Archive for the ‘privilege’ Tag

Multitudes

The other day, I was chatting with a friend, one of the few people I work with who is a friend more than a colleague. She is a straight, cis woman an a true ally to the LGBTQIA+ community. Her support and unconditional acceptance of me have made it safe and comfortable for me to talk openly with her about my gender identity in a way that I don’t with most others. So while we were laughing together about some meaningless absurdity that I no longer recall, I flippantly commented that whatever thing we were laughing at (I think some extreme fashion accessory) would “lose me my Butch card” if I wore it. We laughed and the conversation moved on. But a little later she asked me more seriously what “Butch” meant to me, if it was more than my fashion style.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked to describe what “Butch” means to me, to define the concept authoritatively. And since this conversation with my friend, I’ve seen multiple posts and articles online and overheard several other conversations among others that attempt to do this, some for themselves, others for the world at large. I didn’t attempt an answer for my friend, merely saying that it was a big topic and maybe we should try to cover that sometime when we weren’t at work.

But the question and topic have been running around in my head ever since, and I have some thoughts on it. The subject seems to hold a particular fascination for people.  As with so much in the human experience, this identity captivates people most because of the mystery, ambiguity surrounding it. Humans crave to know a thing. And when we can’t easily encapsulate it in a tidy description, the mystery grows and our thirst to know escalates.

The trouble is, all who are “Butch” are individual; we aren’t a monolith with uniform surfaces and symmetrical dimensions. Each unique person brings their own flavor and flair to this identity. There are commonalities, sure. And there are shared experiences among many who wear this name. But no one true definition will work for all.

“Butch” is as much the way we move through the world experiencing the highs and lows as any human of any identity, but engaging with those experiences from the vantage point of one who occupies multiple dimensions at once. Many of us enjoy male privilege to varying degrees due to the odd confluence of our outward appearance and the assumptions of careless observers who automatically file us away as “men” or “male” in their heads based on our clothes or hair alone. This privilege, however slight and fleeting, colors our view of the other identities we occupy.

For me, ‘passing’ as male up to a third of the time (by my rough, unscientific estimation) has tempered my understanding of being a woman, a queer, and a Latina. Other women of my acquaintance who are also queer Latinas, but are more feminine-presenting, for example, have experienced significantly more discrimination and non-acceptance in traditionally male-dominated situations (i.e. job interviews, professional advancement) than I have, though we are equally matched in qualifications. However, these same feminine queer Latinas are fare more successful in more female-identified roles or circumstances (i.e. socializing, attraction politics, fund-raising, etc.)

This unscientific observation of a very limited population of my own acquaintances is not an adequate foundation on which to base an all-encompassing thesis of the “Butch” experience. I offer it as an illustration of one dimension of how the surface of this identity may influence the deeper, more nuanced components of life as a queer Butch woman.

Ultimately, there is no one right answer for everyone to describe what it means to be “Butch”. There is only one answer for each Butch – the one that that Butch gives or makes for her/their/his self at any given moment.

When I speak of “Butch” identity, I speak of a queer identity that I wear in my very essence.  It unites energy and intention and attraction and the soul-deep knowledge of a place between the strata of sex and sexuality and gender and gender expression foreign to those who have never struggled with this in-between. It unites these ephemeral things with a physical aesthetic built from more than hair and clothing styles, but also from a unique embodiment of masculinity, chivalry and gentility. I speak for myself alone. But I know others for whom this will resonate. I also know others for whom this is not even close to their experience of “Butch”. Understand this before reading further.

 

Ok, ready? Good.

 

My answer for what “Butch is includes an affinity for bow ties and Oxford ankle boots, a quiet confidence in my skill as a professional, and a soft, generous heart that longs to be important to someone who cherishes that gentility and chivalry.  It includes a fierce desire to nurture and grow an emotional bond with an intelligent, ambitious, humorous and kind woman looking for those same qualities in a “Butch” package unlikely to ever meet any standard for superficial attractiveness.

My definition of “Butch” encompasses an appreciation for physical femininity, curves and delicacy and loveliness that are not confined to any one body type or size, but made evident by her confident embrace of her own nature. It responds to the presence of this feminine energy wherever it occurs, regardless if it is packaged in the form of a girlish figure in a pretty sun dress or the image of a powerful body doing manual labor in rough work clothes, or in a soft, round body in nothing but the rumpled folds of a bed sheet on a lazy Sunday morning.

The “Butch” I embody shows regard for the one I’m with in small gestures of care-taking; held doors, fetched drinks, smiles and soft touches. It acknowledges that she can do it all without assistance, but offers help for the joy of being helpful to she whose regard I seek. My “Butch” energy seeks to empower, not impose, to lift and hold, not constrain.

My definition of “Butch” includes some less-lovely characteristics, like shy awkwardness, body insecurity and a tendency to self-criticize. But my “Butch” self also is committed to self-knowledge and self-improvement, constantly reaching for a better way to engage with people and emotions and concepts that shape our world.

There is no neat, one-line answer to what “Butch” is to me or to anyone. It is more than my clothes, more than my sexual attraction, more than my impulse to care-taking, more than my snark and wit and vocabulary.  It is all of that and all of what that is not.

“Butch” is complex and nuanced and messy.

“Butch” is multitudes in one.

“Butch” is my gender and my being.

“Butch” is me.

Privilege…Reprised

Last post I talked about a conversation about privilege that my brother and I had last Saturday. Because it was at a table full of people, we didn’t really get in-depth, but I said some things that really stirred thoughts & emotions for both of us.

So, during dinner with just my bro and sis-in-law last night, we revisited the conversation. Bro actually brought it up, which surprised me. Long story short, we each took the time to listen to each other and actively try to understand the other’s point of view. It was the most adult conversation I’ve had with him since I was an 18 year old college freshman, believe it or not.

We certainly didn’t solve the world’s problems and I still have a lot to think about before I’ll feel ready to come out to him. But last night’s chat gave me the critical key, the opening I needed to broach the topic. And, importantly, it gave me hope about my greatest fear in coming out to him: losing his love and companionship.

Here’s what happened:

During the course of the discussion we covered all sorts of issues related to the general topic of privilege. But the best bit came from him spontaneously. He brought up homosexuality as an example of a point he was making about being “forced” into a community. I turned it around, and used it to make my own point on privilege, by discussing marriage equality. He took the opening, as I’d hoped, and posed a hypothetical about his own kids. He boldly declared that if one of his kids came out to him, it wouldn’t change his love for them, because he is their dad regardless. He stated that he believes that homosexuality is an issue “between the person and their maker” and it’s not for him to judge any person right or wrong on that basis.

!!!

Now, admittedly, there’s still HUGE room for improvement in that attitude, and despite his assertion, there’s judgement inherent in the statement. But, taking the tiny victories as and where I find them, I’m choosing to celebrate the fact that he’s even willing to entertain the discussion and the possibility of a gay person in our immediate family.

As I said, it’s a good opening for a talk and gives me hope I won’t be immediately shunned and disavowed.

Now…to work on banking some courage to have that talk.

Contemplating Privilege

I nearly fell face first out of the closet with a painful crunch and bang Saturday night at dinner with my brother, his wife and a group of our mutual art friends. I didn’t actually come out, but it was a close shave. In the process, I had a bit of a personal epiphany.

For a long time I’ve been hearing and reading about privilege, its existence, its benefits and detriments, and how it manifests in real life. I thought I understood this concept fairly well; I thought being a gender non-conforming, Hispanic, gay, female in a nearly all white, predominantly straight community in the American Midwest gave me at least four separate checks in the non-privileged boxes. Regardless, I realized during the dinner conversation Saturday night that there is definitely a real, tangible, if invisible, bar raised by privileged thinking…for both the privileged and non-privileged, alike.

Surmounting that bar to reach a minimum level of equality with those who hold privilege is a Herculean task for those without that status. Seeing past the entitlement to acknowledge (let alone, correct) the plight of inequality, is a huge challenge for those who enjoy that status. Effectively eliminating privilege on every plain while maintaining freedom for all groups (even the currently privileged)…mind-bendingly daunting.

Here’s a high-level of what happened:

A group of us went out to dinner, as we do about once a month. We had a pleasant catch-up chat, boisterous and fun with everyone chatting all at once. But then the conversation suddenly seemed to focus on a discussion going on between my brother and one of the older women in the group…and, reluctantly, me.

Someone commented during a story about someone’s grand kid, who is deaf, that getting the child into “the deaf community” early is important. My brother responded that mainstream education and the benefits from fitting into the mainstream society should outweigh considerations of community and, his tone implied, all the touchy-feely-preachy things that go along with it.

The discussion devolved quickly and soon the inevitable “I don’t care” comment was made, attempting to at once minimize and appropriate the sentiment: “They [the unprivileged] can care about their community or cause, but the rest of the world shouldn’t be forced to care or listen to it.”

At this point my mouth got ahead of my brain and I interjected that there is a distinction between “forcing” an issue on someone and vigorous advocacy for a belief or cause. I also pointed out that it is easy to say from a position of privilege that the disaffected should “just be proud of who they are and not make the rest of us miserable listening to it”, but those that don’t have that privilege have to advocate for their cause just to reach the basic level of benefit that the privileged enjoy.

It was clear by the looks on everyone’s faces that I’d said a lot more than the words they heard and that I wasn’t just talking about the hearing-impaired. The look my brother gave me was a mixture of offense, thoughtfulness and trepidation. I think he was afraid I might launch into a full-on lecture.

I didn’t, mainly because I realized after saying that much that (1) I don’t know enough to speak intelligently on this topic without compromising myself; (2) it wasn’t the time or place for that discussion; and (3) an issue so fundamental deserves more thought and preparation to be persuasive. And I didn’t come out because the venue wasn’t right and that discussion with my family deserves more delicacy than a diatribe at a group dinner can afford.

The conversation moved on to something else after that. I think everyone sighed with relief, too.

Though the evening was actually quite fun, that discussion left me a bit shaken and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. I haven’t come to any conclusions about privilege or about coming out to my family. But I have discovered another area of personal growth that needs some attention. Great, just what I needed, right? Lol!

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