Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What Happened in Oakland

To All Butches and our Allies
from Jeanne Cordova

Yes, it was a hard weekend--a tough experience, both sad and joyful. Bittersweet.
Many have written and asked, "What happened?"
Bottom line first -- a big group, led by woman-identified Butches, formally left Butch Voices and formed Butch Nation.

To start at the beginning of the weekend:
What appeared to be about 250 people (butches, femmes, transmasculine, genderqueer, everyone) came to Oakland. Many expressed their disappointment that they couldn’t find any workshops at the BV conference that were relevant to their lives. Others appeared satisfied. Butch Nation members did three workshops not included by BV. On Saturday Sasha Goldberg led “Bulldaggers: For Women-identified, Female Pronoun Using Butches,” sponsored by the Oakland Bulldaggers who played a leading role in Butch Nation, and the topic was discussed by a packed room of some 60 such dykes. The energy was high, tight with butch camaraderie and everyone spoke. On Sunday at the 12 noon lunchtime, I presented my workshop from prior butch conferences, “Exploring Our Masculinities While Keeping our Feminism” –with panelists Angie Evans (the Butch Revival musician) Staci Reed from Bulldaggers (and a co-founder of Butch Nation), and Sky Kral also of Bulldaggers. The room was filled with eager female-identified butches and we spoke about how and why feminism & womanism was important to butch identity. At the same time Butch Nation allies Lynn Harris Ballen & Yvonne Moore called a caucus for Feminist Femmes & Allies who wanted to know what was going on, show their support and air their feelings. About 25 femmes attended this “Femme Couch” in the lobby and were grateful to be together.
After an afternoon of BV workshops about 200 folk went to a BV sponsored variety show Saturday night called, coincidentally, “Butch Nation.” D’Lo the comic emceed, we laughed, talked, ‘shopping’ took place! Some politics didn’t go over so well from the stage but generally we all had a good time. It felt good to laugh!
Then came Sunday’s “Town Hall” sort of awkwardly placed in the middle of BV’s closing plenary. Butch Voices had invited Butch Nation women, so we came. Unfortunately, only about 125 people were still around to attend this. BV chose a not-affiliated with either faction moderator, named Raj Neogy. I thought this was a good idea and said yes to it when asked earlier by BV. Raj had a tough crowd with a lot of tension and intense feelings. Many walked in possibly hoping for reconciliation. The key issues were: the word “butch” being removed from BV’s mission statement and replaced by “masculine of center people.” The 2nd big issue was the Confidentiality Agreement issued by BV in April to all of its organizers and workshop presenters. Pages of this lengthy document were passed around by Butch Nation so people could read it. (on BV’s website, last two pages).
In this Townhall session about 35 people got up to speak. Charges about everything from “the Microsoft tone” of the confidentiality statement to everything but the kitchen sink were hurled about. Lots of tension, sadness, tears, pride, anger, confusion.
But part way through it became clear to people that these were core differences. There was no offer of reconciliation from Butch Voices to Butch Nation. Toward the end B. Cole, and a few other cooler heads, said stuff like, “It’s clear that there are now going to be two organizations. How can our community best support both of them?”
Suggestions were made as everyone tried to calm down and get a grip and look to the future. D’Lo asked, “How we can cooperate? Like the Brown Boi Project sponsors workshops at BV conferences, maybe Butch Nation could do the same at future Butch Voices conferences.” Sasha Goldberg of Butch Nation suggested that we go our separate ways in peace. I agree.

Did the split have to happen? Why couldn't we talk it thru and reconcile?
Please believe that those of us in Butch Nation spent 18 months and hundreds of emails and hours of Board Conference Call Meetings pleading with the Board of BV not to change their mission statement, not to cast off our feminist/womanist and lesbian heritage. BV and BN leaders still have dozens of emails about these talks.

Butch Nation is now in the process of writing its Mission Statement. We will soon pull that together and put it out for feedback. We have begun to pull together a Steering Committee for our Weekend of Butch Culture on the weekend before Halloween 2012. We are writing by-laws. We are recovering from the weekend. Butch Nation avows feminism as a cornerstone of butch identity. But that does not mean only one kind of big "F" feminism, and that does not mean we will exclude butches who may not be feminists. Our welcome card is to; “All who identify as butch and our allies." To me the "B" word includes all those who were welcomed on the main post-card of the Los Angeles butch conference of 2010. That is, "all who identify as butch, boi, genderqueer, tomboy, stud, aggressive, butcha, macha, drag king, jock, dyke, two-spirit, FtM, androgynous-with-a-butch twist, and transmasculine.”
Butch Nation wants also to reach out beyond conferences and be involved in grass roots activism and the world politics of gender discrimination, with particular focus on the oppression of butches.

Was there a generational, or racial, or class split?
Fuck no, not from Butch Nation! Dozens of youth are working in both Butch Nation and Butch Voices. Indeed, youth and women/people of color, and all classes are founders of both.
I see my job as an elder as supporting our daughters (and sons) to continue the social justice work we began with the civil rights movements of the 1960s… to women's liberation… then, gay liberation… then, lesbian nation, then queer nation, now Butch Nation.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Butch is a Way of Life

Thanks to the hundreds of women, womyn, dykes, Moc people, and gender-queer folk who've written in support of the birth and vision of Butch Nation. (see press release in my last post) My position is that there are no "sides" here; just legitimate political and values differences.

But, there are so few butch events in our country that I urge everyone to go to as many as they can. There is much to learn and lots of butch camaraderie to be soaked up at all such gatherings.

The radical core of being a gender-nonconforming woman means embracing both the masculine and the feminine Self. Butch is much more than a noun. It is a way of life enriched by its painful past and made noble by its authentic present.
Movements grow and change through splits and shifts. They are common. And not harmful so long as they are issue driven rather than personality based.

The Butch Enough blog post – (7/31 - ‘Gender is a Landscape Not a Line’ - accurately details my hesitations with using "masculine of center people" as an umbrella identifier. Find it, read it!

If any of you are interested in serving butch community by joining our Board, please write letting us know this. And friend us on facebook - Butch Nation for updates. We are growing!

In brotherhood and sisterhood,
Jeanne Cordova, feminist butch
Co-founder, Butch Nation

Breaking News -- Prominent Organizers Break with Butch Voices: Butch Nation is Born

Press Release
For Immediate Release
July 25, 2011
Contacts: see below

Prominent Organizers Break with Butch Voices:
Butch Nation is born

After years of internal strife, four officers of ButchVoices report they have left the West Coast based organization. The four, along with numerous others, announce they will continue their butch advocacy and solidarity work under the name Butch Nation.

The former officers claim they were ousted or forced to resign because the Board of ButchVoices would not address their concerns over issues such as feminism, ageism, misogyny, and internal secrecy. The long-term members include ButchVoices Board member Jeanne Cordova; Program Chair Sasha T. Goldberg; Vendor Chair Yvonne Moore; and Program Committee member Stacy Reed. The four women are long time LBGTQ activists whose experience spans three generations, multiple religions, races, and ethnicities.

Goldberg and Moore were asked to resign last month upon their refusal to sign a newly issued 12 page contract which specifies confidentiality as all “trade secrets, know-how, concepts, processes, ideas, development activities and designs, [and] all information not generally known outside of ButchVoices.” Although the organization lacks legal standing and is not a non-profit, their contract focuses on strict branding requirements, and demands that volunteers relinquish intellectual property rights.

Goldberg and Moore argued that the workings of a volunteer-based organization should be transparent to its constituents, and, given all of the internal struggles over feminism, ageism, and misogyny within the organization, were both unwilling to commit to silence.

Butch Voices is one of a new crop of butch groups organized in recent years. Its self-appointed leadership consists of: Joe LeBlanc, Q Ragsdale, Krys Freeman, and Mary Stockton. Cordova, a fifth member, was asked to join after her keynote in 2009. After last October’s regional ButchVoices L.A. conference, which had unprecedented success, Cordova was suddenly asked to leave the organization.
During its inaugural 2009 Conference in Oakland ButchVoices claimed it wanted to include all butch voices. However, a group of Steering Committee feminists left during the ’09 planning. Internal tension mounted again in 2010 when Cordova insisted upon inserting the words “feminist” and “lesbian” into the official Call-for-Submissions to the upcoming regional conferences. Although invited to serve on the Board as ButchVoice’s “sage elder”, Cordova’s value rapidly decreased when she disagreed with the Board, who proceeded to schedule their retreat during Cordova’s surgery.

Differences culminated when the Board Retreat met, without Cordova, and changed ButchVoice’s mission statement, shifting the original language of “butch women and trans folk” to “masculine of center people.” Cordova and Goldberg argued—unsuccessfully—for equal footing being given to “butch women and masculine of center people.” ButchVoice’s current mission statement says, “BUTCH Voices is a grassroots organization dedicated to all self-identified Masculine of Center people and our Allies.”

Goldberg and Cordova wrote letters to the Board about these concerns on behalf of woman-identified Butches who do not identify as “masculine of center people”--hoping that their own voices might be heard, and taken to heart. The letters remain unanswered.

Cordova, Goldberg, Moore, and Reed, though now unaffiliated with ButchVoices, remain committed to building Butch community. During the Saturday lunchtime slot at ButchVoices, Goldberg will offer her workshop “Bulldagger: For Women-Identified, Female Pronoun using Butches”; during the Sunday lunchtime slot, Cordova will offer her caucus, “Exploring Our Masculinities While Keeping Our Feminisms.” Both workshops will be hosted in a room donated by members of the Oakland Bulldaggers, and will be listed under the name Goldberg. Sessions will be open to conference attendees and non-registrants alike.

The four organizers are joined by members of the Oakland Bulldaggers, The Lesbian Exploratorium/LEX (organizers of the Los Angeles ButchVoices regional conference), veteran LGBTQ activist Ivy Bottini, and others. They plan to continue their activism through Butch Nation. Butch Nation hopes other butch groups around the country will want to affiliate with them to continue work in Butch advocacy, education, and solidarity.

The Nation can be contacted at

Additional Contacts:
Jeanne Cordova; 626.791.0665
Sasha T. Goldberg; 415.689.4712
Yvonne Moore;, 310.614.4359
Stacy Reed;
LEX/Ivy Bottini;, 323.848.8015