Barbara Gittings, 1932-2007

February 20th, 2007 | Uncategorized

barbara gittings

Barbara Gittings died of breast cancer Sunday. She was a lesbian activist since olden times. I’ve always been very moved by photographs of her at a demonstration in Philadelphia in 1965. Everyone decided to dress very conservatively, to help make their point that they were just like everyone else and deserved equal treatment. What impressed me, I guess, is not just the bravery of these pre-Stonewall activists for putting themselves out there like that, but their willingness to look kinda dorky while they did it.

Thank you, Barbara. Here’s a link to a proper obituary.

50 Responses to “Barbara Gittings, 1932-2007”

  1. Oh, jeez! I see you guys are already on the job. A bunch of people mentioned Barbara in the comments to the last poet. Sorry, I haven’t been keeping up with the blog properly.

  2. Ellen Orleans says:

    Thanks for posting this photo. It’s easy to believe the modern gay rights movement started with Stonewall and forget the groundwork and progress of Daughters of Bilitis (“promoting the integration of the homosexual into society”) and the Mattachine Society.

    I have five copies of The Ladder; Barbara Gittings was the editor of one of them. The magazine is hopeful and heartbreaking at the same time.
    The language is fascinating too– varients, homophiles, and lesbiana.

  3. Ginjoint says:

    Fucking breast cancer.

    I’m still bummed about Molly Ivins, and now this. Barbara Gittings’ bravery awes me.

  4. Straight Ally says:

    I’m going to see if I can post an image with HTML. If I fail, it’s a rose.

    (And speaking of dorky, I need a new screenname . . . )

    R.I.P., Barbara Gittings

  5. Leslie says:

    As a former Philadelphian, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting and speaking with Barbara many times, as well as the opportunity to hear her speak out on many issues related to us queerfolk. I was always blown away by her intelligence, her laughter, he strong confident spirit and amazing sense of self.

    Here is a link to another more comprehensive obituary:

    I believe in the quote included in this article: She was our Rosa Parks.

    Peaceful journey, Barbara. You’ve certainly earned your wings a thousand times over during your time here on earth. Thanks for showing us that it’s possible to fight fiercely for our rights with a warm smile on our faces and our hands opened in peace.

  6. Jennifer says:

    What’s more revolutionary, dorky or outrageous?

  7. towheedork says:

    Boo. The world has still much good, but much less good than ill. I know, I know, death is just part of life, blah blah, but will the good ones please stop kicking off? Just for a little while?

    It’s my loss that I don’t know much of her work–have seen the odd piece in Sinister Wisdom, that kind of thing, but ever since I first read Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers I’ve admired her for her truth to herself and her sheer guts. Pre-Stonewall demonstration. Wow.

    (and a tiny fangirl crush since she loved baroque music, sigh.)

  8. Shmuel says:

    There were some dykes who couldn’t wear the dress for the demos. Blue Lunden, an activist from the 50s-90s (who also died of cancer in ’97), wouldn’t go when the early Gay Rights group (was it Gay Activist Alliance?) declared it mandatory because her lesbianness and butchness (which to her meant no dresses, ever, except to try to get a job to feed her daughter) were inseparable. Yes, even then there was the split between assimiliationists (“we’re just like you”) and those who wouldn’t have it.

    This is NOT to knock Barbara or not praise and honor her work and memory. Just a reminder that there were strong disagreements about that “looking dorky” strategy even then.

  9. silvio soprani says:

    towheedork, (does that mean you are a bird-watcher?)

    I know what you mean, but my take on it is that everytime one of the “good ones” kicks off, it is one more knock on the door asking me, “Are you doing as much good as you could be doing?” (My answer is almost always, “Hell, no!”)

    Because, let’s face it, the older you get, the weight of people who form part of your history and inspiration who die off gets heavier and heavier. I have to find a way to keep noticing new, young, empowering faces or else I’ll go off the deep end and remind myself of an early Woody Allen movie (i.e., preoccupation with age and death.)

    On a lighter note, for some weird reason, that wonderful photo of Barbara Gittings demonstrating in a 50’s style dress reminded me of when K.D. Lang was in the phase in the early 90s when she performed in over-the-top Cowgirl Attire. Anybody remember that? Sort of lesbian-singer version of what the Merry Pranksters were trying to do in the 60s. Or, I suppose, what the Zulu Crewe in New Orleans were doing –was it in the early 1900s (sorry, I am a bit sketchy on Mardi Gras history, but someone here will know…)

    I have no way of knowing if Barbara Gittings and her movement had any sense of irony, or whether they were just doing what they needed to do. Either way, I am grateful that they did it. Happy Trails, Barbara Gittings.

  10. liza says:

    I have, or had, some amazing slides of Blue Lunden during this period. She was one of the *stars* of my slide show, “What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear” which I presented a few times in the mid seventies. There are even pictures of her wedding to a gay man, with her girlfriend as bridesmaid.

    The slide show is archived at the Lesbian History Archives in Brooklyn.

    Blue was an amazing activist: worthy subject a biography.

  11. liza says:

    Sorry, that should be Lesbian Herstory Archives.

  12. bean says:

    thanks shmuel, for reminding us that, yeah, the history is complicated. and what we choose to remember is always interesting. while some people are obsessed with remembering the flaws, contradictions, infighting, and gossip, others are determined to ignore those things entirely and whitewash a history. i think the truth is usually somewhere in the middle.

    i saw a funny movie a while back (borrowed from my local library), i think it was called Stonewall. It was a fictionalized story of a country boy who lands in pre-Stonewall NYC looking for love and the movement, and after deciding that the gay alliance/mattachine crew were too “straight” for him, returns finally to his drag queen lover, coincidentally the night of the beginning of the Stonewall riot. Poorly made, cheezy dialog, lot’s of stereotyping, but still i recommend it. and it contained the only movie drag sex scene i’ve ever seen (i don’t watch porn) and i thought that, at least, was well done.

  13. bean says:

    oh, wait, forgot about hedwig!

  14. DeLand DeLakes says:

    What an amazing life. As a denzien of the Twin Cities, I’m really happy that the PiPress carried this obituary. I also find the photo really inspiring- it reminds me of the collaboration Alision did with Howard Cruise, the one that’s reprinted in “The Indelible Alison Bechdel” that looks sort of like a gay rights evolutionary chain- there’s that great image from the early 60’s of Howard’s nerdy, straight-laced, and awfully cute gay male activist, and Alison’s studly stone butch.

  15. Willendorf says:

    My recollection of the story behind this particular photo is that the demonstration was about discrimination against queers in federal government employment. The idea was that the demonstrators should dress for work, as a way of underscoring the point that they were qualified.

    I would note that this was not exclusively a queer strategy — look at the pictures of the 1963 March on Washington and see how the demonstrators were dressed.

  16. Kat says:

    wow, what an inspiring person she was….

  17. Louise says:


    I’m not an expert on the Krewe of Zulu, but I do know that it had its origins in the early 1900’s with a group of African-American men in New Orleans who were members of a Benevolent Aid Society. It was the first African-American krewe to parade during Mardi Gras, and some sources say that it began as a parody of Rex, one of the most upper class krewes in New Orleans. I’m not sure what the whole story is, but it’s bound to be a lot more complicated than that. And krewe is spelled with a “k”. Just thought you’d like to know!

  18. nonamegirl says:

    apropos good women, the loss of them, and breast cancer, I’ve been reading Marisa Acochella Marchetto’s Cancer Vixen – another autobiographical graphic novel by an American cartoonist/artist. The First Post does a couple of pages online daily, so you can get a regular fix of the story. And the hardcover under the dustjacket is great…

    It’s sort of a sister-addiction to DTWOF for me currently.

  19. silvio soprani says:

    Thanks, Louise,

    I was thinking “k” but I typed “c.”

    I’m currently re-reading Rising Tide by John Barry,(about the 1927 Louisiana and Missisippi floods) and he discusses how the Zulu Krewe purposely wore blackface to parody the discrimination and stereotyping they experienced.

    So they reclaim that stereotype and turn it into a humor over which they have the power. That’s what I was trying to get at.

    It’s nice to see the “k” getting a little more use by the good guys.

  20. Stephanie says:

    Barbara Gittings came to speak at my college’s (U Delaware) Gay Awareness Week several times, and she was also one of the keynote speakers when we hosted the Northeast Lesbian Gay Bisexual Student Alliance conference in 1992. She always impressed me as a funny, interesting woman, and I’m truly sad to hear that she has passed on.

  21. Leslie says:

    Not to sidetrack but I had to smile at the reference to k.d. in her cowgirl days. Way back when, I went to a small concert venue (Chestnut Caberet) in Philly to see Lyle Lovett, and his opening act turned out to be this adorable butchlette that no one had ever heard of, wearing a poodle skirt and cut-off worn out cowboy boots, who had a voice that dropped my jaw and an energy that sent me flying. I was literally 10 feet away from her, dancing my ass off. The high from her show was so intense that I left once she finished, since I knew that Lyle could never sustain that energy.

    I also wanted to comment on the issue of the women being required to wear dresses for the protest, and how that impacted the butch women. In ever revolution and quest for basic civil rights and social acknowledgement and respect, there have been substantial gains made towards a common goal both by those who used a strategy focused on “see, we’re just like you/just as good as you/can do whatever you do” (think NAACP, Mattechine/DOB, NOW) and those who take a more in your face “no, we’re NOT like you, so DEAL with it” stance (Black Panthers, ACT UP, Lesbian Avengers, etc.). One can’t discount the contributions of either side. To me personally, the anonymous drag queens and butches, particularly pre-Stonewall, were our real battle leaders since they are the ones who dealt with most of the anti-gay violence and discrimination and yet still refused to compromise who they were to make other people comfortable. What saddens me most is the level of anti-butch/anti-nelly man attitudes, sometimes bordering on raw hatred, that still permeates the queer culture. And yet the many positive effects that groups like Mattechine and DOB had on furthering queer rights and queer visibility can’t be dismissed just because AT THAT TIME they believed that a “straight acting” strategy was their best course of action.

  22. Jana C.H. says:

    I posted this on the FOOMP thread, but I’ll put it here, too, for people who don’t check old threads.

    For a nice look at snowy Vermont (and the rest of New England), try this link:

    In eastern Pennsylvania, it looks like we can also see the Appalachian Front AB writes about in Fun Home.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith JcH: Cartographers do it to scale.

  23. silvio soprani says:

    Yes, I think a lot about how the activists on the extreme edge do so much to make it feel okay for those of us more toward the middle, yet, people continue to find their “extreme” presentation so threatening.

    I always liked Sandra Bullock’s character’s comment in MISS CONGENIALITY when Michael Caine goes prancing down the street to demonstrate “gliding,” and she mutters, “It takes a very secure man to walk like that.”

  24. falloch says:

    I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to demonstrate as a lesbian in a dress in 1965, demanding job equality. Everyone in the straight world would’ve thought that dykes only wear trousers and slicked back short hair (if the straights acknowledged lesbians existed at all), so I don’t think that Gittings’ insistence on dressing conservative was necessarily dismissive to butch dykes. It may have been much more disturbing for straights to acknowledge that dykes could ‘just’ look like women that straights are used to accepting as women. This view is in no way rejecting ‘non-conforming’, i.e., butch lesbians of whatever era, but Gittings’ willing to ‘conform’ may have been a bit playful. Even if it wasn’t, it’s joyful to think that it was. I’m so sad to read she’s gone – an almighty all-girl chorus will greet her in the beyond, but what song will they be singing? Any suggestions?

  25. Jana C.H. says:

    Extremists are useful BECAUSE they’re threatening. When women in jeans are yelling, “Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice,” it makes women in dresses saying “Equal pay for equal work” seem safe and reasonable. Then the conservatives cave on equal pay (to the smallest degree they can manage), and the women in pantsuits can crank it up a notch to “Equal pay for equivalent work,” while the women in leather start shouting about smashing capitalism.

    Part of the game is for the moderate women to insist, “Oh, we’re not like those radicals. You can work with us.” Meanwhile the radicals keep the conservatives frightened and the moderates moving. Whether the moderates and radicals really ARE hostile to each other doesn’t matter much, as long as the game goes forward.

    This is all old stuff, of course. I remember it from the Seventies, and others will remember it from the Fifties.

    Jana C.H.
    “The conductor changes, the music remains the same.” –Old Italian Political Saying

  26. --MC says:

    Re:kd .. Are any of you familiar with Stompin’ Tom Connors?
    He’s the Canadian Johnny Cash. He gets his name because when he used to play, he’d stomp on a board for extra percussion. He makes a habit of doing songs about notable Canadian music stars, and did one for kd which is brilliant.
    “Little k little d little l-a-n-g,
    Her name was just plain kd lang
    But her main claim to fame was how she sang with a twang
    And jumped around like a ‘rangytang! Lady k.d. lang.”
    On “‘rangytang” he put his voice up into a weird falsetto. Very strange.
    No word on whether he has written a song for Barenaked Ladies yet.

  27. Leslie says:

    Jana C.H. wrote “Extremists are useful BECAUSE they’re threatening.”


    Not only that, but they’re the equivalent to our front line soldiers in a war – you know, the ones that are first in line to take the bullets and bombs, the ones with the most wounds and scars and fewest survivors. I have never understood why that was not more understood and appreciated by the folks (and I’m talking current day folks, not just past) who take a more moderate or conservative approach.

    Though ironically, some of us who often prefer to be wearing dresses (femme here) have caught just as much grief in our time, particularly the 70’s and 80’s where, as one of Faderman’s books puts it, the lesbian feminist movement was fiercely anti-butch/femme but we were all supposed to look butch. In that era, any lesbian who wore a dress wasn’t a “real” lesbian at all.

    I’ve been processing so many memories of Barbara in the past 24 hours. If there is a heaven, I bet shes up there with a smile on, organizing, challenging, and raising her own style of hell.

  28. little gator says:

    Clothing confusion goes more than one way. I’m a hetgirl and I always wear trousers and short slicked back hair. I’ve always hated dresses and haven’t worn one since my sister twisted my arm to wear one to her wedding 25+ years ago. I did have long hair in the 70s, but almost everyone my age did then.

    And I’m sure there are het females more butch than I am.

    The closest thing I’ve come to lesbian experiences have been when cute dykes flirted with me, and seemed a bit bewildered at my having a male partner.

  29. Lo says:

    Um, I actually kind of like that dress. It looks reasonably comfortable for summer, and it’s pretty flattering to boot. I could totally imagine wearing out to a picket– cool enough to stand around in the sun in, and it also shows well in the photographs. Also. I love teh stripes! But I’m more than a little dorky, so I guess it just goes to prove a point.

    On a more serious note, I am deeply sorry to hear about her passing. Her family and friends are in my thoughts.

  30. Maggie Jochild says:

    I identify as a dyke, and have since 1975. Have only worn a dress once since 1975 (more below), because I hate how they feel and, honestly, how they look, at least the heterosexual version. I do NOT identify as either butch or femme, and I speak up here for dykes who don’t accept those labels, either. Wearing pants does not make you butch, or male, or lesbian. For a woman, however, it does transgress the gender norm. Which is not why I wear them, either. I wear them for freedom of mobility and comfort.

    The women who insisted on wearing pants instead of dresses were not all butches, is what I want to say here. Let’s not push our modern definitions onto them. Each new generation seems to redefine butch according to whatever is trendy in academia, and then paint that onto any woman who deviates from housewife. I like self-defined butches; let’s leave them alone with their self-assessment, can we?

    I define dyke as woman, first and foremost. Woman and glad to be woman, and who loves other women. My self-definition.

    I agree with you, Leslie, that Faderman characterizes the 70’s as fiercely anti-butch/femme, and in some places that was definitely true. (Depends on the size of the city, the ethnicity, and the class make-up.) It is more generally true that lesbian-feminism rejected gender roles and any imitation thereof. But I do not agree that lesbian-feminists mandated a “butch” appearance — not if it was simultaneously rejecting butch as an identity. Rather, lesbian-feminism rejected, to the extent of it being a cultural mandate, the wearing of dresses, make-up, and long-hair: the attire that enabled us to pass as straight women. Lesbian-feminism demanded that we identify as lesbians at every possible opportunity, and had strict rules about what that should look like. Which was just as hard on those women who didn’t obey the rules, but, let’s be clear, it was not forcing butchness on women. Lesbian is more complicated than that.

    In 1995, I worked at a cancer clinic that every year at Halloween had a costume contest for its employees. That year I went as a “heterosexual”, complete with dress, bra, slip, girdle, wig, and make-up, all of which I had to purchase. I created a fake wedding certificate and pinned that to my back. On one forearm, with a Sharpie, I wrote the recipe to green bean casserole, and on the other I wrote the addresses and hours of operation for the local Hobby Lobby and Garden Ridge stores. I talked about my husband all day. I flirted with the doctors (all male) and competed with the nurses (all female), the opposite of my usual behavior. I never broke character, and my role model were some of the other nurses and employees, who did not always get the joke. When I won my prize at the end of the day, my favorite doctor there put his arm around my shoulders and said “Now, please, never dress like this again, it’s freaking us out. We like you better as a lesbian.” It was a much better place to work after that.

  31. Leslie says:

    Maggie, I couldn’t agree with you more that not every lesbian/woman who has short hair and only wears pants is a butch – butch is a self-defined state of mind and self-perception, not clothes or hair! As much as I’m the first to jump in to take a stand against butch/femme prejudice (and outright nastiness towards butches in particular), I’m also the first to remind folks that not everyone who looks “butch” is butch!

    And the comment about how lesbian-feminists mandated a “butch” appearance was directly from Faderman, not an exact quote but it’s very close. Not saying that you shouldn’t disagree with it, just clarifying where it came from. As someone who came out in a strong lesbian-feminist community, I both resented that I felt forced to give up on some things that were important to me (ranging from how I consider a loose sleeveless dress to be the ultimate in comfort and physical freedom on a hot summer day, to having to supress my own natural way of expressing my sexuality), and yet at the same time I understood completely (especially in retrospect) where it was coming from and why it was important for us as lesbians to distinguish ourselves from straight women.

    Your story about your costume was hysterical!!! Thanks for sharing it.

  32. xckb13 says:

    Hi Maggie,

    With regard to your “self-definition” of a dyke who is a woman, who is glad to be a woman, and who loves other women, I would like to submit my observation that it can get a bit more complicated than that.

    My girlfriend identifies completely as a dyke, even though she is often uncomfortable with many of the physical trappings of womanhood. When she met me for the first time during one summer seven years ago, I was also a dyke. Then she met me again after a separation of five years – now as a transman. After being initially thrown for a loop (understandably!), she has decided that her definition of herself as a dyke is large enough to fit me and all of my novel and beloved little markers of manhood as well. And I’m grateful, and glad, because it has been difficult for both of us to accept that we are now seen on the street either as a “real” straight couple or as a pair of gay men. This strikes me as ironic in the extreme, since neither the “straight” man or the “straight” woman in this relationship has ever had anything to do with a penis!

    In short, while I know that so-called border wars between the lesbian and the FTM coomunities dominate a lot of the discussion about the far end of the butch/dyke spectrum, there are certainly some who slip back and forth, and I know that I am a lucky guy to have a dyke like her in my life.

  33. Kendall says:

    Thanks to Silvio, Maggie, and xkcetc. for the great stories. I hope somebody is archiving all this. And thanks to Jana and Leslie for the sharp political perspectives. I am a diehard Faderman fan, and every time I hear her name, I smile. Have you all read her autobiography, NAKED IN THE PROMISED LAND? I think it’s her best work of all. She was a sex worker before she became a professor. I love the capacity for all of us to change our roles, our clothes, and our self-definitions when we need to. I posted my favorite Rita Dove poem about Rosa Parks on the last thread.

  34. PixieLauren says:

    Leslie wrote, “…how I consider a loose sleeveless dress to be the ultimate in comfort and physical freedom on a hot summer day” — Oh, Hell yes, actually, when I used to go backpacking I always wore a loose jumper (With whatever layered underneath, depending on the weather) — Because, do you know how much easier it is to pee in the woods when you’re not wearing pants? (Not to mention, cooler, more comfortable!)

    Of course, I am what one would call “femme” — So I wear skirts/dresses anyway. Though not as often as I did before I came out.

    I have struggled with the whole butch/femme thing. I used to hate the idea that, to non-lesbians, it seems I am “copying” the man/woman dichotomy in my lesbian relationships. There is just no way to explain that the butch/femme thing is so different from that. And it took me a long time to just accept that I’m not ever going to stop being a feminine person. And I’m attracted to butch women. And I have this huge appreciation and respect for that whole “female masculinity” thing — Even if it doesn’t apply to me.

    And I guess, thank goodness we’re all different. Makes life (And people-watching at the lesbian bars) really rather fun.

  35. AnnaP says:

    This discussion on stereotypes is really educational.
    The butch/femme categorising is not as strong in here where I live at.
    Who invented these stereotypes? What are they used for?

    I know a lot of men who wear long skirts in the hot summer days, and some of the are straight.
    In Africa I learned that in many cultures men wear dresses/skirts every single day of their life, and if a women wanted to “be a man” she could wear pants an be treated as one, it was not a big deal.

    In East-Africa Where I lived a little while men and women could never hold hands in public, that was considered immoral. But you could see men or women holding hands all the time as sign of frienship of respect.

  36. Maggie Jochild says:

    AnnaP, you asked THE question: “Who invented these stereotypes? What are they used for?”

    THEY invented them. (Stick in your definition of THEM.) To keep us divided. To keep us trying to gain power over one another. To distract us from THEM. To divide us from THEM. To tell us they don’t know any better, and beg for our help. To hope and pray someone will say “That makes no sense, you don’t have to live this way.”

    One of my favorite poems/songs of all time is by Anibal Nazoa (lyrics) and Juan Carlos Nuñez (music). During the late 70s/early 80s, a fabulous dyke jazz ensemble in the Bay Area called Swingshift used to play this almost every set. I still sing it often. Below are the lyrics, and then my best attempt at a translation. The women in Swingshift whose names I can remember were Bonnie Lockhart (also of Red Star Singers and the latter version of the Berkeley Women’s Music Collective), Joan Lefkowitz, Naomi Shapiro, maybe Susan Shanbaum, Frieda Fein as vocalist, and ohgod I can’t remember the saxophonist and I was wild about her, dang. If you know more about them, post it here. This is NOT the later incarnation called Swing Shift Women Singers, also in the Bay Area, by the way.


    Entre tu pueblo y mi pueblo
    hay un punto y una raya.
    La raya dice no hay paso
    el punto vía cerrada.

    Y así entre todos los pueblos
    raya y punto, punto y raya.
    Con tantas rayas y puntos
    el mapa es un telegrama.

    Caminando por la vida
    se ven ríos y montañas
    se ven selvas y desiertos
    pero ni puntos ni rayas.

    Porque estas cosas no existen
    sino que fueron trazadas.
    Para que mi hambre y la tuya
    estén siempre separadas.


  37. Maggie Jochild says:

    Hit the wrong button. Here’s the translation:


    Between your people and my people
    There is a dot and a line
    The line says: You cannot go there
    The dot: The way is closed.

    And so it is between all peoples
    Line and dot, dot and line
    With so many lines and dots
    The map looks like a telegram.

    As we travel through life
    We se rivers and mountains
    We we jungles and deserts
    But never dots nor lines

    Because these things do not exist
    Unless they are drawn in
    To keep my hunger and yours
    Forever separated.

  38. DSW says:

    Thank you Maggie, I think that’s a beautiful song.

  39. Sir Real says:

    xckb13 – thanks so much for sharing this story.

    Maggie Jochild – THEY invented femme, and butch? Hmm… I think it’s _alot_ more complex than that… I think these terms emerged from a sort of pressurized blast furnace of cultures and desires and identities – and these terms are still evolving.

    When I think of a THEY, I think of the forces of heterosexist, general `Western’ cultural pressures, that insist that there must be one man and one woman in a relationship… or at least people who look kinda like the ideals of a `man’ and a ‘woman’. I’m not denying that this appears to be an immense influence on the formation of identities of butch, and femme.

    But these pressures didn’t cookie-cutter stamp out people, or else everyone would be uncomplicatedly straight to begin with! The people designated female at their births, who felt desires toward sexuality with other female people – and/or desires toward masculine gender expressions, came up with these terms, as far as we know.

    They took and reformed the expectations of what’s feminine and what’s masculine into new forms of gender, in many ways escaping the crushing constraints that `real (heterosexual) men’ and `real (heterosexual) women’ suffered under.

    Certainly, there was alot of sexism in these roles, especially early on, and yes, today. There was a lot of `policing’ within communities about what a proper femme or butch should and should not do, and who they should desire. But I’d like to think that overall, these roles were in some part a liberation for these women and these others. It probably varied widely, by place, and from individual to individual.

    I would like to urge a consideration of the terms femme and butch as fields of play, not of nessesity – just like terms like top, bottom, man, woman, he, she, ze, and etc…

    Perhaps butch and femme could come to indicate _examined_ masculinty and femininity… where traits, appearance and behavior are not assumed `natural’ nor `proper’ for anyone. And only behavior that infringes on others, considered to be inferior to other types of behavior.

    Yeesh. This needs a whole passel of footnotes. 🙂

    Hugs, SR

  40. Pam I says:

    For fun, all should do the butch/femme test on suits all genders and sexualities and is based on 100 apparently irrelevant questions such as how you make a cheese sandwich. I was proud to score a neat 50/50, no cheating.

  41. Maggie Jochild says:

    THEY (and it’s up to each of us to name that entity) invented BINARIES: Categories of people that are, I believe, meaningless against the complexity of the individual. Masculine and feminine are constructs, not inherent biological reality. The definition of each depends on (1) which time period you are discussing (2) which culture/ethnicity you are discussing (3) which class you are discussing and (4) how many “deviations” from the “norm” you are willing to overlook in order to try to create generic boxes.

    Arguing about the boxes and their origin is beside the point except to an individual trying to unlock the lies inside her head. Real societal change will mean chucking the whole mess and allowing the next generation freedom of self-definition. Which, honestly, I see very few people doing right now. Identity politics is just as bad as the Right in believing we have the Truth. (A particularly American cultural trait arising from our Christian values of judgment, gospel, salvation and conversion.)

    It’s great to be having this conversation. Especially this week, with what I’m trying to deal with in my personal life…you have no idea.

    Pam Issyvoo, I scored a perfect Androgyne on that test. For what it’s worth. So many of the questions didn’t have an option that would cover “What I’d do if I wasn’t fucking crippled, you jerk”.

  42. Sir Real says:

    yah, I took that test awhile ago – androgyne, I believe.

    Maggie, I mistook your meaning… I’m with ya regarding binaries! Although I think recognizing and playing with multiple identities is my preferred tactic rather than trying to get “beyond definitions”, if that’s what you’re suggesting.

    When attempting to chuck the whole mess, whatever arises after the chucking will still, very likely, be formed in relation to the mess. And not knowing where one’s identity materials come from can be dangerous, it seems to me.

    Hence some of my interest in deducing the various origins of femme and butch. And yup, my particular diatribe needed specific time periods, culture n’ ethnicities, classes. Thus the need for footnotes – a)Zami, b) Stone Butch Blues, c)Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold, d)uh… Joan Nestle’s stuff…

    More briefly, I think that the `crucible’ of the primary, widest-held-as-definative meanings of femme and butch mostly came out of the struggle of ideas between “THEM”, as you put it, and what I’ll call queer communities, of working and middle classes, which mostly congealed after WWII.

    Whew, this is a good conversation, thank you. I apologize for when I’m opaque, folks. And if I may, warm bolstering vibes to Maggie Jochild in your personal life strife.

  43. Leslie says:

    What always gets to me – not in THIS conversation, but in so much of what I’ve encountered in my 30 years out – is that there are so many folks who stll perceive butch and femme as ONLY “roleplay” or only as a response to patriarchal society’s expectations. My understanding of early butch/femme history (having not been there since as I mentioned, I started queer life in a heavily political lesbian feminist and anti butch/femme community and place in our collective history) is that at one point it WAS role playing for most lesbian women – once you came out, you were essentially forced to choose one or the other. That must have been hell to the women who were simply women loving women, who might have otherwise been androgynous or simply never wanting or truly able to fit into a strictly binary butch/femme lesbian society – as much hell on them as it was for truly butch women to feign disinterest in feminine women or feminine women to feign an androgynous gender expression.

    But what happened as we segued through the predominantly lesbian feminist (pre-“Lipstick lesbians”, “gender queers”, etc.) is that those of us whose gender expression (even once stripped of patriarchal or lesbian societies’ expectations of us) was truly feminine with a natural attraction to those with a more masculine gender expression and vice/versa, were truly marginalized, and our interests and desires were at best deeply misunderstood as “role playing” (no, I’m finally just being ME) or selling out to patriarchal society’s expectations (when in fact if I sold myself out at any point it was to lesbian society’s expectations of me).

    I think the butch/femme dynamic and those of us whose natural expressions of who we are is as butch or femme is still often misunderstood and still sometimes deeply critisized, but at least there is now dialog and a much greater acceptance than there was 2-3 decades ago.

  44. Maggie Jochild says:

    I SO appreciate hearing the personal herstory and the long-term thinking being presented here. One of the reasons I come to this blog is to have my view expanded by other “thoughtful observers” and “innovative pioneers”. I’m too conscious of a ticking clock to want to sequester myself in comfort — keep growing or die, that’s my motto.

    So thanks.

    For a seemingly more humorous look at “roles”, from a gay male perspective that is not overtly political except, on retrospect, his portrayal of the incurions of race and class on the perception of gender roles is likely not accidental after all, check out David Sedaris’s little piece in this week’s New Yorker. (Yeah, his sister Amy is funnier.)

  45. Leslie says:

    Hmm. That piece was certainly something to chew on! I could go off onto an entirely different tangent with the whole class issue (including what I perceived as the author perpetuating class stereotypes) but to keep with the current dialog, I’ll comment on this:

    > Hugh might do the cooking, and actually wear an apron
    > while he’s at it, but he also chops the firewood, repairs
    > the hot-water heater, and could tear off my arm with no
    > more effort than it takes to uproot a dandelion. Does
    > that make him the murderer, or do the homemade curtains
    > reduce him to the level of the child molester?

    He tangentially brings up an interesting point, of how folks also have an expectation that if you DO generally express yourself more towards one pole of the gender spectrum (as with me as a femme and my beloved as a TG butch), that you’re regulated to all of the gender stereotypes that go along with your gender identity. That’s why both of us enjoy the mindfuck when folks are caught by surprise that yes, I’m the one who does most of the cooking and Partner is the one who generally takes out the trash, but (just one example out of many) I’m also the one who is the more skilled house renovator, while Partner is the one who chose to become a mother the “old fashioned” way since it was back in the pre-turkeybaster days.

    So it’s not just that gender expression and gender identity isn’t a binary system, it’s not even a linear system on a straight (hehe) “1-10” scale; it’s more of a three or even four dimensional spectrum.

    Bottom line is that we are who we are, and honestly even though many of us choose self-expressive words that make us feel good about ourselves or to help others to better understand who we really are, none of us belong in a box.

    (that said, Partner just declared, after hearing what I just wrote, that I’m femme in the streets, femme in the sheets, and stone-butch in the workshop. How’s THAT for boxing me in!! I prefer to refer to myself as a “power tool slut” thank you very much. ::rolling eyes::)

  46. Sally Cohn says:

    My first encounter with Barbara and her partner Kay ocurred in 1964 while I was doing volunteer work for the New York DOB Chapter. That was several years after I’d had several fictional stories published in THE LADDER and shortly after Barbara became editor of the publication. When I told her I was a former resident of Portland, OR, Barbara related how she’d been visiting Portland. While thre, she had tried to track me down about a letter I’d written to a local newspaper editor. Then I recalled a strange letter that had been forwarded to me while I was still in Massachusetts. It was from someone in Portland about my letter. Barbara had asked the letter-writer to contact me. I told Barbara about my paranoid reaction to that letter. I was sure the FBI was after me! I had a good laugh when I realized that Ms. Gittings was just trying to contact me.

    In retrospect, the Independence Square picketers in the photo do appear somewhat “dorky”. But I understand why they dressed to appear mainstream. I dressed “dorky” when I taught school in New York in the Sixties but changed into my dyke clothes the minute I got home from school. What’s now considered “dorky” was called “Ivy League” The style made a comeback as “Preppy” in the Eighties.

    My straight Ivy-League outfit for teaching included a wool plaid skirt and jacket or jumper worn with a buttoned-down collar Oxford cloth shirt (minus the necktie). After school each day, the shirt remained, but the suit was replaced by chinos or cords and a boy’s V-neck sweater. Desert boots completed the outfit. It was definitely more comfortable than woolen women’s suits.

    Before moving to the East Coast from Portland, OR in 1962, I occasionally would wear a real femmy outfit to gay bars just for the shock value. I got a big kick out of watching the reactions from my drinking buddies.

    After returning to Portland in 1972, I worked for nearly 25 years in an outpatient alcohol program. When one of the therapists started a gay and lesbian therapy group, she had me draft a letter to Barbara Gittings about advice and resources to use in starting the group. I identified myself to Barbara in the letter, and got a nice one back from her with lots of useful information. I was able to come out to the therapist this way, and she later invited me to sit in with the group.

    My last encounter with Ms. Gittings was by e-mail several years ago in connection with her and Kay’s participation in an MCC General Conference in Texas. One of my housemates is MCC clergy and attended the conference, so I had her introduce herself to Barbara and Kay. My housemate returned with photos of herself posing with these two wonderful women.

    Sally C., Portland, Oregon

  47. Lee Lehman, Asheville, NC says:

    Hi, everyone. I just found this now as I was searching for some archival info. It’s a few months later, and Barbara’s death still hurts. You see, back in the 1970’s, I called her friend and mentor. But I was in college then – and I moved off the the West Coast, and then to the South – and sadly, never looked Barbara up again.

    But for all the discussion about dresses and butch/femme – a personal note. When I knew Barbara in the 1970’s, it was long after any “rules” about proper demonstration attire had expired. And Barbara still wore dresses in the summer. Her comment was: they were a lot cooler! Leave it to Barbara to not get caught up in ANY politically correct stance!

  48. mike yuen ken paahana says:

    my gf is the biggest dyke bitch there is, i hope she gets to no that she not all that tuff 1 day


    I always do trust all fellas homossexuals`things plenty.Always to much either.Any of varies things they had should always too bad doing always too bad to over is theyve to have known up they getta pass up taking care of fellas homossexuals same ways plenty inside they pass on to want always too bad fellas heterossexuals always to much as well