Posts Tagged ‘passing’

femininity & heterosexism

March 4, 2008  |  essays  |  3 Comments

Figleaf did an interesting experiment with Google over on Real Adult Sex, putting in “attractive,” “beautiful,” and “worthy” along with “man” or “woman” and comparing results.

He wrote about what sparked this idea, saying he noticed a particularly attractive woman:

I thought it must be inconvenient to attract so much attention, and then wondered what it would be like if I could attract that kind of corner-of-the-eye attention, and then I started thinking about the old “men first initiate, women then decide” courtship convention and wondering about how that creates a perhaps unnecessary imposition on women to attract attention (since they weren’t allowed to simply ask for phone numbers). [...]

[G]rowing up male it’s unspoken but totally obvious that women are about attracting us; meanwhile we grow up blind to the also-unspoken molding to be worthy. The climax of the Sleeping Beauty fable says it all: she’s not only beautiful but *in a coma!* He needs his shining armor to reach her through the thorn-overgrown castle. His kiss awakens her.

Man o man. Very well said. This makes my head spin a little, and strikes me as relevant to this discussion about femmes passing that we’ve been having lately – particularly, to answer the question of why femmes attract male attention, which leads to the sometimes-necessary conversation of outing onesself, which leads to the potentially dangerous situation of having been seen as ‘deceptive.’

Of course, it’s because femininity is seen as an invitation, a deliberate request for male attention.

(And this is precisely why using femininity to attract other women is a subversive identity. It messes with the entire premise, the entire purpose, of gender roles.)

Even though we’ve come a long way, baby, and women can now ask for phone numbers, can come on to men, can wear trousers! can vote!, some of these old subscriptions about how men and women must work are still carved deep into our subconsciousnesses. And one of those things is that the purpose of femininity is to attract men, male attention, the male gaze, the general hetero mating process.

So really, hitting on a feminine girl – queer or married or otherwise – taking how she looks as an invitation – is a form of heterosexism. It’s the foundation of the “she asked for it” defense.

Of course, some girls want to be hit on. I don’t mean to discount that femininity is used for attention – it’s a powerful tool that women (and some men, yes?) have in this heterosexist society. And most people are flattered to be noticed if the hitting on is done with respect, right? I mean, it’s a compliment – the problems arise when the guy (or whomever is doing the hitting-on) is relentless, won’t let up, pushes boundaries and doesn’t take hints. I suppose this is the place where the hit-ee needs to be firm and direct, as opposed to kind, though of course that doesn’t always work.

Maybe this small insight seems obvious – sure seems obvious to me, now that I am writing it out – but I appreciated the sociological perspective Figleaf added to my explorations of the subject.

passing, privilege, & butch/femme

February 22, 2008  |  essays  |  6 Comments

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.