This Butch Reviews “Pariah”

Last night, I had the good fortune to attend a free screening of Pariah. Big thanks to the Boston LGBT Film Festival for hosting this and for helping me justify my addiction to social media through Facebook giveaways! I’ve been itching to watch this movie since it became the darling of Sundance, so getting to see it before its official US release date (December 28) was pretty sweet. I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed, because Pariah is fantastic and the plight of the lead character Alike struck some deep chords in my butch heart.

WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Adepero Oduye as Alike

Pariah is the coming out story of a masculine-of-center lesbian teenager living in modern-day Brooklyn. Alike deals with many of the same issues that most teens face – parents who don’t understand her, an annoying sibling, and peer pressure to lose the Big V. But all of Alike’s problems are compounded by the fact that she is a masculine-presenting dyke in a world that won’t accept that. Sometimes this leads to humorous situations – a scene where Alike’s sister walks in on the budding stud trying on her first strap-on (over her boxers, bless her babydyke heart) is hilarious – but more often than not, Alike’s predicaments are heartbreaking. In one of the final scenes, Alike is basking in the glow of her first sexual experience, only to find out that the girl she thought wanted to be with her – the daughter of her mother’s coworker – doesn’t want anyone to know about their tumble in the sheets, because she’s “not gay – she’s just doing her thing.” Alike rushes home and proceeds to destroy her own bedroom, consumed by the pain that only a lover’s betrayal can cause.

As hard as that was to watch, Alike’s scenes with her mother were even worse. Some of them were all too familiar to me, from Audrey forcing her daughter into skirts and blouses to her screaming at her husband: “Your daughter is turning into a damn man right before your eyes!” I held my breath during the scene when Alike finally tells her parents “I’m a dyke” and Audrey physically assaults her, because I knew it was coming. In my experience, mothers react the strongest and most negatively to butch/stud daughters, while fathers just sort of shake their heads, say “Listen to your mother,” and try to ignore the whole thing. It’s clear that Alike’s father loves her despite his inability to address her gayness or her butchness, and I’m sure her mother does, too – though she stops saying so once her daughter comes out.

Maybe it’s a matter of no longer being able to relate to a child that you can’t do “girl stuff” with (and by that, I mean “the things our society has decided women should care about”), like shopping for cute blouses or doing each other’s nails or whatever else in the Lifetime movie mother-daughter bonding montage one might imagine. My own mother is extremely feminine and interested in feminine things, and is also acutely aware that we have very little in common. My dad, on the other hand, seems to secretly like the fact that he has a daughter with whom he can have verbal sparring matches over politics and buy pocket knives for (not that one can’t also do both those things with a femme daughter, mind you). Much like my dad, Alike’s father only gets on her back about her butchness to soothe her mother’s ire over baggy clothes and lack of makeup.

The scene that made my stomach drop the most, however, didn’t even have Alike in it. Arthur, her father, is hanging out with other neighborhood men at a convenience store when a young stud walks in. The store owner comments that there’s been “more of that” since a new lesbian club opened down the street. One of his customers immediately starts harassing the stud, demanding to know if she goes by “Sir” or “Miss” and, disgustingly, asking her if she likes the way pussy tastes. The stud snaps back with a great “ask your wife about it” line and the guy is enraged, calling her a “bulldagger” (old school insult). I was sure that he was going to attack her, but the other men stop the situation before it escalated further – but not before he insinuates to an incensed Arthur that his own daughter is one of those “bulldaggers.” In a later scene, Arthur stops by the store with Alike to get some post-driving lessons snacks, but makes her leave after seeing Mr. Douchebag whispering to a friend. I think that for Arthur – and no doubt for many parents – his disapproval of his daughter’s queerness is rooted at least partly in fear for her safety.

I realize that this review has been almost entirely about how difficult this movie was to watch, but that doesn’t mean I’m not glad that I watched it – and it absolutely doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t watch it. Because you really really should, as soon as possible. It’s an incredible portrayal of growing up gay and gender variant, and I bet you’ll see some shades of yourself in it.

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 Butch’s Guide to Tailoring

Gather ’round, my butch brethren, for I come to you today to discuss an important, yet often neglected person in the lives of masculine-of-center queers: the tailor.

Some of you younger dykes might think that tailoring is an old-timey skill that only Amish people or RPG characters care about nowadays. (Sidenote: the first Google search result for “tailoring” is, disturbingly, a link to a World of Warcraft page; I weep for the future.) But for those among us who aren’t statuesque models that can just “wear it off the rack,” a tailor is the last line of defense between you and an embarrassingly ill-fitting outfit.

You might be thinking, “So what if my clothes don’t fit perfectly? This crazy blue and green space marble will keep a-turnin’ anyway.” This is true (or at least I think it is, but it’s been a long time since I’ve taken physics or geography or astrology or whatever class you learn that Earth stuff in). But let me ask you this, Mr. Smarty-Butch: do you really want to go on a first date looking like you borrowed your dad’s suit? Do you want to go to a job interview with your jacket sleeves flopping all around like Dopey of Seven Dwarves fame? Unless your date is a clown or you’re applying for the position of Chief Clowning Officer, the answer is no.

Now you might be thinking, “OK, enough with the clown jokes already; I get it. But Bren, having stuff tailored is expensive and I’m a poor performance artist/bike messager/community organizer/independent queer blogger!” I feel ya, homeslice. That’s why, unless you’re rich and have already donated to every known charity, I don’t advocate tailoring your entire wardrobe. With most everyday casual wear, you can get away with things not fitting perfectly. Shirt sleeves can be rolled up, jeans can be cuffed, and tees can be baggy. Once you get into the area of more expensive and/or dressier clothing, however, it may be Tailor Time.

So maybe you’ve finally accepted that your new suit jacket could use some customization. What should a consumer butch be considering while typing “alterations” into Yelp? Here are some things to keep in mind when selecting a tailor:

1.) Price. Think about how the cost and quality of the item you want tailored. If it’s a pair of $15 pants from Old Navy, you’ll be fine taking it to the dry cleaners down the street. If it’s a $500 suit from Bloomingdale’s, you need to find a more high-end shop. You gotta treat your threads right, buddy. I mean, you wouldn’t take the Queen of England to Denny’s for dinner (or maybe you would, I guess, depending on how you feel about the British monarchy), right? So never take your expensive clothing to a cheap tailor.

2.) What needs to be done. Make sure you actually know what part of your item you want altered, and how, before you get to the tailor. Walking in and just saying, “This jacket doesn’t fit right; can you fix it?” is obnoxious and makes you look like you don’t know your ass from your elbow. Saying something like, “I’d like the sleeves shortened a couple of inches” sounds much worldlier and will make the whole measuring/price-quoting process go more quickly. And if the tailor tries to suggest “taking in the waist” or “tightening the chest,” beware – he’s trying to turn your menswear into womenswear. Don’t let him dictate your style. Remember: you’re the boss here.

3.) Queer-friendliness. This is the scary part. While a tailor that specializes in menswear is probably your best bet craftmanship-wise, walking into a cis-male-centric space as a non cismale-bodied person can be an extremely intimidating experience. Any butch who’s ever been given the side-eye or treated with outward hostility in the mens’ department or a barbershop or a restroom knows exactly what I’m talking about. I recommend doing a lot of research beforehand. Look online for queer-friendly tailors in your area or just ask your MOC community members where they get their duds done.

If that doesn’t produce any leads, find the nicest-looking shop you can and deploy the age-old BAF method: Bring A Femme. It’s no secret that many a butch has been saved from rude sales associates and drunken meatheads by the wiles of a fierce and fearless femme. “Keep your head down and stay out of trouble” is a basic tenet of butch survival, but femmes? Man, femmes will stand there, armed crossed and eyes flashing, and call bullshit ‘bullshit’ right to its face. We love ’em for it.

Hopefully, I’ve inspired some of you to go forth and get fitted. If you have any questions or think of something tailor-related that I forgot to offer my sage advice on, hit me up in the comments.

I’d like to close this post with a little shameless bragging about my new, freshly-tailored sport coat. It’s a tweed herringbone jacket from Rugby by Ralph Lauren, and it has elbow patches. Elbow patches are the shit. Observe:

Bam.