2 min

On gender & the butch problem

Even the well-intentioned waitress went off track

My high femme dinner companion, perfectly painted toes peeking out from sandals, was in high dudgeon: The waitress had given me the check.

“That is so… heterosexual,” she hissed.

The straight waitress was, I’m sure, doing her best to be gay-positive. One customer was femme, the other butch. Clearly, the “boy” gets hit up for the cost of dinner.

Problem is, my friend was picking up the check. And because of the gaffe, may never step foot in that Bloor St sushi place again.

My poised pal was clearly a well-off professional, clad in simple yet expensive clothes, far above me in the annual income sweepstakes.

I was wearing second-hand army boots, blue jeans and a white shirt bleached so many times it is threadbare. I looked like the archetypal university student.

Straights have gotten to the point where they can accept us. But they still need to park us in their own little heterosexual boxes – butch, top, male, breadwinner. Femme, bottom, Barbie doll. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But until hets figure out that all of these things don’t necessarily intercept – even that these characteristics can change from one day to the next – they’ll be trapped in their own prisons.

We will be, too.

It’s hard enough for lesbians and gay men to forge independent lives for ourselves, overcoming expectations and demands from family and society. We choose some mores and reject others. And yet…

As the femme, my friend is not only seen as a bottom – she’s seen as an appendage. How can that happen even within the lesbian and gay community?

Another friend tells me that at a recent SM women’s group meeting, not a single butch would admit to being a bottom.

And when Mr Leather Toronto 1996 – big tough top Duncan MacLachlan – bottomed for another man in public, there was flack. It just isn’t respectable.

Many transgendered folk, too, say that all kinds of odd assumptions are made about what they do in bed – all male-to-females are submissive, all female-to-males are dominant.

Heterosexuals treat me quite differently when I’m alone. When there’s no comparison to be made, I’m all girlie again.

A man at my favourite neighbourhood hole-in-the-wall sent over a beer a couple of months ago.

A male pedestrian in my neighbourhood tried to hire me for an hour – red plaid shirt and all.

And shopping for my winter coat was quite entertaining. I went to the men’s sections of a handful of shops, looking for a full-length overcoat. I’d be trying on a 56 tall and asking about other styles when salesclerks would ask, “Who’s it for?”

At Moore’s, I was asked for my husband’s size (and yes, I was again actually trying the coat on for size when approached). As the cashier took my name down to call me when the alterations were done, he was already writing “Mrs” as he asked my marital status.

Just plain E Brown, I said. No Mrs, miss or Ms.

I rather like the confusion.

Eleanor Brown is Managing Editor for Xtra.