Happy Butch Wednesday! A few days ago, I received this email from a reader, and decided to share my answer on the blog. Here's the email (edited for length):
I came across your blog last night when I googled "can I be a transgender women and butch."
I'm a transgender woman at the beginning of my transition to be true to myself. I started HRT a month ago during Pride. I smile when I say that because I am proud. I've spent the last several years trying to learn who I really am and where I want to go. I have some of the dysphoria most trans people talk about but sometimes I wonder why I'm not more bothered by it. I know that may sound crazy but what bothers me more is trying to understand why I feel like a woman but want to retain some form of masculinity. I prefer to wear the women's version of a masculine look. I'm athletic and a tomboy. My sexual preference is women. Can I actually be a butch lesbian and transgender? Is what I feel and the way I want to present myself accepted in the butch community? I feel like people will ask why I'm transitioning if I want to be masculine. I honestly feel like a woman.
I'm no expert on transgender identity, and I hope some of my trans readers will weigh in and share their thoughts in the comments. But personally, I think the answer is an emphatic yes. Of course you can be a MTF butch, because trans women are women, and there are all kinds of women, and butch is one of these kinds. It makes perfect sense to me!
You bring up some really good points, and I'll respond to as many as I can. The stickiest question, perhaps, is whether you will be "accepted" within the butch community. My responses are threefold:
The boundaries of the butch community, such as it is, seem more porous than ever. I've even gotten angry emails from people when I've defined butches as masculine women. These readers pointed out that I was excluding trans men, who might still identify as butches, just not as butch women. And, of course, there are plenty of nonbinary people who identify as butch, women who identify as genderqueer and not butch, genderqueer people who identify as butch but not as women--the list goes on.
One result of this increasing porousness is that it can feel confusing and/or threatening to people w hoID as butch women. After all, a hallmark of butch womanness is masculinity. What does it mean if another woman starts taking testosterone, stops identifying as female, gains muscle mass and a square jaw, and still identifies as butch? A woman who also identifies as butch may then feel less masculine in comparison. In effect, she feels she has been "feminized" in comparison to her butch counterparts. And many butches do not like to feel feminized, so it creates all this policing--e.g., "Well, that person who takes T isn't really butch--they're in a different category now." I understand this policing, and I understand the person who doesn't want to abandon their butch identity simply because they're on testosterone or no longer use female pronouns. This is part of the reason there's sometimes tension between trans men and butch women .
So this all means you're stepping into a bit of a quagmire. On the whole, I suspect that if they're concerned about trans people identifying as butches, most butch women are thinking about the FTM phenomenon, not the MTF phenomenon. There's this idea that butch women are disappearing. (Personally, I love the idea that even if we are "losing" butch women, we are also gaining them!)
If you do meet resistance from butches, I suspect that it will have to do with some of your biologically "masculine" traits. Statistically speaking, you are likely to be taller, deeper-voiced, slimmer-hipped, etc., than most cis women. Butches might be jealous. Or they might read you as a cis man, even accidentally. Even though you're a masculine woman, you might have to find ways to accentuate your femininity to be read in the way you prefer. I don't mean that you need to wear a skirt or do something else dysphoria-inducing--certainly not! I just mean that until they see the strap of your sportsbra outlined beneath your T-shirt, other butches might not know how to read you.
Dating may (or may not) be a little challenging. I don't know what your plans are for bottom surgery--you need to do what's right for you. I'm going to assume that at this point, you have the genitals you did at birth: presumably, a penis. When it comes to dating, Surprise Penis is not the best kind of penis. The decision about how and when to out yourself as trans to anyone you're naked with is personal (I'm trying to get a trans woman friend of mine to guest post about exactly this). But I will say that suddenly encountering a penis where one does not expect to encounter a penis has the potential to be threatening or traumatizing to the person you're with. Disclosing your trans status can be a burden, but whether it's fair or not, people who see you as a cis woman, and with whom you're intimate, will expect you to do it well before naked time. More on that in a future post.
You also mentioned that people might wonder why you're transitioning at all if you want to be masculine. You're right--they might! But you answered this yourself: "I honestly feel like a woman." It's kind of similar, actually, to when people ask people who date butches, "Why don't you just date a man?" The answer, in short, is that female masculinity and male masculinity are different--which seems to be something you feel, too, having experienced both first-hand. Female masculinity seems to feel really comfortable to you, and it's really great that you've figured that out. I'm sure it wasn't easy.
In sum, you sound awesome and interesting and like you're well on your way. I'm excited for you and wish I could give you a hug and a fist bump. You're in for a wild ride--stay true to yourself, and try to ignore people who don't understand you or tell you that you "can't" be a certain way. Welcome to the butch community!
My name is eL. I am a butch, queer genderqueer (oof, that's a mouthful) and my preferred pronouns are they/them/their. I blog occasionally and tweet often, and I've guest blogged on Butch Wonders before, like I'm doing today. I recently had a fun twitter back-and-forth with BW after reading her recent blog post on butch-butch relationships. In the past, I contributed to this post and this post on the topic of butch-butch love.
I have had relationships with three people who were solidly butch-identified when we dated, plus one who felt she "looked butch on the outside, but felt femme on the inside." I have also dated femmes. Four, to be exact. I would say only one counted as a "relationship." I have also dated a few people who didn't really identify either way, and I am dating one of those fabulous people now.
So, how does it feel different to date people of varying identities? How does perception of yours elf and other people change based on who you're dating? Well, for me at this moment, there are a host of complicating factors.
To answer the initial question BW asked me ("Notice any big diffs in dating not-butch, either re: how you feel or re: how others treat you?"): Yes, I do. So here are some of the differences--the differences for me--I certainly don't speak for anyone who is not me.
When I date femmes, I feel generally more protective. I fall into a bit more of the security guard role. I suppose it helps that I am tall, broad-shouldered, and "look intimidating." Though I certainly don't *feel* intimidating much of the time. In most relationships, I have been read as "more butch" than folks I've been with based solely on my height and frame. This is fine with me, but also hilarious, as I am certainly not the butchest butch that has ever butched. I don't even drive a stick shift!
When I date butches, there seems to be more of a tradeoff. If the butch I'm dating is much smaller than me and doesn't have a Napoleon complex, I do feel like I take on a bit more of the protector or "more butch" role. If the butch holds their own (as far as acting from a place of confidence), then not so much. This really varies person-to-person. When I date non-butches or non-femmes, it varies even more. Regardless, I still feel quite butch and secure in that/my identity.
My current girlfriend is struggling a bit with my neutral pronouns. She uses them just fine, but is frustrated with what term to use to refer to me in the context of our relationship. As far as I can find, there are no gender neutral relationship terms that are equivalent in meaning and generalized understanding and seriousness to "girlfriend" or "boyfriend." Prior to dating her, I didn't really think much about what folks called me. (Most said "girlfriend," one called me her "Mister," and another called me her "Beau.")
My girlfriend and I generally get read as more "lesbian" so far than I've been read as in a bit. In the past, I think people didn't read me as lesbian as often when I dated other butches. I dated one butch, in particular, and we were often read as gay men. Otherwise, I'm not sure how I was read, only that people would assume that I wasn't with the person I was with because we were both "butch." When I dated femmes, once in a while, we were read as a straight couple.
I feel lucky in that my girlfriend is pretty darn attracted to butches, and has been. Seems to be an important part of her identity, and I dig that. If my girlfriend wasn't openly into butches, I might feel differently. Do I have to "tone down" the butch? Something like that. But, I don't. I am just unapologetically me right now, which, I'll admit can be pretty awkward at times. Butches + nursing bras = certainly not my favorite thing and has evoked much frustration and drama including exclaiming things such as, "I don't even wear bras like this! Ugh!" (I usually wear sports bras and/or the occasional binder.)
Overall, I feel more comfortable dating butches and folks somewhere in the grey area. This is due to past not-so-positive experiences dating femmes. I have had femmes judge me as "too butch," I have had femmes hit on by men in front of me and not rebuff them - I have, unfortunately, had some disappointing experiences dating femmes. I have found butches. as a whole, to be more accepting of my own butch identity. I have also found that I have stronger chemistry with lesbians / queer folks that lean more butch / masculine on the spectrum of gender.
I think the best way to not have stress regarding how you're being read is to be confident in your identity. Own who you are. Own your challenges, own your changes. Be confidently you and keep putting that message out. Stay strong, be yourself. Folks will get it.
I've written in the past about butch-butch relationships, but it's been a few years, and I've slowly been seeing more and more interest in the topic. Last month alone, popular search terms included:
can two butch lesbians date
butch woman with another butch woman
can a butch and a butch date?
butch to butch couples
Am lesbian butch attracted to other butch
butch on butch lesbian
butch on butch
Its possible that butch and butch they can date
can a butch date another butch
do butch lesbians have sex with each other
And that's just a small slice. Given that there's so much interest out there about butch-butch relationships, I thought I'd better take them up again.
As regular readers know, I am attracted almost exclusively to other butchy types myself. My partner is more typically "butch" than I am, although she doesn't like labels. When I first came out, I knew instinctively that I was attracted to more conventionally masculine-looking than feminine-looking women, but I also thought there must be something a little wrong with me, because all the other butchy-looking women I knew were interested in feminine women. Even if they didn't date "femmes," they certainly weren't interested in other women who were mistakenly called "sir" at the grocery store.
But I was.
Since my attractions seemed so unusual, I figured I must be in some kind of denial. Once I was "comfortable" being gay, I'd be interested in femmes... right? So I tried dating feminine women. But for me, there was no zing there. No allure. It was fine, but not exciting. Dating other butchy or androgynous or soft butch types, on the other hand, was awesome. I loved it. I could relate to these women, we could understand each other, and most importantly, it had that magic tension and mystery and excitement that romance is supposed to have.
Sometimes I say that being a butch-loving butch is like being gay within the lesbian community. I've had other butches tell me that they think it's "gross" to date other butches. (I just smile and tell them that dating butches makes me extra, super, mega-gay.) And it can be really hard to find butch or androgynous types who date other butch or androgynous types. But trust me... if it's what you're into, it's the best.
Here's my advice for butches looking for other butch types to date:
In sum: yes, butch lesbians date each other, have sex with each other, break each others' hearts, and have awesome relationships. Just like butch-femme couples, femme-femme couples, straight couples, gay male couples, and everyone else. You may not hear about it all the time, but there's plenty of butch-butch love out there.
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.