Last night I went to mothertongue for the first time in close to seven years. Mothertongue is a decade-old spoken word and poetry event in DC. The first time I went, I was rude and obnoxious. I had no concept of what it takes for people to get up on stage and say what they need to say, things that are so radically intimate and personal, in front of loved ones and strangers, in unrestrained public. But last night I had to sit there, and I chose to be conscious and polite. I chose to listen and challenge myself to understand though I am not an aural learner. I came away with a greater respect for the people who have carved out this space as their Community, and who use that space as a means for sharing art and what can only be described as public therapy. Also, it was a great honor to sit in front of Denise Jolly, a person with whom I was previously unfamiliar, and I listened to her tell stories that I only heard in clips and phrases as a child from people who lived lives not quite as charmed as mine. She was beautiful. When people talk about phoenixes rising from the ash, this is what they're talking about. It was moving. Deeply.
It seems to be nothing but serendipitous that I should have the video I've shared above pop into my field of vision today. Ivan Coyote is someone I've heard of here and there over the course of the past eight years, since I came out. Because I don't really connect with things that are performances as much as my peers, I haven't exactly paid as close attention as I could or should have, but this clip from a recent event (Speak Up!) made me stop. I've had a tenuous and strained relationship with the femme identity, femmes and my own femmeness over the years. I don't often reveal this to people, because it's perceived as threatening or contentious. There are days when I believe, very earnestly, that I am femme. Not because of make up or heels or anything, frankly, on the exterior. The parts of myself that I connect with that identity are my unquenchable need to nuture, to mother, to care and love. And so while it may not be clear whether Ivan was speaking to me, or people like me, it was wonderfully affirming to hear these words.
Some of my favorite butches announced last week on Twitter that April was Butch Month. My own partner, Em, was part of the announcement. My own partner, Em, faces the challenges Ivan so eloquently describes on a daily basis. My own partner, Em, has been assaulted in bathrooms by women. My own partner, Em, faces past and present demons that continually reinforce an unfair set of gender standards upon people who were born to deviate, in Incredibly Beautiful Ways, from Western constructs. And I choose to love Em, and people like Em, for no other reason than that I cannot stop. While the piece that Ivan presented seems like a love letter to femmes, there is a very important undercurrent running below that which is obvious. Ivan is reminding us that there is no fathomable reason not to love people, no matter where they fall on the spectrum of gender. And when we don't, the damage is real; it is owned and stored inside the souls of sweet, innocent people. We need to be conscious of how we treat one another, and we need to actively choose to nurture and love above all else, especially those people who are forced to live their lives in the margins.
Happy Butch Month to all of the strong, sweet, brave and incredible butches I know and have known. Without you, I would not be.
A Butch Roadmap by Ivan Coyote - another important piece to watch