Thanks for your great responses to the survey
I put up a few days ago. Much appreciated! I love reading readers' suggestions. Remember that question I asked about what kinds of things you'd like to see more of on the blog? Here are the top five:
Interesting results, and I'll definitely use that feedback going forward.
- More posts about butch identity, female masculinity, gender identity, etc. (This was #1 by far!)
- More posts about fashion, hair, etc., for butches
- Interviews with famous or interesting lesbians
- Reviews of books/movies/music
- Occasional video blogs/vlogs
(Numbers 2, 3, and 4 were *very* close.)
One of my favorite things to read on your hundreds of responses to my butch job survey
was your future ambitions--what you hope to be doing in five years. Most of you want to do something in (or related to) your current field. But a very substantial portion of you want to do something totally different. One elder care provider wants to be a tattoo artist, a mechanic wants to become a professional dog trainer, a college English prof wants to become a self-employed urban farmer, and there are lots and lots more. These
kinds of aspirations aren't just for the young 'uns, either. There's a paramedic who wants to become a spiritual lecturer and a flight attendant who wants to work at an independent coffee house. Both are in their fifties. I heard from plenty of other 40-, 50-, and 60-somethings, too. I love
this, and it reminds me that we possess endless capacity for re-invention. (BTW, the courage and tenacity she showed in her own big career change is one of the things I admire most about my DGF!)
A couple days ago, I went to a workshop about my current profession, and one topic we discussed was the "impostor syndrome." Those of us who have impostor syndrome often feel a little bit like a fraud, a little like we're "faking it." We hope that no one will find out that we don't really know what we're doing, because then they'll realize that we're not cut out for this after all!
After that workshop, I thought a lot about you guys, particularly those who want to do something different with their careers or add a new pursuit to their lives (hey carpenter who wants to get involved in revolutionary politics--I'm talking to you!). I was thinking about how "impostor" syndrome tends to have an especially big affect on women, and I'm guessing this is particularly true for LGBT women, because we don't often look like all the other people in the profession we want to enter. This may go double for gender-nonconformists, people of color, and people from poor or working class backgrounds. The person you see in the mirror may not look exactly like the artist or fire fighter or food critic that you know most people have in their minds. (Our ability to overcome impostor syndrome as LGBT people, as queer people, as lesbians, and as non-gender-conforming people is especially important. The more we can overcome it and do all the things we want to do, the less it will leave the gay kids of the future feeling like impostors.)
Imposter syndrome means that you don't give yourself enough credit for things. You look at what you've already accomplished and think it was due to chance or luck. You're plagued with self-doubt, and this self-doubt makes it more difficult for you to assert yourself and speak your mind. Not only does this make it harder to advance your career, but it also makes it more difficult for you to take risks, make advancements in your current career, or break into a new field.T
he best remedy for impostor syndrome is action. So here's my challenge for you: think of one small step you could take today
to get closer to what you want to be doing in five years. Sit down and write a paragraph about your book idea. Register a domain name for a website you want to start. See if your local community college has classes that could count towards your counseling certification. After you've got that small step in mind, do it. Like, now
. Not after you make dinner or read the news or play one more game of spider solitaire. Now.
The more I read about impostor syndrome, the more I learn that the biggest thing separating those who make big life changes from those who don't is grit. Not talent, not intelligence, but the willingness to do
something, and do it regularly, even on days when you feel like you're not making any real progress, and even if it seems like too small a step to be worthwhile.
Yeah, I know it's not easy. And I know I'm being a little "rah-rah" here. But it's something I really believe in. It would mean the world to me if those of you thinking about starting something new could sit down now and devote 20 minutes to your next step. Then please come back and write a comment on this blog telling me what you've done; I'd love to hear it!
Here's the first installment of my "butches and jobs" series. As regular readers know, last week I posted a survey
asking butch readers about their job search histories. I got a big response--well over 200 readers filled out the whole thing (thanks!).
Unsurprisingly, my youngest readers didn't fill it out (since most of them don't have work histories yet). But aside from this, there was a fairly widespread representation of ages. See?
Okay, admittedly that pie chart is a little gratuitous. But it was my practice for using Word to make charts, and I was too delighted with myself for having done this not to share it. Pretty colors! Wheeee!
So as you might remember, I asked about what factors "affect" you when you're looking for a job. You could choose as many as you want, or none at all. The job characteristics I listed were: helps society, lets me wear what I want, gives benefits to my partner, lets me live somewhere cool, and lets me be as "out" as I want. They're shown by percentage (in ascending order):
I thought these results were pretty interesting. Maybe the most interesting to me was "I can wear what I want." Seven out of ten of us
are affected by this. Maybe if we polled straight people, some of them would be affected by the ability to wear what they wanted on the job, too, but I highly doubt it would be 70%! It's depressing that this is a factor so many of us have to consider. But to me, this really underscores the idea that self-presentation, particularly when it comes to clothing choices, is at the core of who we are and what allows us to be ourselves. Can I be "me" in a skirt suit? Not easily.
I was a little surprised that partner benefits were so low on the list--only 36%. Maybe this is because a lot of you don't have partners, or have partners whose workplaces already provide insurance, or work in a field where benefits aren't typically available, or work in a country with universal health care. A few people wrote in the comments that regardless of whether their partners need
health benefits, as a matter of principle they try not to work for companies who don't offer
same-sex partner benefits.
"I can be as 'out' as I want" topped the list--more than 3/4 of you are affected by the extent to which you can comfortably be out as LGBTQ at work. Not too surprising, since fewer than half of all states in the U.S. have protection for people who are fired because of sexual orientation. Some of you have experienced this. Here are a few quotes from the survey:
- "I have been fired, and not hired, for being butch."
- "I have been fired for being out."
- "I joined the Army but was booted out after 18 months because I was gay."
- "I have been fired for being gay."
- "Twenty years ago I was advised to leave a globally recognised accountancy firm as they would never make my 'type' partner. Weirdly, the advice was given in my best interest."
- "I was fired after a boss figured out I'm a dyke."
- "I was asked to leave an interview for being 'too masculine.'"
- "I have been fired for my sexual orientation... since then I make sure my gayness is clear and undeniable from day one."
That last quote is something that a few others of you mentioned as well: you come out immediately, even in as early the interview or through signals on your resume (volunteer activities, etc.). Presumably if someone has a huge problem with it, they'll never hire you in the first place. I understand the "who would want to work for a homophobe anyway" approach (I use this same approach when talking to prospective landlords). But it's also really crummy that in an economy where jobs are scarce, we'd be excluded from any
of them for who we are.
More to follow about butches and jobs in future posts. Happy Leap Year! (Oh--and a note to you statisticians out there: I'm fully aware that this isn't a random sample, that I haven't controlled for various factors, etc., etc. I'm not claiming scientific validity!)
I've been thinking lately about the myriad ways in which sexual orientation, gender identification, and gender presentation affect our occupational choices. We might imagine multiple ways this could happen:
Of course, lesbians can do anything. We can be (and are) everything from ballerinas to surgeons, from firefighters to custodians. But I know that in my own life, I've gravitated toward work that lets me be myself, and away from work that tends to favor or privilege those who conform to gender norms. I'm really curious about what your experiences have been.
- Maybe we choose a job where we can present as we want to and not feel alienated. For some of us, this might mean being able to bring our partner to the holiday party; for others, it might mean not being the only woman at work who's not wearing a skirt.
- Maybe we choose a job in which our partners aren't denied health benefits (and we probably also want to work somewhere where we can't be fired simply for loving whom we choose).
- The dyke cop, the dyke librarian, and the dyke P.E. teacher are all cliches, yes... but often there's a reason that things become cliches. Whatever personality characteristics are associated with being a lesbian (and particularly a butch) may also be associated with whatever characteristics make people pursue certain professions.
I would LOVE it if you would fill out the following brief survey and send it to me! I'll tally the results and report them (anonymously, of course) in a future post:
Thanks for participating. The more people who fill it out, the better and more interesting the results are likely to be, and the more interesting it will be to read about in a few days. :-)
A few times per week, I'm mistaken for a child. Since becoming a lawyer, the situation has gotten worse, especially in court. Today, in preparation for my first upcoming trial, I decided to go to court to see what a trial is actually like. I asked the court officer (a fairly strapping butch) for permission to observe and she granted it. But I guess she never informed the judge, because the judge made attempts to figure out who I was, including: "I see we have a 'little person' over there waiting. Does HE belong to any of you?
"I pretended I didn't know she was talking about me. After all, I am
not a small boy so why should I answer? But to add salt to the wound, the court officer got up and ambled across the courtroom to whisper to me: "Not only did the judge think you were a kid, but she called you a boy!" At this, I turned bright red and almost broke down into tears (but held it together).Later, the judge inquired again and I told her I was an attorney observing (I was wearing a suit, pink button down, and even some makeup). She apologized for the mistake about my age but omitted the whole gender error. This leads me to my question: I recently got a pixie cut. I love my super short hair; it's easy to deal with and feels totally freeing. But I've had to take a bit of shit about it. My grandmother gave me a long talk about how long hair is more "becoming" and "feminine." An ex and I even had a huge fight over my short hair, in part, because she felt it was unfeminine (though she later clarified that the fight was about more than just the hair).Even though I love short hair, it bothers me when people lament my not being feminine enough. It's not like I want to be perceived as super feminine (I feel very androgynous on a personality level) but I don't like when people see my lack of femininity as a
liability. For whatever reason, being mistaken for a pre-adolescent male distresses me, and I wonder if it might be less likely to happen if i suck it up and grow my hair out a bit. Or should I embrace this characterization? If someone thought I was a man it might not be so bad but regressing to age 10-12 is tough when you're trying to prove yourself in court. Have you ever been tempted to change something about yourself so you fit more easily into "the institution" (for me, the courtroom)?Dear Androgynous Advocate:First of all, I feel your pain! Yes, I think most of us butchy/andro types have felt pressured to change something about ourselves to blend in with some kind of institution: school, work
, family, etc. I've written about the wisdom of doing this at various times
, and it's never an easy balance. As I see it, you've got multiple questions, so I'll try to break my answer into parts.
Professional life first. Re: the little person comment: OMG wow. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. If I was in your shoes, I'd have been just as flustered as you were! Good for you for keeping it together. The judge was probably mortified (I sure hope so), and I suspect that the butch court officer was trying to commiserate, not to make you feel bad, since she probably knows all too well how irritating those kinds of mistakes can be.
In your professional life, you need to be respected as a professional
. Once you get established, people won't make these mistakes anymore (and they'll correct each other). But in the meantime, you need t to be taken seriously. So on first impression, it would be nice if they didn't think you were a boy-child. If I were you, I'd take measures to minimize this. You could always dye your hair grey and go to court as a little old woman--that would be kind of awesome. But here are some better ideas:
- Wear a brooch. I hate wearing brooches, but middle-aged women wear them. Young boys do not.
- Wear pearls. You don't have to wear them *all* the time, just the first time you meet someone. All middle-aged female lawyers seem to own pearls. Unless the judge mistakes the string of pearls for a puka shell necklace, pearls will help you exude "competent woman" vibes.
- Carry a briefcase. A nice one. When you sit down, place it prominently on your lap. Whip out a legal pad and nice pen, too, even if you don't need to write anything down.
- Wear large earrings. Big gold hoops are very middle-aged-woman. Or bracelets. Like bangles (shudder).
- Wear a "shell" under your suit jacket. These are those shirts that don't have collars. They basically look like this, and are sort of like T-shirts with a much lower neck but made out of silky material.
I hope one or two of these approaches won't be too odious for you. Yes, I've been tempted to change for an institution. I finally started wearing ties, but it took a long time before I felt like I wasn't being stared at. And just walking around my workplace, I still get stared at sometimes. At one of my old jobs, I wore a girl-suit and hated it. Basically I'm now convinced that as long as it doesn't compromise my reputation or clients or anything, the institution has to tolerate ME, not the other way around. But it's incredibly situation-dependent.
As for your more personal dilemma regarding short hair... so many butches deal with this at some point! Don't all
our grandmothers think we look more feminine (and thus, better) with short hair? I think that most people are so steeped in gender norms that they don't know what
they believe. They just think girls are supposed to have long hair. And you are a girl. And when you have long hair you more closely match their idea of what a girl is "supposed" to be. So they say things about how long hair "frames your face" or whatever. But you know what, Androgynous Advocate? Screw their opinions. It's your
head, not theirs, and they don't get to choose. They'll get used to it and eventually stop bothering you (or you'll stop caring). But it's a big deal that you find short hair "freeing." Even if you decide to make some compromises about your professional appearance, in your personal life, you get to be you
Last week, I received an email that brings up some self-presentation issues many of you have asked about. This version of the email is slightly edited (for length, and--at her request--to protect this person's anonymity). Androgynous Advocate writes:
Hey, I was on the radio yesterday! Here's a link to the show.
The interview improves as it goes along. I was slightly shaken by talking about my divorce right at the start, but I told Emily Cherin, who hosts "All Things Gay," as long as my anonymity was maintained, anything was fair game, so good for her for cutting right to the chase! In any case, it was fabulously fun. I'm just glad no one's said I have a "great face for radio."
One of the things we talked about was when to deviate from deviance. (I'm using "deviant" only in the technical sense: different from the norm.) Many butches deviate from average female gender presentation daily. But should we ever feel compelled to "femme it up" a little? Here are some possibilities, along with my recommendations.Situation
: You're going somewhere where appearing butch might open you to the possibility of physical harm. Verdict
: Femme it up.Reasoning
: For me, safety comes before psychic or physical comfort. If you think you might be in danger somewhere, dress accordingly. And don't bind. Heck, don't even wear a sports bra if you have a choice. That's a dead giveaway. (I know butches who pass as male when they travel. If you want to try that, fine, but this can become very
risky if someone figures it out.)Situation
: You're asked to be a bridesmaid at a traditional wedding, and your friend really
wants you to wear what the other bridesmaids are wearing.Verdict
: Maybe if it means more to your friend than anything in the world, it's worth it to suck it up and put on the satin yellow thing she's trying to foist on you. Then again, if she's truly a friend, wouldn't she understand that you'd be more at home in a tux and nice vest? Try reasoning with her, offering to wear what the groomsmen are wearing. If this fails, offer to take another role, like usher. This is a sticky situation, and ultimately, it's your call. If you decide to go for it, I recommend surrendering fashion decisions to the other bridesmaids, closing your eyes, and thinking of England.Situation
: You're visiting your grandparents and your parents ask you to not to wear something masculine. Verdict
: Play nice, but don't femme it up.Reasoning
: Your family loves you no matter what... but sometimes they need to be nudged into accepting gender nonconformity. It's amazing what people can get used to (and sometimes we don't give them enough credit). But if you never push them, they'll never change. That said, maybe you don't need
to wear a tie to Thanksgiving. How about khakis and a sweater? You're not compromising your identity, nor will you give Grandma a coronary.Situation
: You're interviewing for a job in a conservative industry.Verdict
: Don't femme it up.Reasoning
: Unless you plan to femme it up every day on the job, don't do it in the interview. A nice dark suit--men's or women's--is fine. (I recommend matching the gender of your suit to the gender of your shoes; your look will be more coherent.) You'll interview better if you're physically comfortable. My interview go-to outfit is a dark grey men's suit, black Ecco men's shoes, and a lavender or light green men's dress shirt (tie optional). Would you really want to work for an employer who balks at hiring a butch?
What's the toughest decision YOU'VE ever had to make re: whether to femme it up? What did you do?
I just had an interaction with a work acquaintance and learned that she has a new boyfriend. She talked about him a little, and it occurred to me that he and my DGF have quite a bit in common. I suggested we go on a double date sometime, and my acquaintance said that that might not be a good idea. I couldn't figure out why, so I looked at her quizzically, and then she stared at the floor and started saying something about how her boyfriend "is coming around," but doesn't think that gay people should be able to adopt kids, and that he would probably be "pretty awkward" about going out with us. (We don't have kids; this was her way of saying, "There's no way he wants to hang out with gay people.")
Personally, I think she should drag the boyfriend--kicking and screaming, if necessary--into 2011 and go out with us anyway. But maybe it would have been unpleasant. In a way, my acquaintance's honesty was refreshing. I think most people would have said, "Oh, sure..." and then kept being conveniently unavailable. I was fairly silent in response, and the quieter I was, the more my acquaintance talked: first about how no one is perfect, about how she's getting older and had to widen the dating pool, and then analogizing between her boyfriend and her mom, who is apparently also "pretty liberal" but "really awkward" about gay stuff. What was I supposed to say? She can date whomever she wants. But I'm not going to give her a bye and say it's no problem. It is.
My friend B and I have often talked about the fact that most of the friends I've made since coming out are gay. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) I've noticed that most of my lesbian friends hang out mostly with other lesbian couples, too, and I've made a concerted effort to hang out with more straight people because I don't want my sexuality to be the only sculptor of my social world. But my experience this afternoon certainly encapsulates one mechanism behind homophily
, doesn't it? By hanging out with people who accept and/or relate to our "lifestyle" (don't you hate
the word "lifestyle" used in reference to queer sexuality?), we avoid all sorts of potential--sometimes microscopic--hurts, slights, and awkwardness. Anyhow: in this case, it's their loss.
<--- Apropos of nothing, k.d. lang looks on with dashing skepticism.
Since March, I've been moonlighting as an adjunct community college English professor. (You'll hear more about this in the next installment of Butch 360
.) Today I was grading "argument" papers in which students take a side on the topic of their choosing and write persuasively (one hopes) about it. One of my students chose, "Should Gay Couples Be Allowed to Adopt Children?"Aside from being hideously
written and citing literally no
sources, the essay was full of inflammatory statements. Highlights include: "If a kid had gay parents, normal people would try to stay away from him," and, "A kid raised by gay parents would grow up with a twisted view of sexual minorities."As a married, straight-presenting woman teaching college English 6-7 years ago, I sometimes received anti-gay essays. But I'm puzzled that a kid would hand this essay in to an obviously gay teacher (especially since he had a choice of literally 125 topics). A few possible explanations spring to mind:
- In a vibrant bout of internalized homophobia, this kid has simply not come to grips with his own homosexuality. (Unlikely.)
- He's somehow trying to goad me. (Very unlikely. Trust me: he isn't sophisticated enough to goad.)
- He's correctly discerned that I'm gay, or could be, but my incredible evenhandedness as a teacher emboldens him to speak his mind. (Unlikely; see aforementioned lack of sophistication.)
- Despite my obviously masculine attire (e.g., ties), this kid has the gaydar of a rock. (Moderately likely.)
In any case, this essay had me seeing red--especially because I suspect that he assumes (but how?!) that he's talking to a straight woman. More than once, I had to put it down, grit my teeth, and sip some coffee for strength. Giving the paper a grade was tough. I wanted to be sure I wasn't docking this kid because of his views. In the end, I think I was fair, but I gave him 10 extra points as a buffer against my own anti-anti-gay bias. He still got a D.
One of my favorite butches, M, is moving halfway across the country, and her impending departure has affected me waaay more than I would have predicted. On the surface, it’s no big deal: she’s in a sort of supervisory position over me, and though we’re friendly and have a similar sense of humor, we hang out socially only on occasion.
And yet, the idea of facing work without M there is startlingly depressing, and I have been surprised at the depth of my reaction. I’m not the only out lesbian in my workplace, but I'll now be the only non-gender-conforming person there. And where I
work, lack of conformity to gender norms is a bigger deal than sexual orientation.* No one blinks upon learning you're a dyke, but give a presentation in a tie and you'll get double-takes. In fact, my current supervisor (a terrific person--and a lesbian I wouldn’t describe as femme, but who’s gender-conforming at work) has essentially told me I’ll never reach a position of power in my field if I keep dressing like a dude.
Partly for these reasons, M has become very important to me.** It's been nice not being the only chick in men's clothes. But it goes beyond physical appearance. M is a kickass woman with loads of charm and masculine energy. She offers a model for skilfully negotiating professional spaces while
being gender-nonconforming. M claims she doesn't think about gender much, and I doubt she identifies as butch (though, trust
me, you'd categorize her that way). But by being who she is, she has made my life better.***
Stuart Dybek has a line in the story "Pet Milk" where he talks about "missing someone you're still with." That's how I've been feeling about M the past few weeks. There's a kind of premature loneliness that now hits me every time I walk into work. I'm going to miss her. A lot.
Has anyone out there experienced something similar?*
I know it's not this way everywhere, and I'm certainly not denying that feminine-presenting queer women face their own set of struggles!** Goodness knows what I'll do if C and her wife ever move.
Geez. Butch buddies
are so important!*** I'm getting a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves.
Here are today's shirt and tie. Do not adjust your monitor--my neck really IS that white.
I first tied an excellent Windsor knot, but it looked odd with a button-down collar, because it's such a thick knot. For button-down collars, I think it's best to go with just a casual four-in-hand knot (which is the easiest to tie, anyway).
Since my DGF had a job interview today, she let me drag her to Nordstrom Rack (a different NR from the one featured in a previous post) and dress her up yesterday. Saying that my DGF is not exactly a fashionista is like saying that Fred Phelps is not exactly a fan of gay marriage. She hates shopping, usually burns out after about 30 minutes, and doesn't want to try anything on. (Oh--and in case this is causing a little head-scratching, I should clarify that my DGF and I are both butch, although she eschews such labels.)
I tried to talk her into a $50 purple shirt with wonderfully textured fabric, but she selected a Nordstrom brand white shirt with subtle blue and grey stripes--still really nice, and it looks great on her. We also found some black pants for her lithe little 31-inch waist and a decent belt (she refused to get my favorite one because I told her that the buckle was at a "jaunty" angle; my DGF says that my use of words like "jaunty" and "delightful" make her feel like she's dating a 70-year-old man).
Bottom line: she looked damned good, and it made me want to dress her up some more, if she ever lets me. Little does she know that I was taking mental notes about sizes and fits the whole time so that I can surreptitiously slip new, colorful shirts into her closet among her army of white button-down Oxfords (I kid you not--she has like six of the same shirt).
So how about you, dear readers? Got any good tricks for dragging your own DGFs to the store, or are you usually the one being dragged?