3 min

Power flipping

When a femme turns the tables

Credit: Xtra West files

They grow up so strong and proud-somehow. All the shame related to dressing (either being forced to wear dresses, or refusing to wear anything but jeans), all the secrecy of playing with GI Joe instead of Barbie (or playing with Barbie in the wrong way!), all the longing for like-minded playmates (the boys rejected us as “girls” and the girls . . . well, that always went awry). One of us has cleared the 40-year mark, the other is staring down 50, and we ache with gratitude and amazement when we see the young ones. Although we sometimes wince at their bold naivete, you won’t catch us calling them “baby butches”: that they’ve survived, more or less intact, speaks to their maturity.

Although the mainstream considers us “ugly,” the special beauty of a well-tuned butch defies gender categories: tough without bullying, a sexy look that promises real and mutual pleasure, and a jawline to die for. For all the occasional blundering across the gender line, butches are a powerful and visible part of lesbian history.

But what do butches really want? Of course, butch desires are as various as butches, but we were intrigued by several non-stereotypical butch desires. We asked the question: Do butches acquiesce to the cultural association of masculinity and “top”? Being butches ourselves (okay, stop snickering), we thought we could take ourselves as our research subjects. But as good social scientists (and too chicken to let you know what we really want), we decided we had to interview a few exemplary gals. Here’s what we discovered:

In the old days of butch-femme orthodoxy, butch-butch and femme-femme pairings were frowned upon. Not so anymore. As one butch tells us, “I am phenomenally attracted to masculine women; women who look like me. Give me a big tough dyke anytime. That’s what turns me on.”

We asked her who tops in bed when two hot boy dykes get together. She laughed at us and responded: “Whoever’s sports injuries are the least serious on any given day.”

That gave us something to think about.

We’re sure you’ve all heard the derisive phrase, “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets.” In the olden days, this referred to the secret submission of butches who weren’t supposed to let themselves be touched at all. To be a butch in the lesbian community meant you had to be a “stone butch.” To think of what it took to trust a strong femme with that much secrecy: so many incredible lesbian love stories!

One woman expressed her butch desire this way: “I want to fuck like a strong boy, and I want to be wanted for that.” But even most of the more traditional butches who seek femme lovers aren’t so traditional. Several of our motorcycle riding, fix-your-car-for-you?, look-damn-good-in-a-pair-of-button-fly-Levi’s friends spelled it out explicitly. They want to be desired for their butchness, but they also want a femme lover strong enough to “flip them”-and mean it.

It’s not always easy to find such a femme. As with inflation when there is too much money chasing too few goods, well, you get the picture. These women are hot commodities. When you do find one, you hang on-and tight! One of our friends used to date only ‘typical’ femmes-you know, those magazine-attractive feminine women with lots and lots of shoes in their closets. There is no question that they gave her a good time in bed and how. But she reports that her new lover is a little different. Our friend is walking around with a puzzled but pleased look on her face and it doesn’t take a lot of guessing to figure out what’s going on in her world. Her secret desires are being fulfilled: this dyke is getting flipped and how!

Under the pretext of “research” for our column, we decided we’d better have a look for ourselves. So we went to meet the new lover. And yes, the new grrl is a femme. But she’s a little different from the fierce femme tops that made the late 1980s and early ’90s memorable. You know, those lipstick lesbians who kicked open the gender closet doors and rocked the bedroom.

This femme marks a new phase in the Sexual Revolution. She looks like a sort of femme tomboy (her closet has both stilettos and cycling cleats), and, our friend reports that “in bed, she fucks like a boy-she doesn’t just take control, she flips into a butch boy top. All I can say is I feel like we are two fags!” Many might suspect that she’s not really a femme and that this was actually butch-butch love. But our friend insists, “She’s a grrl alright, and she doesn’t let me forget it. But she is big and strong enough to throw even the mightiest butch over her shoulders while wearing high heels.” What the fuck! We mean really-what the fuck!