Femme FATale


butch vs. femme, or why it’s not ok to play "i have it harder than you."

after a fairly successful weekend of fun, i was visiting my usual online haunts before getting ready for bed and came across the most recent vlog by resident youtube butch, AJ on her sister channel, the Beaver Bunch. i don’t know how popular AJ, of Ask AJ Anything fame, is amongst us tech savvy queers out there, but basically she gives advice and makes a lot of “top 10” lists. i’ve never found her much to write home about, but that’s just my opinion.

anyway, this week’s vlog was about sharing coming out stories, which was all well and good until about 4minutes and 45seconds in when AJ starts talking about being visibly queer and how she can never not be “out” because of her appearance. shortly after this, she relays the following message that has had me fuming for the past hour. basically, this: femmes have it easy. maybe my anger is misdirected. AJ is only one of many butches i’ve heard voice these sentiments in the past few years and i’m officially over it. so, to AJ, and all those who might agree with her, here’s my rant:

so, check it. unfortunately, most of us who are queer have had homophobic speech slung at us at least once in our lives. whether it was directed to us individually, as part of a couple, or with a group, the impact is still the same. for me personally, this usually isn’t what i get called out on the street for when i’m on my own or with a group a friends. if i’m going to be heckled in broad daylight in the middle of downtown, it’s going to be because i’m fat or, the way i like to think of it, because i’m a hot fat girl who defies every convention of what it is i’m supposed to do – cover up every inch of skin, wear dark colors, talk quietly. basically, do everything i can to keep attention away from me, to fade into the woodwork. though truth be told, assholes on the street would find me there too.

when i’ve been the target of queer bashing though, it’s always been in the company of others. a big group of my homo friends at a non-queer bar or arm-in-arm with someone i’m dating who, because i always date on the more masculine end of the gender spectrum, tends to be more visibly queer than myself, thus drawing attention to us. those times have mostly been scary, some downright terrifying and, later, when safety is certain and blood pressures have resumed a normal range, angering for everyone involved. never, though, have i sat down afterward with my significant other or with my friends and deliberated which one of us motivated the attack, who’s most queer in appearance, or who has it easiest/hardest…and i, frankly, can’t understand anyone who would!

i know all about the differences of visibility and invisibility when it comes to butch and femme (or anyone queer who doesn’t pass as straight and anyone queer who does – the labels don’t matter here); i deal with what it means to be invisible to a straight world, and even a queer world sometimes, on a regular basis. for example, there are few things more infuriating to me than my lack of recognizability as queer and the swiftness with which that changes based on who my partner is. far too often, my entire gender and sexuality become about the gender identity of the person i’m dating rather than anything about me. all this being said though, i also know that i’m privileged in passing because my queerness is rarely a visible target of staring, behind-the-back whispers, or violence, and that those are things butches and other masculine-identified, female-bodied folks are forced to deal with constantly. i don’t deny AJ, or any other person who exhibits female masculinity of any kind, the fact that their visibility is always more dangerous. the ways in which they bravely navigate that on a daily basis will always have my utmost respect and appreciation.

my frustration instead is about the need to make this comparison, to attempt to outdo eachothers’ experiences of oppression. i would never say to a butch, a trans guy, someone genderqueer, that i experience discrimination worse than they do because of x, y, or z. i realize, in the case of visibility, their identity puts them in a different place, a more volatile place even, than myself, but i’m not going to tolerate them or anyone else telling me that i have it easy. this is not to say that differences in experience don’t need to be acknowledged. of course they do! and in the particular case of discrimination as a result of visibility, i know who has a roughter time. but what’s the point of sitting around contrasting whether the attack on your queerness is greater than mine? what gets accomplished in that? and more so, what significant information gets erased in this attempt? what about the particulars of space and time? or the specifics of the person and the variety of other intersecting identities like race and class and size, amongst others, that operate simultaneously with queerness and how we experience discrimination? are we really going to spend time figuring out whose feelings were hurt more or who was treated more unjustly when a stranger called you a “dyke” and me a “fat bitch”? or are we going to acknowledge the fact that it sucked in a bunch of different ways for both of us, but we learned a bit from each others’ experiences as a result?

if we’re queers and know what that means to us and understand the politics and investments of using that word beyond an identity of being G, L, B, or T, we need to learn what it means to be allies to one another; to be supportive, caring, respectful, self-reflexive, and to know that finger pointing and pitting ourselves against each other is futile. acknowledging the different ways we experience our lives and our identities is invaluable, but the pissing contest of who has it easiest and who has it worst seems to be a game with no actual winner.

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4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I agree completely that this type of comparison is fruitless. As someone who has been both visible queer and not so visibly queer, I think they each have their advantages and are mostly just different. Sinclair at sugarbutch took this on a few months ago, but I don’t remember the name of the post.

I have to say though, I’m not surprised about this coming from AJ – I dont think nuance is her thing, esp with regard to gender expression. I watched her vlog a few times and there was one about shaving and, while this might not be exactly correct, my memory is that she said something along the lines of “femmes should, butches shouldn’t.” Which to me, is some of the exact same gender prescriptive BS that is blessedly not as prevalent in the queer world as it is among the hets. I mean, there are plenty of non-shaving hippie femmes, and my butch lover often shaves after I do because of the joys of smooth on smooth.

Comment by Zoe

i’ve seen this described, in other contexts, as “oppression olympics”. i agree, no one wins, except maybe the oppression itself, which keeps on trucking while we fight each other.

Comment by Leo MacCool

wow! “oppression olympics” just became my new favorite phrase. it’s perfect for this…and adequately snarky to boot. thanks! p.s. your blog is on my reader. i’m a total fan! xo.

Comment by hussy red

Add race and ethnicity to the concept of comparing oppressions and it becomes even more complicated and heated!….

But everyone has some sort of privilege (or privileges) and also some ways that they are oppressed in society; we should (as you said) “be supportive, caring, respectful, self-reflexive, and to know that finger pointing and pitting ourselves against each other is futile.”

Peace.

Comment by Victoria (thatfemmegirl)




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