A Personal Ramble on “Identifying”

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The bit I am about to share with you is some of my personal story.  I share it not because it is anything special, or even necessarily very different from many of YOUR stories. I share it because recently, I have had conversations with not one, but two young women who argued with me that today there is no need to ‘wave flags and attend parades’ because we are all accepted.  Why, I was asked, does anyone need to IDENTIFY as any specific thing?  Why make noise about being  a lesbian, or a particular type of lesbian? Why do you need to say you are a Femme or  Butch or Whatever?

I suggested that this is easy to say coming from life in a gay-friendly, big city, having been raised in a basically safe environment, and having had LGBTQ Family Who Went Before you and paved the way. . . but that there are many, many kids – and adults – today, in many, many places, who are NOT accepted as who and what they are.  And until such time as no one of us is in danger of being harmed – emotionally, verbally, sexually, physically or otherwise (by others or themselves) for who they are, I believe it is not only our RIGHT but our OBLIGATION – as soon as we are ready and able – to STAND UP AND BE COUNTED. I shared a bunch reasons why a person might want or need to stand up and Identify, wave a flag, join a Pride Parade. Such as:

  • A young person shunned and cast out of their home for being LGBTQ, who has struggled to heal those family inflicted wounds and now rejoices in hir NEW Family
  • A person who lived closeted for a long time and now finds healing in stepping bravely Out
  • A person who has loved ones who have been harmed for being LGBTQ and is empowered by standing up
  • An elderly person who worked and fought hard for the right for all of us to be free
  • A person who lived through the AIDS epidemic but most of who’s friends and beloveds did not – in solidarity with and in honor of their lost one’s lives and deaths
  • A person who is still not accepted by their family, town, or country for being LGBTQ

And then I made it personal. I said this:

I am Gay. I am a Lesbian. I am, specifically, a Femme Lesbian.  My Beloved is a big ol’ Butch.  Each for our own reasons, we both find it personally important to IDENTIFY as such.  To name ourselves, share with others like us and those who are not, make noise about who and what we feel we are.  For me, it might partly be a making-up-for-lost-time, since it took me til forever to totally figure myself out. . .and come out – to myself, to the world.  And maybe because I missed so many years as myself, I do want to see and be seen by my community.  The LGBTQ community. The Lesbian community. The BF community.  It’s a community in which I am healed and whole.  Maybe if you never have to feel separate from yourself, you can’t imagine needing to feel re-joined with yourself and the people who help you find that self.

Yeah, I’m one of the Femme casualties of the 60’s-70’s Wimmin’s/Womyn’s movement. . .Looking back (though I know that it was important work done to make space for the majority of lesbians who are NOT B/F to be themselves without having to “role play”),  a terrible wound was created for those of us who were not role-playing but rather were, and are, innately and truly B/F.  Looking back, once again I want to rage at the Womyn-space dykes who undyked me because of my femininity (shaming me for undermining the feminist movement and ‘catering to the patriarchy’ by choosing to keep my hair long and wearing skirts – I was actually, on two separate occasions, asked to leave a gathering because I was not properly dressed down), and those same Feminists caused too many of my potential Butch lovers to soften themselves so as not to be ‘siding with the enemy’ [men] or ‘aping’ maleness . . . so that I could not find you Butches, nor find any mirror of myself, you Femmes.  So that I even absorbed the concepts I was hearing, to my own detriment.  (I remember the one and only time I was in a real, old-school B/F bar.  I walked in and there were half a dozen super hard core Butches at the bar and hanging out on the wall.  I was overcome with some kind of anxiety and joined in the popular chant of the times: “If I wanted something that looked like THAT, I’d just date a real man”. . . now, looking back, I recognize my anxiety for what it was: A totally overwhelming attraction to these amazing power-beings, the full-on/know-who-they-are Butches, and thus terror at recognition of my own Femme-ness. . . “take me back there to heaven” I’d now say, but back then it was so ingrained in us all to chant for modern women’s lib. . .

In the early 1970’s I found myself at sea with no shore in sight; I believed wholeheartedly in Women’s Liberation.  I was as excited by the movement as anyone was; my mother was a women’s libber and meetings were held at our home. Well I recall the heated discussions and plans made for all mothers to wear pants to the PTA meetings and defy the thus-unbroken rules that female parents dress ‘appropriately’ at my school.  In fact, I myself, in the 8th grade, was one of the instigators of “pants day” in my school – a day when girls in grades 7-12 would defy rules and, en masse, show up in pants, overalls, trousers – anything but the required skirts.  And we did indeed achieve a meeting with the head mistress who granted us first one day a week and later an open choice to wear pants if we wished.  I loved all this.  But along with it, in the lesbian world of the time (having only just moments ago escaped the clothing rules of 50’s and 60’s society), came a new kind of clothing and behavior police: Womyn-space.

The new and sacred space being created by feminists, and specifically lesbian feminists, was so positive in so many ways that we somehow forgot to notice that while it was busy closing doors on the damaging 50’s definition of a Woman and her Role in society, it was unwittingly creating new definitions that were equally harmful to some of our own.

Me, myself, as a young person finding my way into the world of my own senses, found myself confused.  I loved people – all people.  All my life I had had crushes on both boys and girls.  In my late teens I was drawn to gay spaces, lesbian spaces. But I was not always welcomed with open arms.  Or I was repeatedly asked when I would be ready to cut my hair.  I was mistrusted as a potential turncoat.  I went out dancing with my gay male friends. . .and had so much more fun than I ever did in womynspace.  Maybe I was just a big ol’ Fag Hag.  I wished I were a gay man – they were so much more colorful.  Maybe I wasn’t gay after all. I wasn’t as boring or angry or stiff and uncomfortable with myself as ‘real’ lesbians were.  I could date men. I could date women.  Though I clearly liked women as people a whole lot better than I did most male humans, I was, actually, very drawn to Masculine energy. . .  men liked me. . . and the lesbian world at the time made fun of me.

I recall a date with a woman I liked very much – we went to a bar where shortly after arriving, a friend of hers took her aside and, with a sneer, asked my girlfriend about my attire:  ‘What is she WEARING?  Is that a DRESS?!!” My embarrassed girlfriend shared this story with me – clearly with the purpose of shaming me into wearing a flannel shirt next time.  (I was, in fact, wearing a wonderfully flowing, light turquoise shirt that came down to my mid-thighs – you know, a hippy-shirt. . .)

So after a while, I decided to call myself Pan-sexual. My motto was: I don’t care if you are black or white, fat or thin, male or female blah blah blah. . . if I like who you ARE, I will work with what you’ve GOT. . . and so I lived for most of my life.  I dated a lot of wonderful souls, men and woman. I was attracted to them each to varying degrees.  And also something was missing, though I never could quite tell what it was.  Looking like I did, it was much easier to date men than women.  I never disliked them.  In fact, I ended up marrying a really wonderful one. We raised fabulous kids together.  We had very busy lives in which we were often apart. We argued a lot, often about things that seemed unresolvable. We went through many deeply rough spots and had endless conversations about dating other people.  We loved each other – and are still the best of friends.

But let me fast-forward.  When I figured out that all my ambiguity regarding whom to date, all my adoration of rainbows and the LGBTQ world, all my tears when I would attend Prides over the years, all my WISHING I was a REAL gay person. . . when I figured out that all this pain was due to a simple – yet oh so complex situation (the confusion of a time and political situation I happened to be a victim or product of), I realized I had found the key to my healing, to myself.  I won’t burden you all with every detail.  But I will say that realizing that I could have both a woman AND masculine energy ALL IN ONE PACKAGE was about as earth-shatteringly exciting as, um, well, a VOLCANO ERUPTING.  When I opened to the previously hidden world of Butch/Femme, my body, heart, mind and spirit SOARED. I had found home, Her, ME.  I found Community. I felt, for the first time in my whole life, WHOLE.  It makes me cry to write this, even now.

After figuring myself out, I can look back at my life and read the signs clear as day. But none of it was clear back then.  I have spoken to countless Femmes of my vintage with similar stories.  And plenty of Butches who, though they could not completely hide from their identity as I could, still had put some kind of a damper on their true Butch nature during those anti-B/F times.

I am aware that none of this is anything new to most of you in the BF world.  (And if it is, and you want to read more about it, check out the most awesome classic: The Persistent Desire; A Femme-Butch Reader, edited by Joan Nestle )


But it seems to me that we still need to make noise about this stuff – maybe it’s just my need not to be forgotten, my need for ALL the LGBTQ people who have lived through more than 3 decades and recall harder times not to be forgotten. . .  I am grateful to know that there are young people out there today who live in a wonderfully free world – a world from which they have the safety, respect and ease of movement that allows them to take a stance – or not.  A world in which they feel they can be who they are without “Identifying”.  And I am just fine with that. I guess I am only asking that YOU who do not feel the need or desire to do so, not judge US – any of us, from any time, or any place – those of us who DO feel the need  or desire or make the choice to










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Thanks & Love Always,

F of The BFL Team