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Sexy New Photography Book by Meg Allen

Sexy New Photography Book by Meg Allen

“I brought you a sexy surprise for Bastille Day,” said Aids-activist and writer Anne-Christine d’Adesky, as she poured champagne for our audience at the Castro bookstore The Green Arcade. We were sharing the bill that night, presenting our new memoirs, her Pox Lover and my Kiss Me Again, Paris. “Here’s my pal, Meg Allen.”

We had a screen up already for my video book trailer, and now an incredible series of portraits was projected by Meg, who explained that these were photographs from her forthcoming book Butch. The projection gave us a glimpse of an outstanding photographer and her amazing models – butch women in all skin colors from all around the SF Bay Area. I was blown away by the promise of this book, and immediately arranged a book presentation together with Meg at the SF Main Library, where Meg revealed the book fresh off the press. We covered the whole scale of gender expressions, from butch women to ballerinas (with photographer Lucy Gray and her book Balancing Acts), via my memories of androgyny during the feminist seventies, in Paris.

Now that Butch is out, I can’t say enough about it.

Butch is the sexiest book far and wide, even before you open it. Meg Allen designed it herself with the same artistic mastery she shows in her photographs: a black cover, coffee-table-book size, stamped with the word BUTCH, black on black, and that’s not all: the book is wearing a real leather belt and chain — just like you know who!

Then you open it and turn the pages, and the portraits tell extraordinary stories without words – stories about the courage to be different, and the desire to blow the gender rules of our patriarchal society out of the water. Women daring to be outsiders, rebels, provocateurs, breaking out of the old gender cages to show masculine woman-power in many guises, disguises and embodiments. As you savor the marvelous page design, images boldly crossing over to fill more than one page, you may be struck not only by the beauty of the photography, but by the intimacy Meg Allen achieved with every one of the 135 butches in front of her camera.

Her models have chosen environments where they felt most at home and comfortable— rooms, cars, landscapes, cityscapes, bikes, kitchen tables, beds, or a bathtub. They present their tattoos, muscles, spiffy or understated outfits, hats and caps and brazen hair-dos, and some also reveal their torsos (covering their breasts with delicate hands), a hint of scars from top surgery or even, in one case, a pregnant belly. The large, colorful scope of what it can mean to be butch astonishes and shocks again and again with the surprise of a gender-bender that is not at first glance recognizable or definable. You find yourself looking for words that don’t exist to name what you see– boi, queer, masculine of center, or, as the author says in her dedication of the book, “the valiant dykes, fags and transfolk who stood before me.”

A quite academic foreword by Marcie Branco (a gender researcher at Stanford University) explains the societal background and historical importance of butch women. “Masculinity is not owned by men,” she writes. “Therefore, because it is not something inherent to men, masculinity is not ‘appropriated’ by butch women. Despite historic gender norms, masculinity can and is just as natural to women as it is to men.” What is impossible to explain is the profound effect of an intimate encounter with each person in the book who looks at the camera. How did Meg Allen arrive at such a degree of intimacy? “They are my tribe,” she said,—in other words, there was a rare degree of trust and mutual recognition. Enough to overcome shyness and, for some butches, a desire for invisibility. Here, the famous dominant “male gaze” of our culture is fractured and played back at the viewer with a powerful charge of knowing otherness, sometimes playful, sometimes provocative, sometimes victorious. This freedom of a gaze that won’t be caged in by gender stereotypes, has an extraordinary pride and erotic power.

I can’t imagine a better holiday gift for anyone who loves women. Find out more HERE >

Renate Stendhal’s memoir Kiss Me Again, Paris is now available as a Kindle book.

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