"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.
- 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.
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: 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