Is Being Gender Critical and Butch Mutually Exclusive?

I’ve been meaning to talk about this for a long time now. Can one consider herself butch, aka, a masculine woman while also being critical of gender? It’s a question I have been thinking about for several months and now is the time for me to put my thoughts down on paper, so to speak, and figure this thing out for myself. Some of you will, of course, disagree and that is cool, but I would be willing to bet that there are a lot more of us out there than we think.

I’ve been an out lesbian for half my life now (over 20 years) and I didn’t consider myself butch (or “a” butch, ymmv) until almost 10 years later. It took me a long, long time to come to the realization that butches were women, we didn’t wish to be men, we were women who just happened to be masculine. Once I came to that realization, I was able to accept my true self: a gender non-conforming, masculine woman, or more simply, a butch lesbian; or even more simply: a butch.

It’s hard to be a butch in this world. Don’t worry, I am not about to play the oppression Olympics here, I completely understand that there is enough discrimination to go around and there are hard times for all of us. But let’s be honest here, I cannot speak for femmes, straight women (even the butch ones), gay men, straight men, or lesbians who are neither butch or femme because I am none of those things. So I will stick to what I know: being a butch lesbian in this patriarchal society.

Before I continue, I wanted to put out there that even though I am not speaking about femme’s experiences here, I welcome their input about this post or their own experiences; especially the anonymous femme who briefly talked with me about the hierarchy of femmes and butches in my last post (Who Gets To Decide What “Lesbian” Means?). I hope she sees this post so she can come back to leave her thoughts on the issue.

So let’s dig in to this complicated subject matter, shall we?

As I was saying before I digressed a bit, being a butch lesbian in this patriarchal world is tough. We have almost no “in real life” role models, very few, if any in the media, and when I was a young dyke, there were even fewer than there are now if you can imagine that. Because this society believes that men own masculinity (and women own femininity), we butches have therefore had no choice but to model ourselves after the men in our lives and go by how the media presents men; and this is nothing if not problematic. Because of this society, because the patriarchy frowns on women wearing “men’s” clothing (and vice versa), and because there are almost no butches in the media, these are two very big reasons why a lot of straight and even gay people assume we all want to emulate, if not actually be men.

The lack of butch role models and having to use men or the media’s idea of men as our guides (well, I don’t, but I did when I was younger because I didn’t know any different and I see it more and more in these young butches today) presents other problems. For those unfamiliar with on-line butch-femme communities, there is a clear hierarchy of “butchness” or masculinity and it discriminates against butches who do not identify as male and it especially celebrates the female transgender, or the trans “man.” In this hierarchy, there are the levels of butchness that I mentioned, such as soft butch, butch, hard butch, male identified butch, and trans “man.” Usually we butches who know what sex is and celebrate the women that we are, are set low on that totem pole, somewhere around soft butch.

You see, even in the (on-line) butch-femme world, a lot of people are conditioned into the patriarchy just enough to believe the bullshit that men/males own masculinity and women/females own femininity, that females cannot be masculine, and that to be masculine, one must either be male identified or they must transition into some facsimile of a man, aka the trans “man.” So even in the butch-femme (on-line) world, female, and therefore feminine is “less than” and most people do not consider a butch to be masculine if she doesn’t deny biology and instead accepts and even celebrates that she is also female. In the comments of my last post, I said this maligned treatment comes from femmes, but I meant some femmes, not all; and to be honest, quite a few male identified butches and trans “men” feel this way as well, that female is less than; or more appropriately, that feminine is less than masculine. Like I said, a lot of this comes from the male identified butches and trans “men,” but it can also come from femmes as well. There are quite a few femmes out there these days who clearly want straight men without actually having to date straight men. They like the analogy that butch = man, that they can have only PIV sex, that they use male pronouns, etc. It is quite frustrating, to say the least. As I said, not all femmes are like this, but more and more of them are coming out of the woodwork as sex becomes more and more conflated with gender and the binary, as dictated by the patriarchy, wins out above all else.

To be fair, I don’t have to be a femme to see this coming from the other side of things as well; but even more than the hierarchy of femme, I also see things like how so many butches expect femmes to be like straight women and how a lot of them even toss femmes aside in favor of straight women. I also see the masculine and feminine stereotypes of the heterosexual world playing out in that a lot of both butches and femmes expect the butches to be the dominant ones, or the “tops,” to borrow a BDSM term and they expect the femmes to be the submissive ones or the “bottoms.” This is problematic in so many ways because it relies on society’s assumptions that feminine is always and only for women while masculine is always and only for men, so the above butches and femmes assume the woman (feminine) is always supposed to submit to the man (masculine). That is unbelievably sexist and it is almost always internalized, born of the conditioning we face being born and raised female in this society; and the sickest part, for me, is that all of that sexism is coming from and pointed towards females, women. So because there are not a lot, if any, butch and femme role models, we end up falling into the traps of our own conditioning by believing the bullshit of the binary, by seeing feminine as women and women as feminine, as well as masculine as men and men as masculine. That, dear reader, is where the idea of male identified butches and trans “men” come from: that blind loyalty to the binary and the patriarchy that conditioned us so very well.

I have always held the notion that transgenderism is a fad, a way of being a special snowflake, of distinguishing yourself from the “norm” so that you can be considered “cool.” It’s exactly like the on-line BDSM fad of several years ago in the butch-femme world (the straight and gay men’s world as well, but again, I cannot speak of what I don’t know). Suddenly, there were daddies, babygirls, masters, and mistresses all over the butch-femme on-line communities. Why? Again, it was a way to be different and special, to separate yourself from the “norm” and appear to be “cool.” Transgenderism is the same thing: a fad. I have said before and I will say it again: if society would stop with the preconceived notion that females or women own femininity and males or men own masculinity and instead allowed people to express themselves in any way that they wish, dress as they wish, wear make-up or not, have long, short, or no hair, walk, talk, and act as they wish, all regardless of their sex, then there would be no need for transgenderism and no need to “transition” into anything.

Masculine and feminine, like gender, are socially constructed, but I don’t view them as genders. Masculine and feminine are simply descriptors that do not belong to either sex. This means that that men can be feminine and that there is nothing wrong with that. On the flip side, women can be masculine and there is also nothing wrong with that.

So with that, I think I have come to the end of it, dear reader. It started as a question in my head: whether or not I could consider myself a butch lesbian and gender critical at the same time. While I consider myself a lesbian essentialist, I do not consider myself a butch essentialist. I may have been born a lesbian and was quite the dyke for a long time, but I found butch through exploration and an ultimate discovery of who I was (and am) as a woman.

I was chatting with a friend the other day (at least, I would like to be able to call her a friend) and she said that for her, “lesbian” is a “descriptor that others can understand.” I liked the way that sounded. Oh not for lesbian, but for butch and masculine. For me, butch has always meant and will always mean, masculine woman, but in this society, people get confused by putting those two words together, masculine and woman, so I say butch.

In that context, butch is a descriptor that others can understand, to varying degrees, of course. Like I said, there is the fad of being male identified and/or transgender, neither of which are actually butches, but the premise is the same. I use butch, not as a gender or an identity, but as a descriptor to signify to the world that while I am masculine, I was, am still now, and always will be a woman. I am a masculine woman, a butch.

So the answer is: yes, I can be critical of gender and be a butch lesbian at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive.

Advertisements

Who Gets To Decide what “Lesbian” Means?

Here’s the thing. This whole “political” lesbians vs. “real” lesbians argument really has me baffled (from here on out, I will be leaving off the quotes, to save my sanity in trying to remember them every time, but you feel me here). It comes up a lot and while I have tried not to get involved, seeing some of the things that have been said have pissed me off more and more to the point where I simply cannot hold my tongue any longer. This isn’t a rant so much as it is just that I am so exasperated by some of the bullshit flying around about what it means to be a lesbian, who is a lesbian, who has the right to define lesbian, etc. I realize I may lose followers and “friends” over my beliefs, my stance, and I would hope this would not be the case over this one issue, but so be it. I can be silent no longer.

It also appears to be tearing our community apart, brick by brick, pitting lesbians (and non-lesbians) against each other as everyone scrambles for a “side.” Hell, just a couple of months ago, I read a blog post by and about political lesbians and it was pretty harsh towards real lesbians and when I tried to comment on even the most basic points that it made, I was hushed. True, they allowed my comments to go through, but that didn’t stop them from trying to shush me when I said something about part of what was written. Then another blogger, presumably a real lesbian, wrote a post in response to the first post, taking it piece by piece and making arguments for and against what the first post was saying. I “liked” the second blog post.

A short time after liking that post, a prominent blogger (CB) called me out on Twitter, asking me exactly what it was I liked about that post. When I told her I liked what it had to say, that wasn’t good enough and she pressed on, attempting to bully me into either (a) agreeing solely with her or (b) backing down and staying silent about the whole thing. When I refused to be bullied and instead asked her why she was asking me these questions, she accused me of being hostile and blocked me on Twitter; but she didn’t stop there. She also unfollowed my blog, deleted the reblogs of my posts that she had on her own blog, and stopped linking to my blog on her many Facebook pages and groups.

That is how serious of an issue this is in our community. I lost an ally simply because I (a real lesbian) liked a blog that she herself (a political lesbian) did not like and I then had the audacity to refuse to be bullied into compliance and/or silence. This wasn’t a case of a woman disagreeing with me and deciding to no longer follow me, that is no big deal, it happens. No, this was a case of a woman who refused and continues to refuse to support another woman over a disagreement on this single issue; and it is not limited to just me. Take a peek on Twitter and see some of the arguments that are taking place over this issue. Women are becoming so divided over this, fighting with each other instead on focusing on the actual problem: men and male violence. It’s crazy.

The incidents I describe above were actually the first time I saw this issue develop into a full blown argument among women on-line. As I said at the top of this post, I tried to stay out of it. I mean, who am I to judge, right? I even made a post asking that all of us come together in love and support for one another instead of fighting like this. We needed to stick together and fight the real threat to us: men, not do what men have wanted women and minorities to do in order for them (men) to stay in power, i.e., fight among ourselves. I also laid the foundation of my beliefs in this: that if a het woman who disliked men and was celibate wanted to call herself a lesbian, then that was bullshit. She is  a celibate heterosexual, not gay! But if a woman discovered she was gay through her politics, then I was cool with that.

But this second blow-up (second that I have seen, mind you) brought about a few things from the political lesbian crowd that really bothered me; and while I say that I didn’t give in to a bully, I really did because I and my blog have been silent for almost a month while I have thought about this issue and what I wanted to say about it. I allowed myself to be bullied into silence because I was afraid of the repercussions of speaking my mind. I was afraid I would lose support if I said exactly what I thought about some of the bullshit that has been spewed forth on this issue. But to be honest, I am really angry with myself for allowing other people to affect me, affect what I would and would not say on my own blog. 

 1794705_703664619664004_1865914717_n 

 Fuck it. Here I go. 

So, who gets to decide what “lesbian” means and who gets to be a lesbian? The answer is simple: I do; and women like me, of course. Lesbians get to decide what lesbian means.

I already gave a definition of lesbian in an earlier blog post (Definition Of Lesbian): “The definition of lesbian has been and always will be the romantic and sexual attraction between 2 females. There never has been nor will there ever be a penis in a lesbian relationship.” That definition stands with one addendum: there never has been nor will there ever be a straight woman in a lesbian relationship. If you sleep with men, you are not a lesbian. If you are a het who is celibate because you hate or are “tired of” men, you are not a lesbian. If you are a female who is not romantically and sexually attracted to females, you are not a lesbian. If you are a woman who doesn’t or doesn’t wish to have sex with other women, you are not a lesbian. If you have a penis, you are most definitely not a lesbian.

This is not rocket science here, dear reader, the rule is simple: a female who is romantically and sexually attracted to another female is a lesbian. Everyone else is not.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that we lesbians are born, we are not made; and no amount of yelling, screaming, shaming, or bullying is going to change the fact that I was born a lesbian. No one gets to tell me any differently. If political lesbians wish to believe that for them, becoming a lesbian was a choice, then have at it, I will not stop any of you. But not one of you gets to tell me or any other lesbian that we were not born lesbians. You don’t have that right, any more than a man has the right to just arbitrarily call himself a lesbian.

The only political lesbians I see pulling this shit are the ones who seem to need to come up with some sort of reason as to why they are lesbians now when they weren’t lesbians before (or perhaps to explain away feelings they have always had but denied having). I am sorry you have struggled, sisters, but to be real here, we have all struggled with our sexuality. I, personally, tried to “pray the gay away.” I had feelings for other girls when I myself was a little girl, but I didn’t want to be gay, so I chose to ignore those feelings and deny who I was for a very, very long time. That doesn’t make me a political lesbian, nor does it make being a lesbian a choice. It means I was born a lesbian but I was in denial due to the shame this society places on women who are not attracted to men. Being a lesbian wasn’t a choice, releasing the shame and embracing the fact that I was a  lesbian was the choice.

There are also those who wish to shame the rest of us by claiming that “lesbian” is some sort of patriarchal construct; that if certain women are born to love women then that means certain other women were born to love men, which is women subjugating themselves to men. To that, I call bullshit. Are all girls/women conditioned to believe that they should have sex and be partnered with men? Of course! But that doesn’t mean that (a) some women don’t actually want to be with men and (b) that lesbianism is a social construct and a choice.

Lesbianism is not a choice, dear reader, the choice comes from no longer denying who you are and no longer allowing the shame of not wanting men to cloud your view of yourself. The only choice we lesbians have is whether or not to accept ourselves as we are and to never again allow anyone, male or female (especially those disguised as allies), to shame us into thinking any differently.