You know, this whole craziness with butches and the use of male pronouns on-line started out innocently enough. There we were, back in the day, flocking to AOL and/or gay.com chat rooms: tons of lesbians connecting from all over the country and world. There weren’t many butch-femme chat rooms and those in existence weren’t populated by that many women (side note: when I say woman in this post, I mean a biologic female), so most of us hung out in the lesbian chat rooms; because, hello, we were all lesbians. Note that this was well before “lesbian” became a bad word.
While some women had pretty obvious names that let others know if they were butch or femme, a lot didn’t and it caused a lot of confusion. So somewhere along the line, people started calling butches “hy” as a way to recognize that this was a masculine person who was not a man; and “he” was used as well, sometimes as an alternative, sometimes as a preference.
I, myself never used either because (a) I am a woman, (b) I really hate made up and misspelled words, and (c) it felt wrong and stupid calling another woman “he.”
Again, this was JUST on-line. I never ever heard anyone in real life refer to butches with male pronouns.
Unfortunately, that innocent beginning snowballed into this massive cluster fuck of pronouns where everyone has their own opinion as to what butches should or should not be called. Most people, femmes and butches alike, default to “he/hy” for ALL butches, even those who they know have expressed a preference for female pronouns.
Then, there are those butches who prefer to be called “she” but don’t mind being called “he.” This attitude about it really pisses me off because this way of thinking reinforces the default to “he/hy.” It helps to reinforce the invisibility of the woman in the butch.
When butches who prefer “he/hy” are accidentally called “she,” they flip their shit. It’s like the world is ending for them because someone called them “she” or “ma’am” or whatever. A battle ensues, people are accused of “feminizing,” etc. It’s crazy.
On the other hand, those who prefer to be called “she” are expected to love being called “he/hy.” We are supposed to feel honored and happy that someone has just ignored the fact that we are women and created this cloak of invisibility around us under the guise of “respect;” and god help us if we try to correct the person using the incorrect pronouns. You would think we suddenly grew a third nipple in the middle of our forehead or something!
The deeper issue here is, of course, misogyny. Male privilege tells us that women, in this and many other societies, are considered less than. Men are considered better, stronger, faster, and smarter than women. Men have almost all of the power in politics, men compromise almost all of the top corporate positions, men are considered to be the leaders of the world. A man’s opinion is considered to be the only one that matters and god help the woman who dares to stand up to him and tell him he is full of shit.
Because women are considered less than, calling someone (particularly a man) a pussy or a bitch or a girl is considered an insult. In that same vein, calling a butch “she” is also considered an insult.
So since woman is the insult, then man is the compliment. The number one compliment for FtMs or male-ID butches (my god, how that term is SUCH an oxymoron!) is that they are called “sir” in public by straight people. Their ultimate horror is for someone to use female pronouns when speaking to/about them; or an even WORSE thing to have happen to them is to be “feminized” (more misogyny).
Continuing on the thought that being a woman is an insult and being a man is a compliment, then butches, who are masculine women, are then supposed to LOVE being referred to with male pronouns; and if we don’t like it, we just have to suck it up and/or fuck off because that’s just the way it is.
It’s all just so fucking heteronormative and misogynistic. Calling us “he/hy” doesn’t just make the women that we are invisible and it doesn’t just perpetuate the misogynistic view that women are less than, it also makes other people start to actually SEE US AS MEN.
Suddenly, all of the erotica written by femmes and butches has “he” and “she” in it, as if it were about a heterosexual couple. All of the things butches are expected to do are all male related: fixing cars, loving sports, drinking a beer with our hand down our pants while watching the game and bitching at “our woman” to make us a sandwich, etc.
In everyone’s eyes, we BECOME men! This is why so many non-femme/butch lesbians assume that butches and femmes are simply emulating straight couples. How could they NOT think that when all of the butches and femmes are calling butches “he” and expecting us to take out the trash and complete our honey-do list?
It all starts with words. Words are very very powerful and when we are not careful, something as innocent as trying to tell who is who in a chat room can snow ball into all of us falling back into the same old bullshit where femmes treat us like men, straight people and other lesbians think we all want to be men, and the young butches coming out today all think they have to transition because, hell, if they are masculine, then they MUST be men, right?
That, right there, is part of why I decided to stop with the silence and start speaking up about these issues: those young butches out there who think their only choice in life is to transition.
It’s time to change our way of thinking. It’s time to stop using male pronouns for women and denying who we are. It’s time to stop comparing butches to men and treating us as if we think and behave like men. Men don’t own masculinity and it’s time we stopped pretending that they do.
It’s time to stop female invisibility.