Come Back, Little Butches
By Alix Dobkin (First published in Alix’s Minstrel Blood column of Windy City Times)
“A thousand years from now…the archaeologists who dig up their bones will know that they were women”
Germaine Greer in The Whole Woman
At a recent reading of Jewish Dykes, a group of FTM’s (female to male) and their supporters walked out on Elana Dykewoman when they heard the title of her poem, Butch resisting the pressure to change gender. When completed, “changing gender”, like tattooing, is permanent body alteration, only more irrevocable, and it’s quite the craze among
“FTM” means women, usually young, who undergo hormone injections, sometimes breast reduction (“top”) surgery, and in a few cases, penis construction (“bottom”) surgery in their pursuit of “maleness”. Reservations about this procedure, when voiced at all, are frequently answered with hostility and charges of “discrimination”, discouraging even further candid exploration of the “transgender” vogue and it’s meteoric rise to the top of the “queer” order.
Transgender presence and issues dominated the 1999 “Creating Change” Conference. Notable and new, to me at least, was the spectacle of matronly gents dressing up as their mothers, aunties and schoolmarms in dowdy conservative outfits, cheerlessly dispensing disapproval over all. More unsettling though, were the sheer numbers of FTM’s everywhere in evidence, their flight from womanhood conspicuously endorsed by the oddly invisible gay men and Lesbians running the show and bent on “inclusion”.
When at the end of a butch/FTM panel I asked how constructed “males” felt about a lifelong commitment to the medical establishment and their utter dependence on doctors and drug companies for their identities, the only response was a noticeable chill in the room. If I was FTM I wouldn’t want to think about it either.
Germaine Greer notes, in The Whole Woman that, “Born women are all too aware of a disharmony between who they are and what their gender role requires of them”. Everywhere at the conference young FTM’s defied gender roles and “performed” “masculinities”. But say, isn’t “masculine” a construct preserving male rule? And isn’t being/creating our own individual version of a woman what Lesbians have always been about? So why would a Lesbian embodying infinite female potential ever think she needs to be — or actually could be — a man? Impatience for male power and privilege combined with monumental lack of faith in the future of women could explain it. But “woman” is much bigger and expansive than a stunted masculinist vision of female possibility.
Can you conceive a population more exquisitely groomed to “change gender” than the generation informed by deconstructionist Queer Studies? In the blur of “Gender”, represented as little more than a “social construct”, injustice might easily be confused with inconvenience. To girls confronting their powerlessness, scant attention paid to “gender”‘s political roots and historic consequences leaves “masculinities” looking good, and personal adjustment through technology even better. Hey, why not jump at the chance to escape “gender distress”; the universal female condition forever afflicting “the second sex”? How instantly gratifying, how perfectly consumer friendly. This postmodern all-American quick fix comes complete with academic sanction.
In today’s “LGBT” hierarchy the last may indeed be first, but beneath the surface of lock-step acceptance lies an unspoken universe of discomfort. Doubts and qualms fill the closets of newly silent Lesbians and gay men now afraid of being labeled “bigoted”. Rather than injure feelings or appear oppressive toward a sexual minority, many remain silent, unwilling to deviate “…from the politically correct gender rhetoric (which) subjects one to being called and dismissed as transphobic”, as long time gay activist and independent thinker, Jim Fouratt, writes.
To my eyes and ears, young butch dykes walking the FTM path look and, despite vocal alteration, sound, quite like the young butch Dykes many of us have been and known for decades. However, these days we hear mostly their echoes and see only their backs as they flee womanhood. But they are our line, and by rejecting their female bodies along with our shared history, they break our hearts.
Gays and Lesbians have struggled for decades to be able to name ourselves and to BE ourselves. But now in our own community we are expected to applaud Dykes rejecting womanhood and embrace men taking it over. In our smart, brave and compassionate community, being “different” is the unifying thread holding us together in a diverse crazy quilt of which queers are justifiably proud.
But while we’re at it, let’s also honor our identity and history. And our women. Then maybe our girls won’t be so eager