Monday, 28 May 2007


A bisexual man i know whose been only sleeping with women lately, was complaining that his sexuality is invisible. Which got me thinking.

It ties back to what i was writing about "middle-class butches(?)", cause i think our invisibility is actually a sign of our privilege. It leaves working class butches to shoulder all the weight of representing Butch (which isn't a super-fun job in this culture).

Female Masculinities (a book i was dissing a couple of posts back) makes the point that while white middle class lesbians complained about their invisibility, non-white and working class lesbians were extremely visible and were/are getting beat up on the street for it.

which isn't to say that having no visible role models, (either in your life or on tv, or in books, or walking down the street) that having no one see you as you really are - is easy. It's not, it's like looking into a mirror and seeing nothing there (i got that from adrienne rich) and it's crazy-making. It's just that you have more choices and more power than those who are noticed as deviant.

On any given day I can wear the t-shirt that says 'gender dysphoric'. Or Not. It's not written all over my walk, my haircuts, my clothes, my speech, in a language that everyone can read, as it is for some people. And my bisexual friend can declare his attraction to other men, or not. depending on how many bigots are around, whether he's trying to get a job etc.

Which led me to conclude that it's all about who you're complaining to. I should definately be whingeing at other middle class masculine women to front up with descriptions of our specific experience, confronting people who refuse to recognise my masculinity, and challenging middle-class parents who don't give their daughters the chance to express their masculinity... but i shouldn't expect working class butches to have much sympathy for my invisibility. And i shouldn't present it as the greatest challenge facing butches today.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Prom Queen Syndrome

My girlfriend recently came up with this diagnosis, after enduring serious bouts of precious behaviour from some of our white middle-class friends, and from me (also white, middle-class).

Basically, a prom queen* has huge amounts of popularity, so much so that she** expects everyone to like her. Finding that anyone has problems with her (or is even disinterested in her)especially someone with less power, leads to much hand-wringing, and declarations that she is being ‘bullied’, ‘oppressed’ or ‘disrespected’ and will generally cause her to pack up her toys and move on to other friends.

Prom queens have no skills when it comes to resolving disagreements, because they have always been popular enough to find other friends, rather than ride out the tough times. They are almost always unaware of their own power and sense of entitlement, and are prepared to complain at great length to women whose lives are much harder than theirs. Their sense of solidarity is consequently impaired and their conception of feminism often involves other women giving them the numbers to advance their own demands.

*Of course it is possible to display symptoms of PQS without being a full-blown prom queen.
**No cases have yet been diagnosed among middle-class men, perhaps because they have to worry even less about what people think of them.

I haven’t followed the whole argument, but Jessica (of is displaying several symptoms of it over at feministe in the argument about whether or not her latest book does a disservice to women of colour. Eg. I’m not visiting your blog to discuss ways I may have used my privilege to hurt you because someone once said something mean to me there…

Sunday, 20 May 2007

White middle-class butch?

Well, after several attempts to write a first post that introduces me in all my glorious detail, I’ve alighted on the idea of just writing a first post (!)… on something I’ve been thinking lots about.

What I have wondered, ever since admitting that I was not the young woman everyone took me for, is whether or not I am butch. I don’t think of myself as a woman, but I do identify as a dyke; I suffer from serious discomfort about my female body, but I don’t want to become a man; I have a femme girlfriend who coaxes me to talk about my emotions… I can tick plenty of stereotypical butch boxes, but.
But I’m white and from a thoroughly middle class background.

I realised just how significant this is reading Stone Butch Blues for the first time. It was incredible for me, I felt like I was touching a tiny bit of my history, and Jess’s survival made mine seem more likely. But, realistically, if I were born in the early 1950s, would I have frequented butch-femme/gay bars? Unlikely. More likely I would have done what I did until last year, put on women’s clothes and lived in my mind. When people suggested I was a freak, I would have gone to the library and finished an assignment. I would have probably made it to university, joined the women’s movement, and taken refuge in androgyny, political lesbianism and manic activism. I would have written superficially convincing feminist theory that ignored working class women and secretly hated myself for hating my body and for wanting to penetrate my girlfriend.

The combination of having class privilege to lose, and the option of a disembodied academic/activist existence would (most likely) have been enough to dissuade me from coming out as masculine. In this way, a lot of my history hasn’t really been written. I can only guess how many of the radical feminists who wrote patronising/admiring/revisionist histories of masculine and passing women, secretly wanted to live their lives.

(None of which is to say poor me. Invisibility does hinder my self-realisation, but I have more options than working class or non-white butches about how out I am, which keeps me physically safer. And when I am out, I have better chances of maintaining attention and respect, because I speak the right kind of language.)

Are there white middle-class butches? If so, where are they? I found Judith/Jack Halberstam’s book, Female Masculinities, particularly disappointing in this regard. It seems that J/J identifies as butch (??). But although she shows how butch history has been ignored by middle-class feminism, she doesn’t admit that being an academic means that working-class butch history doesn’t simply belong to her. She doesn’t use this opportunity to share her own experience of butchness, and instead uses the (often extremely personal) stories of others to illustrate this story. It’s this kind of behaviour that allows white middle class men/women/butches to claim a rich history and identity, while hiding our privilege over others of the same gender (just like white women using pictures of black mothers to symbolise the fertility or spirituality of all women).

In the mean time, I’m adding middle-class to butch, every time I use it… and I’m looking for new words. Female Masculinities is actually quite useful in this way, perhaps I am more of an invert or a female husband. More on those terms later.

I’m surely not the first person to think about this. Do you agree I should get my hands off your identity? Do you know white middle-class people who identify as butch? Are you one? Talk to me, or direct me to more conversations. Please.