A look back and forward from BUTCH Voices Founder & Board Chair, Joe LeBlanc
So much gratitude to everyone who joined us at Oakstop in August, for our ten year anniversary conference. To our vendors and sponsors, presenters and performers, volunteers and attendees. THANK YOU. BUTCH Voices happens because of you, through and through.
BUTCH Voices is a place where folks come together across identity to find much needed welcoming spaces of belonging and connection for masculine of center people. It is a space that is unlike any other, and is open to all who identify as masculine of center and our allies. Over the years we have had and continue to have difficult and complicated conversations on inclusion, language, and who belongs in our spaces. Different perspectives, levels of education and awareness, access to privilege, and experiences of oppression, all show up with us as we are in this space and conversations together. Discomfort, shame, and harm also show up as we work through learning and unlearning about ourselves and our communities’ needs and lives.
The spaces where we do this vulnerable and complex work are messy, because this work, much like ourselves are messy, as we dig in to discovering who we are and work through the ways that systemic institutions of oppression are inside each of us through no fault of our own. We all show up to the proverbial community table with deep wounds, and we also wound others in this process. Through this work, we replicate the harm that we have encountered, and horizontal hostility has us feeling that we need to put others down to have ourselves feeling valued. Scarcity of resources, space, and connection increase the likelihood that we cannot see the ways that we can gain more through being inclusive, affirming, and welcoming to others who have different experiences than us. We are far more alike than what we are different, and we also acknowledge the strengths that we have across our differences as community members working together to not only survive, but thrive in a world that sees us as less than, would want to cause us violence, and even remove us entirely as people from this world.
Black trans women are being killed every day for being who they are. Violently, and personally. We say their names, mourn the losses, and continue to fight like hell for the living in calling in, and out, transphobia and racism as it happens in community. Trans women of color and butches were at the front lines of many of our formative steps as a broader LGBTQ movement. We are on the shoulders of these people as we come into spaces to have these hard conversations and connect across age, race, ability, class, culture, and identity.
Trans women are women. Period. Trans women are also butches and masculine of center people. Non binary people are also masculine of center and butch identified. Fact. Self identity is a core value at BUTCH Voices, and the spaces we create are built on acceptance of transgender people, and not policing gender. We have enough of this in other spaces in the world such as bathrooms, lesbian and women’s spaces, and out in the world in general. BUTCH Voices has and will always be trans inclusive and affirming. It is also a space that needs more folks to show up and hold that space and for people to step up and care for each other as we have challenging conversations. It is a space where we will work to do everything in our power to limit the harm that we do to each other.
As in any of our community spaces we encounter racism, transphobia, and consent violations in these spaces. As a niche within many niches of community, we are charged with holding each other accountable and doing the work to make the change we want to see happen in these spaces and in the world. It is not a space where the most marginalized owe anyone anything, including emotional labor, or to make space for hate at the cost of their own value and life.
Our conference spaces have been the highest of highs for some attendees. Some sharing that their lives were forever impacted by knowledge they gained from others while attending, finding others like themselves, or being able to connect across difference in a way they’ve never experienced before. Some folks have also faced the same deep oppression that they face everyday in the straight, heteronormative, and racist world we all exist in daily. It should not be a surprise that these oppressions are also done by us to us. Just because we are masculine of center or LGBTQ doesn’t make us enlightened or no longer able to inflict harm. And when it does happen within our smaller communities it feels so much deeper and the very same spaces that we need to heal us, harm us even more.
Instances of racism, transphobia, homophobia, sizeism, and misogyny happen along side instances of gender expansiveness, discourse about intersectionality, social justice, and inclusive connection. We can, and do, work to create safer spaces to gather, and we need your help in doing this work.
At the end of our conference, after a weekend of workshops, performance, and connection, about twenty of us stayed after sessions closed to talk about how to do this work better. We talked about the need for more people doing this work, a need for establishing enforcement of guidelines and a code of conduct, and potential solutions that involve more of us at the center holding each other accountable. We don’t have all of the answers, but it seems like we do have a start of what could address some of the issues in a holistic way, towards rebuilding trust with elements of restorative justice.
If you want to be connected to doing this deeper organization planning work with us, send me an email. I’ll connect you with the team of folks who are doing this work together.
We also need folks to share your voice, skills, and energy with us on the Board and on our Steering Committee. We also need to raise funds to do this work, as we are an all volunteer-run organization. For our end of year fundraising campaign, we are also throwing in some BUTCH Voices swag as donor perks. Check out our Facebook page for all of the details. We’re also looking for your feedback to make our events better and more representative of our communities needs and perspectives.
Thank you for your support and energy for our communities, and for BUTCH Voices.
Founder & Board Chair