it was my first fem friend who told me what stone butch was. she was older and more experienced than I was, who was just realising my femness, finding my lesbian desire crystallised in butch expression. she told me it was a butch who didn’t want to be touched or to have sex in a way that was feminising. it’s outdated language now, but that’s what we used then and how we understood things. and I did understand.
it never occurred to me to question it.
maybe it’s just because I had already been hurt so bad, so young, I got it without it really needing to be explained to me. maybe it was my own stone-core, responding intuitively. at that time I didn’t really know what was missing, my own sweetly innocent lesbian sex life composed of mutual cunnilingus, fondling and tribading. this was the beginning of self-actualisation more wholly than ever before.
so it hurts me, deeply, to see the callous and unfeeling way stone butches are spoken of, right in front of their faces too much of the time. always in a way that fundamentally fails to respect that each person alone has the right to define the boundaries of their own body. always in a way that positions another person’s body as obligated to be inherently accessible. but we all have various boundaries of our own we will not cross – every one of us, from something as seemingly innocuous as toe-sucking, to anal sex. so why do we perceive another’s genitals as something we are entitled to access?
stone is an individual experience. any stone butch will have their own reflections and feelings about their stoneness. It’s always worth remembering that the experience of being born female in this misogynistic world is itself a traumatic one. from the moment we are born a concept of gender is assigned to us and it affects every aspect of how we are treated. girls and women are pushed and pulled into shape, standards of acceptable behaviour and appearance forced onto us. we are expected to have no boundaries. we are expected to be accessible to everyone, at all times, in any way they need. and we are taught that our bodies are objects to be consumed by men. stone is just one way that a butch can define themselves as outside of that system, how they set control of their own body while negotiating a society that reacts violently to their existence – and often in a way that violates. from forcing young butches to gender conform, to verbal abuse on the street, to rape and sexual assault, many butches experience violation of their personhood. all women do. for this reason alone other women should be more sympathetic. we have all developed ways to deal with this experience, and also to interpret it. stone can be the butch’s response.
so when I see lesbians who are not stone reacting with such revulsion and offence at the thought of having a lover who needs to not be touched in certain places, or in certain ways, it tears away at me a little. it’s painful, to see people saying they couldn’t stand to be with someone who wouldn’t let them touch them, who shut themselves off from them, who was cold. i don’t understand how they don’t know.
why don’t they? stone does not mean a butch is hard and inaccessible. stone means a butch is painfully, poignantly vulnerable.
stone butches themselves have spoken to their experience of pleasure during sex. stone butches themselves have put their hearts on the line to give voice to their own desire and the ways that their bodies and souls are satisfied and fulfilled when they are true to what they want. listen to them.
but I am not stone butch and cannot speak from that perspective. all I can do is share with you what I experience as a stone fem who loves stone butches. loves them with a fierceness and protectiveness that is like a storm inside me, raging against the confines of my own being until I feel like I could rupture with it.
and what i do know is the way our society has constructed concepts of sex and sexual pleasure is ultimately inhibitive, extremely generalised and demands that individuals perform or participate in a series of acts deemed essential for genuine sex to have occurred, regardless of what we actually enjoy and find affirming. the sexual culture we are immersed in positions our partners’ bodies as extensions of our own, and demands that women’s bodies especially be open and receptive; it dictates to us what we should want and then tells us if we do not want it, we are broken, or repressed. so enmeshed in this culture are we that it is often hard to recognise that compulsory heterosexuality is inextricable from this concept of sex and intimacy.
it is because of this conditioning that outsiders are so appalled at the idea of a partner whose genitals they cannot touch, whose chest they cannot caress, who they may never see entirely naked. they express their aversion without ever comprehending how cruel it is.
to be alone and intimate with another person is always to be vulnerable. too often we see stone butches as stoic warriors, tough, resilient and defiant against all odds. it’s too easy to forget, when we behold them in their gorgeousness, that most of the world has told them they are ugly and undesirable, that they will never be truly loved, that there is no place for them and they have no right to any place either. it’s too easy to forget so much of this happened to them when they were children, when they had no defences against the world yet. that they grew up with those feelings, further compounded by more violence and stigma for their gender non-conformity and undeniable lesbianism. that all of this is hovering just below the surface when a stone butch is alone with a woman they will be intimate with. they are just as vulnerable in those moments as any woman is when she is on her back, legs spread. they come to us, their lovers, needing as badly to be accepted and loved for who they are, the way they are, as any of us do. they lay their hearts bare before us, asking for a space where they can also enjoy pleasure in ways that feel natural and fulfilling – and yes, safe. is that really so hard to understand?
the truth is that stone butches defy heteropatriarchal expectations in the ways they desire to use their bodies during sex. contemporary understanding of female sexual function is largely the result of heterosexual women educating men, most of whom had no understanding or even much interest in women’s anatomy or stimulation. but lesbians long ago developed a sexual culture centered in pleasure. the framing of female sexual desire essential to heterosexual women negotiating satisfaction with men does not apply to us. when many stone butches consider this a lesbian gender identity in its own right, they do not need to contexualise themselves within that system – and when we react with distaste or distrust to their experience, we just uphold the false and heteropatriachal belief that bodies assigned female can only experience stimulation and enjoyment in certain ways.
stone may be a transitory experience for some and many stone butches have and will explore other boundaries with partners that they trust. these are all valid and authentic experiences of stone. and it is important that we build a culture of support in which these individuals can shift within their identities if they so wish.
but equally there are many stone butches who feel completely fulfilled in their desires. for whom stone is a fixed state they will embody for their whole lives. they do not feel they are denied anything. they do not feel detached from their bodies, or at odds with who they are – unless they are made to feel that way, through unsympathetic and coercive partners or incredulous outsiders. they have learned what works for them and, even under society’s burden of expectation, assert that. how is this not sexual autonomy? why can we not trust their testimonies on their own lives? why do we conflate our own needs with theirs, rather than recognising human sexuality is an infinitely complex experience; that what we desire and find erotic and enjoyable has endless variety?
stone is not the detached, dispassionate experience of denial that outsiders seem to think it is. it is baffling the assumptions people make about it, as though there is no connection, no intimacy, no passion. as though somehow, because there are some things we won’t do together, it eliminates all the other ways in which we find sensuality and ecstasy. for me it has always been a zone of intense eroticism; being alone with someone I desire, anticipating the privilege that someone I want also wants me in return. that the way we want each other feels good and right and natural. that I will respond to her the way she needs me to, that she will do the same for me. no intimacy here? what could be more intimate than that, profound and visceral acceptance that goes beyond what can be said and can only be comprehended in the unspoken language of our bodies. because yes, our bodies do connect. in fact they collide and meld and twine. we grind and rub and thrust against each other. her hands twist in my hair as my fingers rake across her skull. our mouths breathlessly join and taste, tease and gasp. her shoulders are strong beneath my grip, her back broad and smooth beneath the flat of my palms. I can feel her heart jump against mine. whatever skin she shares with me is hot and delicious against my own and the weight of her against me is intoxicating. when she pushes my legs apart and takes me I see in her eyes how much she loves this. I grip her ass as she pumps into me, feel it flex. I know when she reaches her orgasm and comes against me, into me as I hold her so tight and close I could pull her into my skin, what it means for her. I feel her shudder and sweat, the hot beat of her breath on my neck as she gasps and groans against me. I know it hasn’t always been that easy for her. not when she had to worry about being asked for something she couldn’t give. not when she had to anticipate an unwelcome touch, or cruel questions. not when she couldn’t just be safe with her lover, and couldn’t just be. I know I’m fortunate, to be the one she trusts with this vulnerability. I know this is a gift.
this is what I wish people would understand – stone is not about what is denied – but what is given. that it is always a privilege when another person is willing to be intimate with you. how it is always a gift when they entrust you with their desire, something from the core of who they are, something so close they might as well be giving you their heart.
and how being able to acknowledge that and respect it ultimately means the potential for much deeper connections. for in the language of stone, we recognise the vital necessity of honouring personal boundaries as essential to authentic pleasure – and through this we create sexual intimacy as potent and whole-hearted as any other.