Posts Tagged ‘theory’

why we need to examine our lives

August 30, 2007  |  essays  |  2 Comments

I went back and re-read the article Lina posted, and I’m pleased to say, it didn’t frustrate me nearly as much as it did the first time I read it. I have various responses at the ready and I feel like I could easily defend my position & claim.I would like to go through it and actually write out those responses, actually, but I just don’t have the time this week. Maybe soon.

During this gender discussion we’ve been having, I was reminded of this quote:

Nothing can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own.
- Sidney J. Harris

… and I think it is fitting in this situation for various reasons. This argument of “butch/femme as reproductions of the patriarchal compulsory gender roles” et cetera is old, nearly forty years old at least. It strikes me as ignorant and arrogant and young to go around spouting opinions about things which one knows very little. These are old ideas, they are not radical, they are recycled, get your facts straight.On the other hand: there is much value in observation. And there are many, many butches and femmes who – I believe – to fully pass judgement here – are NOT using these identities as subversive tools, but rather ARE reproducing the heteronormative paradigm (gasp! I said it!).

Mostly, I feel like I have no ability or right to draw conclusions about how other people occupy and use their gender. However, occasionally I get the chance to actually converse with someone about it, and I am often shocked at the ignorance and thoughtlessness.

So, here’s what I haven’t said during this gender rant exploration yet:

Sometimes, butch/femme is a reproduction, a mimicry. And honestly, I disapprove of that. I believe that because of the grand amount of gender injustice that happens, because of the prevalence and acceptance of misogyn, because of the objectification and damage done by compulsory gender rules, we must – MUST – do some deep searching and analysis as to how institutionalized oppressive structures function and effect our lives. Especially the big ones: race, class, gender, sexuality. It is life-altering to understand how they work. I honestly think feminism and women studies played a huge role in my dealing with my depression, and the shock of becoming an adult woman in this culture.

But I digress.

This help that gender analysis and theory offers is where feminism comes in. And 1907s US lesbian-feminism – also closely related to what I tend to call “white western feminism,” WWF – was limited in its view at times, dismissing all butch/femme representations as hetero or all hetero sex as rape (coughDworkincough). Obviously there are some issues with these limitations.

BUT!

Though this may be a mainstream understanding of What Feminists Think, it is not the only understandings of sex that feminists hold. And to dismiss feminism as only viewing things this way is also limiting.

So. In summary: sometimes butch/femme is a reproduction of the compulsory misogynistic heteronormative gender roles. This is why we must examine the hierarchical structures in which we operate and make conscious choices about how we participate or resist.

And, not everyone’s participation or resistance looks the same. That’s why I try to talk to people about this stuff. Ask questions, listen, be aware. I feel like that’s all I can do, is attempt to understand the wild and precious ways we all live our lives.

what gender is

August 17, 2007  |  essays  |  12 Comments

… and the beginnings (continuings) of My Gender Manifesto.A little bit of conversation about femme (specificially) and gender (in general) is happening over in this last post, and I have some things to add, especially about a comment on “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets.”

Essin’ Em said: “I hate the phrase “a butch in the streets, femme in the sheets” because it places value on each…is there something wrong with being a Femme in the sheets?”

And, duh, you probably already know my response, at least to begin with. Of course there’s nothing wrong with being a femme in the sheets, let’s just make that clear.

I love femmes in my sheets. My favorite. Rawr.

But.

That’s not quite what this phrase is saying, or means, in my opinion. The implication that a “butch in the streets” would be a femme in bed is implying – and correct me if I’m wrong here! – that the butch was a bottom. Someone who didn’t have the gruff masculine throw-down take-charge style that is assumed to come with the butch gender identity.

Which comes from the assumption that all butches are tops.

Which comes from the heterosexual gender hierarchy, which tells us that men are the agressors, women are submissive. Men are in charge, women are passive. Men take, women receive. Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum.

But, see, these things are actually different. Being butch is a gender, and being a bottom is sexuality (a sexual orientation? What is that category?). And to assume that all butches are tops or all femmes are bottoms is to buy into That Infamous Heteronormative (and misogynist!) Paradigm.

With me so far?

And, it’s just not true! Femmes are tops AND bottoms AND switches! Butches are tops AND bottoms AND switches! And, there are tops and bottoms and switches who do not consider themselves either butch, or femme. One thing does not necessarily constitute the other.

This is absolutely one of those places where butch and femme should – and MUST, in my opinion – deviate from heteronormativity. Come on, we’ve gone through the sexual revolution and the gender revolution, for pussy’s sake. We can differentiate between biological sex, between-the-sheets sex, and gender.

I’m not sure “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets” would EVER be an accurate description of anyone, unless their gender actually changed while “in the sheets.” And I’m not sure how that would happen … would they put on lingerie? A dress? Heels? I might prostelitize that that person had a cross-dressing fetish, rather than becoming femme in the sheets – but perhaps that’s the same thing? I’m not sure about that.

And this leads me to another interesting point. What is gender, anyway? What is butch, what is femme? How to define these ever-elusive, ever-complex terms? And, as bird and I were saying just last night, how do we make these terms expansive, rather than limiting?

Here’s what I think.

Gender is about my physical body: how I appear, the clothes I wear, the accessories I choose. And, it’s part of the way that I communicate physically, and thus becomes a big part of my sexual life, which is all about my body communicating with another’s body.

My hobbies, interests, values, activities, and personality are not dictated by my gender. I refuse to let them be. Those are dictated by ME. My unique spirit, whatever hippie shit you want to use to describe my “essence.”

This was one of the hardest, hardest things for me, in coming out as butch, after I came out as queer. Because I’d grown up in a very feminist household that devalued gender, wrote it off as compulsory and constrictive. And, yes, absolutely, it has been that – women forced to wear skirts, men forced to keep their hair short, etc. But this is not where we are anymore.

There is still work to be done, don’t get me wrong – and, in fact, for me, this is the work, right here.

I can pick and choose what aspects of gender that I want to adopt. Some of them work; some of them do not.

I, for example, am really interested in processing, emotional intelligence, gender theory, feminism, psychology, sociology, how people relate to other people, group dynamics … and those have, at times, been interpreted to being “feminine” traits, yes? And reading, cooking, preparing nutritous meals, home decorating/interior design, organizing, collecting.

And when I came out as butch (which was a long process for me, it took about 4 years, much longer than it took me to come out as queer), I went through a long time period where I was really struggling with what it meant to adopt a butchness, to be butch at all. I loved the suave masculinity of collared button-down shirts, boy jeans, polos, tee shirts with cigarette packs rolled into the sleeve, vests, fedoras, pinstripe suits, wing-tip shoes, motorcycle boots … and I wanted it. I wanted to BE that. But I didn’t know how to BE that without being the rest of masculinity, too – the “tough guise” of machismo, of violence, of emotional miscommunication, of misogyny.

I guess I figured it out: I separated gender from personality.

Butch is a masculine presentation of the body.

Just as femme is a feminine presentation of the body.

And there is a whoooooole lot of room there, within “presentation,” in my opinion. I know butches who wear lacy thongs, I know femmes who have short hair. I know butches who wear heels and skirtsuits, I know femmes who rarely wear much more than sweatpants or jeans.

My test, then, I suppose, for the butch/femme sphere, is the Dress-Up Test. If I am getting fancied up, do I put on a suit and tie, or a dress? And some of us, of course, would say “it depends” — well sure, that’s a gender too. I guess that’s what I might call genderqueer, though we don’t really have much of a label for it. Somebody should create one. Hint, hint.

There are certain things that gender does dictate when it comes to action or personality, but that seems to be primarily set around chivalry, which is really that physical communication aspect of sex and relationships.

Ahem. For example:

I hold my hand out for a femme who is walking in heels next to me when we go down stairs, because I want her to have something solid to hold onto in those high heels. I switch sides of the sidewalk when I notice a grate or something she can’t walk over. I open the door for her because I don’t want her to ding up her fingernails that she spent two hours perfecting. I take her coat because her dress is tight and if she lifts her arms up above her shoulders it could actually damage the dress.

I am aware of the ways that her gender – her physical body – interacts with the world, and I want to enhance that presentation, cradle her, protect her, celebrate her ways of showing off her beautiful, sexual, powerful self.

Just like she does for me.

this week’s gender discussion: roundup

August 17, 2007  |  essays  |  No Comments

What’s been going on with this huge ol’ gender conversation, you ask? Well, here’s the roundup.This particular conversation this week was sparked by an anonymous comment on Bottoming is topping and vice versa, where the commentor asked, “why do lesbians hold true the male ideal of duality?” (and etc.)

I then wrote a post on the outdate questions on binaries where I wanted to address precisely why butch and femme are not inherently reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm (seems like folks kinda liked that phrase, it got picked up a lot).

Around the same time, Miss Lina posted A Gay Shame, a reproduction of an article in her local gay rag about the butch/femme dynamic and how outdated/heteronormative/etc that it is, and I nearly fell outta my chair with frustration.

I realized that it was actually incredibly difficult to explain precisely why I thought that butch and femme weren’t simply imitations of the straight world, even though I believed firmly that that was true. So I quoted from the GLBTQ dictionary and listed some further resources, brought it up to some of my butch & femme buddies, and cracked open my ol’ gender theory books to see what I could find.

I got a lot of comments, some of them extremely wonderful and helpful as I was attempting to sort out my own ideas on the subjects. And other writers began posting their own thoughts on these complex subjects.

Dylan wrote about checks and balances: “For me, a constant system of checks and balances keeps everything aligned and when it is not I am the first to make myself accountable. Examining where stray thoughts, decisions or actions might have originated from, I am able to not only challenge if my own beliefs are ones I want to continue to uphold, but more so, why I hold them to begin with.”

Bird on the Wire wrote on queer politics, and the places that she overlaps with the queer community, and places where they have been exclusionary and offensive “i identify as queer or gay, but in reality i am bisexual. granted, all but one of my relationships was with a woman. i find both men and women interesting and attractive and would hate to close myself off to any potential amazing experiences just because society prefers me to date men exclusively and the gay community prefers me to date women exclusively. i find it offensive to suggest that i am “straddling a fence” as if this is a choice i consciously make any more than anyone else. i find it offensive to suggest that i am any less gay than a lesbian who would never consider the possibility of sleeping with a man. i came out at 15, i suffered the same hardships, the same ostracizing, the same heartbreak, the same political battles.”

Miss Avarice, in continuing to work through her femme identity, wrote about femme-ism: “Here’s the riddle: I embrace my femininity when it attracts women, and I reject my femininity when it attracts men.”

I started compiling my ideas and posted further points on gender, then on the places where butch & femme are incredibly subversive, and why.

Just for fun, I published something I’d written weeks ago, but that seemed relevant, which was a little list on the care and feeding of a butch (ahem, that would be me), and a little gender play on the ever-so-popular lolcats format.

I still have a lot to say about gender, resistance, social change, the heteronormative paradigm, subversion, butch/femme identities and (so-called) “role playing” … and I’ll do my best to type up more of that today.

It’s been a hellova week here in sexblog world … I am really loving being part of this. I’ve spent more time on Sugarbutch, writing things for Sugarbutch (you should see how many draft posts I have right now), writing in the margins of my books and printouts of various articles on gender, and journalling about my own personal beliefs. It’s one of the reasons I put up those ads in the sidebar – I’m torn about it, but as I’m spending more & more time keeping up with this website, I want to encourage, and even request, some compensation for my time. If only I could just sit around and have these discussions on sex, gender, sexuality, and relationships all day every day. I’d have revolutionary theories in no time. Hmmm, I should find out who would pay me to do that kind of thing.

(If I missed your post on gender, sorry about that – let me know & I’ll gladly add it.)

butch/femme disruption of the heteronormative paradigm

August 14, 2007  |  essays  |  9 Comments

This whole sex/gender conversation has had me skipping around today & yesterday with the singsong voice, saying, my readers are smarter than yours.Seriously though … I love love love that I am part of this conversation. Thanks for contributing, bouncing ideas off of me, bringing your thoughts.

Talk nerdy to me, baby.

I fucken love gender theory. This is reminding me of just how much. I did some reading yesterday and today, reminded myself of some of the other arguments in the dialogue on the butch/femme disruption of the heteronormative paradigm.

  1. The butch identity, particularly, though both the butch and femme genders, can be argued as an illustration for the deconstruction of the sex/gender alignment – that is, the assumption that gender and sex are the same thing, that gender comes from some sort of “essential” place based in biological sex – because if the codes and symbols of masculinity can be adopted by women (who, it could be argued, in some cases, can perform gender “better” than biological men), then gender is therefore something learned, not something innate. And thus butch/femme is a disruption and subversion of the hegemonic paradigm
  2. The femme identity particularly, but both the butch and femme genders, also draw attention to the performatibility of gender and how the symbols and codes can be adopted and learned. Specifically, since femme is a verison of femininity and is used not for the attraction of men but for the attraction of other women, femme challenges the very basic function of the feminine gender (attraction/pleasing of men), which, we are taught, is the sole purpose for these essentialized characteristics of the sex/gender binary.
  3. As much as the butch/femme dynamic is subversive to the dominant sex/gender system, I actually believe that it is also an imitation, at times. It must must must be extensively analyzed and carefully adopted because of the ways that the gender hierarchy can infiltrate our own sexual and relationship dynamics, and honestly, I might be more second wave about this than others, but I do strive for equality, I do strive for equal value in a relationship. I want to play with the power and gender and submission and control in sex, sure – but when it comes to value within the relationship, I do think it’s important to be on equal ground.

Okay, this concludes my gender rant for today. I have more to say – much more – and will write more on this as my thoughts get clearer. Thanks again, though, to those who have contributed to this conversation. Let’s keep it going, eh?

further points on gender

August 13, 2007  |  essays  |  4 Comments
  • When myself and my partner are both women, we are inherently breaking from heteronormativity just by the fact that we are both women.

  • Arguing that butch/femme reproduces compulsory heterosexual gender roles assumes that heterosexual gender roles ARE the source, and the norm, from whence butch/femme came. What if all of these gender roles are pulling from a different force – say, some sort of universal life-force, uniquely expressed in a wide variety of ways?

  • Sometimes butch/femme roles ARE a reproduction of heterosexuality, and that is where trouble comes into my paradise. If only they never were. That is absolutely one of the reasons why it was extremely difficult for me to come to a butch identity – because I’d grown up believing that gender roles were confining, and limiting. But they don’t have to be. I’m working on the details of that argument, but – for now – it’s similar to how a poetic form can actually liberate a poem, or an idea, rather than limit the expression of it.

  • I don’t like the argument that we should be “beyond roles” or beyond definition. Defining ourselves gives us power, and language, to articulate who we are. The problems arise when we are confined to the definitions, when we can no longer re-make or re-claim the words to accurately describe ourselves, or when we grow and move and change and are holding on to something that is no longer true. Categories should never be so rigid that there is not room to manouver inside of them.

  • Claiming a particular label or gender identity or expression also situates me within a particular history. There is a heritage of women who refused to be confined to femininity, many of them butches in the queer community. And I come from them. They are my heritage, I am part of that lineage, I want to claim and celebrate and align myself with what they did, because I am so fucken lucky to be sitting in a corporate office in midtown Manhattan, with my boycut #4 and my polo shirt, black boy slacks and loafers, Hanes briefs and a pocketwatch, wearing Old Spice and American Crew pomade, and my coworkers don’t care. I claim that heritage by claiming my identity to be butch. I stand on their shoulders. I am not alone here.

  • Gender, for me, is an expression of my sense of self as played onto my body, but it is also a sex toy. It is a way that I play and have fun and enhance the friction and traction between myself and my lover. It’s about contrast, holding myself up against someone else to see where we overlap, where we divide, where we collide.

someone slightly more articulate

August 13, 2007  |  essays  |  7 Comments

[O]ral histories have demonstrated that butch-femme couples were seen in America as far back as the turn of the twentieth century [... But] the lesbian feminist movement beginning in the early 1970s, dismissed butch-femme culture as politically incorrect. [...]

Criticism of butch-femme was usually based on the claim that these identifications are an attempt to replicate heterosexuality by designating one member of a couple as male (the butch) and the other as female (the femme). Even today this argument is frequently aired. However, it is highly problematic because of its own underlying assumption of heteronormativity–that is, the tenet that heterosexuality is normal, and that all other forms of sexuality are only weak imitations of it. Butch-femme need not be an imitation of anything; it is a unique way of living and loving.

from the entry for Butch/femme in the GLBTQ encyclopedia

See also:

Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity by Chloe Brushwood
Butch Is a Noun by S. Bear Bergman
Dagger: On Butch Women edited by Lily Burana, Roxxie, and Linnea Due
Femme/Butch: New Considerations of the Way We Want to Go by Michelle Gibson and Deborah T. Meem
The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader edited by Joan Nestle
… and don’t forget the upcoming Visible: A Femmethology edited by Maria Angeline

more gender frustration

August 13, 2007  |  essays  |  2 Comments

Did you see the post about gender binaries over at My Name is Lina?I’ve got all sorts of reactions. Mostly frustration. I feel inarticulate, like I can’t possibly explain this such that others will understand. I’m going to re-read some gender theory and butch/femme celebration books and see what I can come up with.

I like what Joy just said in a comment on my last post, how these dualisms/binaries are also about archetypes and patterns and mythology, about interesting ways to interpret and understand our lives.

Is that not enough?

outdated questions on binaries

August 12, 2007  |  essays  |  9 Comments

I should be sleeping. And I have too many things to be writing about to be flying off the handle at some random thing, but I just ran across something that has me all … hot under the collar.The lovely Miss Avarice made some comments on my post about active surrender where I wrote about topping & bottoming, and who really has control. Fine, good. Sweet of her to link to me, actually, and I should’ve said that in my comments, but I got distracted, because someone commented by saying: why do lesbians hold true the male ideal of duality? male vs. female…masculine vs. feminine…i mean it is still a ridiculous battle and fight over nothing. still a struggle that is ultimately useless.

And oh my god I don’t even know where to start. Go read my very sloppy comments on the subject if you’d like.

You’re not going to go read the comments, are you? Okay, here’s what I wrote:

The dualisms absolutely can be confining, if you let what they’re “supposed” to be dictate who you are. But many people, and I include myself in this description absolutely, find categories and dualisms also extremely liberating, and celebratory. there is infinity inside of these dualisms, if one wishes to embody them that way.

Also: “the male ideal of duality”? Why would duality that be a male ideal? That makes no sense. Humans categorize, male and female and beyond and in-between.

But – I believe Miss Avarice was discussing topping & bottoming here in this post, which is not male vs female or masculine vs feminine. Which is also, perhaps, a duality, but you missed the point of the post: even when someone is bottoming, they are still in charge. so who is really bottoming? who is really in charge? who is really in control? who is really submitting? those lines are extremely blurry, and difficult to categorize, when you actually examine them.

I have two hundred more words I could say about this “struggle that is ultimately useless” and what is problematic about generalizing all lesbians as holding to dualisms. Makes me want to shake my fist and spit at the ground a little bit.

I have books and books to say about how, to start, the gender expressions of butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm.Can everybody please just say that five times, out loud, right now? Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm.

But beyond actually even addressing this misconception, and further perpetuating this argument about how lesbians are reproducing heterosexual gender roles, there’s another issue here which is really the one irking me: are we really still asking these questions? I mean, really? Have we not addressed this, over and over and OVER?

And maybe that’s just me. Maybe I’m just fucken lucky that I’ve been examining gender expression and dynamics and paradigms, and the history of feminism and women’s liberation and sexual liberation, and kink and play and sacred sexuality, and so I take it for granted that I have done this work, and others still haven’t.

But goddammit, why why why haven’t these ideas prevailed? Why haven’t they permeated the general public’s consciousness, just a little more? What a fucken battle we’ve been fighting.

And! – I was at a round-table interview today with seven of the smartest sexbloggers I know (more about that later) and one of the things the interviewer postited was about how a woman’s sex drive is still (perceived) to be lower than a man’s.

I just had to bite my tongue. I mean, really? Are we seriously still believing that in this culture? In 2007? Women still aren’t sexual beings, when compared to men?

What. The. Fuck.

This is why we still need social change, and why writing about sex IS an act of social change and liberation, subversion and joy.

I have so much more to express about this, about my own personal story of coming to and coming to terms with my own gender identity, about my attraction to femmes and to the so-called “gender binary,” about why dualisms are fascinating and important and celebratory instead of limiting.

But.

Two things.

  1. If it doesn’t work for you, fine! If you don’t find a particular binary useful, don’t use it. But do try to understand it before you go around discounting and patronizing other people’s values and choices. (Or maybe that was the anonymous commentor being authentically curious about the reasons behind “the lesbians” supporting as-a-whole these dualisms? To me, it just came across as holier-than-thou aren’t-you-unenlightened belittling.

  2. … And this is a new thing, something I’m trying to remind myself of, and remember. I am under no obligation to educate any random person who comes along and challenges my beliefs. For some reason, I have kind of been operating under the assumption that I should, actually, engage with these questions, and attempt dialogue. I don’t actually have to do that. That feels like a weird thing to be realizing – and it lifts a sort of weight, whereas seeing a random post, on a friend’s blog which discusses some ideas that originated from me, makes me feel very much obligated to discuss and engage and argue and support and defend.And you know what, anonymous? You didn’t even leave your name, blog profile, ID, or email. Why would I discuss this with you when you clearly didn’t really want to engage in a conversation anyway? Why waste my time defending and defining parts of my fundamental identity to someone I don’t even know?

This is the difficulty, that I sometimes very much forget, of occupying space within these binaries. It’s somehow unlesbian, and therefore unfeminist, to be inside of those dualisms because they are supposedly originated from the heteronormative gender roles.Before I go to bed (because it is one am and I had just a weeeee bit too much bourbon tonight), I do want to say briefly (ha!) why it is that butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. And that is because of exactly the reason our anonymous misinformed friend over at Avarice’s place was saying that lesbians shouldn’t be adopting these “dualisms”: there is a wide, wide range of human gender expression. And these roles are taking certain organized human traits and playing with them, enhancing them, celebrating them.

This is such a huge topic, I could write (and have written) for hours on it. What is butch, what is femme, anyway? I would probably have to define those things before really examining their liberatory function. Honestly, the closest I’ve come to actually defining them really has to do with formal wear, and underwear: when I dress up, I wear a suit. It is how I feel most comfortable. When I wear briefs, I feel sexy. And that physical gender expression actually makes my actions, hobbies, and interests all the more interesting – I think – because they are not necessarily in conjunction with your perceived idea of who I will be, because of my gender expression. And that, right there, is an act of subversion.

Those are the moments in the binaries and dualities that are the whole purpose, to me. When two seemingly mutually exclusive things occupy the same space: boy and girl. Love and violence. Power and surrender. That is how things feel made whole, balanced, right.