The talk is in a library downtown so that people from the community will be encouraged to go. This is an oral history project which brings vividly to life the hurts and hopes of women who hung out in gay bars, in the 50s and early 60s, when to be a mannish woman was to put yourself under constant threat. It's a paean to sexual pioneers who drank like men, dressed like men, fought like men and had girlfriends who didn't. Because this was the time of butch and femme.
Butch and Femme: as I hear of these women and look around at the older women in the audience who lived these lives, my visual image is of the bar I went to in Madrid, and of the excitement in that air. And I imagine you could go around the world as the wave of modern gay consciousness crashes on and on, and for years into the future always find a place where that wave is cresting and those first daring ones are violating male and female norms. This decade in Madrid, Tokyo and Sao Paolo, next decade in Korea, Bolivia and Morocco.
During the break, all the young women in couples flirt with the idea of butch and femme, and try to figure out who is what. Flirt dangerously, because after that first public statement of our (our lesbian history) sexuality, butch and femme became taboo - too based on a heterosexual model, too based on men. However, it's been creeping back as a sexual taste, as erotica almost, and so we judge couples. Linda and I should be obvious - she is tall with short, dark hair. I am small with long, blonde hair, yet we do not convince. There is too much soft womanliness in her, too much grabby assertiveness in me - we remain enigmatic.
We go back into the hall for question time. A femmy, young woman stands up and, looking around at the old bull-dykes, butch to a man, asks, "What happened to the older femmes?" At which there is a collective, grievance-snorting, arm-folding, leg-crossing older bull-dyke moment, and the answer blurts out of the mouth of an extrememly cute and sexy, black haired woman in her forties who leaps to her feet and cries, "They got married!" Oh this is a sore point - the femmes wanted children and they got married. They weren't lesbians, say the old dykes, they were just women with hot pants.
Later when we go to the bar for a drink Linda asks me what I would have been back then, butch or femme. And my answer is instantaneous. I am not a hero, an ice-breaker, a pioneer. Those women led lives much harder than anything I am willing to lead - their compulsion much stronger than any I feel - "Straight." I say. And despite herself, Linda laughs.
Other memories jogged by this photo. This Photo. All the Photos
Photos in Chronological Order
Map/Diagram of Story Elements