chapter  9
“In everybody’s life there has to be a gym teacher”: The Formation of Lesbian Identities and the Reproduction of Butch-Fem Roles
Pages 49

The preceding chapters have documented changes in the content and meaning of butch-fem roles over time, and have emphasized growth and transformation in the way those roles have functioned in the community. Nevertheless, the promi­ nence and tenacity of butch-fem roles resonates with the idea that masculine and feminine emotional, psychological, and behavioral traits transcend time and culture, and are biologically based. Such thinking always lurks under the surface in twenti­ eth-century Western culture, inviting the interpretation that butch-fem roles, and even lesbianism itself, develop because some women are genetically or hormonally more male than the norm. The tension between biology and culture or continuity and change raises questions about the nature of lesbian identity and the way butchfem culture was reproduced over time. Did people come to the community with butch and fem as part of their identities, or were the roles learned in the

community? At what age did people come to their lesbian identities, and was that different for butch or fem identities? What was the boundary between lesbianism and heterosexuality? Were fems as well as butches perceived as lesbians?