Please Stop Butch-hatred: Critique of the Lesbian Butch: Hope of the Planet by Carolyn Gage

 

 

This is a collaborative post by Bev Jo and Valerie M. 

From Val: The erasure of Butches in the Lesbian community is a real problem. Butch oppression works in just the same way as any of the other oppressions feminists and/or Lesbians tend to discuss: the most prominent voices are the more male-identified and perpetuate patriarchal mores. In fact, it’s boringly similar.

The most celebrated Lesbians are almost always fems. As such, they get to define Lesbianism, fem-ness and Butch-ness. The idea that Butch is somehow dominant is as ridiculous as the idea that non-white people are.  And just like the way non-white people are silenced when speaking about their experience of racism in favour of white people whitesplaining it back to them, fems femsplain Butch-ness and get it wrong often enough to confuse people that really, really should know better.

A Butch is a Lesbian who has, from an early age, rejected femininity and its trappings; who has refused to be socialized as a fuck-object for men, and does not dress or carry herself in a way that presents ‘woman’ as what men think women should be. A fem can dress Butch in order to reject male-dominance, but cannot erase a lifetime of internalizing those values, and so her fem-ness will always be apparent. While she can, and should, present herself as much as possible in solidarity with Butches, calling herself Butch when it is little more than a fashion choice for her (albeit a positive one) is an appropriation.

A Butch is simply what all women would be in the absence of patriarchy. They are the epitome of natural women, whose character and presence is not defined by the male standard but by their Lesbian-ness. Butches are the most womanly and the most Lesbionic of us all.  They are the opposite of masculine.

The very idea that Butches were born with male-patterned brains is not just unprovable (were you there, doing cat scans on baby girls that went on to grow up Butch?) but also profoundly insulting and lesbophobic (to go on to say we should centre Butches for no other reason than the fact that male patterned brains are ‘healing’ is misogynist too, but that’s another essay). And for a fem (sorry Carolyn but it’s true) to use such words to describe Butches is oppressive; much in the way that white people can’t get away with using racist terms ‘ironically’, neither can fems reclaim such vocabulary on behalf of Butches.

When Butches transition, they do not do so because of male-patterned brains or hormonal makeups, they do so because of speeches just like this one, delivered by fems armed with male values and internalized lesbophobia.

 

From Bev: It is not right to appropriate anyone’s identity or culture, whether it’s men claiming to be women and Lesbians, or fems claiming to be Butch. How dare Carolyn Gage speak for us?  And especially to speak for us in such Butch-hating ways?  This is upsetting also because Carolyn has written in support of Lesbians, so now why equate us with the enemy?

Being Butch is more than dressing up to look like a Dyke or fitting an oppressive stereotype. Identifying as a “tomboy” growing up doesn’t mean a woman is Butch – or most women, including models, who claim they’d been tomboys, would be Butch.

Butches are a very small minority in the world and in Lesbian communities. Butches are more likely to be racially and class-oppressed.

Being Butch means knowing you were different from other girls from your earliest memories — not because you were male, male-identified, “masculine,” or “male-patterned brained,” but because you were too female, too natural, too close to what all girls would be if it wasn’t for patriarchy, and too threatening.  Refusing male rules that define what a “proper” girl is does not make us less female. What we are taught by men and their het women collaborators, who are the femininity police enforcers, is that to be a “real” female means being as unnatural as possible — in movement, feeling, voice, looks, clothing, and how we act in the world with friends and lovers.

Butches have unnaturally deep voices? Ever notice how some women make their voices so unnaturally high that they sound like they’re on helium?  It would be funny, if the very real consequences for Butches refusing to follow such misogynist standards weren’t so serious.

Butches are treated as other, as unnatural, and as freaks from our earliest memories, with no support from the culture, media, schools, family, etc. We often grow up never seeing anyone else like us, yet we persist in staying natural and true to ourselves. We are oppressed even by other Lesbians. We certainly don’t need “radical Lesbian feminists” oppressing us as well, and using the same old male Butch-hating stereotypes against us.

You don’t have to understand a Lesbian is Butch to oppress her, just as you don’t have to know the class background of someone to be classist.

When a Lesbian Feminist insists that Butches are more male or male-brained, she’s following the old patriarchal tradition of psychiatrists who imprison, torture, experiment on, drug, electro-shock, and kill Butches for daring to say no to men, to patriarchy.

What on earth is the research that Carolyn Gage refers to when she talks about studies showing butches have “male-patterned brains?” Were Butches captured and forced to undergo brain surgery?  Were Butches subjected to CAT scans and other tests that cause cancer and heart damage? How could they even know who was Butch?  Carolyn certainly doesn’t or she would know that there were no Butches on the L Word, and that Rachel Maddow, Ellen, and Carolyn herself is not Butch.

In the guise of support, this is such a hateful presentation. How dare Carolyn speak for us and in such insulting ways? Are we so much of a threat that she has to try to steal our identity, speak for us, and lie about us?

Please don’t re-write our history. We did NOT leave the Lesbian Feminist communty for the “queer” community. We helped CREATE the Lesbian Feminist community and are still here (even though way too many Butches have died young.) We did not “walk away” from Lesbian Feminism or “run” away from radical Lesbian Feminism. Again, Butches CREATED radical Lesbian Feminism. And no, we did not “transition” to “become men.” Most FTMs are fem, and it’s becoming obvious as the years go by that most are actually het or bisexual women since their eventual goal seems to be with gay men (though of course they aren’t gay if they’re with women, so actually they are het/bisexual men with het/bisexual women — just a variant on a regular boring het couple.)

We do not exist for fems either. Substitute another oppressed group being objectified as sexually servicing their oppressor and see the hate here:

“Historically, the lesbian butch has been about giving pleasure. In fact, she defined her pleasure as the giving of pleasure. Her virility, her prowess lay-so to speak-in the satisfying of the fem.”

I’m sorry to disturb the lovely almost-pornographic fantasy of Butches existing only to satisfy you, but that’s not my idea of pleasure. I prefer equality, and ideally, with another Butch.

The level of Butch-hatred in this “sermon” is almost unbelieveable. But obviously, and fortunately, not all fems hate Butches. I do thank my Radical Lesbian Feminist and Separatist friends for their support of Butches, including and especially Val. So why is it so hard for others to understand?

About Bev Jo

I’ve been a Lesbian from my earliest memories and am proud to be a Lesbian. Lesbians are my people and my blood. My life’s work has defending Lesbians and our culture and existence against those who oppress us. Working-class, ex-catholic, mostly European-descent (with some First Nations, probably Shawnee, ancestry), from poverty class culture. I’m a Lifelong Lesbian, born near Cincinnati, Ohio in 1950. I became lovers with my first lover in 1968, became part of a Lesbian community in 1970, and became a Dyke Separatist in 1972. I helped create Radical Lesbian Feminist and Separatist community and worked on some of the earliest Lesbian Feminist projects, such as the Lesbian Feminist Conference in Berkeley in 1972, the newspaper “Dykes and Gorgons” in 1973, the women’s bookstore, Lesbian coffeehouse, and taught self defense to women and girls. I’ve been published in journals and anthologies, including “For Lesbians Only,” “Finding the Lesbians,” “Lesbian Friendships,” “Amazones d’Hier, Lesbiennes Aujourd’hui,” “Mehr als das Herz Gebrochen,” the Journal for Lesbian Studies, Lesbian Ethics, Sinister Wisdom, Trivia, and Rain and Thunder. With Linda Strega and Ruston, I co-wrote our book, “Dykes-Loving-Dykes: Dyke Separatist Politics for Lesbians Only” in 1990. I’ve been disabled since 1981 with ME/CFIDS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) and MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.) I love nature and plants and animals — and especially the animals who are feared and hated and killed by people who don’t even know them, just as Lesbians are. I’ve learned to love rats especially, who I do not consider inferior to humans. I’m a spiritual atheist, but I’ve found out that there is definitely life after death because a little rat returned from the dead for three days to comfort us. These hated little animals are so kind and loving, and willing to die for someone they love. I say, in our fight to protect the earth — distrust all “truths” we are taught by patriarchy. The true truth is often the opposite.
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14 Responses to Please Stop Butch-hatred: Critique of the Lesbian Butch: Hope of the Planet by Carolyn Gage

  1. Bev Jo says:

    Thank you too, Val. Great to work with you!

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  2. Bev Jo says:

    For those who can’t reach Carolyn’s link and wonder what the hell this is about, here it is:

    The Lesbian Butch: Hope of the Planet from: _Supplemental Sermons for a Lesbian Revival Tent_ by Carolyn Gage (www.carolyngage.com)
    the book is available for download for $5 ($8+shipping in paperback) here:http://www.lulu.com/product/file-download/supplemental-sermons-for-a-lesbian-tent-revival/11787117

    Since I can’t show the piece in its entirety, which is what I had intended, so nothing would be seen out of context, I’ll just show the quotes which were the most upsetting:

    “What happened was a lot of the butches got very confused. They-slash-we were confused because all the fems were busy shaving their heads and uploading flannel shirts and hiking boots. Wouldn’t that mean that the butches were the “real” lesbians? On the other hand, it was a fate worse than death to be accused of “acting like a man,” so a lot of butches got very underground about their desire…. and so then, for the next twenty years, a whole lot of so-called masculine women left what had become an oxymoron for them: lesbian community.

    …The butches left lesbian feminist community for queer community, which reflected gay male values, and this community didn’t really “get” butches either, but what it did get was that feminism was too hard and too confusing….And many, many masculine women transitioned to female-to-male transgender identities. Many, many butches walked away from lesbian-feminism, and, sisters, they positively RAN away from radical lesbian-feminism.

    …There has been butch flight from lesbian community, sisters. Two solid decades… that’s two generations. Two generations of butch flight….

    We’re going to start somewhere else. We’re going to start with something that has been completely taboo to talk about for a while now. We’re going to talk about the body. We’re actually going to talk about biology. Yeah. Biology. The science of life. Pinch yourselves, sisters, because we are going to talk about biology. We’re going to talk about cells and chromosomes and genes and foetal and child development. We’re going to talk about biology….

    Okay. So, let’s table that discussion about “What is a masculine woman?” for a minute and let’s consider maleness. Not masculinity. Just maleness. What makes a biological male?

    …The genes of the XY chromosomes of that little tiny foetus have sent a signal for it to begin to develop these specialized cells, and these cells produce this testosterone. And this testosterone begins to pattern the brain. At six weeks, in utero. Pattern the brain. I want you all to say that with me: “Pattern the brain.” The testosterone triggers the patterning of the male brain. And it patterns it differently from the female brain at SIX WEEKS IN UTERO….

    …And Sister Carolyn likes to say that, too. Without the genetic intervention in the male foetus, they would all have female-patterned brains, too. Because Nature has an impulse to create a female….

    Sisters there is a male brain and that is a real thing, and it is patterned before birth. It has neural pathways laid down. I’m talking about synaptic tracks here… and some of these are going to be switched on at puberty by that second surge of testosterone. Like the way train tracks can be laid, but the train doesn’t go down them until the railroad switch is opened. We’re going to talk about what some of those male train tracks are in a minute… but be very clear that they have very different destinations from the female neural train tracks….

    … There are male foetuses that can sit through that surge of testosterone without being influenced by it. The receptor sites for the testosterone are resistant to it. This is called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or AIS. And this will cause a chromosomally male foetus, with the XY, to develop female external characteristics… like breasts… and, yes, the brain will develop along the lines of the female-patterned brain… which was never exposed to testosterone. The world will call these effeminate men. Or faggots….

    Okay… now, there are some female, XX foetuses that do experience testosterone in the uterus. There is something called congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) syndrome, where the adrenal glands secrete unusual amounts of male hormones, like testosterone. This happens in the uterus, and it causes what they call prenatal masculinization and defeminization. And, guess what? These female foetuses develop the male-patterned brain before they are born. Girls with CAH can have unusual or missing periods, deep voices, facial hair, and genitals that look male and female….

    Sisters, when someone tells us that they feel like they were born in the wrong body, they may very well be describing a biological anomaly like AIS or CAH. They may be picking up on the fact that they don’t “get” the way the other members of their gender think and behave and they feel more at home with the members of the opposite gender. The only “community” that is making a home for these folks is the transgender community-the “born in the wrong body” community. And that feels like home, because that is how some of us are experiencing our identity. And that is real. And it is NOBODY’s place EVER to tell another person how they should be experiencing or defining their reality. What we can do is listen, and listen hard, and challenge our own thinking and open up alternative spaces in our own conceptual universes. And, sisters, we have NOT done that. And the masculine women who have that experience are not finding a space in our communities. And that is wrong….

    So just what are those differences in the brain that we’re talking about? Well, the male brain has emotions on one side and language skills on the other. The male brain has less linkage between halves of the brain. The female brain has emotional centers on both lobes, and greater linkage. Is this significant? Yes. The male brain is not wired to be emotionally articulate or literate….

    All right. So listen up. The male brain is more compartmentalized. That’s a fact. The textbooks will say that that the male brain is better able to focus, less prone to distraction….

    As Sisters of the Sacred Synapse, we know that what they are really talking about is disconnect. That’s right. The men who designed the atom bombs were disconnected from the horrendous destruction they were enabling. They were disconnected from the realities of burning flesh, birth defects, radioactive toxicity. They were focused on a physics formula. They were focused on their reputations, their income. They were not going to be distracted by the ethics of suffering and the responsibility for planetary devastation that would last for thousands of years…

    This male-brain compartmentalization is not a small issue….

    …And that some butch women have had prenatal androgen exposure, and that some butch women develop male-patterned brains in utero. And some butches are butches.

    …if we are going to save the planet, and the lesbian butch, sisters, the masculine woman-and especially the masculine woman with the male-patterned brain-is biologically situated to lead us, to be a Wayshower.

    The masculine woman with female genitalia is in a position-so to speak-to model sexually for the entire planet, because she may have the male brain pattern and/or the androgen levels of males, who have evolved to aggressively seek multiple mates for a mission of the broadest possible insemination, but because she does not have a flesh-and-blood, sensate penis, she does not face the same level of temptation to practice selfish sex….

    Now, sisters, one of the primary symptoms of a victimized daughter-and I mean victimized by males-especially when the abuse occurs early in her life, is something called “gender dissonance.” “Dissonance” originally means lack of harmony in music. A clash. It now has the meaning of “a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements.” Like being in a body that is a target for violence and abuse, and needing to be in a body that is safe and loved. Gender dissonance means experiencing oneself in the wrong body. The spirit of the child cries out, “This cannot be happening to me,” and the brain makes it so… because rerouting the synapses may be the only escape route for the daughter….

    …She can take that masculine identity and model for all of us… and her example will compel the men and the straight women to pay attention… she can model the true, righteous, and appropriate application of masculine strength, focus, and aggression….”

    =

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  3. “Being Butch means knowing you were different from other girls from your earliest memories — not because you were male, male-identified, “masculine,” or “male-patterned brained,” but because you were too female, too natural, too close to what all girls would be if it wasn’t for patriarchy, and too threatening.”

    This is a brand-new concept for me — thank you! Have always loved butches and wanted to know more about their inner lives and perceptions (the butches I’ve known have mostly been womyn of few words) so I’m thankful for you.

    Like

  4. Bev Jo says:

    Thank you too. Some of us, especially me, are extremely talkative. But I know what you mean.

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  5. diana says:

    Bev and Val, your descriptions are beautiful! Why don’t we, in the wider radical feminist community, honor the courage and the real gorgeousness of those who dare to be Butch? Who dare to be that genuine, that real. “A Butch is simply what all women would be in the absence of patriarchy.” Inspiration, living the truth, being the example of what is possible to the unbound female mind and being. I’m so saddened by the fact that Carolyn succumbed to this … fear? hatred? Thank you for this post.

    Like

  6. Bev Jo says:

    Thank you so much, diana! It’s upsetting about Carolyn because she does some excellent radical feminist work. But she also has been appropriating Butch identity, so it’s a combination, I think, of fear, hatred, and jealousy too. I don’t know understand it, but she kept posting saying bisexuals like Janis Joplin were Butch.I was ignored when I protested. I don’t see her posts anymore, so I can only imagine what else she’s doing. She also kept supporting Zoe Brain on facebutt threads — he’s a man claiming Lesbian identity. I joined in a thread she started about radiation and he came on to bait me. She ended up telling me to be quiet and apologizing to this man. So she makes strange choices, not always in the best interests of women.

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  7. Pingback: Femininity, Butch, and Feminism – 4 | Forest Green Feminism

  8. Jennie says:

    Thank you for this article. I am now in a romantic relationship with a butch girl. I am crazy about her as she is of me. I have noticed the nasty looks and stares we get on the subway by both men and women. I am femme, so I guess I’m “acceptable” to society, but her, being butch, is not. What a crock of shit. She is fun, intelligent, a jill of all trades, loyal, gorgeous, and so much more to me. We both look very “subversive,” and are proud of it! We both have tattoos, wear Goth clothes, dye our hair, shave some of it, etc. This is how we feel comfortable. I greatly admire her for being so authentic and true to herself. I’m the same way, and she respects that about me, also. I have always supported butch women, even before I came out as a lesbian several years ago. (I thought I was bi
    ..) You’re right about butches NOT being represented on tv, in films, art, etc.. Shame on the L word for not including butches. Men seem to loathe butches. I think it is because she is lesbian, and is unattainable for him and all of his perverted thoughts. Men have NO access to her, and this troubles them deeply. Too fucking bad! I’m proud to walk down the street with her. She told me she has been harassed all of her life because she is butch. I have been harassed all of my life too by men, but for different reasons. She told me that men hit on her. That makes me so angry; they see her as a challenge. Anyways, I love butch women, (especially mine) 😊, and will always support them.

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  9. Bev Jo says:

    Thank you so much, Jennie. It used to be that Butches were more protected when the majority of Lesbian Feminists looked like Dykes and were as out as possible. The more visible Lesbians there are in our communities as well as in the het/male world, the safer it is for those who are the most recognizable as Lesbians, who are Butches. (It’s also a lot more comfortable and strong and attractive way to be.) As Lesbians become more proud again being Lesbians, then more will share the oppression and also the wonderful feeling of being able to recognize each other.

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  10. OutlawSage says:

    Basically butch is about being completely out to strangers and everybody, why is this so hard to understand?
    But a while ago I read that one long argument you had with another women on some blog where she objected to the idea of their being any natural femaleness and accused this idea of being rooted in racism. I don’t remember much of it but it stuck with me this problem of where cultural relativism plays in defining femininity and butchness. Now I don’t respect any culture and don’t bother with cultural relativism but I see most people do. What are your thoughts on this?
    Also the voice pitch thing is extraordinary. I’m not a butch and so I do this all the time. My voice goes all wispy and higher even though I have a pretty boisterous deep voice normally. And I so often laugh without making a sound but when I’m caught off guard it’s like a hyena laugh and I love it. Partly this is because I’m shy and it’s a defense mechanism saying don’t look at me, but obviously it is femininity I’m falling back on. The good old non-threatening demeanor I can hide behind to the detriment of all women.

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    • Bev Jo says:

      It’s more complicated since Fem Dykes or Dykey Fems can be completely out too. The Fems who deny Butch existence will still treat Butches differently, which is always revealing.

      Fems trying to erase Butch existence and bully us into not talking about Butch oppression have actually tried saying our idea of Butches is based on a white image, which ignores that there is a higher percentage of Butches of Color, so do they really not see them?

      The look I recognize as Butch I’ve seen in some many Lesbians from around the world, and it’s the same whether the Butch is from Singapore, Bangladesh, Thailand, Mexico, Iran, Israel, Indian, Philipines, Europe…. It’s very interesting to go to the annual Queer Women of Color Film Festival in San Francisco, started by a Butch from Singapore, who was force to leave her homeland for being a Lesbian. Madeleine Lim gave classes and loaned film equipment to Lesbians of Color and so created the film festive. There are SO many Butches of Color to be seen over the three day event.

      Hyenas are nice, but yes, it is a marker…

      Like

      • OutlawSage says:

        Okay thank you for answering, I thought maybe it was something like that; it seemed like she was making excuses for wanting to be feminine. Wow I’d love to see butches from different cultures represented more. I really need to check out that festival. But does the butch from Singapore think she was ‘born that way’? Because that’s been a problem with a lot of non-feminine women they think they are just born different from “normal” women. Of course not their fault, a lot of women have fallen into this line of thinking. I think a lot of fems of all kinds are jealous of butches but I’m not really. Of course I wish I’d never given in to femininity but more than anything I am so glad for your existence because it proves females are not what patriarchy has defined them as. It’s a shame more women can’t put aside their pride and appreciate butches while accepting that they, as fems, cannot ever achieve this.
        I know butches when I see them yet the “dyke-look” is more ambiguous. Short hair and acting “tough” is really in style now so it can be hard to tell. But I do know there are a lot of dykey fems who do try and it’s not their fault if they blend in a little with this look. Yes, it’s more complicated because I often look at a women and think is she a lesbian or is she a hipster? But with butches it’s not ambiguous, yet this above all else is ignored.

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        • Bev Jo says:

          I haven’t asked Madeleine. It’s complicated because yes, we are “born this way,” born naturally loving other females and being repulsed by males. But then it’s also a choice.

          You’re right that a lot of Fems are jealous of Butches and then also want us erased and hate us. Sometimes the feminist Fems are among the worst.

          I’m usually good at telling the posturing Fems who fill most of the “Butch” sites. Some are Dyke Fems, but others will soon go back to their makeup and dresses. They don’t look natural in what they are doing. It’s for show, and there are a lot of “tells” in the trendy hair styles, piercings, sado-masochist image.

          And there are almost no Butches in any media, so who can anyone recommend to identify? It’s a deliberate erasure, even by Lesbian artists and filmmakers.

          It would be interesting to do a workshop with photos of real Butches.

          Like

  11. KgSch says:

    Your explanation of how butches are closer to what females would be if there wasn’t patriarchy makes a lot of sense to me! I used to think that butch and fem was just a bunch of roleplaying crap. It looks like this is another case of words getting distorted meanings.
    It does make sense to me that if you rejected femininity as a child then it’s a very different experience than accepting it. I reject it as an adult but I did accept it when I was a child. So I did fit in somewhat for following those rules, although I got bullied for being fat. Why is rejecting femininity seen as being “masculine”? Sadly a lot of feminists who are against the trans cult and know that gender roles aren’t innate still can’t always think outside of the box.

    I don’t see how claiming that butches have male brains is any different from the lesbian-hating notion that all lesbians have “male brains”, or the misogynistic notion that women who do well in math or science (or want to do something with their life other that being a housewife really) are “masculine” or “trying to be like a man.”

    Yes, Gage does not have any proof that butches have male brains. Males and females are different, with women who haven’t bought into patriarchal bs being more interesting, kinder people. But no one has really proved “brain sex” and especially not the idea of butches having “male brains.” Or the notion that anyone has the “wrong brain” or a “cross-sexed” brain. Furthermore, any radical feminist should know that just because men think that only they are allowed to be dignified and not be marked as a sex object doesn’t mean it’s actually true.

    I agree that if you wouldn’t appropriate the identity of any other oppressed group, than don’t appropriate butch identity! Plus, it would be nice if everyone stopped spreading the myth that butches are the ones transitioning. Many young women doing it are feminine. They may not conform to femininity to such an extreme degree, but they conform at least a little. I recall a video with a teenager who was wearing a ton of makeup talking about how oppressed she was by “cis” people for being nonbinary and how “cis” people would kill her for saying that. Outside queer theory land, most people are going to think she’s talking about computers. If she is a victim of violence, it would most likely be because she’s female. If she has a lot of MtT friends, well most women are victimized by a man they know and trust, not a stranger.

    And you are right. Women who want to pull a mindscrew on gay men and be sexually active with them are het or bi. Not lesbians.

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