This is complicated.
Today when I walked out into the street, several cis-men whistled, muttered and leered at me in ways that made me feel unsafe and threatened.
This happens every day.
Some days I pause in my doorway and wonder if it really is worth being in the world, because my version of brazen femme is so visible, and I will not tone it down and be less of myself, because in that ‘compromise’ I lose myself, and at least the other way I get to be me inside the fear.
Some weeks ago, I was sitting in my car at the lights, and an older butch woman started to cross the road in front of me. I was singing to the tune on the radio, mouthing lyrics, and she caught my eye and saw me, and saw Me – queer, desiring, femme, Me.
That jolt of recognition between us made me blush instantaneously, and she smiled to herself and kept walking across the road, this time with a little swagger.
It made my day. I hope it made hers.
But we live in a world in which masculinity is privileged. Except when it’s queer. Or even when it’s queer. Or perhaps that’s the only way to be inside queerness when people see your body as female, or perhaps Butch isn’t connected to gender, or perhaps femininity is the only thing that’s visible or perhaps none of those things are true statements.
The first memory of recognising my sexuality was on a bus on my way home from school. I looked up at a pair of work-worn hands – strong, deft – and I blushed from the inside out. Academic, trapped inside books, I had no idea what I was feeling or what to do with it.
You hands still do that to me.
When I got older, I recognised my desire was connected to masculinity. But I didn’t know how to find it outside of the cis-men I wasn’t always sure how to love. Toxic versions of masculinity bombarded my body with need and want and what I felt and thought was hard to hold on to inside of that.
The word ‘Bro’ still makes my blood run cold.
When I meet you, Butch, I do a quiet tango every time, looking for traces of the kinds of masculinities that deluge my body when I leave my house. Looking for a calm place to rest in amongst that pounding desire and entitlement that is so disconnected from my own wants.
Sometimes I feel like the place that I hold for you – loving, showing you the desire in my eyes – is the most important thing that I do with my love and my life. Sometimes, I wish I knew that you could hold that same space for me without a toxic masculinity leaking into the seams and damaging me with its sharp edges.
But I’m in love with you, again, and again, and it is starting to seem like I have no choice in the matter. But more importantly, I don’t want to change anything. My world is better and brighter and more full of colour when your eyes meet mine and you see me, and I see you.
Recently, there are more and more spaces for femme-identified people to be together. Those places feel like a soft place to land amongst a world that is hard and brittle. These spaces are important, they find queerness in glitter and plum lipstick, and none of those things are the prerogative of femme people, but they are so sweet and so welcome.
I don’t define myself against you, Butch, because ‘Butch’ and ‘Femme’ might be connected in many ways, but the way that I found myself in the word Femme came to me in the final step through finally seeing supportive femme community – a thing I had never known, that I still struggle to find. Being queer and femme and desiring and myself in the same breath was a barely-known privilege in my head then. And I never dreamed I’d find company.
So it’s complicated, Butch. Because there you are in privilege and un-privilege, always taken seriously, not seriously enough, and I know those things, but they are different for each of us.
But this is a love story. Because I want to take your hand, and smile into your eyes, and kiss you in front of the haters like there is no one in the world but us two, and change the world in the process. And I need you to hold me like you would be held, and those spaces we hold can combine into pushing into the world to take space from the deluge.
The ways in which you are seen are important, Butch. The ways you are photographed. The ways in which your representations are in the world. All of them.
But so are mine.