AngryBrownButch in the flesh

This weekend I’m going to be sitting on a panel at the New Fest, the big queer film festival here in NYC. The details:

Masculinity In The Lesbian Community
1pm on June 11, 2006
The New Yorker Hotel
481 Eighth Avenue (at 34th St.)
Grammercy Park Suite

As seen in NewFest 2006 films like Boy I Am and Gender Rebel, there’s a lot to say about FTMs and genderqueer people and how they do and don’t fit into the larger lesbian community. With such diversity now present, is it still the lesbian community? Filmmakers Sam Feder and Elaine Epstein and activists continue the dialogue.

I’m one of the aforementioned activists, along with my friend Naomi; we’re both coming as representatives, so to speak, of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, though we won’t really be talking about SRLP’s work and therefore won’t be speaking as official representatives of what SRLP’s official positions on these issues are.

Note that the premise of the whole panel is a bit weird and is reflective of a problematic trend in “lesbian” communities to focus on the presence of trans men and female-assigned genderqueers and generally ignore the issues and presence (or lack thereof) of trans women in the community. It’s also a bit odd that we’ve gotten to this point where the synopsis of a panel entitled “Masculinity in the Lesbian Community” (and, at one point in the NewFest guide, is even simply called “Lesbian Masculinity”) includes nary a mention of butches, studs, AGs, and other masculine folks who have traditionally been a part of the lesbian community.

I, myself, tend not to identify as a lesbian anymore; my sexuality is queer, though I still do identify with lesbian community and culture, if that makes sense. And I certainly wouldn’t say I belong to a lesbian community, given the wide range of genders and sexualities in the communities of which I’m a part. But the question, “is it still the lesbian community?” is an odd one. It all depends on what you mean by community – is it just a general term applied to all people who share an identity, or is community an actual, localized social group of people who know and support each other? I’ll be speaking to these points and more on the panel. I’ll let y’all know how it goes.

18 Responses to “AngryBrownButch in the flesh”

  1. 1 piny

    Please do post more! I’m really curious.

    It’s also a bit odd that we’ve gotten to this point where the synopsis of a panel entitled “Masculinity in the Lesbian Community” (and, at one point in the NewFest guide, is even simply called “Lesbian Masculinity”) includes nary a mention of butches, studs, AGs, and other masculine folks who have traditionally been a part of the lesbian community.

    That is obnoxious. Especially the idea that ftms are part of the lesbian community as a group (or maybe I’m being hypersensitive). Maybe the discussion is meant to be more, “Ftms: when should we kick them out?” I can’t think of any explanation that bodes well, though. You’re probably right about the butch invisibility.

    I, myself, tend not to identify as a lesbian anymore; my sexuality is queer, though I still do identify with lesbian community and culture, if that makes sense.

    I know ftms and transmasculine people who feel the same way. They’re sort of…culturally lesbian. I feel somewhat connected to the queer women’s community, but I don’t know if that’s because I have historical affinity or because they’re accepting of me now. It’ll probably change as I put more years in this gender behind me, and when I can’t be shoved into “trannyboy” through any amount of elision.

  2. 2 Naomi

    We’re watching the two movies right now! They’re pretty multi-faceted in some ways. Although with lots of particular statements that could be… dissected… in a lot of different ways. Some of which were obviously selected for controversy. Anyway, there will be much to discuss.

  3. 3 Jack

    Haha, I didn’t even notice you looking at my blog, much less commenting!

  4. 4 butch boi

    I am a black butch women and completely identify with this statement. I also don’t identify as lesbian anymore. Lesbian to me means women loving women who seek heternormativity. If FTMs also seek that toothen they can call themselves lesbians. I describe myself as queer. However I think FTMs are part of a continuum – though chemically aided – of female masculinity. I don’t think butches are invisible – femmes are.

  5. 5 piny

    However I think FTMs are part of a continuum – though chemically aided – of female masculinity.

    Um. All of them? Even the ones who don’t consider themselves female at all?

  6. 6 Eli

    yes, please do give discussion/review of this event. I’d attend, but I’m working all day today.

    I find the issue of how the transmasculine and lesbian communities overlap (if they even can be discrete communities, which I’m not at all sure is the case- very hard to pinpoint what/who the ‘transmasculine community’ actually consists of) to be very interesting. A lot of assumptions going on from every side, and a lot of opportunities for discomfot all around. I, for one, am rather uncomfortable about being invited to spaces that are “Women and Trans only” because I feel there’s an assumption in there that trans guys are somehow still on the woman side of the fence (ametaphor which is problematic on a multitude of levels! Fences having only two sides, and all.) and are therefore ‘okay’ to invite.

    I know not all trans guys feel this way, and I certainly am glad to be a guy of trans experience- I value the time I spent identifying as a dyke- but I think such invitations are pretty invalidating.

    Anyway. Please do keep us posted on how this goes!


  7. 7 Jack

    Yeah… it’s one thing for individual trans men to feel that they have a continued connection to lesbian/women’s/queer women’s communities, but it’s a whole other thing to act as if trans men are, as a whole, just an extension of the lesbian community. I’ve seen that attitude and it seems really invalidating.

    I think that it makes sense for trans men and other transmasculine folks who have been a part of lesbian and queer women’s communities to still feel connected to those communities. I mean, just because one transitions doesn’t mean their histories, memories, affinities, social connections, any of that just disasppears, poof. And I don’t think that those folks should be instantaneously cut off from those communities and that culture when they transition. But I also don’t think that it should be assumed that every trans man who came from a lesbian community wants to still be treated like part of that community, or wants to be seen as a lesbian in any way. And I believe in the importance of women’s spaces, too. So… yeah, complicated stuff.

  8. 8 Jack

    See, I think I might be on the same page as piny – I don’t see FTM’s as being on the same gender continuum of masculinity, female or otherwise, as butches. It’s true that there are folks who now identify as trans men who once identified as butches, but I think they’re different genders entirely – it’s not like trans men are just further down the masculinity continuum than butches. Believe me, I know a whole lot of trans men who are FAR less masculine than me. 😉

    I don’t share your understanding of the word lesbian but I do think it means really different things to different people. Lesbian, with all the cultural connotations that I attach to it, just doesn’t really fit me anymore.

    And word on femme invisibility – it’s an eternal and important problem. But I do think that, in certain communities, butches are few and far between these days. Again, it really depends on the community or social group you’re in; I think that many communities, especially communities of color, still have many folks who identify as butch, AGs, studs, etc.

  9. 9 Jack

    Yeah… I think the “women and trans” thing is tricky. I think it can definitely be invalidating in some ways and circumstances, but I also think it can be smart and appropriate in other circumstances.

    For example – I used to be a part of WOW Café Theater, a women’s theater collective here in NYC. The theater actually now has a women and trans folks inclusion policy, and I was one of the people who pushed for that, for a few reasons. First – WOW was created around an idea of gender oppression, in response to the theater world being rather exclusionary of women, especially queer women. Since trans folks experience similar gender oppression in the theater world, it made sense to extend the mission to include people who perhaps did not identify as women, but were trans or genderqueer.

    Also, there were people who had been part of the collective, transitioned, and then felt unwelcomed in the space. I think that it makes perfect sense that trans men, after transitioning, choose to remove themselves from lesbian or women’s spaces that they once belonged to; however, in many circumstances, I think it’s wrong to push out folks who still feel connected and who have long contributed to the community. And since WOW still put on shows by trans men and had trans men as performers, it made sense to extend full inclusion to those folks, too.

  10. 10 piny

    There’s a documentary at the SF LGBT film festival I’m excited about, called _Female to Femme_. (Okay, part of the excitement is that a friend of mine is one of the filmmakers.)

    I had a discussion with a butch friend about how–according to her–“butch” is being replaced by “boi” and other variants on female masculinity. “Butch,” to her, implied a particular kind of masculinity, maybe what you’d call classic. She felt that those women were becoming few and far between, but not that they were transitioning or that female masculinity was disappearing. I can’t really speak to numbers.

    I know ftms–and “tg butches”–who _do_ consider their ftm persona to be an extension of the butch continuum. My quibble was with an generalization from their identities, or with a conflation of “transmale” and “masculine.”

  11. 11 Jack

    I guess my whole thing with continuums is that a) a continuum implies a binary – there’s something at one end, there’s something at the other, and there’s a bunch of stuff in between; and b) a continuum implies relative amounts of something. Like, if butches and trans men are along a continuum of butch or female or trans or whatever masculinity, then it’s often taken to mean that trans men are a little farther down the masculinity spectrum than butches. Thing with that is, though, that I don’t think we can say that trans men are trans men because they’re more masculine than butches, or that butches are butches because they’re not masculine enough to transition or identify as a trans man. I don’t think that those gender identities necessarily correlate with degrees of masculinity, which is what the concept of a continuum implies to me.

  12. 12 Jack

    Heh, actually, reading your last comment, piny, I think that we’re both disagreeing with the conflation of transmale and masculine, as you put it.

  13. 13 mat

    Particularly because grouping all transmen into the ‘lesbian extension’ category totally ignores gay transmen, which is interesting because it seems like such an attitude totally assumes heterosexuality as a baseline. Like, you’re trans? you must have started as a lesbian, because why sould you transition into faggotry?

  14. 14 piny

    …Because I’m just that perverse.

    Part of this gets confusing when you acknowledge that at least some gay transmen either considered themselves part of the lesbian community pre-transition or actually were primarily attracted to women.

    I think the mindset you’re describing is more common to the mainstream. Within the lesbian community SAII, the assumption is made because (duh) lesbians most frequently encounter transguys who start out connected to the lesbian community.

  15. 15 ?!

    SO… how did it go?

    And a big “WTF” to the idea that “lesbian masculinity” = genderqueer and FTM. what the hell? Butches are so retro, huh? I should climb back into my cave.

  16. 16 ms. jared

    i saw “boy i am” at frameline in san francisco last weekend and i thought it was really good. it opened my eyes to a lot of things and made me consider ftms in a much larger and deeper capacity.

    i also saw most of “female to femme” last night but it was a scorcher here (87 degrees!!!) and the projector kept over heating so i missed the last twenty minutes of it. it was more than sold-out so hopefully they’ll show it at the LGBT center or maybe it’ll even come out on DVD one of these days so i can see what i missed.

    it too was really interesting and thought provoking, particularly in light of all the “this is what a feminist looks like” wars going on in the feminisphere these days.

    much to consider and ruminate on at the dyke march on saturday…
    xoxo, jared

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