Female Chauvinist Pigs: (chapter 4) Womyn to Bois

Female Chauvinist Pigs, by Ariel Levy.

Chapter Four; PDF here. Text supplied here for ease of reading only, any formatting or other errors are not in the oringial. Please refer to the PDF version for actual published material.




If you were to put the last five or so years in a time capsule, womanwise, it would look like a period of ex­plosive sexual exhibitionism, opportunism, and role re­definition. These were the years of Sex and the City, Brazilian bikini waxes, burlesque revival, thongs-the years when women learned how to score, or at least the years when popular culture spotlighted that behavior as empowering and cool. Lesbians are women too, and this trend has hit the young gay women’s world-lithe scene”-with discernible impact. In the scene, the New York to San Francisco back-and-forth migratory ladies’ pipeline, sex is taken so lightly there is a new term for it: “playing.” In the scene, people say things like, “I played with her,” and they go on “playdates.”

This freewheeling nonchalance about sex is evi­dent on the Internet. Craig’s List, a site that started in 1995 as an e-mail newsletter founder Craig Newmark sent to his friends in the San Francisco Bay area about local happenings, is now a Web site used by millions of people looking to buy things, sell things, and meet each other across the country, and the women-seeking-women section of Craig’s List is the scene’s favored cyber pickup joint. A typical posting reads: “Looking for something noncommittal? Hi! I am a fun, cute girl, white, with short red-blond hair. Looking for someone who wants to exchange pictures and hook up … right away!” It was listed under the heading, “Playdate?”

The sense of purient sexual opportunism doesn’t abate offline. You can feel it at the girl bars in San Francisco; at the Lexington Club, someone has written “SF rocks. I get more pussy than I know what to do with,” on the bathroom wall. You can feel it in New York, where on a cold fall night at a lesbian bar called Meow Mix, a girl in a newsboy cap and a white T-shirt with rolled-up sleeves said to her friend, “Some femme … just some fucking femme. I met her at a party three weeks ago and I fucked her and that was cool. But now she’s like, e-mailing me and I’m just like, chill out, bitch!” Her chest was smooth and flat: She’d either had top surgery-a double mas­tectomy-or, more likely, she bound her breasts down to achieve the look. She thrust her forearm in front of her face as if she were rapping as she spoke: “Some of these chicks, it’s like you top them once and then they’re all up in your face. It’s like, did I get you off? Yes. Am I your new best friend? No. You know what I’m saying, bro?”

Her friend nodded and kept her eyes on the blonde go-go dancer in tiny white shorts undulating on a tabletop near the bar. “Bois like us,” she replied, “we’ve got to stick together.”

There was a point at which lesbianism seemed as much like a fringe political party as it did a sexual identity. What better way to declare “a woman with­out a man is like a fish without a bicycle” than to be a woman without a man, a woman with other women? “Lesbianism is a women’s liberation plot,” was how the group Radicalesbians put it when they comman­deered the mike at NOW’s Second Congress to Unite Women in 1970. The first installment of The Furies, a publication put out by a lesbian feminist collective of the same name in 1972, proclaimed, “Lesbianism is not a matter of sexual preference, but rather one of political choice which every woman must make if she is to become woman-identified and thereby end male supremacy.” Lesbianism was the ultimate in disman­tling the dominant paradigm, resisting the heteropa­triarchy, and all the rest of it, and sex seemed kind of secondary.

But in the scene, what you like and what you do and who you do it to are ‘Who you are. Sexual prefer­ences and practices are labeled with a great deal of precision. Within the scene, “lesbian” is an almost empty term and “identifying” requires considerably more specificity and reduction, as in: “I’m a femme” (a traditionally feminine-looking gay woman), or “I’m a butch top” (a masculine-identified, sexually domi­nant gay woman), or most recently and frequently, “I’m a boi.”

It is tempting to pronounce the syllable “bwah,” as in “framboise,” but actually you just say it “boy,” the way in years past you pronounced womyn “woman.” Throwing a y in woman was a linguistic attempt, how­ever goofy, to overthrow the patriarchy, to identify the female gender as something independent, self­-sustaining, and reformed. Being a boi is not about that. Boihood has nothing to do with goddesses or sister­hood or herbal tea, and everything to do with being young, hip, sex positive, a little masculine, and ready to rock. Even in an entirely female universe, there are plenty of women who want to be like a man.

But bois want to be like a very young man. It’s no coincidence that the word is “boi” and not some version of “man.” Men have to deal with responsibili­ties, wives, careers, car insurance. Bois just get to have fun and, if they’re lucky, sex. “I never really wanted to grow up, which is what a lot of the boi identity is about,” said Lissa Doty, who is thirty-seven but looked more like twenty-four when we met for a beer in San Francisco at the Lexington Club, which everyone calls the Lex. She wore a baggy T-shirt and jeans and had gelled her bleached hair into a stiff fin, like the raised spine of a Komodo dragon. “I want to go out and have a good time! I want to be able to go out to the bar at night and go to parties and go to the amusement park and play. That sense of play-that’s a big difference from being a butch. To me, butch is like adult. If you’re a butch, you’re a grown-up: You’re the man of the house.” Doty is smart, well read, and well educated, and was working as a courier for FedEx because, she said, “I want to have a job where at the end of the day I walk away and I don’t have to think about it.”

Doty liked to play, and she also liked to play. “It used to be if you flirted with somebody, that was it: You were set for life; U-Haul’s waiting out back,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s the whole boi thing or if it’s a little sexual revolution that’s happened where you can go home and have a one-night stand, just like the gay boys. Before, things were more serious: If you flirted with somebody, you better be getting her number and buying that house and getting those dogs. Otherwise, lesbian community is coming down on you. Now, it’s more … playful.”

That sense of play, of youthful irreverence, in­forms the boi approach to sex and to life. “I think non-monogamy is a part of it,” said Sienna, a grace­ful boi in her mid-twenties with close-cropped kinky hair and a face that flashed back and forth between beautiful and handsome depending on her expres­sion. “To me, a boi is someone who doesn’t have so much to prove. Bois are kind of dirty. Sexually dirty, but also we’re not in the clean, pressed, buttoned-up world . . . we’re like little urchins. A lot of us are artists.” Sienna lived at the dUMBA Queer Performing Arts collective in Brooklyn, a place they described on the Internet as “run by a loose-knit collective, usually made up of visual artists, media artists, writers, song­sters, dance fanatics, flirty bohemians, political and cultural activists, and otherwise socially boisterous girls and boys.” They had sex parties and art shows, and above the bathroom door, instead of GIRLS or BOYS, it said TRANNIES.

When I met her, Sienna was working as a some­time runway model for Hermes and Miguel Adrover and making big, bright collages at the collective. She had recently moved to Brooklyn from San Francisco, where she’d dated “black women who drove Harleys and were college-educated and loved punk rock. Girls who were maybe butch … my whole vision about butch got shattered, though. When I first came out, I felt comfortable wearing a skirt and I had a really big afro, so I looked sort of girly. Because of that, I had all these butch girls after me and they were always pushing me to be more girly and I’m not into that; I’m not into all that princess shit. I’m from Alaska, where women are all just pretty tough, and I grew up hunt­ing with these sixty-or seventy-year-old women. So to see all these women who are identifying as butch and acting with all this bravado doesn’t mean jack shit to me,” Sienna said in her low, quiet voice. “I think of a boi as someone who’s not trying to put on airs about being masculine … someone a little smarter. Basi­cally we threw the term around in San Francisco, and the last couple years I’ve heard it more here. It’s new.”

So new that most people-most lesbians-over the age of thirty have no idea what a boi is. Deb Schwartz, a thirty-eight-year-old New York City butch who had been out for fifteen years and had, at vari­ous points, worked as an activist for groups like Fed­Up Queers and ACT UP and as an editor at Out magazine, said, “It’s just wild to me that there’s this whole phenomenon out there that is completely news to me. Here I am, a bulldagger of a certain age, and when I first heard the term-recently-I had a con­versation with an equally butch friend of mine and she was completely in the dark, too. What’s new is seeing these kids who really seem to be striving for a certain kind of juvenilia, not just masculinity. They really want to be kids. This hit me when I saw this girl-this boi, I guess-barreling out of a store in Chelsea in huge, oversize jeans, a backpack, and a baseball cap pulled down low. And she was running as if she were late for the school bus … her whole aura was so completely rough-and-tumble eight-year­old that I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had a slingshot in one pocket and a frog in the other.”

“When you think about teenage boys, [that’s] who bois are modeled after,” said Lissa Doty. “Teenage boys are sort of androgynous themselves and playing with identity and the world is open to them.” When Doty came out in the eighties, militant feminism and lesbian separatism were still at the forefront of dyke culture. “There was this whole movement of womyn s land and womyn building houses on womyn s land and insulating themselves from the rest of the world,” Doty said, smirking. “I felt like I should be a separatist if I was going to be a good lesbian, but I liked guys as people; they were my friends. It was a whole different world from where we are now.”

Where lesbian separatists of years past tried to cleave away from men, bois like Doty are more inter­ested in dissolving fixed ideas of man and woman in the first place. “Bois are a little more open and fluid. I don’t want to try and speak for the trans[sexual] community, but I think there are a lot of trannybois who are not going all the way, who are not thinking I need to {it into this gender mold. They’re saying Its ok if I don’t take hormones, or Its ok if I don’t have surgery. I can still call myself a boi. That’s great. I think it’s cool that a label can be so flexible. I like it as a spectrum instead of one specific model.”

Being a boi means different things to different people-it’s a fluid identity, and that’s the whole point. Some of the people who identify as bois simply think it means that they are young and cool and probably promiscuous. Some, like Doty, date other bois and think of themselves as “fags,” whereas oth­ers date only femmes. Others are female-to-male transsexuals-also referred to as trans or FTMs or trannies-who are in various stages of the gender transition process, ranging from undergoing top surgery and taking testosterone (“T”) to simply adopt­ing the pronoun he. Consider this posting from Live­Journal, a Web site on which members keep running diaries of their lives for other members to peruse: “So my story reads that I’m a butch (or whatever) living in Minnesota. Mostly I claim the trans label, but it’s not my intention to transition to male from wherever I’m at now. I’m surprisingly comfortable in this gray muck . .. it makes life easier when I live it instead of trying to box it up like take-out.” Next to the post there is a close-up picture of a young, shirtless person’s head and shoulders. The person has freckles and short, messy strawberry blonde hair and could be a male or a female, anywhere between the ages of eighteen and thirty. The person looks happy.

Many bois, including many FTMs, consider themselves part of a “genderqueer” movement in­vested in dissolving the “gender binary.” They don’t feel that dividing the world up into men and women or, for that matter, butches and femmes is a particu­larly sophisticated way to conceive of gender roles. “I’m so against the whole butch-femme dichotomy,” said Julien (nee Julie) Rosskam, a good-looking twenty-four-year-old documentary filmmaker and the associate producer of Brooklyn-based Dyke TV.

Rosskam, who had been taking testosterone for sev­eral months, will correct you if you say “she,” which creates an interesting reality: One of the three people in charge of Dyke TV is a “he.” Rosskam was getting the money together to have a double mastectomy.

Despite the hormones and the impending surgery and the mandatory “he,” Rosskam found the idea that there are two distinct genders and nothing in between constricting and close-minded. “I just feel really defensive; I don’t like when people feel the need to put people into categories like that. If you had a line of women we could put them on a spectrum from the most femme to the most butch, but every­thing in our world is set up as a dichotomy and I just feel like that’s so limiting.”

The confusing thing, of course, is why somebody would need serious surgery and testosterone to mod­ify their gender if gender is supposed to be so fluid in the first place. But “transitioning” is very popular. The transformation of women to men is so prevalent within the scene they have a name for it: “butch flight.” This is to say that women who don’t feel the traditional definition of femininity fits them, who in another lesbian era would have considered them­selves butch, are more and more frequently thinking of themselves as transsexual, and doing whatever they can to actualize that self-conception medically.

“I’ve noticed a lot of different levels of trans, and frankly think there are A LOT of confused lesbians out there,” an FTM named Ian wrote to me in an e-mail. When I went to meet Ian in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, I had difficulty picking him out of the crowd. I was expecting him to look like the other FTMs I’d met: like butch women with something somehow off. But Ian looked and sounded utterly and seamlessly male . . . a real boy, as Pinocchio would say. He had been taking testosterone for eight months, and had undergone top surgery a year before our meeting. “I went to this guy named Reardon up on Park Avenue” for the operation, Ian said. “It’s.kind of like a hobby for him, doing sex changes. You walk in and there’s all these really, really rich women in there for implants, and then there’s me.”

For a transsexual twenty-two-year-old-for any twenty-two-year-old-Ian was remarkably uncon­flicted about his identity. “I’ve felt like this since I was three,” he said. “I’ve never felt like a lesbian; I always felt male.” Ian’s sense of unambiguous manliness is anomalous within the scene. He discovered this when he first arrived in New York City and started attend­ing meetings for FTMs at the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender Community Center in the West Village. “I only did that group on and off because I really had a hard time identifying with a lot of the people in there,” Ian said. “Because some people, you’re just looking at them and you’re like, Your issues are not in this area … you’ve got issues all over the place. I mean, the spectrum is broad and gender is fluid or whatever,” Ian said, rolling his eyes, “but there are some people who I think are latching onto this term-this ‘trans’ term and this ‘boi’ term-and you have to wonder. Like I go on all these Yahoo groups for trans men? And the other day I was reading it and the thing that was being discussed was Is trans be­coming the new vogue thing? And you have to wonder if it might be.”

A butch friend of mine told me recently that for a while, she had been seriously contemplating getting top surgery, as many of her other friends already had. She said, “If you’re hanging out with a bunch of trannies it’s going to influence you .. . it’s like if you’re hanging out with people who all have tattoos, you know?” Then she pointed to her tattoo.

Because there are so many people identifying as trans or bois or FtMs, and because these terms can mean so many things, when Ian used Craig’s List or other Web sites to meet women, he felt the need to be extremely precise about his identity and his body. “It seems like I have to put it up front, like, Listen: This is what I am and this is what I’ve done. Rather than just saying I’m trans, which people could think means Ok, yeah, you identify as male and you probably look like a prepubescent boy and you’re running around hooking up. Part of why the boi lifestyle is so appealing to some people is the non-monogamy. There’s less attachment, a lot of NSA”-Internet shorthand for a playdate with No Strings Attached. “Alot of NSA. There isn’t really a commitment issue when you’re so fluid.”

Despite all the talk of fluidity and the investment people like Lissa Doty and Julien Rosskam have in reimagining gender, there is another camp of bois who date femmes exclusively and follow a locker­room code of ethics referenced by the phrase “bros before hos” or “bros before bitches,” which means they put the similarly masculine-identified women they hang out with in a different, higher category than the feminine women they have sex with. This school of bois tends to adhere to almost comically unreconstructed fifties gender roles. They just reposi­tion themselves as the ones who wear the pants-they take Female Chauvinist Piggery to a whole different level.

Alix, a boi from Brooklyn, said we could meet at an East Village gay bar called Starlight for an inter­view on a Sunday night. After she didn’t show up, Alix sent an e-mail explaining her reasoning: “I didn’t see you, but I’d be lying if I said I was there. It was raining and I need to know what I’m getting if I’m going out in the rain for some chick and she better be slammin’. And anyway, I should be the one calling the shots.”

During an interview, Sarah, a twenty-eight-year­ old market analyst, showed me an e-mail she’d re­ceived from an Internet acquaintance named Kelli regarding a femme they both knew from the scene. It read: “I hope she’s not a big deal, that you’re just rid­ing her or whatever. Do you want me to keep an eye on her? Bros up bitches down.” Kelli’s peroration was a play on a catchphrase borrowed from sex traffick­ers: pimps up, hos down.

Sarah told me she had met “maybe thirty” femmes over the Internet-on Craig’s List and Nerve.com and through the personals on the Web site PlanetOut-and occasionally she’d used the heading “boi seeks girl” instead of “butch seeks femme” just to mix it up, and because it’s the cooler term. But she wasn’t crazy about all of its implications. “I’m not en­tirely comfortable because so many people I’ve met consider boi to mean transgendered or faggot,” by which she meant butch-with-butch or boi-with-boi. “I definitely do not want my name attached to those de­finitions. I don’t understand the faggot culture . .. I think it’s disgusting,” she said, and her face crumpled with distaste. “What I like about women is feminin­ity,” she said. “I’m interested in women who look like women, who have womanly gestures and smell and feel, and I don’t understand the appeal or the sense of two faggot dykes riding each other.”

Sarah had smooth, icy pale skin and very short black hair shot with little patches of silver. She was wearing big jeans and a pinstripe shirt with rolled-up sleeves under a navy-blue vest, and sat with her legs wide apart and her big arms crossed over her chest, making her body a sculpture of toughness. “Femme-­on-femme is stupid to me, too. It’s air. It’s air on air. It just seems like Cinemax fluff … long nails, you know. In a butch-femme dynamic, it’s not mirror images. One thing I hear a lot of people say about lesbianism and gayness in general is that it’s narcissistic. I’ve heard so many people say that, and not just my mother.”

Though Sarah’s dating MO was fairly lupine, her ultimate aspirations were quite a bit more conven­tional: One day she planned to give up her swinging bachelor’s life and settle down. “I’ve got this model of a household that’s probably sick to a lot of people that makes perfect sense to me,” she said. “What I want is to have a job, and have a life, and I want a partner with a job and a life to come home to, and a high standard of living, and I want us to have kids that go to school and do their homework and go on trips with their par­ents.” She smiled for a minute with the self­ satisfaction of an athlete about to cream his opponent. “And, you know, at the end of a hard day, I would like to come home from work and have my wife suck my cock.”

San Francisco is a good town for bicycles and les­bians. Both roam the streets as if they own the place, as if it were built just for them. Cars and het­erosexuals are tolerated. In the area around Dolores Park, there are lesbians with baseball caps, with atti­tude, with their noses pierced like a bull’s, with ba­bies, with Subarus, with motorcycles, with money. As one local put it, “It doesn’t matter if you’re pink with purple polka dots: If you’re gay and you come to San Francisco, you’ll find community.”

On a warm fall night, Diana Cage, the editor of the lesbian magazine On Our Backs (a sexed-up play  on the title of the longest-running feminist journal in  the United States, off our backs), and her friend Kim  were waiting to be seated at an Italian restaurant  about a block away from the Lex. They ran into Gib­son, Diana’s ex-girlfriend, and their other friend Shelly, who had just come from football practice for  their team, the Bruisers.

“How’d it go?” Diana asked. She had long hair and long eyelashes and wore a skirt and lipstick and toenail polish.

“Football! Hoo-ah!” Gibson said, half kidding. Shelly, a big girl in a sleeveless ‘t-shirt, offered a dou­ble-armed flex to emphasize the point. On one bicep she had a tattoo of a heart with the word “mom” spelled over it. Diana pulled out a Galois and Shelly lit it almost instantaneously. “We’ll see you later at the Lex,” Gibson said and walked off with Shelly.

Diana watched the butches strut away and said, “I only date cliches.”

When they sat down to eat, Kim was feeling anx­ious about the evening ahead. Clara, the boi she was seeing, was supposed to meet up with them later, and things had been very touch-and-go. “Clara’s biggest fear when we started dating was that I was going to try and fuck her,” said Kim, a pretty, punky twenty ­four-year-old who resembled the actress Rachel Grif­fiths. She defined herself as “femme of center” but didn’t wear much makeup or jewelry except for a tigers-eye stud in her chin. “I find bois the most attractive. I like the young, andro[gynous] look, but I’ve dated across the board: butches, femmes, trannies. And that really bothers Clara. All her girlfriends in the past have been pretty much straight.” Kim offered a rueful little laugh. “It also threatens her that I’m not totally vapid and vain .. . her big relief was when she found out I wear a thong.”

“I sort of orchestrated Kim and Clara dating,” said Diana. “Clara is someone who I would definitely call a boi, totally, although she wouldn’t claim it for herself because she’s too cool. See now it’s like retro cool to be butch, because there are so many bois and because of the whole butch flight thing.”

“Clara’s got this intense thing, her and her friends have a really strong distaste for this whole trans trendy explosion that’s going on,” said Kim. “But the more I hang out with her the more I’m com­pletely convinced she’s a closet trans case: She’s ob­sessed with operating sexually as a male. Completely obsessed. She doesn’t make any reference to being queer or lesbian at all. And she sees all of her lesbian traits-either emotional or physical-as completely negative. I’ve never met anyone who wishes that she was a guy so much.” Kim thought about it for a minute and concluded, “Whereas a butch is some­body who is, I guess, a little more comfortable with the fact that she actually is female.”

“I don’t have the patience for any kind of a bros­ before-hos mentality,” Diana said, “and I associate that with bois. For bois it’s like in high school; they’re all worried about how they look, and maybe if they have a girlfriend that’s not cool, and will their friends  approve?”

Kim was looking increasingly forlorn and push­ing her pasta around her plate. “This all ties into their kind of approach to women in general-they are so very predatory about it. Clara won’t just touch on it like That girl’s hot. She will talk and talk and talk about how she wants to get them home and fuck them.” She looked at Diana. “I’m nervous to see her now because I’m not dressed up. And then all of a sudden it’s like I’m trying to please a guy. It’s like I’ve come full circle.”

Later, at the Lex, a woman in a trucker hat with greasy gray hair and a long, gray Fu Manchu beard was trying to give her dog a sip of her beer. There were a lot of Mohawks and a confusing amount of fa­cial hair on several of the women, and there was a pool table.

Gibson and Shelly were sitting in back, drinking beer and looking at their football playbook, and Diana was on her cell phone with Clara. She snapped it shut and said, “She’s being an asshole. She’s not coming.”

“What did she say?” Kim was crestfallen.

“She’s just being an asshole.”

Kim went home.

“What did she say?” Shelly asked after Kim was gone.

“She said she wasn’t coming here unless she knew she could get laid.” Diana’s phone rang again. “That was her. Now she’s coming.”

“I worry about that one,” said Gibson, rolling her eyes. “Then again I worry with every twenty-one-year ­old I meet that they’re gonna get their tits lopped off.”

When Clara arrived at the Lex, she looked too young to be in a bar and too small to be allowed on a roller coaster. Diana pulled Clara onto her lap and said, “See, she’s nice to me because we’re not going out, but if I were your girlfriend I’d think you were a dick!”

The next night was chilly but sweet-smelling and Gibson was riding her motorcycle, whipping around the curves and up the hills. At around ten she went to Club Galia to see “In Bed with Fairy Butch,” the bur­lesque cabaret show a woman named Karlyn Lotney has been putting on since 1995.  Lotney is a short, hefty butch who uses Yiddish phrases and has a sort of les­bian Nathan Lane vibe. She gives regular seminars like “Femme/Butch Sex Intensives” and “Dyke Sex: Nuts & Bolts,” but she is best known for these shows. She called an audience member up onstage and asked her, “What kind of girl or boi are you into?”

“That one,” the woman said, pointing at her date.

“What, have you moved into some weird, monogamous, non-San Franciscan zone?” Lotney asked. She called the date up onstage and the couple made out for several minutes in front of the hooting audience. “Okay! Enough with the processing! Who wants to get laid?” Lotney shrieked.

A gay guy in his twenties came up onstage and agreed to get his first kiss from a woman. “A real dominant one,” he said.

Lotney smiled. “Why don’t you show him what we’re doing these days, ladies?” A muscular girl with a shaved head leapt onstage, grabbed the man, and kissed him with a truly impressive show of ferocity. “Yeah!” Lotney yelled. “This is San Francisco! This is what we do!”

When they were finished, a dancer, chunky and lipsticked, stripped down to her underpants on stage before going into the audience and shaking a dildo at them, which she ultimately put in her mouth.

Gibson headed out into the night.

She pulled her Honda Nighthawk in line with a row of other bikes and went into the backyard garden of her favorite bar, the Eagle, a place that shows gay men’s S&M porn on television monitors. She pointed to a dark area behind the cement fire pit. “I had mad sex with this girl there one night,” she said. “The next morning I was like, What did I do? How old was she? I ran into her a few weeks later on the street and we went for beers. She was one of these arty types who won’t give you a direct answer, but I kept asking her until finally she told me she was twenty-eight. So we had mad sex again. But this time inside.”

Gibson said that she would have nothing against settling down. “I keep trying to grow up,” she said. “But it never seems to happen.”

There are aspects of life in the lesbian community that are distinct and not really comparable to life in the heterosexual mainstream, and of course the young New York/San Francisco scene is only one small slice of lesbian America. But despite the differ­ences between the scene and, say, spring break in South Beach, there are also meaningful similarities in the ways young women across this country, gay and straight, are conceiving of themselves, their bod­ies, sex, and each other. Women are invested in being “like a man,” and in the case of FTMs, women are ac­tually becoming men. There is contempt and conde­scension for “girly-girls” or “bitches” or “hos,” confusingly coupled with a fixation on stereotypically feminine women (especially if they are stripping or dancing on tabletops). Elective cosmetic surgery­implants for straight women, mastectomies for FTMs-is popular to the point of being faddish. Non­committal sex is widespread, and frequently prefig­ured by a public spectacle: a coed group pumping their fists at the strippers onstage at a CAKE mixer in New York; a drunk girl heeding the call of Girls Gone Wild to show her tits in Miami; a room full of les­bians hooting at a dildo-wielding dancer at “Fairy Butch” in San Francisco.

This isn’t about being a lesbian, it’s about being a woman. Or a girl.


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23 responses to “Female Chauvinist Pigs: (chapter 4) Womyn to Bois

  1. redmegaera

    I’m so glad you posted this.

  2. OMG, I LOVE THIS! This chapter is one my most favorite feminist writings from recent years!

    I’ve also seen this kind of misogyny amongst lesbians. What IS IT with male-identification and being an elitist asshole towards women?? Hmmmm, I wonder!!
    (masculinity as an adjective or descriptor for certain characteristics is OK with me; I’m criticizing the desire to BEHAVE like men do and to be identified with men RATHER THAN women. cuz, you know, men are so way cooler.)

    Do we need discussion questions? Let’s talk!

  3. So much going on here!

    On the article: There are definitely things about this I’m uncomfortable with, but I haven’t quite pinpointed them yet… I wish Levy had criticized these (indeed despicable) things without being so disrespectful of people’s identities. The way she sets up Ian, the young trans guy, as a put-together foil to the bois et al reads as a classic conflation of gender variance with immorality and illness, and gender conformity as stable, natural, and good. Female masculinity is a real and legitimate gender phenomenon, not an “issue.”

    On the topic: I am disgusted by the sexist, juvenile behavior described here. I’m disgusted by it no matter what a person’s chromosomes, identity or preferred gender pronoun are. I have a zero tolerance policy for this Peter-Pannish irresponsibility and refusal to commit — it may well be my least favorite human quality — and here in its unholy union with misogyny it is at its very worst. Gross.

    This is a huge part of why I identify so strongly as butch, and not a boi or anything else. To me that word connotes maturity, responsibility, and respect — respect for women in particular. It’s the responsibility of masculine people (male, female or otherwise) to create masculinities that are just and respectful. There is absolutely no excuse not to.

  4. Bond, thanks for the great comment! Now we have things to discuss. YAY!

    Your criticism is justified. I was also not too happy about this: Throwing a y in woman was a linguistic attempt, how­ever goofy, to overthrow the patriarchy, to identify the female gender as something independent, self­-sustaining, and reformed. I chalked it up to an attempt to speak to a more “mainstream” audience, but her tone is sometimes not my favorite. More importantly, you’re right that the way she sets up Ian–who conforms to the gender binary even as a transsexual!–as a contrast to the other bois’ messy gender confusion is problematic. I’m actually suspicious of ANYONE who feels comfortable complying unconditionally with either of the traditional gender roles, regardless of their sex/uality! I think gender questioning and subversion is totally The Way Forward.

    It’s the misogyny amongst male-identified WOMEN that really gets me pissed (I’ve come to expect it from men). Like, you wanna get with *this* but you perceive me as less-than you?? Hell no! Seriously, NOT going “full circle” (like Kim says in the article). It’s the misogyny of compulsory heterosexuality that grooms women to put up with this behavior in the first place! I wish that more feminine women, the ones jerks want to “play” with!, would tell them to kiss it! I also can’t stand the idea that 2 femmes or 2 masculine lesbians together is somehow unpleasant or unnatural. Wtf is that?? It’s just more hetero bullshit!

    So about Butch being respectful and responsible, *yes please!* I think we need a comparable term for grown-up, modern femininity that has nothing to do with male pleasure, dependency, or agency that seeks to serve others before the self, etc., etc. I’m gonna have to work on that. Whoo, new semantic value strikes again!

    (Oh, and you know, while I’m being all impassioned and whatnot, I hate thongs! Hate ’em. They’re stupid, uncomfortable, and merely serve to announce one’s sexual availability. I’d rather go commando. Humpf!)

  5. I also think this is funny (and indicative of the type of audience this piece is written for–as IF mainstream people give a shit about lesbians!): had gelled her bleached hair into a stiff fin, like the raised spine of a Komodo dragon. DUH! It’s called a FAUX-HAWK. Gawd. Get with the times, lady.

  6. Yes! Hey, look, we’re co-followers!! 🙂 Updates are nice, though.

  7. Look at meeee dominating the comments on this post–I must be the resident FCP! 😉

    So I just wanted to add that a few months ago, when Sonia was around and blogging @ http://elparadorcalifas.blogspot.com/ (R.I.P. lovely bloggy), we also played FRG regarding this book.
    Sonia and another of her commenters similarly noted how Ariel Levy seemed to position herself above the bois and the FCPs–ironic, given that hierarchy creation among female people was exactly what she sought to reveal as destructive! (although I do sense the ethical paradox here: that you can’t criticize other people for being snobs, etc. without seeming one yourself) I thought this was sorta reminiscent of what Bond what getting at. That’s all.

  8. Pingback: Lesbians and patriarchal medicine « redmegaera

  9. sienna

    this article continues to offend me.

    i felt betrayed by the author and her “l word”/nymag stylings and butchered understanding.

    that this article became part of a book disgusts me.

    i am not the only person interviewed that feels this way.

  10. redmegaera

    Hi Sienna. I was wondering if you could elaborate on your comment?

  11. Imaginary

    Holy shit the misogyny described makes me want to puke. I still don’t understand the labels “feminine” and “masculine”. I understand what it means to the patriarchy, but not to super hero womin like me and UP, also called “feminists”. Shouldn’t we stop associating persunality traits with femininity and masculinity? What makes me feminine is my sex and the fact that I’m not a complete cocksnot; it has nothing to do with my toughness or dominance. Labels are confusing.

    • Shouldn’t we stop associating personality traits with femininity and masculinity?

      Good question. Yes, that would be ideal. The terms are so deeply entrenched in womanhood and manhood that they’re beyond redemption for use in the Post-REvolution. And some feminists do believe we should stop using these terms altogether.

      I disagree, however, because–until the Revolution– it’s unrealistic to think that we will be able to eliminate the ideas “masc.” and “fem.” from our collective social consciousness. I think, rather than imploring ourselves to stop using these powerful descriptions, it’s more effective to confront the concepts directly by dealing with the VALUE JUDGEMENTS that we make about them and working to SEPARATE the frameworks of masc. and fem. from the physical markers of sex (moving towards “any gender on any body,” so to speak).

      • they’re beyond redemption for use in the Post-REvolution

        Because they’re constructs and only make sense within a hetero-normative, hetero-patriarchal paradigm.

    • What makes me feminine is my sex

      Also interesting. Dirt has been saying “butch femininity” lately. If we start conceiving of “femininity” as flowing from one’s sex (rather than as an external construct that describes certain proscribed characteristics), I’m gonna have to rework my gender definition. As it stands, I want to separate gender (masc/fem ways of being) from sex to achieve “any gender on any body.” If the concept of femininity actually flows FROM one’s sex, they can’t be separated. And Femininity will be reclaimed by ALL women to mean ANY way “of being a woman.” Oh, dear.

  12. “Oh dear” why though? It just redefines “femininity” as pertaining to a female person (ie sexed gender, which is actually what happens in reality anyway) and says social gender is irrelevant. Social gender aka what is referred to as masculinity/femininity is a mere matter of social convention at any fixed time and place. Hence the changing meaning of blue and pink (once thought a decidedly ‘masculine’ colour).

    You can still have ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ on any person, you just remove them from their associations with sexed gender. There is more than one type of gender!

  13. By which I mean I’m ‘masculine’ or ‘androygnous’ but also identifiably a woman (female person).


  14. Polly, are you agreeing with the idea that we retain the concepts masc/fem but remove their association with sexed bodies? Or are you “feminine” like Dirt?

    Holy FUCK, I wish the Queers had coined a NEW term for self-selected sexual identities! I’m terrible at naming things, but my frustration tolerance is wearing so thin that I may need come up with a new word and start using it in reference to non-assigned “genders.” I need my own lexicon. I mean, WTF *is* a non-assigned, non-masc, non-fem “gender” anyways?? Wait! Don’t answer that one. It’s a trap.

  15. polly

    Both. I’m saying there are TWO types (at least, though there may me more) of *feminine*. Feminine as in female person. And ‘feminine’ as in those things deemed to be aesthetically/culturally appropriate to female persons only.

    This is why people get confused. It’s like the classic ‘she looks like a boy’ thing that was said of me. Break it down: ‘She’ (identifiably female person) ‘looks like a boy’ (well obviously I don’t because they can tell I’m female, what they mean is I have adopted visual signifiers which say ‘male’ but am still clearly female – and I would add that on the occasion this was said, all my clothes came from ‘women’s’ ranges).

    It was said by scallies who were intending to be homophobic rather than fans of Judith Butler, but it neatly illustrates the sexed gender/social gender split.

    Sexed gender is still gender though, not merely sex, because it applies to everyone according to their perceived biological sex. It therefore maps fairly closely onto sex, but isn’t the same thing.

    • Thank you for clarifying, Polly. 2 kinds of feminine. Ok.

      And for “sexed gender,” I assume that you are referring to “assigned-gender.” I know I’m using the trans term, but I think it fits because “assigned” implies that it is involuntary (which it is) and maybe even hints at artificial construction.

      I am going to start calling voluntary gender, JENDER. Ha!

  16. Well I’d say ALL gender is assigned. You may not comply with your assigned gender, but you’re still assigned it.

    I am expected to be feminine – as an identifiably female person whether I am or not. Therefore my assigned gender is feminine/woman.

  17. This chapter blew my mind when I read it. I saw this all first hand when I was hanging out at a gay club for a while. I really didn’t get it…why these women would want to treat other women the way a shitty hetero dude would treat his girlfriend? All the objectification and hatred of females…so awful.

    Levy really got it on the nose.

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