She’s so butch! Butch/Femme video

“I like butch girls and I cannot lie!”  So say the self-described “hyper fly ladies” of  TEAM GINA as they show their appreciation for butches “on behalf of the queer femme nation.” 

I came across this lighthearted video, which features the Seattle-based duo Team Gina with Cindy Wonderful, on The New Gay.  I like the whole ironic homohop thing, but the video actually struck me as very 90s. And very white.  Kinda sweet, kinda problematic–but funny anyway. Thoughts? 

Femme Pleasure and Strap-On Sex

I’ve sometimes felt that some butches are rather too… a-hem… narcissistically attached to their strap-ons.   If you can’t fuck without it, get out of my bed. 

Don’t get me wrong; I certainly don’t think strap-ons or dildos are heterosexist or antifeminist, and I’m not sitting around worrying that I have internalized heterosexist norms because I like sex with toys.  Actually, I think we’ve all absorbed these norms whether we acknowledge it or not.  The question is how do we engage/play with them in empowering and empathic ways (empathy being the opposite of narcissism).

For a number of years I took an antidepressant that had sexual side effects.   The world-rocking orgasms I used to have became a thing of the past.  It was really hard for me to come and if I did, my orgasms often left me feeling dissatisfied anyway.  It sucked, to put it mildly.   You often hear people (women, really) say that sexual pleasure isn’t “just” about orgasms, blah blah blah.  Unless the person in question is stone-identified, I think anyone who says that is (1) suffering from false consciousness or (2) having orgasms!

During the time I was struggling with managing my sexual side effects I suddenly developed a new empathy for those straight women who find sex to be more frustrating than satisfying.  It also made me start to wonder about how the popularity of strapping it on has affected lesbians in general and femmes in particular, who presumably aren’t any more likely than other women to orgasm from vaginal-only stimulation.  

As the website Go Ask Alice!  puts it, “For most women, making it a goal to reach orgasm during intercourse is a bit like making it a goal to find that elusive pot of gold held by a cute little leprechaun at the end of the rainbow.”   (A silly quote, but St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, so indulge me please!)  Most studies say that 70% of women do not and will not achieve orgasm from “unassisted” penis-in-vagina sex.  We all know that many women with male partners never have orgasms from intercourse and some become accomplished fakers in order to perpetuate the illusion that real women come from big, hard dicks.  To make matters worse, now doctors are “helping” in the way that they almost always do–by locating the problem in women’s bodies and then proposing to “fix”  it.  Good god, even too-cool-for-school Margaret Cho–Margaret Cho people!– got one of those G-spot shots (that’s where they inject collagen into your G-spot to “increase sensitivity”) in her quest to “achieve” orgasm from intercourse.  Just how far will we go to maintain our illusions about heteronormativity?  Pretty fucking far, clearly. 

This brings me back to my central question about strap-on sex, sexual pleasure, and femmes. Do we experience similar challenges around orgasm and sexual satisfaction as our straight sisters?  Or perhaps we experience more sexual satisfaction than they do at least in part because of the advantages of dildos, some of which are designed specifically for G-spot stimulation and/or can accommodate/increase clitoral stimulation?    I think we’re generally more informed and aware than hetero girls about female sexuality and are also more likely than them to ask for and receive other kinds of stimulation (correct me if you think I’m wrong about this), but I doubt I’m the only femme who’s felt inadequate when she couldn’t come from vaginal-only stimulation.   Is this an issue for you?  Do you feel pressured to “perform” for your partner(s)?  If you have different kinds of orgasms, which are the ones that are the most satisfying?  Do you think dykes and butches are relying too much (or not enough) on their dicks?  Are you a femme who likes to strap it on for your girl or boy/boi?  There are clearly gender issues to be addressed here, but I’m especially interested in opening up a conversation about femme sexual pleasure.

The L Word, Fashion and Femme

What’s the significance of fashion and beauty on The L Word?  This question and others are asked by The Ginja Ninja in her recent post.   Check it out and come back here for my response!

The Ginja Ninja discusses the characters’ fashion and beauty practices as an enactment of 3rd wave feminism, but I think the rise of lesbian chic and the distinctive subcultural style of LA lesbians are much more influential on the social world of The L Word.  There’s a great NY Times article, “The Subtle Power of Lesbian Style,” which discusses the enormous impact LA lesbian style has had in the worlds of fashion and pop culture.   Contrary to popular stereotypes, “fashion” and “lesbian” are hardly a contradiction in terms!

In the first episode in which Moira/Max is introduced (as Jenny’s lover), Bette remarks, “I just don’t see why Jenny feels she has to role-play like that.”   I don’t think this is an example of the group’s “up-to-date gender politics,” as you assert. To the contrary, this is precisely what 2nd wave lesbian-feminists said about butch/femme!  I’ve written a lot on this blog about the dismissal of butch/femme as role-playing, so I won’t repeat myself here.  However, we should ask:  does this demeaning attitude about  butch/femme reflect the LA scene, at least to some degree?  I think this attitude–and the presentation of butches as “archaic”–demonstrates some of the show’s profound limitations around gender identity and expression. 

I think it’s important not to conflate “feminine lesbians” and “femme.”   For example, you refer to Jenny as “unmistakably femme,” but I’m not sure I agree.  Many femmes, myself included, feel that femme identity is not just about how you look, and is not equivalent to being conventionally pretty or “feminine” (although some of us are simply ravishing, I must admit).  For example, there are (equally ravishing) tomboy femmes, gender-transgressive femmes, etc. 

There’s a reason Tila Tequila says she’s into lipstick lesbians!  Unlike lipstick lesbians (I know I’m generalizing here), femmes tend  to be self-conscious about how we create our gender, which we often experience as complicated–maybe this explains why we’re all blogging!   In my experience, femmes have been very engaged in theorizing femme identity in relation to and as part of feminist, queer, genderqueer and transgender discourses and communities.  Obviously, this isn’t true of all femmes but it does highlight a point of pride for many of us:  as Jewelle Gomez puts it, we refuse to be muted or assimilated.

Where’s the challenge and provocativeness of lesbian sartorial styles on the show?  I’m certainly NOT saying that the characters of The L Word are assimilationist because they’re fashionable and/or feminine.  Instead, my concern is that lesbian style on The L Word often functions as a vehicle for dissolving and/or absorbing social and cultural difference.

Lindsay Lohan and Femme Invisibility

During the past week, my blog stats registered approximately 2500 views, almost all of them because of Lindsay Lohan.  On the highest day of LiLo frenzy, I had over 600 views for my post, “A Lesbian Looks Like…Lindsay Lohan?” 

Despite my best efforts to ignore the LiLo frenzy, I too have been drawn back into its orbit.  But let me make one thing clear:  to those readers who’ve asked me to weigh in on the matter of Lohan’s sexual orientation, you can stop reading now because I won’t be offering my opinion about whether or not Lindsay is lesbian or bisexual, or in or out of the closet.  In keeping with my previous analysis of her “post-gay” coming out, I remain agnostic on the question of her sexuality.  What interests me is how people seem to be invested in uncovering the “truth” of Lindsay’s desire, and yet remain stuck having the same unproductive conversation over and over again.   On message boards and elsewhere, it goes something like this:

Lindsay is a lesbian!! 

No she isn’t, it’s just a stage! (Lindsay fan determined to heterosexualize her idol)

Hello, in case you haven’t noticed she’s been with a girl for months!  Sam Ronson looks like a dude but he’s a girl.  Lindsay is a lez!!  (Idiotic straight guy #1)

No, she’s bisexual. 

What a waste of a gorgeous girl! (Idiotic straight guy #2)

That makes her hotter!  She’s bangin.  (Idiotic straight guy #3)

So what if she is a lesbian or bisexual.  She’s awesome and gorgeous!  Leave Lindsay alone!

With a level of discourse this high, what’s left for your favorite sublimely femme queer theorist to say?!    Well, really just this.  There seem to be two dominant schools of thought about Lindsay’s sexuality, both of which turn on the “problem” of her femininity.  The first position, which I’ve written about before, is that she couldn’t really be a lesbian because, hell, just look at her!  The other position is the inversion of the first.  It claims that Samantha Ronson is a real lesbian (hell, just look at her!) and Lindsay wouldn’t chose a girl like that unless she was herself really queer.  In this reading, it’s the butch’s supposedly irrefutable lesbian appearance that provides evidence for the femme’s queerness.  However, in both cases, queer femininity is fundamentally framed not just as a contradiction in terms but as a disappearing act.  

In her song titled “Rumors,” (insert ironic aside of your choice) Lindsay sings, “I just want to be me.”  But how do you come to terms with yourself in a world that doesn’t even see you?

A Tribute to My Dazzling Femme Readers

In a stunning triumph for the upstart project of femme theory, femmes worldwide refuse to quantify their femininity!

OK, maybe this is a tad overstated.  Still, I couldn’t help but notice that mostly butches/sporty butches were quick to take the Femme Quiz over at Kiss and Kvell and report back on their scores.  Don’t get me wrong, I smiled with delight reading about The Gentleman‘s gender ephiphany and Alex‘s and Leo‘s pride at their scores (zero!).  But, I wondered, why were femmes except the brave Aviva reluctant to do the same?

After detailed analysis of all available evidence and consultations with premier international femmeperts (experts on all things femme, mais bien sûr), here are my educated guesses:

1. We’re too busy being amazing to take a quiz, of course!   

2.  Femmes hate quizzes, surveys, etc.  These tests are just so…mathematical.  It’s like when the check comes after dinner; wouldn’t you rather reapply your lipstick than figure out the tip? 

3.  Sisterhood!  Competitiveness between femmes is so 5 minutes ago.  We refuse to take any quiz (however adorable) because we don’t want to participate, even inadvertently, in the heteropatriarchal project of ranking women/femininities.   You see, we’re feminist *and* super smart, too!

4.   We’re proud of being free-spirited and quirky; don’t pin us down!  Sure, we’re femme, but some of us hate sweet drinks with umbrellas and fairy princesses, can’t afford to shop at Sephora or have weekly manicures, are turned on by other femmes, or want to wear our toolbelts and our garter belts, thank you very much!

5.  Femmes have been reading Sublimefemme Unbound way too much and now cannot help themselves from generating nuanced political critiques of any and everything femme.  This gets in the way of filling out whimsical quizzes, alas.

6.   Why bother to take a quiz when you know you’re an icon of fabulosity?  And you all are, my lovelies, no matter what your “score!” 

What do you think?  Please add your own thoughts!

Femme and Butch Are Not Labels

This blog is not a prescription I’m writing on how to be a femme (buy two lipsticks and call me in the morning), nor is it a secret plot to convert queer girls into femmes (although I know some of you out there would love that, wouldn’t you?!). Those of us who are butch and femme are not trying to impose our identities/expressions on anyone else.

You don’t have to identify yourself as femme or butch or high femme or transmasculine or lipstick lesbian or boi or genderqueer or, well, anything at all! However, my femme gender is central to my identity and my sexuality. And here’s the thing: how is my wish to call myself a femme undermining or threatening anyone else’s identity or self-identification?  

I strongly support and respect the right of others to self-identify in whatever way they chose–including those who oppose categorizing their sexualities and/or genders. As I’ve said many times, Sublimefemme is all about sexual and gender diversity! Exploring, promoting and educating about sexual and gender diversity are at the core of my life’s work.

Why is it that critiques of butch and femme genders always seem to revolve around the problems/shortcomings of labels? LaurynX has a great discussion on her blog about how class, race and privilege play a part in our identifications, particularly with respect to butch and femme genders.  I’m not going to repeat her points, which are terrific, but if you haven’t read these posts, you should!  Be sure to check out Social Class and Butch-Femme and Who Needs Butch-Femme?

As a femme, I feel undermined when my relationship with my butch partner is called “role-playing,” or when our genders are called “labels.” Here’s what I mean. Let’s compare your favorite sublimely femme queer theorist to her next-door neighbor, who we’ll call Average Middle-Class White Guy. I would imagine that my neighbor Average Guy rarely has to self-identify because of his privilege as a straight cisgendered male. But when he does, I doubt anyone has ever said, “Dude, what’s with the labels? Why can’t you just be a human?”

Dude, why is it so hard to respect and welcome difference?

Lesbian Vampires for You, Dear Readers

Dying, Sweetly

I promised I would never tell this to another living soul.  But Sido has been haunting my dreams for weeks and I cannot keep my secret any longer.

I was a schoolgirl when I first saw her; she was walking alone near my school on a luminous evening when everything seemed to come alive in the cool, silvery moonlight.   A mist covered the courtyard, which gave the impression that this mysterious stranger was floating across the grounds.  Even from my window I could feel her power overtaking me.  When she looked up at me–sensing that she was being watched–she paused for a minute, flashing me an amused smile of recognition.   She tipped her hat in my direction with an air of masculine gallantry, and then I watched her move languidly past the ancient, ivy-covered buildings until she was out of sight.

The next time I saw Sido, she was standing over my bed when I awoke in the night.  I had no idea how she had entered my room, since I always locked my door, or how long she had stood there watching me sleep.  But I somehow sensed her presence even when I was asleep.  Tossing in my little bed under her gaze, I could feel her dark, magnetic eyes staring intensely at my face and body, as though she knew I already belonged to her.

I was afraid, but I was also drawn to her by a force I had never felt.  She was the most irresistably beautiful creature I had ever seen, and yet there was nothing soft or girlish about her.   Seeing her standing before me, her strong jaw illuminated by the moonlight, I was spellbound by her brooding masculine melancholy and the directness of her ardor.  She wanted to feast on me, she said, while removing her hat and black velvet cape with a flourish, but in a cruelly romantic gesture she sought to protract and heighten her pleasure by refusing me mine.   I trembled as she caressed my body, breathing so fast that my corset, which I wore nightly, rose and fell with my tumultuous respiration.  I threw my arms around her neck, drawing her closer to me so I could whisper my desires in her ear, blushing at the wild passions she had aroused in me.  I flirted, flattered, and begged, but none of my tactics worked.

What she wanted, she said as she showered me with soft kisses, was for me to obey her irresistable law.  “Your little heart is wounded,” she murmured in her seductive, low voice.  “If your dear heart is hurt, my wild heart bleeds with yours.  In the rapture of my enormous passion, I will live in your warm life, and you shall die–die, sweetly die–into mine.  I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you in your turn will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love.”

Gazing upon me with eyes that were all fire, Sido asked for my consent to her dark love.  “For years I have watched and waited for you.  I have been in love with no one, and never shall, unless it be you.  But love will have its sacrifices.  There is no sacrifice without blood.  Will you die as lovers die–to die together, so that we may live together?”

Yes, I would, I passionately declared, yes.

I never felt more full of life than at that moment when I offered myself to her.  She kissed me longer and more deeply than I had ever been kissed, and then I felt her warm kisses moving lovingly across my throat.  My heart beat faster.  Overwhelmed by a frenzy of passion, my breathing rose and fell as I gasped for air in my tightly laced corset.  Sido slowly loosened the laces and I suddenly felt a stinging pain as if two large needles plunged, an inch or two apart, deep into my breast.  I screamed and my senses left me then, as though a narcotic of unusual influence was acting upon me and lulled me into a deep sleep.

A noise caused me to wake up suddenly.  In the soft light from the lamp that burned in the hallway, I saw Sido leaving my room, her white shirt bathed in blood.


Wishing you a bewitching and magical All Hallow’s Eve from Sublimefemme!

This little tale is my butch-femme remix of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic story “Carmilla,” the first lesbian vampire story in English.  It was published in 1872.

Doing It On Purpose

First, a few comments about my uber amazing readers inspired by this week’s dialogue in Butch2Femme and Transitioning to Femme:

I nearly feel off my chaise lounge when I read LaurynX’s comment that she just came out as femme in the past few months. Holy mother of god! You, my dear, are going to be a force to be reckoned with, no doubt about it! That aside, I think LaurynX’s advice “not to let any anti-feminine sentiments get to you” is so wise. And it’s not just lesbians who can put you down for being too girly, since paradoxically revering and disparaging femininity is as American as apple pie. Which is why, for me, being a femme requires developing strategies to negotiate this double bind. Such as calling people out on their shit. And looking fierce.

I think Lady Brett Ashley and I are making really similar points about how tomboy (or butch) and femme are not mutually exclusive categories. Lady B has written well on her on blog and elsewhere about how this gender fluidity is a fundamental part of what femme means to her. I would also add that it’s a perfect example of one way in which femme is different from femininity.

Femmes can and do love femmes! In a blogging universe dominated by the butch/femme dyad, I really appreciate BiblioFemme and how out she is about being a “femme-loving femme.” On another note, I love how open Tina was in her terrific comment about her own vulnerability; her encouragement to “give yourself the leeway to find the femme you will be” is right on the mark–and very nicely put, too, I might add!

It’s not every day that the dapper Leo MacCool quotes Dolly Parton on your blog–an act of pure genius, thanks Leo! I can’t think of any advice more perfect than the suggestion that you “find out who you are and do it on purpose.” It’s so true, so brilliant, and so wonderfully campy that it deserves to be a tenent of Sublime Femmeness. All hail Femme Icon Dolly Parton!

Second, to Butch2Femme: you asked for clarification about my cautionary remark*; it was about my concern that you might be embarking upon a Sapphic version of the “break-up haircut.” I saw right away that you were linking your new femme ID to the femme who broke your heart (sounds to me like she has terrible taste!), but I originally didn’t understand what that connection was about. E.g. Were you becoming more femme to keep a part of her with you? I just didn’t understand what your gender had to do with her gender. So I urged caution and tried to encourage you not to be reactive but instead to think about who you really are and what you really want. And it sounds like this is exactly what you’re doing!

Despite the heartache, one positive thing that has emerged from this break-up is that it’s given you the opportunity to begin to define your identity not for someone else but for yourself. For this and for your adorable peep-toes, I raise my glass to you, my darling! Now that I know you’re so healthy and centered, go ahead and throw caution into the wind 😉

Kisses to all,

*Note: My cautionary remark from my original post was: “Did you feel free with your ex to express your gender–e.g. your femme side or your tomboy style? If gender is one reason why you think this relationship didn’t work out, my advice to you would be to proceed with caution.”

The Feminist Fairytale about Butch/Femme

Does butch/femme reinforce traditional gender roles? Is it sexist? Misogynistic? Does being a femme mean that you’re a nurturing “little wife” who “stands by her butch?” A sex kitten who is required to perform an idealized fantasy of feminine perfection? Do butches and other transmasculine people get to “wear the pants” (both literally and metaphorically)–defending and protecting “their” femmes– while femmes have less power? Is it really possible to be a feminist butch or a feminist femme–not just in theory, but in practice?

Sometimes it seems like these questions just won’t go away. This post is my very personal–and political–response. My feminism is about freedom of gender expression. I insist upon being respected as a femme but I refuse to be confined to someone else’s definition of what that means. I’m smart, confident, and successful. I love being pretty and sexy but I’m not an ornament or arm candy. Being femme does not mean that I will abide by the traditional self-sacrificing requirements of femininity–the idea that women must reliquish their freedom and autonomy, dreams and desires, to find fulfillment. I like to please my partner, but I will not subordinate myself to make her happy. You don’t like my amazing new outfit? Oh well, that’s too bad because I love it and feel great in it!

For me, femme doesn’t mean that I’m locked into some naturalized gender role, as I think all too often happens (particularly for women) in heterosexual relationships. But I’ll admit, that’s not always easy. There have been times when I felt like I was slipping into a “wifey” role, and I had to work to get that fantasy image of femininity out of my head. (There’s a huge difference between *wanting* to do domestic stuff and *having* to do it.) I imagine that some butch/femme couples do organize their lives in ways that echo traditional gender roles, but that hasn’t been my experience.

There is nothing inherently anti-feminist or sexist about butch/femme identities or desires. What I think is confusing about femme in particular and butch/femme in general is that it can look a lot like naturalized gender identity/roles at first glance. For example, you’ll never see me change the oil in the car or install new faucets–my partner (who ID’s as butch) does that stuff. I clean the bathroom and do most of the cooking. I take out the trash sometimes, and if I break a nail, I’m pissed. (Actually I’m always pissed if I break a nail!) My partner is usually not comfortable in the kitchen but she can be counted on to make a great tortilla soup. We both value and respect each other’s work. There have been times when I’ve been the breadwinner, other times when she’s supported me financially, and times when we’ve both contributed to our household income. We both have equal power in the relationship when it comes to making decisions, which we make together. She came home with flowers for me today, just because.

The contradictions in masculinity and femininity are a part of us and our relationship, just like they are for most other couples. But when others imply that our relationship is somehow more sexist than theirs, I think they’re projecting their own anxieties about gender onto us.

The notion that butch/femme is sexist is a feminist fairytale we need to stop telling.

Femme Desires

I’ve been looking forward to Sinclair’s post about the Femme Conference, and it didn’t disappoint. If you haven’t read it, go visit Sugarbutch Chronicles and have a look. It’s called “In Praise of Femmes: The Architecture of Identity.”

Sinclair points to 5 ways to construct femme:
1) In contrast to butch
2) In community
3) Through language
4) Through fashion and style
5) Through theory [I would fold #5 into #3, since theory is language.]

I think these are all great, but I’m struck by the absence of the body and sexuality from this list–a rather surprising absence coming from the dashing Top Sex Blogger of 2008!

Doesn’t the body and sexuality factor into some of these 5 categories? For example, fashion isn’t just about clothes. It’s also about sculpting the body (through exercise, diet, cosmetic surgery, etc) and stylizing the body in various ways, including the refusal to “manage” the body to conform to mainstream ideals of femininity. I think the celebration of fat/voluptuous bodies by many femmes is great example of this form of femme fashion!

What about the importance of sexual power and pleasure for femmes? Based on what I’ve heard about the Femme Conference, I would imagine that people would be talking about how femmes use sexuality and their bodies to construct their identities. (For those of you who were there, please fill me in!) If people were *not* talking about this, what does it mean? Does it reinforce stereotypes that femmes are (only) pillow queens, or that it’s butches who are “doers”–i.e. have active sexual desires and sexual agency?

I worry when we seem to be echoing traditional scripts that cast “boys” as desiring subjects and “girls” as objects of desire. For similar reasons, I think it’s worth questioning whether we want to define femme only or primarily in relation to butch. I’ve been learning a lot from those of you who’ve been sharing your own definitions of femme, and one of things I’m trying to do is understand femme on its own terms–as its own independent gender. (Thanks to Chaia for challenging me on this!) I think the discussions that many of us have been having about supporting each other as femmes is, to some degree, a step toward reframing (queer) femininity not in competition with other femmes but in relation to them. That’s about the independence and autonomy of femme.

OK, I know what you’re thinking–the whole butch/femme thing. I realize that for many of us, femme makes sense in relation to butch. While this is true for me on a personal level, I think we run into problems when we say that butch is central to what being a femme means. This seems to me to sidestep the fundamental question for femmes: who are we?

For me, this is a question that goes much deeper than fashion and style (I know, sacrilege!). I genuinely delight in “doing” femme, but being a femme is not just about clothes, style, nails, etc., at least for me. But hey, you might say: it is for me! Ok, great, but here’s the problem. If you only tell me about your style–how you perform femme on an everyday basis–that still doesn’t tell me what the meaning and intention of your style (or femme performance) is for you.

So, my questions are:
Do you define femme in relation to butch?
How are sexual pleasure, your body, and your desires a part of your identity as a femme?
If you have a particular femme or feminine style, what is the meaning of that style or gender performance for you?

I’d love to hear from femmes and femme allies, especially if you’ve been reading and haven’t yet joined the discussion. Please jump in and comment, because I want to know what you think!