Friday, 28 March 2008

Week of Contrasts

Nought so queer as folk, huh? This correspondent has to report a week of contrasts. It kicked off with the Dirty Red Ball. I enjoyed the different rooms, the great styling & set design/art direction, I loved the chilled out people attending. Clearly a lot of thought and attention had gone into the event. Shame that this boi had a bit of bad luck with the bio security. Shortly after arrival, for the first time in my life I was stopped from going in the Gents. I was packing, I was at the DRB, there was a ridiculously long queue for the women’s. “How do you know I’m not trans?” I enquired of the gentleman barring my way, to which he remarked: “Huh?” There was a pause while we looked at each other, me thinking: Hang on, this is a gay event, isn’t it? I repeated my question, and he asked: “What are you?” I told him I was butch and he decided I should use the women’s. Hmm….hadn’t realised security guys get to define gender these days… Gay space was the one space I thought was my space.
In the long queue for the women’s I had plenty of time to mull over the times I’ve been frogmarched to the Gents by similar security guys…am I getting more feminine or are security getting more clued-up? Perhaps if I had facial hair…I wondered, while women powdered their cleavage and acquaintances hello-oed me in varying degrees of dirty red and filthy rich dress code. BTW, what is the etiquette when bumping into a colleague in their underwear? Are you supposed to look or not?

I had another unfortunate experience with bio security an hour or so later. The guys were having to hold people back from the Cabaret room. It was crowded in there thanks to Miss Bijou Noir getting busy behind a couple of enormous feather fans. Once I’d cottoned on I wasn’t being held in a queue for the cloakroom and the boys were just doing their job I didn’t mind the wait. I did mind the sixth time I was called Sweetheart and Darling by one of the bios. Gentlemen: let me give you some advice that could sweeten your life, darling: Check the masculinity – check your language and check the attitude. I make a point of being reasonable – that’s the kind of world I want to live in. But boy I’ll bristle right quick if a bio calls me darlin. And, gents, its not just the bois who hate it. A fine femme friend of mine was being held in the same queue. Neither did she like being called sweetheart or darling. My own south London family use darling and sweetheart, and I appreciate they’re words of cultural expression. Actually I find them very endearing when spoken by people who know me. Shame then they are so damn PATRONISING when you don’t.
This lack of awareness from 2 individuals in a queer/queer-friendly space was an eye-opener. Quess I just didn’t feel at home…

Contrast this oh so London behaviour with the glorious trip I went on a day later to Cornwall. Stopping at a supermarket to stock up before heading out to a log cabin on the edge of a lake, in the heart of a forest (ohhh, let me just remember the bliss for a moment………….ok, back with you). We were 2 bois, 2 gorgeous femmes and we all rocked up to the checkout to cause multiple confusion. We had food items and one or 2 bottles of alcoholic beverage. The warm and lovely cashier welcomed us to Cornwall, and was asking about our trip. When the wine glided under her fingertips she stopped and very seriously asked us who would be paying for the alcohol.
“Big daddy here.” Said my butch bud clapping me on the back and causing me some embarrassment as we were in the land of straight and also I don’t daddy up as s/he well knows.
“Oh…” said lovely cashier lady. “I’m afraid I will have to see some ID.”
My femme wife laughed. Oh how she laughed. “That’s very kind of you to say.” She chortled.
Cashier Lady looked strangely at my wife, prompting her to say: “You don’t really think we’re under age, do you?”
Cashier Lady nodded slowly, just as my butch bud queried the large melon rolling through the scanner. “Your wife put it on.” I told my bud, causing Cashier Lady to glance quickly from me to my bud to my femme friend to my wife and rest on me. “Have a lovely stay in Cornwall.” She said warmly. Kinda made me wanna stay.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Straddling Gender

What is Butch and why? Why does it matter if a girl is a bit of a tomboy? Who cares if a woman is a bit of a man? Other people’s reactions to me have gone a long way to define my identity. For me, butch is a Gender. It’s not something I’ve adopted, its something I am. When I was an itty-bitty true baby butch I was mistaken for a boy and if they didn’t know better, told people my name was John. I remember the day my best friend’s older sister told me I really shouldn’t be kissing girls. Still in primary school, that was the day I knew I wasn’t a boy.
Unfortunately, I did stop kissing girls all the way through secondary school. Fortunately, after a brief heterosexual phase, I realised I really should be kissing girls, and boy their kisses were sweet. When I came out lesbians were political. I cut my short hair shorter and once more the world embraced my masculinity. Political lesbians didn’t. They thought it was homophobic people called me Sir. I remember the day a lesbian feminist called me Butch. She meant it as an insult… “Why do you want to be like a man?” She asked. I didn’t understand. I hadn’t done anything mannish. All I’d done was lift a box and walk across the floor. I may have drunk a pint of beer before that, I don’t remember.
In my lesbian community butch wasn’t a good thing. I was part of it too. I internalised that butchophobia. It was ok to look butch, as long as that was called looking dykey. I was never in dresses, always in jeans. Wearing suits, ties, walking and lifting like a man…all the while refusing to accept the identity. My femme girlfriends were so hot, so gorgeous, so un-ID-ed. (I’ll skip over the two butch girlfriends, that’s for another column). We danced the butch-femme dance in lesbian hotspots all over (once my girlfriend had managed to get in). I loved their femininity, thought it daring they wore make-up. I believed a woman should wear what she wanted, and I accepted my femme girls wearing their hot femme clothes for themselves. I knew they didn’t wear them for men.
When I came out it was like waking up to a new world. One full of promise and adventure. When I acknowledged I am butch, it was like coming home. Thanks to the courage and insight of butches and femmes before me I finally got it. Thanks to Leslie Feinburg, Joan Nestle, Lesléa Newman, Rhon & Chris of thanks to Marïjke & Mel, I formed the word butch inside my head until it passed my lips. (This is in no way supposed to be an extensive list of butch-femme artists & activists, just those who’ve influenced me). This name for what I am made sense of my daily experience. I remember the day I told my long-term butch bud: “You’re right, I am butch.” S/he said “How comes you’re the last to know?”
Words are both medicine and weapons. If I can make a difference to one fledgling butch or femme by exploring my identity in words then the time I spend doing it is golden. This is my debt to repay, and I repay with all my heart. I know I’m butch because I never tried to be. Although I’m blessed to know more femmes and butches than when I acknowledged myself, my gender is still not widely accepted by either the straight or the gay communities. Straddling gender, I neither apologise or boast for being as butch as a diesel dyke. I just am.