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.


Campbell said...

I think even though feminist power to define queer identity has been all but earased these days there is still the strength of mainstreaming which my friend Kath calls the 'gentrification of the queer body' which would rather butch, stud ID women remain hidden and silent. can you think of the last time you saw a stud in a 'gay' movie, TV programme representing lesbianism?

crin claxton said...

interesting point, campbell. The last stud i can think of was in Bound...made by 2 bio guys...& very hot this boi thinks!

Campbell said...

I would say that was an a very gentrified 'butch body'. Though Bound is one of my favourite movies. And don't quote me but I think one of the directors is transgender.