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    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    Year of the Butch?

    I wish. But Sarah Leavitt thinks so. Maybe just in Vancouver.

    I'm using butch because I want a short, juicy label for the women who are not feminine but who still identify as women. These are the ones who queer gender in a radical way: by not doing what's expected of them, by walking the edge, by daring to dress like men and to call themselves "she."

    The other day my friend told me about a little girl. "She hates dresses and she climbs trees. I think she might be trans." Another dyke friend did boy-drag at a party. "Congratulations on transitioning," someone said to her.

    At an event the other night, a friend and I were checking out a cute young thing -- short hair, perky breasts, baggy pants and baseball cap. I called her butch. My friend called her a "female-bodied person" and used the pronoun "he." Can't girls or woman stray outside of feminine and still be considered female? Have we lost the concepts of tomboy, male drag, and butch?

    In certain parts of the queer community, butch is hopelessly outdated. Butch is for the not-so-queer, the true gender fuckers are taking T and passing as men, or at least using the pronoun "he."

    If you do not identify as femme or as androgynous, if you're a tomboy, or you prefer men's clothes, well then you must not be a woman. Some of this seems like good old-fashioned misogyny to me. If you're in the position of choosing pronouns "he" is always better than "she." It's better to be a guy than "just" a woman. Women who dress like men are trying to be men but just don't have the guts to go all the way.

    Well, as far as this dyke is concerned, butch is queer. Butch is edgy. Butch is brave, and of course, butch is hot.

    Bring on the boxer briefs, the strap-ons, the mystification in the lingerie store, the bashful adoration of femmes, the suits and the baggy jeans, the breasts hidden under sports bras or binding or undershirts. Let's celebrate the Year Of The Butch.

    The always provocative Opinionated Lesbian responds to Leavitt and other issues:

    Any movement has its flaws, and many are afraid of criticizing trans stuff for fear of being seen as bigots. But here's a piece in Vancouver's Xtra West that suggests that some have turned trans rights into something ludicrous, into something that's actually hurting lesbians: "The other day my friend told me about a little girl. 'She hates dresses and she climbs trees. I think she might be trans.'

    "Another dyke friend did boy-drag at a party. 'Congratulations on transitioning,' someone said to her. At an event the other night, a friend and I were checking out a cute young thing -- short hair, perky breasts, baggy pants and baseball cap. I called her butch. My friend called her a 'female-bodied person' and used the pronoun 'he.' Can't girls or woman stray outside of feminine and still be considered female? Have we lost the concepts of tomboy, male drag, and butch?"

    What's at the root of this? The desire to be progressive, the genuine belief that supporting our trans friends is worthy and important. The fear of insulting a trans person who's already having a tough enough time as it is.

    Beware: ramble below.

    I'm super-excited about the new trans character, Moira, on The L Word, but part of me thought, when I heard about the new character, "Couldn't we get a real butch first?" [I adore Shane, but I do wish she didn't appear in the bus stop ads looking like the pic above. (Now you understand why that pic is heading this post.) Is that awful of me?] Maybe that's simply not the times we live in; maybe butch really is "outdated"? I don't get that vibe in dyke bars in NYC, but what do I know? And why was my reaction that a butch character needed to be there "first"? Why first? (And we did have Ivan too, I might add.) I guess that, if they're really speaking to the "community" and trying to address all these pertinent issues, it might be more relevant or something to talk about the great many people transitioning. It's also one of those things where the over-emphasis on transwomen in the rest of the media has left it to The L Word to represent a transman (or two).

    I love The L Word for being willing to address a lot of the complex "identity" issues that float around the "lesbian community" (quotes indicate there isn't one and that these aren't even always lesbian, per se). The lesbian-identified-man, the transfolks, the several regular bisexual characters, Kit's relationship with Ivan, the racial conflicts- these are very cool and probably one of the best and most interesting avenues a show like that can pursue. But this reluctance to get anyone too butch (without transitioning) seems to be playing right into the hands of straight prejudices. Everyone is so afraid that straight folks will think all lesbians are butch that they keep butches out of it period. This is not a new thought, but it is one that has gotten more and more bothersome the longer I watch the show and see how many other identities are given time and attention. It's also a little disappointing because, in the second round of "lesbian chic", it seems that "chic" pertains exclusively to glamour-femmes, whereas, back in the day, k.d. lang could pose butched-up with Cindy Crawford on the cover of Vanity Fair as a representation of "lesbian chic". What this basically shows is that it's not really about a particularly lesbian aesthetic*, if such a thing exists, so much as the simple women-having-sex-with-women fascination. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that means that the idea of a lesbian aesthetic is itself outdated, which could possibly mean that some of its ideas have been integrated into the mainstream. For example, Ralph Lauren putting out women's underwear with jocks up front. Unfortunately (for my taste), not enough lesbian aesthetics got mixed into the mainstream. So, it could be the other way: lesbian aesthetics have been overtaken by a queer embrace of straight aesthetics.

    In a way though, the L Word is the best possible example of the ideal cultural "melting pot" when it comes to queer assimilation/integration/negotiation of the straight world?

    *("Lesbian aesthetics", "straight aesthetics"- shorthand terms; let the Judy Butler in me state for the record that these terms are not intentionally being reified here.)


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