As the Founder of BUTCH Voices, I feel it necessary to share my thoughts on the many changes that have taken place over the years with our organization; especially in light of our most recent publicity and after seeing the many responses to official statements [statement 1] [statement 2] released by our BV board president, Krys Freeman. It is important to the entire BV board and 2011 BUTCH Voices Conference steering committee that you feel heard. It is most important to us that you know that, no, we are not the same BUTCH Voices that held the first national conference in 2009. But, we are better. We are the same people, your same community, improved. Still, and only with your help and support, we have the opportunity to become even greater.
If you had told me three years ago about all that has taken place during the BUTCH Voices history, I might not have believed you. I am certain I would not have been able to give concrete steps for making it happen. What started, originally, as just an idea of my own (after attending not only the Femme Conferences, but other gender-based conferences) has transformed into a full movement and inspiration for other butch organizations and social groups to take root and bring more and more folks together.
After years of being made to feel not “butch” enough, not “masculine” enough, not enough, period– I wanted to create space where folks of similar identities and experiences could gather, discuss their issues, find common ground, and work together to create community. I wanted a place that would not have someone policing their identity, nor drawing lines in the sand as to who belonged, and who did not.
BUTCH Voices is that place.
I have found amazing people – people like Krys and the rest of our current BV members- who, over the years, invested in creating safe and open spaces in which we could bring people together. Some have become family, others have chosen to step back from this work for varying reasons – this work is not easy, and is often personally draining. Other times, personal differences have come up, and people have gone their separate ways.
All parties have been changed from experiences prior and go on to create new ventures, work together possibly, or just support where they can from afar. This is what BUTCH Voices has been for me. It has been, and lead to, multiple opportunities to embrace, collide, and commune with new people, new ideas, and new ways of being. My time with BUTCH Voices has changed me and the board and steering committee members for the better.
The language we call our own continues to evolve for some of us, as we fine tune the words and find the language that fits us best. For some, it may always remain the same. As we grow as a community, and hold space that is inclusive for all folks who self-identify as the various identities that fall under the BUTCH Voices umbrella – having the language to help all people feel welcome, and not leave any identity out is difficult to say the least. We will never come across language that will fit all who have been marginalized that find affinity with BUTCH Voices, but we are always trying.
As an organization comprised of all volunteers, we will continue to strive to do our best to represent our diverse community in our programming, our events, and our online media. We have made mistakes, and we will make mistakes in the future. We’re human like that. We expect the community to hold us accountable, as we hold each other accountable. What we will not do is go against the values we have as an organization.
The issue of misogyny is one that has been brought up recently in regards to BUTCH Voices in how we hold space for all butches, studs, et al. While trying to be as inclusive as we can across race, age, and identity – we added the term masculine of center to our mission statement as an umbrella term. The term may not fit you, the general you, just as butch may not fit the general “I” for some others. Stud maybe the term you find home inside or it may not be. We understand this and identify with the uncertainty and uncomfortable feelings new terms bring whole-heartedly. We view masculine of center as an umbrella by definition, for some, that umbrella term may not fit.
As a community, we must be aware, that for some, an organization and conference entitled BUTCH Voices may not be fitting for all.
We bring to these words our own experiences and biases, we bring our histories; histories always influenced by race and ethnicity and nationality among other factors. We do not run from this history, selectively silencing its parts. We unearth all of it, building, creating, and making change as we grow.
As an organization, we decided that “masculine of center” lacked the stigma and wounds that so many of us associate with having been called terms like “butch” or “aggressive” or “stud” in a derogatory manner. We stand by this and believe that the term can and will only begin to carry wounds and stigmatize others if we allow it to; if our personal biases recreate cycles of oppression and “othering.”
We hope not to do this.
We hope to continue to evolve the language that honors not only the rich history of the butches of varying identities who have come before us, but also the many other identities who are similar to butch, who do not see themselves listed in the terms that are in current use by some of our community.
It is not misogyny to allow folks to self-identify; nor is it misogyny to embrace and encourage these identifications. It is misogyny when people dictate what pronouns we can use for ourselves, the identities we can hold, and what spaces we are welcome to uphold.
Racism and transphobia is also rampant in our communities in how we address each other, the language we choose, and how we feel individuals can present themselves. Many of us have been deemed anti-woman or anti-female for wearing our hair short, for wearing men’s clothing, for taking on androgynous or masculine names … you name it. With the conversations brought forward by our presenters at our conferences, and those discussions that pop up organically in our spaces – we strive to continue the work against these systems of oppression within our communities.
We ask you, rather than stepping aside and judging this process from afar, to stand in the midst of us. We encourage you to be a part of the conversation. We need you to shape BUTCH Voices development as a community.
Our programming over the last two years of conferences has continually been put on by community members who identify across the BUTCH Voices spectrum – with the majority of spaces created and held by female identified butches. We have a wide variety of identities that find home in BUTCH Voices. Butch women have always been, and will always be represented and at the core of this organization. Butch women hold positions in every aspect of this organization, and will continue to do so. The same goes for transgender butches, tombois, masculine of center individuals, studs, aggressives, and the other identities that hold space and his/herstory in this community. Erasure of any of these identities is not on our agenda, nor something that will happen.
We will not deviate from: holding inclusive space, honoring our past, or embracing the future.
While it is often easy to stay mired in differences and segregated spaces, what BUTCH Voices focuses on as an organization are our distinct intersections, our commonalities, our points of potential growth . As a group, focusing on where we can work together is what has allowed BV to form a solid unit and secure our relationships with one another. As a community, working together will continue to help us forge forward and tackle larger issues that we all face. When issues of discord are brought up in identity politics and language, I try to stay focused on the reasons upon which this organization was formed in 2008 and continues now in 2011. I urge all of our BV family and allies to do the same. Our existence depends on it.
Founder, Board Member & Resource Development Chair