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.

Are You Kinky? The Anniversary Edition

Happy Birthday to me! Happy Birthday to me! It’s been a whole year since I started this blog! I am so proud of myself for sticking with it. Yay me. And thank you so much all you lovely readers who share your thoughts and let me know when you like my posts 😀

I don’t know why I started this blog. I guess it was the overwhelming urge to get my writing out there, because I have stuff to say and I think people should listen GODDAMMIT! My most popular post, by far, has been ‘I Don’t Want To Have Sex’ and I have found that very encouraging. It seems that I am not the only one to feel the queer community still privileges one way of being sexual over another.

One year later and I am still – surprise! – really annoyed about this. So I decided to post this. Let’s call it the ‘I Don’t Want To Have Sex Anniversary Rant.’ In which I examine further the assumption that all queers are kinky, poly and into public sex. Read on:

Emailing an acquaintance recently to get the queer lowdown on the new city, I got a quick reply. “Are you kinky?” was the opening sentence. The message proceeded to list some sex and play parties that weekend, as well as some Halloween themed events. (Yay lesbian wiccans!). While I appreciate, so much, this stranger’s willingness to connect, this casual reply immediately got my (feminist) goat. It brought up so many questions for me: Why do we assume that all queers are kinky? Is this an appropriate question to ask another, queer, stranger? Why was I so annoyed? Am I just jealous because I’m not getting any? And, challengingly, am I just a prude?

I felt that answering ‘yes’ to this question would allow me to jump straight into the Montreal queer scene, no holds barred. Answering no would immediately exclude me from all the queer events I had just been invited to. As it is, I politely answered yes, I am kinky, but no, I’m not interested in the parties.

“Is this what being queer is all about?”

You could argue that, given the super sexual parameters of the queer communitythis is an appropriate question to ask. In this case, it’s not so much the question itself I want to challenge, rather the assumption a certain shared sexual behaviour that makes the question socially acceptable in the first place. I am not sure what to call this assumption. Sexual privilege? I’m-a-better-queer-because-I-do-it-in-dungeons?

Kink seems to be an access-all-areas pass to the queer community. For me, the queer community’s emphasis on sex doesn’t only come from its history as a group united by our alternative sexualities. It also comes from a misinterpretation of sex positive feminism. At its core, sex positivity is about being OK with your own sexuality. It’s about behaving in sexual ways that feel healthy to you. Yes, sex positivity does recognise that consensual practices of BDSM and other marginalised sexual practices can be healthy. Yes, sex positivity knows that some porn is feminist and empowering. But sex positivity does not entail promoting one type of sexual behaviour over another. And this is exactly what I see happening in the queer community, to the detriment of the sexual health of its members.

Image courtesy of Dinosaur Comics

Sex positivity is too often mistranslated as an assumption that all sex is good, and that traditionally marginalised sexual practices are better. This just isn’t true for everyone. Once again, in embracing the underdog we have pushed other people to the margins, simply for not having the ‘right’ sexual practices. Sex positivity has to recognise that sex and play parties are not safe spaces for all queers. That some queers don’t want to have kinky sex, or any sex at all. Some queers don’t want to hear about your fisting practices while they’re trying to eat their vegan potluck. As one commentator on my blog said, “there’s a difference between sex positive and sex dominant!” (thanks Nat R!).

As many of you know, while working out my own shit I have decided to not date for a while. I don’t want to go to play or sex parties and I am not interested in talking in detail about other people’s sex lives. Relationships, sexuality and sex remain fascinating to me. I just don’t want to talk about who you are going to fuck tonight or my own sexual adventures. For me, this is a profoundly healthy choice. It recognises that there are things in my life I need to examine and I need to take time out to do that. However, this choice is not recognised by the queer community. The fact that nearly all queer spaces are super sexed means that I feel uncomfortable in many of them. Sure, it’s great that we have DIY sex toy workshops and sex parties at our feminist festivals, but is this what being queer is all about?

“There’s a difference between being sex positive and sex dominant”

For me, a sex-positive environment would be one which recognises that the choice to not have sex can be healthy and feminist. For me, a sex positive environment would be one that doesn’t confuse queerness with kinkiness. It would be a space in which I feel safe and supported while I choose to be less sexual. This isn’t the environment I have experienced in queer spaces.

gratuitous cat image

Sex positivity should encourage us to engage in sexual behaviours and practises that work for us, rather than feel pressured, like so many of us do, to present ‘cool’ sexual behaviours. It should support us when we opt out of sex temporarily or permanently. Sex positivity is about cultivating and adopting sexual practices that feel healthy for us.  It’s not about falling into a way of having sex that is about the cool way to be queer.

How can we say queer is an umbrella term, when so many of our allies and friends are left outside in the rain?

Personally, I am not at all interested in proscribing what ‘queer’ or feminist sexuality should look like. It disappoints me that queer is.

I don’t want a queer community that gets its superiority kicks from putting other people down. I don’t want a community that pitches poly against monogamy and marriage. I don’t want a community that says kinky people are breaking social taboos and adventuring into new sexual fields, while so-called ‘vanilla’ folk are blinded by tradition. I don’t want a queer community that says heterosexuality and anything that looks like it is sexist and that homos are here to save straights from the limits of their own imaginations. I want a community that has space for the expression and sexual (or not) behaviours of a plethora of people. I really want all the freaks.

This privileging of one way of having sex and assigning sex a leading role in the queer community strikes me as a bit stupid. It ignores the fact that there are asexual people in the community. It ignores the fact that nearly every sexual person goes through times in their lives when they are less sexual. How can we set ourselves up as the vanguard of sexual acceptance when we intentionally exclude people from our groups for their sexual expressions? How dare we say our history lies in the development of queer as an umbrella term, when so many of our allies and friends are left outside in the rain?

Sometimes I think that us queers are so concerned with making ourselves look good that we engage in I’m-cooler-than-you-so-there kink contests. Loud conversations about how much sex where going to have and how reek to me of playground posturing. It’s as if we’re a bunch of peacocks strutting around trying to attract a mate. Actually, I guess that’s EXACTLY what we’re doing! But, again, it’s not just about getting laid. It’s also about proving how cool we are. I am sick of it. When are we going to grow up?

When I published my first post that critiqued the hypersexuality of the queer community one year ago, I got some very defensive reactions. Some people seemed offended by my critique of queer as a hypersexual space and ran to defend the status quo by suggesting that, hey, that’s just the way queers are and implying that I am the odd-one-out for not being the same. But others, the majority in fact, thanked me for talking about a huge aspect of living in the queer community that goes largely unchallenged.

If we were all super sexual beings then this norm would be just fine. If we all enjoyed going to play parties and having public sex then there wouldn’t be a need for this article. But the fact is that queers are – shock horror! – different. In fact, the right to express and live one’s sexuality how one wants, in a way that is true to oneself, might be called the founding rock of the queer community. As my imaginary Queer Charter puts it, the freedom to express one’s sexuality is a fundamental human right.

I would appreciate knowing what the rest of you think about this. Do you agree there is a tendency to privilege poly and kinky sexual expressions in the queer community? How do you imagine different sexual expressions such as asexuality and BDSM can share queer spaces? What would your ideal queer community look like? I would also like to thank all the lovely commentators on my first article about this, one whole year ago. It’s nice to hear your voices and I have learnt a lot from you.

Related posts:

I don’t want to have sex

Polyamorous is Not a Noun

Queers are Slutty, Lesbians are Boring

Queer vs. Radical Feminism: the Hoedown