Being gay in Greensboro, North Carolina, is pretty simple: The LGBT community is small, so people like who they like, explained Robin, a 29-year-old black lesbian who was taken aback when she relocated to Atlanta a few years ago.

For starters, Atlanta women were into labels. Further, those labels limited socially acceptable couples to one type – a butch and a femme.
A “soft stud” who likes other typically masculine-appearing women, Robin found her niche in the city’s small but growing community of “stud for stud” women.

“I know a lot of stud on studs here in Atlanta,” said Robin, a customer service specialist who didn’t want to use her last name. “People are becoming more open-minded.”

Heteronormative gender roles are a signature of lesbian circles, influencing everything from body language to hairstyle.
In the love department, dapper studs date sultry femmes, according to decades-old cultural rules that have a particularly strong foothold among black LGBT women.

Yet a low rumble of change is growing louder.

More masculine-presenting black lesbians are embracing the idea of romance between butch women. Stud for stud – or S4S – women are showing up on TV shows, forming online groups and openly turning their backs on rules that say Ms. Right must carry a purse.

Insiders say such relationships are old news among whites. But in black circles, where strict ideas of what it means to be a lesbian prevail, the evolution is causing celebration and controversy.

Kai Brown talks about 'stud for stud.'

Kai Brown, a vocal advocate for ‘stud for stud’ visibility, says that many black lesbians adopt heteronormative roles to seem more palatable to the greater black community. (Photo courtesy Kai Brown)

‘Society has told us you need this balance of power’

To be sure, there have always been femme-femme or so-called “no label” pairings among black LGBT women. What’s slowly shifting, say community insiders, is the acceptance of couples where both women are definitively masculine.

Such pairings directly challenge antiquated ideas that have thrived in the LGBT community and beyond, said filmmaker Nneka Onuorah, whose 2015 documentary “The Same Difference” explored S4S themes. The hit film has sparked spirited discussions at showings in Atlanta and across the country.

“When people see two masculine women together, they can’t process that. Society has told us you need this balance of power – you need someone to take care of things and the other to nurture,” Onuorah said.

“It’s not really about sexuality,” she said. “It’s really about what masculinity represents to people.”

For black lesbians, masculinity has long meant carefully mimicking black males. During the 1950s heyday of butch/femme culture, black studs sported three-piece men’s suits and a perfectly coiffed femme on their arm – preferably in a gorgeous dress, according to the website Out History.

Generations later, many black lesbians continue to closely mirror cisgender men, even down to their homophobia, said Washington, D.C.-based writer Eden Carswell. She recently wrote about her own experience being approached by a fellow stud for the Black Lesbian Love Lab blog. The article drew several comments illustrating how touchy the topic remains.

“Get this fag shit outta here,” wrote one commenter, identified as “Gully.”

“Many straight men act aggressive towards gay men because they’re expected to, not because they actually feel resentment or disgust towards gay men. It’s part of the image,” Carswell said. “The same is true of studs and butches. Some are vehemently against S4S simply because it’s expected.”

Underground scene coming into the light

For some black gay women already facing a trifecta of potential sources of discrimination, flying in the face of established community norms can seem overwhelming, said Shaquea Moore of Decatur. Moore said most women find it easier “to go with what’s normal.”

“All studs are not anti-dating studs,” she said. “It’s just that it’s frowned upon. I think more of us would do it if there wasn’t a stigma.”

Many women want to seem more palatable to the greater black community, still largely coming to terms with LGBT men and women in general, said Kai Brown, a vocal advocate for S4S visibility from Washington, D.C.

“To get better acceptance and understanding and empathy from our community, our parents, our churches … we adopted the heteronormative,” she said.

Harsh comments and even violence motivated Brown to become increasingly vocal. Now going by “Stud Slayer,” she runs an irreverent S4S blog and recently spoke at a Washington, D.C. conference challenging ideas of what it means to be a stud.

“Just like you’re seeing transgender people all over the place, runways and stuff, you’re going to be seeing us,” she said. “We’re gonna be out there. We’re pretty out there now!”

There are signs that attitudes are thawing. The popular black lesbian web series “Studville” has explored S4S themes, while authors have added S4S-themed books to the standard romance themes. Online, a company called SOS Ultimate sells baubles that read “Sorry femmes, I like studs.”

In Atlanta, Robin said the S4S scene is still pretty underground. She mostly meets women through word of mouth – approaching in a nightclub is a little risky – or online.

Inch by inch, she believes, the community will come out into the light.

“I’m pretty sure it’s everywhere,” she said. “You just have to be open enough to see it.”

3 Responses

  1. Chelle B.

    I will say this (Sorry Shaq, don’t mean to leave a long comment, but I’ll also leave this on the article)…I read the article and as a masculine identified person (b/c I don’t use labels for my sexuality or my gender) who prefers masculine identified individuals and transmen, I didn’t feel like it fit me, or gave a true representation of the life I live. I’m almost 40, I’ve been living this since i was 16.

    Let’s start from the beginning.. In Atlanta..it’s full of young minded overly sexed creatures. The s4s crowd, isn’t really “out” they claim they are. They are hiding. The “community” isn’t really as accepting as they claim to be. While you can look at photos of s4s couples and see a lot of “love is love” but what most people skip over is the part of the comments that say “im not into all that and would never look at another stud like that…no disrespect but .. not my type of thing..i love femmes..you do you but dont bring it over here..etc etc” that’s not acceptance. It’s still seen as being repulsive, with a sugarcoated title on top of it. Essentially, these women are doing the same thing straight women are doing when they find out that you are gay when they have to explain how they are accepting of your lifestyle but they want you to understand that they aren’t that way.

    So women aren’t becoming more “open-minded” what they are is wanting to get their rocks off more freely. They are sexually frustrated. They don’t want their “femme” gf’s to look at them as less of a “stud” so they hide undercover, sneak and find studs to do the things to them that they wish they could ask their femmes to do without the judgement. when they get their satisfaction, they go back to their femme as it nothing ever happened. They act single, or just say they are single to get what they want, then never call. Or some are even bold enough to tell the truth. I can’t say how many “undercovers” have approached me asking for this type of arrangement. I’m not into breaking up a home, no matter how unhappy it is. Some folks have no conscious, I do.

    Yes, it’s true, it’s more open and honest among the white communities. Some days, it makes me want to only date white women for that reason. But I’m an equal opportunity lover. I don’t care who i date, race doesn’t matter. As long as I’m happy.

    The movie “Same Difference” … ugh.. I swear…i hated it. The s4s couple..was the worst type of representation ever. They made it seem like every s4s couple does nothing but wear fitteds, trade boxers, wear jerseys, sag their pants, and act like men. While I understand she probably didn’t have much of a budget, and was probably limited to an area of which she could interview people (just like you were with this article), but they were a horrible couple to use to represent a large genre of people. I don’t wear boxers. That’s unhealthy for my girl parts. I only wear fitteds when i wear jerseys during sporting events, or my locs looks a serious hot mess and it’s close to time to retwist them. But it’s def not an every day thing. I never sag my pants. I don’t want the world to see my underwear, hell, I don’t want to see anyones underwear. I buy belts to keep my clothes up where they belong. I wear clothes that fit, because I’m older and not some teenager. I have a career, a college education, and should act like a role model for my nieces and nephews, and acting like I belong on a street corner isn’t what I want them to aspire to be.

    The Black Lesbian Love Lab blog…hit the nail on the head with everything I’m saying. It’s exactly how the world truly feels about s4s.

    I’ll skip over Kai’s part, I know Kai, she’s a good buddy. She’s got a lot more deep info that I’m sure you could get from her. She’s been the StudSlayer for so long. These young studs dream of getting slayed by her and throw themselves at her. To include those undercover ones with femme gf’s and the such. Even studs who say “i would never do xyz with another stud” find themselves mesmerized by her and begging for a d**kdown. Over the years, I laugh at these folks, they just don’t know what they are trying to get into.

    There is so much more that could have been written. I’m sure you were limited to space, and a deadline. There are much older S4S couples that live their lives openly and don’t hide behind just a first name. There are singles who aren’t in it just to get some. You won’t really find many who are serious in an online group b/c those are typically full of folks who are just looking to get laid, who can show off the most skin, their illicit drug activities, who can “hookup via the internet” – breakup – then bad mouth each other, who can have the most long distance relationships in a month without ever meeting — you get the point. Those are groups. IG shoutout pages are all about looks..the less clothing the more likes you get, the more followers you will get. The more you talk about sex, the more people will flock to you.

    There are so many rules to dating these days. So it’s even harder to be S4S or whatever you wanna call it.

    But this is just my humble opinion.

    Reply
  2. Ty&Loyaltie

    This is Ty&Loyaltie the featured coupke bere in your article we just wanted to thank you for this segment. There is so much fake “pride” withun the LGBT community towards our own members!! Mainly US! Alot of fellow member dont look at us and see the true definition of LESBIANS…. we always say blind people fall in love because of wgats on the inside…. for they cannot see…. why is it deemed so “wrong”, for we are doing the same.

    Reply

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