man purse, gay marriage & the butch dyke ‘before’ photos.

urban art -- digging in her purseA slow and tired morning, after a great Write Whole workshop last night.  I’d like the day to rest, to reflect on what happened last night, to check out the scores and the memories, to stretch the tired eyes in my back, to find new names for things.  What do I want to write about this morning?

gay marriage, man purse, the butch dyke and the ‘before’ photos.

but first I need more sugar in my coffee.


Here is the first thing I was ranting about last night on my way home from the writing workshop — Fresh! came down to pick me up afterwards, so we got to spend a little more time together than we do when I take the bus home, get into town at 10:30 and then climb immediately into bed. A young lanky white guy walked across Van Ness when we were at a stoplight; slung across his shoulder and over one hip was a woven bag on a string.  We bantered back and forth, F! & I about whether it was a man purse or a boi bag — to me, it was too small to be a purse, and he was working the young man, not-grown-up thing, so boi bag seemed to fit.  But then I remembered how frustrated I get when things have to be marked to fit a nondominant group.  How do I want to say this? It’s not a man purse.  It’s just a purse.  If it’s a purse when I carry it (regardless of the fact that I don’t want it to be, because I have a prejudice against purses, given the sexist weight they carry, and the internalized sexism I have added — they’re too heavy for me most of the time), then it’s a purse when you carry it, mr. guy.

I get it: you call it a man bag because you don’t want to be caught carrying a purse, because only women carry purses in this culture, and you don’t want to be caught in a fagbashable situation. So we have to reterm the item, when the exact same thing, when slung around my shoulder, would be called a purse.

Once upon a time, purse was just a thing that carried money, regardless of the sex/gender of the person who held it.  My old copy of websters new edition doesn’t have any gender terminology in the definition of purse.  So why this necessity to define man bag (alt: butch bag)?

Here’s what makes me crazy about it — the fact that we have to have the phrase man bag/butch bag to dissociate the wearer/carrier from womanhood, from possible association with femaleness.  And we know it’s both men and women who’d harass the male carrier of this purse as being womanlike, possibly a faggot, for wanting to have a place outside of his clothing to hold his money, his few things.  But don’t I understand the desire to dissociate with womanhood?  I detest anyone calling anything I carry over my shoulder a purse — this is my leftover butchness rearing its head, or just my frustration with societal girlness, this is where I don’t understand why I can’t be the one with the man bag. Man bag doesn’t have the associations with purse, with abundance and too-much-ness. The purse is a frivolity, an extravagance, and a necessity, too — I get tingles of ‘ick’ when I think about it.  Why so much hostility? The purse is associated with moms, practically a part of the body that lives outside of the body, an outside organ — something that live, that vulnerable, that revealing. These enormous things with our whole lives inside that we carry in the crook of our arms while we totter around on high heels — these are our stereotypes and some of us live them. Why don’t I want to be associated with this thing?  It’s a legacy of sexism, of course, and I know it, and still even when I’m carrying a small bag that gets carried over the arm, I prefer not to be reminded that I’m carrying a purse.  It marks me as girl, woman, even more — or differently — than the skirt and heels I’m wearing.  It reminds me that I don’t have pockets enough to hold what’s important to me, because my clothes weren’t designed with them (because gods forbid we interrupt the ‘lines’ with bumps of keys or the round face of your phone). The purse reminds me that I’m the small one, the protectable one (the one who carries your things when you need me to because I have more space in this thing than you do in your pockets).

I want to get over my fear of — no, hostility toward — the purse, not necessarily because I want to carry one (I carry enough as it is, with my backpack and breakfast/lunch /dinner sack), but because I like to root out the weeds of internalized sexism and check them/chuck them out.

Why am I writing about this today?  Because at the same time I’m ranting about guys hiding inside ‘man bag’ so that they can dissociate themselves with the dreaded femaleness, I’m holding the same hostility in my own body.


Let me talk, too, about the other marked phrase that gets me irritated: gay marriage.  Here’s what I think — the whole political fight going on right now isn’t for gay marriage.  It’s for the right for gay people and/or people of the same sex to get married: straight-married. Legally married.

Gay marriage is already a thing, it’s already done, in circles of friends and some family, in some churches and other sites of religious worship. People of the same sex have been getting ‘gay married’ for eons — partaking in ceremonies that marked them as partners, as loves. The ones that happen now, though, don’t have any legal standing.  We’re recognized by our communities as committed to our partners, but we don’t have access to the same special rights and privileges that are associated with legal marriage.

I’m not sure if it was the right or the left who first began pushing into the media the phrase ‘gay marriage.’ but it’s brilliant, of course — mark the term and make it look as though this fight is for access to something different, something new. Something strange and queer. This fight is for something altogether conventional — not gay marriage. Marriage-marriage. We’ve had and still have the ability to ‘gay-marry’: gay marriage is the stuff we made for ourselves, outside the norm. Outside the legal structures, outside the mainstream. Even straight people have had access to this — ceremonies that centered around community and commitment, outside the structures of paternity, legal matters, lineage, the passing on of wealth, the sheltering of monies, the ownership of women and children: the baggage of straight-marriage.

(Similarly to the man bag vs. purse question, maybe I should recognize my greater comfort level with gay marriage than with marriage — how some of this struggle, this writing, is for me to contend with my own prejudices, where the weight still rests heavy on my body, and inside.)


Here’s the last thing I’m thinking about this morning — the butch ‘before’ picture. Some  butches don’t have them, or show them, I know, but I did.  Now I have a couple layers of before picture — once upon a time, I showed the before picture to prove that yes, I had once been a girl. I showed my high school pictures to prove what I’d relinquished: girlhood, femininity — to mark the distance, how far I’d come.  Folks who met me didn’t believe I’d ever been feminine.  Now they can’t believe I was butch, and so I show my butch photos to prove something else.  These before photos have a different weight — they mean, yes, I, too, can step into masculinity — just like you can. It’s not as light-hearted for me when I show my before pictures now, my boy pictures. But masculinity isn’t as light-hearted as femininity, is it? (I ask that with my tongue firmly planted in my man bag.)


More on the butch before photos later, I hope — now it’s time to get ready for the day job.

be easy with yourselves today. xox

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