“The woman who takes a woman lover lives dangerously within patriarchy.” – Cheryl Clarke
Loving another woman, while immensely personal, is inherently political. It challenges some of the very societal structures that perpetuate male privilege and access to power, like the family and the Church. As a result, same-sex relationships that on the surface seem to mirror male-female partnerships are subject to criticism both within and outside of the queer community.
There are three assumptions at the root of this critique:
Assumption #1. The femme-butch* dynamic perpetuates heteronormativity.
Some believe that by “emulating” socially-constructed heterosexual roles, lesbian and bisexual women are validating the argument that male-female relationships are natural and same-sex relationships are not.
The fact of the matter is that gay relationships come in all different pairs. There are femme-femme, femme-butch, and butch-butch partnerships. Lesbians and bisexuals come in a myriad of gender presentations, so naturally there are going to be some feminine-identified women dating some masculine-identified women. Because these couples might be more visible, does not mean they’re more common. Two femmes, for instance, might not be presumed to be gay or a couple simply because they are “read” as straight.
Assumption #2. A femme who likes butches likes butches because she is a femme.
No. She likes butches because they are butches. Her attraction to butches is not contingent upon her own gender expression. There’s just something sexy about a woman giving the finger to gender conformity. There’s a certain confidence that it takes and that exudes when a woman is completely comfortable in her own skin—especially when it’s her own masculine-identified skin. Who doesn’t love a good genderfuck?
Assumption #3. Masculinity and men are the same things.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “So why don’t you just date a man?” in reference to a feminine-identified woman dating masculine-identified woman, I’d be able to pay off my student loans by now. Masculinity and men are not synonymous. One is a social construction based on behaviors, attitudes, mannerisms, clothing and roles. The other is biological (sex assigned at birth or an individual’s gender identity). They are not mutually exclusive. And it doesn’t mean that she likes men.
The femme-butch dynamic becomes problematic when gender-conformity becomes the expectation and as a result dictates or requires certain behavior. For example, women who can’t fathom two bois together. You can lump those right along with parties that require femmes to wear heels and prohibit studs from wearing fitteds. Instead of creating safe places for all gender expressions and all queer folks, they only exclude and shame us from being our authentic selves.
*The words “butch” and “femme” were used broadly to refer to masculine-identified and feminine-identified women. “Stud,” “boi, “AG” and “butch” were used interchangeably.