A Butch Who Loves Getting Naked
Dear Patrick: Do all femmes really want stone butches? I am a moderately (and post-modern) butch woman with my first high-femme girlfriend. I am a professional baker, and I made the mistake of offering to create a traditional English tea for my girlfriend and her best pals. I kept my mouth shut while serving the goodies because I was really curious to know what the girls would chat about. I got an earful! They raved on and on about their fantasies about stone butches. All of them wanted to have a very masculine woman make love to them without taking her clothes off or allowing them to touch her.
I took it for granted that my girlfriend enjoyed making me come. I love the way she touches me. (Oh, the things her long fingernails can do!) But I don’t want to lay back and enjoy myself if she would rather be with somebody who doesn’t even take her shirt off, much less her pants! Ever since that party, I have had a hard time relaxing with my girlfriend.
I know you are not a lesbian now, but you were part of the lesbian community for a long time before you transitioned from female to male. So what do you think? What do femmes really want?—
A Butch Who Loves Getting Naked
Dear Naked Butch: Before I answer your question, let me define some terms for readers who are not part of the lesbian community. Women who fall in love with and desire other women have many ways of expressing that closeness and eroticism. For many of them, butch/femme role-playing has little or no relevance. For other lesbian or bisexual women, butch and femme roles are so central that author and activist Amber Hollibaugh referred to them as “gay gender.” Some women take on an identity as butch or femme as a way to acknowledge or express masculinity or femininity, respectively. But these qualities are defined according to lesbian values, not just the definitions used by the larger society. Many straight people would not necessarily be able to tell the difference between the butch or the femme in a lesbian couple. Both women might have short haircuts, wear jeans, and eschew makeup. But the difference is plain to the two of them, and enhances their sense of belonging or fitting together.
A “high femme” is a woman whose femininity IS shaped by qualities that the larger society would recognize as epitomizing female beauty or sexiness. She would be more likely to wear dresses, get her hair done, have long fingernails, wear makeup, etc. Even so, many high femmes have a style that is drawn from their lesbian culture or feminist convictions, so they don’t necessarily duplicate or “pass” for straight. A stone butch is a masculine, gay woman who prefers that sex be one-sided. She makes love to her partner without taking off her own clothing or permitting any direct stimulation of her own body. This creates a situation in which she is in control, and renders her partner more vulnerable. But outside of the world of sexual fantasy, being a stone butch is not necessarily a great thing, in my opinion, which I will talk about below.
When I hear femmes fantasize about stone butches, I hear them wanting somebody else to take control of the sex. They want the other woman to initiate it, seduce them, and decide what will happen in bed (and decide to do what turns them on, of course). By keeping her clothes on, the stone butch gives her partner permission to become utterly vulnerable, aroused, and helpless with lust, provided it all works according to the rules of pornography and masturbatory imagery.
I came out in the lesbian community of Salt Lake City, Utah in 1971. This is about as close as someone my age could come to being part of a lesbian community of the fifties. There was a lot of queer-bashing and police brutality. Women fought with each other at the only dyke bar, and they also fought with the men who came there to antagonize them. The lovers who met usually withdrew from the lesbian community to protect their relationship. Other lesbians were often seen as nothing but a threat to their monogamous bond. If there was any alternative to butch/femme culture back then, I never found it. I repeat this history not to put down lesbians, because most of the ugly things that happened then were a direct result of the discrimination and terror that queer women lived with. My point is that I’m qualified to talk about this topic, having met many butch/femme couples, befriended many stone butches and high femmes, and tried to fit myself into this system somewhere, somehow before realizing that if you can’t identify as a woman, being a lesbian is a lost cause.
Many of the stone butches I met would probably not be women today. Some of them had gender issues that were so intense, they couldn’t bear to have anyone look at or touch their bodies because it reminded them too much of a biology that they hated. They wanted to be men, and the closest they could come to being men was to play that role in bed. (Of course, the idea that a man would refuse to be touched or not allow himself to get off in bed is ridiculous. It’s only in a misogynist society that pleasure is seen as somehow disempowering to a woman, reducing her to the status of a “mere” girl.”) Some stone butches I have known were the victims of child abuse that was so prolonged and intense that they could barely manage to cope with sex at all.
The partners of these folks were usually tender women who did their best, with no support, to love their emotionally battered partners into healing. For some early female-to-male transsexuals, the only way to express a male gender was to have a girlfriend who saw you as her man, so you could dress up for her and have your manhood within your own household. For those stone butches who were survivors of abuse, the same thing applied. Femmes of that generation knew how to create a safe space in bed and in the rest of the relationship. If a butch could not take her clothes off or be touched directly, there were still ways to acknowledge her body and give her pleasure. Under circumstances that were as harsh as any prison, female-bodied people who loved each other found ways to survive and create at least a little joy.
Knowing this history, it is hard for me to see the stone butch fantasy as nothing but a sexually titillating narrative. The clothing that stays on in bed is armor. And I have to ask myself, armor against what injury? Why should life be a literal battle for so many of us? I don’t begrudge anybody the pleasure they might take from role-playing. Nor do I think we have to analyze everything until we take all of the fun out of it. But I did want to speak up for butch courage and the scars that are left behind on female-bodied people who can’t or won’t adopt feminine ways. In that context, the soft, beautiful body of a squirming femme who is dying for your touch becomes a reward for all that you have suffered. If she likes to get her bottom slapped, that makes payback even sweeter. The reality behind the fantasy is part of what gives it strength, power, juice, and danger.
As for you and your girlfriend … I have rejoiced for decades now to see more and more young butches reject the notion that you have to prove your masculinity by keeping your pants on. Being butch and being a female-to-male transsexual is not the same thing, although we may have a lot in common. I have met many more butches who feel just fine about being women, and it has been great to see the social cost for rejecting femininity grow less and less. It is still dangerous to be a butch. There is still a price to pay. But the gay life of 2015 is not nearly as down-and-dirty as the gay life of 1971 or 1951.
I don’t think you should give up your naked time. In fact, I encourage you to enjoy your skin and her touch as much as possible. But I also think a little talk might be a good idea. Find out what is going on with the tea party conversation. Was she just agreeing with her friends to enjoy sexy conversation, or was she really talking about a fantasy that made her thighs tremble and her cunt get wet? If the latter is true, why not give her what she wants occasionally? There would have to be some negotiation. I think you’d want to make sure that you got to have an orgasm after you played at being her fully-clothed top. Or you might want to make sure she enacted a fantasy for you, one that you enjoy very much that isn’t going to give her multiple orgasms as she plays it out.
Couples who trust each other enough to keep each other satisfied can risk or stretch a little and explore some role-playing. Deferred pleasure is not necessarily a bad thing. But if you try the game of stone butch and discover you don’t like it, then there is no reason to make yourself do it again. I would remind her that if she welches on her promise to make sure you get off after the fantasy is done, you will have little motivation to continue to play at one-sided sex.
I want to point out that you can also tease her and tease her, then allow her to make you come. You don’t have to play the fantasy exactly as it is received from lesbian herstory. There are a lot of ways to control or top your girlfriend. If that’s what she is looking for, you might be able to develop a style of topping that don’t require you to give up any of the sensual freedom that you value.