I'm Big, Black, Butch and that Bitch... now what?
A Chat with Charlotte Summers for Gay star news (full interview)
1. Could you introduce yourself to the GSN audience - Name, pronouns etc.
Pronouns: she-ish/her-ish (playing with syntax as much as gender)
Professional Queer and founder of Confronting Change Diversity & Inclusion Strategies (www.confrontingchange.com)
2. Your Instagram is beautiful, what made you start sharing online?
Thanks! I sometimes forget that other people can actually see that. My friends never believe me when I say that I am an introvert and actually quite shy and self conscious. I guess you might not believe that either from checking out my Insta! But that’s just it, I’m pretty expressive in how I dress, and how I present to the world because it’s a way of taking ownership of how the world perceives me. It means I get to define what you make of me, rather than other people making judgements or assumptions.
I’ve spent most of lockdown revolving the same three pairs of paint splattered tracksuits (I fancied myself a DIY Butch for a misguided moment!) My online presence is quite the opposite, I can let loose with my increasingly expanding wardrobe of delirious lockdown purchases. It’s an opportunity to play with expression and fashion and presentation. I have spent the last year making more conscious decisions about what I post on socials and what messages I’m trying to get across as I ramble into the ether of the online space. I have spent most of the last year feeling pretty helpless and sometimes hopeless, so those conscious decisions about fashion, the statements I’m putting out there and my online presence reflect the decisions I make about my life and what I want to achieve with it.
3. "BigBlackButchBitch" - An amazing user name, why did you choose this?
These are all derogatory terms that people have used to define me my whole life, usually in anger and also reflecting all the ways in which I do not make a “good woman”. I’m fat, dark-skinned, masculine presenting, and often deemed a bitch because well, I’m a woman and apparently the two notions are synonymous.
It’s my way of saying yeah, sure - I may be all those things - now what? It takes away the derogatory power of those words and imbues them with strength, passion and fight. Rather than being something that someone else, usually someone who hates me or wants to diminish me might bestow upon me, it becomes my way of taking command of my narrative with total autonomy. I am not ashamed to be any of these things, if anything, this is the source of my power.
Plus, who doesn’t love a little alliteration, it rolls off the tongue, contorting it in a salacious manner and forces your mouth into voluptuous formation as you say it. It makes people blush when I use it in ‘professional’ contexts and is as enticingly titillating as it is bombastic - I’d say that sums me up perfectly.
4. How important is self-expression for you?
I’d say it is quite important to me. Society, and other people are always so eager to define you and put you in a box. Self expression is a way of taking control of that, of saying that other people don’t get to determine who you are or what happens to you in the world.
It’s the thing that lets us know that we are human and that we matter, and that no one has rights over us and our bodies. So yeah, sometimes self-expression is the only tool I’ve got to fight back and claim my space.
5. Has there always been this level of confidence?
Yes and no. I think everyone has self doubt and battles with self esteem, especially if you live in a body that society has deemed to be unacceptable. The self doubt usually isn’t about my outward appearance, but more relating to not being enough on the inside. It’s taken a lot of self reflection and active practice and hours of rambling on in therapy. That is in and of itself a relatively recent journey that is manifesting life changing results, but which I’d always believed was out of my grasp.
On the flipside, I’ve always had a sense of well, who cares. I’m never going to fit into expectation, even if that was something I was interested in doing, so I might as well make do with what I’ve got. Maybe even more than make do, make magic?!
It’s definitely all an ongoing process, and what you see on the internet definitely isn’t me all day every day. Even in some of those images, there were tears and panic attacks in between shots, but ya boi can pull it together for a snap!
I guess I am trying to learn that confidence isn’t about flamboyant outfits or being vivacious and outspoken all the time, it is more about learning to listen to myself, learning to hear my own voice, to listen to my body, to my mind, to rest when I need to, to allow myself joy and pleasure, even failure, and to sit in a paint splattered tracksuit for three days and not care.
6. As a queer woman myself, I use "dyke" to describe myself. Do you believe there are negative stigma's around "butch" and "dyke", if so, why do you think this is the case?
Dyke, butch - the base of these terms when used as an insult is to say that you aren’t a “good woman”, you aren’t what a woman is meant to be. I think a lot of people are afraid of these terms because of the power within them. A lot of people have also been hurt by these words, they are sharp tools to chip away at one’s humanity, and they are often accompanied by violence and vitriol.
People have always referred to me as butch because I’m a woman(?) who wears boy clothes. I find it kinda entertaining, because I’m really quite camp, a bit of a dandy and a fop, so it never necessarily felt like I was doing the label justice. I’ve recently been redefining what the term butch means to me in ways that don’t relate to traditional understandings of (toxic) masculinity. It’s been a real sassy little adventure, and yeah, I’d say I’m pretty proud of the term now. I have absolutely no problem being a very bad woman indeed, so I reckon it suits me like a fine cut bespoke suit, actually!
7. What do you hope to achieve with your work?
To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that out. I don’t know what I’m doing any more than anyone else (ok, maybe a bit more than our Tory government!). My professional D&I work and my personal motivations are closely aligned so it's sometimes hard to separate the two. Maybe part of creating change is that this work becomes an integral part of how I live my life.
I want to raise awareness, I want to push people to think a little bit more about experiences beyond their own. I want my self reflections to encourage self reflection in others, especially those who have never really had to question their place in the world. I think it’s more important than ever that white people, cis people, straight people, able bodied people, neurotypical people, men - basically anyone who hasn’t had to consider the things they take for granted to spend some time thinking about that and how it impacts the way they move through the world.
I then want people to ask themselves what they can do differently. And for them to ask themselves that question every day, to make conscious active decisions every day. Sometimes it can all feel a bit hopeless, like things aren’t going to change because there are these big overarching systems at play that keep us all oppressed. But I genuinely believe that real change won’t come from some person right at the top finally giving us all an opportunity, it has to come from all of us collectively doing things differently and pushing for change and for the world to be a better, more equal and more equitable place.
A lofty goal for a couple insta posts - maybe? But I have to believe that things can be different and if we all have a part to play in that, maybe dressing up in silly clothes and taking vanity shots in my bathroom is my way.
8. How can people find you on social media?
Or check out my business website www.confrontingchange.com for more info on my other projects and maybe even catch a glimpse of me being a real life professional adult with my work as a Diversity and Inclusion consultant.