The butch bridesmaid post I wrote past week has been getting an ungodly amount of traffic, mostly from Google searches. It seems that bunches of straight people are unclear on certain matters of etiquette when it comes to The Gays. This results in much consternation and awkwardness on their part, most of which could be easily avoided. (Note to straight people: if you're nice and well-meaning and not a homophobe, we probably won't think you're being a jerk. Trust us--we've encountered jerks, and they're not you.)
Here's my best advice to straight people in various situations that seem to make everyone feel awkward. Thanks to my excellent BW Facebook fans for lots of these ideas.
Situation A: You know someone's gay and you're curious whether they're dating anyone. You know them well (maybe they're your kid, maybe your gay brother, lesbian sister, whatever).
What not to do: Say, "Do you have any new friends?" I hate it when people refer euphemistically to my partner/DGF as my "friend," especially when it's preceded by an awkward hesitation. Something else not to do: avoid it like the plague. Act as if conversation about their romantic life is totally off-limits, even though you'd talk about it if they were dating someone of the opposite sex.
What to do instead: Ask the question exactly as you would if they were straight, except switching the pronouns where applicable. "So, are you dating anyone these days?" is totally acceptable.
Situation B: You don't understand why your lesbian friend/daughter/sister/whatever is wearing men's clothes.
What not to do: Say any of the following: (1) "But you'd look so cute in something pink/frilly/fitted/from the women's department!" (2) "But you have such a great figure!" (3) "But those clothes are so masculine!"
What to do instead: Respect our choices. We are well aware that we're wearing gender nonconforming clothing. We're not doing it to hide our figure or because we think we're unattractive or because we want attention or because we don't know how to shop for women's clothing. We doing it because we are much, much more comfortable this way. Many of us actually hate standing out, but we wear gender nonconforming clothing anyway because it feels like "us." Wearing girls' stuff often makes us feel like we're in drag. It's awful. If you want to gift us with clothing, please choose something that goes with our style. If you're confused about our style, inquire further (or do not gift us with clothing).
Situation C: You don't understand how a same-sex relationship works (physically, emotionally, whatever).
What not to do: Ask, "But who's the guy?" or "How do you have sex?"
What to do instead: If you're genuinely curious, there's a plethora of info on the Internet about emotional and physical aspects of LGBT relationships. Don't put us on the spot with such heteronormative silliness. JFGI. Once you've actually made an effort to learn, your questions will be thoughtful and that will be obvious and most of us will be happy to chat about them.
Situation D: You call someone "sir," then you realize the person is female.
What not to do: Freak out. Or be awkwardly silent, as if it never happened.
What to do instead: Don't freak out. It's happened to us before, and it will happen again, and when you're butch it comes with the territory. It's fine to say, "I'm sorry," then move on. Chances are, we feel more awkward than you do. (But comping us a drink or a cup of coffee never hurts.)
Situation E: A lesbian couple announces that they're having a baby.
What not to do: Ask, "Where did you get the sperm?" or other details of how the pregnancy came about. That's on par with asking a straight couple, "Was it an accident?" Unless they offer it or you're really freakin' good friends, keep your curiosity to yourself.
What to do instead: Say, "congratulations!" Express joy. Attend the shower. Ask if they have a name picked out. The usual stuff.
Situation F: Two women are out to dinner. At least one of them looks like a lesbian. They're not holding hands or anything, though.
What not to do: Assume that they are on a date.
What to do instead: Make no assumptions. If they indicate they're together or hold hands or something, great--then treat them just like you'd treat a straight couple. But I hate it when I hang out with a female friend and people think we're together just because I look butch.
Situation G: A gay person of your sex compliments what you're wearing.
What not to do: Assume they're hitting on you. Become uncomfortable. Make sure to work in a reference to your own sexual orientation immediately, just to clear up any confusion.
What to do instead: Say thanks.
Situation H: You know someone's gay because a mutual friend or co-worker told you. But then the person himself or herself tells you they're gay.
What not to do: Feign surprise so the person doesn't think they're the subject of gossip. Or worse, say something like, "You don't look gay."
What to do instead: Nod politely or say (calmly) something like, "Cool." Ask about the person's significant other like you'd do if they were straight.
Hope this helps. Straight readers: any other awkward situations you encounter with gay people and don't know how to deal with? Queer readers: any other situations that tend to come up in your lives?
Holy matrimony, Batman! Lately I've gotten lots of questions from brides in heterosexual weddings asking what to do with a butch lesbian bridesmaid, since many of us would rather pierce our own eyeballs with blunt toothpicks than wear a fetching dress of sea foam green chiffon. Here are some FAQs for traditional or semi-traditional brides-to-be:
Q: Should I make my butch lesbian friend wear a dress if she's my bridesmaid?
A: No, no, no. Give her that option if you want, but don't expect her to take it. You asked a butch dyke to be your bridesmaid, and you should respect who she is. If you had a male best friend and wanted him to be a bridesmaid, would you make him wear a dress? Of course not. Years later, I remain grateful to my friends E&R for inviting me to wear a suit and tie as a bridesmaid at their wedding.
Q: Should I wait till she asks me what she should wear, or until she asks if she has to wear a dress?
A: No. I can guarantee you that if you've already asked her to stand by your side, but haven't told her what to wear, the poor dyke is sweating bullets in fear that she will be forced to choose between: (1) wearing a dress and feeling horribly uncomfortable; (2) pissing you off. Let her off the hook ASAP (and ideally as soon as you ask her to be a bridesmaid) by telling her that you won't make her wear anything that will make her uncomfortable.
Q: But my Aunt Mildred is a devout Christian and will freak out about a woman in guys' clothes!
A: Having your butch friend wear a tie doesn't mean you're disrespecting A.M.'s religion. Explain to your aunt that you allowed your friends to wear what they're most comfortable in, and that this will help everyone enjoy your wedding. If necessary, remind her that Jesus loves everyone, no matter what they wear. Or: don't tell her in advance at all. People are usually on their best behavior at weddings, even if they're surprised by something.
Q: But if my friend doesn't wear a dress, the wedding parties won't be perfectly symmetrical!
A: Oh no! They won't be symmetrical? Holy crap--why not call the whole wedding off? Come on: When you look back at your wedding photos in 10 or 20 years, you'll think fondly of how much fun everyone had, not admire how well everyone matched. When I married my DXH, I had one of my best friends be the "usher" instead of a bridesmaid simply because he's a guy and I thought I was supposed to have the "sides" look the same. What a stupid choice! What matters is that your closest friends are by your side on your big day. Oh: and that the wedding cake doesn't suck. And that the photographer isn't wasted. And that the music is good. (See how many more interesting things there are to worry about?)
Q: Okay, so what should I have my butch bridesmaid wear?
A: [Rubbing hands together] Here's the fun part! You've got a ton of options. I'll throw out a few, but be aware that the possibilities are practically endless:
Q: How do I treat my butch bridesmaid's girlfriend? Does she sit with the wedding party?
A: Do whatever you're doing with your other bridesmaids' significant others. Which I hope is seating them with the wedding party, but if there's not room, people will understand--you just need to treat everyone the same.
Q: If I'm giving all my bridesmaids the traditional gift you give people in your wedding party... what do I give the butch one?
A: If it's a "girly" gift that she'll hate, get her something else. (What is your hubby-to-be getting his groomsmen? That's one option.) Other ideas: a pocket knife (I'd suggest either a cool folding knife like this one or a multitool type like this one) , a Bespoke box of awesome, or a set of cuff links (I love these, these, these, these, and these).
Q: What about the bachelorette party and stuff? Will she feel totally comfortable there?
A: This is a hard one, because she might not, especially if she doesn't know all the other bridesmaids. But you should still invite her. If you want to do girly things, emphasize that you'd love to have her there and give her options that might make her comfortable. For example, if you're all going for manicures, tell her she's welcome to get a men's pedicure or a foot massage instead. Or, say she can come be the official photographer whenever she doesn't feel like participating (butches love having duties). If she expresses discomfort about parts of it, tell her to come to whatever parts she wants to. And no, you aren't obligated to invite her girlfriend to the bachelorette party.
See? With a few small tweaks, you too can have an awesome butch bridesmaid who's stoked about her duties.
How about you butches out there who have been bridesmaids at het weddings? Any tips? Happy anecdotes? Horror stories?
Hiya friends: I know a lot of you are headed to Pride in the next few weeks. If you've been to a few Prides before, you know that there are certain things you'll see over and over... chaps, free condoms, exes...
With this in mind I re-tooled a classic game for your enjoyment at Pride. Gay Pride Bingo! First one to get five in a row in any direction wins. I made two game cards, so you can play with a friend:
If you actually want to *play* Gay Pride Bingo, here are printable black-and-white versions of the game cards: Card #1; Card #2. I'll give out multiple PRIZES (one each month) to someone who sends me photographic evidence of a Gay Pride Bingo win (i.e. all five squares in a row).
Does anything on these cards sound familiar to you? Is there anything else you feel like you always see at Pride?
_Here are three excerpts from reader emails and comments this month:
"I wish I was born a man, but I don't want to be trans. What gives?"
"I don't want to be a guy, I am a woman, but I want top surgery, or at least smaller breasts. I guess I might be genderqueer?"
"I don't get why all butch lesbians aren't trans. Why not go all the way?"
One underlying commonality is that all three readers are trying to reconcile a female body with the desire to have "masculine" attributes. They all seem to assume that if a ciswoman (someone who was born biologically female and identifies as female) wants attributes that we associate with maleness, she secretly, somewhere deep down, wants to be a man. Or at least, they suggest that being a woman with certain male attributes undercuts a self-identification as female.
As a butch who has great respect for trans men but no desire to be one, I have a few answers to the "why aren't all butches trans" question.
At the risk of sounding trite ("we're-all-beautiful-and-unique-and-special-like-freaking-snowflakes-kum-bah-yah"), I hope you'll embrace your woman-ness or man-ness or genderqueer-ness or whatever-you-are-ness without regard to culturally imposed ideas of what a man or a woman is. That doesn't just include mainstream culture, but queer culture as well: our music, magazines, friends, and community. Question people who think inside the box. But also question those who claim to think outside it. Because in the end, your wild and precious identity* is yours alone.
* Apologies to Mary Oliver
I recently read this story in the New York Times about a photographer who takes pictures of old animals. I find the pictures beautiful, and they made me think about aging. I've long thought societies that revere and cherish older people have gotten it right. I live in the U.S., where people start saying they're "getting old" in their thirties or forties, where people love getting carded, and where it's considered insulting for someone to guess that a person (especially a woman) is older than she really is.
I'd like to think that the lesbian community is different, and that we have tons of respect for the older (by "older," I mean 60s or 70s plus) dykes among us. But I'm not sure this is true. More than once, I've heard people my own age (30s) talk disparagingly about older lesbians, saying that they don't "get it" with regards to boi culture, or trans culture, or some other aspect of contemporary queer life. (And, to be fair, I've occasionally heard older lesbians say disparaging things about queer youth culture, too.)
Why does this age divide exist? Maybe because LGBTQ history and culture have evolved so rapidly in the last 50 years. Maybe those who came of age in the Stonewall era share less with their younger counterparts than is true for straight people. I don't think so, though; I suspect it's a manifestation of a broader tendency to dismiss older people rather than integrating them into society and seeking their wisdom. And why does this tendency exist? Are we obsessed with "progress," which we conflate with youth and newness? Does hanging out with old people scare us because we don't understand it? Does it force us to confront our own mortality?
It's especially important for the LGBTQ community to take care of its older members, because in many ways, it's harder to be an old dyke than it is to be an old straight woman. Here are a few reasons why:
Do you ever hang out with older lesbians? What's it like? Tell us about your experiences: positive, negative, whatever. And if you're a 60+ lesbian reading this blog, I'd love to hear your perspective about younger queers.