identity politics

Gender Frustrations and Clarifications

I haven’t been posting much of substance here since the heated discussion On Misperceiving Someone as Femme or Butch and the follow up post. This lack of posts has been intentional. I’ve been frustrated, dissuaded.

I feel like every time I attempt to go a little farther, get a little deeper into the nuances of these discussions on gender identities and gender self-labeling, I get pulled back to square one by a barrage of emails and comments saying, “But wait! I’m offended! What about this other thing? What about people who don’t identify? What about me? What about my expeirence?”

And I want to have individual communications with everybody, to go into each detail of what they’re asking and what I’m saying, to break down the moments where I’m being misperceived, to communicate in open discussions about these fascinating issues from various perspectives.

But I can’t – mostly, I just don’t have time.

This is one of the challenges of a blog format of writing, actually: it’s not linear, it’s not one chapter building on another, it is be more of a jump-in-anytime type of format. Unfortunately, with a subject as completely personal, as totally misperceived, as dangerously controversial, and as heated as gender identity in lesbian communities, it’s very difficult to jump right in without adequate explanation as to where I am coming from in my philosophies and explorations.

I’m working on an Official Disclaimer for my discussions of gender, to put some foundations in place to which I will point. There’s so much I want to say about it, and I barely even know where to start. I have began to write this post about why that discussion frustrated me ten times, and I still get overwhelmed and my head gets chaotic when I begin to sit down to write it.

Right now, I want to make a few things in particular abundantly clear:

I do not seek to encourage others to identify as butch or femme. It is not my intention to impose butch/femme gender identities on anyone else, ever.

I seek to break down what it means to be “butch” or “femme.” I seek to apply the deconstruction of feminist methods of sexism, gender roles, and gender restrictions to lesbian gender identities, such as “butch” and “femme.”

I seek to broaden our ranges of experiences, with the underlying goal of encouraging people to be more comfortable in themselves, to come more fully alive, Yes, it’s a lofty goal. But I aim for it, and no less.

If it ever seems otherwise, if it seems like I am saying that someone should identify as butch/femme, or that it’s not okay to reject gender roles and identities, or anything along the lines of gender policing or gender enforcing or gender proselytizing, please do ask me about it. I will clarify, as well as I can.

But please keep in mind that I never operate from that space. Please consider giving me the benefit of the doubt, and come from a place of kindness – and perhaps not defensiveness – when you ask me to clarify things I’ve written.

The very foundation of my beliefs about gender is that our binary compulsive gender system is limiting to our full range of human experiences. I believe we should self-identify, should dress and act how we wish, how we most feel like ourselves, how we are most comfortable and most celebrated.

Period. Always.

And, of course, all of these writings are my own personal experiences, observations, and studies of butch/femme and variations of gender expression. It was a long hard road through the gender police checkpoints to get where I am now; I learned a lot about myself, about queer theory, postmodern theory, and feminist theory on the way to where I’m at, and I seek to share my stories in hopes that they can be helpful.

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.

18 thoughts on “Gender Frustrations and Clarifications”

  1. We've missed you, and what's funny is a very similar debate is going on right now at, as well as an interesting series of posts on femmes passing as straight at Lots of people get their knickers in a twist about it all, but we still live our lives the best we can. It's really interesting, but we can't let ourselves take it all too seriously.

    Your blog has helped me figure out what makes me 'come alive', and that has to count for something!

    [That counts, deeply; thank you. I've been following the GracetheSpot dialogue as well, I've been opting not to add my two cents into the ring precisely because this was also happening here, but perhaps I should look at it as an opportunity to continue building on these ideas as well. Thanks for your note – ss]

  2. batini says:


    Glad you wrote. You've been missed.

    First up, I want to thank you for *every* post you make. As I've started out on my own adventure in gayland, your perspective has provided both comfort and challenge, helping me define this space that I'm coming to inhabit. Please, *please* don't stop writing.

    I can imagine it's frustrating to need to repeat the same things over and over again and to constantly fend off your readers' projections. I suspect these conversations are helping you to hone your ideas so that at some point soon clarification won't be so necessary. I think encountering these challengers is the price you pay for being a teacher in your field. Some revere you, some want to knock you off the pedestal they put you on.

    But there are a lot of people out there, like me, who recognize that these are *personal* reflections on a *personal* blog. Whatever you write is a gift. I hope that soon time will allow me to engage your ideas more completely.

    [Wow, thank you for this – you articulated that struggle incredibly well, and I'm very grateful. You're right, it's very frustrating to repeat things, but at the same time it is helping me tremendously to see even more in depth to the details of the arguments and conversations. And I think you're right that it's the price I pay as a teacher; I love the note about the pedestal. I certainly don't plan to stop writing anytime soon – I can't, I'm a writer, it's just what I do – but it's possible that how I use this space here will change slightly as things evolve. Such is the nature of things, I suppose. Thank you, sincerely, for your comment – such understanding & kindness is very encouraging!, I appreciate it. – ss]

  3. susu says:

    'I seek to share my stories in hopes that they can be helpful.'

    Yes they are. So now that you have disclaimed please write.

    You are valued and have been missed!

    [Aw, thank you. I do have some recent stories to tell, and further thoughts on sex & relationships & gender, and self-awareness self-indulgence, as always. Hopefully I'll even have some time to write soon! – ss]

  4. leo says:

    i'm so glad you're back. defensiveness comes in part, i suppose, from the pain inflicted at gender police checkpoints. but we are among sisters here, and benefit of the doubt should go without saying. there is no doubt in my mind that you succeed, and beautifully, at writing and being "expansive rather than restrictive, liberating rather than limiting."

    [I think you're right about the defensiveness coming from pain at gender police checkpoints. That's a good point, and interesting thought – makes me want all the more to work to heal those wounds. Thanks for your lovely comments leo, this and in general, it's been fun to dialogue with you about this stuff. – ss]

  5. P says:

    I just found your blog two weeks ago and I already feel a little liberated. I'm still in my teens and I consider myself lucky: thanks to you and the rest of the "gender explorers" before me, I feel I can experiment with my identity without (too much) fear.

    I hope all of these comments convince you to go on writing.

    [Wow, I love that you feel able to explore & experiment still in your teens, definitely took me well into my twenties before I started coming to my own. And definitely I'll go on writing – I probably couldn't stop if I wanted to, the instinct runs deep in me for sure. Things might change here a bit, but I won't stop, just still figuring out how to go forward. Thank you for saying hi! – ss]

  6. Essin' Em says:

    What everyone else said.

    Also, please know that your posts and discussions on here, as well as our individual conversations, have really helped me to realize and create/find my own identities; orientation, gender, etc. In fact, I did this “hi, I’m bored in Florida” myspace survey yesterday….and here is one of my “answers”:

    · Is there a person of another gender who means a lot to you?

    Sinclair, of …Sinclair has really helped me figure out some of my craziness/gender/orientation/feelings on sexuality.

    So please know how much you have helped me in so many ways!

    I know how it can feel when everything turns into a debate/people misunderstand you. Sometimes, I just want to delete all the comments and say “this is MY blog, MY thought process, MY feelings, so stop being offended and bugger off.” But I don’t. Because even if it means that all I post for a bit is reviews/links/non-deep thoughts, I still am sharing myself, discovering myself, and am reaching someone people, even if not everyone is on the same page. And to me, all that matters in the end is the letters I get from people who have told me that my journey has helped them along theirs…and that’s enough to keep me writing.

    And let me tell you, your journey via writing has helped me more than you will ever know.

    [Aw, I <3 you bigtime chica. Thanks for the support & luv. – ss]</em>

  7. Sinclair I truly appreciate all that you share with us. You life, your insights, your belief system and you opinions. The open format of blogging always leaves people open to interpret and criticize and take their own ideals and project them on you. I however find your writing so thoughtful and honest and it has taught me a lot. I appreciate you so much.

    [Aw thank you! I know you know how hard this can be sometimes, but it really is worth it. – ss]

  8. As you can see, a lot of us have come to this safe place to better understand ourselves. We aren't sheep who blindly follow you but sometimes we need to hold your hand through things we are scared to discover or to ask anyone else. You have never said that everyone should feel exactly as you do, in fact you've only encouraged us to go and explore for ourselves.

    You have taught me to be self aware.

    Try to quiet your mind to the bullshit b/c there is so much beauty here.

    ["Quiet your mind to the bullshit" is great advice – thank you for that one. I don't mind the hand-holding (I love it, most of the time) and I definitely don't expect or want blind following – and you're right, I definitely encourage exploration for yourself, whatever that might be. I'm really glad some of my own ramblings and visions of the world are helpful to someone – anyone – else … but I do get caught up in the bullshit sometimes, the criticism & critique. Well, onward & upward, that's all I can do I guess. I'm glad to have your hand to hold, glad you're part of these discussions, thank you. – ss (oh & PS? So glad we finally got to meet!)]

  9. I don't know if the "what about me" emails are only related to your gender discussions. Because it seems that I often get a lot of "what about me" emails regardless of what I post. I had a post which featured an excerpt from a novel that I wrote. One character said, "Women are phony. Deal with it." (This was in character. Trust me.) I received a slew of "speak for yourself" emails. Angry beyond angry. "I am not phony. How dare you?"

    I love your blog and hope that you won't let the "what about me"-ers keep you down.



    [Good point. It's not just gender, it's anything. Blogging is a challenging medium that way … so visible, so open to any random person who can hide behind a computer screen and say what they "really" think. And of course, I know I'm not the only misunderstood writer or gender-forward activist out there. I guess this hiatus has been necessary to figure out how to go forward with occasional (deep-cutting) opposition. It's certainly a challenge at times. But I definitely won't stop writing alltogether, just still figuring out a useful way to go forward. – ss]

  10. yes! what everyone already said! ;)

    and, i hope you figure out your way forward soon. i'm really curious to see what comes next. in general because i always like your writing, but in specific i'm excited to see what happens when you delve deeper; what is it that comes after "gender 101"?

    thanks for what you do, f'real =)

    [Aw thank you – I so appreciate your contribution to these conversations, I learn a lot from you & your stories. I'm not sure what comes after Gender 101 – Gender 102, I guess! But meanwhile, I think one of my ways forward is actually by going back to the Gender 101 topics and refining them, articulating them, really building a strong base that I can refer to when questions and conflicts like these come up. We'll see though – not sure exactly how that looks yet. – ss]

  11. Grace Chu says:

    Heya, glad you noticed the craziness on our blog. I admire your restraint when dealing with people out to intentionally provoke you. I admit have no restraint whatsoever, which actually got me in trouble with my girlfriend, when I started swatting back at the Gender Theory Police. :) I have to remember: Be a good webmistress. Switzerland. Be like Switzerland. If you can't behave, step away from the keyboard. Step away.

    Anyway, what I can't stand is the Gender Theory Police (or any sort of postmodern theory police). If one likes studying those disciplines, and it makes him or her happy, by all means keep reading, keep learning. But ever since I was a freshman in college, I've run across quite a few people who take their studies so seriously that anyone who hasn't studied those disciplines is automatically deemed inferior, uneducated and unenlightened, and they treat others with the utmost condescension. It used to get to me, because as a science concentrator and computer geek, I couldn't comprehend a damn thing they were saying. And they would totally lord their knowledge over me in rude and condescending ways. I think they felt they were "challenging" me, but they were so smug that I really found it quite offensive. But I did assume that they were very intelligent… even though, looking back, those were the same people who were weeded out of freshman chem and physics and landed in the humanities – ok ok, that was low. I know. Forgive me. I'm still fuming a little. Allow me just one snarky dig, will ya? :)

    Then I went to grad school (not in the sciences), had to basically learn a new kind of language, a new kind of thinking, with new rules. And then I realized that those people who used to lord their postmodern mumbojumbo over people like me weren't smarter than me. They were just taught a certain way to think, speak, and write. If you are not given the tools or taught how to use the tools, you aren't going to do so well, but if you are given the tools and taught to use them, you can hammer away.

    So, to make a long story short, now I really have no patience for such pomposity and condescension, and that is why I snapped back on my blog.

    What does that have to do with your blog, you wonder? Because this is a place where people like me can learn about these disciplines in a safe and positive environment. I've only taken a very miniscule amount of queer/gender theory, just enough to say the right things to get by (a quick survey before we got into how the law handles gender and sexual orientation), which was so little that it doesn't even count in my opinion. Of course, I'll admit, I'm skeptical sometimes, and I am pretty set in my ways and my worldview, but when I read your blog entries, I don't feel that I need to keep my guard up, if that makes any sense.

    Basically, usually when I wade into a space replete with queer theory/gender theory/other postmodern theory, I usually feel that I am in hostile territory. I don't feel like that here.

    [Oh yes, I'm familiar with those holier-than-thou theorists too – I also felt as thought I was deliberately made to feel stupid around them, and I absolutely do not want to be that kind of theorist. And thank you – I'm glad this place does not feel like hostile territory. I am just as interested in everyday-average-jane opinions than in those folks who have been studying gender & theory for many years. Both – all – experiences are valid in their own ways. And a big piece of what I'm trying to do with base-level activism here is simply to bring these gender dynamics to everyone's attention so we play them out consciously, intentionally, in celebratory ways rather than ways that are restrictive and damaging. I appreciate that gracethespot has some good discussions going – good luck with those occasional snarky digs – I definitely do it too sometimes :) – ss]

  12. Zoe says:

    I love your writing because it has helped me understand my own gender, as well as the gender of those around me, better.

    In my community, most people are either way into the butch/femme, or else totally about the andro expression. You have helped me to see how ANY identity can be either limiting or liberating. The expansiveness of an identity has as much to do with the wearer as the label.

    I find communicating in this way really difficult and feel that my comments may be misunderstood as more critical or debatey than I mean them when really I'm just trying to process what you're saying. I would like to take you out for a beer the next time that I'm in New York, not to debate, but just to better understand.

    [I have really appreciated your comments, actually – you were the one who first said "proselytized" (which I of course had a strong reaction to), but I felt like you were observing what was happening on the site, not so much that you were saying you thought that was what I was doing. And thank you – I agree, ANY identity can be limiting or liberating, I think. I will definitely take you up on that beer, that'd be fun. Let me know when you're in my neck o'the woods. – ss]

  13. Allison says:

    I'm fairly new lurking around here, and I've never commented before, but I just have to say that reading your blog has been an enlightening experience for me (as well as welcome procrastination from finals) and I'd be sad to see it change drastically. I had never really had reason to consider the complexities of gender identity until this year (but oh how life gets interesting in unexpected ways, eh?), and I'm a computer geek sort, so I've been in the same boat as Grace above when it comes to getting lost in discussions. It feels like the more I learn, the less I know for sure. Being able to read one person's experiences has been a valuable way to do some learning and I'm grateful that you've been willing to share and teach. That all of this learning has come with some fabulous butch eye candy…well, that's a welcome fringe benefit.

    As for the folks who've been diving headlong into discussions without knowing what's come before, maybe having an FAQ section or a "read this first" post would eliminate some of the miscommunication.

    And of course, remember that any schmuck with internet access can fire off an angry or judgmental comment with very little thought. Don't let them get you down, because there are plenty of other folks who really enjoy what you write.

    [I'm not really planning on changing things drastically – I think whatever change will happen is probably more about my own emotional space around the content, moreso than the actual content itself. I still want to write on queer/lesbian sex, gender, and relationships, with of course my own personal stories and smut mixed in. I don't plan on a total overhaul in any way, just trying to get to a space where I can better organize my thoughts and make things clearer, more consise.

    Thanks for echoing Grace's comments – I know what you mean, and I'm really glad that this is a space where you don't feel like I'm talking to some elite social theorist perspective that excludes anyone who doesn't use all those two-dollar long words. A FAQ is a great idea, and you're totlaly right about the angry/judgemental comments without thought – it bugs me that I let that stuff bug me, even, so that's part of what I'm getting at when I'm saying I'm trying to re-think how I approach the writing here. I need more emotional/psychic walls so the frustrating things don't cut so deeply. Thanks for your note! – ss]

  14. Grace Chu says:

    (Quick followup: My last comment was a little ranty at times, and I hope it didn't disrupt the tenor of this blog. It was the product of frustration, that's all.)

    [No no – no interruption at all, glad you told that story. I think your background of coming from the hard sciences and encountering the pomp of social science lingo is very common, someone else already referred to your comment as having a similar experience. No need to apologize – I'm totally feelin' ya on the frustration, and I think you're handling it beautifully! That shit is hard. – ss]

  15. Jan says:

    Since you wrote the two posts on misperceiving someone as femme or butch, I have been questioning myself — was I one of those people?? I hope not. That would not be my intention.

    If I have ever offended anyone, please forgive me. I'm a newbie, even after seven years.

  16. Maybe you should turn comments off to those posts…

    But in the end, people's experiences are their own, and they should talk about them on their blogs, that's what they're for.

    People can be really narcissistic sometimes. :

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