“Where the bois are” in NYMagazine evokes conflicting feelings, leaves much unanswered

This article about boi culture in NYMagazine is a really interesting read. Although this article covers a subculture that’s filling an important niche in the queer world, this article seems very dismissive and negative to me. Let’s see what lovely truth-nuggets this reporter has uncovered for us!

First off it’s funny when reporters delve into a subculture.

Secondly, the ageism here is really interesting, as is the rejection of queer politics while at the same time embodying the very same gender-defiance that was made possible by a previous generation of gender-rule-breaking women/womyn.

Boihood has nothing to do with earth mothers or sisterhood or herbal tea, and everything to do with being young, hip, “sex positive,” a little masculine, and ready to rock.

Also note how “sex positive” is in quotes: it’s not political sex positivity; it’s sex positivity in a perpetual-teenager sense.

Some hypothetical questions off the top of my head: Is it a positive thing to have this culture where you no longer have to be militantly political 24/7, this sense that most enemies of LGBT society are vanquished? Or is it an excuse to act like kids even into adulthood because growing up is just too hard? Does it come from a positive environment surrounding LGBT acceptance, or is it a result of a negative youth-oriented age-ist culture? Is it a redefinition of female masculinity in the same way effeminate men redefine masculinity? Or is it brattiness?

As one butch interviewed for the article said:

What’s new is seeing these kids who really seem to be striving for a certain kind of juvenilia, not just masculinity. They really want to be kids. This hit me when I saw this girl—this boi, I guess—barreling out of a store in Chelsea in huge, oversize jeans, a backpack, and a baseball cap pulled down low. And she was running as if she were late for the school bus . . . Her whole aura was so completely rough-and-tumble 8-year-old that I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had a slingshot in one pocket and a frog in the other.

Whether or not it’s necessarily a bad thing to reject “adult” queer culture is debatable. There does seem to be a flexibility in gender roles that is refreshing: some bois date butches, some date femmes, some date other bois, some transition and use male pronouns, some remain female-identified. It’s become non-political in terms of feminism and homosexuality, but in terms of gender they seem to be filling the spectrum from male to female and bridging the gender gap.

The article seems to have found “one of each” bois with douchey views: one that uses misogynistic rhetoric like “bros before hos”, one that is against transgender bois, one that thinks boi-on-boi or butch-on-butch is gross and that likewise femme-on-femme is “air”, one that thinks “butch-femme” is stupid. They also found a femme who is fed up with bois because of her perception that they represent the feminization of butch women.

Maybe this is a product of too many conflicting expectations put on people within the LGBT community, and a young generation even less concerned with rules and politics than their predecessors. The biggest take-away from this article for me was this subculture is about subverting the binary, generally: masculine-of-center dykes don’t have to be macho butch anymore, and male-identified people don’t have to medically transition anymore. But the other take-away is that this culture is associated with exclusion, artsiness, youth, insolence, and lack of respect for others, which seems to do a disservice to non-binary people who are older, more political, more butch, more femme, more traditional, less traditional, less promiscuous.

This article never purported to seek out a representative sample of lesbians, but it never made clear that not all young LGBT people are like this and that this subculture is a luxury in cities such as NYC and San Fran where politics have become so progressive as to render gay rights virtually obsolete, attracting LGBT youth to a scene promising an escape from the gravity of being outsiders in a heteronormative world.

And at the end of the day, having a less-masculine-yet-still-potentially-male-identified subculture is awesome: people female assigned at birth who transition/don’t transition but identify as male don’t have to prove their masculinity? Awesome!! It’ll be interesting to see how this movement evolves with time and becomes more age-inclusive.

What are your thoughts?


11 thoughts on ““Where the bois are” in NYMagazine evokes conflicting feelings, leaves much unanswered

  1. I couldn’t get through the article because it seemed so messed to me. Boi can mean so many things, and the reporter clearly doesn’t understand that expressing more masculinely in this culture means that you will be seen as a child…


    • I agree with you. When I first read it tried being objective and taking her at her word, but having read up on the author a bit she seems to be out of touch with what queer culture is about: it’s not about being androgynous young hipsters trying to be “different” and scoffing at all other labels. She really failed to capture the complexity of the queer youth experience.

      And yeah I think I talked about how growing up and wearing men’s clothing is seen as either sloppy or youthful: if you’re a female bodied person you are expected to “grow out” of your youthful dabbles in menswear, and in fact I have heard lesbians talk about butchness as a “phase” they went through when they first came out but later outgrew.

      And in truth there is something youthful about blurring gender, but that’s partly because most clothing that is androgynous/masculine that fits afab bodies is generally more youth-oriented: tshirts, hoodies, or preppy college-y polos and oxfords. Anything more formal/dressy is a lot harder to do.


        • Yep. It seems like this youthful boi culture is a way of embracing that in some way, rather than overcompensating. And just because some bois use it as an excuse to be douchey doesn’t mean “boi” in general should be synonymous with acting like a kid with no moral judgment.


            • Yaaasssss
              In general our society lacks examples of positive masculinity; focusing on a handful of bois with negative masculine behavior means less exposure for the positive masculinity within the community that IS out there! It’s true that just because someone is queer doesn’t mean they’re tolerant and open-minded, but by focusing specifically on those who aren’t, she’s perpetuating the stereotype that being queer is not at all about open-mindedness; it’s a bunch of attention-hungry artsy women. And focusing on what she sees through that narrow lens is so problematic.
              I will check out the Brown Boi Project; really interested in seeing other viewpoints. Thank you.


  2. I found this really interesting, I guess I don’t pay much attention to the younger generation because of all of the disrespect I see perpetuated against us sort of “old school” Butches and Femmes. I found particularly interesting the line “perception that they represent the feminization of butch women”…you know, I CAN see that point. We used to call them “soft” Butches, now they prefer to be called “bois”…a generational word change. I am betting they all grow up and their demeanor’s change quite a bit in the next 40 years…as our did as we grew, experienced and aged into the people we are today. I applaud your writing, very good piece! ~MB


    • Thank you, MB! I don’t know any older butches personally, but I do see a big generational difference in the queer community which is probably hurting it in the long run. Curious to see what happens in the future, and whether we can overcome this age rift. 🙂


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