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CULTURE a wo'mn called sir
by Sharon Bridgforth
2004-04-01

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people often assume me to be a Black man and in some ways i am but mostly i'm a Black butch/which to me is about gender identity/in combination with energy sensibility style and Spirit. for me to claim myself butch was a process. the first time someone called me butch/i was deeply insulted. for years i'd been called tomboy mannish a stud and sir/none of which was a bother. however butches/in my mind were white women who wanted to be men and i ain't white/i've never wanted to be a man/and i wasn't interested in engaging with women who wanted a woman to be a man. so to be called butch to me/was like being called an oreo.

during the process of working to understand why people saw me/called me butch a lot of things surfaced. like/i remembered being ten years old looking at the sears & roebuck's catalogue over and over daydreaming about the outfits i wanted—all those great color coordinated boys' shorts and tees that would be mine one day/when i had money. i realized that as an adult i dreamt about stylish men's clothes i wanted to buy. it became clear that in my mind/my body was a man's body. not because i wanted to be a man but because i didn't see my body as a woman's/and i couldn't imagine women's clothes ever accurately expressing how i felt/inside. this has caused many a fashion crisis. my Black gurl hips and thighs don't look right in men's pants/my big woman titties don't really work in men's shirts and even if i considered women's clothes something to dream about—they always feel too small too short and too confining. the gregory hines que suave/Coloured man sleek city gq look that was the me i saw/inside was too phat for my wallet.

currently/thanks to inspiration from the traditional hip hoppers/i have released my afro wide legged pants wearing seventies self still butch still called sir mannish stud. women/thinking i'm a Black man still freak when they see me enter public bathrooms. in fact women often rush out when they see me come in/nervously try to direct me to the men's bathroom or openly curse my existence with cutting eyes and curt body language. but once/in dallas texas while i washed my hands in a bathroom at the mall/a mall attendant/an older very butch Black woman walked in/stood next to me/stared at me in the mirror and in a quiet voice said 'light skinned as you are and with that good hair/looking like you do/you can have any woman you wants. can get them to give you money and things too if you know how.' she then gave the counter a quick wipe turned and walked away. friendly advice i suppose/from one stud to another.

fortunately for me i grew up surrounded by femme power/and in that environment grew into my butchness/from the inside out. although i have had to look at ways that i internalized sexism growing up my butchness/my personal power has never been based on my ability to manipulate physically overpower and control women.

i have always been surrounded by femmes/was raised by one. my mother single/migrated from the south to los angeles/her and all her friends were fierce femmes come to the big city to make a new life. i adored these women/and they loved me encouraged me to grow fully into myself/relieved i believe that i was more interested in sneakers shorts and playing ball/than finding the path to womanhood as they understood it. although men were not intricately woven into my daily life/they were around. i watched them use their physical power/the privilege of their maleness in efforts to control my mother and her friends. i saw that the femmes out-thought these men/played them for whatever points they wanted/and envisioned/built and maintained their own lives and the lives of their children. all while working/giving into/and sometimes being dominated by male ego and pride. i saw myself more like those butch men than the femmes that raised me/but i did not like the way the men underestimated talked down to and mistreated the femmes. i understood that the very conservative south they had all fled from/was present somehow within the confines of the female/male games they played. that these men had very little power outside of the homes they lived in and visited and that jim crow had preceded my family west/imposing continued separate but not equal housing education and employment opportunities. living in this kind of reality

for the sake of survival/things get buried unnamed unspoken forgotten masked/and forced to fit. things rot get tossed out boil over/burn or simply evaporate.

i believe that i was born butch. but i did not have a name for myself until i was in my thirties because words like lesbian feminist butch were not in the language i heard growing up. the naming of myself/butch gave me a lens to look through/a way to speak on explore and understand my experiences and feelings. i believe that if men had the freedom to be fearlessly who they are/if this world didn't punish the feminine/more men/and more butches would live inside their sensitivity. there'd be more of us speaking from our hearts/deeply feeling/willing and able to communicate quickly clearly powerfully truthful. but that is not the world we live in. i am trying to learn/to model/to articulate/to write about a new way to be butch/ so that i can release the man in me in a good way/in concert with my feminine self. recently an older femme woman/a seer came up to me said 'gurl you was a man last life. yes but you was soooo bad to the womens that they sent you back a woman this time yourself. and you begged and pleaded/cause you didn't want to be no woman but they said you had to be taught. so here you are and that's why you got so much male energy. uhmmhum yes. so now i'm telling you you better be nice to the womens. are you nice to the womens! do you have a woman! well/you better be nice. else you gonna come back a woman again/next time,' yes ma'am. i'm trying to be nice to the womens. and i'm trying to be nice to me/the woman the man the butch.

as a butch/i have often felt like i'm an easily identifiable lesbian-target for closeted and curious women looking to play. this used to upset me/until i admitted that i wasn't exactly turning the women away. more exactly i was choosing to be with these kinds of women. unavailable women/women who could not or would not love me completely and openly. as a result my heart was never not broken and i was always loving from a place of resentment. deep down i didn't think that i would ever find someone that would be with me stay/and truly love me. i realized that i carried shame everywhere i went because there was a way that i was humiliated every day almost every place i went. from public bathrooms to public stores/where people assuming me a young Black man targeted their hate and mistrust of young Black men towards me or people thinking me gay or lesbian targeted their heterosexism towards me or people seeing me working class decided me not worthy of their time. i remembered that as i grew older from a tomboy to a woman/called sir fear and embarrassment changed my mother's ability to love me unconditionally and i realized that i have carried the weight of my mother's disapproval silently/unknowingly i have responded to her unspoken disappointment and shame. it has been the whisper of doubt/the murmur of guilt/the worrying reason/part of why i've never looked in the mirror very often/i haven't lived in my own body completely/i have taken to heart butch-phobia. because i am still waiting for my mother's approval. it wasn't until i turned don'tfuckwidmeforty/that i dared look in the mirror to question the passive way i love myself. i had been waiting/i realized to hear—you look good today congratulations/you did great today daughter i'm so proud of you. words that will probably never pass from my mother to me.

i have been with my woman for almost six years now. she is my match my opposite. her femme rituals delight me/i am stupefied by her perfume/the movement of her woman's body/her hair/the sound of her entering a room/the fit of her body/with mine.

i am forever captivated by the power of this femme woman/my teacher. she calls me handsome/tells me i done good/and loves me completely/as i am. i call myself butch lesbian woman. have given birth/love my womb which nurtured and held my child but i am also deeply connected to the man in me/the energy that surrounds me from the inside out/the sensibility Spirit and particular power that makes me butch. being butch/i am privy to a certain kind of male privilege in this man's world. i am seemingly protected against some forms of violence that femmes face daily. men on the street don't hurl sexual bullets at me. i usually feel like i can be heard in a conversation amongst men/or butches. handymen look to me for directives (when in fact my partner is the macha with the drill in our house). waitstaff look at me to order/and to pay. there is a way that living/butch the daily facing of other people's fear resentment ignorance hate and misplaced desire/has deepened the wound/my broken heart. but slowly love is healing me/giving me the space to more fully explore who i am. i am learning to honor myself/my heart/scars and all and to live/from the inside out in my butchness.

a wo'mn called sir written by sharon bridgforth copyright (c)2001 copyright


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