Beyond the Swagger: The Serious Play of Lesbian Expression

The appearance and gender expressions of sexual-minority women, and lesbians in particular, has been of academic interest for a considerable time (Clarke & Spence, 2013; Esterberg, 1996; Hutson, 2012; Huxley, Clarke, & Halliwell, 2013). Are there noticeable differences between heterosexual and homosexual female expression? And if so, what are the explanations and functions for deviant expressions among lesbians? By analyzing an inter-disciplinary collection of studies on lesbian gender expressions, I hope to begin to draw some patterns and new insight into what makes a lesbian “look like” a lesbian, and why she may (or may not) adopt such an expression.

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Butch Is Not Just For Cis Women

I am a trans woman. I am also a butch lesbian.

Despite what you may have heard, these are not contradicting identities.

A trans woman is a woman who was assigned male at birth by the medical industrial complex. This assignment is based entirely on the appearance of a phallus, specifically a phallus at least half-an-inch in length. That’s it.

A cis woman is a woman who was assigned female at birth by the medical industrial complex. This assignment is based entirely on the lack of a phallus (or a phallus less than half-an-inch, therefore acceptably small enough to be considered a clitoris). That’s it.

So forget whatever the hell you’ve heard about chromosomes, gonads, gametes, fertility, or anything else. (Chances are good you and your doctor have no idea what half of those are for you personally, anyway.) If you can accept that, it’s easy to accept how greatly variable everything else we take for granted about “sex” and “gender” is per individual.

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The Etiquette of a Butch

One of the fun parts of being a butch lesbian is playing with traditional gender norms and making them our own weird and beautiful brand of expression. As a butch lesbian who is also a trans woman, I thought it might be especially cathartic to take all of the well-intended advice about “how to be a gentleman” and make it queer by replacing all male identifiers with “butch”:

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Lesson Two: Vocabulary

Good afternoon class. Now that you’ve all had a chance to look over the syllabus, I’d like to set down a solid foundation of the non-oppressive language we will be using throughout the semester.

For some of you, these words will be familiar but the definitions may be slightly different. For others, this list will look like a foreign language. It does not matter to me what level of experience you already have in transfeminism discussions, for the purposes of this class we are all going to start from the beginning so there will be no confusion or misunderstanding.

A side note, many of your required reading will use slightly different language or definitions. I ask you to remember that language is an ever-evolving aspect of communication for all groups, not just trans women. If at any point during your reading you become confused or would like clarification, please do not hesitate to ask me for assistance. The last thing I want is for something as petty as word choice to get in the way of fighting transmisogyny.

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Clothes

“Closets are for clothes, not people,” is a common battle cry of the queer rights movement. But many fail to appreciate the ways clothes can be used to trap us or free us.

Like it or not, humans make assumptions about other humans based on their bodies and the articles used to cover those bodies. As much as I genuinely believe clothes should not have gender attached to them, I also know I project a very different message to the world as a 28-year-old woman wearing jeans and flannel than I did when I was a 17-year-old kid wearing jeans and flannel.

Many people fail to realize (because they’ve never had to think about it) how much about our gender and sexuality we communicate through our clothing. And even fewer people realize how much others rely on our body and clothes to interpret clues about our gender and sexuality. This is why the same outfit on two different bodies can be interpreted in wildly different ways depending on their skin tone, haircut, fat distribution, size, height, and many other uncontrollable factors. And why even the same clothes worn at different points in our lives can communicate drastically different things.

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