Is genderqueer (or butch) a stepping stone to transitioning?

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Question: if you had been assigned male at birth, all else remaining constant, do you still think you would have identified as genderqueer? i.e. how much of it do you think is an innate identity inherent to who you are, and how much of it political? In a hypothetical society where we actually had full gender equality and the boxes of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ were much wider than they currently are, do you think you would still consider yourself genderqueer, or would you then be comfortable being one or the other?

I’m a trans guy who used to identify as genderqueer, but for me it was more of a stepping stone because I was afraid to come out all the way (like gays who falsely identify as bi at first). A lot of what you’re saying resonances with my own gender history, so I’m curious where the difference lies, given that I’m someone who continues to be uncomfortable with misogyny and male privilege but still wants very much to be seen and treated as male. Or is *that* the difference?

—ASQ, on Coming Out Genderqueer

It is definitely true that I don’t have investment in being seen and treated as male, but I DO have investment in not being seen or treated exclusively female. There’s a subtle difference there. And sure, maybe that is the difference between me and a trans guy. Definitely a few of my close trans guy friends have a very similar gender history to mine, too, and then at the final step 128 or whatever, mine says, “and that’s why I’m butch!” and theirs says, “and that’s why I’m a guy!” Being seen or treated as male doesn’t feel important to me or my sense of self, at least not currently. I reserve the right to change my mind on that at any point, if and when it shifts, but that’s been true for almost fifteen years now, so I am starting to relax into thinking it will remain true for a while. Butch feels good. Genderqueer feels good. Trans feels good, but mostly as an umbrella descriptor, as a community membership. More trans-asterisk (trans*) than capital-T Trans, but either are okay. (Kind of like how lesbian and dyke are okay, too, almost good, but mostly just adequate, though not quite accurate.)

I have a LOT of thoughts about all of this—especially how I identify, and my own gender journeys—that are way more complicated than the “Coming Out Genderqueer” article above. That article is purposefully distilled, attempting to talk to people who aren’t in any gender worlds. It’s a rough sketch beginning of all of that, at best, and sometimes broken down more simply than I mean to for the sake of accessibility.

Honestly, there’s no way I could answer “if I had been born male would I still be genderqueer” etc etc. I have no idea. For as much as I study gender constantly, I’m not really sure what being born male would have changed. Everything? Nothing? I just don’t know. I have speculations, but it seems unnecessary to entertain to me. And “if we had full gender equality and the boxes of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ were much wider than they currently are, do you think you would still consider yourself genderqueer, or would you then be comfortable being one or the other?” I have no idea. A society which had wider expression of gender than ‘man’ or ‘woman’ wouldn’t be where I live, so how many other things would have to change too? I’m a buddhist, I believe in interdependence—I don’t think we could change one big thing without a whole lot more changing, too.

I’d say that my most important identification is in being in-between, or outside of, a binary system. Would that still be true if I was male? I don’t know—probably. Assuming that I would have roughly the same personality, would still be a writer, would still really love satsuma oranges, would still crave the ocean, would still get stunned looking at the stars, would still find so much joy in swing dancing—assuming all those personality things were still true, then yes, I assume I would still crave being on the outskirts of things, the margins, where the weirdoes live, on the borderlands (to borrow from Anzaldua). I like the view from here. I get a better view, though it disenfranchises me a bit, too. The edges of things, more than anything else, seem to be where I am drawn. Not to one particular thing—masculinity, or genderqueerness, or transness. It isn’t about those things so much as it’s about being on the edge, for me.

And, a part of me is softly hurt by your comment, of yet another person asking me yet again, basically, if or when I am going to transition. Or rather, if butch is a stop over on the train to maleness. Or, if I was male, would I “have to” be genderqueer. I can’t tell you how many dozens (hundreds?) of people—butches trans men femmes, genderqueer agender androgynous queers, all sorts of genders, over the years, friends and lovers and people who talked about me rudely behind my back, so many of them at one point or another said something, either directly or indirectly, about my—and often, EVERY butches’—inevitable transition. I think butches get this all the time.

I think it’s quite a common story for many trans guys to spend some time presenting as butch, or as masculine identified women in some way, or as genderqueer, or as rejecting gender in some way. Like you wrote—(like gays who falsely identify as bi at first). Yes, that is sometimes part of the story. But it doesn’t apply to everybody all the time, and just because it happens sometimes doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who find a butch identity and stay there, people who never transition to male, who never secretly wish for maleness, or to be seen and treated as male.

Folks in the bisexual identity—to continue to borrow your example—get this all the time too, with people around them assuming, at least for quite a while in the beginning, that bi will be a stopover to gay town. Sometimes it is. But sometimes, it isn’t.

So, is genderqueer a political identity for me? Fuck yes it is. Is it an innate identity? Uh I mean how can we know what’s “innate” and what’s learned, especially when it comes to gender? But say, for a minute, that I do know—I would answer, Absolutely yes. Which one is more powerful? Fuck, I have no idea. That’s like asking me to rank my oppressions, or tell you whether I identify as an Alaskan or a writer first. I can’t hierarchize those. It is a radical, political act to reject the two-party binary gender system, and I like radical acts. I get off on ’em. It also feels like home in my body in a way my body never felt like home when I was dressed up more femininely, and never felt/feels like home when people refer to me by he/him pronouns. They/them and genderqueerness and in-between feels like all kinds of parts of me can be acknowledged—not “the man and the woman,” because for the most part I feel like those don’t even apply. None of the above. But the writer and the Alaskan, the swing dancer and the cockcentric top, the pretty good cook and the freelancer, the stargazer and the reader, the masculinity and the love of ice cream. The traits that I have that are traditionally masculine, the traits that I have that are traditionally feminine, and whatever in between.

I want to be able to pick + choose whichever ones suit me from whatever possible category. And I want others to have that ability, too, should they want it. I think it’s possible.

Also, I’m sorry—I don’t mean to be snappish about this, and I explicitly DID say, go ahead and ask questions. So, thank you for asking. I’m trying to answer honestly as best as I can, and honestly? Part of me is frustrated with that question, and the commonness in the queer worlds. I am heavily invested in butch as an identity all its own, regardless of the other genders or identities that that person carries too. I am invested in butch identity not only politically, not only for other people, but for my own sake. I am invested in my butch identity. Am I going to always be butch? I don’t know. Do I have secret longings to be male that are unrealized? Not currently, from the best that I know about myself, no.

Do I reserve the right to decide otherwise in the future? Fuck yes.

But … I hope, if I do decide I want to transition, to identify as male, to be perceived as male and treated as male, that I will honor the 35+ years (or, I suppose, arguably, the 15+ years, since I was mostly some other figuring-out-puzzling-frustrated version of me until I was about 20) I spent as a female genderqueer trans masculine butch. One of my most touching moments at BUTCH Voices in New York City in 2010 was when someone, during our ritual/keynote, held up a stone and offered: “My commitment to my trans voice is to honor the butch woman I was for 40-some years.” I know that many trans men were never butch, that if they were a masculine-presenting-woman for some length of time it might’ve been part of their transition, part of their path to male, part of survival, the only option they had, or who knows what kind of other things, and perhaps they never fully occupying the claimed identity of butch. And, similarly, some butches are never secretly wishing to be men.

I only speak for myself, but I, for now, am eagerly comfortable and loving the in-between of genderqueer.

Why Lesbian Erotica is Valuable Activism

ble14I’m reading some erotica—along with Jen Cross, Carol Queen, Amy Butcher, Xan West, M’kali-Hashiki, Cheryl Dunye, BD Swain, & Jiz Lee—to celebrate the release of Best Lesbian Erotica 2014 this Thursday night. (Details here and here and here.) I’m so excited to have helped curate an amazing lineup, and I am now sacrificing all the luck I have to get a good audience to show up. If you’re in the area, come!

I’ve been thinking about “lesbian erotica” lately, how edgy it is, how valuable it is. There’s a bit of controversy around this particular publication of Best Lesbian Erotica, and while I have a lot of thoughts about that article, I still have a lot of my own feelings about how important lesbian erotica is, and how it helps on the process of building one’s some people’s identities. (“One” here meaning someone FAAB who tends to prefer to sleep with other FAAB people, at least at some point in their life.) [ UPDATE: Katherine commented, “So, why don’t you feel that lesbian erotica is important to building the identity of trans-feminine spectrum lesbians?” And of course that’s a valid point. I’m sorry to have excluded trans women from that statement, and that was an oversight on my part. I was trying to be specific, and ended up being TOO specific. It doesn’t really matter who “one” is in that sentence above, all that matters is that some people use lesbian erotica to develop their own identities, and that’s my point. It is valid for all kinds of genders and orientations, and I never meant to leave anyone out. I’ll try not to write so hastily in the future, and be more careful. See my comment for a bit more of my thoughts. ]

I realized I wrote about my own experience with it, and why I think queer smut (“lesbian erotica”) is valuable activism, in my introduction to the 2012 Best Lesbian Erotica anthology, so I figured I’d share it with you here.

See you Thursday night, right?

Introduction to Best Lesbian Erotica 2012

I know what I want.

I knew exactly what I was looking for when I read the submitted stories for this anthology: dirty, smutty, smart about gender, smart about power, packed full of sex with the bare necessary descriptions of setting and context, and, oh yeah, good writing. It doesn’t have to be dirty in my personal favorite ways—with sultry accoutrements and costuming like stockings and strappy sandals, or with strap-ons and lots of fucking, or with blow jobs and dirty talk. I like stories where the characters are so turned on and lusty that I feel it too, even if it is not my particular kink or pleasure. I like stories with unique descriptions and rolling prose and insatiable narrators and rising and falling action. I like stories where I want to recreate the action for myself, when I am inspired by the delicious positions and settings and words.

Yes, and the words, let’s not forget the words. That’s what these kinds of books are all about, really. If you wanted a quick, easy turn on, you could load up any of dozens of queer porn sites—there is no shortage of real, good queer porn out there these days. But for some of us that is too crass, and a well-done turn of phrase gets us swooning and biting our lips and rubbing our thighs together even more than a dirty video.

I didn’t always know what I wanted. When I was coming out in the late 1990s, though there was a serious lack of queer porn in the video stores, there were plenty of people paving the landscape for what would become the blossoming queer porn of the 2000s. Diana Cage, On Our Backs magazine, Good Vibrations, (Toys in) Babeland, Annie Sprinkle, Susie Bright—and, of course, Tristan Taormino. It was Tristan’s 1998 Best Lesbian Erotica anthology that for me clicked something into place, something I could no longer pretend wasn’t there. I would hide the book in the back of the shelves at the bookstore where I worked so it wouldn’t get purchased, and I’d sandwich it between two others and sneak it into the stock room to read when it was slow. I wore creases into the spine with Toni Amato’s story “Ridin’ Bitch” and Karlyn Lotney’s story “Clash of the Titans.” I was genuinely confused as to why I liked these stories so much. What was this affect they had on me? Why did I love them so much? What did it all mean?

I began to find other books, short stories, and essays that helped move my budding baby dykery along: Nothing But the Girl—oh, swoon. That essay by Anastasia Higgenbotham in Listen Up: Voices From the Next Feminist Generation. Cunt by Inga Muscio. Breathless by Kitty Tsui. And the Herotica series, which was erotica for women before Rachel Kramer Bussel’s prolific erotica editing career.

I bought one of the Herotica books at a little indy bookstore—now gone—on Capitol Hill in Seattle when I visited one summer, before moving there. But it proved to be too threatening to my boyfriend who, enraged some night after yet another argument about my sexuality, stabbed that book and two other lesbian erotica books with the wide-handled screwdriver which I’d used to masturbate since I was a teenager.

These books are filled with three powerful things: 1. women, who are 2. empowered, 3. about their sexuality (which, by the way, does not involve men). Even the books themselves are threatening.

These books of lesbian erotica are not fluff. They are not nothing. They are not frivolous or useless.

For queers coming out and into our own, they are a path.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve managed to snag myself a lesbian bed death relationship, going out of my mind with desire and disconnection. I stopped writing, because the only thing that I was writing was how miserable I felt, how much I wanted out of that relationship—a reality I wasn’t ready to face. I decided that to work off my sexual energy, I would either go to the gym or I would write erotica. Well, I ended up writing a lot of erotica, rediscovering this tool of self-awareness and self-creation that had led me to smut in the first place, and I began writing myself back into my own life, back into the things that I hold most important: connection, touch, release, holding, witness, play.

My first published smut story was in Best Lesbian Erotica 2006. Between the time I wrote it and the time the book came out, I was beginning to end the bed death relationship, in no small part because I’d reminded myself of the value of the erotic, of my own inner erotic world, of erotic words. Between the time I wrote it and the time it came out, I started Sugarbutch Chronicles, which has carried me through these last five plus years, often being my sanctuary, support circle, best friend, and confidant.

Writing these stories, for me, has not been frivolous. They have not been nothing. They are not fluff or useless.

For me, they were a path back to myself when I got lost.

When I was lost, I had no idea what I wanted, aside from the basic daily survivals: work. Eat. Pay bills. Sleep. Shower. But when I wrote, when I connected with my own desire, I felt a little piece of me bloom and become in a bigger way. I felt more like myself.

I turned again to the great books of smut to help me find myself, to help me find a way back to a partner, a lover, a one night stand—hell, even an hour with a Hitachi was sometimes enough. The Leather Daddy and the Femme. Mr. Benson. Switch Hitters: Gay Men Write Lesbian Erotica and Lesbians Write Gay Male Erotica. Back to Basics: Butch/Femme Erotica. Doing It For Daddy. And Best Lesbian Erotica, always Best Lesbian Erotica. I still eagerly buy it every year to see what the guest editor’s tastes are, to see what the new trends are, to read the emerging new writers, to get my rocks off.

I rediscovered what I wanted through reading smut and writing it. Through carving myself a path in connection with a lineage of sex positive dykes and sex radicals and queer kinksters and feminist perverts.

After six years of writing and publishing erotica, I am thrilled to be a guest editor for the series which sparked me into queerness in 1998, thrilled to be choosing stories for the same series that published my very first piece, “The Plow Pose,” in 2006, which helped spark me back to myself. It is so exciting to be contributing to this queer smut hotbed that Cleis Press has helped nurture all these years, and I’m so glad to continue to be part of it in new ways.

I know what I want, now. And lesbian erotica, or as I prefer to call it, queer smut, has helped me not only visualize what is possible, but create a path toward getting what I want.

The stories in tis book reflect my taste, my favorites, my personal hot spots, certainly, but also the best-written stories from a large pile of well-written stories by some of my favorite authors, like Kiki DeLovely and Xan West and Rachel Kramer Bussel. There are some less-well known writers in here whose work you may not be familiar with, yet, but who will leave an impression on you, writers like Anne Grip and Amy Butcher. I found dozens of moments of signposts, signals directing me toward myself, words illuminating my own meridians of ache. With each story, with each act of lust, with each dirty command or submissive plea, I rediscovered my own want.

I hope you find some of what you want within these pages, too.

You can still pick up print copies of Best Lesbian Erotica 2012 via your local queer feminist independent bookstore, or, if you must, through Amazon.

And: Come see me & Jen Cross, Carol Queen, Amy Butcher, Xan West, M’kali-Hashiki, Cheryl Dunye, BD Swain, & Jiz Lee read smut from Best Lesbian Erotica 2014 this Thursday night, 12/12, in San Francisco at the Center for Sex & Culture. $20 at the door includes a copy of the book! Details here.

To the femmes on whom I’ve crushed this past year

If you think I’m not kicking myself for not making a move when I had the chance, you’re wrong.

I wish I made a move. Although really, I wish I had had the capacity to make a move. Explain it through the spoon theory, call it the grieving process, call it heartbreak, call it post-poly trauma and fear—whatever it was, I was not in the place to play, fuck, open myself up, make an offer, make a move, or hell, sometimes even flirt. I wish I had been.

These past eighteen months, there were moments my life continued on without me, me being pulled along behind the autopilot me who somehow managed to eat and sleep (no small feat). Sometimes, I had no idea you, beautiful kick-ass femme, were there, making a move on me, giving me The Eyes, putting yourself out there. Sometimes, three months later I found your email in my inbox and felt puzzled, where’d that come from? Why didn’t I even see that before? Wtf? Sometimes, I got so excited and turned on and pleased to receive an offer from you, and I plotted scripted wrote schemed what I would say back, and by the time I actually went to reply, it’d been too long and the connection felt broken.

Time is wonky in grief, in heartache. I wanted to be in an open poly playful place, and so I think sometimes I came across that way. But in retrospect, I was more shell than soul, more fear than fire. I couldn’t bring myself to our interactions—maybe you didn’t know. I didn’t know, either. Rather than defend myself, I just want to tell you that our moments, whatever we had, were special to me, and let you know that I wished I’d been there with my whole self instead of the half-ghost version you got of me.

To D:

Who took me out on a walk and talked so sweet of flowers and foliage, who held my cheek so gently in your palm before we kissed. Who wrote me a tender-hearted letter that broke my heart a little with kindness. Thank you.

To N:

Who fed me the most amazing wine and cheese and pot and smiles (that way your eyes smoke your lips part velvet you toss your bangs), you nourished me when I was incredibly dark. I’m sorry I didn’t know it better at the time. I still feel I owe you an apology. I still think of your hair falling in my face and on my skin, and how your lips felt when you whispered in my ear. Birds and photographs and more wine, and I hope you found an amazing place in New York to shine your gifts.

To A:

Your legs for miles and the way you move, your laugh and quick wit and ease. We’ve basically co-topped, more than once even, and when you made it clear you wanted to play (I think your text said, “I’d like to suck your cock,” thank you for being direct) I froze. Saw you the next day and neither of us spoke on it. Didn’t even text you back until later. In another context, I would’ve begged for the chance. I still feel like a dunce for that one. I’ve learned so much about poly watching your relationship(s) from a friendly far, and I admire how you play and hold people in such high respect. I can’t wait to see you perform again. The way you move your body … I can’t take my eyes off of you.

To C:

And your curls and handfuls of ass and knee socks and drag act. I still have your dirty story in my inbox and I feel stupid for not writing you back. I hope that wasn’t our only chance to play, because I can fuck better than that. Maybe someday I’ll work up the courage to ask you if I can prove it.

To J:

My beautiful (temporary) canvas, thank you for letting me mark you up, paint bruises and scratches and teeth marks into your gorgeous skin. And thank you for the photos after, they came at a time where it helped to be reminded of my own power, and the ways stunning creatures like you will sometimes allow me to borrow some of yours.

To T:

My fellow judge, the only one who asked me about my pronoun, the one I knew was ‘my people,’ particularly when you dipped your head just a little and then egged me on in writing: “And then what happened?” I barely remember the dirty fairy tale we started to tell, but maybe sometime we’ll get to finish it.

To D:

A kind of femme I almost don’t recognize in writing, but I recognized your markers. I recognized you in person. Your ferocity calls me still. I wish I’d had time energy spoons spunk to write you languid sexy stories you would read over your tea, slitting open the envelope with a dirty knife. I’m intimidated by your politics and youth and clarity. I ache to think of your mouth, my hands on your skin. How will I get another chance? I hope to be more ready when I do.

To L:

And perfect crisp white hotel sheets, and joints in the park, and your lipstick that never came off, and the way your hair looked in curls on the pillow in the mornings, and how much I wanted to stay sequestered with you, and your patience empathy understanding holding, and your gentle fist, and your heart-shaped mouth, and your jeans on the grass by the airport. I got a piece of myself back because of that weekend, a piece I didn’t know I was missing. Watching your hands speak I remembered those words I’ve hidden deep, wondered if you were speaking to those places when you slid inside me. I have already mailed you a dozen little ‘thinking of you’ packages in my mind, but in reality I have had no follow through. (Not just with this. With everything. Unopened mail unpaid bills unorganized paper.) I know you understand grief. Do you also understand how much I am grateful for you taking your time with me? How rare it has been for me to let someone explore those inner canyons? Thank you for being strong enough to offer to hold me, and for letting me return the exploration of your own folded in secrets. I want more of you, want to fist your hair again, bruise your knees against the floor, hold you down. Want to kiss your ankles and make an offering on my knees, though nothing really compares to what you gave me when you plucked me out of my chest and handed me back to myself. Thank you.

And to you:

You who attended my workshop in Noho or DC or Seattle or Chicago. I noticed your eyes, the way you bit your lip, how you looked me up and down, how you checked out my package, how you waited your turn and didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to say either. There is often a performer/audience teacher/student power dynamic I try not to exploit (unless, you know, I have permission). But let me be clear here, now: I noticed you. Fuck, I wanted you. My mouth watered at that glimpse of your skin. Maybe I was particularly worked up that night before I even arrived, but more than once I didn’t wait to get back to my hotel before remembering your mouth and twinkle and just-barely-too-long of a glance, and I got myself off. Coming with a grunt and a sigh in a stalled bathroom, keeping someone waiting, licking off my fingers and thinking of your lips.

At another time, in a different year when I was not so lost, I would have tried to ask, to flirt, to be bold, to make it clear I was game if you were, to have boundaries, to ask for yours, to try things, to write you back, to be curious, to connect, to feel our hearts beat together (if only temporarily). I may have missed my chance, but I still want you to know that I think you’re extraordinary, and whoever did get the chance to feel your fingertips roam, to taste your skin shined with sweat, to read the book of your scars, to hear your breathing shallow and release, to be anchored down by your weight, was lucky. I barely know you, but it seems clear to me that you are luminous.

Ask Mr. Sexsmith: First time with a girl

coaching-buttonHi Sinclair,

I’m in a bit of a pickle. I’ve been out for ages, but for reasons not worth getting into (for instance mostly due to lack of opportunity, not lack of interest or any deep seated issues) I’m still completely inexperienced when it comes to girl-on-girl sex. I have however had a fair amount of boy-girl sexcapades.

But now I have the opportunity to get some girl-on-girl action and I don’t want to tell her it’s my first time. I know I should, but I’m too embarrassed to admit that despite years of being out I’m a 28 year old queer virgin. I want to be a good partner and please her in bed but I need some direction. Will she expect me to go down on her the first time we go to bed together? Any websites or great tips to impart? Any help you can offer would be great.

Thank you Sinclair. You and your words have been helping me get off for ages. Now I’m hoping you can help me got off with a partner.

—Carly

Hi Carly:

As a budding baby dyke, I relied on books. Nothing But the Girl and Best Lesbian Erotica 1998 spring to mind, because in 1998 and 1999 I was obsessed and barely out. I left my boyfriend of six years in August 1999 to move into a crowded little apartment on Capitol Hill in Seattle with a dyke I barely knew, eager to have my own room, my own space, a place for my own desires. It wasn’t until April 2000 that I slept with a girl. She was in my nutrition class, and we had the same birthday. “Did you just say it’s your birthday?” “Yeah.” “It’s my birthday today too!” We talked and started sitting together. I put my hand on her knee under the table, and she let me. Kissed me in front of the school after class when we went our separate way. “You’re bold, touching my knee like that,” she wrote in a note later. “I like bold.” She invited me to her house for lunch.

She’d never been with a girl either, but she like me (and you) knew she was interested and had some sexcapade experience. When we started getting undressed (awkward light from my only bedroom window that faced the parking lot, shaded by a fringed grey shall, moon poster up over my bed, feminist books stacked in every spare space), kissing, oh she was a good kisser, I had no idea what to do or what it would be like or how to please her. But when she paused and said, “I don’t know what to do,” I could feel my relief, at her admission of what we were both feeling, and knowing that she didn’t know what would to do meant I could step in and take the (gentle) lead.

Oh, I thought. I know what to do.

I didn’t, not really. But I suppose in some ways that was the beginning of me as a service top, taking some limited control and having bodily permission to touch in ways that pleased her. That’s all I wanted to do: feel her, please her, touch her in ways that she liked, connect with her.

That’s all sex is, really. Sure, the orgasm part is a really nice added bonus—but not everybody comes at all, not everybody is able to get off with a partner, and almost nobody comes with a new person the first time.

Carly, you wrote this to me in March 2012 (and I am so behind on advice/ask me anything questions, this year has been impossible, see: the Making Peace series and the last 18 months of this site), so I presume you weren’t waiting on my small piece of advice before you went for it. So hopefully, this advice comes too little too late. Hopefully this is all irrelevant. Hopefully, you’ll comment on this saying, Oh! That was me! But I totally forgot I even asked that. I’ve been fucking for eighteen months now, I have this completely different other question now.

But just in case you haven’t, and just in case there are other folks out there who read Sugarbutch and dream about queer sex but maybe haven’t had much of it yet, this is my advice to you.

Will she assume that you will go down on her? I have no idea. Depends on the person. Personally, I think going down on someone is an incredibly intimate act, and I wait quite a while after starting to date someone to do it. Also, I am STI-aware and don’t go down on someone without a barrier unless we are fluid bonded, which also often happens after a few (or quite a few) dates (or never), depending on our agreements and how in-depth we go into our own STI histories and whether or not we have other partners or whether we’re going to go get tested again. I have dealt with this differently with everyone I’ve dated, but the short answer is, I think, no, you shouldn’t assume you will go down on someone on your first date or in the first month or so, and if you decide you want to, it should be after you get to know them more and have some safer sex conversations.

Don’t assume anybody is going to come the first time. I believe you are responsible for your own orgasm—in general, not just the first time—so if you want to get off, assume you’ll be getting yourself off. And make it totally okay for her to get herself off, too. Offer to watch, if she finds that sexy. Or offer to help, in whatever ways would be helpful (lick her nipples? Kiss her? Hold her down? Whisper sexy things in her ear? Shove your cock in her mouth? To each their own …).

Unless you have a strong power identity established already, and do a bit of negotiating, don’t assume who’s going to top and who’s going to bottom. Just feel each other. You’re getting to know each other in a new way: physically, energetically. Go easy, take each other’s cues. It’s a complicated physical dance.

To get ready for your first girlon-girl time (or whatever—y’all know that I mean to extend that to other genders too, right?): Jerk off a lot. Notice what you do, how you touch yourself, what feels good. Try those out on her body.

And pay a lot of attention to how she responds. If you can talk, ask how to touch her, ask what feels good.

Feel into your own body, and follow the pleasure. What would feel good right now? Tell her that, and ask: “I really want to kiss you right now. Is that okay?” “I have this urge to spank your ass, would that feel good for you?” “I have some soft pretty rope just … right there … I wonder if you’d like it if I used it?” “Can I introduce you to my favorite vibrator?” “I really love using a strap-on, do you like penetration?”

As I have been thinking on this answer, I kept saying to myself, Self … damn. If only there was a Girl Sex 101 primer that I could point Carly to for more tips and tricks and ideas about communication and negotiation and following pleasure and how ladyparts are awesome and different and the same.

And then I realized that maybe there’s not a perfect one of those right now, but there’s this:

That Allison Moon and KD Diamond are building, and you’re just in time to get a copy for yourself by supporting their Kickstarter.

What is it? Well …

Girl Sex 101 is a road trip in a book! Combining fiction & comics with solid sex-education, Girl Sex 101 does what no sex-ed book has done before.

A collaboration between author and sex-educator Allison Moon (the Tales of the Pack novels about lesbian werewolves) and artist kd diamond (founder & editor-in-chief of Salacious Magazine) Girl Sex 101 is loaded with fun, color illustrations and entertaining stories that offer far more than the standard sex-ed fare.

Plus, “Girl Sex 101 is a collaborative effort of over 15 independent educators and artists, featuring fun & informative guest viewpoints by sex-ed superstars” like Megan Andelloux, Tristan Taormino, Jiz Lee, Carol Queen, Julia Serano, Tina Horn, Ignacio Rivera and more!

So clearly you should try that too.

I also recommend these books:

  

Take a look at the rest of my women & sexuality category on my Amazon A-store, maybe some of those books will resonate?

I wish I knew of other good resources! So I figure this is a great time to ask the readers. Hey, readers! What do you recommend? What books or websites or sources? What are your best tips for queer sex for the first time?

PS: If you asked for advice from me in the past few years, and never received it, I’m sorry. I know many (hundreds, actually) of you have emailed me questions or asked me questions, and I haven’t replied. It’s because I have not been on top of my shit in the ways I would like to be—it’s not because your question wasn’t fascinating. It probably was. It’s just that I haven’t been on a schedule or replying or corresponding in the ways that I want to be. But, I’m sorry you reached out and said something possibly vulnerable or sweet or real, and never got anything back in return.

If that question (or a different question) is still relevant to you, the way to skip the queue and come to the top of the list is to send me a donation or book a 30-60 minute session with me over Skype or over the phone. I’ll address your question, and more.

“10 Hottest Butches of 2011” & the End of the Butch Lab Project

So this happened:

What? Thank you, brand new Advocate website SheWired! I’m honored you noticed my little Top Hot Butches project and I’m thrilled to be mentioned in this list. It’s a great list, too—check it out.

I’ve been debating for months how to tell you that the Butch Lab project is over. I have started mock interviews with myself about it, I’ve written rants in my journal. I want to put up a splash page over there, but to be honest—ha—it doesn’t get enough visitors for that to be actually noticed.

And that’s why the project is stopping. It never really got off the ground.

That could be because I didn’t throw enough energy over there, and if I had the time and energy to maintain another blog, maybe it’d grow into something. I can’t really expect it to jump into some big deal thing right away—but I guess I did, given the intensity of Top Hot Butches. Butch Lab never got the media attention, and that’s in part because Top Hot Butches had all that controversy and oh my god don’t we queers love controversy, especially when we know better than whoever is doing the stupid thing of insulting someone’s identity. The thing is, I took all of that feedback, scoured it, and spent months working on Butch Lab, incorporating all the feedback, and then it felt like it launched to silence. Sure, there have been many loving & supportive emails and many great comments about what the site has meant and how great it’s been to see all the mini-interviews (all of that is archived under on butches here on Sugarbutch, fyi), but it wasn’t really enough.

Beyond that, my life has moved more and more offline, teaching classes and leading workshops and organizing in-person events, and I just don’t have the time in front of the computer to hype butch-related things that perhaps I would’ve had a few years ago.

So, for all of these reasons, Butch Lab is closing. It’ll be up through the domain’s expiration in fall 2012, and I’ll be leaving Top Hot Butches up. When I made that decision, I wanted to continue doing the Symposium (writing prompts about butch identity and a blog carnival/roundup) and the mini-interviews, though I haven’t done that yet. I’d like to, perhaps I still will. I’ll add it to my 2012 Sugarbutch goals and see what I can do to make it happen.

Thanks, everyone, for being so supportive of both of those projects. Time to move on to more things, I guess.

A Little Bit About Butch Voices, Butch Nation, and “Masculine of Center”

So, a group of folks who were on the Butch Voices board have broken off and created a new organization, Butch Nation. If you keep up with this kind of drama news, you probably have heard about it. See the press release Butch Nation released, Butch Voices press about it, Sasha T. Goldberg’s letter about what happened, and an interview with Krys Freeman on Velvetpark.

I’ve been asked for my thoughts on what’s going on by a few folks. To be honest, I’m not sure what I think exactly. My understanding, based on reading those links above (and more), is that it is a) partially a personal rift, based on who knows what, and b) partially an issue of semantics, about the terms “masculine of center” and “butch” specifically. I can’t really speak to what’s happened personally between the groups—I don’t know, I wasn’t there, and for the most part, I’m not that interested. I mean, my wish is for us all to get along, but people have different ideas about how to run things, and it’s ever possible for rifts to arise when working closely with anyone (in fact, it’s nearly inevitable).

So I don’t know what to say about that part. But I can speak to the semantics, and my opinion about these (incredibly loaded) terms.

(While fully acknowledging that words are powerful, and the right word is incredibly important, and identity is complicated, I also think it isn’t worth the community rifts, and I’m not eager to get involved in the nitpicking of the argument. Still, I’m putting forth my two cents.)

The word “masculine of center:”

My understanding is that the Butch Voices revised mission statement includes this word as an umbrella term, to encompass a myriad of identities. Also from the mission statement: “Masculine of center (MoC) is a term, coined by B. Cole of the Brown Boi Project, that recognizes the breadth and depth of identity for lesbian/queer/ womyn who tilt toward the masculine side of the gender scale and includes a wide range of identities such as butch, stud, aggressive/AG, dom, macha, tomboi, trans-masculine etc.”

The term is meant to be more inclusive than a term like “butch,” which is loaded for many people, and which has historically been predominantly adopted by white folks.

This isn’t the first term to come around that has attempted to encompass these many masculine queer identities—remember transmasculine? That was a hot one for a year or so there, but was declared too problematic to keep using, particularly in the ways that it wasn’t inclusive enough of trans women.

Maybe this begs the question of whether or not an umbrella term is necessary at all. As someone who writes about this stuff frequently, my opinion is that yes, it is important to have a term. Not only that, but it’s important to see the connections between us, to look at the places where we overlap, and to use those to build bridges and build stronger community activism and connection around our shared oppression. Because all of us within these individual identities, we may or may not date the same type of person, we may or may not have the same spiritual beliefs, we may or may not identify as feminist, we may or may not wear the same type of underwear, but there is something that unites us: our masculinity.

(I would argue that our masculinity is intentional, though I know there’s some disagreements about that. I’ve also heard, lately, people arguing that they are “butch women,” and therefore “not masculine,” but I’d like to challenge that there is a fundamental difference between male and masculine, and that a woman can be masculine and still be women.)

Having something to unite us is powerful, and most of the words that this world has come up with to use as an umbrella term haven’t been far-fetched and uniting enough. Is this term? I don’t know. Personally, I like the term “masculine of center.” I wouldn’t use it in a sentence to describe myself, like I wouldn’t introduce myself by saying, “I identify as masculine of center,” but I would absolutely say that I identify as butch and that I believe butch falls under that umbrella, just like it is a sort of trans-ish identity, sometimes, for me, as well. I wouldn’t correct someone if they said I was masculine of center. I also don’t tend to identify myself as a “lesbian,” I’m much more likely to call myself a dyke, or, even more so, queer, but I wouldn’t correct someone if they called me that. It’s not my identity word of choice, but it is accurate.

Holding so tight to one singular identity word and no others gets us into such rigid places. When one word and only one word is an accurate description of one’s self, then of course a larger umbrella term will feel bad. And of course one will only feel good about being connected to and associated with other people who identify with that term. The problem is, I think, that the term itself is just a starting place. It’s just the thing that starts these deeper, elevated conversations, the invitation to say, “Okay, what does that mean for you? How did you come to that word, that identity? How does that identity play out in your daily life?”

Because, like Dacia reminded me when we talked about this last week, the map is not the territory. Even if we have mapped something out with language, what matters is the application to our daily, minute-by-minute lives. And what matters is, to me, the connections that we make, the interconnectivity we find with others who are struggling through similar issues that we are, and what we do about it to move ourselves forward.

I know identity politics are incredibly loaded—fuck, the words I call myself have been vastly important to me, I’m not trying to belittle that struggle. It is huge. The act of naming one’s self, especially in the face of oppression and marginalization, is complicated and powerful. I just hope that we can have more looseness in some of these discussions, as they go forward.

One more thing about masculine of center … I’ve read a few places, in response to this Butch Voices/Butch Nation stuff, that the word “masculine of center” reinforces the binary, and that gender is more complex than a linear spectrum, etc etc.

Funny, I never think of “masculine of center” as implying a linear, 2D scale, with masculine on one side and feminine on the other. All sorts of shapes have centers, and I tend to think of the gender map as a 3D circle, a galaxy even (though that is much harder to map), or perhaps a shorthand of a 2D circle if I’m trying to simplify it a little more.

I ran across this on Tumblr not too long ago, and it’s stuck with me:

From the creator:

Because it’s already established, I have put F, standing for Feminine gender, as red, and M, standing for Masculine gender, as blue. Going nicely with the pansexual flag colours, I have put O for Other gender (though part of me feels I should have put Third gender) as yellow. … Each gender/colour fades down to centre, where I have put A for Agender. …

With this wheel, you can say “I am somewhere between masculine and other, but it’s not a really gendered gender” and it makes sense, because you point at light green (which looks like turquoise, but this was the best wheel I found). You can say “If I’m anything, I’m feminine” and it makes sense, because you point at light pink.

And bigender? Sometimes *here* and sometimes *here*. Genderqueer is anything that isn’t red or blue, I think.

I think there are more genders than just this, but I also think it’s a pretty good place to start. Definitely a vast improvement from the linear spectrum, and I like the idea of all those gradient colors.

So my point, if I have one, is that I like the word “masculine of center,” and I think it’s useful for trying to unite many, many folks who struggle with a masculine identity in the queer worlds. As I’m continuing to be a part of building a better understanding of female masculinity and butch identity in this world, I think it is incredibly important to be talking to other people who have overlapping or complimentary experiences to my own, and to swap theories and survival tactics, to share war stories over beers, to have some respite before we go back and fight the good fights.

I believe the folks behind Butch Voices are doing an incredible job at being inclusive, open, and transparent in their vastly difficult task of bringing together dozens of identities to connect and unite in these conferences. I haven’t been to the national conference yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it next week, and as someone who has spoken quite a bit with Joe LeBlanc and other BV core members, and who was part of the Butch Voices NYC committee last year, and who this year has been volunteering as part of the national web team, I have some knowledge of how this organization is being run, and it seems professional, open, and excellent.

That’s not to say that, if I knew more of the details about what’s going on, I might not have some critical feedback, but it seems clear that they are doing their best, and I’m impressed with what’s happening.

I hope this conversation will continue next week, and I imagine it will. Perhaps as I learn more I’ll have more to share with you all about what I think and what’s going on. Meanwhile, I feel open and curious about these conversations, and interested in finding out more ways to have better, and deeper, connection, and elevated discussions around all of our identities, singular and collectively.

Update on the New Butch Project

Okay, so. It’s the 16th, and it’s probably obvious, but the new butch project, the relaunch of the Top Hot Butches from last year, hasn’t launched yet.

I’m behind. I’ve been working on it a lot in the past two months, but I’ve also had workshops and columns to write and deadlines and other websites I’ve been building and it isn’t ready. On top of all of my other demands (the ones that, you know, actually pay me some money), I have received dozens of emails and comments with nominations for butches to add, many of whom I have little knowledge, some of whom I already have on my radar.

I’m still looking for interns to help me with this project. If you have some time to help compile the database of butches (meaning, research website URLs and save and sometimes edit photographs from a name that I have), I’d love some help. It’ll get this project up and running much faster.

The “nominations” I’ve been seeking are rolling; they have no deadline, they are ongoing. I am not limiting this database to 100, there will be any and as many as I can find to include. Look at this post for details about who I’m looking to include, and what I hope you’ll send on if you’d like to include someone. You can absolutely nominate yourself, that’s fine.

I’m bracing myself a little bit for some backlash from this project; I guess I can’t help it, it became a whirlwind so fast last year. And doing anything based on identity, especially gender identity, gets tricky and problematic before the idea even forms in one’s head, so I’m not surprised that already I’ve had some questions and skepticism about this new project. Here’s a few things I want to state, clearly.

This project is not comparing anyone on the basis of hotness, it is not a hot 100 list anymore, it’s not even really a list so much as a database. It is not so much about the eye candy anymore (though there will still be eye candy, I promise) as it is about the community, social, and individual construction of butch identity.

I am including cis and trans men in this project, because butch identity can and has been constructed on any sexed body, but I will not be comparing butch women’s hotness to cis men’s hotness so there will be no danger of any butch “losing” and being less hot than a man.

I am not intending to externally impose any gender identity upon anyone else, despite my compiling of androgynous, genderqueer, and gender-non-conforming famous (and semi-famous) women who may or may not actually identify as “butch.” I know there are problems with this. One of my basic gender tenets is that no one can label you, that you label yourself. And by including someone on a list I don’t intend to state that they are butch and that I know oh so much better than they do about their identity, but rather that they have been visibly not feminine in the world, and for a woman to go about their life in such a gender expression is both difficult and inspiring to those of us who relate to it. It’s more of a “butch inspiration” list than anything else, so I am thinking I might rename it such—inspiration, instead of Top Hot Butches. I’m a little wedded to that phrase, since the original list from last year was called that, but what good is using a digital medium if it can’t be completely changeable?

Um what else.

Because I’m behind the launch date, I’m still accepting submissions for the Symposium #1. I have about half a dozen right now and I’d gladly add more. See this post for details, but basically it is this: you write a post on your blog writing about the prompt (this time, it is “What is butch? How do you define butch? What do you love about it? What does it mean to you?”) and send me the link. Then I’ll do the round-up of all the posts, and you can reprint the roundup (that would be kind) and promote the links of others, and comment on the other posts, keeping the discussion open and going.

I think that’s all for now. I’ll keep you posted as soon as I know what my real launch date will be, I promise! I have a couple more events in New York this week, and a few more deadlines, but then I’ll be back to working on this full time. By which I mean, obsessively, until it’s birthed launched. Really looking forward to sharing this with you all, and thanks for being a part of it, in whatever way you are.

My Evolving Masculinity, Part Four: Personal

See also: Part One, Introduction, Part Two, Yin & Yang, and Part Three: “Daddy”

I started this series in the summer, nearly six months ago now. I have already written a post about some of what I dealt with personally in the late summer and early fall, and some of my point of part four I have already gone through – some of it was about me processing through what I was struggling with in light of masculinity and the ways that thinking about maturing my gender helped me overcome some of the hardships.

There were a variety of things I was struggling with—all of the major elements in my life were shaken, just a tad, and then there was a personal crisis (related to someone who I continue, somehow, to allow to haunt me) that was the straw that broke the Jameson glass. And I kind of lost it. I was full-on in crisis, fairly unable to keep myself stable. I have a lot of tried-and-true “coping mechanisms,” tricks that make me feel whole and solid and thoroughly like myself, and are comforting and grounding, but they were failing me too. Nothing was working.

Here’s what’s interesting: everywhere I went, in my own writing, in my conversations with Kristen, in my psychotherapy work, in my bodywork, I was hearing from everyone that I needed to be stronger. To contain more, let it out less. Hold my own better. To “man up,” in other words.

Part of me oh so resented that! I mean, excuse me? I am a dyke, by definition I overprocess! Are you telling me that because of my gender? Would the universe be telling a femme the same things?

But once I got over myself a little, I thought, what the hell. I can’t keep going like this, I may as well try anything because I can’t continue this way. So I tried some new things on. I tricked myself into being stronger for a while, to see what happened.

It’s kind of the psychic equivalent of holding your breath, and letting it out in a slow, controlled stream.

But – this is a double edged sword, isn’t it, for someone masculine? Hold back your emotions? Don’t express yourself? Handle it on your own, don’t ask for help? These are classic PROBLEMS with masculinity, not necessarily what should be encouraged in someone masculine.

But despite that, I was willing to give it a try, because I could tell I was in dangerous slippery territory and needed to get myself back to somewhere stronger. Things started shifting. I attended a yoga class where the instructor spoke about making the pose effortless, and I thought: that is my problem. I extend so much effort to everything in my life. What would happen if I didn’t? I mean, do I really need to extend so much effort in getting on the subway and commuting to my job daily? Or in meeting a friend for drinks? Or in writing, or meditating, or doing yoga, or preparing food? These things could be effortless parts of my life, why do I waste so much energy thinking they are hard and require so much work? They could be easier than I let them be.

And then there was the Modern Love column in the New York Times, Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear:

You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “The End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

And there was Nicole Blackman’s poem, You Are Never Ready:

You must change your life. You are never ready.

There were other things, too. The new Tori Amos album was comforting. I re-read Tim Ferriss’s article on Stoicism 101 and was reminded of my coworker who used to say, “I like to be stoic about my suffering.” I re-read some of my notes from a recent Buddhist class, and meditated on suffering, and on effort, and on lovingkindness.

Something started unraveling, and my grip on whatever this suffering was started to loosen. I started thinking myself out of my fear of the forward movement, and into what is really happening for me: I’m growing. And growth requires the temporary suspension of security.

I know what I need to do to get to where I want to be. I know how I want to spend my days, I know what I want to do with my time, I know the subjects which I want to study. I have a much better idea of how to get from here to there than I ever have. I have a trajectory, I have thoughts, I have aim, I have focus. And now I need … what? Patience? Or perhaps endurance, perhaps stamina. Sometimes I need to be able to trust that when I take that leap of faith, something will catch me. That is precisely the definition of a leap of faith, after all. And grace, I need more grace, by which I mean “the ease with which one handles crisis,” I need more of that too. I pull so heavily on buddhist teachings when I get in crisis, or when those I care for are in crisis, I think I should really deepen that practice to give myself even more tools with which to deal with hardships and suffering.

I had a Part Five planned for this series, which was titled “In Which I Grow Up,” but that page has been blank since I started this series. I’m not even sure I know what I’m trying to say here. Something about how “grown up” masculinity actually is some of those things that we think are “bad” about masculinity—like stoicism or containing our emotions—and yet it is precisely that which opens up a whole new level of being, of caring for ourselves and others. Something about how that is not the negative, awful, repressive thing that, as a feminist studying masculinity, I was always taught and told. Of course, there are buckets of problems with this … but it is not so simple as just being a 100% bad thing. There are benefits, too. I’m struggling to articulate the ways that it is beneficial, I suppose we are lacking language and theory on this in general. But perhaps this small series—and, now, my Radical Masculinity column—can be a springboard to my further studies which shed more light on the ways this is useful.

Now’s the part where I ask you what you think. Please do chime in on what you think about the evolution of masculinity—your own, or those whom you have witnessed:

What has your experience been with “grown up” masculinity vs a younger masculinity?
What changed for you when you grew up?
What is different? What evolves, if anything?
What kinds of qualities would you like to see masculine folks embody as we get older?
How does masculinity evolve?

“Is it a trans characteristic to wear a cock?”: Cock-centricity and Gender Identity

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.

is it a transgender characteristic to wear a cock (with anatomically accurate balls) and feel more complete or like yourself when you are a biological female? you self ID with a lot of labels, but trans isn’t one of them. have you explored this idea? – reader

There’s two parts of this question I’d like to explore: first, my personal identity, and my relationship to “trans”; second, gender’s relationship to cocks, and my personal thoughts on that, too.

I do identify with the term “trans,” to some degree. That’s complicated, because I am not transitioning, and I do not identify as male. I feel strongly that it’s important for me to be female, a woman, lesbian-identified, and to behave and look the way I do (i.e., masculine). But insofar as people with my biological sex most often have a feminine gender presentation (setting aside the societal compulsory prescription of the feminine gender presentation), and I do not, I feel as though I am transgressing gender boundaries by my claim to masculinity and by presenting in a way that is seemingly in conflict with the (societally prescribed) sex/gender assumption. I – me personally, my identity, my work, my discussions – defy rigid, polarizing gender norms, and queer gender. I believe in taking this and that from any sorts of presentations around us and re-creating onesself in ways that make us feel good, empowered, strong, sexy, expressive, and authentic. I think we can all transcend our prescribed roles – no matter what they are, gender or familial or societal – and become ourselves in larger ways.

I don’t usually include “trans” in my list of identity descriptors. When I refer to myself as trans, it’s usually very couched in other things, like “my particular kind of genderqueer masculine-identified trans-ness.” I guess I feel like my use of trans and my inclusion in the trans communities is a bit controversial, as there are plenty of people who will jump (and have jumped) in to correct my use of this term, saying that my use of it invalidates the experiences of “real” trans people who are FTM or MTF and who are transsexual, transitioning fully from one gender to another.

So I tend to claim butch, whole-heartedly and fairly simply, really, and leave it at that. Because that’s what I am (right now, anyway, not that I anticipate that changing, but who knows, it could), and though I do think that the identity of butch includes a sort of trans-ness or a genderqueer-ness of occupying more than one gendered space at once, ‘butch’ accurately describes me much better than the term trans.

Now: about cocks.

Specifically, about cocks with anatomically accurate balls, about realistic cocks, about flesh-colored cocks and really feeling it and claiming it as MY cock, about having a cock as someone whose body doesn’t quite have one, not in the same way that other bodies have one.

I want to disrupt this idea that cocks specifically and penetration in general is a male, masculine, or man’s trait. I mean I get it: when considering human genitalia, the man is the one with the penis, the woman is the one with the vulva. But men have holes that feel good when penetrated, too, and women have fingers and tongues and sometimes clits big enough to penetrate, and a long history of dildoes, and then of course there’s the strap on cock, for when we really want to feel what it’s like to swing from the hips.

I was at a sex blogger tea party here in New York City maybe two years ago, discussing cock-centricty, when I believe Chris of Carnal Nation said (something like): “I know I’m a guy and all, but I’m not as cock-centric as you are. When I fuck, it’s with my hands, or my mouth. I don’t identify with it the same way you do, and it’s not my central sex act.”

This seems like a rather rare perspective for cis men, especially given that our entire (American, white, dominant) sexual culture is pretty much built around penises and penetration and the male erection, etc, but I think it’s more common than we’d expect.

Likewise, I have known some femmes who have been some of the most cock-centric people I’ve ever met. They drive a mean strap-on, as they say. And I’ve known some butches and trans men who are not cock-centric at all, despite that it would seemingly align with their masculine gender to be so.

Maybe this perspective of mine is also partly as a result of coming out as queer into a lesbian community which questioned cocks constantly. I have absolutely heard girls say, “If I wanted to get fucked with a cock, I’d date a man!” (Who I, duh, didn’t sleep with. More than once.) So coming to my own desire for using a cock and my own cock-centricty, while at the same time coming to a butch identity though not transitioning to male, I claimed cocks as a certain sex act that I separated from any particular identity.

Because anything two lesbians do in bed is lesbian by nature of the definition, no matter what act it is.

Unless, you know, it’s not – I certainly don’t want to devalue the experience of being in lesbian relationships and doing a whole lot of cock-centric activities, and for one of them to later come to a male identity. Perhaps for folks who go through that, the act was not exclusively lesbian, but was also male in a way. My point is, I want to squelch the fear that lesbians can’t use cocks in their sex play because it’s “not lesbian.”

That is not to say that strapping on or identifying with a cock is genderless. It interrelates to gender identity, presentation, and celebration – but which ways it interrelates depends on the individual. For me, it absolutely plays on my gender fetish and the way I see myself as embodying a masculine gender, and I LOVE to play with that during sex (as, uh, the entire Internet knows). And femmes who strap on cocks and play with them have told me that they see cocks as part of their gender, too – that part of the turn-on awesomeness of the whole experience is that it supposedly misaligns with their gender, that their sparkly pink harness and dick is all the more sexy to them because it’s femme.

I suppose there are a few kinds of cock-centricty, right – because I’d say Kristin is fairly cock-centric, but she isn’t into wearing one and fucking with one the way I am. For the most part I’m referring to folks who want to be the wearers here, who identify with it as a part of them.

If you’re cock-centric, you’re cock-centric; I don’t think that necessarily should dictate your gender identity. Cock-centricity is not necessarily a masculine or male trait. Gender identity may be totally related, somewhat related, or not related at all – I think that just depends. For me, the interplay of gender and my cock is important, and I love the way it feels to use it, the way I feel when I’m packing, the way it feels to get off while fucking with a cock, the turn-on of dirty talking about my hard dick, the ways it drives me wild to get a blow job. It is part of my masculine sexuality, but I have many other parts of masculinity that are not necessarily sexual, and I’ve explored the line between butch and trans enough that, for now, I know I’m pretty firm where I’m at. I still struggle with some descriptors like “girl,” “woman,” and “daughter,” but the other options of “son,” “man,” and “boy,” don’t fit either. So, for now, I’m sticking with butch.

I’d love to hear what some cock-centric (or non-cock-centric) gay boys have to say about this, I’m not sure how it translates (though I have some guesses). I will have to ask around.

My Evolving Masculinity: Part One, Introduction

Gender evolves and changes and shifts over time; what’s true for me today might not be true tomorrow, and the questions and puzzlements that plagued me a year ago may seem irrelevant and minor next year.

I don’t have a major attachment to my own personal, inner expectations of consistency such that I believe that who I am today will continue being who I am forever and ever ad infinitium, but at the same time, I recognize that I don’t struggle with my own gender identity, performance, or exploration like I used to. I have come to a very comfortable place, where I am content to swim around and chill – to continue exploring and deepening my own understandings of both my personal gender, gender theory, the social constructions of gender, and how gender evolves, of course, but I’ve come to a bit of a plateau.

Sugarbutch used to be the primary space where I asked gender – and sex, and relationship – questions about myself, about my community, about my friends, and about culture, where I worked through my questions and concerns, where I tried to make sense of what it meant to embody female masculinity, where I asked questions and toyed over ideas and tried things on (and took them off again). I’ve been writing in this space for more than three years, and it has served me quite well.

But I’m not struggling with these questions like I was. I still analyze, I still observe, I still look at, well, EVERYTHING, through the finely-tuned lens of gender theory; I still learn new things or have my mind blown or adopt and integrate new concepts, but even the new things are not as huge as they once were. They are minor shifts in a very large picture that is mostly in focus, now just waiting for the details. I’m not trying to say I’m done – it didn’t just take a three-year exploration and now it is complete. I’ve identified as butch for nearly ten years, though it’s only in the last five or so that I have been adopting and exploring a much more intentional identity around that term. And it has, in many ways, culminated here, in this medium.

That I’m not struggling with this in the same way has meant that the writings on Sugarbutch have changed. Surely you’ve noticed this, if you’ve been reading for a while. I miss the daily journal ramblings about my personal feelings and thoughts and observations on my life and relationships, but circumstance (and a still-increasing readership) makes this much harder these days. I miss sharing with you my struggles and complications, and believe you me there are still struggles and complications, but they are not so much about gender.

So I’ve tried some new things, in the past year or so. Like the On Butches and In Praise of Femmes pieces, and the short-lived magazine-style layout (that nobody except me seems to miss), and the more how-to style posts about masculinity and butch/femme.

This has brought a whole new set of issues, because it is hard – perhaps impossible – to speak for, or about, or of a community accurately. After the fallout from Top Hot Butches, for a minute I resolved I would no longer speak for the community. I would no longer attempt to represent the community, or share our secrets, or expose our weaknesses, or attempt to heal our rifts and heartbreaks. (Who is “The Community” anyway? Perhaps those of you who have followed the sub-plots of Sugarbutch know of the deep thread of queer interconnectivity and the ways that this community is so goddamn small that I keep running into people I don’t want to interact with everywhere I go.)

But as I’m coming into some new projects, and thinking about and moving into what’s next, I am realizing: we desperately need leaders in this community. We desperately need people representing us. We desperately need more representation and recognition and acknowledgment of our beautiful, true selves. We desperately need mentors, telling us stories of how they found themselves and making it easier for us to create our own paths.

I do want to be a part of that, so I do want to keep writing about gender, about theory, about butch/femme, about what it’s like to revalue gender in a heteronormative culture which reproduces compulsory gender roles which nearly destroy us and in a mainstream lesbian subculture which values compulsory femininity and androgyny. I know there’s a need here, and I breathe and eat and sleep and commute this stuff, I can’t not see it, I can’t not think about it.

I’m struggling a bit with the movement from intermediate to advanced: I am beginning to get some teaching materials together, gender workshops and such, a series of gender articles perhaps, things I’ve been thinking about for a while now but which I cannot seem to complete. I know this subject matter inside and out, but now I think I need to learn how to teach it, how to break down the concepts into tiny, easy, bite-sized pieces and present them on appetizing platters. I’m also struggling with the question of continuing to engage the more advanced gender explorers, those comrades and friends I’ve met along the way who continue to inspire and inform my work and my own explorations. I want to encourage those conversations to happen, too. I want to engage on deeper levels AND beginner levels.

So, my masculinity is evolving. I have some particular ideas about where it’s going, and what it means to move from adolescent masculinity into adulthood, which I think is part of what I’ve been going through (and upon which most of the rest of this series on My Evolving Masculinity will focus). I’m a little plagued by questions: How do I continue to become a leader? How do I make a safe space for people to explore this stuff? How do I encourage deeper, more intentional thought, without policing or restricting? How can we, as a community, as friends, as lovers, as allies, continue to reclaim and recreate and remake gender in ways that are liberating rather than limiting? How can I assist the big big energy of this movement that I have felt growing, and that I have helped to create, in moving to the next level?

I want to invite you to participate as I’m thinking about new directions and new focuses of this site, new uses for this space, and new approaches to my own masculinity. Do you have particular ideas for things you’d like to see here? Any particular features? Any concepts you wish I would write more about? Any directions you would love to see? I’m open to ideas and suggestions as I slightly refine the direction, and attempt to continue to further my work in this medium.

Watch for Part Two of My Evolving Masculinity: Yin & Yang, exploring some recent concepts from my tantra retreat on the balancing of transformative and stable energies, coming soon.

Butches & Trans Guys

I know what butch is. Butches are not beginner FTMs, except that sometimes they are, but it’s not a continuum except when it is. Butch is not a trans identity unless the butch in questions says it is, in which case it is, unless the tranny in question says it isn’t, in which case it’s not. There is no such thing as butch flight, no matter what the femmes or elders say, unless saying that invalidates the opinion of femmes in a sexist fashion or the opinions of elders in an ageist fashion. Or if they’re right. But they are not, because butch and transgender are the same thing with different names, except that butch is not a trans identity, unless it is; see above.

– S. Bear Bergman, from “I Know What Butch Is,” the first chapter from hir book Butch Is A Noun.

Re-Valuing Masculinity

It is no secret that I like identity categories. Anyone who has read around on Sugarbutch knows I identify strongly with some of these labels – hell, even if all you ever read here is the masthead, my chosen categories are listed right there – kinky queer butch top – which is also the chronology of their development.

Kinky and queer came easily to me. Well, let me clarify. Not easy, exactly, but without much social stigma. It took me a few years to get out of the relationship with my high school boyfriend and come out, for example, but once I was out, I was out and didn’t really look back. Kinky, too, was generally easy to adopt.

Butch was much harder for me. I’ve written about that some, and many folks have pondered and asked me about the amount of work that I seem to put into it, as if questioning whether or not all this work is worth it. These questions asked to me are often followed by things like I just don’t get it, I am what I am, I’m just me, I don’t fit any one category.

Two things about that.

First, I like the work. I get off on it, I find it hot and engaging and fascinating, and interconnected to so many of my interests.

Also, I don’t fit into any singular thing either. I have a long string of identity labels – and even still, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, right? So even if I told you I am also a pianist, a photographer, a yogi, an Ears with Feet, you still don’t actually know me. You have to meet me, interact with me, see me in different situations, hear my history and future aims.

I wouldn’t ever force labels on anyone else. Call yourself or don’t call yourself whatever you like; just because I feel strongly connected to these things doesn’t mean I think you have to. I study post-identity politics, I understand that identity categories have issues.

I recognize that I am in the minority here, and even that I have a gender fetish. I love these categories and language that they provide when discussing gender. It is tightly connected to activism, for me, and I strongly believe in the ways that gender diversity is liberating and subversive. (Back to that in a minute.)

I run into many people, lesbian and queer women especially, who say, “I don’t fit in,” “I don’t know what I am,” “I don’t want to limit myself,” “am I femme/butch if I _____,” “I’m not really femme/butch, look at the ‘real’ femmes/butches out there, I don’t look like them.”

I would never presume to put my gender fetish on you. If I want to reject the labels and categories, or if you want to call yourself and your gender “blue” or “leopardish” or “the eleventh hour” or nothing at all or whatever, I don’t care. Do whatever you like, do whatever feels good to you.

And, if it feels good to you, I will gladly talk to you about it, explore it, lay down some of my concepts like the gender galaxy and the dress-up test and my theories on separating gender from personality.

The people I’ve done this with have generally been very interested in gender play and categories and theory, but were wary of being policed by the community about it. They don’t feel femme “enough,” or like a “real” butch.

Quite often, I find that the people who want to talk to me about this stuff want to identify with a gender identity category, but fear the social policing. Maybe it’s just part of human nature – to organize, categorize. I’ve said before, I don’t think one should conform to a label – any label, especially not gender – I think the label should conform to you.

All that said: generally, I do want to encourage more dykes to adopt the labels of butch femme – if they want to – primarily because I know how liberating it has been for me.

But I also want to encourage gender identity labeling, specifically butch/femme dynamic – because the primary contrary argument I hear to these labels is that they are limiting.

And this is where the activism comes in: I believe we need to go inside these labels and expand them.

We’ve actually done a pretty good job re-valuing feminine/female/femme in this culture, which has (in my opinion) everything to do with the three waves of the women’s liberation movements, and, especially, the Third Wave feminism of the 80s and 90s that questioned the notion that gender causes oppression, which was a major assertion of the Second Wave, and instead said that hierarchizing the male/female binary meant that femininity was inherently defined as “not as good as,” which should be examined and changed.

And, I would argue, generally, it has.

For more on that I suggest Manifesta by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards – a very readable feminist book covering third wave politics and theories.

But: We have yet to have a gender re-valuing for men and masculinity. It is starting – and the fags and butches and drag kings and FTMs are on those front lines, for sure – but it is far from full force. This is, I think, particularly why there are so many more femmes than butches out there in the queer communities these days – to quote Team Gina, “there’s like one of them and thirty of us.”

We need this. Men and fags and butches and FTMs and people need a revaluing of masculinity.

And this is why I want to encourage more lesbians to identify as butch – because the more who do, the wider the understanding of the label becomes, and the more range the label has. If we say, I’m not that, because butch is this tiny limited thing, and that’s not me, then we are allowing it to be this tiny limited thing instead of going inside of it and exploding it, opening it up.

And that’s one way to add more acceptance to the range of masculinity.