Monday, 3 September 2007

Identity? Whose Identity?

Butch is an identity and a gender. In the English language it’s a noun (“Look at that hot butch over there.”) and an adjective (“My, what a butch walk you have, Grandma.”) I define as a masculine bio-female. My gender is butch. I have been butch from birth, from time, forever. No amounts of ribbons and bows could disguise my toddling swagger. My strong, powerful and adorable mother sighed that I was not ladylike. In later years she came to accept me as a son.

My identity was forged from finding pride in what I am. Sharing experience, finding other butches and femmes who love butches has enriched my life and kept me sane. A sense of community, a need to fit in is fundamentally human. My identity has also been created as a protection against prejudice. All those people who have shown me hate, disgust and ignorance have only succeeded in creating the father of all butches. It’s tempting to mention the most violent responses I’ve encountered to justify my need for identity. In truth, I don’t want to be defined by a minority of bigots’ violent prejudice. Pride in who I am is a sweeter, healthier route to dissolve ignorance.

The human need to define existence is as old as cave drawings. I am, therefore I think about what I am. Humans tell stories starring themselves. The people that control the media cast the lead roles. That’s why the UK media is swamped by stories of white, straight, able-bodied biomen. People in power tell the stories, pitch the stories, write or film the stories and we get to watch the stories. Aspects change from country to country or state to state (on Indian TV nearly everyone’s Indian, male, Hindu, straight, able-bodied, in Africa TV heroes are African, male, straight, etc etc) but the most powerful sections of that society are playing the lead roles in the stories of the days of ‘our’ lives.

Some people are threatened by difference. These people are overwhelmed by other identities because it’s not about them. What’s interesting is that most of us who do not appear in mainstream stories have learnt to enjoy the stories anyway, and have found ways to bridge difference and find the universality of love, romance, courage, betrayal, vengeance and so on. I don’t get why that universality is not extended towards minority story-telling. Tremendous talent is being wasted in this country. We could be watching, listening to and reading some really great works that are turned down because promoters don’t see how they can sell it. Where’s the sense in that? Think about the cult films, books, and tv shows that break-through to everyone’s surprise. Check out the background of the people involved – odds are there will be something about them that puts them on the outside.

Identity is all about me/you/us/them. Identity is the route to pride or the chance to learn about other experience. Knowing what I am and feeling good about what I am allows me to pass head up through the world contributing, I hope, to a more caring environment where we don’t waste people’s abilities, or deny ourselves opportunities to learn and grow.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Public Inconvenience

This is the launch of the new column Butch About Town. Today’s top topic is Public Toilets.
OK, so I look like a man. That is both a style and a lifestyle choice on my part. I am what I am, and down with being butch. But what to do when a boi is out and about and nature calls? What choice is there, for a butch like me, between the Ladies & the Gents?
Tha Ladies: Nothing gets my palms sweating faster than a hot femme in a short skirt. Whoops, did I say that out loud. I meant to say - Nothing makes my palms sweat and my heart beat more than the prospect of pushing open the door with a little picture of a silhouetted woman with strangely square shoulders and a very triangular skirt.
Why? Because women in the Ladies ask me to leave. Worse, there’s a moment of fear, and I never want to see fear in a woman’s eyes.
I’ve tried smiling. I’ve tried a hearty “Hello!” I’ve never resorted, as a butch friend of mine used to do, to flashing my breasts. (She never got arrested but she did get a few phone numbers). Strangely in this situation I’m embarrassed. Having been asked to leave often, redirected occasionally and once hauled out of a cubical by a male bouncer and marched to the Gents – my top tactic is to scurry straight in, wait till I can’t hear anyone at the dryer and dash out again (washing my hands first).
Tha Men’s: I don’t feel any happier going into the Gents. There’s something of a hygiene difference. I have not yet felt unsafe, though it lurks in the back of my mind that I could be. As it is, straight men don’t seem to stare at a guy dashing head-down into a cubical. I get out as quick as I get in. I’m butch but don’t feel like embracing the masculinity of the Gents. I rather like the women’s toilets. It’s like sitting round the kitchen table with all your aunts while they put on make-up and share their most intimate confidences.
Hurray for train toilets, plane toilets, gender-neutral disabled toilets. Can we have more unisex toilets like on Ally Mcbeal please? I don’t even mind line dancing to Barry White tunes if that’s required. For women’s safety and while male hygiene remains dubious we still need the Ladies, and the long queues that accompany them. Men are truly welcome to their urinals and the strange disinfectant blocks that float in them. But please please please, can’t we work something out so us poor butch bois can go in peace.