Posts Tagged ‘theory’
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.
“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” – Buddha
I’ve quoted that before, but I’m reminded of it again recently. It’s a quality that I always seek in those from whom I wish to learn.
I’ve been using the internet actively for the past fifteen years, since I was fourteen, and that’s not actually exaggeration; I caught a little bit of the BBS days, but really got my feet wet with the telnet chatrooms that were gaining popularity. I’d use the public library’s telnet system and my dad’s engineering computer to chat – live! with people from all over the world! – in Coffeehouse and Shadowlands.
And, as many have said, including Audacia Ray in her recent study of sex on the internet, new technologies are always first used for porn and sex. So, as a teenager, not only discovering a new technology, but also discovering a new sexuality, my primary sexual awakening was online – writing, corresponding, typing out fantasies, and asking questions to a hive mind of various perspectives and orientations and kinks.
I didn’t experiment a lot in person, it wasn’t appealing; but online, I could do anything, and it was safe. Of course, it wasn’t always safe. But I did pretty well for myself. I learned lessons, got smarter.
In 2000, two major things happened for me: I went back to college after taking four years off after high school, and I came out as queer. At college, I further my informal studies of feminism with gender studies, queer theory, and postmodern theory. I have two degrees, one in Gender Studies with an emphasis on social change, one in English with an emphasis on creative writing.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours reading books, watching films, going to workshops and conferences, seeking out mentors, reading blogs of personal expeirences, going to feminist sex toy shops, talking to friends, about gender dynamics, their personal relationships, queer oppression, social change, labeling, sex, sex techniques, sex toys, seduction, pick-up artistry, androgyny, lesbianfeminism, the 1980s sex wars, intersexuality, transitioning, binding, packing, taking T, putting on makeup, shopping for dresses or bathing suits or earrings or purses, shopping for ties or cufflinks or slacks or a tuxedo, radical acts of subversion, generational differences, strapping on a cock, the history of gender in the US, kink, domination and submission, rope bondage, BDSM, and uh all sorts of other things.
Not to mention that I, personally, have experience with these things in my relationships, my life, and my communities.
When I think about it, all of that history makes sense that here, fifteen years later, I’ve finally settled into this small niche of my varying interests – writing, inner emotional landscapes, sexuality, queer theory, gender theory, feminism, butch/femme dynamics, self-awareness, love, and relationships.
I’m not writing this to brag.
I’m writing this to show where my authority on these subjects about which I write come from.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll continue with all this research into these topics if or when I meet someone and develop a successful, fulfilling relationship, I’ll be disinclined to continue, because I can simply live it, instead of theorize about it all day every day. Perhaps I’ll move on to my next obsessive research subject – building alternative families or aging or performance poetry or who knows what. Perhaps all this has just been my own research into How To Be Me – chivalrous kinky writer, queer butch top, and feminist lover of femmes – In This World. Sometimes I feel like once I “figure it out,” I won’t have to be constantly doing all this work all the time.
Of course, there’s no easy way to simply figure this out, and once it’s “figured out” it’ll probably change, anyway, because it’s increidbly fluid; not only my own understanding of it, but the cultural understanding as well. It’s amazing how much has changed in the past ten years – even five years! Things are moving and growing, and I want to be a part of this activism, this forward motion, this quest for us all to be our highest, best selves, accepted by the world in our freakery.
My point is, I was reminded recently how easy it is to get online and create yourself as an authority about something on which you are not. And it’s sad to me, and disappointing, how easy it is for people to get sucked into something so false.
I know the internet. Know these blog circles quite well, I correspond with hundreds of people, read intimate, detailed blogs, have friends that I’ve never met but whom I’ve followed for years online. There are some amazing, lovely folks here who are using these tools, this digital medium, to express what is the most true and beautiful and real about them.
But that’s not true of everybody. I find I can usually spot those who are not authentic; they stand out, somehow, I go to their site or read their work and think, something’s just not quite right. It puzzles me, because I don’t use the internet that way, and because there’s such a better way to use this digital tool to connect, so why would you do it the other, less effective and more inauthentic way? Probably out of pure ignorance, frankly – but I don’t really know.
For y’all out there reading, especially about things as completely personal and delicate as your butch/femme gender and sexual identities, this is just a reminder not to believe somebody unless you have reason to do so, don’t take them purely on their word, wait until they prove themselves to you. Identities are fragile, and can get damaged so easily when we don’t have adequate support and validation around them. It’s so easy for one big, painful misunderstanding to put someone off of something entirely, when in fact it is not indicative of how it could potentially function.
Dan Savage had a great call on his Savage Lovecast last week (seriously, it’s now the #1 podcast on the internet, and you’re not listening to it yet?) about developing a bionic bullshit detector, which has also got me thinking about all of this.
Many of us place our trust in people too easily. And when it comes to the very personal and delicate subjects, such as what I discuss here on this site, I really hope you do (respectfully) disagree with me sometimes, I hope you don’t assume I always know what I’m talking about, I hope you question me sometimes, I hope you ask who the man (ahem, “man,” don’t get the wrong idea) behind the site is, I hope you check authority credentials and expect proof of authorty.
I also hope I’ve earned it, from you, from visitors to this site, from readers, from friends, from acquaintances, because I work hard to do so, to stand behind my philosophies by living inside of them, to have a consistent personal narrative, to have reliability in my character, to admit what I don’t know, to speak on things that I know well. In some ways, I’ve made a formal study of these things too, since the one particular ex who manipulated me into such a frenzy.
There’s no easy way to know who’s conning you and who is authentic except to be cautious, I think. (Dan Savage and his caller had a few ideas, too; see, now you really have to download the podcast, don’t'cha?)
As much as I have made a semi-formal study of these topics, and as much as I do have some authority here, I also will always say that everyone needs to figure it out for themselves. I’m thrilled that my process is useful to others, and I’m curious about the processes that don’t look like mine, too. This is me, doing this work, going through the processing, reaching these identities for my own self – now, you go do yours.
I’ve returned to earth – mostly – from the altered state of consciousness of the Power, Surrender, & Intimacy workshop by Body Electric that happened here in New York City over the weekend. I have so very much to say about it, but that’ll have to wait for now, I need more time.
What I do want to write about is breasts. Specifically, mine – more generally, butch breasts.
Last week, I went for one day without my binder, which is really just a tight sports bra that clasps in the back rather than being a solid over-the-head slip-on. I wanted it laundered for the workshop, since I’ve been wearing it practically every day since I bought it.
I wore a backup bra that day, and all day long I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror, in storefront reflections, in my button-down work clothes, or when I looked down. I remembered how I used to hate the uniboob problem, which many of my friends and lovers deemed unsexy or mannish, and it’s not that I like the uniboob look particularly, but as my gender has changed and grown and dropped into itself, the uniboob doesn’t look like a uniboob anymore: it looks like a chest.
It is not that I want to do away with my breasts. Don’t misunderstand me here: I think breasts are butch, just as I think the menstrual cycle is butch and pregnancy is butch and cunnilingus is butch – everything the female body does can be butch, because butch (in my use of the word*) has to do with masculinity on a female body.
And because I believe that the things a female body does are butch, and because my gender philosophies are deeply rooted in love and acceptance of my body as it is and in not classifying human experiences as owned by one gender or another, I have been holding back my desire to delve farther into my own masculinity. I’m afraid of it. I’m afraid it means I’ll be leaving my roots in female-ness behind, I’m afraid of being seen as reproducing the heteronormative paradigm or embodying penis envy. I’m afraid of being rejected by feminist and lesbian communities for being too masculine, for becoming the ‘enemy,’ for rejecting femininity instead of reclaiming it.
Breasts are a big piece of this fear for me. Mine are not so small – part of why I rarely pass: a 36DD, and have been since middle school. I’ve said since I was a teenager that a breast reduction is the only surgery I would consider. I read about Jess’s surgery – or others’ surgeries and body alterations – and I’m jealous.
But I’m afraid of what it means to want that alteration, to want to physically change my body to better fit a gendered idea.
After that day last week of wearing a regular bra, I started wondering: why do I even have this in my closet anymore? Why do I own this? My exploration of my own masculine/butch/boy/male embodiment is young – I’ve been calling myself butch since 2001, but only in the last three years have I really embraced it and actively, consciously developed it. And now, the farther I get into my explorations of gender, the farther I want to go.
It takes time to cycle through a wardrobe, and I don’t quite have the disposable income to go purchase all new bras – but I certainly won’t be buying any regular ones anytime soon. I’ve gone through this with my underwear already, years ago now, have cycled through all the old girl undies and haven’t owned any of those in years, only have boxers and briefs now. But that feels less obvious than binders and sports bras – no one can tell I wear only briefs except my lovers, I guess, but everyone can tell I bind my chest.
And see, what’s what it is now: my chest. Very different than boobs, breasts, tits. I have those, sure, but they’re underneath, they’re the other layer, the inner ring, something that now gets protected and covered, not out of shame or denial but simply out of layering, complexities, performance, a rich inner life, a duality, a whole person – me.
* Some say men can be butch, that “butch” is a term for a queer masculinity, or a non-traditional, progressive masculinity. I’m not certain I agree, but we definitely lack language to discuss different types of masculinity, and I have definitely observed some men who have a sense of butch energy.
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.
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.
One more thing:
To Belle, and to the femmes I’ve dated and fucked and longingly admired: Thank you.
Thank you for swooning over my neckties and collared shirts, my perfectly messy short hair, my heavy belt buckles and swagger and the way I order wine for you. Thank you for having my favorite whiskey at your house for me, just for me, thank you for dressing up and looking your best, celebrating the costume of femininity, for putting time into your hair and makeup and outfit and shaved legs and stockings and lingerie straps that bite into flesh and shin splints from high heels and freezing legs from short skirts and the eyelash batting and the way I feel like a million bucks when I’ve got you on my arm.
I appreciate your gender expression, deeply, because I make more sense when I’m next to you. To quote Cody: “Let’s be honest: we need femmes.” I didn’t get who I was until I started dating femmes. This identity does not exist in a vacuum, and, for me, requires the duo dynamic inherently.
I have so much reverence for the femme aesthetic. Am I occasionally jealous of your ability to pass? Yes. But I understand – at least a little – the burdon of it, too, and I want you to share that with me. Femininity is assumed to be for the benefit of straight men, and to subvert that can sometimes mean consequences.
Yeah, I get tired of being on the front lines of visibility sometimes. But when I have a femme on my arm, strutting down the street, freshly fucked and we’re melting into each other, everyone who sees us knows what we are, and I love the second glances we get. I love the tiny revolutions that happen in the faces of strangers passing by.
Passing is not always a privilege. Some femmes I know have even said to me that passing is never a privilege, in fact. (I’m not sure I agree entirely, but I understand the argument.) To force someone to admit that it is a privilege is to force a hierarchy, such a power play, such an insecure I’m-better-than-you kind of move.
I’ve joked occasionally that femmes and other passing queers get to hear what straight people say when they don’t know a queer is listening. My lovers have occasionally told me stories of what they heard at work or school and I’m shocked – especially in PC-Seattle where I used to live, I never heard people saying homophobic – or even homo-ignorant – remarks around me, because I am visibly queer, they knew I was listening. As a writer, as an activist, as an observer of human character, I am fascinated by those conversations and interested in access to those places where I cannot go. Likewise, I sometimes find I have access to intimate (bio-hetero-) male conversations, where they let me in as one-of-the-guys and bitch about their wives, tell sexist jokes, or fawn over girls at the bar. A straight girl – and probably femmes – would probably not have access to these conversations.
I’m remembering a conversation I had with my friend and femme spy once upon a time, where she strongly asserted that there is no privilege in passing as straight, especially because sometimes, when she is presumed straight and then outs herself, she actually finds herself in more danger than she was previously and, I believe she argued, she’d be in more danger than someone visibly queer – a butch – because of the perception that her passing was actually deception.
I definitely see her point there, and it makes me feel highly protective and posessive of femmes, to think of the occasional dangerous situations they may be in. I still think there is some privilege in the femme identity – as there is some in the butch identity, some in an androgynous or genderqueer or any other gender identity, isn’t there? If there was no benefit, what use would it be? I suppose “privilege” here though is not the same as “benefit;” one implies a hierarchical gain within social structures.
Maybe I need to back up here. What is privilege? How do we define it? How do we know when we have it, when we don’t? And what, if anything, do we do with it when we have it? What are our responsibilities with privilege, how do we meet them? How do we avoid abusing our privileges?
Uh, I’ll think about that and get back to you. Chime in your two cents if you feel inspired, please.
Ultimately, though, I really want to stress that comparing degrees of oppression is fruitless and purposeless. Who does it help? Do you really feel better after forcing someone to admit that they have privilege? It’s one thing to have a discussion about it, to acknowledge the intricate complexities within identity hierarchies – it’s another thing to play these I’m-better-than-you games.
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.
I’ve been reading up on gender recently, especially the “gender spectrum” (which, of course, implies a linear and hierarchical classification) and the recently introduced term “gender galaxy.” I graduated from college in 2005, but I am still apparently not up on the theory that is still unfolding and progressing – which makes me wish I was in school, actually.I keep reading articles about the sex-gender distinction and the ways it is disempowering, about gender binaries, gender definitions, gender this, gender that, gender flavors of ice cream. Lord! There’s a lot going on with this gender stuff, I miss studying it within a community and formally. I guess that’s part of the purpose of this project, now isn’t it?
All this is to say, these articles keep saying how useless the gender binary – the categories of male/female or man/woman – is, and that incombination with a disruption of the sex/gender distinction got me thinking: what would it look like if we no longer had these systems in place? Could we classify 6 or 8 or 12 genders instead? Could we categories people without that distinction at all?
I wonder what some sort of Gender Code would look like, something like the late-90s Geek Code (or one of its many spinoffs). Categories would include bodily adornment with makeup and nail polish, body modification with tattoos and piercings, footwear choice, hair – both hair length and body hair, physical features like breasts (including options for falsies) and cocks (ditto), hormones perhaps (as if that is easy to measure), accessories, preferred pronouns … what else? What other things are included in one’s gender?
So I’d end up with a code like this:
And that would be my gender.
Hmmmm. I’m just playing with this idea really, I’m don’t think I’d propose something like that. I mean, what use would it really have?
But I still kinda like the idea, in a way. I like the “secret code” part of it, that you have to either be very familiar with the symbols, or you have to stick it into a decoder. If I had all sorts of extra time to make a form that would generate a Gender Code, I would make one, just for fun.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An old friend of mine sent me an email recently, and said I could post it & my responses.
So I’ve been following your Sugarbutch blog for quite some time now and the whole Gender Identity thing certainly confuses me. I mean, some of it I get, ok, a fair bit of it I think I get. I mean, for instance in life [my wife] is a goodly deal more masculine than I am and I’m a deal more feminine than she is.
I think you’re speaking of these terms differently than I would. By “more masculine/more feminine” you mean she takes charge, does the outward, social, money things, and you are more domestic, yes? You don’t mean that you bat your eyelashes and coo and wear skirts? She’s in charge, perhaps, yes, but that is not the same thing as masculine. That’s sexist, in fact; aligning all things in control with masculinity.
Do correct me if I’m wrong, but these are different things in my head.
When we’re in the bedroom we reverse that dynamic. I dom and she subs and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Those things are separate from gender to me, too. That’s power, rather than gender. And really that all sounds very similar to my own makeup – I want a femme girl who is extremely powerful, especially socially, partly because I prefer to be the observer, to fall back and watch. But I want to take her down in the bedroom.
However…..the extent that you discuss it…it sounds like a LOT of work. I mean really. a LOT. I guess for me I figured out who I was and my wife figured out who she was, we figured out who we were together and we have this sort of…be-ing. We just are. I mean…am I missing something?
It is a lot of work. You’re right. And here’s why, and why it’s okay: for one, the work is fun. I so get off on this. The work is not necessary – at least, it is not consistently necessary, there is a degree to which I’d say it is necessary – for just going about my day. But I enjoy this kind of exploration of sex, gender, kink, and sexual dynamics, and I’ve made a formal hobby of it, you could say.
I understand what you’re saying about how you “just are” and I think that’s great. Me, however … I have been doing a bit of a life overhaul, what with the two major breakups in the last year, and I need to make a study of myself, the way I function in relationships, and the things I want, because I was with the wrong girls. Now this is not to set up a hierarchy and say that you are where I wish I was, that your place in this is better than or superior to mine. It is only different, we have our own paths.
One of the reasons our paths are different, I’d bet, has to do with the ways that our genders are so different because I’m queer/butch and you’re hetero/male. It took me a long time to figure out who I was – and while I’m sure it took you a long time, too, I still bet you knew all about your gender in high school, or earlier. And after I came to my own gender, it took me a while to learn that I wanted to be with a femme – a femme bottom, no less. My particular flavor/brand of desire took me 25-27 years to come to full fruition.
And because I am in a marginalized place, with few real mentors, all of my moves and identities and gender development took longer, and was more complex and tumultuous than a more mainstream, less oppressed or marginalized identity.
ALso, re: this is my hobby: this is also my passion. Sugarbutch is a culmination of what I studied in college: social change, gender, writing – all wrapped into one.
One of the things that kind of threw me for a loop in reading was the comment you made that part of your inspiration was when you asked “what do I need to do to get a hot girl like that?”. To me that just smacked of what most boys go through in high school. Most boys change radically who they to get the hot girls. My friend Dustin for example. He told me once, while extremely drunk, that he used to be nice, sensitive, blah blah blah just like I was but he wanted to get laid and so he changed everything about himself. And then I read about how you want to up the notches on your bedpost. …
Here’s the thing. I changed, yes, but I did not become an asshole who no longer respects myself or the people I’m with. I became more myself than I’d ever been. My butch identity development – as related to wanting to be with femmes – was less like your high school friend and more like me finding my ideal perfect job I wanted to have the rest of my life, then researching where it was that the people who got that job came from, how they got there. I am still nice and sensitive. I will not – I refuse to – sacrifice my personality on the basis of any gender. I separate those things, actively, intentionally, in my approaches to gender.
When someone first said to me, “I think you’re butch,” I nearly fell over. I wanted to be, so badly. I wished and wished and then worked my ass off when I got more confident, more capable. And I spent years feeling “not butch enough” – and I got increasingly interested in the social policing of gender, and identity construction, and the places gender & sexuality intersect, all of that.
Re: “notches in my bedpost”: it’s true, I do want this. But it is about gaining experience and knowing myself better, not about some macho conquest thing. I tend to fall for girls I sleep with, at least a little, but I want to learn to have casual sex. I want to find out what I really want and like so I won’t get stuck in another awful soul-crushing relationship. I want to know what’s out there. I don’t want to settle.
I know that you must get extremely tired of “expalining yourself”, so I apologize. And really you probably don’t HAVE to explain. I love you anyway and that goes beyond any lack of understanding, at least by my reckoning. So this is just an “I’m slightly lost” kind of thing.
I will always gladly answer any questions, and I am flattered you feel comfortable enough to ask. I hope this explains a little better, and I hope it doesn’t feel like any sort of attack against you or your identity. This is really hard for me to articulate, I’m just trying to work through it.