Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I Obsess About Butch-Femme Politics

So I was thinking about this whole butch-femme thing. Is it really as rare as I've heard, is it something more or less than I think it is, do I even know what the hell I think it is?
And I was thinking about the difficulties my Ferret and I have occasionally when it comes to gender roles. And it's all very incoherent and very personal.
I'm a feminist. She's never dated one of those before, apparently. She's a traditionalist. I've never dated one of those, as far as I know. So we have differences in viewpoint when it comes to the things we do, the roles we play in the relationship, and we're still working it out.

One of the most memorable discussions we've had about how our experiences are signified was an argument, actually. I like to argue, sometimes. But this one was frustrating, with me constantly saying things like "I don't want you to pay for my dinner, because I can take care of myself!" "I don't need you to carry my groceries; you do realize I can I carry you around the damn Publix parking lot, right?" What I was saying to her is I'm not helpless, please don't treat me like glass. I work hard to be tough and independent, and I want you to respect me as an equal, not patronize me as though I can't do things for myself. And finally, she said to me: "Look, I know you're my equal. I love that you can take care of yourself. But this is how I was raised. This is how I show you that I love you, it's the only way I know how. It makes me feel good to take care of you, and it makes me happy that you trust me to do these things for you. If you really hate it, tell me what you want me to do instead. Don't just yell at me for telling you that I love you."

And with that, I fell silent. There was nothing I could say. I had never thought of it like that. So now, I take her gestures the way she means them, and don't reject them. It would have been nice if I could have stumbled onto this article before this argument. Sometimes, just like the way she shakes her head and says "Chicks are weird" when my thought processes elude her, I want to say the same thing about her: the butch brain continues to mystify me. As much as I adore her, sometimes the wish to know what she's really thinking makes me pace and jitter and sigh. Why didn't she tell me this before? So now I get it, I think.

On one hand, part of me still wants to argue, wants to say, what if I don't want to be "precious"? Don't want to feel like a lovely, cherished, adored possession? Isn't that what that means? On the other hand, when my partner holds me tight and growls "you're mine", I melt. I am a warm puddle of femme and I feel like I'm in my own private universe with her, which I'm thinking is part of the experience of being femme in the first place.

So, isn't that what subversive gender roles are all about? Femme power being different from, but still equal to, that of our butch counterparts? Very much like BDSM- wherein the Dom has the obvious power- s/he holds the whip, ties the knots, gives the orders. The sub, however, has the unseen and most important power- the power to say, 'stop'. The safeword is an automatic end to the scene, and without a sub, who will the Dom play with? We subs have a great deal of subtle power, and so, I guess, do we femmes.

The thing is, this sounds a lot like the argument many folks make when the subject of male/female equality comes up. "Women have a lot of power- they run the house, they influence the men, they hold the cards sexually." Now completely leaving aside the matter of rape, in which all the so-called 'cards' are yanked out of a woman's hands and shredded, doesn't this sound kind of like "We gave you bitches the vote, what more do you want?"
They're basically calling women- and if we follow the binary gender dynamic to its logical correlation, the femmes- the power behind the throne. We have influence, emotional power, power through or men or butches. And that can be awesome, and scary, and subversive. But it can also be very, very tiresome. I get sick of the indirect route sometimes. I don't want power through someone else! I don't want emotional power- I want tangible power! I wanna wear the pants and make the laws and earn the money and make the decisions! I want the mechanic to talk to me as though I matter and sometimes, I even wanna pay for dinner and carry the groceries.

And sometimes, I want to be protected and have doors opened for me and let someone else take care of me. Yes, honey, you make the decisions today. You deal with the mechanic, he's an asshole anyway. Compliment me on my heels, I wore them because you like them. Will you take the garbage out? And then you can rest your head in my lap and we can tell each other about our day. I want to wear perfume and be enticing; when I take my butch's arm, I want her to look at me with desire and feel proud and amazed that this woman is with her.

So what's a femme-inist to do? Is it possible to let someone else lead, sometimes? Is it possible that trusting her to take care of me isn't an automatic admission of weakness? Is it possible to subvert gender roles by just being who we are, or is playing the butch/femme game a betrayal of everything I try to do and stand for? I'd welcome another femme feminist's point of view on this. Am I making a bigger deal out of this than it has to be? Gah, too many questions, too many question marks. I guess I'll just put it out there and see if anyone has any answers for me, because with this one, I don't think I can find the answer for myself.