I got an interesting email from a BW reader several weeks ago. I promised him a response, and with his permission decided to share his question and my answer with the rest of you.
I am a straight man ..not bi or bi-curious. I love women. I have always been attracted to tomboys but now that I'm grown I have discovered that is my preference. I turn my head faster when I see a sexy stud opposed to high heels and a dress. I also feel the conversation or potential relationship is better. I am also amazed sometimes of the perfect bodies when those baggy clothes come off. The sex is simply better.
When it comes to relationships, I don't know what to do. The stud I was interested in/having relations with... We enjoy each other's company and sex. But she has a girlfriend, obviously. So I'm confused, probably like she is. Do you think she was just using me? And if so, why? We really mesh but she definitely doesn't want anyone to know... And I promised her that. So, yes, I would love to be in a relationship with a stud... Not that I'm trying to change her. I would not mind if she had a girlfriend... As long as I was her guy. Do I sound crazy or what?
Dear Confused Carl,
You don't sound crazy. Sure, most straight guys' heads are turned by skirts and heels, but yours isn't! I bet lots of men attracted to "non-feminine" women aren't willing to say so, because they fear others' questions and judgment, or because they think it makes them less masculine (which it doesn't!). My last post talked about the difference between masculinity in women and masculinity in men. It's not weird to me that you would be attracted to one but not to the other. Masculine women are women--and they happen to be your favorite kind. So, cool.
Butchy and masculine-of-center bisexual (and even straight!) women DO exist. Some of the bi ones only date women, in part because men aren't usually attracted to them. But this doesn't mean that they wouldn't date a cis man if the right one (like you!) came along. So it might take a little extra effort on your part--for example, dating online, going to bi mixers, or letting your friends know your preference so that they can "keep an eye out" for you. But don't give up hope! A straight guy into masculine women doesn't come along every day, and the right woman will be sooo excited to meet you!
And then, of course, there's your specific situation, which is trickier. You may be right that "your" stud is confused... but she may simply be bi. I can't tell from your email whether she wants you to keep your relationship a secret because you're a man or because she is dating someone else. The fact that she is with someone else, though, and doesn't want people to know about your relationship, means that unless something changes, you two aren't going anywhere. If you're okay with being the guy "on the side," fine. But remember that unless all parties know what's going on and are okay with it, it's cheating. This fact doesn't change just because you're a guy.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the sense from your email that you're not exactly thrilled with the current situation. You might consider talking with her about this. I have no idea whether she's using you (as you fear) or whether she's genuinely confused. But it doesn't sound like the status quo is working for you--and if it's not, you need to find out what's going on with her. My advice would be to tell her what you've told me. Tell her you don't want her to feel pressure about her sexual orientation, and that you like being with her as a human being and need to know what you mean to her.
You write, "I would not mind if she had a girlfriend... As long as I was her guy." This statement confused me. Are you talking about a polyamorous relationship? About regular sex on the side? It kind of sounds like you'd be cool with the latter, except that's what you have right now and you don't sound totally happy about it. What do you want?
I don't want you to settle for this "on the side" business, though, if what you really want is a full-on, even monogamous, relationship with a studly woman. If this is so, know that you can get it. It might take a while to find, but it is possible, and you don't have to "settle" for what you have now if it doesn't make you happy.
Last week, I returned to the age-old question of what butches should wear to interviews. In a short poll, I posed the following hypothetical:
Imagine helping a butch lesbian decide what to wear for an entry-level professional interview (e.g., lawyer, consultant, finance, manager, gov't, professor, etc.). She usually wears men's clothes, but identifies and presents as female, though people sometimes accidentally call her "sir." She tells you, "I know the employers are kind of conservative, though I also know things are slowly changing. I'm a solid candidate but not a shoe-in. What should I wear?
I gave six choices and asked how to advise our butch professional wannabe:
#1: Fit in first, THEN change the system. Wear what other women there wear: makeup, heels, whatever you have to.
#2: Be yourself, but show you're willing to play the game. Wear only the women's stuff you're most comfortable in--skip the makeup and heels!
#3: Wear a combo to help you fit in a little--e.g., a plain women's suit, collared shirt, men's shoes.
#4: You like men's clothes; wear a men's suit and shirt and shoes, but no tie or other uber-masculine gear that'd alienate you from your interviewers.
#5: Men's clothes, including a tie. If they don't want you, you don't want to work there. If you can't get a job in the industry, it's not for you!
#6: As long as you wear something nice, clean, etc., it doesn't matter. People judge you for who you are, not what you wear.
Here are the results:
As you can see, I also calculated the average age for each response. For a small survey, these age differences don't matter much, and goodness knows this isn't anything close to a representative sample (of the population overall, of butches, or even of BW readers), but it's interesting to think about.
A few numbers that caught my eye, and possible explanations:
And finally, here's a sampling of the write-in comments:
Thanks for these great thoughts. If you're trying to figure out how to break into the profession you want without compromising who you are, you are certainly not alone.
Got any of your own life hacks to share?
A few weeks ago I wrote this article recounting my pseudo-gender-conforming job search. Shortly thereafter, a butch superstar six or seven years ahead of me in my field reached out about the article, and we ended up having coffee and chatting about her experiences. Not only was she even more awesome than I’d hoped, but she had interesting theories about butch clothing selection that are way too interesting not to share.
Said superstar proposed the following:
The bottom line is that Superstar says to go for a men's suit next time—at least, it worked for her. So maybe I will. Or maybe I'll go back and forth, since I like both men's and women's suits that are relatively gender-neutral in appearance (e.g., no cutesy buttons for women's suits, no mega-structured shoulders for men's suits). But I do like wearing ties, which tend to look better with men's suits. Superstar had no major opinion on ties, since she doesn't wear them herself, but since they are THE quintessential "men's" professional clothing item, maybe a tie would be more likely to be looked on unfavorably by prospective hirers.
What do you think about Superstar’s theories? Let's unscientifically test one of them! Click here to take a SUPER-quick 2-question quiz. I'll post the results this weekend.
I've been hesitating to write this entry because I don't know whether to make it instructional or confessional. Perhaps it is neither.
A few months ago, I was gearing up for a series of interviews in a very conservative (socially, not politically) industry. I was planning to wear my dark grey men's suit with the lovely, unstructured shoulders, complete with a purple checked tie. But one of my mentors got to me first (not you, CB). I should add that this woman is queer, in case that matters to you. I'll call her "MP" for "Mentor Person." This conversation occurred:
MP: So... You're not going to wear men's clothes to the interviews, are you?
MP: Look, you want a job, right?
BW: Right, but at what cost?
MP: Look, when you're at my level, you can wear what you want. But at this point, you want a job. You want to convey that you're like everyone else. And you don't want the interviewers thinking about your clothes.
BW: I don't care if they think about my clothes.
MP: Yes, you do. You don't want them staring at you thinking, "Is she wearing men's underwear?"
BW: I'll just walk in, wink, and tell them, "Nope."
MP: No to the men's underwear?
BW: No to the men's underwear! Well... today, anyway.
Okay, so then MP--who, let me stress, is someone I trust and who is invested in my professional success--tells me her hypothesis about gender conformity and clothing. Basically, she says that there are four components to a professional outfit:
2. Something over the shirt, like a blazer or jacket or sweater
MP's theory is that of these items, at least two need to be from the women's department so as not to attract undue attention/speculation/consternation. She tried, unsuccessfully, to get me to order a "shell" shirt from L.L. Bean or one of those other places. I told her I thought it was absurd. I resisted. I argued.
And then I gave in--partly.
On my way home that day, I stopped at Macy's and tried on approximately 15 women's suits. I do not like women's suits because they tend to lack pockets, to have too-short jackets, and to be cut in weird ways that make my hips look extra hipp-y and my boobs look extra boob-y. Finally, I found one that was relatively inoffensive, except that the jacket was a little too short. Whatever. I bought two, in black, plus a women's Ralph Lauren shirt that was lovely and purple and striped and devoid of girlish frills. (Not a "shell" or--God forbid--a "camisole"--I'm talking about a regular collared shirt.) I took a picture of myself in the new getup and sent it to MP. Her response: "Don't you think it's a little narcissistic to send me pictures of yourself?"
Ha. From MP, that's approval.
The next day, unprompted, MP loaned me actual, real pearls, because she said rich people can tell the difference between real pearls and fake pearls and I was likely to encounter people who had grown up wealthy. I am extremely skeptical of pearls, but since these were small and looked shockingly non-dowdy with my new, very sharp shirt, I went for it.
So according to MP's formula I was more than sufficiently girly: pants, suit jacket, shirt. Three out of four! (There was no way in hell I was going to wear women's shoes.) Plus pearls!
Looking in the mirror the day of my interviews, I realized that there was still no way anyone would mistake me for straight: my ever-present tiny silver hoops, very short haircut, and men's shoes gave me away. Even with pearls, I didn't look feminine, but at least I was closer to Ellen's look than to Lea DeLaria's. (Point of clarification: I like Lea DeLaria and her look; I'm not knocking it, just saying that I didn't want to embody it that day.)
Among the sea of other interviewees, I was still by far the least gender-conforming person. I might as well have been wearing a rainbow sticker on my forehead. Still, the cut of my suit allowed me to look conforming enough for interviewers not to dismiss me, and masculine enough that I felt comfortable. In fact, I felt like quite the powerful dyke.
Did I "betray" my butchness by wearing a lady-suit? Maybe. Would I have been more "true" to myself in a men's suit and tie? Maybe. But at the same time, I thought carefully about the degree of "compromise" I was willing to make, and what I was and wasn't willing to sacrifice to fit in. More gender conformity would have gone over better with interviewers, I suspect. Still, I have to admit that I felt proud of finding a balance that worked for me in this particular situation, and grateful to MP for giving me the heads-up that I needed to make a few changes if I wanted to be in the ballpark.
As you can tell, I'm still wrestling with it. I loathe the idea of compromising to "fit in." But I also loathe the idea of not getting the job I want because I was too stubborn to take off my damn tie. At least for me, being butch is partly about being true to myself, and partly about finding a balance that will let me be myself while accomplishing what I want to accomplish. (And finally getting some power, so that I can not only put my own tie back on, but hire plenty of other tie-wearing women when I'm the one making the decisions.)
I bet some of you can relate to this. For those of you in industries where you're likely to be punished for gender non-conformity, what do you do? What kinds of balance have you found, and how has it worked?