September 28, 2011

Mr. Sexsmith Says: Don't Assume All Butch Lesbians Are Stone

by Sinclair Sexsmith

You've got questions on gender, relationships, strap-on sex and everything in between. Mr. Sexsmith returns with advice, opinions and insights for all in his new column Mr. Sexsmith Says...

Dear butchlvr,

The short answer is: YES. But you’re going to have to seek out butches who are not stone, who will allow their bodies to be touched intimately. This means you’re going to have to talk about that with your potential dates, and that you may need to be willing to let this be a dealbreaker.

I know this is a big stereotype among butches, that we’re all stone, but we’re not. Stone is part of a sexual identity, and butch is part of a gender identity, and they are not inevitably linked.

In fact, that is a stereotype about butch identity that bugs me. It keeps plenty of butches from ever asking for the pleasure we want because we’re afraid it will be perceived as emasculating by our lover or partner — that a “real butch” wouldn’t or shouldn’t want to be touched. And it keeps plenty of masculine of center* people from identifying as butch because they are bottoms, or even switches, but believe that to be a butch they must be hard, stone tops, and, of course, dominant.

This is just not true. It is a stereotype based on heteronormative male gender roles in this contemporary Western culture that all masculine people must be dominant. It’s related to the same policing that happens for hetero men around anal sex — any submission or receptivity is seen as a removal of one’s masculinity, because it is so strictly tied to dominance.

But we have the opportunity to be smarter about gender than that. We can separate sexual play, power orientation, and gender roles, and recognize that to buy into the social policing which keeps men (and butches, by extension of masculinity) only able to express sexual dominance and never receptivity is to reinforce the gender role restrictions which limit our lives — all of us, regardless of gender or power or sexual identity.

This is not to say that men — and butches — who are dominant or would prefer not to be touched (or refuse to be touched) are reinforcing that role. They could be. If it is, to the person, the only possible option, and they are in that role because they don’t think it’s possible to have another role. So, then yes, perhaps it is reproductory and reinforcing. But if it is an examined identity, and if all possible options are a true choice, then there is nothing more or less valuable about one choice than another.

There is, however, often some privilege which goes along with making a choice which goes along with the norm, and I think it’s important to identify and work with that privilege.

All that is background to this point: Don’t assume that any given butch is dominant, a top, or stone. They could be — but it is just one of many possibilities of constructed identity. I do think there appears to be a higher percentage of butches who are dominant or stone than other gender identities, but I have no idea by what margin — maybe as little as 51/49. Maybe it’s just such a cultural stereotype that I perceive it to be more, even if it isn’t.

Maybe if I dated butches and was looking for a non-stone bottomy butch, I’d have a different opinion—I know when I was single I felt like it certainly wasn’t true that most femmes were bottoms, and in fact it seemed like I met more femme tops than anything else. But that data is all so affected by who was conducting the observation—me—and what I was seeking.

So! Don’t assume any butch is stone. Don’t assume it is the only option or even the most common option. They could be, but it’s just as likely that they are not stone and like to receive (on some scale of sometimes to all the time) in bed.

How do you find out where they fall on that scale? Well, you ask. You talk about it. You use it as foreplay on your date. You learn the answer on your first date, and the answer may dictate whether you have a second date. Because remember, that’s a key part to getting what you want in be: identifying when it is what you don’t want, and saying no to that.

They might not know the answer. Generally someone must be able to tell you if they’re stone, but how often they like to receive takes a different level of self-knowledge that they may not know yet. In that case, the main way to figure it out—together, not just you sneakily, hopefully—is to sleep together and try it out. Be honest with each other. Are you I-do-you-you-do-me type of lovers? Or are you more satisfied doing ninety percent of the doing? Would she like to receive, but only two times out of ten?

Getting that to match up can be a major indication of compatibility.

* “Masculine of center” is a term coined by B. Cole of the Brown Boi Project to describe "the cultural breadth and depth of identity for lesbian/queer womyn who tilt toward the masculine side of the gender scale, and the term includes a wide range of identities such as butch, stud, aggressive/AG, tom, macha, boi, dom, etc.." The term is quickly becoming widely incorporated in many queer and genderqueer communities.