Originally published on Autostraddle and cross-posted here with their permission.
“Are you fucking her?”
I blinked. She continued.
“Because I wanted to fuck her first, and I’d think you would run it by me before you did anything with her.”
My fellow butch was staring me down.
The beer clutched in my right hand wasn’t sweating nearly as hard as I was.
A number of responses were racing through my head: Do you own her vagina? Is she not a person with agency over what she does with her body? She’s a woman, not a toy that you left in the sandbox.
(Important to note is that no, I was not and am not hooking up with her, but defending the false accusation of conduct was the last thing in my list of things to address.)
“Oh yeah, that’s mine over there,” another butch said to me with a grin, nodding at the femme at the other side of the room.
This was another time and place, but might as well have been within a breath of all the other times I’ve heard that kind of language.
“Great ass, right?”
Oftentimes when I am in a place occupied by butches and men, masculinity becomes a kind of currency.
Butches start talking about how they’ve “fucked more girls” than the men, “gotten more pussy,” and are “better in bed.”
Their sexual partners become objects rather than humans.
If there are women in the room, their objectification seems to be a bonding mechanism for the butches and men, laughing about who has the best ass, the best tits, who they’d fuck or not fuck.
I can show a picture of my girlfriend to a man and know I will get instant respect from him based on her attractiveness. I know that because I’ve done it in the past, and that respect felt good to me, like my masculinity was confirmed by “the source.”
And that, my friends, is unbelievably fucked up.
The patriarchy barters and trades with women as currency, and in those moments, we are doing the same thing.
I asked my femme friends to tell me about experiences they’ve had where butches were misogynistic towards them or other femmes. I received an overwhelming response of instances that ranged from the ridiculous to the downright terrifying.
I felt ashamed and uncomfortable, and all too aware of how rape culture still permeates the queer spaces I call home, the ones that I want to be safe and aware and committed to empowerment, not cheap imitations of the places where I’ve felt endangered and alone.
“If I’m in a lesbian or LGBTQ space and I’m trying to say or do something, there is almost always a butch or group of butches who are going to dismiss me. Then later they’re the ones trying to hit me up at the club.”
“I hate the butch practice of infantilization and disempowerment with femmes. Calling me ‘baby,’ ‘honey,’ talking down to me, acting macho and not letting me do things. If you’re trying to flatter me, it’s not working. I don’t want to be treated like a child. I want to be respected!”
“One of my least favorite things about butch/boi culture in NYC is how it sometimes devolves into paralleling misogyny I used to deal with from cis straight dudes – a bunch of friends (all masculine identified) chugging beer, telling the ‘little ladies; to step away from the flip cup table so they can ‘dominate,’ referring to their girlfriends as ‘wifeys’ (vom) and chatting about who has the best ‘tits’ in the room. Yuck. It’s a big part of why I stopped going out to bars and clubs, even when I was single.”
“I generally go out with two of my close friends who are also femme and we have been described, by a group of butches who were trying to chat us up, as the one with the boobs, the one with the legs, the one with the ass. When called on it and told why it was problematic, one of them actually said, ‘I’m not a dude. It’s impossible for me to perpetuate the patriarchy.'”
“When I call butches on their misogyny, they say I am attacking their identity.”
That last quote troubles me the most.
I’m terrified and ashamed of the idea that the butch identity has any connotation with misogyny.
Butch should not be associated with rape culture and patriarchal bullshit. And what does it say about us that to some, it is?
And to the extent that butches are perceived, by themselves or others, as being in a position of power and control, who wants to be the one to step down and upset the structure in place?
Masculinity, as it is widely accepted in our society, isn’t made to build community. It’s made to arrange and reinforce hegemonic structures of power. And them’s the facts.
I’m reminded of this when I see gatherings of butches become pissing contests and boys’ clubs, instead of the spaces for growth that they should be.
I love groups like bklyn boihood. I wish I could find more organizations and spaces where masculine-identified queers can empower each other with great conscience and care.
I wasn’t always a butch.
Femme wasn’t a word I attached to myself because the period in which I wasn’t masculine-presenting was a time when I was hesitant to attach just about anything to my too-visible bones, but it was a word that was often slung at my backside in queer spaces.
I don’t deny this time in my life, even if it is one of the more barbed memories I pull out of that dark bag. I still brag about how well I can walk in heels. My hourglass figure hasn’t seen the light of day in years, but it looked damn good in a pencil skirt.
When I was presenting in this way, I remember very distinctly the feeling of being passed between people.
My agency was taken away from me, and it was just as terrifying when done by fellow queers as it was when it was men.
There was a point when my sexual conduct became well-known within a wider queer social group, and I found out three different people were discussing which one of them would be allowed to “have” me next.
They were all butches, by the way.
Sometimes these moments seem innocent enough.
Desire makes us do strange things, and wanting someone a great deal is a slippery slope. Crushes are difficult territory to navigate, especially ones that never come to reciprocated fruition. I understand feeling very strongly about someone you love; some dynamics will always feel possessive by virtue of their participants’ natures.
I think most of us have dealt in the kind of relationship that drenches you in passion and then wrings you out, and if you haven’t, you are probably lucky, and a little less worn for the road.
Love – and all the other lesser named ways that humans get attached to each other’s hearts and bodies – is even more complicated and nebulous than our constant musing on it imply.
Sometimes I have no idea what is going on in romantic comedies, because whatever they’re selling seems like the declawed paper cutout version of the emotions that have made me consider death one or three hundred times.
But let’s stop pretending that we know a spade when we see one.
Desiring femme and feminine-identifying people is a slippery slope away from fetishization and objectification, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell if flattery is respectful or not — but it’s still our responsibility to figure that out.
Parroting misogyny is not love. Objectifying her is not honoring her, treating her as a possession is not a demonstration of commitment, and using your identity as an excuse for shitty behavior is not acceptable – ever.
Neither is refusing to listen to femmes, or to any women, when they call you on this kind of behavior.
It’s easy for us to say that we don’t participate in the patriarchy because we are women, or because we have been women, that we have known what it’s like to be objectified, oppressed, fetishized.
The thing is that we queers can perpetuate rape culture just as much as the next frat boy, and among too many butches, there seems to be an acceptance of this very kind of behavior.
I’m not saying that butches are the only ones who are capable of this practice, nor am I saying that butch and femme relations by nature are slanted plays on patriarchal relations.
I know it goes both ways, as well. I have been fetishized and sexualized as a butch and masculine person, and I know others of all identities who have felt the same kind of discomfort and anxiety within the queer community.
Here’s what I know: I know that butch can be an identity that is respectful, careful, tender, and good. I know that we can be empowered without using our power in a way that hurts people. Our masculinity doesn’t have to have a body count. It doesn’t have to turn femmes (or any people, for that matter) into objects whenever our masculinity is questioned.
You can be confident in your sexual abilities and reclaiming the sexuality you were taught to be ashamed of without fucking other people over in the process, or buying into a system where non-masculine bodies are immediately objectified and used as a point system in the masculinity Olympics.
We can do better.
We have to do better.