Butch Positive

Dear Cindy,   I don’t get a lot of unenlightened and hateful comments.  So I’ll admit, I  was shocked when you left the following comment in response to my post “No, I’m not a lipstick lesbian (I just look like one)”:

i am so glad there is a web site for femmenine lesbians i am a lesbian and i like femmenine lesbians and i despise butch lesbians.

I have been looking at your comment for days, wondering how on earth you could think that (1) it’s OK to be so derogatory and rejecting toward other members of our community (2) liking femmes necessarily means hating butches (3) I would share or tolerate your views!

If you actually read my blog, you’ll discover that I’m pro-butch. All of us who appreciate the appeal of butches, bois, studs, androgynous dykes, and tomboys have our own reasons for favoring their genderqueer charms.   One of my favorite pieces on this subject is Julia Watson’s Why I Love Butch Women, and Other Endangered Species.  For me, the allure of butches is both about who they are and who they have helped me to be. 

So, Cindy, I just wanted you to know why I didn’t publish your comment.  SF Unbound is a butch-positive space that celebrates the gender diversity of our community.  Plus, I think butches are über hot.

Gender, Butch, and My Van

As a budding gender guru, Angie’s Young Lover has asked about my partner Van, specifically 

how does Van identify? or, rather, how do YOU gender up your Van?

AYL asks because the discussion following my Lucky Girl post turned to gender, as it always seems to here.  So, for inquiring minds, Van identifies as a butch lesbian.  I know I make it sound like we disagree on everything, but Van and I actually agree on that.   To put my twist on it, I would describe her as a button-down butch who is not transmasculine.  Aside from the button-down reference (which is really about style), what I’m trying to convey in my description is that Van sees herself as gender variant but not trans.  Let’s double check on that, though.  “Is that right, honey?”  I ask.   Yes, she’s says, that’s it.

But gender is complicated, isn’t it?  Van just told me that at a business meeting a few days ago she was read as male.  She knows because the greeter, who appeared to be about 75 years old, announced her as “Mr. Van is here” and kept referring to her with male pronouns.   I didn’t realize that this ever happened to her because when we go out together, we’re always seen as women, as in “what can I get you ladies today?”   To clarify, Van says she’s usually read as female and if she is called sir, it’s almost always a situation in which someone sees her from the side or back, and then quickly apologizes when she turns and they realize she’s a woman.  

Van is a pretty private person, which is why after blogging for almost a year I still have said very little about her, but describing her as a butch lesbian doesn’t really do her justice because she’s so much more than her gender, as I think we all are.  So here’s a little snaphot of my Van.  She’s funny.  In fact, her entire family is funny (unlike my relatively humorless clan).  I was first attracted to her not only because of her sense of humor but also because of her strength, which made me feel safe during a difficult time in my life.  She moved 2000 miles to support me in my career.  She calls me honeybun when no one else is around to hear.  (Shhh…don’t tell!)  She’s the kind of person you can always count on to do the right thing.   We just celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary! 

PS  For you twentysomethings out there, here’s something that will blow your mind.  Van & I met through the personals (I answered her ad), back when they were in newspapers. In those days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, after checking out someone’s ad you would call and listen to the person’s prerecorded voicemail and, if you were interested, you’d leave a message for them.  I was definitely interested. I thought Van’s voice was hot.  Still do, as a matter of fact.

Andro-Butch Style

Thought it was time to butch things up around here. 

No, not me, silly!  I’m thinking more like Jenny Shimizu. But wait, I know what you’re thinking. She’s looking femmey as a judge on Bravo’s series Make Me a Supermodel, right? I can understand why she wouldn’t want to get stuck in one look. (I’m lying, actually–I can’t!)  Sigh. The femme-inization of Jenny Shimizu is a sad development for yours truly, so I’m posting some photos of her sizzling andro-butch side.

For inquiring minds, that famous tattoo–which you can see clearly in Ellen Von Unwerth’s photograph–is an image of a pin-up girl riding a crescent wrench.  The lettering on the wrench says “strap-on” instead of  “snap-on,” which is actually Jenny’s preferred brand of hand and power tools. (“I use snap-on, bitch,” she snarled at one interviewer. )  Speaking of which, those motocycles are not just props, girls.  Shimizu is probably the first (and only?) lesbian supermodel who rides bikes and is a mechanic.  Is it hot in here or is it just me?



What Makes (Me) a Femme

Long, long ago in a gender galaxy far, far away…

…I was butch!

I know what you’re thinking: how could your favorite ravishing femme queer theorist–who is typing these words with perfectly manicured red nails–have ever been butch? But it’s really true, my lovelies, I swear. I had Hilary Swank’s haircut in Boys Don’t Cry, stomped around in big Timberland boots, got my clothes from the men’s department, and my only grooming products were shampoo, soap and chapstick. In the community that I came out into, to be a lesbian meant that you were butch, andro, or flannel, period. I actually had no idea that other kinds of lesbian genders existed!

I’m writing this piece in response to Hussy Red’s terrific post “The Femme Archive” on The Femme Guide, which asks all of us to share our own stories about how we’ve come to our identities as femmes. So, I’ve been asking myself: Who and what inspired, affirmed and taught me as I traveled the long and winding road to femme? What made me feel authorized to express my own queer femininity? Here are my answers, in no particular order:

1. Femme Icons. These are the brave, beautiful women who inspired me and educated me about femme, even if I never knew them. For me, Joan Nestle, Susie Bright, and Amber Hollibaugh are at the top of the list; their brilliance, political activism, magnetic eroticism and kick-ass femme attitudes made me think, that’s what I want to be when I grow up! Femme icons from earlier eras have also been a big source of inspiration for me. If you’ve read my post on Greta Garbo, you know that I love old Hollywood glamour and the beautiful and talented lesbian and bisexual women who serve, for me, as icons of queer femininity. (For the scoop about Garbo, Tallaluh Bankhead, Mercedes de Acosta, Marlene Dietrich and more, check out Diana McLellan’s The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood!) But Femme icons are also people we see everyday. For me, getting to know and work with smart and successful femme/feminine lesbians who were my teachers and mentors was an incredible blessing. By modeling their own versions of femme in their lives and work (from lipstick lesbian to campy, queer femme identities), they introduced me to ways of inhabiting lesbian gender that I had never imagined possible.

2. Butch/femme and lesbian history. Learning about the history of butch/femme in the 40s, 50s and 60s was incredibly important to me. Reading Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues–which was itself a life-changing experience–motivated me to learn more about butch/femme working-class communities in postwar America. I was so inspired and impressed by how brave these women were, and how hard they had fought to carve out spaces for public, visible lesbian communities under extremely oppressive social conditions. In fact, the main reason I began to identify as a femme (as opposed to lipstick lesbian, for example) is precisely because I wanted to connect with that past. This is still true for me today; calling myself a femme is one way I strive to honor the struggles, sacrifices, and hard-won victories of butches and femmes and carry them forward into the present. To learn more about butch/femme communities in the 50s, I highly recommend Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline Davis’ wonderfully readable oral history, Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold.

3. Gay men. What can I say? I’m a huge fan!! Meet me at the intersection of Oscar Wilde and John Waters. Gay men helped me to embrace my identity as a femme because they offered me a space to celebrate femininity with joy and a sense of playfulness, which felt worlds removed from the shaming, suspicion or just perplexed confusion that I felt from some lesbians and feminists. In the gay world, I wasn’t just “tolerated” for being femme, I was loved and respected. Gay male friends who appreciated beauty, fashion and glamour also taught me a thing or two about queer aesthetics and camp, both of which changed the way I look at the world. Most importantly, they inspired me to approach gender and sexuality with a sense of adventure and frivolity that has shaped how I “do” femme.

4. Facing My Own Pain and Gender Oppression. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I had an epiphany sitting in the audience at a GenderPAC conference, that I realized how hurt I’ve been from the years of being shunned in lesbian/feminist bookstores (for being too femme) or being marginalized in the straight world (for being too queer). At GenderPAC, Riki Wilchins was talking about the oppression faced by femmes, which often isn’t recognized because we do not (typically) transgress gender norms. Suddenly, tears filled my eyes and I was overwhelmed by a powerful emotional reaction I had never anticipated. What was going on?

I went to the conference because I’m an ally of trans and genderqueer people, and I wanted to participate in the important education and advocacy work that GenderPAC does. But as I was listening to Riki speak, I realized that I was exactly where I needed to be–not for others, but for me. Coming to terms with my own gender oppression not just as a woman but also as a femme has enabled me to work towards healing the pain I didn’t even realize I was carrying inside me. It has helped me to politicize my own experience as a femme in ways I hadn’t previously, because now I understand and appreciate the depth of that experience not only with my head, but also with my heart.

By Way of a Conclusion. All of this doesn’t quite tell you how I travelled from the andro butch of my younger years to the capitivating vision of femme-ininity I am now, but these snapshots of my journey are at the core of what has made me a femme. I hope you’ll go to The Femme Guide and write about what made/makes you a femme, because I can’t wait to read your stories! Regardless of how we identify or the differences that shape our lives, we all have *so much* to learn from each other.

Introducing Sublimefemme Unbound

A belated introduction to Sublimefemme Unbound, dear readers…

If you’re not interested in having your world rocked by a high femme queer theorist, who critiques politics and culture wearing a sheer black peignor and pink marabou stilettos, then this probably isn’t your kind of site.  If you do not worship at the feet of disarmingly smart and exuberantly sensual femmes, what can I say?  Your loss! 

I am shameless in my love for debonair butches, unconventional thinking, pleasure, serendipitous discoveries, contradictions, beauty, and extravagance of all kinds.  I take as my inspiration  Oscar Wilde’s ebullient dictum that “we should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things with sincere and studied triviality.”  I have little patience for self-righteous moral and political correctness, so if that’s your thing, be prepared to loose your innocence. 

Sublimefemme is too busy being amazing (or doing her nails) to expend energy on the impolite or the unappreciative.