Posts Tagged ‘semantics’
In the recent past, gender activists have tended to use the term “bio” to define non-trans folks. As in, bio-male, bio-women, bio-guys.
But let’s think about this a minute eh? There’s nothing non-biological about trans folks.
The words cisgender and cissexual are becoming more and more prevalent for describing non-trans folks – folks whose subconscious/internal sense of your own gender identity generally matches that of your biological sex.
The word has its origin in the Latin-derived prefix cis, meaning “on the same side” as in the cis-trans distinction in chemistry.
Julia Serano has been significantly altering my own perception about cis/trans issues, particularly within feminism. Though I haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, and I will be writing up a review of it eventually. I also recommend Serano’s recent article Rethinking Sexism: How Trans Women Challenge Feminism from AlterNet on August 5, 2008 (beware, many comments are hard to read – attacking, misunderstood, incensing). Serano was one of the speakers at the Femme Conference, and it’s clear her work is really cutting-edge of the gender activism and theory, and I’m really excited to read more of her philosophies.
I’ve got a thousand things to say about cis privilege and the social construction theories that have been prevalent in gender studies thusfar. Sadly, I haven’t finished writing that up yet. But I hope to, eventually.
What’s in your box of darkness?
[ Leave a comment, or write it up on your own blog & leave a link. ]
If I had a red pen that worked on internet web pages, I would go around and circle all the places where “Sugarbutch Chronicles” appears as “SugarButch Chronicles” or “Sugar Butch Chronicles.”
It’s a little thing, and it really doesn’t matter that much, what matters the most is that someone has seen this little space on the web of mine and likes it enough to link back to it in their own little space on the web. I’m always touched when I find Sugarbutch linked from a new place. So I’d never email somebody and be picky enough to say, “Hey, thanks for linking me, but will you change your capitalization?”
(I love how you can see the paper texture here, how the ink is just a little bit smeared. And that the word is “gender,” of course. So hot.)
But I always, always write this site name as “Sugarbutch,” so I’m not sure why people change it. The heading, the page title, the blog title, any comment I leave – it’s all one word. I admit, it’s a pet peeve of mine. I’m a grammarphile, after all. An English major. It’s not just the bad grammar that bugs me, but also the not calling things the way they want to be called, and lack of attention to detail.
Maybe other sugarbutches write the word differently and have different philosophies about why they capitalize or don’t capitalize the letter B. I don’t claim to have made up the term, but when I started using it, I’d never heard anyone else use it before me.
The way I see it, sugarbutch is a compound word. Part of why it is important that it is a compound word, why the B in butch is lowercase, is because the poetic meter of the phrase is a dactyl: the emphasis, when said, is on the first of the three syllables: SU-gar-butch CHRO-ni-cles. Adding a capital B gives the impression that it should be cretic: SU-gar-BUTCH CHRON-i-CLES, or, worse yet, that the “sugar” and the “butch” are separated completely: SU-gar BUTCH.
There’s a reason for the lowercase b, is what I’m saying.
The red pen scenes always remind me of watching the film Secretary with The Ex. After she saw it for the first time, a few weeks later – it may’ve been our anniversary, or some such event, because I was definitely dressed up, and had brought flowers – she gave me two small gifts: one was very nicely wrapped small box, and in it was chewed up gum and pencil shavings. The other was a red Sharpie with ribbons tied around it.
Just remembering that moment where I opened the box makes something stir in my pelvis, some sort of heat of power. Sometimes she really knew how to play with me, how to get me going. It was so exciting, in the beginning.
When I opened these gifts I was in her office – she was the president of the queer student government group on my college campus, of course she was – and I locked her door, punished her, and fucked her on her desk long enough for us both to miss our next classes.
In the aftermath, we were tidying up, laughing, trying to listen to see how many people were in the adjoining lounge to figure out whether or not they knew we were in the office, and she took my hand and said, “Since I moved into this office I wanted to be fucked on this desk … thank you.”
One of my favorite moments of sex with her. Jeez, it’s so good in the honeymoon phase, isn’t it?
I’ve been adopting the word “transmasculine” to use to describe, generally, folks who were assigned female at birth who are male-identified, masculine, and/or masculinely presenting, in some way. I tend to stumble over this in these writings here – “butches and other masculine-identified females” or “butches and trans guys and bois and other girls who are boyish,” et cetera – and ugh, it gets messy to describe it that way.
So let’s start using the term “transmasculine,” okay?
I’ve been hearing it knocked around in the gender/queer communities more and more lately, but it’s from the TransMasculine Community Network that I am adopting this definition:
Transmasculine refers to any person who was assigned female at birth but feels this is an incomplete or incorrect description of their gender.
That’s quite broad – considering the “masculine” element in the word, I would probably say it’s more used as in, “an incomplete or incorrect description of their gender and they have some leanings toward the masculinity areas of the gender galaxy,” but in some ways I do like how inclusive their definition is. Regardless, I tend to use it to mean those of us butches, bois, trans guys, faggy femmes, and all sorts of other genderqueers. I’ve found myself using it in a few different articles I’m working on, so I wanted to be sure to introduce a definition.
I imagine the idea of butch as a trans identity is not so hard to grasp, and I’ve written about femme as a trans identity. The inclusion of the word “trans” as part of it feels touchy to me, because while I do agree that “trans” could – and probably should – be used as a great umbrella term for many gender descriptions, it also calls to mind for many an adherence to a strict gender binary – that if you are masculine, and female bodied, that you must be “actually” trans, not butch or masculinely female, as those spaces sometimes feel discounted. But that’s not how I intend to use it here.
Actually, I think I used to use “butch” in this way – as a catch-all phrase for anyone born female who leans toward masculine performance. But as my gender studies have gone on, I’ve come to accept and use a concept like transmasculine (for which I hadn’t had a term until now) as much more accurate, as I see “butch” as actually a very specific sub-set of being transmasculine. For me, butch is very much tied together with chivalry, a classic style of masculinity, feminism, and a sort of romance.
I of course think people should define these terms for themselves, but the more I do get involved in the genderqueer/transmasculine discussions, the more I see commonalities in those of us who identify as butch, and I see why some bois or other transmasculine folks don’t necessarily see that as their identity. I think in the past I’ve been much more inclined to say things like, “there is room for you in ‘butch’!” And it’s not that I take that back – certainly, if your lips tingle a little at the idea of calling yourself butch and claiming a butch identity, there is room for you in that identity and I think you should go for it, try it on, see if you like it, if it fits – but I’m seeing the ways that butch is actually more specific than I used to think it was.
Fascinating, how these things evolve. There’s so much to still create and discover and uncover and remake and expose about how gender works, what it means, our relationship to it. Man, I love this work.
If I was being really honest with myself, I would _________________.
[ Leave a comment here or put it on your own blog & leave a link. ]
If I could speak with my own voice _______________________
[ Since y'all seemed to like that last one, here's another writing prompt for you. Leave a comment here or put it on your own blog & leave a link.]
if asked of the state of my heart
I would say:
(fill in the blank in a comment or in your blog)
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.