Also.Also.Also: The NY Times Assembled a Bounty of Butches

This one’s gonna be quick.

For anyone who is keeping score at home, the official banana count is currently: Banana Bread (2), Banana Bread Blondies (1), Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (1)


Queer as in F*ck You

We shared our remembrances a few weeks ago, but here’s more about What Lorena Borjas Did for the Trans Girls of Queens and you should absolutely read it (by Cecilia Gentili for The New York Times)

’90s Flashback: Jill Sobule’s “I Kissed A Girl” Was A Watershed Moment

The Butches and Studs Who’ve Defied the Male Gaze and Redefined Culture by Kerry Manders for The New York Times.


Saw This, Thought of You

Hong Kong Gamers Protested Inside ‘Animal Crossing.’ Now China Wants to Ban It

A History Lesson:

Here’s the link. My backpack has a button that says, “Ella, Fannie Lou, Shirley, and Maxine Taught Me.” — Thank you, Miss Ella. for everything you did to pave the way for brave black girls who just wanted to make a difference.

And speaking of badass mujeres, Friday was Dolores Huerta’s 90th birthday. Remember children: Bad Bitches don’t age, we just keep tearing shit down.

D’Angelo Lovell Williams’ Poignant Self-Portraits Offer a Space for Healing

Leaving My Near-Death Experience on the Dance Floor

Sex Work Comes Home. More of us are making and watching sexual performances online now. Fewer of us are paying.

Also, Sex Workers: YOU CAN AND SHOULD REQUEST PANDEMIC RELIEF

Metaphors Make Sense of the Past. Can They Guide Us Toward a Post-Coronavirus Future?

Millennials Don’t Stand a Chance. Maybe don’t read this one if you felt like holding on to any optimism today. Any at all.


Political Snacks

Are We at the Start of a New Protest Movement? Fuck, I hope so.


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Carmen Phillips

Carmen is Autostraddle's Editor-in-Chief and a Black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 404 articles for us.

19 Comments

  1. For folks who don’t have a NYT subscription but MUST access the butches & studs article: You can get a free 72-hour access code through the Oakland Public Library (and maybe also your library, but hey, mine works too!)

    – go to https://oaklandlibrary.org/online-resources/articles-and-databases
    – Scroll to the filter for “Newspaper articles & indexing” and click Apply
    – Scroll down the results til you find NYTimes.com
    – The middle chunk of text has a link to get that 72-hour code! yay public libraries!

  2. I was psyched for the NYT butches thing but found it, especially the video part, a little TERFy, unfortunately. Not all participants were so at all, but some were very focused on vague references to being “masculine but still female bodied” in a way that implied that being better than other ways of being. The way gender was talked about seemed very early 2000s to me. I dk maybe I am being over sensitive, because it was mostly a vibe, but wondering if anyone else found this. It might have been mostly the filmaker, who is the woman who made Boys Don’t Cry?? Someone please analyze this for me. Also, there were pretty much no studs, fwiw.

    • Hard agree. You’re not being oversensitive. I don’t know anything about Kimberly Peirce other than that she directed Boys Don’t Cry, but everything that she said raised huge red flags for me. The “female body that wants to stay in a female body, but that loves female masculinity” comment that you mention, her talk of “studding out” (as a white woman), questioning whether Brandon Teena was butch or trans, her comment about how “affirming trans” reaffirms the binary… Part of me (at first) wanted to believe that these comments were taken out of context, but I think that’s being mighty generous.

      I would also have loved to see some AMAB trans butches included in the lineup.

      • Yes, thank you, you pulled all the best examples! Yeah I also was like “maybe it’s the editing” but I don’t think so. Agree it would have been cool to have (AT LEAST ONE??) butch trans woman.

      • I am genuinely curious: What is offensive about the notion of “female body that wants to stay in a female body, but that loves female masculinity”? I do see how “affirming trans” reaffirming the binary as a statement without context could be read as problematic. But I can also think of contexts in which it is definitely worthy of discussion.
        Maybe it’s a generational thing. I’m about the same age as Kimberley Pierce, and I totally see where she’s coming from. At the heart of it is a liberational idea of queerness, something that transcends any binary. But then a new norm starts to emerge, which on the one hand subverts the previous norms but at the same time reproduces them.
        I am genuinely interested in discussing these issues. I have complete and full respect for any individual who identifies in any way. But I do think we should be able to discuss these things in terms of systems and norms without beating each other up about it.

        • Ok so as a disclaimer I am cis and can’t speak for trans people, I want to respond to you but my understanding is limited.

          So just going point by point from what you wrote:

          The idea of “a female body that wants to stay a female body” – to me this just can’t be taken out of context. I guess in a total cultural vacuum those words might technically be acceptable? But this discussion and phrasing like that is so common that it seems impossible a smart 50 something lesbian is saying it without any idea of that context. She is to me certainly saying this as in *opposed to* a person that does *not* want to “stay” their sex or gender and the implication is that “staying” one’s originally assigned sex is BETTER. If those two choices were equally fine to her why would she even be saying it?

          I have seen the idea other places that affirming any kind of binary gender (whether belonging to a cis or trans person) is bad or more conservative? To me the first point is that often it is way MORE criticized when a trans person has a binary gender than when a cis person does. Kimberly Pierce seems to identify as a woman, her identity is to me binary, but she (or at least the conversation she invokes) seems to imply that a trans man is “more binary” than a butch cis woman. I don’t know why that would be true, since both have a binary sex identity. A trans man can be femme or butch or any gender expression. Trans and cis people can have binary identities and still be aware of and oppose the problems that can come up with those identities in the same ways. Why is it only seen as a choice (as opposed to situation we just find ourselves in) and as more traditional or conservative when trans people do it?

          And the idea that if we all oppose binary identity in general, eventually a new and more liberated norm will emerge – to me that is an awfully long time away and we have lives to live and also gender and sex are weirder than that. If we say “all binary identification is undesirable” then I want to know, well what should we DO RIGHT NOW? I have no idea. I don’t know what you think. I do know what people I would label “terfs” think. It is a very strange and cruel twisting of that idea of liberation when people say it means that trans people should not transition or should not have access to medical treatment. It is absolutely beyond wacky to go from wanting everyone to be liberated to saying that people must suffer tremendous pain for the sake of a concept of future liberation. To me the conclusion is that those people aren’t actually worried about liberation, they just don’t want anyone to transition.

          • And also just to be clear, I don’t actually agree that opposing binary identities now WOULD in fact lead to a different and better norm, was being rhetorical.

          • Thank you for the very thoughtful response, EJ. I would like to respond to a few points.
            First of all though: Glad we are having this discussion.
            The comment “a female body that wants to stay a female body” I read within the context of a sex versus gender. (And I don’t know what ever happened to this framework, it’s like it disappeared all of a sudden! Philosophy has debated the in/division of body and soul for millennia, yet differentiating between sex and gender lasted some 20 years and then ceased to be “a thing.” These words are important tools at our disposal for talking about these issues, I don’t understand why we don’t use them more. Are they “essentialist” and demoded now? Anyway…) So basically, I see her as saying “there are masculine-presenting women who are fine with their female bodies.” In other words, they are fine identifying as women as a sex, but in terms of gender, are on the more masculine end of the spectrum. I.e., they are performing masculinity in female bodies. That seems to be her definition of butch. Where butch might end and trans might begin is a blurry line, and perhaps a moot point, too subjective to even discuss objectively, I’m not sure. But at the very least we can say that this is perhaps Pierce’s definition. And it is also within this context that I think we need to read her reading of Brandon Teena. She says she identifies with Brandon. So I’m going to attempt a reading from her perspective: In a world that refuses to accept a female body performing masculinity, one could necessarily assume a male identity as Brandon Teena did. (I am not even going to attempt to address the trauma surrounding Brandon’s experiences of incest, or the misogyny and homophobia surrounding her.) The lesbian claim to Brandon Teena has always been about frustrated lesbian desire and the extremes to which someone might go to deal with same-sex attraction. Retroactive readings of “cross-dressing” in earlier times for example seem very open to interpretation, and such a retroactive reading was attempted with Brandon Teena too. The problem is that the evidence screams of course that Brandon Teena was a heterosexual trans man. And the ultimate truth is: that is what he claimed to be, and therefore, that is what he is. But his murder, and the documentary and feature film about it, came out at a time when the whole spectrum of LGBT+ was so invisible, and awareness of trans identity was still in its infancy. We were all grasping desperately. And here we have a movie about a trans man, directed by a butch lesbian. Everybody wanted to claim it. The film itself existed on this spectrum. The important thing is that we be able to relate without projecting our own identities onto the characters. They are their own characters.

            This piece in the Village Voice is kind of saying what I am trying to say:

            Ironically, though, the murder has sparked the greatest controversy among people who agree it was a hate crime.… Transsexual activists [what trans folks called themselves at the time] claim Brandon as a preoperative, female-to-male transsexual, a straight man who had unremarkable, hetero urges for girls but the misfortune of being born in the “wrong” body. Lesbians, on the other hand, celebrate Brandon as a dyke who usurped male prerogatives and very nearly got away with it.… Brandon, who splashed on Preferred Stock aftershave every morning…told many different stories about her own physical sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

            (A quote from the highly problematic original article, addressed by the author here twenty years later in another article, in which she stands behind this quote: https://www.villagevoice.com/2018/06/20/how-i-broke-and-botched-the-brandon-teena-story/)

            To get back to the original point though: I didn’t see Pierce’s statement as being judgememental, just as a statement working as a kind of definition. It could be a kind of push-back against increased visibility of post-op trans identity, whereby many people seem to think that being trans means you want or feel the need to have surgical operations. Each trans individual makes these decisions for themselves, and again, there is a spectrum, as we know. But sometimes the end of that spectrum that says, “I love my female body but also performing masculinity” seems to get erased in this era of heightened awareness of trans identity. One might say it is a normal phase during a time when everyone is trying to take in an ever-growing multiplicity of identities, whose definitions seem to be increasingly subjective.

            You write:
            “(Pierce) … seems to imply that a trans man is “more binary” than a butch cis woman. I don’t know why that would be true, since both have a binary sex identity.”
            The implied equation is that a cis woman performing masculinity is transgressive, whereas a trans man performing masculinity is not. Because the latter is making the sex match the behavior. The former is saying, “I may have been ascribed certain roles because of this body, but I won’t perform those roles, yet I will claim my body as it is, as I do so.” The latter is saying… what in terms of sex, and what in terms of gender? I’m honestly not sure, mostly because the definition of “trans” is so murky. And I guess it’s un-PC now to say that someone has had a sex-change, which I understand in part because it is too simplistic. But I certainly do not have sufficient vocabulary to describe all of this. If anyone does, please guide me. I really would like to navigate these waters! So for example, I don’t think we see many examples of trans men performing femininity and trans women performing masculinity. What exactly does that mean? Can you be a transgender transsexual? Am I allowed to pose the question even?

            As for “all binary identification being undesirable,” I don’t think that’s the case. I think diversity is desirable. As you say, I don’t think we are capable of even thinking outside or beyond this binary yet, and so that leaves us with the spectrum between two poles. The idea that we could somehow transcend this very spectrum, rendering it and its two poles irrelevant, is certainly too utopian for the moment. All we can do right now is question it.

            I think trans people have the right to transition, they have the right to medical treatment, trans women are women and of course should be welcome in the feminist movement. I also think we have a lot more debate and discussion to do about sex and gender. These are topics near and dear to my heart, I am just sad and frustrated that so many people, myself included, who want to engage in sincere debate about sex and gender are quickly shut down and tossed aside, having the label TERF slapped on them. Or that people who say anything about these issues can be so quickly dismissed as TERFs. These are tough issues, fascinating issues, and we are really only beginning to delve into them. I am a huge proponent of dialog and feel too many people get cancelled too quickly, for example. But maybe I’m just old :)

          • I’m not qualified as a cis person to respond to all of your questions, but a couple of things:

            Responding to your comment “So for example, I don’t think we see many examples of trans men performing femininity and trans women performing masculinity” – Butch trans women and femme/twink trans men absolutely do exist, and the only reason we don’t see many examples of them in media is because of the immense pressure that society puts on them to perform extremely binary versions of their gender in order to be accepted for who they are, and not constantly misgendered etc. In other words, trans people can be just as constricted by the gender binary as cis people (if not more so).

            Also the reason people are quick to slap the label TERF onto anyone who brings up these topics is because unfortunately these topics are constantly drummed to death by actual TERFs who do in fact use them as covers to try to rationalize their transphobia. Cis people who spend actual time with trans people, in person or online in trans-inclusive spaces etc., and who make an effort to listen and learn, generally come to a better understanding of these issues without having to intrude with academic “but what if”s that can come across as challenges to people’s identities. Building positive relationships with people first before asking questions about sensitive topics goes a long way to proving genuine interest and good faith.

          • I really agree with Chandra’s reply.

            I don’t have much to add, just that to me the main point is to focus on what is really affecting people’s lives and causing pain and suffering, which is transphobia (and denial of medical treatment, which is being actively encouraged by terf activism), and how abstract arguments are twisted to support that. TERF *is* an insult, because terfs are hurting people, not just having ideas or asking questions.

            One thing you mention that I have not observed to be true is that masculine women or non binary or trans masc spectrum people who do not choose medical transition are erased or less visible. I’m in my mid 30s and actually in my generation of queer people I have found (especially when I was younger but also now) that people LOVE and love to date those people. I think that is another thing where anti trans activists (and maybe also lesbians who are my age and afraid of “butch flight” which also seems made up) are creating fear where it is totally unnecessary. I don’t think binary identities push out or leave less room for non binary identities, I see a lot of all of those.

            Your comments seem thoughtful and in good faith, I have to say directly though that one thing that sticks out to me is that you focus a lot on questions about *medical* transition – it does seem like (I could be wrong though) you do think to some degree that being trans or nonbinary in a way that does not require medical intervention (maybe on the end of a spectrum that I think you see as closer to “butch”) is different and perhaps better, which to me is wrong. It seems like the concept is that having a masculine gender that is “mismatched” with one’s body is challenging a norm, and changing your body to “match” that gender is more normative – I don’t really have the vocabulary to argue with this but it doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think being trans is about “roles” or choosing or not choosing normative actions. There are feminine gay trans men and masculine lesbian trans women and many other people who are all over the map in terms of presentation and affect (and some who have “normative” genders, also who cares) who are trans and need medical transition. It just feels like other people’s medical decisions and bodies are none of my business.

            Thanks for engaging with respect!

          • “a female body that wants to stay a female body” I feel your being really uncharitable here. There is nothing about that phrase that implies judgement of trans people. It’s a neutral description of certain peoples identities. You may as well say calling someone a butch lesbian is anti-trans. That makes no sense. Certainly there are terfs out their that are hostile to anyone that medically transitions. But to claim that anyone so much as mentioning the existence of people that don’t medically transition is terfy makes no sense

    • I actually related most to Kimberley Pierce, and was frankly surprised that she spoke as frankly as she did. I take the word TERF to be an insult, and I am certainly not one. But I do not understand how any attempt at discussion of the spectrum of gender identity seems to immediately get one labelled as a TERF. I also think that trans identities can reify the binary in ways that one might wish to question and explore. Pierce is posing questions that many are afraid to pose right now for fear of backlash. If only Brandon Teena were around today to answer the question: How do you identify? There is such a broad, diverse range of identities now, with new identities, or new words to indicate identities, absolutely proliferating. And that is something to be celebrated. Anyway, maybe I’m getting off topic. I just wish we could all engage in more thoughtful discussion about gender and sex. That is honestly all I want, and I think Pierce’s comments contribute to this greatly.

  3. That picture in The Renegades article is magical. Nice to see people who look like me getting some well intentioned acknowledgements and compliments. Love the short history lesson too although I’m sure theres tons more too know!

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