by Cai Castillo
Frequently Asked Questions:
“What is a he/him lesbian?”
A he/him lesbian is a lesbian who prefers he/him pronouns.
“But I thought men couldn’t be lesbians”
You are correct. Men cannot be lesbians. A lesbian is a woman/woman aligned person who is exclusively interested in women/women aligned people.
“Then, how can someone use he/him pronouns and still be a lesbian?”
Because pronouns do not equal gender. Pronouns are substitutes for nouns, so instead of saying a sentence like “Diana went to get Diana’s clothes from Diana’s room.” you would instead say “Diana went to get her clothes from her room.”
While certain pronouns are associated with men and women, the same could be said for names. Typically, people tend to connect the name Leslie to women, however there are men with the name Leslie. Does being a man with the name Leslie make them a woman? no. Pronouns are like that!
Another example is how people can refer to (typically cisgender) gay men as she/her without doubting that they are still men.
“Isn’t a he/him lesbian just a trans man?”
No because trans men are men, and he/him lesbians are women/women aligned.
“How can someone call themselves a lesbian when they aren’t a woman?”
Many lesbians, specially butch and GNC lesbians of color, feel alienated from womanhood as it is often taught womanhood is attached to being attracted to men, femininity, whiteness, and gender conformity. It is not uncommon for women who love women (lesbians, bi women, queer women etc) to question their relationship to womanhood, and while many are comfortable, to a certain extent, in calling themselves women, others often opt for terms like nonbinary and gender nonconforming.
“What does it mean to be woman aligned?”
It is a descriptor for people who feel estranged from stereotypical womanhood but still feel inexplicably connected to it. While someone may feel they do not have a gender, they feel connected to the experience of womanhood in one way or another. I have seen it described as if being a man was a lane and being a woman was another lane, woman aligned would be the sidewalk along the woman lane but separate from the man lane.
Lesbians preferring to be referred with more masculine pronouns can be observed for decades, mainly in working class butch lesbians. The book Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg details the gender non-conformity of butch lesbians through the story of Jess, it is set in the 60’s and follows Jess’ life. The history of this way of gender nonconformity can be read about in the book Boots of Leather Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community by Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline Davis.
Historically, butch lesbians have expressed their gender nonconformity in many ways, from clothing to name changing to top surgery to different pronouns, such expressions are important parts of the lesbian experience and enhance its meaning.
“Who was I now–woman or man? That question could never be answered as long as those were the only choices; it could never be answered if it had to be asked.” – Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues
For most of my life I have felt discomfort calling myself a woman, it never sits right in my mouth and I always feel a heaviness when referring myself as such. I thought that if I was not a woman, I had to be a man. I have never felt more pain than the times I identified myself as a man. In this time, the way I viewed myself and interacted with the world felt stiff and incorrect, I was stuck between a hard place and a wall; If I wasn’t a woman or a man, what could I possibly be?
This internal conflict went on for about a year, going through gender labels like socks, nothing ever felt right. Finally, I decided that I was just a lesbian, no other labels necessary. Lesbian encompasses how I feel about myself and choose to interact with others, I love women and prioritize them in my life and I am not a man. My gender presentation still felt forced, I would wear makeup and dresses, forcing myself to perform femininity because otherwise I would no longer be seen as desirable.
Growing up in my country, I never met any women that rejected femininity, that allowed themselves to be comfortable, I was taught that being a woman was painful and that being beautiful hurt even more. Plucking, waxing, dieting, hair relaxing, discomfort, and violence from men all seemed to be intrinsically linked to womanhood, it left me with very little space to exist. I have always felt most comfortable in masculine clothing, when I don’t have to worry if my skirt will fly up or if my thighs look too big, but I never allowed myself to wear these kinds of clothes too often because I thought the only way I could be wanted was if I looked stereotypically feminine. When I finally realized that I was not meant to be consumed and that being ugly was not the end of the world, everything fell into place.
I have always felt safest in spaces in which I am around women of color, there is a sense of ease and comfort that comes with being around people like me. I believed that if I began to present the way I wished to I would no longer be wanted in women’s spaces because so often I see womanhood being described as solely feminine, I was scared that I would be perceived as a predator if I let go of the forced femininity I was performing. While at times I am seen as such, the women in my life know me and understand that while I don’t experience life in the same way they do, we all have that womanly anger passed down for generations.
I changed my name because my birth name never felt mine, I wanted something that I had full control over. Along with my name I changed my pronouns, because the way I wish people to refer to me matches my new chosen name. He/him pronouns make me feel comfortable in who I am and the way I have chosen to present myself to the world. I can not control many things but the way I choose to identify myself is mine and mine alone, whether people choose to honor my choices is their own prerogative.
In my journey to womanhood, I have fallen and I have bled. I have lost myself and I have found others. It is an ongoing trip but I am no longer dreading continuing this trek, because I know that I am not alone and many others have been where I stand. While I still feel a sense of discomfort saying ‘I am a woman’ and often choose to describe my gender experience with other words, for all intents and purposes, I am a woman. My womanhood is complex and at times inexplicable but I believe my experience only enriches its meaning.
MEET THE WRITER:
Cai Castillo is a 16-year-old self identifying dyke. He grew up in Santo Domingo, La Capital and moved to the United States 3 years ago. Cai is a senior in high school and attends college full time. He has been published in several zines and school newspapers and was a part of the governor’s honors program junior year. The topics he focuses on most are immigration rights, women’s rights, LGBT people of color, anti-capitalist/leftist work, and antifascism. He spends his time volunteering and working with local organizations that deals with each issue.
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