i work at a large, relatively conservative midwestern public university.
i run a residence hall, which means that part of my compensation is a dining hall meal plan, which i utilize most weekdays for lunch & dinner.
tonight I had dinner with a graduate student I supervise, and when we walked into the dining hall, i made eye contact with an exquisitely dressed (bow tie and vintage Malcolm X glasses) person I had never seen before. Based on the look we shared later, and the nervous wave they gave me in the dish room, I’d say the person recognized me as being somehow like them.
I eked out an awkward “i like your tie” after they waved to me, and i wished i had been better dressed today (no tie, need a haircut), not because i want to be desirable to people on campus (i don’t) but because i want that person to know that i’m a bow tie wearing dandy too. and maybe they’ve seen me before–i don’t know…because i do wear a bow tie most days to work, and i’m generally pretty visible on campus. there are not a lot of butches hanging around this place.
so whoever you were– visitor? upperclass student who rarely eats in the dining hall, or person who lives on the other side of campus who usually eats at the other dining hall, or maybe new transfer student? grad student? i hope you saw me–i think you did–and i’m glad i saw you too. because it’s hard to be ourselves out here–in cincinnati, at this school.
There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly. The… the other important joke, for me, is one that’s usually attributed to Groucho Marx; but, I think it appears originally in Freud’s “Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious,” and it goes like this – I’m paraphrasing – um, “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” That’s the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.
Despite my better judgment, I just can’t help myself. I love old Woody Allen movies. I started watching them when I was in high school–I’d check VHS tapes out of the public library up the street from my house. This isn’t a post about Woody Allen movies, or why I was the weird kind of teenager obsessed with them (especially Annie Hall & Sleeper) but now that I think about it, that would be a good post.
This is a post about how I’m not a joiner.
I know I’ve mentioned before that I’m an only child. It’s true. I feel like I’m a really serious major only– an only’s only if you will. In addition to being the only child of my parents, I don’t have cousins my age. On my dad’s side, I’m 10 and 11 years older than my two cousins. On my mom’s side, I’m five years younger than the closest cousin and five years older than the next one. The late 70s were quiet years in my family…save for the birth of me.
This is relevant because I think it speaks volumes to the fact that I’m not a joiner. Now, when I say I’m not a joiner, it doesn’t mean that I’ve never joined anything, because that’s not true. I was on teams and in clubs, but the way I’ve always most enjoyed working in teams is independently. For instance, the sports I was most committed to were track & swim team. Individuated participation in a team setting. In high school, I learned a lot about joining from marching band– but I played an instrument where we were kind of independent– tenor saxophone–and for three years, there were only two of us. I was in drama guild, but preferred to take on tasks that allowed me to work independently, such as stage manager. I was one of four editors of the student paper for two years consecutively, which was mostly independent work. We each had our sections to edit and columns to write, but we didn’t have too much work together. In college, I was active in a few groups, and in my post college life, I was super involved with one group.
Now I’m a grown up, and I have this professional life (which I’m trying harder to develop), but the kind of job I have really doesn’t allow for much team playing. Yeah, I have responsibilities to the department, and to the other professional staff and the student staff, but again, I mostly work as an individual in a team setting.
The reason this has been weighing on my mind, is that I don’t really know how to make new friends. If I were more of a joiner type personality, I might be more apt to get involved in some kind of community activity where I could meet potential friends. Add the awkwardness of being a queer person with no children, and I feel like if I want to reach out to make new friends, I have to put a big loud disclaimer on it:
I AM NOT TRYING TO HOOK UP WITH YOU. I AM HAPPILY COUPLED INA MONOGAMOUS YET LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP. MY INTEREST IN YOUR COMPANY IS MERELY PLATONIC.
And honestly, starting things out with that big announcement makes shit pretty awkward.
I wouldn’t be overthinking it so damn much, but it’s what dykes do. You seriously have to make your intentions clear.
When I left Minneapolis, I left my amazing radical queer community, and there’s nothing even close in Cincinnati, from what I can tell. I got connected to some amazing queers when I moved here who I sort of knew…and now, a year later, they’ve all left town. Of course, my modus operandi is to GTFO of here ASAP as well, but I still can’t help wondering how my life could be different if i were more of a joiner.
anyone have thoughts on this subject?
I don’t know if you’re reading one of my favorite blogs yet, but if you aren’t, maybe you should.
I’m writing today because I need to come out. Yes, again.
I’m coming out as a Femme ally. This means that I value the richness that Femmes bring to my life in a myriad of ways. This means that I value the diversity that Femmes bring to our community. This means that I recognize the validity of a Femme gender identity, and I affirm the place that Femmes hold in my radical queer community. This means I recognize the ability of Femmes to stand up for themselves, but I also recognize my responsibility to be responsive when Femmes ask for back up. This means that I reject the misogyny and femmephobia perpetrated on Femmes by non-Femme presenting people, and I’m asking you to come with me.
Well, what are you afraid of?
Actively identifying myself as a Femme ally means doing my own homework. Take everything you know about other kinds of privilege, and apply it here. I have a lot of Femme friends, and I read their blogs, ask their opinion, ask how I can be a better ally, ask what they need from me and other radical queer identified people. I read a lot of blogs written by Femmes I don’t know as well. Being a good ally, in my opinion, means making yourself available but doing your own work. Start conversations, confront femmephobia, but know your place. Do not take over Femme space. Do not make everything about you. Have conversations about being a good ally to Femmes– and start by asking Femmes you know how you can be a good ally. Do not assume that all Femmes want and need the same thing from you. Do not assume that Femme is a homogenous group.
It seems that someone is always maligning Femme with high maintenance. This is Femmephobic. I think it’s important to confront Femmephobic rhetoric, and for me, part of that is being able to identify with what I don’t like about what someone else is saying. When it comes to the triggering phrase “high maintenance”, I think it’s really important that we find a common definition of high maintenance. Dictionary.com defines high maintenance as slang:
[of a person] requiring much care and coddling. : He’s sort of a high-maintenance guy. He requires lots of reassurance.
Okay, as far as I can tell, this has nothing to do with Femme. There may be people who ID as Femme who require coddling (something I assign negative value to) but care? I am human and I require care– no matter how butch I am feeling on any given day. All people require some care.
When I think about high maintenance, I think of people who expect me to read their minds. People who demand a lot, but don’t lay out any parameters for their expectations. I think of people who expect me to know eactly what they want and need, but refuse to give any guidance. I think of people who can’t make decisions, don’t know what they want, don’t know how to ask for what they need. That’s what I think of when I think of high maintenance. Those are bad behaviors no matter what your gender identity.
So I guess my question for you, lovely readers– if you identify as Femme, what are things you want/need/expect from allies? If you are already considering yourself an ally to Femmes, how do you do this? How can we do better?
Edited to add already:
So after posting, I got into a chat conversation with an awesome human i hold near and dear to my heart. Through that convo, I was able to identify part of why I think this specific issue requires specific attention.
I stated to identify as a feminist in elementary school. I continue to identify as a feminist–and all of the chaotic imagery that entails. What I am trying to articulate right now is that femmephobia is misogyny. Anti-Femme sentiment is an extension of patriarchal, anti-female attitudes and behaviors. I think it can be about sexual objectification, silencing women’s experiences, and rejecting and maligning femininity.
I also think that we need to stop policing gender in every way. I wrote about butch gender policing recently–but i think we all need to move into a space where people in our queer community are not policing each other’s genders. I’m sick of having to constantly reassert my butch identity up against a traditionally female hobby–one that was taught to me by a male member of my family–but that’s not the issue now is it?
The title of this blog is “if i can bake a cake, i can build a bomb“, which is one of those tenets I have heard and seen around anarchofeminist circles for many years, and it’s one of my favorite maxims (obvi, or i wouldn’t have named my blog this). It has many meanings to me.
If I can bake a cake, I can build a bomb. If i have the intellectual capacity to learn baking, i have the intellectual capacity to learn electrical wiring. (And vice versa, fyi…one of my parents is an electrician and a kick ass chef .)
The overarching meaning for me is that I contain multitudes. My gender, sexuality, affections, emotional attractions, physical attractions, hobbies, academic interests, the kinds of culture I consume, my political ideas– I am all over the map. I am not just one thing, and the many things I am also contain multitudes.
I’m a serious music lover. I am happiest when music is on– I listen to headphones all day at work, I listen to music at home, and in the car, and on the bus, and when I’m walking around Minneapolis. (I do not listen to headphones while I’m riding my bike because it’s unsafe, in my opinion.) I have so many favorite bands and songs and albums that I could never just choose one favorite band or one favorite song– my love is infinite. Asking me to choose one favorite band or one favorite song would be like asking me to always be the exact same person, each and every day in and day out– and sorry folks, that’s not going to happen.
The other day I sat at a little round coffee shop table with my friends KJ and LE, and we discussed how the internet has us listing all this stuff about ourselves– our favorite movies, books, hobbies, bands– on dating profiles, on facebook– and we do such work trying to paint these pictures of ourselves that we leave so few surprises for when we actually get down to the business of actually getting to know a person. Our attempts to taxonomize ourselves have left us moving through the world as bodies covered in labels and lists. [And I know from taxonomy– I’m a virgo who does analysis for money.]
I’m feeling sad and frustrated by what seems to be the perennial explosion of “it’s done like this!” There seems to be a lot happening in what i’m about to call the Butch Blogosphere that feels a little bit unforgiving and inflexible– and I struggle with reading some of the stuff that’s been going around.
I want to say that:
1) I believe there are at least as many genders as there are people– and then times it by about a zillion, because i think each person has the capacity to express many variations on gender– and that’s what I mean when I say gender is fluid. Bond writes about diversity– well, I think there is fluidity and diversity. [Bond–I love your blog and I’m not trying to start anything– just saying what I believe based on my experience.]
2) I believe there are as many ways to perform various largely recognized categories of gender (i.e. butch or femme) as there are people who self-identify with those genders. I reject the notion that I am less butch than someone else because I do not bind. I reject the notion that I am more butch because I have short hair. I reject the notion that I am less butch because I sew, or that I am more butch because I can grill up some tasty food outdoors.
When I see people simultaneously fighting for gender and sexuality liberation– be those people queer or straight, trans or cis, then policing each other’s gender and sexuality expressions, i experience cognitive dissonance. How can we say “I want to be free to be myself, but you are not free to be yourself?”
I came out 15 years ago. It’s been a roller coaster (you can read some of that here) and through most of that, I have expressed a butch gender identity– with the exception of some times when I was with my ex-husband. [Yes, I mostly wore women’s clothes then, and sometimes wore make-up. I was still way closer to butch than femme in a lot of ways.] I have absolutely been guilty of judging others and trying to police the identities of others– but as I get older and give less of a shit about what other people do and think in general, I have realized how sick it is to fight for liberation without including everyone’s expressions in that.
So I’m just stating my opinion– there are billions of ways to perform gender, billions of ways to be queer. Thank you, universe.
[And thank you to Bevin who helped me expand on a few ideas.]
[Also, to anyone skeptical about my baking skills? I said I can bake a cake– I never said I could bake a vegan cake.]
Sometimes when I go out to restaurants and bars that are not completely populated by other gay folks, I scare people in the bathroom. This Saturday night, I was out with three friends and I had to use the restroom. When I walked in, there was a person in the other stall, and no one waiting. I entered the available stall and while I was using it, three or four women walked in–talking to each other. My heart stopped– just for a second. This hadn’t happened in awhile.
First, I was wearing a tie. Ties detract from every feminine aspect of my body– my chest, the width of my hips, the softness of my face/features– it seems like straight women see the tie first and the person wearing it second– so when i came out of the stall, two of them gasped before realizing I was female.
This is one of the prices I pay for my gender presentation in spaces where there is no single-user restroom available. I know many many people who experience this kind of pressure and fear and frustration every time they need to use a public restroom. Generally I can speak and immediately assuage the discomfort of the other women in the bathroom– my voice isn’t very high, but it’s certainly not the voice of a man (and less masculine now that I quit smoking).
Should I speak to assuage their discomfort? Does my right to pee in public supercede their right to feel safe in the restroom? No, it doesn’t. But it doesn’t supercede my right to feel safe in the restroom either. Someone told me to dress more femininely when I go to straight places. Well, that defeats the purpose of spending 32 years becoming the person I am. I don’t have and don’t want separate outfits to wear when I go to straight places (which are most places–even most places that I go).
Recently, my department at work was moved down two floors. We are mostly still sitting near the same people we have always sat near. I have never experienced any kind of gender or sexuality discrimination at work– I am very very lucky, I know, but my workplace is committed to being a great place to work. The move has resulted in us sharing a restroom with a whole new department of people we don’t know, and I told “wrong bathroom” at work the other day by someone I don’t know. I replied politely, “I don’t think so” and when i turned to face the person, I could see her surprise that she was wrong. I guess I’ll use the unisex a little more often until people who don’t know me are accustomed to seeing me at the copier or in the halls….which honestly is fine by me because I prefer using the unisex, but don’t want to occupy it in the even that a person with a disability is in need of the facilities.
It’s funny– I do identify as butch, but I don’t think I look like a man [nor do I want to look like a man]. I have the round body of a fat woman, but my chest is smallish [thanks, 1996 reduction!] just because I’m wearing men’s clothes doesn’t mean I’m in the wrong bathroom.
This has been happening to me for years. It happens more when I am thinner, and it happens more depending on my hairstyle. It happens more in the winter than in the summer. It happens more in bars than professional settings. It happens more in Cincinnati than Minneapolis. It happens more and more.