Posts Tagged ‘chicken or egg’

On Being Left Out of Butch & Femme

August 13, 2010  |  advice, essays  |  9 Comments

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

a) I often find myself at a loss when trying to slot myself into the femme-butch dichotomy – I don’t feel like I can identify with either. Yet I can’t really pass for androgynous (come on, boobs). so much of what I see in the queer world, in person and online, frames itself around being butch or femme and I feel left out. Is there a movement of queer people who *don’t* align themselves with butch or femme?

b) Some practical advice now…so there’s this girl. :D She’s a friend of a friend and there’s possibly something brewing there. (She knows I’m interested in her, she’s intrigued, hasn’t promised anything yet but would like to get to know me better). She’s overseas at the moment and won’t be back in my neighbourhood till August, baaaaaah. We’ve been chatting over Facebook and I’d like to send her some subtly flirty messages. Nothing too obvious or creepy, but what can I say that won’t either lose the flirtiness (I found that even when I explicitly say something meant to be flirtatious it gets read as normal!) or freak her out? Any ideas?—Tiara the Merch Girl from themerchgirl.net

There is a huge movement of queer people who don’t align themselves with butch or femme, and who don’t identify with androgyny, either. In fact, I think folks who do not identify as butch or femme make up the majority of the dyke/queer communitites.

It’s funny, because especially from the outside, it seems like that’s all lesbian or queer women’s culture is: butch or femme. Both for folks who aren’t a part of these communities and for dykes who are just coming out, that is a really common feeling. But once inside of it, there is tremendous pressure to present more androgynously—lots of pressure for more feminine folks to cut their hair very short, for example. An above-the-ears haircut is practically a rite of passage for queer women. And the tomboy often gets pressured toward body adornment, or comments such as, “If I wanted a penis / a man / a suit, I’d be dating men,” after a particularly short haircut, or a fancy dress-up night, or presenting a new strap on cock. (Not that that’s happened to me or anything. Not that I’m bitter.)

It depends on your geographic location, too. In some cities, queer scenes are dominated by butches and femmes. In others, the norm is more toward androgyny or practicality—I’ve been chatting about gender with a femme who grew up from Alaska and noticed that I did, too, and we both have some similar observations about what it’s like to grow up in a landscape that requires very particular tools to face the weather (like xtra tufs), so the edge of femininity as adornment is seen as very superfluous. And butch as adornment, too—I wore my city boots up there one of the last times I was there for the winter holidays, and complained about how the gravel and salt they constantly spray the streets with were really ruining my boots. Cufflinks, sportcoats, silk scarves—none of that is useful. You need flannel button downs, those very functional paisley handkerchiefs, fleece jackets, thick wool hats. This is the region (well, broadly—the Pacific Northwest) where grunge started, remember?

Point being, some cities are more butch/femme oriented than others. San Francisco’s queer scene is different than Seattle’s, which is different than Chicago’s and than New York’s (and Manhattan’s is different than Brooklyn’s). And the butches and the femmes are often very visible queers, especially since we seem to be the ones who are much more into deconstructing gender than the androgynous dykes. Not always, of course, but often: the current discourse in butch/femme communities tends to focus on why these genders work, why they don’t work, how to break apart identity alignment assumptions, what we’re doing to align with the trans movements, those kinds of things.

(Which is exactly why I am so drawn to this world of butch and femme … was I butch first, and the gender deconstruction came after? Or am I butch because I love gender deconstruction so much? Chicken or egg, who knows.)

And when we talk about a lesbian who is “visibly lesbian,” what do we mean? A lesbian who is butch-ish, or androgynous, leaning toward masculine. Someone not feminine, anyway. But those things aren’t actually the same: lesbian is a sexual orientation, not a gender identity. And until those things are more separated, we’re still going to have the butches (as the most visible queers) and femmes (as the most vocal queers, since if they do not define their sexuality with their words they get mistaken as straight) as some of the most obvious folks in the dyke worlds.

But that’s not to say that the other folks aren’t there. From my own experience, it seems that dykes and lesbians and queers who do not align with butch and femme are much more prevalent and many more than those who do. I’m trying to think if I have any support for this, some statistics I can cite or study I can link to, but I can’t think of anything (anybody else?). I wonder if it only seems like there are more non-butches & femmes than there are butches and femmes because that’s what I align with, so of course I presume that I am an outsider to the dominant lesbian culture. But I don’t think that’s only my perception—I’ve certainly talked to many, many other butches and femmes who feel similarly left out of the larger lesbian culture. Look at some of the big lesbian cultural reflections: AfterEllen, Curve magazine, Go! Magazine, Girlfriends magazine, The L Word, Dinah Shore. None of those reflect butch and femme identity regularly.

You have a place in these queer communities, lesbian circles, dyke scenes. You are just as legitimately queer, regardless of whether you have one singular gender identity to pull on or not. Don’t worry. You do not have to identify as butch or femme, and there are hundreds of blogs out there by queers who do not, many magazines and films and reflections of ways to be queer without aligning with any sort of gender identity. Check out Genderfork if you need a reminder of how many different ways of expressing queer gender there are out there. Find your own gender presentation, whatever feels perfectly good to you, whatever makes you feel the most you that you can be, whatever attracts the kinds of girls or boys or grrrls or bois that you want to attract.

What say you, Sugarbutch readers? Are there more dykes in the butch/femme world or in the non-butch/femme world? Do you feel left out of these identities? Is there a place for folks who do not identify as butch or femme in the queer world? Or do you, as a butch or femme, feel left out of mainstream lesbian culture? Is there a place for you in the larger queer world?

Second …

This girl thing. Well, it looks like I waited a long time, too long, because now it’s August and she might be back. I’m really slow on these Ask Me Anything questions, unfortunately. So maybe you can give us an update! What’s happening now? Did your flirty Facebook chatting work?