Posts Tagged ‘labels’
I’ve been throwing this phrase around a lot lately, but I realize I haven’t actually defined it or credited it. For me, it came out of working with and attending the Butch Voices Regional Conferences this year, as we used it frequently to describe the myriad of masculine identities we were seeking to gather and discuss.
According to Butch Voices:
Masculine of center (MOC) is a term, coined by B. Cole of the Brown Boi Project, that recognizes the breadth and depth of identity for lesbian/queer/ womyn who tilt toward the masculine side of the gender scale and includes a wide range of identities such as butch, stud, aggressive/AG, dom, macha, tomboi, trans-masculine etc.
In contrast to transmasculine, which was the last catch-all masculine identity label that made the rounds, masculine of center doesn’t necessarily imply a linear progression or hierarchy, I even think of it as a circle, kind of like a color wheel where the center point is gender-less or genderfluid or all genders and all the various kinds of gender expression and identity dance around it. And while “masculine of center” is definitely in contrast to “feminine of center,” it isn’t necessarily in opposition, as they play off of each other, interdependent and interwoven.
Seems like a useful term, to me, to describe the breadth of masculine identities to which I sometimes want to refer. What do you think?
My name is
|Mr. Sinclair Sexsmith|
|My identity is|
|academic, activist, BDSM, bookworm, buddhist, butch, compassionate, dominant, dyke, empowered, faggy, female-bodied, female-born, feminist, femme-fucking, femme-loving, Green, genderqueer, gentleman, guy, hippie, intentional, introvert, kinky, lesbian, lover, meditator, metrosexual, open, pervert, poet, prettyboy, pro-label, queer, reclamation, romantic, sacred whore, sadist, sadomasochist, service top, sexsmith, sir, stud, sugarbutch, tantra, theorist, top, transbutch, transmasculine, vegetarian, yogi, wordsmith, writer|
I ran into this Yay genderstats! fill-in-your-own-gender form from a Genderfork link a while ago, I think, but haven’t been able to find it again – I wanted to give the link to the folks at the Northwestern University in Chicago when I did the F*cking with Gender workshop but didn’t find the link. (I still have to write up the workshop notes and resources, which I’ve started, but haven’t finished. Coming, I swear!)
The description says “There are exactly 939 options here, and a total of 4.6469×10282 or 4.6 trenovemgintillion possible combinations, more than there are elementary particles in the universe.” Statistics for this project are also fascinating – 43% of the over 2,000 genderform labels generated included “female” or “intelligent,” but only 6% included “butch.” However, 12% included “femme” – twice as many as butch. Maybe if one added up ALL the femme-like words and ALL the transmasculine butch-like words, they’d be slightly more even, but I think it’s interesting comparing just those two words. More people included “submissive” (21%) than “bottom” (18%), but that claiming those words are more common than “top” (13%) or “dominant” (16%).
Interesting! I mean that’s not exactly a scientific study, but from my experience that is an accurate reflection of the queer communities.
Actually, recently I said I thought it was more common – from my experience only – to run into femmes who are tops, but I’m rethinking that now. (I think I just notice it in a different when a girl is a top, because it means we’re probably not compatible in bed.) Maybe it’s closer to 50/50.
Looking over the list of words, organized in alphabetical order and by frequency, I’m struck that though there are dozens (hundreds?) of words for gender, lots of things about religion and spirituality, lots of general terms for human emotional experiences, some for relationship orientation, but there are very little for class or race. Those things are highly influential to gender identities, too, and should be included, I think. I may just email the creator about that and suggest some additional sections or words.
Have you filled in your own gender/identity yet? I’m not sure my comments will let you paste the whole table into it and publish it accurately, but if you want to paste just the labels part into the comments, I’d be curious to see what other people list. Please share!
You might want to vote in the poll before you read me yammer on about my own thoughts on labels and identity, so I don’t unfairly influence your answers.
I realize this is a very non-scientific poll, somewhat limited to the visitors of this site, and therefore not a very good sample of the queer communities’ attitudes toward labels … but hey, you gotta use what you got, right? And this is what I got.
So please, leave comments with more explanations (or feedback on why my poll sucks) about your relationship to labels, and read my own thoughts about labels and identity below.
In pursuing this work of identity, specifically gender and sexual identity, one of the first and deepest and most difficult things I come across is the concept of labels.
I see questions about these things all the time: why do we have to label ourselves? Why is the lesbian community so into labels? Why can’t we move beyond labels? What good are labels? Why do I have to conform to someone else’s idea of what I am or am not? Why can’t I just be me?
One of my “gender rules” (something I’m working on, hopefully more on that in the next few weeks) is that everyone is the expert of their own gender, and so thus to always respect however another person feels about their gender. So if you want to reject labels, and that is the way you feel most like yourself, most liberated, most outside of this confining system of gender, then I say go for it and more power to you.
That’s not the case for me, though, not really. I find a lot of liberation inside of the labels – I don’t feel restricted by them, I feel more free to be more myself than I was before.
So I find this curious. I don’t want to be prostelytizing about how everyone needs labels, and I don’t assume that what works for me works for everyone – or anyone – else. But I do know it works for me, and as I’m developing my own gender theories, I’m struggling a bit to explain why.
There is a perception, espeically of the lesbian communities I think, that lesbians are really into labels. From the outside, a lot of words are thrown around connected to lesbianism and queer women, like butch and femme, dyke, homo, queer, bisexual, I actually think the dominant attitude in lesbian communities is very anti-label, very much a rejection of gender identity and sexual identity words. It seems to me that the heat of the community – the visible folks, the young and activist-oriented – are embracing the word “queer” very strongly, which is a much more inclusive term than many of the others, a huge umbrella under which bi, poly, trans, gay, kinky, genderqueer, non-conforming, et cetera, all can come together and find a place.
What I’m saying is, I think it’s interesting that from the outside, this community appears overly obsessed with labels, but once you get inside of it, there are a lot of ways that the dominant discourse discourages labels and micro-identity development.
But when I started thinking through that, I wondered: maybe that is just true for me and not necessarily a truth about the community as a whole. Perhaps that’s just unique to my experience (and, to be fair, the experience of many other butches and femmes, as I’ve heard stories of gender identity development from many of us and they are similar) and perhaps the dominant community thinks something else. But, I thought, it’s not like there is a study I can turn to about what percentage of queers embrace labels!
And, gee, if I can’t use my blog for research like this, then what the heck is it good for?
I hope the options give a wide enough range of your relationship to the concept of “labels” that one of them fits pretty well for you. If it doesn’t, please do leave a comment and tell me, more specifically, what you think about labels, identity, and you personally.
Seems like I kinda stepped in it with this entire intentional gender thing! Lots of comments and emails about that one.
(Almost as bad as I stepped in it when I suggested something like “I noticed your gender from across the room” as a pickup line. Yes, it sounds ridiculous. But there’s just no other way to say that without a) objectifying, and potentially offending or b) assuming a person’s gender and potentially offending. Though perhaps that’s speaking more to my underlying Issue of not wanting to offend people than it is speaking to getting someone’s attention by using gender as a flirtation device. Maybe the more appropriate line for most folks is just, “hey, I think you’re hot.”)
I think the mention of “unconscious” vs “conscious” gender are more accurate descriptors than “intentional” vs “natural” gender. I’ve already mentioned this, but: modern gender theory does not believe gender is “natural” at all, it says gender is socially constructed. It can be constructed consciously, or it can be constructed unconsciously.
But there are ways that I can be more conscious about the ways I carry myself. There are ways that I can study and understand how gender works in this highly, highly gendered society, and figure out and choose the ways I operate within it.
So, here’s a bit of a story about what that process looked like for me:
I was raised in a very feminist household. The rejection of traditional gender roles was instilled in me from very young, by my mother especially, who didn’t take my father’s name, never shaves, never wears makeup or dresses or skirts or heels, was primarily the one to mow the lawn and help me with my math homework, etc.
Though this was deep within my family values, I was particularly susceptible to cultural standards as a teenager (I think we all are, and I have some ideas about why I was in particular, but I won’t go into that here), and I ended up fairly gender-conformist, nearly married – to a cisgendered guy – for five years. I think I had to prove that for me, the model of grown-up relationships really wouldn’t work, that all that society says is actually untrue. Of course, for some people it works just fine to be female-bodied, feminine, and attracted to men – clearly, not so much for me. I think it was precisely because I suspected that this wasn’t true that I had to really prove it for myself.
I’m also firmly based in second wave feminism insofar as I believe every person’s unique life experience is valid and important. I believe each of us is already an expert on our own gender, our own lives. I believe we all have valuable, thoughtful things to add to the conversation of gender (or sexuality, or relationships) regardless of our supposed credentials or expertise or level of study.
That’s the thing about gender – we all have it, we all live in a particularly gendered society, we all have been raised with its influence.
Consciousness-raising groups (in my understanding) started for because there was no formal study of women or the female experience. (I can’t really even imagine a culture that assumed that women’s experiences were included in the male norm, a culture that had no feminist cannon, such a lack of sources to study and know and experience. Thanks, foremothers, for women studies, for feminist studies, for all the work you did!)
So C-R groups created their own sources, using the experiences of the women in the group themselves, treating each like a text, a source, from which they could learn, from which understanding could arise and blossom and grow.
This is how I see this writing project, this community, and all of you who participate and who engage with me – as part of a large consciousness-raising group, where we are all sharing ideas, resources, and experiences to gain greater understanding of our selves, our communities, and the world as a whole.
This too is where my love for narrative fiction overlaps, where reading someone else’s story enhances my understanding of the world, where I feel less separate and more connected and, ultimately, where every story has value, especially the voices to marginalized communities, experiences, bodies, and lives.
So: growing up in a feminist household with rejection of gender roles, then going out into the world and living in a hetero relationship where we were playing out very stereotypical gender roles, then coming out as queer – all this lead me to start studying feminist, queer, and gender theory, seeking out language, concepts, and similar stories to help me explain my own experiences. And within gender theory and studies, I finally found places to get some of my questions – gender roles, gender compulsivity, gender norms, gender within relationships, the intersection of sex & gender – articulated, and then answered.
What is gender?
How does it work?
Why are we confined to a binary? Why don’t we have three or eight or fifteen genders?
How does the sex/gender binary function?
What purpose does it serve?
Who benefits? Why, how?
How does it get enforced?
How has it changed over the years?
How is it connected with race, class, sexuality, nationality, religion, etc etc?
And once I started getting ideas about how to answer these questions, I started asking more personal questions of myself, and where I fit in to this huge, permeating, practically invisible system of hierarchy, power, and value.
How do I feel comfortable?
What makes me feel powerful?
How do I want my hair?
What looks good on my particular body?
What fits with the way I carry myself, how I treat others, how I see myself?
What type of gender am I attracted to?
How does this relate to my sexuality?
I was simultaneously starting to come into my own as butch, partly because of the lesbian initiation process of rejecting femininity and cutting off your hair (which worked for me, though certainly doesn’t work for all lesbians who go through this), and partly because I started immediately liking femmes who dated butches and who recognized a sort of masculine ‘energy’ in me.
Actually claiming the label and identity category of butch was a more difficult quest for me, one I’ve written about a few times, specifically in terms of masculine posturing and rejecting – as a feminist and lesbian – the things that I see are so problematic with compulsory masculinity in both cisgendered men and in masculine-identified women. (More on that another time.)
Regardless of my questions and hesitations about butch/femme roles and labels, the process was definitely underway. And as it has unfolded deeper and deeper, in more and more aspects of my life, I have found such a home in it, in ways that have been seriously transformative to the ways that I operate in the world.
The basic feminist principles of inherent equality, the wide range of human experience, and celebrating the self as it is are applicable to many, many aspects of gender exploration. But I’ve found that these principles aren’t quite so active in most of the lesbian communities. Yes, there are people doing this work, but we are not the majority – compulsory gender in lesbian communities is usually a sort of gender rejection, an androgyny.
And that works for many people – which is excellent! I will always say you should go with what feels good to you, what makes you feel sexy, powerful, beautiful. For many of us, it is not androgyny that makes us feel good about ourselves, it’s another type of gender expression. There’s a huge gender galaxy out there, a huge range of expression and celebration, and so much to play with.
I don’t pretend that I have all the answers to questions or issues on gender. I have concepts, ideas, and resources, and I have reached some understandings, about both the world and system at large (macro) and my own personal place within it (micro).
I also don’t think my answers will necessarily be your answers.
I encourage you to find your own answers. To ask these questions, to decide consciously where you want to be within this pervasive system.
There have been many of you who have emailed me or commented about my recent writings about conscious vs unconscious gender, and here’s the part where I start to actually take an opinion on this: I think it’s very important to discover, stumble upon, find, or create a conscious gender. Doesn’t matter how you come to it, really, but it does matter to me that we do.
What that conscious gender might look like, of course, is highly varied – perhaps all it’ll take is a moment’s consideration, and a recognition that yeah, I’m where I want to be, that’s enough for me. Maybe it’ll take years of deep exploration and personal omphaloskepsis and meditation and therapy. Maybe it’ll take reading lots of books about the subject, or lots of blogs. Maybe not.
I don’t pretend to know what that process looks like for everybody, all I know is how it looks for me – and how important it has been for me to go through that process, which is, obviously, why I am encouraging it in others.
Look, I know not everybody has the interest in this that I do. And I don’t think everyone needs to start a blog (that becomes their part-time job) and dedicate a big portion of your free time to studying how gender works and what it means to you personally, but I really do think we would begin to move forward if we have some small moments of awareness about gender, about compulsive behavior and categories, about discriminating against butches or femmes or trans folks or androgyny.
When we understand (at least a little) how the system works so that we can begin to see how we fit inside it, and we can be empowered to make the choices that are in our own best interests, rather than in the best interests of those for whom this system is designed to benefit.
But it’s not just that. It’s also because when everybody does better, then everybody does better. It’s also because sometimes I’m lonely out here doing gendered work with a small handful of community. It’s also because, though some small circles of consciousness-raising activists are happening, most gender is still compulsory and not letting up anytime soon. It’s because this binary compulsory gendered system hurts us. It’s because trans and gay kids are getting beat up and murdered. It’s because boys who wear dresses are shamed. It’s because tomboys who want to run around shirtless are shamed. It’s because women are not safe walking alone on the streets of Manhattan at night. It’s because I am not safe walking alone on the streets of Manhattan at night. And we should be able to be safe, I want us to be safe, all of us.
And plus? Underneath some of the hard work here, it’s really fun. It’s dress-up, it’s activism, it’s subversion, it’s sexy. It’s a deep celebration of you, of me, of our interaction with the world, and with each other.
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.
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.
A couple heated comments about my last post already, and I want to make a couple things clearer.
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.
(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.)
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.