Femmeboys in Identity Politics

Posted: January 26, 2009 in Uncategorized

I am reading ‘Imagining Transgender’ by David Valentine. It is part ethnography and part a genealogy of ‘transgender’ as a category. I have read many historical analyses of the invention of ‘nation’ and ‘race.’ I have read Foucault’s work on the invention of ‘(homo-)sexuality.’ These works used archive data  but Valentine was doing ethnographic fieldwork in the late nineties when the newish term ‘transgender’ was being invented and pushed in academic and activist discourse. It is fascinating to witness a new ‘subjectivity’ being created, especially because it is a subjectivity which I have tried on and used recently.
I have often tried to understand why female masculinity is accepted in the lesbian world and is ‘culturally valorized’ as the butch/femme lifestyle, while male femininity is marginalized in the gay male world. Valentine is also investigating this phenomenon. Valentine describes a world in which Fem Queens (femme identified males, some of whom used body modification)used to be ‘gay,’ but two discourses have worked to separate them out into a new transgender category. First, the mainstream gay narrative has worked to define gay males as masculine men who are just like straight men except for sexual orientation. In this discourse it becomes politically incorrect to associate male femininity with gayness. The mainstream gay movement and gay academics have performed work to erase male-femmes from their history and subculture. Second, transgender activists and academics have also worked to tell fem queens that they should not identify as gay males but as straight women. Valentine’s ethnographic data captures many statements where fem queens identify as gay and male while transgender activists label this as ‘false consciousness.’ Much of the transgender socialwork seems to value getting actors such as the fem queens to internalize a new transgender identity.
The fem queens of Valentine’s research are the gay male equivalent of lesbian butches. The transgender narrative tries to claim both. But, the lesbian-feminist discourse claims butches as lesbian, whereas the Gay academic and activist discourse says ‘good riddance we never wanted them in the first place.’ The misogyny which haunts the gay world is also directed towards at male femmes. Drag is OK as long as it is a performance for a discrete period of time and not an actual femme identity. Drag could be viewed as ‘domesticated’ male femininity.
This goes a long way to explain the extreme marginalization of male-femininity. Male-Femme is rejected by three main discourses. I have just described the Mainstream Gay position. Second wave Lesbian-Feminist discourse has traditionally been hostile to male-femme claims to femininity and sometimes to femininity itself. Rather than supporting us in our search for post-masculine spaces we are often portrayed in feminist literature as part of a ‘stealth’ male attack on women, or as promoters of an artificial femininity that keeps women down.
The third rejection is the phobic/violent pressure that we get from the discourse of Straight Machismo. This discourse keeps us invisible outside of queer space. My expression of my gender/sexuality often provokes suspicious behavior from males, and can lead to violence. Male-Femmes internalize this fear, and many of us suffer PTSD as a result of attacks, so we censor ourselves and try to pass, thereby reducing our ability to identify ourselves publicly and form social networks. Paradoxically, this macho fear/hate of male-femmes has a huge homophobic component. Macho males who catch themselves feeling desire for male-femmes can have crises.
Male femmes used to be a visible part of the gay community and a lightening rod for anti-gay feelings. The gay community went mainstream and masculine and left male femmes more vulnerable and marginal then before. So these development left male-femmes marginalized by gay and lesbian communities and under attack by macho masculinity. One escape from this marginal position is to embrace the trans-woman identity of the transexual/transgender discourse. I will explore that further in my next essay.

  1. juliandarling says:

    Can anything be labelled a “false consciousness”? Really? I would think not…

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