Femmes Aren’t Straight Girls Who Took A Wrong Turn

I spent the weekend at the Butch Voices conference in Oakland. It was an amazing weekend, with many insightful and joyful moments. (More about the conference here.)

I realized today that I was really happy I wasn’t PMS-ing during the conference. There were so many touching moments, and I found myself tearing up so many times, that I’m sure if I was on the downside of a progesterone spike, I could have cried all the way through the weekend.

But there was a moment during the conference that left me thinking my ears had deceived me and I want to talk about it.

I was in a workshop discussion between Jack Halberstam and Kim Peirce. Jack (Judith) is an English professor and director of The Center for Feminist Research at USC. Kim is the director of Boys Don’t Cry.

The discussion was about moving beyond Boys Don’t Cry into a next generation of butch/trans/genderqueer representation in the media. Jack and Kim are friends. In fact, Kim pointed out that Jack set her up on her only blind date, resulting in her current engagement.

At some point during the conversation, when comments and questions were moving quickly, Kim said something to the effect that butches have superior qualities to men and “that’s why femmes are with us and not men”.

Uh, no.

(Jack, why the hell didn’t you call her on this?)

I almost jumped out of my chair, but the moment to comment without rewinding the whole conversation had passed. Instead, I got distracted mulling it over and soon left the discussion and retired to my hotel room to rant a little.

There are many ways I think butches have it hands down over men. (And don’t write and call me a man-hater. Preferring one doesn’t mean hating the other.)

But that’s not why I’m with a butch woman and not a man. I’m with a butch woman because I’m a lesbian who loves butch women (and what butch/genderqueer author Ivan Coyote called “largely estrogen-based lifeforms” that fall anywhere on the masculine spectrum).

I came out later in life, after having been in heterosexual marriage, and I keenly feel the results of my coming out process and my “choices”. (Which, let’s face it, weren’t exactly choices, but internal imperatives.)

Femmes aren’t straight girls who have been won over by butches. Ask any butch who tried such a conversion and lived though the pain of watching her beloved return to a life with men. Admittedly a few of these projects work, but the vast majority don’t seem to.

I dated one woman who experienced this so many times, we joked about her being the “back door” lesbian  – the last thing a straight girl saw on her way back to heterosexuality.

Femmes are lesbians, no less than butches. We are dykes, queers, and homos. We are your counterparts, the yin to your yang. We grow more feminine in your reflection, as you become butcher in our glow. We exist in tandem.

But make no mistake, our sexual agency is only as great as your own. We don’t choose you over men and you didn’t win us as prizes in some sort of competition.

We chose you because you’re not men.

**********************

7 responses to “Femmes Aren’t Straight Girls Who Took A Wrong Turn

  1. I am so bummed I missed the conference, but due to my new job, I was unable to attend.

    However, I wish I had been there for that lecture you attended, because I would have stood up with you and commented about how untrue that remark about “that’s why femmes are with us and not men”.

    I have been dating women since I was 17, and although I did try and date a few men in college, I ultimately realized at age 20 that only a relationship with a woman would make me happy; because, of course, I am a lesbian, and a very femme one at that. I have no idea why I am attracted to butch woman, I have tried to analyze this subject often, but no real answer has surfaced.

    Anyway, I will stop rambling now, I really just wanted to say thank you for writing this post, and although you weren’t able to say something at the conference, I do believe being able to voice your opinion on your blog does make a difference.

    So keep it up!

  2. Wow. Seriously, butches are only superior to men if you’re a lesbian.

  3. I think Kim is a junior butch, hasn’t been with the brotherhood for very long, maybe doesn’t get this about femmes. Its a real sophisticated point. Jack knows less than Kim, and is way butch-lite. Give ‘um a chance to grow up. You know you femmes are more mature… we’ll get the clicks, eventually.

  4. Absolutely spot on! Like you I came out after a straight marriage and feel my “choices” keenly. I’m with a butch because I love butches. I’m a queer femme dyke – not a pseudo straight girl!
    Thanks for this post,
    fimg X

  5. *We are dykes, queers, and homos. We are your counterparts, the yin to your yang. We grow more feminine in your reflection, as you become butcher in our glow. We exist in tandem.*

    Nail. Head. Hit it!!

    One of my large frustrations with loving butches is of course the assertions that we are just doing “men-lite” vs. men. One of my loves of butch-femme dynamic is the dance, the glow, how I am “more femme” in the reflection of an admiring butch.

    When a butch brings up the same assertion, it smacks to me of internalized homophobia and misogyny. Now I am NOT saying that Kim is a homophobe or misogynistic. I am saying that it sounds like she (along with 95% of us) has learned the lessons of hetero-assumption/expectations well. The only thing we can do to combat that is to educate people that we femmes are 110% DYKE/QUEER. Why 110%? Because we have to be 100% queer to exist and have another 10% to fend off the fucked-up assumptions by men who think they can “change” us.

  6. The line that stood out to Belinda is the same one that stood out to me. In this butch’s perspective, there is nothing like the chemistry that comes with being with or around a femme. It feels like home, like a familiar niche where my masculine energy can completely coexist with her feminine energy. It’s a beautiful thing.

  7. Good essay and great points. All too often, it’s easy to let something slip between gender and sexual identity where one becomes obscured in order to bring something else to light.

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