Persistence: All Ways Butch & Femme edited by Ivan E. Coyote and Zena Sharman

23rd Jun 2011


Based on Joan Nestle’s 1995 anthology, The Persistent Desire: A Butch-Femme Reader, Persistence is an update on the ways gender identities have evolved since The Persistent Desire was published, and an examination of the relationships, communities and sexualities that contextualise them.

At times simplistic, at times sentimental, at times uncomfortable and alienating, despite its flaws overall Persistence makes for fascinating reading.

With a contributors’ list featuring authors, performers, artists and activists, there’s a diverse range of identities and experiences represented, from butch pregnancy to femme invisibility to sex work and all sorts that’s inbetween.

Highlights include Kimberley Dark’s My First Lover Was Not a Lesbian, Coming Back Around to Butch by Miriam Zoila Perez and A Dad Called Mum by Anne Fleming.

Obsessive femme friendships are explored in Never Be Hungry Again by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, while Jewelle Gomez made me wince with her aggressive assertion in Femme Butch Feminist:

“Today, young queers who whine about all the bad things feminists did (as if we were a monolithic voting bloc) mostly don’t know what they’re talking about and use their lack of knowledge as an excuse not to have a seriously considered political perspective.”

Ouch. Although later acknowledging the importance of “continuing to listen for the echoes of earlier voices,” this defensive claim comes across as alienating and exclusive, and at odds with the resilient but optimistic tone that resonates through the rest of the book.

Zena Sharman talks with warmth and intelligence about “the difference between invisibility by default and invisibility by choice,” while Amber Dawn’s letter To All the Butches I Loved Between 1995 and 2005 is beautiful in its bravery and honesty, recounting how “in the dark safe corners of the night, we fucked with our fists, teeth and hearts like we were indestructible.”

Both of Ivan Coyote’s contributions to Persistence, A Butch Roadmap and the anthology’s closing chapter, Hats Off, also appeared in Missed Her. While this won’t matter at all if you don’t own Missed Her already, for me her involvement was one of the anthology’s main attractions, so I was bitterly disappointed to discover I’d already read both her contributions to the collection.

In a couple of cases, academic terminology makes some of the contributions impenetrable to us mere mortals without advanced degrees in gender theory, but these are the exception rather the rule.

In all, it’s a thought-provoking, personal and powerful collection, and one which effectively illuminates the varied experiences and interpretations of butch and femme. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press earlier this month, you can buy it in paperback for £9.74.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended for: Anyone with an interest in gender identity and the fluidity of the butch/femme binary.

Other recommended reading: For more of Ivan E. Coyote’s short stories, investigate her latest collection, Missed Her. For more from other contributors to Persistence, try Sub Rosa by Amber Dawn or All the Pretty Girls by Chandra Mayor.

Jane Bradley


  • Diane says:

    This sounds really interesting, especially at a time when evolutionary explanations for gender stereotypes seem to be all too quick to take hold.