To The FemmeMobile! Away!

{November 6, 2010}   Re-thinking Gender

There’s two parts to this post, so bear with me.

Part one!

I’m reading Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein, on DK‘s suggestion, and I really like it. It’s making me think again in twisty ways that I find, without some influx of twisty thinking, I tend to stop doing. (Which is a shame, as I really enjoy doing it!) It does remind me, though, to be careful with my words.

One of the premises of the book is that gender is a societal construct, but then in the next breath Kate talks about never “feeling like a man.” If gender is a societal construct, then we would ‘feel’ like whatever society told us to feel like, and there would be no transgenders of any sort. Maybe the way we perform gender, the earmarks we look for, are agreed upon and enforced by society, but I don’t think it’s entirely a societal construct; not if we’re “feeling” that one is right and another is wrong.

It reminds me very much of something I still struggle with, and struggled badly with for a long time. I was raised with the idea that women should not be barefoot and pregnant; that this is the ideal of the conservative patriarchy, and something they try to enforce (which I do agree with). I’ve met many feminists, and at one point held the belief myself, that women only wanted to be “just” wives and mothers (Christ! Hardest job in the world, and it’s a “just.” There’s something really fucked up there.) if they’d been told so and brainwashed into it; that no woman would “naturally” be inclined toward wife and motherhood. Then I realized that if we’re going to give women a choice in what they want, part of that choice has to be being a wife and mother. I’ve met a few women who get great joy in doing so, who feel complete and happy. (Heck, AlphaFemme seems to be an example of this; she talks about the great joy she gets in being a domestic wife — AF, I know you’re not married, but work with me here. ;-D — and I don’t think she’s been brainwashed into believing that’s what she wants.)

As my cousins (all conservative catholic, very much raised with the idea that the only proper job for a woman was to be married with kids) started to get married, I really struggled with it. I wanted to shake them all and say, “You don’t have to do this! Stop it!” But if we’re going to give women a choice… I’m better, now, at believing they’re doing what’s right for them. To make myself okay with that, I also believe that if this isn’t right for them, then it’s part of their greater growth, and it’s right for them right now to attain higher healing or something like that. It’s definitely not perfect nonjudgement, but it’s the best I can do for the moment. Now that I’ve seen several of them married, there are actually two who take great joy in their current state, who are radiant and happy (if sometimes tired!) when I see them. It’s a good reminder that some women really do want that.

It’s something I need to remember as I read gender bending books, because it’s easy to start saying, “People only portray women and men genders because we’re told to!” Maybe many people only portray them for that reason, but there are some people for whom they’re actually correct, for whom they fit nicely. Definitely something to remember; to an extent, gender is a social construct, but some part of it is inborn, too, and I shouldn’t discount someone’s gender just because it’s the majority. So, really, this is a note to self. 😉

It does make me laugh, though, that the argument often used for why there aren’t natural genders is that they don’t feel right. In arguing such, the person is almost disproving their own point! (Maybe this isn’t Kate’s argument: I haven’t read enough to know. But man, it’s an argument I hear a lot.)

Part 2!

Anyway, there was something else that occurred to me that I wanted to mull out (and get other opinions and discussion on, if possible!).

There was something in Gender Outlaw where she was making lists of what possible genders there were, and she added boy/girl
and kept going. But really, it was that ‘boy/girl’ that struck me.

I once had a friend say to me, “whatever else you identify with, you can always identify as a woman.” I was appalled. I don’t feel like a woman. I have never felt like a woman. I feel more like a girl, but that’s not right, either. I feel femme. (In his defense, I hadn’t yet even discovered femme.)

More recently, someone on an author list I was on was asking if there’s a difference between boi and butch. Now, those of you who identify as such are welcome to correct me, but in the limited time I’ve been in the community I’ve thought of them as two different things. Both masculine, yes, but I think of butch as presenting adult-masculine, and boi as presenting teenage/young twenties-masculine. They’re two very different presentations, and I’m not remotely interested in bois. What’s really interesting to me is that I think of ‘baby butch’ and ‘boi’ as two different things: A baby butch, to me, is either a butch who’s just coming into the identity, or a young (emotionally, mentally, or physically) butch. A boi is someone presenting as young-masculine. (On a slight tangent, Q and her buddies have “Boi’s night” — which makes perfect sense to me. They’re getting together to play, whether it’s at a bar, on a video game, or just hanging out. Just like I have “girl’s night,” when my whole attitude is one of play. Slightly different than living that, though.)

Given my responses to girl/woman as applied to me, where one almost fit (despite my age) and the other DID NOT (despite my age), I’m thinking that I subconsciously see these all as different genders. (Realizing that also helped me finally come to terms with femme as a transgender. It’s so close to feminine that I was still having issues coming to grips with the idea that it’s its own gender, rather than an offshoot. But girl/woman and lady/woman are all close, too, and I’d call those separate genders. This made me realize that though femme is close to feminine, it doesn’t make it an offshoot; it just shares some attributes, and that’s okay. :))

I also wonder how much I’m conflating ‘archetype’ with ‘gender,’ and if the two actually should be conflated, anyway.

(In a total aside, I’m sitting at my little glass table outside, and there’s a hawk crying somewhere nearby. What a beautiful, haunting sound!) (And now Bobby da Bird is imitating or responding to it. Very cute.)

If I define both archetype and gender, I find they’re awfully close; it’s just that one is more all-encompassing than the other (gender being more all-encompassing and less rigid than archetype). Let’s see… off the top of my head, full of mistakes:

Archetype: the life-long patterns and paths, ways of behaving and thinking.

Ex: The hero archetype has a life pattern of a difficult journey, coming to grips with something at the end (either mental or physical). The warrior archetype goes to battle, and must learn eventually when NOT to go to battle. (Ha ha, this is totally my archetype. >.>) The bard archetype is a wanderer who brings news, information, and new ways of thinking by entertaining and telling stories. The damsel archetype is someone who wants to be rescued, then protected. (This, in seemingly direct opposition to the warrior, is also me. Luckily Q has a knight archetype. :D) And so on among many more archetypes.

Gender: Clothes, behaviors, ways of acting that declare of us one gender or another. Sort of. Maybe an aspect of personality? Damn, I can define what makes a gender presentation, but not what a gender is. I’m going to go with an aspect of personality and tastes.

Okay, so the stress on archetypes is a life-long arc or behavioral pattern, whereas the stress on gender is the current way one behaves and expresses. Two different things, and yes, I think my tendency toward thinking of girl/boy/boi/butch/femme/woman/man/etc is a gender, not an archetype. (Of course, girl/boy have the same problem that man/woman do: whereas man/woman are also conflated with biological sex, boy/girl is conflated with age, and as a gender will likely mature into woman/man. So maybe it’s only a gender on someone old enough to have chosen it? Hmm.)

Anyway, I started this to get your ideas. Do other people think of boi/butch/girl/woman/femme/man/etc as genders? Or is it more like boy/boi grows into man/butch, and it’s all one gender? And what about gender only being a gender on someone old enough to have chosen it (whether or not they’ve done so consciously)? I’ve met teens I’d refer to as a ‘young man’ or ‘young lady,’ and adults I’d refer to as a ‘girl/boy,’ so…

Geez! So complex! 😀



Q says:

Wow!! I’m surprised there aren’t more responses to this, but I’m still on East Coast Time, so maybe that’s the lag. For me, the LGBT (XYZ bla bla bla) community has put me into two categories: some see me as ‘butch’ while others say ‘boi’.

I wasn’t introduced to ‘boi’ until I was about 30. It came up in a lesbian bar when someone asked my GF of the time if i was a boi, implicating that I was, or might be, transitioning from female to male. That was what ‘boi’ meant to that individual — that I was transitioning, or maybe had already, or considered myself transgendered even if not going through a physical transformation. For that person, butch was a lesbian identified gender whereas boi was a transgender identified gender.

I honestly don’t know where the fuck I am. I seem to sway between the two. On one hand, I’ve worked very hard to create my butch character/persona/identity and the community that comes with it. I’m proud of who I am and spent years, decades really, becoming my butch self. But, on the other hand, if I *could* transition (female-to-male), I would. I don’t feel “right” in my body. I feel male on the inside, but remain female on the outside. Talk about having some fucking head games in the bedroom!! Wow!!. I have my reasons for not transitioning, ranging from medical concerns to family concerns to societal concerns to psychological concerns…the list is endless. I’m still trying to come to terms with it, and every day is a struggle. But I remind myself that, for me (and at this time in my life), the cons outweigh the pros when it comes to transitioning. Transitioning is a life changing event that I can’t take back, and I’m not willing to risk the butch I’ve become to see if FTM would work better for me. So, for me, I go back and forth between butch/boi.

I’d like to add that I’m writing this on the fly in an airport in the South (yeehaw), so please be gentle with any rebuttals. 🙂

JB says:

Yeah, so, we’ve now talked about this in person, and how terms change over time and whatnot. All very interesting stuff! Which leads me to wondering if other people who read this have also seen the terms change over time, and if so, how?

…Alas, everyone is busy with Real Life and holidays, I suspect. >.>


[…] have my Q back. We’re sitting on the couch, and talking about her comment on my butch/boi post, and I asked her about transitioning, which led her to asking if we’d […]

Jolie says:

To both of you:

This is food for thought to me, and I thank you for it. With Rhett’s decision this year to pursue the first stages of his physical transition when we are financially able, I’ve had lots of these kinds of discussions, both in my own head and externally.

I’m going to have to ponder and revisit.

JB says:

Ohh, please do. Your thoughts are always so interesting. 😀


G says:

I really like this post. I had to read it a couple of times before commenting, since you had my brain spinning a little – in a good way, like you mentioned. I have two observations about individuals I know who claim boi as their identity.

First, as you said, it does seem to be something related to age, especially that teenage/early 20s window of time. But I’ve also seen women identify as a boi so they don’t get labeled as a butch. It’s almost seems as though they want to identify as masculine, but being butch is … I don’t know, too masculine? I’m not sure, and I want to restate that I am going off of observations and what has been said to me by some of these bois. One even went so far as to say she identified as boi versus boy because a boy is just a younger man, and she wasn’t a man.

So I think to TRY answering your questions, based on my experience, I think of boi/butch/femme/girl/boy as genders because I think they can be used so interchangeably with those who choose them as identities. I suppose that some people identify as man/woman, but I’m naturally inclined to think of those as a physical sex marker, much like male/female, since I generally hear it in that context.

Somehow I felt much clearer about this before I started typing it out …

JB says:

Somehow I felt much clearer about this before I started typing it out …

*LAUGHS!* Funny, I think I felt the same way in typing it, too. 😉

This is interesting, because Q had seen it as someone transitioning, and you’ve seen it as people trying to be less masculine. Q mentioned last night that she sees differences in how the term is used even in different queer spaces within the city, so I wonder if that is part of it, too? Hmm.


ulla says:

boi to butch was very much a linear, age and development based identity shift, i wrote about it here

disclaimer: it’s only my identity and my experience …

JB says:

Having read that — was it, for you, growing into butch? Or was it a sideways shift in identity? I mean, I used to identify as a girl, and only last year did I realize that, no, femme fit better. It wasn’t so much that I grew into femme (though obviously I wouldn’t have ID’d as that at, say, 10), as it fit the best for this moment. Did boi fit the best then, until you found something better, or did you grow up and feel like it was a natural progression into butch, like the-sex-of-boy eventually grows into the-sex-of-man?

(God, I hope that made sense!)


Q says:

Another note is that boi, in my mind, is a relatively new term in the world of lesbianism. Up until probably the 80s or 90s, there was only butch and femme. And during the women’s liberation movement, feminism and feminists felt that to be “butch” was to be pro-patriarchy and, therefor, anti-feminist. This made a very, very, tough life for butches. So many terms we had today didn’t exist (at least, not outside the DSM IV) prior to 1980 or 1990. Butch and Femme was all there was. You couldn’t be in between. And if you were younger, you weren’t a boi, you were a “baby dyke” or “baby butch”. But even “dyke” was more synonymous with butch or masculinity. There were tons of words (albeit derogatory words)for butches and lesbianism. But there are many new words that exist today that cover the entire femme-butch continuum, and (I think) this is a generational thing. My mom’s best friend, Jo, is the butchest woman I have ever met in my life. She’s about 72 yrs old, ex-military, super feminist (to the point that she hates men), and could be a poster child as the founder of all butchness. But if I asked her what a “boi” was, she’d have no freakin’ clue.

JB says:

You know, this is a good point. We’re creating language like crazy, here, and it could just be that no one has quite decided on it, yet. Give us another ten years, and people will laugh and say, “Well, of course boi refers to the gender that prefers blue hair and earrings with masculine clothing…” 😉


ulla says:

Not sideways shift nope – it felt like the next logical step, in my identity-journey as in queer identity (oh wow I fit into this option) and the human thing of growing older (oh hell my flesh is sagging, o joy I am wiser). I’d been called boi, androgynous and soft butch before – I was very focused on style and probably metrosexuality. I interviewed kate clinton a few years back and she called herself “stylish butch” and that probably decided it, as possibly the most positive thing I’d ever heard about butch, expressed so simply, by someone truly beautiful. And it all fit me like a skin especially tailored for me.

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