Pic from "People": http://bit.ly/doRv3M
Rachel Maddow and her partner, Susan Mikula (both pictured left) are 15 years apart. So are Ellen and Portia. My DGF and I also have an age gap of over a decade. While May-December (or even May-October) romances can present occasional challenges, they can also be awesome.
How big of an age difference is too big?
The unofficial formula is the "half your age plus seven" rule. So if you're 30, the rule goes, the youngest person you should date is 22 (since 30/2 = 15, and 15+7 = 22). When you're 44, the cutoff would be 29. At 58, it would be 36, and so on. And while this is a silly formula, it reveals an interesting truth: the older you get, the less age differences matter. An 18-year-old and a 32-year-old are 14 years apart, but these 14 years encompass a huge gap in experiences. Take those same 14 years, 30 years later, and you've got a 48-year-old and a 62-year-old. Sure, there are still some differences, but the gap has definitely shrunk.
Age gaps tend to be more accepted in the queer community than they are in general. Maybe this is because we're already doing something that differs from the norm, so an age difference on top of it is just icing on the deviance cake. Or maybe it has to do with the gendered tendency in age differences among heterosexual couples. Demi and Ashton notwithstanding, the "older man, younger woman" scenario is much more common than the reverse. This pattern tends to reinforce gender inequalities and stereotypes in a way that queer relationships can't. Or maybe it has something to do with child-rearing. On average, fewer queers (especially gay men) have kids, so maybe people care less about age gaps when no little kidlets are involved.As far as I'm concerned, barring illegality, there's no such thing as an age difference being "too big" unless it presents problems for the couple. The bigger the differences, the more potential problems. But the key word is potential.
Particular problems may or may not materialize for any given couple. Here are a few of the most common ones:
- Differences in energy levels. If one partner wants to climb mountains and the other can barely climb stairs, this may be an Issue. Of course, age doesn't necessarily dictate energy levels. My mom told me recently about her 70-something friend who was complaining one day about being sore. My mom thought, "Oh, that poor thing... the aches and pains of getting old." But then the woman continued, "I really need to avoid doing my five-mile hikes on consecutive days"(!).
- Health problems. The older you get, the more likely you are to have health problems. This is a generality, but on average, it's true. If you end up with someone much older than you are, chances are that your partner will face a serious health concern before you do. This worry may or may not be a deal breaker. My DGF asked me once, "Are you going to want to change my diapers in 30 years?" My answer: "If we've been together for 30 years, of course I'll change your diapers."
- Cultural differences. Maybe you grew up on "Barney," but she remembers "Captain Kangaroo." Maybe you slow-danced to Color Me Badd in sixth grade, while she danced to it at her first marriage. These kinds of cultural differences can be funny, bizarre, or depressing--it all depends how you interpret them. Personally, I love that my DGF and I were raised in different decades. It gives us even more to learn from each other. Sounds trite, but it's true.
- Life Stages. Like differences in health, life stages are correlated with age. (But "are correlated" doesn't mean "correspond perfectly.") If one of you is hitting your stride in your career and the other is just starting grad school, it may take a little extra effort to appreciate where your sweetheart's at.
Bottom line: Age is not "all in your head"--but what you make
of it is. It's a factor that may or may not have important implications. Like differences of religion, social class, or cultural background, it's worth taking seriously to help you understand and strengthen your relationship.Six Relationship Tips for Couples with Age Differences:
Your turn, readers: have you ever been in a relationship with an age difference? Did the age gap bring any special perks or challenges? What do you think about big age differences in relationships?
- Hang out with other couples that are both your ages. If one of you is 31 and the other is 49, make sure to spend time with couples in their early thirties and in their mid-to-late forties. This way, neither of you will feel habitually left out because of age, and you might also gain some additional perspective about your partner by seeing where her peers are at, what interests them, etc. (You might also try hanging out with people whose ages or lifestyles are very different from both of yours--it will underscore how much you have in common!)
- Don't cast your own age as superior. If you're the older partner, a "been there, done that" attitude toward your partner's experiences is not useful. Maybe you have extra insight, but that doesn't mean you know everything there is to know about your partner's situation. Similarly, if you're the younger partner, don't assume you're inherently cooler or more savvy. Treat each other as equals. Your own experience is not better or more valid simply because it happened more recently (or longer ago). And relatedly:
- Embrace your different experiences. Talk about each others' childhoods, music preferences, school experiences, etc. You have a lot to learn from each other. Be open to each others' cultural preferences. Maybe this means you take turns deciding what movie to watch or what music to listen to. Try to understand and appreciate your partner's aesthetic sensibilities, even if you don't always share them.
- Talk about your goals. This is good advice for all couples, but it's especially important for May-December (or even July-October) pairs. Do you want to have kids? Buy a house? Retire? Travel? Make sure your partner knows what's important to you, and where you see yourself in one year, or five, or ten. Just because someone is 39 doesn't mean her biological clock is ticking, and just because someone is 22 doesn't mean she wants to go clubbing. Make sure your ideas about your partner's goals and desires don't rest on assumptions.
- Listen to everyone else, then ignore them. Your daughter may be uncomfortable that you're dating someone her age. Your friends may not see why you'd be with a woman who hasn't gone dancing since Tribe 8 was hot. They may openly question your motives, or your partner's motives, or your sanity. Listen to their concerns, answer their questions, and completely disregard their judgments. Only you know what makes you happy.
- Don't hide your partner away. To avoid people's judgments and criticism, it may be tempting not to socialize with your partner as much as you might if you were the same age. Early in the relationship, fine: you want to make sure it's working for you. But once you see that it is, don't hesitate to show your partner around town and introduce her to your friends and family. If she makes you happy, the people who really care about you will eventually recognize this, and will get to know your partner for who she is.
I spent several hours working (at day job stuff) this morning, then signed onto Twitter
, only to discover that in the intervening hours, I had missed some crucial (okay, maybe not crucial
, but interesting) stuff. Then I signed onto Tumblr
, which I don't usually use but have been experimenting with lately
. More missed stuff. And don't even get me started on Facebook
Additionally, when I got my latest issue of Curve
in the mail (I'm a longtime reader), it felt a little outdated. I'm not sure if this had to do with layout, format, or content. This led me to wonder what BW readers like to read (well, besides Butch Wonders, obviously). Whether or not you ID as butch, I'd love it if you could take this poll. (And if you check "other," please tell me what the "other" is.)
I'd also be interested to know what's changed for you in the last 2-3 years re: how you get your queer media news and content. Personally, I rely more on specialized sites, as well as particular people (e.g., on FB and Twitter), and less on national news sites (except NPR, which I listen to almost daily). I read blogs more than I used to, and read magazines less. How about you? And: do you access queer-related content differently from how you access other media content?
A couple of days ago, I wrote about my memories of my father's dresser
, and I included a snapshot of my own. I asked readers to send in pictures or descriptions of their dressers. Here are some of the pictures and quotes people sent in. (The pictures are interspersed with the quotes. Some quotes go a picture; others don't. Can you guess which ones do?)
• • •
"Coins, keys, pens, pocketknife. Valet with wallet, cufflinks, bracelets, tie tacks. Vintage ash tray with odd bits like collar stays, dog whistle, lost button, corsage pin, matches. Vintage tip tray with specs, sunglasses, cell, biz cards. Always a memo pad. All neatly arranged on top of TWO dressers pushed together and garnished with a bureau scarf. Geez. What a fetishist."
"Picture of my lady, stuffed amoeba my friend sewed for me, three books on female masculinity, a chapstick, my wallet, and a roll of duct tape."
"I had a fascination with my father's dresser as well. I snooped though ...found a lot of interesting things! Every week I would hope for something new...it's still intriguing every time I see it now."
"Generally there is a cat napping on mine and nothing else...since he'd just knock it off."
"In essence, her side is the zebra lamp side, and mine is the one with all the nail polish and hair things...we've got receipts, a pen cup, water bottle, and a Bath and Body works bag there... That mask, though, is my favorite, and a keepsake from the Highland Games in Enumclaw."
"Diapers, shirt, that's it."
"It's a mess of nothing but junk. Change, receipts, a fan, 2 valet boxes."
"Perfume, deodarant, talcs, nail polish, brush, comb, wet wipes, clock, mobile."
"Aftershave, deodorants, my gf's perfume [and] makeup, jewelry, bobble rack, face wipes, creams a teddy, watches."
"As for my parents, they never had anything interesting on their dresser... but their closet always fascinated me because my mom kept all her jewelry, important documents and things like that in a safe, inside the closet. Also, their closet was the only way to get up into the attic, and so as a child, I was convinced that if I ever got a ladder and went up there, I'd be able to climb into another world. The modern-day version of Narnia, I guess."
"Mine is in my closet, and I avoid going back in there as much as possible."
"I was obsessed w my grandfather's [dresser]. [H]is white old spice bottle would be the first thing I went after... and his razor was next... he removed the razor ...when we came over to keep me mainly from shaving something off my face. My dresser is a little more on the romantic side I guess... my candles, colognes, deodorant, and my change jar, most of the time all nice and neat."
"My SnapOn jewlery box. My Cabbage patch doll dressed in a baseball uniform. My AA chips and big gbook. Watches, wallet and colonge. A picture of myself before I lost weight so I don't forget. A picture of my girl."
"A black fanny pack... a jewelry box my brother brought back from Japan when I was 11 and a bunch of books and lotto tickets... and a stuffed animal someone gave me when i was going though chemo."
"I was always fascinated with my Dad's dresser as a child because he had all this cool stuff on top and hidden in the drawers that he would sometimes show me if I lurked around while he was getting ready, like pocket knives, boxes, shells, die cast toy cars he had when he was a boy, harmonicas and generally fascinating old stuff... I have a habit of collecting random things through the day that end up in my pockets, then at night this is where most of it ends up when I empty them. "
"Coins, deodorant , mini-hope chest, papers of important stuff that needs to be done but have been laying there for about 6 months, hand lotion, dust..."
Lots of folded, multi-colored t-shirts, passport, foreign money, important documents, Canadian cell phone for when I go "home."
"I was always fascinated by my grandad's dresser. He had a box of things he picked up whilst serving in WW2, Brill cream and a comb. Minimal. I have my grandad's old oil lamp, my toy soldier minus a foot, ashtray of loose change and memory cards, deodorants, hand gel, tiger balm, body butter, glasses, a wee pot of body jewellery, and my rice crispies i forgot to eat this morning."
This is the third of a three-part series of posts about butch-butch relationships. These posts are based on my own experiences, as well as those of about 15 butches I interviewed who are, or have dated, other butches. You can read parts one and two of this series here and here.Toughness and VulnerabilitySeveral member
s of butch-butch couples said one aspect of their relationship they particularly loved was the mixture of toughness and vulnerability in their partner. K was particularly eloquent on this point: "We don't usually think of butch women as being... vulnerable, do we? After all, if butch means masculine, and if boys are encouraged to be tough, then doesn't it follow that a butch lesbian should have a thick skin, and brush off all the hurts... collecting broken hearts and belt notches, and racking up a lifetime of hard knocks? ...[T]he best thing about being with her [is that s]he makes herself vulnerable to me."Butch-butch couples loved that their relationships allowed them not only to exhibit their own toughness, but to take refuge in their partner's toughness.
Z told me, "The best thing is that we are both very strong, in ways that compliment the other's weaknesses." And Jennie wrote, "I can be strong and tough for [Lisa], be her butch. But I can also use her toughness and let her be my butch when I need it." Indeed, as one astute femme Facebook buddy
pointed out, the qualities that butches seem to appreciate in other butches aren't too different from those that femmes seem to appreciate in butches.
Occasionally, some butches in butch-butch couples feel like their "masculinity" or "butchness" is threatened by being with another butch. For example, one anonymous respondent feels a little uneasy when her partner wears a tie: "Then will they think I'm
the femme?" she asks. K.D. explains that she and her partner, Becca, sometimes "have butch-offs: 'Sweetie, let me carry that,' 'I'll get the door,' etc. Sometimes I just want to be the sweetheart that helps the other person, comforts the other person, demonstrates chivalry etc. and when Becca wants to be that part of the relationship it can be interesting to navigate." Donnie added that butches are a stubborn breed, and that neither partner likes to be the one to give in!
A few butches offered suggestions for making each other feel butch. Jennie said that since she and Lisa "fight over some 'butch' duties," they needed "to buy 2 shovels, 2 chainsaws, etc." Lisa added, "We need to buy a second snow shovel, cuz I am NOT watching her have all the fun!" KT said that it's important to reinforce each others' butchness, since for both her and her partner, being a masculine or androgynous woman was an important part of their identity. Z admitted to a little concern that her partner might one day leave her for a femme, since K has dated femmes before. And alas, I can personally confess to having a similar pang of worry now and then. It's not only important for butch-butch couples to respect
each others' butchness, but to be very explicit about valuing
this in each other. What Butch-Butch Couples Share
Navigating the world as a masculine-of-center woman can be tough, and several respondents mentioned that it's nice to have someone who understands those experiences first-hand. AJ said that being in a relationship with another butch gives her 'permission' to be herself: "I'm allowed to be me. There is no expectation for me to change myself or be more 'feminine' because I am female. We are best friends and lovers. She just gets me." Becca wrote, "I truly appreciate that the other person knows where I'm coming from and understands what it's like to move around in the world as a butch." Jess said, "The best thing is just having someone you can relate to."
K.D. + Becca = awesome.
Several butches also mentioned that butch lovers are quicker in the bathroom: "Chopper doesn't take long to get dressed," Z said. "[S]he is rough around the edges like me. We don't really worry too much about whether our socks match or if we have some dog hair on us." AJ said, "[I]t is quick to go out because I don't have to wait for her to do her hair, makeup, nails and stuff."
Nearly every respondent said the best part of being in a relationship with another butch is that they are simply very attracted to other butches. Some of them are attracted exclusively to other butches, and others have no generalizable preference or pattern. Either way, being in a relationship with someone to whom you are physically attracted is, well, hot. Butch-loving-butches are no more in charge of their own chemical attractions than femme-loving butches, butch-loving femmes, or anyone else. This is one of the many reasons it made me sad that a few people wrote, in response to my previous posts, that butch-butch relationships are "gross" or "a waste." When two consenting adults are in love with each other, a "waste" is about the last thing I'd call it.
Butch in the Bedroom: Just Us and Our Socks
A few bashful butches didn't respond to this question at all. But I'll let those who did tell you in their own words what it's like for two butches in bed:
Stacy: "Butch/Femme is something very different than Top/Bottom, but people assume it's the same. I have had very different roles in each of my relationships in that area. If you have enough trust with someone, you have enough freedom to explore all sides of yourself and your partner. I believe everyone has their butch side, their femme side, their top side and their bottom side. The fascinating thing is to see how yours pairs up in each relationship."
O: "Things are very hot in the bedroom. We are both takers and givers so it usually works out very nice. The only thing is sometimes we fight over who tops."
eL: "It is amazing. I don't want to kiss and tell... but it was magical."
Donnie: "I think it's amazing! It's a true give and take of feelings, emotions, and love on an equal level."
Anon: "Really hot! This might be because I'm really only attracted to other butches, and it's fun to have sex with people to whom you're attracted. But yeah, it's great. Sometimes there's a little argument over who tops, though, since we both love topping."
Becca: "I think it depends on the butches. :D I appreciate that everyone expresses their sexuality differently, and I'm grateful that my current partner and I are very compatible and satisfied in that area."
Lisa: "Completely open and free. I don't have to always butch-up, and I don't have to always be the 'girl.' We can wrestle, we can fight for who has top tonight, or we can take turns, or we can snuggle and cuddle."
LG: "Same as any other relationship."
K.D: "AMAZING!!! Luckily we are not the stereotypical stone butches (I do not feel like many are.) We get to enjoy each others bodies the way that they are with little to no question about it."
Tammi: "I don't know what it's like for 'just any' two butches in bed… It strikes me as a creative wellspring of opportunities, and each time leaves me wowed and full of ideas for the next time."
Anon: "There's no hairspray on the pillowcases, or heavy perfume, or itchy lace underthings. Just us, and our socks."
There you have it, dear readers--everything you wanted to know about butch-butch couples, and more! A huge thank you to the wonderful butches who let me interview them: AJ and Jo, K (aka Chopper) and Z (aka Zed), eL, LG and KT, Donnie, Becca and K.D., Jess and Beth, O, Stacy, Chelsie, Lisa and Jennie, and a handful of others who preferred to remain anonymous.
Butch-butch sharing extends to more practical arenas as well. Becca noted that she loves being able to share ties, and Jess wrote, "You can share - hair gel, clothes and shoes, toys. You have someone you can talk to about anything - getting called sir, woman staring at you in the ladies bathroom, packing or not packing, cargo shorts vs. cargo pants."
I can remember, as a kid, being fascinated with the top of my father's dresser. There was always a jar of change, a tube of Blistex, and a wooden box where he kept--what? Change, maybe? Parking tickets? I have no idea. But it was sacred, somehow. Neither of my parents had "offices" or anything like that in the houses where I grew up, and the top of my father's dresser was the only place in the house that was his and his alone. I don't know why I was so fascinated with it, nor what internal force prevented me from carrying my interest a step further and actually snooping.I hadn't thought about this for a long time. Then the other day, I was
grouching at my DGF for putting unmatched socks on my dresser. "It has to be neat
," I told her. "It has to be a certain way
I have no idea why I am so fastidious about the top of my dresser, particularly given my lack of fastidiousness in other areas of my physical world (bathroom; car). I think it relates, somehow, to my childhood fascination with my father's dresser--my silly idea that it contained intriguing secrets.Anyway, I snapped a picture of my dresser
and the space above it. As you can see, my many ties are arranged in rainbow order (how gay), each hanging on individual hooks, with some bracelets and necklaces hanging on the spare ones. Below them, there tubes of Chapstick in a little wooden bowl that my DGF made, a random geode in another bowl that she made, some hand sanitizer, a little green jar with my collar stays, a clear jewelry/tool tray that I found at the hardware store (for my rings, earrings, and pocket knife), a wooden cigar box (which holds my watches), and a little soy sauce dish that's holding my spare change and a binder clip.My DGF won't let me snap a picture of hers, but let's just say that there's very little question in our relationship about which of us more resembles a stereotypical gay man and which of us more closely resembles a stereotypical straight man. Dear readers, I would love to
have pictures of the tops of your dressers. Please email either (or both!) to me here
by Friday, and I will post them anonymously in a future entry. No rearranging allowed--just snap a pic as is and send it along to me! (And if you want to share any memories of a parent's dresser, include it and I'll post that, too.)
When I posted my last entry, I worried that it might be behind the times. Especially considering the number of queers who identify as neither butch nor femme (and those who eschew labels altogether), I was uncertain whether the post would ring true for people. But wow. Not only were my fears unfounded, but the number of negative messages I received on Facebook made it clear that this is still a big issue. Whether they specifically identify as "butch" or not, two masculine-of-center women who date each other face serious challenges, even within their own communities.
In this post, I continue exploring butch-butch relationships, based on interviews of 15 self-identified butches--10 who are currently in a relationship with another butch, and five who are single and date butches. I've decided to expand the butch-butch exposé into three parts rather than two. This part tackles "balance" in a butch-butch relationship, as well as how butch-butch couples have been received by others.
A Different Kind of Balance
One of the most-written-about joys of butch-femme relationships is the inherent "balance"--psychic, physical, and otherwise. Many of the butch-butch couples I interviewed also talked about balance, using words like "synergy," "camaraderie," and "equality." Several respondents said that in butch-femme relationships, gender roles had been too present for them. All respondents were quick to state their respect for butch-femme relationships (and understood that prescribed roles are not necessarily part of that equation). Still, they saw butch-butch relationships as a kind of "tabula rasa," with no default (in their own minds, nor in others' perceptions) about who opens the door for whom. "In our relationship, it's as if gender roles just completely don't exist, which I love," KT said. Lisa echoed this, saying that she enjoyed the "fluidity" of her and her partners' roles. Chelsie wrote, "The fem women I was with treated me more like their 'boyfriend' and resembled the dynamic of a straight couple."
Personally, while dating men and while dating femmes, I always felt like there were prescribed "typical" ways for us to act. If my femme date brought me flowers (or if I bought my DXH flowers), it was as if were were "bucking" certain roles. I don't like having roles to buck, even if they're only imposed by my own culturally-programmed brain.
Nearly all of the butches I interviewed had previously dated femmes, and said dating butches felt "natural" or "was a relief." K wrote, "The dynamic of my relationship with my butch is so different from any of my relationships with femmes (or men, before that). I feel like I have finally been allowed to take off… any kind of costume. There's no doubt that I'm butch, or that she is: even though we're not terribly attached to labels, we both agree that either of us prancing about in a dress or makeup would be Just Wrong." She also said, "But the relaxed and accepting dynamic of our relationship allows me to be myself first and foremost, with costumes optional, whereas in masculine/feminine-roled relationships that I've been in, only certain things were allowed, and to venture beyond them might make somebody squeamish."
When it came to the essentials of love and communication, however, most respondents believe that butch-butch relationships are no different from any others. Becca wrote, "[T]he dynamic of our relationship is basically very simple--we're head over heels ridiculous for each other, and I'm grateful for every single moment." Jess shared a similar sentiment: "[T]he dynamic of our relationship is similar to any other relationship, whether it's femme/femme, butch/femme, or any straight couple. We love each other and have committed ourselves to a lifetime together. We argue with each other, we miss each other when we're apart, and we consult each other in any big or small decision we're making. We laugh, we cry and we care."
All of this made me wonder if butch-loving-butches experience a different kind of queer "sexual orientation" than femme-loving-butches. What do you think, dear readers?
Friends Don't Care, But Strangers Stare
The dominant theme from my interviews was that close friends tend to be accepting of butch-butch relationships, but that strangers and acquaintances, whether straight or queer, tend to be weirded out. There also seems to be an uncomfortable "invisibility" that butch-butch couples experience as couples. I'll let these butches explain in their own words:
eL: "Most of my friends 'just don't get' butch... I do feel like it's taboo. …[W]hen my ex and I would go out dancing, when we weren't being seen as gay boys/bois, we were often assumed to be single (even though we were dancing together and were, in my opinion, pretty obviously TOGETHER). We would regularly get hit on and then have to politely decline and, much to most folks' surprise, state that we were, in fact, a couple. Also most femmes and some 'straight' women automatically assumed were were interested in them when we just weren't--we only had eyes for each other… Not being seen as a couple was difficult."
K.D: "My best friend thinks its adorable, [and]others don't have much to say. I think some people get confused because they are used to the butch/femme dichotomy. I think a lot of people find it unusual but I don't think many would say its taboo, just perhaps confusing."
Donnie: "My close friends were ok with it, others thought it was kind of odd to be butch on butch… and teased us about who opens whose door and who does who in bed."
Stacy: "My friends didn't say much, but I heard later that they thought it was a bit weird. I find a lot of things feel weird in the lesbo world--the B/B thing was just another one."
Becca: "[M]y friends are a broad mix of queers who don't really seem to judge other people's situations, and my straight friends and family don't know that it's different from anything. They just see two queers and it makes sense to them. I don't feel like it's unusual/weird/taboo for me, but I do feel extra gay sometimes. I feel like we'e super visible as queers, but not always super visible as a couple."
Anon: "Some friends think it's weird, especially the butches in butch-femme couples. It's like being gay within the gay community. One butch friend of mine said she thought it was 'gross.' I feel like heterosexuals understand butch-femme better than butch-butch. Maybe the butch-femme thing is more recognizable to heterosexuals as what they're used to."
Lisa and Jennie
Jennie: "None of my friends ever questioned the butch/butch thing. My friends were just excited to see me happy. I don't find it unusual. In fact, I enjoy it more than I realized I could!"
AJ: "All my friends were great and they love Jo so there was no problem there. Sometimes when you are out in public and we are together you get weird looks… You do hear… complaints of femmes that it is not fair that you get all the butch girls when they want one!"
So What's At the Heart of the Butch/Butch "Taboo?"
This all made me wonder... if Portia had short hair and had worn a tux, would people have been quite so stoked about Ellen and Portia's wedding? Would "Ellen Show" viewers still have talked about how "cute" the wedding was? And if not, would this be due to the fact that butch + butch is taboo, or that same + same is taboo, or to the fact that butch women aren't seen as conventionally attractive?
Stay tuned. Next entry will be a wrap-up on butch-butch relationships, and I'll finally tackle butch-butch in the bedroom...
A huge thank you to the wonderful butches who let me interview them: AJ and Jo, K (aka Chopper) and Z (aka Zed), eL, LG and KT, Donnie, Becca and K.D., Jess and Beth, O, Stacy, Chelsie, Lisa and Jennie, and a handful of others who preferred to remain anonymous.
Lisa: "It feels a little taboo sometimes. But it seems to throw off straight people more than other lesbians. Straight people still seem to be stuck in butch/femme roles, and get confused if we don't fit into those stereotypes."
Z and K, butch-butch couple extraordinaire
Gay Within the Gay Community
When I first came out, I quickly understood two things: (1) I was butch; (2) I was interested in butch women. It took me a few months to realize that the co-occurrence of these two things was a bit unusual. I read dozens of online profiles in which devastatingly attractive butches proclaimed their desire to find a femme who could "balance" them.
I hope my loyal readers will forgive me for this, but back then, I really didn't understand butch-femme relationships. Wasn't a big perk of being a lesbian to get away from gender roles? Why would anyone want a relationship that replicated heterosexuality? Of course, this is silly; butch-femme relationships aren't "replicating" heterosexuality any more than my butch DGF and I are "replicating" a homosexual male relationship. When two phenomena are similar, sloppy thinking can lead to the conclusion that the less culturally privileged one is imitating the other. I was engaged in sloppy thinking.
Anyway, the lack of butch-loving butches to date led me to give femmes a whirl. But dating femmes felt a lot like dating men: it was something I was supposed to like, but it felt strange and unnatural. It just wasn't me. (The main upside to dating femmes seemed to be that it was easier to find my clothes on the floor next to theirs!)
So I resigned myself to the fact that I was the rare butch who is into other butchy/boi/andro types. I found plenty of butch-femme socials and butch-femme mixers, but no butch-butch ones. And there were all kinds of informal social sanctions for cruising other butches. It was a little like being gay within the gay community. This is reinforced by the fact that some people call butch-loving-butches "fag butches."
I've had several readers ask about butch-butch relationships (whether they want to be in one or not). Since this is an object of such intense curiosity, I thought I'd give it some attention. I interviewed 10 butches who are currently in a relationship with another butch, and another five who are single and looking to date other butches.
Opposites Don't Always Attract: How Butch-Butch Couples Meet
Almost universally, the butches I interviewed said that it's difficult to find butchy types who want to date other butchy types. In fact, one of them (who lives in New York City) called it a "dating nightmare." Even butches who are open to dating other butches don't always end up doing so, since it's easier to find femme dates. Dating online widens your dating pool, and the majority of my respondents met their partners this way. The handful of butch-butch couples who met in person did so at a bar, a dinner, or through a mutual friend. Personally, I met my DGF through one of those dorky "come meet other lesbians" dinners (and I was only there because my DXH forced me to go).
When two butches are attracted to each other, they can be terribly shy about making the first move, and may assume that there's no mutual attraction. To carry the gay male metaphor further: if a straight guy hits on a lesbian and gets rejected, he doesn't lose face. It's just a bummer. But if a gay guy hits on a straight guy and gets rejected, there's more at stake. The straight guy might interpret it as a threat to his masculinity. This puts the gay guy in a more vulnerable position than the straight guy. Same deal with butches. Hit on a butch who is only into femmes, and you may find yourself subject to a negative rebuff (which, in turn, can wound your own butch pride). Chelsie writes, "[Telling] my butch friends what I'm attracted to was a mini version of coming out of the closet."
Added to this is the machismo two butches can exude when they meet each other. Sometimes they puff out their chests and shake hands as if to say, "Yeah, we're both women who are into woman, but to each other we're bros, not sex objects." As K told me, "if [a butch] has got her 'cool suit' on, as so many butches do, it can be impossible to read her." Stacy described something similar: "There is something that I call a 'Butch Barrier' (and no, it's not a dental dam) because it's hard to get close to other butches... I think it makes dating even harder. Plus some butches are totally turned off by the thought of another butch."
Jess and her partner Beth
Advice for Single Butch-Loving Butches
AJ and Jo: "Just because someone looks all butch and uber tough doesn't mean they always have the confidence and personality to match... Go up and introduce yourself and talk and listen, see where it goes from there."
K: "[S]tart by talking to them as friends... There are not a lot of constructs of behaviors for butches interested in butches, because... it's pretty rare and unexplored (in available writings, at least -- I have no doubt that the butch-loving butches have been finding each other since way before Stonewall).
Jess: "The idea of butch/butch is not always accepted in our community, but don't give up... When I didn't think I was going to find someone, Beth came into my life and changed it forever."
Z: "To another butch/boi who wants to date another butch/boi but is having trouble finding dates, I say, don't give up. First you gotta put out to the universe what you are looking for... Put an ad on Craigslist, be specific... Try some online forums/bulletin boards, go to a gay bookstore and hang out getting to know people. Someone will know someone who is single and looking to date. Put the word out."
LG: "Try dating older butches."
K: "If she grins at you nonstop at [a] party... that is a promising signal to go ahead and flirt with her... think of this uncharted territory as Your Territory: One of the few areas of your life that can be untainted by stereotypes, assumptions, and stupid old American Puritanism."
KT: "Sometimes a butch thinks she isn't attracted to other butches, but then she meets you and whammo. Also sometimes people are more attracted to mannerisms than physical appearance. I dress more masculine than my partner but am more effeminate in my gestures. If I was gruff or traditionally masculine, she probably wouldn't have been interested in me."
Donnie: "Keep trying, it's out there, you just have to look harder. There are online butch/butch dating sites such as www.butchboi.com."
K.D: "Don't be afraid to let your feelings be known. I feel like there are more butches that want to date butches out there but because of societal norms many are afraid to say it. Speak up, perhaps another butch has a crush on you but they think you only dates femmes so they are being reserved."
Becca: "I have known people who have had good luck finding this kind of thing online, but that has never been the case for me. I usually wind up dating butches who I am friends with first."
O: "In my experience butches are never as hard and tough as you might think they would be...everybody just wants to be loved, so dont be shy, never know if you don't try."
Hope you're enjoying this little butch-butch exposé. Tomorrow: Butch-butch relationships, part II. Who wears the... pants? And more!
A huge thank you to the wonderful butches who let me interview them: AJ and Jo, K (aka Chopper) and Z (aka Zed), eL, LG and KT, Donnie, Becca and K.D., Jess and Beth, O, Stacy, Chelsie, Lisa and Jennie, and a handful of others who preferred to remain anonymous.
eL: "[B]e social, friendly, talk to people that you find attractive... and if you do go out, please dance! A butch dancing is a sexy thing - don't be so shy!"
Here are three excerpts from reader emails and comments this month:"I wish I was born a man, but I don't want to be trans. What gives?""I don't want to be a guy, I am a woman, but I want top surgery, or at least smaller breasts. I guess I might be genderqueer?""I don't get why all butch lesbians aren't trans. Why not go all the way?"One underlying commonality is that all three readers are trying to reconcile a female body with the desire to have "masculine" attributes.
They all seem to assume that if a ciswoman (someone who was born biologically female and identifies as female) wants attributes that we associate with maleness, she secretly, somewhere deep down, wants to be a man. Or at least, they suggest that being a woman with certain male attributes undercuts a self-identification as female.As a butch who has great respect for trans men but no desire to be one, I have a few answers to the "why aren't all butches trans" question.
At the risk of sounding trite ("we're-all-beautiful-and-unique-and-special-like-freaking-snowflakes-kum-bah-yah"), I hope you'll embrace your woman-ness or man-ness or genderqueer-ness or whatever-you-are-ness without regard to culturally imposed ideas of what a man or a woman is. That doesn't just include mainstream culture, but queer culture as well:
- First, gender is culturally imposed. The idea that men should wear ties and women should wear dresses is not biologically embedded in our brains. If a woman wants to sample/use/enjoy "male" culture, why would this necessarily indicate that she would also want facial hair and a penis? To me, the two feel totally separate.
- "Genderqueer" means different things to different people. But I most often hear it defined as existing outside the gender binary--someone who sees themselves as neither male, nor female.
- "Genderqueer" is a fashionable thing to be right now. But you need not identify as genderqueer just because you are a butchy dyke, or a cross-dressing man, or a transwoman, or anything else. You can be a man in a dress who completely identifies as a man, or a woman in a tie who completely identifies as a woman. Personally, I am not genderqueer. I look rather butch/androgynous, but I completely identify as female. Just because a woman has short hair, or binds her breasts, or wears a tie, does not mean she is automatically "genderqueer."
- There is a big difference between being a woman in "men's" clothing and being a man in "men's" clothing. I feel at home thinking of myself as the former, but not as the latter. I want a cufflinks and big watch and boots and a button-up shirt. But I don't want the chest hair or Adam's apple or anything else that supposedly "goes with" being male. Assuming that a butch "really" wants to be a man embraces the false idea that gender and sex are one and the same--that a person's body and mannerisms and shoe choices should all align.
- If you are a woman-identified butch lesbian, becoming a trans man is not "going all the way." Being butch does not set you on some path to "full" masculinity. A butch woman's masculinity is not different in degree from that of a butch man or FTM; it is different in kind.
our music, magazines, friends, and community. Question people who think inside the box. But also question those who claim to think outside it. Because in the end, your
wild and precious identity* is yours alone.* Apologies to Mary Oliver
Source: My DXH's linguistic imagination.
- The sense of being an outlier as a result of one's sexual orientation <panic frequently accompanies the gaylienation I feel upon being asked to attend a bridal shower>
- The act of being separated from a group, often forcibly, due to one's sexual orientation <elementary school amounts to several years of galienation, followed by algebra>
whole new section of the Butch Store devoted to cufflinks
. I recommend starting with three pairs, in three separate categories:1. Basic silver or gold. These may not be exciting, but they're highly functional and work for any occasion. They can have a geometric design (like the ones in the photo at right), but shouldn't incorporate other colors. If you can't decide between gold and silver, just choose whichever you wear most often, since you'll want to match your cufflinks to the metal of your earrings, watch, and/or belt buckle.
If you're interested in sporting cufflinks, but aren't even sure where to start (and maybe don't even have more than 1-2 French cuff shirts yet), you're in luck--I have a
2. Understated but distinctive.
This is my personal favorite category of cufflink. It works for all but the most formal (think: tux) occasions, and expresses your style. Choose something with just one main accent color. I love these purple ones
(pictured left), as well as these banded African jade ones
Ike Behar (pictured right). You can even find good-looking cufflinks that incorporate leather
. This category of cufflink should be matched to whatever shirt you're wearing. The purple ones above would look great with grey, white, black, purple, or lavender, but not with, say, orange or red. They're fine for the office, a date, clubbing, or dinner out.
3. Novelty cufflinks.
By "novelty," I don't mean cufflinks that turn into yo-yos or feature blinking lights. I just mean cufflinks that are wacky and different enough that you probably wouldn't wear them on a first date. Take, for instance, these Ed Hardy koi fish cufflinks
(pictured left), which I do not own and happen to
love. Or what about the ones
to the right, which are not only versatile cufflinks, but double as working levels
. Just in case you need to like, um, put up a shelf or something while you're wearing French cuffs (hey, it could totally
happen). Some cufflinks are absolute works of art
allow you to proclaim your support for gay marriage, or double as 4G USB drives
. Whatever the case, these novelty cufflinks should only be worn out dancing, or to not-that-fancy restaurants, or to work on a day that you're not meeting with a client or a CEO or anything.I hope you'll think about adding some cufflinks to your butch jewelry collection. I'm curious: how many of you are cufflink veterans?
Take the poll below!