Bfp begins by wondering where she is on the butch-femme spectrum. Cripchick continues by observing how disability and sexuality are so publicly invisible that even getting to these terms is hard. She adds the terms cripchicks and gimpgirls into the conversation of gender presentation, explicitly recognizing disability as a primary and defining force.
I don't have identifying terminology to add -- though I wish there were a more hip word for somewhat middle-aged bisexual disabled women like me. My goal here is to look a little at my body and my experiences in being read by others. I am talking about how I am read and not how I would define myself, how *I* would identify, because I don't actually know how I would choose to describe myself in the terms of this conversation.
The more complicated theoretical expositions of who we are as women and as queer women in particular recognize that binaries tend to produce alienating discourses of authenticity. If you are not one, you must be the other -- and to be one, you must be ..... But even the more complicated expositions of who we are as women also day after day, time after time, explicitly refuse to recognize the force and the power of disability.
Disability and feminism should go hand in hand. Disability should be an explicit part of gender and queer studies. But even in the hallowed halls of academia and, yes, out here in the wild web blogosphere, disability is only a small part of the conversation, a small part of posts on feminism, gender, and sexuality. It is something the cripchicks and gimpgirls (relishes the words, rolls them around her tongue) repeatedly have to bring to the conversation. And, yes, we do tire of being the voices of "but wait, disability ...." But unless we speak of our experience, the conversation will fail us and, ultimately, you.
When we got into it, the last two women with whom I almost had sexual relationships told me that they read me as butch. Theoretically speaking, it is a little perverse to argue from the point of view of how someone reads me rather than saying I explicitly identify as butch (or not). But I choose to do so because this particular approach shows how disability complicates what we think we know about possible identities.
Behind that word for them was my fascination with my own body, with its muscles, and with its physical strengths. That's something a lot of queer women notice about me, and it is the source of many jokes among my friends. I say queer women, because the straight ones in my life are usually too shy to comment on it. But also behind that word for the two women in question was my active enjoyment of my physicality. I love the power of my body; I flex my muscles, I pat them in public (sorry peeps, I really do; I love them). Yeah, it's funny. Yeah, it's sexy. But for the purposes of this conversation, I wonder about that understanding.
To say that it is "butch" to somehow forefront muscularity and physicality strikes me as an interesting insight into how we approach understanding conventional femininity. It is to say that somehow conventional femininity does not explicitly prioritize the tendons, sinews, muscles, and bones of its female bodies. But how can you have breasts, vaginas, tummies, and asses without the underlying structure of your body? Is it to say that somehow conventional femininity is only the visible surface of the body. Is it to say that femme is the performance of the hyper surface -- the explicit recognition and enhancement of aspects of conventional femininity? And that butch is somehow the recognition and acceptance of the deeper muscular structures of the body?
If this is what it means to be butch, then, I suppose, that even in my 5 inch heels, even in my see-through mesh dresses, I am butch. But I also think that disability skews -- I almost wrote queers; I so wanted to write queers -- disability skews that particular assessment of these aspects of my butchness.
Scenes from my life.
You see me on the street. I'm wearing a low cut tank top. Your attention is caught by my ripped back muscles. I turn towards you, flex my arms, and push away. You think:
- Oh, what an athlete. Wow! Sexy.
- It's a pity that she's in that chair. Such a strong upper body must compensate for her legs.
- She should cover herself up a bit.
- Ugh, and you look in other direction.
- Smile back and ask if I need help or anything?
- Panic. Fuck. Did she just ... flirt with me? Shit.
- Pretend you didn't see, turn, and leave.
- Smile and come right over.
- Wonder if I feel sad watching all those beautiful dancers, given that I can't move.
- Wonder if I am for real. Disabled people don't dress or look like THAT.
- Wonder about what Wizard is doing with a woman like me.
- Wonder what it would be like to fuck me.
My muscles are as they are because I use a chair and because I dance. Because they are a direct consequence of my disabled life, I would argue that you would have to think twice before you interpret them and my enjoyment of them as part of a butch identity.
My decision to wear impractical shoes is as much a consequence of me not having to walk in them as it is a decision to participate in a particular understanding of femininity. But what do you see? A sad attempt to look normal? A pair of high heels on a woman? Or something so over the top that it slides into the devotee/fetish view of disabled female sexuality? Note that this is a risk that is only present for disabled women. It's a long way for nondisableds to go through femme to fetish. Merely presenting certain aspects of traditional femme for a queer disabled woman puts her at risk of becoming a usually straight object of the devotee community.
Would you recognize it if I made a pass at you? To see it, you would have to acknowledge an awful lot. You would have to understand that disabled people have sexuality, that it can be a queer sexuality, and that I am looking at YOU.
A while back in this post, I spoke of bones and muscle. I'd like to go back to that place. I am drawn there as a dancer and as a sexual person. The bones of my body hold true for me; my muscles are what my body has given me. So even when my joints are unstable and my muscles torque and spasm, I recognize in these places parts of my deepest self. I strive to hold on to these selfs in every day life and in dance. I strive to bring them to the street and to the stage. Does desiring muscle and bone make me butch and deny me femme as positions from which I can navigate the world?
This, I think, is crip, is gimp. It is an understanding of the sexuality of the deepest and rawest parts of the body -- it is not so much a focus on gender presentation and on responses to gendered roles. It is an answer to the call of the fibres, the sinews, the fluids, and the infinite structure of the bones.