Sistah Summerfest 2003
                June 6-8, 2003
An Event for Womyn of all Ages,
                               Lifestyles and Persuasions



On My Own FemmeNoir Events Contact Coffee Klatch The Village

Pat Parker
Twenty Years . . .
The Women Gather
Since I Do Not Dare
An Ideal Partner
The Greatest of These
In The Spirit
You Were Loved
You Are Not Alone
Choose Your Label
Peace On Earth
This Life I Live
Eros, Pathos
Choice of Weapons
On My Own


On My Own

I’m wiser now
I’m not the foolish girl you used to know
So long ago
I’m stronger now
I’ve learned from my mistakes
which way to go
And I should know

I put myself aside to do it your way
But now I need to do it all alone

And I am not afraid to try it on my own
I don’t care if I’m right or wrong
I’ll live my life the way I feel
No matter what I’ll gonna keep it real
You know
Time for me to do it on my own, yeah, yeah

It’s over now
I can’t go back to living through your eyes
Too many lies
And if you don’t know by now
I can’t go back to being someone else
Not any more

I never had the chance to do things my way
So now it’s time for me to take control
Time for me to do it, on my own/

Earlier this week, I read a post entitled “What’s Cool About Being Butch?”  I won’t repeat what was in this post, but I will say it was fraught with stereotypes.  It was, in many ways, very similar to racial jokes that contain an enumerated list of stereotypical images.  Admittedly, I got angry and could not read the entire message.  I was also convicted because I am guilty of saying some of the things I read in this post. 

My prejudices go back to a group of women I met when I first came out (if I can call it that) back when I was 20- or 21- years old.  The women I knew then did not consider themselves butch or femme, they did not use labels to identify themselves, they did; however, voice their opinions about the whole butch/femme identity and even warned me against becoming a member of a larger, visible, and out community of lesbian-identified women.  Their concern for me dealt more with me losing my identity in having to make a choice to declare myself either butch or femme. 

In part, they were right and in part, they were wrong.  Many of these women never attended a lesbian-identified party, club, organization, meeting, or rally.  They never went to gay/lesbian pride celebrations.  Their words and beliefs were couched in fear, particularly when it came down to butch-identified women.  When I look back now, the biggest fear expressed was having a butch-identified woman appear at their door.  One woman even recounted a story about a woman she “picked up some vibes from” who lived two doors down.  She was going to invite her to the group until one day a “man-looking woman” appeared at her door looking for the woman who lived down the hall.  She was literally horrified as she explained the shock of opening her door and seeing “this woman.”  More importantly, the neighbors talked about her and my friend was privy to these conversations.  On one occasion, while my friend was retrieving mail from her box, the “man-looking woman” entered the building and was about to board the elevator when the man next to my friend audibly referred to this woman as a “damn bulldagger.”  What the man didn’t know was the woman standing next to him was probably one of the biggest “damn bulldaggers” he would ever know or see.  Also, please note the division between the two women.  My friend would have invited her to the group had it not been for the “man-looking woman” who came to visit her.  Interesting.

Through FemmeNoir, I have since reconnected with some of my old friends and would have forgotten about the above-mentioned story had it not been for one friend re-telling the story.  Many of my old friends frequently visit FemmeNoir and have found it informative and they’ve learned many lessons.   A few of them have since told me they knew nothing about drag kings, and female-to-male transgender women, they knew more about drag queens and transsexual/transgender men but not women.  Some of the stereotypes they knew or heard about butch women were blown out of proportion.  They are encouraged by the numbers of women who are out lesbians and have started to question their own visibility.  But . . . they are still a little hesitant to attend lesbian-identified parties, clubs, organizations or anything that says Black Lesbian – they're not ready for that one yet. 

Some of my old friends did offer some constructive criticism of the site, particularly with regard to my appearance – one friend noted, without saying I told you so, how my appearance seems more butch than she ever remembered.  I was shocked and stunned and though I did initially “protesteth too much,” after further conversation I too had to concede she was right.  It was not until after this conversation I took a good hard look at my closet and discovered everything in my closet had faded to black.  Everything in the forward portion of my closet was black – black slacks, black jackets, black blouses, everything was black.  I walked across to the other bedroom and found all of my clothing of color – my shoes, heels, blouses, slacks, skirts, suits, dresses – when did I move them?  One cabinet in my hallway had nylons I obviously purchased some time ago but never opened; makeup, perfumes, powders, bath oils, etc. – tucked away some time long ago and remained invisible to me.  Why? 

When I arrived in California in 1990, I was Ms. Michigan Avenue, loved fashion, and was a bit too overdressed for the Southern California casual and laid back lifestyle.  I could not find the type of clothing in California I was accustom to wearing unless I went back to Chicago or headed for San Francisco.  Initially, I never noticed the differences in dress or style because my boss at the time was just as sharply dressed as I.  I was the assistant to the Director of Fund Development and we had to dress and look the part to bring in the bucks.  The committee members were sharp and powerful business women in Los Angeles and were equally well-dressed.  I was quite the happy camper.  Even when I left the job and found some folks’ work attire questionable, I never strayed far from my way of dress.  At least until I met Christine Tripp who lived most of her life as a femme-identified lesbian.  

Honestly, butch/femme was 85 percent of the reason for our breakup.  The other 15 percent had to deal with issues of intimacy – and I don’t mean sexual intimacy, I mean issues of intimacy as it relates to trust.  Christine had some horrible experiences in life that would have caused a lesser person to slit their wrists.  Christine admittedly had problems with trusting and opening herself to intimate relations due to fear of rejection or heartache.  She could give love, but receiving love, unconditionally, was difficult for her.  I understood why she told people our breakup was due to her breast cancer as that was easier to say than saying she had trust issues, and least of all, she had a desire for me to be more butch. 

As a fashion plate with overt feminine mannerisms I feel I must have made Christine look more butch than femme and this made her very uncomfortable.  Often, before going out, she would ask me what I was wearing or say “don’t get too dressed up, it’s not that kind of a party.”  I, knowing nothing about butch/femme, did not understand the silent politics involved with being butch or femme so, my first thought was I must have been too dressed for the casual Southern California lifestyle and started dressing down.  I realize now she worried more I would dress too femme.  I remember one Sunday picking Christine up to go to church and noticed she was visibly uncomfortable with me.  She was even somewhat hostile and noted I was “overdressed again.”  I was wearing a beautiful pink business suit (skirt and jacket), with a matching pink silk blouse, with a blue and pink handkerchief in my breast pocket.  I thought I looked pretty good but Christine was annoyed with me.  After church, we hurried up and left the church.  That was the first time I ever saw Christine leave church in such a hurry.  I was too femme.  Before leaving to pick her up that morning, she mentioned going to dinner with some people.  After church however, Christine was insistent on changing clothes and accompanying me back to my apartment so I could change clothes.  Back at my apartment, Christine picked the clothes she wanted me to wear – she settled on jeans and an oversized shirt.  Needless to say, We ended up having dinner together and alone that evening. 

On another occasion, I was meeting Christine at a conference and she mentioned I should bring something for the banquet on Saturday.  That Saturday evening, when I met her at the front door of the banquet hall, she again was visibly upset.  What made matters worse was a butch-identified friend of hers made a compliment and was innocently playing around in a way that upset Christine – she never forgot it.  That evening I started to realize the differences in behavior with her.  The more I dressed down and carried a more masculine or butch appearance the more comfortable she was with me.  If I dressed up and looked too femme, she was uncomfortable with me.  since she could not predict what I would wear, she subsequently became uncomfortable with suggesting certain parties or events for the two of us to attend because she was unable to control my attire. 

If I dressed and/or carried myself in a masculine way, publicly, she was fine.  However, I could not be public with Christine dressed too femme.  I learned this the hard way in the form of an argument started about something else but based in my attire and again, this was another evening when we did not make it to yet another event/party.  This little argument (or pleasant disagreement) was the beginning of the end of our relationship because I knew it was based in something else. 

After our breakup and dealing with each other as friends – or put another way, so removed from the forest where I could see the trees, I noticed what was going on.  Christine had started keeping me away from her butch friends and would often set up subtle distractions by saying “you’re her type.”  Typically, I was the type of a lot of butch women.  Defensively, I made dangerous arguments that further perpetuated a dislike for butch women and told Christine I would never be interested in a butch woman.  I soon realized I could never call any of her butch friends directly, this was something she did.  On the other hand, I could readily contact femme friends of hers and she often encouraged me to call them.  It did not take long for me to understand the politics of this arrangement. 

There was another very subtle something, she would call me from certain events or parties and swear she told me about them.  She had not.  Later, she would concede she probably didn’t tell me because she thought I would probably not want to go.  I soon understood these might have been parties or events where there would be some butch women and she really didn’t want me there particularly since she could not anticipate how I would dress.  Straight events or parties she would include me and insist I mark them on my calendar, but gay/lesbian – No.  On one occasion, after being told to not dress up, I arrived at Christine's house to find her dressed up.  I was so dressed down I was angry with her for not informing me.  She, however, was quite happy with the way I dressed that evening. 

I don’t say any of this to cast a disparaging word against Christine.  We all have insecurities and sometimes we don’t know what they are until some event or circumstance causes them to pop up.  I quickly learned the politics of butch/femme and realized, for a woman who had always been known as femme who only dated butch women, I represented a certain challenge.  As far as Christine was concerned, I basically dropped out of the sky and landed at Unity.  She never knew or saw me around socially at other gay/lesbian events, I never went to any of the events at Unity prior to meeting her, I was not politically active in the gay/lesbian community, so I just basically dropped out of nowhere.  Christine and I both erroneously assumed, since we were both lesbians, certain issues were a given.  Not true.  We represented two groups of women and between our diverse groups lay a great chasm few cross.  I thought she should drop the butch/femme thing and not let it interfere in our relationship because, as far as I was concerned, it didn’t matter.  She wanted me to be more butch particularly since I knew she was femme, and particularly since I was capable of dressing and acting accordingly.  We both got caught up in our own little control issues.  Alone, we had the best times together, we could enjoy each other, and we loved each other.  The labels however, almost destroyed our relationship. 

I did not come into this life with a book that told me how to be a lesbian.  The labels butch/femme were a little confusing for me.  I was not sure if all butch women wore men's clothing or were there a few pieces of men's clothing they wore?  Are femmes all the way femme or can they have masculine tendencies too?  If you want to date a femme do you change your appearance to be more butch and vice versa?  I knew nothing about any of this.  Did Christine see me as a more masculine aggressive woman?  When I realized what was going on, I did ask her and always her response was no.  I did sense some embarrassment from her though when we were around friends who assumed I played the butch role in our relationship.  She would always find a way to patch it up later when we were alone by referring to her "past life" as always dating butch women.  Words such as these -- words like butch/femme kept getting in the way and for me, I just did not get it. 

Don’t get me wrong, I like to wear a “man’s shirt, short skirt” though my hips and thighs forbid it now, but I don’t want to be locked into one or the other.  I will go out and buy a man’s shirt and suit, a pair of suspenders and match them with heels, a coifed hairdo and be fashionably chic – but, I don’t want to be locked into that either.  Look at the pictures along the side of this page; I am both masculine and feminine and am quite comfortable in my skin as such.  I believe everyone has an equal portion of masculine and feminine in their make up.  But, again, I don’t want to be locked into either one or the other.  I now understand there are women who prefer butch identities or femme identities and that’s okay.  I also understand there are women who, as I’ve often heard, “butch up” or “femme up” according to who they’re dating and that’s the part I think I missed in my relationship with Christine – she probably wanted or expected me to “butch up” and grew terribly angry and frustrated with me for not getting it.  

Dealing with a “known femme” who wanted or possibly needed me to “butch up” became a very uncomfortable experience for me.  Honestly, I didn’t like it and it caused me to go places I never want to go again.  I thought about things never want to think about again.  I realize now I cannot date a butch woman if she’s looking for a 24-7 femme and I cannot date a femme woman if she’s looking for a 24-7 butch.  I cannot be that and I do not want to go there again.  I will, however, stop the butch or butch/femme bashing because I understand it now.  It may not be for me, but for those who are content with it; it’s a beautiful thing. 

Yes, I'm wiser now.  I'm not the foolish girl she used to know, so long ago.  I’m stronger now, I've learned from my mistakes which way to go and I should know.  I put myself aside to do it her way, but now I need to do it all alone.  I am not afraid to try it on my own -- right or wrong.  From this day forward, I'll live my life the way I feel and no matter what, I'll keep it real.  It's over now, I can't go back to living through her eyes; too many lies.  If you don't know by now, I can't go back to being someone else, not anymore.  I never had the chance to do things my way, so, now it's time for me to take control and try it on my own.  I’ll live my life the way I feel, no matter what, I’ll keep it real.  It's time for me to do it on my own. 

I have now moved my colorful clothes, my dresses, shoes, boots, heels, skirts and blouses to my main closet.  My perfumes, bath oils, the large assortment of lipsticks, makeup, blushes, brushes and nail polish have been moved to the front of my main cabinet.  I know my heels, permed hair, furs and diamonds may not be politically correct for some, but it is who I am.  My Doc Martins, Timberlake boots, baseball caps, baggy jeans and oversized shirts may be too masculine for some as well, but it is who I am.  During the week I may look tres femme, but come the weekend, particularly after cutting grass -- oh honey, I may look like the last butch woman and that is who I am -- I'm neither butch nor femme, I am a woman.

I deeply loved Christine and hung in there hoping one day we would get past what I termed “the silliness.”  Unfortunately, it was not to happen.  The day before she died, she tried desperately to tell me this but she could not get it out.  I’m just glad she tried and that means the world to me.  We came to the end of never and at the beginning of her forever before we could appreciate our differences and realize we really loved each other in spite of our stuff.  So, from this day forward, I don’t care what people think . . .

I’m a lesbian – enough said.


The words recited at the beginning of this month’s commentary come from the song “Try It On My Own” sung by Whitney Houston.  There are two other songs on this CD that I found equally liberating “Unashamed” and “Tell Me No.” 


Note:  This Commentary has changed since it originally appeared some weeks ago.  After having a very terse conversation with a dear friend, I realized I needed to open myself up a little more and be a little more honest and clear about my feelings on this subject and to give credit to Christine for possibly seeing something in me I could not see.  God only knows what tomorrow will bring and keeping an open mind is of utmost importance to me.  Growth is a beautiful thing and I need to remain open to it.


Try It On My Own
Whitney Houston


















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