Most lesbians are not femme or butch but androgynous, and most lesbians favour relationships based on sameness. If androgyny is the centre point of the lesbian gender spectrum, then femme and butch each fall a reasonable, but variable, distance either side. Butch-femme relationships are based on an eroticisation of difference.
The terms “butch” and “femme” were circulating in both black and white early twentieth century US lesbian communities, with butch-femme relationships dominant from the 20s to early 60s. Lesbian feminism of the early (United States) and late (Australia) 70s prompted a review and, often, rejection of butch-femme relationships. Opinion remains divided.
Depending on your point of view, femmes and butches are either dynamically reinscribing masculinity and femininity (less politely known as fucking with gender), or replicating the static hierarchy of heterosexual relationships.
The latter viewpoint manifests in particular characterisations of femmes (passive, dependent creatures likely to jump the fence at any time), butches (inconsiderate aggressors) and butch-femme relationships (regressive, anti-feminist and accompanied by dubious sexual practices).
Femmes choose and delight in elements of femininity often repudiated by other lesbians, are often invisible as lesbians within mainstream society and within the contemporary lesbian community, are often made visible by the butches they choose over other lesbians and over men, may identify as feminists or not, and derive power and pleasure from the complex erotic dynamic at the heart of butch-femme relationships.
Brought to you by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives