Gender Identity: Denied

If you have a Facebook profile and think about gender often enough to be reading this blog, then you’ve probably heard about the shiny new “custom” gender feature that Zuckerberg  ‘n Friends rolled out recently. Much like everything Facebook has ever done, this development is somewhat of a mixed bag. Let’s take a gander.

On one hand, it’s pretty fantastic that words like “cisgender,” “genderqueer,” and “trans*” have been introduced to the whole wide world via such an influential social network. It’s inspired important conversations about the gender spectrum, a whole lot of huffing and puffing on Fox News, and (I imagine) millions of Google searches. At its core, I think Facebook’s move is a good one for queer and trans* visibility. Unfortunately, on the other hand, the Powers that Be (Collecting Your Profile Data to Sell to Advertisers) don’t seem to believe that my gender identity – butch – exists.

Now, I’m not sure which edition of Webster’s Dictionary Facebook consulted for this project, but last time I checked, “custom” did not mean “choose from this pre-determined list of options.” In fact, I’m fairly certain that it means basically the opposite of that. So I was more than a little miffed when I tried to type “butch” into my little gender box and found that it wouldn’t save. I didn’t make the list, folks. And all you wonderful self-identified femmes? Got some bad news for ya: You also do not really exist. But hey, at least you have plenty of company here in Imaginary Gender Land.

Please note that there are at least 10 variations of “cisgender” on Facebook’s official gender list. Thank goodness, because cis folks have for so long suffered from a lack of representation!

Facebook has claimed that it developed its list of 50 gender identities by consulting with LGBT advocacy groups, and I do believe them. I can’t, however, help being disappointed in any such group that would neglect to include butch and femme – two identities with deep roots in queer history and civil rights battles – in that list. It makes me wonder if, as is often sighed across bar room tables and butch-femme message boards, we really are dying breeds. Is it just not hip to be us anymore? Or am I overthinking this whole thing?

(Warning for remainder of post: Here There Be Feels)

I feel like I must mention that my navel-gazing reaction to Facebook Genderpalooza 2014 may be a result of my ongoing funk (in the mood sense; I like to think that I smell rather nice). I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression since, well, before I really allowed myself to claim those words. With the support of some very dear people in my life, I entered therapy back in the fall and have been on anti-depressants since November; both have resulted in some improvements, but nothing close to miraculous. But Rome wasn’t psychoanalyzed in a day, right?

In addition to all that head stuff, my queer community – something that I leaned on perhaps a bit too heavily – has become a lot smaller. Most of the organizations I was once involved with have dispersed since last summer, including ButchBoi Life, the social and support group that I co-founded for masculine queer women. It sounds a bit melodramatic, but the loss of these networks has been really devastating. I feel increasingly isolated from my community and cut off from resources that I once took for granted. I rarely speak with, let alone hang out with, other butches now, and that makes me very lonely. In a way, I’ve returned to the level of desperation I was at before ButchBoi Life existed, when I was so very starved for interactions with people that walked in my same worn boots and reflected back to me my own reality as a butch dyke.

The combination of this queer social isolation and health problems both mental and physical have created the Perfect Storm of moping around, woe-is-me-ing. I’ve been neglecting things I was once passionate about (clearly, blogging being one of those things). And let’s be honest: the Northeast’s transformation into a Jack London-inspired frozen tundra for the past three months hasn’t exactly alleviated my desire to spend every day in bed, rolled up in a blanket burrito and staring at my ceiling.

(End of feels)

Well, that’s about enough head shrinking from me for now. Anywho, if you want to see “butch” and “femme” join Facebook’s list of Genders You Are Allowed to Be, you can let them know what’s up at the Facebook Diversity page. Tell ’em Bren sent you. And if you like processing gender stuff and getting caught in the rain, leave your thoughts on this whole social media hullabaloo in the comments.

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10 thoughts on “Gender Identity: Denied

  1. Any more snow and I am going to change my gender identity to bear (no offense meant to my furry gay brothers). I think if you asked the “general public” about butch as an identity, they would think of it as a sexual identity (like top or bottom) rather than as a gender identity. I’m not even sure what most butches would think, particularly if they are not comfortable with the trans-spectrum concept and don’t place themselves on it.
    I don’t mind that Facebook is offering a lot of choices, but I do think you should be able to pencil in who you are if you don’t fit the listed categories, and I’m going to follow up on your suggestion and let them know you sent me.

    • As I look at yet more snow falling outside my window, your “bear” suggestion sounds better and better. I’ve never thought of butch as a sexual ID, but I suppose I could see how people would think that. It’s a shame, since the notion that “butch=top” is just another way to make people feel “not butch enough.”

      Thanks for fighting the good fight with Facebook!

  2. Hi Bren. I’ve read most of your posts but have just started my own blog today, so now I can comment!
    I’ve been having many of the same issues you have with the disintegration of our community, and I think it comes at the juncture of a lot of different things – the decrease in popularity of using identity terms to define yourself (and the increase in popularity of ‘queerness’ that lacks a historical context and specificity), the rise of acceptance of trans identities (yay! but also there should be room for both), and also maybe just a lack of awareness in our generation of the cultural work done by those before us. I live in London right now, and I’ve realised there is much more of a butch/femme subculture here because the LGBT movement in the UK is about ten years behind the US, and there is not the same pull towards a unified ‘queer community’ here; people mainly separate into different types of communities, and butch/femme is one of them. Still though, most of the community is 40+. I wonder what will happen as we get older, and I share your anxieties about us going away completely. In my heart I know, though, that if I am this way there must be others

    • Thanks for reading! Sometimes I really wonder if I would have had better luck 60 or so years ago, when the butch-femme bar culture was at its peak. Then I remember all the horrible oppression and bar raids and police brutality and decide that, yeah, actually, this is fine.

      In all seriousness, though, I really mourn the loss of butch-femme community, both selfishly and for future generations of dykes.

  3. Jamie, in response to butch as a gender identity on Facebook:
    I feel like the new gender identity options are meant to give options to people who wouldn’t pick male or female, and it is assumed (problematically?) that butch or femme people would be comfortable with having ‘female’ in their profile. To me this reflects the unwillingness of the straight community to see differences in gender expression as really a ‘different gender’ – kind of like how waiters always refer to clearly butch/femme couples as ‘ladies’ even though it seems inaccurate to us. Whereas I would see them as two totally different ‘genders’ even if we would use the same sex marker on a form.

  4. Facebook’s step was just that– a STEP in the right direction.
    As a genderqueer person, I was stoked to discover I can list my gender correctly (I made the list!) but… my pronoun choices were limited. :/ (I didn’t make it after all!)
    So, it’s a work in progress. But I’m excited it happened. Moving forward is a good thing, no matter how incrementally.

  5. Hey Bren, I vacillate so frequently on whether identity politics are harmful or helpful. I think they are both. I also love and hate facebook. I think both wishy-washy positions have something to do with a general disintegration of queer communities as we have known them. I am sorry for the loss of ButchBoi Life for you. Loss of tribe is a serious trauma. Identity issues have become somehow more divisive with customization, yet we need them also to create community. There is a powerful history and a visceral, unifying emotion in deploying the word ‘butch’. I have started taking T, but will always respond to a call to arms for my butches. Hope you find some inspiration…femmes are always distracting.

  6. Good morning; thanks for the Twitter follow 🙂 I know I’m late to this party, but I was a whole glittery bucket o’ sad when I saw that Butch and Femme were not included on the list of over 50 – OVER 50, and STILL NO US! – “gender” options. Most of them are actually (still) related to sex or sexual orientation, and as you say, the previously-underrepresented remain so, with cis- leading the pack by numbers (again and still). The fact that cis- is present gives me the ability to acknowledge other-than-cis sexes, and for that I am, of course, glad – I think of it more as a marker than I am a trans* ally than touting my own cissex status. As a cissex female queer Femme, I am mostly able to convey who I am in most places across the web, but when the one word I choose as an identifier when I must choose only one is nowhere to be found, well… +10 for keeping Femme Invisibility alive and well.

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