Femme Friday – Aisha Johnston Continued!

Last week, Aisha was remembering her interactions with a Butch/Femme community, where she and her love found themselves fitting in less and less. Here is the conclusion of her essay.

Jo soon started to experience similar levels of misfitting within their part of the community. Recently, Jo has found that they identify heavily with the concept of dandyism (Urban Dictionary has recently started defining a dandy as a charming androgynous person of [any] gender) and, realistically, probably would have identified with it much earlier if they hadn’t been trying to manifest the masculinity that is “required” when claiming a Butch identity. Jo is a fun, floppy, flamboyant Enby (non-binary, NB) that exudes the perfect combination of all sides of being human, within and outside of the gender binary. The fact that they love to dance, that when they get excited their energy is hard to contain, that they love singing along to Broadway and Barbra Streisand — none of these things take away from their masculinity, to me, but because they weren’t the rough-and-tumble, stereotypical Butch, they weren’t accepted by their peers in the same way that I wasn’t accepted by mine. Jo still does all of the “manly” things a Butch would be happy to boast about; mowing the lawn, building things for me, chauffeuring their little family around in their SUV — but also does an amazing job at keeping our home clean, doing our laundry and most of the other day-to-day domestic duties that would be considered, by some, as the “woman’s” jobs.

Spoiler: I find them exponentially more masculine (and sexy) when they’re doing the domestic things, I won’t lie.

The gender role expectations in the Butch / Femme community are too much akin to the toxic masculinity versus female submission that exists in the heteronormative world to be a comfortable space for me. In taking time for myself, especially over the past three months, I have been unpacking a lot of my emotional baggage as well as childhood trauma and abuse that continued, essentially, until I met Jo. I was preened, throughout my childhood and adolescence, for a cis-hetero life. My femaleness was something my narcissistic mother not only used against me as a weapon but also to fuel a strange type of trauma bond so that our femaleness (something that she believed was invincible) was the main thing holding us together. I was enabled to stay in unhealthy relationships, one of which was extremely toxic, where my femaleness was taken and victimized repeatedly, and my “sworn protector” did not and would not acknowledge or bring to my attention that I was being abused. Whether it was sexually, or I was being humiliated for whatever reaction was deemed “what a girl would do”, my femaleness was always on the chopping block, simply for existing. I was fed to a life full of predatory cis-men and manipulative women, so I grew to hate men for what they did to me, and to hate women for doing nothing to stop it.

Looking back, if I had had one person sit me down and ask me whether or not I was gay, my life would have been completely different. My coming out as queer was nothing special; I came out at 24, after having had a child at 18 and gotten married at 23 (with different, but both, men) and none of my family members were even remotely surprised. Meanwhile, I felt like realizing that I was almost exclusively attracted to trans masculine people (well… Let’s be real, one person in particular, hehe) was like falling into an ice bath after being asleep for 3 days. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before, that if I was triggered by both cis men and women due to prior trauma, that I would find my person in someone who wasn’t either sex but exuded the qualities of both, and every space in between. I slept with both men and women when I hit adolescence, because I couldn’t figure out where I was genuinely happy, but my first love interest was my best female friend in elementary school (who was a tomboy), my first “relationship” was with a fellow older, female choir member (who cut their hair short and went by ‘J’ instead of their given name) and I would often openly disregard any friends’ suggestions at “boys I should date”. I expressed dissatisfaction in every cis-hetero relationship I was in, and no one thought to inquire as to whether or not I was actually straight.

Now that I’ve discovered that information for myself, thank goodness, I’ve had the opportunity to sit with my limited memories of my growing up, a person who has experienced more than a life’s fair share of discrimination due to their gender presentation, and an endless world of online information. This has given me the chance to evaluate my own space and gender in a safe environment, with someone that has done their own exploration and work into figuring out what it means to not fall into the socially “acceptable” binary. I’ve come to realize that the word “woman” doesn’t sit right in my heart, stomach or brain and that when I’m not in relation to someone or something else, I don’t feel like a woman by default. This was a realization that also quickly revealed why I had never and could not identify with ‘Femme’.

There are times when I feel more feminine, and see myself through a more female lens; when I look at my son, there is an automatic, biological, ‘you came from me and only women have babies so I am a woman’, for example. I know that sounds almost caveman-esque, an obvious connection to a little human that literally came from me, but when I generally feel more like a floating entity than a person, these moments are incredibly grounding, for the most part. When Jo and I are intimate or sexual with each other, I usually fall into a more feminine headspace (though this isn’t always the case; I’m sure there are times where my thoughts about Jo could be considered far more ‘masculine’ in their grit and animalistic nature), but in contrast, that could also be perceived more as a dominant / submissive dynamic than a masculine / feminine one.

There are times where I feel more masculine, but one main difference in these moments is that I usually end up almost observing myself from the outside, whereas I tend to feel more present when my femininity is at the forefront. The times where I lean more towards masculinity are generally when things get stressful in our day to day life; Jo recently had, arguably, one of the most severe depressive crashes they’ve had in our time together. During those few days, I felt like I could build us a cabin, beat up everyone that was causing us problems, fix our car, remodel our kitchen and carry Jo around in my pocket, while also wanting to erect a literal barricade around our house so that I could protect them. Being strong, big and protective, for me, also means being distant and a little disconnected — behavior that I have observed from every single one of the important men in my life.

Most of the time though, I find myself sitting somewhere in between the lines, which is why I’ve struggled with connecting myself to ‘Femme’. I feel like I flex and flow, my inner gendered behavior seems to be ever-changing and evolving as these yin and yang moments come and go. I think I may start referring to my different sides as my yin and yang, because even calling them masculine and feminine feels derogatory and wrong, considering I don’t feel like those qualifiers really even begin to cover the different sides of me that I’m discovering and exploring.

The idea of masculine and feminine counterparts, to me, seems like old news. I understand that the Butch / Femme culture has been making an attempt to flip the tables on gender roles for years; butches, doing all of the things men can do and being all of the things men can be, in whatever capacity that entails, challenging the role and necessity of men in our society — while femmes, on the other hand, support and love these people in all of their masculinity while also reestablishing what it means to be a lesbian; essentially, queer women can be masculine of center, or dykes, if you will — but there is also a completely separate squadron of queer, female-bodied women that are owning and championing their womanhood and femininity, by refusing to dampen their femme-ness to ‘fit in’ to a standard of what lesbianism looks like to the small and narrow-minded.

The unfortunate thing that I’m observing now that I’m viewing the world through a new, entirely non-gendered pair of glasses is that, in the effort to shatter the glass ceiling on gender expectations and roles, while simultaneously trying to maintain the old fashioned, old school chivalry, dynamic and attitudes that we all love so dearly about the culture, the B / F world seems to be getting stuck in the Mean Girls or Boy’s Club type of exclusivity and elitism, along with the (sometimes near-invisible) undercurrent of misogyny and patriarchy, as well as baseline gender inequality in general. Femmes spoke horribly about Butches, and Butches either lashed out in anger or disappeared in quiet submission. Meanwhile, all of these people were there because they wanted and needed a community, yet spent the majority of their interactions pushing against the very people they wanted to connect with. Jo and I are two really interesting, genuine, kind people, and the people we’ve met who fall into this spectrum generally see that about us, as did the folx in our B / F groups. The problem was, once people started realizing that we didn’t fit into the boxes — Jo, not Butch enough, and me, well, you know — for some reason we immediately became off-limits, like not having a hard blueprint of your gender expression was a communicable disease; heaven forbid you catch the non-binary!!

I realize my perception of this world might be construed as pessimistic or negative. I also acknowledge that a huge part of my views on gender, roles, etc. are skewed and heavily influenced by my history with trauma and abuse. I love Butches, I love Femmes, I love what they are trying to accomplish and I feel so proud of the friends I have that are shattering societal expectations every day. Jo and I used to identify with these people, at least on some level and used to consider ourselves part of the community. I don’t blame the fact that no one considered us there, on any one individual. During our time in these groups, it broke my heart to know that so many of the people I spoke to were excluded or cast out of their queer communities because they were trying to ‘be hetero’, but in the same breath, were exclusionary to my partner and I because we each were so obviously not trying to be.

I guess the point I’m trying to make in a long-winded, drawn-out, rambling sort of way is that we’re quickly coming up on an age where these things aren’t going to matter — or at least, I’m hopeful of that. We have been exposing ourselves to a community of people, all who ID as non-binary, that has been endlessly rejuvenating and restorative. These people make up the most beautiful mix of folx I have ever seen — some are stunningly, beautifully androgynous, as you would expect from a non-binary community — but there are also a startlingly high number of folx who present very much in a certain way, but are finding that, regardless of their outward presentation, they feel neither one way or the other when it comes to their gender. These people have been some of the most accepting, open, wonderful people we have met in trying to find a community online and in person, and I just hope that at some point we will all be welcome in spaces that make us feel like we fit, not because we look or act like we should be there, but because we heal from our wounds much more quickly if we have a community of people to care about us.

I believe that we’re going to get there because I’m watching people I know come into themselves each and every day. We are going to be the ones to flick the first domino, the queer folx that have experienced a level of hostility we don’t want the next generation of gaybies to experience — if there’s one thing we all have in common, whether you’re gay, queer, Butch, Femme, however you identify — it’s that we’re all wounded, and we need the community as much as they do. Like I expressed earlier, if I had been fortunate enough to have an older, queer person in my life to reach out to me when I was a budding, but closeted, young queer person, my experience with my gender and my journey would have looked completely different; instead, my queerness came into being through trauma, pain and a lot of undue damage and now, the only way I’m finding that I am able to recover from those things is by speaking and sharing with as many other queer folx as I can. If we build this community now, we’ll be helping the up and coming LGBTQ+ community, but I promise you, we’ll be healing our own hearts, too.

“We are pitted against each other in order to keep us from seeing each other as allies. Genuine bonds of solidarity can be forged between people who respect each other’s differences and are willing to fight their enemy together. We are the class that does the work of the world, and can revolutionize it. We can win true liberation.”

– Leslie Feinberg

Aisha (like Asia) is an unassuming person, happily partnered and living her best life with her beau and their 8-year-old son in a quiet, queer-friendly theatre town. A writer, baker, and chronic pain warrior, she currently runs a casual blog, All Queer For Takeoff, with her partner, Jo, where they discuss all aspects of living as queer folx, from family issues and struggles to what happens behind closed bedroom doors (wink). She is musically gifted, playing a variety of instruments including, but not limited to, the french horn, piano, guitar and ukulele, and also loves to sing. True to her Pisces nature, she is both fluid and solid and can easily get lost in her own current of thought. Aisha loves to read, is an avid horror buff and craves adrenaline-inducing experiences (roller coaster buddy, anyone?). She loves baking, chilling out by a campfire or on a cozy couch and playing video games with her beau(s).

 Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. I want to feature you! Write to me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com and let me shine a spotlight on your beautiful, unique, femme story! If you’ve written a femme story or poem or song, oh, please let me post it! New Femme Friday feature starting fall 2018: Books from which queer femmes can draw inspiration. What are your trusted sources of light and love? Please share!

At the Total Femme, my intention is to post three times a week: Meditations for Queer Femmes on Monday, Pingy-Dingy Wednesday on Wednesday and Femme Friday on Friday. Rather than play catch-up in a stressful fashion on those weeks when life prevents posting, I have decided to just move gaily forward: if I miss a Monday, the next post will be on Wednesday, and so on. Thank you, little bottle of antibiotics for inspiring me in this! (“…if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Don’t take a double dose to make up for a missed one.”)