things to think about

today i am thinking about: MY GENDER IS NOT YR GENDER
June 23, 2009, 3:52 pm
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I am all for community projects. I am all for people trying to do something awesome for their community. Sometimes I feel myself refuse to put things out there because I feel like I haven’t sufficiently “vetted” them — what if this person found it problematic? What if that person found it problematic? What if I’m being white supremacist? Classist? Just a jerk? I feel difficult about the ways in which queer communities, especially, shut stuff down sometimes completely rather than work within projects to make them better in that way that means there is 1 person organizing something and 15 people sitting around bitching about how imperfect that person’s efforts are without doing anything to try and fix it or making their own thing or doing anything more productive than sitting back and critiquing the imperfection of the person who at least has the nerve to try.

Which brings me to, Sinclair Sexsmith‘s project about, well, I’ll quote:

Top Hot Butches: The 100 hottest butch, masculine, androgynous, genderqueer, transmasculine, studs, AGs, dykes, queers, and transguys. […]I am using [butch] instead of another term – like androgynous, genderqueer, or transmasculine – because I, personally, want more butch reclamation and visiblity, because I think butch identity is more widely varied in range of expression and identity than is usually represented, because I think it is the most accessible and recognizable word representing some sort of female masculinity, because I want to encourage its reclamation and intentional display, because it is sharp and satisfying as a title, and because it is slightly controversial and will stir up interest.

I mean, I am all for some visibility of butch people. I am all for visibility of people who come under the rubric of “female masculinity.” I am all for putting a bunch of hot people up on the internet.

There are obvious problems with this — namely, the inclusion of trans guys on this list — that I actually feel have been covered pretty well on this Feministing thread. There is a hot discussion going on on Twitter at #tophotbutches. Sinclair quotes S. Bear Bergman:

I know what butch is. Butches are not beginner FTMs, except that sometimes they are, but it’s not a continuum except when it is. Butch is not a trans identity unless the butch in questions says it is, in which case it is, unless the tranny in question says it isn’t, in which case it’s not. There is no such thing as butch flight, no matter what the femmes or elders say, unless saying that invalidates the opinion of femmes in a sexist fashion or the opinions of elders in an ageist fashion. Or if they’re right. But they are not, because butch and transgender are the same thing with different names, except that butch is not a trans identity, unless it is; see above.

– S. Bear Bergman, from “I Know What Butch Is,” the first chapter from hir book Butch Is A Noun.

So I want to leave for a minute the idea of whether trans guys have a place on this list in some large and categoric way and instead talk about something else: the importance of self-identification.

I would think, in a list about transgressive gender, the right of everyone to self-identify is SUPREMELY important. On some level, all these gender wars that my generation of queers has been having has a lot to do with the difficulty of finding a world where we all really do retain ultimate control of our identity. What does it mean to have everyone tell you you are a boy but you want to be seen a girl, only maybe you don’t want to get surgery on yr crotch? What does it mean if everyone tells you you’re a girl, and you agree, only you want to wear a moustache and ties and seersucker suits and fuck your dates with a cock you identify as yours even if you put it in a drawer at the end of the day? What if all these categories strike you as frustrating and ridiculous and damning and you want to come up with some other word for who you are? For how you want to be seen?

The liberation I am fighting for is a liberation where I don’t feel like a crazy anomaly. Where I am not second-guessing myself for wanting to put myself together the way I want at any given time. So why is it ok, in the name of more gender options, to start throwing people in categories they don’t belong to? Just because some people think “butch identity is more widely varied in range of expression and identity than is usually represented” — is that really true? Even if people don’t take that word on themselves? Aren’t we, as queers, supposed to understand the importance of self-identification?

So I definitely have problems with the lumping of trans guys into this project. But I have problems with the lumping of a lot of people into this project. Does everyone here identify as butch? Does everyone here feel they have a place with this word? Just because you are picking a transgressive word to lump everyone in doesn’t in fact mean that the lumping is itself transgressive. What does it mean to put other people into an identity they are not necessarily selecting because it’s convenient, because it’s controversial, and because you think it is more important than the identity they have themselves selected?

I admit it: I have a hard time with the word “butch” for myself. Some of that is my own butch-phobia and shitty messages I got when I was younger. Some of that is my own worries about my credibility as butch or that people won’t believe me as butch, something that I think Sinclair’s statement is even trying to address. Some of that is just feeling like that is not me — that I need some other word, and I have made those other words. Erasing those other words doesn’t feel good to me. It’s not as if I have never heard the word “butch” or that I am some exotic variant. It’s just not a word for me.

In the interest of how this post started, here’s what I think. I could see this project working if everyone on the list did identify as butch. I could see this project working if it wasn’t assigning people to a category without their permission. I could see this project working if it was named something different, something bigger — and yes, I know, the words are ugly sometimes, and that’s part of our challenge. I am curious what Sinclair says about the criticism coming from the community about the inclusion of trans guys, and this general elision of people into the word “butch.”

S. Bear Bergman hits it on the head — some trans guys do have a place on the butch spectrum. Some trans guys don’t have a place on the butch spectrum. But to be a trans guy doesn’t make you butch. To be a female-assigned person who identifies as female and likes to wear a tie doesn’t make you butch. Claiming butch makes you butch. Isn’t that what we’re all fighting for?