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Heteronormative

June 17, 2012

Did you all ever see If These Walls Could Talk? The one with Chloe Sevigny as the butch who fell in love with a femme, then that femme discovered 70s-style feminism and dumped the butch .

You would think that sort of ignorance would be a thing of the past, but you would be wrong. It’s alive and well in the queer world. [I love the word Christendom and I wish we had one like that for the whole of queerness.]

I love Twitter, for the most part. [This is relevant, promise.] I
have fun – it’s like a really great party you can drop in on anytime. There are people from all over the world, talking about interesting things. You never have to worry about when you show up or when you go home – it’s all right there the next time you sign on.

Every now and again … well, about twice a week …. someone either tweets or retweets an anti-butch-femme message. Which makes me so mad. It’s almost always a fairly young woman. Being young is a wonderful thing. The exuberance of the very young adult is both beautiful to see and annoying as fuck to deal with.

The most recent one was this: I’m happy I found someone who’s secure in her being and content with mine. We don’t subscribe to foolish rules of heteronormative gender roles.”

Couldn’t she have just stopped with the first sentence? Why does she have to go on to call those of us who gladly embrace “heteronormative” gender roles foolish? What do our lives have to do with her? What makes her think she gets to pass judgment?

It wasn’t just this one person, though. I’ve been hearing about this since the day I came out but the word – heteronormative – is a fairly new one.

“Heteronormative” boils down to the idea that we’re lesbians who act like straight people, specifically with regard to gender roles. The other thing, though I suppose it’s not entirely new, being as misogynistic as your average conservative Christian, is the idea that the femmes are somehow being harmed by this. That we do not freely choose to live our lives this way, that we are merely a presence to validate the masculinity of butches.

So, part of me wants to patiently explain why she’s full of her-damned -self and needs to grow the fuck up. Live her life and let me live mine and shut the fuck up. [I tend to throw the F Word around a lot when I’m mad.] I’m sick of being patient about it.
This is my blog and I don’t have to be patient or even kind, if I don’t want to.

So:

Shut. The. Fuck. Up. How can you, with a straight face, complain about how LGBT people are treated, then turn right around and do the same freaking thing to a subset of the queers that you don’t like? Do you not recognize that there are people in the world who think YOU are foolish? Because if you met the right man, you’d find out what’s it’s like to have a real, adult relationship. That’s what they think. Does that make you feel patient or does that make you want to scream?

You know who you have to thank for the freedoms you do have? Butches. Drag queens. The Stonewall Riots? Were butches and drag queens, my friend. Those butches were pretty fucking heteronormative but they are responsible for the beginnings of the gay civil rights movement that allows you to have any freedom to be out at all.

How fucking dare you turn your nose up at them? At us? At me? How dare you?

This is a picture of me, right after I came out. I’m on the right. My favorite aunt, Jennie, is the one on the left.

Me and Jennie.

I could have passed.

No one ever thought I was a lesbian. Not even lesbians. I did not have to be out, but I was. Even at 20, I knew it was the right thing to do. It was risky but it was the right thing to do. Even at 20, I knew that in order for anything to change, WE had to change. We had to stop hiding. So I was out. I was out in a very conservative small, Midwestern city. I was out at my Catholic college. I was out to my family, to my employers, to my straight friends, to everyone. I purposefully identified myself as a lesbian because people needed to SEE us.

I was out because my butches had no choice but to be out and I couldn’t betray them by taking the easy way.

Femmes were familiar looking so people could relate to us more easily and they could talk to us. They could ask questions. They could have their perceptions shifted. I was the first gay person many people in Grand Rapids, Michigan circa 1988 had ever met. That was true well into the 90s. The Very First Gay Person They Had Ever Met. So far as they knew, anyway. The first Out Gay Person, at any rate.

There were still a lot of those 70s-era “feminists” around when I came out. They told me I was selling out because I looked like a heteronormative woman (though they didn’t use that word.) They told me lipstick and mascara and skirts and heels were allowing the patriarchy to dictate how I looked, that those things left me powerless. I ignored them.

Well, no. I didn’t. I couldn’t. It was hurtful. I didn’t change and I didn’t allow *them* to dictate how I looked. I didn’t give my power to them, either.

But, pumpkins, it hurt me.

I came out all full of love for the lesbians …. and they didn’t love me back.

Sigh. Still, they don’t love me back.

However, I will no more be quiet about this disrespect than I am quiet about disrespect from straight people.

You do not have to like how I choose to live my life and how my relationship looks. I will be damned, however, before I allow you to disrespect me.

I am your elder.

If nothing else, you will respect all that I – and other heteronormative femmes and butches – did to get us where we are today. So that you have more choices, so you can be out, so in some places you can get married, so that your employer offers domestic partner benefits, so that your churches are open and affirming, so that YOUR life is so much easier than ours was.

You’re welcome.

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6 Comments
  1. Lady Di permalink

    Thank you. This was stellar! And everything I would have said had I written the piece myself. From one invisible femme that has to out herself every damn day of her life to another, I salute you, my dear. And yes, these baby dykes who have no understanding of their history should be down on their knees and kissing our butches’ feet in thanks and praise for the rights that they take for granted today. Huzzah!

  2. Thanks, B, for all the awesome that you’ve done to pave the way for us younger folks! I’ve always hated people assuming my relationship was less queer because it’s not two femmes together. bla.

  3. This is a fantastic post, Barbara! Thanks for stepping up to the plate to defend us old school butches and femmes. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had to correct people who have accused me of playing to hetero gender norms for A.) being butch and B.) only dating femmes. It’s pretty fascinating/exhausting how much effort some people will put into policing the way others present and love – and that’s just WITHIN the queer community!

    I admit that I use the word “heteronormative” frequently, but in a different sense than what you’re describing here, I think. Example: “The mainstream media is extremely heteronormative.” Meaning: heterosexuality is the default or “norm” in a certain situation.

  4. Barbara, this is truly inspiring and so very much to the point! I love it, I love your style and I love your attitude as a fierce Femme being! My own Butch world is so much better because of you; and those Femmes who also walk that invisibility line as you do. I love and respect each and every one. Our so called “community” (the LGBTQ) has shunned us on and off, when it meets their needs in some way or another, for decades…hell, probably centuries if I did research! I despise that I allowed myself to cower to some of the bullshit before I found the balls to stand up loud and proud as the Stone Butch that I am, and to love those fierce Femmes in my world, those who understood me and knew the dance, and love our dynamics – heteronormative as it may seem – or be!

    Your blog rocks, and I am happy to have found you here! Again, thanks for this post! Every young LGBT person needs to understand the facts you have laid out here, hell EVERYONE needs to understand and accept us for who we are – Butches and Femmes walking very hard lines. 🙂 Peace.

    • I’m glad you like my blog! Thank you. 🙂

      It can take a while to settle into your identity fully, but isn’t life better for it?

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