The power in butch: possessive language in queer relationships

At work about a month ago, I made a sound, “uh-hhh,” kind of guttural, almost a hiss. Those of you who know me know the sound I’m describing. A coworker teased me about the sound. Lots of folks tease me when I make that sound. I’m used to it. But what bothered me was what she said next, “It’s alright. All femmes make that sound.”

This ticked me off. She is someone I like and it’s not the only thing she has said that has bothered me, so I figure it’s time to think about what she’s been saying/determine why it bothers me.

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After some reflection, I’ve decided I didn’t like the femme comment because I’ve never categorized myself as a femme and I don’t agree with sweeping generalizations. I don’t like to think I fit into the stereotypes associated with the term. The word femme is usually used to describe a feminine lesbian or a feminine gay man, and its converse is manliness, or a butch or dyke. While I do I wear jewelry and skinny jeans – those are feminine things, I guess – I don’t strive to fit into gender or sexuality stereotypes, and I am not always submissive or a bottom – connotations that the word femme brings up for me. I  also struggle with the idea that an entire population of people all make one sound. I’m sure my coworker was exaggerating, but what does it mean to clump a group of people together like that, even if it’s just in terms of a sound? What other generalizations can then be made?

My coworker also called her partners, “My bitches and hoes…” and used dominating language to talk about them. She spoke of keeping partners in check and having partners make her happy. My coworker has made it clear that she is a top. I understand that people like a wide range of power dynamics in their sex lives and relationships. However, I don’t know the boundaries of my coworker’s relationships and I don’t know the extent to which her partners have consented to the use of such dominating language. Being on the outside of the relationship, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to hear such language used to describe a lover.

Aside from my coworker, I’ve been told that the terms “bitch” and “hoe” are used widely in some queer relationships, especially by the more masculine-presenting partner. This language reminds me of colonization and oppression – two things I hope to erase from the relationships in which I partake. Are queer folks perpetuating patriarchal power dynamics when using possessive language (and perhaps possessive behavior)?

Written by Magdalena Kaluza. Thank you to Megan Leys and others for talking with me about this.

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2 thoughts on “The power in butch: possessive language in queer relationships

  1. I think this zine about misogyny in queer communities would be of interest to you, http://zinelibrary.info/files/123%20punch%20low%20res_0.pdf. I’m really sorry someone used this language towards you, you don’t deserve that, no one does.

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  2. Yes…yes yes! Glad you wrote about this. I was thinking lately about the gay labels..cuz I guess I would be labeled as a stud…or a Butch or whatever…but the roles that puts me in sometimes really bothers me…its almost like I feel like people don’t expect me to be a girl anymore…when in reality I am a woman…just because I dress comfortable and feel more like myself this way, doesn’t mean I want to be a boy…doesn’t mean I can’t act like a girl sometimes when it comes naturally. But because the label puts you in a box, at times its hard to step out of that box in front of people who see the label inside this box. I had to respond quick..not a lot of time. But also the bitch and hoe thing…it happens all the time…and it just blows my mind how “normal” its becoming

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