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A few years ago, after I came out as queer and trans, I talked to an older friend of mine, asking them if they knew I was queer before I did.Their response was, “It was obvious you were some kind of queer, but we didn’t know what — because you weren’t a gay man, obviously.” Not long after I moved to Greensboro, NC for college, my old band broke up, which began a slow shift away from punk/DIY communities that was central to my life, making room for change and new ways of navigating and inhabiting the world.It was a pair of dangly earrings that I tried on the towards the end of my first year at college that my mom gave me “to give to a girl” that made me feel power, joy, and longing across my chest, never wanting to ever take them off.
All of this is within the context of queer/lesbian communities after the feminist / lesbian sex wars in the 1970’s and 80’s.
Often when the sex wars gets discussed, people mostly talk about the debates around porn and sex work, but that was also tied into a broader discussion and debate over BDSM, butch/femme, trans lives and existence, and working to define what a ‘good feminist’ and ‘good lesbian’ was and is.
We lose the complexity of our own lives, and we lose what for me has been a lifelong lesson: you do not betray your comrades when the scapegoating begins.” It’s this part of our herstory that feels the most maddening and clarifying about why butch/femme matters — as a femme, as a trans woman, as a dyke.
It was within that political moment that those of us who’s womanhood was on the margins were questioned during the struggle for rights, recognition, and inclusion into a system not designed or built for us.
It was the femmeships in my life who inspired me, made me feel seen and affirmed, and the relationships with partners, one of whom half-joked that as queer women we were becoming more lesbian through dating each other.
It was the queers, femmes, butches, genderqueers, dykes, that made and make up my organizing community, my friendships, my ex-partners, and the people I build family with that make me inspired, feel seen and affirmed, alive in my dignity and wholeness.
It was butch/femme writing, books like In those books, I was able to find parts of myself inside other’s words and stories, even if they were and weren’t always written for trans girls like me.
They were written for the unabashedly gay and deliciously dykey parts of me and I love the ways I can relate to the stories, even if it’s not fully.
As Joan Nestle, femme author and co-founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives wrote in her seminal 1987 book, “Some Lesbians are more acceptable than others.
Leather and butch and femme Lesbians, transsexuals, Lesbian prostitutes and sex workers, writers of explicit sexual stories – little by little, we are being rounded up.
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