April 27, 2011 by Valerie M
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?