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.

The ButchFemmeinist: Winter Break Without Breakdowns Edition

Bren: Hey Maddie – Merry Holiday Of Your Personal Choosing!
Maddie: Hi Bren! Happy season of replacing natural life-giving daylight with lots and lots of candles and warm beverages and loved-ones-togetherness for those of us residing in the Northern Hemisphere!
Bren: Yes, just as our Founding Fathers would have called it.
I gotta confess something: I really fucking love this time of year.
Also, I’m an atheist.
Weird, yes?
Maddie: NOT WEIRD!
I identify with a wholly non-traditionally eclectic pastiche of THINGS THAT STAVE OFF SEASONAL DEPRESSION WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE RELIGIOUS ROOTS when it comes to winter holidays, so.
Bren: Good plan! I like presents and baked goods and pretty lights and claymation reindeer.
Maddie: It has less to do with my religious beliefs than my non-traditional/eclectic family and upbringing and my fragile brain chemistry, for me.
These are wonderful things, Bren.
Bren: Hey, speaking of families and upbringings and such, there is one part of the holidays that is très stressful: going “home.”
I say “home” because I really mean “where you grew up/where your family resides,” not “where you reside, hopefully very far away in a queer-friendly urban setting.”
Even the merriest queermos among us can only stomach so many arguments with our parents about hairstyles and clothes and “lifestyles,” ya know?
Maddie: I do know.
Or… I know, in the sense that I certainly have felt that terrible, soul-squelching moment of deflation when going from a supportive, affirming, queer-positive stew of chosen family to a hostile or misunderstanding environment.
Bren: (Mmm, stew.)
Maddie: I am lucky, myself, to have a supportive family that may ask some awkward questions whenever I decide to plop matters of queer sexuality down on the dinner table, but are generally as loving as I could ever hope for.
Bren: That is very lucky indeed! Hooray for your fam!
Was it always like this? I mean, what about before you came out?
Were you ever afraid of saying the “wrong thing”?
Maddie: Well, that’s probably just it: no, not really. I didn’t feel like I would be scolded for being my authentic self. I should clarify that my family bickers and accuses and misunderstands and falters in the support-giving and all that fun stuff, but there’s a pretty strong philosophy of accepting self and accepting others underneath it all.
Bren: That’s seriously awesome, yo.
See, for me, pre-coming out meant extremely unhappy trips home.
I was going from college in Boston, where I was able to be my free, dykey self, back to East Bumfuck, where I had to shove myself forcibly back into the closet.
It was painful. I was always miserable, always bickering with my parents about stupid petty crap, because I couldn’t be real about what was actually up.
It really killed holidays for me.
Now that I’m out, well, there’s still a lot of fighting, but at least it’s honest fighting, ya know? Shit is out there, which makes it easier to handle.
Maddie: Absolutely. Even though re-closeting wasn’t a big thing for me visiting home, I am definitely my most callous, petty, argumentative, sullen self when someone close to me is pushing me on a topic that I’m just not ready to talk about.
Bren: Right. So, I worry for all the babygays who aren’t out to their families and are going home for winter break.
I worry about their emotional states. I’m turning into a Mother Hen-Butch, I think.
Maddie: Well that is adorable.
Bren: Aww, shucks.
Maddie: I love that as a community we really try to take care of our own.
Bren: Somebody has to take care of us, and, well, it might as well be us.
What would you say to a babygay who’s facing a holiday like that? Any elder-queer words of advice?
Maddie: Brand-new fluttery little wings are oh-so-tender, and having to stuff them back down under something just when they’re starting to grow and stretch… well, it hurts!
If you are going back for an extended period of time, like winter break from college, keep in touch with your queer community.
This can be harder than it sounds, because people get so busy during the holidays and might be online or by their phones less than while at school.
So, I would suggest being up front about it from the start: see if one of your friends can make a pact with you to be in touch a couple of times a week. Just so you maintain a life-line with someone who reaffirms the fundamental rightness of who you are.
Bren: That’s a goddamn beautiful idea. I love it. A Queer Buddy Program.
Along those lines, I would highly suggest staying active on social networks during break, ESPECIALLY Twitter. No, I’m not getting paid to say this, BTW. But for real, Twitter has such an incredible, supportive, vibrant queer community.
I’ve made so many friends/contacts/indispensable connections on there.
And the best part of Twitter is that there’s ALWAYS somebody on to talk to.
Queer Twitterers never sleep, it seems.
Maddie: OH AND THE BLOGS. Don’t forget the blogs.
Bren: OH RIGHT, BLOGS.
Maddie: Wait, I said that even before thinking about how this is going to appear on a blog.
Bren: *Cough* Hrm.
Maddie: I don’t JUST mean BC&B, although, naturally, we love seeing your bright, shining avatars around here.
Bren: WE SURE DO.
Maddie: But web reading takes up such an enormous portion of any given day of mine that I have to count even the words of people I haven’t corresponded one-on-one with as a part of the queer community that defines me.
Really, one of the best things I can do to punch “reset” after getting all heart-poundy and blood-pressurey from some hostile little microaggression in daily life is to run on over to my favorite web writers and start breathing again.
It’s like going from a long shift in a refrigerated warehouse with mean coworkers right into a nice warm bath of identity-affirming, feminist awesome.
Bren: That would be a great commercial for spa treatments.
I agree, by the way. My blogs (not just this one) are a hugely important part of my day.
They ground me in the knowledge that I’m not alone and that are many others out there that share my thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Which is critical to remember when one is trapped in Heteronormland.
Maddie: THE UNHAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH.
Bren: Aaaaand, let us not forget those other vessels for queer reaffirmation.
Um, the paper things. With words. Kinda rectangular?
BOOKS.
Kids, don’t forget books.
You can read e-books, if they’re less intimidating.
But check out authors like Ivan E. Coyote, S. Bear Bergman, Kate Bornstein, Joan Nestle, etc.
Carrying these narratives, poems, lives around with you can give you strength.
Maddie: Yes absolutely yes!
Books!
They’re handy in stuck-at-home-with-family situations because they’re portable and hide-able and bookmark-able and it can just be easier to go running off to your room to read a poem or two when you just need a pause in the norms-pushing.
Bren: Indeed! And, if your parents grill you, tell them it’s required reading for one of your spring classes or something.
Little white lies are sometimes necessary.
Maddie: Indeed.
Bren: Most of all, remember: This too shall pass. You’ll be back among your homo-hippie-socialist-college commune before you know it.
And if all else fails, spike the eggnog.
(Kidding.)
(Sort of.)
Maddie: I actually think that’s a very important point—you can’t change other people to suit your needs, but you can’t ditch family as freely as you can ditch other stress-producing people in your life. So it’s easy to feel stuck. But the great thing about moving into adulthood is building new family.
You have probably already begun that process, and even though being back at home might make you feel like you’ve lost all your progress, you haven’t.
You will pick it back up.
Bren: Yes! Coming out is a process and, like any process, there are some steps that are leapt and others that are tip-toed. But only you can decide if any of those steps go backwards.
And remember: There is no shame is taking your time. Just because you’re out to your entire dorm, that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to be out to your entire bio family. You decide the timeline for your own journey, and don’t let anybody shame you for not being loud and proud in every area of your life.
You’ll get there when you get there, and then you can look forward to a whole new host of arguments over Christmas dinner, like “when are you and [girlfriend/partner/etc.] giving us grandkids?” or some nonsense.
Maddie: Or you can look forward to the day that you get to choose if you go back at all, and for how long.
Bren: That too! All in all, choice shall be yours!
Until then, watch Home Alone on repeat and drool over how hot Brittany and Santana look in their Glee Christmas outfits.
(Or maybe that’s just my method.)
Maddie: Or light a lot of candles and stare into the flames until you regain a sense of peace and warmth and faith that sunlight will return eventually.
Bren: That too. Or you could donate all your extra heat lamps to Maddie, who clearly needs them.
Maddie: I keep meaning to throw a sunlamp party, but the instructions say to only use them in the morning, so it might have to be a fabulous boozy mid-winter brunch or something.
Bren: That sounds awesome. Guys, let’s make “fabulous boozy mid-winter queer brunches” a thing, OK?
Maddie: ON. IT.
Bren: On that note, I hope you all have a safe, happy, and queer-reaffirming holidays, dearest readers!
And if you need someone to talk to, hit up the @buzzcutbustier Twitter account. I check my phone obsessively and will see your Tweet.
Maddie: Stay safe and warm, beloved queerlings!

The ButchFemmeinist: Out and Proud Edition

Bren: Hey Maddie, have you picked out your purple outfit for Spirit Day yet?
Maddie: ACK WAIT what? Can I wear lavender? Will that count?
Bren: I think so! I mean, it’s purple…right? I’m too butch to understand nuanced colors like “lavender.”
Maddie: Well, great. I’m all set, then.
Bren: Well, just to recap, Spirit Day is to show support for LGBT youth, many of whom are struggling with something that we recently had another theme day about: National Coming Out Day.
Maddie: Right. That’s a tricky one.
Bren: Tell me about it. It seems like just yesterday that I was peering through my glass closet door.
Maddie: Just yesterday? But you’ve come so far in making an Out, Loud, Proud gay life for yourself!
Bren: Well, it’s been about 9 years now, so I guess it wasn’t exactly yesterday. But then again, coming out isn’t really an event – it’s a continuous process, isn’t it? Every time somebody new enters our lives, the process starts all over again.
Maddie: Truest words ever spoken.
Bren: Sometimes I wonder how the coming out process works for butches vs. femmes. It’s been said that femmes come out everyday of their lives, because they don’t always set off the Gay Alarms that us butches usually do. Would you agree with that?
Maddie: Well, yes and no. I’d agree that we come out every day of our lives that we want to come out.
We also have the option of ‘being out” in the sense that we’re not deceiving anyone or hiding anything, yet without coming out – just not disclosing aspects of our sexuality and romantic relationships unless the subject is put very clearly on the table. Coming out, for us, is usually a deliberate decision and we often are in the position of choosing the where/when/to whom. That brings certain privileges and also certain disadvantages.
Bren: I get the privilege part – passing can certainly be useful in certain sitches – but what are the disadvantages?
Maddie: Well, to give one example: imagine you work in a straight-dominated but not outright homophobic workplace.
Bren: I do, actually, work in such a place!
Maddie: A very visibly queer person may be clocked as such by coworkers without ever having to say anything. Since we’re assuming these coworkers aren’t hostile towards the queers but may have that straight person problem of not knowing a lot of queer folks, they might just accept this queerness without further discussion, without a word ever having been spoken on the subject.
Brenda: I think that’s the case in my workplace.
Maddie: But if you are not so visibly queer, making a point of your (possibly quite surprising) sexuality around someone who isn’t used to queer people can seem like all of a sudden you’re talking about your sex life in an inappropriate context. Queerness is about so much more than having sex, but when you surprise people with it, they don’t always make that connection.
Bren: TOO TRUE. And all the right-wingers always make the queer=constant depraved sex, in public, with animals and children association.
Maddie: Either I have to make an announcement about my personal life, or deal with the fact that people who see me every day most likely have misread me in this rather fundamental way.
Bren: Does it bother you if everyone around you – here, I guess, meaning coworkers – doesn’t know you’re queer?
Maddie: The balance that I’ve struck at this point in my “out” life is that once people get to know me at a certain personal level, I feel they should know I’m queer pretty quickly. But if I have a relationship with someone, even if it is a long, ongoing one, wherein we never discuss anything personal ever, it feels out of place to mention it. Still, I feel strongly about not hiding my queerness, even if I don’t proactively disclose to everyone who has ever met me.
Bren: Right there with ya, bud. Though in my case, my queerness is pretty terrible at hiding.
Maddie: You know, that makes me think of something that happened not too long ago.
Bren: Do tell!
Maddie: My girlfriend met me at my workplace for lunch. I get a short lunch and we don’t really have a break room, so she parked in the area and I met her outside for a sidewalk bench picnic. I should mention that I only work with a few rather stiffly decorous people with whom I never, ever discuss personal things. So, they fall into that category of Probably Have No Idea. Anyway, after we ate, she walked me back to my building and gave me a sendoff kiss. Or she waited respectfully for me to kiss her. I can’t remember.
Bren: Sounds like a true gentleman/butch!
Maddie: Either way, we kissed right in plain view of the security guard – no one I work directly with, but someone in that “work world” sphere in which I am used to having my queerness be invisible. And, the shameful truth? It was kind of terrifying for me.
Bren: What did you think would come of it?
Maddie: Nothing. I knew nothing would come of it. I just felt exposed. And it gave me some food for thought about that inadvertent visibility that I sometimes envy.
Bren: And what did that food taste like, I ask awkwardly?
Maddie: It tasted like privileged naiveté!
Bren: I can’t imagine that tasted good.
Maddie: It was a complex flavor, full of subtlety and needing to listen more to the experiences of others. Which I’d like to do now, if you don’t mind.
Bren: Not at all! Well, I guess in some ways, being visibly queer and out takes a lot of the “work” off my hands. All I have to do is step outside and, most of the time, there’s my coming out. I don’t really worry about the “should I or shouldn’t I tell?” question, because I assume everybody already guessed and, if not, they’re too clueless to be worth my time. As gay-snobby as that sounds. But, let me tell you, there are certainly times when I wish my queerness wasn’t so glaring neon-sign obvious. When I’m walking by a group of strangers at night in an unfamiliar part of town, I wish I weren’t so visibly queer. Or when I have to pick up the (TMI alert) birth control I use to, well, control my awful unwanted monthly visitor, I wish the pharmacist didn’t look so confused. Or when I walk into a public restroom, I wish I didn’t worry about whether somebody was going to scream at me this time.
Maddie: Right.
Bren: And there are people out there – also known as “assholes” – who would consider my very bold act of walking down the street looking the way I do to be “flaunting my lifestyle.” Pretty sure they want people like me to disappear.
Maddie: Ah, the old “Being yourself is making a grand show of your perversity!” argument. Well, have you learned any particular tricks for navigating this always-out-ness?
Bren: Look people in the eye and smile. Sort of like staring down an angry grizzly bear. You have to show you’re not afraid – even if you’re secretly soiling your boxer briefs.
Maddie: That sounds pretty effective: call the bluffers’ bluffs, and be ready and alert to see right away if they aren’t actually bluffing.
Bren: Indeed. Stay alert, stay aware, and stay queer ‘n proud. Keep in mind that this didn’t happen overnight. This takes years of practice, being out and a giant gaymo, to perfect. So any babydykes out there shouldn’t feel guilty if they feel the need to duck their heads back in the closet in certain situations.
Maddie: Absolutely. And also remember that your presentation is something you can experiment with – for me, it is a negotiation. There are certain presentations that feel false and uncomfortable, but even after chucking those out there’s a pretty big universe of THIS PRESENTATION FEELS LIKE ME! out there. So in recent years, I’ve definitely figured out a thing or two about how to walk down the street with a certain This-Is-For-The-Gaydies strut that turns an Alternative Lifestyle Haircut head or two, but without feeling like I’m playing at something I’m not just for the sake of visibility.
Bren: This is excellent, because I hear about so many young femmes who feel like, if they don’t butch things up, nobody will take them serious as Actual Queer Folk. Which hurts my femme-lovin’ heart to think about.
Maddie: I will concede that since my earliest days as a drama-camp-goin’ kiddo, I’ve been rather fond of outrageous, attention-grabbing outfits and performances, so my solution of shave half your head and wear frayed denim whenever you can get away with it might not work for everyone who inhabits the femmey side of the queerverse. But I do believe the point holds, that experimentation on your own personal horizons can be your friend – find your range, and make the most of it.
Bren: Also true for butches! I’ve experimented with many clothing styles, haircuts, and general presentations over the years. I’ve really only quite recently found a place where I feel comfortable enough to say, “Yeah, this one’s a keeper.” It’s difficult to navigate masculine expression when you were raised with and constantly fed only feminine options growing up.
Maddie:  A fine point!
Bren: Along those lines, something that always warms my heart – and hurts it, just a little – is when I see a super-awkward newly-hatched baby butch, trying and struggling to figure shit out. And I’m so grateful that we have the internet as a resource, because the olden days of old butches taking babydykes under their flannel-covered wings in smoky lesbian bars, they’re way over, sadly.
Maddie: Well, just think of all the people who have access to the internet who wouldn’t have found their beflanneled butch mentor in the Olden Dayes.
Bren: Very true. Still, all the technology in the world can’t make up for real, human contact.
Maddie: But it’s not always a replacement for contact that would have happened otherwise. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it fills what would have been a complete void. Sometimes it enables real human contact.
Bren: Yes, yes indeed. That’s why I would strongly urge anybody who’s new to the coming out process to use these interwebs to find local queer groups.
Maddie: Absolutely! Community, community.
Bren: These can be support groups, student groups, social hours, sports teams, whatever. Just get out there and meet and greet real live queer folk. When you’re in high school, especially in small town (or, as Sarah Palin would call it, “real”) America, it’s easy to feel like the only gay in the world. That sense of isolation can be overpowering.
Maddie: True! Or even like if nobody can see the queer, maybe it’s not actually real. It’s not just that I’m so hushed about my queerness in more heteronormative contexts, it’s that being around other queers is so affirming and enriching for my little queer soul. I’m more out because I’m MORE.
Bren: I love that. Love. It. Is there anything you wish you could go back in time and tell babygay you about coming out?
Maddie: Oh, my. It’s harder than you think. It’s not as big a deal as you think. You will discover that the most rewarding, critical part of “being out” is realizing the full potential of your queerness in your everyday life, not about making announcements to everyone in your life, one after the other. That said, starting with an open declaration of self-identification is hardly the worst place to start your journey towards Fully Realized Queer Potential. So. You know. Go on, take that plunge, and then get to exploring the unspeakably cool world you will subsequently find yourself in. ….But don’t be fooled into thinking that your place in that world is anything you could have seen from the outside. There’s so much more to it than you realize.
Bren: Beautifully said, my friend.
Maddie: AND YOU?
Bren: Once you’ve figured out the truth of your life, start living it ASAP. Go out and get the clothes, the hair, the peer group you always wanted. Be the master and commander of your own ship, but also be aware that many other will try to highjack your ship throughout the course of your life. Don’t let them. Remain in control. Be you, boldly and unabashedly. Don’t change a damn thing to satisfy your family, neighbors, colleagues, friends, roommates, congregation, dog, whatever. Once you start living an authentic life, you’ll see how much more vibrant the world is. And always remember this: Anybody who can’t accept, handle, embrace, appreciate, love you for the amazing queer person you are is a waste of time, energy, and tears. Don’t give them that. There are so many people out there who want you, all of you, exactly how you are – go find them.
Maddie: HEAR HEAR, QUEER. Beautifully put.
Bren: Why, thank you. Happy Spirit Day to you, Maddie, and to all our readers! Wear that purple with pride! Werq!
Maddie: GET IT, GAYBIES!

The ButchFemmeinist: Passing and Visibility Edition

Bren: Hey Maddie! Wanna hear about a funny thing that happened to me the other day?
Maddie: ONLY IF IT WAS ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. Sorry, kidding! Go.
Bren: Heh! It was actually at Dunkies (what us cool New Englanders call Dunkin Donuts). I was in line, but it was a slightly unorganized line and it wasn’t clear who was next. The lady behind me said to the cashier, “He was next.” I was standing there for like a full minute before I realized she meant me!
Maddie: MISTAKEN GENDER IDENTITY! What did you do, Bren?
Bren: Um, well, I ordered my frozen hot chocolate, paid for it, and left.
Maddie: Are there feelings involved? Were there feelings involved?
Bren: Well, I mean, it’s not exactly uncommon for me to be mistaken for a dude. I get “Sir’ed” with some frequency.
Maddie: Well, do you ever correct people?
Bren: You know Maddie, I don’t, for a couple of reasons:
1.) I don’t want to them to freak out and
2.) I don’t mind it. Oddly enough, I actually kinda like it.
Like butch comedian Lea Delaria once said, “It’s OK; I’m going for that look.”
Maddie: Right, I get that.
Are there any instances where you find you resent being seen that way, or is it generally preferable?
Bren: I mean, being read as a guy isn’t my goal. I’m not trying to pass. But if I do pass, I don’t mind it.
Except for the small margin of times when I feel like passing is dangerous, in the sense that, if I’m “found out” there could be issues.
Maddie: …That people might perceive you as deliberately duping them, instead of being your own authentic self that they are too binary-oriented to read correctly? Is that what you mean?
Bren: Right, and when people feel “duped,” as you say, they might get angry/violent.
Sometimes, though, I wonder if I don’t mind it a little too much. Sometimes I get real pleasure out of passing, which is a bit odd, no? I’m not trans, so why should being read as male make me happy?
Maddie: Well, I don’t know. Is there a reason it shouldn’t?
Bren: Maybe I want that male privilege, just a little.
Which I shouldn’t, because it’s wrong. The existence of male privilege, that is.
Maddie: Well, I think it’s pretty common to present oneself in such a way that is more or less authentic but also maximizes privilege/advantage/power in a given situation.
It’s hard to distinguish presenting as your “best self” from evily exploiting unfair systems of privilege, when you really start poking at it.
Bren: This is very true.
Maddie: And let’s also remember this:
The great majority of people out there don’t have the same nuanced understanding of gender variation (or ambiguity, or complexity) that we especially gender-minded queers do…so if the only boxes available to be ticked in their minds are 1.) normative female and 2.) normative male, normative male might not be exactly you – but it might be the closest of the available options.
Bren: You know, I think you’re right on the money there.
But I can’t help feeling some guilt when I get a taste of privilege that I disagree with, which is why I feel super guilty about my interest in exploring binding and packing.
Maddie: Tell me about this interest and related guilt!
Bren: Delighted to! Well, let’s start with binding.
Here’s some truth: I fucking hate my boobs. Hate, hate, hate. They’re annoying and always in the way and make it hard to buy shirts I like. And on top of that, they’re so decidedly… feminine.
Maddie: Well, based on our cultural conflation of bodily characteristics and gender identity… yes.
Bren: I want them to not be so…boobilicious. I want them to not be noticed, you know? Not to go away entirely, because they’re nice in certain (sexy) situations, but letting an intimate partner see them and letting the world see them are two very different matters.
So, I’d like them to be less noticable. Binding is a way to achieve this. Problem is, my boobs are big and binding hurts. The best I seem to get to is a tight sports bra, which also kinda hurts. My boobs are annoying as well as wimpy.
Maddie: Now, now. We’ve already gendered body parts here; let’s try to avoid personifying them as well!
Bren: Hmph.
Well, anyway, there’s that.
Now, as for packing, I just think it would be hot, honestly. Also, if you’ve ever read butch-femme porn (and I hope you have/can recommend some good stuff), the butch is almost always packing. Just walking around town, going to clubs, all whilst packing.
This seems pretty normalized, right? So why can’t I figure out how to do this without looking like I have a permanent raging hard-on? And, more importantly, why do I want to?
Maddie: Well, let’s not assume that because a thing is featured in porn/erotic fiction it is actually a statistically normal thing.
I bet the femmes never have trouble achieving orgasm, either, you know?
Bren: Not that I can recall… But there are plenty of real-life butch writers out there that discuss packing/do pack.
But, really, does it make sense? Isn’t that just a form of trying to pass?
Maddie: Can I ask, are you interested in hard-packing for the purposes of being able to have strap-on sex at whatever spontaneous moment arrives, or are you also (or instead) interested in soft-packing for the purposes of just quietly feeling more masculine throughout the day?
Bren: The former, methinks. It’s all about function.
Maddie: Then I don’t see that as being related to passing, if that’s what worries you.
 Bren: Ok, good to know. What about binding?
Maddie: I mean, what about it concerns you as far as passing goes?
And as for binding, I know it’s not all totally equivalent, but we all do things to make our bodies look more like the aesthetic we identify with.
Bren: I just feel like, somehow, if I “accidentally” pass then it’s ok, but if I actually do things to alter my body and then pass, it’s trying too hard to get that privilege.
Maddie: I’ve been known to wear high-waisted pencil skirts that are, you know, maybe a pretty far cry from the most comfortable thing in my wardrobe, because I really like having the appearance of an hourglass figure.
Bren: Do you feel there’s privilege in that aesthetic?
Maddie: Definitely!
Bren: Ok, well, how about other kinds of passing? Do you feel like you pass in different ways? Maybe passing as straight?
Maddie: One note on that: again, it’s hard to draw a distinct line between maximizing how good you feel about the you you’re presenting to the world in an empowered, positive way - and exploiting your own privilege in a messed-up way.
But the fact of the matter is, you can fight systems of oppression from within.
Bren: True…
Maddie: For example, I have body size privilege. I may not come near most cultural ideals of body size – and I am no stranger to body image issues – but I fall within the range of what has been normalized, and am treated differently than others for that reason. That doesn’t mean I can’t be a vocal, proactive ally in fat positivity.
If I were doing myself harm in order to be the size I am, I would probably have to tackle that first.
Bren: Most def.
Maddie: But just choosing a lifestyle that is mentally and physically positive for me and dressing in a way that I like doesn’t have to mean I am oppressing others.
Bren: I guess the important thing is to be wary of whatever privilege you have and use your powers for good, not evil.
Maddie: Words to live by!
Bren: So what about this whole business we always hear about, how femmes are accused of passing as heteros?
Maddie: Well. Honestly? I take that as a given, at least on your average workday.
Just like most people don’t have a nuanced-enough understanding of gender to get your actual gender location, I just assume most people out there aren’t looking for clues that I’m gay. They’re not suspicious. For most, a person is straight until proven otherwise. THEY’RE NOT GOING TO NOTICE THE FINGERNAILS, BREN. THEY’RE JUST NOT.
Bren: BUT THE FINGERNAILS ARE SO IMPORTANT.
Maddie: YES – for those of us who actually go around looking for the clues.
And let me tell you, I hate it when I walk by my own people unnoticed.
Bren: That happens often?
Maddie: This is probably why I’ve been known to maybe overdo it on the dyke indicators on my own time, when I’m not trying to comply with any downtown suit-set dress codes and I just wanna feel plugged into my own community.
Have I walked around in a ‘hawk, hoodie, beater, frayed denim mini, combat boots and bandana neckerchief? Yes. Yes I have. And probably will this weekend.
Bren: MAJOR DYKE OVERLOAD.
Maddie: And I guess that’s the way I’ve found to most comfortably out myself – it’s easier for me to be confrontational in my appearance than to have to figure out ways to slip references to my dykehood into every conversation.
Bren: Let me ask you this: Do you ever feel guilty for not outing yourself in a given situation? Do you think there’s privilege in that?
Maddie: There is SO MUCH FRIGGING PRIVILEGE IN IT and yes, I do feel guilty.
At the same time, I try to remember that part of the disadvantage experienced by queer people is the attitude that we are being deceitful if we don’t disclose immediately, and being oversharers if we do – and adjust my expectations accordingly.
If I don’t know someone well enough to know any characteristics of the people they ‘ship up with and/or bang, then it’s okay for me to not share that information with them.
But if I DO have a relationship such that that information is on the table, I’m not oversharing or being inappropriate if I reciprocate.
Bren: That seems very reasonable to me.
Maddie: What I maybe can’t rationally reconcile, though, is my nonchalance about people not knowing my personal business with my UTTER DELIGHT at the visibility that comes with an unmistakable-even-for-oblivious-straight-folk marker like walking around holding a girl’s hand
Bren: So I imagine that having a GF makes you feel very giddy and very SEEN.
Maddie: I mean, it’s hard to completely separate the gushy-mushy I LIKE YOUR CUTE FACE giddy feelings from the O HAI WORLD I AM DYKE RAWERHRHHG giddy feelings, but I sure do like them both.
Bren: Understandable.
Here’s an interesting way to combine our different experiences with passing: What if you’re with a dyke who passes for a dude? Do you magically become a straight couple?
Maddie: I AM NOT SURE BUT MAYBE AND TO BE HONEST IT KIND OF SCARES ME.
Bren: Because I’ve passed as male while with my GF and those people probably thought we were some nice straight couple instead of two norm-smashing dykes.
Why does it scare you? I found it a bit funny.
Maddie: No, it is a bit funny. You know, in that Trojan Horse SURPRISE! NOT WHAT YOU THOUGHT! sort of deliciously subversive way.
But for context:
My first girlfriend wasn’t at all butch. She was maybe a bit gayer-looking than me in that quirky, thrift-store hipster dyke kinda way, and I loved that I was automatically more visible by being around her. But nobody was gonna mistake her for a dude.
My second girlfriend, though, was way way way further over on that gender-presentation spectrum. Butch in a kind of faggy, fey way – yes. But easily mistaken for male.
So, when we first started going out, I was happy to have that holding-hands-in-public kind of visibility again… until the point when it struck me that, oh, wait, she might actually be making me look even MORE straight, and I got a little panicked.
I think it was the unwilling aspect of it. When I dress up in work attire, I know what image I’m putting out there, and I’m somewhat in control over it.
When I dyke-overload out, I’m still controlling the image I project.
When I very deliberately, very knowingly play up the gender-divide dynamic between myself and a butch partner, it’s a playful kind of costuming that I totally enjoy.
Bren: That butch-femme gender-divide dynamic is pretty much the best thing ever.
Maddie: But when it happens without my expectation or awareness or intention, it can be startling and uncomfortable.
Bren: Also a bit maddening, I imagine, to be gaying it up so hard and yet still being read as straight.
Maddie: I mean, THAT’s the part that’s funniest to me, that you can get so damn gay you come all the way back around to “straight” again.
But maybe it’s similar to what you were talking about way at the beginning of the convo, with this feeling that maybe we’re unintentionally in disguise.
Bren: That last line might be the most emo thing to be posted on this site to date.
Maddie: IS THAT A CHALLENGE? I CAN TOP IT, I PROMISE.
Bren: I need to go hit up Hot Topic after work and find myself a Cure album and a pleather trenchcoat.
Maddie: I’ll bring the eyeliner. I’ve got plenty in the “dark and smudgy” category.
Bren: Very Avril Lavigne. I like it (or, I liked it when I was 17).
Maddie: You may be the first person to have compared me to Avril Lavigne and lived to tell the tale. Just saying.
Bren: Hey, she was hot back in the day! Rocking those ties and ribbed tanks and Converse. Totally dykey.
Maddie: True. I guess I just felt superior knowing that my JNCOs were bigger than her JNCOs.
Bren: SIZE DOESN’T MATTER.
Well, on that note, I’d like to offer my closing remarks.
Privilege is power. Powers should be used for good, not evil.
Maddie: Agreed.
Well, and to recap what most every homo knows or is soon to find out, passing can be a privilege and visibility can be a privilege.
Bren: Which is fucked up and makes me sad inside, but is true.
Maddie: Don’t be sad! It just means we’ve all got challenges and advantages to work with at any given moment.
Let me also reiterate this point, though: we shouldn’t forget that “passing” vs. “visibility” is a question of the beholder, too.
Sometimes your authentic self is going to be misread by someone without the proper background/goggles, and it’s not because you’re in disguise.
Bren: I’m now humming the Transformers theme, only as “Homos in Disguise.”
Maddie: By the same token, it’s pretty valuable to learn how to send signals to work against that misinterpretation. But there’s ultimately only so much you can do to control how others read you, and you can’t be accountable for their ignorance.
Bren: Basically, we’re awesome just the way we are, and they can all go suck an egg.
Maddie: YOU DO YOU, HONEY.
Bren: Or, to put it nicely, we should be true to ourselves and then learn how to deal with/make good out of the privilege (or lack thereof) that comes with being authentic.
Maddie: Hear, hear, queer!
Bren: With that, I’d like to thank you all for reading another here-queer-and-not-going-anywhere edition of the ButchFemmeinist. Now go do you!
Maddie: GET IT, GAYBIES! See you next time.

The ButchFemmeinist: Dating Edition

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.
Maddie: Exactly!
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.
Maddie: Elaborate?
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!
Bren: Ha!
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.

The ButchFemmeinist: Gender Norms Edition

Note: Dear readers, we are stoked to introduce you to a new regular feature on Buzz Cuts and Bustiers: The ButchFemmeinist! We (Bren and Maddie, that is!) will debate all sorts of butch-femme topics - with a tasty feminist twist - in a chat format (we are *so* down with technology). First up: GENDER NORMS! As queers and gender outlaws, we’re uneasy about anything regulating gender expression, but as butches and femmes, we know how awesome playing those roles can be. How do we deal with that? How do we distinguish butch masculinity and femme femininity from heteronormative masculinity and femininity? Hold onto your garter belts and packing harnesses, folks, ‘cuz off we go!

Maddie: Hey, Bren!
Bren: Why, hey there, Maddie!
Maddie: I have a question for you. You like femmes, right?
Bren: I sure as shoot do!
Maddie: What is it you like about femmes?
Bren: That is quite the question!
Maddie: I mean, “femme” basically just means a dyke who doesn’t look like one, right? So is your favorite thing about them perhaps their indistinguishableness from straight girls?
Bren: I like so many things about femmes, but not one of them is their straight-girlishness, because I don’t see them as anything like straight girls.
Maddie: WHAAAAT? Do elaborate!
Bren: I mean, sure, they might wear the same skirts and heels and lipstick (all of which I like very much, please-and-thank-you), but under that is a way of being that is queer, queer, queer.
Maddie: And you’re saying you LIKE that queer queer queerness?
because, see
there was once this girl
who told me that when she met me (at a dyke bar) she knew I had to have been either straight or bi (I was the latter, at the time)
….because, she said, she was attracted to me. As in, the existence of her attraction was proof of a person being Not a Total Dyke.
Bren: Girl, that makes little to no sense whatsoever.
What does that even mean?
Maddie: Well, to me it meant, “UGH WHINE why are all the hottest girls straight?! I’ll put up with queer-ish girls since those are the ones who are attracted to me. But really, straight girls have the femininity and hotness market cornered. The more adjacent to straight culture, the better.”
(Because, as we know, bi girls are distinguished from gay girls by being queer-lite. No such thing as a radical queer feminist bi girl.)
Bren: BRB, need to vomit.
Ok, back.
You were saying about this douche you once met?
I imagine that the same sort of person who would drop a gem like “I’m attracted to you ‘cuz of the straightness” would question the very existence of queer bi girls.
Maddie: Well, she was a baby at the time. And had only had one same-sex relationship, with someone even younger than her. Hopefully as she matures and discovers more about the Big Wide World of Manifold Gender Identities and Expressions, Sometimes But Not Always Correlating to Sexual Identities and Expressions, she will learn a thing or two about her previous ignorance re: gay girls
and their AWESOMENESS
and DIVERSITY.
Etc.
Bren: TRUTH.
You know, this makes me think about myself when I was a wee babybutch.
Maddie: Storytime! Do tell.
Bren: I gotta be honest: I was kind of a dick.
Maddie: Oh no!
Bren: I was all gung-ho about strip clubs and porn (not the good, affirming, feminist kind) and checking out girls’ asses.
It was bad news.
Maddie: Hm!
Bren: But, in my defense, I didn’t know any better.
And here’s why!
I had no mentors. No old, wise butches around to explain the thing that seems so obvious now: butch masculinity isn’t a parody of cismale masculinity.
Or at least, it shouldn’t be.
So, who did I have around me as masculine mentors?
A bunch of college dudes.
I imagine your Chauvinistic Baby Butch had the same situation.
Maddie: WAIT BUT THAT IS SO CRAZY. Cause, see, I TOTALLY THOUGHT that that was the whole thing about butch identity, that butches are these female lady-girls who are, like, “Hey, I’m gonna act like a dude now,” so they, you know, parrot dude-things done by real, which is to say cis-male, dude-dudes.
Bren: Oh, my. How wrong you are, my dear femme! Because butches are so NOT fake dudes.
I agree with butch writers like Ivan Coyote and S. Bear Bergman, who regard butch as somewhat of a gender unto itself.
Maddie: Are you saying that butches can maybe have an organic, female-person-derived masculinity of their own? That can maybe be free of oppressive notions of gender?
Bren: Eeeexactly!
You sure learn fast for someone with a woman brain!
Maddie: Ha, ha!
Okay, wow, that sounds awfully hot.
Bren: Oh, it is. We are.
A-hem.
Maddie: In FACT that sounds an awful lot like, say, what I, as a female-identified, qualified-feminine, oh-so-very-queer lady am… attracted to. Not, you know, “males” per se, or people who “act male.” But a separate thing entirely.
Bren: Yes, and it’s interesting, because the queer femininity thing you’re doing? That’s what I, as a female-identified, qualified-masculine, also-oh-so-queer-but-not-quite-a-lady, am totally into.
Maddie: QUEER HIGH-FIVE!
Bren: *QUEERFIVE!*
Now, riddle me this, if you will:
Maddie: Go!
Bren: As I was saying, butch is not dude-lite.
Something that I can’t stand, really can’t stand, is when I hear “But if I wanted to date a man, I’d date a real one.” What would you say if, say, a fellow femme who isn’t into the butches were to say to you, “If you’re a lesbian, why are you attracted to people who look like men?”
Maddie: Well, ASSUMING I had some compelling reason for talking to such an ignorant person at all, I might explain it like this…
Bren: Oh, snap! You know what one of my favorite things about femmes is? You ladies are TOUGH. For real. You don’t take shit from anyone (including me), and you don’t take it while wearing stilettos. That’s hot as fuck.
Maddie: 1. WTF, butches don’t look like men, they look like really effing hot women being all like, “Suck my silicone, gender norms!”
Bren: I believed that person would, as the kids say, have been served.
Maddie: 2. There is an element of deliberateness that I go all weak-kneed for. Butches who have fully come into their own, who have a polished and individual style and way of expressing it, something that reflects an inner identity as well as an intentional craft, I frickin swoon. It is brave and it is defiant and it is CREATIVE and I love it.
3. There is also an element of this-is-who-I-am, that is not deliberate or studied at all, and I can’t tell you why I love that. I just do. You find me a butch who hasn’t quite embraced butch/masculine style yet, who is maybe still getting haircuts she hates and wearing clothes that aren’t quite right because she hasn’t found her role models yet, and my chest will still do funny things and I will want to hug her. I mean, why do you, hypothetical butch-misunderstanding gay girl, like girls who “look like girls”? I’m assuming and hoping it’s not actually because you are so very enamored of societal gender policing that you can only conscience the thought of being with someone if she toes that line obediently. That instead it’s because of something in the way those girls feel and smell and move and smile and look at you. Something about them as people. Same for me!
Bren: You know, that part about the butch who has hair and clothes she hates, because she hasn’t found her role model or her identitity yet? I was that butch for a long, long time. It’s difficult to deprogram yourself from a lifetime of “You’re a girl and this is how girls look/act/dress.” But once you do, once you finally at long last get that haircut and buy those boxer briefs and swag that swagger, it’s some sort of phoenix being reborn awesome cliché.
Maddie: Which! I would suggest is perhaps somewhat parallel to that day when you realize that you can make the CHOICE to look/act/dress “like a girl,” and do it on your own terms and in your own time and in your own way, and not because you fear being exposed as an ugly fraud.
Bren: On that topic, what do you, as a femme, think is the difference between straight femininity and queer femmeness, besides the whole liking other chicks thing?
Maddie: Choice.
Rather than compliance.
Obviously, it’s more complicated than that, in that there are, i’m sure, femme-presenting gay ladies who don’t think about it that way, who do have a lot of anxiety about appearance and pressures to comply with external expectations…
(just like there are a lot of butches who aren’t making considered, feminist choices about masculinity and misogyny)
(AND also straight women who see their femininity as a choice and a crafted performance, rather than obligatory)
…but for me, that is what makes queer femme-ness feel so damn awesome, and what made straight, heteronormative femininity feel gross.
Bren: I see. So, it’s like hetereonormative femininity is something you inherit, while queer femininity is something you adopt?
Maddie: Again, I don’t want to suggest that it is that cut and dry, but I would say that the widely-accepted beliefs surrounding heteronormative femininity are that it should be natural, it should be “real,” it should not be studied or crafted or an act to put on and take off—and that within queer circles there is more often an understanding that femininity is a choice and an art, and that “more natural” isn’t always equivalent to “better”
Bren: You know, I think that may be another thing that I love about femmes.
Their femininity is so strong, because they understand the art behind it. The study it so long and so well.
And the end result is a thing of beauty and of power.
Maddie: WE WIN!
You know, though, butches too:
because their masculinity isn’t compulsory in the same way as it is for cis men (and is, in fact, totally transgressive), I think it seems both more honest and more careful, more thoughtful.
Bren: I like to believe that butchness, at its core, is made up of all the best things about masculinity and masculine performance and none of the bad things.
Whether this is always the case, well, that’s debatable.
But it’s good to have goals.
Maddie: I think that it is a laudable goal, and that butches, on the whole, are a lot closer to that ideal than cis dudes. Across the board.
And I think that masculine-of-center people who are already in the margins, who are already transgressors, amongst them there is much more of an opportunity to boil masculinity down to its purest form.
Bren: I would have to say the same thing about marginalized feminine-of-center people and femininity. It’s easier to get a clear view of a performance from the audience, rather than from the stage.
It also allows us on the margins to reflect on the aspects of mainstream masculinity and femininity that we dislike, that we find regressive or damaging, and make a conscious choice to reject those aspects.
Maddie: YES.
I enjoy doing that.
I like to think, too, (although we most certainly fall prey to internal policing, which is an utter shame but very much the reality) that we give each other/ourselves a lot more latitude for mixing and matching from all different sides and angles.
Example!
You know those TOTALLY LEGITIMATE and WHOLLY SCIENTIFICALLY FACT-TRUTH test-things that are, like, “How male or female is your brain?!”
They quiz you on things like your empathy and spatial cognition and whatnot, and then spit out a percentage male and a percentage female, and the two numbers always add up to 100?
Like, “Hey! You are 38% male and 62% female!”
Bren: Oh, I know them well.
Maddie: SO MUCH BULLSHIT. SO MUCH BULLSHIT.
Specifically, the idea that the two numbers have to add up to 100. That the higher you rate in one means the lower you rate in the other. Why should one subtract from the other?
I like to think that I am maybe 89.6% female and about 37% male.
That’s something I get to play with much more in queer circles.
Bren: Well Maddie, I’d like to ask you one more thing, if I may.
Maddie: Anything at all, you courteous butch!
Bren: If you could give one piece of advice to anyone, butch or femme, who worries that they’re not doing their gender the “right” way, what would it be?
Maddie: YOU’RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK, BABY, YOU WERE BORN THIS WAY!
Wait, no, just kidding.
Sort of kidding.
1. There is no right way.
2. Whatever feels true to the way you were born is probably the “right” way
3. However, what you are is also what you do and what you create and what you perform, not just some deep, innate, essential constant. Do what feels right for as long as it feels right and then find the next thing that feels right and FOR GOD’S SAKE HAVE FUN.
3a. Actually, maybe, that’s the most important part of my advice: HAVE FUN. GENDER SHOULD BE FUN. OMG IT IS SO FUN WHEN YOU START HAVING FUN WITH IT. GO FORTH AND PLAY, MY BEAUTIFUL QUEERLINGS!
And you, any parting words of wisdom?
Bren: That was some damn good advice, I gotta say. As for my advice, I only have this to say: Whatever you are, whoever you are, and wherever you are in your journey of identity-discovery, you only have to always, always, always do one thing: Remain the best possible version of yourself. Whatever that is is 100% up to you and no one else to decide. Be the you that you want to see in the mirror and the you that you want to spend time with and the you that will leave a positive mark on this crazy giant spinning dirt ball.
Maddie: Well I am just downright inspired now!
Bren: We aim to inspire! And entice! And other sexy, norm-defying things.
Maddie: ALWAYS!
Mmmmmmm norm-defiance.
Bren: Om nom nom.
On that delicious note, we’re all out of time for today. We hope you enjoyed the first ever ButchFemmeinist chat! Stay tuned to this channel for more queer goodness to come.
Maddie: Woohoo!