Posts Tagged ‘butch’
Ginny from Liverpool, UK writes,
“Sent to brighten my day at work.
But the only one of the photos that was ‘work safe.’”
“This lovely buxa – Chicana butch – is E-lo.
She loves to make art, listen to cumbias and norteñas,
and to play butch/femme dress up with me! She’s oh soo yummy!”
- from Laura, who also sent in the Womyn in Construction eye candy
The Sugar Butch in the photo is Azaan Kamau – the author and publisher of
In The Midst of My Blackness. Azaan loves jet skiing, writing, boating,
taking photos, and fighting for LGBT Rights! (Photo Credit: Azaan Kamau)
Tina sent me three shots of her partner Jess because, she said, she couldn’t just choose one. It was tough! This one is so smooth. I actually met these two at Curly McDimple’s queer blogger weenie roast last summer (and there will be another one!), and I gotta say, they’re really sweet together. Tina’s quite the eye candy herself.
And, uh, didja notice that headboard? Looks very … functional.
“This is my fiancé Lauren. She is the sweetest piece of boy I’ve ever had.
And the best friend, too.” – Desaray
The opening reception for Pink& Bent: Art of Queer Women is tomorrow night here in New York City. One of the contributing photographers, Sophia Wallce, sent me a few of the shots that will be in her show. I love them all, but this one might be my favorite – the colors in the background are so stunning.
I first saw Sophia’s work because of her project called Bois and Dykes, which has some beautiful photographs of female masculinity shot in New York City. It was fascinating to look through this project of hers; the photos are just so familiar. She even shot my weekly happy hour watering hole and the barber I see about twice a month.
Here’s the information about the exhibit.
Pink& Bent: Art of Queer Women
Curatated by Pilar Gallego & Cora Lambert
Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation presents
Pink & Bent, an exhibition of international artwork by queer women.
Exhibit runs May 21-June 28th
The Leslie/Lohman Gallery
26 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10013
(between Canal & Grand-closer to Grand)
Hours: 12-6pm, Tues-Sat, closed Sat-Sun
Opening reception: Tuesday, May 20, 6-8pm
Panel discussion: Thursday, May 29, 6:30-8pm
Women in the Arts Speak Out
$7 suggested donation at the door
“This is me (with the glasses) and my girlfriend K.
drinking extra dirty martinis at Dances of Vice in New York City.” – Mirabai
A couple heated comments about my last post already, and I want to make a couple things clearer.
I believe it is absolutely okay to not identify with the labels of butch or femme – or any label, for that matter. I think identity categories should be chosen by ourselves, not by others, and if a label is not chosen, it should not ever be imposed.
(Sometimes I feel like that should be written at the top and bottom of every post, just to make it clear. I want to write it in all caps, in bold, in italics, underlined: I support your identity, whatever it may be, even if it isn’t mine. And I also expect you to support mine.)
I’m not trying to say that, when someone is called butch or femme and does not identify that way, that that is not a misperception of your own personal identity – of course it is. That’s why the post was called “on misperceiving someone.”
It is insulting and difficult to be misperceived, to be misrepresented. As Daisy put it: “the person saying that doesn’t understand me, and like I’ve failed at gender expression.” I totally understand that – I hate being misperceived (as Daisy also points out, I said it bugs me when people told me “you’re not really butch”), but ultimately, that too is about the other person, not about my own identity. And just because one person misperceives me does not mean that I am not butch, if that is what I am choosing to call myself.
This clarification is important to me because I see many, many folks around me, many readers of this site, many of my friends, who tell me that they deeply want to identify as butch or femme, but are holding back for whatever reasons. Are suspicious of the identities, and are making their way down those paths of understanding how it will play out for them, in their own unique ways. I want to encourage that, when I can, share my knowledge of this identity process, and make it easier for someone else.
Now, on a related sidenote – being misperceived as butch or femme, or as not butch or not femme, is about the social policing of gender. The ways we, as a society and culture, enforce standards of gender on each other, on our friends and communities and lovers and strangers.
Miss Molly commented: “As much as we’d like to say there aren’t different rules in the queer community for butches and femmes, there are many of the double standards that exist for straight men and women.” Sure – there are standards out there, but they’re the same perceived cultural standards that enforce heterosexism and homophobia.
What I find most interesting here is who is doing the enforcing of these double standards. For example, I was in my favorite dyke watering hole not long ago and ordered a vodka cranberry with my usual bartender (who, at this point, calls me “dude” affectionately and shakes my hand when I walk in), and she actually leaned in close to me and said, “Are you sure? That’s awfully … sweet, you know.”
I cringed. Yes, I usually order beer and whiskey. Yes, the drink I ordered was “girly,” and my gender was insulted there, underneath that comment. But: this is about her, not about me. As I joke, sometimes: “I’m man enough to wear pink” – I’m also man enough (ahem, “man” enough, I should say) to order a cosmo or a midori sour or a vanilla vodka cranberry with a cherry if I want one. Yes, I know it’s a sweet drink. I’m aware of what I ordered, and I wouldn’t have ordered the drink if I didn’t want it.
Ultimately, that comment was about the bartender, and her ideas about how gender framework operates, not about me or how I operate. It is not her – or anyone’s – responsibility to police what they perceive to be my gender performance, and I’m at a point in my gender process and identity won’t let anyone else do it for me.
My point about that is this: Who is it that is making these “double standards?” Who enforces them? I read all sorts of things from all sorts of personal online diaries, articles, personal ads, queer media, books, gay culture – and everywhere I hear the same stories about butch and femme: those who don’t identify with butch and femme feel like they are being pushed to do so, and those who do feel like outcasts, like gender freaks who don’t fit in.
That’s a little heartbreaking to me, every time I get my Google alert with gender keywords in my inbox: yet another email full of “Femme women are noticeably less deviant and have a socially acceptable appearance,” and “a rigid and artificial dichotomy of male/butch/top/dominant and female/femme/bottom/submissive” and “the idea of ‘butch‘ and ‘femme’ is as frakked up as Albuquerque driving” and “all butches want to become men” and “I’m butch I suppose, but I’m no guy” and “all that boy/girl butch/femme crap – it’s not real!”
All over the lesbian/queer/dyke communities – my communities – I see people railing against this, from many perspectives. All I’m trying to do here is share my own stories and my own perceptions, illuminate the process a little bit, discuss it, open it up
I want to also echo Lady Brett’s comment: “If it does piss you off, it’s probably a matter of misperception. So, please, tell me. Give me the chance to fix it before you get offended.”
Yes. Please do tell me if I misperceive your identity. Tell anybody, when they misperceive any sort of identity of yours, not just in your gender identity. I’m not trying to blow off the misperception and to encourage you to just let them go on thinking you’re butch/femme/whatever – it is insulting! and, ultimately, inaccurate. Which makes us not feel seen, not feel acknowledged, not feel validated.
What I’m really getting at with that last post is the times when someone is misperceived, really in any way, and they are deeply insulted by it. There’s more to it than just “you don’t see me as I really am” – there’s this big set of implications because of those loaded words.
But again, I want to stress, I really believe that any misperception and insult is about the other person, not about me or my identity – and I do believe this goes both ways, being perceived as butch or not butch or femme or not femme or foreign or local or a hippie or a punk or bi or trans or anything that we don’t actually identify as.
Maybe I’m getting too Buddhist in my philosophies here. I was just reading Be the Person You Want to Find by Cheri Huber, and I’m feeling those philosophies seeping into my opinions on these subjects.
Identity categories are so personal, so intimate – and the theory around them is so slippery! I mean, if anyone can identify as anything, if social policing means nothing, then what is the real meaning of an identity label? Some theorists would say, ultimately, it’s all basically meaningless. I can get there, can understand those arguments – but I also know what it feels like to be inside of these identity categories, and to know precisely how it works for me, how it’s given me a beautiful structure in which to tinker and fuck around and play.
These topics are really difficult, and anytime I post something that gets heated and emotional, I always take the comments very seriously, and consider my points even harder. I am not claiming to speak for everyone here – man, that is one of the best things about blogs, is immediate discussion and feedback and comments like this. I’m only speaking from my own perspective about my own experience, with hopes that it occasionally is helpful to others. Speaking of the round-bellied-guy, I want to echo a quote from the Buddha that I’ve got hanging on my fridge, and was reminded of this week:
Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.
I often have conversations with folks who say that they have been perceived femme or butch, and they really don’t like it. That tweaks me a bit, for various reasons, not the least of which is that I spent years flat out telling people, “I identify as butch,” and I would still get the response, “oh, you’re not that butch,” or “you’re not really butch.”
These identities are deeply socially constructed and policed, on all sides – those of us who do claim them, those of us who don’t. They’re loaded, complex, and largely misperceived.
Calling someone femme or butch is not necessarily intended to be insulting – sometimes, it is meant with much love and praise. But if you don’t identify as such, it can feel insulting, regardless of the intention.
This happened again recently, and it got me thinking: here’s why it doesn’t have to feel insulting, regardless of the intention.
1. This is about them, not you
Maybe you don’t identify as “femme” or “butch” at all, maybe you see those labels as confining to who you are and how you want to express yourself. Great! Good for you. Celebrate your whole self, in any way you like, you betcha.
[Hopefully you simultaneously realize that it's possible for others to find liberation and freedom inside of those categories, too, and that you don't force your philosophy of rejecting gender identities onto others. But that still never means that you have to work within that framework.]
This other person calling you these things may simply be working within the framework where they see everyone on the feminine side of the gender galaxy as femme, and everyone on the masculine side as butch.
But ultimately that is not about you – that’s about their framework. That doesn’t make your framework wrong, and that doesn’t make your perspective, presentation, or philosophies any less valid.
This is about them, and their worldview, not about you and yours.
2. Misconception of the terms
My gender-activisty self gets my boxers in a twist, because being called femme or butch is NOT AN INSULT.
These words are loaded – I get that. And sometimes, it can actually be intended as an insult – but we don’t have to take it that way.
But think about what we perceive someone else to be implying when they call us butch or femme. Where is that coming from? Who is filling that in?
It’s like someone calling you a dyke or a fag or a queer. The person slinging the insult could mean deviant, sinner, immoral, freak, but those of us who have reclaimed these words can look beyond that to laugh it off and say, “yep, that’s me. Gotta problem with that?” (Clearly, they do have a problem with that. But that’s not your problem, it’s theirs.)
Same with butch and femme: these words have deeper, personal meaning to some people, and it’s possible to take the time to go inside of the words and figure out what they hold, figure out their power and their detriments. If we knew more about the way these words worked from the inside, perhaps we would get to a place when calling someone – who doesn’t identify as one of these terms (more on that in a second) – femme or butch doesn’t make us bristle and cringe.
Because it doesn’t have to.
Here’s my basic thoughts on what we think it means when someone calls us femme or butch:
a) Femme does not mean whiny, controlling, manipulative, vulnerable, stupid, weak. Butch does not mean insensitive, thick-headed, macho, violent, emotionally stunted, controlling. Those are sexist misconceptions, and we don’t have to use those categories that way.
b) Just because you look one way one day, doesn’t mean you can’t look a different way another day. Gender is fluid, identity categories are fluid. Unless you’re chosing to identify as one of these categories, no one else can put you into these categories for you.
So, maybe this person calling you “femme” actually does mean that they think you’re weak, controlling, etc – well, then, so what? They are inaccurate on two accounts – i) that’s not what femme means, and ii) that’s not who you are (I am assuming).
They might be implying that they think you’re a high-maintenance bitch, or a thick-headed lug, but that doesn’t mean that you are. That’s just a downright insult couched in genderphobia, and you can call them on their ignorance, not take it so personally, and move on with your life.
3. Identity vs Adjective
We severely lack language to describe gender, and since we largely perceive gender to be a spectrum of masculine/feminine, butch/femme, male/female, calling someone femme or butch is simply an adjective – a way to describe which side of the binary gender scale they are perceived to fall on.
(I wish we had names for all the gender galaxy quadrants and solar systems and orbits and such, but they’re almost too big, too multi-faceted, to categorize and map. Goodness knows that won’t stop me from trying …)
In my opinion, identity categories can only be chosen by those they are describing. I think this applies in various socially charged identities – race, gender, sexuality, class, nationality.
The only time someone calls me butch and it is an identity, not an adjective, is when I myself have chosen butch as a way to describe me.
Again, the speaker here could actually mean it as an identity – but that’s about them, not about me.
Often, describing someone as femme or butch is a simple observation of their physical style – short hair vs long hair, slacks vs a skirt, heels vs boots. (Sometimes it’s much more suble, of course, as someone wearing short hair, slacks, and boots can be seen as femme.)
Usually, I’ve found the use of this word as an adjective is not entirely inaccurate (at least, not at that particular moment). The problem is that it is implying all these other things about behavior and gender performance that are then perceived to be ongoing and permanent within that person, and that’s just not true.
This is precisely the reason why I use the words to describe someone that they chose for themselves, and if I don’t know how they identify, I don’t assume.
So, in conclusion:
It really doesn’t have to be an insult, and using those terms as an insult is, in my opinion, a sexist misunderstanding.
Just because someone else doesn’t understand these categories, doesn’t mean that you don’t – even if you reject them. No need to take it personally, no need to educate them in their misconception – just let it go, don’t let it bother you, move on.
Ariel has been my style consultant for a while now, and when she’s not too busy being a matchmaker, I’m often asking her basic style questions like “should my socks match my shoes or my trousers?” and ”how do I wear summer clothes and still be cool in Mexico?” and “I’m going on a fancy date. Help!” Masculine high fashion is new to me, and I find it fascinating, but sometimes very daunting. That “not butch enough” feeling comes up in me all the more because I’m not familiar enough with the culture. I’m learning, though, and it’s so fun to have Ariel in my life to talk to about this!
I sent Ariel some interview questions recently, and here are her thoughts. Thanks A!
I could spend the rest of my life talking about fashion. I love it. I love the act of creating visual codes for gender and how we want to be taken in the world. Fashion appeals to the formalist in me: take a structure, learn to speak it, and then figure out how to make it your own.
Fashion is hard because it is an aesthetic exercise about personal expression. There is a whole school of fashion that says you should just do whatever you want and fuck the rules. The hard part about that is that fashion is how other people code us and gender us, and for a lot of people who will identify with the world of butch fashion I imagine that controlling that gendering is incredibly important. I am of the “you can’t break the rules until you know what the rules are” school of thought; it is important to build your eye and build your ability to analyze what is going on in an outfit — proportion, line, color, pattern, cut — so that you can more artfully manipulate the code to suit your own purposes.
I also have to say this: I am not going to define butch for you. Honestly, my personal fashion has much more to do with how to match your gold lamé neckerchief to your lavender trousers than it does with how to pass or be unremarkably masculine; I also refuse to be in the school of thought that says only more feminine people can wear things like skirts or high heels. I think more knowledge is better knowledge! That said, I am focusing a little bit more on clothing that has been traditionally masculinized, at least in part because I imagine readers of Sugarbutch will find it useful. Images in this post are all menswear because that is what I am obsessed with right now, and also because I think menswear fashion is somewhat less out there than womenswear fashion and it is useful to learn to dissect the pieces of masculine fashion. Mostly, though, it is because I look at that Rykiel Homme jacket 50 times a day and think things like “I can spend twice my rent on one piece of clothing! Imagine how often I’d wear it!”
Seems to me that there are many different subtle styles – athletic, preppie, punk – but that there are not as many variations in men’s styles as there are in women’s. Do you have particular thoughts about how to find your own style?
I think what is exciting about fashion is the way it gives us a visual language to show the world something about ourselves. I am a believer in fashion and I feel like it is an aesthetic language everybody should learn to speak.
Men’s fashion is just as nuanced a language as women’s fashion; it just speaks in different words. The main difference between women’s and men’s fashion, at least as far as I am concerned, is that men don’t usually wear skirts or dresses. Colors, different pant cuts, different styles of shirt; I think the fun of it is mixing and matching. The whole point of fashion is figuring out how you show the world whatever it is you want to say.
Scott Schuman/The Sartorialist
Two different suits, same fabric –
completely different feels!
Both shot on The Sartorialist.
It is also so important to remember that fashion has a set of rules that it is worth learning — and then worth breaking. I am a believer in anarchist fashion where you do what you want how you want but I think it is important to do it knowing what you are working with. I also want to say that there are many versions of “fashion” — race, class, gender, aesthetic, all of these things combine to make different kinds of looks.
I think the best thing to do is look at people. Look at fashion websites; look at flickr.com pictures; look at people on the street. I am always scouting for great looks on the street. The Sartorialist has great pictures of a certain classic kind of look; men.style.com has pictures from all the shows. And shop but take time shopping, and take pleasure in it — think about what you are drawn to, what you like, and how you want to come across. Do you love the cut of your shoulders? Do you love your collarbones? Your biceps? Your ass? Your lower legs? Your chest? You can highlight all of this based on what you’re wearing. Look at pictures and think about how you want to execute. When I shop I always have a vision of who I want to be and that is who I am trying to dress. Seeing what other people wear is the easiest way to build technique and build your eye so this can happen flawlessly.
What four really basic pieces should butches own & learn how to rock?
1. Button-down dress shirt
If you are going to put yourself on masculine-spectrum clothes, you need to get a button-down dress shirt with a nice collar. Blue, white, or black depending on your style, but this is pretty much masculine dressing 101. Men’s section, women’s section: the only real difference is that women’s section shirts tend to be cut for what are traditionally considered women’s bodies (breast allowances, hip allowances), are cut shorter (they’re not designed to be tucked in most of the time), and button the other way. (Why, you ask? There are tons of different answers floating around; the accepted cultural wisdom is that women used to have people to help dress them, so the buttons went the other way to make it easier for their dresser.)
(Women’s shirt sizing is a opaque mystery involving S-M-L-XL and numbers that at one time meant something but now are just symbolic — exactly what am I 16 or 18 of? I am not even going to try to explain it: start at this Wikipedia article, and then click from there. It is a mess of vanity sizing to make people feel smaller. In general, the more diffuse/downmarket the brand, the larger the sizes will be; a Target size 4 is bigger than a Dolce and Gabbana size 4. For men’s sizes other than S-M-L: the small number is your neck size (somewhere in the teens/twenties) and the large number is your sleeve length, taken from the middle of your neck down to where you want the sleeve to hit on your wrist (somewhere in the 30s.) You can measure this yourself with a friend — here is a guide — or nicer stores will have someone there to measure you. Remember, hips will not be accounted for! Play around with sleeve lengths (because that is really the shoulder girth) and see what fits best for you. Also, different men’s brands and lines have different fits/cuts/amounts of taper: a skinny shirt will drop in further than a relaxed shirt, et cetera, et cetera. Find the one that you love and can depend on; this will take some work probably.
You need to have at least one pair of shoes that make you feel amazing. Have a killer pair of sneakers. Have a pair of great boots. Have some baby-soft tassle loafers. Four-inch heels. Your shoes are the foundation you stand on and if you need to be economical you can get away with only having one pair at a time. But think about it: if all you wear are big cargo shorts, you better be very deliberate in choosing to wear them with dress oxfords. Things to pay attention to: what are you going to be wearing the shoes with? If it’s pants, how do the pants break at the shoe? If it’s a skirt or shorts, how will it finish your leg?
image credit: Marcio Madeira//men.style.com
Dries Van Noten Fall 2008 show
Look at these shoes!
This outfit would be fundamentally less interesting but the shoes add fun and punch and take this from sullen to powerful. The cuffed pants and the heathered socks make this feel fashiony and funky to me; it would be a different look with the pants down over the shoes.
3. A great jacket.
It can be hot pink (Marc Jacobs did it!), it can be tweed with elbow patches. Put it over a t-shirt, put it over an oxford, put it over anything, this is a staple and it lets you do so many things AND it will keep you warm. I wish I had more to say about this but I don’t. Women’s jackets are that same sizing mystery as everything else. Men’s jackets are a chest measurement across the widest part of the chest; another good trick is the jacket size should be six to eight inches larger than your pant size (men’s suits come with a six inch difference between the waist of the pants and the size of the jacket).
image credit: Marcio Madeira//men.style.com
designer: Rykiel Homme Fall 2008
caption: This jacket kills me. Kills me! It is such classic tailoring but the color is so unexpected. The whole outfit is “almost classic” — the sweater/button down/tie, the cut of the trousers — but look at the density of patterns on the shirt/tie, and the blue and the purple are just right together.
4. A great accessory
Pick something: a watch, a scarf, a belt, a neckerchief, lipstick a pipe, a tie, a purse, a hat — have at least one awesome, fun accessory that turns your clothing into an outfit. I believe in signature styles or pieces to decorate and adorn fairly classic looks — pink hankerchiefs with cardigans and t-shirts, neon ties with classic oxfords and trousers. This is how you can buy classic pieces and still look interesting. Look no further than the fashion around men’s suits, which are exercises in subtlety and using details to tell a story, for help on this one.
image credit: Scott Schuman/The Sartorialist
Look at that pocket square. Look at the detail! It is such a simple, plain, classic look — with such interesting details that really take it past just another boring suit.
What should butches avoid?
I am never one to tell anyone to avoid anything on a gender-prescriptive basis! I would say avoid things that make you look bad and avoid things you don’t feel confident in. Don’t wear a suit and tie if you feel weird in it! Don’t wear a dress unless you feel you can rock it! Fashion is about portraying yourself. It is all so fraught with gender conformity — even within the queer gender galaxy — and it is hard to have the audacity and fortitude to stick it out and find what makes you feel hottest and most yourself, especially if your body and gender are not the body and gender you are “supposed” to have. Be bold! Be brave! Pay attention to what you feel goes together, and why — think about what you are wearing and how you think it hangs together — but I want every single one of you out there to avoid not doing things just because you don’t think it’s butch enough.
(This guy has my heart.)
Ariel spends a lot of time playing the toy accordion and window shopping the expensive floors at bloomingdale’s. she encourages you to go to quee
yenta.com to find whatever it is your queer heart desires, and ariel?ariel! if you really have some time to kill.