Annette Pryce adds a personal dimension to the ongoing butch/femme dynamic in the lesbian scene.
Unless I’m discussing education, I don’t often bluster with heavy academic diatribes about lesbianism and queer identities – I’m much more personal than that. So, it is with this in mind that I was taken aback by the realisation of a younger friend of mine that she felt butch lesbian identities had become separated and excluded from the LGBTQ+ scene of late. She felt that the ‘femme’ identities were overpowering the scene with their ‘acceptable’ form of queerness. Saying that, I can’t really take my eyes off the hot femmes in SHE bar in SOHO, but if a dreamy butch were to walk into the room, I’d be sure to have to pick my chin up off the floor.
There will be pictures in this post, and if you are already weak at the knees, it’s best to look away now…
My all time favourite is actually just a fictional charcter played by an actress who can pull off a butch dyke with the best of them; Chloe Seveigny *swoon* . The swoon is mandatory for Chloe, I have to admit this now, before you all gag, in If These Walls Could Talk 2, a film all about lesbian identities through time in the same house. She just makes me wanna bite on the back of my knuckles, and I’m not even remotely femme, but there’s the rub; not all butch/femme dynamics work the way you think they do.
I was taken aback by the realisation of a younger friend of mine that she felt butch lesbian identities had become separated and excluded from the LGBTQ+ scene of late.
Even soft butches (like myself) can be bowled over by a ‘Shane’ from the (also fictional) L Word, but equally, we’re all just attracted to qualities perhaps that we see in ourselves, or qualities that we admire, or think are sexy, or a really great ass, even if other people don’t necessarily see it that way.
And what about the scene? Are young queer women only into one archetype? I’d blame the cishets given half the chance for bringing their silly gender sterotypes into our world, but that’s far too simple.
Perhaps the need to be ‘out’ isn’t as prevalent in today’s society as perhaps it was 30 years ago? Perhaps women just want to wear men’s jeans for flip’s sake, and bounce around in masculine privilege for a while, or even that they just feel comfortable in their own skin when they can wear what they want to wear and be who they want to be (mother, can you hear me?).
This isn’t a segue into trans masculinity because I’m sure that’s a whole different article, but butch lesbian identities are part of our sub-culture, in much the same way that femme ones are too, and they need to learn to co-exist again without feeling threatened by one another. We, as the lesbians of the 90s, need to understand what it was like for lesbians of the 70s, mired in feminist rumblings and the constant pressure of misogyny even within the gay community could leave you thinking, ‘what the hell are we if we’re not together in this?’
We’re all just attracted to qualities perhaps that we see in ourselves, or qualities that we admire, or think are sexy, or a really great ass, even if other people don’t necessarily see it that way.
Gender and sex still influence a huge arena within the LGBTQ community, but it’s not the 70s or even the 90s anymore, and younger generations have moved on with their own identities, despite the misgivings of older generations of butch dykes. Though we’re all too familiar with the need for sensible shoes and good deep pockets – aka ‘lesbian pockets’. I swear to God, I got chastised during a date for being a ‘crap lesbian’ because I couldn’t change a tyre – even my cishet female friends put me to shame.
Claire Heuchan, who writes regularly in her radical feminist blog SISTER OUTRIDER, has recently written ‘The Vanishing Point: A Reflection Upon Lesbian Erasure‘. In the piece, she intimates briefly that actually, somehow, the trans masculine identity is drowning out the ‘real women’ in the lesbian community. We are all women if we choose to identify that way.
Sometimes I simply can’t understand how, when we’ve come so far fighting against cishet people telling us that we weren’t real women, that we are now the enemy within. I don’t doubt that as a woman of colour, and a lesbian, that she has a lived experience of oppression and erasure, but don’t turn inward. She goes onto say:
“The idea that lesbians are transphobic because our sexual boundaries do not extend to accommodate penis is a phallocentric fallacy. And the pressure on lesbians to redefine those boundaries is frankly terrifying – it rests on an attitude of entitlement towards women’s bodies, an entitlement that is part of patriarchy and now being replicated within queer space. Lesbian women do not exist as sex objects or sources of validation, but self-actualised human beings with desires and boundaries of our own.”
I can say that I don’t think anyone should tell you who you should and should not be attracted to; it’s not really any harder than that, and to mire it in this constant academia about queer theory and misogyny is reductive, so let’s make this clear to anyone who is not clear. Any lesbians/queer women who appropriate typically cishet male ‘knobbish’ and sexist behaviours on other women, any women, all women, need a reality check.
That is not to say I agree with her. I can swoon over Chloe Seveigny and not be a knob; I can drool over the bar staff at SHE bar and still be a feminist; I can flirt and come on to women, and find them appealing, or undress them with my eyes without infringing on their boundaries.
And this brings me to my main and final point; telling them who we can and cannot or should not find attractive in our own community is doing a huge disservice to our younger peers who think that maybe they don’t fit anywhere. That they have to conform to some archaic gender stereotype of what a woman should look like makes me a little embarassed to say the least.
Isn’t that what we tried to push back against? But now, once again, we risk letting it invade our culture. Lesbian masculinity or butch trends are not a thing of the past – they exist everywhere, and we need them; we need our dreamboats and our heart-throbs. These are not words that the cishet community own; we have them as well – they are beautiful and we love them. Don’t let our dreamboats of tomorrow drift away.
Follow Annette on Twitter (@lgbtexec)