Talking Butches in the Times

Talking Butches in the Times

There was a nasty, uninformed little piece in the New York Times Style Magazine last weekend titled Butch Fatale. 

It was written by Daphne Merkin, who is apparently named after a pubic wig. It's not special, she's written other equally uninformed pieces over the years. One of my favorite Merkin pieces was also in the Times in which she went into TMI about her vagina, dished about losing her virginity at the ripe old age of 25, and then bemoaned feminism and it's call to pay attention to your body, get to know it and love it. It's clear she's not a friend of hers because she longs for the days before feminism when the pussy was a dark unexplored place and no one had a users' manual.

Here's a choice quote, "Never having been one to enjoy group activities of any sort, the thought of becoming more closely acquainted with my private parts in a public setting seems potentially traumatizing rather than liberating or, God knows, celebratory." She seems to think that second-wave feminism forced everyone to sit around talking while wearing nothing but a speculum. Sounds like she's thought about this hoohoo inspection fantasy quite a bit. Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.

Daphne Merkin

Every time I read a piece by her I'm stunned by her lack of self-awareness. It's almost as if this writer is unconsciously projecting the issues she should rightfully be dealing with in therapy onto her subjects.

In this recent piece her point seems to be that all lesbians are insignificant and unattractive but with Rachel Maddow's foray into cable news and the subsequent embracing of lipgloss and V-neck sweaters things are going to change. I guess it didn't occur to her that everyone on TV wears make up, including ugly, old men on FOX. Maddow is spruced up on TV because that's what people on TV do. She's not going to start winking at everyone Sarah Palin-style and trying to turn on your dad.

Merkin backs up her claim about the world's lack of interest in us with a quote by a "young, gay male friend" of hers, as if her twinky associate is some arbiter of queer culture and style. "I don't think that much about lesbianism. No one thinks that much about lesbianism. Who cares?"  Says her mystery friend. Well I can certainly find someone in my circle of friends to say something dismissive about an entire population, and then include that in a column to back up something I made up, but not if I expected to keep my job.

She waxes poetic about gay male beauty and it's celebration in art and literature but about dykes she says, "It's much harder to envision a lesbian icon without coming up against Fran Lebowitz, looking surly and bored."

Just as an aside, I think Fran Lebowitz is hot. I like surly, bored lesbians. They make my lady parts tingly. I like a surly, intense, Susan Sontag for instance. I also like an overly made up but still bulldaggy as hell Lea Delaria. For the record, I also like dykes who look like garage mechanics, leather daddies, young boys, gay men, circus ringmasters, and dandies. And Merkin's experience of lesbians is so limited she has no idea that so many aesthetics exist and flourish in our community. Rachel Maddow is visible and most of us aren't; that's the problem. Rather than look around she's based her entire theory on the two or three lesbians she's encountered in her life.


Boring? Sexy Susan Sontag pictured above.

Her dismissive, insulting tone aside, Merkin misses a huge point. In saying that there are no attractive lesbians beyond Rachel Maddow she fails to take into account that queer women have their own, unique standards of beauty. We aren't interested in turning on the rest of the world, we're interested in turning on each other. And many of us have a very finely developed sense of style that she and many others just don't get. Not all lesbians are butch or femme and not all butch lesbians look like John Goodman and not all Femme lesbians look like Portia DeRossi. We look like ourselves, dress to please our lovers and just because Merkin doesn't know how to spot us doesn't mean we aren't there.