In the summer of 2009, Ivan E. Coyote and her co-editor, Zena Sharman, set out to collect stories by their favorite queer authors. The result is Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, an edgy, sexy and poignant mix of genre, form and gender that defies labeling. The book's contributors have written fiction, essays complete with source references and poetry. It is the personal stories that are my favorites: particularly those of Ivan E. Coyote, Zena Sharman, Anne Fleming and Rae Spoon.
Spoon's "Femme Cowboy" is a sensitively written piece that describes his upbringing as a girl "in a fundamentalist Christian home in Alberta" and coming out as trans in Vancouver in 2001. Spoon hopes "that the space for diversity will continue to open up" and knows "that we are all changing combinations of many things, with a fluidity that is very human."(Although Rae Spoon's bio uses the pronoun "he," more recently I've seen the use of "they" as the "transgendered indie-folk musician's" pronoun of choice.)
What I have realized from reading the book is the importance of self-identification. Essential to our well-being is not the label given to us by someone else but the name we give ourselves.
Coyote and Sharman found words for who they are—butch and femme—when they read Joan Nestle's The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader published in 1992. She wrote the foreword to Coyote's and Sharman's collection. At seventy and as a self-defined '50s bar lesbian, Nestle continues to be "an activist, a theorist, and a femme."
Zena Sharman, "a gender researcher and femme dynamo," writes in "Looking Straight at You" about the privilege that comes with passing as straight: "Sometimes being queer while looking straight is about blending in, which has the potential to be a powerful and subversive act. You find out who your allies and your enemies are pretty quickly when they assume you're 'one of us' (instead of 'one of them')."
"Femme invisibility or passing can help keep you and your loves ones safe," Sharman points out. She gives the example of being the one to speak to two police officers when they thought a "raucous Pride party" might get out of control.
As Anne Fleming writes in "A Dad Called Mum": ...butch is a self-definition." At the end of her personal essay she writes: "...butch is not a faked or pretended masculinity but a distinct masculinity, with its own fluidity and give, depending on who's inhabiting it."
As for the word "butch," Nairne Holtz in her essay, "Slide Rules," says "today in the queer community we are more likely to hear the terms 'bois' and 'transmen.'
To offer some insight on terms, Jeanne Cordova includes a chart with her essay. It reveals a "continuum of masculinity" and "visually explains the new politics of butch."
Reading the bios of the contributors is as fascinating as their stories. They do much good work in the world. Anna Camilleri is engaged in a creative writing residency with students at the Triangle Program, Canada's only alternative high school for LGBTQ youth. Miriam Zoila Perez is a reproductive justice activist and a trained doula. Stacy Milbern pours all of her time into "radical disability organizing."
Books like this one save lives in that the life experiences of the various contributors are saved and the lives of people who read the book are saved. Literally, especially in the case of queer youth, it's possible they have found the courage to live when they find out they're not alone. There is someone else in the world just like them.
Internationally renowned storyteller Ivan E. Coyote and gender researcher Zena Sharman live in Vancouver, B.C. Coyote is the author of seven books including the award-winning novel Bow Grip, the Lambda Award-nominated The Slow Fix, and, most recently Missed Her. She has also released three albums and four short films. Visit her website & the book blog.
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