Home > Thinking Time - Put on your hardhats > How to Stop Thinking

How to Stop Thinking

I’m approaching the end of Female Masculinity, a very impressive, dense, gender theory book by Judith “Jack” Halberstam (P.S. Hottie.).  I started reading it last year, and it took me until now to get through it.  I know. You are shocked.  How could it take me so long?  Even I’m kind of surprised.  The subject matter was interesting. I’m a fast reader. I can speed through books in a matter of days, sometimes hours, if I’m given the time.

Part of the reason is logistical.  My ability to read for hours on end is stunted by my working life.  I get up in the morning, I go to work, I leave, I workout, I come home, I eat, I sleep.  Where is the time for reading there?  Usually on my commute.  Waiting in line for doctor’s appointments.  But that depends on my carrying a book in my bag (Right now, I’m rocking this), and sometimes I forget to bring it with me.

But really the reason is that this book was hard for me to read.  Really hard.  Not always. Some parts are easy.  Like the part about films, where I get to hear about all these movies that I never knew about!  But some parts are hard.  Like reading the chapter called “Butch/FTM Border Wars”.  My best friend is FTM.  Are we at war?  It’s hard to hear “Well, this is what a butch is and this is what a transman is, and there’s a world of difference.” Because I have grappled with whether or not I’m trans, or want to transition, maybe partially, and it makes me feel guilty for even considering it.  Like I’m trampling on my trans friend’s experiences with my cis privilege.  And it’s hard to hear “Well, they’re not really even that different.”  Because that can make me feel like, “Oh my God, if they’re not different then I am trans!”  But I know that doesn’t fit either. Both are hard.

If I picked up the book when I was feeling insecure, it could hurt.  When I’m already feeling picked apart by the world, it doesn’t help to pick myself apart even more.  “Butches are this way, butches do things that way.  Working-class butches are the kind of butches that everyone recognizes as butch.”  Hearing about the desire to “hide” butches could feel isolating.  But then again, reading that female masculinity is a perfectly legitimate form of masculinity could feel empowering.

I recently tweeted an article called “Where are the butch intellectuals?”  You know those stereotypes. We work with our hands.  We ride our motorcycles.  We drink whiskey and spit and get in fights.  Why are these the images we see, over and over?  There are other kinds of butches.  It’s a good question, which is why I shared the article.  But I actually do not identify myself as an intellectual.  But I believe that I am critical, analytical, intelligent; all qualities that intellectuals possess.  Every once in a while, I catch myself wanting to cite my sources here, quote others to make this seem like more “legitimate” intellectual writing.  I deliberately steer away from it.  It keeps me from writing freely, the more these posts resemble a critical response. When I started this project, my intention was to create what I had been looking for: the experiences of someone who wholeheartedly felt that she was butch, struggling with how to make that inner self match an outer self.  What it felt like to dress one way or another.  How people responded to that presentation in the world.  In short, this was meant to be a personal, emotive experience, not an intellectual one.

Occasionally, I wonder about that choice.  It seems cheap sometimes.  I’m smarter than just writing about FEELINGS.  But writing about feelings is good.  I have them.  And it’s possible to be emotionally intelligent.  One has to remember that emotions are legitimate ways to frame existence, that logic isn’t the only way to think about one’s life.

I think it is important to think critically about my gender.  If it weren’t, I probably would have kept existing in a feminine presenting place, without exploring what my erotic departures from the feminine meant.  And I wouldn’t have cut my hair (and now you know the whole world would be missing out!).  Still, thinking and learning about it seems like too much at times.  Sometimes I just want to be.   Which I guess goes to show that being can be hard work too.

Can you turn it off?  Not analyze the little details of your relationship to yourself, your friends, your lovers, your family, your co-workers, through the lens of gender?  Sometimes I can’t.  It would be nice to take a break.

  1. August 27, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Honestly, I think that most of us who exercise intention in our gender have a hard time “turning it off.” When you deviate from a social norm in any way, it requires conscious effort for far longer until it finally becomes unconscious. Then, of course, it’s only unconscious until one of those social norms pops you in the face.

    The stereotypes baffle me and always have, but at least we (butch-femme queer) have become visible enough to create stereotypes!

    Also- you already know what I think about that haircut! ;)

  2. Ty
    August 29, 2010 at 8:49 am

    This is funny because I just finished reading that book, and had a lot of the same qualms that you did. I also hated the extensive gender studies language and sometimes it was so academia that it made me want to gag, but I did find it altogether interesting (it prompted yet another fight between my mom and me about how I dress, but that’s a different story). A good antidote, however, would be S. Bear Bergman’s “Butch Is a Noun,” a collection of essays about different aspects of butchness. While the “hir” and “ze” pronouns are kind of annoying, the essays themselves are well-written and thoughtful, and I’d definitely recommend it. (And even as a mostly femmes-only butch, Judith Halberstam=dayum!)

    • September 12, 2010 at 11:36 am

      Ummm.. way to step on non-binary pronouns and identity. What, I should give up my pronouns because they’re too new for folks to use them? Well, I find he/him/his and she/her/hers to be “kinda annoying” to use. This is some straight-up binary privilege you’re demonstrating.

  3. Lyon
    August 29, 2010 at 11:07 am

    I don’t read books on gender and sexuality and all things dealing with internal identity,thoughts and feelings anymore. They’re written by small people with a big egos, who cannot possibly know more than their own experiences.

    Read them, but consider them authored by aliens who have never been to Earth.

    That’s what we are on this journey, we share a few commonalities and the rest is personal conjecture. Blogging our lives brings us closer to understanding ourselves and each other gender,identity,sexuality than anything else.
    All written from my one little soul in the universe “me” space.
    PS I’ve enjoyed your blog greatly.

  4. Stat
    September 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Working in research, studying and nursing my world/days is/are full of critical thinking, reflections, referenced literature. I LOVE times like this, sitting on couch with hot cuppa,its raining outside and I’m just about to leave the house for day job then night shift practicum. Reading a blog like this delivers the feelings, humour, shared experience that I’m after in my spare 10 minutes. Its as important to me right now as making sure to fit in excercise and meditation, its time for me to contemplate all things butch.

  5. September 12, 2010 at 11:07 am

    I think you will appreciate this essay by Ivan Coyote: http://www.xtra.ca/public/National/Shemanifesto-9087.aspx and the previous one she refers to, as well. If you haven’t already connected with Ivan, you’ll find lots of her essays in the archives on this website. She writes from the heart and without the veneer of academia. Also hot :)

    • September 12, 2010 at 11:49 am

      I love Ivan. :-) Thanks for the recommendation. I’m always on the lookout for more.

  6. September 12, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Mhm, I just finished S. Bear Bergman’s latest book, “The Nearest Exit May be Behind You” and had a similar issue. A lot of what ze talks about is stuff that is very painful for me so I could only read it in certain moods and sometimes it would hit a trigger. I highly suggest hir books. Butch is a Noun is definitely amazing!

    • September 12, 2010 at 11:48 am

      I just finished reading Butch is a Noun. I read The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You first, and wish I had read Butch is a Noun first. I also found Nearest Exit to be incredibly difficult to read. But Butch is a Noun was easy – I kept seeing myself, and I kept seeing myself in relation to the word Butch. That felt good.

  7. October 1, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Jack Halberstam is keynoting at ButchVoices LA next weekend (10/9). Looking forward to hearing how he’s going to challenge us and shake up our thinking!

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