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Warm, mellow thoughts on butch and femme
There is a dark secret festering inside of me. It lurks, down in the deepest, dankest corner of my soul, trapped like a medieval prisoner in the bottom of an oubliette so far down, it’s beyond belief that it did not break both legs in the fall.
I am madly in love with Ivan E. Coyote.
Oh, sure, those who haven’t been paying attention for the last five years will probably think nothing of that. Ivan, after all, is a boy’s name, so it’s just another man-crush.
But those who have been paying attention will have read at least one review of an Ivan E. Coyote book, and realize that Ivan is, in fact, a lesbian. A butch lesbian. A butch lesbian I want to be my boyfriend.
Certainly, part of it may be a slightly perverse fetish for all things Canadian, but beyond that, there is definitely something to be said for a butch lesbian boyfriend who can find something nice to say about pretty much everyone, who has never written a malicious word, except, perhaps, in her fiction.
So imagine my shock, my disbelief, when I find out that Ivan E. Coyote has a new book out, Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (Arsenal Pulp Press, trade paper, $19.95). It’s a collection of ruminations on, well, butchness and femmeness edited by Coyote and Zena Sharman, described as a “gender researcher and femme dynamo.”
Someone is trying to steal my woman from me, and her name is a homonym for a certain warrior princess.
All joking aside, it is thrilling both to see an incredibly storyteller branching out in a new direction and to have another name added to the lexicon of top-notch queer thinkers. Both women are Canadian, which means they’re a little more thoughtful, a little mellower, and probably somehow more clever than we are. It’s just the way of things. Something about the crisp mountain air, clear water, and getting out all frustrations and anger by living vicariously through hockey, the only major league sport in which all the players have weapons.
The book is filled with names both new and familiar. Coyote herself has two pieces in the collection, not including the co-authored introduction. Unfortunately, they are both reprinted from, I believe, Missed Her, but that’s a small quibble.
Sharman has one piece in the anthology, “Looking Straight At You,” an absolutely fascinating rumination on the privileges our society heaps upon the femme, but also the constant struggle it places her in, like whether to come out to the cab driver when he asks if she has a boyfriend, or maneuvering conversationally when people question her about the discrepancy between her gray hair and her 31-year-old face.
She has a great deal of the same warm, inviting tone that her co-editor epitomizes. Again, one would have to guess it’s a Canadian thing. Having read American authors saying telling very similar stories, it just seems, well, warmer.
The entire anthology is filled with such fascinating pieces. Amy Fox’s “Changed Sex. Grew Boobs. Started Wearing a Tie,” for instance, is an absolutely engrossing, and witty, examination of Fox’s life as a butch lesbian who is also a male-to-female transsexual.
“Dykes find me familiar in that I am butch, yet refreshingly alien in that I am transsexual,” she writes. “So they give me the public tour and show me their hidden demons.”
That really is some brilliant writing.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha also turns in a marvelous piece, “Never Be Hungry Again.” The second paragraph, without the slightest risk of hyperbole, is absolutely sublime in its radicalizing of the mundane.
“Femmes are my oxygen. My water. I have fallen for queer masculinity that still gets it up for femmes since I was sixteen, but you, you are my daily love letter. You are my Trader Joe’s dried chili mango, $1.99 in my purse, every day. Something sweet and fiery and full of flavor; I can reach for it, and it will feed me, sustain me, keep me going. Every day, gorgeous, perfect, needed. I reach for you. Femmes are my wealth. If I shine, it’s because of you.”
It is very similar to Coyote’s paean to the femme, “Hats Off,” which closes the volume.
I could go on ranting about how the wonders contained in this book for hours, again without hyperbole. Instead, I’ll just say that, if this is what Ivan E. Coyote gets up to when she’s cheating on me with Zena Sharman, I think I can accept her infidelity.
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