And now, for something joyfully queer
This morning I read Amber Dawn’s “To All the Butches I Loved Between 1995 and 2005: An Open Letter about Selling Sex, Selling Out, and Soldiering On” in Best Sex Writing 2012, and it reminded me of how much I loved early lesbian writing. I lusted after Pat Califia before he was Patrick, worshiped Gayle Rubin, and absorbed every image of butch/femme I could find before being crushed to learn that I came of age in the time of androgyny.
Before I had enough class awareness to note the disproportionate descriptions of blue collar jobs in my butch/femme reading materials, I simply assumed this is how all jobs were in the 50s. I was in lust with the challenge of the stone butch before I had the awareness of how much pain goes into molding flesh into stone – and just what kind of pain. Without theoretical underpinnings of gender and class analysis I simply loved the exaggeration of these roles and the implicit power play.
In college I lamented as first one, and then another, and then another of my hot butch acquaintances discovered the word “trans,” started talking about “T,” grew facial hair, and adopted more permanent solutions where tight sports bras used to be because I had no context in which to understand this shift. Without context, it just seemed like the people I found attractive were becoming…men. I was left with a choice of androgyny or masculinity.
It’s interesting to see the same material from a new perspective. Interesting also to relearn just how much I love gender roles – really old school, politically incorrect, 1950s gender roles, moreover. The catch, of course, is that I like them as a plaything. I like boy/girl games when I can be either the boy or the girl at whim, and abandon both ideas in quick succession. I like them even better when I can mix and match…high heels and red lipstick on a mission to get my male partner drunk and take advantage of him. I like gender roles for the costuming, the script, and the sheer lack of androgynous utility, but I’m fascinated by how much I didn’t see when first falling in love with the butch/femme image.
I knew, but chose to ignore, that butch, like male, was associated with dominance. I saw but didn’t see that butch always paired with femme. I didn’t know, had no context for knowing, what it means to focus attraction on femme and feminine, casting butch and masculine as provider, doer, protector. Butches probably have a leg up in the being desired department, as Hugo Schwyzer points out in “I Want You to Want Me,” the chapter directly following Amber Dawn’s work, “we shame women for wanting and we shame men for wanting to be wanted.” Never the less, both butch and femme play inflexible roles, ones that give me yet another reason to thank my lucky stars that I was born in the internet age, even if it is also the post AIDS, post free love, post poppers in back alleys age.