This morning I woke up to an email. I get a lot of mail these days, mostly good stuff, the now-everyday request for me to work for free, amorous letters that are at times flattering and sometimes vaguely unsettling, and the occasional missive that is downright creepy or abusive.
This email was hard to swallow, and moved me to put down my teacup and write something that made me feel better, something that would wash away the bitter taste left on my tongue and lingering in the back of my throat.
The author was a self-identified “proud lesbian,” and she had a bone to pick with me. She wanted to know why I wrote so much about being a butch and asked me if I had nothing better to do with my time and my writing than to separate myself from “normal lesbians.” She said that lesbians would never reach true equality as long as people like me were insisting on labelling ourselves and splitting up “her community.”
I will do her the courtesy of changing her name to protect the guilty. Let us call her Eve, shall we? As in the original normal lesbian.
Well, Eve, where to start?
Let’s go first to the dictionary, as I am so often wont to do, just to make sure that we understand the meaning of the word normal. “Normal” is an adjective, and it means usual, regular, common, typical or constituting a standard, or, interestingly, being approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, ability or emotional adjustment, or conforming to the conventions of one’s group.
If I had ever attempted to live a regular, typical, common life, I wouldn’t be queer in the first place, now would I? I certainly wouldn’t be a writer or an artist.
According to my reading of the definition of the word normal, being a normal lesbian is an oxymoron, right out of the gate.
But let’s move on to our collective liberation, shall we? Let’s search back through our herstory and see if we can find all the normal lesbians and gay men who are responsible for the rights we have managed to wring out of our governments. Funny thing is, I don’t see a lot of normal there. I see risk-takers and warriors and shit-disturbers and won’t-take-no-for-an-answer types.
I see queers who weren’t afraid to stand out of a crowd, lisp their way through a speech, love dangerously, give the fuck-you finger to conformity, and generally lay it all on the line for justice and what is right.
And what I really want you to consider, Eve, is that they fought for folks like you, too, even when you pretended you were nothing at all like them. Even when you claimed that you were one of the good gays, that you plucked your facial hair and didn’t wear army boots or leather or lipstick or glitter or feathers — they still fought for you.
See, I know you, Eve. You are the woman who wishes the leather daddies and the assless-chapped bull daggers and their nipple rings would stay home for the next Pride parade, so as not to embarrass you.
You are the person who won’t sleep with femmes because they aren’t really lesbian enough for you.
You are the lesbian who believes that trans women don’t belong in your spaces and that trans men have somehow betrayed your sisterhood simply by becoming themselves and regardless of what they have contributed or still contribute to “your community.”
You insist on drawing these lines around us all, Eve, and then policing them. And still somehow, according to your logic, I am the one who divides us? Interesting math, I have to say. Let us peel back the skin on your words and read the real flesh beneath them. When you say I am separating myself from “normal lesbians” by calling myself a butch, are you not the one excluding me from your club?
Do you know what a heart balm the word butch is for me? I came out in the late 1980s, into a sea of your normal lesbians, Eve, and was never greeted there by anyone who even vaguely resembled anything I imagined myself being when I grew up. That was a lonely time for me. I found kinship in books, and words.
I am doing all that I can to see to it that things are different for younger butches, that they open that closet door and step into a community that cherishes their difference and encourages their bravery and individual brilliances. I don’t want them to be assimilated in order to be accepted, Eve. It goes against everything I believe about building a true community.
Because the thing is, Eve, I don’t want your normal. Normal never got any of us anywhere. And I didn’t just become a butch when I found the word and embraced it. Even a cursory look through photos of me as a kid is evidence that I never was a typical, or common, or regular, little girl. Butch is what I have always been, and it fits me, and helps me find others like myself. I have always, and will always, surround myself with beautiful misfits and defiant, dangerously mouthy deviants.
Because these are my people. My people fight for the rights of all of us. We fight for the queers of colour, the disabled, the poor, the infected, the tattooed and the tarnished, and even for you, Eve.
Somebody told me recently that the real definition of community includes the person you don’t want to be there, too. That would be you.
So you and your normal friends can all rest assured: when the rest of us abnormal queers do finally win equality, we will make room for you, too. You can thank us for it later, if you show up to the party. Wear something special, though, because the rest of us will be fucking fabulous.