Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

on butch breasts

June 24, 2008  |  on butches  |  16 Comments

I’ve returned to earth – mostly – from the altered state of consciousness of the Power, Surrender, & Intimacy workshop by Body Electric that happened here in New York City over the weekend. I have so very much to say about it, but that’ll have to wait for now, I need more time.

What I do want to write about is breasts. Specifically, mine – more generally, butch breasts.

Last week, I went for one day without my binder, which is really just a tight sports bra that clasps in the back rather than being a solid over-the-head slip-on. I wanted it laundered for the workshop, since I’ve been wearing it practically every day since I bought it.

I wore a backup bra that day, and all day long I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror, in storefront reflections, in my button-down work clothes, or when I looked down. I remembered how I used to hate the uniboob problem, which many of my friends and lovers deemed unsexy or mannish, and it’s not that I like the uniboob look particularly, but as my gender has changed and grown and dropped into itself, the uniboob doesn’t look like a uniboob anymore: it looks like a chest.

It is not that I want to do away with my breasts. Don’t misunderstand me here: I think breasts are butch, just as I think the menstrual cycle is butch and pregnancy is butch and cunnilingus is butch – everything the female body does can be butch, because butch (in my use of the word*) has to do with masculinity on a female body.

And because I believe that the things a female body does are butch, and because my gender philosophies are deeply rooted in love and acceptance of my body as it is and in not classifying human experiences as owned by one gender or another, I have been holding back my desire to delve farther into my own masculinity. I’m afraid of it. I’m afraid it means I’ll be leaving my roots in female-ness behind, I’m afraid of being seen as reproducing the heteronormative paradigm or embodying penis envy. I’m afraid of being rejected by feminist and lesbian communities for being too masculine, for becoming the ‘enemy,’ for rejecting femininity instead of reclaiming it.

Breasts are a big piece of this fear for me. Mine are not so small – part of why I rarely pass: a 36DD, and have been since middle school. I’ve said since I was a teenager that a breast reduction is the only surgery I would consider. I read about Jess’s surgery – or others’ surgeries and body alterations – and I’m jealous.

But I’m afraid of what it means to want that alteration, to want to physically change my body to better fit a gendered idea.

After that day last week of wearing a regular bra, I started wondering: why do I even have this in my closet anymore? Why do I own this? My exploration of my own masculine/butch/boy/male embodiment is young – I’ve been calling myself butch since 2001, but only in the last three years have I really embraced it and actively, consciously developed it. And now, the farther I get into my explorations of gender, the farther I want to go.

It takes time to cycle through a wardrobe, and I don’t quite have the disposable income to go purchase all new bras – but I certainly won’t be buying any regular ones anytime soon. I’ve gone through this with my underwear already, years ago now, have cycled through all the old girl undies and haven’t owned any of those in years, only have boxers and briefs now. But that feels less obvious than binders and sports bras – no one can tell I wear only briefs except my lovers, I guess, but everyone can tell I bind my chest.

And see, what’s what it is now: my chest. Very different than boobs, breasts, tits. I have those, sure, but they’re underneath, they’re the other layer, the inner ring, something that now gets protected and covered, not out of shame or denial but simply out of layering, complexities, performance, a rich inner life, a duality, a whole person – me.

* Some say men can be butch, that “butch” is a term for a queer masculinity, or a non-traditional, progressive masculinity. I’m not certain I agree, but we definitely lack language to discuss different types of masculinity, and I have definitely observed some men who have a sense of butch energy.

gender frustrations and clarifications

May 27, 2008  |  essays  |  16 Comments

I haven’t been posting much of substance here since the heated discussion On Misperceiving Someone as Femme or Butch and the follow up post. This lack of posts has been intentional. I’ve been frustrated, dissuaded.

I feel like every time I attempt to go a little farther, get a little deeper into the nuances of these discussions on gender identities and gender self-labeling, I get pulled back to square one by a barrage of emails and comments saying, “But wait! I’m offended! What about this other thing? What about people who don’t identify? What about me? What about my expeirence?”

And I want to have individual communications with everybody, to go into each detail of what they’re asking and what I’m saying, to break down the moments where I’m being misperceived, to communicate in open discussions about these fascinating issues from various perspectives.

But I can’t – mostly, I just don’t have time.

This is one of the challenges of a blog format of writing, actually: it’s not linear, it’s not one chapter building on another, it is be more of a jump-in-anytime type of format. Unfortunately, with a subject as completely personal, as totally misperceived, as dangerously controversial, and as heated as gender identity in lesbian communities, it’s very difficult to jump right in without adequate explanation as to where I am coming from in my philosophies and explorations.

I’m working on an Official Disclaimer for my discussions of gender, to put some foundations in place to which I will point. There’s so much I want to say about it, and I barely even know where to start. I have began to write this post about why that discussion frustrated me ten times, and I still get overwhelmed and my head gets chaotic when I begin to sit down to write it.

Right now, I want to make a few things in particular abundantly clear:

I do not seek to encourage others to identify as butch or femme. It is not my intention to impose butch/femme gender identities on anyone else, ever.

I seek to break down what it means to be “butch” or “femme.” I seek to apply the deconstruction of feminist methods of sexism, gender roles, and gender restrictions to lesbian gender identities, such as “butch” and “femme.”

I seek to broaden our ranges of experiences, with the underlying goal of encouraging people to be more comfortable in themselves, to come more fully alive, Yes, it’s a lofty goal. But I aim for it, and no less.

If it ever seems otherwise, if it seems like I am saying that someone should identify as butch/femme, or that it’s not okay to reject gender roles and identities, or anything along the lines of gender policing or gender enforcing or gender proselytizing, please do ask me about it. I will clarify, as well as I can.

But please keep in mind that I never operate from that space. Please consider giving me the benefit of the doubt, and come from a place of kindness – and perhaps not defensiveness – when you ask me to clarify things I’ve written.

The very foundation of my beliefs about gender is that our binary compulsive gender system is limiting to our full range of human experiences. I believe we should self-identify, should dress and act how we wish, how we most feel like ourselves, how we are most comfortable and most celebrated.

Period. Always.

And, of course, all of these writings are my own personal experiences, observations, and studies of butch/femme and variations of gender expression. It was a long hard road through the gender police checkpoints to get where I am now; I learned a lot about myself, about queer theory, postmodern theory, and feminist theory on the way to where I’m at, and I seek to share my stories in hopes that they can be helpful.

ask me anything: about butch identity

April 29, 2008  |  essays  |  9 Comments

4. leo asked: i have a question about butch identity. you’ve written so eloquently about the concerns you faced in reconciling feminism and your gender identity, and especially about rejecting misogyny as a necessary element of masculinity. but you’ve also written that you wanted to throw up (i think?) when someone first called you butch. was that all about feminism? if not, what other feelings (positive or negative) and concerns have been central to the development of your sense of butch identity/female masculinity? did it frighten you at all, apart from the feminism issue, or was it love at first sight, or some combination?

I definitely had a love/hate relationship with what I perceived to be butch identity in the beginning. It appealed to me, but at the same time I saw such misogyny and disrespect coming out of these butches mouths – often the very objectification and trivialization of women that felt so reminiscient of the stories I heard in feminist classes and texts. But, at the same time, I wanted to be more masculine than I presented – I was just very torn about how that identity would be possible without the deep misogyny.

It was the first girl I was in love with – a femme, who, when we were discussing gender, whispered in my ear, “I think you’re butch.” And I did want to throw up a little, but also felt like I’d probably come right then & there if she put any single finger on me. The feeling of sickness and fear was about being seen, being visible, having tapped into something that I wanted so deeply that I was afraid to let anyone know I wanted it at all, for fear of failure I suppose. It wasn’t so much that I was afriad of the identity itself, but I was afraid that it wasn’t me or that I wanted something unreachable.

The feminism confliction with my butch identity was actually a very short-lived argument in my head. Of course I can be butch and be a feminist. Of course I can display and embody a sort of intentional, respectful masculinity. But then: how?

I did have to re-invent masculinity for myself – I actually used to make long lists of “masculine traits” or interests or hobbies, and I had a system of symbols (stars, circling, highlighting in different colors) that would denote different aspects of the identity – things I already was, things I wanted to be, things I rejected about masculinity in general, things that masculinity could be but that I didn’t want for myself.

In the beginning, I distinguished heavily – and still do – between ideas of “external gender” and “internal gender” (for lack of better terms, at the moment at least). External gender meaning what I put on my body, my clothes, my haircut, my physical communication, my physical presence. Internal gender, then, meaning emotional styles, interests, hobbies, personality – I don’t believe those things are or should be dictated by gender.

Gender theorists don’t believe that there’s any sort of “innate” gender, something that comes from inside – but that doesn’t seem to be how most people really experience gender. “I just know,” they say. “I just feel butch,” or “I just feel femme,” or “I just feel like a woman.” Theorists would say there’s no such thing as a woman, actually. But that experience doesn’t necessarily translate to praxis – putting theory into action.

I actually think there is some sort of “gender energy,” something that comes inside of someone that will tell you that’s a butch in a dress or that femme sure looks tough in those overalls, installing those 2x4s. I’m not sure how this is different than “internal gender” or innate gender, but I do think it is slightly different.

That’s a bit of a tangent. Back to your question:

Another reason why butch was difficult for me was because I had very few representations of butch, and what little I did have I basically flat-out rejected. Why would I want to emulate something, to be something, that I had no good model for? But somehow, I persisted in this, I recognized some sort of value in the identity – and some sort of me in the identity – even if I wasn’t sure how to identify it, or identify with it.

I think a huge part of this is because we, as a culture, still need a masculine revolution – a remaking of masculinity much as we’ve had a (successful!) remaking of femininity since the Second Wave feminist movement.

And honestly? It’s no small feat, and it sounds kind of pie-in-the-sky, or maybe cocky as hell, but that’s part of what I consider myself to be doing by claiming a butch identity: revolutionizing masculinity.

ask me anything: the answers

April 29, 2008  |  essays  |  6 Comments

I offered up answering any question that was asked today – you can still ask a question until, oh, let’s say, midnight tonight. These are some of the answers, posted as they’re coming in.

1. muse asks: what is your archetypical, eroticized gender-performance-y, fuckable femme outfit, from head to toe, outside in?

First: nothing too tight, I prefer movement in the fabric. Especially in skirts. Something form-fitting can be lovely and fun, yes, but I so prefer the hint of thigh that comes from the swing in the fabric.

So, this is a bit fancy, the dressed-up going-out showing-off outfit. Funny how much I feel hesitant to get super specific, because I love oh-so-much the display of femme in its many forms. But if we’re talking about archetypical, eroticized, most fuckable gender performance, (gulp) here it is:

Hair – up. I don’t care how, but pulled up off the neck. For one, I love to see the lines of the neck and jaw (very sexy), but also, I want to be the one who rips your hair down, later. I remember watching Ally McBeal as a teenager and being so overwhelmed by Nelle Porter (Portia De Rossi) and the way she wore her hair – she only ever wore it up in the office, but she would sometimes take it down when she was out in the bar after hours. It was so, so powerful and sexy. I also remember reading an erotica story (S Bear Bergman’s piece called “Silver Dollar Afternoon” Best Lesbian Erotica 2006): “I fall in love with her when anyone asks her why she doesn’t wear her beautiful long hair all the way down and she says, with just a hint of coolness: “A woman’s hair is for her husband,” which makes me remember every time she has unpinned her hair for my delighted eyes and even if I’m not quite a husband I still shiver in my blue jeans without fail.” I know there are deep problems with this idea of a husband owning a wife’s hair, but I love the idea of it being so sexual, such a turn on, when a femme lets her hair down, that it’s private, saved for me and me alone.

Dress – or skirt, but something like this flirty hourglass dress from White House Black Market – not necessarily this exact dress (I’m not crazy about the bold pattern, though I can see how it’d work) but this type of shape of skirt, maybe even a little longer, below the knee, not necessarily above. Not necessarily strapless either, I just couldn’t find a good example of what I’m trying to describe other than this one. (Anyone know if there’s a particular name for this kind of skirt?) Layers of skirt are pretty fantastic, too – muse keeps making fun of me for a comment I made, something like, “but oh, it’s nice to be buried in crinoline.”

Shoes – You already know this one: the ribbons around the ankle fucken kill me. They don’t have to be too slutty, as some have told me that shoes like these are – the shoes Missy beautifully modeled are much more subtle and tasteful. (I’ve seen a few girls wearing this type of shoe around lately, but I cannot find them online – any help with links?) Strappy sandals work too. I prefer a couple inches of heels, though honestly, it’s more about how the sole of the shoe – the heel – fits in my hand.

Underneath – bare legs with some of those soft, thin thin thin panties that practically feel like skin, or a garter belt & stockings of any damn variety (preferably without undies). Those panties Belle modeled with the lacing up the back was also particularly impressive, but to tell the truth, aside from a thigh-high stockings of any sort, a garter belt, or freshly shaved bare legs, the details of the lingerie are often lost on me. I prefer simple lines, things that show off the curves of the body. I’m not crazy about bows or lace, but hey, anything can be fun – and everything is so pleasing, by the time we’re at the point where my hands have removed the rest of this lovely outfit.

2. green-eyed girl asks: Is there something that you have really wanted to do sexually but haven’t yet? What is it?

Two things come to mind – tantra, and some of the heavier topping skills. For example, I’d like to learn how to throw a singletail, I’d like to learn how to do play-piercing, I’d like to play (more than I have) with knives.

Both of these things require a longer-term lover who I deeply trust, and honestly, I’ve never actually had someone I could do that with.

3. saintchick asks: Can you please list a new & improved sex music mix? I know that you are dying to update it. Also what perfume is to be worn with above said outfit?

I’ll have to tell you about my updated sexmix from home later, but I off the top of my head: I’ve distinguished between a “sexmix,” which is usually really damn hot songs about sex or which sound like sex (Sexual Animals by Sarah Fimm, that techno French Kiss song, Sexyback – yeah, I said it) and a mix of songs that I want to fuck to, which are often much more subtle, and about crooning voices and excellent rhythm. Right now, my fucking mix technique is a shuffled playlist of many different albums, including Me’Shell N’degeOcello’s Bitter, as much Morphine as I have on my hard drive, and Chris Isaak’s album Heart Shaped World.

I’ll show you my revised sexmix later.

Perfume – I don’t have a specific preference to one scent. Everybody is so distinct, and even the same perfume smells different on two different people. But I do love a signature scent, so whatever you find and like, wear it – every day, continuously, for a long period, like a year at least. Then, eventually, even if you no longer wear that perfume, if I smell that perfume again, it’ll remind me of that time period. I love that creation of sense memory.

I’m not crazy about getting a mouthful of perfume while kissing your neck; not sure if there’s a better place to apply it (behind the ear?) or not – we should ask a perfume expert about this. Some girls do tend to do this more than others – or perhaps their perfume just tastes worse. Sometimes it unfortunately can be quite the buzzkill.

4. leo asked: i have a question about butch identity. you’ve written so eloquently about the concerns you faced in reconciling feminism and your gender identity, and especially about rejecting misogyny as a necessary element of masculinity. but you’ve also written that you wanted to throw up (i think?) when someone first called you butch. was that all about feminism? if not, what other feelings (positive or negative) and concerns have been central to the development of your sense of butch identity/female masculinity? did it frighten you at all, apart from the feminism issue, or was it love at first sight, or some combination?

See ask me anything: about butch identity.

5. Mm asks: How does one (or more appropriately two) keep passion from waning in a long term monogamous relationship? It’s been done, but how?

6. Dosia asks: What would you say is the best way for a girl to approach a hot butch in a bar/at a dyke march/behind the counter in a cafe/in class? How do we make those connections — not just for sex, but for friendship? Hell, it doesn’t have to be specific to butch/femme dynamics, how does it work, this meeting other queer women?

7. Cyn asks: Do you have a day job and what is it? Yes – sadly, Sugarbutch doesn’t support me (yet). I work as a graphic designer at a finance firm in Midtown Manhattan, so I commute into the city with the nine-to-five office crowd, in my almost-blending-in business casual.

Who is your fav band/musical artist? I am a very big Tori Amos fan (at perhaps some points in my past the word “fanatic” may’ve been more appropriate). My top artists (according to Last.fm) are Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, Patty Griffin, Ani Difranco, Morphine, KD Lang, Ingrid Michaelson, Jack Johnson, Joshua Radin, Melissa Ferrick, Imogen Heap, Kinnie Starr, Regina Spektor, Holly Williams, Erin McKeown, the Beatles – and that about covers it. I’m a bit of a music collector, though, and in fact have over 10,000 tracks in my iTunes library recently.

What is your fave dyke/queer blog? I’ve been reading Pure as the Driven Slush by Heather Corinna for years, and have had a crush on her for at least as long. She’s femme, partnered with a guy for the past few years, and completely brilliant. She doesn’t update much anymore but she’s still one of my top queer blogs ever. I aspire to write like Mark Morford’s column (he’s queer, isn’t he? I’m pretty sure. If he’s not, he’s an honorary queer). Those are blogs I’ve been reading for years – more recently, I particularly enjoy Dorothy Surrenders and Lesbian Dad. I don’t read many good gay boy blogs – any recommendations?

Why, as a butch, do you … post butch eye candy on your site? Do you know/believe most of your readers to want/desire butch eye candy? The butch eye candy is, at least in part, about my own ego, because femme readers fawn over the lovely butches, and I breathe a sigh of relief in the validation and desirability of displays female masculinity. Yes, the majority of my readers (or, at least, the majority of the readers who are in contact with me) are femme-identified in some way (perhaps I’ll do a survey one of these days), and they do seem to appreciate the eye candy.

The reasons I started featuring eye candy, though, are specific: there was a particularly nasty thread on New York Craigslist a while back bashing butches – and all masculine-leaning lesbians – and so, posting photos of the butch aesthetic started as a way to celebrate the displays of masculinity. Eye candy got such great feedback, though, that I pursued it, turning it into a regular feature. I especially liked when my straight female audience started emailing me all hot-&-bothered under the collar, saying how hot the eye candy photos are … my response is twofold: “Yes! That’s right!” and also, “Hey wait! There’s not enough butch to go around, we’re for the femmes, dammit.”

8. Duck asks: Could you explain how the remaking of femininity has been “successful?”

Man, these are good questions! I’ll keep working on the answers, didn’t have time to do any writing tonight. Will post these tomorrow.

the sadistic impulse

April 21, 2008  |  essays  |  11 Comments

me: I want to smack your ass
her: that’s exciting to me. how do you feel when you’re doing that?
me: strong, powerful. hard and wanting.
me: but also? completely inadeuqate and in awe of such beauty.
her: that’s incredibly sweet …
me: more in awe than inadequate; in reverence.

That moment of inadequacy is so hard to describe (especially via text message, what was I thinking?) – it’s less about the hierarchy between us or my own self-worth (that ‘inadequate’ implies) as it is about awe and reverance, like looking at the Milky Way and witnessing its spinning, a deep wonder at the beauty before me – and then a deep desire to bite into a destroy something so precious.

What is that impulse? My mom, who works with elementary school kids, speaks of it often – spending a few hours on a beach building a sand castle or a rock pattern only to have some of the fourth grade boys come trampling through and destroy it all. Sure, maybe once in a while there is a girl who does this – and sure, there are boys who never would (do forgive my oversimplification of gender roles here) – but by and large, the kids who do this are boys, and boys alone.

It reminds me of what I’ve read in feminist scholarship about pre-Christian matriarchal and goddess-centered cultures of which we have so little record. Some theories discuss how men were (and still are) so much in awe of a woman’s strength and power in sexuality that their impulse was to put it under lock and key, to control, to regulate. What they could not have themselves, they longed to own, occupy, colonize.

And in moments like my date on Saturday night, with girls like her, I deeply understand this feeling.

What is that? Where does that come from? It is similar to the impulse of destruction I’ve hinted at, the witness of something so perfect, so flawless and lovely, so fresh and baby-green and precious, trembling with new life like the leaves on the trees right now, that after a moment of quiet awe and appreciation I want to caress it, touch my hand gently to it, then wrap my fingers closed around it and squeeze the life out until I hear the last gasp of breath. I want to rip it from it’s branch like meat from a bone.

I don’t like this impulse much, I’m suspicious of it. I’m a pacifist, a feminist – but I’m also a sadist. I get off on the intentional release of pain. That also makes me a healer.

I have control of this impulse, to a point. I don’t actually crush baby leaves, or destroy flowers or people. But there have been times, that I can count on one hand, where I’ve been so deeply in sync with a lover, where they’ve sensed this impulse in me and provoked it, where I’ve nearly tipped over the edge and given in. I don’t really know what would happen inside of it, I’ve never trusted someone else – or myself – enough to find out.

Maybe this is one of the ways that I seek balance on a fairly extreme scale.

This too is why I like classic femininity in my lovers, in femmes: I want to see that supposed innocence. It riles me up, incites in me this impulse to take, to conquer, to overthrow, to destroy.

Consensually, and with such reverance and care, of course, of course.

the red tie night, six years ago

April 17, 2008  |  essays  |  9 Comments

I ran across some photos this week of me and jesse james and georgia from almost exactly six years ago – I remember that night vividly. Aside from georgia’s very grabable curly hair, spaghetti strap tank top, and long string of gin+tonics (that I kept drinking for her), my gang of friends – including jesse james, and Maverick – decided we’d go out “in drag” that night, which meant slacks, button-downs, binding our breasts, ties.

(Interesting how men’s business wear is drag for masculinity, and women’s lingerie is drag for femininity – clearly some cultural values coming through there eh?)

I took many photos that night as we got ready to go – even the preparations were significant, the rituals of masculinity, hair slicked back, knotting and re-knotting my tie. It was one of the first times I wore a tie and packed out in public; in the photos I’m wearing a black shirt, black slacks, and red tie. I’m not even sure where I got that tie, now that I think about it. It just seems like I’ve always owned it. A red tie, solid – my favorite.

Interesting how, then, it was drag, it was rare, it was deliberate performance – I was so self-conscious going out like that, I felt stared at, noticed, in a new way. And I was, particularly by georgia’s attention, the clear lust in her eyes and fingertips as I lit her cigarettes and held her drinks and attempted to kiss her (with little luck – she had a girlfriend back then).

Looking at these photographs from six years ago, though, I catch a glimpse of the gender I grew into – I don’t always recognize myself in photos from that time, but in those … yeah, I think, that’s me.

It took such a long time for me to come to comfortably sit in this butch identity, for me to (if we’ll continue the metaphor) navigate the gender galaxy, and find a comfortable orbit around an identity label. Some of us don’t ever settle into that – some of us are radical little spaceships that explore treasures from all sorts of different worlds and words that we orbit. I guess the trick is, in my opinion, to simply find the routes that are the best to navigate (not necessarily the easiest, but the most satisfying), the orbits where there is plenty of oxygen, the alliances that create treaties and share resources and have excellent adventures.

We basically have to make our own gender galaxy maps. And while some gender mapmaking tools – queer theory, gender theory, postmodern theory, queer literature, smut and the language of lesbian desires – while some tools help immensely, I still couldn’t quite escape the praxis, the application of the theory, because of the ways that the social constraints and social policing affected my own process deeply.

The same friends who went out with me on that infamous red tie night – jesse james & Maverick – were very influential, and I had a lot of criticism about how they performed their own flavors of female masculinity. I don’t remember a lot of discussions about the label/term/identity of ‘butch’ specifically, but we definitely knocked the term around sometimes – mostly I remember saying, “I don’t know. If I’m butch, then am I all these other things that come along with compulsory masculinity – like misogyny?”

I remember one particular time when jesse james and Maverick were joking about attending a community class for and about femmes – identity, privilege, passing, visibility. And they kept speaking of it like it was a place to go pick up chicks – I eventually snapped at them: That’s a special place for femmes! That’s not a convenient pick-up ground! You’re like the boys who heh-heh-heh and sign up for women studies.

[I know it says "women studies" and not "women's studies," and that's deliberate. The apostrophe implies that these studies belong to women, that it is women who study them. When it's women studies, singular, then the implication is that it is the study of women. This is how my undergraduate Women Studies department operated & how I still describe that particular academic discipline.]

I’m not sure if they got it; maybe they did. I quickly gained the reputation as the hard-core feminist of the gang, and jesse james especially loved to push my buttons about it, to get a rise out of me, to make me laugh, to frustrate me with a scenario. They used to tease me endlessly.

But looking back at it, it was an integral part of my gender identity development. Because feminism, and deep respect for women, and deep rejection of the “oppressive male gaze” and gendered hierarchy, came first, I was terrified of objectifying women, of disrespecting women – and, most importantly, of adopting misogyny as part of a masculine identity. And I kept wondering, over and over: If I reject misogyny as part of masculinity, part of “butch,” then what’s left? Masculinity is, in so many ways, simply defined as not-woman; what else does that identity hold? And what does it mean for me to adopt it, to become it, to be it?

My solution, at least temporarily, was that I could look butch – hence the ties and button-downs and packing – but that I would maintain my hard-core feminist values, my inner emotional landscapes, my interests and personality traits. I didn’t know how far I could take this new idea of a masculine gender. For years, my friends & peers would say, “well, yeah, but you’re not really butch.” I didn’t like that, but I didn’t know how to only pick and choose the traits that I wanted, intentionally, within masculinity. I didn’t know it would mean to have be butch in other ways - for example, emotionally.

Even still, this puzzles me. There is something inward about gender, a sort of “gender energy,” internal traits that run through displays of female masculinity – but I still struggle with articulating that. It starts to run into the grey areas of where gender overlaps with personality, and I start feeling cautionary, not wanting gender to dictate things like hobbies and interests.

I’d like to figure this out, though. It’s on my list of Things to Explore Further.

Incidentally, jesse james – formerly known as The Closet Musician here on Sugarbutch – was known as Ice (from Iceman) back then; Maverick and Ice even had flight suits for Halloween one year. Then we had Mitchell, who joined our gang on occasion, and there were the femmes, Pepper (Maverick’s girlfriend and, later, wife) and Lola (who I was madly head-over-heels about). Who knew all those nicknames were such fabulous practice for anonymous writing?

I never had a nickname that stuck, I always wanted one. Perhaps that’s part of why I created Sinclair all these years later.


Donate to RAINN & let ‘em know I sent you – add “GBBMC2008: Mr. Sinclair Sexsmith” in the information box. (Why?)

make a wish on that bone

April 8, 2008  |  essays  |  5 Comments

At the Body Electric workshop during the last weekend of March (about which I haven’t written yet, I know, but I will), I was reminded about how little we are educated about female anatomy – especially in regards to the clit.

This is a video of sex educator and badass Betty Dodson drawing the cunt from the inside out – starting with the internal parts of the clitoris (did you know it’s got a shape like a wishbone?) and then drawing layers out to the external.

The book to which Betty is referring is The New View of a Woman’s Body, and many writings on feminism account this book as the first official medical reference to the internal clitoris -it’s definitely the first one I ever came across. The drawings in it are still fascinating to me, and definitely worth studying.

Ah, sex ed is so fun.

(I won’t ruin the end for you, but I just want to say, I like it.)

It has also been speculated that the so-called “g-spot” or “urethral sponge” are actually part of the clitoris, as well. Rebecca Chalker writes about this in her book The Clitoral Truth, though man, doesn’t it seem like this is important knowledge? Doesn’t it seem like somebody would’ve studied this by now, and figured it out? Even just a few months ago, I remember yet another study coming out saying “aha! We’ve proved the G-spot exists!” and I thought, huh. Pretty sure somebody already did that, for one. And for two, I’m pretty sure what you’re calling the Gräfenberg spot – named after the man who discovered it, of course – is actually that little bitty organ with 8,000 nerve endings that you’ve thought was smaller than a dime all these years.

I guess it goes to show you there’s a lot of work to do in sex studies, still.

request: feminist sex resources

March 20, 2008  |  miscellany  |  1 Comment

Jess over at the F-word blog in the UK is interested in compiling some sex resources from an explicitly or implicitly feminist perspective. Read on for the request:

Following on from Laura’s post at The F Word about the poverty of sex education in the UK, we got thinking about ways to fill in those gaps (and then some) for adults.

Me and Laura are looking to compile a listing of resources on safe, pleasurable, consenting sex, relationships and sexuality, for the over 18 set, who can no longer benefit from whatever wisdom HMG and the national curriculum might impart. Can you help us?

Of course, we’re particularly interested in anything which is coming from an explicitly or implicitly feminist perspective. And we’re interested in making this as inclusive as possible. That means regardless of/aimed at all levels of experience (beginner to advanced!), sexuality, gender, kink or lack thereof, etc.

Book, blog, website, workshop, feminist/women’s sex toy store, DVD, audio tape – whatever it is, we’re interested! Not porn though, at least partly because that gets into contentious territory we’re not really interested in for this one.

A few words on why you are making the recommendation would also be great. You can tell us anonymously if you so wish in the comments on the blog post we put together announcing this.

I sent this list, which is somewhat American-centric, I admit, but that’s all I got:

books 

s.e.x by heather corinna

the strap-on book by a.h. dion

fetish sex by violet blue

sex for one: the joy of selfloving by betty dodson

the good vibrations guide to sex

the topping book & the bottoming book by easton & liszt

erotic bondage handbook by jay wiseman

SM 101 by jay wiseman

the ethical slut by easton & liszt

websites 

scarleteen.com

sexuality.org

the savage love podcast

sex-positive & feminist sex stores

babeland.com

goodvibes.com

early2bed.com

blowfish.com

stockroom.com

workshops

the body electric school – level one is “celebrating the body erotic”

Additional resources to add? They’re not looking for feminist smut, but rather for resources & knowledge. Add ‘em in the comments (I’d love to know, too!) or leave them in F-word’s comments.

march masthead: bringing butch back

March 20, 2008  |  essays, miscellany  |  5 Comments

A few weeks back, Muse & I went to a meditation group and I held her jacket for her when we were heading outside. She dipped down to let me more easily slide the coat up onto her shoulders, and I laughed.

“You’re not supposed to move,” I said. “Just let me do the work. This chivalry thing is designed to make you look good.”

She laughed too. “Ah, right. How would I know that? Nobody holds my coat for me. You’re bringing butch back.”

I like that. I like the alliteration, three b’s in a row, and the second epitrite of poetic meter in the phrasing. I really can’t take credit for bringing butch back – honestly, I don’t think it ever went anywhere, I think if anything it just went a bit underground during the gay and women’s rights movements, and many folks are now reimerging to problematize and celebrate gender, myself included. And youth these days are more open to gender and sexuality differences than we ever have been, so aside from some old-school activists coming out of the woodwork, the youth also have a hand in opening up these conversations, refusing to be limited by labels or definitions, and yet finding value in the historical contexts of labels and words as well.

Chivalry is deeply feminist to me. When in femmes, I expect femininity to be deliberate, done with the whole knowledge of the compulsory heteronormative restrictions which dictate that women must be and do certain things, particular that we must wear high heels, delicate cloth, restrictive clothing. Femininity is not made for comfort or movement, it is made to accentuate the sexualization of a woman’s body – and that’s why things like holding her doors open (so she doesn’t dirty her white gloves or expensive manicure), pulling her chair out (so she doesn’t have to awkwardly move a bulky piece of furniture, and risk getting it caught on her skirt or stockings and ripping something) or holding her coat (so she doesn’t have to reach around and risk ripping the tight seams in her shoulders or upper back) are necessary to me, as an acknowledgement of how restrictive femininity can be, and of how difficult it is to walk around the world in these clothes, as a celebration of the beauty of femininity on the body, and with deep respect for the courage to costume and perform femme to begin with.

There’s a long history of these gender roles, these accentuations of the body as a flirtation, as a mating ritual, as peacocking, to attempt to attract a lover.

All this is to say, I’m really not taking credit for “bringing butch back.” But I like the phrasing, and I’d like to think that I’m encouraging it. I’ve written it before (& I’ll write it again): I would never tell someone what their identity is, I would always wait for them to tell me how they choose to identify. But because I’ve found such play and liberation and fun and self-empowerment inside of butch, I do want to encourage and support it.

So, I made a masthead. Those are my hands and the bird tie, in a portrait taken last summer by Bill Wadman. With a nod to dooce, in theory the mastheads will rotate monthly with a different tagline. 

I tend to follow the wheel of the year, so I wish you a happy spring equinox today:

The Spring Equinox celebrates the return of life and growth to the thawing earth.  For the first time since the Fall Equinox, the time of light and dark in a single day are equal. From this day forth, Spring will arrive, and with her, a wild spurt of growth begins. Shoots of young grass appear, leaves sprout on trees, birds and their songs return. Winter and the dark time have finally been put behind us, and the season of growth has begun. This holiday is truly a celebration of life and nature.

Since the Spring Equinox represents new life and growth, this is the perfect holiday for planting seeds of your own on the path of your life.  New ventures may be aided by the spirit of life and growth that abound, and many people decorate eggs at this time with symbols of fertility. All is new and possible. In addition, this holiday is an ideal time to break the last of the chains that may halt our growth.

So that’s what I’m thinking about today: what chains may be halting my own growth, and how to let them instead be little sprigs of pure green.

careful, your prejudice is showing

March 14, 2008  |  essays  |  7 Comments

Dear Angry Anonymous Girl on Craigslist,

The Closet Musician is so right about thickened skin. Reading your posts, I feel the hatred you carry, but only down to a certain level before it just simply stops. Your words hit my bullet-proof armor and don’t penetrate any further. And that armor is made up of years of self-examination, of friend’s and lover’s support and care, of gender theory and feminist theory and queer theory, of reading memoirs and listening to my community’s stories. I haven’t internalized any of what you’ve said about female masculinity, about butches, bois, tomboys, about ME – which is good, that’s an improvement.

Perhaps sometimes I’m not as sensitive as I think.

But I know that you’ve hurt others, deeper than me. I know how fragile it is to come to and then embody this female masculinity, how fragile these gender identities are, how easy it is to sometimes tear them down. You’ve hurt my friends, my lovers, my people, and that is not okay.

In the tone behind your words I can tell you really mean what you’re saying. You actually believe this hatred, you actually believe that masculine-identified female-bodied folks are responsible for discrimination against lesbians, that this type of female masculinity is ugly. That surprises me – that kind of deep-seated hatred always surprises me, on anybody, for any group.

This post of yours, the subsequent comments on Craigslist and on the various lesbian blogs, have reminded me how radical it still is to exist outside of gendered norms. How subversive it is to break the sex/gender assumption that dictates that female-bodied folks must be feminine and male-bodied folks must be masculine. How dangerous it is for me to walk around in men’s clothes, get my hair cut at a barber shop, buy cocks and pack.

Gender is still the dirty little secret in the worlds of activism and social change. It is still possible to deflate a female women’s rights worker by calling her “mannish,” still possible to discredit gay male activists by calling them “flaming” or “fairy.” There are consequences to subverting the paradigm of the sex/gender binary.

And you know what? That must mean that us activists, us queers and butches and bois and femmes and drag queens and fags and radical fairies and trans guys and girls and genderqueers – we must be doing something right. We’re a threat. If we were that easy to dismiss, if we were that marginalized and insignificant and deviant, we would not have to be called out as “ugly” on a public forum by a cowardly anonymous genderphobe.

That revelation I feel in my bones, past that armor, all the way down to my defenseless bloody organs. A vibration of hope, a vibration of power.

Last night, I said to The Closet Musician that I was grateful for all the comments that have come after the original post, I’m grateful that my community of genderqueers are not taking this lying down. I’m grateful for all of the comments here on Sugarbutch, for all the reactions of surprise and love and care, for all the angry rants and the articulated defenses. Here are a few:

It’s in the way that they are both gallant…and in / private moments raunchy, sexy and hot, that makes me shudder / It’s the Butch Mystique, which I would never pretend / to know, but that I understand and love.

It’s too bad you can’t appreciate the beauty of female masculinity, the amazing variety of genders in the queer “community”, and the sheer fun of fucking with gender.

I know for a fact that there are plenty of attractive, femme women who love their butches. Objectively hot women, even by glossy magazine “normal people” heterosexual standards. … Even hot women are occasionally rejected (there’s always another hot one somewhere down the line) so the argument that someone would like a butch for no other reason than she can’t do any better really doesn’t work. And what makes you think butches aren’t picky?

For many of us, there is simply nothing hotter than a really butch woman.

u don’t like masculine women but who died and said u can dictate who a individual is and how they should look. … im not a butch but I LOVE THEM because they are the bravest of our kind to put themselves out there and be who they are. I think you should find out who you are and stop judging what u don’t know. Remember lesbians in general have to struggle to be accepted and its more than effed up to kno that 1 of our own is holding us back. I hope ur proud of yourself ur famous.

The entire post was pure internalized homophobic spew. Nothing sickens me more than a member of a disenfranchised community further discriminating against others … we are the ones on the front lines, as much now as then. … It has been our fight, our visibility and our scars that have allowed you to have increased freedom and safety. … The next time you want to put down butch, maybe you ought to think a little harder about your history.

But even so, I wish we were at the point where even though you are thinking these awful, prejudiced things about female masculinity, you would never, never voice them to others, because gender discrimination would be a faux pas, so politically incorrect that you would never put it out there into the world, because there would be huge social consequences.

Wait, I just realized something. What you’re saying is hate-speech. It’s prejudice against a group of people, and it violates Craigslist’s Terms of Use:

You agree not to post, email, or otherwise make available Content: a) that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, libelous, invasive of another’s privacy, or is harmful to minors in any way; [...] c) that harasses, degrades, intimidates or is hateful toward an individual or group of individuals on the basis of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, or disability.

Like many of the posters have said, I don’t care if you aren’t attracted to butches. Just like I don’t care if you are or aren’t attracted to men, to redheads, to big breasts, to high heels. Attraction is personal, yours is yours and that’s just fine. But I do care that you’re taking your personal preferences and turning them into hate speech, to discrimination. Your hatred is fuling gender discrimination and transphobia, both of which have very serious consequences in our society. I am so tired of seeing yet another headline for a trans person murdered in a hate crime, and your hate crime, your post, is precisely the same kind of misunderstood, misguided hatred that fuels these crimes.

But, like they say, karma’s a bitch. If you have any desire to cover your ass, I suggest you educate yourself. Figure out your own internal shit. Live and let live. Stop spewing such hatred. And while you’re at it, donate to the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, a non-profit organization that “works to ensure that classrooms, communities, and workplaces are safe for everyone to learn, grow, and succeed – whether or not they meet expectations for masculinity and femininity. As a human rights organization, GenderPAC also promotes an understanding of the connection between discrimination based on gender stereotypes and sex, sexual orientation, age, race, and class.”

Perhaps I will practice some lovingkindness meditation and think of you – may you live in safety, be happy, be healthy, live with ease. Maybe through that practice I’ll come to some new place of generosity and be able to forgive your ignorant prejudice. I’d like to be able to do that. I’d like to be that generous.

For now, I wish you peace in your heart.

Sincerely,

sinclair