Wednesday, 07 November 2012 10:00

Lesbian Visibility Butch or Femme

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Dear Sappho,

What’s the story on butch fem gender roles within lesbian relationships? Is it mandatory, is it discussed, chosen and is it normal? I don’t know if I’m butch or femme, I consider myself androgynous and to tell you the truth I am uncomfortable when I see extreme caricatures of either.

Dear Either,

In the 1950’s and earlier times lesbian visibility was dangerous. Brave women brought the GLBTQ revolution out of the closet. Lesbians tried to blend their own natural characteristics with societal expectations in ways which they could sense or recognize each other. Unfortunately they were often recognized by others and became the targets of violence or rape. The sexual roles of heterosexual people in the 50’s were also more extreme with dominant male and female stereotypes.

The Butch plays the male role and the Femme takes on the feminine role. Butch Femme roles are the yin yang of a gender within a gender. Femmes are frequently accepted as straight and could easily pass. Stereotypes and definitions of Butch and Femme vary greatly and have many sub categories; Butch top or bottom, femme top or bottom, stud, lipstick lesbian, Stone Femme, Stone Butch, etc. I hate to tell you but I think your discomfort with the stereotypical images of Butch and Femme is homophobic. The images and choices of role-playing in the Lesbian community is supposed to be fun, not scary.

Many Butches present a “don’t touch me” image to men while sending out a sexually available message to Femmes. The roles may just come naturally or be a part of the lesbian’s normal attributes and personality. Opposites do attract, however the roles may seem nonexistent or invisible to the women involved. I can tell you this, in a life of Lesbian intrigue and long-term relationships, I have never once said you be the butch, I’ll be the femme or vice versa. If one of us read maps better or cooked better we did not consider it to a butch femme trait but a particular talent or skill that we liked doing. Therefore I think it is not chosen, it is normal, but not mandatory.

I talked last week about the variance of XY chromosomes and their roles in determining sexual identifiers. Our DNA may be encoded in ways that influence Butch or Femme qualities that are innate. I once asked an older lesbian leader who appeared to be Butch what makes a Butch or Femme and she told me it was attitude. I then asked an older Femme leader how do you know if you are Butch or Femme and she told me why choose one or another when you can have it all and be both. I liked her advice better since I am also androgynous. 

The Butch Femme roles reflect the male female roles as a culture within a culture. My generation rejected strict role-playing gender stereotypes and embraced free love. We did not conform to gender expectations and we were free to be ourselves and love people of the same sex. As heterosexual people changed their ideas of strict gender roles, so did homosexuals. The male female roles represent duality. Extremes are meeting in the middle and erasing the fine line between yin and yang in clothing, employment, education and relationships.

Butch Femme visibility is still quite a turn on for many Lesbians. Some Femmes are attracted to male oriented Lesbians and some Butches are attracted to feminine looking women and the world goes on. Blessed are those who have the right attitude and attributes for the gender they most identify with. They make visibility and sexual liberation possible for the millions of closeted GLBTQ people who are watching and listening for any chance of acceptance or existence.

Keep it Campy

Sappho