Guest Blogger

Queer gender boxed - One size does not fit all

Filed By Guest Blogger | September 09, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: butch, feminism, genderqueer, lesbian, party, popularity, queer

Editors' note: K. Flo Razowsky is an anti-Zionist ashkenazic Jew based in Minneapolis who combines grassroots organizing, documentary photography and writing with no-compromise activism to the international struggle for human rights, dignity, freedom, and respect for the Earth in face of US-led imperialism, racism and attempted world domination.

edit.jpgTwo years ago I, as a genderqueer, non-conforming, consenting adult, fell in love with an old school, hog riding butch. This heavily tattooed, high and tight haircut butch is still, two years later, the love of my life.

She also happens to be the life of the party, whether there is an actual party or not. You walk into a room with this butch and the cheers go up whether it's a backyard bonfire or folks drinking coffee on the porch.

When you're in love with the life of the party, it's true you get the behind the scenes honesty and depth those at the party never see, but you also get to live in the shadow of the shining light or fight like hell for some spotlight of your own. And when you're in love with an old school butch, it seems, you get gender boxed whether by straights or queers, because for some reason there seems few boxes that exist to fit into. And for some reason, everyone must fit into one (and only one).

Since falling for and entering a partnership with this butch, the queer community around us has responded to our relationship by shoving us into said boxes that don't quite fit, nor do we want them to. The box thing seemed easier at first for my butch because as a solid butch she perhaps was more comfortable in a solid set of identities that are easier for everyone to understand - i.e., butch equals x. The new part for her, it seems, is to be partnered with someone not so easily boxed in as who is supposed to be sleeping with a butch. The exciting part for me is her willingness to push back on boundaries not ordinarily in her face.

It's interesting enough coming into such a relationship as one who's never been in a relationship before, never desired one and as one who's spent years walking alone as a fiercely independent person traveling the world, navigating militarized borders and bearing witness to and physically standing in solidarity with people under occupation. To then shift from the one who's always been fiercely independent and creating her own spotlight to being the one who gets boxed in as merely sleeping with the butch in the spotlight will do a mind and ego in.

Also, I always assumed that being queer and living in queer community would keep one immune from such heteropatriarchal boxes as misogyny and gender stereotypes being thrust upon you. Little did I know that by sleeping with the butch I would automatically become her chick the instant that first explosion of cum dried. And little did I know that once said explosion did dry, I would from then on be asked of the whereabouts of the life of the party at every party I entered.

Not to say my particular butch gave me these epitaphs or put me in the position of henceforth representing her in the spotlight (her other queer-butch friends did), but my butch certainly didn't fight against any of this or even think it problematic until I fought back against the blind misogyny of it: The misogyny of labels thrust upon me by people who knew me prior to my sleeping with this butch but who no longer identified me as something other then this butch's broad once we did begin sleeping together; The misogyny that she got to retain her name while I earned the labels of chick and broad; The misogyny that I no longer held an identity outside of "how long have you slept together" or "where did you meet" or "where is she" - these being the only questions I get asked by her friends or when entering a room alone, for the first time experiencing what it feels like to be a looked-over woman.

No longer is space allowed for anything about me, as if there is no me outside of who I am fucking. Of course, I can and do fight for this space to assert my self - I just didn't think I would need to in queer community.

To be honest, I've embraced the chickbroad label with my own queer relish, but it is a fit I still struggle to keep queer and non-gender conforming as the one sleeping with a solid butch. I find myself constantly pushing back against people that embrace my butch because she "wears the pants" in the family or because she is a lot of fun while diminishing my identity because I am supposedly the "chick".

When did the line between the world we are supposedly fighting against (that is, heteropatriarchal-normativity) become so blurred with the queer world we are trying to build and embrace? What does each of us do to enforce these unseen and heteropatriarchal practices? How do we undo them?

I would like to figure it out and re-establish that line/dismantle these practices because when it's hot outside I want to wear that short skirt without fear of those in my queer community shoving a box of butch's chick. And because when I walk into that room looking fine in my short skirt, I want to be able to continue to embrace my hot partnership without having to fight within my community to maintain my identity and self, however I may choose to present it.


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Thanks for this post, Flo.

We've had other people comment on this before, how gays are often the people now who read heterosexuality into queer relationships. someone once posted here that he changed his last name to his partner's and it was only gay men who suggested that he was the bottom.

On the other hand, for me it was a straight person who asked my brother (when I wasn't around) who was the man and who was the woman in Alberto and my relationship. I just got a kick out of that because, obviously, it wasn't constant and just a bit strange.

I love this piece. Completely love this piece. Identifying as fem and then being involved with a butch, I've noticed how often the assumptions about what that means end up being part and parcel. Like a secret club of girl and boy code that I hate. I realized early on that I don't actually bring my fem out around people who I identify as butch unless I trust them. I am not interested in their misogyny, not interested in being a mirror for them in ways that I don't trust or accept. I like the butch-fem dance, I like the sex of it, it is all about the sex of it. But for it to be hot and strong, I want to feel powerful. And misogyny just plain sucks. Thank you for this piece.

Renee Thomas | September 9, 2010 9:14 PM

Flo,

You describe yourself as "genderqueer, non-conforming" and that's totally cool, but is it your beef that you're being shoved (against your will) into the boxes set aside by the gender-norming guardians of Gay Hetronormitivity or is it that you are regarded as the nearly invisible arm-candy of” this truly awesome butch"

Have you raised the issue with your truly awesome butch™ and what is her take on your on-going disappearing act? I’d be curious, is she as proud of you and you’re accomplishments as you - and apparently everyone else is - of hers?

" . . . What does each of us do to enforce these unseen and heteropatriarchal practices? How do we undo them . . . ?"

You have asked a very good question Grasshopper – and the very one at the root of so much sturm und drang within our happy little community.

In my case (as a gay transwoman) when I’m deliberately un-gendered or mis-gendered (uniformly and consistently by gay women of a certain age) I’ve taken to making it abundantly clear to said offending dyke exactly how I identify and that she can take her aggrieved lesbian-separatist act and shove it where the sun never shines.

It’s happened often enough since coming out that polite correction simply ceases to be effective. I have found being polite (ladylike?) is a waste of time when your humanity is being indolently and deliberately disregarded. So if being a livid bitch on wheels is what’s called for . . . than so be it.

Your situation seems to be marked by an acquiescence to invisibility. Worse than that I suppose, you are thought of by the gender-norming gang (and in the shadow of your partner) as vapid and insubstantial? Yours seems the struggle to represent your relationship as the grown-up partnership of equals. It takes two to dance that dance. Who appears to lead and who follows is up to you both at whatever point in the dance you find yourselves.

. . . unless of course, you enjoy subordinating your agency to another person and if that’s your choice . . . that’s cool too.

Living your life by your perceptions of what you think other people are thinking about you? That is also known as paranoia! I think some extensive counselling to understand why you are so socially reactive and not self-empowering might be helpful. I read your letter as a cry for help.

No one can define the size, color, shape, or other dimensions of your box without your consent.

Or as put by a true individualist.....
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
Eleanor Roosevelt

Queers are human too. I don't expect them all to be well-educated on queer theory/gender studies. There are a few basic things that drive me crazy like when someone insists that butches are really men and that lesbians who date butches aren't really gay. So, you know, I educate them. I accept that this comes with being queer.

You speak of butch as if it's something different than genderqueer. It's not. Butch females aren't gender conforming either. And genderqueer doesn't necessarily mean gender fluid.

A number of queers do have butch/femme relationships. It sucks that they get such a bad rap and so many just look down their noses at it.

Both my girlfriend and I are butch. We are simply known as the friendly one and the quiet one, or the funny one and the serious one. Sometimes people think of us almost as gay men. Which I just find amusing.

I have at some point in time put on a dress and my girlfriend was dressed pretty butch. I just thought it was amusing that we looked butch/femme but really aren't. I don't know what the phobia of butch/femme is about.

"You speak of butch as if it's something different than genderqueer. " Butch is something different than genderqueer. Some butches and femmes may also consider themselves genderqueer, but many do not. Many consider themselves strictly women, and consider 'women' to be a much wider box than some allow. Others consider themselves not strictly women, but as people acting out certain genders in relation to certain social positions. So, butch and genderqueer are different cateogories, but not mutally exclusive ones.

"A number of queers do have butch/femme relationships. It sucks that they get such a bad rap and so many just look down their noses at it." I don't have a problem with the fact that some people use this relationship model, I have a problem when it is normalized or when its notions are enforced on people who don't want it. For example, I am only 'very butch' if I am assumed to be a woman, if I were thought of as a man, I would be 'femme'. Whether we are considered butch or femme is related to how our genderpresentations, body shapes, etc. are viewed by the world. The poster here isn't complaining that some people happen to relationships that fit into butch/femme, but that she is seeing those dating butches being shoved into a femme box whether they like it or not and seeing the femmes be treated as sex objects rather than individuals. Both of those things are big problems. " The misogyny of labels thrust upon me by people who knew me prior to my sleeping with this butch but who no longer identified me as something other then this butch's broad once we did begin sleeping together; The misogyny that she got to retain her name while I earned the labels of chick and broad; The misogyny that I no longer held an identity outside of "how long have you slept together" or "where did you meet" or "where is she" - these being the only questions I get asked by her friends or when entering a room alone, for the first time experiencing what it feels like to be a looked-over woman. "

Some butches and femmes may also consider themselves genderqueer, but many do not.

Right...that's why it's not something different. For someone claiming to not like boxes, she put butch and genderqueer in separate boxes. And they're not. They're a venn diagram.

I think people mostly have a fear of being associated with "those kinds." Fear of butch/femme being normalized is, IMO, unwarranted.

Some people see exactly what they expect to see.

I'm always read as gay whether I'm perceived to be male or female. But I don't find this to be problematic, because frankly, my identity exists in my own brain and I don't expect people to be psychic. I'm very much aware that my gender is obscure to people. I just expect people to not be rude, but I don't expect them to not do the very human thing of trying to find a way to relate to a person.

Correlation does not imply causation. I come away with not knowing if people talk to the butch because she's the butch, or because she appears to be the more outgoing one. People talk to my girlfriend first because she is more talkative. I'm not the greatest conversationalist, so people just don't know what to talk to me about...especially femme straight women. But that's not misogyny. That's social awkwardness and not knowing how to relate.

Sorry...the sense of entitlement was just off putting I guess.

Jess Annabelle | September 10, 2010 3:05 PM

Thanks Flo. This post meant a lot to me, because of the work I try to do and hope to see in our queer communities (around misogyny and assumptions, especially) and because of the ways I'm trying to very intentionally keep growing as an independent and whole person myself. I anticipate I'll be rereading this frequently to remind myself of both these things.

@Flo,

For the record, your work is anything but vapid and insubstantial. I especially liked your images from the Occupied West Bank. I lived in Israel in the years just prior and immediately after the start of the first Intifada. Having both Israeli and Palestinian friends on both sides of the Green Line brought back a raft of vivid memories . . . some good, some not so.

Thank you for that important work.

LOVE THIS PIECE! Thank you for giving words to this!

What does that mean anti-Zionist??! Does this person want Israel to disappear? If that is the case, she is quite awful and full of hate. If she wants the land divided between Palestinians and Israelis, that is not anti-Zionist - that is rational. Please let me know if she is full of hate or a lover of peace.

All I can say to this is: WELL SAID!!! Thank you for giving voice to a very real problem for some. A lot of the comments written also brought up good, valid points, as well, but I really have to just go back to the original post and say, "Damn, that's good!"

One of the most useful insights I received in my MTF gender transition came from a friend. I complained to her that someone we knew often mistreated me "due to me being transsexual." My friend commented "maybe she just doesn't like you." Ouch! Yet true.

So to K. Flo Razowsky let me share the observation that it is likely your butch friend is simply a more interesting person than you. I.e. gender issues have little to nothing to do with your experiences of being slighted when she is around.

Least you think I'm being critical let me point out I frequently experience a similar situation when out on the town with a male friend of mine. His gender presentation off work might be best described as Granny Moses (The Beverly Hillbillies) merged with Larry the Cable Guy. He is impressively better than me in engaging people in conversations. Were I to assume people stereotypically gave preference to people who dressed like him I'd be wrong. Truthfully, he is more charming than me.

I suggest that if K. Flo Razowsky, I or anyone else wants more attention we focus way less on life of the party types gender presentation and way more on what makes them so darn charming.

I'm trying to figure out if it's because I know you, Flo, that some of these comments seem so damn bizarre. Just really strange reactions to what seems to me a simple sharing of your experience, and the changes you've noted in your community's interaction with you since being in a relationship with your butch. Perhaps it IS partly that I know you, but I'm also looking back and there's no sweeping "THIS IS THE TRUTH" statement - only your experience and perspective. I guess I am naive in hoping that people would treat that vulnerability with respect. Alas, internet anonymity . . .

Anyhow, I just wanted to log on and thank you for this piece. I think it is brave to start this important kind of conversation, about perceptions and identity and assumptions, from a personal place.

As someone who is queer, gender- and style-fluid, and tiptoes in many different communities and subcultures, I have experienced countless rapid changes in the ways people interact with me based on my hair, clothing, partner, and surrounding friends. The assumptions people make never cease to amaze me.

So thanks for putting your "stuff" out there. Maybe we can talk more about this, with others . . . in person. So anyone who wants to comment can do so face-to-face, human-to-human.

Thanks Flo! Great post. It's one thing to embrace a box (or two or three..), it's another to impose it on others.

From a self-boxed Butch genderqueer feminist white ally (mine is a BIG box - sometimes size does matter:) who loves you,
Rocki

Thank you all for your comments and input.

Obviously, telling from the comments that have been left here and from private emails I've received, this is a topic that needed to be put out there. Or, as my butch puts it, this can of worms needed to be opened. And I'm not the first (and certainly not the last) to open this can of worms, which is indicative of the issues's existence and need to be addressed.

It's also interesting in this world of internet that folks who mostly have hurtful comments to offer do so from the safety of anonymity. Think about it - I made myself publicly vulnerable without hesitation of adding my name and personal experience on a topic that I understood from the start would catch me a lot of flack. Those of you who freely use stinging words (and I assume feel good because of it) do so without putting your name to it. How is that useful? Or even brave?

As for content - I ask those of you who are so offended by my piece to think about why. Why does this make you so angry? Why is it so horrible to address issues in our communities that are real and why is it so problematic for all of us to constantly push each other to challenge the shifting of those dynamics? Does your community exist without sexism, racism, classim? I highly doubt it and think if you are so opposed to addressing and working to dismantle those very real things, you are either oblivious or part of perpetuating the problem (which really aren't different).

And yes, this piece is about MY experience and, as I've learned, resonates with a lot of people who do not feel safe in addressing it themselves.

As you've all let me know, and as the point of this piece, none of us can put another in a box without consent. If you do not want to be put in a box, take your own advice or do as I've done (which are both very similar) and push back. This piece and my face-to-face interactions with people around me are my actions of non-consent to being put in boxes I do not wish to be in. And in this way, I do not put my butch or any other in a separate box from genderqueer or non-conforming if that is how one wants to identify. When you ask my butch how she identifies, the first word out of her mouth is butch - in my representation of her, I am respecting that self-identification. That does not exclude genderqueer or non-conforming, but does need to include in it's context that because she is a butch and because we live in a misogynist world, she and I are held up to different standards. It's just reality - and if that offends you, refer to paragraph 3.

As another butch shared with me - when she attacks misogyny, she is applauded for it. When femmes or other non-butch queers do the same they get attacked as being problematic. That is misogyny in it's finest form. That is a part of what we need to dismantle. That is my point.

Don't attack the messenger - attack the shit that we need to get out of our worlds.