Sappho Says: Support Beyond Cis-Ters

Image by Jordin Manning.

Sappho welcomes readers of all backgrounds this upcoming holiday season to another segment of Sappho Says, an advice column where your voice matters and your words hold power. With the passing of the Trans Day of Remembrance, we will be answering a question from a non-cisgender writer.

“Dear Sappho, I am a butch lesbian and I often feel excluded from lesbian positivity because of my gender expression, as [lesbian positivity] is so often directed at femme or futch girls exclusively.  When there is butch positivity, there is usually an element of transmisogyny, as the women running butch-positive spaces are frequently TERFs. What can I do to feel more like a part of the lesbian community without resorting to groups who advocate for the exclusion of trans women? Signed, Bummed Butch”

Before answering, I will start by defining some terms. Femme refers to lesbians (in this case) who present more on the feminine side, and those who are futch present as a mixture of femme and butch. Butch is a word used to describe lesbians who present more masculine. Lastly, TERF/TWERF stands for “trans (women) exclusionary radical feminist.” In layman’s terms, this is someone who will exclude trans people (or trans women for the latter term) due to them being trans. In this case, a TWERF would be someone who excludes a trans woman from the definition of being a lesbian, since TWERFs consider trans women to be “actually men.” That’s certainly far from the truth.

First, I’ll direct advice towards anyone teetering on the border of including or excluding trans women in your activism. Consider the following: a woman’s body is none of your business. Even if you call yourself being concerned about a “man” infiltrating a women’s space, you must support all of your sisters, even those that aren’t, what I like to call, your cis-ters. Trans women do not have to get anything done to their bodies to be considered a woman, for their identity is theirs, not yours. Just like your body is yours, you must grant them the same right. This goes especially for nonbinary feminists that you ally yourself with. Often, cisgender people will validate binary trans women first and will be the last to validate nonbinary, transfeminine individuals.

Onto the situation, Bummed Butch, I hope this piece of advice makes you feel less bummed. Online, Tumblr is often one’s primary source for a support group. Gladly, a lot of blogs that are focused towards one group are realizing that their spaces are intersectional. So, they will have things such as “No TERFs” in their description. Going an extra step would be to go to more intimate blogging websites such as blogspot, since they are usually a personal account, a bit more thorough and better with putting a face to those who are experiencing the same issues with lack of inclusion. I suggest going to online sources first since often times, the world outside of your laptop can be a bit limiting. Online you have better luck excluding those who are against you. However, if you want physical as much as virtual support, finding a nice group of lesbian friends can help you feel at home in the community. Something as little as discussing you and your partners over coffee to having each others backs in the face of adversity can be a big boost in your confidence as well as mental health.

Also remember to keep in mind that you are under no obligation to educate people, especially if you feel unsafe or if they are stubborn. If you can, I’m proud of you. If you cannot, I’m still proud. That doesn’t make you any less of an advocate if you don’t stick up to your oppressors each and every time.

In short, Sappho Says: find those like you and stick with them. Educate, but if you can’t, that’s great! At the end of the day, no one defines you but you. Regardless, you are loved and you are most certainly valid.

Love always,


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