Reactions to "Me in a Dress"
Via Tumblr. Click picture for link.
While most of you enjoyed Sunday's little prank (mmwah ha ha!), it also elicited a few reactions that surprised and interested me enough that I want to devote a post to discussing them.
A few readers (see comments on 4/1's post, as well as on Facebook) were disheartened by my joke. They pointed out that by making fun of the idea that I would enjoy wearing a dress, I was implicitly making fun of the idea that any butch would enjoy wearing a dress. I sincerely hope that most readers didn't take it that way--I didn't mean to suggest that a butch can't wear a dress, or that a "real" butch wouldn't do so.
In any case, these comments made me consider identity, inclusion, and femininity some more. A few thoughts:
1. I have no interest in policing identity... But is this good?
I am not in the business of policing butchness. I don't care if you wear dangly earrings, high heels, and skirts every day and call yourself butch. I don't care if you wear men's clothes from head to toe and call yourself femme. Anyone can "identify" as anything; as I see it, identification is up to the person identifying herself. Yeah, I might suspect that a woman in a dress doesn't identify as butch, since I'm personally acquainted with few butches who'd voluntarily wear a dress. But if a person tells me she's butch, then as far as I'm concerned, she's butch.
Of course, if anyone can identify as anything, so at some point, doesn't this become a little absurd? If my white 80-year-old grandmother wants to identify as a young gay man, should she be "allowed" to?
As far as I'm concerned, sure. It would be hard for me to swallow, since I have pre-existing notions and biases about what young gay men look like (and they don't look like her). I also imagine that my grandmother would face certain barriers to entry in the young gay male community. Is this fair? Should she? Should they have to respect who she says she is "inside?"
Personally, I hope I'd respect her identity. By "respect," I mean that I hope I'd genuinely see her the way sees herself and wants to be seen by others. At the same time...
2. It's hard to be sensitive to all incarnations of an identity, especially if it's an identity you claim, and others claiming the identity don't share traits you consider central to it.
It's easier to talk about respecting other people's identities in the abstract, when when we're not talking about our own identities.
Suppose I decided to attend a social group for butches. Suppose I showed up in jeans and a flannel button-down, but everyone else had long hair and was wearing dresses, high heels, and makeup. Even if everyone identified as butch, I'd feel left out. This is because for me (me personally, not in any objective sense), physical appearance is part of butchness. In the past, I've felt like an outcast for not conforming to traditional notions of femininity. So if the other women in the group looked like what mainstream society says women are "supposed" to look like, one of my big reasons for seeking butch community wouldn't be satisfied. If I felt excluded enough, I might even want to start a group tailored to the traits around which I sought community. (When people do this, they are sometimes accused of creating factions within the LGBTQ community. Which, maybe they are. I'm not convinced this is a bad thing in principle, but it can make people feel excluded, which feels crappy and can lead to more tension.)
As I've argued before, I believe a similar dynamic underlies tensions that can exist between female-identified butches and trans men. Female-identified butches face certain kinds of marginalization for not looking "like women"--for not appearing to conform to the social expectations of the gender with which they identify. But (many) trans men look "like men" to the wider world, and thus appear to conform to the expectations of the gender with which they identify. To the extent that female-identified butches seek community based on that type of nonconformity, and/or identify as butch based on it, they may feel like there's something crucial they don't share with trans men. I'm guessing that this feeling of dissimilarity is the root of much identity "policing" (which doesn't mean I agree with it).
3. Rejecting traditional trappings of "femininity" and socially-loaded words like "pretty" feels really empowering to many butches.
The part of Sunday's April Fool's post that was the most amusing for me to write was:
I've been doing this whole "gender queer nonconformist" thing for so long that I forgot that it feels awesome to just be pretty. Wearing a dress means that people see me on the outside and think I look as good as I feel on the inside. And when it comes down to it, isn't this kind of interactive reality with other people more important than the reality we create in our own brains?
To me, this was funny because it was as if, after spending all this time and energy accepting myself as I am and eschewing mainstream notions of femininity, I was suddenly doing a 180 and talking about how good it felt to conform to society's notions of what "pretty" means.
I suspect that the reason so many butches were horrified, then amused, at my last post, is because many of us hate dresses and can't imagine changing their minds about wearing them. Many of us grew up feeling like traditional ideas about "being feminine" were crammed down our throats. Saying things like, "I'll never wear a dress again" is empowering!
But if wearing a dress is who you are, regardless of your motivations for wearing it, I say go for it. I don't care. As you may know, I don't see masculinity and femininity as a "spectrum," such that increases in one entail decreases in the other, and vice versa. Can you wear a dress and still call yourself butch? Of course. But you may encounter surprise and skepticism from others, since so many self-identified butches (myself included) have trouble imagining genuinely wanting to wear a dress, and/or genuinely wanting people to see us as "pretty." Indeed, part of the reason I identify as butch is that it helps me embrace my lack of desire for these things.
One of my favorite things about writing this blog is that there's so much interesting feedback from readers: positive, negative, and everything in between. I really appreciate your willingness to leap into the conversation that my "Me in a Dress" post sparked, and I look forward to reading your thoughts about this post as well.
Houston Splash TV
4/3/2012 05:53:43 am
If everybody just focus on what makes them happy then we woulf be a better community!
4/3/2012 06:04:20 am
in my mind lables are a double edged sword. It can be used in a negative way but it can also help someone find like-minded people so they don't feel alone.
4/3/2012 06:10:51 am
im a lesbian that enjoys both sides im butch but i do the fem for dances and im great at both
4/3/2012 06:39:03 am
Ugh, that picture about femininity from the "old days" is so awful!!! It's disgusting to think of how many women were oppressed by such notions!
4/3/2012 06:48:30 am
the way you communicate weaves and flows...it is rich in thoughts, ideas and complex concepts done with such respect that I often stop, think and usually laugh.
4/3/2012 07:34:06 am
So, I guess where I'm at with this is more or less the same place I was when I read the April Fool's joke. I think I'm hung up on this line in particular:
4/4/2012 09:19:56 am
Damn...your post is almost impossible to argue or criticize but there is a single bone I need to pick with you. There is a huge difference in policing the responses of women to sexist jokes told by men, and suggesting that someone grow a tougher skin over a joke such as this. Just as those women who find the April Fools post offensive, most of us hold the right to believe that it was, in fact, hilarious and while also holding the belief that butch women do not feel comfortable in dresses. Being traditionally masculine ALL the time is as admirable and mentionable as being a butch who slaps on makeup or chooses a skirt and heels every other day.
4/5/2012 10:47:57 am
"It is obvious in the queer community that there is an epidemic of oversensitivity."
4/3/2012 08:59:49 am
i don't know how i identify half of the time anyway. i just know that i feel like i'm in drag when i wear feminine clothes. i feel feminine sometimes, but don't like looking feminine very often. and of course the manlier styles don't ever bother me..they just don't fit me :(((
4/3/2012 09:39:06 am
I thought your post was hilarious and appreciate your sense of humor.
4/3/2012 10:08:45 am
Totally fell for your prank!! Dammit, that's the second Butch that's 'got me' fooled!!! Har har
4/3/2012 10:24:53 am
There are some butches that would look totally ridiculous in a dress. And then Ive seen some butches that I think would look totally hot in a dress.
4/3/2012 01:09:59 pm
I love when we get glimpses into your thoughts in this way. You're good at taking a complex topic and talking about it in a simple, understandable manner. You obviously think deeply about these and many other topics, which I appreciate because I do the same thing.
4/3/2012 05:09:24 pm
This discussion intersects with the debate (fight?) I've been reading between Cathy Brennan (writing as bugbrennan) and Antonia Elle D'Orsay (writing as Dyssonance), over the issue of whether male-to-female trans people are "woman" enough to enter women-only spaces like restrooms, locker rooms, and so forth.
4/3/2012 10:00:22 pm
As I was wakened extra-early today (by my cat sitting on my head and purring), I have nothing useful or coherent to say. I will, however share the fact that, for me, wearing a brightly colored floor-length sun-dress on my bulky, muscular, slightly-tattooed frame, and with my hair buzz-cut . . . is AWESOME. Especially when it prompted somebody's toddler in the grocery store to exclaim loudly: "LOOK, Mommy, it's a boy in a dress!!" The mom apologized, and I told her it was no problem; I was glad to help complicate her child's concept of gender. Just got the sun-dress out of storage the other day, and am touching up the buzz-cut this morning. Gender essentialist toddlers of the world (or, well, of north-central WV, anyway), beware!
4/4/2012 09:57:38 am
Post a picture. Please!
4/5/2012 03:02:59 am
So, it WAS a great prank. It IS for fun and also social comment. We are all different. I've got ten piercings, all visible on my ears ;), and I'm soooo butch in my head. I had a former student ask me if I was ever going to wear a dress to work again, 'cause she said that I what looked like back when I was married and living ( notice the "living" and not being) straight, she said I was in drag.
4/12/2012 03:01:40 am
Hey.....Im the freaked out over the Aprils fools post I still shiver over the words Pink and Poofy.......OMG....lol
4/15/2012 08:41:22 am
My boots will be in tomorrow
4/15/2012 10:18:25 am
Those boots are *awesome*. I'd buy 'em myself if I could. Send me a pic, will ya?
4/15/2012 12:01:10 pm
6/6/2012 12:08:06 am
I would say I would feel absolutelly out of place in a dress or something like that. Drag........although I wont mind the next butch doing it.
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