Book Review: ‘Bishop’s Run’ by B.D. Gates

I didn’t realize how hungry I was for a good lesbian novel until I read Bishop’s Run by B.D. Gates. Reading this novel made me realize how unsatisfying other novels I’ve read have been. I have to admit I haven’t spent much time looking for lesbian novels, and there may be good novels out there already that I just haven’t read yet. (Don’t worry, I will get to reading them eventually!) Mostly what I’ve read before is works of literature with “queer” themes by professional fiction writers. Although they are technically great pieces of writing, they aren’t as satisfying to my lesbian heart as a novel written by an ordinary lesbian for the entertainment of a purely lesbian audience.

Bishop’s Run is the story of Bishop, a woman who wakes up after a near-death experience and finds herself being nursed back to health and taken care of by the Witness Protection Program. She has to take on a new identity as a woman named “Lisa Baxter” and start her life all over in a new place. The novel takes us through her journey to recovery, starting a new job, meeting new people, and trying to hide and forget the life she left behind. Her new identity is provided by Witness Protection, and it’s quite different from her real life story, so it’s a process for her to learn to live convincingly as “Lisa Baxter” when her real self keeps threatening to reveal itself.

Bishop, now renamed Baxter, lands in a small town called Tenley in the southern United States. Although she is living in the Bible Belt, the story doesn’t focus on homophobia or intolerance—instead it paints a charming picture of rural life and friendly neighbors. The people of Tenley are very kind to her and make sure she gets everything she needs. The first part of the book is very positive—it’s all about her finding a job she enjoys, making friends, joining a softball team, and finding the other members of her local lesbian “tribe.” There is a long history of novels with lesbian characters who either die, go crazy, end up with a man, or lead a miserable life, and this novel does the opposite. It’s a refreshing story of lesbian success, health and happiness.

That’s not to say that it’s overly or unrealistically positive. It does contain the normal frustrations of lesbian life—like when you get your heart broken, or when you go through rough patches with your friends, or when your softball team isn’t playing well because of the dyke drama occurring among the players! And there is an occasional mention of homophobia, but it’s not the focus of the book.

There is a subtle butch/femme flavor among the characters, and I love the way it’s presented. Gates doesn’t try to categorize anyone using superficial markers or stereotypes. She rarely calls anyone by any label, and only uses the word “butch” once in the whole novel. She just describes their personalities and it comes through. The narrator, Bishop, is a “full-on dyke” and “not the frilly type,” who loves to crack jokes, play cards with the guys, and flirt with women. She is given the name of “Lisa” for her new life, but she finds it too feminine, and prefers to be called by her new last name, “Baxter.” Her butch personality is visible in a whole lot of subtle behaviors, like the way she flirts and carries herself. The women Bishop finds interesting are pretty women who are also strong people who can stand up for themselves, drive fast and shoot a gun. They come across as authentic and endearing lesbian personalities.

This is the first time I’ve read a novel with a happy butch narrator. The only other novel I’ve read starring a butch lesbian is Stone Butch Blues, which, although it’s an excellent book for many reasons, is characterized by almost never-ending misery. Bishop’s Run is the story of a happy butch, who lives her life the way she wants to as an out lesbian, who overcomes her obstacles and thrives in life no matter where she is planted. Although she has experienced some violence, it’s not related to her being a masculine lesbian. Despite having masculine mannerisms and being an obvious dyke, she feels no discomfort with her female body. She is the butch hero that the lesbian community has always needed.

One of the first things I want to know when I pick up a lesbian novel, after “Does anyone die or go crazy?” is whether there is a sex scene and whether it’s good (because sometimes they aren’t!) Let me tell you, there are several, and they are stunning. Gates describes sex between women in full detail in a way that is realistic and exquisitely satisfying both physically and emotionally. They are beautiful to behold and you may have to go back and read them twice.

This novel was refreshing both for its positive portrayal of lesbians and also its exclusive focus on lesbians. It’s not about “queer” people or any kind of special snowflake – it’s about a real lesbian community rather than an alphabet soup that includes the whole world. The way the lesbians in Tenley take care of each other is touching and beautiful. They don’t allow any dykes to go homeless, to be left out or alone, they befriend each other and watch out for each other. Older lesbians serve as role models for the younger ones to look up to. It’s a beautiful portrayal of the community we are longing for.

Here are a few words about the author. She is a butch lesbian living in a small Southern U.S. town. She’s old enough to remember what the lesbian community used to be like but “doesn’t feel any older than 28.” She started writing this novel just for fun but became more determined to publish it as it came along. Here are some words of hers from a short interview:

“When I started writing this around June 2015, I was writing out of boredom, and creating an alternate reality was a great escape. I “went to Tenley” every day and visited with the lesbian characters I’d imagined, I thought about them when I wasn’t writing and, quite suddenly, they were real and they were driving the story, telling me what was happening, what they were thinking, I just had to type fast enough to keep up with them. Then came the “Purge of 2016,” when all the lesbian and bisexual women were killed off on multiple TV shows in a matter of months and it broke my heart. All across my social media platforms, women were just shattered. I didn’t grow up seeing myself reflected on any screen that didn’t end with tragedy or death for any character remotely like me, so you’d think I’d be used to it, but I wasn’t. It hurt like hell. I hadn’t intended to publish “Bishop’s Run,” but when I looked at what I had been writing for myself and realized that damned few people, if any, were writing for real, honest-to-god butches, and that butches deserved our lives represented as much as anyone, I decided that my story wasn’t just for me anymore. So, “Bishop’s Run” is for the butches, and the women who love them.”

I was surprised to hear that she didn’t originally intend to publish it, because I think it’s the Lesbian Novel of the Year. It’s my all-time favorite one. Great things happen when we create our own materials and represent ourselves. This is a fantastic contribution to the lesbian community.

You can purchase the book on Amazon at this link.

Must-watch film: Gender Troubles—The Butches

I finally got to see Gender Troubles: The Butches after a whole year of waiting! This film has been made available for the next two weeks for free as an International Women’s Day present! It can be accessed here.

Gender Troubles: The Butches is a documentary that interviews five butch lesbians on a variety of issues affecting butch lesbians. Here is the filmmaker’s statement:

“I felt a need to make this film because as a butch lesbian myself I have experienced so much isolation. I often felt that I was the only one like this. Growing up in a rural area I had no role models. I could not find a future for myself in the women in my life. Not in my family. Not among friends or at school. Not in the adults in my world. Not in newspapers, magazines, television or the movies. I was left to figure it all out by myself. I don’t want other butches, especially younger ones, to feel like they have to go through it all alone too.

When I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area when I was in my 20s after college I discovered others similar to myself there. I was relieved. But 30 years later I still find that many of the myths and stereotypes about butches like us persist. We are still battling for our right to exist and to be ourselves. Insults, insinuated or shouted, still occur. I continue to find degrading caricatures of people like me. Realistic and positive images of butches are still lacking in the media.

My butch friends had gone through many similar situations but we had rarely shared our stories, often out of shame. As a result we didn’t know how common our experiences were. And we had been under the erroneous impression that we each had to bear these burdens alone. My butch friends inspired me to do something for us and to acknowledge and appreciate our own lives.

So with the help of my friends, we made this film to validate other butches, most whom we would never meet, and to let them know that we know what it is like. They aren’t the only ones. We have been there too and they are fine just the way they are.

With this film I feel we are like the citizens of Dr. Seuss’s Whoville who shout all together
​“We are here! We are here! We are here!” so we can be heard and claim our space.”

I am so happy to see positive, authentic representation of a group of butch lesbians who are proud and happy with who they are. What a treat!

Video: Big Boo Butch on ‘misgendering’

Big Boo Butch makes the same points I once made about misgendering. Butches get called ‘sir’ all the time and they don’t sue anyone or have a fit. And by the way, getting someone’s sex wrong should be called ‘missexing.’ She really tells it like it is, and she had me roaring with laughter because she’s so blunt and direct.

Butch as a personality type

Butch and femme are a very misunderstood topic, even among lesbians. I think that’s because only a small number of lesbians are these types—we come in all different kinds besides these, so lots of lesbians don’t know what these are. I have started getting annoyed at the number of times I see butch and femme being used as superficial masculine or feminine presentations that can be taken off or put on like an outfit. Butch does not mean “the one with the shorter hair” and it doesn’t mean you happen to have put on a flannel shirt today. Neither does femme mean that you happen to have put on lipstick today.

Being butch is a lifelong personality trait. A butch begins life as a tomboy and is immediately obvious as being different. She grows into a lesbian who looks blatantly gay and can’t hide it no matter what she does. It’s not just about her clothing or haircut. She’d still look butch if she tried to wear women’s clothing. That might make her look even more butch. It’s because she has an unmistakable personality, that comes with ways of thinking and relating and certain mannerisms that are automatic to her that she cannot turn off. This is really hard to explain to people. When people try to explain it, it always ends up sounding vague. I asked a friend of mine if she would try to explain what it means to her to be butch. She thought about it for a while and wrote this:

“What does ‘butch’ mean to me?
How do I define something that is innate, that is as much a part of me as hair and eye color, as automatic as my heartbeat or breathing?
It is not something I ‘put on’ every day, like a watch or a ring, nor can I take it off. It cannot be hidden with a dress or a skirt, or a hairstyle–in fact, those things make my butchness even more blatantly obvious.
I want to ‘get this right,’ I want to define myself in such a way that there is little, or nothing, to question. I think that starts with ‘what I am not.’
First and foremost, I am a masculine woman, I am not ‘a man trapped in a woman’s body.’ I have never felt that way. While I knew from a child that I was not like other girls, I never attributed those differences to being male. I was a girl who liked ‘boy’ things, the clothes, the toys, the play that focused on ‘boy’ games. Yes, that made me different from other girls, but frankly, not all other girls, and the differences only became apparent when they moved on to the things most girls become interested in–their appearances, their crushes, their standings in the various cliques in school.
I did not move on. I kept the clothes and the sports, traded my toys for a junker of an International Scout truck that was nearly as old as I was, and developed full-blown crushes, but on other girls. I didn’t find this odd or disturbing, it just ‘was,’ but I also was fortunate, because the girls liked me back. I was not scary to talk to like their boy crushes, they could lean-in while I smiled and joked and put them at ease while we practiced our flirting without the fear of rejection. It was win-win.
There was no internet, no resources for gay kids when I was growing up, we learned like most teens learned about anything–on the street. I first heard the term ‘baby butch’ when it was bestowed on me on my first (illegal) night in a gay bar, by a drag queen hiding me from the cops who’d come in to ‘check out’ the place. I’d never heard the term, of course I hadn’t, I didn’t know I was actually gay until the year before. There was, back then, still the distinction of butch and femme, though the lines were only just starting to blur between the two.
I am a butch, all grown up now, and not much different from the baby butch I was years ago. There is no ‘performing’ on my part, I am not ‘playing a role’ and I never have. I have no doubt of who I am, what I am. I am a woman who loves women and, over time, I have learned that women are as diverse as snowflakes, that even if a woman loves women, it does not mean that she will love a butch. For some women, or maybe more than some, we are ‘too gay,’ ‘too masculine.’ ‘Too much like men.’ And so, we are dismissed out-of-hand.
No one seems to like labels, though there are plenty to hand around. Personally, you can label me a butch, gladly, because I’m too damn old to care if that offends anyone, and maybe a little happy if it does. There is also a label for a woman who loves butches, who actively seeks them out, and that is ‘Femme.'”
*     *      *
There is a line from Stone Butch Blues that I want to mention. Jess is trying to explain to Theresa that she is different from other lesbians. She calls herself a he-she, a word that I personally don’t like at all, but it explains how she feels. She says “They don’t call the Saturday night butches he-shes. It means something. It’s a way we’re different. It doesn’t just mean we’re lesbians.” (p. 147–148.)
There is a difference between Jess and a “Saturday-night butch.” The Saturday-night butch goes to the lesbian bar wearing a suit, but doesn’t necessarily look masculine in her day-to-day life. Jess has something about her that she can’t turn off. She can’t just put on a different outfit, what’s different about her would still be visible. That’s what I mean by having a butch personality.
Any woman can put on a suit, or go around without makeup, and that doesn’t make her butch. Butch doesn’t just mean “not performing artificial aspects of femininity.” It’s a lesbian personality type and a lived experience.
Some butches call themselves “outside the gender binary” because their “gender” is not what people expect from women. I understand what they mean by that, but I don’t feel comfortable explaining it that way myself. Butches are women, they have a rare, but still legitimate, female personality type, and they do not need to identify outside of womanhood.
Regardless of how she explains herself, a butch always needs to be with a woman who understands her. A woman who is embarrassed about the way she looks or who thinks she is “too blatant” or “too gay” and should “tone it down” is not a suitable partner. She needs to find someone like me, who finds her natural self sexy and irresistible and who is proud of her just the way she is.

The Wanted Project

The Wanted Project grew out of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and it’s designed to inspire and support gender nonconforming women. From their Facebook page:

“The original WANTED project was inspired by and for attendees of The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, an event intended specifically for women that were born and assigned female. Womyn sent photos and posters were created with their image, name and the following language:

“WANTED

Womyn like ________, (pictured above) who have been disappeared by assumptions. Womyn who were born and assigned female, but who present in ways the world determines as masculine/not womanly. Womyn who are assumed to be transmen, when they do not identify as men/transmen. Womyn who expand the possibilities of what it means to be born and assigned female.

You are wanted. You are loved. And we want you to know it.”

Their first podcast is a woman called Gunner talking about being a gender nonconforming woman and several important topics like:

– how Michfest saved her and lots of other lesbians, due to creating safety for GNC women in a female-only space
– the effects of trans activism on spaces like Michfest
– inspiring young lesbians to be themselves in a hostile world
– how detransitioners at Michfest had never seen an old dyke or a bearded woman before, and how they didn’t know they could live without transition
– that we have to change the way the world treats us, not change ourselves

This woman is beautiful and inspiring. I am so happy about this project and I hope it can reach the women who need to see it.

This is the sort of activism that will help gender nonconforming people.

Butch lesbians and bathrooms

A butch lesbian wrote an article for Time magazine about her experience with public washrooms and her take on the “bathroom bills.” I really appreciate the fact that a butch lesbian was published in Time magazine at all, but she follows the transgenderist party line, which means I was left disappointed by her article.

“I’m Proof Bathroom Bills Are Not Just a Transgender Issue”

“I hate using public restrooms. Airports and rest stops are my least favorite. I avoid locker rooms whenever possible. But really every restroom is bad. In fact, it happened to me just the other day in my fancy office building in New York City. I was at the sink, washing my hands, when a woman walked into the restroom and did a double take, first looking at me and then looking back at the sign on the still-open door of the restroom. Was she in the wrong place? Or, implicitly, was I?

“I am a biological female who identifies as a woman. I am not, for any intents or purposes, transgender. But as a non-gender conforming butch lesbian, I have my own tiny window into our nation’s current political debate about bathrooms—the always looming fear that easily slips into shame, and the occasional outright harassment, all because I have to pee. And that’s from using the bathrooms that I “should” be using according to vicious anti-transgender bills sweeping the nation.

“The first time I was actually yelled at in a bathroom, at least that I can remember, I was 19 years old. I was, and still am, 6’1″, but back then I had straight shoulder-length hair that dangled as awkwardly around my chin as everything else about me at that age. I was openly gay but still otherwise finding myself. I still wore dresses sometimes. Also awkwardly. I was a study abroad student in England on vacation in Bath. I don’t remember much of anything from the entire semester, but I remember going into some lavish hotel along the beach to use the bathroom and, while I was washing my hands at the sink, getting yelled at by a group of women.

“One of them, standing next to me at the sink, yelled to her friends in the stalls: “There’s a boy in here!”

“As the others came out, they loomed at me and shouted things like: “What are you doing in here?” and “You’re in the wrong place!”

“And in a sense, they were right. It turns out the women were all part of a bridal shower, wearing those most conventionally feminine pastel dresses to participate in that most quintessentially heteronormative of traditions. They belonged—in that bathroom and in society more broadly—and I most certainly didn’t. And still don’t.”

The belief that she doesn’t belong in the women’s washroom is coming from sexism and homophobia. She doesn’t perform femininity, which is a requirement for being viewed as a proper woman, and she is obviously gay, which for some reason still makes people uncomfortable even though it’s the goddamn twenty-first century. She truly does belong in the women’s washroom though, because she is a woman. Women come in all different types, we don’t all look like princesses, and that doesn’t mean we’re doing woman wrong.

She is disagreeing with the people who want to ban men from using women’s washrooms. No doubt she is identifying with the men who wish to be women and their struggle to find a safe washroom to use, because of her own struggle to find a safe washroom to use. Having compassion is good, but I think we need to pay attention to who we’re giving compassion to. There are lots of nice gender nonconforming people who need access to safe washrooms and there are also fetishists looking for opportunities to practice their fetish, and who would honestly do just fine in the men’s washrooms that they’ve always been using. We need to pay attention to who’s doing the lobbying and why.

Those of us who believe that men belong in the men’s washroom come in two major types—conservatives and feminists—but this author doesn’t distinguish between the two groups. Conservatives understand that certain men will use any excuse to prey on women and children and they want to protect them. They are also homophobic and do not accept ordinary lesbians and gays, and they promote traditional gender roles and marriage. Feminists know that men with sexual fetishes like to declare that they have a gender identity and therefore have a right to expose themselves in women’s locker rooms. We differ completely from conservatives because we are against gender roles and sex stereotypes. We want the entire range of women in all our diversity to feel comfortable in women’s spaces, which will be accomplished by eliminating sexism and homophobia. We also want men to feel comfortable in male facilities, regardless of their personality or presentation, which is also accomplished by eliminating sexism (masculinity) and homophobia; however, men need to work on this amongst themselves.

The transgenderists do not have the right analysis or politics to make people safer in bathrooms. They promote old-fashioned sexism through their belief that anyone who is masculine is necessarily a man and anyone who is feminine is necessarily a woman. They refuse to distinguish between men with sex dysphoria who want to fully transition and men with autogynephilia who are fighting for their right to practice their fetish on non-consenting members of the public. And they refuse to acknowledge sex-based oppression and male violence against women.

“Whatever you might have heard to the contrary, the “bathroom bills” that have passed in North Carolina and Mississippi and are now pending in other states have nothing to do with public safety. The simple fact is that under existing laws, it is already a crime to dress up as a man or woman in order to falsely gain entry to any public restroom to harass or harm anyone. That is a crime in states with transgender legal protections and a crime in states without such laws. Fox News anchor Chris Wallace noted that such crimes have not taken place in communities that have transgender rights laws.

“What these “bathroom bills” are actually about is enforcing traditional gender codes and norms in an increasingly diverse and shifting America. Single-sex restrooms just like single-sex dormitories have always been rooted in compulsory heteronormativity and the sense that we have to protect women from men who can’t expect to be reigned in. This still echoes today, as when an all-male elite club at Harvard University suggested that allowing women to join would increase the potential for sexual assault. And notice that no one seems to worry about pedophiles being forced to use the little boy’s room instead. The point is that girls need protecting.”

She’s implying here that the reason for sex-segregated facilities is the misguided notion that women need protection from men, and that people only believe that women need protection because of gender roles/stereotypes about women. But in the real world, women do need protection from men, because men abuse women on a regular basis through assault, rape, harassment, stalking, flashing, taking photos without consent, and the list goes on. Unfortunately this writer didn’t check the stats on violence against women before writing her article.

By the way, people are worried about pedophiles in the men’s washroom, which is why mothers routinely bring their young sons into the women’s washroom with them. Parents know not to leave their sons alone with strange men, same as they do with their daughters.

Single sex facilities aren’t based on heteronormativity, they are based on the biological differences between men and women which remain the same regardless of sexual orientation. Lesbians aren’t made safer by desegregating these spaces—we are just as vulnerable to male violence against women as any other woman.

What would make lesbians safer is single-stall facilities so that we can be in full privacy instead of sharing spaces with men who can be dangerous or women who can be hostile. (And even more importantly, what would make lesbians safer is the elimination of sexism and homophobia.)

This writer is on the side of transgenderists, but transgenderists are not on her side. They are hostile toward lesbians in multiple ways. They want lesbians to consider males as potential sexual partners despite our objections, they are encouraging young lesbians to medically transition before they’ve gotten old enough to develop a lesbian identity, and they are arguing against separate single-stall washrooms which would accommodate gender nonconforming people.

“And femininity must be protected, too. Or even enforced. A video that recently went viral shows a woman being forcibly evicted from a restroom because she looks more masculine. Should women not only have to be born women to use the ladies room but wear skirts? Maybe have their hair a certain length and curled?”

I’m gonna start sounding like a broken record here, but the reason why masculine-presenting women are kicked out of women’s spaces is because of sexism and homophobia. People believe that all women are supposed to be feminine and heterosexual, and they punish those of us who don’t comply. I can always tell between a butch woman and a man, but there are plenty of conventional straight women from heteroland who look at a human with a buzz cut and immediately think MAN, despite her tits and her female voice. It’s about fucking time they got used to lesbians.

In this last paragraph, the author almost reaches the gender critical position. She complains that women are expected to display femininity in order to be seen as women. This is exactly what gender critical feminists are saying. We’re saying that women shouldn’t have to perform femininity to be considered women, that all females are female regardless of their personality or presentation, and that we all have a right to our womanhood, and to female spaces. Same with men—they shouldn’t have to perform masculinity in order to be seen as real men. Anyone who is male is a real man, and should have the right to use the men’s facilities in safety.

The reason that gender nonconforming men can’t safely use the men’s facilities is because of toxic masculinity, homophobia, and MALE VIOLENCE. Transgenderists are not tackling these problems, instead they’re just trying to shove the girly boys into the ladies’ room. If they actually gave a shit about gender nonconforming men, they’d work on making it safe for them to use the men’s facilities by tackling male violence.

We absolutely need to have a conversation about what can be done to make butch lesbians safer in washrooms, but we need an honest conversation. Allowing Stef-on-knee into the women’s washroom is not going to make lesbians safer. Single-stall unisex washrooms can help in the short term, and in the long term, ELIMINATE SEXISM AND HOMOPHOBIA. Feminists have been saying this for fucking decades already. We’ll keep saying it forever and ever and ever until hopefully it happens.