The convergence of two things I was reading today led me to this post:
- An older post over at The Feral Librarian, in which that blogger responded to a question I asked her: if you had one month + unlimited money, what would you do to improve your institution's library?
- The book The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal, which is about the science of willpower, and what we can do to increase our willpower. (I'm only a few dozen pages into the book--it's great so far.)
So I started wondering: if I had unlimited willpower, what would I do with my life this month? How would it look different from the way it looks now? What things would I do, not do, start, or finish?According to McGonigal, most people struggle with willpower. I know I do. She invites readers to pick a particular "willpower challenge" of one of the following types:
Then she suggests various ways to help meet these challenges. In Chapter One, for example, she advises being uber-vigilant about when you are making a choice--even to the point of carrying a notebook and writing it down. Why? Because we often aren't aware that we're making decisions at all. It turns out that if you ask people in the abstract, "How many decisions do you make about food/eating daily?" they guess about 14. But then if they actually count these decisions, it ends up being over 200! The idea is to get acquainted with how the decision-making moment feels, whether it's the urge to check your email or the urge to order those hot Converse from Zappos.That brings me to my question for you: if you had one month and unlimited willpower, what would you do in that month? What "I will"/"I won't"/"I want" challenges would you take on? These aren't rhetorical questions--I really want to know! You show me yours and I'll show you mine...
- An "I won't"-power challenge: Something you want to challenge yourself not to do--e.g., avoiding one-night stands, not spending any more money to build your bowtie collection, or not doing lines of coke off dirty toilet seats on weekdays.
- An "I will"-power challenge: A habit or practice you want to do--e.g., pay your bills on time, work on your home knitting projects for at least an hour each day, or learn to tie a new tie knot each week.
- An "I want"-power challenge: A long term big goal you want to achieve, or big project you want to complete--e.g., go to Zanzibar, lose 200 pounds, or pitch a guest post for Butch Wonders.
This guest post is from J.N. Gallagher, a Butch Wonders reader who talks about his experiences and internal struggles writing butch erotica. I hope you find this as interesting and thought-provoking as I did. --BW
When the call went out for guest posts to Butch Wonders
, I was pleased to see that submissions from all genders and orientations would be considered. Whether my work is welcome is something I’ve struggled with… While I write fiction in a lot of different genres on a lot of different subjects, when I write erotica, I typically write about A) lesbians who are B) butch and C) have sex. I am also a heterosexual cis man.
Every editor I’ve corresponded with about my gender has insisted that the only thing that matters is the quality of the work. If they inquired further about my life situation, they’d find out that I was born male, identify as straight, and am married to a fabulous feminine woman. The other detail I don’t explain is that butch women get me all hot and bothered, always have and always will, and that’s why I enjoy writing about them so much.
(I guess the cat’s out of the bag on those details now.)
All of this, sadly, is part of a web of inner conflict that has challenged me since puberty. I’m heterosexual in that I am only attracted to women, but female masculinity makes my knees weak. It doesn't feel like being attracted to masculine and
feminine women would make me bisexual, though "queer" doesn't seem like quite the right word, either—it encompasses too much, while "straight" doesn't cover enough.
I've longed to be around lesbians, but I don’t want to force myself into a community that isn’t looking to have me. I want to write about this delicious type of woman that excites me, but I don’t know if I have the right to do so.
I don’t believe an author needs to be a working rancher to write a great western novel, or a Jedi Knight to write stories set in the Star Wars universe. Familiarity and direct knowledge are always beneficial, but these qualities don’t sit down and write a book by themselves.
Still, the bottom line is that I’m writing about experiences outside of my own, and I feel a connection to the material that is difficult for many people to understand. After decades of reflection, I still don’t understand it myself. And, no matter how universal the themes of my fiction might be, I’m dipping my toes into unfamiliar (and potentially unwelcome) waters. Some people might yell, "Come in! The water’s great!" Others might say, "Get lost, creep," and I couldn’t really blame them. Our identities are incredibly personal to who we are.
My question to the readers of Butch Wonders
is: Do you care about who an author is when reading fiction about butches? Does quality trump all, or would you like a piece less if you found out it was written by a heterosexual-identified, non-trans male?
If you’re wondering what my work is like, I had a story, "Officer Birch," published in Lesbian Cops: Erotic Investigations
. This anthology was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, a fact I’m very proud of. The story is not about two butches, but it’s not really a butch/femme story, either. I guess it’s just a story about a couple of characters who discover things about love, sex, and each other. These are the themes I enjoy writing about the most. Erotic fiction about butches might be the smallest part of my writing output in terms of quantity, but it's definitely the most personal to me.
You may know her as cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester
. Or as the sexy-but-sleazy divorce lawyer on The L-Word
. Or even as Gayle Sweeney
, recovering addict and head of the Sturdy Wings program in "Role Models."
But did you know that Jane Lynch once starred in a long-running stage version of Brady Bunch
episode remakes? Or that when she was a kid, she used to sneak into her father's closet and try on his ties and suits? (I'm guessing that latter morsel resonates with some of you as much as it does with me!)
In her new(ish) book, Happy Accidents (2011)
, 51-year-old Lynch recounts all of this and much, much more--starting with her girlhood in Dolton, Illinois and finishing up with her present-day life in Los Angeles.
One of my favorite things about Happy Accidents
is that Lynch doesn't pull punches. You get the shame she felt as a high school freshman when she dropped out of her first acting role; the depth and struggle of her addiction to alcohol; her blithe arrogance in approaching early acting roles. There's pain, sweat, hard work, awkwardness, and chance meetings. There's joy, hijinks, foibles, and clear-eyed reflections on people's capacity for change. Nor do you need to be a Gleek or a Christopher Guest enthusiast to enjoy the book. Happy Accidents
is rife with references that will resonate with dykes and comedy fans of all stripes.
Many of you awesome readers have started sending me questions. (Keep the emails coming. I love hearing from you guys!) I write each of you back individually (well, eventually--sometimes I get a backlog--but I'll get there; I promise!), but it occurred to me that I should occasionally post Q&As that might apply to other readers. So here's BW Q&A installment #1! K writes:I know you didn't identify as a butch until a bit later in life, but do you have any advice on being a butch as a teenager? I just graduated high school, and I've always had difficulty relating with other people because I've never really known any other butches.I've always been a bit of a butch (hanging with boys, falling in love with girls, and playing a more 'masculine' role in my short lifetime), and my parents have allowed it. They were accepting when I came out to them. Also, during my entire childhood, my peers never gave me guff about it. However, I can't help but feel out of the loop when none of them understand the difficulties of a butch female. I was hoping you'd have some tips on how to find other butches around you (other than the obvious, look for a girl that looks like a boi.)
Being butch as a teen can be tough, and I'm glad to hear that even if they don't always understand you, your friends and parents support you--that's awesome (and all too rare!).
It's strange being the only one you know who's like you, isn't it? Sometimes you probably feel like you're from a different planet (or that everyone else is). Fundamental assumptions about gender are built into virtually every facet of life in most modern cultures--from bathrooms to clothing departments to Little League. When I was growing up, these divisions never made any sense to me--and the REALLY weird part was that they seemed to make perfect sense to everyone else.
Funnily enough, I sort of always understood that I was "butch"--indeed, long before I realized I was gay. There was something visceral about masculinity for me. I never had crushes on girls as a kid or a teen (I was too busy trading baseball cards, reading sci-fi, and playing basketball), but all the other signs of butchness were there. I wasn't just another "tomboy"--it felt permanent. I knew there was something elemental that separated me from my female friends, though I didn't know what it was. You are already way ahead of where many of us were in our teens!
Later in life, when I came out and started to meet other butches, I finally understood what I "was." Indeed, this is one of the many reasons why I identify as butch
You're right that butch buddies can be super important (see my post about the topic here
). And they're not always easy to find when you're young. Here are a few ideas I have for how you might cope. Some involve ways to meet butches; others are just general advice for life as a youngish butch.
- Get to know as many other lesbians as you can. Our networks are amazing, and non-butches tend to know butches, too. If you tell them you wish you had butch buddies, I bet they'd be willing--even eager--to set up a "friend date" for you. I've found that friends slightly older than me (C, C, D, B, I'm talking to you!) can offer insight that I lack.
- Online sites can be great places to meet people near you. You definitely have to be careful (meet in a public place, never give out personal info, etc.). But sites like okcupid.com are great places to find other butches. Take a risk and reach out to a few who look boi-ish. Be explicit that you're not looking for a date with them (assuming you're not). Say that you're recently out and are looking for a couple butch buddies to hang with. Most of us understand how tough it is to be the only butch in town.
- Join groups or teams that other butches are likely to join. These include softball teams, hockey teams, hiking or backpacking groups (e.g., Gay and Lesbian Sierrans), and geocaching groups.
- You can sometimes meet other butches at public places, but *you* will usually need to approach them. This is scary, especially because some of us aren't friendly at first. But for every five times you get brushed off, you're going to have at least one great conversation. Places to start: feminist bookstores (or any bookstores... or libraries... we butches seem to adore print media), sporting events, independent coffee shops, rock concerts, concerts featuring lesbian musicians, art museums, and dog parks. As a conversation opener, try asking a question. Many of us love offering our expertise. Be sure to ask something that requires explanation (e.g., "What are some other good dog parks around here?"). You can also offer an opinion of your own and see if she takes the bait (e.g., "I love the lattes here, but they close way too early"). If you have a DGF, mention her so the butch you're bro-mancing doesn't think you're hitting on her (well, unless you are). Other ways to let a butch know you're not hitting on her: maintain a fair amount of physical distance and sprinkle the word "dude" liberally into the conversation. Want to know a secret? Many butches want other butch buddies, but we're too shy and self-protective to show anyone--least of all other butches--our soft teddy bear selves until we really trust them.
- An online community can serve as a decent placeholder until you can move somewhere the bois roam free. In the spirit of shameless self-promotion, the Butch Wonders Facebook fan page is an excellent spot for that! Many of the blogs I've listed in the "Blog Roll" column to the right can put you in touch with some cool folks, too.
- Read books written by/for butches. Some good ones: Butch is a Noun by S. Bear Bergman, Crybaby Butch by Judith Frank, and Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. There's even a butch cookbook! Ivan Coyote also has some wonderful stuff, from stories to columns to spoken word.
- Watching butch comedians can be really affirming--not only does someone "get" you, but helps you see the humor in your butchness. To start you off, here's Tig Notaro on gender mistakes, Julie Goldman on shopping for formalwear, and Sabrina Matthews on lipstick.
- If you're comfortable with it, discuss some of your butch-girl challenges with straight (male or female) friends. I've found that although my straight friends don't always "get" what I'm talking about, they can offer useful insight and be great sounding boards. I've sometimes been surprised that things I thought made me "different" were things my friends didn't even notice. We've also had terrific conversations about things like the meaning of clothes and the roots of attraction.
- When you're in a position to move--for college, a job, whatever--go somewhere you'll be comfortable. You probably don't need to find a lesbian mecca, but if community is important to you, know that there are some places you'll find it and others you won't. Not all gay-friendly cities are identical, either. Some places, there will be lots of butchy types (Berkeley/Oakland, Seattle). Other places, there will be lots of lesbians but few butches (*cough* L.A. *cough* Chicago *cough*). Check out the scene and talk to people there before you move.
- Be true to yourself! You're already headed in that direction. Be proud of who you are. Own the label "butch." Or redefine it. Or eschew it altogether. Be open-minded and confident. Develop your aesthetic and your attitude. Chances are, there are other future butches looking on from the sidelines who are just mustering up the courage to join you.
I hope other readers will weigh in with their ideas, too. But one more thing: Even after you find your community and your butch buddies and are comfortable in your own skin, don't forget what isolation felt like. Five or ten years from now, a young butch will come up to you at a farmer's market or a baseball game and ask you some inane question to start a conversation. I hope you'll greet her with a smile and a fist bump.
I've been reading Kristen Schilt
's book, Just One of the Guys?
, which details FTMs' workplace experience. She interviews more than 50 trans men about their transitions' effects on how they were received in their places of employment. About half the men she interviewed applied for their current jobs as
men, and weren't out as trans at work. The other half transitioned while
in the workplace, so their co-workers knew them as women, then as men.Schilt, to her own surprise, finds that the majority of FTMs have very positive workplace experiences, and--here comes the disturbing part--report that they are treated better by their co-workers once they start presenting as men. This was true for both sets of trans men, even those whose co-workers previously knew them as women!
Straight cismen in the workplace embraced the FTMs "as" men--for example, inviting them to play tackle football with other men in the office, taking them to Hooters, or offering to teach them how to do "man stuff."
On one hand, this study is encouraging, and somewhat hopeful for the acceptance of trans men in the workplace. But on the other hand, as Schilt says, the idea that the same person is treated much better when presenting as a man than presenting as a woman really
highlights the continuing presence of gender inequality in the workplace!
Also, since a lot of the trans men presented as butches before transitioning, I wonder: were FTMs treated better post-transition because they were no longer seen as women
, or because they were no longer seen as gender-deviant women
specifically? Maybe it's easier for people to understand a trans guy than a butch because (in terms of physical appearance) the trans guy fits into the gender dichotomy and the butch lesbian does not.
So maybe this study doesn't show gender inequality as much as it shows inequality on the basis of gender conformity
. I don't know.