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?