By Jeanne Cordova, BVLA Conference Chair
(A summary of the BVLA Conference, October 2010 - printed in the Lesbian Connection)
Palm trees and 90 degree weather greeted the 548 lesbians and trans folk who attended Southern California’s first-ever Butch Voices Conference, October 8-10, 2010. The weekend, dubbed “Butch Fest West,” specifically welcomed lesbians of the butch and femme community, but was peppered with genderqueer fashion hipsters, many isolated dykes from the still-closeted suburbs of hidden California, and a few transmen & transwomen.
Sunday’s keynote Carmen Vazquez, a New York City’s top-drawer butch activist, rocked the house! She was in the middle of a stunning speech reclaiming feminism for butches, when the audience screamed out for her to repeat a key sentence. So, Vazquez repeated,
“I have come to understand that Butch and Femme are an insistence on feminism because sexual freedom and autonomy of the body are central tenets of feminism that allow us to honor one another’s choices in gender presentation and erotic desire. If feminism doesn’t mean that a woman can wear what she pleases, experience an unbridled, raw passion that includes fucking another woman as hard as she can because it gives both of them exquisite pleasure, then what is the point of it?”
Just when it seemed the audience was on a total roar, we Butch Voices.LA organizers went on to give the first National Butch Lifetime Achievement Award to Leslie Feinberg, the author of Stone Butch Blues and later, Trans Gender Warrior. To everyone’s shock, including mine as Conference Chair, we learned that Feinberg, who’s been struggling with illness for years and not speaking publically anymore, had sent us a full speech posted on Facebook that morning! Joe LeBlanc, founder of Butch Voices, read Leslie’s grand synopsis of her politics as a butch woman, a trans warrior, and communist organizer. A great hush fell over the audience as women realized we were hearing history –Vasquez and Feinberg—the later who may not ever speak publically again! (See bvla2010.com for full text of speech).
The speeches were followed by a two hour performance show called, “The Butch Revival,” produced by Angie Evans and her lover, Kat Laucat of the femme troupe, The Miracle Whips. They did a costumed riff off an evangelical couple Jimmy Butch Swagger and his wife Tammy Gaymaker—which evangelized, “Hallelujah! Praise the butch.”
Butch Fashion Makes the Huffington Post
Friday night’s kick-off performance set a new bar for butch fashion shows, and even made The Huffington Post, Autostraddle, and Velvet Park. I’ve been to several butch fashion shows around L.A. and seen the New York City butch fashion events, but I’ve never witnessed anything like the choreographed piece of art that took place in this butch-constructed outdoor courtyard, surrounded by old Hollywood’s architectural columns that gave us, “INVINCIBLE; A Night of Sartorial Radicality for Daggers, Dandies & Dapper Dudes.”
So there we sat, about 350 of us watching, as wave after wave of lesbi-queer designers, models, and singers strutted out from behind blue velvet curtains, up and down a forty-foot elevated catwalk! Black, brown, white, and asian butches and studs of all colors—some wearing dildos, but all wearing butch boi hair and clothing, boots and hats, suits and hoodies made by and for the masculine woman. Even Jimmy Au’s, a Beverly Hills boutique which dresses short men (and butch dykes), asked to be included. The Huffington Post wrote, “Bulldaggers, tomboys, drag kings, butches, gender queers, and dapper dykes the runway in West Hollywood on Friday night at the Invincible fashion show…Never has so much swagger been seen on the catwalk -- this, my friends, is what high fashion has been missing—the masculine woman.”
Workshops—A Visible Thirst
Crying with joy took place for many others Saturday, as everyone piled into a day filled with twenty workshops such as; writer/director of the movie Boys Don’t Cry, Kimberly Peirce, producer Cheryl Dunye (“Watermelon Woman”), photographer Cathy Opie (whose retrospective showed at NYC’s Guggenheim), Alice Hom (Astraea Foundation), B. Cole (founder of the Brown Boi Project), gay political strategist, Ivy Bottini, and myself, slated to present “Feminism & Masculinities.” I knew we had to address a nearly overwhelming range of topics that included all the butch identities formed in the Western states melting pot that is Latina, African American, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Anglo. We arranged life-lite dilemmas such as “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Butches and Femmes but Were Afraid to Ask” and “To Windsor or Knot” –how to knot your tie and take on a dapper butch lifestyle. And we juxtaposed these with more serious fare exploring the transmasculine spectrum like, “The Many Faces of Butch” and “Bromance, Kinships and Mandates: Unveiling Butch Taboos.”
To my surprise, the 300+ workshop goers roamed thru the day with a quiet, deliberate intensity from one workshop to another with an almost visible thirst—for new information! About lesbian butch history (Baby, You Are My Religion: Butch Femme Bar Culture 1940’s to 1980s by Dr. Marie Cartier). About black stud identity (Under the Smooth by Lori Brown); to ask new questions facing genderqueer life (Transphobia and Butchophobia, with trans-feminist femme, Dr. Talia Bettcher).
Julia Watson of Velvet Park had this to say about the workshops;
“My fave was Keeping our Feminism. The panel was made up of three women-identified butches, a Boomer, a Gen-Xer, and a Millenial and that made for a interesting historical perspective on butch experience I loved how the conversation ended up on the importance of having butch role models, both just in terms of being comfortable in your butch identity and in developing a responsible, mature butch identity instead of getting stuck permanently in playa ‘boi’ douchewad mode.”
The End of Gender As We Know It
Everyone was keyed up for Dr. Judith ‘Jack’ Halberstam’s keynote after lunch. Judith/Jack was at her warmest addressing a packed audience that was hungry for her wide-ranging theoretical world view about “the end of gender…heteroflexible women…and pregnant men.” When she analyzed how butch-dad parentage represented a systemically radical challenge to the world’s heteronormative paradigm—butches in the audience were elated to have our potential contribution to society outlined for us.
Toward evening on workshop day I stepped out into the twilight to re-assign the staff on tonight’s performance taking place across town. We were all so tired, but the performance ahead of us was “Swagger; Butch Bravado & Stud Service for those who live it and those who love it.” We knew we’d have another crowd waiting to see Jewish lesbian folksinger Phranc doing her famous “Bulldagger Swagger,” and iconic elder-butch Peggy Shaw performing from “Menopausal Gentleman,” not to mention the funniest comedian I’ve ever heard, the Shri-Lankan Indian stand-up, D’Lo, who’d
answer cell phone messages as he lay on stage ‘masturbating’ to a vibrator’s buzz.
The great batting order also included Skim, Heather Cassils, Dawn Kasper, and the Miracle Whips. SWAGGER was produced by Raquel Gutierrez of the Latina Butch performance duo, Butchlalis de Panochtitlan who performed a satirical Senate Hearing demanding that Obamacare included breast surgery for butches who want to give their breasts to transwoman “who really want them.”
The Meaning of ‘butch voices’
Standing alone, wondering how to make dinner appear for our worn-out staff, an older butch dyke of 60-something approached me and grabbed my hand. Looking into my eyes, she said, “I just wanted you to know. This weekend has changed my life.” I saw the tears in her hard-worn face and realized she was trying to say more but couldn’t find more words. ‘Changed my life…changed my life,’ she kept saying. We shook hands for a long time, just hanging on to each other, and I felt all the exhaustion from months of organizing drain out of my body, and dissipate into the earth. That moment I understood that the game-changer story of ‘butch voices’ is simply to see and hear others who talk, walk, and look like us.
Three days after the conference a 32 year old butch from the no-name town of San Louis Obispo, just north of California’s great central valley full of red-necks and farming, uploaded a You-tube video of how “awesome” the BVLA experience was for her. She said, “I never knew a butch world existed.” And that seeing hundreds of butches together made her realize she doesn’t have to transition in order to fulfill her life’s dream of being a ‘dad.’
Statistics Chart (based on the BVLA survey)
Total Attendance: 548
Age Range: 20% in their twenties, 25% in their thirties, 26% of forty-something’s, 26% of fifty year olds, 3% elders of 60+
Race/Ethnicity: 2% Native American, 5% Middle Eastern, 5% Jewish, 6% API,
17% Latina, 25% black, 40% white.
1. How do you self-identify?
Masculine of Center: 60.7%
Feminine of Center: 22.2%
Center of Center/‘Other’: 17%
Masculine of Center:
Soft Butch 11%
Corporate Butch 2.5% (white for butch professional)
Butcha/Macha 2.5% (Spanish for masculine of center/butch)
Male Id Butch 1 % (male identified butch)
Genderqueer 16% (includes “genderqueer butch”)
Dyke 16% (often qualified as “butch dyke)
Twelve choices of words were given. Some African American women who are masculine-of-center believe “butch” is a white word, so prefer the word “stud” or “Dom” (as in dominant), or “AG” meaning ‘aggressive.’ The etymology of “stud” is not known. The origins of “butch” has been traced, by lesbian herstorians, to the 1940’s, in the Northeastern states, to white working class, masculine of center women. The words “macha, maricon, butcha, and papi” are all colloquial Spanish/Latina words for butch women. There is a new breed of “butches,” mostly among younger generations, who use “butch” as a noun, and don’t necessarily think of themselves as “lesbian” or “woman” or “female.” The new term “masculine of center” was coined by B. Cole (founder of the Brown Boi Project), adopted this summer by Butch Voices, and popularized at BVLA.
Feminine of Center;
Queer Femme 33%
Femme Dyke 10%
Diva Femme 1%
(The survey choices given to this category were more limited)
Center of Center?
Two Spirit, woman, androgynous, lesbian, gender free, fluid, and “other.”
4. How would you best describe your politics?
Queer 37% (includes; queer lesbian feminist, queer socialist, queer progressive and queer Democrat.)
Feminist 25% (includes; lesbian feminist & feminist Democrat)
Butch Voices will stage their 2nd bi-annual Conference in August of 2011, again, at the Marriot Hotel in Oakland, California. Oakland is the home turf of Butch Voice’s inaugural conference which, in 2009, drew over four hundred butch women & trans-identifed people. Check out their website at http://butchvoices.com