2012 Update – 22 Years Later
SUPPORTING BUTCHES SUPPORTS ALL LESBIANS
So how are things for Butches now, since 1990, when we published our chapter on Butch oppression (now at my blog) in “Dykes-Loving-Dykes?”
Well, things seem a lot worse – some of which we predicted, based on how mainstream and assimilated (and Lesbian-hating) Lesbians were becoming. But some of it has still been a shock to me. I have never seen or heard such overt hatred of Butches among Lesbians as I’m hearing now, even while Butches have organized and allied as an oppressed community.
In my old Lesbian Feminist and Separatist community from the Seventies, there was disapproval about role-playing (which I still agree with, but not for the reasons said then), yet Butches were more respected than now. Even without clear politics about what it meant to be Butch, there was an awareness that Butches were the most visible of Lesbians who had kept Lesbian existence known while other Lesbians were hiding. Some of the out Butches had created our Lesbian Feminist community with their brilliant Radical Feminist politics, articles, poetry, music, etc., and were appreciated and acknowledged for that. Looking like a Lesbian or Dyke was valued, so most Lesbians, even most of the Hard Fems (the most male-identified feminine in mannerisms and behavior, and who we referred to as “Queens” in our Butch chapter in our book), cut their hair, wore trousers and boots, and the infamous flannel shirts. We didn’t wear “men’s” clothes. We rejected the flimsy, demeaning, and restrictive clothes men ordered us to wear, and we proudly wore OUR Dykey clothes, which were handsome, practical, comfortable, cheaper, sturdier, and safer (in terms of being able to defend ourselves, do physical work, and not be such a target for male harassment.) We were saying yes to being Lesbians and no to men.
The only reason I can think of why Lesbians make fun of that time and of how we looked is that they are embarrassed by so many women being so clearly out and rejecting male rules and they want to police us into being less threatening and more assimilated. (You would think they’d invested in the cosmetics and other industries selling male-invented femininity.) A few Fems from that time now talk bitterly about the “pressure” they felt to look like Lesbians, ignoring the harassment and sometimes lethal punishing pressure in patriarchal society (from family, het women and male friends, at work, from strangers, etc.) to look more het/feminine.
Now, most of the Lesbians I know pass as het. The more extremely male-defined feminine a Lesbian is, the more valued she is. Occasionally, there are defensive comments like, “What do you mean? How does someone look like a Lesbian?” But we all really do know what it means – it means looking the way patriarchy forbids us to look, which deeply threatens those who support patriarchy. It means looking free and looking how only the most oblivious would not recognize as Lesbian. It means being able to identify each other in public. It means being proud to not assimilate or succumb to the pressure to feminize, including saying “I don’t want to waste my time and money trying to make myself fit impossible standards that leave most women feeling inadequate.” And to some of us, it means looking far more attractive.
There is a high price to pay for always looking like an out Dyke. It can mean being harassed by family, being disowned, hated and ridiculed, being threatened and attacked physically and verbally, evicted, losing jobs, not getting jobs, etc. Out Lesbians have been raped and killed for looking like Dykes.
Many Lesbians who are not Butch get Lesbian oppression. The more Dykey they look, the worse it is. But Butches basically do not or cannot pass as het, even the few who try to. That creates a whole other level of oppression. But it’s how Butches are treated in Lesbian communities that I’m writing about here, because if we can’t treat Butches as equals and with respect in our own communities, there isn’t much hope elsewhere.
For the first time, I am hearing Lesbians point out a particularly attractive Butch, saying “She’s so ugly. She looks just like a man.” Well, no, she doesn’t look like a man at all. She looks the opposite. The policing is so extreme, that I’m even hearing such insults said about stereotypically “cute” Fems with painted toenails, just because they have short hair and look like Lesbians. It is not a safe time and place to be an out Lesbian among Lesbians, let alone a Butch.
In just one week recently, I heard three Butch-hating comments from Lesbians. (And I can only imagine how much harder these onslaughts are for Butches with no support.)
On a hike, two Fems began commiserating about how hard it had been for them in college to find Lesbians to identify with because the only Lesbians they’d seen were Butch. (From experience, I’m guessing those “Butches” were probably mostly Dykey Fems since there aren’t that many Butches.) It didn’t occur to these Lesbians that by adhering to mainstream standards of how women are supposed to look, they were making it impossible for other Lesbians to find them. It’s as if they thought it was Lesbians’ responsibility to seek out and rescue them. The “Butches” took risks to be so visible, yet instead of being appreciated, they were criticized. Would it have been better for all the Lesbians to pass as het at those colleges? I think the real issue is that looking so Dykey was and is threatening to women. But why? What are they really scared of?
I think it comes back to the fear of being considered “abnormal” and not fitting in (“what will people think?”) – and daring to challenge rigid male rules of how females are “supposed” to look, which women continue to enforce. I frequently read Lesbian writers being very impressed with women displaying the various feminine styles that pretend to be wild, outrageous, and edgy with piercings, tattoos, elaborate hairdos, high heels, etc. – but these are just a variation on how women are expected and demanded to look, and are actually boringly mainstream. It is Butches and Dykey Fems, who are truly showing courage and, by their existence, are threatening patriarchy.
I don’t understand why so many women don’t seem capable or willing to understand basic feminist politics, like that “femininity” is male – male-invented, male-identified, and a caricature of true femaleness. It’s a colonized status, with obvious parallels with other colonized people who are pressured to assimilate. It is a demeaned appearance, demanded of women to display their supposed inferiority, and especially their subservience to men. That’s part of why it’s such a joke for men to dress in drag – they love to humiliate women. Nothing about “femininity” is female. It’s a patriarchal con. Yet, most women wholeheartedly accept and identify with it, and will defend it so rigidly and irrationally that they refuse to even think about the issue. Again, why is it so terrifying to explore?
The flip side of women’s fear of being too “Other” is women being extremely concerned about protecting some people who claim to be oppressed for being “Other” — as the “trans” identify, even though they have far more privilege than Butches — while undermining our communities by showing no concern for Butches. During that same week of the hike, I went to a Lesbian brunch where a Hard Fem was telling us about how terribly difficult it was for F2Ts (Female to Transsexuals – women who say they are men.) I answered that they are women who no longer want to be us, and no longer want to be oppressed as women and/or Lesbians. (I do not believe people can change sex any more than they can change species. They are women opting for privilege at our expense. I’ve heard/read some say that they want to be men to get better jobs, more “chicks,” and because they dread becoming “old women.” I do not understand why we are expected to not only support them, but to put their desires above Lesbians,’ other than that usually everyone is considered more important than Lesbians. Of course it’s important to support anyone who is oppressed, but F2Ts are not more oppressed than Butches or Lesbians.)
As soon as I started to object to the comment, the het-looking woman began to lecture me with the trans cult line: “You have no idea what it’s like to grow up never feeling like you fit in!” Had she not bothered to look at me? This was an objectifying insult because anyone can tell immediately that I grew up exactly like she had described – knowing I never fit in as a “normal,” proper feminine girl. I have always felt like an outsider because I hated and rejected male-identified “femininity” from my earliest memories. I had no support — not one book or film showing Lesbians in anything other than the most horrible, degrading, terrifying stereotypes. You certainly couldn’t turn on the television like now, and see much-loved public Lesbians. Meanwhile, many F2Ts actually are Fem or het women who grew up fitting in quite well. But here was an example of the experiences of Butches being appropriated by a privileged Fem who was oppressing a less privileged Butch on behalf of F2Ts who had betrayed us both.
Then another Hard Fem at the brunch told us about how her nineteen year old daughter was a Butch who was lovers with another teenaged Butch. This sounded like a rare and wonderful event to me. But the mother was very upset because her daughter’s lover was “too Butch” and she preferred her to be with a more “womanly” Lesbian. When I protested, the first woman said confidingly to me, “It’s really more about class.” Meaning the young Butch was just too blatantly poverty class to be good enough for her daughter.
Sometimes I despair about Lesbians and women. But then I remember what all this means politically – it is clearly about the worshipping of patriarchal oppressive standards which too many women have adopted as their own – and that means that these attitudes and ways of hurting other women can be changed, just as some formerly right wing women have changed and now fight for justice. But unlike with other issues of privilege and oppression, specifically Lesbian issues are ignored. Our communities have been inundated with women who were determinedly het, sometimes for decades, often with the privilege and arrogance that that means. Unless they examine and change their lesbophobic and Lesbian-hating attitudes and politics, they undermine and destroy our communities.
The reason we wrote our book was to explain the internal factors among Lesbians and feminists that keep us from fully allying and fighting patriarchy. Recognizing female-hating and Lesbian-hating – which means recognizing all the ways that women who are more allied with, identified with, and committed to patriarchal standards betray Lesbians and women who have rejected those male rules – is the only way we can have truly loving, diverse and egalitarian Lesbians communities. This is in addition to fighting other oppressions among us, such as racism, classism, anti-Semitism, ableism, ageism, fat oppression, etc. Other feminists have written about these issues. Almost no one has named the oppression of Butches, Lifelong Lesbians, and Never-het Lesbians in Lesbian communities as well as in patriarchy. If anything, growing up as a lone Lesbian or Butch, feeling like you never belonged, being ostracized and put down by other girls, family, neighborhoods, schools, etc. is said to be “lucky” or a “privilege.” Even though oppressed by the dominant culture, other people who are treated as inferior or who are marginalized usually at least have their families, neighborhoods, and communities where they experience belonging. Most young Butches grow up completely alone, with no one around them reflecting them or supporting them.
Lesbians who betray other Lesbians on behalf of patriarchy, to make themselves more comfortable, do end up hurting themselves as well. But they still benefit from the power they wield over other Lesbians, sometimes including their own daughters.
I experienced another example of common anti-Lesbian attitudes recently at a Lesbian party in a town known for being right wing and mainstream. A Lesbian I was talking with said that she felt different from the others at the party. Since common introductions at some of these events consist of: “What do you do?” (career talk), “My children…,” “My grandchildren…,” I was very curious how she was different. But then she said, “I’m more suburban, I don’t like the word Lesbian, and I want to be more normal.” She looked almost startled for a moment when she realized what she’d said. She’s not the only one to feel like that. Self-hatred is sad enough, but it’s worse when it affects other Lesbians as well.
Femininity Is a Choice
I want to talk about how assimilating into men’s rules for how girls and women “should” look hurts Butches, but I also don’t want to upset my friends who do choose to look male-defined feminine. There are many compromises that we all make. I have a Dyke Separatist friend in her twenties who said, “I have to look like this — gesturing to her long, styled hair and feminine clothing — if I want a lover.” It’s not true, but any increase in privilege does give an increase in options. If it’s that difficult for someone who’s prime age, how much harder is it for old Lesbians who are being subjected to ageism, including disapproval and ostracism?
Looking extremely feminine improves Lesbians’ and women’s career options. Some women singer/songwriter/musicians know that being respected, with their skill and talent recognized and appreciated, is greatly influenced by how they look. They are expected to look “beautiful” by feminine standards. I don’t criticize them or any woman for this, but I just want to stir awareness for women to support women who will not or cannot fit male dictates for what a woman is supposed to look like.
I don’t mean to make anyone who chooses to look feminine feel bad. But there is no way to talk about the increase in butchphobia and Butch-hatred without talking about enforcement of male-created femininity. We can’t stop societal and male hatred of us, but women can stop policing girls and other women to obey male rules. And when feminine-looking women object to and talk about Butch oppression, it’s taken more seriously. So they can be excellent allies.
Lesbian oppression (for being Lesbians) hits Butches much harder. That is part of why we all need to be aware of it and acknowledge it. Far too many Butches (particularly those who are also oppressed by classism and racism) have already died far too young. Being hated and scapegoated, in mainstream patriarchy, among feminists, and even among our own Lesbian people takes a severe toll.
If all Lesbians made sure they were visibly Lesbians, that would dramatically change things for us – as opposed to most now passing. When the subject comes up, most Lesbians profess to not understanding at all what it means to be Butch or Fem, other than extreme caricatures. Yet, each woman does daily make a conscious decision about how she will look in the world. There is even a distinct look that some Fems choose, which seems to be a kind of uniform or signal identifying them as Lesbians but which is still clearly Fem and not any way that a Butch would choose to look.
For those who don’t feel safe being out, do try to help fight Lesbian-hating and Butch-hating when you can. For women choosing femininity, do think about why you make that choice. Is it out of fear of harassment? Is it to look “attractive?” For Fems attracted to Butches, you clearly find that look attractive, so why not choose it for yourself? If your reaction is about wanting to look like a “real woman,” and you recoil at the thought of looking like a Dyke, please explore and change your bias. There should be groups for Unlearning Butch-hatred and Unlearning Lesbian-hatred as there are about other issues that divide us. Since some non-Lesbians and het women are also working to fight male-identified femininity inside and outside of themselves, I want to acknowledge these women as WFF – Women Fighting Feminization – which reflects that it is a continual and essential process for fighting patriarchy. (An example is Megan Mackin, a non-Lesbian, who, in an effort to be supportive to Butches, explored the issue of rejecting femininity at her blog.)
“Why don’t Lesbians just stop separating and identifying as different groups? That’s divisive. I don’t even know what a Butch is anyway.”
Well, I guess that’s because you aren’t one and don’t notice how we’re being treated. (Most Butches do understand and know who they are, even those in denial.) We wouldn’t need to identify separately if we weren’t made to feel like we don’t belong — if we weren’t being treated as different, other, inferior (including in lover relationships). Typically, in patriarchy, the most privileged, especially if they are a majority, dominate. They either drive out those they oppress or they bully and insult. Their dominant position is too often taken for granted. Many Fems, particularly those who identify as “radical feminists” and claim to not be Fem, question why the existence of Butches is even mentioned. This is exactly how most het feminists treat Lesbians.
Butches are like a barometer of Lesbian oppression – the more that Butches are maligned, the worse it is for all Lesbians. So it’s in all Lesbians’ interest to support Butches. But for the lesbophobic, we completely upset their het-identified world of “normal” Lesbians. The same thing also often happens when ex-het Lesbians are dominating a conversation with assumptions that we all have been het, and make jokes about “virgins.” Do we object and say we exist, or do we not put ourselves through the inevitable harassment and attempts to humiliate? It is all about the most privileged Lesbians’ experiences and lives being the most recognized and valued. It’s the classic situation that happens with other issues of privilege and oppression, except that those with otherwise good and even radical politics, too often revert to being right wing when it comes to specifically Lesbian oppressions.
For those who just can’t handle their lesbophobic emotions about the existence of Butches, do you really mean to be asking “How dare you exist and how dare you make those of us looking down on you uncomfortable?” Do we not have the right to say we exist and to discuss how and why we are treated differently from other Lesbians and other women?
How Butches are treated in patriarchy and in our Lesbian communities is a more severe form of how Lesbians as a group are treated. When the existence of Butches is denied or we are treated as freaks, then love and acceptance of Lesbians as a people is missing. Butches are the most obvious, the most out of Lesbians. We are feared and hated. We are ridiculed and scapegoated. We are even said not to exist. That is how Lesbians as a group are treated by Lesbian-hating hets, and that lesbophobia and Lesbian-hating are brought into our communities from ex-het Fems, who are the majority and so dominate.
The fear and hatred is damaging enough, but having our existence denied is much worse.
Whenever a Lesbian says she doesn’t understand why anyone identifies as Butch, that’s because she’s not Butch and it doesn’t affect her. She’s not hurt for being Butch or she would understand. It’s similar to het women not understanding the importance of Lesbians identifying as Lesbians. (Although there is a difference, because het women could choose to be Lesbians. Being Butch is also a choice, but one made in childhood.) We need to define ourselves because we are not represented in the dominant culture or even in the Lesbian media. We are rarely, if ever, represented in media images of Lesbians or we’re presented as a horrible stereotype or a joke. Sometimes we’re commented on as a prurient interest of Fems who objectify us.
We are treated as Butch whether we want to be or not. Those who profess to not understand what this issue is about, do treat Butches differently. It’s like those who profess to be unaware of class or classism, claiming to be “class-free” while being classist. That’s a privileged option for those in the power position because they are not the ones being treated as inferior, which happens to the class-oppressed whether we identify or not – and the oppressiveness is still there because people do know, whether they are conscious of it or not. Those of us who are aware of these issues can see it clearly even in personal and written interactions.
Those who deny the existence of class or of Lesbian or Butch oppression are more likely to use their privilege to control, intimidate, and hurt others. Those who dominate always insist there is no oppression. This is what men do to women in denying that sexism and patriarchy exist.
I often wonder what Lesbians who deny the existence of Butches think when they hear men and het women and the media joke about us. Do they cringe and then vow to be more obedient to male rules so no het would ever take them for such a despised creature? In spite of Butches being a joke in the mainstream and even Lesbian media, there is so much pressure to feminize girls and women that they rarely show a real Butch. When a “Butch” is shown, it’s a feminine woman who is a bit less made up and less drag queen-looking, but who is still clearly not Butch. Even the “L Word” television series had not one Butch. The long-running cartoon series “Dykes to Watch Out For” never showed a Butch once, but did show a boy pissing on a Lesbian and semen dripping from a condom. That was amazing to me about how threatening Butches are, for these supposedly diverse representations of Lesbian community included so many characters over years and still did not show a single Butch. (Many Lesbians thought the sado-masochistic, non-monogamous, trannie-supporting character with a crewcut, Lois, was a Butch, but her look and behavior was the opposite of Butch and very much the image of a genderqueer “boi” Fem.) Male money and a television network was behind “The L Word,” but the comic book series was done by one Lesbian. Both influenced our cultures and our lives.
Again, why are Butches so threatening that the mainstream media and Lesbian media refuse to even show us?
The horror of being called Butch is used to terrorize girls and women into being even more artificial and male-identified feminine to escape such an insult. Most women want to placate their oppressors, who, after all, ARE dangerous. Women then police girls and other women on behalf of men. (Very important to not anger Daddy.) Women who are the most threatening to men are the most policed. This can be subtle – with constant suggestions about “improving appearance,” which just happen to fit in more with male standards – or less subtle, like open ridicule of Butches.
Identifying as Butch can bring up self-hatred since “Butch” is a term so used against us with contempt, but it can also give us pride and a way to share support and culture with others. I believe that identifying who we are gives us a means and language to connect with others and defend against bad treatment.
For those who are not defensive, and who love women and Lesbians enough to care, it is easy to learn about who Butches are. I have friends who can immediately recognize Butches. Many can do it from just seeing a photograph or hearing a voice. As a Fem friend said, “Just look around. Butch oppression is obvious.” There is a Butch look that is instantly recognizable. I have seen that same exact look among Maori, Thai, Bangladeshi, Indian, Iranian, Israeli, Chinese, Filipina, Native American, Mexican, Serbian, English, French, German, US (from so many backgrounds and races) Butches.
Butch Myths and Objectifications
I believe that Butches are closer to what all females would be without patriarchy.
But the common myth about Butches is that Butches are “male” or “masculine.” Refusing to follow male rules does not make someone “masculine,” but the opposite of masculine. Butches are the least male of women because we refuse to obey men. Just because men have declared that the more comfortable, better made, and less humiliating clothing is just for them, does not make it male.
Feminists have always known that it is an insult, not a compliment, to be called “male” or “masculine.” But now too many women eagerly embrace that insult or they caricaturize themselves in order to escape it.
Standing in a natural grounded way also does not make a woman male. Women are told from girlhood to look uncentered to not appear masculine, which is part of why wearing high heels is required. (If men like how they look, they should wear them! It’s horrifying to see the comeback they’ve made, including in singing TV contests where women are at an extreme disadvantage compared to men.) Notice the vast difference in images used to denote female versus male. Many public restrooms signs show men taking up space with a wide stance, while the “women’s” sign is like a one-legged top in a dress. Humiliating and demeaning. Every media silhouette I have seen depicting female versus male shows a dignified strong male image and a weak, flimsy female image. None of this propaganda is innate, natural, or normal, but it affects us from girlhood about how to look “properly,” though unnaturally, female.
In some cultures women aren’t allowed to drive. When a few brave women risk torture and imprisonment by driving, do we call them male or masculine?
Lesbians may claim to not be “butch-phobic,” but their Butch-hating can show itself in cruel ways, such as obsessing about physical characteristics, which reveals they believe Butches are aberrations with hormonal imbalances. One Lesbian, who had literally run away from a workshop I and my ex-lover did about equal lover relationships and Butch oppression, actually asked, “Why are Butches slim-hipped if it’s not a hormonal problem?” This reminded me of a doctor and an alternative healer who had both said I must have a hormonal imbalance when I said I was a Lesbian. This “Radical Lesbian Feminist” had just been at a large gathering with several Butches who were out as Butch, and who were anything but “slim-hipped.” She also must not have noticed the large-breasted Butches (and neither do the Lesbians who say such Butches “look like men” — unless men now have large breasts.) Since Butches are less obedient about following male dictates, we are more likely to be bigger and fatter than Fems, many of who starve themselves into being skinny. (This is not a criticism of naturally thin women, but of those who deliberately deprive themselves of adequate nutrition to fit feminine standards.) Of course there are thin Butches, but there are less of them than thin Fems and less than thin het women. I have never heard anyone speculate about inadequate female hormones when commenting on malnourished, bony models. This same “radical feminist” called a Butch friend “a prick” in an argument. Her Butch-hatred reeks of Lesbian-hatred.
Then there are the many Fems who do recognize the existence of Butches, but objectify us with a similar sense of ownership towards us that men have towards women – as if we somehow belong to them. If we say that we are more attracted to Butches or are not attracted to Fems, we are told that we can’t possibly mean that, or we just haven’t found the right Fem yet. It’s the same kind of patronizing amusement men have towards Lesbians. I’ve actually been told that two Butches together are missing out. (On what? Inequality? I never did find out.) It’s just what men say about two women together. These predatory Fems never even bother to ask about how our experiences with Fem lovers we’ve had over the decades led us to prefer being with Butches. Then there are Lesbians who are so freaked out by the idea of Butches loving each other that they announce that we couldn’t possibly be real Butches.
Now it’s true that many Butches are so self-hating that they worship Extreme Fems beyond what would make an equal relationship. Butches aren’t unique in this. Other oppressed people often value those who appear more like their oppressor or who try to assimilate. I see most Fems where I live also more interested in Extreme Fems than in Lesbians who look like Dykes, whether Fem or Butch. It feels like the patriarchal media has won out, after all these years of bombarding us with male-defined “beauty.” It’s not just that many/most Lesbians want to be lovers with women who look like movie stars – they want to be seen to be lovers with women who look like movie stars. In my old community, these extremely feminine women would have been looked at warily, as if they might not be truly Lesbians. This isn’t being unfair – women who do follow male rules of how we are supposed to look are more likely to have been het and to go back to men.
Women, like other colonized people, have been given a caricatured, fetishized representation of how we are not only supposed to dress, but move, gesture, talk, laugh, think, etc. Most women learn unnatural patterns of behaving while being little girls when they are punished for acting naturally and rewarded when obeying male rules.
What is heart-breaking is how much self-hatred there is among Butches. Some have been encouraged by their Extreme Fem lovers to believe and say that Butches have “male privilege” — which of course is never true. When I’ve challenged some Lesbians about how that could possibly be, they describe something I’ve never witnessed, such as that Butches are deferred to in conversations. Butches are never treated as men. Butches are treated as the most abnormal, queerest of Lesbians. Fems usually can make more money, have more status in the world and with family and friends (as “real” women), and are more likely to own houses as a result of having had husbands, and sometimes families who gave them money. (Butches are more likely to be disowned, and more Butches are class-oppressed.)
Then there is the lesbophobic myth that identifying as Butch means we role-play. Yet Lesbians can be outrageously Fem and not be accused of role-playing
I have NEVER played roles. Daring to discuss differences does not mean we play roles. Identifying as Butch does not mean playing roles — it means identifying as a marginalized, oppressed, invisiblized minority in Lesbian communities. We get it in the het world for being the most out, obvious Lesbians, and we get it in our own communities.
It doesn’t help that almost the only thing written about us in books is by Fems and bisexual women who further the stereotypes against Butches. What I have seen in decades of being out as Butch is that it’s Fems who have pushed Butches into role-playing, partly because it makes them feel less overtly Lesbian. Sado-masochism, including using dildos, is part of that. Dildos are absolutely mainstream among non-feminist Fems, as is sado-masochism. (The third Butch-hating comment I heard in that one week was by a Fem who was planning a “sex” workshop. She said that she’d have to keep an eye on all of her dildos to stop the Butches from stealing them. Why would any Butch want an ugly dildo? At another event, a Fem threw her large collection of dildos out into the Lesbian audience.)
At a Butch Voices conference dinner, I brought up how upset I was that a workshop organizer assumed all Butches used dildos, calling it “Butch cock.” I asked how many of us have been sexually assaulted by pricks and all that they represent, comparing dildos to sado-masochist use of right wing paraphernalia in scenes. An Extreme Fem bisexual patronizingly lectured me about how much better sex was using objects. I answered that something is seriously wrong if a Lesbian prefers silicone in the shape of a prick over the feel of her lover’s hands and body, and why would someone want to use a prick-shaped object on her lover, instead of feeling her? No way was this het-looking woman in full make-up going to bully me into believing the incredible loving, wild, and passionate love-making I have shared with lovers would be improved with ugly objects. She finally resorted to telling me that it probably was too late to change at my age – an ageist version of the usual sado-masochist taunt implying I was a prude or had never heard of dildos before. I’d been saying no to ugly dildos since first being told about them when I was 14.
I have heard Butches say they hate the idea of dildos, but have been pressured to use them on ex-het Fem lovers – for obvious reasons. I wonder how many of those women are then fantasizing about being with a man, because of their Lesbian-hatred. By using objects, they can disconnect, as opposed to feeling and being felt by another woman’s body, which is a continual reminder that they are Lesbians and are doing things that can still be punished by death in some countries.
A horrific aspect of role-playing that I recently heard about is the so-called “Stone Fem,” who will only be lovers with a Stone Butch. I’ve believed that the Stone Butch is an Extreme Fem creation since I have never known of a Butch who willingly, happily said she never wanted to be made love to. What I have heard is Butches talking painfully about Fem “lovers” who refused to make love to them or who refused to make love to them with equal passion, attention, time, and love. Once you fall in love with a woman, it can be very hard to acknowledge, even to yourself, that she doesn’t love you as much as you love her. (I believe the “Lesbian Bed Death” myth is usually about the Fem or both Fems – the majority of Lesbian relationships are two Fems together – stopping wanting to make love. Butches are much less likely to stop.)
I believe some Butches, and particularly those without support, do sometimes end up as Stone Butches because it can feel less painful to take on that identity than to continually face inequality in love and love-making. After years of bad treatment, some just stop hoping for real love and shut down. It’s a travesty that some Fems have turned such a traumatic, painful aspect of Butch oppression into a fetish. I can’t imagine how some Fems can justify identifying as “Stone Fems.” It’s like declaring, “I really am an incredibly selfish, misogynist, Lesbian-hating, and Butch-hating person and I’m proud of it. I just want to be the complete center of love, attention, and pleasure, and I want to make my lover feel alone, unloved, and worthless. Aren’t I wonderful?” It reeks of role-playing and sado-masochism.
Identity Appropriation Is Not the Sincerest Form of Flattery
Another part of the objectification of Butches is when Fems claim to be Butches.
It’s not uncommon for Radical Lesbian Feminists who are threatened by the mention of Butch existence to claim that they were never feminine girls. (Many het women film actors in their biographies claim that they were ‘real tomboys,” even though their girlhood photos could not look more feminine.) In spite of these Fems’ attempts to prevent Butch oppression from being discussed and our identity erased, there seems to be a deep awareness that Butches fought patriarchy from the beginning on some levels, and so they envy Butches, but without wanting to pay the price that Butches pay. It’s very unfair for the same women who as girls taunted and ridiculed little Butch girls (do they think we don’t remember?) to now claim our identity, even while some of them still look extremely feminine and would never be taken to be a Lesbian. Others decide to be authorities of what it means to be Butch and even write incredibly Butch-hating propaganda. (An example is Carolyn Gage’s “The Lesbian Butch: Hope of the Planet from Supplemental Sermons for a Lesbian Revival Tent.” Val M. and I co-wrote a response, which is at both of our blogs: “Please Stop Butch-hatred: Critique of the Lesbian Butch: Hope of the Planet by Carolyn Gage.”)
It’s become standard in Lesbian communities that no one is allowed to question anyone’s self-identity, no matter how bizarre. So there is no way any Butch can object to an extremely feminine woman (by any standards – long hair in a feminine style with stereotypical swishy mannerisms and speech patterns and wearing a dress) being in Butch groups. Appropriating our identity is one thing, but it’s even more harmful when Fems get into power positions in Butch organizations and control and influence the direction of the group into Butch-hating politics. One national Butch organization has at least two Fems on the boards, and I can’t help but think it’s not a coincidence that they encourage men claiming Butch identity to give workshops at their conferences, while refusing to allow even one workshop by and for female-identified Butches.
Some Fems even manage to force real Butches out of Butch groups. I was in such a “Butch” group for a year (our goal was to organize ongoing female-identified Butch groups), with one member who had long hair in a feminine style, wore lots of jewelry, constantly mentioned her children (Butch mothers aren’t common and they also don’t refer to being mothers so frequently in political groups), body language and gestures that were more like drag queen stereotypes. It didn’t help that the Fem identified as a “Leather top” (what I call a “Sadist”) and she brought a bull whip to every meeting — I believe partly to try to intimidate me. (She just looked silly while brandishing her whip, but I didn’t appreciate the bullying.) Half the original group quit or were kicked out, until I was left with the Fem and her Butch ally. I was soon also kicked out, leaving a “Butch” group planning a larger ongoing Butch meeting led by one Butch and one Fem.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the women claiming to be Butch who use male pronouns for themselves are what I consider to be Fem. A number of Fems and even het/bisexual women have claimed to be Butch and later claim to be F2Ts, which leads many people to think that the majority of these women are/were Butch. In Loren Cameron’s book, “Body Alchemy,” all the “before” photos show adult feminine women who “transitioned” to male. Many of these women (like Loren herself and Pat Califia) later claim to be gay men because they return to being with men. I call them het or bisexual women – a “trans” version of fag hags. Some Butches became het when they were isolated and pressured, before finding other Lesbians. I have never known a Butch in a Lesbian community to go het.
Many of these women even sound and look more like stereotypical gay men, because their mannerisms and speaking style reflect how influenced they’ve been by gay men.
But the worst appropriation is the travesty that happened at the Butch Voices conference in 2012, where no female-identified Butch workshops were allowed, but where there were two workshops by men claiming to be Butch. One of the men said he had been raised by Lesbian Feminists. The men looked nothing like women and even less like Butches. Like F2Ts, these M2Ts, had mannerisms and voice patterns closer to gay men. They had no shame about appropriating our identity and rare space. I really feel that if they could kill real Butches and take our skin, they would. But, like with all men masquerading as Lesbians, they can never have what they most want – they can never have consensual sexual access and passion with a Lesbian, because any woman who would be intimate with them would no longer be a Lesbian.