Announcing ButchBoi Life: A Place for Bois Like Us

These are exciting times we live in, dear readers. Washington gays can now get gay married all over the gay ol’ place. There’s a crooning butch on The Voice. Adele has been crowned Empress of the Universe (and Chris Brown Douchemaster Supreme). I’m co-founding a new social group for Boston area butches, bois, and studs.

Oh, you hadn’t heard about that last bit? That’s probably because you get all your news from After Ellen. Here’s the 411, son: Recently, I was commiserating with a friend and fellow MOC queer about the lack of a tight-knit butch community in Boston. There are plenty of us around, but no place where we can all hang out and actually have conversations about our lives and experiences (as opposed to the mean mugs or subtle head nods that we usually give each other in public). I was all like, “Whine, whine, whine, community, whine, whine,” and she was all like, “How about we start a meet up group?” and I was all like, “OMG BEST IDEA EVER YES.” And that, my friends, is how ButchBoi Life was born.

Here’s our official mission statement, because we’re fuckin’ professionals:

The mission of ButchBoi Life is to bring masculine-of-center identified women from different backgrounds together. It has become apparent that masculine identified women are struggling to gain visibility in the LGBTQ community. ButchBoi Life will provide a safe space for us to discuss the issues we face, socialize, and find others we can relate to.
Bi-weekly meetings will be held at various venues throughout the Boston area.

ButchBoi Life strives to maintain a safe space where all opinions and ideas are respected. We welcome individuals from all races, backgrounds, and masculine of center identities.

Pretty snazzy, huh? Each meeting, we’ll be tackling a new topic related to the masculine-of-center queer experience. Our first meeting will be held at the Blue Shirt Café in Somerville on Sunday, March 11th from 2:00-3:30 PM. The topic will be: “What was it like to come out as a butch/stud/boi?” As I like to call it, it’s the Second Coming Out, where you get to explain not just your sexual orientation, but your gender identity as well – whee!

If you’re a butch/boi/stud/MOC queer in the Boston area and you’d like to spend time with some really cool people (and me), please come down on the 11th and join us! Or if you know anybody who might be interested and (*gasp!*) doesn’t read this blog, spread the word. The more the merrier/rowdier/increasingly annoying to other patrons. Hope to see you there in all your butch glory!

Bridging the LGBT Generation Gap: Respect Your Elders, Young Queers

Age is a strange thing in the queer community. We measure our lives by two numbers: the standard Number of Years Lived As a Sentient Human, and Number of Years Lived Out. By these standards, one could be 45-years-old and still be considered a babygay if that closet door has only recently been flung open. I’ve been on this planet 27 years now, but only eight of those have been spent as an out lesbian. So I guess I’m roughly a second-grader by queer standards, which is cool, because second grade was good times. I recall making some rather thought-provoking postmodern popsicle-sticks-and-Elmer’s-glue art that year. Needless to say, I’m often perceived as a babybutch by my elder queers (despite how obscenely old I feel when I realize that today’s college students were born in the 1990s – an entire decade that I remember). That’s also cool, because I love chatting with older LGBT folk, even if they are fighting the urge to pat me on the head and send me off to my 8:00 bedtime.

As I you might have gleamed from some of my previous posts, I’m fascinated by queer history herstory, specifically butch-femme, specifically during and pre-Stonewall. Maybe it comes from reading books like Stone Butch Blues and The Persistent Desire. Or maybe it comes from an idealization of the old dyke bar days: a time of loving in smokey underground dives and running from the Boys in Blue that sounds very exciting and romantic to a spoiled 21st century queer like me, but was probably actually terrifying.

Whatever the reasoning, I’m always on the lookout for new media on LGBT history, which is how I came to watch the documentary Gen Silent. Set in my own little city of Boston (which I didn’t realize until I started watching and was stoked to see all my hangouts), Gen Silent focuses its lens on the plight of LGBT elders. We meet a cast of diverse, lovable people who are struggling with some very serious problems – from a 60-something gay man overwhelmed by guilt after placing his older, ailing partner in a nursing home to a late-middle-aged trans woman dealing with both family rejection and lung cancer. As the film explains, far more LGBT seniors are living alone than their heterosexual peers. There’s a number of factors at play here:

  • LGBT seniors are less likely to have grown children to care for them.
  • LGBT seniors are more likely to be estranged from their families.
  • LGBT seniors are less likely to seek needed medical attention, due to a fear of homo/transphobic healthcare providers.
  • LGBT seniors living in nursing homes or assisted living facilities often face a “re-closeting” – that is, being forced to hide their sexuality or trans status in the presence of staff or other seniors who are hostile towards queer people. (Only about 30% of Americans 65 and older support gay marriage, according to most polls.)

Since you really need to watch this fantastic film for yourself, I won’t give too much else away. I will say, however, that it broke my damn heart into roughly a bajillion pieces. Knowing that all these brave and proud people – who survived the McCarthy-era witch hunts, who stayed strong in the face of police brutality, who smashed bottles and threw fists to kickstart the Gay Liberation Movement -were being forgotten was more than I could handle. It made sad, then it made me angry, and then it made me determined.

My new mantra for 2012 is “See Something, Do Something.” Sort of like those subway safety PSAs, except less about backpack bombs and more about community building. I feel like I’ve spent too much time simply being upset about injustice and not enough actually doing something to combat it. So when I started to enter my Queer Hulk raging-on-Twitter mode, I told myself, “No, Bren. Less e-smashing, more direct action.” After using the Google Machine to find out more about the aid organizations featured in Gen Silent, I emailed the coordinator of Out to Brunch, a monthly meal and social program for LBT elder women that’s co-sponsored by the LGBT Aging Project, and asked what I could do to help.

Fast forward to this past Saturday, when I spent most of my day setting tables, putting up Valentine’s Day decorations, and serving food at the Roslindale House community center. In between all that, I got to hang out with some seriously awesome queer folk – both young volunteers like me and the older women who were our guests of honor (some of whom were even in Gen Silent). You guys, it was a total blast.

I have absolutely no idea where the stereotype of the sweet, innocent, and demure little old lady came from. Have you ever met an elderly woman who was actually like that? I mean, my 96-year-old great aunt has a mouth on her that could make a drunken sailor blush. And it drives me nuts when people talk to seniors as if they’re giant, white-haired toddlers. Look, these are full-grown adults who have been living, loving, fucking, dancing, drinking, and raising hell longer than I – or my parents, for that matter – have even been breathing. So it was very refreshing to be with volunteers who didn’t talk down to the seniors, and with seniors who had no problem making dirty jokes in front of a fresh-faced zygote of a dyke like me. I’ve never heard so many Valentine’s Day-inspired “I have a heart-on” jokes in my life.

The highlight of my day was meeting an old-school butch. She strolled right up to me and introduced herself as Frances (“sometimes Clark”), and we had an excellent conversation about butch names, haircuts, the pressure to transition, and the pre-Stonewall days (“You kids have it so lucky today; back then, you would get arrested for not wearing at least three pieces of women’s clothing”). During the meal, I watched her joke and flirt shamelessly with nearby femmes. Man, I want to be just like Frances when I grow up. Nice to know that butch swagger is forever.

I knew before the day was half over that Out to Brunch is going to be a regular event for me. It’s an honor to be able to spend time with such a fun, feisty, and downright inspiring group of women, and I can’t wait ’til next month. Maybe Clark will teach me some of her moves – if I can keep up.

Healthcare is For Butches, Too

I make a concerted effort ’round these parts to not issue blanket statements about butches, femmes, or queerfolk. Most of the time, generalizations are ignorant at best and insulting at worst (generally speaking). However, there are some that I think you, my wise and worldly readers, would agree with. Examples include: there’s a tax for everything, we all will die someday, baby pandas are adorable, and butches hate going to the doctor. I’m confident about that last one, because (generalization alert!) everybody hates going to the doctor.

There’s real logic behind the old-timey saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” We all want doctors to stay far, far away. They poke us, prod us, make us put on ridiculous smocks that showcase our naked tushes, stick us with unwanted needles and fingers and **shudder** speculums, scold us about our weight or smoking or drinking habits, and then expect us to pay them for it all. Face it, MDs – nobody is jazzed to be sitting in your chilly, too bright offices with your stupid food pyramid posters from 1985. I’m sorry if I’ve hurt your feelings, but I bet your giant piles of money will ease the pain.

When it comes to seeing doctors, butches have a whole extra layer of crap-frosting on top of our double decker suck cake. Here’s a sampling of the anxious questions that plague my thoughts – and, I reckon, the thoughts of many other MOC queers – whenever I have a new physician:

“Will she think I’m in the wrong office?”

“Will she be totally freaked out/disgusted by me?”

“Will she know how to treat me?”

“Will the quality of care I receive be the same as if I were a feminine, straight woman?”

“Oh god, should I shave my legs beforehand??”

Meeting new people is nerve-wracking enough for me, especially when I don’t know ahead of time whether said new people are “accepting” of queers. (Note: I kind of hate using the word “accepting” in the context of LGBT folk, because I think it’s ridiculous that people think they can accept or not accept something that is obviously real. It’s like “accepting” that tree over here or that cloud up there. They exist, we exist, GTF over it. End rant.) So when Scary New Person will also be touching me in places normally reserved for trusted bedmates, I’m just a giant sweaty ball of anxiety and panic attacks.

This stress doesn’t even necessarily go away after I’ve become a regular patient. For years, I continued to see physicians that I wasn’t really comfortable with just because doctor-shopping is such a clusterfuck in Boston. Finding somebody who is accepting new patients and near your apartment/dorm? Awful.

Until recently, I was a patient at a women’s clinic at a major area hospital. The clinic was neither particularly nice nor convenient – my two-hour trip there involved two trains and a bus – but it was accepting new patients at a time when others were not. The nurse practitioner (it was basically impossible to see an actual doctor unless you were half-dead) was a nice enough woman, but I knew from the minute we first met that she didn’t know what the hell to think of me. I don’t know if she had other queer patients, but I do know that I never saw another obvious dyke in that waiting room. Getting the side-eye from other patients was something I came to expect.

During my first visit with the NP, after the supremely-awkward “let’s talk about the people you are fucking/have fucked” conversation that they make you have, I decided it was time to suck it up and ask for something I had been avoiding: an STD test. The NP looked confused for a moment, then said, “Well, I’m not sure what to test you for.” Meaning, of course, that she had no idea what a woman who only sleeps with other women could possibly have contracted. I was shocked and weirdly embarrassed. If she, the healthcare provider, didn’t know, how the hell was I supposed to know? I think I stuttered something really intelligent, like “Uh, I guess the regular stuff?” So she listed some of your standard STDs – chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and of course, HIV – and I was like, “Yeah, OK, all of the above.” And that’s how I got my first STD test from a woman who apparently didn’t think I needed one. After that, I had to specifically request a new test every time I saw her (which ended up usually being after a new partner); she never once suggested on her own that I get tested. Despite that, I continued to use the clinic as my primary care provider for a couple years, because I couldn’t stand the idea of starting my search all over again.

Then 2012 rolled around and I decided it was time to make a vague clichéd heartfelt resolution: this year would be the year of Positive Life Changes. I was going to eat better (breaking: I, Bren, ate an apple – as in, a fruit, from nature – yesterday for my afternoon snack), exercise more (still working on that one), and give back to my community (more on that in future posts). Part one of my PLCs? Find a goddamn LGBT-knowledgeable doctor. Here I have to admit my privilege: I live in Boston, a super-queer city. In this queer city, there is a big, shiny, new-ish building right near the heart of town. This gleaming tower is home to Fenway Health, a medical care provider whose mission is to “enhance the well being of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and all people in our neighborhoods and beyond through access to the highest quality health care, education, research and advocacy.” Years ago, FH used to be in a somewhat sketchy old building downtown that honestly wasn’t the most attractive of options. But in 2009, this classy new building was completed; now the Boston queer community can access basically all medical services (with the exception of emergency care) under one roof – PCPs, OB/GYN, dentistry, optometry, rapid STD tests, counseling/therapy, pharmacy, family planning, and even transgender-focused services. It’s one-stop shopping and we’re super lucky to have it. Needless to say, when I found out that their Women’s Health group was accepting new patients, I jumped at the opportunity.

Last week, I had my first visit with my new doc. I was nervous, of course, but shockingly, I was also excited. Excited to go to the doctor? Am I a weirdo or what? (We all know the answer to that one.) Really, I was feeling the same excitement I experience whenever I’m going to a place where I know for sure there will be other queer people. I’m a total dork for community like that.

Let me tell you about my experience at Fenway. First off, for the first time in my goddamn life, I saw other people like me in the waiting room. I saw two – count ‘em, two! – other butches and other dykes of various gender presentations. In the examination room, the bulletin board was covered with flyers and brochures targeted toward LGBT needs, with information on coming out support groups, artificial insemination services, LGBT partner abuse hotlines – hell, there was even a picture of a polo shirt-wearing, fauxhawked, chubby butch getting her blood drawn. It was perfect.

My new doctor is young (around my age) and seemingly quite straight (or at least very feminine), but man, did she know her shit. You guys, you’ll never guessed what happened: She actually asked me what gender pronouns I use. How cool is that? She also told me what STD tests I should have, since she actually knows how lesbians work, and gave me the first useful nutritional advice I’ve gotten in a very long time. (Sidebar: I found out that juice – even 100% juice – is actually not healthy, because of all the sugar. Juice! Bad for you! Et tu, juice?? Disappointing, but as Kate Chopin would say, “Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.”) Needless to say, I was the happiest butch who just had a pap smear done that you will ever see.

I’m going to wrap this rambling stream of consciousness up with a little pep talk to my fellow doctorphobic butches. Here’s what I’ve come to realize about healthcare:

1.) You deserve it. Your body and your well-being is just as valuable as anybody else’s. Don’t feel like you don’t have a right to demand better.

2.) You’re the customer; the doctor is the provider. They’re getting paid to treat you and if you’re unhappy with their service, don’t hesitate to complain or to take your business elsewhere.

3.) Get an annual pap and breast exam. Yes, it sucks. I know. I fucking hate it. But you know what I hate more? Cancer. Being around to live a long, happy, gaytastic life is worth a few uncomfortable minutes every year.

4.) Oh, and don’t shave your legs for the doctor. They can handle it.

Readers, what have your healthcare experiences been like? Do you have any horror stories or, hopefully, tales of triumph? Are you, like me, still feeling really betrayed by Tropicana? Let’s take it to the comments!