What does a stone butch have to say about sexual freedom and autonomy?
What don’t I have to say about those things?
I accepted the label of stone around the same time I embraced the identity of butch. In both cases it seemed like a matter of accuracy. I’ve written pages and pages now about being butch but very little about being stone.
Which only makes sense. We do silence well. She does give me pleasure, oh my god she does, but you won’t hear about it from me, not even if you’re standing next to the bed. I know my face gives me away to her. That’s my version of surrender.
I have a female body. In this world that means I’m by definition made to be penetrated and fucked. My refusal constitutes the very basis of my sexual autonomy. The pleasure and joy that many female-bodied people take in being penetrated, in receiving sex, in being fucked, is a beautiful thing. I’m in awe of it and grateful for it. But I do not want that.
My sexuality is not only about refusal. The silence into which I coax her murmurs and cries and maybe eventually screams: that is my sexuality, too. And the hundred ways she has of stoking my desire just by how she moves herself under me. The exquisite moment when my hips fall down into hers and our movements match. And those tiny fissures—the look on my face or the change in my breathing or the thrusts I’m no longer consciously controlling—out of which my love pours onto her. Those things are also my sexuality and my sexual freedom.
What is this thing called stone? When I read Stone Butch Blues (by Leslie Feinberg) I felt the constant assaults on the main character viscerally. The whole book, it seemed to me, could be summarized as a balancing act between the strength and liberation she gains as she builds up the stone necessary to protect herself and her bittersweet longing for Theresa to come back and finally melt her stone. I think ‘stone’ means different things at different moments in that book, and perhaps in my life, too.
The trust and vulnerability I can bring to my intimacy with FG is precious to me. But I have and I do and I will lash out at her, even her, if the core of inviolability that the stone protects seems to be in danger.
This spring, when everything was in play, I experimented a little bit with those boundaries. One attempt at penetration, one only. You can read about it here. I wrote then about the emotional fallout: “The pain, a lot of it, came from: how I hated being the girl I was required to be, inoffensive, acquiescent. The desolating dawning realization in childhood that the stakes of my success were staggeringly high (love, for starters). She touched the place in me I held safe behind barbed wire and alarm sirens while the girl (me) was doing what she had to do.” There’s an implicit offer of catharsis in that post but in fact there was no follow-up, not really, unless you count a more recent and random meltdown after a less-planned loss of autonomy in bed.
I don’t think we’re butch or femme or gay or stone or kinky or anything else in some simple causal chain that can be followed back to childhood. I don’t devalue the complexities of our adult sexualities with: oh, ze must have been abused as a child. That’s garbage, deeply damaging and insulting garbage.
But I tried to write this post many times without going into the dark places that are summoned up when my sexual boundaries are crossed. And frankly it doesn’t make sense. There’s no neat narrative here, only fragments tossed up from within my own mind and memory. A picture of me as a small child, under four, on my mother’s lap, doubled up over the arm she has around my waist. I remember how my scowling frown felt from inside, the desperate need to stop being touched around my hips. I still feel that way, I can’t stand being held fast there. The e-mail correspondence I had with my older brother (not the one I've written about before on this blog, but the other one, older than me by fourteen years) in which he first revealed that my father had told him I “had been under a lot of psychological pressure” as child but had “found ways to deflect it and create [my] own safe space.” And the transient sense of trust that e-mail evoked, which led me to be more honest with my brother than I ever had been. Which led him to reveal that he always wondered if his falling out with my mother (his stepmother) stemmed from an incident when he was playing with me when I was three or four, and he (accidentally, by his account) touched my crotch, and I told him not to touch me there. Which led me to end the correspondence. What am I supposed to do with that memory? I feel ill even contemplating it. And then all the shame and lack of power over my own body as regards my mother. How I had to fight to be allowed to stop bathing with her at an age well past the usual ending point for such a thing. Her rage when any part of my body was visible in any way that might be remotely construed as sexual in front of my father or later my stepfather.
These are only the most coherent, the best documented, the most verifiable, of a range of shadowy memories and impressions, all centered on fear and shame and the urgency to protect that safe internal space at any cost. I don’t know what any of it means. This is not a disclosure of some special, distinct narrative of sexual abuse; I don’t have any such thing. All I have are the specific dynamics of shame, control, and desire that existed in my particular family, and a hazy sense of the lines that connect those dynamics to the person I have become.
But I know that that sense of urgency persists and is no longer able to be disentangled from my sexual and gender identities. As I told FG recently during a very difficult conversation: “I would rather never have another orgasm with a woman again than be somehow made not whole or violated or controlled by that experience.”
I’ve been writing this post, in my head and on paper, for days now and I’m still not pleased with it. Because being stone isn’t all about suffering or trauma and I think this post might still suggest that it is.
What I really want to say is two separate things. First of all, we bear the weight of our individual histories of shame and lack of autonomy. Sexual freedom and autonomy are radically limited by where we come from. And second, the sexual autonomy of the stone butch is a minority thing, a rare experience of embodiment and boundary-setting; but it’s real and sometimes painful and sometimes ecstatic and I want to share that with you all who have been with me on this journey.