I dipped my toes into self-promotional social media for the first time a couple years ago with my Instagram account. My purpose at the outset was two-fold. 1) I wanted to be part of the “vegan strength revolution” and be a living example of strength without animal products. I no longer am very invested in furthering this ideal even though I still eat plant-based, don’t buy leather, live a “vegan lifestyle” etc because I find the framing to generally be really problematic, and yeah, elitist. 2) I was trying to fill the void of female representation that felt like “me.” I didn’t look around and see other lesbians talking about relating to their bodies in the way that I related to my body. I didn’t see other women that had bodies like mine that weren’t adorned and decorated in typical body-building, “performatively feminine” style.
Instagram helped me both find reflections of the representation that I so desperately needed to see as well as helped me begin to find a community of women who need and value this same type of representation. I had always had hunches that although I wasn’t seeing representation of my body feelings, that those women were out there and that the more of us that put ourselves out there, the easier it would be to connect. I felt like I could not sit on my hands and wait to see this representation – I had to take it upon myself to begin to build this if this is what I needed.
And I really, really desperately needed it. I was barely holding my head above water in the tide of queer culture insisting that any body that looked like the body that felt right to me had some aspect of “maleness.” I needed to find other squared off, muscular, tough dykes. If they were bodybuilders, I needed to see them outside of their posing suits, I needed to see them in ripped up t-shirts and shorts sweating under a 225lb squat and more concerned with performance with aesthetics as a sidenote – not the “prettied up” version.
I needed it so badly that I started building it brick by brick every single day. I posted when I didn’t want to. I posted when I didn’t feel good. I posted when typing the words “female” or “woman” still felt like a strain and made me second guess every association other folks would have with me… But I needed to associate myself, and my body, and my experience with being female. I set aside what other folks might think as much as I could, and pushed through telling myself that the women who needed this representation would come. We would find each other. I would keep putting myself out there til I found connection.
I did find a lot of connection through Instagram. After I had been talking about finding comfort in your body in a vague sense for awhile, I opened up about being detransitioned. I started talking about how I still deal with dysphoria and about how I struggle with seeing reflections of the way I relate to my body from the perspective of maintaining female reality. The response I got from other women telling me how deeply my thoughts resonated with them blew me away. It made me realize that my gut feelings of there being more of us than I could see was absolutely true. There were lots of women who could relate to what I was feeling, but none or exceedingly few of us were speaking up. I decided to find a platform to start speaking up more, a platform more conducive to text and sharing and spreading discussion.
I embarked on my second social media endeavor and re-created a tumblr account, something I had sworn to myself up and down that I would never do again.
When I started blogging on tumblr, my goals had moved away from spreading awareness of the possibilities of building muscle with plants (although I still talk about it very infrequently) and more exclusively towards finding connection with other women who experienced life and their bodies similarly to me. By this point I had realized that I also needed community of women who experienced attraction similarly to the way that I do, now. I needed to connect with women invested in non-performance who were attracted to women also invested in not performing. I had started reading Lesbian Feminism and realized there was long herstory for this attraction, a strong community of Dyke lovin Dykes, all committed to non-performance of gender.
Now, I do take some space from these 70’s ideals, in that I think that there is room for a materialist definition of butch and femme and that this definition can be used as a way to further explain specific nuances of different dyke experiences. In very stripped down terms, we can think of butch as a lesbian who will be assumed lesbian no matter what she does when solo, and femme as a lesbian who will be assumed heterosexual no matter what she does when solo. It is not always easy to discern what it is about a woman that makes her automatically read as a lesbian no matter what or automatically read as a straight woman no matter what, but it is impossible to deny that this experience does exist out in the world. There are also, of course, many dykes who read differently in different situations. I think it is possible to have a completely dyke experience of focusing on utility and practicality while also having this material experience of being femme or butch. I do not think the two are mutually exclusive, and I know this is a departure from the 70’s lesbian feminist framework that I am coming from. My goal stretched to finding these dykes who were committed to utility and practicality and connecting with them regardless of whether our experiences could be modified with butch, or femme, or neither.
We certainly found each other. I met dykes and made friends and connections in ways I never have before in my life. We bonded over shared respect for material reality and really critical analysis, while still being gentle and understanding with each other. Holding each other. It felt really unreal until a bunch of us met up in those Michigan woods.
What I’ve been seeing now is a pattern of women beginning to drop some aspects of performative femininity after seeing this modeled at Fest, and these women are speaking up about how this has been healing for them personally. I want to hold these women and their stories so close, because I understand this healing very well. I came to my own version of this healing largely through letting myself drop my self-enforced “attractions” to “performative femininity,” rather than dropping the performance myself (although I have certainly dropped perfomatively masculine modes of expression from my life, I have never really engaged in much of anything in the performative femininity realm), but I think the aspects of feeling healed are very closely entwined.
I want to take a moment to recognize that when I say “performative femininity” this means literally only those things which are not innate, but which are “performed” (this all applies to “performative masculinity” as well, but I will not dip far into that in this post – another, soon, I promise). I do not mean being nurturing, gentle, or caring. I do not mean having long hair because it is practical for an individual woman to do so. I do not mean wearing whatever clothing is truly the most useful and practical for an individual woman to wear. For me, I find myself being attracted to a woman who embraces the same practical, utility-based lifestyle and expression that feels comfortable for myself. Letting myself recognize this has been instrumental in my personal healing and feeling like I am as true of a woman as any other woman.
Connecting with these women who reflect each other in these different ways has been the one thing that keeps me sharing my experiences on the internet, especially because now I have IRL support from true 70’s lesbian feminists to help guide and hold me and listen to my writing. It’s only through the internet that I’ve been able to find women who are navigating these things at the same time that I am, however. I think there is something very special and important about us finding each other and sharing our personal experiences and healing. At this point I don’t plan on ever stopping talking about it. I have opened up and I can’t close it back down again; these connections are too strong, too powerful and life-giving for me to turn away from them.