Stone Butch Blues

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In March of 1993, transgender activist Leslie Feinberg published a coming of age novel titled Stone Butch Blues. It is the fictional story of a young woman named Jess Goldberg and the many problems she faces growing up as a butch in the late1960’s.

The entirety of the novel revolves around the butch-femme subculture. In short, butch and femme are terms used to describe individual gender identities within the lesbian, gay, transgender and cross-dressing culture. Butch refers to a woman with very masculine traits and behaviors while femme refers to a person (usually a female) with overly feminine characteristics. It has been argued that this concept is solely a lesbian dyadic system where one cannot exist without the other and ultimately gave lesbians a clear way to identify. In fact, many gay women in the mid- 20th century, identified as butch or femme instead of identifying as gay, or homosexual. This seems to be the case not only in the novel but for the 20th century as well.

Within the lesbian bar culture for the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s butch-femme was the norm while butch-butch and femme-femme relationships were not. This was very true for the novel as well. Jess from the beginning of the novel allows the reader to dive into her relationship issues with femmes and the many mentors she had (usually older butches) to teach her what was and was not acceptable in these relationships. It was also very common back then for lesbians to feel like role distinctions needed to be sharply drawn because not being one or the other meant strong disapproval from both sides. Deviance from these identities were stigmatized.

Today many young people would argue that the classification of butch and femme are inadequate ways of describing an individual. Now a days, gender fluidity has become much more acceptable. In other words, the modern day gay community recognizes that labels, like such, are limiting in themselves. If people do chose to identify as butch or femme they often say the label is more of a representation of their gender identity rather than the role they play in a relationship. This notion has made way for the acceptance of butch-butch and femme-femme relationships. So it is safe to say that these labels and their meanings, as well as restrictions, have evolved over time.

Likewise, the violence towards these people who identify as butch or femme has changed. At its core, Jess’ character is greatly shaped by the experiences of violence hence the term ‘Stone Butch’. Many lesbians in the mid-20th century who identified as butch acquired a personality  that yearned for love but at the same time did not want to be touched. In the novel Jess is raped, beaten up by cops, set up to be injured and spoken to by doctors like she was something other than human.

“About an hour later the cops brought Mona back. My heart broke when I saw her. Two cops were dragging her; she could barely stand. Her hair was wet and stuck to her face. Her makeup was smeared. There was blood running down the back of her seamless stockings. They threw her in the cell next to mine. She stayed where she fell.”

 

As suspicion of communist and queers began to mount, violence was not uncommon during that time. Butch and femmes alike were commonly confronted with a need to defend their space.  Luckily, much of that has changed. With a rise in acceptance of the gay community, the extremely high rate of violence or dehumanization of gays has dropped significantly.

What has not changed over time is the desire. The lesbian community and gay community as a whole have always desired the same thing regardless of time, acceptance.

Like in Erica Jong’s poem Testament (Homage to Walt Whitman), there has been a long history of pain for the gay community.

“& three decades of pain

having cried for those that did not love me

those who loved me- but not enough

& those whom I did not love-“

Stone butches are notoriously known for not permitting themselves to be touched intimately, and consequently are also known for ‘being hard’. While many lesbians may not be that way today, both ways of identifying as a lesbian have yearned to “resolve now for joy.

“If that resolve means I must live alone,

I accept aloneness.”

Despite how much time passes, that is something that will never change. No one in the gay community will gave up a search for joy, happiness and acceptance. In the same manner, no lesbian, whether she be butch, femme or between the two, will stop believing in that notion or lose that hope.

“How to spin joy out of an empty heart?

The joy-egg germinates even in despair.

Orgasms of gloom convulse the world;

and the joy- seekers huddle together.”

 

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Female Masking

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For many, the thought of wearing a silicone suit is entirely out of the question, but for some heterosexual men, that is exactly what they love to do. The men who wear these latex masks and silicon suits are part of a subculture most recently known as “Female Maskers”. A short documentary titled ‘Secrets of the Living Dolls’ aired on Channel 4 in the UK . It revealed the hidden community of men who put on rubber suits to look like women.

‘Female masking’ is primarily practiced by heterosexual men, some of which are actually married. The act of wearing a mask and a body suite (which consists of all the curves that make up a female body) is more of a fetish than anything else. Unlike transgender people, these ‘female maskers’ do not feel like they were born in the wrong body. For them, dressing up as a female rubber doll is simply a way to have fun.

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Femskin, one of the many up and rising companies that makes the $850 (approximately £518) custom-made silicone outfits worn by maskers, recently stated: ‘We don’t think it would be fair to call them gay or even attracted to other men.’ ‘It’s about fun. Not all of them even want to be hot. Some want to be nasty hags.’

“A lot of men have fun by pretending to be women”

 

Many of these ‘maskers’ spend a lot of time on their female alter egos. They name them, give them their own style and are sure to embrace the personality that best fits the fantasy they create for themselves while wearing the suits. images

The lifestyle these men live remind me a lot of the characters in Georges Bataille, The Story of the Eye. Much of the discussion in class, in regards to the first section of this novel, revolved around how weird the characters were.

The class, as a whole, considered it freaky that they went to great lengths to find different forms of pleasure.Urinating, which was one of the many pleasures these characters cherished, was something we regarded as gross and unimaginable. Likewise, much of today’s society is disgusted by the “fun” men find in dressing up like female rubber dolls.

These men, their rubber suits, and their “bizarre” way of finding pleasure in dressing like women parallel the characters in that novel. For them, it is just another way to have fun, just like for the characters, certain acts were just another way to have an orgasm. It gives imagination to the idea of a means to an end.

In the same manner any reader would deem the novel and its characters abnormal so does much of society (including the queer community) deem these maskers outlandishd.

The community of ‘Female Maskers’ is still fairly new. Consequently that means not much is known about their world and way of life. But, what is certain is that this fetish is growing tremendously popular. It is with much hope that in time these heterosexual men and their way of  having ‘fun’ will soon be accepted.

 

Yanis Marshall

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24 year old, Yanis Marshall became a sensation after a video titled “Spice Girls” went viral on Youtube on June 30th of 2013. But it was not the nature of the song that made him famous; it was his dance moves in several pairs of nine-inch heels. The video features the now famous Parisian choreographer, Yanis Marshall, fiercely dancing all over parts of Paris.

Yanis is originally from Vallauris, near Cannes. He is currently a choreaographer, teacher and dancer and has been dancing since an early age. At the age of eleven, with the help of his mother who was a director of a dance association, he passed the auditions for the Dance School called Rosella Hightower. It is here that Yanis began to train in Ballet, Contemporary, and Jazz.

Despite his artistic ability and love for dance, in an interview with Great Rhys Alexander, Yanis claimed to leave for Paris France in search of independence from modern contemporary dance.

At the age of 19, he left to New York City where he experienced his first class of a style of dance called Street Jazz, with Sheryl Murakami. She is an artist that he claims “gave him a wake up call” and continues to inspire him till the day. After years of unhappiness in many different styles of dance, Yanis found a home in the style of Street Jazz.

Much like Voguing, Street Jazz roots from stricter dance styles. It evolved from informal settings like nightclubs, schools and on the street. Street jazz dance was inspired by traditional dance performed outside of professional studios.Jazz dance, modern hip hop and funk make up this style of dance. Elements of the rigid robotic movements, the marked spins often found in breakdancing and the fluid movements of hip hop, like in Sheryl Murakami’s music video below, are key components of the Street Jazz dance.

As for the heels. Whenever Yanis is asked why he dances in heels his response is famously always “why not?” Despite the humor in his response, one thing is certain, men dancing in heels or simply wearing heels is not a first.

Men originally wore high- heeled shoes. As early as the 10th century, men wearing high heels became a trend amongst the upper class. At the time, high-heeled shoes were not a signifier of gender. It was not until the 18th century that men discontinued the trend and the high-heeled shoe was soon after established as a ladies shoe. Ever since then, high heels on men have not made a comeback.

The long standing societal acceptance that high heels are only for women are what have made seeing dancers like Yanis Marshall famous. He is an excellent advocate of the “social evolution” we speak of today. He can “werk” those heels better than most women can walk in them but unfortunately the world has long been a witness to the slow but sure consistency of gender binding norms.

Yanis says heels are his speciality. Since a young age he loved to wear his mothers heels. Dancing in heels for Yanis makes him different, and he admits to not being shy one bit about his heels nor the fact he is gay.

“Just be you and if people don’t like it, well F*ck Them”

But despite the use of heels whenever he dances, Yanis is not transgender nor seeks to become a women.The use of heels for men to dance in is simply sexy and artistic to Yanis and he encourages both men and women, straight or gay to dance in heels whenever he teaches a class.  He also has no plans to label men dancing in heels any sort of style of dancing because he hates labels or boxes.