Remember the questions I posed to you a few months ago? Here are three interesting answers to one of the toughest ones:
"Describe how some other identity you have (race, religion, social class, whatever) interacts with your sexual orientation."
Response #1 (From Kyle at Butchtastic):
The intersections of my ethnicity, class, educational background, age with my gender identity and butchness is an area of great fascination for me. I’ve really been looking at these intersections in earnest in the past couple of years. I know that I receive privilege in some circumstances because of my age, because I’m white, and sometimes because of my masculinity, even if people don’t perceive me to be male. So how have those elements of my identity interacted with my sexual orientation?
First off, it’s queer--my orientation, that is. I use "queer" because listing all the aspects of orientation for my male and female sides takes several words: bisexual, lesbian, faggot, even straight... well ok, never "straight." Even if my female side hooked up with a cis man... it would still be queer sex. I haven’t examined these intersectionalities really at all.
My socioeconomic class has definitely had an impact on where I live, the people I meet through work, shopping, activities, and walking around the neighborhood. I more easily relate to people who have backgrounds similar to mine in terms of class, education, religion, race. But none of that is really about my sexual orientation.
I guess I’ll have to think about that more. It's a good question. I gave up religion when I was 13, before coming out as a lesbian, so that didn’t end up having much impact. Growing up in an aspiring middle class family meant I was given a lot of freedom of expression and association, even though my parents were not happy when I came out to them at 17. They didn’t limit me to only befriending particular classes or categories, nor did they try to hook me up with boys.
Response #2 (From "BT"):
Being a Christian is by far the identity that interacts most with my sexual orientation and until very recently my Christian identity was a big, mean, nasty bully to my butch lesbian identity. I have known in some form or another that I am a lesbian since I was four-years-old and I also have been a Christian since around that time. The two identities were at war within me from the time I was 4 until I was 27.
When I was 17, I let my lesbian self have the upper hand for a little while but all that did was spiral me into a deeper depression and greater self-loathing for the next ten years. The guilt and shame almost took me to my grave. I was at the point where it finally clicked that if I didn’t accept every bit of who I am I would be miserable for the rest of my life.
But how could I be a Christian and a lesbian? I basically had tried everything I possibly could to change my sexual orientation, even my own version of the dreaded conversion therapy. Nothing worked. It was clear to me that I must have been born this way. If it had just been childhood trauma or whatever else I was telling myself then the therapy would have changed my homosexual tendencies. So now I have finally accepted the grace that Jesus has extended to me. I have given grace to myself. I am accepted and loved no matter what. I can’t say that the two identities are in perfect balance now, I still have a ways to go but the battle has finally ended. After 23 years, my Christian and lesbian identities have embraced and I am no longer a person torn in two.
Response #3 (From "KH"):
I am a seminarian working on my Masters of Divinity hoping to become an Episcopal priest when I graduate from seminary. The identity of being an Episcopal seminarian plays a major role in my life. While the Episcopal church is very accepting of LGBT folks, ordaining gays, performing same-sex blessings and marriages, etc., I am still faced everyday with the question of how out can I be/do I want to be to my classmates and Bishop. I am from a Midwestern state, so my bishop and my diocese isn't necessarily as liberal as in other parts of the country.
It seems like when you are out in seminary you become that "token lesbian" who can or is expected to answer theological questions for the entire community. Also, attending seminary in southern Tennessee, I was the first out lesbian that several of my classmates had met. Everyone had met a gay man before, but not a lesbian. One of my classmates said to me the first couple of weeks we were here, "To southerners, gay men aren't scary. But lesbians, they scare us. We don't know or understand how they work, dress, have sex, etc."
It has been interesting to see how people interact with me because I break a lot of the labels that are given to lesbians in the south and break what they have heard about us and believe. But I love that my classmates are so open minded and give me a chance to be who I am without putting a label on me.
I also feel like a lot of the time the lesbian community isn't sure how to react to me/handle me either. It isn't every day that you meet a lesbian who is a soft butch that wants to become a priest. The LGBT community also doesn't always feel the love from the religious community. Many churches treat our community horribly. But it should teach us that we don't always like the labels that come with being a lesbian, so we shouldn't label a church without knowing something about them first either.
I am proud of who I am and the identity I have as a lesbian and as a seminarian.
This guest post was written by Jesse MacGregor-Jones, who also blogs at Butch Ramblings and is also the author of multiple books.
Butch, stone butch, soft butch, baby dyke, bull dyke, bulldagger, femme, stone femme, high femme, lipstick lesbian, genderqueer, queer, gay, FTM, MTF, transsexual, transgender, gay, homosexual, fag, faggot, womyn, boi, sporty butch, bisexual, butch daddy, twinks, bears, tops, bottoms, subs, doms… Labels, labels, and more labels. I bet you can think of more that I have not mentioned.
I identify as butch. I don't identify as stone butch but I used to identify as soft butch. I have a woman in my life that I care about a great deal. She is femme. I am a femme-loving butch. I've never been attracted to other butch women. I know several butch women who are attracted to other butches and I don't see a thing wrong with it. It just isn't what works for me.
My personal path to who I am today is complicated and I daresay that most of us have had a complicated road. Life really isn't easy for anyone. Many of us continue to evolve as we grow older, which is good and normal. Someone who is a high femme now may eventually just consider herself femme later on. I've seen butch women evolve into femme and vice versa. As I said, I originally identified as soft butch. In fact, there was a time in my life when I wore dresses, makeup, and got my hair permed every 6 to 8 weeks. I used to get my nails done and I enjoyed it to some extent. Yes, I was somewhat femme. (I have destroyed the photo evidence, so don't bother to look. <grins> )
I “evolved” as I got more secure in who I was. I have come to learn that the only real difference between me and someone transgendered is the fact that I have no dysphoria with regards to my breasts and I enjoy being touched physically. I've come to terms with my body and have no desire to actually transition. Nope, I really like to be touched. I'm good with that. Therefore, I am not stone butch. My stone butch friends assure me that they also enjoy being touched, but there are more rules involved and many of them don't like their breasts touched. Some do. The point is, we all have wants, needs, desires, likes, and dislikes, and that is just normal, We all have to get used to new relationships and how to touch people in ways that are loving and unique to each relationship.
The current woman in my life is very confused by all the labels. I think she thinks they are somewhat insulting and come across as derogatory. Some can definitely be used in a derogatory fashion. I personally don't care for labels, but they seem to have become important to the way we relate to each other. She is new to all this and she's very confused. She's never dated butches and she's never lived in a way that her sexual identity has been important. The smartest thing that she has recently said to me was that she doubted I was “typical” of other butches. This makes me laugh. I realize that while many of us have things in common, there is no such thing as “typical.”
I can only speak from my own personal view and I really hope readers will chime in and tell me what they think of the labels that they most closely identify with. I'm curious to know. For example, as I continue to evolve, I'm realizing that I also am considered 'genderqueer' because I feel more masculine and I like to be called “he” or hy. I don't see myself as pretty, beautiful, womanly, or anything female-identified.
As a butch woman, I often feel completely misunderstood. Often I feel as if I am loathed by a large portion of society. Femme women who only date femme women have a tendency to scorn women like me. We are treated as 'ugly women who try to be men.' But gender is more mental than physical. I don't want to be a man. I'm just not completely comfortable as a woman. I don't think like a girl. I can't help that. I don't want to be a man either. I just want to be me. Isn't this what we all want?
Butch woman are somewhat caught in the middle. I don't 'pass' as straight, so I don't have any of that 'straight entitlement' that so many femme women enjoy. They do not get the dirty looks, the condescending attitudes, the outward hate and even the shunning within their own community the way that I do.
Being uncomfortable as a woman, I didn't get the life education that women get from dating men and living in a straight world. Straight women, and femme women, are tough with feelings. They are so in control sometimes that it is just plain scary to me. For this very reason, I don't quite fit into the male world either. I'm emotional. It is that one damn part of being a girl that I cannot control. I hate it. Almost as much as having a period once per month. That comes along once every 28 days or so and slaps me upside the head and reminds me that even if I wear a tie and suits, I'm a woman and I can't hide from that. It has taken many years, but I finally do embrace myself and love me as I am. I am neither male nor female, in my own humble opinion. I'm something of a hybrid, the best of both worlds.
You see, I've come to learn that when it boils right down to it, I'm human. All the sub-categories and groups really don't matter that much if we get down to the root of things. We are all attracted to those we are attracted to because we see something in them. That's all that matters. I just thank the stars for the one femme who likes this butch. That's all that matters to me. I think we all have the right to be who we are and love who we want to love. I also believe that we should be more tolerant of each other, as a community, if we expect the rest of the world to accept us as well. Practice less judgment and more compassion beginning today. Take the time to listen to someone else. Their story may surprise you and it may be more like your own than you imagined. In a world filled with hate, we should start practicing love, both with ourselves and with each other.
Last week, I posed five writing prompts to BW readers. (I'm still taking answers, so feel free to send yours in.) One of those was: "Write a letter from your 2013 self to your 2003 self." Here are five of my favorites:
I know you're reading this at age 31 but I know you still feel young and dumb, sometimes. I want, no, need to let you in on a few choice secrets. First, you have a lot of growing to do. You may feel like you are stagnant and the gears have stopped turning in your identity formation. I'm here, 10 years down the road, to urge you to hang on and keep your mind open. You're in for some heartbreak, which will make you question everything but you'll survive and only get better with age. Also, bear in mind that within the next decade, you'll become so comfortable with the you who you are that you won't give a tinker's damn what other folks think of how you present or label yourself. You'll be a fine person, who has expanded beyond terms like tomboy and lesbian and will embrace new aspects of self like boi, genderqueer and butch while never neglecting what it is to be female.
In short, you will create a pretty balanced synthesis where you can appreciate your masculine and feminine qualities. You don't need to be afraid that you'll be unappreciated or unloved because you rock that short haircut and tie. You won't bow to societal pressures to conform, get married, wear attire that doesn't mesh with who you are, etc. You'll be a work in progress, even in 2013 but you will be a happy butch, who exudes confidence and class... and you will not be alone.
Dear Self from 2003,
Do yourself a favor and come out of the closet now. You know you're gay and so do your friends. I know you're scared that your family won't be fine with it but they will be as long as you are happy. Also never leave any of your girlfriends for someone else. It's lame and will rob you of true happiness. Keep trying to lose weight... it definitely pays off. Never give up!!! Life out if the closet is so much better than the life you have now.
Me from 2013
The third letter is from Whitney, who chose to send it in in video form. I totally love this--click here to check it out.
Kiss a girl. One of those long lingering soft kisses that you can feel right down to your toes. When you are done don't feel guilty and don't feel ashamed; but most of all don't be afraid.
Your life begins here. YOUR LIFE. Not the life you just assumed you should have. The life that you were conditioned to believe was the proper, moral thing for a good girl to do. This kiss will allow you to start really living.
What you want is important and it matters. You will feel for the first time that you have found what you've been searching for. The thing that lingers just outside of your reach. Finally understand why you have always felt so different from other girls.
Love yourself for who you are. Start to look how you feel inside. Dress how you've always wanted to. Be comfortable in your own skin. Take advice from Dr. Seuss "Be who you are and say what you mean because those that matter don't mind and those that mind don't matter."
With this one simple act, do for yourself what years of therapy will not be able to do for you. Understand your relationship with your husband, then let him go. Give yourself the opportunity to experience real romantic love for the first time.
Trust in your family to understand and to be there for you no matter what. Believe that they love you and feel that your happiness is all that matters in the end.
Be brave. Be true to yourself. I'm not saying it will be easy. The sacrifices will be many. Some of them easy to take, while others will leave you heart broken and change you forever. But I promise you will never regret any of it for a second. The rewards far outweigh the hardships. Everything that you have ever imagined for yourself is what's at stake.
Kiss that girl! Then sit back and enjoy the ride.
Hi there, Laura.
I know it's a pretty confusing time for you after just breaking up with Jade. I know you think you're a little bi-girl, but let's be honest; we both know you're gay; don't pretend any more--it will be so much easier. You will meet people in your new secondary school who will find you with other girlfriends, will bully you and you shouldn't let it get to you like it did to me. The bullying got quite bad for me and I let it get to me but ignore them, actually in a few years the main ones have themselves come out.
Don't get all worried you won't suit short hair. It looks awesome on you! In the next few years you'll notice you meet some amazing people, especially in 2012, you will meet an amazing woman who makes you very happy. Don't let her go... ever.
I know you want to be with the guys and you've always acted like one but let's face it, you've always checked out the same girls they have without wanting to admit to yourself. Rugby is awesome. Just because you like to wear men's clothes doesn't mean you're weird. Keep smiling; it does get better. It gets a lot better and you are happy in the future. Life is good when you admit you're into women. Oh... you look damn good in a shirt and tie and don't you ever forget it.
Your future self.
I'll share some more of my favorite answers from readers to these and other questions in the next couple of weeks. Readers' answers are making me wonder what I would tell my 10-years-younger self. Would I tell her not to marry my DXH? I'm not sure. It broke my heart and sent me reeling for years... but on the other hand, I learned a lot from being married to him, and we had some absolutely wonderful times. In a very real sense, he and I grew up together. Plus, if I'd come out earlier, would I have ever met my hilarious, gorgeous, terrific DGF?
It's hard for me to think about what I'd want my 10-years-younger self to know. Even the things I learned the hard way sculpted me into the person I am now... so maybe that's good. Or maybe it's just cognitive dissonance.
What do YOU wish you would have known ten years ago?
I'm excited to share this guest post from a BW reader who's working as a Peace Corps volunteer. I hope you enjoy her insights as much as I did! For reasons that this piece makes clear, she's chosen to remain anonymous.
Discovering the Lesbian Underground in Rural South America
Peace Corps is a two-year commitment to do development work in impoverished countries. I am an Agricultural Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in South America. My site is a very rural, impoverished, and conservative village in a conservative country.
I generally present myself as androgynous. Short hair, comfortable clothing, and a slim build make this easy. I didn’t tell my Peace Corps recruiter about my sexual orientation, but I scoured the internet trying to find information on queer life in the small, culturally isolated country to which I was assigned (and on the experiences of queer PCVs worldwide). To my dismay, I found little information. The Peace Corps welcomes queer PCVs, but warns that in many countries they will have to stay closeted—sometimes to work smoothly with host country counterparts, but frequently for the safety of the PVC.
In my village, miles away from paved roads, surrounded by banana and pineapple crops, I am very deeply in the closet. I still dress androgynously, but I have not, and likely will not, tell anyone in my community the direction in which my romantic interests generally lie – the señoras trying to match me up with their sons don’t know how much of an uphill battle they face. Due to my unfeminine hair and clothing, I also receive far fewer cat calls and less sexual harassment than other female volunteers.
After working with men in the community to rebuild a wall of my house, someone joked that a "man" would be moving in: me. This comment from a community member made me anxious, and led me to worry about every interaction—to an unhealthy extent. Indeed, my self-censorship has been one of the most stressful parts of being here. I am fearful that they will “guess,” but I actually haven’t altered much. I don't change my appearance or flirt with men, though I certainly don’t flirt with women in my site either. My second year, I’ve loosened up because I know the people in the village, and they know me. For example, when señoras would ask me if I had a boyfriend I used to say, “not right now,” but now I say, “I don’t need a boyfriend.” It’s a small, but significant, difference.
One of my queer volunteer friends says that this is a country of “open secrets:” Secrets everyone knows, but tacitly agrees not to talk about. It makes me wonder, am I living an open secret too? Is it possible everyone in my site knows and are electing to keep quiet?
One of the biggest personal changes I have experienced here is the role my sexual identity plays in my sense of self. Like many people in their mid-twenties from accepting backgrounds, I never viewed my orientation as a big deal. However, here in rural South America, I needed to hide this part of myself for the first time in my life… so it has become more important. I am open with other volunteers and the Peace Corps support staff in-country, but I miss being in an active queer community.
Once every month or two, I travel to the country’s capital to get mail and to socialize with other PCVs. If possible, we visit one of the few gay bars in the whole country. Unsurprisingly, it’s usually full of gay men. However, after a conversation with a posse of local gay men looking out for me, we got directions, scrawled on the back of a napkin, to a rumored lesbian bar. It was months before we found the place. When we finally did, we discovered that we had to get past the guards, ring the bell, and wait for someone to come unlock the door. They’re only open one night a week, but have information regarding human rights campaigns, queer film festivals, and Pride activities. Despite their limited hours, it was nice to know that such a locale existed.
However, I still needed a queer community closer to where I live, and as luck would have it, I stumbled across one! There is a town an hour and a half away, and during my first few months, I traveled there frequently to buy supplies to build my house. A PCV there introduced me to a friend of hers (I’ll call her B), a female firefighter. This PCV told me that B was a lesbian and told B the same thing about me. A few months later, B invited me to a secret, underground drag show! Out here, in the middle of nowhere, there was a community! The event was invitation only, with the location announced a few hours ahead of time. Secrecy was a big priority. Drag queens from all over the country performed, and under a blanket of stars, the rest of us queers watched. It was great! But the most valuable part of the experience was finding out that there is a network, even out here in the rural countryside. However, it’s distressing that such a high level of secrecy is necessary.
Now I find myself dating B’s ex (I guess lesbians are the same world over). This chapter is unfolding day by day…Our interactions are full of cultural misunderstandings and poorly translated endearments. (Also, how on earth does one discuss strap-ons in a country without toy shops?) She is closeted even to those in her family who would be accepting. I worry that I overestimate the level of acceptance around her, and thereby put her in danger. Her internalized homophobia and self-hatred is another challenge altogether.
I am pleased to have been admitted into the secret lesbian underground of this country. I’ve never met any established lesbian couples, but supposedly several pairs live together, frequently raising children from their past relationships. One of the pairs was comparatively wealthy and lived somewhat more openly, and the other pairs just quietly lived together as “housemates.” I never heard of couples in the countryside, only in town. I also met people who had been part of the lesbian community but ended up marrying men. For some of them, marrying was one of the few avenues of independence they had. Outside of the capital, most people don’t leave their parents’ house till they get married.
I can be an example of a happy, queer, woman within the underground lesbian community. Their eyes went wide when I mentioned that my mother once asked my (ex)girlfriend which of the states with legalized same-sex marriage we would be moving to. I’m not sure what blew their minds more, the fact that marriage was an option for us, or that my mother treated our relationship legitimately. I introduced terms like “family” and “gaydar,” and exposed the underground to television shows like The L Word and Modern Family. Seeing queer people on TV just like any other telanovela was a very significant, empowering experience, especially for my girlfriend. It’s been powerful for me as well: by seeing it from the outside, I truly appreciate the strength of the queer community in the US.
Clearly I can only base this off of the lesbians I know, but but at least in this country, there seems to be less gender nonconformity than in the US or other South American countries. But maybe that’s because all the lesbians I know are from the countryside (the town is in the middle of nowhere. The only real “city” is the capital.
Lesbians here either never find each other (sad but true), or find one other lesbian or gay man who introduces them to her or his friends (like what happened to me). Some of the most important work I’ve done my last few months in the site, has been introducing a few teenagers (males) who came out to me to the community in the town. Additionally, I introduced the community in town to the resources and clubs in the capital.
My Peace Corps experience has changed me in many unexpected ways, including strengthening my identity as a queer person. But more importantly, it has highlighted something else to me, the fact that who I am is not just for me alone. I'm a member of a beautiful community, not just underground in a small country and not just causally out in my hometown: it’s a community that's everywhere, worldwide, where I'd most and least expect it. When I pack my bags, say my goodbyes, and leave this country, I'm taking that lesson with me.
Many thanks to the guest poster for sharing her story. She also wanted me to pass along this link for LGBT Peace Corps Alumni.
Do you have an experience worth sharing? I welcome guest post submissions; email me at email@example.com for more information.
I've talked often on Butch Wonders about the difficulty of defining "butch," my distaste for policing "butchness," and the value I find in labeling myself "butch." I've been communicating with some of my dear readers about these and related questions, and I'd like to put a call out there for YOUR answer to one of the following:
Over the next month or two, I will post several of the most interesting, thought-provoking answers I receive. Please email me your entries, along with the following information:
I reserve the right to edit these as I see fit for grammar, length, clarity, etc., but I'll do so as sparingly as possible. No minimum or maximum length, but anywhere between 150 and 750 words is great. You don't need to identify as butch, or as gay, or as anything else, to submit an entry.
I can't wait to read these! (And yes, if you'd like to answer more than one, feel free--just make sure to send each answer in a separate email.)