Ask Your BFFs: Monogamy, Femme Invisibility, and Butch Protective Energy

Wow, people. We asked for questions for the first ever Ask Your BFFs (Butch-Femme Friends), and man, did you ever deliver. Thanks for having so many problems! (I keed.) Without further ado, here are this week’s Qs and As:

I have a rhetorical (cough cough right) question for you.

How is it that all the couples I know are monogamous, but all the people I date are poly (as a lifestyle). How’d all the monogamous people find each other?

Bren: Ah, the whole poly queers vs. monogamists (or, as Maddie calls them, “mate-for-life lobsters”) issue. I’m monogamous myself, but I believe that anyone can find love on the great equalizer known as THE INTERNET. While some people still think online dating is weird and creepy (I call these people “old”), every lez I know has met at least one, if not all, their past and present GFs on a dating site. The awesome thing about online dating (besides the fact that you can do it on the couch, in your PJs, with your cat) is that you can be super-duper clear about what you want in a partner (i.e. sense of humor, loyalty, love of old movies) and don’t want in a partner (i.e. other people besides you). So if you’re into monogamy, you can be like, “Yo, no disrespect to my poly peeps, but there are only two seats on this ride.” And if you’re into polyamory, you can be like, “Yo, no disrespect to my mate-for-life lobsters, but I like to spread the love.” If your potential matches are literate, they’ll know what you’re looking for and if it matches up with their style before they even send that first awkward “hey u look kool wanna chat” message.

The most important thing is to be VERY CLEAR about how you roll right from the get go, so as to avoid hurting anybody’s feelings or adding another bar/café/thrift store to your list of “avoid-because-ex-goes-there” places (don’t pretend you don’t have one). There’s nothing worse than being really into someone and then hearing on the third date, “Is it ok if I bring my other girlfriend along to Dyke Night next Friday?”

Maddie: I think Bren’s advice is sound, but I also want to point out: you know a lot of monogamous couples because monogamous people tend to couple up. You date a lot of poly people because poly people… tend to date. If you’re on the younger side, this phenomenon will be further compounded by two truths: you belong to a generation that’s becoming used to polyamorous as an ID so more people are coming out about it, and you belong to a cohort of fun-lovin’ youth who might not be poly for life but aren’t into commitment at the moment.

Granted: it’s tough to keep running into people who don’t meet basic compatibility requirements. And the exclusivity/non-exclusivity thing can be especially tricky, because it’s so easy to rationalize yourself into a compromise that screws you in the long-term. But you just gotta train yourself to toss back the ones that aren’t what you’re looking for. There are more people out there than you think; don’t waste your time on some Hottie McOMG who doesn’t want what you want. How’d all the monogamous people find each other, you ask? By keepin’ it moving when they ran into the poly people.

How do butches tell femmes are queer? Are we really that invisible? I mean, I have dyke hair now obvs, but I don’t think it makes me look any queerer…just wondering.

Maddie: I am so with you on the dykey haircut. That is a definite asset, and I’m glad you’re on it. But you’re right, it neither begins nor ends there (especially when all them hipster straight girls are running around jacking our hairstyle swag. AHEM). Here are some key weapons in a femme’s arsenal:

1. THE INTERNET. Nope, Bren and I do not get any kickbacks from internet dating sites. It’s just a legitimately helpful tool. More specifically to your concern, the internet is this magical place where it is 100% acceptable to declare, before anything else, HI I AM A LESBIAN! That doesn’t happen in a lot of other places, so take advantage!

2. DYKE BARS. I am just so fucking in love with any space where you are gay until proven straight. It’s such a relief. Just go, meet your community, hang out, be presumed – BEFORE A WORD IS SPOKEN – to be a muff-diver, feel awesome. And by patronizing queer-female-oriented spaces, you are helping your own community survive. There is just nothing wrong with that equation.

BUT, in the event, of course, that you’re underage or live in a town without a dyke bar ( 😦 x10000000 ) or would really like to just BE SEEN by fellow queers, out in the world, not just on Friday nights in a tiny closed room, we’re gonna have to move on to the big guns:

3. YOUR EYEBALLS. USE THEM. The femme glare: worth a bazillion haircuts. Don’t be shy. Seriously. Stare away. DO IT. Dykes have a much higher tolerance for gaze-withstanding than the average person. We’re used to it. It’s seriously how we find our own, how we affirm our existence. And, I mean, even if you stumble across one of the 0.005% of easily-visually-identified lesbians so unused to the EYE-DAGGERS-OF-LOVE approach that she hasn’t learned to flash a devious, flattered, conspiratorial grin in response, and instead gets shy and awkward… so what? What’s the worst case scenario? I will describe to you the worst-case scenario: she blushes, maybe looks down and scuffs her feet, and then she does that backwards hair-ruffle thing and you melt and squee and are suffused with tingles and BAM, there, you just got your money’s worth right there. Win-win-win-win. Actually, the worst-case scenario is she’s totally oblivious and somehow doesn’t even notice that she’s walking right through trillion-watt laser beams, and then you pout a little and feel invisible/sad, and THEN you look around to see if anyone noticed the eyes you were giving that girl, and if someone did, go on, train the laser beams on her instead; she’s probably a ‘mo, too.

Oh, but, important note: don’t forget to smile along with the fervent gazing. It IS possible to stare creepily. I’ve heard.

There is one last all-important thing in your arsenal, but it takes some time and effort.

4. THIS FEMME JE NE SAIS QUOI THAT YOU ACTUALLY MAYBE ARE STILL CULTIVATING. Once upon a time, like not even a year ago, I was complaining to my wise femme mentor-type about never being spotted – specifically, about the time I was at the dyke bar and NOBODY TALKED TO ME except for both (BOTH!) awkward, old-as-my-dad men who were inexplicably floating around in there. She said, very wisely, that I would figure out how to radiate queerness, and visibly. Unmistakably. One day. She said I would figure it out and it would be fabulous. And guess what! I really think I’ve proven her right. It’s maybe not automatic or genetically encoded, and I don’t think it’s something that can necessarily be taught, but it’s real and it happens with time and you will totally get there. I can feel your dubiousness pulsating through the screen – trust me, though! Give it time, time ideally spent hanging out with your people and fully developing your queer identity, and the telepathy will follow.

Bren: I’m going to second what Maddie suggested and say EYE CONTACT. If you see one of us out and about, look at us in that way that only femmes can look. You will instinctually know how to do this, as it is in your femme DNA. (Ivan E. Coyote put it so eloquently: “Please don’t stop looking at me the way you do.”) If we smile at you, smile back. Or smile first. Actually, yes, smile first – we like boldness. We also like to be flirted with, even if we pretend to be embarrassed or aloof. And, really, is there a better way to spend your morning commute than making some butch on the subway blush? I didn’t think so.

Keep in mind, however, that the burden of butch-femme connection does not fall solely on your ladylike shoulders. No, it’s also up to us butches to learn how to spot a femme. You might feel invisible (and if you do, I’m very sorry to hear that), but know this: you are not invisible. Queerness cannot be disguised by even the most straight-looking of outfits/hair/makeup/whatever. There’s a very unique spark behind the eyes of every femme – made up of equal parts rebellion, courage, and mischief – that is born from years of being a gender ninja, deftly slipping behind hetero lines and working to make the world a safer place for big clumping Obvious Queers like me. We butches see that spark and we see you, and damn, you look good.

From Christine Smith, creator of the awesome webcomics The Princess and Eve’s Apple:

My question is about femmes ‘leaning on’ butches for their protective energy.

My situation is as a 6’2″ trans woman and a femme. I currently have no local butch friends in my life, whether male or female, cis or trans, gay or straight. I’m married to another femme whom I love, but is bad at confrontation, and am a caregiver for a developmentally disabled man. There’s a lot of demand on me to be protective, but nobody to supply that energy to me. Consequently, I have a permanent hard shell around me. I find this stifles my self-expression. I trend to dress androgynously in order to stay under the radar of those who threaten me when I am more noticeable, and live my life outside my home very defensively, which leaves my back taut and achey most of the time.

I remember when a friend… Cis, straight, masculine,.and male… Lived out here, I felt I had a little more freedom hanging out with him, because I knew if someone messed with me, he wouldn’t let it pass but would confront them right back. He had that masculine protectiveness. I miss that.

I worry, though, that in missing that and hoping to find similar friends, I am somehow being anti-feminist, being too reliant on a masculine-type-person. At the same time, the reality of my life is that I DON’T have that and need to be able to express myself as a femme, don’t know how to get an ounce more energy to protect myself, when I’m giving so much energy to protecting the people in my life. Is it wrong to want some of that back? Am I a bad femme? Is it at least understandable to tone things down? And having no protective energy from a friend to lend me strength and being tense and exhausted most of the time, but navigating public spaces, where do I find the energy to be true to my femme needs of self-expression?

Bren: The first thing that needs to be said here is: There is no such thing as a ‘bad femme.’ You can only be you, and you are femme, and it’s impossible to be bad at being yourself (who else could be a better you? No one).

If you’re looking for butch friends/connections in your area, and can afford a trip to Oakland (I am poor and cannot), I would suggest attending the Butch Voices conference. I hear it’s amazing and a smörgåsbord of masculine-of-center people from all over the place, so chances are good you’ll meet people from your area.

I don’t think your problem is really a lack of butch friends, however, but a lack of what you call butch “protective energy,” which in reality is not a butch thing at all. Let me tell you a secret, one that may get my Bulldagger Card revoked – we butches are not always steadfast pillars of strength. In fact, we often feel weak, helpless, and burdened, too. You see, many butches (like me) get much of – if not all of – their strength FROM FEMMES. You’re the truly strong ones. You’re the ones who march beside us into restrooms when we’re too nervous to go in alone. You’re the ones who stand up to the asshole salespeople who give us a hard time when we try to buy a mens’ suit. You’re the ones who squeeze our hands when drunken frat boys on the street hurl insults at us. You’re the ones who let us cry in your arms when the weight of the world is too much and you’re the ones who promise not to tell a soul about it. What I’m trying to say is, you already possess all the strength and protective energy you think you need to get from a butch. Femmes are like the windmills of this kind of natural energy; you create it at every turn, whether you know it or not.

You are what you think you need and what you think you’re missing. You go out everyday into a world that tells you that you’re wrong, that your identity and your love and your existence are invalid, and you kick ass. You create. You inspire. You LIVE. If that isn’t strength, then I sure as hell don’t know what is.

The people who threaten you and try to stifle you, they’re just afraid of this strength, a strength that they don’t possess. They’re cowards. Don’t waste your time on cowards. Don’t listen to the words of cowards. Don’t alter your life for cowards. In the end, it’s warriors like you that the world will remember. “Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.”

Maddie: So, you ask a few direct questions that I can answer right away: no, it is not wrong to want some of that protective energy back; no, you are most definitely not a bad femme; yes, wanting to tone things down is entirely understandable. The question after that, though – where to find the energy to be everyone’s source of strength and still maintain your identity – that one’s tough.

I agree with Bren that even the most femme-identified among us has the same capacity for strength and protectiveness, but that doesn’t mean it’s always comfortable to stay in that persona day in and day out, and it really doesn’t mean that we can just take care of ourselves with no help from others.

For queer folks, the world at large is not always a safe space. It just isn’t. We don’t only create close-knit communities to find partners or to congregate with like-minded individuals, but also to heal the damage that the rest of the world does to us, to pool our strength, to finally, finally feel vulnerable without feeling endangered. The issue is not that you lack the capacity to be strong and protective – sounds like you disprove that, on the daily – the issue is that you need spaces and relationships to replenish your reserves.

Is therapy an option in your life? If there is an LGBT health services center in your area, they may offer sliding-scale group therapy – an opportunity to get mutual support and healing from people who could both have an understanding of your experience as well as a variety of different backgrounds and strengths of their own to complement yours.

Additionally, is there any way you can address this within your marriage? You say your wife is “bad at confrontation,” but can you come up with some specific, maybe smaller ways she can give you more backup out in the world, or help you dress your daily wounds back at home? Even if she does not have a lot of the butch-brand protection to give, she might be able to ease some of your burden if you communicate your need to be taken care of or stood up for some of the time.

And if those options are not available or not enough – there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that you are missing a certain kind of energy in your life, and going out looking specifically for local friendships that can provide it. We populate our lives with other people to gain, among other things, balance. It doesn’t mean you are failing or disparaging femmes, it just means that you crave a diverse community.

Ask Your BFFs (Butch-Femme Friends): A Good Idea, Or the Best Idea?

Happy Tuesday, AKA Gleeseasonfinaleday, queerborhood! I come bearing Earth-shaking news. Nope, it’s not the Rapture (that party got rescheduled). It’s a BRAND NEW feature on Buzz Cuts and Bustiers! So much better than the world blowing up, amirite?

This is a little thing we like to call Ask Your BFFs (Butch-Femme Friends). (Maddie is the champion of Naming Things, hands down). It’s like Dear Abby, except so much gayer. Here’s how it works:

  1. You’re all like, “Man, I don’t understand/have always wondered about/am confused by/need help with/am totally turned on by this thing related to butch/femme/butch-femme life. IF ONLY SOMEONE COULD GIVE ME ADVICE/ANSWER MY QUESTIONS/GO ON A DATE WITH ME*!”
  2. You post your quandary in the comment section here, tweet it at us or, if you want some more anonymity, email it to me at prufrock1019@gmail.com.
  3. We come to your rescue with our Lesbian Sensei wisdom/humor/sex appeal.

Sound good? Sound GREAT? That’s what we thought! So ask away, dear readers – we can’t wait to be your queeroes!

*We won’t actually do this one – OR WILL WE?

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.

On Internalized Homophobia in the Assimilation Movement, Or, Sorry I Look So Gay

Sorry for the post shortage this week! This whole adult job and responsibilities thing I got going on really cramps my not-for-profit-but-for-fun blogging style sometimes. But today is Friday (fun fun fun fun) (sorry) and I can’t wait to dive back into this AWESOME book called Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme. In case you haven’t heard of it (in which case, you’re welcome, ‘cuz I just changed your life with a few taps of my keyboard), Persistence is a collection of short stories and essays by butches and femmes from all walks of life, edited by famous queerfolk Ivan E. Coyote and Zena Sharman. There’s an incredible variety of experiences and identities chronicled on these pages; whether you’re a stone leather MTF femme in a wheelchair or a pregnant rural bottom butch of color, you’re bound to find something relatable.

I sure did. Victoria A. Brownsworth’s essay No Butches, No Femmes: The Mainstreaming of Queer Sexuality hit me like a ton of rainbow-colored bricks. It’s all about the movement towards a kind of homo assimilation into mainstream culture, the “we also enjoy having a house in the ‘burbs and 2.3 kids and a golden retriever named Buddy and being so normal” shout-out to Middle America that big name marriage equality groups like the HRC have total boners for. I call this “bullshit;” Victoria explains it much more eloquently:

Assimiliation neuters queers by demanding a narrow, heterosexually normative paradigm that insists on a strict gender-based orientation. This disallows the range of sexual expression in gender attributes that we once considered essential facets of who we were/are as lesbians and gay men. In short, assimilation forces us to pass as straight, even when we are out queers, by denying us the full range of our queer gender expression. To be truly assimilated, we must mimic straight women and men, which means we cannot include, for example, butch lesbians and gay male queens in post-assimilationist culture, because there are no comparable persons in straight society.

I’d like to thank Victoria for ensuring me that I am not, in fact, single-handedly destroying the modern gay rights movement by parading my scary butch self around in public, in plain sight of nice clean-cut man-woman couples and pearl-clutching grandmas and The Children (why won’t anyone think of them??); quite the opposite, actually. Whenever we decide to “tone down the gay” or “not flaunt our sexuality” or be “straight-acting” or whatever loaded language you’d like to use, we are shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot. We are acknowledging a poisonous, internalized homophobia that says: “We’re just like you, straight society. We deserve rights, because we are just like straight people and straight people are normal. We’re not a bunch of drag queens and diesel dykes; those people don’t represent us because they don’t look like straight people and straight people are normal.”

While I understand the need to show Hetero World that we are not dangerous sex monsters coming to steal their kids and eat their puppies, pushing out anyone who doesn’t look like Joe and Suzie Straight-Normal (of the Connecticut Straight-Normals) is not the way to advance our community. This marginalizing of the least-mainstream among us is especially disturbing, because it was those same sex and gender outlaws who were at Stonewall, kicking open the door of the gay rights movement with their motorcycle boots and stiletto heels. As Victoria writes:

The demand for equal rights and integration into mainstream society often leads – or forces – minority groups to pattern themselves on the majority, disengaging from the very things that make them who they are as a separate and distinct group.

When I was in college, I knew some other gays who wanted more than anything to not be read as gay. This wasn’t necessarily a survival method – though, for some, it very well may have been – but more of a turning up of the nose at anything considered “stereotypical.” This included, but was not limited to, drag shows, Pride marches, gay bars, gay movies/TV/music/books, and variant gender expressions. It was as if, by disavowing all things too gay, they would become some evolved breed of Homo for the New Millennium, one who could slip unnoticed in and out of society, never causing any waves or upsetting any sensibilities. I’ve personally been mocked by straight-actors among us for looking, well, so damn gay. For proudly rocking the Docs and the flannel and the ties. For being “obsessed” with queer news and events. For not blending into mainstream society and not caring to try. For not being one of those “hot” lesbians that you see on TV, that are indistinguishable from straight women, save for the ladies in their beds. For being an unapologetic butch dyke.

I’ll leave you with some questions from Victoria, questions that I would also like the answers to:

Has queer culture moved too far in the opposite direction from the butch/femme dynamic of the years immediately pre- and post-Stonewall? Is it our own community now that disallows the male-centric butch because she fits a stereotype that assimilationists want straight society to either forget or ignore – the bull dyke, the bull dagger butch who doesn’t turn straight men on and doesn’t have the potential to be heterosexual?

Searching for My Butch Mentor, Or, Being a Total Creeper

You guys, I’m having all kinds of feelings right now. Feelings about history and community and heritage. I got all Public Broadcast-y the other day and watched the new American Experience documentary Stonewall Uprising (thanks, free PBS streaming video). It tells the story of the 1969 Stonewall Riots – otherwise known as the Birth of the Gay Rights Movement and Also Pride Month (Gay Christmas) – through pictures, video, newspaper clippings, and interviews with real, still-alive Stonewall veterans. Oh, and it has a bunch of clips from old PSAs about The Evil Homosexual Menace to laugh at/be horrified by. It’s basically really friggin’ awesome and you should watch it.

After watching Stonewall Uprising, I got to thinking (as I sometimes do when there are no good Millionaire Matchmaker reruns on) about how damn lucky I am. I know it doesn’t seem like it sometimes, what with all the gay marriage bans and bullying and conservative idiots screaming on TV about our Agenda, but right now is the best time ever to be gay in America. The fact that I can kiss my girlfriend in public and go to a dyke club and wear mens’ clothing and NOT GET ARRESTED makes right now a million times better than any time before – or even right after – Stonewall.

Whenever I see an older lesbian, especially an older butch, I always have this overwhelming urge to run up to her and be like: “WHAT WAS IT LIKE AND HOW DID YOU SURVIVE AND WOULD YOU LIKE TO COME TO MY APARTMENT FOR DINNER; I CAN COOK MAC ‘N CHEESE?” (Note: I have yet to actually do this. Yet.) For example, I was in the grocery store a couple of weekends ago and crossed paths with a late middle-aged butch-femme couple. I immediately forgot about whatever foodstuffs I was planning to purchase and stared at them. Just stared, like a total Grade A creeper. I wanted them to look at me so badly, to see me as a fellow queer and a butch and, maybe, as family. But they didn’t. The femme glanced in my direction, but didn’t see me – or at least didn’t acknowledge that she did – and the butch didn’t look at all. They left the store soon after and I just half-heartedly poked at some loaves of bread for a while before leaving. I felt weirdly and acutely rejected by the entire interaction (or lack thereof). If they, the wise elders of the tribe, didn’t immediately recognize me as one of their own, did this mean I was somehow lacking?

All this has made me realize that I, age the tender age of 26-and-a-half, need a butch mentor. A diesel dyke Big Sister. A lesbian sensei, if you will. A part of me longs for the bar culture that you read about in books like Stone Butch Blues, where the old butches would take a newly-hatched babybutch under their world-weary wings and teach her everything they knew about being butch, dating femmes, and surviving the hetero world. Nobody ever taught me how to be butch. There was no one around to ask the thousands of questions I had about clothes and swagger and cologne and clubs and sex and coming out and being out and living. I still have a lot of questions.

I wish there had been a butch mentor around to help me buy my first tie (which was ugly), or deal with my first breakup (which was uglier). I wish there were a butch mentor here now, to tell me if I’m being a whiny little jerk as I write this.

Maybe I’m living in the wrong place (which is doubtful, as Boston is über gay), but I see almost zero interaction between young homos and the Stonewall era generation. Maybe the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts has sent all the older dykes off to the suburbs to raise their 2.3 children and their golden retrievers. Maybe they have no interest in singing karaoke with a bunch of drunken 20-somethings (but we’re fun!) in a tiny club on a Thursday night. Or maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places.

Beyond my own selfish intentions, I think this lack of interaction is something we should all be concerned about. I wonder how many babygays today even know what Stonewall was, and why it’s so important to our collective queer history? The thought that these memories, these flashpoints in the Gay Rights Movement, are not being passed onto the next generation is sort of frightening to me. If we don’t know where we’ve been, how will we know where to go next?