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Rated: ASR · Thesis · Personal · #1256176
A thesis/argument paper on social aversion to masculine female lesbians.
Female Masculinity: Shamed within the Lesbian Community~0~

    A woman stands washing her hands in a public restroom.  Suddenly, a well dressed man enters and attempts to grab hold of a stall handle.  The woman reacts by instinct.  “Sir, this is the ladies room”.  As the well dressed gentleman turns, the woman’s face flushes with embarrassment as she notices the softness of the man’s jaw, and the hairlessness of his face.  The well dressed gentleman, she realizes is a well dressed woman.  In her black, pinstriped dress pants, grey dress shirt and black tie, the woman turns away, dealing with her own diluted form of embarrassment.  She has become familiar with this situation. 

    This is a daily struggle for women who possess natural masculine attributes.  A constant questioning whenever entering a gender specific space, however what about lesbian women who embrace their maleness?  Are they then embraced within the lesbian community due to their Sapphic bond with other lesbians?  Not so much!  Within general society many masculine identified women find themselves shunned from their communities of lesbian identified sisterhood.  Over the next few pages of this paper topics will be tackled that are not only a harsh reality of lesbian society but also a cold reminder that tight knit communities such as the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) community, still have aversions to those who live outside the box.  Movements such as the feminist movement of the late 1970’s, while wonderful for lesbian visibility, was also a train wreck for masculine identified women.  Stone butches, gender queers, gender fuckers, transgender, and Drag Kings found themselves alienated from their community, and viewed as a threat to feminism and the female struggle.  And present day aversion only perpetuates the fear of what is unknown.  Through whatever means possible, it is imperative that masculine identified females make themselves more visible; remove fear and fight for acceptance.  However, acceptance can only be attained through understanding, and understanding can only been achieved by knowledge. 

    In the male identified subculture of lesbian women, there are terms used that define different levels of female masculinity.  These terms are often foreign to those outside of the GLBT community, specifically Stone Butch, Gender queer, Gender Fucker, transgender and drag king.  The term “stone butch” as stated by Robin Maltz in her article Real Butch: the performance/perfomativity of male impersonation, drag kings, passing as male and stone butch realness, is defined by “masculine appearance, erotics, and mannerisms that signify a deep investment in masculinity by a queer female subject without reliance on surgical or hormonal interventions”(275).  Different from Stone butches, there are Gender Queers.  Gender queers often identify as a person who feels that his/her gender identity does not fit into the socially constructed "norms" associated with his/her biological sex.  And beyond the gender queer is the Gender Fucker, one who consciously defies the constraints of socialized gender.  Transgender individuals are referred to as those whose gender at birth does not match the gender the subject most closely relates to. These individuals are most often willing to modify their physical gender assignment through hormone therapies and surgical interventions.  Drag Kings are merely performative.  Their dress and appearance is largely based on entertainment and public performance.  Drag kings are possibly the only group accepted in present day lesbian society due to its performative nature. Other groups, however, still find great difficulty finding acceptance within the lesbian communities.

    Finding acceptance must first start with knowing ones history.  The history or rather herstory of female masculinity is vast, lengthy and rich in lesbian culture.  From the English masher acts and the musical halls of the late 1800’s, to the present day Chicago Kings, women have proudly been strutting their maleness.  In Sarah Water’s book Tipping the Velvet, the main character Nan Astley recounts her first meeting with drag king Kitty Butler by saying,{
“She looked, I suppose, like a very pretty boy, for her face was a perfect oval,    and her eyes were large and dark at the lashes, and her lips were rosy and full.  Her figure, too, was boy-like and slender- yet rounded, vaguely but unmistakably, at the bosom, the stomach, and the hips, in a way no real boy’s ever was; and her shoes, I noticed after a moment, had two-inch heels to them.  But she strode like a boy, and stood like one, with her feet far apart and her hands thrust carelessly into her trouser pockets, and her head at an arrogant angle, at the very front of the stage; and when she sang, her voice was boy’s voice-sweet and terribly true.” ~5~
Since long before our time women have been both performing and living as men.  From the legendary piano man Billy Tipton, too Brandon Teena, the subject of the academy award winning film, Boy’s Don’t Cry, too author Leslie Feinberg.  Women have strengthened the history of female masculinity despite adversity, despite the brutal beatings, and despite the humiliation.  Yet still modern lesbian society finds fault in women with accentuated masculine qualities.

         The beginning of this anti-male movement coincided with the feminist’s plight of the late 60’s and 1970’s.  As far as radical feminism was concerned there was no place in lesbian society for masculine identified females.  Lesbian, butch/femme relationships were viewed as oppressive and unacceptable. In her article The Return of Butch and Femme: A Phenomenon in Lesbian Sexuality of the 1980’s, Lillian Faderman touches on the butch aversion as it pertains to butch/femme relationship in saying “They [radical feminists] regarded butch/femme as roles in which the players were acting out with each other the oppression from the parent culture.” (580) That being said the dislike within feminist communities spawned an intercommunity conflict between lesbian feminists and masculine identified females. 

         The effect of the aforementioned anti-male feminist movement proved to be harshly detrimental to various levels male identified females.  Even the perfomativity of Drag Kings became a taboo.  Once again women who embraced their masculinity were harassed, bullied, humiliated and shunned, only this time, these spirit crushing acts, were created by other females.  The lesbian society caved in on itself, separating into two special interest groups;  One group sympathetic the natural masculinity of butch and trans identified women, the other in strong opposition.  Slowly, yet with fierce agendas the feminist movement chipped away at butch society, forcing extreme psychosocial damage by alienating butch females from the visibility of the lesbian movement and the comfort of their established communities.  Female masculinity not only became a taboo within radical sects, butch women became a threat.  Their visibility was seen as oppressive and detrimental to the feminist cause.  By embracing masculinity within one’s self, such persons where viewed as traitors and infidels.  As far as radical feminists were concerned, masculine women embodied everything ugly about male society.  The oppression, the dominance, the male power asserted over women or in this case, femme identified women. 

    Not only where butch women now under attack, their relationships with femme women were caught in the crossfire.  Their relationships together where, and in many cases still are, seen as both regressive and repressive.  Madeline Davis and Elizabeth Lapovsky-Kennedy partially examine the separation of male identified communities within lesbian communities in their article Oral History and the Study of Sexuality in the Lesbian Community: Buffalo, New York, 1940-1960, while investigating period specific sexuality, Davis and Lapovsky-Kennedy uncovered 2 contradictory trends that where emerging “First, the community became more open to the acceptance of new sexual practices, the discussion of sexual matters, and the learning about sex from friends as well as lovers.  Second, the rules of butch-fem sexuality became more rigid, in that community concern for role-appropriate behavior increased.” (20) While role appropriate behavior became more ridged and established, this in turn separated the community even more.  Non-butch/femme identities began stereotyping and pigeon holing masculine women into oppressive roles thus creating tension between the feminist lesbian communities and gender embracing lesbians.  Butch/femme relationships were thought to be inappropriate and against that which radical feminist had fought for.  In Leslie Feinberg’s fictional novel Stone Butch Blues, her Character Jess Goldberg expressed her delight in butch/femme relationships when she describes an encounter at a bar. “I waited for her in the middle of the dance floor.  Roy Orbison’s voice was smooth and dreamy.  I stood still, with her hand in mine until she relaxed and moved toward me.

    "After we’d danced for a few moments, Yvette told me ‘it’s okay to breathe you know.’ We laughed real hard together.  Then I felt her body move closer to me and we kind of melted together.  I discovered all the sweet surprises a femme can give a butch:  Her hand on the back of my neck, open on my shoulder, or balled up like a fist.  The feel of her belly and thighs against mine.  Her lips almost touching my ear.” (33) 

For women who identify as either butch or femme, despite the harsh adversity, this is their only comfort zone, not to be deviated from.  The reaction to each other is not that of internal oppression, or early psychological damage, it is quite simply what feels right; what is natural for them.  Female masculinity reigns supreme in a femme world, however in terms of lesbian society, adversity rules.  The aversion to masculine identities in women snowballed from the radical feminist movement of the 1960’s into present society.  Prejudice and stereotypes still exist in this day of gay pride and lesbian visibility.  Leslie Feinberg’s character Max, in her fictional novel Drag King Dreams, recalls her experience as a male identified female searching for employment in post 9/11 society when she say’s

    “But I remembered what it is like to be out of work and too queer to hire.  I’ve worked here for such a long time.  I can comfortably use the bathroom on the job. And if I got fired now, where is the movement in the streets that will win my job back or find me another one?”(104)
Sadly, in present day society, it is okay to be a lesbian as long as you fit the male imposed stereotype of the “Lipstick Dyke”.  Masculine women continue to struggle through adversity both within general, heterosexual society and lesbian societies. 
    As cohorts to masculine females, the femme lesbian also becomes a threat to feminist ideals.  Often femme identified women are criticized by their oppressively viewed identity.  Many lesbian feminist see femme women as condoning the repression of patriarchal society, as women who accept their positions as lower class citizens by maintaining and seeking out gender specified relationships.    Judith Halberstam talks about the aversion to Femme identified women in her book Female Masculinity as it pertains to lesbian identity and community.  Halberstam investigates a particular article written by Victoria Brownworth called Butch/Femme, Myth/Reality or More of the Same.  Halberstam states “this article articulated all too clearly the notion that lesbian role playing was a harmful form of false consciousness that has nothing to do with pleasure or freedom of expression.”(131) The distaste for femme identities is apparent through Halberstam’s translation of the material and continues to be apparent in current lesbian society.  There is a firm separation between femme identified women and their feminist cohorts, thus creating an unstable environment from which to allow a sense of community.  Femme identified women are often as shunned as their butch partners, and as alienated as other masculine identified women.

    That brings one to question, how do we as a lesbian society, fix this problem of unwarranted adversity?  How do we make female masculinity more visible and acceptable?  It is well understood that progress within the heterosexual society is something that could creep along at a turtles pace, however, within the confines of lesbian society it is imperative that those maintaining butch and/or transgender identities, as well as those who stand in solidarity with them, educate those with archaic opinions concerning the female masculinities.  Susan Ardill and Sue O’Sullivan offer their opinion on butch acceptance in their article Butch/Femme Obsessions, while researching the obsession with butch femme identities they close their article with a call to action by saying “The opening out of the complexities of our sexual, social and psychic lives as lesbians should lead to opportunities for deeper understanding, not new confining orthodoxies” (84)  With the help of butch positive online communities such as Butch-Femme.com and fallengoddess.com the movement to make butch communities more acceptable and accessible is gaining strength.  In many communities local gay bars sponsor butch-femme nights, celebrating the butch/femme dynamic, and occasional larger venues such as the butch/femme ball in Las Vegas are used as an ice breaker for online communities to celebrate in real time.  Bringing these communities and their events to visibility is becoming a mandatory reality. 

    Female masculinity is not only accepted within these circles, it is also celebrated by their allies. Acceptance within these social circles is imperative to the butch psyche.  These communities are a superior source of positive psychosocial interaction and offer the masculine female a chance to build positive romantic and platonic relationships.  They are able to gain the support of other masculine identified females, therefore forming positive support systems that would otherwise be lacking within lesbian society.  In her work Desire Work, Perfomativity, and the Structuring of a Community: Butch/Fem Relations of the 1940’s and 1950’s, Natasha Kraus talks about the need for community and what one does in order to establish belonging to said community in saying
“Emotion management often requires conscious work to restructure oneself at a deep level. This emotion management not only reshapes the self, but actually shapes the experience as well. By replicating one's identity through deep emotion work, an individual affects the very community rules to which she is attempting to adhere; the need for deep emotion work manifests instability of the community structure, while the process of reforming one's identity replicates the community structure.” (34)  There is no time like the present to engage oneself in the building of butch positive communities. 
    Even in our present day, the adversity against diversity within the lesbian community is fierce.  Butch life in present day lesbian society leaves much to be desired.  From feminist minded women and their attempts to “convert” the butch, too pure ignorance of the butch presence, established lesbian communities are far less supportive of their butch sisters than what one would have seen even in the 1940’s.  Stone butch identities are seen as something to be broken and conquered instead of embraced and accepted.  While the gender fuckers and Drag Kings are marginally accepted as they are seen as mostly performative, the stone butch and transgender continue to encounter a large amount of difficulty.  In many circumstances ignorance rears its ugly head while the feminist plight fights to “change the minds” of masculine females.  Sadly, (as with homosexuality within the hetero communities) female masculinity is seen as a choice.  And though this may be a correct assumption within the Drag King and Gender Fucker scene, this assumption is quite the opposite with stone butches and transgender females. Their masculine nature is as inborn as the color of their skin.  What modern day post –feminist lesbians fail to understand, is by maintaining ignorance and adversity against female masculinity, they are essentially running the interest and plight of diversity into the ground.

    Building a strong ground for visibility and gaining support from their butch peers is the cornerstone of the butch movement.  Masculine identified females have struggled through decades to gain respect, acceptance, and dignity, while the feminist movement and the post feminist aftershocks continue to tear away at their fight for equality.  Through all levels of female masculinity the tension can be felt, and though their history is strong, without butch positive communities, their future will be weak.  As a society within itself, female masculinity must take initiative and educate those who maintain ignorance, and show them the butch/trans/masculine female’s fight.  Lesbian communities must open their minds as well as their ears and listen to butch history and find their own histories within that.  They must erase the apathy and embrace sympathy.  The GLBT community, whether bisexual, stone butch, post-feminist lesbian, transgender, or any of the available terms; they are all fighting for the same cause.  Equality.  Strength is in numbers, not in separatism.
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