Tag Archive: stereotypes

The Butch is Back!

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.


You Are What You Wear?

One of the curious manifestations of being a “hidden” subculture is the creation of identifiers.  You know, the queer “look.”  Those sly, loaded fashion choices which signal to the hetero-normative world that your door swings the other way…or both ways…or perhaps no way at all.

While I don’t think I have the energy to do a comprehensive chronological analysis of LGBT fashion from the 1800’s to present, I would like to talk about a couple of the most common “queer markers” and what their existence means for the visibility of LGBT people – good and bad.

So let’s start with my favorite: the “alternative lifestyle haircut.”  Now this can take a lot of forms and extends acrossgenders and orientations.  Alternative lifestyle haircuts tend to be anything anti-normative.  Example: guys generally trim their hair short and crisp, so a mullet, emo swoop, or long flowing hippy braid can be an anti-normative statement.  The opposite works for girls- since long hair is associated with being feminine (such length being a style that many men literally cannot achieve), pixie cuts, faux-hawks, and even buzz cuts are anti-normative.  Personally, I love the alt. life hairstyle and admire people who pull them off, but they have interesting connotations as far as signaling, visibility of the queer population, and stereotypes/societal expectations.

To unpack that sentence, begin at the top: Signaling.  Obviously alternative lifestyle haircuts, for many people, serve as a convenient way of saying “Hey, I’m not like everyone else,” or perhaps more bluntly, “Hey you heterosexist buggers, I’m queer and I want everyone to know.”  Alt lifestyle haircuts, in the same way as nautical star tattoos for lesbians of the 1940’s and 50’s and a pierced ear for gay men of the 70’s and 80’s, are at once coded and commonly understood.  They have the potential to be read as “just a stylistic preference” but also the potential to be recognized as a statement of self image.  WHICH LEADS ME TO MY NEXT POINT.

Visibility.  We’re not in the Vietnam era anymore.  Wild-eyed protests, picket lines, and the shouting of cleverly rhymed slogans are no longer in vogue.  No one goes around shouting “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”  Which I think is sad.  But NONETHELESS, it means that queers have to be a little more creative in an effort to stay visible (which is important for all the little queers out there who need to see openly gay role models!).  Hence, clever fashion statements- haircuts, flannel, tight jeans, V-neck sweaters, comfortable women’s shoes- become markers for our identity when we are not in a social situation where we can express our queerness in other ways.  But in another sense, this puts queer is a terrible bind…

My 3rd point!  When we relying on signaling to become visible as a minority, we create unspoken expectations and stereotypes about the larger community of LGBT people.  It shouldn’t need said that not all lesbians sport crew cuts, wife beaters, and baggy cargo pants.  And not all gay men wear Chippendale leather pants and aviator sunglasses (ok, maybe now I’m just being ridiculous).  Point being though, by associating these sometimes excessively stereotypical images with our collective minority, we create the illusion that all LGBT people conform to them.  Because visible population = total population, dontcha know.  Is this a bad thing?  Eh, hard to say.  Probably, because there are sheltered kids in West Virginia (now I’m stereotyping) growing up thinking that you can’t be queer unless you do A, B, and C, and that leads to not only identity confusion, but general societal ignorance.  *sigh*  On the other hand, it does lend some small voice to the existence of an LGBT community, however misrepresentative, which can be all some people need.


Hey queer kids,

A reader suggested the movie Kinsey for your viewing pleasure.  You can check out the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppZwSABxeYE

And while the movie is quite good, it made me realize that I hadn’t really talked about Kinsey and his work at all.  So, here’s a primer:

Alfred Kinsey is known as the father of human sexuality and Indiana University, where he worked, now has a whole institute devoted to the study of sex and sexuality because of him, called the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. But Kinsey himself is best known for two things: first and foremost, his pioneering study of Human Sexuality in the Adult Male (and subsequently, a volume on the Adult Female), and secondly, his theoretical construct, now known as “The Kinsey Scale.”

The 2004 movie Kinsey focuses on the former: Kinsey and his team of researches took off across the country to interview all varieties of people- from prison inmates to public school teachers- about their habits regarding intercourse, masturbation, arousal, and sexual orientation.  The questions he asked at each interview span well over 3 pages and each case study would trace that person’s entire sexual history.  His studies found that, contrary to popular wisdom of the time, many more people of 1950’s America were engaging in premarital sex, masturbating, having sex across generation gaps, and committing adultery.  Obviously, it caused a huge uproar at the time of publication, although we may think of it as simple common sense at this point in history.

What I find more interesting was his theory about degrees of sexual behavior, known as the Kinsey Scale.  It runs from 0-6 with 0 being “exclusively heterosexual” and 6 being “exclusively homosexual,” with all others falling somewhere in between.  Of course, these demarcations can be divided infinitely, so that a 72 year old lesbian who once slept with a man in her 20’s could be a Kinsey 5.94, or a bisexual man who sleeps almost equally with men and women could be 3.2.  The interesting thing about the Kinsey Scale is the strong division in what it tries to assign value to: sexual behavior, but never sexual orientation. Kinsey understood that behavior and orientation sometimes do not align, and that in many cases, the way we understand sexuality can never be accurately represented by a simple point on a spectrum.  For example, I consider myself bi-romantic (I have fallen in love with men and women), but homosexual (I only enjoy sex with women)- what in the world kind of number could I assign to that?  On the other hand, sexual behavior is easier to diagram- I’ve had sex with 2 men and one woman, so I fall around a Kinsey 2, depending on how you factor in length of the relationships.  This, of course, gets very sticky when you consider people who are trans, genderqueer, two-spirited, or any other gender identity which doesn’t fit within our dichotomized idea of gender.  Sadly, that wasn’t where Kinsey focused his research energy.

POINT BEING- everyone should give Kinsey a hand for helping to deconstruct the societal taboos and misassumptions which plagued the 1950s and we should all try to emulate his openness by considering the way we are all, in our own way, abnormal sexually.  Yay!

In case you guys haven’t seen this before, the Sassy Gay Friend videos are hysterical.  Totally abusive of stereotypes, of course, but hysterical all the same.  And even better for people who know Shakespeare.  My two favorites are below:

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