Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme is a new anthology edited by Ivan E. Coyote (who you might know from this great femme appreciation piece) and Zena Sharman that explores butch and femme identities from a variety of viewpoints. The book is dominated by lesbian writers talking about the butch-femme dynamic in their own communities, but there are also a number of pieces exploring deliberate performance of masculinity and femininity by folks with a range of identities and experiences.
A number of essays stood out to me for offering new, exciting perspectives. Feministing’s own Miriam Zoila Pérez deftly combines personal experience with gender theory (I might be biased). B. Cole’s essay about people of color who don’t see themselves in “butch” and her explanation of the newish term “masculine of center” is a revelation when surrounded by some less critical white writers. S Bear. Bergman and Sinclair Sexmith both write in a personal, open way about life within butch. Elizabeth Marston and Amy Fox offer revolutionary new perspectives on gender performance from the perspective of trans women.
Perhaps my favorite piece in an anthology that’s almost completely nonfiction is Zoe Whittall’s fictional story about two writers hooking up across lines of generational difference. It’s specific, personal, and a lot of fun.
Then there are essays that I found frustratingly disappointing. Victoria A. Brownworth’s piece is full of barely concealed transphobia, repeating sad myths about all the butch lesbians becoming trans men. In fact, the “where are all our butches?” meme shows up in a number of essays, perpetuating a real misunderstanding of the dynamics between sex and gender and propagating the notion that a community somehow owns its members identities. Sadly, some essays by older folks offer a lot of judgment and uncritical essentialism about younger queer and trans communities.
A number of essays also present butch-femme as the only possibilities for deliberate queer gender performance, putting other identities under these labels even when folks have deliberately rejected them for themselves. Some of this may have to do with the framing of the book – the title does suggest some sort of totalizing take at least on these identities. Butch-femme is an exciting piece of queer gender performance, one that certainly deserves lots of exploration, but it’s not everything. On the other hand, there are a few great essays that directly challenge these notions.
Perhaps what’s most interesting about Persistence is this range of perspective. There are a number of essays that contradict and refute each other. It’s exciting to have this sort of conversation happening within the pages of one book.