Sunday, June 13, 2010

What’s in a word?

Particulars about ‘butch’ lesbians…..

Great Gay in the park! Dyke Day LA, with nigh unto 400 queers of the lesbian variety, was laid back and cool. The atmosphere, complete with whiffs of pot, made me think of our gay-kiss-ins at Griffith Park back in the day.
Fewer lip-locks this afternoon, but now it’s chic (almost legal) to dyke-out in public.

But while handing out postcards there for the upcoming ButchVoices.LA Conference, I did stumble upon some remarks that clearly show education about butch (or femme) needs some brush-up. Like one young person said my lover wasn’t really “femme” because she’s ape-shit watching soccer and the world cup this week. And I overheard another femme say to her friend, “Naturally, the femmes did all the behind-the-scenes work.”

Since when do femmes not like sports, and since when are femmes NOT on stage! Most femmes I know had at least one guitar-carrying butch hauling their shit (oops, accessories) up and down Barnsdall’s grassy knoll. As for my femme, she often asks me, “What’s the point of games with balls in them?” She’s only mesmerized by her country (South Africa) playing against my country (Mexico)! After that she switched the TV back to extreme-architectural-do-over, or whatever.

But a few more words on the topic of butch/femme education; butches are slightly more prone to watching sports on TV, but that’s bro-bonding more than following the ball. Neither the “B” word nor “femme” has anything to do with topping—in bed or out of bed. I know lots of alpha femmes who do both as their calling card. And plenty of “soft” butches who dig it.

Oh, and when I say “soft butch,” I’m not talking not shining your belt buckle or wearing your hair long. Buckles and hair do not a butch make. The “soft” only refers to the emotional “yin” quality. (That’s like in the yin & yang of things.) “Soft butches” (unlike ‘classic’ butches) go with femmes (or other butches) who are alpha: like power femmes, barracuda femmes, some high femmes (but not all), burlesque femmes, or just plain ol’ diva femmes (who hate to be called “plain” or “ol’” anything!)

“Butch” is about your style, presentation, way of thinking, and innate body language. “Butch” should not be confused with your emotionality (there are dominant butches, and plenty of pillow-king butches). And “butch” should not be confused with what kind of job/career path you’ve chosen. I know electrician femmes and Ph.d femmes, and a whole lot of femmes who are not in the “giving” professions. Some femmes I know last “gave” in the Ice Age.

So butches - and ‘studs’ and tombois and genderqueer leaning to the masculine dykes -you gotta be clear about who you are. If you’re not, your femme may just fill in your blanks. Butch dress and presentation is one variable of butch identity, but presentation does not necessarily define a butch’s sexual performance or her emotional comfort zone around dominance (or lack thereof) in a relationship.

All of which is to plug the upcoming ButchVoices.LA Conference in October. Ya gotta come so you can get your shit together around being a butch. If you are not ‘studly’ enough to come on your own, bring your butch-boi buddy, your femme, or any of your genderqueer friends who want to check out the scene and make up their own minds.
You can’t beat the price--$50 (sliding scale) for a whole weekend of best lesbiqueer performers and very smart lesbian speakers from all over the fucking country. Can’t get this at the Dinah!

Check out the who’s who of the butch-world at the conference’s website:
Kudos to the organizers of Dyke Day in the Park, and both Dyke March nights. Nice job!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Butches and Their Clothes – Still Walking the Gauntlet

Drag Kings, fashion shows, butches and ties are everywhere, but what’s all the commotion about? Seems like only yesterday it was femmes and lipstick lesbians stressing out about ‘what to wear’ to the next hot event. Now we’ve got the Top 100 Hot Butches List, and the heat is now on us—butches—to toss the t-shirts and rag-ass jeans. Don’t leave the house lookin’ like a washed-up granola dyke with bad hair.
Are there politics behind butches and their clothes, or is this just another reason for lesbians to trend-out meaninglessly? Yes, we got politics. Clothes are an important dimension of the new butch renaissance. Because many of us have been deeply traumatized about clothing.

As a teenager, I hated being dragged to Macy's by my mother. Every trip meant a new oppression by girl things called bras, stockings, slips, shoes that pinch, and other ‘harnesses’ for parts of my body that used to be free. I could not figure out how to get into the bra-thing and was sure my mother had it wrong—it had to be a new sort of football jockstrap. But my teenage voice didn’t count. I was forced to endure five years of daily gender oppression.
In my first year of college and freedom, I was sure I still hated clothes shopping but I had to wear something, so back to Macy's I went. Parking my Chevy in the only free parking spot I could find, I accidentally entered the store by another entrance. What a shock! I found myself in paradise in Macy's—the Boy’s Department. The colors, the styles, real jackets, normal shoes and trousers! I couldn’t believe it! There was nothing wrong with ‘shopping’, I’d just been lost in the women’s sections all these years. Thrilled, I moved on…and had an identity crisis in the Men’s Department! And no, it never occurred to me that I was crossing the evil waters of the gender binary. I hadn’t a clue. My body was just responding instinctively to all the right clothes.

But my lifetime trauma wasn’t over. As my body grew into a woman’s with several butch features—like being so short-waisted that women’s pants crawled up to my breasts, and men’s shirt sleeves hung below my elbows—I spent the next couple of decades running back and forth between the various departments, including petite, looking desperately for an article of clothing that fit without causing havoc within my cross-gendered psyche. The low-waisted fad was terrific, but I went years not buying new socks until the young men’s department—and young men themselves—finally stopped wearing children’s socks. I always buy three of everything that fits because years might pass before I’d find another shirt that worked with my butch wardrobe.
Becoming a feminist helped me understand the politics of clothes—that clothes were made to reinforce heterosexual stereotypes. And to marginalize those of us who didn’t fit the fashion paradigm of “male” and “female.”
That’s when I got angry and started dressing with a political vengeance. I wanted to prove to the world that a masculine-inclined woman could look dapper. I even trained my siblings and parents. When my mother bought me hooped gold earrings on my 40th birthday, my father - seeing my sad face - offered to take them away and bought me a cool black belt instead.

In case you think anti-butch remarks are a thing of the past—I overheard my femme partner having a conversation at the last party we went to. She was talking with two 50-something year old lesbian feminists:
“Butch doesn’t happen anymore,” one of them sneered, as if they smelled rotten veggies.
“Labels don’t need to be prescriptive,” said my femme. “Masculinity doesn’t belong to men anymore. Haven’t you heard?”
“The word ‘masculine’ is still a dirty word to us,” they countered.
“Butch and femme exist in every generation of lesbians,” my woman said."Why don’t we stop trying to tell each other who to be?”
“Well! We don’t need to be men.”

So I see my Sweetheart point to me and my butch bud Pat Aldarete, both in tie & jacket that night. She says, “Jeanne and Pat have no choice but to claim their masculinity. When they walk into restaurants people still stare at them. Like they have a right to ask, “Are you a guy or a chick?”
“Oh, that never happens anymore!” I hear my two same-aged ‘sisters’ tell my lover.
A few hours later, my girl and I go out to a Valley eatery, and I walk the het gauntlet of stares from middle-aged straight men and their wives. But…oh wait! This time it is different. The only ones who didn’t stare was the straight couple under thirty.

So yes, butches are still trying to express our real selves in a world that still has a het gauntlet and doesn’t make clothes for us. Nowadays there are a few butch fashion lines struggling to break even, and even Nordstrom makes that occasional shirt “for the tailored woman.” So, butch—or some call it “androgynous” –clothing trauma lives on (made only slightly easier by a more unisexed society.) But that’s what all the fuss is about, we butches are still trying to change the world.

*L.A’s next Butch fashion show takes place Friday, October 9, at the BUTCHVoices.LA Conference. Email for more info: