Posts Tagged ‘transmasculine’

A Little Bit About Butch Voices, Butch Nation, and “Masculine of Center”

August 11, 2011  |  essays, on butches  |  20 Comments

So, a group of folks who were on the Butch Voices board have broken off and created a new organization, Butch Nation. If you keep up with this kind of drama news, you probably have heard about it. See the press release Butch Nation released, Butch Voices press about it, Sasha T. Goldberg’s letter about what happened, and an interview with Krys Freeman on Velvetpark.

I’ve been asked for my thoughts on what’s going on by a few folks. To be honest, I’m not sure what I think exactly. My understanding, based on reading those links above (and more), is that it is a) partially a personal rift, based on who knows what, and b) partially an issue of semantics, about the terms “masculine of center” and “butch” specifically. I can’t really speak to what’s happened personally between the groups—I don’t know, I wasn’t there, and for the most part, I’m not that interested. I mean, my wish is for us all to get along, but people have different ideas about how to run things, and it’s ever possible for rifts to arise when working closely with anyone (in fact, it’s nearly inevitable).

So I don’t know what to say about that part. But I can speak to the semantics, and my opinion about these (incredibly loaded) terms.

(While fully acknowledging that words are powerful, and the right word is incredibly important, and identity is complicated, I also think it isn’t worth the community rifts, and I’m not eager to get involved in the nitpicking of the argument. Still, I’m putting forth my two cents.)

The word “masculine of center:”

My understanding is that the Butch Voices revised mission statement includes this word as an umbrella term, to encompass a myriad of identities. Also from the mission statement: “Masculine of center (MoC) is a term, coined by B. Cole of the Brown Boi Project, that recognizes the breadth and depth of identity for lesbian/queer/ womyn who tilt toward the masculine side of the gender scale and includes a wide range of identities such as butch, stud, aggressive/AG, dom, macha, tomboi, trans-masculine etc.”

The term is meant to be more inclusive than a term like “butch,” which is loaded for many people, and which has historically been predominantly adopted by white folks.

This isn’t the first term to come around that has attempted to encompass these many masculine queer identities—remember transmasculine? That was a hot one for a year or so there, but was declared too problematic to keep using, particularly in the ways that it wasn’t inclusive enough of trans women.

Maybe this begs the question of whether or not an umbrella term is necessary at all. As someone who writes about this stuff frequently, my opinion is that yes, it is important to have a term. Not only that, but it’s important to see the connections between us, to look at the places where we overlap, and to use those to build bridges and build stronger community activism and connection around our shared oppression. Because all of us within these individual identities, we may or may not date the same type of person, we may or may not have the same spiritual beliefs, we may or may not identify as feminist, we may or may not wear the same type of underwear, but there is something that unites us: our masculinity.

(I would argue that our masculinity is intentional, though I know there’s some disagreements about that. I’ve also heard, lately, people arguing that they are “butch women,” and therefore “not masculine,” but I’d like to challenge that there is a fundamental difference between male and masculine, and that a woman can be masculine and still be women.)

Having something to unite us is powerful, and most of the words that this world has come up with to use as an umbrella term haven’t been far-fetched and uniting enough. Is this term? I don’t know. Personally, I like the term “masculine of center.” I wouldn’t use it in a sentence to describe myself, like I wouldn’t introduce myself by saying, “I identify as masculine of center,” but I would absolutely say that I identify as butch and that I believe butch falls under that umbrella, just like it is a sort of trans-ish identity, sometimes, for me, as well. I wouldn’t correct someone if they said I was masculine of center. I also don’t tend to identify myself as a “lesbian,” I’m much more likely to call myself a dyke, or, even more so, queer, but I wouldn’t correct someone if they called me that. It’s not my identity word of choice, but it is accurate.

Holding so tight to one singular identity word and no others gets us into such rigid places. When one word and only one word is an accurate description of one’s self, then of course a larger umbrella term will feel bad. And of course one will only feel good about being connected to and associated with other people who identify with that term. The problem is, I think, that the term itself is just a starting place. It’s just the thing that starts these deeper, elevated conversations, the invitation to say, “Okay, what does that mean for you? How did you come to that word, that identity? How does that identity play out in your daily life?”

Because, like Dacia reminded me when we talked about this last week, the map is not the territory. Even if we have mapped something out with language, what matters is the application to our daily, minute-by-minute lives. And what matters is, to me, the connections that we make, the interconnectivity we find with others who are struggling through similar issues that we are, and what we do about it to move ourselves forward.

I know identity politics are incredibly loaded—fuck, the words I call myself have been vastly important to me, I’m not trying to belittle that struggle. It is huge. The act of naming one’s self, especially in the face of oppression and marginalization, is complicated and powerful. I just hope that we can have more looseness in some of these discussions, as they go forward.

One more thing about masculine of center … I’ve read a few places, in response to this Butch Voices/Butch Nation stuff, that the word “masculine of center” reinforces the binary, and that gender is more complex than a linear spectrum, etc etc.

Funny, I never think of “masculine of center” as implying a linear, 2D scale, with masculine on one side and feminine on the other. All sorts of shapes have centers, and I tend to think of the gender map as a 3D circle, a galaxy even (though that is much harder to map), or perhaps a shorthand of a 2D circle if I’m trying to simplify it a little more.

I ran across this on Tumblr not too long ago, and it’s stuck with me:

From the creator:

Because it’s already established, I have put F, standing for Feminine gender, as red, and M, standing for Masculine gender, as blue. Going nicely with the pansexual flag colours, I have put O for Other gender (though part of me feels I should have put Third gender) as yellow. … Each gender/colour fades down to centre, where I have put A for Agender. …

With this wheel, you can say “I am somewhere between masculine and other, but it’s not a really gendered gender” and it makes sense, because you point at light green (which looks like turquoise, but this was the best wheel I found). You can say “If I’m anything, I’m feminine” and it makes sense, because you point at light pink.

And bigender? Sometimes *here* and sometimes *here*. Genderqueer is anything that isn’t red or blue, I think.

I think there are more genders than just this, but I also think it’s a pretty good place to start. Definitely a vast improvement from the linear spectrum, and I like the idea of all those gradient colors.

So my point, if I have one, is that I like the word “masculine of center,” and I think it’s useful for trying to unite many, many folks who struggle with a masculine identity in the queer worlds. As I’m continuing to be a part of building a better understanding of female masculinity and butch identity in this world, I think it is incredibly important to be talking to other people who have overlapping or complimentary experiences to my own, and to swap theories and survival tactics, to share war stories over beers, to have some respite before we go back and fight the good fights.

I believe the folks behind Butch Voices are doing an incredible job at being inclusive, open, and transparent in their vastly difficult task of bringing together dozens of identities to connect and unite in these conferences. I haven’t been to the national conference yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it next week, and as someone who has spoken quite a bit with Joe LeBlanc and other BV core members, and who was part of the Butch Voices NYC committee last year, and who this year has been volunteering as part of the national web team, I have some knowledge of how this organization is being run, and it seems professional, open, and excellent.

That’s not to say that, if I knew more of the details about what’s going on, I might not have some critical feedback, but it seems clear that they are doing their best, and I’m impressed with what’s happening.

I hope this conversation will continue next week, and I imagine it will. Perhaps as I learn more I’ll have more to share with you all about what I think and what’s going on. Meanwhile, I feel open and curious about these conversations, and interested in finding out more ways to have better, and deeper, connection, and elevated discussions around all of our identities, singular and collectively.

The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You by S. Bear Bergman

October 15, 2009  |  reviews  |  1 Comment

exitS. Bear Bergman has a new book out, The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, which is a collection of personal essays, mostly on gender. And to celebrate, Sugarbutch is helping to kick off a virtual book tour! Thanks, Bear! Thanks, Arsenal Pulp Press!

Bear also wrote the book of gender essays Butch Is A Noun, which I’ve mentioned on this site more than a few times. It is one of the only books written about butch identity in the last ten years so it’s certainly influential to my work and philosophies on gender in general. There are some clips and excerpts from Butch Is A Noun available online and I highly recommend them. That first essay, “I Know What Butch Is,” I quote from often and go back to frequently, I just love Bear’s writing and style in that piece.

When I published Top Hot Butches in the Spring earlier this year, Bear was listed as #48 and was one of the factors of me including trans men in the list of butches in the first place. If I excluded trans men, I would have to exclude Bear, and Bear wrote pretty much the only book on butches in the last ten years – did that make sense? Not really. I thought it was extremely important to include Bear, specifically, which opened up the door to include other trans men as well. Of course, not all trans men identify as butch, but at the time I didn’t think I could include some trans men and not others … and the inclusion was problematic. I do not want to start hashing through that here, this is about Bear’s work, after all, but I really appreciated Bear’s supportive emails and contact around the list and that controversy.

Lots has happened for Bear since the publication of Butch Is A Noun. Ze addresses this right away, in the second essay: whereas during the first book, ze was for the most part perceived as a dyke, partnered with a woman, and lived in the suburbs, and now Bear is pretty much perceived as a fag, partnered with a guy, and living in a fairly big city. This transition from “suburban-dyke-me” to “city-fag-me” seems to have altered Bear’s relationship with masculinity a bit, and many of the essays in The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You address this unpacking of masculinity, tracing it back through history and family (I especially liked the discussions of masculinity through the lens of Judaism and his particular family experience of ‘being a man’), and discussing what it means in some new life contexts.

Arsenal Pulp Press provided this lovely little blurb:

Alternately unsettling and affirming, devastating and delicious, The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, is a new collection of essays on gender and identity by S. Bear Bergman that is irrevocably honest and endlessly illuminating. With humour and grace, these essays deal with issues from women’s spaces to the old boys’ network, from gay male bathhouses to lesbian potlucks, from being a child to preparing to have one; throughout, S. Bear Bergman shows us there are things you learn when you’re visibly different from those around you―whether it’s being transgressively gendered or readably queer. As a transmasculine person, Bergman keeps readers breathless and rapt in the freakshow tent long after the midway has gone dark, when the good hooch gets passed around and the best stories get told. Ze offers unique perspectives on issues that challenge, complicate, and confound the “official stories” about how gender and sexuality work.

I’m still working my way through the book, I haven’t finished it yet, partly because I’m savoring it. I could zip through it a bit faster than I am, but I really appreciate Bear’s perspectives on all of this and I love having access to someone’s inner thoughts about gender, masculinity, queerness, transitioning, love, life … all of those little things, ya know. Sometimes it feels like my own mind eloquently written down, sometimes the concepts are a bit foreign and I have to stop and go over it again. I don’t agree with everything, and there’s some tension between butch and trans here that I am finding fascinating and particularly hard sometimes, but I am so grateful for Bear’s work.

Aside from the virtual book tour, Bear is on an actual book tour, too! Check out the schedule on sbearbergman.com for dates and appearances in Columbus, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, & more.

Pick up The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, Essays by S. Bear Bergman from Arsenal Pulp Press, or from your local independent (feminist, queer, radical) bookstore.

Top Hot Butches 2009 – official launch!

June 22, 2009  |  on butches  |  19 Comments

TopHotButches.com is live!

logo copy

Here it is, folks – the project we’ve been talking up on twitter for weeks now: Top Hot Butches 2009. I have SO much to say about the project, how it impacted me, the dozens of artists and activists that I have now been exposed to who I didn’t know about before, the act of putting a list together (and choosing an order!), what it’s like to see images of myself reflected, the shock of looking at real grown-up butches and transmasculine folks and how that gives me a specific, personal vision for how I might continue to grow up and grow older in my own gender. I forget how little I see myself reflected, and it’s so important to feel represented in culture.

I’ve been working on this for at least a week straight now, solidly, for hours a day, and it’s taken over a bit, so I’m really ready to let it go and let it have it’s own life.

Thank you, sincerely, to so many people who have helped with this project: the panel of judges: Leo, Fimg, Geekporngirl, Kristen, and Rodger; thanks to Alisha for compiling most of the photographs, thanks to Femme Fluff and to DJ Haha for consulting on the content of the list, thanks to the fifty or so commenters who left suggestions for who might be on the list, thanks to the people who have been proofreading the site over the last few days (I’m still incorporating your feedback, thank you!).

Here’s the press release:

For immediate release – June 22, 2009

Sinclair Sexsmith, the “kinky queer butch top” behind Sugarbutch Chronicles and the editor of Queer Eye Candy, has launched TopHotButches.com, a top 100 list in the spirit of AfterEllen.com’s Hot 100 and GO Magazine’s Women We Love, focusing on transmasculine queer people of all kinds – butch, tomboy, androgynous, masculine, AG, stud, dykes, queers, and transmen.

“There is a serious lack of transmasculine representation in mainstream lesbian culture,” Sexsmith said. “Even in queer-focused top 100 lists, masculine women and transguys are rarely included. This does damage in two ways: 1. it implies that the attractiveness and desirability of lesbians is based on the heteronormative gender role assumptions of femininity, and 2. it excludes two large groups – dykes who are attracted to transmasculine women and trans men, and the transmasculine women and transmen ourselves. Where are our desires on these lists? Once again we are rendered other, strange, deviant, not attractive. This list attempts to fill in that hole.”

The project features photographs and links for all the 100 people on the list, and profiles for the top 10. There is even an “honorable mention” category, with more than a dozen more names.

“I thought it would be hard to get 100,” Sexsmith said, “I thought, maybe we can get 50. But I had so many suggestions, and I had more names than I could fit on the list. There are more of us out there in culture than one might think.”

The list includes predominantly musicians, comics, actors, and writers, but there is a wide variety of professions represented, from athletes and tattoo artists to political activists, radio show hosts, and porn stars.

“Diversity was important in picking the final list, and in the order of the list. Not just profession, but also ethnicity, age, geography, and body size. I wanted a wide range of masculinities in this project, to show how many various ways female masculinity and trans masculinity manifest,” said Sexsmith. “It was also important to me to include trans men, as much as it might seem to be in conflict with the title of the project, because trans men are a significant part of this community, and have been a serious force behind the re-visioning the gender and masculinity in gender activism in recent years.”

The Top Hot Butches project may continue annually. Visit TopHotButches.com to see the full list, photographs, profiles, links, and further information about the project. Sinclair Sexsmith can be reached at aspiringstud[at]gmail.com for interviews and further comment.

Head on over there to see the complete list … there is a page for you to comment on the site, or you can leave comments here. Thanks for all the feedback, and for being a part of this!

Define: Transmasculine

August 11, 2008  |  essays  |  15 Comments

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.