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.