February 07, 2006

Conversations That Hurt God's Ears, Part the Second

Well, I seem to have attracted attention with my comments on ThemThat's L-Word posts, as adjudged by the comment Max left on Quench:

I don't know what you know or understand abou [sic] butch/femme or gender. I know that when you refer to the "gender binary" you are not talking about it the way J. Butler does, in terms of limited performative acts. There seem to be a flux of young queer radicals reading butch/femme in this horrific 1970s lesbian feminism way. You do seem to be aware of this in your initial sentences. However, your arguments seem incomplete. Perhaps you are familiar with Adrienne Rich, Monique Wittig, and most importantly (in this case) Iragaray [sic]?
Yes, I am familiar with them. I'm not so young, honey.
I support all variety of gender identity and expression. I don't think that everyone must be butch/femme/andro or trans. I don't require that everyone play with their gender expressions in ways that you can explicitly understand.
Hello? I explicitly understand peoples' gender expressions. Why do you think I don't understand them?
But I do want to know where this refusal to see butch and femme as legitimate identities went? And I do want to know why these "categories" are still seen as capitulations to some patriarchal gender proscription. I would argue that they are two identities that require some of the most thought about gender and society and the most action in order to fuction regularly. As Iragaray explicates, it is impossible to subvert gender norms simply by refusing expected gendered behavior. It is just as much of a concession to alter one's dress and appearance to REJECT men's paradigm of desire. And, in my own opinion, the only unmaking of the patriarchy we can do with our presentation at this historical moment lies within attention, analysis, and community. This means understanding how and why we dress and act and where our motivations and desires come from as well as how they read to the world at large.
The community aspect is about education, committment, empathy, and concerted effort towards unity. This is a feminist pillar, of course. But as long as we actually read diversity as concession or cowardess [sic] or a hand of The Man, we are not in concert.
Honestly, I don't understand your point here and the second-hand lecture theory regurgitation I could do without. My point was clear: the axes of individual gender rôles are not limited by butch-femme. I wrote that page in response to ongoing pressure I felt.

In fact, the point was that many queer women - myself included - neither reject nor accept male paradigms of desire. We are operating as freely outside of male influence as is possible in this culture because we don't frelling care about men.

And what is this about 'diversity as concession or cowardice'? That doesn't even make sense in light of what I was talking about.

Butch/femme's butch and femme are specifically constructed identities which interact with the world quite differently than the identities of male/female partners in a heterosexual relationship. You are right that we need to recognize all of these genders as valid, you are right that we need to credit and respect our own gender expression as well as others. You are right that we have to recognize the gender defiance necessarily within patriachy. The problem is in thinking that gender defiance can free us FROM the patriarchy. It can't.
As a thirty-one year old transgendered dyke, I am fully aware of the implications. I don't deny butch/femme relations, nor do I think they are identical to heterosexual male-female ones. I never said that. All that I wanted to say was that lesbians are not defined by those relations alone - and that I feel pressure to be butch when I don't even think of myself on the butch-femme axis at all.

I decided to write that Quench page because of a conversation I had with a (bisexual friend who felt the same pressure from various partners and also does not think of herself on the butch/femme continuum. The two of us feel forced into one rôle or another but don't half such self-identities - but also don't think badly of those rôles, either. They just aren't for us.

I think you should understand a little more about concious gender identity construction and the history of butch/femme before you speak to it. I only say this because it truly seems like you are interested in gender/sexuality studies... Maybe you identify as butch or femme in the most classic way. Or maybe you identify as some derivation. I don't know. I do know that when I was coming out I felt this specific push by my queer cohorts to "defy gender" which meant to cut my hair and wear less make-up OR to "be myself" which meant to just keep my long hair and be a girly lesbian. It took me a long time and many friends and lovers before I became comfortable identifying the way that I do.
As a transdyke, I felt that pressure from my parents to be a straight woman or from partners to be butch. This is why I don't understand your statements above about heterosexual capitulation when I was solely speaking of butch-femme and how they are not identical to male and female.

Again, I find your approach to be condescending as hell. I should understand a little more about conscious gender identity construction and the history of butch/femme before I speak to it? You've got to be kidding me. That is such a ridiculous thing to say to me - you have no idea who I am.

You seem to be well-educated about some things and a capable reader. So I'm thinking you like to read more about this stuff... and that you want to. So, before you read another sentence of J. Halberstam, why not give J. Butler another shot. Or, take a look at My Persistant Desire, Stone Butch Blues, or my very favorite My Dangerous Desires (by Amber Hollibaugh.)
I'm going to stop here. I'm starting to get really pissed off. I have plenty of information, experience and training regarding gender, gender identity and/or presentation and sex and I don't need your ridiculously condescending attitude.

In conclusion, someone else please say something, because if you can tell, if I try, I will end up standing on my roomie's brand new car, eating a large pile of adopted babies of colour of my affluent white neighbours while screaming obscenities about Mel Gibson and how i was present at the real Second Cumming of Christ, which involved him fucking his mom in the ass and claiming "the Holy Spirit made Me do it, Mom!"


narcissusfemme said...

Wow. People can be a real piece of work, can't they? I guess it just figures that a blog involving Harvard folk would incite commentary involving a "Further Reading" section.

I actually had a similar L Word rant on my blog (I'd link to it, but I'm too dumb for that) because I don't understand some lesbians' invalidation of the butch/femme identities (well, more speficially, the butch identity), but I applaud your Quench page as well as your further commentary.

Seriously, can people not give condescending lectures? That would be awesome.

wannatakethisoutside said...

Dear Narcissusfemme,

I love you.

I love Em0, too.


wannatakethisoutside said...

"We are operating as freely outside of male influence as is possible in this culture because we don't frelling care about men."

Clearly, I am ruining yor life ;-)

icarus said...

I'm just wondering why "butch/femme" always seems to be presented as an entity or binary. What's up with that?

For example, I identify somewhat as a femme (or consider myself to have femmey qualities or whatever), but that has little/nothing to do with who I date, or the dynamics of the relationship. To me, "femme" is an independent identity from "butch."

just throwing that out there...

maudite entendante said...

Icarus -

I think that was what I was trying to get at with my stanza about being "the kind of femme/ Who loves 'my butch' for who you are/ Not what loving you makes me." 'Cause it's true, I'm a femme dating someone who's butch-identified. But I'm also a femme when I'm single, or dating another femme, or dating someone off the butch-femme axis entirely.

I actually wrote that page after nearly throwing the Estimat's copy of The Femme Mystique across the room (had it been my copy I'd've done it) after one too many essays and poems insisted that falling for a butch was the sine qua non of femmehood (yeah, I can be pompous sometimes) or that femme was all about being a shop-till-you-drop Barbie with a bad attitude.

That said, I am part of what is, among other things, a butch-femme couple, as are many of my friends. It's not the only way to be, just as being part of a boy-girl couple is not the only way to be, but it does get tiring reading things that compare butch-femme to all manner of social ills including alcoholism, partner abuse, and suicidality. (That particular line was Adrienne Rich. Yay.) And it is annoying watching the L-Word and talking to people after it and hearing how my identity and my relationship (again, two different things) are anti-feminist and retrograde.

I think Raine said somewhere that it's no skin off her nose if butch, femme, and butch/femme exist, as long as they aren't assumed to be the only options, and especially as long as that assumption isn't enforced on people who don't ID that way. And if I'm right, and she did say that, then credit goes to her for saying it best.