Guest Blogger

The invisible queer woman

Filed By Guest Blogger | March 21, 2008 3:07 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics, The Movement
Tags: butch/femme, lesbian, queer culture, Toronto, women

[Editor's note:] This guest post is by [f]embody, one of the many fabulous bloggers at Below the Belt, a fresh, hip, and fun gender and sexuality theory blog that's definitely worth checking out if you haven't.

Recently, I got out of one of those "unofficial" kinds of relationships. For the past six months or so, I'd been going back and forth with this woman who was in another relationship and yet, she told me, would rather be with me. Still there were a bunch of other complications, like the real fact that there were other people she'd rather be with, too, and not in the sense of setting up a polyamorous sort of deal where we'd be honest with each other and upfront and all that practical and necessary stuff.

It was more like every time I turned around when we were out together; she'd be hooking up with someone else, occasionally even a friend of mine. My begrudged and broken heart notwithstanding, I found it really difficult being in this pseudo-relationship without actually being able to answer in the affirmative whenever anyone asked if she was my girlfriend, and not just because I really wanted to say she was (there, I admit it!). Rather, as a feminine-presenting woman, my sexuality is often made invisible when I'm single.

I've struggled with this for some time, even going so far as to try to attempt to genderfuck, but what ends up happening is that a) I feel ridiculous and uncomfortable, like I'm acting out a part and b) well, I kind of look like a feminine woman trying unsuccessfully to genderfuck. Furthermore I feel like this totally negates the entire reasoning behind genderfucking; namely, that in playing with gender roles, we interrogate their limitations and why they exist in the first place. Interestingly, in the queer community I currently belong to (downtown Toronto), genderfucking and androgyny have become the standard to which queer women are expected to measure up. Thus it's not surprising that those who don't fit the paradigm (i.e. me) feel like this supposedly supportive community that is so rich in and tolerant of diversity might not be all it's cracked up to be.

I find it very interesting that our gender presentation and our sexuality are so inextricable, and I wonder why that is. Historically, this isn't really new in communities of women who sleep with women. This isn't the first time that the ways we express our gender have been used as "evidence" of our sexual behaviour. For instance, I think it's important to note the history of butch/femme identities, which supposedly denoted what kinds of sexual practices a woman might be into. However, many butches and femmes have argued that their outward identities had less to do with sexual roles than simply finding comfort in one's own skin. So why, then, if that's where our history lies, are we homogenizing a queer identity?

Something in me wants to cry out, perhaps naively, "This isn't supposed to be happening amongst queers!! Aren't we all about self-definition and a radical dismantling of the rigidity of sex and gender?!" Still, in the Toronto scene, it seems there is a pretty small margin of people who fit into what a queer woman is "supposed" to look like. Recently I attended a workshop on queerness and body image. While I was expecting a discussion that largely focussed on body type in terms of size, I was necessarily reminded of my white privilege when the discussion turned to racialized bodies. Many of the participants were people of colour who began to articulate the concern that for them, Church Street (the downtown strip that used to be known as the gay village, though increasingly less so), and other queer enclaves in the city are actually pretty inhospitable environments. Someone mentioned that while we homos like to believe we are inclusive and progressive by virtue of our sexual marginalization, our communities are by no means immune to the many other forms of oppression out there (ie. racism, ableism, etc.). One of the participants spoke about how this racism is often hidden under the guise of "preference"; he said he couldn't even count the number of times someone he was hitting on had responded, "Sorry dude, I'm just not into Asians".

There is absolutely a problem of representation and a lack of a sense of inclusion in these spaces, especially considering that this is a community that rallies around the word "diversity" as a way of getting the hetero world to acknowledge and accept us. There is evidence of this everywhere. How often do we see queer characters of size, of colour, and/or with disabilities in television and movies? How often do we see these people having any kind of sexuality at all, for that matter? Sexuality is sort of a tricky thing to be unified by. We aren't understanding of marginalization overall by virtue of our sexualities, as much as I'd like to believe that's possible. So I'm rolling up the sleeves on my girly shirt, because we've got a lot more work to do.


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this essay is awesome and well needed. it makes me sad that no one else has commented on it's fantastic-ness. although i guess that pretty well sums up my frustration with bilerico generally though: lots of good information about legislative/govermental/pundit news, not as much critical thinking about the intersectionality of oppression and the personal-political social criticism.

anyway, this article rocks and i'm glad that i'm not the only one thinking these things.