Over the past week, a controversy within a corner of the queer community erupted. I fully realize that I might not make friends with a lot of folks with this post, but I need to throw down my allegiance. I must preface this by saying that I am not involved in any way nor do I personally know anyone involved. Therefore, I can only give a summary of what I know based on what I have read.
Apparently, sometime last year, BUTCH Voices changed the language of its mission statement, deleting the word “butch” from the first sentence and changing it to “masculine of center (MoC).” Understandably, this upset many people in the butch community, including some of the steering committee members. There was also frustration over the refusal to include “feminism” in the mission statement. Either in addition to this language change or because of it (perhaps both), concerns of misogyny and ageism were voiced but left unanswered by the board. Additionally, committee members were required to sign contracts that included a confidentiality clause. All of this resulted in several committee members resigning, just weeks before the conference, and a new organization being born, Butch Nation. (You can read a much more detailed internal account as well as background information here and here by Sasha T. Goldberg. There is also a letter from the founder of BUTCH Voices here and one from the board president here.)
Perhaps the most troubling thing is the reasoning behind the adoption of MoC. From founder Joe LeBlanc’s recent letter:
As an organization, we decided that “masculine of center” lacked the stigma and wounds that so many of us associate with having been called terms like “butch” or “aggressive” or “stud” in a derogatory manner. We stand by this and believe that the term can and will only begin to carry wounds and stigmatize others if we allow it to; if our personal biases recreate cycles of oppression and “othering.”
Any stigma attached to butch should be the exact reason to reclaim and celebrate the word. (Though I would argue that there are many other words within the larger LGBTQ community that carry a much larger stigma.) It also seems disingenuous to only now decide that butch is too problematic a term, after naming your organization BUTCH Voices and putting together two national and several other regional conferences around said name.
Obviously, I am not butch. But I still have a stake in this, not because I can’t exist as a femme without butches but because butches are family to me. And I fight for my family. It’s not that I’m against the identifier ‘masculine-of-center’. I’m not. But in this context, it’s not appropriate. The conference is BUTCH Voices, not MoC Voices. That’s certainly not to say that people who identify as MoC shouldn’t be welcome there (or trans or boi or stud) but that butch has a specific history that the conference originally intended to address (obviously, hence the name) and that by removing the word butch from the mission statement, the board is burying that history.
There have been accusations of non-inclusiveness and transphobia. I disagree. Wanting to preserve a space for butch dykes is not transphobic. (And can we talk about the invisibility of butch dykes who are trans women?!? They exist, dammit, let’s stop forgetting them please!) The fact is that while trans masculine folks and female-identified butches may certainly be allies, their struggles are not the same; their realities are very different. By lumping butch under one big MoC umbrella, lines become too blurry and identities get erased.
I know lots of folks get quite indignant about the use of labels and even call them useless, claiming to defy them all. And that’s great if that’s your truth, but it’s not mine and it’s not the truth for a lot of people, so please respect that. Identifiers are powerful for so many of us and when one resonates with you, it’s like you’ve found your home. There’s no reason to tear down someone else’s home to make your own more comfortable. The two can co-exist side by side, allied within a larger community, without harming one another.
Butch dykes played a huge part in the creation of the queer rights movement (alongside my femme forebears). They have a rich history all their own and deserve a space to celebrate that history. I stand with Butch Nation.
(For a beautifully written piece on this discussion from a butch perspective, please read this post at Butch Enough.)