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Butch and femme are terms used in the lesbian  subculture to ascribe or acknowledge a masculine butch or feminine femme identity with its associated traits, behaviors, styles, self-perception, and so on. This concept has been called a "way to organize sexual relationships and gender and sexual identity". Both the expression of individual lesbians of butch and femme identities and the relationship of the lesbian community in general to the notion of butch and femme as an organizing principle for sexual relating varied over the course of the 20th century.
The word femme is taken from the French word for woman. The word butch , meaning "masculine", may have been coined by abbreviating the word butcher , as first noted in George Cassidy's nickname, Butch Cassidy. There is debate about to whom the terms butch and femme can apply, and particularly whether transgender individuals can be identified in this way.
For example, Jack Halberstam argues that FTM transgender persons cannot be considered butch since it constitutes a conflation of maleness with butchness. He further argues that butch—femme is uniquely geared to work in lesbian relationships. On the other hand, the writer Jewelle Gomez muses that butch and femme women in the earlier twentieth century may have been expressing their closeted transgender identity.
Scholars such as Sigmund Freud , Judith Butler , and Anne Fausto-Sterling suggest that butch and femme are not attempts to take up "traditional" gender roles. Instead, they argue that gender is socially and historically constructed, rather than essential, "natural", or biological. The femme lesbian historian Joan Nestle argues that femme and butch may be seen as distinct genders in and of themselves.
A masculine person of any gender can be described as butch, even though it is more common to use the term towards females with more masculine traits. It is not uncommon for women with a butch appearance to face harassment or violence. Like the term "butch," femme can be used as an adjective or a noun.
Because they do not express masculine qualities, femmes were particularly vexing to sexologists and psychoanalysts who wanted to argue that all lesbians wished to be men. In the first half of the twentieth century, when butch-femme gender roles were constrained to the underground bar scene, femmes were considered invisible without a butch partner - that is, they could pass as straight because of their gender conformity.
By daring to be publicly attracted to butch women, femmes reflected their own sexual difference and made the butch a known subject of desire. The separatist feminist movement of the late s and s forced butches and femmes underground, as radical lesbian feminists found lesbian gender roles to be a disappointing and oppressive replication of heterosexual lifestyle.
In this new configuration of butch and femme, it was acceptable, even desirable, to have femme-femme sexual and romantic pairings. Femmes gained value as their own lesbian gender, making it possible to exist separately from butches. For example, Susie Bright , the founder of On Our Backs , the first lesbian sex periodical of its kind, identifies as femme. In "Negotiating Dyke Femininity", lesbian scholar Wendy Somerson , explains that women in the lesbian community who are more feminine and do not fit into the "butch" stereotype can pass as straight.
She believes the link between appearance and gender performance and one's sexuality should be disrupted, because the way someone looks should not define their sexuality. In her article, Somerson also clearly talks about how within the lesbian community some are considered more masculine than others. Femmes still combat the invisibility their presentation creates and assert their sexuality through their femininity.
Some women in lesbian communities eschew butch or femme classifications, believing that they are inadequate to describe an individual, or that labels are limiting in and of themselves.
Other people within the queer community have tailored the common labels to be more descriptive, such as "soft stud," "hard butch," "gym queen," or "tomboy femme. In the s and s the term chi-chi was used to mean the same thing.
Those who identify as butch and femme today often use the words to define their presentation and gender identity rather than strictly the role they play in a relationship, and that not all butches are attracted exclusively to femmes and not all femmes are exclusively attracted to butches, a departure from the historic norm. The meanings of these terms vary and can evolve over time.
A woman who likes to receive and not give sexually is called a "pillow queen". The term boi is typically used by younger LGBT women. Defining the difference between a butch and a boi, one boi told a reporter: To me, butch is like an adult You're the man of the house.
Lesbians who are unisex and neither butch nor femme are called "androgynous" or "andros". Another common term is "Stud". A stud is a dominant lesbian, usually butch. They tend to be influenced by urban and hip-hop cultures and are often, but not always, Afro-American. In , filmmaker Daniel Peddle chronicled the lives of AGs in his documentary The Aggressives , following six women who went to lengths like binding their breasts to pass as men.
But Peddle says that today, very young lesbians of color in New York are creating a new, insular scene that's largely cut off from the rest of the gay and lesbian community. Prior to the middle of the 20th century in Western culture, homosexual societies were mostly underground or secret, making it difficult to determine how long butch and femme roles have been practiced by women. It is known that butch—femme dress codes date back at least to the beginning of the 20th century as photographs have survived of butch—femme couples in the decade of — in the United States; they were then called "transvestites".
Butch and femme lesbian genders were only starting to become apparent in the s, since it started to become common to allow women to enter bars without men. The s saw the rise of a new generation of butches who refused to live double lives and wore butch attire full-time, or as close to full-time as possible. This usually limited them to a few jobs, such as factory work and cab driving, that had no dress codes for women.
Although femmes also fought back, it became primarily the role of butches to defend against attacks and hold the bars as gay women's space. Although butch—femme wasn't the only organizing principle among lesbians in the midth century, it was particularly prominent in the working-class lesbian bar culture of the s, '50s, and '60s, where butch—femme was the norm, while butch—butch and femme—femme relationships were taboo. Rush reported that women held strong opinions, that "role distinctions needed to be sharply drawn," and that not being one or the other earned strong disapproval from both groups.
In contrast to ONE, Inc. This was especially true in relation to the butch identity, as the organization held the belief that assimilation into heterosexual society was the goal of the homophile movement. Gender expressions outside of the norm prevented assimilation. In the s, the development of lesbian feminism pushed butch-femme roles out of popularity.
Lesbian separatists such as Sheila Jeffreys argued that all forms of masculinity, including masculine butch women, were negative and harmful to women. This dress was very similar to butch dress, weakening a key identifier of butch lesbians. While butch-femme roles had previously been the primary way of identifying lesbians and quantifying lesbian relationships in the s, 50s, and 60s, lesbian feminist ideology had turned these roles into a "perversion of lesbian identity".
In these excluded communities, butch-femme roles persisted and grew throughout the s. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article possibly contains original research. Please improve it by verifying the claims made and adding inline citations. Statements consisting only of original research should be removed. May Learn how and when to remove this template message. Rutledge International Encyclopaedia of Women. Critical Introduction to Queer Theory. Intellectual Stalemate in the Gay Rights Debate.
An Exploration of Lesbian Stereotypes". Journal of Lesbian Studies. Retrieved May 2, Continuum International Publishing Group. All Ways Butch and Femme. Edited by Ivan Coyote and Zena Sharman. Retrieved 31 March Butch is a noun.
Retrieved May 1, Retrieved November 29, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: Stories of a Lesbian Generation. University of California Press. Journal of the History of Sexuality. A Femmethology, Vol 1. Tribades, Tommies and Transgressives: New York News and Features. A guide to types of lesbian".
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Disorders of sex development Ego-dystonic sexual orientation Erotic target location error Gender roles Hermaphrodite Human female sexuality Human male sexuality Intersex Sex and gender distinction Sex assignment Sex change Sex reassignment surgery Sexuality and gender identity-based cultures Social construction of gender The NeuroGenderings Network Violence against women and men gendercide./p>
First we are distanced and told we are not feminists, even though many of us have spent years building the Movement. Then we are told we are patriarchal, that we are the voices of submission and dominance, that we are heterosexual lesbians.
The doors close to us. By allowing ourselves to be portrayed as the good deviant, the respectable deviant, we lose more than we gain. We lose the complexity of our own lives, and we lose what for me has been a lifelong lesson: In that moment, our womanhood became seen as wrong or the problem: As it turns out, butches and femmes did.
I came to my femme identity in many ways. When I was younger, sex and sexuality was really confusing: A few years ago, after I came out as queer and trans, I talked to an older friend of mine, asking them if they knew I was queer before I did. Around the same time, I began doing more community organizing and some of my mentors in that work were cis queer femme identified women who at first were people I looked up to.
After coming out as trans and genderqueer, I realized that they were modeling the kind of woman, femme, and organizer I wanted to become. It was the cis femme who I met when I was working a table at a conference who took me out to dinner with her cis butch partner the next day and later taught me how to paint my nails and six years later, the three of us are family despite the fact that we live on opposite coasts. It was the femmeships in my life who inspired me, made me feel seen and affirmed, and the relationships with partners, one of whom half-joked that as queer women we were becoming more lesbian through dating each other.
It was the queers, femmes, butches, genderqueers, dykes, that made and make up my organizing community, my friendships, my ex-partners, and the people I build family with that make me inspired, feel seen and affirmed, alive in my dignity and wholeness. All Ways Butch and Femme. All of it created the way that my femme identity functions as a dare, a longing, and a political decision about how to move in the world. To me, femme is a queer gender with lesbian and trans lineages of femininities that challenge patriarchy, heterosexism, capitalism, cissexism, and white supremacy.
It deeply informs my trans womanhood while remaining separate from it, shaping how I can inhabit a binary gender and play with it in a way that stretches past the lines patriarchy and cissexism puts in place. I want it to be a life we constantly braid together from the threads of our existence, a rope we make, a flexible weapon, stronger than steel, that we use to pull down the walls that imprison us at the borders. It would also be wrong to treat butch and femme identities as only in relationship to each other.
And of course, language is changing and shifting all the time so people can more accurately identify themselves on our own terms. Because I would not be here, as I am, without that legacy and without those people — and for that I am grateful and loving even in the middle of hard, messy, complicated conversations where no one is asked to shrink or shirk their dignity. Feminist theory rejected the notion of gender rules, and recognised masculinity and femininity as socially constructed rather than innate.
I and many other feminists were often severely punished and discriminated against for refusing to conform to gender. Our butch sisters, who had rejected femininity only to embrace stereotypical masculine appearance and behaviours, often suffered more that those of us attempting a gender-neutral stance. These women did not wish to pass as men — they were very proudly lesbian — and wore their butchness as a badge of honour.
Men picked on them, often violently, probably because they saw their own masculine identity as under threat if women can embrace it, and get some good-looking femmes to sleep with them, what does that mean for men? Today, the old butches are a dying breed. The veterans of the Gateways club are now as likely to blend in with the rest of us than wear a suit, tie and starched shirt. And many straight women are meeting us lesbians somewhere in the middle, and are also rejecting feminine fripperies, now that the punishment for doing so — after five decades of feminism — is less severe.
During a recent trip to Sweden, for example, I thought most women I saw in the street were lesbians, and the men sitting around in cafes with their babies, gay dads. It would appear that many folk can only cope with women as feminine and men as masculine.
A number of lesbians I know who are on the butch side have been asked when they are transitioning. Being openly and proudly butch has now, as DeLaria says, become something that many in the lesbian community look down on.
Writers have questioned what makes a butch woman in particular: Is The “ stone butch” was an epitome of the butch identity; a lesbian Butch lesbians and trans folks alike saw a reflection of themselves in Feinberg's work. J Lesbian Stud. ;20(1) doi: / She's always a woman: Butch lesbian trans women in the lesbian community. But a growing number of trans women identify as butch lesbians and Daughters of Bilitis, in ; the campaign that led to Sandy Stone leaving the women's.