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idk if this has been posted yet but i read this thread by @teamarimo and found it SUPER interesting and thorough and thought it’d be good to share it

This is good, just wish it wasn’t posted as a Twitter essay, they’re so hard to read.

[Caption: a series of tweets by twitter user @teamarimo. It reads:

the debate on who can use the terms “butch/femme” keeps coming up so i did a ton of research & i’d like to weigh in on the issue. i’ll post sources at the end

too many people credit anne lister (a historical lesbian) with coining femme in her journals but she was speaking french and “femme” has been a french word forever

going in chronological order of gay words in the english-speaking world, “lesbian” began as a synonym for tribade. “tribadism” = scissoring; both words meant women who slept with women & the sexual act itself. this was long before IDpolitics

so lesbian/tribade was something you did, not something you IDd as, bc they were labeled by their sexual activity since IDpol hadn’t come around yet. there was no concept of who was or wasn’t exclusively attracted to women. that’s why bi women are closer to lesbians than bi men

tribade dominated the 17th-mid 19th centuries until sapphic & lesbian took prominence. it wasn’t until 1892 that a neurologist used bisexual to describe sexuality. from then until the 1960s, bi was used only in academic contexts. it still wasn’t an identity yet

bi women have always been here but shared community with & organized under “lesbian” until (and even into) the 60s. before then, any text or study that said “lesbian” meant gay & bi women unless it (on the rare occasion) specifies otherwise, so context matters

butch/femme began in gay bars in the 40s-60s. women-only gay bars were frequented by lesbian & bi women. so for the first decades of butch/femme history, “lesbian” includes bi women bc there was no bi or “women-exclusive” yet & they were at the bars, participating in the culture

in the 70s, lesbian separatism begins with 12 white cis lesbians, the furies. They suggest that women engage “only (with) women who cut their ties to male privilege… as long as women still benefit from heterosexuality, receive its privileges and security, they will…

at some point have to betray their sisters, especially lesbian sisters who do not receive those benefits.” demon TERF sheila jeffreys says “our definition of a political lesbian is a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men.” this marks the split between bi & lesbian women

lesbian separatism others bi women who shared space, identity & oppression with lesbians centuries prior. it deems trans women as inextricable from male privilege they (don’t) have. it others lgbt woc who share oppression with men & therefore can’t exclude men from their politics

tldr it’s bad lol. with events like stonewall (1969) & increasing anti-gay violence in the 70s, anyone with proximity to heterosexuality in gay spaces was viewed as a threat & shunned. so bi groups begin to pop up, since they had no place in straight or gay communities anymore

in the 80s, 2nd-wave bi organizing was feminist bi orgs forming bc lesbians posited bisexuality as anti-feminist. by 1988, LGB officially separates lesbian & bi. now lesbians are invested in specific lesbian history & everything before the 60s says “lesbian.” see the problem here

texts with the word “lesbian” before the 60s are also referring to bi women but modern meanings of old words are applied to them, & consequently, bi women are denied a massive chunk of our history, including butch/femme culture

in the 60s, ball culture emerges in houses created as safe spaces for black & latinx queer youth. the genders are butch queen, femme queen, butch & women. here, butch & femme embody: the intersections of race, gender & sexuality; the freedom of it; and the resulting persecution

in the 70s, lesbian separatists say any form of masculinity harms women, materializing against butch & trans women. femmes are framed as wanting to reap benefits of heterosexuality while still toying with women (this is heavily wrapped in biphobic rhetoric too, if you can’t tell)

butch/femme is framed as heteronormative, anti-lesbian & anti-feminist. so androgyny is proposed as the lesbian ideal. now lesbian feminism is centered on white, middle class, androgynous lesbians at the expense of working class + nonwhite lesbians, bi women, and butches & femmes

butch/femme fall out of popular use, only kept alive by the same working class & nonwhite women who are ousted by white lesbians. butch/femme usage among queer youth of color includes lesbians & nonlesbians as it had since 60s ball culture & since 40s gay bars with gay & bi women

it’s interesting that people say butch/femme is for lesbians only when the beginning of lesbian as an exclusively-woman attracted identity & the downfall of butch/femme go hand-in-hand. it was queer youth of color who kept that culture alive, lesbian or not

white lesbian TERFs who demonized the culture embraced it again when genderfluidity became trendy in the late 80s. they claimed it as theirs, and stripped it of its history with bi women, trans women & queer youth of color that they wanted no association with

so that history was lost among many, and now well-meaning lesbians who definitely are not TERFs don’t even know butch/femme’s roots in race, trans/gnc identity, & class struggle, or its origins among gay & bi women as one group

tldr: TERFs suck, bi & lesbian women’s history is inextricable, and bi women were using butch/femme before the bi identity even existed. historically, “lesbian” encompassed a set of behaviors & became an identity later


gay & bi women going to the same clubs: Source 1, Source 2

bisexual etymology: Source

lesbian separatism: Source

tribade: Source

butch/femme: Source

more on butch/femme; Source

origins of bi movements: Source 1, Source 2, Source 3

lady with history & women’s studies + LGBT studies degrees: Source

ball culture: Source

hi here’s a trans lesbian (homojabi@tumblr) saying exactly what I just said from a trans perspective for the “everyone’s trying to steal from lesbians” crowd. I’m going back to sleep


end caption]

@queerly-tony I think you were discussing this a short while ago? Might be of interest :)

OMG I was!! Awesome! Yeah, it doesn’t surprise me it was TERFS trying to exclude trans women who started that shit. 

Well cool. I’m… probably definitely some kind of butch. <3

Entirely unsurprising that hard division between queer women has at its root extreme prejudice, hard division always does.

@asynca, might be interesting to you? I assume you probably know this, but possible you don’t.

Thanks! I knew some of this, some of it (like ‘tribadism’) is new. 

this is my favourite summary: 

tldr: TERFs suck, bi & lesbian women’s history is inextricable, and bi women were using butch/femme before the bi identity even existed. historically, “lesbian” encompassed a set of behaviors & became an identity later

Essentially - block anyone who tries to force a wedge between lesbians and bisexual women, between cis women and trans women, etc, etc. Exclusionary politics and separatism is ALWAYS founded in genuinely untrue bullshit, dodgy politics and discrimination. 

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