Responses varied, but some distinct themes emerged. (To be clear, I'm not saying that butches have these traits--or that I'm not guilty of any!)
- Ignoring other butches. Several butch readers said that they'd love to have more butch friends, but that other butches ignore them or are unresponsive when they reach out. I've had this experience--but on the other hand, I've had the opposite, too (which is how I became such good friends with my buddy C). Check out my post on butch-butch friendships.
- Too much time in the bathroom or on their hair. [BW averts her eyes.]
- Dressing too sloppily. One reader wrote, "I love butch girls but [it] bothers me it they wear their pants super baggy and walk around grabbing their crotch. It's disgusting when a man does it but when a sexy, beautiful butch woman does it it looks ridiculous." Another reader opined that there are many butches "who think that tracksuit bottoms, a t-shirt and wearing the same deodorant as a 15 year old boy is acceptable first date attire." No BW readers, I hope! (Oh--and a few readers specifically mentioned that they've seen a lot of butches in bras that don't give them enough support. That's no good. If you wear a 38D, a $15 sports bra from Target doesn't cut it.)
- Excessive "swagger" or cockiness. This was a big one, mentioned by more readers than any other trait. One butch wrote that "super rude, cocky, puff-out-your-chest butch women irritate [her]." Another said she disliked the "hyper-ego." she occasionally saw among butches. I agree that arrogance--which is very different from confidence--is never attractive. And I hate that so many people associate this kind of behavior with the word "butch!"
- Trying to police butchness. This includes telling soft butches that they're not real butches and stating "rules" like, "You can't be butch if you have long hair" or "If you wear women's underwear, you're not butch." What? I acknowledge that it's hard to define "butch," but I believe that identity policing is rooted in insecurity. (One butch reader wrote, "I hate when femmes think I'm too butch and butches think I'm too soft. Can't we just agree that I'm cute and will make your mom love me and make your dad wish I was his dyke-in-law?")
- Hating on butch-butch couples; hating on trans men; hating on bisexual women. You don't have to understand (or even like) people who are different from you, but why not try to be kind to them?
- "Puffing up" when they see another butch. Another big one. When you pass a butch you don't know, there's no need to glare at her (or studiously ignore her), pull your girlfriend closer to you, and use your body language to let everyone know that it's "your" McDonald's.
- Being too butch. Of all the critiques I read, this was the only one I really got annoyed at. A handful of people wrote things like, "I know you wear guys' clothes, but don't overdo it," or "Stop wearing men's pants," or "I once knew someone that wore men's underwear! Can u imagine?" (Uh, yes. Yes, I can.) This is another form of identity policing. Please don't tell me the "right" way to be butch. Geez.
- Being chauvinistic. This garnered the second-largest number of complaints (right after the swagger/cockiness one). Readers wrote that some butches want too much control in the relationship, or want to be "the guy" (or a hyperbolic, cartoon version of a guy, in any case), or expect "their woman" to wait on them, or belittle their girlfriends. No one claimed that it happened often, but most said that when it did, it tended to be in the context of a butch-femme relationship. One person wrote, "I don't want my Dapper Gentlelady... to save me, or treat me like I'm weaker or lesser than her... Just because she has an impressive tie collection (no, seriously; it's something to behold) doesn't make her the 'man' in the relationship. There isn't a man here, just two equal women; one in a bow tie, the other in heels."
- Cheating or being a player. (Most readers acknowledged that this isn't specific to butches; it's just that I asked about butches. Maybe I would have gotten the same answer by asking about femmes.)
- Wearing dresses just because it's what's expected of them. Readers weren't exactly "bothered" by this--more like "disheartened." It made them sad to see butches conform to social norms when they clearly didn't want to (although readers also acknowledged that sure, some butches might feel comfortable in a dress).
- Not respecting their elders. This quote summed it up: "I would like to hear less [sic] derogatory comments about older butches. I hear too often insults about their clothes, their mannerisms, and even their looks. I think we all forget the struggle they went through, coming out in a much less forgiving era. They essentially paved the path we all so 'gayly' walk now."
- Playing it too close to the vest. Many people commented that butches seem more difficult than most to get to know. They used phrases like "ultra protective of everything" or "not letting people know them." Hmm... I can certainly relate to the disinclination to make oneself vulnerable (once bitten, twice shy, and all that).
Whether there's truth in any of these is highly debatable. But these are some stereotypes people hold, and I think it's worth knowing about them, engaging with them, and taking them seriously.
For example, one straight reader (I LOVE that straight people read BW--you rock, straight readers!) wrote that in contrast to, say, gay men, she finds butches a little intimidating. I was surprised at first--me? But I appreciated her honesty. And although, sure, I wish people didn't assume things about butches based on our appearance, it also reminded me that I might need to go out of my way sometimes to make myself approachable (I'm not suggesting that everyone needs to do this--it just matters to me personally).
Do any of these ring true? Can it be productive to talk about them?