Break It Down, Butch.

December 28, 2010

[53] Car conversations.

I’m out of touch with gender-theory.

I haven’t cracked a book in six months, since I wrote my dissertation. Oh sure, I picked up the new Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation collaboration between Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman, and skimmed through it, but I didn’t really absorb anything. I just read it and thought ‘huh’ and went back to work and forgot about it.

There is so much suck in that sentence I’m not even sure where to start.

So, I was giving my brother and his girlfriend a lift back home today and the suject of gender came up, as it sometimes does around me, and the girlfriend (who was also my best friend back in college; long story) started asking me the standard questions. You know, things like ‘So what is the difference between gender and sex?’ and ‘This MtF you know, he-she-it, was she a guy or a girl first? What is she now?’ and ‘D’you reckon there’s a genetic cause for gayness?’

(Okay, that last one’s a sexuality question, but it led me onto a whole ramble about social gender cues and how sexuality and gender aren’t the same thing, so I’m counting it.)

Six months ago, I was really good at these questions. Or at least passable. Today I totally choked.

Like, choked. Badly.

(Part of that was probably being exhausted and frustrated and a little ‘whoa, weird’ with the whole quitting-my-job-today thing. And, y’know, being slightly nettled at the questions, because there was a whole wealth of misunderstanding going on there that I couldn’t even start to tackle in a 45 minute car journey.)

I need to get my reading back on. I’ve done my Bornstein and Butler and Bergman; I’ve read Female Masculinity backwards and forwards, and a lot more besides. I’ve been in the blogsphere for, what, a year? I should know my stuff by now.

But still, choked. And I can feel my thinking about gender getting fuzzier and vaguer the more time I spend in the working world, away from academia, and I don’t like that.

I promised my friend I’d lend her some Bornstien, because she is genuinely interested in learning about the weird wide world of gender, but I reckon I need to read it again first. Along with the rest of my shelf of books. And then I need to re-engage my brain.

Here’s my new challenge for myself: a piece of gender-related reading at least once a week, and a thinking-thoughts type post along to go with it.

What are your favourite gender-writers?

December 19, 2010

[49] Family thinking.

Filed under: Uncategorized — DK @ 21:34
Tags: , ,

Mini-disclaimer: This isn’t so much a butch post as a life post. Sometimes they sneak up on me.

My family history is a little fucked up.

I’m pretty sure if you sliced open half the population and checked out the writing inside their hearts, you’d see that phrase inked right between the ventricles. There are storybook families out there, I’m sure there are, but they’re rare. They’re so rare. And the rest of us poor suckers are stuck in the cracks of the human condition.

Do you ever have that conversation? You know the one, where you meet a new person — a friend of a friend, a date, a work colleague, a nice looking stranger — and you have that talk. The where’re you from, what’s your family like talk.

My last three went something like: alcoholic mum, child-molesting father, asshole older brother…


In my case, it was RAF-dad and schizophrenic mum. Which was really not as bad as it could have been, but despite being white and middle-class and generally disgustingly privileged, there was still a buttload of suckitude in my early teenage years, and the whole family-thing fractured way apart.

I used to be bitter. Nowadays I just get a little sad.

But here’s the thing. I went through the dusty old family photo albums recently, and I found this picture. This small, sepia-tinted, break-your-heart picture of my parents, back before they ever had kids or a mortgage or a marriage. Back when my mum’s mind still worked right, and my dad looked happy, and they’re both so young.

My mum is beautiful and grinning and sitting sideways on my dad’s knee, arms wrapped around his neck, temple pressed to temple. My dad is handsome and smiling and just a little awkward, leaning into my mother. I’ll bet you anything it was her dad taking the photo.

They don’t look much older than I am now.

I wish I’d known them back then. I don’t really know them now, if I’m honest, but it’s a different thing. They’re parents, and we have all this broken, twisted up hurt wrapped around us. (And we were never that great at talking anyway.) But they look like real people back then, with so much hope and bright shiny futures, and I wish I’d known them. I want to know if I’m like them, if we ever think the same, if they had the same fears and hopes and screwed up ideas I have.

(Okay, I’m pretty sure neither one of them was a butch queer transthing, but still.)

There’s a lot of stuff written out there about learning from parents — dads, mostly, when it comes to butches, but mums occasionally — and getting over parents and trying not to be be your parents…

Someday, if I ever have my own family, I hope I get to give the pictures to my kids myself. With my partner. And I hope we’re smiling when we do. Because this whole looking at a single, stolen photo and getting melancholy about it thing sucks.

Parents. Oi.

August 19, 2010

[35] Two by two, pick your crew.

Filed under: Uncategorized — DK @ 19:14
Tags: , ,

She has a direct stare. Rough voice. Rough all over, really, like a sandstone block with porcupine spikes. She regards me while we work, but I don’t pay much attention. Too busy with my hands. We chat.

Then she interrupts. “I need to ask you a question.”


“Are you male or female?”

I blink, blind-sided. It’s a kid’s question, something I haven’t heard since the playground. Adults aren’t that blunt; everything is “Can I help you, sir?” or “What would you like to drink, ma’am?” or a sidelong look and no pronoun guess at all. They never just ask.

Besides, our work rotas have our partner-for-the-day’s names printed with the gender-assignment right next to them. Everyone is ‘miss’ or ‘mr’, right there in black and white. In a weird way, it saves a lot of hassle.

Not today.

“Female,” I say at length.

Instant ache, right under the ribcage. Should have said ‘neither’, or ‘both’, or ‘what does it matter?’, but the little F is still on my driver’s licence, there are still curves beneath my binder and air between my legs, and I’m on the job. Female is the nearest thing to truth, except in every single way, but it’s good enough for the woman I have to see for twenty minutes more and maybe never again.

Except for how it’s not.

“Oh,” she says, all relief. She’s got an answer. Things make sense now. “Sorry, I just had to know.”

“No worries,” I say, dragging up a smile by the edges. “If I really cared about it, I’d grow my hair out.”

June 13, 2010

[28] Couple of thoughts on gender and sexuality.

Follow me on this. I’m just jamming here, playing around with ideas. They’re still way too sketchy and simple, but go with me anyway. Sexuality is based in gender, we know this. In the most basic terms, you figure out your sexuality according to which gender you are and which gender you want to get naked and sweaty with.

Women who like men? Straight.
Women who like women? Gay.


Of course, then you have women who like both. Bisexual.
Or women who like don’t like either. Asexual.
Or women who like all genders. Pansexual(/omnisexual).
Or women who don’t like to label themselves and have a bent for language. Pomosexual*.

And so on. Vice versa for men. Still pretty easy.

But what about women (or anyone) who don’t identify with any of the above? Well, there’s always queer. You can’t really do much better for a catch-all term than that.

Here’s where it gets more tricky. What if you’re an oestrogen-based creature who doesn’t identify as a woman? What’s your sexuality then?

O-BCWDIAAW who fancies women: Um.
O-BCWDIAAW who fancies men: Uh.

Homosexuality, if you take the literal definition, means someone attracted to their own gender. So does that mean I’m only gay now if I’m attracted to other butches? Or other gorgeous transmasculine creatures?

Then there’s heterosexuality — being attracted to ‘other’. People who don’t have my gender. So basically most people I meet. Does that make me straight half the time and gay the rest of the time?

Oh Christ, do I have to be bisexual again?

Actually, it’d take a damn long time to relay all the stripes of gender I’m attracted to. But it’s an interesting thought. A whole lot of my identity is staked in being gay — being queer — and being read by other people as gay or queer. And I like that, even if it’s becoming an oxymoron. I like being other and different and a little bit weird. I like talking about it. I like getting reactions about it. I like being new and strange and maybe a bit titillating or scary or fascinating to the people I meet (assuming, of course, that doesn’t inspire them to try to kick my teeth down my throat).

But, if you think about it, the main thing people are reacting to isn’t my sexuality — they can’t know my sexuality unless they crack open my skull and take a look — what they’re reacting to is my gender presentation. Because 90% of the time, my gender-skin reads as queer. (And the other 10% it reads as straight male, which grants an entirely different experience.) Think about it. How do people know you’re gay just by looking at you? Or conversely, how do they fail to know?

Seriously. If you look at a girl and think ‘dyke’, what makes you think that? Short hair, cocky walk, a certain style of clothes? Piercings and tattoos, maybe. Doc Martins and A-shirts. Stereotypes. Gender markers.

Look at your standard-model gay man. How do people know? Impeccable grooming, lazy-swinging hips, fabulousness. Stereotypes. If he doesn’t have all that — if he’s just a regular guy who works his nine-to-five, hits the gym, tries to keep in touch with his family, and wears his hair like a million other guys — how will you know he’s gay until he kisses his boyfriend?

Some of you have probably had this figured out for years, but I swear it just slapped me in the back of the head how much sexuality relies on gender to exist.

Seriously. Take away gender. Nix it entirely, remove it from the equation. You are now just a person, possibly with breasts and a cunt, possibly with a cock, hell, possibly with some combination of both. But you’re just a person. You. Now who are you attracted to?

Think hard. There are no longer men and women about, there’re just other people with all kinds of bodies. Do you have any sort of preference, or are you looking at the actual people now? Trying to get know them, maybe. Getting to like them, with their weird foibles.

Sexuality doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a weird thought.

So what’re we, with our new gender definitions, our new presentations and ways of being and styles of life, doing to sexuality? What’ll it mean to be a butch without, technically, being gay? Unless I’m side-eyeing other butches, which, by the way, I totally do.

I may have embraced a gender identity and spliced my sexuality. How did that happen?

*”Post-modernsexual”. Though really that should be metasexual. I mean, really, if you’re going to give yourself a label designed to tell everyone you don’t like labels

June 7, 2010

[26] Flattery.

Y’know what’s weird? Being flattered by a compliment you don’t particularly want.

There’s a story behind this (there always is), but this one’s short and sweet. I was at work on Friday, doing a round with new clients, and getting ‘sirred’* left and right, which is always a little awkward on the job. I love the gender-assignment, but I’m less happy with accidentally frightening old ladies in their own homes, which happens a lot. Elderly, vulnerable woman tend not to be delighted with apparent young men falling through their doors, no matter how blue-eyed and smiley that apparent young man may be.

And you try explaining “Yes, I am a technically ovaries-based creature, but I’m actually experimenting with male pronouns and transgender identities right now, Mabel, but don’t be alarmed, I promise I’m not about to do anything illegal. Or immoral. Or look at you in a funny way. Though I should probably mention I’m gay, too, but you’re still safe to take your knickers off” to someone who’s eighty-nine and profoundly deaf and may or may not be armed with a ballistic walking stick.

Yeeeeah. What usually falls out of my mouth is some variant of “Ah, yes. Actually I’m a woman”, said awkwardly and bracketed by an internal wince.

So, cutting back to short-and-sweet, I had this same back and forth with a lady on Friday. (“Gosh, a man!” “Well, actually…”) But instead of the usual flustered embarrassment, this particular lady just tipped her head to one side and gave me a slow, thoughtful look.

“Yes,” she said finally, “I can see you’re pretty.”

Deer-in-headlights is not my best impression, but I pulled off a cracker this time.

“Uh,” I said. “Um — right. Thank you.”

But then, weirdly, I started to get that ridiculous, belly-warm glow of Someone Thinks I Look Nice. You know the one: it makes you smile at random moments all day, tickled and pleased, and you have to write it up online four days later because People Must Know.

It’s just — it’s a funny thing, this attractiveness business. Especially when you’re butch. Other people have said it before, have said it better, but Western social standards are not exactly forgiving of masculine women. (Or masculine transthings, depending on how you feel.) And once you hit that masculinity skid of short hair and guy’s clothes and cocky swagger, assuming that’s what you’ve embraced, then ‘pretty’ is definitely not going to be a future compliment.

Except when it is.

It’s jarring, I guess. Especially if you’re anything like me and you’ve folded up the battered remains of your femininity somewhere for some young glittery-boy to find and cherish, only to have a feminine-associated compliment smack you in the newfound masculinity like an eighteen-wheeler. Except it’s a nice eighteen-wheeler, possibly the one you always wanted for Christmas back when you were a kidlet, and the driver is grinning at you.

It’s a strange feeling. Back when JB and I were first dating, on the very first day, I think, we were sprawled out in bed together, most of our clothes still on, and doing the new-couple thing. Talking quietly, laughing, getting to know each other close up — that warm little moment when your fingers always end up laced. I pushed myself up on one elbow, looking down at her, and she smiled at me, all thoughtful.

“I just noticed,” she said, “you have this really delicate jawline.” She traced two fingers down either side of my jaw, ending at my chin. “And a great smile.”

I laughed, because no one had ever complimented my smile before, and thanked her and complimented her back, but that stuck with me. Delicate jawline. I’m 5’10, broad-shouldered, heavy-boned, strong. I haven’t been called delicate since I was a reedy kid, and even then I was a tomboy. And I certainly didn’t feel delicate, not compared to JB’s slender wrists and slimline throat; she was all softened angles and gracefulness. I was an ox.

And this was back in the pre-butch-identified days, so I didn’t even know I wanted to be handsome. I just knew I wasn’t beautiful.

But still, delicate. It was weird. Not exactly what I’d wanted, definitely not what I’d expected, but flattering. Sweet. Genuine. I think about it now and it makes me grin to myself, still pleased. Except now the compliment’s queered itself around in my head. I don’t think feminine anymore. I think dandy. Faggot. And that ‘pretty’ compliment at work, that becomes the same thing. I feel stylish instead, blue-eyed and hot. Not lady-like, not beautiful. Handsome in a more vulnerable way — young, open, easily injured. A good-looking lad.

I couldn’t have done that a year ago.

* Okay, I work in Yorkshire, so I get “‘ey-up, lad” and “Cheers, mate” and “Hiya, young fella!” much more than I get “Sir”, but same difference.

April 16, 2010

[20] Butch Femininity, part deux.

It’s a beautiful day today; blue, blue skies and not a cloud in sight, and I’ve been thinking more about this femininity thing. You remember, right? The butch femininity thing, which is still a beautiful oxymoron, and I have a really hard time looking at that post without feeling the urge to put my head in my hands. It makes me ashamed, that post, in a squirmy, hot, knife-under-my-ribs kind of way. So, of course, I need to blog about it.

I had an interesting conversation with JB the day after that post. And she was sweet enough to paraphrase herself into a quotable comment, so I don’t even have to hurt myself trying:

“I don’t think there’s anything non-butch about doing occasional girly things. To my mind, it’s part of what makes butch hot. We’ve talked about Ivan before, and how half the appeal of Ivan is that she doesn’t get all caught up in the Manly Man thought process, and instead is just himself. Same thing applies here.”

And she’s right, that’s absolutely true. Logically speaking, I know it’s perfectly fine to be as feminine or as masculine as I want to be, and enjoying something traditionally female* doesn’t make me any less butch. It makes me more desirable, even, as a multifaceted individual who is — supposedly — comfortable in his/her/hir/whatever own gender expression. But at the same time, there is still the constant urge to police myself. Am I being masculine enough? Am I being butch enough? Is that a girlie thing to do? Does it matter if I like this pop song?

And so on, ad nauseum.

See, here’s the nasty little personal truth: it does not matter how many times people say there is no Right Way to be butch — that there is no One True Path to butch enlightenment — I will still think, more often than I’d like, that somehow I’m doing it wrong. That there is a perfect blend of masculinity-without-mysogyny draped over a female-bodied frame, and that’s butch. And I’ll find it if I own the perfect binder and the perfect packer, and shave without cutting myself, and wear the most badass bitch-stomping boots, and keep a pressed suit in my closet for the rare occasions when plaid red flannel under black leather isn’t the one-size-fits-all choice of the day. But otherwise, I’m not a Real Butch. Or maybe I’ll manage to get all of that right, but none of it counts for jackshit if I don’t have a gorgeous femme on my arm (you can just plain forget about a gorgeous butch). Or hell, maybe I’ll even get that right, but I’ll let it all down by getting weepy over some chick-flick piece of fluff, and wham, forget about being real, baby.

Dramatic, right?

Is masculinity so fragile that a few missteps and the occasional wistful moment for my shoulders to be the ones with a supporting arm around them really enough to dismantle the whole concept? Would I lose every scrap of butch credibility if I grew my hair out and threw on a dress and took up wildflower picking for a living? What about if I danced around to Britney Spears wearing nothing but my socks? What if I dated a man? A transman? A transwoman? A sheep?

Okay, the sheep is probably too far. (Maybe if it was a trans sheep…)

The point is, like Bond said so succinctly over here: “Anxiety about being feminine is pretty much rational when you’re a masculine-identified, female-bodied person who’s been encouraged/trained/forced to be feminine your entire life.”

That’s it, really. If you’ve been jammed into a succession of gender boxers since you were old enough to wear dress shoes with little bows on, and none of them fit (the gender boxes, that is, not the dress shoes), you’re going to end up pretty hair-trigger about getting the first gender performance you’ve ever had a choice about wrong. Even if being a Real Butch is about as likely as being a Real Man or a Real Woman (define them for me, I dare you), it’s still a better golden standard than Failed Girl. Or worse, Freak Of Nature Who Never Figured Out How To Wear A Dress Right.

Make a butch happy today. Tell them they look dashing, or sexy-hot, or they energized your base in just the right way; use their preferred choice of pronoun; ask their preferred choice of pronoun; sling an arm around their shoulders, finger-comb their hair, and find out what secret girlie thing they love to do. Suggest they do it. Don’t call it girlie.

Compliment their choice of towels.

*There is a whole sub-issue here about traditional gender roles, “The Nefarious Patriarchy”, binary segregation, and a metric fuckton of other stuff that I don’t have the necessary Woman’s Studies qualifications to address. “Girlie” is probably a flawed term — things are only “girlie” because society dictates they are, and pink shirts could be as manly as cleats if we queered them enough (the shirts, that is, not the cleats) — but it’s the only recognizable term I’ve got to work with right now, so it’ll have to do.

ETA: Christ, I just titled this three times: Female Masculinity, Butch Masculinity, and finally Butch Femininity, which is what I meant to write in the damned first place. YOU SEE HOW HARD THIS SHIT IS?

April 7, 2010

[19] Spring fever.

I’m restless right now. Itchy, like spring got into my blood and lit a fire. I keep starting blog entries, getting halfway through, and scrapping them hard. I’m in that scratchy, red-blooded mood where fights are easy, talking is hard, and my feet move constantly. My leg is jogging right now, making the whole bank of library computers shake.

I just want to get out — out of uni, out of my stuck-with-housemates house, out of my job, out of this country.

Spring fever, baby. It’s a hell of a thing.

I used to have a short fuse when I was a kid. Tempered with other things, but man, when the mood hit right I was a teeny tiny, dungarees-wearing killer. The kid brother and I used to tear strips out of each other, and I always won because I was taller and stronger and fought dirty. I remember some nights when the only way for mom to stop us actually murdering each other was to grab me, drag me out into the hallway, sit down, wrap her arms around my arms and her legs around my legs, and just sit. Saying nothing. For as long as it took. Sometimes dad would come home before I’d stopped snarling, walk past us without a word, pick up my brother, carry him about until he quit crying, and make dinner.

This is before boarding school, so I guess I would’ve been about five.

Weirdly, I was never that much of a bully at school. An honest scrapper, yes, but I was already too much of a freak to pick on other freaks*. And I read a lot of hero fiction; I used to daydream about fighting for a Great And Noble Cause and sticking up for the underdog. Of course, I was an absolute ass to anyone pretty-and-popular, or good-looking-and-popular, but that’s sort of a given. They were evil to me, too, so it worked out. A mutual misery kind of deal.

I’m not sure what kicked me onto the straight-and-narrow. I was an RAF-brat, so I bounced around a dozen schools and bases (being a perpetual new kid from a military family will toughen you up quick, but it’s not quite so good at rubbing down your sharp edges); I had a mom who was okay with letting us “express ourselves”, provided nobody bled as a consequence; I had a hard-minded dad who taught me how to saw wood properly and didn’t put up with fits of, well, anything; I ricocheted between being a loner, a semi-social kid, and a central member of a tight circle of friends…

I had a childhood, basically. And got a handle on my temper somewhere along the way.

There was also a bunch of shit that happened when I was thirteen involving crazy!mom, divorce, starving half to death, looking after my brother solo, etc etc ad nauseum that probably had a lot to do with growing the hell up pretty damn quick. But Jesus, who wants to hear about that much angst in one sitting?**

Either way, I’m usually pretty chilled now. Content to go with the flow, the motion of the ocean, man, and take whatever comes. I haven’t been in a proper fight since I was sixteen, and most of the time I’m happy for it to stay that way.

At least, when spring isn’t burning in my blood and I just want to hit something. As it turns out, growing up only lasts while the seasons treat you friendly.

*I’m looking at this through the rosy glow of nostalgia, though; it’s entirely possible I was an equal-opportunity bastard to everyone.
**Unless you’re looking for some schadenfreude, in which case more power to you, and I’ll write about it later.

March 24, 2010

[15] Are you seeing red?

Irony is being attacked by your period when you think you’re in the free and clear — skipped one, thank god — and you have no tampons, and the lady in the clean public bathroom gives you a scorching look when you slink out of the cubical, blood on your thighs and sweat on your upper lip, and tells you you’re in the wrong place.

These are the moments in life when really all you can do is stand and stare, and resist the urge to put your head in your hands.

So, butch periods: now there’s a personal subject. So far, I’ve only seen Ivan E. Coyote anywhere near it, and I’ve never talked to another butch about it. I was talking to JB today, though, and she mentioned her new butch fella likes to call it “shark week”.

Blood and a high chance of getting bitten — sounds about right to me.

Actually, I’m pretty lucky: at most I’ll get the occasional killer cramp, or the mild urge to snap someone’s head off, or a bout of quick weepies if I watch anything sad*. But I don’t get absolutely floored with pain, or have my brain chemistry spiral wildly out of control. And I never feel genuinely homicidal, or glass-cracked with blues. Seriously, I’ve seen that; it gets ugly.

But adding butch into the mix just seems like you’re asking for trouble, really. For starters, I can’t think if a group of people I’d want feeling on edge and out-of-control less. We’re fixers; we don’t do well broken. And I don’t know about everyone else, but I waver back and forth on how well I deal with things. Sometimes it’s fine: I get on with shit, deal with what my body’s doing, and bitch to a good friend (as is Right and Proper). Other times I’m torn between incredible irony (short hair, hard muscles, broad shoulders, and blood between my legs), and a subtle sense of body-betrayal. Forced femaleness, demanding acknowledgement whether I like it or not.

I’m sure a lot of women in the world enjoy this Beautiful Confirmation Of Their Ability To Create Life, but I was never really one to Ya Ya with the Sisterhood. And whilst I appreciate that my body’s in good health and happily percolating the possibility of little miracles, it’s also a major pain in the ass — and a little frightening — to find yourself stuck in the mens’ bathroom due to a lack of options (i.e. some lady screamed) and having to deal with something so intimately female. Fortunately, this has only happened to me once, but it’s not an experience I plan to repeat.

And then there are product issues. Say what you like, these will never be manly. Or these (unless you are a soldier in Iraq using them to stop up bleeding wounds, which is something I’ve just found out about and find horrifying and damned sensible all at once). Sanitary pads are messy, often uncomfortable, and bulky to carry around if you need a spare, which you will; tampons come with a penetration issue I reckon a lot of butches (and women in general) would get twitchy over, not to mention a few major heath risks (Toxic Shock, anyone?). And neither one of them is cheap, environmentally friendly, or especially promoting of good-feelings.

These are better, though they still come with that penetration issue, if that’s a problem for you. I’ve used a Moon Cup for the past year or so, now, and weirdly it does help with balancing butch and abrupt femaleness. This is going to gross some people out, but getting up close and personal with your own blood is a strangely cathartic experience, and I don’t mean in an ‘ooh, BLOOD OF LIFE’ kind of way, or an ’embrace your glorious womanhood!’ way**. It’s more of an ‘I’m bleeding; I’m dealing with it’ thing, direct and honest and upfront with your own body, without any of the frilly packaging or flowery crud. It’s just earthy and straightforward — and admittedly not for the squeamish — but that feels butch to me.

Or maybe I’m just rationalizing.

But what the hell; I bleed without dying every 28 days. I’m hardcore, man.

What’re your thoughts?

*This is not greatly indicative, though; I am a sap when it comes to sad films.
** Though if either one of those work for you, more power to you.

February 3, 2010

[8] Smoking blues.

Filed under: Uncategorized — DK @ 14:05
Tags: ,

To paraphrase Ivan E. Coyote: You are never an ex-smoker, you are just a smoker who doesn’t.

I wish I could find the essay he wrote that in. But seriously, what is it with butches and smoking? A cigarette seems to be part of the dress code, alongside ass-kicker boots, button-down shirts, and hair just long enough to grab. For half the people I talk to, it’s a piece of the sex appeal. The gentleman-rogue who always has a heavy silver lighter sitting in one pocket, just waiting to spark up. Ready to light his lady’s Virginia Slim.

I had one advantage when I quit; my then-girlfriend was deathly allergic to the smoke. And you can best believe that became a motivating factor when she barely let me in the house after a few drags, forget kissing.

I should say: the last time I quit. It’s an ongoing process. An endless battle not to give in and die young of cancer, or heart disease, or getting hit by a bus on the trek to get that midnight pack. And sometimes it’s easy. I just have to think of all the money I’m saving, or the way things taste better, or the relief of not having clothes that stink. I like having white teeth.

But other days it’s harder. Like today.

And I’m not just saying that because I have the warm curl of two cigarettes sitting in my lungs, and a pack of eighteen still in my pocket. (See what I mean? Even when I write about smoking, it’s sexy. I should start talking about black-lung and mucous instead.) I’m a stress-smoker. A self-destructive smoker, occasionally, when things have gone to shit and I just don’t care about the health risks. I wind up relishing them, in the same way a fight feels good, and a drink takes the edge off, and punching a wall until your knuckles bleed resets something in your brain.

It’s stupid. And young. And nothing I welcome in other people. But god, sometimes it feels good.

But why is it butch? And why so many butches? Ivan E. Coyote is one, obviously. I’m pretty certain Bear S. Bergman is another. In most of the butch iconography–which granted, there isn’t much–you’re more than likely to see a lurking cancer-stick, a wreath of smoke. And don’t even get me started on the butch literature.

Is it the inherent old-world masculinity of it? The feel-good of having something to take the edge off that doesn’t require talking? Well, beyond “A pack of twenty, please”. Is it the image? Or is there just a higher correlation of socially damaged, growing-up kids in the queer community who’re more likely to fall into bad ways?

Or are we butch and transmasculine folks all just idiots who like to set ourselves a new challenge every week?

Hell, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s an equally common femme trait. Or a queer trait. Or just a generational thing. Maybe the next group of growing-up butches are more likely to chew alfalfa greens — though you’ll forgive me if I crack the hell up over that particular image.

Either way, if I can whine for a minute, all your butch fellas out there could make things a damn sight easier for me if you kept looking cool without the smoke rings. I’m just saying.

January 30, 2010

[7] Mobs and predators

Filed under: Uncategorized — DK @ 22:37
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A while back, when JB and I were dating, we were out walking and a group of young-and-restless guys fell in at our heels. I got wary and watchful, keeping a side-eye on shopfront windows to see what their reflections were doing, and slung an arm around JB’s shoulders. JB didn’t much care, though she did snuggle in, but she stayed loose and easy and kept talking even though I clammed up, focus clearly elsewhere.

The guys passed us by with no trouble, but JB’s reaction made me curious. I asked her if they didn’t make her nervous.

Nope, she told me. Groups are fine — they’re usually too busy distracting each other to cause her any problems. It’s the lone guys she watches out for. Predators.

Interesting, I thought. Because lone guys don’t bother me in the slightest. I’ll cast an eye toward them, sure, but I’m confident in my ability to kick ass and take names. Or at least make life difficult enough for a solo guy to leave me the hell alone.

But groups bother me. Groups of young men, especially. The worked-up, ready-to-pick-a-fight kind of young men who wouldn’t mind dragging a gender-deviant into the nearest alley and beating the shit out of him.

At least, that’s what I’m watching for.

It’s the mob mentality. The ‘my god, what the hell is that?’ mindset that kicks common sense aside and replaces it with a hunting pack. I’d wajer even money that at least half the butches reading this will have run into group-trouble like this at least once, likely twice. Probably more than that.

And jesus, don’t get me started on the sheer creepiness of young skinheads wolf-whistling your way. At least, whistling my way. This is not so much a self-image issue as a ‘I know I’m not attractive to you, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?’ issue. (There’s probably a cross-section emotion here of feeling suddenly, uncomfortably sexualized under a gaze I’m not particularly trying to attract, and wondering what the fuck is going on. And that is probably related in some interesting way to the idea of being the more masculine partner in whatever relationship I’m aiming for, which means mostly I’m doing the looking and the chatting-up and the taking-the-lead-role, which means why are you whistling at me, jackass?

Which is probably sexist, natch.)

Back to mob-hunts.

I think this is the nasty side of butch visibility — the flip side of butch privilege, if there is such a thing. We’re seen in everything we do, wherever we are, by anyone who’s paying attention. Which is a great thing for promoting gender-variant awareness, if we’re in a talking mood, but risky otherwise. Particularly for any butch who’s out walking alone.

I’m getting the urge to temper myself here. This all sounds terribly dramatic and ‘woe me, life is so hard when you’re transmasculine’ *wrist to forehead*. But then I have to remind myself, I have been in fights. I’ve had crap thrown at me on the streets. I’ve been chased. I’ve run into assholes at the gym, the supermarket, the library. I’ve been tossed out of public bathrooms and clients’ houses. On one memorable occasion, I got spat at.


Despite all that, for the most part I love butch visibility. I like being seen and known; I like the mishmash of sirs and ma’ams I get on a regular basis; I like being a walking, talking statement of queerness. I like the knowledge that my gender performance is now a conscious act, a deliberate statement; that I’ve thought about it for more than ten seconds. It has history and weight and a whole tribe of people behind it, crafting a unique culture that I don’t have to follow, if parts disagree with me.

I love the sexy, check-you-out smile I get from femmes. And that acknowledging nod from other butches.

Hell, I love the idea of having a bulldagger swagger.

So, I’m not complaining. Well, mostly. But I am very aware that every time I head out of the house, I’m keeping half an eye out for who’s walking in my shadow. Doubly so when I’m walking with a partner who thinks she can relax, because company keeps predators at bay. And she’s putting her trust in me to keep her safe.

It’s not much of a price to pay, if you stay alert and get lucky.

So, to the butches out there — any experiences like this? Femmes, am I lying? What do you watch out for?

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