A Femme Surrounded by Butch Voices

I’m suffering from a sort of culture shock. I noticed it as soon as I left the hotel yesterday.

You see, I’ve long known this about myself: My head turns when I see certain men on the street. Maybe it’s the cut and hang of a leather jacket, the perfect fit of a pair of well-faded jeans, or the shine of a polished shoe or boot. I watch their stride, long and certain, and the way their hips move.  I admire the trim of their hair. And then I think, “Damn. If only you were a woman.”

Well, I’ve just returned from three days in heaven, from a place where the cut, the stride, the polish, and the trim belonged to butches of every shape and size. Whether trans-masculine, genderqueer, female-identified, old-school, or new, they were all represented.

My quivering femme heart will take a long time to still.

But, make no mistake, I wasn’t at the Butch Voices conference, held this past weekend at the Oakland Marriott, simply to ogle the participants. I was there as an ally, to lend my support. I was there to learn. I was there because I love butch women. Butch women are my friends, my confidants, and my lovers. I was there to say “thanks”.

Thanks for all the time you’ve offered me an arm. Thanks for making the bar runs at crowded parties. Thanks for loaning me your jacket, leading when we dance, cooking for me, wrapping me up in big authentic hugs, and letting me cry on your shoulder.

Thank you for the reverence and respect with which you’ve touched my body – sometimes with more regard than I was feeling for it myself.

I was there to say thanks for being the most visual icons of our lesbian sub-culture. Thank you for taking the public heat for all of us. In your roles as outlaws and gender-benders, you are our front-men.

From the moment we arrived, I was conscious of my role as a non-butch participant. I’m a buzz-cut, sort of low-maintenance femme, and I had anticipated this and didn’t want to spend days explaining my gender orientation. So I packed a dress, strappy sandals, and got a fresh pedicure in preparation. I wanted to be clear about my position, and not appear to be teetering on top of the fence.

Femmes were definitely in the minority and I chose my workshops carefully, not wanting to encroach on others’ opportunities for butch bonding. The public visibility of butch women led to such workshops as “Non-conforming Gender Presentation and Job Searching,” “Politics of Passing,” and “Butch in the Streets: Techniques for Increasing Safety in Public”.  I did not attend these. I attended S. Bear Bergman’s workshop on chivalry, and Ivan Coyote’s workshop on beating writing procrastination.  I did not attend the workshop called “An Exploration of Dick,” even though I have more than a passing acquaintance with the topic. Strap-ons and toys, are just that for me – toys. They’re not My Dick. (And that’s only one of the things that marks me as femme.) This was a conversation the butches needed to have amongst themselves. But to be clear, as a femme ally, I was never made to feel unwelcome. The places I didn’t go were by my own choice.

In response, I suppose, to the bonding and visibility of the assembled butches, I heard several young femme women express how they feel invisible to their own community – that they’re not immediately recognized as lesbian and have to work to be noticed by the very women they want to attract.

To some degree I understand this because my usual fashion accessory is a 12-year-old son, which identifies me as a mommy above all else. I think in liberal places and among my peers, I’m often read as a gay woman, but in many environments, I’m just an older orchestra mom with an edgy haircut and funky glasses.

And, I hear women over 40, lesbian and straight alike, complain about their invisibility to the world as a whole. They say younger people don’t look them in the eye, and until we become senior citizens, don’t extend us the courtesies they jump to extend to younger women. I suppose that’s a valid complaint in a society that places a high value on feminine youth and beauty. I think I circumvent this by going out of my way to make eye contact with strangers,  and I am more likely to extend my courtesies to others – male or female – as to expect them extended to me. As a result, I don’t feel invisible so much as capable, if by necessity. I’ve worked in lots of environments where I was expected to lift, tote, and carry, and have set-up and stacked more folding tables and chairs than I would ever like to count. My egalitarianism makes my life run smoothly but doesn’t make me feel special.

Maybe that’s why I came home from Butch Voices feeling like a queen.

Yes, I felt conspicuous in my femininity among all the butch bodies. Yes, I was in the minority.

But I felt seen, valued, and cared for. I felt nurtured. It never occurred to me to move a folding chair. I’m pretty certain it would have been an insult to try, and I’m not bothered by that one iota. I do my share in other environments and had nothing to prove in this one. Everyone I met was warm in their greetings, gracious in their communications, conscious of their impact on the space around them. I heard one femme woman say that at the Saturday night Butch Nation entertainment review – which was jam-packed – she had never had so many people apologize for bumping into her.

Maybe this is because of the special pride so many butch women take in their manners. Maybe this is because we have all been socialized as female to some degree, and therefore have a special understanding of the value of warmth and courtesy.

In the past, I have told my son that if he wants to learn good manners and treat women with respect, he only has to look to his butch “uncles” for advice. And after this weekend, I stand by that now, more than ever.

My heartfelt thanks to Joe LeBlanc, the conference chair and Butch Voices board president, and the incredible group that put the conference together.

Here are all of the posts I made following the Butch Voices 2009 conference.


28 responses to “A Femme Surrounded by Butch Voices

  1. You’re welcome. 🙂

    • I wanted to share this note from Zed, which is pure cowboy poetry:

      “Just saying ‘you’re welcome’ to femmes, and wimmin in general, for all the stuff I’ve done for them.

      Lugged bags and boxes and books and changed tires and oil and fan belts, doctored horses and killed bugs and snakes, roped wayward calves and caught loose dogs who wanted to bite me way more than they wanted to be caught by me…

      I don’t know what it is about us butches that make us want to take care of you wimmin, but it’s there and we aren’t going to stop anytime soon, I reckon.

  2. Thank you!

  3. Fantastic wrap-up post. Thanks for sharing your reflections so articulately and warm-heartedly!

  4. Thanks for sharing!

    I wish I had been in town to attend, but maybe there will be one again soon! What happened to all of the lesbian/feminist conferences we used to have?!! Leave it to the Butches to bring it back!

  5. Yay!
    Yay for manners!
    Yay for teaching kid to look to his “uncles” for how to treat a woman!

  6. wish I had been there!

  7. Thank you for posting this wonderful synopsis of the weekend’s events. My butch was blessed to be in Oakland this past weekend, while I had to stay at home due to other commitments. We were in frequent contact and I received multiple updates. Your accounting however, from a femme perspective is welcomed. I will definitely be there next time. Thank you again.

  8. Thanks for doing the blog. I want to add to that. I am also a femme and attended only the Sat. nite event. All the performances were great, but there were a couple of younger butches that really moved me and made me proud of our culture and the bravery and sensitivity of the butches there. The last spoken word performance was so wonderful and covered so much territory that I hope that it gets printed so that more lesbians, butch and femme can read it and weep!

  9. ” I heard several young femme women express how they feel invisible to their own community – that they’re not immediately recognized as lesbian and have to work to be noticed by the very women they want to attract.”

    This is SO true! I have the hardest time meeting butches. I joke (but it’s true) that I am the only lesbian I know who repeatedly gets hit on by MEN at a dyke bar.

    Butches, please don’t assume we’re straight – by the time you see us in the bar, we’ve picked out the perfect dress and heels only to watch you overlook us and go for the jeans and t-shirt. LOL

  10. Suzi, what wonderful observations on being a woman, a mother, a femme and over 40. I was there on Saturday night and also hope, the spoken words of the last performer are recorded. While it seemed to me, predominately younger butches, I never felt my “age.” BTW, I did fold up my chair and my escort’s chair! I guess too many step meetings have trained me! LOLOL…..your blog is now on my favorite list. Much love! Jean, CK’s friend.

  11. I’m glad you had a great time but I have to admit I never get it. I’ve always known I love women for being women and not for being men. What I don’t understand is why someone would want a woman in sheep’s clothing? Why not date a man? I’m not h8ing. I just never understood that aspect of our community.

  12. Thank you. You make us keep wanting to take care of you and keep you safe in the world. Long live Butch Values and femme love!
    – Jeanne Cordova

    • Jeanne,

      There was a moment on Saturday night that was just perfect for me. You and I were standing in line at the bathrooms, and we had hung out all of 20 minutes that night, and at one point Ivan said something while speaking that made me tear up. You were behind me, you couldn’t see my face and yet knew to reach out and rub my arm in support. Now, THAT’S knowing femmes. 🙂


  13. It seems to me that if the poster who wrote “huh?” has to ask about the importance of the B/F dynamic than she just doesn’t get it. I wonder why she even bothered to post here, since obviously the B/F dynamic is of no interest to her. We butches are simply being ourselves and it is wonderful that there are femmes out there like Suzi who appreciate us for what we are. We are NOT men, but rather, we are as the American Indians say “two-spirit” people, which is to say we are a combination of BOTH genders male and female. And this make us a bit unique. Again too bad for her that she is unable to appreciate the dichotomy.

  14. Yay! Let’s make Butch Voices all about us femmes!

    • Let me get this right. A group of femme women want to publicly support, honor, and compliment butches and you think that means they’re trying to co-opt your event?

      Would you like some Doritos with that whine cooler?

  15. Of course not; there would be no butches if there are no femmes to validate their masculinity.

  16. Pay no attention to Dude. Dude’s identity is clearly troll. A troll likes to throw little stink bombs of no merit or real substance whatsoever on the Internets and get a reaction to validate their identity. See also: personality disorders.

    • I’m glad you made this comment.

      However, I’m not 100% certain Dude is really a troll, in the classic, under-the-internet-bridge sort of way.

      I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he might be trying to make the point, albeit sarcastically, that there are plenty of butches who relate intimately to other butches. Butch-on-butch, stud-on-stud, butch faggotry, daddy-boi – all the nuances of the butch spectrum were represented at the conference.

      However, I wrote from my perspective as a femme attendee who loves butch women. I love the interplay of butch-femme relationships, although I recognize butches exist outside of that dynamic too. (And are just as hot there, I should point out.)

  17. I love this entry and all of the posted comments. Although I adore and love women, in general, butch women melt my heart and leave me sweetly pooled wherever they want me to be… if I am charmed and attracted.
    Blessings to all….

  18. Thank you for this post. I was there as well in the two workshops you mentioned. I, unfortunately, did fold up some chairs and got in trouble for it. I loved Bear’s workshop because it got me thinking about, and talking about, the uniqueness of the butch/femme dynamic.

  19. Imagine NOW meeting having half of the attendees being drooling, supportive straight men that keeps telling how hot the woman are. Stop it; it’s creepy.

    • Dude,

      I actually defended you last time, thinking you might have a legitimate complaint. But now I’m feeling like you really are a troll. So, listen. We need to talk for a moment. This just isn’t working for me right now. I need my space and I think we both need to see other people. Don’t call me. I’ll call you, okay?


  20. @Dude “Of course not; there would be no butches if there are no femmes to validate their masculinity.”

    Wanna bet? You obviously do not identify as a butch lesbian. In any case, your trolling of this post is creepy and weird. Femme/Butch adoration/appreciation, is neither of those things.

    Great post, thank you for sharing the experience, GeekPornGirl.

  21. GPG, thanks for this great post. I always appreciate having a femme’s voice added to the mix; I want and NEED to know how you collectively feel, see, and think. That makes me a better butch because I can take a step back from MY experience, and that empathy makes me a better person.

    Thanks for your voice. It’s needed, you know?

  22. And thank you for writing this and restoring my faith in my butch brothers.

    I didn’t attend the conference and the very little I knew about it came from a blog written by a purported ex-femme who claimed her ill-treatment at the BV conference was the last straw that caused her to give up on the butch-femme “dysfunctional” dance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s