On a recent visit home I stopped to visit my Aunt. Her partner of 23 years, my other aunt, had passed away suddenly in January and it was the first time since I received the heart breaking news that I had been able to make it home. While commiserating together I learned that my aunts had not been out to many people in their lives. In fact, it wasn’t until my aunt had lost a significant amount of weight and people began questioning that she would say, sadly, that her life partner had passed away.
She’s been stunned by the warm reception by her coworkers, warmed by the acceptance of a friend’s church community, and has finally connected with distant family she’s avoided for years because she thought they wouldn’t accept what she calls her “lifestyle”.
I picked up “Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme” from the Arsenal Pulp Press office about a week after coming home from the trip and was quickly drawn in by its insightful, honest collection of essays from butch, femme and otherwise queer authors.
The essays in Persistence range from intellectual assessments of the gender dynamic to personal stories. While some femmes consider the ease with which they blend into regular society compared to their butch partners, others see their roles as warriors. “[The]evolving feminist thought reacquainted us with something we kind of know already: men and women might mistake us for ‘just girls’ when they see our makeup and fashions, but we were/are actually guerrilla warriors, fighting undercover in the war to save women from the continuing campaign to make us irrelevant fluff.”
Jewelle Gomez’s essay Femme Butch Feminist, from which the above quote comes, is a valuable read in that such a set of essays can be applied not just to lesbian or gay realities, but to the gender-role distinctions that play out in all romantic relationships, regardless of sex.
In another essay, Karleen Penleton Jimenez ponders her butch pregnancy, and the identity challenges that accompany it. “I think it’s because pregnancy is the physical manifestation of having been fucked,” she provides as an explanation for the backlash from other butch women. “Losing my mother has been the biggest tragedy of my life, if I could no longer have my mother, then I needed to become one,” she explains of her willingness to brave criticism from both within and without her own community.
Then of course, there are the stories of family conflict.
“Why are you trying to look like a boy?” Anne Fleming recalls her mother asking in a recurring argument.
“I’m not. I am trying to look like myself.”
Forty essays in total will take you through a funny, touching, eye opening ride of the lives of women you’ll want to meet personally by the time you’re done, in the same way that learning that one piece of honesty about my aunt’s life has led others to learn more about her.