Is Butch/Femme a Transgender Thang?

I am one of the last people to try to push labels on anyone. This particular column is label laden, but that is only for convenience. Labels are not people; people are not labels. Identity politics is double-plus-ungood, in my opinion.

I believe there is something inherently transgender about being queer. We transgress and transcend the gender norms of the hetero-patriarchy, often loudly and with pride. But do we then turn around and try to establish our own gender norms within our queer communities?

Consider the set of stereotypes: andro, tomboy, butch, femme, fem, drag king, stone butch. What is it that makes us see these people as being in different categories? These labels are applied to people who have an 'F' on their birth certificate, so it must not be sex (genitals). These people all are queer, so it's not their 'sexual orientation.' Is it gender then that differentiates, say, a butch lesbian from a femme lesbian?

I think that is much too glib an answer. In my experience, butch and femme people often feel quite differently about their bodies, particularly about their genitals. The butch/femme thing is more than appearance, it's a role that cuts to the core of a person's being. Yet some people can successfully do either butch or femme.

Butches and femmes tend to not be attracted to the same people, so can one say they share a sexual orientation? For that matter, do all lesbians truly have the same sexual orientation? Popular myth has it that people are attracted either to the 'same sex' or to the 'opposite sex.' That is such an oversimplification as to be absurd. How many lesbian women and hetero men are attracted to all of: andros, tomboys, butches, femmes, fems, drag kings, and stone butches?

Many MtoF transsexual people identify as lesbian, and not a few as butch. Many FtoM transsexual people identify as gay, claiming the label of transfag; yet some of them also do glitter drag. I can think of no combination or permutation of genitals, gender, and sexuality that does not exist.

People who identify as bisexual are usually not trying to say that they are sexually attracted to anything on two legs. Rather they are saying that their attraction is not constrained by the almost arbitrary social classification of people into 'men' and 'women.' A bisexual person is attracted to certain other people; genital sex is simply one characteristic that figures into attraction; it is not the be-all and end-all of individual identity.

Is butch/femme a transgender thing? I say yes, doubly so. Being lesbian transcends social gender norms. Butch and femme in turn transcend the within-lesbian 'gender' of the politically correct lesbian with a salad-bowl haircut.

Is butch/femme an imitation of hetero-patriarchal gender norms, just a few misguided lesbians playing at boy/girl relationships? Arghh! You are not listening to what I am saying!

Danger! Sex, genitals, gender, and sexual orientation; these terms are meaningless! Do not use them! Danger!

Sometimes we have to use labels so we can talk. But it is much too easy to carry this to ridiculous extremes and to turn labels into a means of oppression. It's one thing to say, "Oh, she's butch," as shorthand for a collection of attitudes and behaviors, and quite another to say, "She's butch, therefore it's okay for her to do this but not that."

Why do we do the latter? Why do we create labels and use them as cages to hold people in place? "A good lesbian does such-and-such, only a high femme does that, don't you go butch on me, grrrl." Genitals, gender, and sexuality. Are we each a specimen pinned to a board, classified, indexed, and entered on the proper line?

My daughter has a way, when she is exasperated with me, of saying, "Oh, you, you, you Lisa, you!" I like that. I am what I am. Not even six billion people can enumerate all the wonderful ways in which people are different and unique individuals.