Her Butch Career

Posted: December 2, 2018 in butch, dyke, gay, lesbian, lgbt, queer, same sex marriage
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How many years have I had this domain?  How long have I intended to return to writing, then stopped?  Anonymous Dyke…  There was another time when I was far from anonymous, but this outspokenness was discomfort to the one I love most, the private one, who, understandably, did not want my thoughts, our life, on public display.  So I became anonymous, simple enough, but somehow that made my writing self disappear.

I think about this domain name, about identity, about finding/losing/being oneself.  About history, about culture, about who we are, who I am, where we have come from and are going.

I just finished reading My Butch Career, by Esther Newton.  I wanted to read it because Esther is a dear friend, a long time friend, a mentor and student both.  We came to know each other through our dogs, through dog sports, the first shared interest we realized we had.  I was in my middle twenties, she was twenty years older than that.  When we met she saw in me a young heterosexual married woman, a few years later I was also a mother.  What we had in common, she thought, were the dogs.  What we had in common, I thought, was a whole lot more than that.  But what we had in common was the very thing that kept us from sharing our common ground for nearly twenty years.  The space between us, the words not spoken and trusts not shared, are at the heart of why our world needs this book.  I started reading it because it was written by a friend, I finished reading it because it filled a hunger I almost did not know I had, because it gave me a past within my culture, it gave me a history.

It was common back then, when I first met Esther, to not trust ‘them’, because they were straight, because they were not us, because we had been terrorized, ostracized, abused.  And so, as much as we had in common within the realm of dog sports, she was guarded, because, from outward appearance, I was not one of us, but one of them.  This much I understood from the start, and while I yearned for elders to guide me in our culture, I did not hold it against them that they could not see beyond story that my life had become.  There is nothing special about me or my circumstances, many queers of my generation married, some certainly because they were trying to prove to themselves or others that they weren’t gay, but for some of us it was more complicated, nuanced.  No man ever caused my heart to stop with a glance, nor did any man fill me with raw sexual desire, but I still could love them, after a fashion, I could tell myself it was enough, because I wanted children, and, as I was told by my girlfriend shortly before we split, shortly before I married a man, it wouldn’t be fair to raise children with lesbian parents, they would be tormented at school, bullied from the start.  My husband knew, my close friends knew, but the rest of the world saw the outward appearance, the woman with husband and children, the woman who, by default, was straight.  Or, almost worse, closeted by fear and possibly self loathing.  I was neither straight nor closeted, but with two children in tow and a husband at home, I was somehow on hold, queer on ice, waiting.

All this has changed.  There is no longer a husband.  My outward appearance matches what I know about myself.  My partner and I out in both our public and private lives, I am once again one of us, and what I always knew Esther and I had in common is now common knowledge.

When I first met Esther, I was young, conflicted.  The things that drew me to her (and I do not mean this in any romantic or sexual way, but in the way one is drawn to a mentor, the way one innately understands another’s ability to teach one something that is both important and lacking in ones own self), at the same time made me uncomfortable.  It wasn’t that she was gay, gay had surrounded me my entire life, being raised, as I was, by lefty parents in the heart of Greenwich Village in the 1960s and 70s, having been taken by my father, at the age of eight, to see, carefully, from behind a police barricade, what would become known as the Stonewall Uprising.  But butch, that was the thing.  Butch, not in the way that I had seen it so often portrayed, not really quite butch like me, but a version that made me make sense of myself.  Butch as she describes in the very first pages of her memoir –

‘is about a gender expression that combines some version of the masculinity you saw around you as a child with same-sex desire.’

My father, that version of masculinity he portrayed, was in my core, and far from what I had seen as butch in my limited exposure.  My father, who was lefty, liberal, intellectual, and possibly gay himself.  My father who was the stay at home parent.  My father who was sensitive and soft and knew nothing of sports or of being tough and unemotional.  I struggled with this later, with some more traditionally raised women telling me I was not butch enough, not ‘man’ enough, because the men who shaped their childhoods were the quiet stoic sort who tinkered with cars and watched football on TV.

To be part of a culture that has traditionally been marginalized and outlawed is difficult.  To be part of a culture that is connected not by blood or location, but by, for lack of a better word, desire, is a complicated thing.  From my mother and aunts I learned the stories of their childhood, mixed race children in 1930’s Paris, the torment and teasing they endured.  My father, a young boy in Germany at the time the Nazis rose to power, shared those terrifying events.  I understand my biological past and the pains visited upon my biological kin, I can feel it in my bones.  But there was no ‘parent’ to tell me the stories of my other culture, only sweeping brush accounts.  I came into being without knowing where I came from.

This book makes a brilliant start at changing that, a first hand glimpse at my cultural past, at who we were and how we became who we are now.  I started reading it because Esther is a friend, I finished it because it fed a hunger that I was not even quite aware of having until it was sated.  We should all read this, take it in, understand.  This is our people, our culture, our blood.

Comments
  1. OMG Frankie this is beautiful, so beautiful. I’d my memoir helped you write this then I have done good.

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