On My Butchness
September 27, 2014 7:50 PM   Subscribe

 
I love The Toast so much.
posted by librarina at 8:29 PM on September 27, 2014 [6 favorites]


When I read the phrase "men and straight people" in the third paragraph, I was quite taken aback. I'm a straight male and I had just been othered. I'm one of those people. People who make her feel a bit like a monster.

I continued reading but I wasn't being sympathetic - I was offended. Then I calmed down and went back to the beginning of the article. The structure of the article is quite interesting in the context of labelling people.

The first paragraph describes an interaction with her family. People are described with terms like "mother" and "aunt". The first paragraph finishes with her being labelled as "butch".

For the rest of the article, she refers to everyone by labels. "Men and straight people", "queer millenials", etc.

I'm not saying the she shouldn't take issue with being labelled. I'm just suggesting that perhaps she could ease up on throwing the labels around.
posted by citizenoftheworld at 8:36 PM on September 27, 2014 [10 favorites]


We need labels. All words are ultimately labels, but without them we can't communicate effectively.

It's fine to argue against the connotations and limited scope of some labels, but ultimately you, the generic you, are going to use labels. And as to people who claim they can't be defined by labels, well, aren't they "special little snowflakes".
posted by bswinburn at 8:43 PM on September 27, 2014 [21 favorites]


I'd suggest you take this feeling being othered simply for existing as a teachable moment. And I love that The Toast makes is clear that they won't worry about othering dominant groups.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:44 PM on September 27, 2014 [113 favorites]


Well, I read it as her getting abuse mostly from straight men, which didn't make me feel targeted -- it just made me feel frustrated that so many of the people who share my gender and orientation are so fucking rude and stupid -- and there's nothing I can do about it because I just don't hang with people who yell rude comments at strangers.
posted by smidgen at 8:45 PM on September 27, 2014 [24 favorites]


Labeling involves acknowledging and naming the kinds of people and the roles they play. Not explicitly naming them - their genders, their orientations, their social or familial roles - does not somehow make the roles they enact and the behaviors and attitudes they express go away. It just makes them harder to talk about.

It's kind of an eyebrow-raiser to me that you think she should find some other way to talk about her own life so that you aren't uncomfortable.
posted by rtha at 8:46 PM on September 27, 2014 [83 favorites]


I don't think she's taking issue with being labelled - which is understandable since the label sparkle butch is pretty awesome. I think she's talking about the difficult-to-articulate ways in which women cannot wing in the gender game, and how turning gender into performance and understanding it as such might be one of the ways to be oneself while still rejecting all of the messages about hoe whoever we are, we're wrong.

The subsequent comment convo on gender policing reinforces my interpretation. Toast comment threads are actually often worth a solid read; it's a thoughtful community.
posted by Deoridhe at 8:46 PM on September 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


She says a lot of interesting things in this article, many of which seem to me to be genuine reflections on elements of queer-female communities that I have also witnessed, but I particularly loved her comments about Girl Scout Camp. I know girl scouts was a lot of different things for a lot of different people (depending largely on who the troop was run by), but I will say that my girl scout experience was super-feminist and super-queer friendly--including by encouraging a variety of gender expressions--and I'm glad for it, and it makes me happy to know the author's experiences with it were also positive.
posted by likeatoaster at 8:48 PM on September 27, 2014 [7 favorites]


When I read the phrase "men and straight people" in the third paragraph, I was quite taken aback.

What exactly should she have said that would be sufficiently "easing up" on the labels for you?
posted by kagredon at 8:57 PM on September 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


The phrase "men and straight people" is odd though. Do gay men gender-police her, and do they do it in the same ways?
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:58 PM on September 27, 2014


From the article, emphasis mine:

I certainly don’t believe that I have a “masculine” brain or that any such thing exists.

Huh, a lot of trans men would like to have a word with you.
posted by desjardins at 8:59 PM on September 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


Do gay men gender-police her, and do they do it in the same ways?

She says in the line immediately preceding it, Maybe that’s why strange men laugh or snarl at me and call me a “fucking dyke” in the street and on the bus. I think we can forgive her if she doesn't ask each of these guys his sexual orientation.
posted by kagredon at 9:00 PM on September 27, 2014 [8 favorites]


In my experience, yes, gay men* absolutely do gender-police butch women. I've heard the words ugly, dyke, mannish. Gay men absorb the same cultural narratives as everyone else. I mean, the fashion industry has a high proportion of gay men and you don't see butch lesbians on the runways. And honestly, I think occasionally the vitriol comes from discomfort with their own sexuality.

*NOT ALL GAY MEN
posted by desjardins at 9:11 PM on September 27, 2014 [44 favorites]


I should expand - on occasion, I've seen a self-identified gay man be attracted to a masculine woman and this causes a degree of discomfort that he takes out on the woman.
posted by desjardins at 9:12 PM on September 27, 2014 [14 favorites]


Thanks, that would certainly explain the way she describes her experiences.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:19 PM on September 27, 2014


Can anyone who is a straight male really be "othered" by a "butch lesbian"? I don't think so. At least, not if the cause of the "othering" has to do with being categorized as a straight male. That's not really what "othering" means. Sure, maybe you felt a little hurt, offended, or, dare I say, threatened, but you weren't "othered". Can't you see how this whole article is about being "othered" by heteronormative society. People like this angry butch lesbian feel othered and have to fight against it their whole lives. Is that really on the same level as reading an article and having a mild sense of shame? In naming you as a straight male she is threatening the invisibility of straight male dominance. You felt a little exposed. Not othered.
posted by winterportage at 9:44 PM on September 27, 2014 [48 favorites]


I'm actually more proud that I've been in The Toast a few times then being in The New Yorker a few times.
posted by The Whelk at 9:45 PM on September 27, 2014 [29 favorites]


It's kind of an eyebrow-raiser to me that you think she should find some other way to talk about her own life so that you aren't uncomfortable.

Initially I read the post on the assumption that I was part of the target audience. Not exclusively the target audience but part of it, at least. So when I got to the disparaging parts like "but that was enough to set straight imaginations ablaze"*, I was taken aback.

However, if I read the post on the assumption that I'm not included in the target audience then there is no issue. If the author is not trying to communicate with me then I have no issue with them writing whatever they want about straight people and males. I take no personal offence.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I was trying to engage with this piece of writing in good faith but I was put off.

* I think it's fair to say that the author is being less than charitable toward "straight imaginations" here.
posted by citizenoftheworld at 10:22 PM on September 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


... you don't see butch lesbians on the runways

I'd like to see Freja do more butch too but I guess it's not entirely up to her.
posted by zbsachs at 10:26 PM on September 27, 2014


Metafilter: sparklebutch.
posted by michaelh at 10:27 PM on September 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Can anyone who is a straight male really be "othered" by a "butch lesbian"? I don't think so. At least, not if the cause of the "othering" has to do with being categorized as a straight male. That's not really what "othering" means. Sure, maybe you felt a little hurt, offended, or, dare I say, threatened, but you weren't "othered". Can't you see how this whole article is about being "othered" by heteronormative society. People like this angry butch lesbian feel othered and have to fight against it their whole lives. Is that really on the same level as reading an article and having a mild sense of shame? In naming you as a straight male she is threatening the invisibility of straight male dominance. You felt a little exposed. Not othered.

Yep, I probably used the word "othered" incorrectly. I didn't have a "mild sense of shame". I have nothing to feel ashamed about. I also didn't feel exposed.
posted by citizenoftheworld at 10:28 PM on September 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


"It isn’t only men and straight people who make me feel a bit like a monster" doesn't mean "All men and all straight people make me feel a bit like a monster".

Good point.
posted by citizenoftheworld at 10:32 PM on September 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


As a straight white upper-middle-class cis male, I feel like others should take it as an achievement to have "othered" me. No mean feat I say! And I appreciate it.
posted by supercres at 10:34 PM on September 27, 2014 [9 favorites]


Initially I read the post on the assumption that I was part of the target audience.

I'm a butch dyke and I suppose I am part of her target audience. I don't - agree isn't quite the right word - well, the way she describes some of her experiences and perspectives doesn't always resonate with me. I found myself thinking "Yeah, I dunno about that," in different parts but it still didn't make me think that just because I was part of her target audience that meant she was only allowed to make me feel comfortable. She is not required to hold my hand; it is on me to do my best to keep up, even if it is hard, even if it hurts some sometimes. Or shrug and move on, whichever.
posted by rtha at 10:37 PM on September 27, 2014 [10 favorites]


In the sprit of trying to turn the conversation back to the article rather than my response to it. I found this part quite powerful:

"You see, in mainstream media there are no role models for butch lesbians. When you’re a kid (and an adult, and a human in general), media is vitally important to your understanding of what is good, and right, and possible. In popular media, butch women are monsters. We’re portrayed as objects of revulsion, mockery, and pity."
posted by citizenoftheworld at 10:38 PM on September 27, 2014 [8 favorites]


So I guess what I'm saying is that I was trying to engage with this piece of writing in good faith but I was put off.

Have you considered that what you are feeling as the result of reading a single thing is what those of us who have labels slapped on us feel all day, every day?

Do gay men gender-police her, and do they do it in the same ways?

Gay men are fucking vicious when it comes to policing pigeonholes in general. Policing gender presentation and identity, my God, it's a nest of vipers. The way every single one of my trans friends--especially trans men--have been treated, ugh.

I certainly don’t believe that I have a “masculine” brain or that any such thing exists.

Huh, a lot of trans men would like to have a word with you.


I read this more as a not-very-well-articulated stab at the idea of 'masculine' and 'feminine' as constructs and not innate characteristics, but YMMV.

the label sparkle butch is pretty awesome

Hee! I know a guy who describes himself as a twinkly-bear. It annoys pretty much everyone who identifies with one or the other and let me show you exactly how many fucks he gives about that:
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:40 PM on September 27, 2014 [23 favorites]


So I guess what I'm saying is that I was trying to engage with this piece of writing in good faith but I was put off.

Have you considered that what you are feeling as the result of reading a single thing is what those of us who have labels slapped on us feel all day, every day?


Yes, I have. I have LGBT friends and I've seen their struggles. I hate that they (my friends) are forced to lie about who they are when dealing with most of society. Workplaces in particular.
posted by citizenoftheworld at 10:51 PM on September 27, 2014


Huh. I read it as a response to othering.


Also hard to read trans-exclusionary when AFAB/AMAB appear in the text.
posted by boo_radley at 11:14 PM on September 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


My youngest daughter is mostly a femme lesbian. Her partner is totally butch. They're both women.
I know a lot of lesbian women who are butch. I know several lesbians who self-identify as dykes. Each of them are women.
I partner on motorcycle rides with a woman who self identifies as a bull dyke. We both carry pistols, really we both like guns and hunting. We ride around a lot together.
Twist up ammo, compare loads. She's a woman. We eat fresh liver and tongue. Delicious.
My best hunting partner is a woman.

Reading this article makes me sad.
posted by Pudhoho at 11:39 PM on September 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


Sparkle Butch and Twinkly Bear

Greatest buddy cop film ever.
posted by Segundus at 11:47 PM on September 27, 2014 [45 favorites]


Back in the day, it was commom courtesy to your reader to fully type out the label and follow it with the acronym in parenthesis. Once the acronym was defined, it could be freely used throught the piece. It was a function of inviting those not familiar into the discussion, thus attempting to eliminate perceived exclusivity and invite outside opinions.

To me the article seems to be avoiding the fact that there is a label, called homosapiens, that does define us all. And no one would expect or desire to find a representative of each and every sub group in pop culture. Individuals, typically, do not allow themselves do be defined by the masses.
posted by Emor at 11:52 PM on September 27, 2014


And no one would expect or desire to find a representative of each and every sub group in pop culture.

I certainly would.
posted by Quilford at 11:56 PM on September 27, 2014 [12 favorites]


This essay is great if occasionally uneven. The conclusion is the important part. One year at Wellesley costs $59,038.
posted by vapidave at 12:01 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


And no one would expect or desire to find a representative of each and every sub group in pop culture.

This is a really easy thing to say when its not your "sub group" that's being erased.
posted by kagredon at 1:17 AM on September 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


You know how sometimes, as a young lesbian, you get a little bit confused between the kind of woman you want to be and the kind of woman you want to be with?

Wow, that hit home. What a well-written and nuanced piece.
posted by polychora at 1:22 AM on September 28, 2014 [9 favorites]


Butchness is perceived as normative only through a misreading of lesbian history. Maybe in the days of Radclyffe Hall it was generally taken for granted that you had to be butch or femme, and maybe some people back then adopted butch/femme behaviour in deference to normative expectations. People are right to be glad that kind of stereotyped presumption has gone away, but they're wrong to think it means you shouldn't be butch or femme; you just don't have to be.
posted by Segundus at 1:24 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I salute the Girl Scouts of America.
posted by Segundus at 1:26 AM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


And no one would expect or desire to find a representative of each and every sub group in pop culture.

Personally, I'd love it. I get totally weirded out by how so much of television is headlined by two white men, one white woman, one woman of color, one black man - and those are the diverse shows! Most of the time it's three-four white men, one or two white women, and someone of color maybe, if we're lucky.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:27 AM on September 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


As someone who is usually (incorrectly) read as a butch lesbian (and thus gets a lot of the same treatment that butch lesbians get), I find the hostility to this essay shown here suuuuuupppper interesting. One thing I've noticed - about both men and straight people! - is that even though I am a veritable marshmallow of a human being, my very existence seems to shout "discipline case" at them. Just being visible as [apparently] a non-feminine woman suggests to men - and straight people! - that I am hostile, angry, threatening, out to get them, non-cooperative, etc. In fact, I'd say that's the dominant form of the hassle I receive, this assumption that I am always-already attacking them which is then automatically met by anger and hostility.

And I feel like that's the response this article is receiving.

I was very surprised, because when I read it I found it really soft and temperate and laid-back - I've read tons and tons more essays (linked here, even!) by queer and/or trans people which were much more directly angry and challenging. It just seems to me that when you become visible as a "masculine" woman (or when you're persistently read as one), no matter what you do or how nicely you write or how many jokes you make or how you remind everyone that you're teeny tiny and chubby, much of your readership starts picturing you, as, like, some kind of irrational attacking anger-monster.

This is not exactly an incentive not to be an anger monster, by the way.
posted by Frowner at 5:18 AM on September 28, 2014 [72 favorites]


I loved this essay. It wasn't speaking primarily to me (as a straight man) but it was smart and interesting, and I've had a number of butch friends over the years and so have seen many of the things she describes through them.

Butch identity is often viewed as passé, as a relic of some bygone era when lesbian gender expressions and relationships were trying to ape heterosexuality.

I've definitely heard this before, but at the same time (and this may just reflect where I live and who I know) easily two thirds of the lesbian couples I know fit visibly on the butch/femme pattern. It's still a thing, even though depictions in media are now much broader than they used to be.

It just seems to me that when you become visible as a "masculine" woman (or when you're persistently read as one), no matter what you do or how nicely you write or how many jokes you make or how you remind everyone that you're teeny tiny and chubby, much of your readership starts picturing you, as, like, some kind of irrational attacking anger-monster.

Yes, absolutely. As you note you can see it in a couple of the comments here, and it's absolutely a pattern you see more generally. (As an aside, one of the things I liked most about Orange is the New Black is that the show didn't script its butch characters in that simplistic way.) It's a pattern that is weirdly divorced from reality, too -- I've never been challenged by a butch woman to anything worse than going shopping for Carhartts or something. I mean, seriously, the fear of attack is just not reality, and yet if I am driving along with a coworker and there's a butch woman on the sidewalk I can guarantee I'll hear a defensive comment.

It's the same discomfort rtha was responding to above:

It's kind of an eyebrow-raiser to me that you think she should find some other way to talk about her own life so that you aren't uncomfortable.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:42 AM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


It wasn't speaking primarily to me (as a straight man)

I felt it was speaking to me. I'm a straight man but I don't spend a lot of time thinking of myself that way (and, thanks to privilege, I don't have to) and I'd totally forgotten I was one while reading. Instead, I remembered all the times I'd been othered and my struggles to just be who I am without having to choose and dodge labels all the time.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:17 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Toast's RSS feed is too busy for me given my other commitments, but I'm always glad to see it linked here because every time it is, it's something interesting. This piece is no exception. It was a great perspective and on top of that, it definitely made me think about my own gender presentation as a straight (but in some aspects butch-appearing) woman.
posted by immlass at 6:59 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


That was a really nice article. I like how clearly she explained her identity and the trouble people can have with it.

My mom is fairly butch, and, growing up, most other butch women I knew were her friends. So to me, butch reads as "friendly mom type". My mom isn't sparkly, but loves purple. I'm fairly feminine and I have to agree that it's a performance and that's part of what makes it fun and interesting, all those ways each of us choose how masculine or feminine we appear.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:31 AM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


What a great essay! So much to think about; here's a good passage that hasn't been quoted yet:
Butch is a trickster gender—and so, in a similar way, is femme. Lesbian gender expressions do not emulate heteropatriarchy, they subvert it. Femme removes femininity from the discursive shadow of masculinity and thereby strips from it any connotation of subordination or inferiority. Butch takes markers of “masculinity” and divests them of their association with maleness or manhood. Butchness works against the gender binary—the masculine/feminine paradigm—and reclaims for women the full breadth of possibilities when it comes to gender expression.
I'm a straight male, but happily I don't expect everything I read to be about me or cater to my sensibilities as a straight male—I enjoy learning about everybody's experiences and views. That's why I come to MetaFilter!
posted by languagehat at 8:36 AM on September 28, 2014 [19 favorites]


I left this as a comment on the article and would like to post it here:

So I do still feel that the butch/femme thing is still problematic and oppressive in one way: it assumes a very Western-centric view of gender. I personally skew more femme, and even that is with caveats: what gets defined as "femme" in the Western queer world, especially that decoupling-from-masculinity-thing, is to me "how all the women in my Bangladeshi family act". My dad's vanity would immediately get him pegged as "femme" or "metrosexual", but back home that is exactly How You Man. It's the butchiest thing ever to care about your appearance.

Having moved internationally, I see how uneasy it is for me to be in queer community; I don't get *read* as queer, because I'm not B/F enough or Queer Uniform enough or something (to the point that I have been the target of vicious rumours), yet I can't also talk about how the whole b/f thing alienates people like me because then *I'm* the one doing the alienating. When I see babyqueers back home in Malaysia or similar they often default to _Western_ ideas of butch/femme, because that's the only language they have to parse their queerness, whether or not they actually identify with that; it seems that there is an incongruity between being queer and looking like anyone else in your country. It really does get performative.

This is slightly veering from the thesis but relates to it: I read an article some time back on the Fa'afafine people of Samoa, which are a not-exact-analogue of trans women. In the article, one of the interviewees talked about how in the old days, you didn't have to perform your gender a certain way for your gender identity to be respected: if you were AMAB, and then said you were a woman/fa'afifine - ok, great! It's your turn to do the housework. It was much more about household roles and job descriptions than anything. (See also: Albanian sworn virgins, who are women that elect to take on the mens' roles in their community, and would probably get parsed as trans men or butch elsewhere.) When Western culture started to be more popular, suddenly gender became way more externalised - with makeup, clothing, shoes, and so on. It wasn't enough to be a woman, you had to look the part, and you had to look a certain way.

How do we reconcile butch/femme-ness with not imposing and colonising gender?
posted by divabat at 9:04 AM on September 28, 2014 [25 favorites]


Building on divabat's comment, in this fpp I did (self-link, hope that's okay?) I discovered that in Korean culture, there's much less of a male/female binary of ideal beauty: the ideal beauty is much, much more one ideal for both men and women than it is in Western culture. Fascinating.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 9:53 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


(This link has the Youtube video I was referring to above; direct link to Youtube video. Beauty is kind of a different thing but of course it's wrapped in gender norms and the idea of essential difference.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 9:57 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


For those of us not in the community, what is AFAB and AMAB? I do wish those had been spelled out.
posted by canine epigram at 10:04 AM on September 28, 2014


I don't disagree with what she's saying, but the article was very difficult for me to follow. I'm not sure how people are being taught to write these days, but wow, this needed a few more drafts.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:11 AM on September 28, 2014


In a way, learning about your gender identity is like learning to write. You label everything and learn the "right" way to put stuff together. You learn conventions and rules and spelling and structure.

And then you go out in the world and write brilliant stories which break the rules that don't serve you.

In the world of my dreams we would all be less concerned about policing or labeling other people's behavior. And we would care less/be less sensitive to what we perceive that they think about us.

Maybe this desire to pigeonhole goes back to social norms and wanting the world to look like our own personal choices because that's comfortable. But how uninteresting and boring that world would be.

The older I get the less I care about labels and the more I care about people.
posted by heidiola at 10:22 AM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


For those of us not in the community, what is AFAB and AMAB? I do wish those had been spelled out.

AFAB = "assigned female at birth" and AMAB = "assigned male at birth".
posted by donnagirl at 10:30 AM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


What makes me uncomfortable with historic ways that the butch/femme dichotomy played out was the idea that butch women must only date femme women, and vice versa. It feels like moving the restrictions of heteronormativity into queer relationships. It's not the gender expression (I'm all for breaking gender norms), but the adoption of restrictions with them.

But as for the people who claim that being butch or femme on your own was just being heteronormative, that's silly. Even among hetero women, there is a great spectrum of gender expression. A free society frees not only gay people, but straight and bi and asexual to live their lives in the gender, gender expression and with the partner(s) of their choice.
posted by jb at 11:09 AM on September 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


Most "butch" lesbians I've met (and working in bookshops and the music industry, I've met more than a few) have been pretty cool and friendly as long as you accept them for what they are. YMMV.
posted by jonmc at 11:09 AM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


One of the author's stated goals is to be "part of a purposeful endeavor to dismantle the popular conception of masculinity and the hegemony that it represents." I support this goal, but don't think the viewpoint put forth in this article actually accomplishes that goal.

The story being told here is that, once upon a time, you could pick either a whole set of male attributes or female ones, and it was wrong to mix attributes. Now you can mix them, but the attributes remain gender-labeled.

Can't we be sensitive without being "feminine" or "sparkly"? Hell, can't we be "sparkly" without being "feminine"?

Can't we play sports or be assertive without being "masculine"?

If I'm a baby-loving, assertive, empathetic, pants-wearing person who practices both carpentry and yoga and has a penis, can't I just be that? How is it useful to call that "masculine" or "feminine"?

What if these were just personality traits and fashion (or comfort) choices, rather than identifiers on a spectrum of culturally-specific gender ideas constructed around two fairly arbitrary sets of personality traits?


On preview, this is great advice: "And then you go out in the world and write brilliant stories which break the rules that don't serve you."
posted by the thing about it at 11:18 AM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


How would you characterize the average Toast reader?
Fucking delightful!


You know how Mark Zuckerberg said of his users something like, "They trust me. Dumb fucks"? Yeah, this IS how the Toast disrupts; they love their audience and their contributors. Good pairing, these two pieces.
posted by clavicle at 12:46 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


The term butch is confusing to me. The first thing I think of is the Rowdyruff Boys. It's a combination of lack of that term in the media I consume, and not knowing anyone who identifies as that publicly. One of my lesbian neighbors is a police officer but I just think of her as a great parent and get ashamed of my constant cursing at video games next door. My fitness instructor is really fit and muscular while having a gland issue and I get jealous. And a lot of people here have tattoos so that's no indicator. So this article was a great thought-raiser. I understand why I don't know anyone who identifies as butch.

I'm a bit lost by some slang terms though. Twink refers to an androgynous skinny boy, and bear refers to a hairy big guy, both gay, right? What are the slang terms for lesbian self-descriptions? Is it femme/butch? How negative are these other slang terms? Sorry if my tone/naïveté is offensive.
posted by halifix at 1:08 PM on September 28, 2014


I found this passage to be the main point of the article:

The fact is that all women are targets of gender policing. We’re punished when we don’t conform to femininity, because we’ve stepped outside of our “place.” We’re punished when we are feminine, because femininity is understood as inferiority.

I understand the early commenter points about labels being necessary, but I also agree with heidiola and the thing about it in that looking past labels is the more important point, as it is with any prejudice.

Also, while reading the article, it seemed to me she was saying that butch is the grownup term for tomboy. And maybe it is.

I may have told the story here before, but one lazy afternoon I was having a beer on the patio at a semi dive bar across the street from a college. A guy with a blue mohawk sat at the table next to me. Out of pure curiosity, I asked him what made him decide on blue. He was furious with me, saying how much better the world would be without judgmental people like me. He said "I don't need to sit near someone who judges me" and moved someplace else.

So yeah. Attempts to reach across the gulf may be bumbling, but it's not like I said freak, WTF is up with your fucking hair? And maybe it's not that a certain group is being "erased" so much as trying to be understood from a distance because of reactions like blue mowhawk guy.

I'll be happier when the world can look a tiny bit deeper and see that there are people who like shooting baskets, making a nice dinner, watching football and wearing a sundress. And that there are people who love Phantom of the Opera, roller derby, kids, and white wine. And they are all. Just. People.
posted by yoga at 1:46 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


One last thought:

Prejudice is pervasive with humanity.

I bet if you showed up at Burningman in pleated khakis, penny loafers and a button down oxford shirt, you'd encounter plenty of othering.
posted by yoga at 1:51 PM on September 28, 2014


even though I am a veritable marshmallow of a human being

I beg forgiveness in advance if the question is offensive, but do you mean in a physical sense, or the way you perceive yourself coming across to others on the aggressive-passive scale? 'Cause I've never met you, but I've been reading you for a while now, and unless you turn into someone else when you are away from your keyboard, you are anything but a marshmallow. I mean, if I had to choose a person I'd never met to partner with against an angry mob, you'd top the list.

I say that with utmost respect.
posted by Mooski at 2:17 PM on September 28, 2014


The remark has stuck with me vividly because I keep encountering a similar sentiment among certain circles of fellow queer millennials. Specifically there is, among some young lesbians and other queer women, a distinct hostility to butchness. Butch identity is often viewed as passé, as a relic of some bygone era when lesbian gender expressions and relationships were trying to ape heterosexuality

Has there been a trend towards which you can either be "androgynous gay woman" or "transman," with "butch lesbian" being considered some sort of invalid state of denial?
posted by deanc at 2:20 PM on September 28, 2014


deanc: I have heard some derision from other queer women about trans men - that they're not comfortable with their butch womanhood so they claim to be men instead. I haven't heard it the other way, but it may be different demographics.
posted by divabat at 2:24 PM on September 28, 2014


How do we reconcile butch/femme-ness with not imposing and colonising gender?

Colonializing is so pernicious, and so much has been internalized - humans are social creatures, and we respond to what we think other people want. That's a lot of what colonialization hinges on, psychologically speaking. It also can be hard to differentiate between "I never had a context to do what I want to do before" and "I identify as this so I must behave as this". I think about myself and my relationship with skirts - I hated and still hate pants, and wore skirts exclusively throughout my childhood despite my mom being really excited to dress me in pants, and I have no idea how or when or why that came into my psyche, as it was pre-verbal (I was making my preferences known when I was TWO).

I have heard some derision from other queer women about trans men

From what I have seen trans women say, they tend to get a lot of misogyny from within and without and end up with a much lower social cachet, plus the assumptions of their being prostitutes, plus garden variety sexism all women get. There's also this weird "masculine energy" thing which comes up in the context of feminism and trans woman exclusive / trans man inclusive "women's" events like the Michigan Music Festival.

In mainstream media it's been interesting/frightening/weirdening to see how trans people showing up has been materially different from lg people in terms of race and gender. Mainstream media is obsessed with trans women, and through what I can only assume is their media savvy it's ended up being trans women of color who took center stage (and they are AWESOME). In contrast, the mainstream media was obsessed with white, gay men and they remain the main "faces" of the lgb community for people who don't know much about it. I wonder how much of this is trans women's strong connection with black feminism and womanism, which is where we get ideas like kyriarchy and intersectionalism from. I also wonder how much of the dynamics of gay acceptance hinging on them being heteronormative and white affected how trans women are presenting themselves to try to be as inclusive as possible in terms of color.

I also don't think you can talk about this without bringing in the drag community as well - and the contrast between the mathematical reality, which is lots of straight men like to wear 'women's clothing', and the perception of the community, which is very male gay. There are drag kings as well, but I believe in wider society women wanting to be like men is more understandable - men are 'better', after all - whereas men wanting to be women is exotic and strange (to be clear, this is in the context of 'dressing up as' rather than trans*, but I think it bleeds onto female-side-of-the-spectrum-trans* people when people don't accept those women as women).
posted by Deoridhe at 2:49 PM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


We had a similar discussion in the context of pantomime some time ago. I think it's interesting that traditional (European?) theatre uses drag queens to present a caricature of femininity - it's hardly ever a woman stomping around in a skirt and grabbing at men's groins and it's never someone depicted as a butch lesbian: that simply wouldn't be funny. I don't think male caricatures were used in similar ways, but perhaps Marlene Dietrich's performance in The Blue Angel with its "how am I supposed to take this" androgeneity is something of a counterexample. But note that Lola Lola is supposed to be conventionally attractive; the joke with pantomime dames is that their masculine qualities makes them (in the context of the performance) so very unattractive.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:54 PM on September 28, 2014


Do you have to be lesbian to identify as sparklebutch? 'Cause I pretty much do, except for that. Yay genderqueerness.
posted by limeonaire at 7:54 PM on September 28, 2014


Here's the fa'afafine article I referred to earlier; pertinent sections are #12 and #13.
posted by divabat at 10:56 PM on September 28, 2014


You know how sometimes, as a young lesbian, you get a little bit confused between the kind of woman you want to be and the kind of woman you want to be with?

Very interesting essay. Thanks for posting. While in the context the above quote fits perfectly, it's worth noting that it's of universal application, as below:

You know how sometimes, as a young person, you get a little bit confused between the kind of person you want to be and the kind of person you want to be with?
posted by chavenet at 3:03 AM on September 29, 2014


You know how sometimes, as a young person, you get a little bit confused between the kind of person you want to be and the kind of person you want to be with?

Is it that universal? Do teenage straight guys (for example) feel confusion about whether they want to date the girl(s) they want to date, or be them? Assuming they are cis, anyway.
posted by rtha at 5:38 AM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


Is it that universal? Do teenage straight guys (for example) feel confusion about whether they want to date the girl(s) they want to date, or be them? Assuming they are cis, anyway.

Maybe in a very general or personality kind of sense -- "do I want to date an exciting, well-traveled person, or be that person?", sure. But never in the way that she means in the article, about trying to figure out if you want to be or date a certain kind of woman. It's sort of definitional that being straight and cis means you don't overlay the dating and being problems; those always stay in their separate categories and to blur them means you are also blurring the straight and cis parts.

(I have also read a lot of writing, especially by a slightly older set of writers, about the problem women can have in heterosexual relationships of subsuming their identities and eventually not knowing who they are. (Fear of Flying is partly about reversing that, as an example, and although it's been decades since I read it I recall The Golden Notebooks covering this as well.) So it's also not just the lesbian thing that suggests to me that this would need to be talked about in a very nuanced way rather than just asserting it is universal.)
posted by Dip Flash at 5:52 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


You know how sometimes, as a young person, you get a little bit confused between the kind of person you want to be and the kind of person you want to be with?

Is it that universal?


It might be universal if you're unaccustomed to reading things that aren't about people like you, and desperately need to turn the conversation back to people like you.
posted by donnagirl at 6:18 AM on September 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


Most of my teenagehood was spent using "I just admire them a lot! I want to be like them! I AM NOT GAY" as a cover for "I have a huge fuckin' crush on them, clearly I am super queer".
posted by divabat at 7:34 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Well, as a data point, this AskMe sort of has that question as experienced by a bisexual woman about men. But yeah, I kind of think this is a problem that arises from or at least is exacerbated by when there's a lack of either or both of (1) people like you who you can look to as...well, "role model" kind of has an implication of hero worship that I'm not super comfortable with, but in its most neutral meaning it's correct: someone who is a model for what your life could be like, who illustrates that you could grow up to be, and (2) being able to observe romantic relationships that you can imagine yourself in ("relationship models"?)

And before someone says it: yes, of course you can look up to people or relationships that are different from how you identify or the relationships you get into, and I think everyone does, to some extent; but there's also something that's really vital about not always having that layer of separation, about being able to point to a person and say "this person is butch, like me, and has qualities (kindness, success, whatever) that I admire. I can become those things, too."

And yes, a lot of those models are going to be drawn from family, friends, teachers, etc., but not everyone has the benefit of growing up in a community that has open diversity in it, so inevitably larger media plays a role.

So I think that while it's not impossible for straight cis men to encounter that kind of confusion (particularly if they're gender non-conforming in some way), they're in the quadrant that's least affected by a paucity of role or relationship models.
posted by kagredon at 9:06 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


About two years ago, J Crew - fucking J Crew! - ran an add with a butch woman in it. She wasn't on the front, and it was all "look at those among our marketing staff who happen to to be young, slim and conventionally good-looking...but there she was, butch as all hell, men's shoes, blazer and a fifties haircut. I'm telling you, I don't even identify as butch or as a woman, but I was so stoked that I promptly went out and got a used version of those very same loafers on eBay. I was so stoked, I'm telling you - the feeling of seeing someone familiar, someone who made sense, in that place where all the pictures of people are weird and unfamiliar and make no sense at all and basically might as well be pictures of vaguely humanoid aliens...that sense when, alone and lonely in a foreign country, you see someone from home.

People of metafilter who do not experience a substantial identity-based marginalization, you're just going to have to take this one on faith - representations matter, they affect you on a really felt, visceral level to which words are inadequate, and if you haven't done without significant representation, you're just not going to know how it can hit you like a ton of bricks when you finally get something.

(When I was younger, I had a lot of confusion between having crushes on men and wanting to be them, by the way. I thought I had crushes when I really wanted to be what they were - more or less - but my situation in regards to my gender expression, sexuality and the crappy stuff that had happened to me in my teens made that hard to puzzle out. I just couldn't figure out why I so desperately wanted to spend so much time with these guys and liked them so much and wanted validation from them and yet absolutely could not imagine kissing them, never mind anything else.)
posted by Frowner at 9:47 AM on September 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


I beg forgiveness in advance if the question is offensive, but do you mean in a physical sense, or the way you perceive yourself coming across to others on the aggressive-passive scale? 'Cause I've never met you, but I've been reading you for a while now, and unless you turn into someone else when you are away from your keyboard, you are anything but a marshmallow. I mean, if I had to choose a person I'd never met to partner with against an angry mob, you'd top the list.

Also, I am a marshmallow in private life. I am meek and mild and there are even people who consider me quiet and retiring.

I would say that as long as the angry mob is angry at you, I am an asset. If the angry mob is just angry at me, I'll probably say something like "well, I guess I can see how they'd find me frustrating, and really [various forms of guilt], so perhaps for the greater good of society they should just tear me into bits".
posted by Frowner at 12:57 PM on September 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


I bet if you showed up at Burningman in pleated khakis, penny loafers and a button down oxford shirt, you'd encounter plenty of othering.

Or they would appreciate your brilliant performance art.
posted by naoko at 10:58 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm male presenting but not cis, and I definitely get the want to date/want to be confusion.

I really doubt that's a common experience for cis straight guys though, as there's a number of major power structures which stand in the way of that happening. There's a *very* general level where that might be possible, but there's a big difference between wanting to be something like a gender-swapped version of person and wanting to be like that person in a way congruent with their existing gender, especially given the large amounts of gender differentiation in most straight subcultures.

Generally speaking, sexual attraction is very tied to gender markers, to how the object of your attraction positions themselves within a cultural or subcultural space and with regards to certain ideas of gender. When you can picture yourself adopting that same positioning, the feelings of sexual attraction and what I guess we might call "identity attraction" can be very similar and hard to distinguish. Straight cis guys might picture themselves adopting a similar cultural positioning as a woman they're attracted to, but the details will be different and they're cut off from a big chunk of how that positioning works by the need to maintain a legibly male position for themselves.

I don't think it's the same thing.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:43 PM on September 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


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