Recently I was talking to someone I respect a great deal, and she said something I've often thought as well: many people are more uncomfortable with gender nonconformity than with homosexuality. Of course, the two often go hand in hand. But let's assume, for a moment, that we can disaggregate them.
In my work circles, which mostly comprise upper-middle-class NPR listeners, few people care if your partner is male or female. Same-sex partnership is still noteworthy, interesting, and a titillating gossip source to some
people, but for the most part, it's not a big issue. Homos abound at high levels in my profession, and most are pretty open. But I have trouble coming up with examples of high-powered women in my profession who wear mostly men's clothing. If you're a woman giving a conference talk, it's not that big a deal to mention your same-sex partner. It is
a big deal to wear a necktie. No one else does it, and you're likely to be seen as "making a statement."For me, this begs two questions: (1) Why?; (2) What implications does this have for my own self-presentation? Today, I'll write about the former.Here's my guess: looking gender-conforming still adheres to people's ideas and assumptions about gender--the idea that men "are" and "look"
a certain way, and that women "are" and "look" a different way. If we define homosexuality narrowly (as I think most people do, particularly non-queers), it only challenges one aspect of gender typicality: whom you sleep with.
It's as if are only two kinds of ice cream, and ice cream always comes in double scoops: one vanilla, one chocolate. This is what most people always order, then later they learn that some
people order two scoops of vanilla or two scoops of chocolate. "Fine," they think. "Some people like two scoops of the same thing. But there are still just two kinds of ice cream."
In contrast, if someone orders vanilla with chocolate swirls and says, "It's still vanilla--it just has chocolate swirls in it," (or if, God forbid, they order strawberry) this challenges people's fundamental ideas about the kinds of ice cream that exist
. In this way, gender nonconformists
mess with people's categories. A woman in a tie, when only men are wearing ties,
is like chocolate chip ice cream. "What IS that?" people think. "No flavor I've
ever seen." This is probably why, as Kristen Schilt writes in One of the Guys, when people go from identifying as butch women to identifying as trans men, they become more accepted in the workplace. As butch women, people viewed them as gender atypical. When they become trans men, people can say, "Oh, I kind of understand--you were really chocolate all along!"
As more states adopt legal protections based on sexual orientation, I think gender conformity will be one of the next frontiers. This is closely tied--though not identical--to the fight for trans rights, providing another reason to help fight for the rights of all
other queers, not just your personal subset.
For now, I'll leave the conversation there. What do you think, dear readers? In your everyday work lives, what's people's reaction to sexual orientation versus gender nonconformity?
I'm lucky enough to have a fabulous relationship with my mom. We don't always perfectly understand each other, but we know each other better than almost anyone else knows us. And I really wish I could be celebrating Mothers' Day with her today (albeit one of those arbitrary holidays that we celebrate largely because Hallmark tells us to--but that doesn't change the fact that it's a day we all think about moms).
Anyway, in honor of Mothers' Day, I thought I'd combine Butch Wonders themes with mothering and pose the following questions to readers:
- When you were a kid, did you think you'd be a mom?
- Where were you when you came out to your mom (if you're out)?
- What are two major traits you and your mom share?
- What's something your mom taught you?
- Name a mom you wish you could be with today (besides your own).
I'll go first.
- No way! I wanted--maybe, at the most--to be a dad. To me, this meant going to work all day and not being involved in childcare.
- At a PF Chang's. We were out to lunch and I said, "Mom, I have something to tell you." And then I burst into tears right in the middle of P.F. Chang's. My mom asked, "Are you okay? Are you going to die? Do you have cancer?" I shook my head. "Is someone you love or I love about to die?" I shook my head again. She said, "Well, then whatever it is, it'll be okay." Then we ate lemon chicken. I think it took her some time to accept my sexual orientation, and maybe a little longer than that to accept my butchiness. I guess "process" is a better word than "accept," because I've never felt "unaccepted" by my mom. And I've never regretted not being open as my "whole" self to her. After all, she's the one who taught me that it was not only okay but great(!) to be quirky and different from all the other kids.
- Tenacity and creativity.
- The importance of being a surVIVor, as she says--meaning persevering in the face of adversity. When life throws her lemons, my mom does not get discouraged, nor does she "make lemonade." Instead, she catches the lemons and stacks them into a pile, then uses the pile to get somewhere she'd rather be. Or she, like, makes a car out of lemons and drives away. She is pretty darned awesome.
- My mom's mom. She died many years ago. I still think about her a lot. She was an amazing, philosophical, totally self-made woman.
How about you
, dear readers? What are your answers to some of these questions?
I attended an amazing event this weekend, where I got the privilege of spending two days with some of the most accomplished, dynamic LGBTQ folks I've ever met. More on that in a future post, but while I was there, someone asked me what topics I've wanted to address on BW but haven't gotten around to, or that I've found it too hard to write about. I had two answers: (1) Butches and race; (2) Butches and body image. The former is hard to write about because, as a white woman, it's impossible for me to speak from personal experience about how being a racial minority interacts with butchness.
Sure, I can talk about whiteness + butchness, and maybe I will--but I'm still looking for a guest blogger of color to write a post about this (hit me up
if you're interested). Number (2) is hard to write about because it's such a touchy topic for so many people. But I'm going to take my new friend up on his challenge anyway
, and delve into the topic of butches and body image.
First, my experience. I'm not exactly "fat," and I'm usually pretty active (well, when I'm not dealing with mono, whooping cough, or a broken foot). But I'm carrying around about 30 pounds more than I'd like, and the BMI scale puts me solidly in the "overweight" category. I've lost 12 lbs this year without giving up ice cream (because, like, let's be realistic, people), and hope to lose a bit more. So I know firsthand what it's like to be hefty, though admittedly I don't know what it's like to be obese. (And I really
don't know what it's like to be thin.)
I've had multiple butches confide body image issues to me, though always one on one, and sometimes anonymously. There's a sense out there that it's just not "butch" to talk about being insecure about your physical appearance. Most butches don't talk about this with one another; to whom are
we supposed to talk about it? A girlfriend in front of whom we're trying to appear confident? A male friend? A straight female friend? Frankly, none of those options sound appealing.Furthermore, diet and exercise present special problems for butches, which mirror some of the problems faced by straight men. Butches trying to lose weight may think they'll lose butch points if they admit to dieting. The diet industry paints monitoring food intake as something "feminine." I know I wouldn't feel comfortable telling a butch buddy that I'm on a diet. And when it comes to exercise, many of us want to look competent, because physical fitness is "butch," right? But what if we're wheezing after a half mile? What if we can't bench press as much as our femme friends can? Overall, it can be a lot easier to hide behind your butchness than to risk making yourself vulnerable. It's easier to "puff up" as you walk by the gym, but to avoid going in. And don't even get me started on swimsuits.
On the other end of the spectrum, some butches suffer from anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders. And these folks can feel invisible. It can feel decidedly un-butch to seek help for this. And available support groups may not contain a heck of a lot of people who look like you.I hope to post more on this issue soon, but for now, I just wanted to get the topic out there.
We think about our bodies, too, and a lot of us are self-conscious--and we don't always talk about it.
What do you think, butches? Is butchness and body image an issue you've ever thought about? Experienced? Heard about from others? What kinds of issues related to body image would you like to see addressed on BW?
Too many queer women steer clear of wrist adornments because they think bracelets are inconsistent with a masculine fashion aesthetic. I say: no way. It's totally butch to add pops of color and glitz to your outfit (see some basic guidelines
). If you're rocking a fauxhawk, guys' shoes and jeans, and a plaid shirt with a white undershirt (I know I just described at least one in three readers), no one will take you for femme just because there's a string of beads around your wrist.
In fact, your willingness to embrace a little flare can actually underscore
your butchness (note to my buddy C: I dare ya). Ah, but where to start? Well, I've put a bunch of bracelets in the Butch Store, so check those out (I just added a bunch of new ones yesterday). But even better, I wanted to share some of my favorite Etsy sellers. I love all of the bracelets I'm describing here and I wear them all myself (yeah, that's my albino wrist in most of the pics). [Disclaimer: these sellers gifted me a bracelet to review. But per usual, I've refused to review anything I don't like, and none of these are paid endorsements.]
| |Existential Ella
Not only is Ella one of the very sweetest, kindest sellers I've ever met online, but she's also a big supporter of the gay community. Her quality, color combos, and variety of styles are way fun, and I wear the bracelet pictured here a lot (and it hasn't started to fray even a little). Great for layering with other bracelets, too! Prices vary depending on number of colors, design, etc. Totally customizable!
| |Beaded Graffiti
When I got this in the mail, I may have stopped breathing for a second. Seriously, this thing is gorgeous. It's also my DGF's favorite of all of these. The individual beads are delicate, but in a thick row like this, it's definitely butch. The craftsmanship is stellar. While this exact one isn't currently being sold, this one
and this one
are just as awesome. They run in the $40 neighborhood for single-wrap.
| || |GS Jewelry
If you want to spoil yourself or a butch loved one with a high-quality wraparound, GS Jewelry is a fabulous place to look. I've included a pic of my personal favorite
, which I love wearing with anything brown or (admittedly rarely) pink. $30. I want this one
| |Fauve Bleu HazelwoodSupposedly, hazelwood is good for a large number of maladies: arthritis, osteoporosis, migranes, and more. Though I can't attest to this, I can attest to the
excellent versatility of the bracelets made by Fauve Bleu Hazelwood. The wood's hue will lighten over time, but it still looks good. The one pictured here
is $12.95, and there are scores of colors available, too--plus anklets and bracelet/anklet sets.
| || |Ida EstelleAt first glance, the stop might look a little glitzy for butches, but it's worth looking closer. Ida Estelle has some real gems, including this number (pictured left
), which has just the right amount of bling. $36.
| |Wink & BaubleI've misplaced my Wink & Bauble bracelet (gr!), so you don't get the joy of seeing my pasty white wrist in this photo. Their shop is chock full of any bright color you want
--orange, bright blue, etc. Single, double, and triple wraps are available. The nifty one I've pictured
will set you back $42.50, but it'll certainly last.
| || |Son of a Sailor
Though their stuff doesn't really fit my style, I wanted to include these guys in my review because their bracelets are cool, well-made, and I can think of lots of people on whom they'd look rockin'. Don't you love the androgynous pink + blue
? I want to gift mine to one of my favorite trans* bloggers. $28. Keep yours from getting wet (it'll stain).
BTW, if you're not sure how to layer your scores of excellent bracelets, here's an example of how to rock the layered look. Basically, everything goes with everything as long as there's no egregious clashing happening. (If you can't decide whether it's okay, you should probably assume it's fine. The standard rules of matching don't apply to casual jewelry.) You should probably skip loading up on bracelets for a job interview, but pretty much everywhere else, you're set. Especially great for the summer, if you're like me and tend to rock plain T-shirts and shorts whenever possible. A pop o' color is totally--even hella--butch.
I just received a note from a reader who's having trouble communicating with her butch DGF ("dear girlfriend"). She asked if I could "translate" some common butch idioms.
One mistake many butch-lovers make is assuming that butches are just like the stereotypes they have of heterosexual men. If you Google "what men really mean," you'll find hundreds of sites purporting to explain exactly this. Let's leave aside for a moment the offensive nature of most of those articles, and assume for the sake of argument that there's some truth to them. Even so, [non-male-identified] butches are not men, and "rules" of "understanding men" apply to us only sometimes.
It's impossible to write something like this without giant, whopping dollops of stereotype. I figure I'll get flak for this, but I went ahead and made a list anyway. I'll will be interested to learn whether any of it resonates with you.
IF A BUTCH SAYS:
"Nothing is wrong."
"I guess you could invite your friends."
"Are you tired?"
"I was not checking her out."
"Nah, she's not hot."
"I'm not looking for a relationship right now."
"I'm not looking to commit."
"I'm going to go take a walk."
"Sarah is so cool!"
"It's more romantic with the lights off."
"We should probably get going soon."
"I'll fix it later."
A BUTCH MEANS:
"I'm not ready to discuss it."
"But I wanted it to be just you and me!"
"Are we having sex tonight?"
"I'm embarrassed--can't you give me a pass this time?"
"Maybe she's hot, but you're the one I find attractive."
"I don't want to date you (but I might sleep with you)."
It could mean exactly that, or "I'm just not that into you."
"I am mad or sad, but I have to think about it alone for a while."
"Why are we still talking about this?"
"Maybe Sarah can be our friend." (Note: this is not the same as "I want to sleep with Sarah.")
"I'm self-conscious about my body too, you know!"
"I am faint with hunger and my stomach is digesting itself."
"I have no idea how to fix it, but I'll Google it in secret."
(Writing this, I realized that while I would like to think that I'm incredibly straightforward and literal practically to a fault, that's not always true...)
How about you? Did any of these examples sound familiar? What's some other "butchspeak" that needs to be translated?
Remember the questions I posed to you
a few months ago? Here are three interesting answers to one of the toughest ones:"Describe how some other identity you have (race, religion, social class, whatever) interacts with your sexual orientation."Response #1 (From Kyle at Butchtastic):
The intersections of my ethnicity, class, educational background, age with my gender identity and butchness is an area of great fascination for me. I’ve really been looking at these intersections in earnest in the past couple of years. I know that I receive privilege in some circumstances because of my age, because I’m white, and sometimes because of my masculinity, even if people don’t perceive me to be male. So how have those elements of my identity interacted with my sexual orientation?
First off, it’s queer--my orientation, that is. I use "queer" because listing all the aspects of orientation for my male and female sides takes several words: bisexual, lesbian, faggot, even straight... well ok, never "straight." Even if my female side hooked up with a cis man... it would still be queer sex. I haven’t examined these intersectionalities really at all.
My socioeconomic class has definitely had an impact on where I live, the people I meet through work, shopping, activities, and walking around the neighborhood. I more easily relate to people who have backgrounds similar to mine in terms of class, education, religion, race. But none of that is really about my sexual orientation.
I guess I’ll have to think about that more. It's a good question. I gave up religion when I was 13, before coming out as a lesbian, so that didn’t end up having much impact. Growing up in an aspiring middle class family meant I was given a lot of freedom of expression and association, even though my parents were not happy when I came out to them at 17. They didn’t limit me to only befriending particular classes or categories, nor did they try to hook me up with boys.Response #2 (From "BT"):
Being a Christian is by far the identity that interacts most with my sexual orientation and until very recently my Christian identity was a big, mean, nasty bully to my butch lesbian identity. I have known in some form or another that I am a lesbian since I was four-years-old and I also have been a Christian since around that time. The two identities were at war within me from the time I was 4 until I was 27.
When I was 17, I let my lesbian self have the upper hand for a little while but all that did was spiral me into a deeper depression and greater self-loathing for the next ten years. The guilt and shame almost took me to my grave. I was at the point where it finally clicked that if I didn’t accept every bit of who I am I would be miserable for the rest of my life.
But how could I be a Christian and
a lesbian? I basically had tried everything I possibly could to change my sexual orientation, even my own version of the dreaded conversion therapy. Nothing worked. It was clear to me that I must have been born this way. If it had just been childhood trauma or whatever else I was telling myself then the therapy would have changed my homosexual tendencies. So now I have finally accepted the grace that Jesus has extended to me. I have given grace to myself. I am accepted and loved no matter what. I can’t say that the two identities are in perfect balance now, I still have a ways to go but the battle has finally ended. After 23 years, my Christian and lesbian identities have embraced and I am no longer a person torn in two.Response #3 (From "KH"):
I am a seminarian working on my Masters of Divinity hoping to become an Episcopal priest when I graduate from seminary. The identity of being an Episcopal seminarian plays a major role in my life. While the Episcopal church is very accepting of LGBT folks, ordaining gays, performing same-sex blessings and marriages, etc., I am still faced everyday with the question of how out can I be/do I want to be to my classmates and Bishop. I am from a Midwestern state, so my bishop and my diocese isn't necessarily as liberal as in other parts of the country.
It seems like when you are out in seminary you become that "token lesbian" who can or is expected to answer theological questions for the entire community. Also, attending seminary in southern Tennessee, I was the first out lesbian that several of my classmates had met. Everyone had met a gay man before, but not a lesbian. One of my classmates said to me the first couple of weeks we were here, "To southerners, gay men aren't scary. But lesbians, they scare us. We don't know or understand how they work, dress, have sex, etc."
It has been interesting to see how people interact with me because I break a lot of the labels that are given to lesbians in the south and break what they have heard about us and believe. But I love that my classmates are so open minded and give me a chance to be who I am without putting a label on me.
I also feel like a lot of the time the lesbian community isn't sure how to react to me/handle me either. It isn't every day that you meet a lesbian who is a soft butch that wants to become a priest. The LGBT community also doesn't always feel the love from the religious community. Many churches treat our community horribly. But it should teach us that we don't always like the labels that come with being a lesbian, so we shouldn't label a church without knowing something about them first either.
I am proud of who I am and the identity I have as a lesbian and as a seminarian.
I've gotten eight zillion emails from readers who identify as "of size" or "fat" or "bigger" or "hefty" or "rotund," and want to know how they can dress stylishly and comfortably as larger butches.
If you're non-gender-conforming OR on the huskier side, you've probably felt self-conscious about your appearance. Combining BOTH can leave you feeling like a fashion pariah simply because you don't look like other people (and you challenge two
mainstream ideals of attractiveness).
The attractiveness bias has been well-documented, so I'm not going to go on and on about how all bodies are beautiful (they are), how health is more important than size (it is), or how we should accept ourselves for who we are now while striving to be who we'd like to be (we should). Instead, I'm just going to give you some advice about how to look your best.
Some General Fashion Principles for Husky Butches:
And now, some specifics!Don't Wear:
- Some people perceive overweight people as per se slobby. If you care what these nitwits think of you (and if you don't, good for you!), then you can overcome this assumption by extra attention to detail: shiny shoes, spiffy glasses, sharp haircut. The same hair people might call "tousled" on a skinny boi may play as "slept-on" for you.
- Confidence (not cockiness) is sexy! Walk with your shoulders back, not hunched over to hide your weight.
- Don't assume that people won't find you sexy. They will! You can still look great and get dates with hot people. I promise.
- Buy clothes that fit you now. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's bought a pair of pants whose fit is--erm--aspirational at best. Don't worry about sizes or draw lines in the sand ("I'll never buy an XL, no matter what"). Just worry about finding clothes that fit. And don't put off buying clothes "until [you] lose weight." It's hard to feel good about yourself in ill-fitting clothes. When it comes to fashion, live in the now.
- Understand that while there are downsides to being overweight, there are also downsides to being teensy. For one, you aren't mistaken for a little boy, which the featherweight bois sometimes are. This means that you can go all-out on dapper looks they might not be able to pull off.
- Skinny ties or skinny jeans. You aren't skinny, and your clothes shouldn't be, either.
- Super baggy pants. They don't make you look thin; they just look ill-fitting.
- Double-breasted jackets. Unless you are comfortable looking like you weigh 20 lbs more than you really do, in which case, no problem.
- Clothes that bunch around the waist. This doesn't actually flatter anyone, but it especially doesn't flatter the fatter.
- Pleated pants. Ever. (Actually, the only place for men's pleated pants is on the golf course--and even then, you're veering toward smarmy).
Any other tips you'd like to share? Any other questions you have about how to dress as a bigger butch?
- Dark colors. They're especially yummy on you, big butches: navy blue, dark grey, dark olive, chocolate brown... Consider these colors if you haven't.
- Tailored clothes. Yeah, I know it's expensive, but tailoring can do magic for your clothes. If you can't get something that fits you everywhere, get something that fits the largest part of you. It's easier for tailors to make things smaller than larger. (This is especially important if you're short and stout, since it's harder to find the right clothes off the rack.) It's better to have two pairs of pants that fit than five that don't.
- Suspenders. I've never tried them, but I really should--they're supposed to be awesome because while a belt can squeeeeze your midsection, suspenders help you cut a svelter figure (or so I'm told).
- A blazer and jeans, This is a look you can totally rock. To prep it up, go for a dark blue blazer. Your shirt should roughly match the darkness/tone of your jeans.
- Corduroy pants with thin stripes (not thick ones). The most underrated pants ever!
- Pants that sit at your hips--below your belly button, not at it. (No need to look extra short-waisted, after all.)
- Fun things: watches, bracelets, cool sunglasses, bow ties, whatever. Don't be afraid to experiment with different looks--you can be the dapperest butch in the bunch, regardless of size.
This guest post was written by Jesse MacGregor-Jones, who also blogs at Butch Ramblings and is also the author of multiple books.
Butch, stone butch, soft butch, baby dyke, bull dyke, bulldagger, femme, stone femme, high femme, lipstick lesbian, genderqueer, queer, gay, FTM, MTF, transsexual, transgender, gay, homosexual, fag, faggot, womyn, boi, sporty butch, bisexual, butch daddy, twinks, bears, tops, bottoms, subs, doms… Labels, labels, and more labels. I bet you can think of more that I have not mentioned.
I identify as butch. I don't identify as stone butch but I used
to identify as soft butch. I have a woman in my life that I care about a great deal. She is femme. I am a femme-loving butch. I've never been attracted to other butch women. I know several butch women who are attracted to other butches and I don't see a thing wrong with it. It just isn't what works for me.
My personal path to who I am today is complicated and I daresay that most of us have had a complicated road. Life really isn't easy for anyone. Many of us continue to evolve as we grow older, which is good and normal. Someone who is a high femme now may eventually just consider herself femme later on. I've seen butch women evolve into femme and vice versa. As I said, I originally identified as soft butch. In fact, there was a time in my life when I wore dresses, makeup, and got my hair permed every 6 to 8 weeks. I used to get my nails done and I enjoyed it to some extent. Yes, I was somewhat femme. (I have destroyed the photo evidence, so don't bother to look. <grins> )
I “evolved” as I got more secure in who I was. I have come to learn that the only real difference between me and someone transgendered is the fact that I have no dysphoria with regards to my breasts and I enjoy being touched physically. I've come to terms with my body and have no desire to actually transition. Nope, I really like to be touched. I'm good with that. Therefore, I am not stone butch. My stone butch friends assure me that they also enjoy being touched, but there are more rules involved and many of them don't like their breasts touched. Some do. The point is, we all have wants, needs, desires, likes, and dislikes, and that is just normal, We all have to get used to new relationships and how to touch people in ways that are loving and unique to each relationship.
The current woman in my life is very confused by all the labels. I think she thinks they are somewhat insulting and come across as derogatory. Some can definitely be used in a derogatory fashion. I personally don't care for labels, but they seem to have become important to the way we relate to each other. She is new to all this and she's very confused. She's never dated butches and she's never lived in a way that her sexual identity has been important. The smartest thing that she has recently said to me was that she doubted I was “typical” of other butches. This makes me laugh. I realize that while many of us have things in common, there is no such thing as “typical.”
I can only speak from my own personal view and I really hope readers will chime in and tell me what they think of the labels that they most closely identify with. I'm curious to know. For example, as I continue to evolve, I'm realizing that I also am considered 'genderqueer' because I feel more masculine and I like to be called “he” or hy.
I don't see myself as pretty, beautiful, womanly, or anything female-identified.
As a butch woman, I often feel completely misunderstood. Often I feel as if I am loathed by a large portion of society. Femme women who only date femme women have a tendency to scorn women like me. We are treated as 'ugly women who try to be men.' But gender is more mental than physical. I don't want to be a man. I'm just not completely comfortable as a woman. I don't think
like a girl. I can't help that. I don't want to be a man either. I just want to be me.
Isn't this what we all want?
Butch woman are somewhat caught in the middle. I don't 'pass' as straight, so I don't have any of that 'straight entitlement' that so many femme women enjoy. They do not get the dirty looks, the condescending attitudes, the outward hate and even the shunning within their own community the way that I do.
Being uncomfortable as a woman, I didn't get the life education that women get from dating men and living in a straight world. Straight women, and femme women, are tough with feelings. They are so in control sometimes that it is just plain scary to me. For this very reason, I don't quite fit into the male world either. I'm emotional. It is that one damn part of being a girl that I cannot control. I hate it. Almost as much as having a period once per month. That comes along once every 28 days or so and slaps me upside the head and reminds me that even if I wear a tie and suits, I'm a woman and I can't hide from that. It has taken many years, but I finally do embrace myself and love me as I am. I am neither male nor female, in my own humble opinion. I'm something of a hybrid, the best of both worlds.
You see, I've come to learn that when it boils right down to it, I'm human. All the sub-categories and groups really don't matter that much if we get down to the root of things. We are all attracted to those we are attracted to because we see something in them. That's all that matters. I just thank the stars for the one femme who likes this butch. That's all that matters to me. I think we all have the right to be who we are and love who we want to love. I also believe that we should be more tolerant of each other, as a community, if we expect the rest of the world to accept us as well. Practice less judgment and more compassion beginning today. Take the time to listen to someone else. Their story may surprise you and it may be more like your own than you imagined. In a world filled with hate, we should start practicing love, both with ourselves and with each other.
Last March, I wrote a three-part Field Guide to Butches, which you can check out here if you missed it: Part I
, Part II
, Part III
. I decided it was time to make some additions:
The Butch Class Clown
Example: Jane Lynch
Pros: Hilarious, great with your friends, quick to reconcile after arguments.
Cons: Sleeps in late; may be slightly self-centered; financial stability varies.
Looks Especially Good: Smiling, which is nearly all the time. (Seriously, check out the pic--is there anything in the world cuter than Jane Lynch with a puppy?)
Care Instructions: If you don't understand her sense of humor, the relationship is doomed. May need occasional assistance juggling projects and managing household tasks, but a quick learner. Ego more fragile than first appears.
The Oblivious Butch (not pictured)
Pros: Unconcerned with her identity (and possibly yours), has no interest in discussing related topics, even though everyone else considers her butch.
Cons: See "pros."
Looks Especially Good: If you can wrangle her into slacks and a tie.
Care Instructions: Unusually low-maintenance. Fashion sense may vary, so be vigilant. May grow bored in conversations about LGBTQI-related topics. Probably does not know what the "I" stands for and doesn't particularly care.
Example: Michelle Ragussis
Pros: Excellent hair, great tattoos, creative, spunky.
Cons: Works long hours, may not want to cook at home (check on this factor before committing).
Looks Especially Good: Sampling your sauces.
Care Instructions: Whether she's a line cook or the head of her own restaurant, Chef Butch is committed to her trade and will expect your support. Works crazy hours. Ensure that she doesn’t just cook veggies; she also eats them occasionally. Low-maintenance with little need of wardrobe assistance.
Barista Butch (not pictured)
Pros: Can make a mean latte, has great fashion sense; creative.
Cons: Moodiness; varied reliability; easily bored.
Looks Especially Good: Steaming up your foam.
Care Instructions: Hard to engage in casual conversation, the barista butch is every bit as creative and mysterious as she first appears. Many in the species hold a PhD in the humanities or social sciences and may be starved for intellectual discussion; provide literary or other conversation as needed.
Example: Jack Halberstam
Pros: Smart, well-read, patient and attentive (if occasionally forgetful), finds most things interesting.
Cons: Her hotness makes it hard to pay attention in lecture; everyone in the class has a crush on her (straight women, too); may use words like "hegemonic" in casual conversation.
Looks Especially Good: On her couch during office hours.
Care Instructions: Requires steady diet of books and caffeine (switch diet to baked goods following paper rejections). If weather is temperate, set outside at least 20 minutes daily to infuse with Vitamin D.
The Sports Fan Butch (not pictured)
Pros and Cons: This type doesn't occur in isolation, but co-occurs with any other kind of butch, and may emerge only on weekends. Identify one or more other species and refer to those pros and cons as applicable.
Looks Especially Good: Wearing a jersey... Just a jersey.
Care Instructions: Follow her instructions while her favorite team is playing. She may believe that she can somehow affect a team's performance through elaborate rituals such as wearing "lucky" clothing Play along. Do not block the television. Though she may appear inflexible, the Sports Fan Butch is an excellent bargaining target and will agree to anything in order to watch her game uninterrupted. (Q: "Honey, when the game's over, will you take out the trash, then take me to a movie?" A: "Uh-huh, whatever.")
Example: Edie Falco as Nurse Jackie (Yeah, she's straight, but she’s totally butch. Plus, we all know she'd go lesbo for Dr. O'Hara).
Pros: Straightforward, decisive, quick-witted, employable.
Cons: Unapologetic, reluctant to express emotion, works long hours.
Looks Especially Good: In scrubs, barking out orders.
Care Instructions: Will be exhausted after 20-hour shifts; don’t expect her to engage in conversation. Instead, give her a shoulder massage and send her to bed. Plan fun for days off. Be firm; she may try to boss you around.
One of the questions
I posed to you a couple week ago was, "How do you define 'butch?' Does butch necessarily mean 'female?'" At first, I was surprised so few people answered this one. But
it's tough (I've talked about the difficulty of defining "butch"
before). So, kudos to those of you who took a stab at this one. At the end, I riff a little about my own definition.
(from Mainely Butch, who posted it on her site
Butch is fierce, strong and rough, yet gentle. Butch is no-nonsense, yet silly sometimes. Butch is a generally tough exterior, yet a sort of teddy bear on the inside. Butch is that feeling that you need to fix everything…even when you know you can’t. Butch is not crying in public…at least trying not to! Butch is steeling emotions on the surface, and dealing with them when you are alone. Butch is getting up and doing what needs to be done even when you are sore, hurting and really don’t want to do it, but you do it anyway – because you are Butch. Butch is never letting them see you sweat. Butch is shopping in the men’s department and anguishing over which dressing room you’ll be banned from. Butch is avoiding public bathrooms as much as physically possible and using them at great risk of possible violence. Butch is brushing off (and secretly smiling) all of the “sirs” and “young man” comments that those in the unknowing world dish out to us. Butch is standing up for what is right, even if it means getting our asses kicked. Butch is good. Butch is true. Butch is flexible and giving. Butch is whatever defines you, or how you define it for yourself.
To me, butch means a nontraditional female who may be rougher, larger, or carry some other traits that are considered "masculine," whether she overtly identifies as masculine or not. She may have been a tomboy as a girl, and she may have been either picked on or encouraged for wearing swim trunks, climbing trees, fighting, or otherwise playing the way boys are understood to play, while seriously distrusting the inherent message being conveyed when adults would point her towards dolls, dresses, curtsies, flutterings of the eyelashes, and any other cutesie-poo behaviors ("Why can't you be just like Shirley Temple?!").
As this 'boyish' child matures, she may try to fit in and become feminine at the urging of society, but, especially if she is gay, it likely does not work out easily or to her satisfaction; hence you now have an adult butch woman in whatever manifestation that takes, be it celebratory and accepted in the queer community; shunned upon and difficult in localities (or times) lacking that community; grudgingly and with a distaste for labels but just accepting "I am what I am"; or perhaps placed within a neat "butch-femme" courtship dynamic which allows her to take on traditional male roles in a relationship thus not feeling lost from societal norms.
The above is not a prescriptive definition; it is only a description of how "Butch" seems through the window of my life.
Prior to the blossoming of gay culture and butch lesbian acceptance (or at least to its availability to me) I would silently insist that I knew a butch woman when I saw one. My third grade teacher. Alice from the Brady Bunch. Even Jodie Foster in Freaky Friday -- I recognized this girl actress to be akin to me. To me it seems like many of those butches in the past, though beloved, might often have felt put upon to act the stooge, being clumsy or "not good at sewing" or "exasperated with men." I now believe the stooge act to have been necessitated by the times, and that these women, gay or not, had a lot of secrets and were probably tougher than most Dads I knew.
Butch, as I see it, is not a style, a flavor, a haircut, a dating tactic, or even an attitude. It's the visible reflection of the way that girls who became gay women (or trans men) struggled and learned to do so on their own terms, rejecting the pre-packaged notions of femininity offered to them in their youths as the required counterpart of masculinity. It is an attempt to be a whole person, even if that whole person does not "fit in" to what is expected of one's gender.
Now, with the growing acceptance of butches (slow be it coming), the definitions will shift from Butch as a reaction to society, to Butch as a choice, even a label. The shift of acceptance should be celebrated and differences encouraged. We must never reject someone [just] because their labeling system does not match our own. Answer #3:
I define butch as a part of sexual orientation (not that you can't do butch on butch but it is still sexual I hope). If you identify as butch, you are butch.
That said, I like to think I know butch when I see it. This is what I look for:
- Some visible leaning toward handsome rather than pretty (this is on the surface, such as haircut, clothes, shoes, accessories or lack thereof).
- Some level of "Sir Gallahad" in comportment and body language that feels authentic
- When playing, reads as a tomboy
- Some contradiction or complication between gender identity, sex, and sexual orientation that queers everything. This could just be expressed by some dysphoria or total dysphoria when forced to look "femmy" or it could be an inability to claim to be a butch and a woman or a butch and a lesbian - i.e. just ID as butch.
To the masculine of center, as well as any where in the spectrum from bio-male to FtM transexual, to FtM transgender, to hard Butch (passing for male) to soft Butch Male ID, to Boi (male ID) to butch female ID, to tomboi femme. There is in some way an over lapping of of masculine and feminine.Back to BW:I thought these answers
were all thought-provoking. Before I started this blog, "butch" always meant female to me. After all, if it didn't, then wouldn't a lot of straight cis men be "butch?" What would that mean for those of us in the queer community? I like the idea that "butch" separates me from being a man--for me, it's a way of being a woman--a particular type of woman that I know and love and recognize.
But I soon learned that my thinking was too narrow: there are plenty of non-gender-binary folks who ID as butch. And this makes complete
intuitive sense to me.
Which leads me to think that when I say "butch," I'm talking chiefly about a non-"male"
form of masculinity--that is, about socially "masculine" attributes divorced from identification exclusively as a man
At the same time, can I tell someone who IDs exclusively as male that he is not "butch?" I don't feel that I have that right, any more than I have the right to tell a woman in a skirt and heels that she is not "butch."
If I lack any right to "police" butchness, then isn't the label "butch" only about understanding one's self, not
about understanding others? And isn't this ultimately true about all labels? (If my white octogenarian grandfather chooses to ID as a young Chinese-American lesbian, who would I be to stop him? At some point, does this just get silly?)At the same time, if every straight cis guy started saying the word "butch" instead of the word "masculine" or "dude" or however he describes himself, I'd probably turn to a different term to describe myself (internally and to others). This leads me to think that the term "butch" is not just to describe myself; it's also relational--a way to explain to myself and others what my
"ethos" is--how I exist in the world. Whether you're butch or not, dear readers, how do you define it? Do any of the definitions above appeal to you? Do any bother you? What does "butch" mean in terms of sex, sexual orientation, and/or gender?