Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog

Harlem Butch

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*Spoiler for Jermaine’s life story*

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Push. It was quite a different experience to engage with the written text after already seeing the movie a few years ago.  As a result, I automatically remember some of the visual depictions of certain scenes, and they were not the most heartwarming scenes unfortunately.  One particular aspect of the text that stood out to me was the life stories of the girls from Each One Teach One, which I’m not sure was portrayed in depth in the film. Specifically, I was really intrigued by Jermaine’s life story, Harlem Butch, and her statement, “No! You don’t see! […] Men did not make me this way. Nothing happened to make me this way. I was born butch!”  After reading her story, I thought of the criticism about lesbianism that followed The Color Purple.  Dr. Evans mentioned that some people read Celie’s sexual preference for Shug as a byproduct of being abused and raped by her father (and then later her husband).  Therefore, a part of me wonders if this story was, in some way, a response to those criticisms and the stereotype in general.  After all, The Color Purple is mentioned a few times throughout the book, so I got the sense that it served as an inspiration to an extent.  I guess it could also very well be stereotype that some of Sapphire’s students commonly heard about their own situations, and she decided to incorporate it into her book has a way to directly show her audience that the correlation between abuse by men and lesbianism can be illusory.

This section also got me thinking about the function of this particular stereotype.  Jermaine writes that she never tells other people about her girlfriend’s(?) father raping her because she “hates[s] to see their square eyes light up with, “Oh that’s why! I understand now!”” Using this viewpoint, I would argue that this stereotype works to discredit certain lesbian women’s sexual identity.  That is, instead of respecting the fact that their sexual orientation is a part of their sexual identity and possibly their identity in general, people can simply view these women’s sexual preferences as a consequence of bad experiences with men.  As a result, lesbianism in situations such as Jermaine’s isn’t seen as something that can be innate; they “don’t see” it as something that is integrated into who she is as an individual, which I think is an injustice to women who are in her situation.  I say an injustice because to me this stereotype is telling women that they aren’t true lesbians, rather they were pushed to find women appealing because they were abused by men. Then, I wonder if people who use/believe in this stereotype think that if these women just gave a nice guy a chance, they would change their mind. I know that there are some people who actually believe that a man has the power to change a lesbian’s mind in general, because I was present when a guy told one of my friends, who prefers women more than men, he was sure he could change her mind.  Now, whether or not he was simply joking and trying to boast about his sexual prowess, his statement still draws upon the idea that lesbianism in general is a choice, so it wouldn’t surprise me if women who fell under this stereotype heard similar things.

Overall, I just really enjoyed how the development of Jermaine’s sexual identity was portrayed as something innate and cherished.  I have tried to put my thoughts about this stereotype into words, and I apologize if it is not the most eloquently written.

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One thought on “Harlem Butch

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. I had the same thought about Jermaine’s statement that men didn’t make her the way she is being some sort of response to criticism of The Color Purple. Especially because Precious reads the novel at one point in the book.

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