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Not Butch, Not Femme

Not Butch, Not Femme
by Greta Christina

Once upon a time in the '50s, all lesbians were supposed to come in two flavors: butch and femme. If you didn't, you got called kiki and people pointed and scoffed. Then the androgynous '70s happened, and if you were one of the two old flavors, you got scolded and called a bad feminist. And at last came the sexy, liberating modern era, with its dyke porn and dildos and fuck-as-you-are mentality.

Except it seems like we're all supposed to come in the two flavors again. And if you don't, if you say you're cool with butch/femme but it's not who you are, plenty of dykes will scoff and sneer and say, "Yes, dear, you keep telling yourself that."

And it annoys the fuck out of me.

Okay. First, I need to convince you that I'm not a femme. After all, I do have long hair, wear dresses, and even use lipstick now and then. When I'm doing historical recreation (long story, don't ask), I typically go in male drag -- but in my daily life, I look like a girl. Woman. Whatever.

But here's how I know I'm not a femme. See, women who are femme usually say it isn't about clothes. Or makeup. Or how you fuck, or even who you fuck. It's about something else, they say, some core identity, impossible to explain but still crucial.

And I have no idea what they're talking about. Oh, I believe it exists for them -- I have my share of inexpressible but crucial identity things. But femme, I have to take on faith. On that bones-and-guts comprehension level, I just don't get it.

But a lot of dykes react to this with either "Isn't that funny" or "Isn't that sad." Isn't it funny, the girl thinks she's not a femme; isn't it sad how she denies the obvious. Lots of dykes are convinced that butch/femme is universal, a lesbian archetype that applies to every woman with the hots for other women. I guess it's understandable: plenty of people think the defining features of their lives are true for everyone. Like that headline in the Onion: "Area Stoner Convinced Everyone On TV Is Also Stoned."

I gotta tell you, though, it's annoying as heck. I once worked with a hardcore butch who saw me hauling a 50-pound box downstairs and got seriously alarmed. "You shouldn't be doing that," she said, with an obvious stare at my sundress and shaved legs. I laughed it off, reminding her that hauling boxes was, in fact, my job. But I had to wonder: If she'd been boss, would she have even hired a "femme" for the box-hauling job?

And there's all these conclusions people jump to based on my supposed femmeness. I'm sick of dykes assuming that, because I'm a femme, I therefore must: lust after butches, obsess about my looks, hate physical labor, be a do-me queen in bed, and follow when I dance. (It was ever such fun to come from the hetero ballroom scene, with its assumption that women are always follows, and arrive in the dyke ballroom scene -- with its assumption that femmes are always follows.) Even if I were a femme, I might find this stuff presumptuous.

Plus it's totally patronizing. Telling other grownups that you know them better than they know themselves? When you barely know them at all? Ew. It's not that I'm always perfectly self-perceptive. But telling adult women that they don't know who they are -- don't we gripe about the heterosexist patriarchal blah blah world doing that to us? Do we really want to do it to each other?

So cut it out, y'all. Be butch or femme all you want -- it clearly means a lot to you, and I think that's ducky. But quit assuming that it applies to every dyke you meet. It doesn't. Deal with it.

Copyright 2003 Greta Christina. Originally published in Girlfriends.


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