The ButchFemmeinist: Not Creeping On Straight Women Edition

Bren: Hey there, Maddie! Have you heard about that thing that happened, that all the dykes are talking about?

Maddie: Oh hey, Bren! Well, let’s see.

Dykes in my world are mostly talking about wedding season and Rachel Maddow’s book tour… could that be what you mean?

Bren: Oh, how I wish. No, I mean this thing that happened and is not nearly so adorable.

Have you read it? I mean, whatisthisIdon’teven.

Maddie: Oh, yes, there’s been some buzz about that as well.

I have read it.

Bren: That screeching sound we’re hearing is lesbians being set back about 50 years.

Maddie: I was in denial about it being as terrible as they all were saying, because Staceyann Chin is a known BAMF whose writing and performances have moved me a lot in the past. But after the first half of the piece when it turned into a manual for How to Exploit Your Good-Looking Friends into Having Sex with You that They Might Not Want Except in the Midst of Severe Emotional Turmoil, I couldn’t really maintain the denial any longer. Sad face.

Bren: I thought/hoped that this was actually a parody, and she would be all “PSYCH! Gotcha. Don’t actually do anything of this, y’all, ‘cuz it’s awful,” but that didn’t happen.

I mean, I guess maybe I would expect this from a newly-minuted 16-year-old babydyke with something to prove in the swagger department, but Staceyann has been in the scene for quite a while now, correct?

Maddie: Wikipedia has confirmed that she is not 16 years old, correct.

Bren: Well then, I can’t for the life of me figure out her motivation here. Is she trying to be funny? Edgy? Or is she trying to be like, “dykes can be sexual predators, too?” That’s really what I got out of it.

For example, this sentence when she talks about how seducing straight women makes her feel: “you are the chosen one, the messiah, the mandate that pulls her, magnetic, toward her most hidden desires.”

Um, am I crazy or does that sound like a dude describing going out with a virgin?

Maddie: I hear that, and it’s a disturbing tone in her article.

If we’re looking for an answer to the WHY, STACEYANN, WHY, though, I’m checking this paragraph, talking about the only-in-the-dark-of-night relationships she had with college classmates in intensely homophobic Jamaica: “I spent many evenings and many cracks of dawn in the narrow beds jammed against the white walls of the tiny dorm rooms, listening to Sarah McLachlan with some girl I hoped would be moved enough to actually become my girlfriend. None of them was moved enough, or had courage enough. It was definitely a bit of a trip to lie naked with these women by night and be ignored by them in the light of day. Even now, I still get a little excited about the memories before the anger and shame and angst come rushing back.”

So, you know, maybe there’s an element of reliving the excitement and exorcising the anger and shame.

Maybe she has some kind of grudge against straight women.

Bren: Could this be a revenge post, then? A “look how much power I have over these straights” when she was the one feeling powerless back then?

Because if so, then OK, that sounds like a sucky experience, but this is not the most mature way of dealing with that.

Maddie: I mean, I’m wondering if that’s part of what motivates her to seek out similar relationships—not just what motivated her to publish a piece about it in the Guardian.

But I think “revenge” is well-put, because… well, because the second half of the piece sounds like a way to take revenge on someone who has hurt you.

Bren: I’m not sure if it’s a great excuse, if it is her excuse. I mean, I’m pretty sure 99% of us have crushed on a straight girl at some point in our queer lives, by mere virtue of them BEING EVERYWHERE.

And it’s very calculated, emotionally-manipulative, super-mega-creepster revenge.

I mean: “You should laugh when she confides in having a crush on some boy. Offer advice on what she should wear when she goes to see him. Be supportive of her relationship. Become her friend, first. Work very hard at being her very best friend. Always remember, you’re only her friend. You are not allowed to bend that rule for at least three months.” WHAT?!

Maddie: Let me be clear that I’m not offering her an excuse. Am I trying to reconcile the artist I admire with the person who wrote this piece? Absolutely. But without qualification, I think the behavior she describes here is reprehensible.

Bren: Right.

Maddie: I do think, though, that oppression breeds oppression.

We’re still personally and individually accountable for our own actions, but they do not take place in a vacuum.

Bren: Yes, and here we have a great example of an oppressed group trying to oppress another oppressed group.

Oppression within oppression. OPRESSCEPTION.

Maddie: …And if that doesn’t blow your mind enough already, it’s also an example of an oppressed group reenacting oppression on an oppressed group that does at times take part in the oppression of the first oppressed group.

Bren: *Mindplosion*

Well put, Keanu.

Ya know, this reminds me of how absofuckinlutely bezerk I go when I see a young butch saying things like “femmes should do the cooking and cleaning, I wanna watch the big game, femmes are too emotional, Ugg make fire cook meat,” etc.

Taking on the worst behavior of your oppressor doesn’t make you any cooler or any less oppressed.

As Cady Heron once said, “Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George’s life definitely didn’t make me any happier.”

STOP RUINING REGINA GEORGE’S LIFE, STACEYANN.

Maddie: Well, it sure doesn’t make you any cooler, and, you’re right, it doesn’t have much of an impact on the forces that are already pushing you down, but when we’re short on power in society and interpersonal relationships, I think we tend to look for it where we can get it. And sometimes do bad things to get it.

Bren: Well said, my friend.

Maddie: And sometimes enact oppressions on others to get it.

I think it’s also worth accounting for the ways we contribute to the disempowerment of others—sometimes innocently, sometimes stupidly, sometimes out of self-preservation—and how that can turn into a cycle of retaliation.

Bren: So basically, this is Staceyann’s Guide To Making Straight Women Hurt As Much As You Do. That’s cute.

Maddie: I’m not comfortable claiming I actually know her mentality and motivations, but that’s how I read it, I guess.

Bren: What do you think about people’s comments on the article saying that if it were written by a straight dude about seducing dykes, it wouldn’t have been published?

Maddie: So, I can’t help but resent those comments just a little.

Straight men have a social license to operate in bordering-on-(if-not-fully-)predatory ways.

Lesbians are widely seen as available for sex with men under the right circumstances…and are constantly having to defend against that myth.

Bren: Gross, yes.

Maddie: The power relationships involved change dramatically when you swap “Staceyann Chin” for “some straight dude” and “straight-identified women” for “lesbians.”

So I think in some ways making that switch confuses the issues more than it illuminates them.

Bren: It operates on the notion that all parties in this Mad Lib are of equal social power.

Maddie: That said, the article DOES describe a predatory approach to sexual relationships reminiscent of things we despise in dominant, misogynist narratives.

Bren: Yes, yes it does.

“If you really want a shot at getting close to this woman, you have to wait until there is a crack in the lack of respect her boyfriend has for her. Watch for when he is late, or disrespectful, or inconsiderate. Casually mention that you would never treat a woman like that. Reinforce how she deserves so much better. Store the details.”

The narrative has now, apparently, become about how to steal someone’s GF by pretending to give a fuck about her emotions, when you’re actually storing up her intimate, trusting revelations to you in some “To Fuck Later” database.

COOL STORY, BRO.

I’m sure that emotionally-fragile individual will not suffer at all when she realizes her supposed friend was only there for her for the sake of winning a tumble in the hay. Nope, not at all. Never mind how much the anti-gay powers-to-be will appreciate one of our own delivering “recruitment” propoganda to the masses. Oh, what a clusterfuck.

Maddie: I’m also interested in addressing the “recruitment” criticism of the piece, actually.

Bren: Please do!

Maddie: Because in reading it, it actually makes something of an argument against the possibility of recruitment.

She doesn’t make it sound like she’s out there minting new lesbians.

Rather, she’s going in with the assumption that it’ll be short-lived. In her own words, “maybe you will teach her something new about gender-bending and multiple orgasms. Maybe the experience will teach you something about loss. But you must remember that most straight-not-so-straight girls are often unwilling to make the dive into lesbian sexuality permanent. Sure, some are moved enough to dip a hand all the way in, but most of them are only experimenting with the tide.”

Not that there isn’t plenty in there a homophobe could run with, but the whole thing reads as a contemplation of relationship fatalism, not a recruitment manual.

Bren: That’s a good point. Maybe less recruitment propos than “how to taint nice heterosexual women with your icky homo germs” or something. I’m sure Focus on the Family could work something out.

Am I alone is really hoping she’ll do some sort of follow-up or clarification piece? I mean she has to know how many waves this has made.

Maddie: You are not alone!

I have been hoping the same thing, that she’ll give some recognition of how it came off and how that wasn’t the piece she meant to write after all, or something.

I do think you can read a lot of sadness into the piece. I just wish it weren’t so creepy at the same time.

She’s not known for shyness about controversy, though, so I’m not sure we’ll get that from her.

Bren: Welp, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. I guess at the least, she’s sparked some interesting conversations.

Maddie: …WHICH WE HOPE YOU HAVE ENJOYED READING!

Bren: ‘Til next time, readers, keep over-processing!

Maddie: Keep over-processing, and avoid manipulating people into sexual contact with you.

When possible.

Which means all the time.

Because it is always possible to not manipulate someone into having sex with you.

RULES TO LIVE BY.

Bren: Knowledge is power.

Failures to Communicate: On Howl and My Big Fat Queer Identity

The following post is, without contest, the most difficult thing I’ve written thus far on Buzz Cuts and Bustiers. Besides the fact that it inexplicably took me four days to complete this, I’m not even sure now – after rewrite after rewrite after rewrite – that I’m satisfied with the result. Maybe I should just appreciate the meta-ness of struggling to express my struggles with expressing myself. A failure to communicate within a failure to communicate. I did love Inception, after all. Keeping that in mind, I hope you can excuse these weird, rambling thoughts that are the product of a weird, rambling couple of weeks. I promise my next post will be more a legitimate post and less a sleep-deprived stream of consciousness.

Lately, I don’t seem to know how to talk about myself. Well, I mean, not completely – I’m kinda talking about myself right now – but in a more existential way. What is my gender identity?  What does that encompass? Is it female, butch, masculine female, masculine-of-center, gender nonconforming, or all of the above? What is butch to me? How do I see butch in other people? Do I have the right to even look for or somehow determine butch in other people? Why do I feel comfortable using female pronouns, but bristle at being called “lady” or being regarded as “one of the girls?” How can I explain that though I am female and ID as female and not as a trans person, I don’t feel like “cis” is a completely accurate word for me? How do I say, “Please interact with me the way you would interact with a man, even though I am a woman” without sounding like a misogynistic prick? How can I express the gender dysmorphia I experience when I see the outline of my breasts under a freshly ironed button-up, but that those same breasts are welcome in bedroom situations? How can I say all this without offending women, without offending lesbians, without offending trans people, without offending myself? Lately, I can’t. Just can’t. And it’s wearing me down.

In the course of describing this ongoing dilemma to my GF, I came to an interesting realization. During the many times throughout my journey of queer self-discovery when I’ve struggled to express myself – or specifically, myself as a product of my butchness – the femmes in my life have been the ones who required of me the least amount of explanation. As a whole, they have always seemed to “get it” very quickly, or at least, to be able to make sense of my existential whining and frustrations. Since then, I’ve been trying to focus on positive, reliable truths like this – things I can explain, and therefore, find comforting. Patches of calm waters in an otherwise tempestuous sea.

Please note that this is not some transparent attempt to flatter or otherwise woo my femme readers (unless, of course, it’s working), nor is it meant to be a universal representation of butch-femme communication; it’s simply a factual observation of my experiences. Whether these femmes have all been experts in the field of Butch Studies (or Studying Butches), or whether they could just empathize with the importance I place on my self-applied label and physical presentation of gender identity, I can’t be sure. But it’s always been my belief that, in so many wonderful ways, butches and femmes are two sides of the same Gender Presentation and Identity Commemorative Collector’s Coin. To put it another way: if you take the overly simplistic gender expression scale and bend it into a perfect circle, those two opposite ends are bound to connect.

Besides leaning on the perfumed shoulder of a sympathetic femme, my other favorite Cheap Alternatives To Professional Therapy For Dealing With My Gender Issues include writing (shocker), Tweeting (‘nother shocker), buying things I don’t need (but are still cheaper than therapy), and re-reading my favorite poems. As utterly cliché as it may sound, poetry has been an emotional refuge for me since my teen years, back in those days when the first gleamings of queerness were flashing across my consciousness and I was scared shitless. Back then it was mostly T.S. Eliot, Edgar Allen Poe, and Sylvia Plath – a cheerful trio! – but recently, it’s been Allen Ginsberg. Specifically, my refuge is Ginsberg’s iconic and controversial “Howl.” It would break the hearts of my college journalism professors if they knew how deeply I just buried this lede, but “Howl” is really at the heart of what I want to wax poetic (heh) about today.

Ginsberg wasn’t just one of the founders of the Beat Generation and, in my professional opinion (translation: based on my college minor in English Literature), one of the greatest American poets – he was also a fellow queer person. He had the unfortunate disadvantage of coming of age – and coming out – in 1950s America, a time and place where homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness. After being committed to a psychiatric facility (which he nicknames “Rockland” in his poetry), Ginsberg escaped a lobotomy and won his freedom by promising the doctors that he would be a good and proper heterosexual. Historical records, however, show no evidence that he pinky-swore to it, so I think we can all forgive his failure to uphold that promise.

Like so many of us who travel somewhere outside of the dotted lines of society, Ginsberg’s experiences — and the words he used to bring them to life — were subjected to mainstream America’s hair-trigger censorship attempts. When “Howl” was published in 1956, it set off a firestorm of controversy, starting with the arrest of publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti on obscenity charges and culminating in the 1957 trial that helped make Ginsberg and his Beat buddies into household names. The debate focused around the often rough language of the poem and the frank, somewhat graphic depictions of sexuality of both the hetero and homo variety.

who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,

who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,

who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may

After a parade of critics, scholars, and writers were trotted out to either defend or deny the poem’s literary merits, Judge Clayton Horn ruled that “Howl” had enough “redeeming social importance” to make up for all the curse words, drug references, and gay stuff it contained. If we can ignore for a moment the absolute weirdness of a serious legal ruling on something as profoundly interpretive and abstract as poetry, then we can celebrate this as a win for queers, outsiders, and lovers of what Ginsberg wryly called “sentimental bullshit” everywhere.

The redeemingly socially important imagery in “Howl” is a mixture of deeply personal experiences, such as the mental illness and eventual death of Ginsberg’s mother,

Holy my mother in the insane asylum!

inside jokes, like that one time when Ginsberg’s friend and fellow “Rockland” resident Carl Solomon (to whom “Howl” is dedicated) pulled a hilarious prank,

who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism

and more universal social commentary on the tortures, discoveries, loves, lives, and deaths of a generation of artists, thinkers, and rebels – commentary that in many ways echoes the experiences of generations to follow, including my own. I don’t think I’m the first queer person to see my own voice reverberating through the many Howls released in this text, and I certainly hope I’m not the last.

who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew that winks out of the womb and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden threads of the craftsman’s loom

who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you’re really in the total animal soup of time

Sometimes the Howl that I feel rising from my core is one of joy and freedom, a celebration of victories both small and astronomical, both personal and political, of noting a point gained in the endless game of strategy and luck we call the Gay Rights Movement.

where we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls’ airplanes roaring over the roof they’ve come to drop angelic bombs the hospital illuminates itself   imaginary walls collapse   O skinny legions run outside   O starry-spangled shock of mercy the eternal war is here   O victory forget your underwear we’re free

Other times, it’s a Howl of sexual ownership and liberation, of anticipation building to crescendo and blood coursing through veins like hot metal, or of the sudden acute awareness of my body or her body or your body or all the fine, queer bodies in this world. Admittedly, this is my favorite Howl.

who copulated ecstatic and insatiate and fell off the bed, and continued along the floor and down the hall and ended fainting on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt and come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness

With increasing frequency, the Howl is teeming with defiance, of wounds licked and teeth bared and muscles tensed for attack. It’s almost a dare, or a declaration to powers unnamed that yes, I am still alive, we are still alive – despite their best efforts – and ready to fight off whatever barrage of insults or injuries or injustices or cherry-picked Bible passages may be hurled our way.

who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in policecars for committing no crime but their own wild cooking pederasty and intoxication

But most often, if I’m being really truthful here, the Howl is one of pain, of anguish, or of raw, useless, impotent anger. It’s a guttural, animalistic release of human emotion too twisted, too jagged to ever take the form of intelligent speech – or poetry.

I’m with you in Rockland

where you scream in a straightjacket that you’re losing the game of actual pingpong of the abyss

I’m with you in Rockland

where you bang on the catatonic piano the soul is innocent and immortal it should never die ungodly in an armed madhouse

I’m with you in Rockland

where fifty more shocks will never return your soul to its body again from its pilgrimage to a cross in the void

The thing about “Howl” and Howls and the expelling of bottled-up, hyper-intense emotion is this: you feel so much better afterwards. Or at least I do, but I bet you would, too, if you gave it a chance. Because while language can sometimes be a stumbling block in the way of adequately conveying personal identity, it can also be deeply therapeutic. Take it from me: when you finally find the right words, sound, and syntax – whether by your own creation or the work of a like-minded soul – to paint that clear picture of who you are in this world, the relief that follows is unreal. It’s a calm that whispers, “This is me. People recognize me. I’m safe. I’m home.”

I’m with you in Rockland

in my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-journey on the highway across America in tears to the door of my cottage in the Western night

Dandy Butches, Gender Theory, and S. Bear Bergman – Oh My!

I try to not do this very often, because it feels weirdly like cheating (the blogger’s version of “double dipping,” maybe) and I harbor much internalized Catholic/Jewish guilt, but today I’m going to direct your attention to a piece I just wrote for Diffuse 5. Typically, my focus on D5 is informing stylish queers about sweet things to buy and where to buy ‘em. This week, however, what started out as an innocent, fun little post about dapper fashion somehow morphed into a full-blown feminist rant about social constructs of masculinity and femininity, institutionalized misogyny, and gender policing in the queer community. Clearly, I was wearing my (well-tailored) Serious Pants when I wrote this. Or maybe I just really need a vacation. I’ll let you all decide for yourselves. Das link:

In Defense of the Dandy Butch

Ugliest Outfit: There Can Be Only One

Take it from a pro: Looking good is hard work. Putting together an uber-dapper, super-chic ensemble can be exhausting, and that’s why you sometimes see people plodding around the grocery store at 10 AM on a Sunday like so many hungover wildebeests, draped in faded Old Navy Famous $5 Flag T-shirts and 10-year-old sweatpants with questionable stains.

But what if, for one magical day, the ugliest outfits out there were honored – nay, awarded - for their sheer, unadulterated atrociousness? Well friends, that day is coming on April 10th! Dyke Duds and Unbound Apparel have teamed up to bring you the Ugliest Outfit Contest, a celebration of fashion faux pas and style sacrilege. You could win Unbound Apparel clothing, an Adam Mardel CD, and the adoration of slobs – sorry, I mean “fashion-challenged” individuals – everywhere. The deadline for submissions is April 8th, which is quite soon, so you better hop to it. Oh, and did I mention that I’m a judge? I like to think of myself as the Randy Jackson of the panel, mostly because I enjoy calling people “dawg” and overusing the word “yo.” Here are the official rules:

Submit your picture at dykeduds.com/submit with “Ugliest outfit contest” in the title. Include your email, phone number, and name you wish to be displayed. Your personal information will be kept private and only used for getting in touch with you if you win. Photo quality will be taken into consideration. The picture must be of you. Nuddie photos will be disqualified.

By submitting photos, you are giving permission for your picture to be posted on all Dyke Duds and Unbound Apparel online materials.

Well, don’t just stand there – go put on something hideous, STAT!