Butch Lesbian vs. Female Faggot: Mapping the Territory

There’s an enviably large body of work and writing out there on butch lesbian identity, sexuality, gender, and history.  At its best, this writing makes it possible to see lesbianism as something far vaster than women loving women.  As Bond beautifully puts it, butch is a “cartography” that changes the meaning of the female body, makes it inhabitable and ownable as something reassuringly masculine, allows one to “travel back” to it.  Butch is also a socially crafted, recognizable, and legible form of female masculinity with a long history behind it.  However much it is stereotyped, misrepresented, and maligned, everybody, even the most homophobic cissexual straight person, knows at least something about what it means:  lesbian, for one, masculine, even transgressively so, and likely attracted to feminine women.  Navigating one’s gender variance is always an anxious, trying, and lonely endeavor, and butch is no exception to this, but at least butch exists as a legible social identity associated with certain ways of dressing and courting, certain sets of skills and behaviors, and a specific configuration of sex/gender/sexuality.  If you are a masculine female who is attracted to feminine women, claiming a butch identity is a way to project this out into the world.  If your butch presentation is convincing, when you walk into the queer club, femmes will look your way and see you as a potential sexual partner, understand you in your masculinity, your femaleness, and your attraction to them.  You will be legible, and your gender variance, as well as your sexual orientation, will be socially recognized and livable.

Like butch, female faggotry is a type of female masculinity that involves a certain recartography of the female body, its sites of pleasure and desire.  However, female faggotry has no history, no body of writing, no online discussion site that I know of.  As a gender, female faggotry is constantly misread.  Gay men have the freedom to don feather boas, glitter, and make-up, to swish as they walk, gesture with limp wrists, and speak with a wide range of vocal inflections.  They are still seen as men expressing an alternative masculinity that marks their attraction to men.  For female faggots, any of these behaviors might be misread not as an expression of your faggotry, but as an expression of your femininity, which is assumed to flow irrepressibly from your female body.  If you perform the opposite behaviors – emotional stoicism, speaking in a monotone, striding purposefully and efficiently – your masculinity will be recognized, but your sexuality will be misread.  Everybody will assume that you are a lesbian, and masculine-identified people will never think to hit on you.  Presenting as a female faggot is like walking a tightrope.  For the performance to work, you have to present a convincingly masculine appearance – hair, body shape, clothing – combined with just the right touch of swishy faggotry.  Even then, you run the risk of being seen as a failed butch, someone whose “feminine” behaviors belie her “butch” presentation, more proof that “They just don’t make butches like they used to”.  When you walk into the club, you will be incoherent.  Femmes might be attracted to your masculine presentation but turned off by your lack of butchness.  Butches will be uncomfortable and confused.  If your presentation is particularly convincing, gay men will be attracted to you at first glance, but likely turned off by your femaleness.  Or they may not see you at all.  Other than the occasional unicorn, genderqueers and transpeople will be the only folks who really understand you.  Are you condemned, when trying to catch they eye of people you like, to forever seeing them looking past you at someone else; to discovering that they are only interested in you because they thought you were something other than what you actually are?  Female faggotry is a shaky home for your gender dysphoria.  Unlike lesbian butchness, it has no common code, no identifiable set of behaviors, clothing, and hair that will communicate to both hostile and appreciative audiences:  “I am female; I am masculine; I am attracted to masculinity”.  To survive as a female faggot, you must be OK with at least one of these messages falling by the wayside most of the time.  Which are you willing to drop first?  Your femaleness, your masculinity, or your sexual orientation?  How do we survive in such a constrained and nebulous space?  Who is our community; and do they recognize us as community?

Sometimes, to me, this territory feels impossible, uninhabitable, illegible, crazy.

If butch is a solid home for gender dysphoria, and female faggotry a shaky shack, are female faggots more likely than butches to transition for reasons of social (and sexual) recognition?  Can I make a home here, that will last a lifetime, without transitioning?

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14 Responses to Butch Lesbian vs. Female Faggot: Mapping the Territory

  1. Kay Paiva says:

    Hey there –
    I may have a project that you, as a blogger, might be interested in. It’s called “The Butch Project.” It’s, eventually, going to be an archiving project for butch lesbians. But, right now, I’m still accepting submissions (through October 2010 actually). I’m looking for stories from and/or about butch lesbians. It will, eventually, be published. But, right not it’s in its original stages.

    Don’t worry, I’m not just posting or plugging this on random blogs. I just thought this might be something that you’d be interested in supporting or looking into!

    -Kay Paiva

  2. Kian says:

    I am an effeminate gay trans man and one the reasons I transitioned was to inhabit my role as a flaming faggot among other faggots. Don’t know if this helps but I just wanted to let you know that everything you’ve written thus far sounds like it came from me (if I were much better writer.) Transitioning is very scary at first, but you’ll know right away if it feels right.

  3. faggotboi says:

    Kian,

    Glad this resonates. I am drawn lately to the idea of transitioning so that I can be socially (and sexually) understood as an effeminate gay man. While I clearly have gender dysphoria, I’m not sure that I have actual body dysphoria. That is, while I like the idea of all the changes that T would bring, none of them seem necessary to being able to live comfortably in my body. And there are job considerations which would make transitioning a big deal (not that it isn’t regardless). So, right now, I’m trying to figure out if it’s possible to find a community where I can be understood (and get laid) as a female faggot, which may entail moving to a larger city. It may not work, but I want to at least try it out before deciding to transition. Stay tuned, the next post will probably be about my relation to my body and the idea of transitioning.

    I’d be interested in knowing more about your experience, Kian. It seems that we have similar experiences of gender and sexuality, but did you, in addition, have intense discomfort with your body? You can write me at faggtboi@gmail.com if you don’t want to continue this discussion publicly.

  4. cladist says:

    I don’t mind publicly exploring my gender, so this is fine. Also I like the idea that other people can perhaps be helped by this.

    From puberty on, I had intense dysphoria about my chest, fat distribution and menstruation. I was also dysphoric about my body hair and voice, but those were not nearly as intense. For years, I was anorexic, bulimic, and an exercise addict to control the weight and chest aspects of my body. It mostly worked. It wasn’t until my early 20s while in a serious relationship did I realize my body issues were related to gender dysphoria. My boyfriend was super straight and wanted me to fulfill some sort of feminine woman role during sex. The more I obliged, the more I felt disconnected from my body. Eventually I stopped using my vagina altogether and started to play the gay bottom role by using my butt instead. It definitely relieved some of the dysphoria during sex, but the social dysphoria of being seen as a confused straight woman started to become too much as well.

    I ended up moving to a new town and came out as trans right away. Socially, I tried to get the recognition as a gay man, but it was very difficult. People couldn’t wrap their head around my insistence that I was male and effeminate. I was constantly explaining myself to people and getting people to correctly gender me was becoming to much to bear. I should also point out that I’m slightly autistic, so the social aspects for me were much more difficult to handle than for the average person I think. My body dysphoria got much worse when I realized that transitioning socially wasn’t providing the results that I wanted. So I started T about a year in, then had top surgery the year after. I can’t say that I’m perfectly happy with what I’ve got now and some days I would kill for a penis, but for the most part I can accept my body as it is now.

  5. cladist says:

    I’m not sure why its says I’m logged in as “cladist” but that’s me, Kian.

  6. Kian says:

    Not sure if you’ve read this blog, but sometimes I post stuff and its written by another effeminate gay trans man. Its not as intellectual as your blog, but I like it.
    http://www.notanotheraiden.com/

  7. faggotboi says:

    Thanks, Kian. Am enjoying the blog, and parts of your story do resonate. I’m particularly struck by your experience with having worsened body dysphoria when you realized that social transition wasn’t getting you where you wanted. I think this is part of why I feel kind of suspended for the moment. I have the feeling that socially transitioning (asking to be called he, for instance), rather than being the solution, could be the beginning of a vertiginous journey whose end point I can’t really see yet. So I want to be absolutely sure (or at least unable to stop myself) before I do try it (if I do). I’m glad that you found your path, though, and figured out a way to be your faggy, effeminate self! Sometimes I think that it would be nice to be male so that I wouldn’t have to be masculine. I’m sure you know what I mean.

  8. Kian says:

    Yes, I totally get it. For the first few years of transition, I tried to force myself to be butcher, more masculine, so I could pass better. Since I get pegged as male 100% now I don’t worry so much about my gender expression anymore. Instead I get to deal with homophobic idiots, but being called a faggot on a regular basis is very much worth not being called “she”.

  9. Kyle says:

    Though I come from the more butch side of the spectrum, and for the most part have female partners, the faggot part of me has been getting more and more insistent of late. I wonder about making connections with other masculine people (gay cis-male or transguy or butch), would they see my chest and not be able to think of me as another guy attracted to guys? There’s a fantasy I want to write up someday involving a bar where butches like me go to hook up with gay men.. who are not opposed to fucking butches like me.

  10. Faggot Boi says:

    Well, Kyle, the only way you’ll know is to try, and to try with confidence. I think it’s stupid when people get rejected for their anatomy alone (it’s a different matter when people just aren’t attracted to masculinity). Moving forward with the attitude that the guy in question would be a fool to reject you, that these attractions aren’t embarrassing and awkward, and that you know exactly what you would want to do with him in a sexual context (instead of playing into the “Oh my god, a butch and a faggot, what could we possibly do together?” fear) helps alleviate insecurities. Since guys might have some hesitation, it’s best if you take the reins in making them feel like this is possible, and you know exactly what you’re doing. If you’re rejected, it’s their loss. But moving through the world with this energy will eventually make opportunity come your way.

  11. This is a really awesome post. You describe many of my own feelings. I get read as queer by a lot of gay men who seem attracted to that andro-possibly trans vibe — or, as some of my friends jkingly say, ” Maybe it’s the red hankie energy!” It’s confusing for femmes as well since I am so attracted to masculinity in both male and female bodied persons.

    Anyway, keep writing. Great blog.

  12. Kirsten says:

    Thank you so much for this; it truly helps illuminate and often misunderstood and misinterpreted segment of the queer community.
    My delightful fagboygirl falls precisely into what you’ve described – the “correct” combination of physical presentation and affectations – but s/he is also attracted to a broad range of gender identities. I’m not sure if she “butches it up” for me, whether on purpose or because it is our organic dynamic, but she also feels safe being her fag self with me, knowing I love that side of her every bit as much.

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  14. Faggot Boi says:

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