Femming the Strap-On, Guest Post by Artemisia FemmeCock

I used to think I wasn’t gay enough to have a cock.

I cringe at that now, wondering what the hell it even means to be “gay enough” for anything. My 16-year-old self had some very ingrained assumptions though, assumptions that formed an identity radically different from the one I inhabit so comfortably today.

It seems natural to introduce myself as a “queer femme dyke” now, but to my newly-out teen self, those were three very incongruous things: queer was a slur, femme was the counter-identity to masculine, and dyke was a term reserved for only the most visible, butch lesbians.

These were conclusion influenced by the community I found when I first came out as a freshman in high school, a community that assured me I was a lesbian without ever asking because I am a cis woman attracted to women. It was like a scratchy, ill-filling sweater, but amongst the many other discomforts of high school, it was warming to feel welcome somewhere.

However, this meant that an identity was crafted for me before I could even begin to claim one for myself. Part of that identity was my presentation as a femme woman who was dating a butch woman, which coded me as the submissive and receptive partner, while they were perceived as the dominant, the pleaser, the one who wore the strap-on.

We were swathed in binary stereotypes by others, queer or not, and there were endless jokes about how gay my partner was for being a visible butch woman. The most vivid being when a group of friends attempted to quantify our collective “gayness.” It was decided that my partner constituted two whole gays, while I could only claim one half. I don’t like math to begin with, but when that math is based on the idea that sexuality can be calculated from one’s appearance, I really don’t like math.

I played into this role of “half gay” though, laughing along with jokes that dismissed my sexuality because of my femininity, about being hit on by men or asked if I had a boyfriend because I didn’t “look gay,” and accepting generalized assumptions about my relationship and sex life.

I was so compliant because many of their assumptions were true: I could have had a billboard above my head that read “I’m fucking GAY” and I would still hear the dismissive rhetoric “but you’re too pretty…” and “are you sure?” In my relationship, I was submissive and my partner was dominant, I chose the cock but she always wore it, and she didn’t enjoy being penetrated while I did. Presentation and sex became linked in my mind, and I conceded to the stereotypes.

It wasn’t until I went to college and saw unabashed, gender fucking, non-binary femmes that I began to see my identity as more than half: the half gay, the receiving half, the other half of butch. I started to understand that my presentation isn’t complimentary, it’s individual and multi-faceted. I can like, do, dress, and fuck however feels right to me. So I took off the itchy sweater and all the assumptions that were pinned to it.

From there, I started playing with my femmeness, seeking to reclaim my body as strong and loud and queer. I grew out my body hair and dyed it pink, I gravitated towards bold lip colors and nails, and I found power in ritual: taking time to get dressed, do my hair, apply copious amounts of glitter. I embraced my femmeness in my sex life too, savoring snapshots of deep red lipstick smudged on a silicone cock, masturbating with nails that matched the color of my vibrator, and styling the cutest pony tails to be pulled on.

I found a partner who has shifted and changed with me over the past two years, and though our journeys of sex, sexuality, and presentation are undeniably different, we’re able to express our needs and wants in dynamic ways. For so long, I just didn’t have the language or references or support to communicate in that way, and a large component of my shift in understanding is centered around exchanging that sweater for a strap-on.

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My first cock was a milky pastel pink that coordinated so well with my mint and pink lace harness. When I put it on, the wispy hairs on my thighs, two chubby bumps for knees, and slightly pigeon-toed feet all defocused, obstructed by that new view. I began to bob and sway as my hips swung and my legs lifted off the ground. I danced around in my new naked, the weight of my cock against my pelvis, brushing my skin as I shook and spun. It was like the queerest tampon commercial dance montage you’d ever seen, and I would have gladly accepted a trampoline to complete the image.

There was reclamation in that cock, feeling my queer femmeness in something that I had known as a symbol of masculinity and dominance. That was years ago, and since then, wearing a cock has become an ever present part of my life. Literally, it’s in my name, but it’s also my identity. Albeit, a very condensed identity, but it took me years of unlearning a selfhood formed by others in order to get to the point where it seems comfortable to join “femme” and “cock” together in a declaration of who I am.

What you should know about privacy, secret identities, and kink communities

Welcome to the kink worlds of BDSM and reclaimed sluttiness and sex toys!

I see you there in the wings, lurking a little bit, shy and nervous, and possibly fearful of revealing too much and putting yourself or your life in some sort of “danger.” Danger is of course what you are coming here looking for, in a safe and risk-aware context: more edge, more bite in your sex life, more intensity of feeling, more cracking yourself open and seeing what’s inside.

But taking the first steps into the kink communities are a challenge, and you’re almost immediately faced with the question of anonymity. Should you stay anonymous, or be transparent? Create an alter ego, or use your legal name? And what about … pictures?

There are a lot of fears about being “out” as kinky in a world that sees all kinky things as deviant, dangerous, and out of control. Kink is in the mainstream more than ever these days, from Fifty Shades of Grey back to “The Secretary,” but there still can be real consequences to working in sexually explicit fields, or being out as kinky.

Here’s a few examples from my own version of struggling with being out—Just last week, I put up a sale for enrollment into the Submissive Playground ecourse, and after about five hours of it being live, I got an email saying that it had been pulled and I wasn’t allowed to use Gumroad for this project because it violates their terms of service, which excludes any adult content. Fuck. Cue sad trombone.

I was also turned down for a Twitter business ad recently because my business is sex related, and denied entry into the Audible.com affiliate program because my work is too explicit (got some leads on resolving that one, but no guarantees).

Sometimes, this is Just The Way It Is and I can kinda let it go, but other times, it feels like I’m being shamed for being explicit about sex and I get all righteous and pissed about it. I get mad, and then I write furiously, and then I try to formulate these writing furies into actual useful pieces of writing that you get to read, too!

Of course I’m the only one this happens to professionally—there have been a bunch of headlines recently about Chase bank closing porn actors’ bank accounts. It’s not just Chase: Paypal has been making headlines lately too as freezing funds and strong-arming businesses into flagging any “adult” content. My friend Andre Shakti recently crowdfundraised over $500 to travel to the Feminist Porn Awards, but the bank processor Wepay wouldn’t let her collect what she’d raised.

You might be see these headlines around, on your usual Internet wanderings, or on the Facebook feed of that one friend who always shares kinky shit. (Hey, maybe you’ll see this from them, too!) And it makes you wonder … so what about me?

Is it risky to be out as kinky?

Maybe. It’s generally agreed upon that you’re going to have a much, much harder time being any sort of elected official if you’re an out kinkster, so most folks who want to go into politics are really careful about any sort of identity in the kink communities. Some people who have kids are very strict about their kink identities, particularly if they are adopting or going through legal battles—but I’ve also heard that it’s becoming more common for kink to be disregarded in court as related to the safety of children or the capabilities of the kinkster as a parent. But I am not a lawyer! Nor do I work in law—I’m just a kinkster who likes to stay informed. This is just what I’ve heard.

There’s no easy answer here for what to do and how to deal with your new budding kink identity, but there are many, many kinksters who have come before you, grasshopper, who have deliciously happy lives and who do dirty things in consensual privacy. Kink producers—folks who actively work to produce spaces for kinksters to learn and gather and play—work with you to keep you safe and disclose the level of identity that you want to disclose.

Here’s some strategies for you to think about.

Most commonly, people do one of three things to keep themselves as safe as possible and not in a position to be threatened or “outed” as being kinky. They either 1. retain anonymity, using no identifying information about themselves in places that could be used against them, or2. create an alter ego, using a different name and separating their kinky communities from the rest of their life, or 3. go for complete transparency.

Let’s look at each of ’em and see what might fit you best:

1. Stay Anonymous

If you are extra nervous about consequences from being out as kinky, you might want to consider remaining completely anonymous in the kink communities. This usually means taking some sort of non-identifiable name when you are involved in kink events or on Fetlife, but not necessarily building a whole persona behind it—just using it as a screen in front of the “real you.”

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Pros:

  • Most protective of your legal identity and any identifiable characteristics
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Cons:

  • The more you hide, the more you have to hide
  • Some folks end up craving the validation and community that comes with sharing more, and this anonymity isn’t enough to build those deeper connections that are possible
  • Many people won’t recognize your Fetlife avatar, photos, or name if you introduce yourself at an event as one thing and then use a different name as your smokescreen
  • Often there is a big risk of being outed as kinky, which can cause anxiety and stress
  • Sometimes you might really want to a) take photos of you doing kinky amazing things and b) share them, but this option shuts that down
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2. The Alter Ego

This is super common in the kinky worlds—for people to basically have two names, one that they use outside of kink spaces and one that they use for kink. They often use this name as their Fetlife profile, on their badge at kink events, or introduce themselves as that at the local munch or BDSM workshop.

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Pros:

  • Nobody who googles your name will find your connections to kink
  • Generally very safe to show up at events, wear a “no photos” marker, and go by your other name—no one will ever know you were there
  • Easy to erase all trace of your alter ego, just by deleting your alter ego’s accounts
  • Relative ease to keeping your other self separate from your kink self
  • Can still put up a variety of identifying things (photos of your face, photos of your tattoos) and be relatively sure that your name is not attached to them. If someone you know is at a kink event or on Fetlife and sees you, well, then in order to out you, they’d have to out themselves, so you are relatively safe.
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Cons:

  • It can be lots of work to maintain two selves. You have to be very diligent about what you post where, who sees it, and where (if ever) you cross post.
  • The lines start to get blurry. Sometimes your alter ego becomes more you than the rest of your life (see: Sinclair Sexsmith, myself, for example), or sometimes you become your alter ego.
  • It might sometimes feel like fragmenting your Self, if people know you as many names, and can lead to a lack of integrity or a lack of intimacy for friends because they only know parts of you
  • Being “exposed” as this alter ego is a real risk that can sometimes be incredibly scary
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Full Transparency

This is where you end up either merging your legal identity and your alter ego, if you started there, or you just always used your own name (or a variation thereof) and used your personal accounts to connect with the kinky communities. Very few people start from here in the kink scene, but it can be liberating and empowering to

I heard a story just recently from a man who used to work at a high-up government office, and as he came into the kink community, he realized that was a potential spot for blackmail. Rather than cease his kink engagement, he called a meeting with his boss and his boss’s boss, and came out as kinky. “I want you to know that I’m a gay man, and I participate in BDSM activities—” he started. They cut him off. “We don’t need to know that!” “But you do,” he persisted. “Because if you know, then there’s nothing for anyone else to blackmail me with.” “Fair enough. Great. Thanks for telling us. Now go back to work.”

(I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.)

I’ve been pretty shocked at how few issues being almost completely out as kinky has been in my own life. I began publishing erotica under my legal first and middle names when I was 27, in 2006, and because my legal name is very specific, it’s easily findable via Google.

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Pros:

  • Integrity! Being who you are!
  • Making your own unique way in the world without apology
  • Significantly reduced shame (Potential for, not guaranteed)
  • Reduced potential for someone to attempt to use something against you as a threat
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Cons:

  • It’s really, really hard and scary and challenging, and you may sacrifice some relationships, professional contacts, your job, your standing in the community, your career ladder, or other things. It’s more and more rare, but it is still possible.
  • It’s not for everybody! It isn’t always possible (because of perceived/feared consequences or known consequences) to be out as kinky
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Most of the folks I know in the community do some sort of combination of these things. I’d say I have an alter ego (“Sinclair Sexsmith” isn’t the name my parents named me at birth, if you didn’t already figure that out), but that I am completely out in my life in general. Pretty much everyone who knows me via my birth name knows that I am Sinclair, and it isn’t hard to find out my legal name if you know my work through Sugarbutch (there’s even a post in the archives for “coming out day” from a few years ago where I come out as my legal name).

When my boy rife and I were talking about this article, he said, “My alter ego is pretty transparent.” Which I think is a very accurate way to describe what both he and I do with our kink worlds.

As a producer of kinky events and a facilitator of kink education in general, I am always interested in and concerned with people’s privacy. I don’t take photos of my classes (unless I get permission from the audience, which I sometimes do). I don’t use anyone’s names or identify anybody who was in attendance (unless I either get permission or know their level of out-ness and transparency). Note—just because I have my own policies that I follow around this doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes fuck up. I have posted photos on Sugarbutch of people I didn’t have permission to post before (and subsequently apologized and taken them down). I have messed up. It happens. I do my best to apologize, reflect, and fix it, if possible.

Take the Submissive Playground course, as an example—many people have had challenges attending because they are not particularly out as kinky. Some folks don’t want to use any sort of credit card or payment linked to their name in order to pay. Some folks have been very concerned with their name and email, worried that their identity would be revealed to the group.

But let me reassure you: We can work around that.

Payment challenges? No problem. You can send me a check—or, even more anonyously, a money order! You can use an anonymous email address. You don’t have to give me your address.

Any information you give me will be protected and for my use to make the course better, and will never be released.

In this particular course, you can be whatever level of anonymous that you feel comfortable being. You can use a pseudonym and an alternative picture for your avatar, no problem. You don’t have to ever go on record and say where you live or what you do. You do have the option to share photos, to go on video to chat with me with the group, or to speak up on our live calls, but you don’t have to.

You might not know about the variety of options that are available to you to keep your identities from being outed as kinky if you are new to the BDSM and fetish and sex toy and slutty delicious worlds, but there are quite a few. Producers of kink events work hard to make the spaces as safe as possible, and for many people to attend, regardless of their anonymity, alter egos, or transparency.

None of these options are better or worse than the others, they are all weighing risks and mitigating the circumstances as best as possible, and everyone has different risks. You are the best gauge of what is right for you—nobody else can make the decision for you.

Think about which of these options feels best for you, and remember—at any time, you can change it. Problem is, it’s much harder to change to more anonymity than it is to change to more openness about your identities. And certain things (like publishing erotica in a Best Lesbian Erotica 2006 anthology under your legal name when you’re 27) don’t really go away, though they do have the potential to lead you to an integrated, kink-forward and well-lived life.

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.

More dirty things than you can read in one sitting

Alright, so they’re not all dirty. But many of them are very dirty. Definitely R rated, sometimes NC-17.

Remember back a few years ago when I used to have a reading list of links in the sidebar? It was powered by Google Reader, and it was awesome. Instead of keeping a links/suggested websites in the sidebar, I’d just subscribe to all of my favorite blogs in my reader, and then “share” the posts that were excellent and touching and interesting, and the shared items would appear as a list in the sidebar, complete with my notes about them.

It was great! I don’t know if you ever clicked through them, but there were dozens (hundreds?) of amazing articles shared through that.

(You can still see them on the somewhat-hidden community page, which I don’t really update anymore, or you can check out the whole google reader shared items archive of mine here.)

Unfortunately … trouble came into paradise. Google Reader integrated with Google Plus and they stopped offering the “share” feature. Curses! Looks like it happened sometime in October 2011, since that’s when my shared items stop.

I have used Google Reader less and less since then. Fuck, it’s been a year and a half! I have often thought that I should put a list of links in the sidebar, that I should promote other bloggers, because I like community and I think sharing the love and pointing you to other thinkers and writers and artists is important, but I haven’t had the time. This past year and a half have been insane, you might’ve noticed. (Was it insane for you too? Seems like it was insane for everyone.) I looked, but I didn’t have any luck finding a decent RSS reader to dump all my hundreds of subscriptions in and share.

And then … they announced in March that they’re discontinuing Google Reader entirely. What! The fuck. Argh. This does not go with my plan at all. I thought they’d figure out that Google Plus is not the new Facebook and put my beloved “share” feature back.

But with the demise of Google Reader entirely, new readers have popped up! The one I’ve settled on is The Old Reader, built after Google Reader at its prime, but a little bit better. Sweet! (The only feature I’m really missing is the “email this” article link, which I used to use a LOT. Oh, and an iPhone app. Please and thank you!)

So here it is folks: My shared items are now BACK in the sidebar, thanks to The Old Reader. If you use TOR, you can subscribe to my shared items there, or use the RSS feed of my shared items for your rss reader of choice.

This geeky internet reader post has been brought to you by the letter <.

PS … instead of maintaining two separate RSS accounts, as I did before with my two separate Google/gmail accounts, one for my personal use and one for public/Sinclair use, I dumped ALL of my RSS feeds into TOR and they’re all there at once. So you’ll get shares for sandwich recipes, writing prompts, and dirty dirty smut all in the same place. Integration! Yay!

See You At the Femme Conference

So I got my hair cut at Tomcats, Kristen painted her nails with black-white-and-blue stripes and a red heart (wonder what that means?) on her fourth finger, the car is full of gas, I’ve perused the schedule, I’ve got a list of folks I want to make sure to connect with, the catsitter is booked—I think this might mean I’m ready for the Femme Conference tomorrow.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals in attending, or my purpose in going. I’m not presenting anything, not doing any official workshops or meetups or events near the conference. So aside from going with the intention of having fun (which I definitely am), and supporting my femme girlfriend by both showing up, participating, and learning things about identity (which I am eager to do), what do I want to get out of it?

I adore identity theory. I love the way we construct ourselves. I love these labels, despite the fact that labels seem oh-so-gauche right now. I love the history of butch and femme (and butch/femme) and I love how the queer communities are exploding gender in all 360* directions right now.

The first Femme Conference I went to in 2008 was themed “the architecture of identity” and I wrote up just about everything I learned about that when I got back. I am still so curious about what constructs femme identity. Earlier this year, in New York, as preparation for the Femme Conference, there was a femme event here called Beyond Visibility, and I am really curious about that, too—about what femme identity issues there are beyond the ever constant issue of being recognized and visually categorized as queer.

I’ve written On Femme Invisibility & Femme Invisibility & Beyond—I don’t want to give the impression I’m not sympathetic to that issue, I get that it is a huge hurdle. And I also know, from femmes in my own life who have been exploring femme identity for a while, that they get bored with that issue and want to move on.

So what are the other issues around femme identity? What is beyond visibility? What else gets discussed at a Femme Conference, anyway? I know plenty of that stuff isn’t exactly for me, as an ally and someone not femme identified, but as someone who loves the construction of identity and how these identities in particular work in this current culture in this current era, what else is going on?

I suspect the Mean Girls topic is a big one, considering some of the conversations I’ve had leading up to the conference. I know there are some topics like cultural and racial diversity, sex positivity, and parenting that have come up, but those seem fairly universal and not necessarily femme specific—then again, what is the take on those through a femme lens? I’m sure there will be many, many other interesting things. I have been kicking around a theory about the connection between masculine privilege and femme invisibility, maybe I can see if I can hash that out any further. Autostraddle has a great write up today called Beyond Lipstick that I want to read over again and think through. And I’m sure there will be dozens more things to ponder and chew on, once I get there.

My goal is to have fun, first and foremost. To support my girlfriend. To connect with the people that I know and adore and don’t get to see very often. To hopefully attend some good sessions and have some good conversations, to meet some new folks with interesting things to say. And to continue being curious about identity building theory in general, and about femme identity construction in particular; I’ll do my best to take copious notes and write up some thoughts about what happened and what I learned when I get back. (You can always follow my twitter feed @mrsexsmith to hear my immediate thoughts.)

And, oh yeah: to appreciate the brilliant firecracker amazingness that is femmes.

See you at the Femme Conference!

Are You “Femme Enough” For the Femme Conference?

I’m in Chicago this week, I return back to New York City tomorrow, and I keep talking up the Femme Conference that is coming up in Baltimore in just a couple of weeks—August 17-19.

I’m not sure why it keeps coming up—maybe because it was an all-femme lineup at the Dirty Queer Sex Tour: Chicago Say Please reading last night, and so all three of the femmes who read with me came out with their various friends and posses last night? Maybe because the friends I have here are primarily femmes, so naturally the conversation rolls around to femme identity? Maybe because I think these folks are cool and I am curious if I’m going to run into them again at the Femme Conference? Or maybe because my only experience of attending the Femme Conference, until this one upcoming that is, was the 2006 Femme Conference which was held in Chicago?

Whatever the reason, it keeps coming up.

And while some folks are well aware of it and (usually) have strong reactions to it, either “Hell yes! See you there!” or “No, uh uh, absolutely not,” there seems to be an even bigger group of folks in the middle who are obviously intrigued by the idea of attending, but are skeptical.

“I don’t know,” they say, hesitating, but sparkling a little bit at the mention of an entire conference devoted to this complex femme identity. “I mean, would I fit in there? Is it going to be a big judge-fest? Would they even recognize me as femme?”

These questions are so common. I mean, I remember hearing some of that around the BUTCH Voices conferences too, but the fear around one’s identity being policed didn’t feel quite so … panicked.

I think the bottom line is that it’s incredibly complicated to occupy a socially-recognized identity like butch or femme, because while we have stereotypical versions of what those things “should” look like in our minds, we don’t necessarily have the complex deconstructions (and reconstructions) necessary to be able to see that person as butch or femme and all their other pieces of self too. Or, if the person doesn’t quite look like the stereotype, we don’t recognize them as “legitimate.” These queer cultures still see someone, recognizes them as butch or femme or neither, and draws all sorts of conclusions based on that.

People are probably always going to do this. I don’t mean that in an I-give-up kind of way, just in a this-is-probably-true-and-I-will-have-less-strife-in-my-life-if-I-accept-that kind of way.

And y’know, fuck that. I mean, I completely understand that that is a challenge and hard and sometimes makes me return home defeated after a night and just kinda cry and whine for a while, I also think part of the work of having these identities is recognizing that we are trying to rise them above stereotypes, and that the cultures we’re in still largely use big fat markers to draw pictures of these identities, not slim exact-shaded pencils. And part of our work, I believe, part of the work of occupying these identities, is uncoupling them from the heteronormative gender roles, and making them big enough and accessible to anyone who feels a resonance with them. They can be liberational, and the benefits of identifying with a gender lineage, a gender heritage, feels so important to me, putting me in a historical context with people who came before me, so I feel less alone in my forging forward. I’m not doing it exactly as they did it, I’m doing it my own way and in the context of my own communities and time and culture, but I am able to remake it and make more room for freedom and consciousness and liberation within it because I am on their shoulders, using the tools they left for me—us—to pick up.

That is all to say, you are femme enough to attend the femme conference. Or, you know, if you don’t identify as femme but you have some interest in learning more about femme identity and being around femmes and folks who are puzzling through femme identity, you can come too.

I’m not going to promise that nobody is going to give you shit about your identity, about being femme enough, about whether or not you belong there, or about what you wear (because as much as I’d like to say it’s not true, there is a particular focus on aesthetics in femme communities). I don’t know if they will or not. But I’ll also say this: By the end of the conference, you probably will not care as much.

That, more than anything else, has been such a key piece of learning around these identity conferences, the Femme Conference and BUTCH Voices.

And I’ll be honest with you: there will probably be drama. There almost always is at small, incestuous community conferences, and this is definitely one of those. There are not that many people who self-identify as femme. There are not that many people who date and are into and fall in love with and are fascinated by people who identify as femme. There will probably be people there that I don’t want to run into. There will probably be people there who have particularly bad opinions of me, even. I don’t anticipate that being easy. But I care more about the philosophies of this identity, the many folks in my life who identify this way now, and the forward movement of radical genders in this era than I do about being worried that someone will talk shit. I’m bored with that. I’m sick of letting that affect what public spaces I’m involved in.

I submitted a workshop proposal to the Femme Conference—so did Kristen. Neither of us were accepted. I could let my mind roam and draw conclusions about why, but who knows what the actual reasons were. I chose instead to brush it off as not fitting with the conference, for whatever reasons, and I’m still planning to go and have a great time. So many amazing people I know are planning to be in attendance, so many more than I knew when I attended in 2008 (can’t believe it was that long ago!), and I am so looking forward to seeking out the ones that I think have amazing philosophies, meeting new folks, talking about new ideas, and enhancing the ideas I’m already chewing on.

I don’t really know how to explain all of that to people who say, “Would I fit in there? Am I femme enough?” Maybe you would feel like you found your people. Maybe you would be super excited to be around all of the talking about femme identity, but only really connect with one or two other people. Just because we’re all talking about femmes doesn’t mean we’ll get along! But maybe you’ll find a sense of self, in between all of that, that you didn’t know you were seeking, that missing piece that caused you to ask would I fit in there in the first place. And maybe, after attending the conference, you wouldn’t ask that again, because somewhere, deep down, in a soothed and solid place, you’d know.

Registration is still open: The Femme Conference happens August 17-19 in Baltimore, MD.

Femme Invisibility & Beyond

I’m still receiving questions in the Ask Me Anything form; most of the time I am turning them into pieces for my advice column over on SexIs Magazine, but sometimes they are things I’d rather tackle here at Sugarbutch. So here’s one of those.

As a very feminine femme, I pass for straight more often than not, and I’d like to know your thoughts on femme invisibility, and why every time I smile/greet/nod at butches I am largely ignored. Even when I am out with my (butch) lover, a polite nod of recognition, or “Nice tie …” coming from me is not acknowledged. What gives?

—Sweets

Oh, femme invisibility. This is a big, constant topic, and I have lots of thoughts about it. Probably mostly I’ll say the same things that I said in 2009 when I wrote this piece, “On Femme Invisibility,”, but I have a few new things to say, too.

Femme Invisibility Is Real

Femme invisibility is a real thing. It happens all the time. Queer women who are feminine get seen as straight—by straight folks, other queer folks, and sometimes even queer femmes themselves—because this culture expects dykes to reject gender roles automatically when rejecting a heterosexual orientation. As if those two things go together inseparably.

For many people, they do go together. But for other folks, they do not.

Assuming that they do go together—that a rejection of heterosexuality also includes a rejection of masculine/feminine culturally-defined gender roles—assumes that the only purpose of those gender roles is for heterosexual gain (attraction, stimulation, and reinforcing patriarchal dominance). One of the things I particularly love about the butch/femme dynamic is that it disproves this. It fractures the concepts of “gender roles” into multiple things, including archetypes and perhaps some sort of “inner gender” (a concept trans theories have been flirting with, but I haven’t seen articulated perfectly, yet). Meaning: yes, these gender roles are societally dictated, but they are also more than that, bigger than that, and if we can strip down the societal restrictions that keep us oppressed and marginalized and compartmentalized (for example, break our identity alignment assumptions and separate gender roles from our hobbies, interests, and personality traits), we can come to some understanding that gender is fun and more than just a way to keep wives subordinate to husbands or to keep men in power (over, among other things, the awe-inspiring phenomenon that is women’s ability to bear children).

Masculinity, femininity, genderqueerness, or any sort of gender presentation is not inherent to a sexual identity. Femininity is not just for straight women. We’ve accepted that masculinity is for dykes and femininity is for fags because, well, this culture is homophobic and sexist, and we assume that a rejection of heterosexuality is also a rejection of gender roles. But many combinations of gender and sexuality exist—probably more than I could even name, probably more than I comprehend. (This is one of the reasons why, when people look at a guy who is even slightly feminine and declare him a closet fag, I think: that’s sexist. He certainly might be a closet fag, but there are also many straight men who have feminine gender performances, and that does not mean he’s gay. Ditto for slightly masculine women—I mean, how many of us have said, how many dozens of times, that Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica must be gay? But why is that? Well, it’s because she has some swagger, never because she has displayed any sexual or romantic interest toward other women.)

Stop Arguing With Reality & Find Some Radical Acceptance

This culture tells us all these things, and this culture is wrong. It is not correct that feminine dykes are really straight girls. It just isn’t. In fact, it’s rooted in sexism and homophobia, and a little bit ignorant.

But also? It’s just real. It’s not right, and I channel all sorts of righteous indignation when I come across something that is just wrong and nobody seems to get, so I’m not trying to discount that it sucks. But if you expect it to be another way, you are simply arguing with reality, and you can (and, dare I say, should!) do some radical acceptance around this issue. That doesn’t mean you just passively accept that this is how things are and move on, it can certainly mean that you do your own work to make this issue less painful for the many people involved.

But it’s just true. In this culture, physical markers of queerness are accepted as certain things (like short hair, baggy androgynous or slightly masculine clothes, comfortable shoes—i.e., not femininity). Your struggle to be accepted as a queer person by visual sight alone is probably going to continue, as long as the culture continues to have those same queer markers.

Since Your Queer Identity Isn’t Portrayed Visually, You Have To Portray It In Other Ways

Since many femmes don’t have those same visual queer markers, since your identity isn’t constructed in a way that portrays your sexuality (according to the culture) visually, you will have to find other ways to construct and communicate your queer identity.

I don’t know how, exactly. Seems like many femmes do this in different ways. After the 2008 Femme Conference, which was called The Architecture of Identity, I compiled my notes and identified a few different ways of constructing identity, such as in contrast to butch, in community, through language, through fashion and style, and through theory, and I think those still hold true.

Language is a big one for me. I would much prefer to befriend and sleep with someone who doesn’t “look gay” but who can talk about queer history, culture, or theory to someone who you would visually peg as a dyke immediately but doesn’t have any context for her identity any day.

There’s constant talk about making some sort of universal femme marker—a tattoo, or a hanky flower, or some way that the pin-up look is queered so that everybody knows it’s not heterosexual, but as far as I can tell, there’s almost no way to universalize one singular symbol. At least, not yet.

And I’m not sure we really need one (though I’m not the one going through the struggles of this, I recognize). Because, let’s be honest: I see femmes everywhere. Whatever you’re doing with your visual markers, it’s working, when you know how to look.

Lots of People See You!

At the Femme Conference in 2008, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha said in her keynote address, “Femme invisibility is bullshit. You just don’t know how to look.”

Don’t forget: Lots of people see you. I feel like I can spot a femme on a crowded subway car even when there are three dozen people between us. It’s not just that she gives me an extra-long stare and big smile (though that happens, sometimes), but it’s also something energetically, something I can’t quite even put my finger on, that says to me, “Whoa, there is something special about her.”

There are lots of femmes out there. There are lots of butches and genderqueer folks and trans folks and other masculine of center identified people and femmes who love to date femmes, and who see the one femme in the dyke bar not as a straight impostor, but as our crush for the evening, our next girlfriend, our fantasy.

It is a real problem. And I know it causes mass frustration. But there are many people who get it, and who don’t question a femme’s identity as queer. And there are big movements adding on to the many, many conversations about femme invisibility that are already out there.

Know Your Femme History

Read up. Read blogs, read books. I suggest, to start: Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, A Persistent Desire, Brazen Femmes, Femmes of Power, Visible: A Femmethology Volumes I & II, The Femme’s Guide to the Universe, The Femme’s Mystique … and oh probably two dozen others. Take strength and pleasure from knowing others have come before you, and have struggled too: that you are not the only one who has had difficulties with this.

Find some femme friends. Seek out femme community. There is tons of this happening online these days, for example, so even if you live somewhere kinda small or in a city that doesn’t particularly value the butch/femme dynamic, you can still talk to people about this.

If you don’t have a big community in your city, travel. No seriously, I mean that. Come to New York City. And for fuck’s sake, attend the Femme Conference in Baltimore this August. This is exactly what a femme conference is for: to make friends, to come together, to give voice to the common struggles and to start seeing our own experiences as valid and real.

This Is Your Struggle, But Remember: It’s Not Your Problem. It’s Theirs

Just as the main conflict in a butch’s identity—in my opinion—is sexism, misogyny, and masculine privilege (yes, I just said that), this is one of the main conflicts in a femme identity (others big things, from my perspective, being the mean girls thing, and escaping the beauty myth).

But if you really know and understand why other queers don’t see you, and why you pass as straight, and how to start constructing your identity in ways that aren’t reliant upon physical markers, you may just start to realize that it isn’t your problem. It isn’t something you are or aren’t doing right or wrong. It isn’t that if you just tried a little harder, smiled a little bigger, wore a different dress, that you would be recognize and validated as queer. It’s a cultural problem, a problem in our queer communities that is replicating gender norms and assumptions from the larger culture. It isn’t your fault, and it isn’t your problem. It’s theirs.

If someone doesn’t accept that you’re queer when you are a) in a queer space, b) with a visibly queer partner, or c) telling them that you are queer, well, then, fuck them, or rather don’t, because they don’t deserve to keep talking to you. Find somebody who does accept your combination of femininity and queerness. And keep working, yourself, on the reconciliation and supposed cultural conflict between the two.

Because that is your struggle.

How are you going to deal with it? How are you going to own your history, understand the sexist, misogynistic ways that this culture sees femininity, and overcome? How are you going to reconcile that not every visible queer you see will see you? How are you going to learn to communicate with a look and a smile, which, six times out of ten, might work? How are you going to articulate your own identity to others when they question it? What are the words you are going to say? How are you going to build a group of people around you that you know you can turn to when all you want to do is go, “ARGHHHHH!” and be angry that the world doesn’t see you as queer enough? How are you going to help build your femme friends up when they go through this? What can butches do (aside from learn how to recognize you, I know that’s a big one) to support you? How will we all reassure each other? What can we learn, here? What alliances can we make?

And perhaps most importantly, how can we move beyond this?

Strive to Move Us Beyond Visibility

There is more to femme identity than being visible. There is nurturance and caretaking, there is internalized homophobia, there is the mean girls complex that pits femmes against each other, there is the pervasive understanding that femme is nothing more than lipstick and heels (um, wrong!), there is some sort of hierarchy in the femme world as indicated simply by the still widespread use of the phrase “high femme,” there is the identity alignment assumption that all femmes are submissive bottoms and whoa is that incorrect, there is transmisogyny and the still troubled dialogue between cis and trans queer women, there is racism, there is a classist element that says that femmes have to or should buy their gender, there are dozens of other gender stereotypes that still pressure femmes to drink girly drinks and be homemakers and bear the children and stay at home and bake cookies, and oh there are probably two dozen other things I could list if I kept going.

There is more to femme identity than visibility. In fact, today in New York City there is a big day-long event going on right now called Beyond Visibility: Illuminating and Aligning Femmes in NYC, featuring a skillshare, roundtable discussion, and caucuses, all of which are femme-only, and then later an ally-invited reading and dance party (and you bet your beatle boots I will be attending that).

Being and becoming visible as a queer femme is a real thing that, it seems to me, almost all femmes struggle with. But as I’ve known more and more femmes for more and more years, I’m also starting to see that many femmes don’t struggle with it after years of working on it. Many have some radical acceptance and some understandings of how the queer world works, and are working on fighting other things.

Tara Hardy, one of my major mentors and a queer femme poet, has this line in one of her pieces: “I no longer get sad if they ask me at the door if I know it’s dyke night: I get mad. I mean, how much pussy do I have to eat before you let me in the club?” It’s a subtle shift, perhaps, from sad to mad, but it matters. It is the shift from internalizing the culture’s sexist bullshit to fighting back against it.

How do we overcome this issue and begin to elevate the discussion? I don’t know, but I’m curious to do that. And it seems that we, as a community, are beginning to, if only by the title of today’s event. I’m really excited for the Femme Conference in Baltimore this year, I think and hope that will continue to elevate the discussion.

Last, But Not Least

Also, let me say: I’m sorry. I’m sorry you are not acknowledged by the butches you are reaching out to, making bids that go unseen or unacknowledged. I don’t know why you are largely ignored. Could be many things: many butches are kind of used to straight girls hitting on us and using us for attention, and if you are being misread as straight, these butches could be resisting that. Perhaps when you’re out with your butch girlfriend and attempting to be acknowledged, they see you with your partner and don’t want to step on any toes or get into some sort of “hey man, you looking at my girl?” confrontation. It seems unlikely, but it’s possible. Maybe they fear that acknowledgment of your “nice tie” or big smile would be seen as flirting (I don’t think that would be a bad thing, but other people seem to).

Maybe they are just in their own world and just aren’t registering their surroundings. I mean, I’ve had friends of mine show up on a subway platform and try to get my attention while I was commuting, and I just had all my surroundings blocked out until they were literally waving a hand in my face. If you’re doing this in a big city, they could just be in their own world and not very observant.

I don’t know why, exactly. That’s kind of just the way it is, I think. For all those reasons I yammered on about above. That’s not okay and it’s not right, and I’m doing my own part to encourage femme visibility and work on our sexism in queer communities.

Butches, transmasculine folks, genderqueers, and all you other visible queers out there: listen the fuck up: LEARN TO RECOGNIZE FEMMES, even if you don’t date them, because they recognize you.

It’s the least we can do.

Living Gender

Ellie Lumpesse has been curating a Gender Celebration Blog Carnival, and today’s my day to participate. The topic is “living gender.”

You can check out a few of the other participants, if you like: Curvaceous Dee wrote about what makes her a woman; Sexpert Jane Blow wrote about her perceived gender; Eusimto wrote about gender anarchy; Dangerous Lilly wrote about labels and being politically correct. Still to come are neamhspleachas and Ellie.

I hope this Gender Celebration Carnival will keep going! I think it could drum up some great conversation.

I don’t know when it happened exactly.

One day I just woke up and felt good in my skin. I went to my closet and felt good about the choices of clothing I had to offer. I dressed and looked in the mirror and I felt good about my reflection. I saw a photograph of myself and I smiled, and saw me.

It wasn’t always that way.

I didn’t used to recognize myself in photographs. I didn’t used to feel good about the pieces of clothing I would pull on to pull together an outfit. But somewhere along the way, things started shifting, and improved.

I probably can’t even put my finger on it. Not an exact date or time.

I remember when I threw out most of my clothes that were purchased in the girl’s department, going through my closet and my drawers with each piece: where did this one come from? This one? This one? and sifting them all into neat piles. I remember bringing home bags full of button-downs and polo shirts from the thrift store to try to rebuild some new version of me, some version that had swagger and dated girls and knew how to fuck. I remember buying three-packs of undershirts and three-packs of briefs and trying to figure out from the packaging what size I would be.

I remember trying on various versions of these in photo sets, self-portraits I would take of myself on my bed, against a wall, with an upturned lamp pointed at my face. Sometimes with a timer, sometimes from arm’s length. I have found folders and folders of these photos recently, with titles like “playing butch dressup” and “self butch” and “new clothes” and “wife beater a-shirt.” There were others: “lipstick” and “cat costume” and “corset” and “cleavage,” all carefully labeled in folders, back in the digital day before Picasa and iPhoto would keep everything organized for you.

But it wasn’t all about clothes and presentation.

They say there are many components to gender: chromosomes, genitals, hormones, external presentation, internal sense of self, and yes, of course, socialization and performance. Gender is not all of any of these things, it is not all performance, it is not all socialized. Some of it is innate. Some of it is about genitals. I believe there are many factors.

Gender is also about energy.

I remember studying some classmates in college: the way they sat, the way they held their pens, the way they slung their bookbags over their shoulders and defiantly walked out of the classroom door, shoulders back head high chin up. A little daring, a little rebellious. They sat with their legs open, taking up lots of space. I mimicked them. I practiced sliding low in a chair and splaying my knees.

I noticed that these people got lower grades than I did for doing the same work, because they were perceived to be not paying attention.

And then, when I started mimicking them daily, when my mimery became mine and became a slightly altered version of a copy of a copy of a copy, I started getting ignored by those same professors, started getting glossed over when my hand was up, started wondering why I wasn’t perceived as the straight-A front row apple-for-the-teacher student that I was.

Oh. Right. My gender.

But it wasn’t always like that. It was easier to recognize a straight-A student as a girl, apparently. My board shorts and polo shirts were not proper enough to be seen as part of academia, but my brain hadn’t changed. Curiouser and curiouser.

(That was workable, however. All it took was a few office hours visits with those professors and my participation in class looked much different.)

The other thing that changed was the girls. Suddenly I was visible, a catch, someone dateable. I had three dates in a week, once, in college, and my mind was a little bit boggled. (I didn’t sleep with any of them, or rather, none of them slept with me, but hey, at least I was getting out there! At least I was being noticed!)

I got a Facebook message from the mom of one of my childhood friends recently that said, “You look exactly the same.” I’m not sure what she meant by that, because to me I look so completely different. But I think she was trying to express some gender validation, some gender celebration, telling me that though my external appearance may seem radically different, that there was a similarity, a thread running through all of my life experiences that was me, at the core.

What I want to tell you is that now, I recognize myself in the mirror. Now, I don’t get up and obsess about gender before I even put on my clothes. Now, I get my hair cut every three weeks and keep it shorn tight in the back and on the sides. Now, I don’t debate if it’s a cliche to keep my hair short, I don’t wonder if perhaps I should grow it back out because lesbians should have options, I keep it short because I know I want to. I keep briefs in my underwear drawer because I know all the options, and those are what I like. I collect ties and cufflinks. I shop unapologetically in the men’s department and I don’t even know my sizes translated into women’s anymore: I’m 8 1/2, 34/30, M, 16. I feel handsome and beautiful and attractive and at peace with my body—at least, most of the time. It has taken time, I’m 32, but I don’t think about my own gender, and wonder what it would be like, living daily, if it felt comfortable, anymore.

Mini Interview: Just Jess

Just Jess (From the Beaver Bunch)
mentor, vlogger, activist
www.youtube.com/user/beaverbunch, www.youtube.com/user/cautiousplay, @JessfromBB

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”

I’m not sure that I identify with the word “butch”. I mean, people may see me as butch, but I wouldn’t say that I am. I absolutely love my butch sisters but I just don’t feel like it describes me the way that I see myself. I think that stems from the misconceptions that come with being labeled as butch. I don’t wear the pants always, nor do I want to. Although I do have a butch attitude… does that count?

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?

I typically use “queer” to identify; sometimes I’ll go so far as to say genderqueer, but even that puts me in a box that I’m not completely sure of. Although I am sort of a guy and sort of a girl, so it does make sense. I’ve lived in and visited big cities and the queer/genderqueer communities are vastly different. I’ve felt more comfortable visiting Portland, OR than I’ve ever felt living in San Diego as a queer person and I’ve been here for almost five years.

When it comes down to it, I’m just a sensitive kid with a gang of bike tools and a love for romantic comedies. I’m just Jess. Mostly masculine on the outside and feminine at my core.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?

I would tell my younger self to be more open to gender and sexuality. I came out very early and immediately called myself a lesbian before I really knew what that would entail. I love women and enjoy being a woman, of course, but it took me several years to come into my own as queer and to not feel the need to identify as a lesbian. I just wish that I had given myself more of an opportunity to learn about who I was at an earlier age – it gets harder once you establish yourself within a community.

I would also tell myself to slow down a bit and be more present. I was sort of a crazy kid when I first came out, always running around looking for a cute girl to kiss. I guess some things never change :)

Lastly: I love butches and the history that comes with them. The struggles and triumphs hold a beautiful place in my heart. And thank you, Les Feinberg, your words are inspiration.

Ask Me Anything: Queer Despite the Straight Relationship

rhapsodyblue asked:

I’m a FAAB genderqueer pansexual in a long-term monogamous relationship with a straight cissexual guy. I adore him, he accepts who I am and we have a wonderfully fulfilling and communicative relationship overall, but I occasionally feel strange and almost guilty that I’m in a relationship that masks my queer identity, one where I can “pass” as a straight girl.

That was setup. My question is, how can I best nurture and feel fulfilled and at peace with my queer identity within the context of my relationship with my straight, cissexual sweetie?

Cultivate and celebrate your queerness and queer identity in contexts other than your monogamous relationship, since that is not visibly queer. Become involved in other ways, with a queer book group or queer activism or queer arts or whatever particular flavor of queer culture strikes your fancy. Make friends with other folks who have this difficulty so you can compare notes and identify with each other.

I bet there’s a Fetlife group or two out there for folks in this position.

The guilt and the “passing” is an indication that you’ve got a little bit of privilege, even if you don’t want it. It’s not real privilege, but it is perceived and therefore given to you. This culture will validate your relationship and see you as a certain kind of person in the context of your partner—call it a sort of orientation attribution, the orientation that others attribute to you, even if that’s not how you identify.

So the trick is a reconciliation of the orientation attribution that others perceive and your true orientation, which are different.

There are two big pieces to it, I think: internal and external. Externally, in order to have some peace with this, you’ll need to accept that you will get critique and criticism from queers, who constantly police identity (sad but true). It’s not that you are wrong, though; it’s that they are going along with some very superficial understandings about how queer identity works. And being that you are trying to broaden and radicalize this queer identity label (as being more than just who you sleep with), you will probably be in the position of being attacked for that, for a long time. I think in order to make peace you’ve got to radically accept that, decide how you’re going to react when folks do this, and then let it go. If it really bugs you and gets under your skin every time it happens, you won’t get to a place of peace about it.

Internally, aim to cultivate a place in yourself that deeply knows how queer you are such that their critique won’t knock you off center when it comes, which, sadly, it inevitably will. Practice a couple quick and easy responses when someone criticizes your identity or claims that you aren’t “queer enough” for one thing or another—to be in this queer space, to be consuming queer culture, whatever. If you can stand firm in your response—that they are the ones with a mistake, not you—they’ll look silly. But when you waver and let their attacks bother you, you will appear as if they have a reason to critique and question your queerness.

Internally, ultimately, you’ve got to deeply know that it is their problem, not yours. There is more to a queer identity than just who you’re sleeping with, and while many people don’t understand that, many others do, and you’ve got to understand that deeply in order for others to take what you’re saying seriously.

This is part of being in a (perceived) privileged position: the constant correcting of those around you, and the constant use of passing as a tool for change and deeper understanding. And there are ways to use passing as a tool, despite that it is also incredibly frustrating and invisibilizing.

The bottom line, I think, is that you’ve got to build some Radical Acceptance around your identity: to deeply accept that you are in a radical position, that you are pushing the edges of what it means to be queer, and that most people probably don’t and won’t understand that, so you’re going to get attacked and critiqued because of it. So cultivate your queer identity in areas other than your relationship, since no matter how queer the sex between you or gender roles within that relationship, you’ll probably have an orientation attribution of straight. Cultivate all the dozens of other areas of your life that are and can be perceived as queer, and build those up strong and solid. Work on your own sensitivity around your queer identity, too, so you can feel strong in it.

So Brown: Mini-Interview

Musician, kickstarter | myspace.com/sobrown | Bad Love video

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”
I’m not really sure about my relationship to the word “butch”; I’ve always just felt I was a male-ish spirit and tried to honor that.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?
Occasionally, when trying to convey my aesthetic to a new person, I’ll say something like, “think along the masculine spectrum. What would Johnny Cash be doing?” I’ve always done what boys did without really thinking about it. I do also love the Native-American concept of the Two-Spirit, a person who is a third gender and has qualities of both. That always resonated with me.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?
I’d say, “Young So, try to be kind to yourself, try not to self-destruct. One day you will have a really beautiful life, and you’ll be able to write awesome songs about all the hard years along the way, and you will have an important place in the world surrounded by lots of people who love you. You are perfect just the way you are and you don’t have to choose about anything. Just be.”

Anything to add?

I guess the only other thing I’d add is that I’m really looking forward to making more openly gay music videos for my songs!

National Coming Out Day & Matthew Shepard

October is my favorite month – I’m going to state it officially for the record. It’s got some significant gay activist dates, like October 11th (in the US – apparently it’s the 12th in the UK), which is National Coming Out Day, and the whole thing is LGBT History Month. And October 12th is the anniversary of Matthew Shepard‘s death.

And this year, I’m sure you’ve heard, was the National Equality March on Washington, and news about its success has been streaming through my reader all day.

Last year, on National Coming Out Day, I wrote about where I was when Matthew died (in the same city as he was, actually) and shared the poem I wrote about it years later.

I still think coming out is one of the very most important things we can do, as queers, as dykes, as butches and femmes, as andro genderqueer gendernonconforming gender rebels, as trans folks, as kinksters. Coming out claims the space we rightfully stand on, and says we accept who we are, and if you don’t, that’s your goddamn problem. Coming out is visibility, and completely overrides whatever the lesbian uniform currently is.

Whoever you are, I urge you to come out to just one more person this week, this month, this year. Come out as whatever particular identity you happen to be. Come out in support of gay rights, come out by calling your coworker on their homophobic jokes. Come out and claim your space.

I ran across this clip of Judy Shepard visiting The Ellen Show last week, on October 9, 2009. She talks about Matthew’s death, her own subsequent activism, what a hate crime is, and the amazing news of the US House of Representatives expanding the Hate Crime definition on October 8th (I know, I don’t usually report on current events, but this is important and relevant to the October Activism).

PS, check out Ellen’s short hair! It just keeps getting shorter! I would love to talk to her someday about her gender and how it’s evolving – has she always been butch, and now that she has some solid fame and notariety she finally feels comfortable expressing herself? Is it Portia’s influence? Is she a reflection of the current culture? (Seems like she always has had very timely hair.) I’m curious, I’d love to hear what she says about it. And I just love that she’s doing more gay activism through her show than she ever has.

SweLL featuring Anna Camilleri, Ivan E Coyote, & Lyndell Montgomery

Two of my favorite butches on the planet – and the fabulous addition of femme Anna Camilleri – have collaborated in a queer performance collective. This clip from earlier this year is fucking rad.

SweLL featuring Anna Camilleri, Ivan E Coyote, & Lyndell Montgomery

SWELL—the new incarnation of Taste This, notorious Vancouver-based queer performance collective. In 1994, four young East Vancouver artists—Ivan E. Coyote, Anna Camilleri, Lyndell Montgomery, and Zoë T. Eakle—came together to conduct an experiment. All four had been performing solo on small stages, and they wanted more than a ten-minute spot sandwiched between the fire breather and the sound poet. They founded queer performance troupe Taste This, and premiered their first full-length project at the Edison Electric Gallery. 100+ people were turned away at the door. Artistically emboldened by the response, they took the show on the road to Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, and then continued to create and tour a total of four stage works in Canada and the US, until disbanding in 2000. Notably, Taste This released Boys Like Her: Transfictions (Press Gang Publishers, 1998) to critical and public acclaim, including a 1999 Book of the Year Award from Forward Magazine, an American Library of Congress Award nomination, a Community Service Award for Achievement in the Arts by Xtra West, and in 2008, Boys Like Her was included in the Queer Canadian Literature Collection at the University of Toronto. With over a decade of artistic experience to their individual credit, Camilleri, Coyote, and Montgomery recently started talking about resurrecting the kind of magical collaboration that Taste This was. A lot has changed, but the issues that the early collective inhabited are still relevant in the contemporary artistic and political landscape. Questions of gender, class, sexuality, rural versus city life, and family dynamics continue to attract the attentions of the three artists. For the premiere of “So The Story Goes”—an original, full-length inter-discipline performance work—they’ll be joined by acclaimed artist Leslie Peters.

– Swiped from myspace.com/swetlltastethis

“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.

Definitions of Butch & Femme

Way back in April, for Sugarbutch’s third anniversary, I offered up an “ask me anything” thread where readers could ask any burning questions that they’d like for me to answer. Given that I’m writing so much these days my pencils are worn down to nubs, and that this summer has been a challenge, I’m behind on answering many of those questions.

Here’s one that I’ve thought about since I read it.

What are your working definitions of “butch” and “femme”?

I know that’s a tricky and possibly annoying question; I ask because I’m currently moving into the recovery phase of a recent gender panic/gender identity crisis. I’m in the process of moving to a more masculine gender presentation and (hopefully?) social role (thank God), and my girlfriend is femme (and I pretty much only like femmes), but then I don’t feel like my gender issues and vibes are very similar to those of the butches I know, and… I’m just really confused.

– Daisy

I do have somewhat of a working definition of these terms: usually I say, in the broadest sense, butch and femme are intentional reclamations and recreations of gender. There’s more to it than that, of course, and these identities are policed by all sorts of social and gender forces. But that’s a start.

But that’s just my brief two cents. I want to know: what are your interpretations of these butch and femme? What are your working definitions?

Say you run into someone who has no knowledge of what being part of butch/femme culture and what identifying as butch or femme means (which, I don’t know about you but, is very frequent for me). Or someone who has only come across these terms as pejorative? What do you tell them?

Or, think about it this way: living in New York City has taught me the strong value of the elevator pitch. Everybody’s busy, everybody’s got somewhere else to be, someone else to talk to, which is more interesting than you. So you’ve got to hook them in with something strong and solid.

So what’s your butch/femme elevator pitch? How do you explain the basics in one sentence?

I’ll have to keep thinking about mine. I’ll chime in in the comments.

Define: Identity Alignment Assumptions

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.

In modern western cultures, for example, it is assumed that men are aggressors and women are passive, that men are in charge and women give in. This is of course not true in every instance, but it has become a prevalent cultural norm, and – in some circles more than others – socially policed to assure that those alignments will be adhered to.

This particular cultural norm translates into a common identity alignment assumption in queer communities to presume that a femme is a bottom and a butch is a top.

It’s also a common identity alignment assumption that lesbians are feminists, that queers are democrats or liberals, that sex bloggers are slutty … ah, the list goes on & on.

Any particular identity alignment assumptions that have been especially challenging for you in your life? Any that you commonly assume, which still surprise you when they end up not being true? Share in the comments.

In Praise of Femmes: The Architecture of Identity

This is what I learned at the Femme Conference.

Oh, the Femme Conference. I have so much to say about what happened there, both personally and in relation to this gender work. Oh yeah, and I have some hot stories to tell y’all, too.

First: THANK YOU, everyone who donated money to help me attend. I was able to go because of this website. I may not have gone otherwise because I really can’t afford to travel. Thank you.

The theme of the conference was The Architecture of Femme, and as such many of the panels explored the construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of femme identity. As my background is in social theory and social constructionism, I tend to come from the place that says femme is constructed primarily physically, on the body, that all gender is performative. This means through symbols of femininity – shaving, long hair, skirts/dresses, heels, jewelry, makeup, etc.

One of the major themes I’ve come across in running Sugarbutch is femmes who feel invisible – that they are not read as queer because lesbians are not feminine, femininity is a constructed gender role within the heteronormative paradigm, and the perceived notion that a femme is really either bi or straight.

This misconception has to do with physical symbols of gender, and required alignment of sexual orientation and gender.

The first keynote speaker at the conference, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, said: femmes are not invisible, you don’t know how to look.

And this is point number one that I want to make. I’ll pause here to let that sink in for you.

Femmes are not invisible, the lesbian community just doesn’t know how to look.

That deeply resonated with me. I feel I’ve been trying to say that to femme friends and lovers for some time now – “well, I found you, didn’t I? Do you not go to the clubs, do you not get dates? Of course you’re queer.”

I know it’s not this simple, really – I know there is much difficulty when someone is not recognized by their own community because they are being true to their own sense of gender. That’s not an easy contrast to reconcile, and I don’t move through the world that way so I can’t really speak to the daily experience of what that’s like.

Before the conference, I started a conversation about femme eye candy – remember this? I’ll get back to that in another post more fully, but the relevance is that Muse & I were discussing requesting photos along with some text about how the femme in the photo queers femininity – how her femme-ness is coming through in any particular way that indicates that she’s femme, not straight.

[TO BE CLEAR: this is NOT be about proving queerness whatsoever. I am working on the details of how to write this up, and will explore this much more in-depth in another post soon.]

The point is to use the femme eye candy as a visual lexicon of physical symbols, as an attempt to notice any emerging patterns and begin to record the physical markers of femme identity.


DEFINE: Markers: physical details which indicate that the person is using their fashion and style to construct a queer identity. Examples of usage: Femme markers, butch markers, queer markers, hippie markers …


I have some ideas about what these markers might be – vintage and pinup clothes, hyper-femininity, high contrast, for example – and I must thank Sam and Maggie from Toronto who did a wonderful workshop at the conference on the construction of femme identity through fashion and style, where many of my thoughts on this were refined.

The discussion at the workshop quickly went from “what are some of the femme markers” to “what are ways that femmes construct identity besides through physical markers?”

I kept thinking about these things throughout the weekend at the conference: the markers, and the ways femme is constructed besides markers.

Five things stand out greatly from the discussions as ways to construct femme:

  1. In contrast to butch – the classic in some ways, the stereotype in others. We all talk about how butches lend visibility and how different a femme is perceived and treated alone verses with a butch. The conference brought up the issue of femme history, too, and how hard it is to find femmes, and one of the ways to do so is to find the butches’ visible queerness and search for their partners.I think this is an incomplete, problematic, and outdated construction of femme identity generally, but it is relevant historically and it still applies at moments. Plus, for some of us our own sense of identity is so greatly magnified when in contrast to our particular desire orientation – I am not just a butch, for example, but I am a butch who loves, desires, and partners with femmes, and that is also a key component to my identity.
  2. In community – Maggie, the beautiful dancer and wicked smart femme behind the Femme Show (who has a wonderful girlfriend, I was disappointed to hear, as I developed quite the crush on her over the conference) spoke of how when she is in queer spaces, she expects that she should be read as queer. It should just simply be a given. It is not a given that the feminine girl at dyke night is queer, because the lesbian community is still closed off to the ideas that feminine girls are lesbians. I mean, in some ways that is being shattered – maybe that’s one good thing the L-Word has done for the lesbian communities – but in practice, many many queer women still don’t recognize femmes.(I could also speak to how this is probably engrained in butches especially, in butches who are attracted to femininity, from a young age, because we do tend to go for the straight girl or the L.U.G.s and end up getting our hopes up and our hearts broken when she, inevitably, leaves us for a guy, because, well, she’s straight. I still watch butches go through the realization that femmes exist – that femininity exists in a queer context – and wow that sure can be a revolutionary realization. But this is another topic to discuss later, too.)
  3. Through language – Someone commented to say she has no particular physically queer markers, and in fact she prides herself on that, and would rather constantly construct her queer identity by constantly coming out verbally. But even if a femme does see herself as using many queer fashion and style markers, there is still always an element of constructing identities verbally and through language.This brings up one other idea, which is that I think all of these ways of constructing femme identity happen for everyone, that it isn’t just one or another, that some are stronger for some femmes than others, that there are many different combinations of them that make up each unique femme expression of each person.
  4. Through fashion and style and through markers. There are hundreds – thousands probably – of ways to construct femme through physical feminine presentation. The conference was amazing that way, to see as many different representations of femme as there were femmes in attendance. I loved seeing the similarities, the differences. There was such an amazing array from the fanciest drag-queen femme to the pencil-skirt-and-glasses femme to the pinup girl femme to the punk rock femme to the tomboy femme to the sundress-and-cardigan femme.And the SHOES! Oh good lord, I could write an entire post on the shoes at the femme conference. (Swoon.)Honestly, I never cared for fashion until I began discovering, uncovering, and creating conscious and intentional butch/femme gender understandings. I wish I had a better grasp on fashion and the history of fashion sometimes, some folks were saying very interesting things about the evolution of women’s clothing options during the conference.
  5. Through theory – feminist theory, gender theory, power theory, BDSM and kink theory, postmodern theory, historical contextual theory. The intellectualizing of my own gender has been a key component to constructing my own gender identity, and this resonated strongly at the conference.

I’m going to have to work on the butch version of this idea, the ways butch identity is constructed, though I imagine it is in many ways similar: in contrast to femmes, in community, through language, through markers, through theory. But perhaps there’s more to add, perhaps butch and femme are constructed differently? Ill keep thinking on that; please do add your two cents if you’ve got ideas on this topic.

Two specific questions for you, at the end of this looooong summary of what I learned at the Femme Conference about the architecture of femme:

  • What are some other tools with which you construct your identity, femme or otherwise?
  • And what do your markers look like?

Intentional vs ‘Natural’ Gender

I did not ever mean to attempt that there is some hierarchy in having an “intentional gender” verses a “natural gender.” Actually, I’m kind of mad that anything I wrote even sparked those two differentiating terms, I really don’t like that distinction.

Contemporary gender theory says that there is no such a thing as “natural” gender, that all gender is a performance of some sort of impression of what gender is, of what physical cues for mating, attraction, sex, and physical communication between people.

Some people spend time studying gender, some do not. One of these things is not better than the other. I am not better because I study gender than someone who does not. It’s just something that I do, something others do not do.

I find it to be a fascinating, near endless, relevant, and insightful pursuit. But others may disagree with me – others, still, say that flyfishing, or American football, or taxidermy, are fascinating, near endless, relevant, and insightful pursuits; I don’t necessarily find that any of those things resonate with me, so I don’t study them.

But in choosing a romantic partner, a sex partner, a (dare I say it) girlfriend, I have some requirements. Yes, I know my standards are probably ridiculously high. But what can I say; I haven’t been single all that long (Callie & I broke up just over a year ago – it continues to feel like it’s been five years, three years, two years at least!), and I am not in any hurry to get heavily involved (read: monogamous) with someone. One of the requirements that I have – at this point – is that someone I date have things to add about all of this gender stuff that I kick around on a near-daily basis. I’d like those conversations to be collaborative, or at least complimentary. A slow building of an understanding of how this specific language of physical codes and symbols works.

I’m going to say it again, here, just in case it wasn’t clear enough: there’s nothing wrong with not being “intentional” with one’s gender.

I mentioned Penny’s lack of intentional gender not with judgment but thinking that this is something that I require in my relationships, and that perhaps it is not an interest she wishes to spend her time on and explore. We are both interested in sex, my interest and expertise is gender, and her interest and expertise is in relationships (she wants to go into couple’s counseling). Actually, I probably know about as much about relationships as she does about gender – I know quite a bit, in some ways, I’ve read many books, I’ve taken classes, I’m even familiar with much of the psychological theory, but it’s less my field of focus. Ditto to her and gender. She’s read the books, taken the classes. But it’s not necessarily a tool she uses to see the world on a daily basis.

As a small footnote, I had that difficult conversation with her on Friday, and we spent a lovely weekend together. We talked openly, things deepened, we got closer. I was half-expecting things to end, but instead, they got much better.

I’m working on writing up some sex stories from the weekend. I’m increasingly impressed with Penny’s kink, eager exploration, drive, and sexy fucken mouth … as a friend of mine said tonight, not only is she keeping up with me, she’s giving me a run for my money.

Lesbian stereotypes, reclaiming language, and activism

Yet another case in point: Butch, skinhead, wife-beating, pint drinkers? “Butch, femme, dyke – what kind of lesbian are you? Jeni Quirke explores the negativity surrounding lesbian stereotypes.”

Hey, sounds like a pretty good idea, exploring negative lesbian stereotypes, yeah? Right away, I’m skeptical of her inclusion of “butch” in that title, but I’m curious. Let’s read.

[L]esbians and bisexual women are also guilty of holding stereotypical generalisations and assumptions about each other based on appearance and personality. The words ‘dyke’, ‘baby-dyke’, ‘lipstick lesbian’, ‘pretend lesbian’ and ‘political lezza’ are too often thrown about the lesbian community, at work, in the pub or even from a friend to a friend in a jokey and cheeky way.

So why is this still happening, in a supposedly very tolerant and gay friendly society? It’s quite straightforward for all involved – stereotypes[.] … [W]hy do lesbian and bisexual women also carelessly use the terms ‘butch’, ‘femme’, ‘dyke’[?] … Is it internalised homophobia? … most women don’t even realise they have it or are displaying it.

So, when words to describe lesbian identity categories – such as dyke, baby dyke, and lipstick lesbian – are used by heterosexual or gay men who are excluded from and based in ignorant assumptions about the group, it is because of stereotyping, but if lesbians actually use these terms, it is from a place of internalized homophobia.

The use of words such as ‘dyke’, ‘butch’ and ‘femme’ from a lesbian individual or group are almost always meant in a negative way. Often, the only positive times you will hear the words spoken will be from a lesbian who is referring to herself, such as ‘Yeah I’m a butch dyke, but so what? It’s who I am.’ For the individual and for onlookers this proud and defensive statement will seem a very noble and bold thing to say. This it is, but it could also encourage the use of such stereotypes by heterosexual and non-heterosexual people.

So here she’s saying, when I define myself and call myself what I want to be called, when I reclaim the words for myself, it appears to be “very noble and bold,” but really it’s encouraging stereotypes. Who cares if it’s empowering to me in a development of my own gender identity, in putting myself in a historical and cultural context where I recognize the gendered struggles of my foremothers and forefathers and and forebabas and forepapis, really it’s just an invitation to oppress me. Not buying it.

If we are using offensive terms to one another in our own community, then what chance is there that straight people and gay men will stop using them? Are we re-enforcing the terms? And if so why are we doing this to each other and to ourselves? … Possibly the thought that ‘stereotypical’ lesbians such as ‘butch dykes’ are re-enforcing people’s generalisations and giving lesbians a bad name. … Could it be that society on the whole has become addicted and accustomed to using labels or labelling[?]

So now this author claims that butch dykes are giving lesbians a bad name and reinforcing stereotypical lesbianism. Oh, I recognize this tune.

And also, a word about labels: where we are in our cultural identity history, right now, in the West in the early 21st century, we reject labels. Pretty much entirely. Constantly, people are saying “don’t box me in,” “don’t restrict me,” “I’m bigger than that box,” “I’m more than a label,” et cetera. We are not addicted and accustomed to labels. I absolutely think it’s true that labels can be restrictive and limiting when applied without any leniency, and I think it’s true that culturally, we used to have more of a sense of defining people by their gender, age, race, economic status, ethnicity, family history, class, social status, religious beliefs, et cetera – by all of the factors of social hierarchy. But this is precisely what the various activist movements of the 20th century have been working to change, and in many ways, it absolutely has changed. Labels are generally now seen as bad and restrictive.

The well-known and common female stereotypes such as femme , butch and dyke are only there so other people and sometimes even ourselves use to categorise all the ‘types’ or ‘breeds’ of lesbians neatly away into a fileable drawer. [Emphasis added.]

Oh, now I’m just sad. The only reason butch exists is so others – or “sometimes even ourselves,” (implying, of course, how sad that is, that our internalized homophobia is so bad that we limit ourselves so awfully) – can categorize us?

Goddammit, this is just so inaccurate. There is a long history of butch, femme, and genderqueer WARRIORS who are changing laws, making strives, marching in protests, fighting for rights, being visible, working hard, raising kids, making families, contributing to thriving communities, loving, living, and being ourselves.

And now, this perspective of the author of this article becomes even more transparent: the things she is saying here are flat-out gender-phobic. Probably out of ignorance, rather than intentionally malicious, but still. This author clearly cannot imagine that any femme, butch, or dyke would ever be authentically empowered by these labels (as opposed to falsely empowered through internalized homophobia) or claiming them out of some sort of intentional, conscious, educated, contextualized narrative of queer culture, life, identity, and empowerment.

I haven’t even started about the power of reclaiming words, here, which this author completely discounts as even remotely possible. Yes, the word “dyke,” for example, has been used by outsiders to marginalize and oppress people within that group. But part of the process of legitimizing that identity is to take the words that have been used to oppress us and revision them to be valuable, which, by proxy, revisions the identity as valuable as well. This also deflates the potential of the insult: if the word no longer has any negative connotations, and someone shouts “dyke!” from across the street, we can recognize that he’s a) being blatantly and ridiculously homophobic, b) attempting to insult us, and c) stupid and ignorant if he thinks homophobia is acceptable. It’s much easier for this type of encounter not to sting, and not to be taken seriously, when we are used to throwing around the words that are attempted to be used as insults.

Aside from that, there’s the linguistics of it all: “lesbian” sounds like the technical term, like dentifrice instead of toothpaste. It sounds like something you could contract or pick up, it’s long – three syllables – and fairly awkward in the mouth. “Dyke,” however, is short, powerful, with strong, shit-kicking consonants that pops on the tongue. Stronger, tougher, thicker, more powerful.

The author of this article closes with this:

We should all join and work together to end other people’s preconceptions, generalisations and stereotypes by not doing it in and to our own community.

Yes, I agree in part – we should end preconceptions, generalizations, and stereotypes. But what this author is describing is not “doing it in and to our own community” necessarily. People – everyone, women and lesbians and yes, even dykes – have our own agency, our own ability to define for ourselves who we are and what we are doing with it. To speak from outside of a community who uses this language intentionally about the choice of using this language is belittling and offensive, implying that I couldn’t possibly know what I’m doing by using this language.

And I know some of you are thinking, “well, Sinclair, you’re a bit different than the average butch, after all,” but ya know what? I haven’t found that to be true. I have found that most butches I know are incredibly intentional about their identities, and have beautiful things to say about what it’s like to navigate the world as a butch-looking woman, often even if they don’t identify with the label, culture, or politics. Same with the femmes. Butch and femme are no longer default identities to which one gets shoved into the minute one comes out as a lesbian. Queer, dyke, butch, femme – those words are marginalized, othered, looked down upon in many ways. It takes work to come to them, work to claim them, and work to keep them functioning.

This author, like the majority of folks out there – lesbian communities notwithstanding, unfortunately – are missing some key elements and understandings of the history of gender radicalism, what it means to reclaim language, and what it means to adopt these identities. Articles like this really get my boxers in a twist because they appear to be a conscious, intentional analysis of what’s difficult or challenging within the lesbian communities, but in fact, they are reinforcing gender misunderstandings and further marginalizing those of us who do play with gender intentionally, celebrationally, and beautifully.

Gender Frustrations and Clarifications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Period. Always.

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

On misperceiving someone as femme or butch (again)

A couple heated comments about my last post already, and I want to make a couple things clearer.

First:

I believe it is absolutely okay to not identify with the labels of butch or femme – or any label, for that matter. I think identity categories should be chosen by ourselves, not by others, and if a label is not chosen, it should not ever be imposed.

Period.

(Sometimes I feel like that should be written at the top and bottom of every post, just to make it clear. I want to write it in all caps, in bold, in italics, underlined: I support your identity, whatever it may be, even if it isn’t mine. And I also expect you to support mine.)

Also:

I’m not trying to say that, when someone is called butch or femme and does not identify that way, that that is not a misperception of your own personal identity – of course it is. That’s why the post was called “on misperceiving someone.”

It is insulting and difficult to be misperceived, to be misrepresented. As Daisy put it: “the person saying that doesn’t understand me, and like I’ve failed at gender expression.” I totally understand that – I hate being misperceived (as Daisy also points out, I said it bugs me when people told me “you’re not really butch”), but ultimately, that too is about the other person, not about my own identity. And just because one person misperceives me does not mean that I am not butch, if that is what I am choosing to call myself.

This clarification is important to me because I see many, many folks around me, many readers of this site, many of my friends, who tell me that they deeply want to identify as butch or femme, but are holding back for whatever reasons. Are suspicious of the identities, and are making their way down those paths of understanding how it will play out for them, in their own unique ways. I want to encourage that, when I can, share my knowledge of this identity process, and make it easier for someone else.

Now, on a related sidenote – being misperceived as butch or femme, or as not butch or not femme, is about the social policing of gender. The ways we, as a society and culture, enforce standards of gender on each other, on our friends and communities and lovers and strangers.

Miss Molly commented: “As much as we’d like to say there aren’t different rules in the queer community for butches and femmes, there are many of the double standards that exist for straight men and women.” Sure – there are standards out there, but they’re the same perceived cultural standards that enforce heterosexism and homophobia.

What I find most interesting here is who is doing the enforcing of these double standards. For example, I was in my favorite dyke watering hole not long ago and ordered a vodka cranberry with my usual bartender (who, at this point, calls me “dude” affectionately and shakes my hand when I walk in), and she actually leaned in close to me and said, “Are you sure? That’s awfully … sweet, you know.”

I cringed. Yes, I usually order beer and whiskey. Yes, the drink I ordered was “girly,” and my gender was insulted there, underneath that comment. But: this is about her, not about me. As I joke, sometimes: “I’m man enough to wear pink” – I’m also man enough (ahem, “man” enough, I should say) to order a cosmo or a midori sour or a vanilla vodka cranberry with a cherry if I want one. Yes, I know it’s a sweet drink. I’m aware of what I ordered, and I wouldn’t have ordered the drink if I didn’t want it.

Ultimately, that comment was about the bartender, and her ideas about how gender framework operates, not about me or how I operate. It is not her – or anyone’s – responsibility to police what they perceive to be my gender performance, and I’m at a point in my gender process and identity won’t let anyone else do it for me.

My point about that is this: Who is it that is making these “double standards?” Who enforces them? I read all sorts of things from all sorts of personal online diaries, articles, personal ads, queer media, books, gay culture – and everywhere I hear the same stories about butch and femme: those who don’t identify with butch and femme feel like they are being pushed to do so, and those who do feel like outcasts, like gender freaks who don’t fit in.

That’s a little heartbreaking to me, every time I get my Google alert with gender keywords in my inbox: yet another email full of “Femme women are noticeably less deviant and have a socially acceptable appearance,” and “a rigid and artificial dichotomy of male/butch/top/dominant and female/femme/bottom/submissive” and “the idea of ‘butch‘ and ‘femme’ is as frakked up as Albuquerque driving” and “all butches want to become men” and “I’m butch I suppose, but I’m no guy” and “all that boy/girl butch/femme crap – it’s not real!”

All over the lesbian/queer/dyke communities – my communities – I see people railing against this, from many perspectives. All I’m trying to do here is share my own stories and my own perceptions, illuminate the process a little bit, discuss it, open it up

I want to also echo Lady Brett’s comment: “If it does piss you off, it’s probably a matter of misperception. So, please, tell me. Give me the chance to fix it before you get offended.”

Yes. Please do tell me if I misperceive your identity. Tell anybody, when they misperceive any sort of identity of yours, not just in your gender identity. I’m not trying to blow off the misperception and to encourage you to just let them go on thinking you’re butch/femme/whatever – it is insulting! and, ultimately, inaccurate. Which makes us not feel seen, not feel acknowledged, not feel validated.

What I’m really getting at with that last post is the times when someone is misperceived, really in any way, and they are deeply insulted by it. There’s more to it than just “you don’t see me as I really am” – there’s this big set of implications because of those loaded words.

But again, I want to stress, I really believe that any misperception and insult is about the other person, not about me or my identity – and I do believe this goes both ways, being perceived as butch or not butch or femme or not femme or foreign or local or a hippie or a punk or bi or trans or anything that we don’t actually identify as.

Maybe I’m getting too Buddhist in my philosophies here. I was just reading Be the Person You Want to Find by Cheri Huber, and I’m feeling those philosophies seeping into my opinions on these subjects.

Identity categories are so personal, so intimate – and the theory around them is so slippery! I mean, if anyone can identify as anything, if social policing means nothing, then what is the real meaning of an identity label? Some theorists would say, ultimately, it’s all basically meaningless. I can get there, can understand those arguments – but I also know what it feels like to be inside of these identity categories, and to know precisely how it works for me, how it’s given me a beautiful structure in which to tinker and fuck around and play.

These topics are really difficult, and anytime I post something that gets heated and emotional, I always take the comments very seriously, and consider my points even harder. I am not claiming to speak for everyone here – man, that is one of the best things about blogs, is immediate discussion and feedback and comments like this. I’m only speaking from my own perspective about my own experience, with hopes that it occasionally is helpful to others. Speaking of the round-bellied-guy, I want to echo a quote from the Buddha that I’ve got hanging on my fridge, and was reminded of this week:

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

On misperceiving someone as femme or butch

I often have conversations with folks who say that they have been perceived femme or butch, and they really don’t like it. That tweaks me a bit, for various reasons, not the least of which is that I spent years flat out telling people, “I identify as butch,” and I would still get the response, “oh, you’re not that butch,” or “you’re not really butch.”

These identities are deeply socially constructed and policed, on all sides – those of us who do claim them, those of us who don’t. They’re loaded, complex, and largely misperceived.

Calling someone femme or butch is not necessarily intended to be insulting – sometimes, it is meant with much love and praise. But if you don’t identify as such, it can feel insulting, regardless of the intention.

This happened again recently, and it got me thinking: here’s why it doesn’t have to feel insulting, regardless of the intention.

1. This is about them, not you

Maybe you don’t identify as “femme” or “butch” at all, maybe you see those labels as confining to who you are and how you want to express yourself. Great! Good for you. Celebrate your whole self, in any way you like, you betcha.

[Hopefully you simultaneously realize that it’s possible for others to find liberation and freedom inside of those categories, too, and that you don’t force your philosophy of rejecting gender identities onto others. But that still never means that you have to work within that framework.]

This other person calling you these things may simply be working within the framework where they see everyone on the feminine side of the gender galaxy as femme, and everyone on the masculine side as butch.

But ultimately that is not about you – that’s about their framework. That doesn’t make your framework wrong, and that doesn’t make your perspective, presentation, or philosophies any less valid.

This is about them, and their worldview, not about you and yours.

2. Misconception of the terms

My gender-activisty self gets my boxers in a twist, because being called femme or butch is NOT AN INSULT.

These words are loaded – I get that. And sometimes, it can actually be intended as an insult – but we don’t have to take it that way.

But think about what we perceive someone else to be implying when they call us butch or femme. Where is that coming from? Who is filling that in?

It’s like someone calling you a dyke or a fag or a queer. The person slinging the insult could mean deviant, sinner, immoral, freak, but those of us who have reclaimed these words can look beyond that to laugh it off and say, “yep, that’s me. Gotta problem with that?” (Clearly, they do have a problem with that. But that’s not your problem, it’s theirs.)

Same with butch and femme: these words have deeper, personal meaning to some people, and it’s possible to take the time to go inside of the words and figure out what they hold, figure out their power and their detriments. If we knew more about the way these words worked from the inside, perhaps we would get to a place when calling someone – who doesn’t identify as one of these terms (more on that in a second) – femme or butch doesn’t make us bristle and cringe.

Because it doesn’t have to.

Here’s my basic thoughts on what we think it means when someone calls us femme or butch:

a) Femme does not mean whiny, controlling, manipulative, vulnerable, stupid, weak. Butch does not mean insensitive, thick-headed, macho, violent, emotionally stunted, controlling. Those are sexist misconceptions, and we don’t have to use those categories that way.

b) Just because you look one way one day, doesn’t mean you can’t look a different way another day. Gender is fluid, identity categories are fluid. Unless you’re chosing to identify as one of these categories, no one else can put you into these categories for you.

So, maybe this person calling you “femme” actually does mean that they think you’re weak, controlling, etc – well, then, so what? They are inaccurate on two accounts – i) that’s not what femme means, and ii) that’s not who you are (I am assuming).

They might be implying that they think you’re a high-maintenance bitch, or a thick-headed lug, but that doesn’t mean that you are. That’s just a downright insult couched in genderphobia, and you can call them on their ignorance, not take it so personally, and move on with your life.

3. Identity vs Adjective

We severely lack language to describe gender, and since we largely perceive gender to be a spectrum of masculine/feminine, butch/femme, male/female, calling someone femme or butch is simply an adjective – a way to describe which side of the binary gender scale they are perceived to fall on.

(I wish we had names for all the gender galaxy quadrants and solar systems and orbits and such, but they’re almost too big, too multi-faceted, to categorize and map. Goodness knows that won’t stop me from trying …)

In my opinion, identity categories can only be chosen by those they are describing. I think this applies in various socially charged identities – race, gender, sexuality, class, nationality.

The only time someone calls me butch and it is an identity, not an adjective, is when I myself have chosen butch as a way to describe me.

Again, the speaker here could actually mean it as an identity – but that’s about them, not about me.

Often, describing someone as femme or butch is a simple observation of their physical style – short hair vs long hair, slacks vs a skirt, heels vs boots. (Sometimes it’s much more suble, of course, as someone wearing short hair, slacks, and boots can be seen as femme.)

Usually, I’ve found the use of this word as an adjective is not entirely inaccurate (at least, not at that particular moment). The problem is that it is implying all these other things about behavior and gender performance that are then perceived to be ongoing and permanent within that person, and that’s just not true.

This is precisely the reason why I use the words to describe someone that they chose for themselves, and if I don’t know how they identify, I don’t assume.

So, in conclusion:

It really doesn’t have to be an insult, and using those terms as an insult is, in my opinion, a sexist misunderstanding.

Just because someone else doesn’t understand these categories, doesn’t mean that you don’t – even if you reject them. No need to take it personally, no need to educate them in their misconception – just let it go, don’t let it bother you, move on.

Lesbian bed death, Butch/femme dating, and More Femme Worship (Plus Q&A)

I’m in Salt Lake City for the long weekend, so hopefully I’ll have some time to catch up on writing and these questions. Thanks for asking them! Some of them are very complex and I want to give them good thought.

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

Oh man – I won’t pretend to be the authority on this one. I have had two major long-term relationships, one for five years, one for four years, the latter of which was one of those LBD (lesbian bed death) situations. So I seem to be alright at sustaining some sort of time – though ultimately, all my relationships have ended, so I’m not sure I’ve got the secrets here.That said, I do think I have some ideas about what it is that I can and will do to sustain passion in a long-term relationship the next time I get the chance to practice.

  1. Talk about sex. Talk talk talk. It’s fun! It’s sexy, it’s intimate. Let go of inhibitions and let your partner into your dirty dirty mind. Make lists of things you’d like to do. Make lists of things you’ve never done and probably would never do. Fill out sex surveys – like the purity test, or a BDSM checklist – together. Fill out the fill-in-the-blank questions, you may be surprised at the answers. Make a list of things you’ve done and didn’t like but might be willing to try again. Maybe this is just my compulsive list-making, but it’s useful information, and it forms a common vocabulary for you two to both discuss your wants, desires, fetishes, interests. 
  2. Do sexy stuff together. Watch porn, or, if you don’t like porn (though I gotta say, dyke porn is getting better and better and better, you’re missing out if you haven’t tried out some of the recent stuff), read erotica aloud to each other. Go to sex toy shops together. Share your fantasies. Plan some elaborate fantasy scene. Explore!
  3. Figure out what turns you on, and don’t be afraid to own that. Look for someone with complimentary turn-ons, or discuss your newly discovered turn-ons with your partner. It amazes me how few people really know what deeply “does it” for them, or, even moreso, who are in relationships with people they can tell about this stuff. (Oh, you should see the email I get sometimes about this.)
  4. If things are working, we’ll both be growing, individually as well as together. In theory, our values will be so tightly aligned that the interests and pursuits that we meander through will keep each other interested, rather than putting distance or difficulties between us. But, that said, don’t assume the relationship will be between the same people in two, five, ten years. One of my favorite novels of all time, The Sparrow, has a quote in it that goes like this: “I’ve been married five times over the last fifty years to five different people, all of whom were named George.” We should grow and change. We just gotta give each other the freedom to grow, and recognize that that means, potentially, that we may grow apart. 
  5. Ultimately, I think, it’s all about sexual openness. The people I’ve seen who have been able to sustain things long-term have been deeply open. Experiment! Try something you’ve never done, then try it again – just because you tried it once and didn’t like it doesn’t mean you’ll never like it. See which edges you can push. Take a class, take a workshop. Open up, let go.

All this advice is sounding very cliché. I don’t like giving general advice as a rule … wish I had some more specific answers for you here. Other readers? Tips for sustaining a long-term passionate relationship? Hell, if you are IN a long-term, passionate relationship, how do you do it? What makes it work?

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

If there’s only one piece of advice to give about starting – and maintaining – conversations with strangers, dykes or butches or femmes or friends or potential hotties or whoever – it’s this: find common ground and elevate the discussion.

My mom told me that once upon a time about my (former) hostile work environment. And I tell ya, it fucken worked.

Find common ground: that is, when you hit upon a topic with which you are both familiar, attempt to deepen it. When you discover you both like art, go inside of that – elevate the discussion. Ask another question: “what kind of art do you like?” “Have you been to that exhibit at the Met?” “Do you paint?” “What kind of medium do you use?” “What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever done?” “What do you wish you could do?” “What made you get into that?” …see what I mean? Once you hit a common topic of interest, deepen the discussion by asking as many questions as you can about the different aspects of it. It’s hard when you don’t know anything about the topic – it’s hard for me to bullshit sports, for example – but when I actually know something about it, I can ask intelligent questions that, who knows, may even compliment my own understanding of the topic.

That said: there are a few good books I’d recommend here. The Art of Conversation and, cheesy as it may sound, The Game, a memoir about pickup artistry (with many grains of salt and a critical eye, of course).

Certainly there’s not just one way, and the trick is to find your own way, the way that works for you with your unique set of interests and talents. My way and your way are probably different. I know, that’s a lousy answer, but unfortunately it’s also true – what makes you interesting, what do you love to talk about? I am often talking to girls about their gender presentation at bars, and I quickly discover in that conversation which girls share a similar vocabulary for gender that I do (major turn-on), and which are performing some sort of femininity out of some sort of compulsory default (major turn-off).

Lesbians travel in packs, especially to bars, dyke marches, cafes, so it’s really difficult to actually a) gain one’s attention, b) keep one’s attention, and c) have an actual conversation of connection. That’s where the find common ground comes in, but I definitely understand that it’s hard to actually say something, hard to “break the ice,” to make contact.

I mean, I think this is hard for everybody, but particularly difficult because of the ways that lesbians stay huddled with their friends when out at social events, in public. Why do we do that? Maybe it’s a predator-pray kind of instinct, where it used to be so much more dangerous for us to be out on the town, and we remember that, as a community. There is safety in numbers, after all. From the specifically butch perspective, these are some things that would make me seriously take notice:

  • Ask me to light your cigarette (even better if you then say “I don’t actually smoke, I just wanted to talk to you,” because for one, I’m an ex-smoker, and for two, smoking, as romantic as it is (sigh), will severely damage your body and that is, ultimately, a turn-off. I should add that to the list.)
  • Compliment me on my gender (no, I’m serious!) – “hey, I noticed your gender from across the room.” “hey, you look like a old-school butch / faggy butch / dapper dandy / prettyboi – do you have a particular word for what it is you do?” “Your gender is quite noticeable.  You got a gender philosophy?” 
  • Offer to buy me a drink. It’s an easy excuse to get somebody talking. Say, “I wouldn’t want to presume to insult your possible dominant or chivalrous abilities, but can I buy you a drink?” Boy howdy, that’d definitely get my attention. (I’d say: “No. But you can allow me the pleasure of buying you one.” And then you’d giggle, and we’d talk and flirt until I eventually took you back to your place and fucked you in the foyer. Hey wait, how’d this become a sex story?)

These are things that would absolutely appeal to me, not sure how butches-as-a-whole would really respond. But that’s all I can speak to, really, is my own experience – other butches (and any folks who don’t identify as butch): what would get your attention? Don’t be afraid to be a little bold. Lesbians rarely are, but it’s my experience that we respond extremely well to boldness. Also, after you get to talking, it’s okay not to have a plan. And it’s also okay to let your nervousness come through as charming. “Uh, that was my one idea for a conversation. Now I’m drawing a blank ‘cause you’re kinda cute.  Got any topics for discussion?”

7. Cyn asks: … (see the first batch of answers)

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

Still working on this one ….

9. Miss Avarice asks: Have we yet figured out the subtle differences between straight girls and femmes at first glance? Does it really come down to a hunch in the end? Also, has writing SB changed you?

The only way I can say that I know the femmes from the straight girls is that, sometimes, I “just know.” And hell, I’m not even right all the time! I err on the side of caution, though, assuming someone is straight until proven otherwise – although “proven otherwise” is a broader and broader category, often as broad as “she’s talking to me, must mean she’s queer (in some form).” So yeah, it comes down to a hunch – it’s more than just a hunch though, it’s an energy. It’s gaydar, it’s a sixth sense that I can’t put my finger on. I wish I knew! I’m working on some writings on “gender energy,” we’ll see how those go.

Writing Sugarbutch has absolutely changed me. I was just looking back at where I was two years ago, and while I knew I was butch, I was so much less articulate and able to claim it in ways that I do now. Sugarbutch has been key and essential to my own personal development of gender identity. It’s plateauing a little bit, in the last year or so, but I still have some realms to explore (the “sex” part and the “relationship” part, namely). One big way Sugarbutch has measurably changed me, especially in terms of gender identity, is that I – as Sinclair – exclusively go by male pronouns. I write “Mr. Sinclair Sexsmith,” and in the few interviews I’ve had, I’ve asked to be called by the set of he/him/his. I don’t go by male pronouns in my non-pseudonymed life, though I really love being able to play with both.

It’s changed me in other ways, too, though; I’ve been able to let a persona wander free and explore lots more of that toppy/butch identity, and it’s definitely strengthened my own expression of it.

10. Zoe asks: How did you develop boundaries for your blog? How do you decide what to write about vs what to keep private? Who would you be most worried about finding it?

I established the boundaries early on, with the tagline “sex, gender, and relationship adventures” – that’s what I write about. Occasionally I get the impulse to post links, or media, or general bitchy writing, but I ask myself: is this about sex, gender, or relationships? Otherwise, no. Axed. (I suppose I should add “self-awareness” to that list, though really, usually it’s self-awareness about sex, gender, or relationships, so it applies.)

I don’t have hard rules about what to write vs what to keep private. Sometimes, a date or a situation or a new revelation just begs to be written about, and I do. It’s instinctual, I guess. Occasionally, I hesitate – usually in those situations I write it all out anyway, and then ask one of my trusty advisees to tell me whether or not it’s appropriate to post. Most often, they say no, for whatever reasons, and confirm my suspicions.

Who would I be most worried about finding Sugarbutch … I suppose I wouldn’t want my boss at work finding this blog, especially considering how many hours I spend on it while I’m at work. And while there are many of these entries I’ve written that I would send to my mother, I wouldn’t particularly wish her to find it, either – though, my family being what it is (completely non-confrontational) I’d probably never know she’d run across it.

I would never want to get an email from Callie with her comments about what I’ve said about her on this blog (note to self: when are you going to get around to password protecting the old Callie entries?). I don’t actually know for sure whether or not Callie knows about this blog. My logical self says yes, of course she does, how could she not; but, on the other hand, I can’t imagine she wouldn’t have mentioned it. I guess we had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” thing going on.

I’m really open about this stuff – sex, gender, relationships – and most people in my life know that I write here. I used to keep it much more of a secret, but as it’s been developing from a personal journal blog to a more thorough non-ficiton-essay blog, I share it more and more. Plus, I spend so much time on it, I like to talk about it and bounce ideas around.

The Sadistic Impulse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passing, Privilege, & Butch/Femme

In response to what Belle wrote about privilege, guilt, and butch/femme:

I can’t speak (write) for all butches, and I do get that some of us have awful things to say about femmes and passing and privilege. I don’t know what to tell you about all of that, except that I think that it’s bullshit. It comes from a misogynistic bullying place where the one who is bullied and oppressed turns around and bullies the femme who is littler than you.

This is male privilege. This is the heteronormative hierarchy.

I don’t feel “more oppressed” than any given femme, and I resent that game of who has more hardship than whom. Division and in-fighting are ways that our marginalized communities stay broken apart instead of banded together. C’mon, remember Lord of the Rings?

Yes, butches are more visible, and therefore, in some situations, easier targets. But femmes are targets, too, and discriminated against. Hell, there are so few of us who even fall into this butch/femme dynamic – why make enemies of each other?

This past week I appeared as a guest on the Diana Cage Show on Sirius OutQ radio, and she’d had a whole segment of conversation before my part (where I performed some poetry and chatted about breakups, smut, and femmes, what else) where she was talking about “butch training,” I shit you not.

“Who trained you?” she asked me.

“I don’t think I was ‘trained’ … do all butches get trained?” I was confused.

“Oh yeah,” she answered.

“What about femmes?”

“Oh, no, they don’t need to be trained.”

Oh man, did my mind boggle. I don’t think she’s right about that, but let’s say, for a minute, that she is. In what do we need training? Was I doing something wrong? Did I need to be trained? Had I already been, and didn’t know it? Who had trained me?

“I’m not sure I was trained …” I said skeptically.

“Yeah, true, you’re a chivalrous butch. An old-school butch,” she said, as if this meant maybe I didn’t need ‘training’ after all?

“Yeah, I am. And a feminist, hardcore.” But I kept thinking. “Maybe my first big love trained me,” I said. She was the first femme I knew and she whispered in my ear, I think you’re butch, and I came a little and threw up at the same time. I watched how she wished her girlfriends would treat her and tried to be that.

And when I thought about it more later, I think it was my mother, my parents, who probably most deserve credit for “training” me in the ways that I take care of myself and others. Isn’t that what we’re speaking of? How we love, how we care, how we expect the partnership dynamic to work? And, fundamentally, if I may interpolate here, I think the “training” refers to those butches who often have grown up tomboys, one-of-the-guys, with a socialized masculinity. Those butches that treat femmes – and women – and, hell, people – with disrespect and dishonor, and I think it has everything to do with the “tough guise” of masculinity.

My point is, this is often the same type of butch (as much as I shudder to sub-categorize) I’ve heard this “femme privilege” argument come from, too. And I resent it, deeply. It saddens and angers me. I don’t know how to encourage a more wholistic, human range of experience in that type of butch (again, I shudder), wish I did.


But. This is what I have to say to Belle, or to any femme who endours that forced guilt about femme privilege:

Yes, passing is sometimes a privilege, but not always. Just like my visibility is sometimes a privilege, but not always. Tell me about times it was a privilege for you, and times it wasn’t, and then ask me about my stories, too. Tell me what it’s like to walk in your shoes. Let me learn from your experience. It’s hard sometimes to be a queer in this heterodominant society, and it’s hard to be a butch or femme in a lesbian community rooted in androgyny and which associates gender oppression with gender expression.

Fuck, can’t we share this burdon? Can’t we pass this weight around, let it be a little lighter between us? I mean, I know I’m a hippie-feminist-do-gooder-pacifist and all, but I believe in the power of community, deeply.

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.

Do I pack daily?

Multiple people have asked me how often I pack, lately.

The short answer is: no, I don’t pack daily.

The longer answer is … I seem to be packing more and more often. Since I got my hands on that fabulous packing cock, it’s been easier to pack discreetly and comfortably, so I’ve done it increasingly.

I used to pack only when I had a hot date and having sex was a possibility; that began changing six or so months ago, when I began packing occasionally when going out, just for the boost of cock confidence.

I can see why it may seem that I pack often though. The narrators in my stories nearly always pack, and I do speak of my butch cock frequently. But I don’t pack in my daily life, and I would say I’ve never packed and gone to work (rather, I’d bring my cock and put it on at the end of the day) but that’s not a true statement anymore, because today, I am packing, and at work.

I did not choose the Silky cock I can actually use, rather I am wearing a flaccid cyberskin “mr. softie” cock that does not get hard and is made only for the purposes of tucking into undies, to feel the weight of something between the legs, to perhaps pass a hand squeeze upon inspection, or maybe to surprise someone I may brush up against.

Generally, I do not feel that I’m “missing something” when I don’t pack. I don’t really think about it, in fact. I think of a cock as part of my sexuality, primarily, and part of my gender secondarily, I suppose – I love the ways it plays with gender while I’m in the midst of sex, but I don’t know if I want to add it to my daily navigation-of-the-world type of gender.

This is one of the reasons why it is hard for me to wear suits to work functions, such as my holiday office party which happened last week. Last year, I wore a suit (it is formal, ties required) and I felt so very exposed. It’s not as if I am not visible or out at work, both are true; and I wear the men’s “corporate casual” office uniform, primarily consisting of polos, button-downs, and slacks; but somehow, a suit crossed over into a sexual presentation of my gender identity.

It was better this year – more comfortable, more of a gender thing and less sexual. I am simply more comfortable at workhaving been here nearly two years rather than it being my first major party, as was the case last year. I fit in better, I know more people, I can hold my own in conversations. I’m not the new guy anymore, which is nice, and I even have some authority of my own.

Back to the softie cock I have carefully tucked away into my briefs today like a present.

I was chatting with DateDyke this morning for a bit, primarily attempting to knock down her gloating at being currently five votes away from owning my ass, and she mentioned that she was particularly fond of those little softie cocks.

“It’s a teaser,” she wrote. “I like feeling it in passing. It’s a nice little shock.”

I do like that idea. A revealing of the way I own and use cocks. A subtle hint at the ways that I fuck.

So, no, I don’t pack daily. Cocks are an addition, as they’ve always been, though they are becoming more and more central to my presentation, sexuality, and gender.

Trans vs Butch Identity

Excerpt from a letter I just wrote to one of my best friends in Seattle, after some conversations we had about butch & trans identities. I’m having a small (miniscule, tiny) gender crisis, and my week in Seattle opened up some very interesting ideas for me. I’ll be writing about it slowly here, as things get clearer.

I’ve been turning that conversation about butches & trans guys over in my head, especially the question of, what’s the difference between us? I guess I find it easy to understand that there are very few differences between you & me, specifically, because of the ways we get along & get each other, but when it comes to the broader categories of butches vs trans guys, I feel like there must be something different about those identities. I’d never given it that much thought, but it seems like I had always assumed that trans had more to do with this disconnection from the female body – but I guess it’s moreso a disconnection from the “female experience”? Butches have that too, I suppose, but perhaps in a different way.

So what the heck is the difference, then?

I feel like steps 1-10 of “how I became butch” are match steps 1-10 for “how I became trans” when I’ve compared the identity development process between myself and my trans guy friends, but then that crutial step 11 for them is “and then I’m trans,” and mine is, “and then I’m butch.”

So what is the difference? Why the different conclusions to the same process?

Also, when you asked me if I’d ever considered transitioning … man, I’ve been tripping on that for a week now. Honestly, I’ve almost never considered it. I feel like it’s just something I “knew” about myself – “oh, transitioning, that’s cool, but that’s not me” – without really questioning it or thinking too deeply about it.

It’s only in the past year or so that I’ve considered my own genderqueerness to be a sort of trans identity, this masculinity on a female body, and the ways I’m claiming it anew have made it feel like a deliberate crossing of boundaries and gender lines, which I really like. Funny, ’cause I feel like I’ve been writing about this for a long time, but am still just now really figuring it out and owning it.

Four of my closest friends and very favorite people ever in Seattle – you included – are masculine-identified in some form, ranging from boi to butch to trans, which is interesting because I’m really surrounded by femmes in New York City. I gotta make some more butch/FTM friends here.

Point being, I went away from my visit to Seattle with my brain just spinning with identities and masculinity, and I’ve been in a bit of a mini-teeny gender crisis since.

That sounds dramatic.

What I’m thinking about is bodies, and how much the body you have affects the way you move through the world, access, privilege, how people respond and treat you, all of that. It’s amazing how much we know about the ways our bodies work now, we can basically have the body we want, if we want to be blonde & blue eyed, we can do it, if we want to be a size 0, we can do it – I mean it takes a hellofa lot of work (or surgery), but it’s possible.

And gender, of course, we can change the way we present entirely. Given how much happens on and to the body, I think we should consciously choose the body we want to have, and work toward it, in whatever way is best for us.

But then … what is the body that I want? I have in the past noticed how some of my (masculine-identitified, female bodied, though not necessarily self-identifying as) butch friends covet male bodies, the little “bubble boy butt” for example, and I just never noticed male bodies with any sort of interest really, I guess I’ve always been pretty female-focused. I remember thinking, when these friends have said those things, “huh, interesting, I’ve never noticed that, I’ve never thought of guy’s pecs or biceps or thighs or butt” and wondering what that meant, for my own gender. I guess now I think it means that I’ve just never given it that much thought.

but now that I’m actively thinking about it, I think I would like some more masculine characteristics to my body. Which freaks me out and totally excites me at the same time.

Motivations behind my butch identity development process

Yes, it’s true, I said “how do I get THAT kind of girl?” when looking at the femmes, and have studied the butches that they have been with. But it’s much more than that. Here’s some of the other reasons.

  1. I hated shopping until I discovered the men’s department. The clothes actually fit the way my body is built – my broad shoulders, for example. I could never find something simple, plain, butch enough in the girls’ section, even when I was a kid I hated the back-to-school shopping because I hated the way my body looked and felt in the girly clothes.

  2. Chivalry: a big piece of butch identity, for me, is chivalry, and the ways that I get to spoil femmes – and other butches, straight women, gay boys, and, hell, straight men – by opening doors, pulling chairs out, helping to put on a jacket, stepping aside. This trait makes sense for the ways that I navigate the world, as a particularly strong observer. Could I be a chivalrous femme (or genderqueer or androgyne)? Absolutely, and I know a few gals who identify as such. But for me, the combination of the masculine presentation and chivalry is explosive, and particularly comfortable. I love the sweetness that comes from chivalry and the hardness that comes from the masculinity.

  3. I love the butch accessories: big ol’ belt buckles, leather bracelets, motorcycle boots, wingtip shoes, golf umbrellas, flasks, cufflinks, vests, suits, ties. Ohh the ties. They make sense to me – I know how to put it together, and I not only have confidence that it actually does look good, looking this way also feeds into my confidence.

  4. Contradiction: I find contradiction particularly sexy. I wonder if that has influenced my combination of female-bodied with masculine/butch stuff. I like that it doesn’t necessarily go together, I like that it is inherently subversive because it disrupts the sex/gender paradigm.

  5. Femininity never came easily to me. Yes, I wore skirts and dresses, but I never felt comfortable, solid, capable. I have wondered if this is because that was primarily the time when I was an adolescent and young adult – doesn’t everyone feel that way during this time? I guess I don’t know. All I know is, though femininity never came easily, masculinity has felt like slipping into a second skin, and has felt more comfortable – and more vulnerable – then any feminine expression ever did.

  6. The cock. I’ve been asked by two different places recently to write about my relationship to my cock, so iI’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. This is absolutely a major piece of my butch identity. But let me clarify: though my butchness is somewhat dependant on my cock, I don’t think the cock is dependant on being butch. And, would I still be butch if I could never – for whatever reason – use a cock anymore? Yep. No question. So, more on my cock relationship soon.

  7. I love that it is subversive to be a butch woman in this time and place and culture. I think it’s important to support all sorts of gender expressions, no matter what the biological sex of the person is, but that is actually still a radical act. Also, it is in vogue to reject labels (“they’re so limiting,” “I’m just me,” etc) in the dyke/queer communities, and if I can speak intelligently and clearly about the reasons behind my choices, I may be able to pave the way for someone else to exercise his or her or hir preference to dress or act the way he or she or ze wants, someday, in the future.

  8. Identity politics, though controversial and arguably outdated and problematic, and gender theory, are fucken hot. They challenge, excite, give language to concepts that are incredibly difficult to articulate, and are, ultimately, a sort of poetry for the inner self. I just love all parts of it.

  9. It’s hard to describe, but I just make more sense this way. I don’t know why it took until I was twenty to come to my butch identity, and why for others it happens from the time they’re toddlers. I just know that from the time I started understanding what who butches are, and what they (we) looked like, and what this identity meant, I was fascinated, and coveted that presentation. I was scared of it all, too, and stared open-eyed at any butch walking by, wishing I looked like that. I wasn’t sure I could ever really be that myself – but I was definitely going to try. And I did. And here I am.

There are more reasons to my being butch than simply gaining the attention of femmes who, I have come to realize, are where my primary compass of attraction points. It’s more internal than that, too – it has to do with the way that I move through the world, my actions on the sidewalk, on the subway, in the elevator, at the restaurant. And it has to do with activism, and social change, and smashing the gender binary, and human evolution, and trans politics, and even fucken revolution.

Butch Stoicism

This past weekend, a friend reminded me that my sensitivity manifests in this butch body, this gender performance, as stoicism. I forget that about myself. I think it is obvious that my feelings are hurt, that I am withdrawn or sullen, yet externally it appears as anger, hard walls, and judgment.I forget that’s how I’m seen.

See, this butch thing is still relatively new – less than a third of my life – and I am treated and perceived differently because of it. I’ve written this before, but: I was never “one of the boys,” I was never the athletic jock, the girl who wished she could join the football team, the one with the toy truck collection. I was the ragamuffin hippie child, making daisy chains, playing in the mud at recess and then changing into mary janes when I got back inside. I was the girl with the handmade dress and the holes in the knees of my wool tights.

Back when I had long hair, this same expression of emotion in me was perceived as something else – hurt, pouting. But now, with my boycut #4, it is stoic anger.

I changed, yeah. But I also am just the same. Don’t forget I used to be the girl on the playground that built rock sculptures and then would sneek into the library to read Jean Fritz and Madeleine L’engle and Anne of Green Gables and The Babysitter’s Club. Don’t forget that this gender doesn’t mean that I don’t feel, too.

What Gender Is

… and the beginnings (continuings) of My Gender Manifesto.A little bit of conversation about femme (specificially) and gender (in general) is happening over in this last post, and I have some things to add, especially about a comment on “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets.”

Essin’ Em said: “I hate the phrase “a butch in the streets, femme in the sheets” because it places value on each…is there something wrong with being a Femme in the sheets?”

And, duh, you probably already know my response, at least to begin with. Of course there’s nothing wrong with being a femme in the sheets, let’s just make that clear.

I love femmes in my sheets. My favorite. Rawr.

But.

That’s not quite what this phrase is saying, or means, in my opinion. The implication that a “butch in the streets” would be a femme in bed is implying – and correct me if I’m wrong here! – that the butch was a bottom. Someone who didn’t have the gruff masculine throw-down take-charge style that is assumed to come with the butch gender identity.

Which comes from the assumption that all butches are tops.

Which comes from the heterosexual gender hierarchy, which tells us that men are the agressors, women are submissive. Men are in charge, women are passive. Men take, women receive. Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum.

But, see, these things are actually different. Being butch is a gender, and being a bottom is sexuality (a sexual orientation? What is that category?). And to assume that all butches are tops or all femmes are bottoms is to buy into That Infamous Heteronormative (and misogynist!) Paradigm.

With me so far?

And, it’s just not true! Femmes are tops AND bottoms AND switches! Butches are tops AND bottoms AND switches! And, there are tops and bottoms and switches who do not consider themselves either butch, or femme. One thing does not necessarily constitute the other.

This is absolutely one of those places where butch and femme should – and MUST, in my opinion – deviate from heteronormativity. Come on, we’ve gone through the sexual revolution and the gender revolution, for pussy’s sake. We can differentiate between biological sex, between-the-sheets sex, and gender.

I’m not sure “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets” would EVER be an accurate description of anyone, unless their gender actually changed while “in the sheets.” And I’m not sure how that would happen … would they put on lingerie? A dress? Heels? I might prostelitize that that person had a cross-dressing fetish, rather than becoming femme in the sheets – but perhaps that’s the same thing? I’m not sure about that.

And this leads me to another interesting point. What is gender, anyway? What is butch, what is femme? How to define these ever-elusive, ever-complex terms? And, as bird and I were saying just last night, how do we make these terms expansive, rather than limiting?

Here’s what I think.

Gender is about my physical body: how I appear, the clothes I wear, the accessories I choose. And, it’s part of the way that I communicate physically, and thus becomes a big part of my sexual life, which is all about my body communicating with another’s body.

My hobbies, interests, values, activities, and personality are not dictated by my gender. I refuse to let them be. Those are dictated by ME. My unique spirit, whatever hippie shit you want to use to describe my “essence.”

This was one of the hardest, hardest things for me, in coming out as butch, after I came out as queer. Because I’d grown up in a very feminist household that devalued gender, wrote it off as compulsory and constrictive. And, yes, absolutely, it has been that – women forced to wear skirts, men forced to keep their hair short, etc. But this is not where we are anymore.

There is still work to be done, don’t get me wrong – and, in fact, for me, this is the work, right here.

I can pick and choose what aspects of gender that I want to adopt. Some of them work; some of them do not.

I, for example, am really interested in processing, emotional intelligence, gender theory, feminism, psychology, sociology, how people relate to other people, group dynamics … and those have, at times, been interpreted to being “feminine” traits, yes? And reading, cooking, preparing nutritous meals, home decorating/interior design, organizing, collecting.

And when I came out as butch (which was a long process for me, it took about 4 years, much longer than it took me to come out as queer), I went through a long time period where I was really struggling with what it meant to adopt a butchness, to be butch at all. I loved the suave masculinity of collared button-down shirts, boy jeans, polos, tee shirts with cigarette packs rolled into the sleeve, vests, fedoras, pinstripe suits, wing-tip shoes, motorcycle boots … and I wanted it. I wanted to BE that. But I didn’t know how to BE that without being the rest of masculinity, too – the “tough guise” of machismo, of violence, of emotional miscommunication, of misogyny.

I guess I figured it out: I separated gender from personality.

Butch is a masculine presentation of the body.

Just as femme is a feminine presentation of the body.

And there is a whoooooole lot of room there, within “presentation,” in my opinion. I know butches who wear lacy thongs, I know femmes who have short hair. I know butches who wear heels and skirtsuits, I know femmes who rarely wear much more than sweatpants or jeans.

My test, then, I suppose, for the butch/femme sphere, is the Dress-Up Test. If I am getting fancied up, do I put on a suit and tie, or a dress? And some of us, of course, would say “it depends” — well sure, that’s a gender too. I guess that’s what I might call genderqueer, though we don’t really have much of a label for it. Somebody should create one. Hint, hint.

There are certain things that gender does dictate when it comes to action or personality, but that seems to be primarily set around chivalry, which is really that physical communication aspect of sex and relationships.

Ahem. For example:

I hold my hand out for a femme who is walking in heels next to me when we go down stairs, because I want her to have something solid to hold onto in those high heels. I switch sides of the sidewalk when I notice a grate or something she can’t walk over. I open the door for her because I don’t want her to ding up her fingernails that she spent two hours perfecting. I take her coat because her dress is tight and if she lifts her arms up above her shoulders it could actually damage the dress.

I am aware of the ways that her gender – her physical body – interacts with the world, and I want to enhance that presentation, cradle her, protect her, celebrate her ways of showing off her beautiful, sexual, powerful self.

Just like she does for me.

Butch/femme as a Disruption of the Heteronormative Paradigm

This whole sex/gender conversation has had me skipping around today & yesterday with the singsong voice, saying, my readers are smarter than yours.Seriously though … I love love love that I am part of this conversation. Thanks for contributing, bouncing ideas off of me, bringing your thoughts.

Talk nerdy to me, baby.

I fucken love gender theory. This is reminding me of just how much. I did some reading yesterday and today, reminded myself of some of the other arguments in the dialogue on the butch/femme disruption of the heteronormative paradigm.

  1. The butch identity, particularly, though both the butch and femme genders, can be argued as an illustration for the deconstruction of the sex/gender alignment – that is, the assumption that gender and sex are the same thing, that gender comes from some sort of “essential” place based in biological sex – because if the codes and symbols of masculinity can be adopted by women (who, it could be argued, in some cases, can perform gender “better” than biological men), then gender is therefore something learned, not something innate. And thus butch/femme is a disruption and subversion of the hegemonic paradigm
  2. The femme identity particularly, but both the butch and femme genders, also draw attention to the performatibility of gender and how the symbols and codes can be adopted and learned. Specifically, since femme is a verison of femininity and is used not for the attraction of men but for the attraction of other women, femme challenges the very basic function of the feminine gender (attraction/pleasing of men), which, we are taught, is the sole purpose for these essentialized characteristics of the sex/gender binary.
  3. As much as the butch/femme dynamic is subversive to the dominant sex/gender system, I actually believe that it is also an imitation, at times. It must must must be extensively analyzed and carefully adopted because of the ways that the gender hierarchy can infiltrate our own sexual and relationship dynamics, and honestly, I might be more second wave about this than others, but I do strive for equality, I do strive for equal value in a relationship. I want to play with the power and gender and submission and control in sex, sure – but when it comes to value within the relationship, I do think it’s important to be on equal ground.

Okay, this concludes my gender rant for today. I have more to say – much more – and will write more on this as my thoughts get clearer. Thanks again, though, to those who have contributed to this conversation. Let’s keep it going, eh?