The other day I was alerted, via Tumblr, that the author of the On Being Hard Femme zine, which I critiqued in Butch-Femme: Who you callin’ reductive, had responded to criticisms they had received about the zine. I’m so glad to say that I was wrong about this author’s feelings on butch/femme and on femme as an identity. I’m thankful for the response because it did indeed clarify the things that were bothering me most about the zine.
With regards to the insinuation that butch-femme is reductive, the author responds:
Nowhere in the zine do I say that butch and femme identities in themselves are bad, nor do I think that a butch-femme relationship is somehow less radical. I have big love for folk who strongly identify as femme or butch…especially since I sympathize with the movement to reclaim femme identity and counter femme-hating radicals who equate femininity with patriarchy and weakness. Also, the butch holds an important place in my heart and I am adamantly opposed to the idea that female masculinity or trans masculinity makes you a traitor to women and feminism. Whenever I read about the supposed “death of the butch,” my reaction is always “Noooooooooo! The butch is not dead and cannot die!” The comment in the introduction about the “dichotomy that people set up” (in other words, the generalized norm) is specifically brought up apropos of a discussion of how people would always harass my ex and I about who was the “femme” and who was the “butch” (or who was the “man”/”woman,” or who “wore the pants”). Our relationship and our gender expressions did not make sense within a binary schema. So when I say that the dichotomy that people set up is reductive, it doesn’t mean that being butch or femme is reductive or less queer, it means that conceptualizing of queer/lesbian relationships exclusively in those terms does not account for the range of possible identities and combinations of people/expressions. A dynamic way of thinking about gender and sexuality would certainly include butch-femme relationships while contesting the idea that there is no other type of queer/lesbian relationship possible.
I definitely agree that there is a wide range of identities and relationships within the queer community and butch-femme is settled comfortably in there somewhere, and always will be.
The author also addresses a concern that I had about setting up a sort of femme hierarchy by creating a new label:
Nowhere in the zine do I say anything that should lead someone to believe that hard femme is better than other identities, or more queer, or completely separate from femme identity. In the zine I advocate for open ways of thinking about identity that can accommodate a range of possibilities while prioritizing a “vision of how to exist in the world in ways that make up feel confident, strong, comfortable, and empowered.” I even claim femme identity for myself while re-articulating what femmeness is to me (because I am more interested in integrating and playing with femmeness rather than degrading and disowning it altogether). Toward the end I write, “I like being unconventionally femme, unconventionally Asian, unconventionally tough, and stirring it all up, overturning expectations while laying claim to these categories. But without allegiance. With movement.” (Author’s emphasis)
I’m glad that conversations like these are being had within the femme and larger queer communities. And I’m glad to know that there is another outspoken, unconventional femme and fellow butch-ally in the world.
You can read the author’s full response here.