Posts Tagged ‘identity development process’

Butch Enough: Butch Lab Symposium #1

December 16, 2010  |  on butches  |  8 Comments

The problem with butch identity—well, any identity category of social, sexual, political, geographical, or other significance really—is permission. If you get past the problem of stereotyping, of course, and how stereotypes are based on fact but simplified, sprayed down with fake plastic snow and called a tree when in fact they don’t grow or move or change or catch breezes or encourage nesting.

The problem with butch identity is permission. Who gives you permission to be butch? Are you butch “enough?” I questioned myself. I wasn’t sure I bought in to what I saw reproduced around me. So I sought out mentors: S. Bear Bergman, Ivan E. Coyote, Patrick Califia, Karlyn Lotney, Jack Halberstam. People whose writings I could adore secretly in the dark and examine with a microscope, searching for myself hidden between the lines.

“You’re not that butch,” others would say to me. “Oh don’t say that,” they’d shush me with pursed lips after I dropped That Word into casual conversation. As if I’d just called myself something insulting, something demeaning. A bad word. Butch is a bad word, one of those locked and loaded words used against us by classmate and teacher alike. Such a different, awkward, not-right way to be, according to the eyes of the world.

But I didn’t see it that way. From the minute a girl—a femme—I was madly, stupidly, unrequitedly in love with leaned in and whispered, “I think you’re butch,” I knew it was tattooed on all the walls of my heart and when they split this body open they’ll find those five simple letters ink-stamped over every organ. Butch heart. Butch lungs. Butch stomach and trachea and diaphragm and sternum.

I saw it as an honor.

(I still do.)

And so I started reading, and I saw it as a lineage, connecting me to dozens of other writers and thinkers, radical activists and dapper dressers, people I could look up to for style, advice, insight.

But still: Was I enough? Was I “faking” it? Was I an imposter? Goddess knows that’s the most dangerous thing to be.

My experiences told me no, this is real, but my head took convincing. I craved permission. A card to carry, a gold stamp: certified, verified, “real” butch. I tagged along, hanging on my mentor’s every room for approval, validation. I consumed like I’d been starved of knowledge of my own people—which I had.

Ultimately, it wasn’t anyone else who gave me permission: it was me. I splashed around enough to know that while I didn’t have the answers, no one else did either. They only had guidelines, ideas, what had worked and what hadn’t, the stories of their own piecemeal patchwork lives. But boy, did we have questions.

Questions like: What is butch? What does it mean to me? I savor these questions like a fine rich dessert. I turn them over and over in my mouth with my tongue. And as much as I crave their answering, I crave the questions they raise even more.

So here’s what butch is, for me: Permission. Permission to be myself, that little solid stardust shiny nugget I feel somewhere in my core, like a diamond lodged between L5 and L4 of the lumbar spine vertebrae. Permission to wear what I like, to love who I desire, to play how I crave, to decorate and adorn my body how I choose. To experience all the things this world has to offer, without guilt or obligation, but with curiosity and an open heart and experimental hands. Permission to be right where I’m at, regardless of whether that’s where I was yesterday. Permission to explore and seek pleasure, to connect and create friction, to question and make change. Permission to be exactly who I am, doing exactly what I’m doing, to have bright burning faith that everything I do works toward the greatest liberation for everyone, as much as possible, all the time, in all ways.

And just in case you need it: I give you permission, too.

Poll: What do you think about labels?

May 12, 2009  |  essays  |  37 Comments

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.

[poll=3]

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.