Cultural Roots and Communal Behavior: A Discussion Between Aurora Rey and Ashley Bartlett Part 2

Over the past few weeks, Aurora Rey and I have been discussing our cultural roots and our queerness and the ways they intersect. In part our discussion was a result of this essay at Autostraddle, which you should absolutely read. If you would like some context, here is the beginning of our conversation. We will wrap up next week.

AURORA REY:

Sometimes, I think “other” is just as useful a term as “queer.” Misfits find each other and band together.

ASHLEY BARTLETT:

And since normal doesn’t actually exist, I think we find people who are othered the same ways we are.

At what point did you realize that your attraction to masculinity was queer? (That was an odd phrasing.)

AURORA REY:

Honestly? The day I made out with a girl I worked with in the dining hall. It was kind of an existential crisis for me (and all my friends who thought I was boy crazy). That person turned out to be trans. It’s flip to say that was my gateway to queer, but it kind of was.

ASHLEY BARTLETT:

That makes perfect sense.

AURORA REY:

Once the dust settled, it did. I could have all the masculine things I was attracted to without the toxicity that seemed to pervade the relationships I saw around me.

ASHLEY BARTLETT:

We have never outright discussed your attractions, but I get the impression you are attracted to all forms of masculinity except for cis men. Is that accurate? Or did I just assign you a sexuality?

AURORA REY:

No, that’s accurate. I have a list of cis men on my flip list, but it’s hard to imagine anything beyond that. Butch women, trans guys—that’s what makes my heart go pitter-patter.

AURORA REY:

Did your attraction to women coincide with your coming into your gender identity?

ASHLEY BARTLETT:

Oddly, I’ve never considered that question.

AURORA REY:

Really? For me, they’re completely wrapped up together. Although I can see how that’s not the case for everyone.

ASHLEY BARTLETT:

I think I didn’t know I had a gender identity until I was at UCLA. Suddenly there were all these terms and descriptions for things I already did. Until then, I thought my queerness was about my sexuality. I didn’t know I was allowed to be anything other than a tomboy or a trans man or butch and none of those felt like me.

AURORA REY:

That’s fair. It’s a language I certainly didn’t grow up with. Do they feel connected now, or no?

ASHLEY BARTLETT:

Yes, now I realize how intertwined they are.

AURORA REY:

It must have been empowering to find words that fit.

ASHLEY BARTLETT:

And people who were like me. The only other person I knew up until that point was my wife. I just figured we were unique (and, yes, I’m fucking lucky for that).

AURORA REY:

Yes, finding one’s people. It’s like coming home. Only, not home as I’d always imagined it. That’s been the tricky thing. The first time someone looked at me and said, “Oh, you’re femme.” It was like a lightning bolt.

ASHLEY BARTLETT:

And how was femme distinct from “straight girl” for you?

AURORA REY:

God, coming out was such a clumsy thing for me. I couldn’t bring myself to say lesbian at first, mostly because it didn’t feel quite right. So I did the whole “I fell in love with a person” thing. And then this woman, another femme, gave me the word like a gift.

ASHLEY BARTLETT:

It’s such a kindness for someone to bequeath identity in that way.

AURORA REY:

I remember the post you wrote about giving one of your students “butch.” You hesitated, worried over it.

ASHLEY BARTLETT:

I hate to assign identity. Especially with children. But I’m also realizing that giving terminology is not assigning identity.

AURORA REY:

But when you can give them words, let people try them on, that’s where the magic happens. Femme came with all this room to move. I could be fat, handy, ambitious, submissive, strong, glamorous, and tomboy all rolled into one. Straight, ironically, felt suffocating.

ASHLEY BARTLETT:

So many of those labels seem to equate to the Southern womanhood you were describing, but with a different tone.

AURORA REY:

Yes, exactly. It’s hard to have that powerful moment of claiming an identity if you don’t have the word for it.

ASHLEY BARTLETT:

We are taught all of these words, pieces of identity to try on, but they are imbued with heteronormativity. And heteronormativity shifts depending on location.

AURORA REY:

That’s so true. Doing things—dressing how I do or enjoying domestic tasks—felt like a choice as a femme. As a straight woman, they’d just be doing what’s expected.

ASHLEY BARTLETT:

There’s so much power in that choice. And once we chose to acknowledge our queerness, everything else becomes a choice.

AURORA REY:

It is profoundly liberating. I see some of my straight women friends struggling with finding a way to do femininity in a manner that feels good to them and doesn’t turn into men treating them horribly. I think queerness is built on this notion that you pick up the pieces that work for you and leave the rest.

ASHLEY BARTLETT:

My brand of masculinity is very much a result of my father. He is slender and handsome in a pretty way and charismatic and he makes people feel heard and seen. He cries and he talks about his feelings. I spent a lot of time trying to be a different kind of masculine—a real kind of masculine. And now I see how powerful his masculinity is.

AURORA REY:

Oh, wow. I love that. So much.

I adore praise from Aurora so that’s where we are ending this. Look for Part 3 next week to get our feelings on home.

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4 thoughts on “Cultural Roots and Communal Behavior: A Discussion Between Aurora Rey and Ashley Bartlett Part 2

  1. Thanks for the very interesting discussion. When I first came out (over 30 years ago, in Israel) the thing that used to frustrate me was that my (butch) girlfriend could walk down the street and get all the smiles and nods of recognition from other lesbians, but that I, in my skirt and sandals, never did. In fact, I dated one woman who told me, “I noticed you the first time you came to Divine [our nightclub in Tel Aviv] but you were wearing a skirt so I figured you were straight and didn’t approach you.”(In case any of us think the clothes stereotype is a thing of the past, I play tennis at the local club and someone pointed out to me that all the lesbians wear shorts and all the straight women wear skirts or skorts.)

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