Zahor: In Remembrence of our Stone Butch Hero
I was in an alleyway in Chicago the first time someone told me about Stone Butch Blues. “You’ve got to read this book,” she said. “Stone Butch Blues.” The “she” in question was an older Femme (they always were), and the name of the book got right under my skin. I can remember the feeling: My ears perked up, head tilted back, eyes focused. Stone Butch Blues, I thought. Ok. I was sixteen years old, had been out since I was fourteen, and had been a tomboy all my life. The word and identity of “Butch” made inherent sense to me, and partially explained why my masculine, old soul self, always temporally geared backwards in era and well beyond my actual years in age, didn’t exactly fit in with the contemporary gender expressions of middle of the road andro-dykes and most other women at large. At the time, I also had a searing brand of body dysphoria, which, in conjunction with relentless negative messaging from the world about female masculinity, sent me wondering after manhood as the only socially viable option. And then there was Leslie Feinberg.
It’s not just that the main character had the same Jewish last name as me, or that an old organizing photo of Leslie’s beautiful, handsome, Semitic good looks graced the back cover; it’s that finally someone was writing about how I felt. I’m not the only person who feels this way—indeed, many, many Butches and masculine-inclined others have seen themselves in Leslie’s words—but, as a sixteen year old, Leslie belonged to me. Her words were my words, her passions my passions, her frustrations my frustrations, her alienations and joys my alienations and joys. She wasn’t afraid to write about want, need, desire, community, celebration, isolation, exile, and return. She wrote about all of it, and, nearing eighteen years after I first read Stone Butch Blues, I can look back and see myself in my teenage bedroom, shutting the book and being unable to proceed, the first time, after Leslie describes “a Butch so stone she showered with a raincoat on”—a reference that I do not need to look up to remember. (Do you remember the next part? The Butch hangs herself after the cops force her to strip in a bar.) I identified so strongly with the passage that I felt like someone had written every devastating pain of my teenage heart and put it down on paper for the whole world to see. It undid me.
Is it too grandiose, then, too twilight, too hindsight to say that Leslie Feinberg saved my life? To say that reading her words about buzz cuts, white T-shirts, and sweet, caring Femmes gave me hope for my entire future? What masculine girl-child does not know the pain and cruelty of not understanding a future, of literally not seeing anyone who looks like an adult version of how she, herself, looks and feels? The first time I saw the updated cover of Stone Butch Blues, I was taking the long route home from school. Home and youth were both painful place to be, those days, and I remember walking slowly sometimes, struggling. I passed by the window of a neighborhood bookstore, and there was Leslie. The photo, which was the front cover of the updated edition of Stone Butch Blues, had Leslie’s face on it, up close. Her strong, stunning face took up the whole cover—defiant, proud, warrior eyes—looking directly into the the camera. It wasn’t a queer bookstore, not Women and Children First, to which I would travel over an hour each way by bus to look at gay literature, or see readings; there Leslie was, in a regular old shop, right in the front window. It was cold out, the Fall was passing, and there I stood, staring. I couldn’t stop looking. And in the reflection of the glass, finally, literally and metaphorically, I could see myself, and Leslie, at once. I think I started to understand what I could be in that moment, that I belonged to a proud tradition of Butch women. That there was a place for me in this world. That I could grow up. For the first time, I understood that I was looking at who and what I would become as an adult. It was breathtaking.
I had the pleasure of seeing Leslie speak at Northwestern University when I was seventeen, met and took a photo with her. She looks amused in the photo, and I look every bit a teenager: I’m wearing a too big men’s gray dress shirt, a maroon silk tie with white dots on it, very baggy jeans, and skater sneakers. She is wearing a well-fitting suit, and a generous smile. Meeting her made me feel like I had Butch family. As we say in Judaism, “From generation to generation.” I felt like I had met a forever friend. Years later, I saw her speak at Mills College. In between sightings, I had the pleasure of seeing Minnie Bruce Pratt, Leslie’s beloved partner, read at Left Bank Books in Seattle, and had the opportunity to host Minnie Bruce at the University of Massachusetts, as well. It’s not that there was so much contact, it’s just that Leslie and her life were never far from my mind, or my kishkas. That’s guts in Yiddish, of course—it’s to the very core. I felt that I had a soul-knowing, or at least was a known soul, myself, with Leslie in the world.
When I read that Leslie Feinberg died yesterday, I cried for the first time in a very, very long time. Crying is never my first instinct, despite understanding how healthy it is to “get it out”—really, I’m just quicker to anger, or critical thinking, which sometimes manifests itself as critique. I forget the sadness part that usually lurks under the anger, or the critique. I work on it. But the sadness was so overwhelming that I cried sharply and suddenly, like a wounded animal. I welled up with tears walking to my car, I cried in my car, and I’ve cried since. It feels like I lost a part of myself, somehow, like I lost a distant relative whom I just hadn’t seen in a very long time. Like a piece of my sixteen year old heart is so broken, so totally shattered, that, at thirty-three, I can’t stop the childhood tears from running down my face.
It’s coupled with the tears of adult consciousness, too. In a world where I feel like I still fight tooth, nail, and often my own communities for space as a Butch woman, I am just so sad for this loss. I keep reminding myself that Leslie Feinberg wasn’t the only one of “us”—and there are so many “us” groups for whom Leslie meant so much—but the world is somehow instantly and ferociously more lonely without her in it.
It’s not that I always agreed with Leslie, her politics, her read on historical identities, or that we knew each other in some ongoing mutual way; it’s that I carried her with me for almost twenty years, and I’m not ready to let her go. It’s that I miss her already. It’s that she made my life possible—and probably yours, too. It’s that I am endlessly indebted, endlessly grateful, and endlessly located in the pages and words of her book. It’s that I feel I am burying my Butch woman father.
The last reported words to grace Leslie’s lips were, “Remember me as a radical communist.” And I shall. But I will also remember Leslie as a lover, a fighter, a Jew, and a gender warrior who fought her whole life for a place in this world. Many have suggested the very fitting blessing of “Rest in power,” but Leslie, I want to wish you peace. You have been powerful enough, dayenu, it would have been enough. It is enough. At long last, may you relax your shoulders, let down your gaurd, and lay down your weapons of will, and heart, struggle, and strife. May you exhale, and may you rest in the deep peace of exhausted Stone Butch Heroes.
From one Jewish Butch to another: I will remember you. I will say kaddish for you. I will keep you in my mind, and in the meditations of my heart. As e.e. cummings has written, “i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart).” As you yourself have written to the Butches who came before: This is my Butch love letter to you. Thank you, Leslie. Now and evermore. For all of the ways in which we are different, and all of the ways in which we are alike, I am proud to be of your blood. Thank you for loving us enough to write about our lives. We will love and cherish you always. Your memory and your work are our outrageous luck, and our outrageous blessing.
We (Butch Nation) are not in a dispute. With or without a town hall meeting, we’ll continue our work for Butches and Allies of common values.
Butch Nation has been tagged in a Facebook note authored by ButchVoices as of 7pm on Wednesday night where they state that they are calling a town hall meet up at their Conference. This meeting has been set for Friday at noon to talk about issues raised by Butch Nation’s press releases, and following writings. (See: http://www.sashatgoldberg.wordpress.com for full thread.)
We also hear, via The Bay Area …Reporter, that Butch Nation is invited. (See: http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=5980)
In the Facebook note, Butch Voices claims to aim for a “respectful, hopeful and in-person community conversation.” However, we want to be clear. No one from ButchVoices has contacted or invited us directly by phone, email, or blog comment. (And hey, y’all have our contact information!)
Butch Nation is hopeful that a dialog may take place, however none of us are able to attend a town hall meeting planned for a workday with less than thirty-six hours notice. The founders of Butch Nation have made plans to be in Oakland at the Marriott on Saturday and Sunday only, as was stated in the press release on July 26th, for our independent lunchtime sessions on woman-identified Butches, feminism, and masculinities. (Free and open to the public.)
With the goal of “hearing each other” in a “community conversation” may we invite ButchVoices to move their town hall to Sunday, or hold a part two discussion on Sunday, when we can join you in this important dialog. Butch Nation’s workshop, “Exploring our Masculinities While Keeping our Feminisms,” will be over at 1:30 just as the BV Conference plenary begins at 1:30.
If Butch Voices invites us to its plenary for a discussion, we will gladly attend. But we respectfully don’t want to interrupt BV Conference proceedings unless invited to participate. We fervently hope that any joint session, now or in the future, will be an honorable and potentially healing butch exploration of the issues of sexism, misogyny, ageism, and identity.
Butch Nation Founders.
I’ll say it: Life has changed in the past three weeks. And Butches–in the Midwest, on the East Coast, in the South, on the West Coast, if you ever wonder if anyone is thinking of you in the middle of the night–the answer is Yes. And that person is me.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about all of the emails that you’ve sent in, all of the comments, all of the in-person meetings. I think about your words, and your truths. I think about how we are each different, and I also think of our shared histories. And sometimes in the middle of the night I think about your handsome faces, and your working hands, and your strong hearts. And I think about how our time is now.
I’d venture to guess that the other folks at Butch Nation are thinking of you, too. We have heard from hundreds of you voicing your support for a movement that includes, values, and focuses on Butch women, and for masculinities (of all genders) that hold feminist values. We have heard from Butch women from all over the country, as well as our Allies–Femmes, Transmen, genderqueers, and others, from as far as Australia. I think I can speak for all of us when I say: We are humbled, and we are so grateful.
We have also heard from many of you about your own painful experiences in trying to be a part of Butch Voices, and it has become clear that the isolation tank has broken open; thank you for telling us your stories. These stories have been told from Butch women, Femmes, transmen, and genderqueers of every age, race, and creed (review the blog comments for those stories which were shared in public), and we stand here with you ready to build a Nation.
We have, of course, also received some push-back to our stand. A few people have inquired, and a few people have insisted, that all of these issues must be semantics. To that end, as a further effort at communication and transparency, I have re-posted the included letter (below), which I wrote in response to exactly such an inquiry. I invite you to read this letter; feminism, ageism, misogyny, and dismissal of Butch women are never just semantics.
I also invite you to join Butch Nation this weekend in Oakland at our workshops on Saturday and Sunday (see previous posts for details), or to become involved with Butch Nation after this weekend. We will be standing strong. We are here for you, we are here for our Allies, and, finally, we are here for ourselves.
There is no longer Butch Flight–this is Butch Survival.
All my best,
July 28th, 2011.
Thank you for your thoughtful and important contribution to the conversation.
I must say that I very much agree with what you’ve said about value. I do believe that any successful, cohesive movement ought to be value based–which is exactly why so many of us have left ButchVoices. Because our values do not align.
For me, values mean both what we claim to value, and, just as importantly–what actions enact value, in the verb form. For me, and for so many others now speaking out, we are talking about values and words like respect, integrity, transparency, feminism, women, inclusiveness, history, and the wisdom and experience that comes with age–and the actions that enact these values.
And when so many women report the same experience–the experience of not being listened to, not being heard, not feeling respected, not feeling included, and being downright dismissed (whether in the literal sense, or in the act of not receiving responses to our many concerns about feminism, ageism, misogyny, and transparency over many years)–the verb form of how and what we value is clearly missing.
Because none of us at Butch Nation are new at organizing, we all know strife, and we all know struggle. Because all of us are women, and many of us Butch women, we all know strife, and we all know struggle. Because some of us are women of color, and because some of us are Jews, and because we have different levels of ability, and because we span fifty years between our youngest and our eldest, and because we have walked in this world fighting for justice–we ask that you (and others) trust us when we say: The divides are not merely superficial.
We do not ask that you (or any in the community) divide support; we invite you to an important and long-overdue dialogue. We also believe in abundance, and that each of us are able to spend our time and energy in communities that feel like home–that echo our values–in word, and in deed.
For what it’s worth, I, too, believe that we can do better, and tried to create that “better” for years within the framework of ButchVoices. For what it’s worth, I also hope the commitment is to the values that terms like Butch embody. And, for what it’s worth, because embody is a verb–we are building a nation.
Thank you again for the care that is so present in your words–I hope to cross paths along the way.
All my best to you,
Per Lex’s request, 8/18:
July 28, 2011 at 6:55 am | Reply edit
I am very sorry to hear about this.
While the process of developing our identities can be a liberating experience, too often we mistake the sight of a window for the entirety of the outdoors. Identities are inhumane. As we create definitions to legitimize and validate our experiences, we also create out group qualifications.
The truth is, Butch changes. It is an internal call, who is to say who gets to keep it and who doesn’t? A movement like this should not be identity based, it should be value based. What are our values? Certainly these recurring struggles cannot be our values in action.
If we do not loosen our grip on who gets to define butch, who is in and who is out, butch will soon become obsolete. We can stay and have this conversation, this fight, this struggle to hold on to this flag until the blood leaves our veins, but without a thorough commitment to inclusion, integrity, and collaboration, our youth will quickly and peacefully define themselves with words that better fit their mouths and ultimately their souls.
With love, we are poking holes in an already ailing ship. With so much at stake, I certainly hope the commitment is to the values that terms like Butch embody. Without a recitation of our core qualities, we secede the power to redefine strength, power, beauty, etc. to classic understandings of male and female. Masculinity and Femininity, Male and Female are not to be dismissed nor to be chastised, they are to be reconciled. This is the magic of trans and queer bodies, they are places of alchemic potential for a revolutionary way of being in the world.
I hope there is enough love, integrity, and humility among us to heal this rift and to understand that the divides are merely superficial and ironically reinforcing that which we are claiming to be overcoming. I wish the best for all and would very much ask that the community not be asked to divide it’s support along the lines of our personal transformations and ultimate resurrections into words that we finally fit in. Our inability to close this divide will help none of us and greatly support those that seek to do anything in their power to keep from supporting us. This is no longer about sides, this is about the vitality of our community and the strength of our character. Surely, resolution and healing in the service of working for the safety, support, and vitality of all (not limited even to queer identities) can be born from the same tongues that have created such a violent war of words. Many could argue that our inability to see one another is more violent than anything that has been done to us by those that have not known to do better. We must do better. We must be better. To ourselves, our families, our communities, and our greater humanity, if we are to live free in this lifetime.
In Solidarity With Us All,
: FEMINIST FEMMES & ALLIES: Holding the Butch Space
SAT 8/20 12 NOON Oakland Marriott 2nd Flr. Free and Open to the Public.
Let’s talk about our love and support for woman-identified butches. “We have a stake in this, not because we can’t exist as femme without butches but because butches are family to us.” Bring your thoughts, words & analysis to our Femme and Ally conversation.
Meet: Cozy couch area north of 12 Bar Lounge 2nd flr. (look for sign)
[H/T to fierce femme Staci of Owning My Truth blog].
A lovely post from Butch Nation’s own Jeanne Cordova:
Thanks to the hundreds of women, womyn, dykes, Moc people, and gender-queer folk who’ve written in support of the birth and vision of Butch Nation. My position is that there are no “sides” here; just legitimate political and values differences.
But, there are so few butch events in our country that I urge everyone to go to as many as they can. There is much to learn and lots butch camaraderie to be soaked up at all such gatherings.
The radical core of being a gender-nonconforming woman means embracing both the masculine and the feminine Self. Butch is much more than a noun. It is a way of life enriched by its painful past and made noble by its authentic present.
Movements grow and change through splits and shifts. They are common. And not harmful so long as they are issue driven rather than personality based.
The Butch Enough blog post – (7/31 – ‘Gender is a Landscape Not a Line’ – http://butchenough.wordpress.com/) accurately details my hesitations with using “masculine of center people” as an umbrella identifier. Find it, read it!
If any of you are interested in serving butch community by joining our Board, please write Info.Butch.Nation@gmail.com letting us know this. We are growing!
In brotherhood and sisterhood,
Jeanne Cordova, feminist butch
Cofounder, Butch Nation
This Saturday, 12pm. BULLDAGGER: For Women-Identified, Female-Pronoun Using Butches. This Sunday, 12pm. “Exploring Our Masculinities While Keeping Our Feminisms.” Oakland Marriott. The room is under the name Goldberg. Butch Nation will be there. Free and open to the public. Post widely.
BUTCH NATION: October 26th-28th, 2012.
Butch Nation Presents: A Weekend of Butch Culture and Community.
Join us in California in the Fall of 2012, Oct. 26th-28th. Nationally known Butch speakers, scholars, and community activists will address the State of the Butch Union. The weekend will include workshops, conversations, music, art, literature, and performance. Butch Nation welcomes all who identify as Butch, and our Allies.
In Butch Solidarity,
The Butch Nation Founding Committee
With great admiration and thanks to Del Martin:
I borrow (lean on, and am supported by) her great sentiment of “Goodbye To All That,” which Martin first proclaimed in 1970 as part of a farewell letter to the gay men’s movement. Martin entitled her letter, “Goodbye My Alienated Brothers.”
Because I am parting from ButchVoices, and because my letters were never responded to by an organization in which I have years of investment, and because I remained dedicated, to the last, at inclusion, I am publishing my letters here. I publish these letters as a marker of time, and of place, of how far we have come, and how very far we have to go.
I dream of a movement where our care is measured not by shiny online photos, by thirty character quick quips, or even by extensive verbiage–but where our care is measured by the callouses on our hearts and on our hands, which may only be earned in the great, earnest dedication to the verb form of care: Responding.
Otherwise, we again hold fast to the words that Del Martin wrote over forty years ago:
“Goodbye to the wasteful, meaningless verbiage of empty resolutions made by hollow men of self-proclaimed privilege. They neither speak for us nor to us…I must bid them farewell. There is so much to be done, and I have neither the stomach nor the inclination to stand by and watch them self destruct.”
Sasha T. Goldberg
JUNE 14TH, 2010
Joe, thanks for your well thought out essay. I appreciated reading your thoughts. I also want to second some of Jeanne’s thoughts, here. Jeanne offers many of my deepest sentiments, but there are some things I’d like to say, as well.
In the spirit of an injury to one is an injury to all, here is what I think is important to add:
All of you know me now, to one degree or another. You know how committed I am to Butch Voices, to what we do, and to our mission. I know these things about you all, too. And perhaps you also know that I commit my time, energy, and resources to run a monthly Bulldagger group. And maybe you know, or maybe you don’t, that I had to fight very hard for us, Butch Voices, in that group, hours spent trying to convince people (many of whom had even been to the conference) that Butch Voices is about Butch women. That there is room (insult to injury, really) for Butch women at a Butch conference. In this way, I have defended Butch Voices to so many Butch Women that I’ve lost count–and now we’ve gone and changed our motto to “Masculine of Center people.” What shall I tell us Butch women now?
Because here is the truth: If I myself just happened to stumble across a conference that was for “masculine of center people,” it would never occur to me to attend. I am not a masculine “of center” person. I am a Butch. I am a woman. I am female. That has been the history–and the persistent present–for so many of us Butches. Additionally, I am not even sure where this supposed “center” is “supposed” to be. I am sure, however, that this world keeps erasing Butch women–from history, from literature, from film, from television, from our streets, from our families, churches, employment markets, housing, and with continued, persistent pressure to be men–and now we, Butch Voices, we have gone and erased Butch women from the first sentence of our mission statement. Now that is just something that I don’t have the heart to defend, friends.
I know you all, just like you know me, so I know and trust your intent and I hope that you know and trust mine. But again and again I say: We are not the same, us Butches who are women and use female pronouns and folks who live on a ‘transmasculine spectrum’; we are not the same, and though we can support one another in a thousand ways, I absolutely refuse to have my Butch identity and history blended in, watered down, or erased. And if this sounds like a political platform, you know, maybe it is–I have been fantasizing about a keynote on solidarity at BV for some of these exact reasons. But as we all know, the political is the personal and this is what is true for me, and for so many other Butches:
Without protecting and defending the space that Butch women have carved out, created, survived and built in addition to trans-spectrum folks, we are not doing justice. We are not doing me right, we are not doing Jeanne right, and we are not doing many, many other Butches right. We are not doing right by our past, we are not doing right by our present, and we are surely not doing right towards ensuring our future.
For all of the above reasons, I strongly ask that you to re-consider the current language. I also strongly second Jeanne’s suggestion of “butch women and all trans-masculine folks.” We simply cannot stand in solidarity without making a stand alone space, literally, metaphorically, and linguistically, for Butch women.
With continued dedication,
MAY 24TH, 2011
Dear Joe, Mary, Krys, and Q,
I was very surprised to learn last week that Jeanne Cordova had been asked to leave the programming committee. After some thoughtful discussion with both Joe and Jeanne, I am writing (at Joe’s suggestion) with the hope that I may be able to help remedy this situation for all of us, and to move forward with Butch Voices as a united front in these crucial last three months before the conference.
First, I do understand from Joe that there was an issue with the Butch Voices name in continued use for LA, and that was the reason Joe gave me for Jeanne’s dismissal. I also understand from Jeanne that there was no mention of this as the reason given for her dismissal in the recent conversation with Q. Please note: At this point, the BVLA Facebook page has been changed to Butch Nation, and there is now the clear understanding that name changes must happen. Finally, I understand that there has been mistrust and misunderstanding on all sides, but I am writing to ask that we maintain the integrity of the BV 2011 team.
As you all know, I accepted the position of Programming Chair a year and eight months ago, and have advertised, recruited, and done outreach in this capacity, both locally, and nationally, ever since. Accordingly, I have also been working with my committee members for this time, and am unwilling to lose Jeanne’s invaluable perspective, and experience–as well as all of the time and work that she has already invested in Butch Voices, and the feminism, ageism, and intergenerational panels, workshops, presenters, and contacts that she holds throughout the nation, particularly in Southern California. I hereby request that Jeanne Cordova remain on the Butch Voices Programming Committee for the 2011 Conference.
With less than three months to our 2011 conference, I hope that you agree to this request and recognize that this is the best way for the BV Programming Committee to continue its work with its current members. I also hope that you can agree that this matter is best resolved in this in-house and non-public manner. I would like to avoid the mayhem that will ensue in our communities if this cannot be resolved privately. That said, I am requesting that you approve this request by the end of the business day on Friday, May 27th, so that the programming committee can have a clear idea about how we are moving forward.