Essays & Quotes from our organizers & keynote speakers, our press release,
and coming soon… a Butch Timeline…
THE NEW POLITICS OF BUTCH – By Jeanne Cordova
upcoming in “Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme”
Edited by Ivan E. Coyote and Zena Sharman from Arsenal Pulp Press
“We do not fear our future, we shape it.
We do not avoid our responsibility, we embrace it.”
–Barack Obama, Spring 2010.
Why do butches not fear the future, but fight to shape it? Why do butches embrace the responsibility of living in a binary-rigid world? Being taken seriously as a butch means you need be a person of substance—a doer rather than just a talker. Because we are born butch we don’t know how to live in fear, we would rather die fighting for our freedom. And many a butch has indeed died fighting to hold her head up high. And thousands of butches around the planet continue to live and dress openly as masculine women rather than merely exist as defeated, broken people.
My earliest proof that I was born butch comes from watching a black and white, eight millimeter reel my parents brought with us from post-war Germany, 1952. I am daughter #2.
The camera lens narrows to focus on three children playing on a Christmas morning.
The two girls, age four and five are dressed in identical red polka-dot flannel pajamas. Their brother, age two, wears a striped sleepwear jumpsuit. But the camera is already lying; the truth is far from its gender-biased gaze. An adult hand reaches into the scene placing two identically wrapped Christmas presents into the hands of the waiting girl children. The older black-haired one delicately unwraps the edges of her package and pulls out a doll whose eyes open and close.
“It’s a dolly!” Francie’s eyes light up her freckled pale skin, as she jumps up and down in slippered feet. A pause over takes her as she looks to daughter #2 and awaits her sibling’s unwrapping.
It comes with a fury. #2 tears the wrapping apart from the middle, revealing the same doll, this one with light brown hair and similar eyes that pop open. But no smile or happy-jumping follows. #2’s face fades into a sad, faraway look, disappointment shrouds her eyes. Wordlessly, she drops the doll to the ground.
It clunks to the floor as the camera quickly pulls back from the unexpected.
Suddenly, it re-captures #2 as a moment of defeat springs into action and her head of curls spring to the right where the camera catches the small brother about to mount his shiny new tricycle. Quickly #2 tosses her brother off his bike, snatches his bike and drives off — not into the sunset, but away from the camera and away from the whole wide gender-conforming world. *1
Decades later, the 21st Century’s exploration of gender finds my new country, America, giving birth to a unique Butch Renaissance. The fundamentals and elasticity of the term “butch” is now out of the closet, evolving, and important to know and clarify.
Feminism, Queer Theory and Gender Theory, together with transgender politics are bringing new definition to the concept of butch. And so it is that we must look at redefining “butch” in a post-trans world. A world in which we now also question and look for re-definition to the concepts of “male” and “female,” the masculine and the feminine.
In the 1998 classic, Female Masculinities, Dr. Judith ‘Jack’ Halberstam posits the very simple, yet breakthrough assertion that behaviors called “masculine” don’t belong exclusively to men. The British born Halberstam calls herself a “trans-butch,” and theorizes that the purview called ‘masculine’ can also apply to women. The patriarchal coupling of “masculine” to “male” had long kept the butch trapped in a hetero-normative contradiction. By decoupling this fundamental contradiction and claiming ‘the masculine’ for women also, we solve the ancient and misguided notion that a “mannish” woman is somehow wrong. In this post-feminist age, reclaiming the masculine liberates all women, especially butch women.
Having solved this sexist riddle, butches began to grow more internally comfortable with our selves. But more recently, the advent of transgender possibilities now challenge the definition of ‘butch’ once again. In 2010, the greater butch world is caught up trying to re-define itself.
I agree with Karl Marx who said that technology defines the direction of social change. The medical technology known as the birth control pill was not available to the first wave of the Women’s Suffrage Movement (1848-1920). So, the right of women to “control our own bodies” –using birth control or abortion—had to wait until the second wave called the Women’s Liberation Movement (1966—present). Similarly, the reality of demanding voting rights for blacks in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, could not surface during the Civil War era when African Americans had yet to be freed from slavery. Those of us who study social change in historical frameworks recognize that political movement-building needs to articulate goals that are technologically possible. And so it was that the Trans-gender Movement had to wait for the medical technology of SRX, sexual re-assignment surgery, in order to underpin a social change struggle around gender. Technology precedes social change.
The Trans Challenge
The reality of being able to change one’s gender, an option popularly available to American youth beginning only in the mid 1990s, is a new phenomenon on the landscape of western societies. Modern transgender literature and culture is, in 2010, only one generation old. The possibility of transitioning from one’s given-at-birth gender to the opposite gender calls for a fundamental re-interpretation of previous lesbian butch identity. The possibility of transitioning forces us into a deeper exploration of the intersection of butch and transgender, and calls forth the question of alliance. Although political activists might be temporarily disturbed given that theirs is the task of defining and formatting our civil rights agenda, transitioning as a nuanced recognition of the human condition, is something to celebrate, not fear.
Towards a Feminist Understanding of Butch
Due to these new realities, a segment of our younger generation now call themselves ‘butch’ but they might not identify as ‘lesbian’ or even ‘female.’ Many of them are changing their female first names to more androgenyous or male first names. Name-changing is not new—butches of the 1950’s frequently changed their first names. But today we see the younger generation often identifying with male pronouns, having chest surgery, living as men, and taking medical testosterone. So what does butch mean today that it could not mean before feminism and before the option to transition?
For we feminists and womanists who grew up in the Women’s Liberation Movement and for young women today who identify as feminist, this radical expansion of ‘butch’ necessitates new thinking. In attempting to build a political movement, a dominant strain of 1970s lesbian feminism defined all things male and masculine as the root of patriarchal society, and therefore oppressive. Among Lesbian Feminism’s great gifts—the ideation of woman-power, of women living in a world without male privilege and the heterosexual assumption, and the creation of a separate lesbian counter-culture—remain strong and viable values. But Lesbian Feminism’s shortsightedness in writing butch and femme off as “aping heterosexuality” was a narrow and falsely constructed mistake. Lesbian Feminism did not recognize butch/femme as an indigenous lesbian balancing of the yin and yang principal within the dyadic pair. A philosophical world-view as significant as Lesbian Feminism should not continue to perpetuate this heterosexist error. Every few generations, important ideologies—like Marxism or Capitalism or Feminism—need to brush off the cobwebs of short-sighted imagination and update itself. If it does not, it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant. Radical feminism must open its mind to a new interpretation of masculine women, the butch, and transgendered people. Feminism needs to recognize that not all of humanity neatly fits into the male/female binary, especially since radical Lesbian Feminism call for the erasure of the gender binary as a construct built to preserve male power. Feminism needs to re-assess the butch as a genderqueer radical.
Queer theory and transgender politics call upon us to re-evaluate yesterday’s limited ideology. Are all things ‘masculine’ really anti-woman? The answer of the Millennium Generation to this feminist denunciation has been a clear “no.” All things masculine are not anti-woman. The existence of tens of thousands of biologically born women and trans-women who walk between the genders proves otherwise.
Scene: the doctor’s office, 1983, West Hollywood, with Dr. Bruce Cohen, an openly gay man who would be dead the following year from AIDS. We are both 34.
Cohen: “I was running some tests, and guess what I found. Do you know you have an unusually high level of testosterone?”
Me: “No, I didn’t. Maybe that’s why I’ve had to shave since I was twenty-three.”
Cohen: “Yes, that is why. Do you want me to change it, lower it?”
Me: “What would that mean?”
Cohen: “That you wouldn’t have to shave anymore. And a lot of other more subtle sexual changes.”
Me: “I like my sexuality exactly like it is. Would I still be gay and butch?”
Cohen: “Yes, I would think so! But it changes sexual aggression and receptivity and…”
Me: “My relations with women?”
Me: “Oh, no! I’m doing just fine in that department.”
Cohen: “OK. Leave everything as is?”
Me: “Yes, leave it. I am who I am.”
The Former Meaning of Butch
Among the foundational questions of the new butch renaissance is an inter-generationally driven disagreement over what it means to be butch. Butch used to be understood as one among several lesbian-specific identities, a phenomenology within lesbian culture, and a concept which refers to a code of masculine behaviors and gender performativity among gay women. A butch is born as a female, but a female who bridges the feminine and the masculine in that she genetically, and later culturally, acquires body language and clothing presentation, thought processes and behaviors, sexistly categorized as ‘masculine’. A butch is a woman who looks at femme women with what the queer, black British filmmaker, Campbell X, erotically calls “the butch gaze.” A butch genetically retains a great many of the emotional characteristics of a woman, and therefore a butch was sometimes called a “she/he” or a shaman–“one who walks between the genders.” A butch is a human being who both female and male. As I said almost two decades ago in Persistent Desire; A Femme Butch Reader, a butch is a “recombinant mixture of yin and yang energy. Like recombinant DNA, a butch is an elusive, ever-resynthesizing energy field, a lesbian laser that re-knits the universes of male and female.” A woman could be butch without having ever slept with another woman. Growing up identifying with Rhett Butler instead of Scarlett O’Hara, or Iron Man rather than Wonder Woman, butches are socialized from early life to see ourselves as equal to men in terms of power. We later learn that the real world doesn’t agree with us. This disparity causes “butch rage.” Butch rage is both armor and an emotional disability that most teen butches grow up with. It’s installed in us out of the dissonance of being born a masculine woman in a sexist world. As pre-pubescent children, butches feel we are the equals of our sibling brothers and fathers, but in high school we receive cinematic, literary, and peer messages that this is not true. We are told men and women are different. That the difference is power, and women are inherently less powerful. Because of these messages, many butches internalize a false and sexist sense of shame about being female. As sexist messages decrease (at least in the western world), young masculine-of-center women today grow up with less ‘butch rage’ and the ability to dually validate both their masculine and female-bodied selves.
By high school trouble was brewing in my life. Girl friends at school had boyfriends they “flirted” with and I hadn’t a clue what was the big deal. Teachers started calling me “a ruffian” and telling Mom I ought to learn “grooming.”
“I feel naked with my socks down to my ankles!” I wailed as Mom stopped me before I could escape the house. “Grooming is for dogs!” I would have been happier being reincarnated as one.
High school is hell for tomboys. Tomboys under thirteen are ‘cute.’ Those who are still tomboys after thirteen are labeled ‘weird.’
In high school, the best-friend vacancy my brother Billy had left was filled by a series of prom-queens-in-training. To these girls, I represented safety, someone who would always listen and never compete. The role of prom-queen’s-best friend provided good cover from the exigencies of dating. Sharon, Margaret, Cathy – they all simply arranged dates for me with the buddies of their boyfriends. It never mattered to me who my guy or her guy was: that I got to double-date with my prom queen on Saturday nights was enough.
I suppose I went underground in high school, as I would again later, in my lefty days when we warred against the military-industrial Establishment. In high school, I was the fighting the religious establishment of nuns and peers screaming, “Girl! Girl! Girl!” at me.
I learned to fake it long before I learned to enjoy it with women. I faked writing notes to boys, because Margaret did. I faked losing Ping-Pong to Mike, because Sharon said, “That’s what girls do.” I buried my grief and myself –everywhere but on the baseball field.”*2
The New Meaning of Butch
Butch is no longer an exclusively lesbian identity. Butch has also become a non-gender-based identity. As S. Bear Bergman says, “Butch is a noun” –no longer merely an adjective.
Attending the first all-butch political event of my life, the Butch Voices inaugural Conference in Oakland, August 2009, I witnessed a new masculine continuum of butch identity, broadcloth of Butchdom I had never seen before. The Conference attracted four-hundred butch-identified souls (and their allies, both femme and transmen). The occasion was unique mix in terms of both race and class and brought together three generations of lesbian, queer, and trans-masculine identified ‘butch people.’ One workshop, billed as, “Bulldaggers; A Discussion for Woman-identified, Female Pronoun Using Butches” excluded butches who didn’t identify as women. And yes, there were a lot of noun butches, mostly between 18 and 35, who didn’t identify as women or relate to the word ‘lesbian.’ Another workshop—The Possibilities and Pleasures of Faggot Play—spoke to butches who sleep with other butches and ‘faggot butches’ who see themselves like gay men. “Butch Survival: Mentoring Gender” was pitched toward trans-masculine butches. By the second day, I realized I was part of a new historic re-alignment. I saw that “butch” can be removed from the male/female binary and exist as its own gender.
This expanded definition of butch now places us on a continuum of masculinity that begins with female-identified tombois at one end, and ends with trans-male identified people at the other. In the spirit of discussion, I offer a new chart that visually explains the new politics of butch.
A Post-Trans Butch Continuum
What are the implications of such a chart?
This continuum does not position “the female” as necessarily feminine, nor the “the male” as necessarily masculine. Membership in today’s LBGTQ community teaches us that this heterosexual concept is false.
Second, one of the positive, although politically messy, implications is that the “butch” is more accurately placed within the spectrum of genderized human behavior, instead of marginalized as a hidden wing of lesbianism. In my view “accuracy” is always good since it is the truth, even though this new definition might cause some apoplexy in the women’s and LBGTQ movement.
Thirdly, it’s critical not to project onto this linear chart a value system which glorifies masculinity. We instinctively read from left to right, but one could just as accurately view this continuum flipped from right to left with ‘the feminine’ being on the far right, and hence seemingly the most positive. In my view there remain many things wrong with men and the patriarchal construct which has so wrecked the world and the lives of women around the planet.
One of the many new attempts at definition I am hearing is a phrase which groups all “masculine of center people” –butch women and non-gender identified butches—together. In the spring of 2010 the organization Butch Voices changed their mission statement and adopted “masculine of center people” as their defined target population. (The phrase “masculine of center people” was coined by B. Cole, founder of San Francisco’s Brown Boi Project, an organization which seeks to bring all masculine-of-center people, including men of color, to build leadership in the social justice movement).
Under significant protest from me as a Board member, and my lesbian brotherhood of butches, who objected to being re-defined as “people” instead of women, the organization amended ‘masculine of center people.’ After weeks of intense debate, the Board creatively hammered our way into inclusive new language. The current mission statement says,
“The mission of BUTCH Voices is to enhance and sustain the well-being of all women, female-bodied, and trans-identified individuals who are masculine of center. We achieve this by providing programs that build community, positive visibility and empower us to advocate for our whole selves inclusive of and beyond our gender identity and sexual orientation.
Our community is vast and growing and we have many identifications that resemble what the world knows as our “butchness.” We recognize our diversity as having a foundation rooted in butch heritage. We welcome the on-going development of movements intentionally and critically inclusive of our gender variant community. BUTCH Voices is a social justice organization that is race and gender inclusive, pro-womanist and feminist.”
I air our controversial laundry to show that Butch Voices is only one of dozens of examples of young butch organizations in America that are in the process of grappling with and trying to find appropriate language for the thorny new politics of butch. The second decade of the 21st Century finds us living on the cusp and re-constructing “the butch” as if we were building a new kind of house from the foundation up.
Nowhere were the new politics of butch more discussed and played out in the real world than at the four regional conferences sponsored by Butch Voices in 2010. Over a thousand butch women and masculine-of-center people in Dallas, New York City, Portland, and Los Angeles signaled the infancy of the new butch movement. Dozens of the over 548 attendees at the Butch Voices.LA conference, aka ‘butch fest west,’ immediately resonated with “masculine of center” and used it with joy, as if to say, “Finally, a new way to say butch!” After all, most butches have always known we are masculine of something! And ‘butch’ has a white etymology, so butches of color might like it better. Yet an equal number of others questioned, “Masculine of what center? Are we referring to the ‘center’ of the gender binary that we are trying to erase, not support?!”
And so we continue to debate and move forward…
Holding the Butch Line
Today’s butch is being called upon to re-define her (him) self to allow an alliance with trans-masculine people. On one hand, we see some butch women as responding to this call with a flat-out “no” to any such alliance. But many butches, especially those 40 and younger, don’t feel the luxury to say “no” when so many of their friends and peers are transitioning. At the Oakland Butch Voices Conference the workshop “Bulldaggers,” led by Sasha T. Goldberg, founder of the Oakland group Bulldaggers, was packed with female affirming butches. In planning her workshop Goldberg told us, she wondered if there were any woman-identified butches other than her left in the world. The impassioned discussion centered on butch women’s confusion and fear that so many peers of the participants were transitioning. Young dykes from the Bay Area said, “I’m the only one from my crowd who hasn’t transitioned!” Some expressed fear that butch was “becoming a truncated species,” that there would there be no such thing as butch in future generations. Others, like the co-editor of this book, Ivan Coyote, said her personal solution was not to transition but hit the gym, build up her chest and biceps. Lonely butches, particularly from Los Angeles—the anti-butch, lipstick lesbian capital of the USA—said they couldn’t find other butches in the hidden city and were lonely for butch companionship. I said we had to embrace our transitioning brothers in as allies, but I don’t believe butch as a species is over. I firmly believe that butch women are in the genetic pool as a balancing tool within lesbian couples. Butch identified lesbians have always been, and we will always BE.
In attempting to lay out some of the groundwork for a new politics of butch, I want to say where I personally, as a life-long butch, lesbian author, and queer organizer, stand on these issues. In these complex times and because of them, I’ve recently felt compelled to go within once more and look at whether or not I see myself as male, female, or trans. As a college kid in the early 1970s I never had choices, never heard about “sexual reassignment surgery.” If I got to chose again, would I transition—adopt a male pronoun, have breast surgery, live as a man? Tortured by doubt, I felt dislocation and confusion. But I had to look, I had to re-decide. These months were a painful, but interesting, process. I thought back to years ago when I took testosterone for seven months as an alternative menopausal drug to get away from the breast cancer (my Mom had it) option of HRT. I dwelt for days in the near-manic rush of testosterone in my veins, I thought about living a life without my lesbian feminist community. What did I want? Who was I at my core?
During my search I came to feel in my body and mind—and with lots of input from my best transman friend and his friends—that butch women like me and trans-masculine people are different in our core. Our perceptions of self, and psychological relationship to maleness and femaleness, are not the same. Some of this difference may be generational or culturally acquired, but a core of it is genetic—that is, of the body and soul. I found no science today that precisely pinpoints this different core. But, I believe someday there will be. Someday we will know the exact how and why of gender-based identity.
In the meantime, I choose to hold the traditional butch line. I am a masculine, cross-gendered, lesbian-identified, feminist butch. That is who I am. To me, choosing to join the male gender would be a downwardly-mobile abortion of my psyche. Yet, as a self-actualized butch woman I greet the Trans phenomenon with an open heart and mind. Butches were once treated as the cross-dressing lepers of the lesbian community. It’s simply not politically or personally moral to treat our transitioning sisters or brothers in the discriminatory way we ourselves were once treated.
Going forward, I believe that the Genderqueer Movement offers the LBGTQ movement a more radical future than the Transgender Movement. ‘Genderqueer’ asks us to imagine a world without the binary of male and female. Every woman or man is invited to find her own messy, but honest, identity. It is fascinating to wonder—in a truly genderqueer society, where do we locate gayness, lesbianism, and the butch? Already we all see on popular prime time television, the relationship of straight men and women has totally changed since the Mad Men 1950s. In our exploration of gender, queer people have forced the heterosexual and homosexual world to re-think its male-female gender binary.
Today, the Butch Renaissance of the 21st Century means liberation for me. I now have the freedom to experience a new ‘lesbian brotherhood’ among my masculine of center butch peers, FtM and young trans-masculine friends. After years of living in the butch/femme underground bar closet of the late 1960s, followed by a decade of quasi-pretending to be ‘androgynous’ in the lesbian feminist 70s, yet another ten years of oppression in the lipstick lesbian 80s, and the 90s decade trying to sort out the meaning of the trans revolution—I am finally free to return to the four year old who threw away the doll and jumped the tricycle. I choose again to hold the butch line.
*1 Excerpt from my Cordova’s work-in-progress third memoir, Lesbian Nation: The Rise of the Tribe.
*2 Excerpt from Cordova’s “A Tale of Two Brothers” in Tomboys! Tales of Dyke Derring-Do, Alyson Books, 1995.
Jeanne Cordova’s life and writings can be found on her website, www.jeannecordova.com.
From ‘Creating Change Conference’ 2009
by Carmen Vázquez (BVLA Keynote speaker)
“I’ve been talking and writing about this for a very long time. I am butch, as I am lesbian, as I am Puertorican. Dress me up or dress me down I am still the captain of the rocketship. The emergence of a more public butch identity happened at a time when the intersections between class, race, gender became more clear to me. These things are about autonomy. It’s when I understood that I could no longer address racism in white communities, or homophobia is straight communities of color, or classism without embracing my butchness. I was a butch at 6 when I threw my dolls out. I had to defend that identity in a white led feminist movement that saw that identity as sexist. It is NOT sexist. I’m not a boy anymore, at 60, Sir is more appropriate. I was never a stone butch but I was definitely someone very afraid of the vulnerability that comes with surrender. This butch has been flipped by a beautiful femme top whom I’ve learned to trust. What I’ve learned is that part of pleasing your partner is allowing for the full range of her desire and expression of it. A really difficult two years have taught me to learn to cry, within this very male identity. I think butch is always redefined, by race, class, age, cultural change. Every generation’s expression of female masculinity changes. But butch remains.”
BVLA Press Release:
Contact LEX-The Lesbian Exploratorium
Lynn Ballen : 626-55BVLA1
Definitely, Not the L-Word
Butch Voices Leads Stampede to Hollywood
Television may represent West Coast lesbians as glossy, straight-looking women in a soap-opera world, but this fall’s Butch Voices L.A. Conference promises a very different L -Word. Over 400 butches, genderqueers, and similarly identified lesbians are expected to attend Butch Voices L.A. in West Hollywood, California on October 8-10. The conference will highlight the ever changing definitions of “butch” and explore the new politics of this spectrum of LBGT life. BVLA is a Southwest conference making special outreach to butches in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico.
Just released – All of the workshops and presenters have just been posted Check them out and register now! Boys Don’t Cry writer/director Kimberly Peirce will headline the panel discussion, “Butch in the Movies.” Dr. Judith ‘Jack’ Halberstam, author of Female Masculinity and New York activist, Carmen Vazquez, will be featured keynote speakers. The gathering of the butch tribes will center on a full day of twenty workshops. And features three performance events headlined by nationally known performers including Peggy Shaw, Phranc, D’Lo, , comedian Sandra Valls and Latina performers Butchlalis de Panochtitlan. Opening night will present a fashion show called, “INVINCIBLE: A night of daggers, dandies, dapper dykes.” Saturday night’s performance is called, “SWAGGER: Butch Bravado by Those who live it and Those Who love it.” Sunday afternoon will showcase, “The Butch Revival” a butch comedic wit and spoken word show.
Workshops moderated by Kimberly Peirce, Jeanne Cordova (author and lesbian feminist activist), Joe LeBlanc (President of Butch Voices), filmmaker Cheryl Dunye (Watermelon Woman) and other well known butch community activists will address wide-ranging topics, including butch identities formed in the Western states melting pot that is Latina, African American, Asian and Anglo. Lighter life dilemmas such as “How to Lead in Ballroom Dancing” and dressing up “To Windsor or Not” will juxtapose with serious fare like, “The Many Faces of Butch” and “Conversations in Butch Socio-Political Theory.”
Overall, the organizers—L.A. based lesbian cultural guerilla group LEX-The Lesbian Exploratorium —promise an once-in-a-lifetime experience for masculine-identified women who are most often marginalized and persecuted by hetero-normative society. The event will provide butches with the opportunity to connect with one another and their allies, and foster spirited discussion about identity and the struggle to find ways to make the world safer for masculine kinds of women, and trans-identified butches.
Thanks to a grant from the City of West Hollywood, conference registration fees are only $50 for all three days. Many ten-dollar scholarship registrations are offered as well. The Conference will take place at Plummer Park Community Center, located in West Hollywood. For more info see www.BVLA2010.com or email email@example.com
Recession Special tickets are limited, so register now! For the most up-to-date news and information, become a friend of the group’s Facebook page at http://bit.ly/BVLAFacebook and follow the conference on Twitter at http://twitter.com/butchvoicesla.
Beyond bars, ball fields & blogs
For a generation of butches and studs that may have only seen itself reflected online, this is a chance to see each other in real life. At the Conference, butches will be coming together to bond, organize, strategize, be inspired, entertained and educated. Beyond labels and stereotypes, masculine-identified lesbians and trans folk who identify as butch are reclaiming a rich history. Workshops such as “Baby You Are My Religion: Bar Life as Church” will speak to butch history, and others like, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Butch and Femme…” will address femme concerns as well.
Crossing race and class barriers, the Conference sees “butch” as a unifying umbrella identity that will bring together all those “who identify as butch, boi, genderqueer, tomboy, stud, aggressive, butcha, macha, drag king, jock, dyke, two-spirit, androgynous-with-a-butch twist, and transmasculine.” Femmes, divas, MtFs, FtMs, and other allies who partner with any of the above, are also welcome.
According to Conference Chair Jeanne Cordova, “The definition of butch is being revived and expanded by a younger generation of lesbians and queers who are comfortable playing with gender and embracing their masculinity or boyishness. We need to address this re-definition of ourselves.” LEX and Butch Voices also see the L.A. conference as a space for butches to bond and overcome stereotypes from both the heterosexual and the LBGTQ world toward each other. Los Angeles was asked by Butch Voices, along with Portland, Dallas, and New York City, to present regional conferences during 2010. As Cordova explains, “We particularly planned the Southwest Conference to be in LA, home of the ‘lipstick lesbian,’ as a rebellious act of butch reclamation.” Labels like butch, femme, stud, and genderqueer don’t have to be exclusive or restricting, said the organizers. They see labels and identities as a source of pleasure and community, desire and presentation.
The Los Angeles conference was inspired by 2009’s inaugural Butch Voices gathering in Oakland, which also drew over 400 participants. According to many, the Oakland event marked the birth of the butch renaissance movement currently building in the US. National Butch Voices Board member, Krys Freeman, who identifies as genderqueer, notes, “A lot of masculine-identified women are victims of hate crimes and harassment and all sorts of things that don’t get the media’s attention. Butch Voices is about a sense of community and a space where they can share their experiences, good or bad.” To that end, Butch Voices L.A. welcomes, “Queer, feminist, lesbian, trans…whatever kind of butch you are!”
Sponsors of the Los Angeles Conference include: Host LEX-The Lesbian Exploratorium, producers of the history/art exhibit “GenderPlay in Lesbian Culture” and creators of the Lesbian Legacy Wall (a floor-to-ceiling collage of historic lesbian publications permanently installed at the ONE Archives /USC); Butch Voices national, an organization of Butches, Studs, Machas and similar identities, whose main initiatives are health, community building and social/economic justice; the City of West Hollywood; the Lesbian & Gay Advisory Board of West Hollywood; the Conference’s fiscal sponsor, The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project; and Christopher Street West/L.A. Pride.