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!

Book Review: Tomboy Survival Guide

Last weekend I went to the library to browse through the queer books and I came across Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote. I’ve heard other people say this book is good so I thought I should check it out. Coyote is an accomplished writer and speaker and a queer Canadian icon. Tomboy Survival Guide is their latest book, published in 2016.

Coyote is a talented storyteller who writes in a vulnerable way, heart exposed, and I was drawn in immediately. By the second chapter I already had tears running down my cheeks. The title suggests that this book is a guide for tomboys, but what it actually is is a memoir that is as much about family as it is about gender. The stories are about growing up as a tomboy, being a butch lesbian, and being a trans person, and they are also about being from a loving family from Whitehorse, Yukon—a family that remains important and valuable throughout the author’s life. Western Canada provides a beautiful backdrop for Coyote’s stories, whether it’s the Yukon or British Columbia.

I have been enjoying the book immensely over the past week while simultaneously struggling with the question of how I can review a book by someone who I support on some levels but who has very different political beliefs from me. Coyote is pro-trans, and is against my kind of feminism. Reading through their twitter account recently told me that Coyote calls women “TERFs.”  I cannot discuss this book without addressing this political divide and I can’t get very far into a discussion of their work without making a decision about pronoun use.

Coyote’s pronouns are “they/them” but I do not agree that a butch lesbian should be called ‘they.’ Calling a female human ‘they’ is supposed to imply that she is not female, but is instead somewhere in between, and it disappears the difference between gender and sex. A butch lesbian is biologically female and has a masculine gender. I don’t believe it’s right to imply that a non-feminine woman is not a woman at all—that reinforces the idea that all women must be feminine or else they aren’t women. The idea that all women must be feminine or else they aren’t women is one of the things that harms all of us. I think that when you agree that a masculine woman isn’t a woman, you are agreeing with the bullies who think she’s not okay the way she is.

I believe with all my heart that the way to support a butch lesbian is to respect her masculine gender and her femaleness, and to appreciate them both as integral parts of her that are both significant in making her who she is, and to maintain that being female and masculine isn’t a contradiction that needs to be resolved but something to honour and respect as it is. I think that calling her “they” to erase her femaleness does the same thing that straight women do when they tell her she doesn’t belong in the women’s washroom: it’s kicking her out of womanhood because she doesn’t fit the feminine standard.

With all that in mind, I know that if I were to support Coyote by calling her “she” it would be taken as me not supporting her because she uses “they.” Therefore I am going to use a mix of pronouns to acknowledge both my position and hers. It is my intention here to promote their work and their voice without letting go of my own perspective.

Whenever I read a book written by a butch, I see my own partner among the pages. Coyote’s book really hit home for me because she is a Canadian lesbian and so are my partner and I. In fact, I know that we have mutual acquaintances and some of my friends have seen her perform.

One of the first stories Coyote told of her tomboy nature was being in swimming lessons as a kid and wearing only the bottom half of her bathing suit and allowing everyone to think she was a boy. My partner did the exact same thing when she was a kid, wearing swim trunks to the community pool because that’s what she felt comfortable in, and she kept doing that until the boys were harassing her and the lifeguard told her she had to put a top on. She was not happy about this.

Near the opening of the book Coyote wrote a wonderful description of being a tomboy. It’s not about consciously rejecting the feminine and trying to be masculine, it’s about having something different about you that exists in your personality and in your very bones that you would not be able to change even if you dressed in women’s clothes.

“I didn’t not want to be a girl because I had been told that they were weaker or somehow lesser than boys. It was never that simple. I didn’t even really actively not want to be like the other girls. I just knew. I just knew that I wasn’t. I couldn’t. I would never be. (p14)”

Later on when they described attending college to learn Electricity and Industrial Electronics I saw my partner in the pages again. One of the only two women among hundreds of men, they endured harassment from their classmates despite being excellent in the program.

It can be a minefield navigating the world as a masculine woman because you never know how people are going to interpret you or treat you. Coyote wrote about times when she was “one of the guys” and times when she was “one of the girls.” Although some of their college classmates harassed them horribly, they recalled a positive memory of one classmate asking their advice on how to do something nice for his wife. In that moment, Coyote was not a failure of a woman but an expert on womanhood.

Although it wasn’t the least bit funny for her at the time, I laughed when she recalled the time when a guy managing a tourist destination, hot springs in a cave, made her wear a women’s swimsuit while calling her “sir.” Sometimes people get hilariously mixed up when they encounter an ambiguous-looking person.

Four years before writing this book, and already in their forties, Coyote had top surgery. They called this decision “the healthy, happy thing for me to do,” (p170) even though it caused them to completely lose feeling in their nipples. They describes the numbness in a very poignant paragraph:

“They are beyond numb. They feel nothing. Sometimes I think I can feel the flesh underneath them, maybe I can feel pressure there, maybe. But I can’t feel her fingertips or her tongue, or her teeth. I can’t feel the cold lake or the warm sun either.” (p151)

Is it really a fair trade, to get the chest you want but lose feeling in your nipples?

It’s interesting that Coyote says the following:

“But my day-to-day struggles are not so much between me and my body. I am not trapped in the wrong body. I am trapped in a world that makes very little space for bodies like mine. (p170–171)”

I fully agree with this. No one is trapped in the wrong body. It’s not their bodies that need to change, it’s the way they are being treated that needs to change. It’s important to locate the problem correctly. Don’t blame something on your body when it’s not your body’s fault.

Throughout much of the book, Coyote doesn’t mention being trans, because in her childhood and young adulthood she didn’t have a trans identity yet. Near the end of the book, the trans issue starts to come up. She wrote about getting hate mail from both conservatives and radical feminists regarding her writing on transgender bathroom use. She reports both groups of people saying the same thing in their hate mail, which is:

“No offense, but, if I had to share a woman’s washroom with someone who looks like you, I would feel…uncomfortable.

And…

“Why don’t you just use the men’s room? (p224)”

Although I am a radical feminist, this quote does not represent my position at all. It’s not what anyone in my own circle of feminists says, either. We don’t want to see butch women kicked out of the women’s washroom, we think all women belong there. We aren’t uncomfortable around butch women. Some of us, like me, love butch women. We also think that single-occupant washrooms are a good idea in order to accommodate gender nonconforming people, or anyone who wants to pee alone. We don’t think that trans people should be kicked out of all the bathrooms. We don’t think women should be forced into the men’s room. I don’t know who emailed her, but they didn’t say anything close to what I would have said. My position is that everyone should be accommodated in washrooms, without forgetting that allowing the entire world into the women’s washroom does not properly accommodate women. Overly-broad gender identity laws that are based on self-declaration and no objective criteria allows anyone to announce they’re a woman and enter the washroom. This is not good policy.

There is another part of the book where Coyote’s pro-trans position bothers me. She printed a letter from a mother whose teenage daughter is transitioning to male. The teen first identified as a lesbian and then identified as trans. Coyote wrote a response to the mother which spoke of her daughter as if she were truly her son and would grow up to be a man. She didn’t leave any room for the fact that this teen could actually be a lesbian. That’s what you do when you believe in transgender politics, is immediately affirm someone’s trans identity and ignore the fact that the person is actually homosexual. Only a so-called “trans exclusive radical feminist” like me can see what is really happening here. An adult lesbian is refusing to call herself a lesbian, preferring to label herself as something other than a woman, and is affirming a younger lesbian who is doing the same. This is absolutely tragic. This is not what I want for the lesbian community. I want lesbians to be able to proudly declare their lesbian identity without falling prey to the ancient homophobic idea that lesbians are really men or that we’re failed women. I want us to carve out space for all different kinds of women to be ourselves without shame, and to show the world that women are diverse and beautiful in our differences. If it were me giving advice, I would have left the door open to this young woman actually being a lesbian and validated what she is probably feeling without jumping right onto the trans train.

For the most part, I loved Tomboy Survival Guide, and I would definitely recommend it. I was very moved by her stories and I thought the book was exquisitely written. I always appreciate hearing about what life is like for little tomboys who grow up to be butch. My criticism is that because of her pro-trans position, her writing is not as lesbian-positive as it could be. What I always hope to see in any book written by a lesbian is a positive lesbian identity and a pro-woman stance.

A conference for lesbians*

This year there is going to be a European Lesbian* Conference! Yeah!

…wait, what is that asterisk for?

“Our aim is to hold an inclusive European Lesbian* Conference. We insist on calling it a lesbian conference although we recognize that, as with any category or label, it may be contested and insufficient to describe the diversity of our communities. We are aware that many previous lesbian gatherings have struggled with issues about who should or should not be included at the conference. However, using the word “lesbian” is part of the political struggle for visibility, empowerment and representation. Therefore we will use “lesbian*” with an asterisk, so as to include anyone who identifies as lesbian, feminist, bi or queer, and all those who feel connected to lesbian* activism.”

Oh, for fuck sake. Just as I suspected, spelling Lesbian* with an asterisk is sorta like putting a footnote with the fine print underneath. You see the title “Lesbian” and you’re like, “Yeah, lesbians!” and then you read the fine print and it’s like “This is not actually for lesbians. This is actually for everyone in the goddamn world.”

The “queer” community must have taken their cue from advertising, where companies will advertise that a product can make you lose 40 pounds in 1.2 seconds, become magically 10 years younger, and walk on water, but then you read the fine print and it’s like “This product may not bring any results whatsoever and fuck you.”

So this “lesbian” conference is actually a conference for anyone who is a lesbian, a bisexual, a feminist, a “queer” (which can mean anything), and anyone who “feels connected to lesbian activism,” and who knows what the hell that last part means. How can anyone “feel connected to lesbian activism” unless they are actually a lesbian and doing activism?

Here’s the background on the conference:

“European lesbians* lack the fundamental structures, tools and mechanisms to fight lesbophobia, sexism, misogyny, transphobia and interphobia, racism and all other types of discrimination experienced daily by members of the community. For the past five decades, outstanding lesbian* activists have dedicated a great deal of their energy to struggles indirectly related to their own needs and thus contributed to social change. With that, they have paved the wave for us today. Whereas all minorities included in the LGBTI community have managed to gather and structure their own forums, councils, and meetings in addition to the general LGBTI organizations in Europe, this has not been the case for lesbians*. Last Fall, at the 2016 annual ILGA Europe Conference held in Cyprus, a specific lesbian* workshop took place for the first time in years. More than 70 lesbian* activists from all over Europe had the opportunity to come together and realize that, despite differences in political, legal and financial status within the European lesbian* movements, there is a common and urgent need to focus on lesbians* needs, struggles and oppression, to empower and to increase our visibility and broaden networks.”

Ugh. The only way it makes sense to say that lesbians have to fight transphobia is if we’re talking about masculine lesbians who get mistaken for men and if “transphobia” in this context refers to the fear of women who look ambiguous and unfeminine and impossible to categorize. I wouldn’t call that transphobia, I’d call it sexism and homophobia, but if someone is actually a lesbian and wants to call this transphobia I won’t put up a fight about it, she can name her own experience. However, what “transphobia” probably means in this context is that men who wish to call themselves lesbians are rejected by actual lesbians, and no, lesbians shouldn’t have to stop rejecting such men. Lesbians are not interested in men in any form, even if they get cosmetic surgery and make themselves look like Barbie dolls, we are still not interested. Female homosexuals are interested in females. We are homosexuals, not homogenderuals. And you know what, men who make themselves look like Barbie dolls are not the same “gender” as lesbians, either. Actual lesbians are not a caricature of gross, disgusting, male-defined pornified femininity. To think that not only are female homosexuals interested in men, but that we also should be particularly attracted to men who have a fetish for our oppression, is fucking insane.

To continue on with the background of the Lesbian* conference:

“Because our voices are not loud enough, our stories are not heard and we are losing the track of our own history; because positive lesbian* visibility still scares even homosexual women; because lesbians* at the forefront of change are still invisible; and because we have never had the opportunity to articulate our lesbian* needs in structured approach on European level, this lesbian* workshop led to the decision to organize a European Lesbian* Conference on October 6-8, 2017, in Vienna, on International Lesbian Day. This conference is the first step in the long-expected and needed construction of a strong lesbian* movement in Europe that will bring together a diverse team in the organizing committee by making it as inclusive and representative as possible. The conference will offer a platform for the empowerment of lesbian* communities, will open discussion on the needs and struggles, the successes and achievements, will create space for the lesbian culture and the history of lesbian activism and with all of that it will set a foundation for building of a strong lesbian* movement in Europe.”

Did you see that sentence that says “because positive lesbian* visibility still scares even homosexual women”? What the fuck does this mean?? Almost every time they mention lesbians on this website they put an asterisk next to it, and this is the only time they say “homosexual women.” Apparently homosexual women get a special mention for being a subgroup of the “lesbian*” community who are afraid of positive “lesbian*” visibility? Man, that is super suspicious and weird. I looked for some contact information on the site but there wasn’t any. Someone needs to ask these clowns what the hell they mean by homosexual women being scared of positive lesbian* visibility, because that is fucked.

You know what I love more than anything? POSITIVE LESBIAN VISIBILITY. I love it without the asterisk, because I love when female homosexuals are visible– you know, those of us who are female and attracted to females?

The wording of this conference makes it sound as though lesbian voices just aren’t loud enough. But lesbians are speaking. Lesbians are protesting, we are blogging, we are writing books, we are making videos, we are organizing spaces for lesbians to talk to each other. The reason we are made invisible and not heard is because lesbians are hated in society and because we are being silenced and marginalized by people who don’t want female homosexuals to be able to gather together or even name what a female homosexual is. The incorrectly-named “LGBT” and “queer” communities are some of the worst offenders in this silencing. That is the FIRST thing I would talk about if I was making a lesbian conference.

It shouldn’t be the least bit difficult to figure out who to include at a lesbian event. Only lesbians should be included at a lesbian event. DUH. It’s time for lesbians to get exclusionary. Special snowflakes and men of any stripe get the fuck OUT.

Big Boo Butch banned from a lesbian site

Please read this post by Big Boo Butch on being banned from a butch/femme site for “transphobia.” She writes about how this site used to be for butches and femmes but over time the trans borg took over and by the time she was kicked out, it looked more like a FtM/femme site. Big Boo wrote about how ridiculous it is for a supposedly lesbian site to cater to trans people instead of lesbians, and of course I’m going to rant about this too.

I get so angry when formerly lesbian spaces become no longer for lesbians when everybody decides to identify as something other than a woman. First of all, it’s stupid that women ever identify as not-women, because, you know, reality exists, and women are women. Secondly, if you are such a special snowflake that your “identity” makes you “not a woman” (despite your female body), then get the hell out of a space meant for women. Don’t try to take it over and make it a space for special snowflakes instead of for women. Women are allowed our own spaces and we don’t have to be inclusive of any of these clowns who choose not to believe the facts of human reproductive anatomy.

I get angry when women decide their degree of masculinity or androgyny makes them something other than a woman. All women are women, regardless of what kind of outfit or haircut they have on, and the idea that only feminine women are women is called sexism.

I also get angry when lesbians who identify as trans men want to have their cake and eat it too. If they think they are men, then what are they doing on a lesbian-only site? And if they are on a lesbian-only site, why do they want to be called men? Get your story straight, people! Which is it? Doesn’t the cognitive dissonance hurt, when you want to simultaneously be a lesbian and a “man”?

And another thing. Why are the femmes on this site putting up with this? I’m not putting up with butches calling themselves men for even one second. Butches are women, and they are particularly hot and sexy women, and they are the ones femmes love. Femmes love butches as women and we are lesbians, therefore we are not interested in men. The only reason I can think of that a femme would ever be with an FtM is because she is homophobic and wants to be seen as straight, but even that theory sounds pretty far-fetched. I would never call my female partner a man, I would never call her “he,” I would never pretend I was straight or bi when I only love women. If lesbians who hang out on a lesbian site decide they’d rather be men then they should get kicked out. First they should be told that it’s homophobic to claim that lesbians are really men, and then they should be told that if they cannot proudly call themselves lesbians then they don’t belong in lesbian space.

I’d be super compassionate toward them if they identified as lesbians struggling to deal with body hatred or butch shame, but not when they start lying and claiming that these inner struggles make them inherently male. That’s a load of BULLSHIT.

It’s hard for butches and femmes who haven’t had their brains sucked out by the trans cult to find anywhere to go. Some of us find refuge among radical feminists, but sadly the radfems sometimes believe that butch and femme are a BDSM role play situation that deliberately and artificially reenacts heterosexual power dynamics, and they don’t always listen to us when we tell them we are expressing our actual personalities and not imitating anything. I’m going to have to write more on that another day.

In this era of lesbian spaces being erased to make room for every identity under the sun, those of us who actually know what a lesbian is are cast to the margins. It’s so simple, people. A lesbian is a female homosexual. That’s it!

Sorry dude, men aren’t lesbians

Another day, another man who thinks that making cosmetic changes to his body makes him a woman, and who thinks that “woman” is whatever a man says it is.

I got into this goddamn argument with a transwoman. I shouldn’t have—it’s a waste of time and I know it, but he commented here a couple of times so I was following his blog for a while. I’ve learned my lesson!

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The link he provided here basically amounts to “I’m a woman because I say I am, and I don’t care what you think about it.”

It’s interesting that he calls his girlfriend “a biological female.” If a transwoman actually understands what a biological female is, then he knows he’s not one. A transwoman is biologically male, and it’s not “phobic” to state that, it’s just a neutral fact.

A man is an adult human male, and it’s not “phobic” to state that either, it’s a neutral fact.

Lesbians are females attracted to females. We can have any “gender” we want, but homosexuality means attraction to the same sex, not the same gender.

No man is ever a lesbian, no matter what. Not if he takes artificial hormones, not if he has surgery on his penis to turn it inside-out, not if he wears makeup or a dress, and not if he gets his documentation falsified by putting an “F” on it under “sex.” He’ll never be female and he’ll never be a lesbian.

When men say their heterosexual attraction toward women constitutes lesbianism, they are appropriating our identity. When men suggest that their female partners are lesbians, they are erasing what lesbianism is. When men suggest that lesbians can/should/would date men, they are being homophobic.

When transwomen insist upon dismissing what actual lesbians have to say while calling themselves lesbians, they are displaying their lack of respect for women and for lesbians. They are demonstrating that they do not deserve our support.

Same homophobia, different day

Found in Gay American History by Jonathan Katz, p196–197, quoted from a study on female homosexuality from 1967 by eight psychiatrists and psychologists, headed by Dr. Harvey E. Kaye. Paper presented to the Society of Medical Psychoanalysts in New York.

“A comparison study was made of a group of 24 female homosexual patients in psychoanalysis with a group of 24 female nonhomosexual patients. The questionnaire method was utilized, with the patients’ analysts filling out the questionnaires. Our goal was geared toward the establishment of basic clinical data in this area, keeping highly inferential theoretical considerations at a minimum. Within the limitations of the methodological and statistical factors inherent in such a study, the following is a summation of our findings and conclusions.

Homosexuality in women, rather than being a conscious volitional preference, is a massive adaptational response to a crippling inhibition of normal heterosexual development…

Along this vein, we have found a developmental constellation of traits or activities in which the girl shies away from the female role. We believe, furthermore, that these may constitute early prodromata (symptoms) of a potential homosexual adaptation, which should alert parents and family physicians. These are: (a) a tendency toward seeking physical fights in childhood and early adolescence; (b) a tendency to dislike and play less with dolls; (c) a trend toward excessive play with guns; (d) preference to playing boys’ rather than girls’ games, and a tendency not to play house; (e) a tendency to see themselves as tomboys; and (f) development of strong crushes on women during puberty and adolescence.”

Diagnostic criteria for gender dysphoria, DSM-5, 2013

(A.) A marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, of at least 6 months’ duration, as manifested by at least six of the following (one of which must be Criterion A1)

  1. A strong desire to be of the other gender or an insistence that one is the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender).
  2. In boys (assigned gender), a strong preference for cross-dressing or simulating female attire; or in girls (assigned gender), a strong preference for wearing only typical masculine clothing and a strong resistance to the wearing of typical feminine clothing.
  3. A strong preference for cross-gender roles in make-believe play or fantasy play.
  4. A strong preference for the toys, games, or activities stereotypically used or engaged in by the other gender.
  5. A strong preference for playmates of the other gender.
  6. In boys (assigned gender), a strong rejection of typically masculine toys, games, and activities and a strong avoidance of rough-and-tumble play; or in girls (assigned gender), a strong rejection of typically feminine toys, games, and activities.

Also from DSM-5, 2013, p. 455

“For both natal male and female children showing persistence, almost all are sexually attracted to individuals of their natal sex.

For natal male children whose gender dysphoria does not persist, the majority are androphilic, (sexually attracted to males) and often self-identify as gay or homosexual (ranging from 63% to 100%).

In natal female children whose gender dysphoria does not persist, the percentage who are gynephilic (sexually attracted to females) and self-identify as lesbian is lower (ranging from 32% to 50%).”

Even in the present day, the psychiatric profession believes that normal gay/lesbian behavior is a maladaptive set of behaviors caused by inhibition of normal heterosexual development. They’ve just found a less obvious way of presenting it.

A summary of historical medical treatments for homosexuality, from Gay American History by Jonathan Katz, p129:

“Among the treatments are surgical measures: castration, hysterectomy, and vasectomy. In the 1800s, surgical removal of the ovaries and of the clitoris are discussed as a “cure” for various forms of female “erotomania,” including, it seems, Lesbianism. Lobotomy was performed as late as 1951. A variety of drug therapies have been employed, including the administration of hormones, LSD, sexual stimulants, and sexual depressants. Hypnosis, used on Gay people in America as early as 1899, was still being used to treat such “deviant behavior” in 1967. Other documented “cures” are shock treatment, both electric and chemical; aversion therapy, employing nausea-inducing drugs, electric shock, and/or negative verbal suggestion; and a type of behavior therapy called “sensitization,” intended to increase heterosexual arousal, making ingenious use of pornographic photos.”

Children who display gender atypical behaviors such as wearing the clothing of the opposite sex and playing with the toys that are assigned to the opposite sex are still being identified as deviant and in need of correction, and the medical profession is still using drugs and surgeries as a cure, with full knowledge that these kids will likely grow up to be gay or lesbian adults.