Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2009-08-14

Interview: Butch Voices Conference

One of the things I wish for most in this world is the ability to teleport. If I had that ability I could be at all the amazing events happening around the country at any given time instead of making those obnoxious and hard decisions about how to spend my travel dollar and use my time. Curses.

Joe LeBlanc, the Conference Chair and founder of the Butch Voices Conference August 20-23, 2009, told me about the conference almost a year ago and I loved the idea. Watching it develop since October has been really incredible. What began as the germ of an idea has become something really big and amazing. If you can road trip or take a last-minute change of plans and go to this conference you absolutely MUST. The Femme Conference changed my life–I can only imagine how incredible Butch Voices will be.
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Their website is fantastic (seriously, if you plan a conference copy their site organization) has a ton of information on it including the absolutely riveting schedule of events, workshops, media, keynotes, etc… Definitely read through that. But before you go over there, read through this blog interview I did with Joe, Krys and Q below.

1. As the founder of the Butch Voices Conference, tell me about founding the conference–what was your inspiration and how did you get it going?
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Joe LeBlanc: When I attended the Femme Conference in San Francisco in 2006, I thoroughly enjoyed the space there. And it wasn’t even my identity being celebrated. That conference really got my mind going about gender and sexuality. I thought to myself how great it would be to have space like that for Butches. At the time I was just beginning to get interested in gender discussions, and becoming more active in the queer community. I didn’t know any other Butches who wanted to create that space and have the in depth discussions about identity and beyond. After attending a few transgender conferences, and presenting at a couple of conferences myself (Femme 2008 and Borders and Bridges 2008), I began to make some great connections with more people who were doing the work in various areas, and even with some who were Butch and transmasculine identified.

After the last Femme conference in 2008, in Chicago, I decided that I really wanted to do something to create that space for Butches of all types. So often, because of our very visible appearance, as Butches and transmasculine people,we aren’t expected to have those hard conversations. Our voices aren’t always being used as they could be. We aren’t really being understood by each other, much less those who do not identify like us. Thus, the idea of Butch Voices was born.

For me personally, I want to have those conversations with other Butches and Studs, of all types. There’s just not enough out there about Butches and Studs historically, let alone in today’s media. We need to share our stories with each other. We need to support each other, and connect with others over our commonalities, while respecting our diversity. I decided to get the ball rolling to create this organization and conference for Butches and transmasculinities of all races, presentations, identities, and backgrounds. Little by little I contacted people that I’d met along the way over the last couple of years, sharing my vision of creating something by us, for us, and about us. In the process, I have met some pretty amazing people who are committed to making Butch Voices a reality and something big.

Butch Voices isn’t just the conference that is happening in Oakland next month. Our mission statement is, “To provide education, community support, positive visibility, and cultural activities to all self identified Butches, Studs, Aggressives, their allies, and the general public.” Our first event is this year’s conference, and we look to have a national conference every other year. In the off years, we hope to inspire more regional conferences and gatherings. We also hope to provide a web location to promote all things Butch, Stud, AG, Tomboi, etc related, to get people connected, to let others know that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel or go at this alone. There are others out there, just like you who are experiencing similar oppressions, and fighting that good fight.

2. What I like most about your website is that it says right up front “The point is, we don’t decide who is Butch, Stud or Aggressive. You get to decide for yourself.” If you identify as Butch, what does that mean for you? If you don’t identify as Butch, what do you prefer and what does that mean for you?
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Krys Freeman (BV Logistics Chair): I prefer not to use labels, as I feel they are restrictive, and often don’t accurately represent a whole person. I feel as though labels like BUTCH, STUD, TOMBOI, DOM, all have a way of dehumanizing a person that doesn’t sit well with me. Nonetheless, I allow people who ID me to call me how they see me. Sometimes I’m a Stud, sometimes I’m a soft Stud, when I’m around my white friends I’m Butch. When I’m in NY I’m AG, when I’m in DC I’m a Dom. Some days I’m sir, somedays I’m ma’am. Some days I’m “Ma,” other days I’m “Poppi,” or other variations of that and “Daddi.” It’s no sweat off my back. I am always Krys, very much masculine woman. Very much fag boi, meaning I read as masculine but I have very “femme man” tendencies. I’m a gentlewomyn to the women I encounter.

3. I’ve been really impressed with the grass roots organizing and fund raising endeavors throughout the USA. What has been the reaction to the events and the conference?

Joe: The reaction to the events and conference have been overwhelmingly fantastic. We’ve had so many people reach out to us to be involved one way or another. Major filmmakers, authors, educators, national organizations, performers, members of the press and businesses – all wanting to be a part of the Butch Voices movement. We’ve connected people in cities who identify similarly who had never met prior to the event happening in their town. We’ve raised money for the conference, and we’ve opened up avenues of communication for so many people. I’ve really been amazed by the people who have contacted us to be a part of what we’re doing. Coming across so many people who are Butch, Stud, Tomboi, etc. identified who are doing so many fantastic things out there. We just don’t know about each other, which is another example of just how much this conference is needed. We are just not connected to each other, for so many reasons: race, language, location, age, etc. The grassroots efforts, and word of mouth advertising is really getting our message out there. I’m really excited about the conference and the future events with the Butch Voices community.

4. What are some workshop highlights from this years’ programming committee?

Joe: The entire program is just so amazing. I’m really looking forward to each of the Keynote speakers we have the great fortune of having at the conference. Jeanne Cordova brings with her such a rich history from her work with The Lesbian Tide, to her present work with GenderPlay. S. Bear Bergman has that ability to cross various gender avenues and at the same time give pointers on chivalry. Malkia “Mac” Cyril, from the Center for Media Justice, brings her passion and various well-honed skills for using media in grassroots efforts to help others in creating change. The Intergenerational Panel is one that I’m really looking forward to. We have panelists with ages ranging from 20’s to 70’s presenting. I’m also looking forward to Cheryl Dunye’s session on the images of Butches and Studs in the media. Another person we’re thrilled to have is Ivan E. Coyote, an award winning writer and performer. Ivan is doing multiple duties as presenter with the session, “Bootcamp for Procrastinators” and as a performer in both the Saturday night Butch Nation performance and Sunday’s Spoken Word. As well, we recently confirmed Kimberly Peirce, the writer and director of Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss, and Jack Halberstam who will be participating in two sessions over the weekend. I am completely stoked for this conference. The entire weekend is jam-packed with so much great stuff and I’m thoroughly pleased with the entire line-up of events we are offering to our attendees.

5. What do you hope people will get out of the Butch Voices conference?
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Q Ragsdale (BV Outreach/Media Chair): I hope that conference attendees will leave with a broader perspective of our community, understanding that though we are all very similar, at the same time, we are so diverse and that all the flavors of Stud, Butch, AG, Tomboi and transmasculine identities should be united through celebration. It is not easy being who we are and I also want people to leave knowing that there is an overwhelming amount of us in this world. There should always be an ear to listen, a hand to extend to another, or a shoulder to lean on because none of us are alone.

6. What do you see as the role of allies (Femmes and non-Butch/Aggressive/Stud identified folks) at the conference?

Krys: Allies have a place at Butch Voices because they are the ones there supporting us, having our backs and holding us down when people malign us, call us names, or try to ridicule and ostracize us in public. Our allies affirm our humanity and they can speak to others from a more objective space about who we are and why they support and love us. Without alliances social movements can’t happen.

7. Anything else you’d like to say about the conference?

Q: This is only the beginning. We are on a mission to spread our message that there is no strict set of criteria that one must adhere to in order to identify as Stud/Butch/Ag or a mixture of any identities. Mainstream society, the L Word, characters in movies, the LGBT community as a whole and even some of us, do not determine who we are. We define ourselves individually but celebrate each other collectively. Together our VOICES will be heard!

Joe: Thank you for your questions and for your support as a Femme ally, Bevin. I definitely want to remind folks that they don’t have to necessarily be Butch, Stud, AG, or Tomboi identified to attend the conference, we have lots of love for our allies – Femme and otherwise – at the conference. We need our allies to attend as well, to learn with us and share their voices on these topics also. The first Butch Voices Conference is going to be amazing. We have a fantastic line-up that is going to blow everyone away and really make this such a fantastic event. Registration is still open and folks can get tickets for the individual events, as well as one, two, or four day passes for the conference. Be sure to visit the Butch Voices website www.butchvoices.com for more information and to register today.
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