New York Magazine ran two very interesting articles last week. One feature, "Not Your Mother's Lesbians" explores how Showtime's The L Word could alter society's stereotypical view of what a 'lesbian' looks like. The second article, "Where the Bois Are" discusses the growing trend of lesbians who identify as 'bois' - a complicated label that almost defies explanation.
More and more lately, it seems that lesbians are breaking out of the traditional cookie-cutter labels we once struggled under. When I first came out, I was around a group of women that still held onto to the old butch/femme identities pretty strongly. There were a few 'andro' types, but primarily you were expected to grab onto a label and stick with it. Unfortunately, I was not comfortable with being either butch or femme - I preferred a middle ground somewhere in between.
Still, the rules were much looser when I came out than they had been in the past. As a lesbian who was neither truly butch or truly femme, I got teased, a bit ostracized and had real trouble getting dates. But overall it wasn't all that huge of an issue.
An old theater friend of mine told me that back in the early 60s, when she first came out, being a non-conformist lesbian could very well be a life or death prospect. She had always been a bit butch, but she also had long black hair down to her rear end. She dressed in tuxes or dresses with equal confidence, and she was equally as happy going after a lipstick lesbian or a stone butch. Back then, however, this was NOT a good thing. My poor friend got the h--- beaten out of her more than once for refusing to adopt a firm butch or femme identity. Even worse, she came close to getting killed, seriously, for going after both types of women. It was unacceptable, for instance, for her to be dressed 'femme' and go after another 'femme.' The butches got very, very angry about that.
In the modern day, lesbians can choose practically any identity they wish - or none at all. Well, at least in some parts of the world. We have a lot more freedom. Yet, strangely, having this freedom has caused some lesbians to go to the extreme to create a label for themselves. Take the 'bois' of the New York Magazine article for existence.
These are lesbians who dress, well, like teenage guys. Some even strap down their breasts and call themselves by male pronouns, though not all do so. They like their hair short and spiky, their women fast & loose and their partying as hard as it can get. Yet, for all of their male attributes, they are firmly female. Some do step over into the world of the transgendered, but for the most part they still embrace their womanhood. They are also, quite firmly, not 'butch' in the traditional meaning of the term. Some of them also embrace the old definition of boi used by gay men - playing submissive, in kind of an S&M sort of way, to a top. It's all very confusing. They are the 'Metrosexual' of the lesbian world - some weird combination of straight guy, gay hustler, and baby dyke. (Though I'm sure I'd be strangled for using the term 'baby dyke' in reference to the boi culture.) Whatever they are, they are 'bois,' and they want to be known as such.
On the other side of the fence, there are the L Word lesbians. Women who are highly attractive, mostly feminine, and all lesbian with a capital 'L'. Showtime's new series is supposed to give us a glimpse into the world of 'real' lesbian life. And in a way it does. Increasingly, lesbians no longer feel they have to 'declare' themselves by adopting a certain look, or lifestyle in order to be truly queer. These are women who aren't necessarily into any labels at all. Rather than trying to identify with a certain lesbian culture, these women are more into just being women, with their lesbianism just one aspect of their whole.
Although L Word brings in a little butch, a little drag king and a tiny bit of flannel; primarily the show highlights the lesbians who you wouldn't pick of a crowd and proclaim to be dykes. They are just girls who happen to like girls, and look good doing it. Granted, they might quite a bit higher on the 'glamorous' scale than the typical lesbian, but it is Hollywood after all. The L Word is to lesbians what Sex and the City was to single straight women. Although it may be way more glam than reality, the show does give society a more truthful glimpse of real modern life for a lot of lesbians.
In the end, it doesn't matter how the modern lesbian chooses to embrace their new freedom, only that they do. Boi or butch, lipstick or plain 'ole lesbian, the important thing is to understand how far we've come.