which I want to study. I have a much better idea of how to get from here to there than I ever have. I have a trajectory, I have thoughts, I have aim, I have focus. And now I need … what? Patience? Or perhaps endurance, perhaps stamina. Sometimes I need to be able to trust that when I take that leap of faith, something will catch me. That is precisely the definition of a leap of faith, after all. And grace, I need more grace, by which I mean “the ease with which one handles crisis,” I need more of that too. I pull so heavily on buddhist teachings when I get in crisis, or when those I care for are in crisis, I think I should really deepen that practice to give myself even more tools with which to deal with hardships and suffering.

I had a Part Five planned for this series, which was titled “In Which I Grow Up,” but that page has been blank since I started this series. I’m not even sure I know what I’m trying to say here. Something about how “grown up” masculinity actually is some of those things that we think are “bad” about masculinity—like stoicism or containing our emotions—and yet it is precisely that which opens up a whole new level of being, of caring for ourselves and others. Something about how that is not the negative, awful, repressive thing that, as a feminist studying masculinity, I was always taught and told. Of course, there are buckets of problems with this … but it is not so simple as just being a 100% bad thing. There are benefits, too. I’m struggling to articulate the ways that it is beneficial, I suppose we are lacking language and theory on this in general. But perhaps this small series—and, now, my Radical Masculinity column—can be a springboard to my further studies which shed more light on the ways this is useful.

Now’s the part where I ask you what you think. Please do chime in on what you think about the evolution of masculinity—your own, or those whom you have witnessed:

What has your experience been with “grown up” masculinity vs a younger masculinity?
What changed for you when you grew up?
What is different? What evolves, if anything?
What kinds of qualities would you like to see masculine folks embody as we get older?
How does masculinity evolve?

Reconciling the Identities of Feminist & Butch Top

I received quite a few questions about my recent post, Kristen’s Homework, especially around how the power imbalance asymmetric balance of power works when adding our gender dynamics into the mix. It’s really hard to explain, and sometimes hard for me to feel like what I’m doing is in question. I do want to keep writing about how my relationship with Kristen is evolving, and this is precisely one of the reasons I haven’t been writing about the sex we’ve been having as much as I used to – because we have entered into some domination and submission in lots of aspects of our relationship, and I’m just not sure how to express that well, yet.

But I would like to try. I’m working on an introduction to what we do, and our basic relationship assumptions, as we explore d/s more and more, so hopefully that will fill in some gaps.

Meanwhile, here’s some more back story to how I got to where I am.

I wrote this piece for Shira Tarrant‘s recent Feminist Sex reading for her book Men & Feminism (Seal Press, part of Seal Studies) at Bluestockings radical activist bookstore here in New York City. In brainstorming about the concept of “feminist sex,” most of what came up for me was the conflict around being a feminist and being someone kinky, specifically someone masculine, a top, and a sadist. This piece begins to try to explain how I’ve reconciled those identities. I do feel like I’ve made peace with their coexistence in me, but I am still struggling with how to articulate how that happened and what it means now.


Feminist Sex: Reconciling the Identities of Feminist & Butch Top

A few years ago, a girl I dated wanted me to slap her. To hit her face. She asked for it specifically, I still remember the conversation on the subway and the precise way that she looked over at me and said, I want you to hit me. Something big swelled in me and I wanted to, I wanted to feel the sting of impact on my palm and see her recoil, to do it again before she was ready, to push something so sensational onto her experience that she was jolted to the edges of her skin and had to feel, to feel herself, to feel me, to be fully present.

This girl and I had already done some other light percussion play, using my hand, or even a paddle, me hitting her ass and thighs, the fleshy parts that I couldn’t possibly do damage to beyond some light bruising. She liked it, we both did. It made sense to escalate, at the time, to something new; we were deepening both our romantic relationship – our trust in each other – and our power dynamic, and it was time to push a little, to see where we could go.

I was terrified. After she asked, after we talked about it extensively, I even tried, a few times, when we were in bed and she said, hit me, now, please, and I couldn’t, I’d bring my hand up and chicken out.

I was terrified of what it would mean for me, as a masculine person, as a butch, to be more dominating in bed. To like it. To like to cause someone pain. To like to cause a woman pain. To hit someone in the face. To hit a woman in the face, to sexualize that act and that power dynamic specifically.

I was paralyzed by that terror – I wanted to do it, the idea, the very thought of it, the discussions with her, turned me on, the girl I was dating wanted me to do it, but I couldn’t.

Beyond wanting to do it, this was the kind of sex act that was in the sex life I was dreaming of having. This was what haunted my fantasies and what I looked for in porn that I watched and erotica that I read. And I was on a very serious quest to figure out how to have the sex that I wanted. I’d just gotten out of a bed-death relationship; I felt like I barely escaped a noose. I was committed to studying sex hard, to figuring out: what I wanted, how to get what I wanted, how to build a relationship with that as an element, how to maintain something sane and hot over a long period of time. That’s precisely why I started this site, Sugarbutch.

I’m a sadist, and a top. That means I like to dominate. And already there are conclusions being drawn by those of you out there who think well of course you like to dominate, you’re masculine, and that’s prescribed for you or in other words you misogynistic asshole, I already knew you were one of “those” butches who needs to make up for your inadequacies by dominating women. Because that’s what we think, isn’t it? Maybe not consciously, but a little bit, somewhere in our brains, we associate these particular identity alignments – butch equals masculine equals top equals dominating equals men’s prescribed gender role. We’re relieved when they line up how we think they will, or maybe we are challenged and uncomfortable – though perhaps in a stimulated way – when they misalign.

There’s something supposedly anti-feminist about wanting to dominate. There’s something in the feminist rhetoric which says we are all equal especially in bed, so that means I-do-you-you-do-me, or that means we have sex neither above nor below each other, and with no reproduced heteronormative misogynistic patriarchal power dynamic.

But I didn’t want that. I’d had that, in early girlfriends, but it didn’t keep things hot enough to sustain a relationship. And secretly, I want to dominate. In bed. I wanted to top and control and hit and demean and humiliate.

Power dynamic theory has many similarities to gender theory. Like the gender identities of butch and femme are not reproductions but pastiche copies at best of prescribed societal gender roles, putting on and taking off power roles in power sex play is a pastiche reproduction of power in our lives, of which there are thousands of examples of interaction on a daily basis. And when we can put on and take off these roles intentionally, the act of adopting becomes further proof that the power positioning in our lives is not inherent, or “real,” or immobile, or prescribed, or “normal,” but part of a hierarchical society of social power that can be deconstructed.

As in my experience with coming to a butch gender identity, when I finally came to a power identity that really deeply aligned with something inside me that just clicked and make sense, I felt like I was coming home to myself in a way I hadn’t experienced previously. Through my personality and tendencies and psychology I have my own set of quirks and workings and functions, and for whatever reason, it makes a lot of sense to me to let out some of my power and control issues in the bedroom by being dominating. It is deeply satisfying the way a glorious meal or a delicious book is satisfying, one of my life’s greatest pleasures. I’m not sure I understand why I like what I like, but what I like does not harm others, and is consensual, and I know myself well enough to accept what I like as what I like – and to let that be a simple truth.

How did this change for me? What happened between the time when I was terrified to slap a girl in the face and today, now, where I am fairly comfortable in my identity as a top, and even as a sadist, as someone who enjoys hurting someone else?

Little by little, I had lovers who pushed me, lovers who were more experienced as bottoms than I was as a top, lovers who wanted more from me and who could take more than I was able to give who made enough space for me to walk into a bigger version of myself and occupy it, try it on.

I did come to a reconciliation with my feminist self and my top self. Phrases – like men should not hurt women or rather masculine people should not hurt feminine people, or even more broadly that people should not hit each other and violence is bad bad bad – I had accepted those phrases as Ultimate Truths, and I started to understand deeper the ways that sensation was not violence, and hitting was a way to be sparked into the present moment, to release whatever our musculature was holding onto, and to deepen trust between people and in a relationship.

I didn’t realize how little trust I had in others until I started playing deeper with BDSM. Because I would tell myself, it’s okay, she wants to do it, but then I would think, does she really? Maybe she wants to because I want to. Maybe she wants to because society tells her she should want to. Maybe she wants to for fucked-up reasons, like she thinks it’s okay for her to feel humiliated and less than me because of her own internal misogyny … but that was me not trusting that what she said was true. That she wanted me to hit her face. And that was me, further controlling both myself, her, and our relationship, in unhealthy ways, because I didn’t trust her.

When I started playing out my control issues in BDSM, in the bedroom, in sex play, the control issues I had in my relationships began to heal.

This was an issue of agency, in feminist terms – my not trusting my lover to communicate with me what she wanted, to explain to me how far I could go, and my not trusting that she would let me know if I was going too far or too hard, either with her physical communication or her words or both, was me not trusting in the agency of my lover. I have to trust that she will tell me, she will let me know, if I am going too far. And I have to listen, apologize, understand what I did, and trust that she will accept that it was an accident, a mistake, and that I’ll do whatever she needs to feel safe again.

In learning my way into being a top, I had many, many conversations about consent and intention and communication, I talked to my lovers when things broke down or didn’t seem to work and I learned more about my own tendencies when things went well. I figured out that sometimes, it was really hard for me to be with someone who bottomed so well, and who I trusted so deeply, that I did harder, scarier, bigger things with them that took me even deeper into my topping and dominance and sadism and power, and sometimes that meant I needed to be comforted afterward, to be told I liked that, and that wasn’t too much, and you didn’t hurt me, and that was what I wanted and thank you. Hearing those things is always a relief.

(I give good aftercare too, of course. But top aftercare is less common in the BDSM world – we don’t usually talk about the toll it takes for the dominant to dominate.)

I practiced, a lot, to be bold and trusting through my topping. I tried scary things and it turned out they weren’t so scary, they were in fact incredibly hot. I got to know myself, and I learned more about the things I wanted to play with, and I talked to smart people whose experiences were similar to what I was going through and who assured me it was possible to come out the other side of it a masculine, queer, butch, sadistic top feminist.

And whatdayaknow, here I am.

My Evolving Masculinity, Part Two: Yin & Yang

Part Two in a series of five. See also: Part One, Introduction

Beyond the Concepts of Yin & Yang

I was introduced to many new concepts at the 5-day tantra retreat I attended over the summer of 2009, but the one I’ve been constantly chewing on and talking about and sharing and using to analyze myself and others has to do with yin and yang.

Most of us are familiar with the concepts of yin and yang – and many of us who study gender may call bullshit immediately, saying it is a binaristic, dualistic system that does not account for the gray areas, just the black and white. But as much as postmodern theory wants to deconstruct the binary and create and celebrate a multitude of options, there’s a part of me that thinks outright dismissal of the binary is just unrealistic – we are bipeds, we have a long human history of constructing the world in twos, in binaries, in this-and-not-this. Yes, we need more than two options, do not get me wrong. Especially when it comes to gender, there are so many more expressions and experiences than ‘man’ and ‘woman.’ But that said, there is something basic about the binaries – light/dark, in/out, hot/cold – that is useful to structure the world around us.

Most of us are familiar at least in a broad way with the yin and yang concepts. Yin is receptive, dark, fluid; yang is penetrative, light, pointed. Yang enters, yin receives. Yang inquires, yin observes. Associating feminine and masculine with yin and yang is a challenge because I do not want to seem prescriptive – if you are feminine, you are not required to be yin, for example. Gender expression does not necessarily line up with these types of energy breakdowns.

Yin is traditionally associated with femininity, and yang masculinity. It’s probably clear why: the penis/vulva intercourse description inherent in the penetrative/receptive delineation easily dictates how the energies are divided. Together, yin and yang are called the Stabilizing Energies, as they need each other in order to be strong. Without something to hold, yin is empty; without somewhere to rest, yang cannot stand up by itself.

When broken down, yin and yang Stabilizing Energies are the Masculine Yang and the Feminine Yin.

The second type of energies, which was the part of this that is all new to me, are the Transformative Energies, which are the Masculine Yin and the Feminine Yang.

The Feminine Yang is also called spanda or shakti in tantra, the equivalent of ‘life force.’ But not life force in an ommmmm prana/breath way – more like a violent life force, the ripping open of legs and cunt to push a baby to be born. The spontaneous expressions of joy and energy that overcome us. A lava flow, a rushing river of rapids. Pure force, pure energy, intense and wild.

Her counterpart is the Masculine Yin. He is the riverbank to her river. He is the container, the thing that keeps her safe. But not in a controlling, overbearing way (that is perhaps indicative that the masculine yin in someone is imbalanced or poorly developed) but in the way a father coaxes a wild child to redirect their energy, like martial arts, taking the opponent’s force and deflecting it, using it against them. The Masculine Yin is a firm, nurturing hand, the container in which the feminine yang can rest and grow and feel safe. Without the container, she is explosive, sometimes wild. She needs the gentle guidance to be transofrmative.

Though these qualities are associated with gendered words, they are by no means prescriptive or restrictive, and in fact tantra presses that everyone needs to have a balance of all of these energies, and even has some methods by which to develop the areas where one is weaker.

Personal Revelations

Because, well, this is my personal online writing project (a.k.a. “blog”), I am going to take a minute to explore these four categories and how they relate to me and especially my evolving masculinity.

Feminine Yin – Growing up the child of two feminist hippies, and discovering things like Ms. Magazine, wicca, and feminism as a teenager, gave me a very strong base in the feminine yin. I did not grow up a tomboy like many transmasculine folks, I wore dresses and skirts and makeup (much to my feminist mother’s chagrin) in my teens. When I did begin taking on masculinity, my respect for femininity stayed steady and firm and did not really change – what changed was only my own presentation. I still saw a lot of value in the caretaking qualities of the feminine yin. In fact, perhaps more than feminism (which, one might argue, sometimes values the feminine yang over the feminine yin), my base with the feminine yin comes from my mother, who is an early childhood educator and extremely receptive, sometimes to a fault. And while there are some ways I could improve my feminine yin receptivity (i.e. sexually – though I’d rather have a different kind of sex, more on that later), for the most part my issue here is that I am too receptive, too hyper-sensitive, too eager to take in the world around me. I don’t necessarily have a deficit, then, but I do perhaps have an overabundance.

Masculine Yang – I have spent at least the last five years very intentionally developing my masculine yang. That is the energy that more than any others was left out of my family, so I didn’t know intuitively how to reproduce it, and the examples in culture are generally negative, overbearing, misogynistic, even dangerous. I took a lot of time learning how to penetrate, how to be inquisitive, how to investigate, how to externalize my desire. I even moved to arguably the most masculine yang city in the United States – New York. So much forced learning happens here, at times painfully. I don’t think New York creates problems so much as it exacerbates and explodes what is already there, and in my case, New York would not let up, would not let me turn away, and I had to develop and strengthen my masculine yang to keep myself safe and whole. I feel good about the changes I’ve made – I was clearly lacking some masculine yang, and I think I’ve adopted it in ways that are strong and stabilizing, not necessarily in offensive, violating external ways.

Masculine Yin – When I first heard about this concept, this is the one that clicked. Oh. Fuck. That’s what I need. In fact, that’s what I’ve been trying to develop recently, for a few years now even, though I never had a specific name for it. The funny thing is, I am very skilled at being a container and holding space in many aspects of my life – I would say this site does a lot of that, for example: creating a safe space for people to come and interact and explore complicated, personal ideas. I do it in my sex life all the time, pushing the girls I sleep with to a bigger, deeper release, and then holding them through it and bringing them back to a place of safety and care. This happens with Kristen especially quite often; I feel blessed and privileged that she trusts me that much, and that she’s willing to let me guide her through some of these dark, complicated, occasionally painful places, and as our sexual relationship continues to deepen I think we’ve both been able to explore the ways that I contain her and hold space for her experience in bed in bigger ways. And yet … and yet. I can’t seem to do this for myself in the ways that I want to. I sometimes get frightened of my own capacity for “big-ness” and hold back because I’m not sure I can contain it. I need to have better corral over many aspects of my life (my paperwork, my clutter, my calendaring, my obligations) and I know I need a firmer, heavier hand to come along with gentle strength and say no, no, no, to more things than I do now.

Feminine Yang – I’m not sure I trust my feminine yang. I feel it bubbling up in me sometimes, but I’m not sure I – or the world or my partner or my friends or my community – can hold the bigness and chaos that I fear will spill out of me. At the tantra retreat, for example, when I was thinking beforehand about my intention and what I wanted to get out of it, I really wanted to leave my New York crazy life behind, to forget my to do list and the million things that were weighing on my mind, and really find some deep calm and be able to be present in that new delicious space. That, however, wasn’t a problem at all – the whole world and my whole life dropped away from me as soon as I entered the beautiful zen center hot springs space, and I stepped into a deep calm and sense of self that was just under the surface. The challenge, however, was with what came out of that deep calm – this overwhelming power and strength and WHOOSH that sometimes took my breath away. I always felt like I had to back off from it, to not indulge or give in to it, but to contain and control it. I don’t think I ever quite let it out. So I do need more practice with this one, definitely.

If I think about it, it seems to make sense that in a butch top/femme bottom sexual relationship the butch top would occupy more external, explosive yang and that the femme bottom would take in the receptive, containing yin. But in our case, she is feminine in both ways, in both the reception and the explosivity, and I am masculine in both ways, in the penetration and simultaneous containing. I think this is at times one of the frustrations of our sex life, one of the ways it limits us, because I’d like to be able to be more explosive and big in the feminine yang, and for her to be able to hold me through her own masculine yin. We’ve had this conversation, we’ve discussed it in depth and it continues to come up as we explore all sorts of other things, and as I explore my evolving masculinity.

How I Need To Grow

One of the tantra teachers on the retreat shared with me this story, when I went to her specifically about the Masculine Yin, saying, that. Yes. That is what I need. How do I get that?

She said that as her masculine side was pretty weak when she began this work, and specifically did some rituals to strengthen it. At some point, after a ritual, she was so heavily embodied in the Masculine Yang that she felt like she would just fuck anything that moved. She immediately went back to her teacher and said: “help! I am definitely embodying masculine yang, but it feels like I am an out-of-control teenaged boy! How do I control and contain this? What happens between the ages of sixteen and thirty, for men, in their masculine development, that they can handle this wild energy?”

Her teacher said: we grow our balls.

That was such an A-ha! moment for me. Yes, of course: Masculine Yin is all about balls, and, as a dyke, I have a particular aversion to balls, and most of my strap-on cocks don’t include them.

Balls are the literal counter-weight to the cock, the thing that keeps the cock grounded and balanced and in check.

I know my Masculine Yang. I feel pretty good about the ways I occupy it, too. But as my masculinity is evolving, I need to move into a more adult, grounded, Masculine Yin sense of masculinity, and I think if I could embody that more completely and wholly, my masculinity would feel better, and I would feel better.

The next part of the My Evolving Masculinity series is Part Three: “Daddy”, to be posted in the next week.

“Is it a trans characteristic to wear a cock?”: Cock-centricity and Gender Identity

Back in April, for Sugarbutch’s third anniversary, I offered up an “ask me anything” thread where readers could ask any burning questions that they’d like for me to answer.

is it a transgender characteristic to wear a cock (with anatomically accurate balls) and feel more complete or like yourself when you are a biological female? you self ID with a lot of labels, but trans isn’t one of them. have you explored this idea? – reader

There’s two parts of this question I’d like to explore: first, my personal identity, and my relationship to “trans”; second, gender’s relationship to cocks, and my personal thoughts on that, too.

I do identify with the term “trans,” to some degree. That’s complicated, because I am not transitioning, and I do not identify as male. I feel strongly that it’s important for me to be female, a woman, lesbian-identified, and to behave and look the way I do (i.e., masculine). But insofar as people with my biological sex most often have a feminine gender presentation (setting aside the societal compulsory prescription of the feminine gender presentation), and I do not, I feel as though I am transgressing gender boundaries by my claim to masculinity and by presenting in a way that is seemingly in conflict with the (societally prescribed) sex/gender assumption. I – me personally, my identity, my work, my discussions – defy rigid, polarizing gender norms, and queer gender. I believe in taking this and that from any sorts of presentations around us and re-creating onesself in ways that make us feel good, empowered, strong, sexy, expressive, and authentic. I think we can all transcend our prescribed roles – no matter what they are, gender or familial or societal – and become ourselves in larger ways.

I don’t usually include “trans” in my list of identity descriptors. When I refer to myself as trans, it’s usually very couched in other things, like “my particular kind of genderqueer masculine-identified trans-ness.” I guess I feel like my use of trans and my inclusion in the trans communities is a bit controversial, as there are plenty of people who will jump (and have jumped) in to correct my use of this term, saying that my use of it invalidates the experiences of “real” trans people who are FTM or MTF and who are transsexual, transitioning fully from one gender to another.

So I tend to claim butch, whole-heartedly and fairly simply, really, and leave it at that. Because that’s what I am (right now, anyway, not that I anticipate that changing, but who knows, it could), and though I do think that the identity of butch includes a sort of trans-ness or a genderqueer-ness of occupying more than one gendered space at once, ‘butch’ accurately describes me much better than the term trans.

Now: about cocks.

Specifically, about cocks with anatomically accurate balls, about realistic cocks, about flesh-colored cocks and really feeling it and claiming it as MY cock, about having a cock as someone whose body doesn’t quite have one, not in the same way that other bodies have one.

I want to disrupt this idea that cocks specifically and penetration in general is a male, masculine, or man’s trait. I mean I get it: when considering human genitalia, the man is the one with the penis, the woman is the one with the vulva. But men have holes that feel good when penetrated, too, and women have fingers and tongues and sometimes clits big enough to penetrate, and a long history of dildoes, and then of course there’s the strap on cock, for when we really want to feel what it’s like to swing from the hips.

I was at a sex blogger tea party here in New York City maybe two years ago, discussing cock-centricty, when I believe Chris of Carnal Nation said (something like): “I know I’m a guy and all, but I’m not as cock-centric as you are. When I fuck, it’s with my hands, or my mouth. I don’t identify with it the same way you do, and it’s not my central sex act.”

This seems like a rather rare perspective for cis men, especially given that our entire (American, white, dominant) sexual culture is pretty much built around penises and penetration and the male erection, etc, but I think it’s more common than we’d expect.

Likewise, I have known some femmes who have been some of the most cock-centric people I’ve ever met. They drive a mean strap-on, as they say. And I’ve known some butches and trans men who are not cock-centric at all, despite that it would seemingly align with their masculine gender to be so.

Maybe this perspective of mine is also partly as a result of coming out as queer into a lesbian community which questioned cocks constantly. I have absolutely heard girls say, “If I wanted to get fucked with a cock, I’d date a man!” (Who I, duh, didn’t sleep with. More than once.) So coming to my own desire for using a cock and my own cock-centricty, while at the same time coming to a butch identity though not transitioning to male, I claimed cocks as a certain sex act that I separated from any particular identity.

Because anything two lesbians do in bed is lesbian by nature of the definition, no matter what act it is.

Unless, you know, it’s not – I certainly don’t want to devalue the experience of being in lesbian relationships and doing a whole lot of cock-centric activities, and for one of them to later come to a male identity. Perhaps for folks who go through that, the act was not exclusively lesbian, but was also male in a way. My point is, I want to squelch the fear that lesbians can’t use cocks in their sex play because it’s “not lesbian.”

That is not to say that strapping on or identifying with a cock is genderless. It interrelates to gender identity, presentation, and celebration – but which ways it interrelates depends on the individual. For me, it absolutely plays on my gender fetish and the way I see myself as embodying a masculine gender, and I LOVE to play with that during sex (as, uh, the entire Internet knows). And femmes who strap on cocks and play with them have told me that they see cocks as part of their gender, too – that part of the turn-on awesomeness of the whole experience is that it supposedly misaligns with their gender, that their sparkly pink harness and dick is all the more sexy to them because it’s femme.

I suppose there are a few kinds of cock-centricty, right – because I’d say Kristin is fairly cock-centric, but she isn’t into wearing one and fucking with one the way I am. For the most part I’m referring to folks who want to be the wearers here, who identify with it as a part of them.

If you’re cock-centric, you’re cock-centric; I don’t think that necessarily should dictate your gender identity. Cock-centricity is not necessarily a masculine or male trait. Gender identity may be totally related, somewhat related, or not related at all – I think that just depends. For me, the interplay of gender and my cock is important, and I love the way it feels to use it, the way I feel when I’m packing, the way it feels to get off while fucking with a cock, the turn-on of dirty talking about my hard dick, the ways it drives me wild to get a blow job. It is part of my masculine sexuality, but I have many other parts of masculinity that are not necessarily sexual, and I’ve explored the line between butch and trans enough that, for now, I know I’m pretty firm where I’m at. I still struggle with some descriptors like “girl,” “woman,” and “daughter,” but the other options of “son,” “man,” and “boy,” don’t fit either. So, for now, I’m sticking with butch.

I’d love to hear what some cock-centric (or non-cock-centric) gay boys have to say about this, I’m not sure how it translates (though I have some guesses). I will have to ask around.

Definitions of Butch & Femme

Way back in April, for Sugarbutch’s third anniversary, I offered up an “ask me anything” thread where readers could ask any burning questions that they’d like for me to answer. Given that I’m writing so much these days my pencils are worn down to nubs, and that this summer has been a challenge, I’m behind on answering many of those questions.

Here’s one that I’ve thought about since I read it.

What are your working definitions of “butch” and “femme”?

I know that’s a tricky and possibly annoying question; I ask because I’m currently moving into the recovery phase of a recent gender panic/gender identity crisis. I’m in the process of moving to a more masculine gender presentation and (hopefully?) social role (thank God), and my girlfriend is femme (and I pretty much only like femmes), but then I don’t feel like my gender issues and vibes are very similar to those of the butches I know, and… I’m just really confused.

– Daisy

I do have somewhat of a working definition of these terms: usually I say, in the broadest sense, butch and femme are intentional reclamations and recreations of gender. There’s more to it than that, of course, and these identities are policed by all sorts of social and gender forces. But that’s a start.

But that’s just my brief two cents. I want to know: what are your interpretations of these butch and femme? What are your working definitions?

Say you run into someone who has no knowledge of what being part of butch/femme culture and what identifying as butch or femme means (which, I don’t know about you but, is very frequent for me). Or someone who has only come across these terms as pejorative? What do you tell them?

Or, think about it this way: living in New York City has taught me the strong value of the elevator pitch. Everybody’s busy, everybody’s got somewhere else to be, someone else to talk to, which is more interesting than you. So you’ve got to hook them in with something strong and solid.

So what’s your butch/femme elevator pitch? How do you explain the basics in one sentence?

I’ll have to keep thinking about mine. I’ll chime in in the comments.

My Evolving Masculinity: Part One, Introduction

Gender evolves and changes and shifts over time; what’s true for me today might not be true tomorrow, and the questions and puzzlements that plagued me a year ago may seem irrelevant and minor next year.

I don’t have a major attachment to my own personal, inner expectations of consistency such that I believe that who I am today will continue being who I am forever and ever ad infinitium, but at the same time, I recognize that I don’t struggle with my own gender identity, performance, or exploration like I used to. I have come to a very comfortable place, where I am content to swim around and chill – to continue exploring and deepening my own understandings of both my personal gender, gender theory, the social constructions of gender, and how gender evolves, of course, but I’ve come to a bit of a plateau.

Sugarbutch used to be the primary space where I asked gender – and sex, and relationship – questions about myself, about my community, about my friends, and about culture, where I worked through my questions and concerns, where I tried to make sense of what it meant to embody female masculinity, where I asked questions and toyed over ideas and tried things on (and took them off again). I’ve been writing in this space for more than three years, and it has served me quite well.

But I’m not struggling with these questions like I was. I still analyze, I still observe, I still look at, well, EVERYTHING, through the finely-tuned lens of gender theory; I still learn new things or have my mind blown or adopt and integrate new concepts, but even the new things are not as huge as they once were. They are minor shifts in a very large picture that is mostly in focus, now just waiting for the details. I’m not trying to say I’m done – it didn’t just take a three-year exploration and now it is complete. I’ve identified as butch for nearly ten years, though it’s only in the last five or so that I have been adopting and exploring a much more intentional identity around that term. And it has, in many ways, culminated here, in this medium.

That I’m not struggling with this in the same way has meant that the writings on Sugarbutch have changed. Surely you’ve noticed this, if you’ve been reading for a while. I miss the daily journal ramblings about my personal feelings and thoughts and observations on my life and relationships, but circumstance (and a still-increasing readership) makes this much harder these days. I miss sharing with you my struggles and complications, and believe you me there are still struggles and complications, but they are not so much about gender.

So I’ve tried some new things, in the past year or so. Like the On Butches and In Praise of Femmes pieces, and the short-lived magazine-style layout (that nobody except me seems to miss), and the more how-to style posts about masculinity and butch/femme.

This has brought a whole new set of issues, because it is hard – perhaps impossible – to speak for, or about, or of a community accurately. After the fallout from Top Hot Butches, for a minute I resolved I would no longer speak for the community. I would no longer attempt to represent the community, or share our secrets, or expose our weaknesses, or attempt to heal our rifts and heartbreaks. (Who is “The Community” anyway? Perhaps those of you who have followed the sub-plots of Sugarbutch know of the deep thread of queer interconnectivity and the ways that this community is so goddamn small that I keep running into people I don’t want to interact with everywhere I go.)

But as I’m coming into some new projects, and thinking about and moving into what’s next, I am realizing: we desperately need leaders in this community. We desperately need people representing us. We desperately need more representation and recognition and acknowledgment of our beautiful, true selves. We desperately need mentors, telling us stories of how they found themselves and making it easier for us to create our own paths.

I do want to be a part of that, so I do want to keep writing about gender, about theory, about butch/femme, about what it’s like to revalue gender in a heteronormative culture which reproduces compulsory gender roles which nearly destroy us and in a mainstream lesbian subculture which values compulsory femininity and androgyny. I know there’s a need here, and I breathe and eat and sleep and commute this stuff, I can’t not see it, I can’t not think about it.

I’m struggling a bit with the movement from intermediate to advanced: I am beginning to get some teaching materials together, gender workshops and such, a series of gender articles perhaps, things I’ve been thinking about for a while now but which I cannot seem to complete. I know this subject matter inside and out, but now I think I need to learn how to teach it, how to break down the concepts into tiny, easy, bite-sized pieces and present them on appetizing platters. I’m also struggling with the question of continuing to engage the more advanced gender explorers, those comrades and friends I’ve met along the way who continue to inspire and inform my work and my own explorations. I want to encourage those conversations to happen, too. I want to engage on deeper levels AND beginner levels.

So, my masculinity is evolving. I have some particular ideas about where it’s going, and what it means to move from adolescent masculinity into adulthood, which I think is part of what I’ve been going through (and upon which most of the rest of this series on My Evolving Masculinity will focus). I’m a little plagued by questions: How do I continue to become a leader? How do I make a safe space for people to explore this stuff? How do I encourage deeper, more intentional thought, without policing or restricting? How can we, as a community, as friends, as lovers, as allies, continue to reclaim and recreate and remake gender in ways that are liberating rather than limiting? How can I assist the big big energy of this movement that I have felt growing, and that I have helped to create, in moving to the next level?

I want to invite you to participate as I’m thinking about new directions and new focuses of this site, new uses for this space, and new approaches to my own masculinity. Do you have particular ideas for things you’d like to see here? Any particular features? Any concepts you wish I would write more about? Any directions you would love to see? I’m open to ideas and suggestions as I slightly refine the direction, and attempt to continue to further my work in this medium.

Watch for Part Two of My Evolving Masculinity: Yin & Yang, exploring some recent concepts from my tantra retreat on the balancing of transformative and stable energies, coming soon.

On Removing Trans Men from the Top Hot Butches List

So here’s the thing about the internet: the critical feedback is immediate, and publications are, unlike print, not static. Things do not have to stay the same.

I have decided to remove trans men from the list of Top Hot Butches, and I sincerely apologize to all who felt insulted by their inclusion. I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I understand how it was hurtful, despite my intentions.

I did expect some disagreement about exactly this, but I did not expect this level of discourse, discussion, openness, and productivity in the response. Look at Feministing, and also at Sugarbutch threads here & here, and the comments on the THB site itself. I also thought I understood my own reasons for the inclusion of trans men, and that my reasoning could hold up against criticism, but in the past three days, I have felt that it does not, and that many of the critiques are right.

The past two days I’ve been uncertain how exactly I would respond to the feedback, but reading all the emails, comments, and blog posts and discussions that have been going on. The ‘click’ moment for me came Tuesday night: someone wrote in a comment, “would you include trans women on a list of femme men?” And immediately my gut said no. No, of course not. If the list included femme women, too, sure – but not if the list was only femme men. And that got my mind churning: is it actually different? How? Why do I think so? It feels different, but for, I realized, very personal reasons.

For example, I’m not inside of that community – I do have friends who are femme men and trans women, and I don’t feel as though I understand the connection (or disconnection) between those groups. Some trans women probably would include themselves on a list of femme men, but I don’t really know. But: I do know many trans men. I am part of some trans communities. Trans men have been some of the greatest influences on my own gender, masculinity, my own butchness, my personal history, and chivalry, and have been some of my best friends. Those friendships are very important to me. Beyond that, the alliance of butches and trans men feels important to me, in a community way. And of course some trans men do identify as butch.

But. I have to recognize that the trans men I know and have known were in some way aligned with queer communities – otherwise they wouldn’t have chosen me as a friend – and there are many transmen who have done a lot of extremely hard and painful work separating themselves from the butch identity. I do not want to disrespect that, or let the limitation of my personal knowledge and experience define inclusion or exclusion for others. Clearly I need to broaden my scope a bit, I will keep working on that.

The main critique of this list has been that trans men are not butches. Yes, of course, I know that, thoroughly. One of the ways I anticipated addressing this issue was that I clearly differentiated between butches and trans men in the copy of the Top Hot Butches site: I know trans men are men and not butches, but this is a list of butches and trans men, not only exclusively butches. What if I had a list of “favorite birds and cats” – no one would say “hey, you can’t include cats on that list, they aren’t birds!” But of course that is not an accurate equivalent: cats don’t spend significant time differentiating themselves from birds. I think a better equivalent is more like, “I’m making a Top Assholes List, and you’re on it. But don’t worry, I made a note and said you aren’t an asshole.” That would still be insulting to most (unless you self-identify as an asshole, I guess), and I think that is closer to the level of insult here.

This removal is NOT an attempt to separate trans men or exclude them from queer/butch space – in fact, I feared not including trans men on the list in the first place would do exactly that. I feel so strongly that trans men and butches (and other masculine-identified-people of all sorts of labels) have many similarities in the ways we move through the world, and in our contributions to and participation within queer communities. I always want my work and projects to be building those alliances, not tearing them down – which is why I wanted trans men included in the first place. But if folks are saying no, this is not a way to build an alliance with me, of course I will listen to that.

So, clearly I have a lot more thinking to do about my own limited perspective on this, and the ways that my projects can be helpful and useful to transmasculinities in general.

Meanwhile, though: I have removed 13 of the trans men from the list. I wasn’t sure how a few of the people I removed identified, so I have been double checking, and will likely put them back up when I am clear. Others, I am contacting to ask permission of their inclusion, because some of them I know do have a relationship with the word “butch” and with queer communities in general and suspect they would not mind being included.

If you have suggestions for people to include on the list, now is the time to do it! The updated list will go up ASAP, so get ‘em in to me quick.

Requirements:

  1. Butch, androgynous, genderqueer, transmasculine, stud, AG, masculine-presenting women or butch identified trans men (broadly defined)
  2. Done something public in the past year (this is the 2009 list, not the “of all time” list)
  3. Related to queer communities in some way
  4. 350px wide high-quality photograph
  5. Some level of public and recognized accomplishment(s)

I would love suggestions for more butch trans women to include; I’ve been asking, and looking around, and I did include #84 Riki Wilchins, but surely there must be more than just her. I’m just not familiar with them. It’s so hard to include people you don’t know about, you know? Impossible, in fact. And who I know is completely related to my own standpoint. It’s a huge challenge to get a range of diversity on a list like this.

Here’s the thing about gender projects: they are tricky, and it is, despite the best of intentions, easy to step in it. And the mistakes are often sites of great learning and growth, and I sincerely thank everyone who has taken the time to email me, comment, discuss this with your communities and friends, and for being open and engaging about this topic. I am sorry to have hurt feelings over this, I can’t say that enough.

That’s the thing about growth & mistakes: sometimes it’s the response that matters, even more than the messing up itself. I am doing the best I can to listen, and make changes. Thank you for all the comments, support and critiques.

Butches & Trans Guys

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

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

On Butches: Coming Inside

The truth is, it feels embarrassing, really, to come while strapped on and fucking. The amount I have to let go and risk is sometimes too much for my heart to open up.

It isn’t fair to say that she doesn’t have to do the same amount of risk and letting go when I throw her down onto the bed, shove my hand between her legs, push my fingers inside until she’s screaming and thrashing under my forearm holding her down.

But it’s different, isn’t it?

Let’s not say one is harder than the other, it isn’t about hierarchy: only that one is not the same as the other. But, why? Maybe because that’s the way her body is “supposed” to work, biologically it is built to take inside, to be invaded, to tilt the bowl of her pelvis up and open the hinge of her hips back.

I don’t like making generalized statements like that: “women are made to x because biologically, bodies are built like y,” there is so much unfinished in that statement, and there is some sort of deeper, inner sense of gender and self that is discounted because of our binary system of classification under biology.

But there is something, something about the ways that entering inside, being permitted to come inside, being permitted to invade, to be permitted to take and thrust and enter, is not what my body is made to do, so I am on shaky ground, out of synch with what my cells know. There is something so vulnerable about having sex organs (like a silicone cock) outside the body, something so exposing about the ways I get … hungry, desperate for a safe haven, so dependent upon another for fulfillment and satisfaction.

And there is the moment of orgasm: shuddering and losing control momentarily and I don’t even know if my eyes are rolling back and my mouth is lolling open, such a moment of unconsciousness when I usually have such precise purpose when I am on top, fucking her, sliding in and out, rocking against her. I know exactly how this feels and exactly where to put my hands and such confidence in the ways that I am moving. But in that moment I lose that and all I can think of are those guys, those stupid guys in every bad movie where they are completely lost in their own world and the girl is looking up at them with a face like, really? Really. You’re just going to keep going and you can’t even tell that I’m totally disconnected, and that might be my worst fear, that I am alone in those moments of pleasure, so wrapped up in how my dick feels in her pussy that I don’t even know the ways she is not enjoying this.

And then I am spent and small and soft and dribbling and drained.

I know there’s more to it than that. I know.

But there’s a tiny aspect of it that infiltrates my mind when I find myself close, when I feel my cock tighten and balls lift, muscles pinching. I can’t do that, I can’t let go.

Maybe that’s why it has been nearly impossible to come while strapped on with anyone since Callie. It happens, sure, but it is inconsistent and unpredictable, which makes it all the more embarrassing and exposing. Maybe I haven’t trusted enough. Maybe it’s all mental. Maybe I am still terrified to expose myself, now that I see how easily I have lost myself in the recent past. On the inside of every cell wall in me has YOU CAN’T HAVE ME written a hundred times in tiny print. But maybe I need to go in there with a delicate eraser and figure out what pen it was I used, and write something else. Or maybe I need to leave the walls blank and clear so I can see right through them.

Because when I come inside her, and then come back to myself, and to her, like I did on Sunday morning, nearly falling off of the bed, sheets and blankets completely askew, light coming in the slatted blinds behind us, and she looks at me with those blue blue eyes with so much clarity and witness, so much reverence and strength, though there is a part of me that panics, there is also a part of me that has come home.

My Father’s Son

The GoatWhen I saw him in September we camped in his family’s cabin. My grandfather built it with his own two hands and gave it to his children; now his own two legs, the prosthetics he got after both were amputated below the knee from diabetes, are the legs of the cabin’s kitchen table.

My two younger sisters and I slept in the cabin’s only room on pillows and dusty weathered couches as Dad woke and stoked the fire. Mornings at the lake are chilly, even at the peak of heat in August when the summer has been baking the water to its depths and swimming is the best. I watched him add kindling and logs and sometimes dozed off. He spread another blanket over me. When I woke I saw a forlorn gaze in his eyes I’ve never seen. What was he thinking? Was he wondering how his oldest daughter evolved into this boy? This big-city dapper masculinity that is too faggy to fit in with him and his brothers and all my older boy cousins as they discuss elaborately the latest football game, the way they fixed their trailers and trucks, what they caught when out fishing, how to clean the geoduck, how to make a perfect sausage-and-egg breakfast for ten, how to put on a wedding, how to give away the bride.

Dad, are you wondering how I got here? How I went from that tree-climbing skinned-knee ragamuffin girl to this prettyboy? From that girl who worked through her teens in your sports card shop, flirting with the boys as my girlfriends came in to seek sanctuary from the juvenile delinquent park hangout across the street when their feelings were hurt, when someone dumped them (again), when they got caught smoking, when they were being sent tomorrow to rehab or summer camp or anorexia camp or gay camp or bible camp.

I never was your tomboy daughter, never got in fights with the boys in the neighborhood, never stood up to the bullies of my younger sisters. I was the artistic one, moody, on my own. Studying my peers as we metamorphosed into our adult bodies.

We used to go on drives sometimes. After dinner restless, this was when neither of us wanted to be home, neither could stomach my mother’s depression. We’d go on drives and this was when you first told me, “I want to open up a store, right there maybe,” pointing at the empty corner lot that used to be a restaurant bar, at the mall on the wharf. “But my dream space,” he whispered, leaning in, “is right by Foodland.”

That was back when we shared our dreams with each other.

It was on one of those drives, too, where he saw a little silver Saab for sale and said, “that’s the kind of car I want to buy you.” I was fourteen and wouldn’t have a license for nearly ten more years. I couldn’t see myself as a driver, just as I couldn’t see myself as a grown woman, a wife, a mother, a panic that plagued my teens.

Recently on a road trip I saw a blue 1970s GTO and remembered some photos from my mom’s college album. “Hard top, 1964,” my dad emailed back. “Midnight blue, the original muscle car. I got it up to 100 easy on the road out to the cabin. I called the car my “Goat.””

Once, I told a lover that I was considering taking T. She had a string of baby trannys, she knew how to break us in over her knee. “You won’t turn into Cary Grant,” she warned me, and stopped at a photo of my father in the hallway. “You’ll turn into him. Look. Is that what you’re thinking you’ll be?”

I didn’t grow up in my father’s footsteps, but suddenly I’ve found myself standing in his shoes.

And now, fifteen years later, he moved his store right next to Foodland, the only grocery store downtown. A prime spot for retail. He has all but retired from the environmental engineering business upon which our family was built and now sorts sports cards, comics, coins from his father’s collection, from when the store opens at noon – so he can sleep in – to six pm, every day except Monday. “I’ve worked enough Mondays for a lifetime,” I’ve heard him say.

Now, fifteen years later, I don’t drive much; I take the subway and taxis but I still miss the stick shift in my hand and the dance of the pedals, just like you taught me. Now fifteen years later I can imagine myself as my father’s grown daughter, this “man” I’ve become, your son.

Three daughters and your wife, our mother, all in one house for nearly half of your life. Did you ever wish you had a son, Dad?

I wonder what he’s thinking, as this fire, his fire, warms our morning. He smiles at me with a look I’ve never seen.

“I sleep just like that,” he says. “With my arm over my eyes. You look just like me.”

On being a (gender) freak in New York City

I am not noticed much in New York City. My recent trip to Washington State’s Olympic Penninsula reminded me of this and I’ve been more observant of it ever since.

Honestly, to most subway commuters, shoppers, service industry employees, I just don’t register on their freak radar. I dress quite conservatively, usually, for one. I’m often in slacks and button-downs, kakhis and a polo, with a gadget bag and an iPod when I am commuting to and from Manhattan, and I just don’t account for as much attention as someone soliciting for money, someone homeless sleeping on the train, someone with a boa constrictor, someone in a wedding dress.

[Maybe it’s a class thing – upper class and working class are noticed, middle class is generally anonymous and neutral?]

I have often noticed that I pass as male here – that people, service employees especially, call me “sir.” But in watching this a little closer I have noticed that it’s not that I’m passing necessarily, I think people are just not paying close enough attention to me – it’s quite obvious I’m female upon just the slightest attentive glance, and I don’t think most people are consciencious enough of genderqueer-ness to call me “sir” by default.

My freak is not in my display of clothing, my costuming, my visible markers – my freak is that my clothing is on this body, that my gender presentation breaks the sex/gender assumption of my societally-instructed gender role. And honestly, the survival skills of New York mean that you don’t – you can’t – pay too much attention to the average Pats and Jamies around you, because you will either: a) get completely overwhelmed by the input, or b) miss observing the dangerous freak and find yourself in harm’s way. It is a skill that, as an empath, observer, and writer, I have had much struggle learning, as I want to be able to observe and notice the things going on around me, and indeed that is one of the best things about New York City, this huge, constant swirl of energy and life. But while it is energizing in small doses, to live inside of it constantly we must develop thick, massive boundaries as to not take in all of the constant comedy and tragedy around us.

When I dress up for a date or for a photo shoot, New York’s reaction to me is slightly different. This is when my masculinity becomes deviant and subversive, even aside from the body it is performed upon, because I start looking like a fag, I add elements of flair and sissy and dress-up and vaudeville, and that is not quite the same conservative masculinity that gets scanned over and does not set off anyone’s freak radar.

So my masculine gender is only “freaky” when it starts to be more feminine, more faggy, more queer. This makes sense now that I’m thinking of it – I just never thought about it like that.

My identity is largely marked by the construction of clothes, costuming, and physical appearance, as I think many butches are, as that’s the most obvious adaptation of the non-normative and subversive gender, and of rejecting the compulsory gender. But strangely I’ve gotten to the point where my construction of this notion of my identity is so “natural” that it doesn’t set off freak radar anymore. It’s only when I take my adopted gender role to more queer places – camping it up, making it more feminine with traditionally feminine colors, adding bold accessories and high contrast – that I start standing out in this city.

On Butches: Hair

I am a butch who shaves.

Not my legs, inner thighs, stomach, underarms (though I’ll get to those in a moment), but my face. Chin, mustache, sideburns. Every day.

It has taken me years to admit this, to celebrate this. I started shaving my chin about ten years ago, at eighteen, when my-ex-the-boy and I got into a fight and he used it as leverage against me. It was toward the end of our five-year high school relationship and he was increasingly paranoid that I would leave him to come out (which I did), so we used to fight about my perceived dykeness all the time. We were in his car in our driveway, just home from somewhere, yelling at each other. I have no idea what the context was, but I still remember the way he looked over at me and said: “I mean, you have more hair on your chin than me!”

I’m sure I’d noticed the hairs on my chin and upper lip, I’m sure they’d been there for years. I was at that time in denial about most of what my body did, how it looked. I spent as little time as I could with obligatory lipstick and mascara – the only makeup I could master without feeling like a clown, I never could figure out foundation or blush or eye shadow, despite the hundreds of beauty magazines that I studied, attempting to discover and reproduce the secrets of femininity.

It wasn’t until he said that, though, that I thought I should pluck, wax, shave, something, anything, so as not to give away my gender deviancy and gender defiance that seemed to be so certain that it would even come through in my biology. I’m a hippie after all – deep down I believe whatever the human body does is ‘natural’ and that all the hair policing was perpetuating unobtainable standards of beauty for women.

But this wasn’t about beauty, suddenly. It was about gender. It was about being revealed, when I didn’t even realize I was.

I promptly went upstairs, shut myself in the bathroom, took my razor from the shower, and shaved my chin smooth.

That was 1999.

It was only very recently that I let the hair on my face grow, even for a day or two. I’ve often seen dykes in the lesbian communities who sport peach fuzz mustaches, goatees, sideburns, but it never really occurred to me that it would happen if I didn’t run the razor along my face daily.

It was Callie who mentioned it first. It came up with Datedyke, too. I didn’t quite get the appeal at first. It felt gross, even shameful. No, they said. An indication of masculinity.

Oh yeah. Right.

I buy men’s razors now. Made for the contours of a face, not the smooth line of a shin bone or inner thigh. I enjoy buying products so masculine. I do it, head high, boldly; I challenge what the clerk thinks. I am not shy about it. It is a small act of gender celebration, gender defiance, gender activism.

Sometimes I even like my five o’clock shadow. I’ve developed the habit of scratching my chin like the boys do. Feeling when I need a shave. Letting it grow on weekends, on weeks when I don’t have work. When I was in Mexico I didn’t touch it once. Ten days without shaving, I am sure a personal record. I didn’t even know my hair would grow that long, that dark, that thick.

Sometimes, I even like it.

Okay, so, body hair.

Well, here’s the deal. I believe hair is a potential enhancer of sex. A sex toy. That it can be used to increase sensation, both tactile and visual. That the key decision about the hair on my head is for a sexual purpose. That running fingertips from ankle to cunt feels different on an unshaved leg – for both the person to whom the hand belongs and the person to whom the leg belongs. That it is different to fuck with a full bush as opposed to a brazillian.

Whether or not one is better than the other is a purely personal preference. Clearly there are some cultural preferences that correspond with gender role and expectation, but when all options have been examined and stripped of their social meaning and compulsory prescription, we can actually have an opinion about what we prefer, and make a choice.

I’ll get to femme body hair another time. I want to talk about butch hair, here, a bit more.

I know transmasculine folks who shave and who don’t. Who grow their hair long and who buzz it off nearly completely. I know a butch whose hair grows in so light she doesn’t have to shave – though she hates body hair, and would if her own wasn’t so light. I know a butch who had a contest with her friends to see who could grow their hair the longest.

Sure, I personally have preferences – I keep the hair on my head short, #2 on the sides, two fingers on top. I do this for sex, and for gender: I love the feel of buzzed hair under some girl’s fingers. Love how it makes me feel boyish. Love how there’s still enough for her to grab and pull on the top, in the back. Love the physical sensation of her desire as she pulls on it suddenly, when I do something and she responds, a physical communication between us.

I don’t shave my legs or underarms. I like the cultural masculinity of it. I like the surprise and occasional understanding of strangers. I do “manscape,” as the kids are calling it these days. Trim where it grows long, sculpt a little. I figure I sculpt and trim the hair on my head, I can do that for other places too. It is for sexual purposes really. And goodness knows there’s a lot I’d invest for sexual benefits.

So: I covered options, now let’s talk preferences. What kind of hair do you prefer on your butch? Butches & other transmasculine guys, how do you keep your hair? Au naturale? Waxed? Plucked? Is it leftover compulsory hair depletion from your gender-conformist days, or have you examined all your options and made the choice you prefer? Femmes, do you love it / hate it when a butch shaves? When she buzzes her hair or grows it out? When she keeps a mustache?

[ I know there’s a ton to say about femme identity and body hair too – let’s keep this to butches, for now. Start thinking, though, the femme equivalent discussion is forthcoming. ]

Creating Conscious Gender

Seems like I kinda stepped in it with this entire intentional gender thing! Lots of comments and emails about that one.

(Almost as bad as I stepped in it when I suggested something like “I noticed your gender from across the room” as a pickup line. Yes, it sounds ridiculous. But there’s just no other way to say that without a) objectifying, and potentially offending or b) assuming a person’s gender and potentially offending. Though perhaps that’s speaking more to my underlying Issue of not wanting to offend people than it is speaking to getting someone’s attention by using gender as a flirtation device. Maybe the more appropriate line for most folks is just, “hey, I think you’re hot.”)

I think the mention of “unconscious” vs “conscious” gender are more accurate descriptors than “intentional” vs “natural” gender. I’ve already mentioned this, but: modern gender theory does not believe gender is “natural” at all, it says gender is socially constructed. It can be constructed consciously, or it can be constructed unconsciously.

But there are ways that I can be more conscious about the ways I carry myself. There are ways that I can study and understand how gender works in this highly, highly gendered society, and figure out and choose the ways I operate within it.

So, here’s a bit of a story about what that process looked like for me:

I was raised in a very feminist household. The rejection of traditional gender roles was instilled in me from very young, by my mother especially, who didn’t take my father’s name, never shaves, never wears makeup or dresses or skirts or heels, was primarily the one to mow the lawn and help me with my math homework, etc.

Though this was deep within my family values, I was particularly susceptible to cultural standards as a teenager (I think we all are, and I have some ideas about why I was in particular, but I won’t go into that here), and I ended up fairly gender-conformist, nearly married – to a cisgendered guy – for five years. I think I had to prove that for me, the model of grown-up relationships really wouldn’t work, that all that society says is actually untrue. Of course, for some people it works just fine to be female-bodied, feminine, and attracted to men – clearly, not so much for me. I think it was precisely because I suspected that this wasn’t true that I had to really prove it for myself.

I’m also firmly based in second wave feminism insofar as I believe every person’s unique life experience is valid and important. I believe each of us is already an expert on our own gender, our own lives. I believe we all have valuable, thoughtful things to add to the conversation of gender (or sexuality, or relationships) regardless of our supposed credentials or expertise or level of study.

That’s the thing about gender – we all have it, we all live in a particularly gendered society, we all have been raised with its influence.

Consciousness-raising groups (in my understanding) started for because there was no formal study of women or the female experience. (I can’t really even imagine a culture that assumed that women’s experiences were included in the male norm, a culture that had no feminist cannon, such a lack of sources to study and know and experience. Thanks, foremothers, for women studies, for feminist studies, for all the work you did!)

So C-R groups created their own sources, using the experiences of the women in the group themselves, treating each like a text, a source, from which they could learn, from which understanding could arise and blossom and grow.

This is how I see this writing project, this community, and all of you who participate and who engage with me – as part of a large consciousness-raising group, where we are all sharing ideas, resources, and experiences to gain greater understanding of our selves, our communities, and the world as a whole.

This too is where my love for narrative fiction overlaps, where reading someone else’s story enhances my understanding of the world, where I feel less separate and more connected and, ultimately, where every story has value, especially the voices to marginalized communities, experiences, bodies, and lives.

So: growing up in a feminist household with rejection of gender roles, then going out into the world and living in a hetero relationship where we were playing out very stereotypical gender roles, then coming out as queer – all this lead me to start studying feminist, queer, and gender theory, seeking out language, concepts, and similar stories to help me explain my own experiences. And within gender theory and studies, I finally found places to get some of my questions – gender roles, gender compulsivity, gender norms, gender within relationships, the intersection of sex & gender – articulated, and then answered.

Such as:

What is gender?
How does it work?
Why are we confined to a binary? Why don’t we have three or eight or fifteen genders?
How does the sex/gender binary function?
What purpose does it serve?
Who benefits? Why, how?
How does it get enforced?
How has it changed over the years?
How is it connected with race, class, sexuality, nationality, religion, etc etc?

And once I started getting ideas about how to answer these questions, I started asking more personal questions of myself, and where I fit in to this huge, permeating, practically invisible system of hierarchy, power, and value.

Such as:

How do I feel comfortable?
What makes me feel powerful?
How do I want my hair?
What looks good on my particular body?
What fits with the way I carry myself, how I treat others, how I see myself?
What type of gender am I attracted to?
How does this relate to my sexuality?

I was simultaneously starting to come into my own as butch, partly because of the lesbian initiation process of rejecting femininity and cutting off your hair (which worked for me, though certainly doesn’t work for all lesbians who go through this), and partly because I started immediately liking femmes who dated butches and who recognized a sort of masculine ‘energy’ in me.

Actually claiming the label and identity category of butch was a more difficult quest for me, one I’ve written about a few times, specifically in terms of masculine posturing and rejecting – as a feminist and lesbian – the things that I see are so problematic with compulsory masculinity in both cisgendered men and in masculine-identified women. (More on that another time.)

Regardless of my questions and hesitations about butch/femme roles and labels, the process was definitely underway. And as it has unfolded deeper and deeper, in more and more aspects of my life, I have found such a home in it, in ways that have been seriously transformative to the ways that I operate in the world.

The basic feminist principles of inherent equality, the wide range of human experience, and celebrating the self as it is are applicable to many, many aspects of gender exploration. But I’ve found that these principles aren’t quite so active in most of the lesbian communities. Yes, there are people doing this work, but we are not the majority – compulsory gender in lesbian communities is usually a sort of gender rejection, an androgyny.

And that works for many people – which is excellent! I will always say you should go with what feels good to you, what makes you feel sexy, powerful, beautiful. For many of us, it is not androgyny that makes us feel good about ourselves, it’s another type of gender expression. There’s a huge gender galaxy out there, a huge range of expression and celebration, and so much to play with.

I don’t pretend that I have all the answers to questions or issues on gender. I have concepts, ideas, and resources, and I have reached some understandings, about both the world and system at large (macro) and my own personal place within it (micro).

I also don’t think my answers will necessarily be your answers.

I encourage you to find your own answers. To ask these questions, to decide consciously where you want to be within this pervasive system.

There have been many of you who have emailed me or commented about my recent writings about conscious vs unconscious gender, and here’s the part where I start to actually take an opinion on this: I think it’s very important to discover, stumble upon, find, or create a conscious gender. Doesn’t matter how you come to it, really, but it does matter to me that we do.

What that conscious gender might look like, of course, is highly varied – perhaps all it’ll take is a moment’s consideration, and a recognition that yeah, I’m where I want to be, that’s enough for me. Maybe it’ll take years of deep exploration and personal omphaloskepsis and meditation and therapy. Maybe it’ll take reading lots of books about the subject, or lots of blogs. Maybe not.

I don’t pretend to know what that process looks like for everybody, all I know is how it looks for me – and how important it has been for me to go through that process, which is, obviously, why I am encouraging it in others.

Look, I know not everybody has the interest in this that I do. And I don’t think everyone needs to start a blog (that becomes their part-time job) and dedicate a big portion of your free time to studying how gender works and what it means to you personally, but I really do think we would begin to move forward if we have some small moments of awareness about gender, about compulsive behavior and categories, about discriminating against butches or femmes or trans folks or androgyny.

When we understand (at least a little) how the system works so that we can begin to see how we fit inside it, and we can be empowered to make the choices that are in our own best interests, rather than in the best interests of those for whom this system is designed to benefit.

But it’s not just that. It’s also because when everybody does better, then everybody does better. It’s also because sometimes I’m lonely out here doing gendered work with a small handful of community. It’s also because, though some small circles of consciousness-raising activists are happening, most gender is still compulsory and not letting up anytime soon. It’s because this binary compulsory gendered system hurts us. It’s because trans and gay kids are getting beat up and murdered. It’s because boys who wear dresses are shamed. It’s because tomboys who want to run around shirtless are shamed. It’s because women are not safe walking alone on the streets of Manhattan at night. It’s because I am not safe walking alone on the streets of Manhattan at night. And we should be able to be safe, I want us to be safe, all of us.

And plus? Underneath some of the hard work here, it’s really fun. It’s dress-up, it’s activism, it’s subversion, it’s sexy. It’s a deep celebration of you, of me, of our interaction with the world, and with each other.

More on Butch Bras

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.
  • 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?