The Dance of Butch/Femme: The Complementarity and Autonomy of Lesbian Gender Identity
|Keywords:||T;石頭T;婆;雙性戀;性別認同;性向研究;女同志研究;性別研究;butch;stone butch;femme;passing;bisexuality;sexuality;gender identification;lesbianism;lesbian study;gender study||Issue Date:||2005||Abstract:||null
The gendered representations in appearance and in sexuality of butch-femme couples have been distinguishing them as a specifically contentious lesbian identity category since the late 19th century. On the one hand, butch’s outward deviations from gender normality make the butch-femme union a visible symbol which unmistakably signifies lesbian existence to the heterosexual public. On the other hand, however, such a gendered role play between butch-femme seems to implicate a certain physical and sexual complementarities, which from time to time make either butches or femmes’ lesbian identity doubtful when they are taken into consideration respectively. As to femmes, in contrast to butches’ masculine inclinations, femmes generally follow feminine codes in appearance, mannerism, and sexuality, the fact that makes femmes undistinguishable from heterosexual women except for being companied by butches. Femmes’ physical invisibility, her ability to pass, and the subsequent doubt of her genuine sexuality have been broadly discussed in lesbian criticism. Moreover, as to butches, though being a significant mark of lesbian for her gender deviation, in the aspect of sexual practice butches’ sexuality is often criticized as dependent, even dysfunctional, because when assuming the masculine role in bed, butches usually identify themselves as active pleasure givers who either refuse to be touched or rely their sexual satisfaction mainly on how well they can please their femmes. Thus, what does it mean to be butch or femme respectively? What constitutes femme when not in relation to butch and butch not to femme? Is it possible for butch or femme to be a sexually and physically integral lesbian subject if the mutually-defined complementary bonding is disintegrated? These are the questions I intend to answer to in this thesis. In fact, in my thesis I would like to argue that it is possible to establish the respective sexual and physical autonomy of butch and femme subjects.
Chapter One will focus the discussion on the possibility of butch’s sexual autonomy. I would argue that the doubts about butch’s sexuality are partially based on the heterosexually-constructed view that only through vaginal intercourse are biological female subjects able to attain sexual satisfactions. In theory, beside vaginal intercourse, there should be still numerous ways of practicing sex and sexual pleasure could be enjoyed through physical contact of any part of our bodies. And in reality, numerous butches, even those who insist untouchability, do testify that they enjoy and get satisfied in sex. Therefore, I would begin my argument with the concept of “butch’s untouchability,” the most stigmatized sexual practice that renders butch sexually dependent on femme, exploring the various degrees of butch’s refusal in physical and sexual contact and how differently being untouchable means among butches themselves. We may find out that the general understanding of butch’s untouchability as complete denial of sexual pleasure is somewhat misleading. Through the personal testimony and interviews, we see that when being untouchable means refusing even to undress to one butch, it means refusing to be penetrated to another butch, and still other butches don’t recognize their practice as untouchable at all. Also, the claim to have enjoyed sexual pleasure is pervasive in butch personal statement. Employing Groszian model of desire that displaces orgasmic satisfaction from genital contacts onto any possible contact between two bodily parts, I argue that despite the various forms of butch untouchability, butches still fulfill their sexual desire in the sexual pattern they choose to practice, and thus serve as a sexually independent and autonomous subject of desire.
Chapter Two deal with femmes’ autonomy in her claim of independent lesbian identity. In order to sustain the authenticity of femme lesbian identity with her feminine inclination, I would try to argue how femme actively demonstrates her femme agency by manipulating her bisexual potential and passing ability to construct an autonomous femme image with her specific gender and sex representations. First I would go through historical, literary and theoretical discourses to demonstrate how femme femininity is haunted with spectre of straightness which reduces her lesbian desire as traitorous bisexuality and renders her lesbian identity dependent on her butch lover to avoid submersion into heterosexual women. Subsequently, reviewing the lesbian critics’ effort to differentiate lesbian femme from bisexual femme by situating femme sexuality exclusively in butch-femme eroticism in order to authenticate femme desire as specifically lesbian, I argue that such theoretical move contradictorily defers femme’s lesbian subjectivity, when with butch-femme complemtarity femme identity is subject to and dependent on butch masculinity, which is privileged as the heroic signifier of lesbian gender and sexual difference. Therefore, proposing a re-evaluation of femme bisexuality and passing, I argue that when femme’s bisexual and femme passing potential stands on lesbian/heterosexual borderline, rather than passively and traitorously wavering between the two, femme actually self-consciously manipulates their bisexuality and femininity as border identity to signify their femme queerness and actively creates an autonomous femme lesbian subjectivity with her specific gender and sexual representation.
Chapter Three explores the alternative butch-butch, or femme-femme eroticism that is constantly ignored when butch-femme complementary coupling dominates lesbian discourses. Despite the fact that in reality the majority of the lesbians who perform gendered codes tend to form butch-femme unions, there were still butch-butch or femme-femme couples being witnessed on street, and some of butches indeed testified their desire for other butches and femme to femme when we examine the historical and autobiographical records of butch/femme lesbians. I argue that taking butch-femme combination for granted is complicit with the heterosexual naturalization of gender-sex connection which equates masculine with active and feminine with passive. When such connection is denaturalized, the task which has done by many feminists, it supposes that the masculine doesn’t always attract the feminine, neither does the butch always desire the femme. Moreover, if both butch and femme are established as sexually and physically autonomous lesbian subjects, the butch/femme will no more need to complement each other and form a compulsory match. Therefore, at first I argue that all the lesbian configurations are more or less socially and culturally constructed and thus heterosexually infected, which leads to the notion that butch and femme naturally form an erotic dyad remaining unchallenged even among lesbian critics. Moreover, following the threads of postmodern denaturalization of heterosexual connection, I further argue that when butch-femme complementary roles were too ideologically conditioned to escape in the 1950s, at the beginning of 21st century the postmodern cultural atmosphere should open for theoretical articulation for butch-butch and femme-femme eroticism. Therefore, butch-butch and femme-femme unions, though comparatively of a small numbers, are possible alternatives to dominant butch-femme coupling and not only help disintegrate butch-femme complementarity but also further challenge and shatter the heterosexual dominance both in theory and in reality.
|Appears in Collections:||外國語文學系|
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