Posts Tagged ‘identity alignment assumptions’

Ask Me Anything: Origins of ‘Sugarbutch’, and Butch Identity Advice

May 3, 2011  |  advice  |  14 Comments

Kyle asked:

Where did ‘Sugarbutch’ come from? Is it a nickname? A term of endearment? A random word paired with ‘butch’?

And, because I’m feeling greedy/generous, another question, this one a little more serious. What is one piece of advice you’d give to a newly identifying butch. Would it be something about relationships? Or maybe fashion related? Something deeper about identity, gender and sexuality? And if you don’t want to be limited to one piece of advice, go for it.

I’m not sure I have explained “sugarbutch” before. It is a term my first girlfriend used to say, as in, “You’re not really butch, you’re kind of sugar-butch,” as a way to soften the “butch” part. When I started this site I knew I was butch, but I was still having trouble claiming it without any qualifiers or clarifications, which is why I used the “sugar” part. It makes it sweeter (ha ha), less harsh. Five years later, I don’t think “butch” needs to be made sweeter or less harsh, or rather I think the stereotype of butch may need to be, but that I don’t need to present it that way. I can let the complications of butch identity come through just by being who I am rather than qualifying my language.

Secondly … advice. Actually I have a somewhat recent performance poetry piece called “Unsolicited Advice to a New Butch” (also known as The Butch Poem) which I’ve been performing a bit, I did it first at Butch Voices Portland last year (which is why I thought for a second that that was a trick question, Kyle, since you were there! But you couldn’t stay for the spoken word performance, I think you were already headed back to Seattle by then). I haven’t posted it online yet. I’d like to post it as a video instead of as text, but I haven’t had the chance to record it yet.

One piece of advice is hard. I could have one piece of advice on all the topics you mentioned—relationships, sex, fashion, identity. But I’ll just jump into it by saying: Examine your identity alignment assumptions. Examine your misogyny and masculine privilege. Make the label conform to you, don’t conform to it. Gender should not dictate your personality, hobbies, emotional landscape, or interests, so like what you like and don’t worry that it’s not “butch enough.”

Ultimately: do what feels right to you. Deconstruct societal restrictions and listen to your own inner self. Date who you want to date, sleep with who you want to sleep with, keep your hair how you want to keep your hair, wear what you want to wear. Give yourself permission to experiment (especially with fashion and adornment—hair and clothes are very temporary!). Don’t be afraid to expand the definition of a label if you feel like it has some resonance. Don’t be afraid to experiment, collect the data, and then change things as needed in the future. Whatever or whoever you are right now, it could be the same in five or ten years or it could be completely different, and that’s okay. Don’t take it all so seriously. There is more to you than just this identity, this is just one part of who you are. Work on all the parts (like in the integrated life matrix) and commit to evolving into your Self over and over.

I’d be curious to hear other folks’ answer to that question, though—what advice would YOU give to a new butch? What advice do you wish you had? What’d you learn the hard way? What was the best piece of advice you received?

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?

Define: “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets”

December 26, 2008  |  essays  |  20 Comments

I ran across the phrase "butch in the streets, femme in the sheets" (again) the other day, and it bothered me (again, still). So I started thinking: It generally means - and correct me if I'm wrong - that this supposed "butch in the streets," once taken to bed, liked to or wanted to get fucked. This is operating on an identity alignment assumption: that butches are tops.

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Define: Identity Alignment Assumptions

December 2, 2008  |  essays  |  17 Comments

An identity alignment assumption is the assumption that one's identity categories align with what is either a stereotype or a dominant compulsory cultural norm.

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