I have complicated feelings about butch/femme identities in lesbian relationships. On the one hand, I find the contrast incredibly sexy- I have a hard time aesthetically appreciating lesbian couples where the partners look too similar to each other.
((that being said, my straight, cis parents look so similar they are often thought to be brother and sister, and they are darn attractive people and a cute couple, so there are exceptions))
On the other hand, I dislike how that dichotomy of gendered identity in couples can play into the hands of people who completely distort conceptions of gay relationships, gender identity, and queerness to ask inane questions like “Who is the man in the relationship?” (um, last time I checked, we were both women, and I really hope it stays that way…)
Which is why I LOVE this piece that was written on the Made of Words blog for Sugarbutch’sButch Symposium. I’ve recently come to follow some amazing bloggers who are participating in the Butch Symposium and writing about Butch identity and all the complexities that come with it, which has made me fall in love with butch (and femme) identities all over again, for the incredibly complex picture of sexuality (and genderfuck) that they represent. In this piece, the blogger is femme and writes about her experiences dealing with stereotypes about her girlfriend’s butch identity.
According to common wisdom. I’m supposed to be a huge pillow princess. Complete bottom. Love, love, love penetration with the biggest, most realistic cock ever in the history of cocks. That common wisdom comes from the same people that ask “So…who’s the dude?” when trying to figure out how my and Jae’s relationship works. …If the above is true about me, then the following is true about Jae: she’s the dude. She’s got the biggest, most realistic cock (which she packs everywhere) and she can caulk the tub while fucking me at the same time. She is always on top and calls me her girl and has a touch of chauvinism to her.
This is precisely the kind of distorted conceptions I am talking about, and it has much to do with the ideas I presented in Christmas and Gender Stereotypes back in December. People love to conflate gender with sexuality and vice versa, and then further conflating those gender roles with sexual roles, which doesn’t work in straight relationships, nor in gay ones. (I won’t go on a tirade about how your boyfriend asking you to fuck him in the ass is not an indication that he’s gay, but suffice to say that this is a prime example of one such wrongful association of gender and sexual roles in straight society).
When it comes to lesbians, people love to assume that butch women are also dominant sexual partners, primarily because they have first associated butch-ness with masculinity, and that same sexual assumption is packed into straight relationships too. But if you separate out these “linked” dichotomies, you get a much fuller picture of what “butch” means.
Holden, at the Packing Vocals blog, eloquently explains one of the facets of butch that ze identifies with (I use ze as the pronoun because Holden identifies as genderqueer as well as butch, which is another bit of vocabulary unpacking you should consider when reading zir entire piece here):
“The Butch gentleman is chivalrous in an innate way, socialised as female she has an instinctive ability to care for her lady and others around her. She conforms to the accepted notions of being a gentleman but simultaneously her very nature is non-conforming. The butch gentleman has the guts to buck against society while maintaining (to a high standard) some mainstream societal values. She is gentleman performed in different way, more controlled and thought out, deliberate and not just because it’s expected. She anticipates rather than reacting to the needs of others and is almost one step beyond good manners. She will endeavour to control her emotions and hide her feelings, but unlike the English gentleman in the right hands it will all come flooding out.”
I think this is a brilliant explanation of one variety of butch, because, as Holden points out throughout this same entry, there are many different ways that a butch identity can be enacted, beyond simply how one dresses or styles her/his/zir hair. I’ve written about similar thoughts related to femme identity expression that are more personal, which you can refresh yourself about here.
Most importantly, Holden sums up:
“Butch for me is having the strength to be true to the inner voice which guides me while ignoring outside influences which try to dictate how I should be. It’s the name for all the feelings and desires which have been with me since birth. It’s the label that most completely captures the essence of who I am and who I want to be.”
Butch identity can be beautiful in its completeness if you have the strength and vision to shape it, rather than allowing society’s expectations and understandings do the shaping for you. Butch is deconstructing the contradictions that binary-style genderism has created about simply being yourself.
And whether you identify as butch, femme, a power dyke, a chapstick lesbian, a boi, or something in between or in combination, that’s advice we all can take to heart.