Posts Tagged ‘queer’

Lesbian stereotypes, reclaiming language, and activism

July 1, 2008  |  essays  |  11 Comments

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.

you like those breasts, eh? wanna keep ‘em?

June 10, 2008  |  miscellany  |  1 Comment

Cynthia Nixon has sent a message to us gay women: learn the facts & take control of your breast health.

Don’t forget those breast exams too – they say it’s so important to detect cancer early. (Doesn’t it feel sometimes like it’s not whether or not you will ever get cancer, but when, and how early you will find it? Sometimes I feel like we live in a scary time, when we’re so susceptible to such mutations of our bodies.) So don’t forget to do those breast exams, your own, your girlfriend’s, your lovers, your fuckbuddy, your booty call … I do find it’s best if you ask first. Just sayin’.

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation has lots more information on their site at komen.org.

pink & bent: queer women art exhibit in nyc

May 19, 2008  |  miscellany  |  14 Comments

The opening reception for Pink& Bent: Art of Queer Women is tomorrow night here in New York City. One of the contributing photographers, Sophia Wallce, sent me a few of the shots that will be in her show. I love them all, but this one might be my favorite – the colors in the background are so stunning.

I first saw Sophia’s work because of her project called Bois and Dykes, which has some beautiful photographs of female masculinity shot in New York City. It was fascinating to look through this project of hers; the photos are just so familiar. She even shot my weekly happy hour watering hole and the barber I see about twice a month.

Here’s the information about the exhibit.

Pink& Bent: Art of Queer Women
Curatated by Pilar Gallego & Cora Lambert

Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation presents
Pink & Bent, an exhibition of international artwork by queer women.
Exhibit runs May 21-June 28th

The Leslie/Lohman Gallery
26 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10013
(between Canal & Grand-closer to Grand)

Hours: 12-6pm, Tues-Sat, closed Sat-Sun
Tel. 212-431-2609

Opening reception: Tuesday, May 20, 6-8pm
Panel discussion: Thursday, May 29, 6:30-8pm
Women in the Arts Speak Out
$7 suggested donation at the door

call for interviews with lesbians

May 19, 2008  |  essays  |  1 Comment

Just got this from Felice Newman, author of the Whole Lesbian Sex Book (which is fantastic, by the way). She’s conducting interviews for her next book and is seeking lesbian, bi, and queer women couples who have been together for 5+ years to talk about your sex life.

If this is you, do it! We need more voices talking about our honest stories out there. Contact information and more detail follows.

Read More

nostalgia for the butch/femme dynamic

February 26, 2008  |  essays  |  4 Comments

Sometimes I hear people say they wish they lived in the 50s and 60s so they could experience the butch/femme dynamic, or they “miss” it even. Team Gina has that line in their song: “Sometimes I miss the butch/femme dynamic / ’cause only girls in carharts make me panic.” When I think about it, it’s kind of odd, coming from a couple of twenty-something girls. It’s an interesting sort of nostalgic feeling for a time that we didn’t actually witness.

Can you really miss something you didn’t actually live through? Seems like there’s a better word for it than “miss” or “nostalgia,” because it’s actually longing for another time. But it’s deeper than that – it’s a historical connection to that time, an inhereted lineage that I really do miss and sometimes long for.

Though the gender revolution/s that are currently happening – especially around butch/femme – are a resurrection of something of the past, maybe it’s actually more more accurate to call it something new – a similar idea resurfacing in a new way.

I certainly didn’t grow up with any sort of model of the butch/femme dynamic, not in my own family – where actually there was a strong rejection of gender roles, falling on the not-rare 70s feminist argument that gender inequality is based on gender difference and gender expression. And yet, I feel connected to the butch/femme dynamic, I feel like a part of it, both currently and along some sort of historical axis.

I’ve been reading Riki Wilchin’s book Queer Theory, Gender Theory lately, and one of her major arguments (so far) is that gender activism got pushed out of both the feminist and gay liberation movements of the mid-1900s because of the ways that the conservative right backlash was using gender deviation as personal attacks against the people in the movements. Now that both of those movements have come so far, and been so successful, we are finally able to unearth this genderphobia that has been prevalent all along and attempt some activism around that.

What’s interesting about that to me is the ways that genderqueerness had to go underground, hidden, shameful, through these liberation movements, and now we – quite often it’s the folks like me, twenty-something, queer, children of the revolution movements of the 60s and 70s – are picking up the torch in our own, new way. And hell, the gender revolution happening seems more radical now than that butch/femme nostalgic time for which some of us long – look at the trans movement, the trans rights, the genderqueer and intersexual activism and knowledge that is getting more and more mainstreamed.

Review: Mia-Z (harness)

December 18, 2007  |  reviews  |  3 Comments

The Mia-Z Harness by Outlaw Leather, out of Seattle.

I’ll entice you with the one key little detail here, then you should head on over to Eden Fantasys and read my full review.

Here’s the thing about this harness. It’s gorgeous & comfortable, and you can strap a cock on, la la la, just like you usually would, but then … then? The way the front leather triangle is built, you can add a second cock that will slip right inside the harness wearer (assuming the wearer is female bodied).

It’s like an instant double, with any of the two cocks you choose.

I discount my own penetration pretty easily … but this reminded me how different orgasms are when my own cunt has something to grip.

Take a look at more photos, specs, and my full review …

be a gay Santa!

November 22, 2007  |  miscellany  |  2 Comments

An acquaintance of mine sent this on to me, she is going to be playing Santa at Sylvia’s Place Homeless Youth Shelter again this year, and they need donated gifts for queer youth.

If you want to be a Gay Santa, they’ll send you a “dear santa” letter from one of the youth, and then you an drop off or mail the gift with their name on it back to the shelter. if you’ve got the means, it sounds like a really fun process to be a part of! I’m excited to participate.

More information about Sylvia’s Place: We provide emergency shelter to homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City. A 2006 report from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force estimates that a third of homeless youth identify as LGBT. In New York City, this means that something like 8,000 to 10,000 youth are without shelter every night. This has led many to refer to this as an “epidemic” of homelessness among LGBTQ youth. Find out more…

Gay Santa wrote:

Happy Holidays from Sylvia’s Place Homeless Youth Center! We are hoping you will consider being a ‘Gay Santa’ this year.

To participate, send us your postal mailing address and you will be sent a “Dear Santa” letter from a homeless young person asking for a gift. Wrapped gifts, labeled with the young person’s name, can be mailed or dropped off at the shelter: Metropolitan Community Church , 446 W 36th st, NYC NY 10018

Our goal is to make sure each of our young people receive a gift this Christmas. With your support, we know this goal will become a reality.

Many thanks and warm holiday wishes,

Kate Barnhart, Director
MCCNY/Homeless Youth Services
446 W 36th St, NYC NY 10018

top 10 things I love about being gay

August 22, 2007  |  essays  |  6 Comments
  1. There’s that whole fucking women thing. Yeah, I like that.

  2. It challenges all sorts of compulsory hegemonic systems and encourages new ways of acceptance, tolerance, living, and loving

  3. The community! We have such fighters, artists, activists, lovers – I love our arts and culture, our philosophies, our theories

  4. Drag kings, drag queens, and queer burlesque

  5. That we are a lineage of kisses; because we do not inheret our legacies through our blood-related families, we must claim our heritage through our desire, love, play, and kisses

  6. Getting over the “ick factor” – which is what I’d call a lesbian’s aversion to men (and masculinity) or a gay boy’s aversion to women (and femininity) – and creating alignments with all sorts of genders within the queer spectrum

  7. The synthesis of feminism, gender, and sexual revolution

  8. The brilliance and hilarity of our (mainstream) queer celebrities – Ellen, k.d., Harvey Feirstein, John Waters, George Michael, Jenny Shimitzu, Rosie – and our media – Better than Chocolate, But I’m a Cheerleader, Bound, Queer as Folk, Brokeback Mountain, Will & Grace … and dozens more. They really are forging through.

  9. The Pride Parade & Dyke March. Stonewall. Knowing where I come from. Honoring traditions, and making new ones

  10. I do have a great toaster oven from all those young’uns I’ve converted …

"Lesbians found guilty … "

April 19, 2007  |  journal entries  |  2 Comments

I don’t usually post about news or current event type of things, but I’ve been following this story since it started and I’m really sad about it today:Lesbians found guilty of attacking a straight man: their lawyer said, “These are seven decent and nice young women who came into the city to have a good time. They were hit upon by an abusive homophobic man. Now they’re all going to state prison.”We are, still, not safe.

If you do click through that link – which I thought to be a rather sympathetic telling of the sentencing, on the girls’ side – watch out for the comments at the bottom. I am actually really shocked: “They deserve what they got.” and “They deserve to go to prison for a long time. Good riddance.” and “guess what, you poor little girls, you can’t stab people!” and “why weren’t they charged with hate crimes?”

Oh, god, it’s just heartbreaking.

They weren’t charged with hate crimes because hate crimes are intended to protect minorities. It goes along with the argument for “reverse discrimination” – such a thing, in my opinion, which does not and can not actually exist, because the consequences to descrimination against someone in the majority are very, very slight, are not institutionally implimented into society, and have very little to do with systemic disadvataging of the marginalized.

Homophobic attacks on the street are terrifying, and have real, serious, current, deadly consequences. These slurs that the man was yelling to the group of women, they were not “just words” and “harmless,” they have serious consequences, serious reprodcussions in a homophobic, heteronormative society such as ours.

Queers need protection, and sometimes need – NEED – to fight back. I don’t think they should have stabbed that man; I am a pacifist and believe seriously in non-violence, but we weren’t there – we don’t know – he could have been so threatening that they needed to physically defend/protect themselves.

I am really sad for those girls. It makes me want to take action, act up, do something in a way that few events in the gay activism realm have recently.

This is why I watch Boston Legal. I haven’t kept up with this season (I wait for the DVDs), but if they haven’t already, I really hope they use this incident.

I won’t even begin to mention the whole partial-birth abortion/Supreme Court news, or the Virginia Tech shooting, or that CNN released all the videos and letters of the shooter, that has also been hitting the fan in the past few days. Any god, anywhere, help us all.

"queer butch" does not equal "lesbian"

March 6, 2007  |  essays  |  4 Comments

I’ve mentioned this before, I think, but: I am a performance poet. I write, and perform around New York City usually a few times a month; I’m involved in a writing group and a book group. I take this pursuit very seriously.So, as such, I have a bio that I use to describe myself; the first line describes me as a “queer butch writer,” specifically.

A few weeks back, I was asked to be a judge for a state-wide performance poetry competition for high school students that is happening this Thursday. I’m not going into the details (not that you probably couldn’t find it, or that this won’t totally reveal myself) but that they are high school students is relevant, because the coordinators for this event asked me, after receiving my bio, to “tone down” the language so as not to be potentially misunderstood, potentially inviting problems from the “upstate and rural” New Yorkers who are “not as tolerant as we are down in the city.”

One woman actually said, I kid you not, “I mean, I don’t have a problem with it – I have LOTS of gay friends.” Which, though she was trying to comfort me, is a really horrible thing to say. Of course! It is never YOU who is oppressing ME specifically – it’s all those other people, ruining the fun for everyone.

Plus: she is implying that, if I called myself a queer butch, and IF someone was offended for whatever reason, there would be reason to be afraid. That that person would be RIGHT to be offended. That they could create a LEGITIMATE complaint that would potentially damage the organization.

If that’s not true, the organization would be strong enough to stand up and say, no, actually, this isn’t a problem, there is nothing wrong with someone calling themselves a queer butch, and if you have a problem, that’s your fucken problem.

But: I really want to participate in this. I really want to go, network, be a visible queer butch for these high school kids.So I agreed to change the word “queer” and emailed my revised bio back, leaving in the word “butch” – i.e. “self-defined butch lesbian writer” – explaining that gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things, that I’ve worked hard to claim this word and that I feel it is integral and important to my identity and my self-definition.

But, no go: “we are still really afraid that [the word butch] has the potential to be misinterpreted by some of the attendees. We completely understand that the word has significant and special meaning for you, but we’re afraid that it won’t mean the same thing to others and that it might have the potential for causing a backlash from a parent or teacher.”

I sat on it over the weekend, and toyed with ways I could be subversive and still participate in this competition. Wear a work shirt that says “butch” on the patch. Get “butch” tattooed on my foreheard. Include “marginalized freak lesbian writer” in my bio.

“Queer butch” does not equal “lesbian” — and that is exactly the point. Exactly one of the reasons why I call myself those words. POWER.

And? It’s a POETRY competition. This entire event is all about words, and they are asking (telling?) me to change mine. To choose words that are less scary so their homophobic uptight audience and participants don’t have to be shaken in their little privileged suburban worlds. That is the entire point of my poetry, of my artistic fucken mission even.

I suppose, under all the frustration and hurt cracking feeling in my chest, this is reminding me why I do this kind of work, why I want to be visibly queer, why I want to use words like butch and dyke and cunt and queer, words that have power. This is exactly why I need to go to that competition, to walk in and LOOK like a queer butch dyke and then talk and sound like an articulate, emotional, thoughtful POET.

Because I seek to be a bridge. I want to become suspended between worlds, create new pathways over which to travel.

And, actually? THAT – being a bridge – may even be my more powerful, stronger artistic mission than what I just mentioned about shaking things up. Those two things do go together, I think, despite seeming to contradict, and I seek to do them both.

I’m working on a formal letter, conceding the point because I want to participate but officially stating my position in protest, but meanwhile, I have agreed to let my bio be changed to describe myself as a “lesbian writer.”

I hope they won’t be disappointed when I, a queer butch, show up.