Sunday, October 9, 2011

What's it all about? A note from the other side.

I've been adding so many sightings, I haven't taken the time to talk about the process much. On our facebook page, someone commented that they know lots of butches but don't think they could ask a question like "do you identify as a butch" because it seems nosy. I didn't take it as a critque but more as a comment on the boundaries that exist in some parts of the culture (which I write with awareness that we don't all live or operate in one culture, there are many and most of us cross between them multiple times in a day).

My take is that people are "allowed" to acknowledge one another as queers, and beyond that, as specifically identified queers, in sanctified spaces such as gay bars, marches and gay neighborhoods. We're allowed to do this because we're in a sexualized space of queerness. Here one can be flirtatious and direct with less worry that the line of public pronouncement has been crossed.

Out in the world we're not supposed to do that because we are operating in a significantly straight space where we give each other sideways glances and nods, or sometimes pretend not to see one another at all. In those spaces I always feel a secret thrill like "oh my god I just saw a butch," but have no way to express the experience.

In this project, I'm purposefully crossing the boundary, radicalizing the non-queer spaces, being up front and most of all, not pretending not to see or appreciate. I'm reaching out over the rules of quiet conformity. In doing so, not only do I create a conversation where one might have only possibly existed through surreptitious body language, I'm also outing myself as a femme, an otherwise mostly invisible identity.

I can do this for many reasons without too much angst - my Jewish culture gives me a certain kind of cross-the-boundaries chutzpah, I was raised crossing between many different and conflicting worlds where non-conformity was the norm, and I am the kind of person who likes to challenge herself. And because I am fat, I have always been noticed, stared at, sometimes maligned and otherwise made to feel over-visible. This had the affect of making me more bold, not less. Not to mention I like interacting with people out in the world.

So far, it's been an interesting experience - often times validating (for me and the photographed subject), sometimes confusing and humiliating, quite often thrilling. And you?


  1. GREAT post!!! I'm already using it to explain Butch Sightings more clearly to those who WEREN'T getting it.....and now some are. Pulling in those 'outside the choir' is especially cool. I'm really enjoying this, including meeting my first 'poster butch' LOL THIS quote reallly resonates with me.."I'm also outing myself as a femme, an otherwise mostly invisible identity. Thanks Jenny

  2. I really appreciate this project and your willingness to take social risks. i see it as a valuable contradiction to butch invisibility -- and i, for one, could sure use the recognition and attention.

    thank you -- and KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!

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    Spike said...
    You're my heroine Jenny! What an awesome and insightful post! You're just a breath of fresh air. I love your chutzpah and the fact that you put yourself out there, taking risks/joy to connect with people...actual human interactions...which is a fabulous thing that a lot of us should follow suit...I'm sure the world will be a better place. I, being the lucky Butch Sightings photographed subject #57, was so flattered when you approached me when I least expected (in a non-queer space)...did make my day...that my fellow queers are in fact everywhere. :) So thank you for your being the trailblazer femme that you are...and Happy Butch Sightings!!!

    Yours truly,

  4. Thank you all so much for your support and enthusiasm. I feel like I was born for this! So glad there are butches out there to appreciate.

  5. I also love purposefully queering not-specifically-queer space and support others who do it, too! It's great that the blog is also generating more explicit discussions around identity and how we all have to confront maneuvering in mainstream spaces. And we should support each other in that process as much as we can.

    It always feels a little weird to me when we pretend not to notice each other for the sake of...what? Not being perceived as *too* gay? Too out?Protecting straight people's sense of superiority or a heterosexist concept of decorum? Perhaps in the past it had something to do with not wanting to place ourselves and others in physical danger but I think it might be more a habit than anything else now, and not necessarily one that serves us well anymore.

  6. After we had this discussion, I, like Reddiva Dana above, used what you said as a way to explain why the project has a politic. Butches really get that; both that it's about making us visible to one another, and also about busting up the dominant culture's public sphere with our overt queer performance -- asking questions about queerness to a total stranger, and taking photos. Whenever I've approached a butch for Butch Sightings in a public place like the supermarket or at the park, people always look to see what's going on. Thank you so much for starting this erotic political project. Love you. xoxo