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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!


10 thoughts on “The ButchFemmeinist: Gender Norms Edition

  1. “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.”

    *jumps up and down and up and down*

  2. I appreciated your mentioning about surveys that divide up your brain into male and female, with the concluding result not requiring an answer of 100%. Heterosexism feeds off of a dichotomy format of fixed genders and roles of men and women. With that being said, is that number obstinate? If a similar dichotomy was produced for % butch and % femme, would those numbers be stagnant? Can they add up to over 100%? My experience of this perception in the queer community is no; when it comes to the butch-femme dynamic, it is one or the other. That just cause I like having my legs unshaved with polished toes makes me not masculine-centered. That expressing my emotions and possessing a vivacious personality means I am not “butch enough”.

    When discussing gender play, I like to remind people that playing with gender also means your ability to transcend stagnant roles; one size may not fit all when it comes to uses of identities. That just cause you have a buzzcut doesn’t exclude you from wearing bustiers when the mood strikes.

    • Ah, yes, the ol’ “not butch enough” community policing policy. I know it well. It’s the queer version of calling a cisman a “girly man” (I’m looking at you, Mr. Schwarzenegger). It’s really pretty startling/depressing how much we mimic heteronormative culture sometimes, no? It’s also pretty crazy how fragile the concept of masculinity much be, as it seems to always have to be defended or protected in some way.

      I’m reminded of a quote from the classic film Mean Girls: “Calling someone fat won’t make you any skinner. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter.” I’d have to add that calling someone else “not butch enough” won’t make you any “butcher.”

      • I like that idea: just because you say another person isnt butch enough, doesn’t make you any more butch. However, this problem has arisen more regarding dating feminine-of-center women who want to date a butch.

        I would love to talk more about my experiences as a “faggy butch” or “effeminate dyke” if you would be up for another blogger sometime!

    • As far as I’m concerned, HELL YES it’s possible for butch index + femme index > 100%. That doesn’t mean my opinion is representative of the entire queer world, though. Like I very briefly referenced in the conversation, our own happy little queer communities aren’t invulnerable to internal policing. And I think that butch-femme communities can be especially vulnerable to it, given that we tend to be extra conscious of roles and what they mean and where the boundaries around them are when we like partnering with people who play opposite ones. Solution: queer everything. Queer it all! Queer the queers! I am personally very interested in pushing against the boundaries around what we consider butch and femme. Thanks for your perspective!

  3. I do not believe that being femme is even mostly about what I look like. Being femme is who and what you are, not what you wear or what you look like. I am femme right now as I’m lying naked in my bed reading this blog while Bren is in my shower. I will be femme in a week or two when I go to a queer fashion show wearing a dress picked out and paid for by my butch (with matching heels and pearls, of course), and I am femme when I wear Bren’s jeans because I like the way they feel on my ass. Being butch or femme is not about what you wear or how you do your hair; these things are just indicators to other people about who you are. Being butch or femme is how you were born, who you are, and what you will always be. Your heart and soul are butch and femme, what you put on your skin just reflects that, it doesn’t make that.

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