I don’t like beer; but I’ll but up with the taste to watch a woman curl her lips over the mouth of a glass bottle like an advertisement for Bud Light. I like femaleness, the curves, the wet spots, the warmth, and I like femininity displayed, pearls and bronzer, long hair straightened, groomed nails- but it doesn’t turn my head like worn Levi’s and rolled button-down sleeves, a stance like James Dean hustling by Christopher Street, the type of woman-ness not taught in school, the type of womanhood not seen in the movies. Strong, physically strong, a back to grip back onto. Sexual, those suggestive eyes caressing, undressing; the wanting lip bite and groan. The attitude that comes from never having fit into all-girls spaces, maybe from never having tried. Dyke.
What is dyke? Is dyke the way she swaggers, the way she ties her laces, shapes her mouth around your name, wear’s her Nikes and Adidas, her J-crew and vineyard vines, takes you into her body, or touches your hips, builds her shoulders, the tone of her voice. Is it in the risks she takes? The space she occupies? The way she presses you against the wall? The way she slams her body against your body? The sports she plays?
Dyke is rebellion against womanhood, against gender-role imperatives that station boyishness against girlish frills and lipstick. Dyke is rebellion against the popularization of queerness, a ‘fuck you I’m a woman who likes women’ declaration of desire. Dyke is a giant fuck you to compulsory femininity, a middle finger to queerness, just as lesbianism is a fuck you to heterosexuality.
When I came to Smith College in the 2013 butch was dead, and androgyny was not only imperative, but also a necessity for any type of social clout. Queerness was all the rage: consuming both gender identity and sexuality. I didn’t mind at first, loving the gender-fuck, the space it opened up for me to wear boy briefs and men’s Levis, the chance to bind my chest beneath polo long-sleeves. Although I had always exhibited, and still exhibit, a femme sexuality, raw girlishness was not a swagger that had worked out for me- and yes, I tried, embodying the sorority girl stereotype during my short stunt at Bucknell- and I had never grown comfortable with the image.
But becoming androgynous meant becoming increasingly masculine; the uniform was strict, still is: on foot place Nike sneakers, Clarks, or Birkenstocks, and during winter Bean Boots. Jeans or chinos, tees and flannel shirts, or hooded long sleeves with culturally appropriative patterns. Almost the whole queer community dressed this way: dressing in masculine garb and declaring it subversive, discarding any notion that taking on masculine gesturing and costume is some foul visual of internalized sexism. If a woman, a ‘queer’, didn’t dressed this way her sexual orientation, and politics were automatically opened for debate, for questioning behind her, their, back.
But queerness quickly transformed into transmasculine dominance and a replication of heterosexual gender roles. Having taken two trans-masculine turned transman as lovers during my first two years at Smith I quickly learned my gender-play dress would never be enough for an equal partnership in any type of relationship sexual or otherwise. I was a woman, a dyke, who loved and still loves masculinity in women, something crucially different than loving masculinity in a man (be that cis or trans). Loving a masculine woman meant loving the way she stood out in a crowd of girls, in loving the way men looked at her outfits with envy and confusion. Loving transmen meant that I was either cornered into femme mannerisms or discarded for being too ‘dykey’ for outing a gender-ambiguous transman as trans, as not cis. The trained eyes couldn’t tell transman from the from androgynous queer, especially without any type of technological transformation (testosterone or otherwise); so to be read as dykey with such ambiguity meant they too, must be a dyke. I got sick of getting blamed for a transman inability to pass, I got bored of applying an extra layer of gloss, mascara, or sporting a tighter shirt for their benefit. The war of my identitiy versus theirs was always a war I would lose; their need to pass as man was more crucial to their safety and survival than my need to pass as a lesbian, to be read by my community as a dyke.
After my two stunts trying on the queerness that had become normative on campus, my tastes exposed themselves more clearly. It was masculinity I was attracted to, but rather masculinity balanced with femininity within a woman’s body that was certainly woman. They still wore the uniform, but they filled the clothes differently. It was the attitude I wanted, the fuck you, the gender play resilient in its playfulness. I wanted a woman to validate my identity as a dyke, a woman whose identity I could simultaneously be validating.
What did, do I want? To be recognized as a dyke in dyke spaces, in straight spaces, when I’m with the girl I’m fucking. I want to dyke with another dyke; I want to dyke on dyke. I want to verb dyke. I want to do dykes in the basement laundry room, on the rugby pitch at night, in my bed. I want to adjective dyke into the clothes I wear, the way I walk, the way I grip the weights at the gym. I want to noun dyke, to say: I am dyke.
I wanted a woman to dress herself in leather, silk, or lace and present herself to me binder-clad and in briefs. I wanted a woman I could robe myself in black lace and corset and present to her, to offer her that mixture of allure and willingness that I desired to give, to receive. Where a political queer might shrug on a flannel and jeans and know they were hot but deny that any sexual objectification could come from her garb and declare any objectification politically incorrect. The girls I desired to fuck would know some chick would love to maneuver her fingers down the buttons on her shirt, to run her hands down her sports-bra bound pecs. To feel the arousal peak through her shirt, nipples excited for the possibility of touch, of sucking. The girls I desires to fuck would let go of a need to be ‘right’ in the bedroom and let out commands, moans, sounds far from the language of political discourse. The dykes in flannels and jeans I wanted to slide my fists into would objectify my naked body over theirs, pulsing.
In the early months of watching queerness turn heteronormative and needing validating of my own gender-play, of desiring for legitimate switching in the bedroom I took two lovers. The first hardly deserves the title of lover, and had she not been eighteen years older than myself the role she played wouldn’t be as significant in my understanding of self. The first was an athletic trainer, her hair shaved close to her scalp, her arms and legs hairless and toned. To say we had fucked would be a lie, but she was the first whose arms were stronger than my own, who would win in any arm-wrestling fight, who could pin me down, make me her bottom. While I passed as straight with my clothes on due to long hair and curled lashes, I could never pass in naked; only ever passing in the gym if I used rugby or soccer as an excuse for my bulging arms, the amount of weight I was squatting. Hannah, which was her name, and I had only kissed once, but something changed in me that night: the need to be recognized as a gay, strong, woman. The need for my lover to understand that for me my athleticism could not be untangled, dismantled, or explained without my gayness, my dykiness. The need for a lover who could challenge me, while also validating me. A lover who would sin with me, to share a secret: our sameness.
The second, my last lover, lays me on my back more swiftly than any lover I’ve had, and yet obeys my commands, the musculature of my arms pushing her into the mattress more skillfully than the bottoms I’ve fucked in the past. My lover has watched me flower from top to switch, my own womanness, submission frightening to me up until her. Nobody has ever paid such keen attention to my arousal, swooping down on my arousal full of animal longing. In return I let her seize my body, fill herself with me, and fill me with her. Filled by her desire, desiring to be filled by her. And she lets me touch her then, or during her command of me; we take hold of each other’s bodies.
She’s the one who has given me my fetish for beer bottle guzzling, for weekday drinking, and weeknight debauchery. She had a voice like whiskey mixed with honey and cigarettes, immediately recognizable as female but masculine in its tone, in the way it wraps words into sentences, and commands into demands. She is an introvert who appears extrovert in the confidence with which she saunters. An econ major better with her hands than with numbers, a dyke bound for success in the marketing industry.
What is dyke? Sexual power that no woman was meant to have, active power, hungry. Prowess. The knowing eyes of a woman who knows the craft of her fingers and tongue. The pure skull of giving a woman please like no other body, could. Dyke, perhaps especially when unnamed, is a secret word, a secret world of profound inability and refusal to be normatively male or female. In the seemingly dead war between the sexes they can be seen as the resisters, who stand as living proof that gender is more fluid; their, our, very existence crosses boundaries. We are women who shop in the men’s department, who get are hair cut at barber shops, who buy our watches in the men sections of the jewelry store, who spray cologne and wear earrings. We are women who go out in athletic wear in adidas sweats and Nike sneakers and hanes v-necks, headbands. We are the girls who stand wide, spread our legs while we swagger down the streets, whose shoulders stretch the fabric of our tees. We’re the ones you notice.
When I’m with a dykey woman I get to see that the world of dualistic genders is bigger than it seems, to expanding possibilities and play. Yes, being with dykey woman may not be this existential for everyone, but for me as a dykey woman holding hands with other dykey women is utopian in its fuckery. Standing far outside of traditional femininity, she finds in my gender-play a representation of the unfamiliar merging with the familiar, which is just what she represents for me.
What I love about dyke-y women is that in the midst of extremely constricting gender imperatives, they have the fucking balls to say “fuck it”. In the realm of increasing homogenous queer spaces of pure androgyny and trans-masculinity, they have the guts, the swagger, to carve into culturally empty space a powerfully confrontive, progressive, honest way to live and love. And that turns me on, makes me warm between the legs. My last lover’s teenage tales of cocaine and intoxicated driving, the kind of adventures I had never had, get me incredibly hot. Hearing that she had given her first girlfriend head at fifteen while they drove to her lovers parent’s cabin was not necessarily a stunt I wanted to repeat (after popping a tire my first year while getting teased while driving), it just made me want to fuck her, and hard. Loving dykes amounts to an attraction to what’s not supposed to be there. Loving dykes as dykes spins the tale of that opposites attract on its ass. But perhaps what turns me on about my last lovers twisted tails, is our greatest differences; it calls up a response in me to fuck and be fucked, to bridge those differences with my hand in her cunt.
The idea of female masculinity is a simplistic way of describing lesbian sexuality, and it is only partial. Maleness isn’t male or female, its something our gender assigning language doesn’t offer us words to describe. Masculinity is not inherent to a particular set of genetalia and organs, but rather a concept any body can claim for itself. There is a certain level of masculinity in any dyke, a certain level of masculinity without man. Dyke signals new understandings of masculine behaviors within the warm, wet bodies of women.
I love dykey women because the alluring, unsettling power that their presence displays contempt for simplistic gender imperatives. I love them because we make straight people nervous. Because they fuck me better than I fuck myself, know my body and its muscled definition, its curves better than I know myself. I love dykes because I am their bottom and their top just as they are my bottom and my top; we switch it up, we fuck each other because of, despite of, our sameness.