Imagining Queer Spaces for Femme Boys

Posted: January 20, 2009 in Uncategorized

I have been living in a world which is populated almost only by women for months. This is partly a choice of where I hang out and partly who I connect with in social spaces. Being in women’s space, in women’s community has been healing. It has also had the effect of denaturalizing men’s behavior. I became acutely aware of the changes that often occur when men enter the space. They so often dominate conversation without thinking.
One explanation which may work is that boys are socialized in a very competitive arena. Some boy is always trying to dominate. You defend your conversational space, or identity or physical space by pushing back and claiming space. We had to learn ways of resisting bullies by internalizing the bully to some extent. It is survival of the bully-ist.
Sometimes it seems that men just keep playing the same game around women. Nobody else at the table is pushing back so they just claim all of the available space. They just never learned to share, because a willingness to share and compromise makes you into a victim as a boy, and maybe even as a man. Some of the problem is testosterone, but who can say how much given that the genders are socialized so differently. Until men can imagine “queer spaces” where they can explore new gender roles, we just do not know what is nature and what is nurture. The queer space that I inhabit on the margins of the dyke subculture is probably not fertile ground for a mass movement of femme men.
There is some room in straight subcultures like the sex-positive, burning man, bi poly kinky, ecstatic dance and neo-hippie subcultures. But if you do not live in a very cosmipolitan urban area your access to this queer geography is limited. Bi and gay men have access to queer men’s culture and subcultures like the radical faeries. My impression as an outsider is that there is not as much fulltime gender play in the gay world as in the lesbian world. Drag queening seems more of a performance with discreet boundaries when compared to the butch ‘lifestyle.’
Judith Halberstam has an interesting discussion of of queer spaces and queer time which are created by queer subcultures and create the possibility of living, feeling and being differently. I feel like the the queer space that I inhabit in San Francisco has been created by the dyke community. The transgender narrative gives me a certain degree of legitimacy in this queer space, but at the same time dyke space is extremely gendered and I do not expect to ever be assimilated into that subculture. So, on the margins of this queer space I have found the space to explore and shift gender. The city of San Francisco itself is also queer enough to tolerate my fashion experiments.
Having access to SF’s different queer spaces has privileged me in my transition. I think often of liberating straight men from their cages and allowing them greater diversity of feminine identity and expression. Given the current socio-political climate, I can hardly see how though.
Transexuality is a radical option for embracing femininity. It is one end of the continuum. There needs to be room in the middle of the continuum. I would like to femmeboy as a lifestyle choice much like butch is. In my ideal world the dyke community would embrace femmeboys as allies, but because gender is such a foundational concept within the lesbian narrative I do not see how this is possible. No mass lifestyle experimentation with the femmeboy gender is possible without the creation of queer spaces that don’t organize group membership along the lines of the gender and sexual orientation binaries.

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Comments
  1. Davey says:

    Hey! What a great insightful article about femme boy inclusion. I have been wondering if there is any sort of ‘femme boy dialogue’ happening online and came across this post trying to see if there were any femme boy blogs (and I don’t think there exclusively is).

    As a self-identified femme boy I often struggle with feeling accepted within certain queer subcultures. While many of my lesbian friends definitely embrace radical femininity and support it I still feel like the gay male scene is still SO afraid of it and like you said, only willing to engage with it when it’s confined to say a drag performance. I experience so much fucked up misogyny from gay men who perceive me and my politics as similar when in fact I am such a believer in feminism and such a strong supporter of women.

    I am so empowered and inspired by femme boys who push gender and identity boundaries: whether they love makeup, love being a smart “sissy”, love being sensitive but also tough! I want the world to know that soft femme and hard femme boys exist outside of boundaries, in-categorizable in so many ways and much smarter than the Chris Crockers and other vapid “femme boy personas” of the YouTube celebrity era.

  2. R J McElroy says:

    RE: Some of the problem is testosterone, but who can say how much given that the genders are socialized so differently.

    Very little of it is “testosteron’s fault”, according to the latest studies:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8400172.stm

    While a balance of hormones can have an effect on one’s mood or temperament, the traditional linking of testosterone with “aggression” and oestrogen with “compassion”, etc., is merely socially reinforced. Serious. As a TS guy on testosterone for the last fifteen months, I can honestly say that I’ve cried more due to the content of films or songs on the radio in this last year than in the twenty-some years previous combined; I’ve also been far less likely to punch walls or have a violent temper when I don’t get my way. I’m thoroughly convinced that other TS guys who claim they got more aggressive and violent after starting HRT are simply victims of psychologically associating testosterone with aggression, therefore the reaction is not biological, but psychosomatic.

  3. […] R J McElroy on Imagining Queer Spaces for Fem…Aria Blue on Crossing Swords With Aria…Jasper Gregory on Crossing Swords With […]

  4. polly says:

    You beat me to it RJ McElroy. Socialization is almost always the prevalent influence on human behaviour. Which seems to be where I came in.

    But I’m all for femme boys.

  5. SheilaG says:

    I think this is a very good idea Jasper. When I see big gay male spaces, there are no femme boys allowed. It is as boringly hyper-masculine as straight male spaces, the only difference being the hyper-woman hating atmospher is added into the mix. So lesbians just stay away and go elsewhere.

    Within LBGT activism, men and women cooperate, as long as lesbians don’t take over. Gay men aren’t used to lesbian leadership style. Most lesbian feminists just don’t act servile enough, hense the presence of fag hags.

    The drag scene is about performance, but I don’t think it is conducive to femme boy culture. The Radical Faeries had this aesthetic, and I always liked them. White Crane Journal embraces this now and then too. But that is old gay male culture pre-Stonewall and feminism. The femme boy was more honored within closeted gay male spaces.
    It was closet gender subversion, or men finally being able to be feminine.

    It is not cool for gay men to be feminine or fcmme boys, because this is really about the female being hated as a cultural marker. Men hate women, gay men don’t want to be seen as women in the eyes of straight guys. Also, it’s for safety reasons. A femme guy will be picked on and beaten up.
    As I read your posts over time, I can see a more clear and authentic voice emerging. Since Dykes come out of feminism, we had an easier time as marginalized people to create more creative spaces.
    I’d say lesbian culture flourished more, and had more visionaries when we weren’t really involved with gay male closeted woman hatred. People were thrown together in a kind of us vs. them against hyper-straight male conservative attacks, but we really weren’t connected to each other.

    Gay men just weren’t interested in feminism or feminist insights, so it was kind of hopeless having that conversation. They went back to being cowboys and copies of hyper-male-ism.

  6. Jasper Gregory says:

    @Polly Socialization is almost always the prevalent influence on human behaviour.
    I do not think we know enough to say either way.
    Pre-Natal Androgens are a strong influence on Mammal Behavior. Please take a look at these Slides by Veronica Drantz. Drantz is a Fab Lesbian. She has very sophisticated conceptualization of gender, and she has sifted through the cutting edge research and put it together into a very interesting model of brain gender. please take a look at http://bit.ly/6gGmw9 I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  7. Jasper Gregory says:

    @RJ Thank for the link. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8400172.stm.
    I agree that The Vanilla Trans Narrative about the effects of injected hormones gives hormonal cause to cultural influence.
    In examining their own behavior I think the embodied experience of adrenaline are labeled testosterone.
    We need to be open minded about the influence of pre natal androgens. That is how Female and Male body differences are created. see Dr Drantz’s research http://bit.ly/6gGmw9

  8. Jasper Gregory says:

    @sheila When I see big gay male spaces, there are no femme boys allowed. It is as boringly hyper-masculine as straight male spaces, the only difference being the hyper-woman hating atmosphere is added into the mix
    This made me sad too. Femme is like a dirty secret in SF Boy culture.
    I do not get the woman-hating. It has the venom of self hatred. How many of the men are closeted, self-hating Femmes?

  9. Jasper Gregory says:

    @sheila Gay men just weren’t interested in feminism or feminist insights, so it was kind of hopeless having that conversation. They went back to being cowboys and copies of hyper-male-ism.
    They also did not want to be ‘queer’, they wanted to be just like everyone else. They did not fight for their gender inverts like the lesbians did (eventually). They marginalized them.

    It reminds me of Aria Blue’s drive to be a normal woman, and not associated with transgender politics.

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