Butch and Femme: a rant

Butch and Femme: the lowdown on why queer feminism is sexist. The below should be read in a Dan Savage-style rant with a lot of sarcastic emphasis and swearing.

A femme performer once said that butch and femme is the armpit of the world. By this, I understood that butch and femme is the sexuality everybody loves to hate on. It’s the scapegoat for why femme-on-femme or butch-on-butch or pansexuality is sooo much better. More radical. More enlightened. Y’know? Because butches and femmes who love each other are just imitating the heterosexuals! In this formulation, being into butch/femme is even worse than being straight because at least the breeders are doing it for realz!

Imagine my disappointment then to read her profess her tiredness of butch/femme via social media and the ridiculous responses to that post. Cue people calling butch/femme “socially constructed and limiting,” that butch/femme is a “category” from which others have chosen to “free themselves.”

This suggestion that butch/femme is socially constructed, that it is in a little brainwashed, pre-1970s birdcage of its own is really self-satisfied. It’s like, oh, you’re still doing that? Grrl, that is so 1950s! All the cool kids are doing this now.

But hey, I guess you don’t get to call yourself cool unless others are uncool.

As if other queers have reached this level of sexual enlightenment where we’ve somehow managed to distinguish between patriarchy and the personal. Between our selves and social attitudes. As if it isn’t fucking patriarchal to participate in a community norm that says all genderqueer / vaguely-or-explicitly masculine bois / trans men should only date other genderqueer / vaguely-or-explicitly masculine bois / trans men. Wow, apparently queer feminism is all about privileging masculinity and men now!

And, before you all jump down my throats, yes! OF COURSE I recognise there are multiple sexual expressions and this is OK and everybody is allowed to be different and THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I’M SAYING! Just leave me the fuck be! Don’t judge my sexuality. Don’t assume that you know more about me than I do. Don’t tell me what is better for me. You know what? That’s not an opinion you’re allowed to have.

Butch Eye Candy!

OK, so I am so wrapped up in job and house hunting in my new abode of Toronto that I have completely neglected to provide you guys with a post. But never fear, butch eye candy is here! Here’s an awesome video courtesy of Time about a female model who models exclusively in men’s fashion. Although women modelling men’s clothes is not new, a woman signed exclusively to a modelling agency for men is. Without further ado, I present to you Thursday Butch Eye Candy!

(Disclaimer – this person may not actually identify as butch. But they’re hot, nonetheless.)

courtesy thegloss.com

Mommy is Coming…

…to Berlin. Europe’s ‘queer capital’ hosts a new film that is definitely not your average porno. Mommy is Coming is showing at Moviemiento Kino until Monday 26th March.

I know, I know, I’ve been a bit awol recently. I blame all the amazing femme organising I’ve been doing. But, not to worry, I am now back in cyber world with a review of an awesome new queer film. Plus, expect updates on the Berlin Femme Show and pics soon! Now, without further ado, let’s talk about porn…

Last week I went to see a new queer porn film at local Berlin cinema Moviemiento. First aired at the 62th Berlinale this February, last week saw its official German premiere.  Mommy is Coming isn’t your average porno. It feels more like a story-based film, which happens to have a lot of hot sex in it.

To be quite honest, my expectations of queer films aren’t that high. I watch them for the affirmation I get from seeing my way of life up there on the big screen. I watch them because, finally, I can enjoy sex scenes without the dissonance of having to imagine a hot butch in the role of the guy on the screen. I also enjoy spotting the queers I have met in real-life on the silver screen (Gaymous!). But it is a familiar complaint among dykes that I know that films about us are often not very good.

Our community is starved for attention and representation. It’s a long-running joke among lesbians that films about our lives are generally below standard. If they’re a mainstream film they generally feature slim, white, feminine lesbians exchanging chaste kisses and having oral, non-penetrative sex. Sometimes a finger or two works its way into the lover’s vagina, but God forbid that sex between women involve anything as exciting as a dildo or other sex toy! While, of course, lots of women do enjoy this dynamic, it’s certainly not the whole word in queer eroticism.

U.S. Comedienne Margaret Cho on her first time with a woman

Watching lesbian movies as a baby dyke I was seriously unimpressed. Is this what my sex life as a lesbian was going to be like? Was I supposed to roll around in not-very-excessive ecstasy while another girl went down on me to bad indie pop? Maybe it would be better to be straight after all? At least then I would get some motherfucking penetration!

When I think of the mainstream, accepted representation of lesbian sex it makes me pretty mad. I am convinced that the cutesie, ‘oh look they’re really just kittens’ (it’s all that rubbing) sex scenes serve to ease cultural anxiety that women might not need a guy to fulfil their erotic needs. If there’s no cock involved, then it’s OK. Because we all know that what a woman really needs is a good fucking. I remember one of my friends saying to me that she would be a lesbian if she wouldn’t miss cock too much. And you know what, at the time I thought she had a point! Who wants to be a dyke when it means all you get is some light kissing and frottage?

I know it’s been said to death, but 2010’s The Kids Are All Right is a perfect example of ‘it ain’t sex unless there’s a – biological – cock’. This romantic comedy about a lesbian couple’s relationship to the sperm-donor father of their children was portrayed in mainstream media as the pro-gay film of the year. At last, a positive portrayal of ‘normal’ lesbian love. Erm, no! The only hot sex scenes in the film are when Julianne Moore cheats on her partner with the sexy, irresponsible sperm donor. I mean, who wouldn’t choose Mark Ruffalo on a motorcycle over neurotic Annette Benning in a sweatshirt? Juli gets to do it doggy style several times with Mark, but the only time her and Annette even vaguely get jiggy with it, it’s a fumble under the covers with a vibrator while watching gay porn. Even this ‘happy’ couple need to spice up their boring sex life with some good old cock. The fact that the lesbians in this apparently pro-lesbo film need to watch gay porn in order to get off says everything you need to know about what we think of lesbians and sex.

But maybe there’s another way of looking at The Kids Are All Right.  It’s no coincidence that Mark Ruffalo on his vintage BMW bike looks like more of a dyke than businesswoman Annette Benning. Annette portrays your mainstream, trouser suit-wearing lesbian who can’t really get her girl off in bed, while Mark emanates the raw sexuality of James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. And what does James Dean look like? Why, of course, a butch dyke!

Dykes on Bikes: James Dean vs. Mark Ruffalo

I remember watching a film about butch masculinity a few years ago which made a pretty convincing argument that famous Hollywood stars like Dean and Marlon Brando have the same kind of masculinity as butch dykes. Unfortunately I can’t remember its name, but its message (and the homoeroticism of Elvis in Jailhouse Rock) really stuck with me. As a teenager I was obsessed with the young Leonardo DiCaprio and I have since noticed that a lot of our Hollywood heartthrobs look like boyish girls. Think of the babyfaced beauty of Robert Pattinson in Twilight with his pouty red lips and smooth skin. It’s exactly the kind of beauty I see in butch women.

So maybe virile Mark Ruffalo with his cheeky charm and motorcycle is some kind of unconscious representation of butch cock? Without wanting to get too queer film theory on you, this idea leads me back to Mommy is Coming. Mommy is Coming is definitely not your average queer film. Its actors are ‘real-life’ queers and have pretty varied genders. Not only do I, lucky girl, get to see some butch-femme sex, but there’s also a pretty hot butch/transmasculine threesome and the whole film is permeated with the kinky dynamics of BDSM. This queer porno definitely doesn’t buy into mainstream ideas about lesbian sex, thank God, and manages to combine romance, hotness and sexual exploration in one fiction film/porno bundle.

It’s true that Mommy is Coming is made for a relatively small audience. I can’t imagine it getting the relatively mainstream distribution of romantic comedy Kissing Jessica Stein or the ‘lesbians are psychopaths’ Hollywood hit Monster. And maybe the fact that it is aimed at a specifically queer audience gives it more freedom. It’s not trying to appease cultural anxiety about queers, in fact, it’s probably trying to do the opposite. But it is a relief to walk into a cinema and see some sexy queer sex on the big screen for a change.

So, maybe we should make Mommy is Coming required viewing for all the closeted teenagers out there. We can show them that being a lesbian, or trans, or queer, isn’t always about gentle patting between floral sheets, but can involve some pretty mind-blowing sexual adventures. I know that I would have appreciated someone telling teenage me that there was more than one way of having queer sex. It would have saved me a lot of anxiety about my future sex life and maybe I would have jumped into my new queer life with more sexual abandon. Seriously, someone needs to destroy these stereotypes and Mommy is Coming is a step in the right direction.

Mommy is Coming is showing in Berlin for one more week only. Go see it at Moviemiento, Kottbusser Damm 22, Berlin-Kreuzberg. You won’t be sorry!

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Stills from the film

The Oppression Games

While searching for an appropriate title for this post, I spent some time looking in my thesaurus. I like thesauri. They truly are books of wonders. These are some of the meanings I found. I think they all apply to this essay:

game [noun]

1. entertainment, diversion, distraction

2. match, contest or play-off

game [adjective]

1. brave, gutsy

2.willing, prepared

For some time now, I have been pondering whether or not to post here about sexism in the queer community. I have spent a lot of time on this blog writing about my frustrations with the queer communities of Europe and North America and the gaping holes I see in simplistic political theories. I am always trying to follow my nose. To trust my bitch’s instinct to sniff out sexism wherever I find it, and report on it with a resounding, wolf-like howl. Yet, I don’t want my energies to be destructive. I don’t want to provide harsh critiques of queer communities because, after all, we are just a conglomerate of individuals trying to find our way in the dark. We hold each other’s hands as we wander, lost, through the dark alleyways of gender and sexuality. Sometimes we follow fun, sexy detours. Sometimes we stumble, like Alice, into new and wonderful lands. Sometimes we end up where we started, no matter how far we have walked, or feel we have travelled.

I have, so far, restrained from writing about this topic here for three reasons. Firstly, I feel that I have started the ball rolling on the subject, at least in Berlin, by creating my zine on sexism against queer femininities. My second reason is that my thoughts on the subject are not 100% formed and I am afraid I will make a huge fucking mistake. Lastly, I am worried that I will come across as a transphobic asshole and may even be one, too. Transphobic, you ask? Why, in particular? Because if I talk about the sexist dynamics of my queer community in Berlin I will have to say this: there is a hierarchy in the queer community, with some kinds of transmasculinity at the top of the pile of all things queer and unholy, which leaves transfemininities at the bottom. The dynamics of the scenes I move in say, both explicitly and implicitly, that transmasculine folks are more queer than transfeminine folks.

Cue: one big fucking political(ly incorrect) mess.

How can I distinguish my experiences of sexism as a queer cis femme from my own cissexism? Is there a point at which discussion of this traditionally sexist dynamic (masculinity is good, femininity is bad), which definitely exists in our community, by the way, will tip into transphobia? Anyway, isn’t my fierce energy better spent elsewhere? Shouldn’t we all just shut the hell up, stop fighting and just get on with it?

The wonderful butch transmasculine activist and writer S. Bear Bergman has this to say about infighting in the queer community:

“I think that all of these concerns and fears and angers and loves and all are completely valid and utterly understandable. And I think that if we don’t quit spending so much energy on fighting amongst ourselves, we are going to look up one day soon and find the Department of Homeland Security on our collective doorstep, confiscating our banners and banning us from travel or work for being security risks by virtue of being too confusing, one and all. Then we’ll realise what a privilege it was to engage in border wars, when we had the leisure time for that. Before we ended up spending every scrap of energy on survival. That’s what I think.”

– from Butch is a Noun

Yeah, Bear, you are so right. It isn’t productive to say, well my oppression is worse than your oppression because of this and this and that.

There is also my raging anger, however. There is also the feeling that, yeah, I have privileges because I am white and cis and pass as straight to a lot of onlookers (which can sometimes be a real bummer – for instance, when I want to get laid, or to be recognised by a fellow queer I spot while out and about), but I also experience sexism on a daily basis: in the world at large, in all my relationships and in my community. There’s no such thing as a queer bubble, right? And do I have the right to speak about my experiences of sexism? Of course I do!

And then, this complicated feeling leads me onto what I call the ‘Colonial Chicken and Egg’ argument of social justice theory. It’s the kind of argument you hear when governments justify their sexist development policies for undeveloped countries. The argument goes something like this: “Well, of course women’s rights are important and we will get onto them as soon as we can, but can’t you see that what this [insert group of people here] really needs right now is [insert human right here, such as access to medical care and food]?” It’s pretty colonial because it assumes that [insert all-knowing patriarchal authority here] knows what is best for said underprivileged group.  The struggle against sexism just ain’t as important as the struggle for medical care. But, to extend the analogy to breaking point, when sexism leads to women being systematically raped and murdered, where can the boundary between women’s rights and access to medical care be drawn?

And, aren’t I being racist right now by using a Third-World analogy to illuminate Western social dynamics?

How can I complain that transmasculine folks are benefitting from some kind of privilege in the queer community when transmen are only just starting to get access to the medical care they may (or may not) want and which they undeniably have a right to? Whose fundamental human right is more important? My right to not experience prejudice as a feminine woman, or a transman’s right to claim and inhabit his gender? The answer is, of course, no one’s. We both have these rights and these rights are equally important. But tell that to a community of 1000 screaming individuals, each with their own needs and own experiences of oppression owing to dis/ability, race, religion, class, gender (and more). Tell them that each of their needs are equally important and what happens? None of them can be met. Political theory collapses. Go directly to Jail, do not pass Go, do not collect your activist points. This kind of shit requires one to spend several reincarnations studying the philosophy of ethics. And even then we’ll make mistakes. Because, after all, we’re only human.

We prioritise needs in our activism in order to get stuff done. You have to make a choice, right? Right?

My experience of being a political activist is a balancing act. Sometimes I have to hold my body on the fine edge of a knife and make this painful, dangerous terrain my home.

Reading the writing of artists like Ivan E. Coyote and S. Bear Bergman reminds me not only what I desperately, hopelessly love about transmasculine folks, but also encourages me to be the best ally, the best person I possibly can. But, sometimes, I get lost. Sometimes I am not sure where I am going, and I can’t see whether the path I am following will lead to a dead end or take me forward. I get distracted and I have blindspots, like anyone else. Sometimes, all I need is a little help. A friend to gently take my hand and help me find the way.

After all, I am only human.