Like Tomboy, Like Lesbian?

8 12 2008

I was just in the shower, thinking (like you do) about lesbian stereotypes.  I think that there’s at least some assumption that if you’re a gay girl, you might have been a tomboy growing up, or you really get along with “the guys.”  And for some lesbians, I know this is true, but I never fit into that mold.  I didn’t have any really close guy friends as a kid – sure, I had a few male friends, but I never connected with them in any significant way.  I had fairly “girly” interests, and I’ve always been touchy feely and liked long conversations.  Not that there aren’t men like that, but not so many in elementary and middle school.  My best friends were always girls, and I got along well with girls.  But when I young and assumed that I was straight, and when I was a bit older and identified as bisexual, I always figured that once I was in a serious relationship with a guy, he would be my best friend.  That was what I was looking for, and it never occurred to me that it wouldn’t just… happen.

Now I know there are exceptions, and there are plenty of lesbians who relate well with men but prefer women romantically, and plenty of straight women who don’t have any men friends but connect with their romantic partner.  However, the example that comes to mind is my parents, who indeed were best friends throughout thirteen years of marriage and fifteen years and counting of divorce.  My mom has always been heterosexual and she’s always had close male friends.  It didn’t occur to me that the same wouldn’t happen for me, but in my only serious relationship with a man, it really was a “Men are from Mars” situation.  We were just speaking different languages.

Since then, I’ve always thought that women are preferable as romantic partners because you can fall in love with your best friend.  And I think there’s something to that – if your best friend is always a certain gender, and you’ve never been particularly close to the other gender, you’re probably at least somewhat unlikely to suddenly become best friends with someone of the other gender because you get into a romantic relationship with them.  So maybe it’s not that unusual when a girly girl becomes a lesbian.  After all, doesn’t it make a certain amount of sense?

Lesbian book club reminder: the poll is up now for round three and will be open until Sunday afternoon.  Please vote!  Also, feel free to start discussing for round two if you read the book.

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Lesbian Book Club

26 06 2008

I’ve decided to go ahead with the lesbian book club idea.  For our first book, we’ll be reading Stir Fry, by Emma Donoghue.  This book should (I hope!) be at your local library, and if not it’s also available in paperback.  You can also sign up at BookMooch and see if anyone’s giving away a copy.  I will post here each time we’re reading a new book in hopes that new people will find us, but if you’re interested in reading with us now or in the future, please e-mail me at judithavory@gmail.com and I’ll put you on the list for book club news.  Signing up to get e-mails is not a commitment of any kind, just showing that you’re interested and want to be updated.  Keep in mind:

  • This is a no-guilt book club.  If you don’t want to read a certain book, can’t find it at your library, don’t have time, or try to start and don’t finish, that’s fine!  Anyone who does finish a book, or even reads part of it (and doesn’t mind being spoiled) can join in the discussion (message board or chat, I haven’t decided that part yet).  Anyone else is welcome to “lurk.”
  • I want to give everyone time to read, so we’ll be operating on a two month schedule at first (that may be tweaked if necessary).  We’ll start discussing this book in late August
  • Please feel free to link this post with friends who might be interested or on your blog.  Everyone is welcome!




I am an executive lesbian

25 06 2008

I’ve been greatly surprised, the more I make contact with various parts of the lesbian community and lesbian pop culture, how much the “butch and femme” dichotomy is alive and well.  I realise that despite all the changes and movements away from binary trends, we still tend to think in twos, but for some reason I thought this was an outmoded distinction.  Then again, among the lesbians I know in real life, most don’t really talk about being butch or femme.  I know some lesbians who are decidedly butch, but then I also know a lot like me, who I don’t think of as butch, but if I think about it I really can’t characterise them as “femme.”

As far as I can tell, femme is often more or less the default for “not butch.”  It seems that butch has a more built-up set of characteristics, possibly because it implies masculinity and differentiating oneself from the norm, from the femininity default that women are born into.  When I think of a butch woman, I think of her in terms of three areas: appearance, activities/mannerisms, and sexual “stuff.”  

Appearance

I think of “butch” as meaning very masculine, but also fitting a number of other stereotypes – often overweight or big boned and very muscular, often doesn’t pay a lot of attention to dress, etc.  But there are other sorts of masculine women.  I find myself very frequently attracted to androgynous women, what I suppose you would label “bois” – petite women with short haircuts who retain feminine features, so that they more or less look like a 12-year-old boy.  There are also women who are very traditionally attractive but wear a lot of boyish clothing.  I find that the more choices I make about my own appearance, the more I start to move away from the traditional feminine.  Aside from my usual suit-and-tie combination, I’ve found that I really like how I look in more masculine casual clothes as well.  Now that I’ve found a good way to style it, I love my extremely androgynous haircut.  Yesterday, I was wearing a faded black tanktop that looks like a “wifebeater” essentially and I found myself flexing my muscles in the mirror and taking my glasses off to blur my feminine features.  When I was a teenager, I used to wonder what my “boy self” would look like.  I’ve been drawn to masculinity for a long time, and I absolutely love dressing in drag.  I just feel really comfortable and really sexy when I’m androgynous.  However, I try not to think too hard about it, because I really don’t want to be a man, or at least, not a heterosexual man. More on that later.

Activities/Mannerisms

Something else that I think bolster’s someone’s “butch” image is the things she does.  This ranges from activities – maybe owns a motorcycle, knows how to change her own oil, likes sports and having a beer with her buddies – to more simple things.  These are an area, actually, where I think femmes affirmatively make themselves femmes – by spending time on makeup and hair, wearing lotion, shopping, etc etc.  I also think this is a place where a lot of people end up falling in the middle.  I don’t look like the stereotypical butch, but I know how to change the oil, I like (not US) football, I never wear makeup or “do” my hair, etc.  It’s hard to think of me as really femme for that reason.

Sexual Stuff

Here’s where my own heebie jeebies come out.  Now of course, everything in this post is a generalisation, talking about stereotypes into which most lesbians probably don’t fit.  But I’ve read a little about fantasies and lesbian sexuality and I have to say some of the butch/femme sexuality really throws me.  The reason is that it seems, to me, to come really close to heterosexual sexuality and really close to the kind of “male oppression” stuff that has become more and more a turnoff to me since I stopped having sex with men.  Of course, I’m sure there are lesbian women who fantasise about choking on a dildo, or being fucked painfully, or having sex with someone who identifies as male.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  It’s just that for me, being on either side of that equation would be a major turn-off.  Being with a man, especially sexually, turned me into a weak, meek person completely unlike myself.  If I were on the “female” side of that equation in a lesbian relationship, there’s nothing to say the same thing wouldn’t happen.  At the same time, if I were on the “male” side, I don’t want to be hurting someone or interjecting heterosexuality in the relationship.  To me, the beautiful thing about lesbian sex is that it’s two women, exploring female sexuality.  I do need to learn to mentally disconnect certain “heterosexual” acts that I actually enjoy from heterosexuality, so that I can enjoy them with a woman.  I’ll admit that.  But when actual roleplay starts up, I can’t see myself as a butch or a femme, because I don’t want that particular dichotomy in my bed.  I want whatever power differential is set up (and believe me, I like power differentials) to be between two women, using our female energies.  Man, I’m a hippie.

That wasn’t supposed to turn into a rant, but anyway, that’s my take on the butch/femme roles.  If you really enjoy fitting into one or the other, more power to you!  I’m just happy as an androgynous, outside-the-box lesbian who likes other androgynous, outside-of the box lesbians.  There it is.





Lesbian Book Club, yae or nae?

20 06 2008

Would anyone be interested in joining an online lesbian book club?  There would be a book every, let’s say, two months, and then we could talk about it either using a listserv or chat room (or both).  I’d try to pick titles that are likely to be easy to find, so you might be able to participate for free by checking the books out from the library.  If you think you’d be interested, comment to this post.  Also, let me know if you like doing just lesbian-themed books, or if you’d be more interested in a more general women’s/feminist/lesbian theme.  I’ll be asking around on my favourite lesbian and feminist blogs and linking back to this post as well.  





Genetics vs. choice, revisited

4 06 2008

Argh!  I’d been planning to put up a “top 25” list of lovely women on Monday to coincide with AfterEllen’s top 100, but wordpress just will not cooperate with me when it comes to a photo post.  So instead, we move to a more thinky thought topic.  No hot girls.  Boo.

As I’ve mentioned on here, I’ve had a change of perspective recently on the whole debate over whether sexuality is genetically determined or a choice.  For a long time, like many LGBT people, I was very adamant that we’re “born this way.”  Obviously, there’s a political advantage to this position, because it’s harder to take away rights from people who fit into a certain class through no fault of their own.  Immutability is a big thing in the legal field too, but the interesting thing is that with immutability, specifically in asylum claims, the trait is either something that you were born with or can’t change or something so fundamental to your identity that you can’t be expected to change it.  I think that’s a great way of looking at sexuality, frankly.

Though I do think there are genetic factors involved, and also that upbringing can play a role in how someone’s sexual identity develops, I think it’s a little more amorphous than someone being born “a lesbian.”  Sexuality, like race and many other things, is socially constructed.  We happen to see the word in terms of gay, straight, bisexual, and many people have pointed out the flaws in that organisational system.  I’m not going to tackle those problems today, but I am going to suggest that while who you’re attracted to may include some genetic factors, there’s also a choice element.

When I was first starting to think that I might be gay, and not bisexual as originally assumed, I sat there trying to come up with “the answer.”  I tried to get all zen and think “what am I?  What am I?”  But I don’t think it really works that way.  In the end, I think though I obviously had the potential to be with men, and was with one for quite a while, I chose to be a lesbian.  But that doesn’t mean that I should be expected to change it.  That doesn’t mean that when asking for rights someone should say to me, “well, you were with a man before, so if you want rights, go straight!”  Since I came of age, attraction to women and desire to be with women has been an important part of my sexuality and my identity.  Even if I hadn’t noticed this attraction until I was thirty, fifty, seventy… I would have no less right to be treated as a human being than if I had known at five.  The fact is, if choosing (or recognising) your sexual identity were like picking out vegetables in the supermarket, few people would choose to be gay.  Being gay is difficult.  You run risks of harassment and violence.  Romantically, you simply have a much smaller pool of people to choose from, and your relationship will only be legally recognised in a handful of jurisdictions.  So I think it’s okay to admit that there is an element of choice involved in sexuality, but also to recognise that it is a fundamental choice, and that whatever someone chooses, we should respect that choice.





No really, I’m gay.

31 05 2008

My new favourite dykeblogger, Card Carrying Lesbian, posted this the other day about people constantly challenging her gayness, and it really resonated with me.  I haven’t had a lot of outside challenge to my lesbianism, but I have had some internal struggles, and I hope that I eventually reach her level of confidence.  Now it’s time for a long personal sexual history rant.  Ready?  Let’s go!

When I was, oh, about ten or so, I wanted to be a boy.  This decision was very vehemently attacked by both the boys and girls in my fifth grade class, and my best friend physically fought me on the playground.  Shortly thereafter, I gave up on the idea.  When I was about twelve, and my body hair started growing in, I was briefly excited about shaving and then decided that shaving is stupid and stopped.  A little boy in the neighbourhood made the highly intelligent comment, “what’ve you got trees growing under there?” when I lifted my arms one day, and I started shaving again.  I was not by any means a popular child.  I didn’t dress attractively and I didn’t hang out with the popular kids.  I wanted to be popular though, and so I latched on quickly to boys, shopping, and makeup.

I was definitely boy crazy.  I know hindsight is 20-20, and maybe I’m seeing things differently now because of my “enlightenment” about adult me, but I’ve noticed some things looking back about my boy craziness.  One is that I liked really pretty boys.  It was almost entirely about aesthetics, as it probably is to most girls that age.  I was into the Backstreet Boys and NSync.  I realise now that when I masturbated I thought about straight couples and particularly focused on elements of the woman’s body (funny that I can still remember some of those teenage fantasies).  Anyway, I didn’t have any actual experience besides one exploitative five-second “relationship” that I blocked out so much that I forgot about it for a while.  

When I was sixteen, I came out as bisexual.  I couldn’t not like boys, I mean come on!  They were so pretty.  My mom was sceptical about the liking girls part, if only because I had so adamantly liked boys, and talked about how cute boys were for so long.  But at seventeen, I started my first relationship, which lasted six months, and it was with a girl, so she believed me.  In college, I ended up in another relationship, this time with a man, and it lasted a year in a half.  I won’t tell the entire story, but the basic idea is that I was looking for love, he was looking for love, and I believed that a relationship could work on that alone.  And it did, and we got along pretty well for a while, and we decided that we loved each other.  We had very little in common, but it worked.  He was very sweet, and sensitive, and I still think he’s a great guy.  We ended up losing our virginity to each other, and had sex together for about a year.  I’ll come clean.  I kind of enjoyed parts of it.  I even kind of enjoyed intercourse.  But I became a closed off person, ridiculously meek, and lots of other things I’m not proud of.  It’s not like I was having orgasms, or anything like that. 

After we broke up, I had sex with two other guys, and fooled around with a few girls.  I matured a lot in a couple of years, and I started thinking about it.  I realised that my interest in men really was mainly aesthetic.  They look kind of nice.  I kind of like sex with them.  But at that point, I didn’t want sex with them.  If I had a choice, I’d never have sex with them again.  And over martinis in a foreign country, my dear friend Kat broke it to me.  Yeah, I think you’re a lesbian.

It all kind of started to make sense.  

In another post soon, I’m going to start talking about my views on choice in this arena, but for now I want to quote something from the post linked above.

I’m not saying boys are yucky. I’m just saying I prefer women so much so that I’ve excluded men from the realm of my dating possibilities.

Yet for some reason many people will never believe that I’m a lesbian because I can admit that sex with certain men didn’t suck. 

Wow.  I’ve never heard another lesbian put it that way, but YES!  Exactly.  I prefer women.  I prefer how they look, how we relate, how friendship and sex can intertwine, and so many other things.  I’ve made a choice, and that’s that I don’t ever want to be in a relationship with or have sex with a man again.  And lately I’ve been feeling a great defensive need, and been putting that one long-term relationship with a man in a box, talking about how bad the sex was and laughingly thinking that he “turned” me, but that isn’t true.  Yeah, the sex wasn’t great.  We weren’t open with each other, we weren’t sexually compatible with each other, I was generous in bed but he wouldn’t kiss me below the neck… et caetera, et caetera.  But that doesn’t mean I never liked being with him, and I think I should stop lying about it.  

The funny thing, too, is that my sexual history is so unlike my sexual preferences.  I’ve never had good sex.  I’ve never had sex with a woman.  You’d think that I’m sexually immature, but no, not really.  It just so happens that when I broke up with him, I got way pickier.  I got pickier about the gender I have sex with, and also about the people I have sex with.  I have a new rule that I have to really like a person, and I have to trust them, to have sex with them.  So far, that’s worked brilliantly for me!  I love being single, and I know that when I meet women with whom I really connect, I have the option to have sex, and the option to pursue a relationship.  But I’m in no hurry.  A relationship really is about more than love.  It’s also about someone you connect with, and enjoying being around.  So the fact that my sexual history is skewed in a very masculine direction means nothing about my sexuality.  The ending of the linked post, I think, is perfect for this one as well.

Dude. I kiss girls!  ONLY.  😀





Identity continued: a discussion of essentialization

29 05 2008

A month or two ago, I had a discussion with a friend on the bus about identity.  We were talking about gay identity, and I was telling him about my seminar paper.  He started telling me about how in the black community (he’s black and I *think* straight, though I hate to make assumptions) there are definitely gay men, but no one would ever talk about it, because of the certain image that the black man is supposed to fit into.  He explained that a lot of people feel that your “Blackness” is supposed to be superior to all else, and presumably a certain narrow kind of blackness, so that being gay does not fit into that identity.

I’d heard about this phenomenon before, and it got me thinking about how we essentialize all sorts of identities.  I definitely think it’s true of the queer community.  I’ve noticed myself doing it a lot, not so much anymore, but when I first left the South, with my Southern identity (letting my accent get stronger, cooking a lot more Southern food than I ever cooked at home, exaggerating elements of my background).  But where I see it happening a hell of a lot, and where it’s been bothering me a lot lately, is the essentialization of the female identity.

I think many of the problems I’ve been struggling to understand lately – legal, social, political – come from a refusal to accept the diversity that exists among women.  Abortion and reproductive issues?  Women aren’t supposed to have sex outside of marriage.  They’re supposed to be good, pure, and chaste.  Even the modern woman isn’t supposed to sleep with *too* many men.  Maybe birth control is okay, but abortion?  You’re not supposed to talk about it.  The abominable state of rape laws and selective prosecution?  Women are supposed to dress modestly and stay away from bars and wild parties.  Homosexuality?  Psh, don’t even get me started.

Here is what society has told me about being a woman:  Career is great, but family still comes first.  Getting married should be an ultimate goal.  When in a group of other women, marriage and boyfriends are the most acceptable topic.  Always shave your legs, underarms, and bikini area.  Nice girls don’t have hair.  Wear makeup, lotion, nail polish, etc.  Dress provocatively, but not <i>too</i> provocatively.  Wear jewellery and skirts.  Short hair is only okay if it’s still “cute.”  Women should be independent, but society should still protect them.  Drink, but don’t drink excessively.  Girly cocktails are the acceptable beverage of choice, by the way.  Sexuality is something that can be gossipped about, but never discussed openly in mixed company, and certainly never with your sexual partner.

Of course, the list goes on.  Anyway, I find that thinking about it this way makes it easier to understand my position on a lot of things.  I don’t want society to dictate how I can be a woman.  I don’t want it to say that I can only marry men, because that’s what women do, that I can’t take control of my own reproductive health choices, because I need to be protected, or that if I dress a certain way and get raped, it’s my own damned fault.  I want society to celebrate diversity and allow women to be independent and free to choose who they are how they want to live their lives.  I want attacks on diversity not to be tolerated, but I don’t want paternalistic “protection” that puts me in a box. 

The end.