Archive for March, 2015|Monthly archive page

What is “butch”, anyway?

Right off the bat, let’s be clear: when it comes to identity of any ilk, whether gender, sexual, cultural, political, social, or any other categorization a human wishes to adopt, there is no single answer that is right or wrong, real or synthetic, valid or invalid, except the one (or many) that each individual accepts or applies to themselves. So this post is a musing of my mind, perhaps snarky, maybe confused, likely rambling, certainly incomplete. But this post is NOT and is NEVER intended to be a one-size-fits-no one-forcing-of-my-opinion-on-anyone-else.

Also, let me acknowledge that what’s real and central for me in my butch identity may not be recognizable as butch to anyone else. I think I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating because it is critical that everyone reading this understands that I am in no way invalidating anyone else’s identity or gender experience or expression by exploring what mine is.

Perhaps these observations aren’t terribly novel; many have written personal accounts, editorial comments and learned articles on this elusive identity definition. I doubt that my small contribution to this body of blather will add much depth or clarity to the questions or answers. My only aim is to share a small insight on my own experience with my butch identity.

So, with that preface, here we go…

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Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of comments on Twitter and Facebook and even some blog posts that attempt to capture the essence of what “butch” is, as if it is a monolith without discernible topography. In most comments by those who don’t ID as butch, everything butch is, in one stroke, classed as uniformly masculine, eschewing all femininity, aggressive, arrogant bordering on misogynistic, and universally mechanically inclined. From those who do ID as some form or degree of butch, there is nothing uniform or universal, except possibly the use of the label of convenience: butch.

What sparked this drizzle of thought today, more than other days when I’ve seen or heard similar comments, I can’t precisely pinpoint. But I did see a fragment of thought posted to a Facebook timeline of an online acquaintance, musing on whether a butch can use eyeliner and remain consistent with being “butch”. One comment said that ‘butch’ is both internal and external, but didn’t elaborate on the dichotomy. Several other comments rejected the idea out of hand, as if it wasn’t even a real question–of course butches can’t wear eyeliner.

The absurdity of the inquiry struck me and nagged at my thoughts all morning. Why is this a question? Who, besides the applicable butch, cares if that butch chooses to wear eyeliner. And how, precisely, is the act of wearing anything (clothing, makeup, accessories, attitude) linked to the validity of one’s identity for anyone other than the butch in question?

Are you beginning to sense my theme?

Let me be explicit: identity is uniquely personal and can ONLY be defined by the individual claiming that identity, and its validity, authenticity and dimension can ONLY be assessed by that individual.

It is perfectly true that some bulk characteristics can be attributed to most members of any given group or demographic. Indeed, ‘demographic’ means the parameters defining any given subset of a population. However, demography is a gross measure, not designed to capture the granular detail needed to define something so personal and esoteric as gender identity.

Nor is the average, mean or median of any bell curve the truest description of any point on that curve. Just because a point lies on an extreme does not mean that it is an invalid point. Nor does appearing in the ambiguous middle mean that such point is typical of every other point on the curve. The bell curve excels at measuring frequency and giving viewers a means to divide data into standard deviations from an imposed midpoint. But the bell curve is a very poor tool for discovering or facilitating precise (or even gross) definition of any point on the curve.

Rather, the community or group of individuals comprising the population sets the gross standard for that population. Essentially, they share a loose set of traits or characteristics that outline the group classification. The curve is then formed by the individually-adopted granular definitions of that gross identity. So, by definition (in my mind, at least), every individual identifying to that population is helping to define it and that individual’s personal definition within that umbrella is automatically valid.

It’s the difference between wearing a coat and the coat wearing you.

Instead of all coats being a static, uniform size, cut & color so that only those who fit that parameter can be coat-wearers, there are lots of sizes, styles, cuts, colors and variations of coats and we each choose the one (or many) that fits us best. We all get to wear a coat if we choose to, but the fact that mine is denim and yours is wool doesn’t mean that mine isn’t a coat and yours is. It just means that we each have different coats. We’re both coat-wearers.

Similarly, just because someone’s personal definition of butch encompasses use of makeup, wearing of so-called feminine clothing, or anything else that may seem incongruous with “butch” to an outside observer, doesn’t mean that that person is wrong or mistaken or misled in their personal identity or that that identity is in any way invalid. Whether or not an individual’s use of any object or affectation is consistent with the butch identity can’t be answered by anyone not wearing that particular butch identity.

My personal experience of being butch is, like many other facets of my life, different from what many of my butch-identified friends have described to me of their own experiences. I claimed the label very late in my personal development. Though my outward appearance has always been rather inconsistent with binary, heteronormative convention for someone assigned female, I have also had an internal identity that was also inconsistent with these conventions. It is something I learned very early in life to both embrace and yearn to change, but which I ultimately learned to live with.

Later, as my sense of self grew more defined, I became content with an uneasy truce between myself and society’s expectations, settling into the assumptions of others that I was just weird and awkward and and nonconforming. Since I didn’t make any effort to crash the ‘normal’ party and never really attempted to date, people seemed to accept my other-ness without much fuss and bother, allowing me to move through life without forcing me to fit perfectly into the female label and without forcing me to claim any particular degree of female-ness or femininity. (But, to be sure, never letting me forget just how “other” I was.)

It wasn’t until long after I’d graduated law school and started work that I took the time to examine my own definition of myself, my gender, my sexuality, my life philosophy. (All of them at once, of course, because why should I make things easy on myself and work on just one at a time?) As I made this examination and embarked on a journey of self discovery and improvement, it became clear to me that the flat, unadorned “female” designation was insufficient to describe my gender, though “male” didn’t feel right, either. Lacking any vocabulary other than male/female, I found it very difficult to express my gender experience.

It wasn’t any one book, article, blog or conversation that let me see that I had the power to define my gender in other than absolute binary terms. It was a progression of all these things, together with my own introspection. But as soon as I freed myself to do so, there was no other better-fitting choice for me than “butch”.

For me, butch as my gender is the balancing point of multiple markers of identity, both internal and outward. Inside, butch looks and feels like a collection of contrasting pairs of characteristics, mostly in balance: Masculine, not necessarily male. Resilient and sensitive in nearly equal measure. Preferring logic to emotion, yet with infinite emotional capacity. Assertive but not really aggressive. Thoughtful and contemplative without brooding. Decisive yet accommodating. Able to appreciate the contributions and worth of all people, regardless if they are identified or assigned a specific gender, race, ethnicity, nationality or personal ideology. And also having a deep respect for all life and valuing the inherent beauty of diversity.

Outwardly, my personal flavor of butch has evolved quite a lot in the last five years, most markedly in the last three years. When I was much younger, I cared little about fashion and style, focusing only on whether the clothes I wore were clean, fit comfortably and didn’t embarrass me among my immediate peer group. I was most definitely a jeans and sweatshirts kind of person, struggling on those occasions when more formal attire was required. My gestures and mannerisms were much more reserved and tentative, too.

As my autonomy, self-awareness and means have increased, so has my sense of fashion in relation to my gender expression. Today, my outward expression of my inward butch manifests in a nearly stylish, somewhat fashionable aggregation of traditionally “men’s” clothing choices (jeans, dress shirts, boots or dress shoes and bow ties, mixing formal and casual) and traditionally “masculine” gestures and mannerisms.

This last bit is harder to describe than clothes. Put it this way: I’m louder, more decisive, more confident in myself and more definite in my opinions than is conventionally acceptable for someone wishing to be considered genteel. Yet I am simultaneously more courteous and deferential, and less presumptive of my own priority than those traditionally viewed as “manly”.

Put another way, I don’t assume that all the space I occupy is uniquely dedicated to me and I am careful to leave room for others. This, in my experience, differentiates my living masculinity from the vast majority of cis males whom I’ve encountered, who give no outward sign of consideration for others’ comfort in or access to the spaces they occupy.

My personal definition of Butch doesn’t encompass much that is conventionally female or feminine–although, as I write this, I’m wearing a light pink dress shirt and purple bow tie. The colors might arguably be “feminine”, but the cut of the shirt and the way I wear it make them consistent with my butch identity. The silver rings on my middle fingers, the heavy steel watch on my wrist, the buckskin oxfords (not brogues) on my feet over the crazy-patterned dress socks, all are ostensibly “men’s” accessories, but are owned and worn with my own butch flair.

And in terms of aptitude and activity preferences, I’m equally mixed among things typically (and inexplicably) attributed to binary genders. I can use power tools, but would prefer to hire an expert for jobs bigger than minor maintenance. I love football, but I’m not much for dance. Yet I can out-craft any little ol’ granny…glass, metal, wire jewelry, anyone? I appreciate art and music. I also geek out on sci-fi movies and electronic gadgets.

Just as I contended above that self-selection to the identity makes the identity valid for that person, I equally contend that self-selection of appearance or performance characteristics or activity preferences makes them valid for that identity.

So, ultimately, my answer to the original question of whether a Butch can wear eyeliner and remain consistent with what “butch” is, is a resounding yes. Yes, if it is a choice that butch makes in expressing their personal flavor of butch, then eyeliner is eminently butch for that person. What outside observers think is irrelevant to what makes “butch” butch for that butch.

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Confession

I have a confession to make. It may come as a shock to some of you, so brace yourselves.

I HATE my Calvin Klein boxer briefs.

I know, a grievous and terrible admission. I did warn you.

Seriously though, of all the boxer briefs I’ve collected since I pulled myself up by the butch-straps over a year ago and chose the underwear that fit my body and gender, this pair is the worst! Great color and style, but the fabric is rough, they swim around under my jeans and just generally piss me off worse than a pair of granny panties. And I thought I’d left wedgies behind with the jerks in high school. Honestly, at this stage of my life, I have no time or patience for uncomfortable underpants.

So, sadly I have to part company with Mr. CK.

Whew. Glad I got that off my chest…and backside.

Spring is in the air

Today was a great day. I woke late, having slept deeply. I got a minute with my Lulu before she went to sleep. After a lazy morning vegging in front of the TV, I had a lovely drive downtown in the sunshine. Took in an art show and saw my brother and sister-in-law in their booth at that show. Another sunny drive around town and I’m resting some more in my easy chair.

Lazy, fun Sunday. I hope you’re having a great Sunday, too.

Took these pics of the first evidence of Spring. Can’t wait for my pear trees to blossom!

C’mon SPRING!!

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Rest

Saturday. Most of us use it for chores and errands and catch-up for things we couldn’t get to during the week. Sometimes I do too. But often I don’t do anything on a Saturday but rest. Maybe that makes me a lazy slug, or just lethargic. Whatever. I just like the stillness and quiet. I like taking my time waking up and hanging out in my PJs, watching brainless TV shows. I like eating weird things for breakfast, surfing the net and playing silly games.

That’s the type of Saturday I had today, and I’m thankful for it. Today I spent hours on Skype with my Lulu. Sometimes she was asleep, but she’s fighting a bad cold, so she didn’t sleep as much as she should. So I got lucky to spend the day with my girl, doing nothing and resting. That’s what’s lifted my spirit today.

Intelligence Rules

Day 3 for this week-long positivity challenge. I’m feeling confident I can do this!

The thing I’m thankful for and that lifted my spirit today: the intelligence, patience, respectfulness and perseverance of those who advocate for all people to be treated with love and respect.

In particular, I’m thinking about the Twitter debate S. Bear Bergman had today with a particularly insistent Christian minister. This minister chose to engage with Bear about an article he wrote for HuffPo. In the article Bear used satire as emphasis as he described his personal “homo agenda”: the radical idea that EVERYONE, including LGBTQIA+ folks, are loving and deserve love and his personal mission to indoctrinate as many children as possible to this agenda.

S. Bear Bergman, you’re an amazing person, you have mad debating skills, and demonstrated that intelligence, logic and respect can coexist and produce great results. I salute you, sir. And I thank you for your advocacy.

Here’s the Storify of the Twitter debate.

Go here for Bear’s article.

My safe place

Counting my beloved among the happiness and uplifting forces in my day (every day) is easy and natural. Saying that she makes me happy, lifts my spirit, gives me hope, brings light and love into my life, is like pointing out that the sun is bright, or that water is wet, or that breathing requires oxygen. You get the point–Lulu is my greatest happiness.

But that it is obvious does not detract from its miraculousness and criticality.

Indeed, when I challenged myself to consciously identify at least one happy or uplifting thing in each of the remaining days this week, she was foremost in my mind. The challenge is to do her justice in describing her role in my happiness.

Volumes of loving, lavish, superlative descriptions come to mind when I think of her and how she makes feel. But that’s more personal than I want to share in this post. So let me explain it this way: She is my safe place.

She is the person who sees me, with all my flaws and insecurities, and loves me anyway. She’s the one who hears my triumphs, tragedies, gripes, jokes and droning war stories, and smilingly responds to each with care and interest. She provides a safe, non-judgmental forum to explore ideas and dissect problems. With concern and careful attention she guards my sleep and drives away the nightmares. She gifts me with a unique point of view when discussing any issue, without judgement or derision. Her voice soothes my jangling nerves and calms my frantic heartbeat. And she accepts me without reservation.

With all these things, she makes it safe for me to be me with her and with the rest of the world.

My Lulu, my happiness, my safe place.

Pasting on the positivity

I promised I’d stop whining and pull myself out of the funk I’ve fallen into lately. And, to show that I am not churlishly unwilling to ‘look on the bright side’ as I have been admonished to do, I’m challenging myself to find at least one thing in each day for the rest of the week that is positive, uplifting, or for which I am thankful.

This is me faking it ’til I make it–deliberate positivity until it becomes natural. Paste on a smile and marshal onward.

So for today, Wednesday March 11, 2015, I’m happy and thankful for the Spring-like sunshine warming my office. It gives me hope that the frigid winter is coming to an end and the greening of the countryside will soon begin. Sunshine is a great cleanser, it drives out the gloom from both sky and heart and irradiates away the germs of melancholy. I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to view the sky outside my window and enjoy the warm rays while I work.

Anything in particular you are happy about or thankful for today? Let me know in the comments.

May your day be full of sunshine, even if only in your spirit. 😃☀️👍

Slowly imploding

Ever seen a time lapse video of something (a tin can, a vehicle or building) weathering, crumpling, decaying? Remember how the thing starts by looking new and whole and shiny?

At first, it’s straight and un-damaged and looks like something you’d like to own or have in your home. Then weather and age and use and abuse start to happen. You can see in the video how it starts slowly, almost imperceptibly, with a scratch or ding or fading. But then it accelerates.

Soon it’s shape is significantly altered, sagging or buckling or caving-in, here or there. Maybe it shows signs of vandalism or mistreatment. Maybe it’s natural erosion by age and exposure. Either way, pretty soon it’s looking sad and forlorn and dingy and ratty and not at all like something you’d want to have or touch.

It’s not long before the thing is unrecognizable as its original self. Bleached or dusty or rusted, it’s labels and distinguishing characteristics are gone. It’s a generic lump of twisted, rotted, useless material whose structural integrity is compromised and its utility is depleted.

I find such videos fascinating. They speak so eloquently of the insidious damage caused over time by forces both avoidable and inevitable. They are a metaphor, of sorts, for the creeping decay to soul and spirit from the harsh disdain and callous indifference we face in the world at times.

Right now, for instance, I’m feeling a great deal of empathy for, and affinity with, that weathering tin can. That gradual, yet accelerating, erosion of strength and dignity is exactly what it feels like when under constant strain and scrutiny. Every suspicion, every undeserved criticism and every added burden of obligation feels like a blow. Each leaves a mark or bruise or scar, like the dents and chips and dings that distort the shape of the tin can.

It’s really a slow-motion implosion. Everything turning inward and compressing, getting smaller. But since there is also erosion, the material doesn’t get deeper and more dense. Rather, everything of value is leached out, leaving an empty husk.

Now, some of these videos go on to show new life reclaiming that material and space. This is supposed to be an uplifting message of continual renewal, the circle of life and what not. But from a certain perspective, this positive spin glosses over the sadness and devastation wrought in the process. While it is true that good and great things can arise from the ruins, it is equally true that those benefits come at the expense of the life, the existence, the entire value of the original source.

Shouldn’t some time, attention, emotion be spent in mourning what is lost, before all focus and energy turns to celebrating the renewal or rebirth? Shouldn’t there be some homage to honor the value that was there before it was trodden down to base elements?

Are we in such a huge hurry to change everything and everyone from what it is to what we want it to be that we leave no room for those things, those people to simply be enough, good enough, just as they are?

I’m a huge believer in continuous improvement, of bettering oneself, of trying always to be a better person than I was the day before. But there has to be a balance between becoming the best ‘me’ I can be, and eliminating everything that is ‘me’ in favor of everything that everyone else thinks I should be.

What is the secret? Where is that elusive division between constructive criticism and oppressive reconstruction? How, when you’ve given so much, worked so hard at positivity and self-improvement, do you tell the difference? How, after such a struggle, do you not internalize these things as “not good enough”, “not worthy”, “wrong”, “broken”, “inadequate”, “less than”?

That’s exactly what it feels like. And its abysmal.

And the glib platitudes that accompany these needles of derision – “well, look on the bright side, this is just one area for you to work on”; “stay open minded and look at it as a gift, the knowledge of what you can fix”; “it’s character building”; and my favorite “just think how much better you’ll be after you change ___” – do nothing to soothe the sting of message that “you’re not good enough “.

It all just leaves me wondering how long, how many times, a person can pull herself up before the bootstraps break.

The Truth Is…

I’ve been going through a period of high stress and anxiety. This often leads to a sort of recurring loop of introspection, dissatisfaction and writing.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Sometimes the pattern is cathartic and the cycle breaks about the same time as the stress eases. This makes it difficult to determine cause and effect, or if the two conditions are even related. But my analytical mind says that even if not causally linked, the correlation is strong enough to warrant special attention.

So, lately, I’ve been trying hard to keep a part of my mind open and detached as I view the various aspects of my life and immediate circumstances. I’ve tried to simply catalog the stress, the events, the anomalies and my reactions to them. Tried to be objective and non-judgmental as I view what’s happening.

But the truth is that I can’t be objective about myself. I think that’s the very definition of subjectivity. No matter how good I may be at compartmentalizing different parts of my day, my thoughts, my responses, I am still the ultimate insider to these events and fundamentally subject to the emotions and physical responses to the stresses and occurrences.

The frustrating thing about that is that I don’t have a solution. If I can’t objectively respond to the stress, examine my circumstances or design a plan to cope with it myself, then the obvious answer is to get outside help. Yet, that would require a whole lot of vulnerability and trust. And let’s face it, that’s just another load of stress.

Again, the truth is that I have no unique, Earth-shattering, monumental problems. I have mundane, run-of-the-mill, everyone-has-them type of stresses and anxieties. I’ve got a huge responsibility at work in a high-pressure environment. I have a loving family, who nevertheless have very high expectations of me and who rely heavily on me in many ways. The love of my life lives 9,000 miles and 17 hours (currently) away from me. I’m a non-binary, gender nonconforming person who is, apparently, an enigma to many of the people I work with, causing their confusion and fear to sometimes translate into pressure and strife on top of the already high demands of my job. And I constantly labor under people’s false assumptions about me, my personality, my attitude and potential for violence, due to the strange synergy of my ethnicity, gender presentation and size.

All these are problems that thousands of people deal with every day and none are insurmountable or irresolvable. They’re nothing in comparison to the tragedies and sorrows that queer people in other countries have to deal with. They’re nothing like as horrible as freedom fighters and activists are facing in Ferguson, in the Middle East, in Uganda, in Russia and other countries. I at least am free, reasonably safe in my home city, comfortable in my home, and blessed with home and family and plenty.

So what am I belly aching about? Why should my little troubles cause so much bother?

The truth? Because I can’t think my way out of them. That’s what’s really sticking in my throat.

These are ordinary situations that should be susceptible to logic and reason. Those are tools I’ve prided myself on developing and using well. Yet here I am, stymied.

So why am I even writing about it? Back to the cycle: I’ve looked into myself and am dissatisfied with the inability to be objective and fix it, so I write, chasing that elusive catharsis and, possibly, an epiphany. I’m hoping that the process of writing out the futility will unlock some line of thought or reasoning that will lead to a solution.

So far, I got nothing.

Stop, just stop

I wrote this in the throes of my ire immediately after reading the below Tweet and associated article , back on February 6, 2015. I deliberately let it sit, thinking I should edit it later after I’d calmed down and thought about it rationally. Well, a month later, I’m still pissed off about it and I think this needs to be said, even if it is snarky and inelegant.
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Article link: http://www.buzzfeed.com/dominicholden/florida-bill-would-criminalize-transgender-people-using-sing?s=mobile

Whether or not the phasing in this tweet was intentional, the message is devastating: *trans people themselves, not a behavior or any specific act, but the person, is being criminalized.

Think about that a moment. What a diabolical notion: it is against the law for you to exist as the person you are in this place.

How incredibly destructive, isolating and unnecessary is such a thought, let alone the legislation that incited the tweet.

Now, to be transparent, if you read the article you see that the proposed bill is, in fact, targeted at an act: using a single-sex bathroom for a sex to which the person was not assigned at birth. But it amounts to the same thing for those who have transitioned or are in transition: it is illegal for them to exist in that space in that condition.

And for what? Purportedly to promote safety and privacy of others using that facility.

Again, stop and think a moment. The bill relies on language very similar to the language used in the Americans with Disabilities Act, focusing on places of public accommodation and identifying a class of beneficiaries for the bill’s protections. Only this bill turns that laudable goal on its head by not targeting the most vulnerable and least represented minority for protection. Rather, this bill focuses on the vast majority of people, some of whom are arguably the most privileged in our society: everyone who is of the same biological sex as they were assigned at birth.

Quick recap: A Florida politician took the time and effort to draft and introduce a bill that punishes the most vulnerable and marginalized in society for the horrible crime of making someone in the most privileged class feel uncomfortable in a public space.

Stop it. Just. Stop.

No one has a fundamental right to never feel discomfort with the unknown, the new, the different, the nonconforming. The constitution doesn’t guarantee that you’ll never have to confront your own privilege and prejudice and learn to get along with others different from you.

The insidious destructive power of this kind of stupidity is astounding. Consolidating and securing more rights for the already privileged by means of criminalizing the most vulnerable people on the margins of society does absolutely nothing to solve any societal challenge. Rather, by pandering to the irrational insecurity of the bigoted, privileged few, allowing them to avoid having to share public accommodations with ALL of the public, those in greatest need of protection in public accommodations and from governmental oppression are shunted aside and criminalized.

Just for having the temerity to use a public restroom to pee in relative comfort & privacy.

Get over yourselves. Seriously.

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