essays, identity politics

My Evolving Masculinity: Part One, Introduction

Gender evolves and changes and shifts over time; what’s true for me today might not be true tomorrow, and the questions and puzzlements that plagued me a year ago may seem irrelevant and minor next year.

I don’t have a major attachment to my own personal, inner expectations of consistency such that I believe that who I am today will continue being who I am forever and ever ad infinitium, but at the same time, I recognize that I don’t struggle with my own gender identity, performance, or exploration like I used to. I have come to a very comfortable place, where I am content to swim around and chill – to continue exploring and deepening my own understandings of both my personal gender, gender theory, the social constructions of gender, and how gender evolves, of course, but I’ve come to a bit of a plateau.

Sugarbutch used to be the primary space where I asked gender – and sex, and relationship – questions about myself, about my community, about my friends, and about culture, where I worked through my questions and concerns, where I tried to make sense of what it meant to embody female masculinity, where I asked questions and toyed over ideas and tried things on (and took them off again). I’ve been writing in this space for more than three years, and it has served me quite well.

But I’m not struggling with these questions like I was. I still analyze, I still observe, I still look at, well, EVERYTHING, through the finely-tuned lens of gender theory; I still learn new things or have my mind blown or adopt and integrate new concepts, but even the new things are not as huge as they once were. They are minor shifts in a very large picture that is mostly in focus, now just waiting for the details. I’m not trying to say I’m done – it didn’t just take a three-year exploration and now it is complete. I’ve identified as butch for nearly ten years, though it’s only in the last five or so that I have been adopting and exploring a much more intentional identity around that term. And it has, in many ways, culminated here, in this medium.

That I’m not struggling with this in the same way has meant that the writings on Sugarbutch have changed. Surely you’ve noticed this, if you’ve been reading for a while. I miss the daily journal ramblings about my personal feelings and thoughts and observations on my life and relationships, but circumstance (and a still-increasing readership) makes this much harder these days. I miss sharing with you my struggles and complications, and believe you me there are still struggles and complications, but they are not so much about gender.

So I’ve tried some new things, in the past year or so. Like the On Butches and In Praise of Femmes pieces, and the short-lived magazine-style layout (that nobody except me seems to miss), and the more how-to style posts about masculinity and butch/femme.

This has brought a whole new set of issues, because it is hard – perhaps impossible – to speak for, or about, or of a community accurately. After the fallout from Top Hot Butches, for a minute I resolved I would no longer speak for the community. I would no longer attempt to represent the community, or share our secrets, or expose our weaknesses, or attempt to heal our rifts and heartbreaks. (Who is “The Community” anyway? Perhaps those of you who have followed the sub-plots of Sugarbutch know of the deep thread of queer interconnectivity and the ways that this community is so goddamn small that I keep running into people I don’t want to interact with everywhere I go.)

But as I’m coming into some new projects, and thinking about and moving into what’s next, I am realizing: we desperately need leaders in this community. We desperately need people representing us. We desperately need more representation and recognition and acknowledgment of our beautiful, true selves. We desperately need mentors, telling us stories of how they found themselves and making it easier for us to create our own paths.

I do want to be a part of that, so I do want to keep writing about gender, about theory, about butch/femme, about what it’s like to revalue gender in a heteronormative culture which reproduces compulsory gender roles which nearly destroy us and in a mainstream lesbian subculture which values compulsory femininity and androgyny. I know there’s a need here, and I breathe and eat and sleep and commute this stuff, I can’t not see it, I can’t not think about it.

I’m struggling a bit with the movement from intermediate to advanced: I am beginning to get some teaching materials together, gender workshops and such, a series of gender articles perhaps, things I’ve been thinking about for a while now but which I cannot seem to complete. I know this subject matter inside and out, but now I think I need to learn how to teach it, how to break down the concepts into tiny, easy, bite-sized pieces and present them on appetizing platters. I’m also struggling with the question of continuing to engage the more advanced gender explorers, those comrades and friends I’ve met along the way who continue to inspire and inform my work and my own explorations. I want to encourage those conversations to happen, too. I want to engage on deeper levels AND beginner levels.

So, my masculinity is evolving. I have some particular ideas about where it’s going, and what it means to move from adolescent masculinity into adulthood, which I think is part of what I’ve been going through (and upon which most of the rest of this series on My Evolving Masculinity will focus). I’m a little plagued by questions: How do I continue to become a leader? How do I make a safe space for people to explore this stuff? How do I encourage deeper, more intentional thought, without policing or restricting? How can we, as a community, as friends, as lovers, as allies, continue to reclaim and recreate and remake gender in ways that are liberating rather than limiting? How can I assist the big big energy of this movement that I have felt growing, and that I have helped to create, in moving to the next level?

I want to invite you to participate as I’m thinking about new directions and new focuses of this site, new uses for this space, and new approaches to my own masculinity. Do you have particular ideas for things you’d like to see here? Any particular features? Any concepts you wish I would write more about? Any directions you would love to see? I’m open to ideas and suggestions as I slightly refine the direction, and attempt to continue to further my work in this medium.

Watch for Part Two of My Evolving Masculinity: Yin & Yang, exploring some recent concepts from my tantra retreat on the balancing of transformative and stable energies, coming soon.

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.

16 thoughts on “My Evolving Masculinity: Part One, Introduction”

  1. Daisy says:

    I'm in no way a regular commenter here, but I am a constant reader; in the year or two I've been reading your blog I've gone from a sort of bitter and confused androdyke identity to a still-tentative butch one, and your writing has been one of the things that helped me do that. Whenever a new post of yours comes up in my RSS reader I always click it first.

    I couldn't agree more that we need leaders. I turned 20 this week and I ache for role models and mentors, for charted pathways to adulthood and maturity. There are great men in my community who love me and help me, but it's not the same. My struggles are not theirs and on some level I will never be allowed into their club. It's been wonderful to start successfully presenting as butch in recent months, but in some ways it just makes me feel more and more alone. Just being an example of an actual, living, grown-up butch is really, really important.

    I would love to see any and all writing you want to do about female masculinity, butch/femme, etc., especially how-to type posts and stuff about adult (vs adolescent) masculinity. I’d love to read anything and everything you have to say about your evolving masculinity. I know that’s sort of what you were saying you wanted to get away from — if you’re not inspired the point is moot, of course.

    Looking forward to part two.

  2. oh, yay, more gender nerdery.

    also, thank you for being one of those mentors (though i imagine you got the job by accident, i think you've done brilliantly). and it's not any butch who can be a role model for a femme girl too ;)

  3. I second Brett's comments. Sin, you are well prepared for the position, and I don't know if we can give you any advice on how to become a leader. You are already leading. Perhaps you simply need to continue to do what you are already doing. Hmm… part of leadership is also collaborating with others who lead. I'm thinking of a couple images…the ultimate "sleepover" game of Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board. The "community" is unit being lifted by one finger from each person. Eventually, and in a more joyful way, the process becomes crowd surfing at a concert, where "the community" will be lifted high above your heads. Of course the weight always comes down, or evaporates, or otherwise drifts out of public view. But for a few moments everyone puts all their effort into the carrying and holding of the community. We are all uplifted as we are lifting others up.

    Apparently my thoughts are images at the moment. I think you must hold the work with open hands. Don't grip your projects, or your input, or your expertise with clenched fists, but uncurl your knuckles and flatten your palms. Keep them open to receive what might come to you, and open to allow things to move gracefully on with the changing of seasons.

    I want to be here with (all of) you when our gender galaxies explode and they're going to need us around to show the way. I'll follow your lead as long as you lead excellently… which I have no doubt you will do so for the duration.

  4. If it please you, Sir, I forgot to add that I will be so very grateful for more writing and thoughts about butch/femme!

  5. MakingSpace says:

    I just found your bog recently and have become an avid reader. I find that people of all ages and identities speak about feeling isolated. I wonder if perhaps the community is larger potentially than we may realize? And perhaps ANY writing/speaking/workshopping you do will help to make a safe space for that community to grow. I've heard that it's rarely crowded out on the leading edge… but thanks for being out there, I've felt completely delighted and affirmed and truly joyful as I read your posts. Thanks again!

  6. A few years ago I fell in love with a girl. That was all I knew and all I cared about until I stepped outside and noticed that I didn't belong anywhere anymore (that was sincerely how it felt). I was not straight although that was how I look(ed) and because I look(ed) that way, I was not visible to my community. I only realized that when I was treated so badly by the very people I needed to see me and welcome me during that delicate time. For a couple of months after that I was a bit depressed – then I found you. It's my first home, this special place. And you, sweet Sinclair, held my hand through a very scary time. I thank you, as always, for sharing your story and for opening up a world that I never really understood. I'll always be your fan and I'm happy to follow you through your journey, wherever it takes you, as you have helped me through mine.

  7. leo says:

    i will be interested to read the rest of this series. i have also felt, at times over the last two months, the sense of starting to settle into an adult masculinity; or, less grandiosely, of just not worrying about a lot of stuff that worried me before.

    we are all always works in progress, of course. my hope for this space is that you continue to share your own process and evolution. maybe you will find yourself writing more about the work of building a healthy long-term relationship, or the politics of moving through life's milestones as a genderqueer person. maybe someday you will write about the experience of mentoring younger butches. whatever it is, you will be leading by doing, which is, in my opinion, the best way to do it.

  8. JB says:

    I do hope that I as a man can be welcomed to your space, your writing I have followed with interest, and wanted to share this thought with you.

    the move from the young male to the mature male is a process that we all share, but then again our bounderies keep us from really sahreing it..

    I have gone beyond 60 years and have found a new peace in my maleness for the first time.

    Good luck on your journey. may the wind be at your back and the road level before you..

  9. e says:

    Carry on, sir! You're doing fine!

    Really, though, all of your explorations have held my interest. I am interested in the butch/femme dynamic, and the impossibility of figuring out where I reside. I am interested in community building. I am interested in events and your insights into them. I love the eye candy. I love semantics. Etcetera.

    As I said, Carry on!

  10. abalina says:

    I like most, second this sentiment, and have enjoyed your writings and explorations on gender as a femme with a great love for the identity. I too am moving in the direction of doing education for the general public on gender identity, expression and the overlaps and intersections with sexual orientation. I can talk about it at quite advanced levels, but it is the intro to gender that is catching me up. I think a big challenge to activists or any change makers is getting their message palatable, simple and having enough buy-in that people hang around to actually listen. It can be easy to forget, when conversations are predominantly in like-minded circles, that we need to be spending our time and energy outside of those circles. I agree that we need leaders, a lot of them. I would like to see trainer/educator chronicles, lessons learned from conversations gone wrong, or moments when you know you have captured your audiences attention and how. We could all be doing a much better job of being leaders, we just need to figure out how we can help each other lead.

  11. we are a tough crowd, queers. Sometimes I feel like we are vampires in public, ignoring, avoiding, savaging.

    At any rate, I think you handled yourself very well during the top hot butches thing. But I have a friend who rolls her eyes when I mention you, but I havent asked why.

    But that's the point of putting yourself out there in front of such a young, embattled community, you become the whipping boy, upon which we beat out our own turmoils and stories. You become the material. Your metal will be twisted by our hands into a bold sculpture that we show to outsiders, proudly.

    Know what I mean?

  12. How you lead depends entirely on where you're going.

    I was a total marching band nerd, so I'll borrow that imagery- the type of leadership involved in getting 200 plus over-excited hyper-creative music people to the exact right spot at the exact right moment so that a giant flower blooms across the gridiron is somewhat peculiar.

    That takes a lot of disparate elements and lines them up to achieve a series of very specific events; this is event leadership.

    But a band director is also responsible for encouraging the development of those over-excited hyper-creative music people into ever more talented music people. That's a more open ended leadership, and it has everything to do with making a safe place to explore; in my college marching band, that was done with small, self-directed winter ensembles. The only rule was that they couldn't overlap schedules- students had to be free to join as many as they wanted. The director only stepped in when his presence was requested to settle a dispute or provide expertise.

    For me, the best part of marching band was the continuous cycle between the event-oriented fall and the exploration-oriented winter.

    I don't know what I would suggest to you; I suspect you want to focus on the latter, on encouraging personal growth rather than parades. I have no idea how to do that online, but I was very much impressed with the balance we had at band, so I shared it. Hope it helps!

  13. G says:

    I know I’m late commenting; I’ve had this starred in my reader for a while now.

    I don’t know that I can offer suggestions on where to go, but I’ll say that the journey is incredibly important. We’re all in our own places on the gender spectrum, and sometimes even I don’t understand your specific situation, I have understood the struggle and the discovery of knowledge on your part.

    I have really appreciated your willingness to put yourself out there, to lay yourself bare. I hope that whatever path you choose, you’ll a) continue to share as freely and b) know that there are a lot of us who appreciate it.

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