As a queer woman who has lived on this planet for, oh, say, longer than five minutes, I’m no longer surprised when some aspect of queer culture or non-white culture or poor culture or women’s culture is co-opted by media conglomerates or straight people or white men. Women are told their place is in the kitchen, but men dominate the world of celebrity chefs. Gay culture is known for its dance parties, but it’s Madonna who is most famous for voguing. The examples are endless.
As a queer woman, there was always one thing that I could own that I was certain no one would ever steal from me. Something that was so worthless to the rest of the world, I was positive the media empires would stay far, far away. That thing was “butch.” Butch as a concept is different things to different people. For instance, I have never followed strict codes of butch and femme or set rules for myself or others. For me, the power of butch was in its opposition to societal rules. In our backlash-filled times, the masculine woman is reviled. The woman with no interest in men is ignored. The woman who doesn’t cater to the male gaze, doesn’t stick to her assigned side of the gender binary, and doesn’t behave like a lady - that woman is garbage. And there’s power in that. There’s power in being outside of society. I reveled in my magical land of Gina Gershon movies, lesbian separatist road trips, and dykes on bikes.
But today, the world has tried to take this from me. Today, the world has introduced… butch furniture.
Butch furniture, you ask? Yes, says the New York Times. Butch furniture is when you sell a rusty metal cabinet for $13,500 or screw together some rough wood planks for $10,000. Butch furniture is made by men for rich people.
At first I thought they were just using the word “butch” innocently. Like, maybe after last week’s Men’s Fashion issue blew through five gajillion iterations of the word “masculine,” the editor picked up a thesaurus, saw “butch,” and went with that.
But no, they are using butch in the queer sense. Except there isn’t a lesbian or even a woman in sight. The article even goes so far as to quote someone as saying “One man’s butch is another man’s femme” [emphasis mine]. The author then sets the “butch” furniture in opposition to “sissy” furniture, with absolutely no understanding of the hateful, homophobic history of the word “sissy.”
Finally, and most enragingly, the author goes on to quote Judith “Jack” Halberstam as saying “It’s an old term, but it’s still brimming with meaning. Today, I would define it as a counter-gender identity.” Clearly failing to learn anything from that statement, the author ends the article with this:
Mr. Moss [gallery owner] would agree. “I thought about this a lot,” he said. “I used the term ‘butch,’ versus ‘masculine’ or ‘tough’ or ‘manly,’ because what I mean by this is work that is stereotypically considered manly, but expressed by a personality that is stereotypically considered sensitive or feminine.”
In other words, an artist.
But only, of course, if you’re a man.