Bren: Hey Maddie, you know what’s coming up real soon?
Maddie: Do tell, Bren!
Brenda: Why, Pride Week, of course! And you know what’s a nice thing to have for Pride?
Maddie: RAINBOW SUSPENDERS! RAINBOW MARDI GRAS BEADS! RAINBOW HAIR DYE! Rainbow lipstick?
Bren: Close, so close. A date!
Maddie: Oh, that’s true. I always go thinking I am going to find the boi of my dreams amongst the crowds, but everyone is all coupled up like mate-for-life lobsters.
Bren: Man, now I’m hungry. Well, hold on now, don’t get all defeated already. You could always snag a date BEFORE Pride. Planning for the future!
Maddie: Well THAT’S an interesting and novel idea.
Bren: I have those sometimes! Dating is hard though, huh?
Maddie: OMG BREN THE HARDEST. Can we list a few reasons it is so hard? I can think of a few.
Bren: Please, list away.
Maddie: Okay. Exhibit A: TINY POOL OF OPTIONS.
Bren: Truth! We’re already under 10% of the population.
Maddie: Right. When you narrow a mid-size city down to lesbians, then remove all the life-mated lobsters, then remove all the people who are just not feeling your steez, you find yourself at a certain numerical disadvantage.
Exhibit B (related!): MAKING SURE THE TINY POOL OF OPTIONS EVEN KNOWS YOU’RE ONE OF THEM.
Bren: THE INTERNET TO THE RESCUE!
Maddie: Right! Totally! Yes! The savior of under-the-dar femmes everywhere! Except that brings us to Exhibit C: OMFG SOMETIMES I HATE YOU, INTERNET DATING.
Bren: But why would you hate a series of tubes that aids in finding a mate?
Maddie: You know, I know this is true for everyone who has dabbled in the great experiment known as meeting internet strangers, but I do wonder if there is anything particular about same-sex or butch-femme attraction that is @#$ing impossible to read in an online profile.
Bren: You mean, how difficult it is to express those identities, as well as desires, in 400 words or less?
Maddie: 400 WORDS OR LESS HA HA CLEARLY YOU NEVER SAW MY OKC PROFILE.
<- verbose. Ahem. But there’s also the fact that my attraction to butch/butch-ish/masculine-of-center/genderfucked/etc. etc. individuals was something I discovered really organically, something that honestly took me by surprise, even after I’d been interested in female-identified people for years and years. There is a vibe particular to people of certain gender identities or expressions that is significant to me, and that I can’t for the life of me gauge with any accuracy from a representation that consists of just words and pictures. I don’t know, do you experience anything like that from your side of the butch-femme split?
Bren: You mean that, just because someone LOOKS like your type, she/he/ze might not BE your type?
Maddie: OKAY THAT IS PERHAPS A MORE CONCISE WAY TO PUT IT. Yes.
Bren: In that case, yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. I mean, it cuts both ways. What if you fail at expressing to someone, online, that you ARE what she claims to want?
Maddie: THE PRESSURE! THE PRESSURE! I feel that, a lot. A lot.
Bren: I’ve been told (via OKC messages of pain and sadness) that I’m just “not the type” of people who list a preference for butch/masculine women. So it’s like, double rejection! Rejecting me AND my ID.
Maddie: Well now! Let’s not take it too far. It’s not as simple as “I prefer butch/masculine women. You don’t seem to be my type. Ergo, you have no place IDing as butch/masculine.” As we’ve discussed before, the category of “butch/masculine” is a pretty gigantic umbrella, and “type” can be a lot more specific than gender identity.
Bren: True, true. But I still want to be like “BUT YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ME, JUST MEET ME AND GIVE ME A CHANCE TO CHARM YOU.”
Maddie: A sentiment to which we can all relate, my friend. For me the presentation anxiety has a lot to do with making sure that these potential dates understand that I exist SOMEWHERE in the femmeverse, but maybe not in the way they think, maybe not in the manner they associate with the term. I’m afraid that my girliness or subbiness is going to disappoint someone who sees the mohawk and ribbed tanks, or that my crudeness and impatience with a lot of gender norms or my Docs are gonna disappoint someone who wants a little sugar-sweet, girl’s girl girlfriend.
Bren: The dangers of being a gender outlaw are many. Whereas, I’m afraid that my lack of athletic prowess or the fact that I hate beer and probably can’t even find, let alone fix, a car engine will make me not the Alpha diesel He-butch that the femmes I like are into.
Maddie: See, I even feel weird stating that I’m “femme” because that term is awfully loaded for a lot of people, and I think might turn away some people that might indeed be into me, and might draw in others that would not know what the eff to do with me…but I also feel like I need to give some indication that, you know, there is some kind of intangible dynamic in my relationships that I prefer, and it is somewhat similar to what most might perceive as a butch-femme dynamic, BUT WITH QUALIFICATIONS. Whereas in person, bam, doesn’t matter, you know whether the attraction is mutual right then and there. I’m not a total label-hater, but they can also be very misinterpreted.
Bren: This is very true. But, I have to say, in-person dating is pretty scary stuff, too. You ever get the feeling that a dyke bar is like a watering hole around feeding time?
Maddie: Dude, I WISH mine were. I mean sort of. Not really, I’m sure.
Bren: No, no you don’t.
Maddie: I just mean that people don’t go there to meet people, usually, and it’s a little exasperating.
Bren: Ah, I see. I guess that also depends on whether you’re usually the lion or the zebra.
Maddie: Heh. Zebrion, here!
Bren: Whereas, I’m a Lion by necessity. Because you femmes, you don’t hunt! At least, in my experiences. But sometimes, sometimes this lion is tired and wants a zebra to walk up and offer to buy her a drink. I think I’m not the only butch who feels that way. Maybe it’s a butch-pas to say it, but we like being approached, too.
Maddie: Wait, really? Is this a regional difference? Because from what I see, the femmes, the femmes are a-flingin’ their lacy little underthings at every butch unicorn that appears within their sights. An ex reported that after I departed from the train we were taking back from a date—a departure which included a kiss, mind you—someone else on the train came up to her, handed her a card, and said “Call me.” Which:
1. CLASSY, but also
2. I think in general we know that we might go by undetected unless we act like fangirl morons.
Bren: Interesting! Maybe it is a regional thing, because in my clubs and bars, I so do not see this happening (or at least, never happened to me). Maybe it’s a matter of numbers. Fewer butches makes for more aggressive femmes, and vice versa?
Maddie: That would make sense!
Bren: Let me ask you this: If, by some magical intervention by a fairy gaymother, a butch and a femme DO end up on a real life date, who should pay?
Maddie: I HATE YOUR QUESTION!
Bren: I KNEW YOU WOULD BWAHAHA!
Maddie: I resolutely dispute the notion that payment of first-date-associated costs and fees should be covered by either “butch party” or “femme party” by simple virtue of their gender presentation affiliation.
Bren: That is a very good, feminist answer.
Maddie: Well thanks! I do my best. Beyond that, I can’t give particularly good advice, because I have serious money/gift weirdness issues, and that moment is always, always awkward in my life. But I will say that if my date picks up the tab the first time, I will be unflinchingly adamant about picking it up the next time. PARITY, PEOPLE. You know what, though? I think that’s personal. I’m not here to say someone is a bad femme or a bad fem(me)inist or a bad butch or anything if their experiences differ.
Bren: Right. That won’t always be a good solution, depending on the butch. Let me tell you why.
Maddie: Perfect! Please do.
Bren: There is a certain, deep, profound sense of pride that comes with Doing Things for a Femme, that butches like me feel. It’s never (or shouldn’t be!) a matter of “the femme can’t pay for/do this for herself.” It’s a matter of “the femme doesn’t have to because I am happy to do it for her as an expression of my appreciation for her company.”
So, sometimes, letting us pay for a meal or a drink or a cab or a motel room (if things go particularly well) is more a favor to us than to yourself.
Maddie: Well, I can certainly respect the joy it brings a gift-giver to give a well-received gift. But for me, it’s also not about proving that I “can” pay for a meal myself, or open a door for myself, or what have you. For me, it is about establishing reciprocity.
Bren: That makes sense. But, it could also cause some dating awkwardness, no? Maybe this goes back to what you were saying about your worries regarding not being the “type” of femme that a date might be looking for.
Bren: Do you think there’s any pressure to be uber-femmes or uber-butches on a first date? Meaning, to really make your ID super obvious and out there for your date?
Maddie: Well, speaking just for myself, I have a few anxieties on a first date akin to that. I’ll confess that I pretty deliberately try to somehow, all at once, be: A. What I think the other person is looking for (gender-spectrum-wise) B. Femme enough to make a statement about how I tend to relate to people from a certain position on that spectrum, and C. Dykey enough to make sure I don’t mislead them into expecting a gentle, fragile flower of a femme in any potential future dates. So, like, trying to provide wish-fulfillment, an advertisement and a disclaimer all at once.
Bren: You’re afraid that you might accidentally sell someone a false bill of goods regarding your gender expression?
Maddie: I am! But I’m also afraid that they just won’t like me, so I still try to play to what I think they might like, even if that’s not EXACTLY what my presentation would look like in a vacuum… because I think for me, personally, there’s a fair bit of latitude as to what I’m comfortable with.
Bren: I can understand that fear. But then, there’s also the fear of holding back, so people don’t think you’re TRYING to be as gay as you really are.
Bren: Well, some modern day enlightened lezzies might roll their eyes at someone like me who legit loves Doc Martens and flannel and drag shows. Like I’m dragging down the movement or something.
Maddie: Ah, I see. Although I might take issue with your use of the term “enlightened,” in that case. So do you feel like you have to play down the butch/avoid certain stereotypes to not get viewed as a cliché?
Bren: It really depends on the vibe I’m getting from my date. If she seems to be really into the old-school butch-femme dynamic, then I let my butch flag fly; otherwise, I might tone it down a bit.
Maddie: What would toning it down look like, for you?
Bren: It wouldn’t necessarily “look” like anything – I’m not going to show up in a skirt and pumps – but I might avoid any intense discussions about butch-femme culture and the intersection of feminism and patriarchal gender standards.
Maddie: Well THAT sounds like a boring date! I kid, I kid. Sort of. You know, that brings me to another source of anxiety for early-dating-stages. I don’t want my affiliation with/affinity for butch-femme stuff to make any partner of mine feel pressured to fulfill a certain role, nor to feel excluded from that part of my life.
Bren: Ah, yes, I totally get that. You don’t want to shoehorn anyone into roles they aren’t feeling, but you also need to fulfill your own desire/need for a butch-femme dynamic.
Maddie: Well, I wouldn’t even go so far as to say that I have a desire/need for a butch-femme dynamic. I feel most comfortable when there’s an element of that in my relationships/interactions, but not necessarily to the extent that all parties would label or recognize it as such. I guess it’s just wanting to be sensitive to the potential for a mismatch between what I see in a person and what I am attracted to in that person, and how she sees herself.
Bren: Just ‘cuz someone looks butch or femme, that doesn’t mean they have to ID with that or subscribe to that way of seeing the world, for sure.
Maddie: I feel like I have to be extra cautious with people who aren’t really butchy-butch butch to be clear that, you know, “No, it’s cool; I’m interested in YOU and I’m not looking just for a role.” But by the same token, I get anxious when I am with butchy-butch butches, worried that they’re gonna find out I’m not the femmey-femme femme they may want.
Bren: The pressure we put on ourselves! Oy, I say, to the pressure!
Maddie: How’s that pressure play out in your life?
Bren: Well, I have to remind myself that, just because someone is “girlier” than I am, that doesn’t mean she’ll be comfortable with the word “femme” or the idea of a butch-femme relationship. I also have to remember that the things that I consider to be femme indicators are not universal, as well as the things I consider to be butch indicators.
Butch and femme IDs aren’t a gender game of Bingo, where you get X number of attributes in a row and you suddenly win one of those gender expressions.
Maddie: …Dammit! ::Throws away specially-made butch-femme Bingo ID card::
Bren: Speaking of fun and games, I have another somewhat PG-13 question for you.
Maddie: Huh-oh. You know my parents have the link to this blog, right?
Bren: I do. (Snicker). Sex on the first date: Yes or no?
Maddie: If you feel like it! I dunno! I doubt I would hold back because of some rule or expectation or societal pressure or something if I was really into it. I don’t think I’ve ever had sex on a first date since the Great Gaying, but that probably has a lot to do with more often dating strangers-from-the-internet and strangers-from-the-dyke-bar instead of peers, like I did in college.
Bren: *Cough*Nothing wrong with sex on the first date with a stranger-from-the-internet*cough*
Maddie: How do you answer your own question, playa?
Bren: Hell yeah, if the connection/attraction is there. I mean, I don’t see the point in us slut-shaming each other. The hetero world already think we’re all insatiable sex fiends; might as well work toward living up to that, eh? Kidding! Sort of.
Maddie: Well, either that or they think we’re all asexual sleepover buddies who braid each other’s hair in full-coverage flannel pajamas. Which we might as well work to dispel. So.
Bren: But, you know the whole “a dude is a stud, a girl is a slut” thing that happens around straight sexytimes?
Maddie: That is ringing some vague bells, yes!
Bren: Sometimes, I wonder if shades of that exist in the butch-femme community. If a butch who gets laid a lot sees her social stature go up, while a femme who gets laid a lot sees her social stature go down. What do you think?
Maddie: I think it depends a lot on your circle.I feel far more sex-positivity from the queer circles I generally frequent than I did/do from straight circles, and I think there is a quite broadly-accepted image of empowered, fabulous femme-hood that includes sexual agency and as many partners as one is comfortable having and all that. On the other hand, the only sexual partner to interrogate me about my “number”—and to flip the hell out at my response, no less—was female. And I sensed it had a lot to do with deep discomfort at the idea that a femme was more experienced than her (butch) self.
Bren: I would argue that the exact same discomfort is felt by many straight men whose female partners are more sexually experienced. Sexual prowess and performance is very much tied into one’s sense of masculinity. The fear of not being “as good as” previous partners is a very real thing.
Maddie: I wonder what it is that goes along with masculinity that makes that such a thing. Because it’s not like us feminine-ish types don’t feel any anxiety about being good in bed.
Bren: The idea that you’re supposed to “sow wild oats” and all that? That if you’re good in bed, you can attract many partners and be the Alpha male/butch/whatever. It’s like some weird sex Pokémon-style game, where you gotta catch ‘em all to win. So much of masculinity is a contest, it seems, which is sad and counterproductive to building community.
Maddie: Yes, though I think the competition aspect exists quite strongly amongst feminine women, as well. And I think the only thing for it is to move away from sex as a game of numbers and conquest.
Bren: I heartily agree. Ok Maddie, we’ve got time for one more hard-hitting question.
Maddie: Fire away!
Bren: To all the butches out there who want to get with a femme such as yourself, what is the number one dating tip you can offer?
Maddie: Ummm… drop me a message in the comments? JK JK!
Maddie: I mean, you know, if you wanna. Anyway, umm… I got nothing. Seriously. Because I don’t think it’s about butch-femme, bottom line.
Bren: What is it about, then?
Maddie: Be up front about your identity and how you like to play, but approach people as human beings. Find out who they are and how they like to play. “Butch” and “femme” don’t tell you very much about that—they’re only a starting point, and an occasionally misleading one at that.
Bren: Very sage.
Maddie: ::SOLEMN HEAD NOD:: What’s your dating wisdom of the day, Bren?
Bren: Be open and open up (in bed). No, actually, everywhere.
Maddie: Heh. SPREAD EM WHEREVER YOU GO!
Bren: NOT IN A SEXY WAY (BUT SOMETIMES IN A SEXY WAY).
Maddie: No, totally kidding.
Bren: What I mean is: Don’t glance at someone and immediately go “Nope, not my type, ON TO THE NEXT ONE” without even having a conversation with them. Sometimes, you might be surprised by how not like your “dream date” somebody may be and still be attractive to you. The other side of this coin is, be willing to share something about yourself. Don’t be so guarded and afraid of being hurt that you come off as unfriendly, or worse, boring.
Maddie: To open minds, open hearts and open legs!
Bren: Cheers! And that concludes another action-packed edition of The ButchFemmeinist! Thanks for reading, friends and lovers.