Posts Tagged ‘gender’
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.
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.
The word for you is butch. Remember this word. It will be used against you.
The word for you is butch. Your history is one of strength, and survival, and largely silent. Do not hide this word under your shirt. Do not whisper it, or sweep it under the basement stairs. Let it fill up your chest and widen your shoulders. Wear it like a sleeve tattoo, like a medal of valour.
Learn to recognize other butches for what they really are: your people. Your brothers or sisters. Both are just words that mean family.
Other butches are not your competition, they are your comrades.
Be there when they need you. Go fishing together. Help each other move. Polish your rims or your chrome or your boots together. See these acts for what they really are: solidarity.
Do not give your butch friend a hard time about having a ponytail, a pomeranian, nail polish, or a smart car. Get over yourself. You are a rare species, not a stereotype.
Trim your nails short enough that you could safely insert your fingers into your own vagina, should you ever want to.
It makes me want to write my own butch roadmap, my own tips and tricks and suggestions and ideas for being butch and pursuing this identity. I’ll have to think on this idea for a while, let it percolate.
What about you – what kind of things would be on your butch roadmap? Or femme roadmap?
My name is
|Mr. Sinclair Sexsmith|
|My identity is|
|academic, activist, BDSM, bookworm, buddhist, butch, compassionate, dominant, dyke, empowered, faggy, female-bodied, female-born, feminist, femme-fucking, femme-loving, Green, genderqueer, gentleman, guy, hippie, intentional, introvert, kinky, lesbian, lover, meditator, metrosexual, open, pervert, poet, prettyboy, pro-label, queer, reclamation, romantic, sacred whore, sadist, sadomasochist, service top, sexsmith, sir, stud, sugarbutch, tantra, theorist, top, transbutch, transmasculine, vegetarian, yogi, wordsmith, writer|
I ran into this Yay genderstats! fill-in-your-own-gender form from a Genderfork link a while ago, I think, but haven’t been able to find it again – I wanted to give the link to the folks at the Northwestern University in Chicago when I did the F*cking with Gender workshop but didn’t find the link. (I still have to write up the workshop notes and resources, which I’ve started, but haven’t finished. Coming, I swear!)
The description says “There are exactly 939 options here, and a total of 4.6469×10282 or 4.6 trenovemgintillion possible combinations, more than there are elementary particles in the universe.” Statistics for this project are also fascinating – 43% of the over 2,000 genderform labels generated included “female” or “intelligent,” but only 6% included “butch.” However, 12% included “femme” – twice as many as butch. Maybe if one added up ALL the femme-like words and ALL the transmasculine butch-like words, they’d be slightly more even, but I think it’s interesting comparing just those two words. More people included “submissive” (21%) than “bottom” (18%), but that claiming those words are more common than “top” (13%) or “dominant” (16%).
Interesting! I mean that’s not exactly a scientific study, but from my experience that is an accurate reflection of the queer communities.
Actually, recently I said I thought it was more common – from my experience only – to run into femmes who are tops, but I’m rethinking that now. (I think I just notice it in a different when a girl is a top, because it means we’re probably not compatible in bed.) Maybe it’s closer to 50/50.
Looking over the list of words, organized in alphabetical order and by frequency, I’m struck that though there are dozens (hundreds?) of words for gender, lots of things about religion and spirituality, lots of general terms for human emotional experiences, some for relationship orientation, but there are very little for class or race. Those things are highly influential to gender identities, too, and should be included, I think. I may just email the creator about that and suggest some additional sections or words.
Have you filled in your own gender/identity yet? I’m not sure my comments will let you paste the whole table into it and publish it accurately, but if you want to paste just the labels part into the comments, I’d be curious to see what other people list. Please share!
The “unthought known” is a phrase that I first heard through my therapist, when we were talking about trauma and memory specifically. But immediately, I recognized it as extremely useful to identity development, especially in that many of us feel that we’ve always been this way (whatever way “this” might be – queer, kinky, gendered), but never really knew that we were.
That’s basically the definition – something you’ve always known but have never thought about, have never really known that you know.
I remember going through these realizations multiple times as I developed a feminist identity, then a queer sexuality, then a butch gender. As soon as I had those moments which really “clicked,” I was almost confused as to why I hadn’t gotten to this sooner. It was so familiar on a cellular, deep-gut level, and yet it was never how I’d been previously.
One of my former writing mentors used to say, art is a way to get to know what you don’t know that you already know, and I think that’s related – or, maybe more specifically, art is one of the techniques that we can use in order to get the unthought known to become the thought known, as sometimes the creative process can take us to new places and uncover connections to things that are already inside of us, but that are not quite conscious.
I did some research online trying to find more references to it, and there is not a whole lot. It’s a psychology term that was coined in 1987. I did find one interesting essay – Embeddedness, Reflection, Mindfulness and the Unthought Known by Michael Robbins – which is worth reading. Only 4 pages, and it discusses some very interesting concepts related to the unthought known and mindfulness.
What then is the “unthought known”? Christopher Bollas first coined this provocative phrase in 1987 (Bollas, 1987). Basically it refers to what we “know” but for a variety of reasons may not be able to think about, have “forgotten”, “act out”, or have an “intuitive sense for” but cannot yet put into words. In psychoanalytic terms, it refers to the boundary between the “unconscious” and the “conscious” mind, i.e. the “preconscious mind.” In systems-centered terms, it refers to the boundary between what we know apprehensively, without words, and what we know, or will allow ourselves to know, comprehensively with words. (In many ways, although the methods are very different, the psychoanalytic goal of “making the unconscious conscious” is equivalent to the systems-centered goal of making the boundary permeable between apprehensive and comprehensive knowledge.) [... W]e conceptualize the unthought known as what we already know but don’t yet know that we know.
I find it really useful to think about in terms of gender and sexuality, since so much of those identity concepts are deeply, deeply embedded but often completely subconscious. What do you think? Are there particular things in your life that have been “unthought knowns”? How did you get them to be thought knowns? What was your identity development process around them?
You might want to vote in the poll before you read me yammer on about my own thoughts on labels and identity, so I don’t unfairly influence your answers.
I realize this is a very non-scientific poll, somewhat limited to the visitors of this site, and therefore not a very good sample of the queer communities’ attitudes toward labels … but hey, you gotta use what you got, right? And this is what I got.
So please, leave comments with more explanations (or feedback on why my poll sucks) about your relationship to labels, and read my own thoughts about labels and identity below.
In pursuing this work of identity, specifically gender and sexual identity, one of the first and deepest and most difficult things I come across is the concept of labels.
I see questions about these things all the time: why do we have to label ourselves? Why is the lesbian community so into labels? Why can’t we move beyond labels? What good are labels? Why do I have to conform to someone else’s idea of what I am or am not? Why can’t I just be me?
One of my “gender rules” (something I’m working on, hopefully more on that in the next few weeks) is that everyone is the expert of their own gender, and so thus to always respect however another person feels about their gender. So if you want to reject labels, and that is the way you feel most like yourself, most liberated, most outside of this confining system of gender, then I say go for it and more power to you.
That’s not the case for me, though, not really. I find a lot of liberation inside of the labels – I don’t feel restricted by them, I feel more free to be more myself than I was before.
So I find this curious. I don’t want to be prostelytizing about how everyone needs labels, and I don’t assume that what works for me works for everyone – or anyone – else. But I do know it works for me, and as I’m developing my own gender theories, I’m struggling a bit to explain why.
There is a perception, espeically of the lesbian communities I think, that lesbians are really into labels. From the outside, a lot of words are thrown around connected to lesbianism and queer women, like butch and femme, dyke, homo, queer, bisexual, I actually think the dominant attitude in lesbian communities is very anti-label, very much a rejection of gender identity and sexual identity words. It seems to me that the heat of the community – the visible folks, the young and activist-oriented – are embracing the word “queer” very strongly, which is a much more inclusive term than many of the others, a huge umbrella under which bi, poly, trans, gay, kinky, genderqueer, non-conforming, et cetera, all can come together and find a place.
What I’m saying is, I think it’s interesting that from the outside, this community appears overly obsessed with labels, but once you get inside of it, there are a lot of ways that the dominant discourse discourages labels and micro-identity development.
But when I started thinking through that, I wondered: maybe that is just true for me and not necessarily a truth about the community as a whole. Perhaps that’s just unique to my experience (and, to be fair, the experience of many other butches and femmes, as I’ve heard stories of gender identity development from many of us and they are similar) and perhaps the dominant community thinks something else. But, I thought, it’s not like there is a study I can turn to about what percentage of queers embrace labels!
And, gee, if I can’t use my blog for research like this, then what the heck is it good for?
I hope the options give a wide enough range of your relationship to the concept of “labels” that one of them fits pretty well for you. If it doesn’t, please do leave a comment and tell me, more specifically, what you think about labels, identity, and you personally.
I don’t remember why, but at some point this weekend I thought, “I should find that Gender Subversion poster and put it on Sugarbutch.” Probably to talk about the difference between gender and personality, which I’ve been kicking around in my head lately (i.e., well: they are not the same).
And then, while catching up on my reader today, there it was, on Fourth Wave Feminism.
Buy this poster on Crimeth Inc. & support their wonderful work.
Maria See put the original call out for the Femmethology literally years ago, and ever since I first saw it I knew I wanted to contribute something to this unique anthology on femme identity. But what? I didn’t feel like I could necessarily speak from a place of authority on What Femme Is, there are hundreds – thousands! – of versions of femme, and no matter what I know about femme or how many femmes I’ve interacted with, I am an observer, a witness of femme, I don’t feel like I create it myself.
So what would I write?
I wrote a few pieces, brainstormed, but nothing I really loved. Nothing really got to the heart of what I was trying to say, which was … what? I wasn’t sure.
But it hit me on the very last day the editors were accepting submissions, and I sat down and wrote this Love Letter in one long sentence, and spent the rest of the day editing and polishing. I’m not going to reproduce the text here (you’ll have to buy the book for that) but I will present you, here, with a recording of me reading the love letter that appears in Visible: A Femmethology Volume Two.
Hope you enjoy it.
[display_podcast] Sorry, the podcast plugin seems to have broken – you can’t hear the piece in the browser anymore, but you can still download the mp3.
Thanks very much to Audacia Ray for recording and producing this mp3!
In case you missed it, see more information about the Femmethology here.
I especially like what Janie said – that eyebrows “should be sculpted minimally to best feature one’s eyes.” Uh, so, how does one do that?
And you’re going to have to educate me I’m afraid: wtf is this “threading” business? I thought it was similar to waxing. Why recommend it in particular for butches? What’s the difference? I’m confused.
PS: I promise I won’t turn this blog into a mirror of what I’m doing on twitter. There are much smut and omphaloskepsis and media reviews and gender explorational writings in progress.
Pumping is most well-known, probably, for endless spam emails: Make her feel your Wang! Make Your Meat-Stick Massive! Give Her Real Lovefest! Turns out, the more you engorge your cis-cock with blood, the bigger it becomes. Similar to working a muscle, I suppose - this is the way you work that particular muscle. And about two years ago now I heard from a friend that clit pumping was all the rage at a particular trans conference they had attended. Reeeeeally, I asked. How does that work?Read More
I did my own presentation as well, and at the last minute called it COCK CONFIDENCE in a butch/femme context. I had some notes, but was also not feeling very well, and twenty minutes goes by so fast!, so I had a lot more to say about the subject that I didn't get to. Here goes.Read More