I’ve got a lot spinning around in my head from the Butch Voices 2013 conference. I want to share two highlights (other than just being around several hundred butches for a weekend). First, Sinclair Sexsmith reading their piece “Unsolicited Advice to a New Butch.” Click on the link and read it. Now. Second, the discussion on butch isolation in Diane Sabin and Elana Dykewomon’s workshop on Old Butches.
I almost didn’t go to the Old Butches workshop. I didn’t want to be with a bunch of 1970’s era female identified and potentially trans-phobic butches. I didn’t want to hear a lot of groaning about pronouns and why we all can’t be happy being called she. I did not want to have to explain myself at Butch Voices.
I know that wanting to avoid something is a good reason to go do it, even though the other workshops had a certain cachet. So I skipped the Flirt LIke You Mean It! workshop and went for the Old Butches instead. My reward was getting to sit next to the fabulous Jewelle Gomez. Yes, there were femmes at the conference too.
The workshop had two main threads. One, that there are very few resources out there for aging butches when they need to change their housing, go into assisted living, or go into a nursing facility. Two, that butches have trouble reaching out and accepting assistance. This hit a nerve with me.
I have taken good care of myself financially, but I have not always taken good care of myself physically or emotionally. The last couple of years I have made an effort to work out, lose weight, cut down on my drinking, and go to the dentist regularly. However, I don’t have a primary care physician, I haven’t had a colonoscopy, and I am overdue at the gynecologist and for a mammogram. I am avoiding all the girl stuff again.
Donna is 26 years older than me. Although she is in good shape, she is beginning to complain that she is slowing down and does not have the same level of energy as she used to. She has peripheral neuropathy in one leg (which affects her walking speed and balance), and she has been in cardio rehab to handle minor heart damage.
Donna is my life line. Without her I’d be a dog butch and a hermit. I rarely make phone calls; I am not on Facebook. If anything happened to Donna, I would be lost. I have no idea what I would do or whom I would ask for help. I can barely tolerate even thinking about it. Somehow I have managed to not talk about this in therapy. It tumbled out of me in the workshop.
I’ve lost friends because they retired from my work place, because they moved out of New York, because I never called them back. I don’t have “our” friends’ phone numbers – if I needed to call someone I’d need to find Donna’s phone book. I don’t even have her doctor’s contact information. I rely on Donna to keep things organized, to keep things moving. I need to butch up. I need to accept that Donna may not be able to do this forever. That she may not be with me forever.
The last event of the conference was a spoken word performance. I had to leave during the middle of it to catch my flight. Before I left, Sinclair Sexsmith read “Unsolicited Advice to a New Butch.” If you didn’t heed my advice at the start of this post, go back and click on the link and read it. Now. Sinclair’s point is that there is more to being butch than being butch. The line “Cultivate your friendships before your breakups so you are not alone” hit me. I need to cultivate my friendships before I grow old, as incongruous as it seems for a boy to grow old.
Note: Cherrie Moraga gave a thoughtful and provocative keynote address that dealt with the complexities of butch identity, gender non-conformity, gender-queerness, Xicana heritage, and feminism. I need to read it or listen to it again before I write about it. In the past, she was critical of trans men and butches who transitioned. This speech came from a different place. If I find a link, I’ll post it.