(1) Butches are transitioning from being female-identified butches to being trans men.
(2) The term "butch," particularly for younger people, is falling out of vogue.
As to the first reason—as I've written before, I think it’s a little silly. Not because it's not true, but because it misses the point. Gender transitions have become much easier socially and logistically for many people in the past decade, so it's only natural that there's a "backlog" of people who present as butch women, but would have transitioned earlier if they could have, and some of whom are transitioning now. There's also greater awareness among youth that trans* identities are even a "thing." If you feel like you are a man, or want to be a man, you don't have to "settle" for being a butch woman because it's the closest available approximation. So naturally, the proportions are in flux. Shouldn't we be happy people are increasingly able to embrace and express their true identities? (Answer: yes.)
Admittedly, I *do* worry that with the increased availability of transitioning, some young female butches (like middle- and high-school-age) might assume that they are trans* simply because they don’t fit into existing gender categories. That is, if everything they like is "boyish" and they see no alternative role models for what femaleness can look like, they might assume that they are "really" meant to be a boy. I know I would have thought that about myself in elementary school, had I even known that people could transition. I was much more like a "typical" boy than a "typical" girl, and it's really hard being an atypical version of a gender in a society that really embraces the idea of a gender binary. Still, maybe my concern about the lack of visible models for gender non-normativity is overblown. (And, to be clear, I'm not suggesting its easy to be a trans kid these days—far from it.)
The second point is more intriguing to me. If it's true that younger people are embracing terms like "genderqueer" or "non-binary" or even "masculine-of-center," it just seems like the menu of gender identities is expanding. It also strikes me that many of these are not mutually exclusive. Can you be a genderqueer, masculine-of-center butch? I don't see why not. Personally, I don't identify as genderqueer, and it irritates me when people assume I do. (It's as if they're saying that someone who looks like ME couldn't possibly be 100% woman.) But I don't see why people shouldn't identify any way they want to, using as many or as few categories as they feel apply to them.
To some extent, though, we might wonder if the issue is partly a semantic one. That is, do the same people who would have called themselves "butch" a generation ago call themselves "tomboy" or "boi" or "genderqueer" now, without ALSO considering themselves butch? I think there might be something to this.
Part of it is simply each generation's desire to define itself anew--to see itself as special and unprecedented (which, of course, it both is and is not). Butch identity might feel "old school." It also might not seem to encompass the more "feminine" end of the "masculine-of-center" spectrum. Think about all the dykes who look vaguely like Justin Bieber, or who have more of a stereotypical gay male aesthetic than a stereotypical straight male aesthetic. There's definitely an ethos there that they might not feel fits squarely under the label "butch" (even if many of us might think of them as butches).
I've also encountered plenty of people who don't identify as butch because they believe that the term has connotations that are too negative (e.g., macho/misogynistic/unstylish) or too specific (e.g., only dates femmes) to apply to them. To the extent that either phenomenon is going on, it's lousy. I hate the negative connotations that people sometimes attach to butchness. Butches at their best are chivalrous and respect ALL types of women (and men). Sure, some butches are a-holes. But some of every group are a-holes, and I highly doubt butches deviate from the average in this regard--only that when they do, it takes on a recognizable form that (sadly) contributes to a yucky stereotype.
I also don't think "butch" is as specific a term as some people make it out to be. Some butches hate power tools. Some butches date other butches. Ideally, I think "butch" can be a nice, broad umbrella term that encompasses ALL of us who look sort of like guys, ALL of us who are occasionally told we're in the wrong restroom, and ALL of us who are unapologetically gender nonconforming. I really like the idea of an umbrella term, because there are few enough of us who fall into the "masculine woman" category that it's useful to have at least one term that encompasses the myriad characteristics and experiences we have in common.
When I asked on the BW Facebook page whether the "disappearing butch" is a real phenomenon, the huge number of answers made it clear I'm not the only one who's been thinking about this! Here are some of the responses I received:
- People can't handle it when you want to be a gender f***er and ride that line. It seems that it is now much more acceptable to transition and be in the boys' club.
- I think they are not calling themselves "butch" like they used to.
- I'm a cis-butch, and I think the fact that transmen are coming out and have a sense of community is fantastic. There were always this many transmen. It's just unfortunate that before they weren't able to come out.
- It does seem that the younger generation is much quicker to declare themselves trans and stop identifying as female. I wish there were some actual statistics on this. As one who loves butches, I hate the thought that they are a dying breed.
- I can tell you right now that for all the lesbians I hang out with, when it comes time to making plans, being strong, sticking up for somebody, or fixing something, everybody looks to me. Imagine what our community would be without us! I'm always quick to take a young buck under my ring to make sure they don't forget what it means to be Butch, and not immediately think they have to go trans (not that there is anything wrong with that but I do think there is a much larger portion of young people, particularly Butch and studs, that are quick to go trans, when that is not necessary as a masculine identifying female).
- The disappearance of us i think might be more related to the value system we tend to share.
- I live in Western Massachusetts and I see butches every day, but when I lived in Ohio I only had a handful of butch friends. (Seriously folks, if you like butches, come on down. We're all over the place here in Springfield, Easthampton, Northampton, and in many of the small towns of Western MA...) We're not disappearing-- just some of the folks that people read as butch are identifying in a different way-- trans men, trans*, genderqueer, agender, etc-- there are so many identities, words, options, etc.
- As far as "butch " disappearing, it seems that there are sooo many different labels and identifications heck I can NOT even keep up with it all . As long as you are comfortable and happy with yourself and true there will always be those longing for the "butch" TYPE.
- I don't think that us Butch are disappearing, we're there, you just have to look. I am a heavy equipment operator at a local water district, and I see Butch women all over!
- I really think the hard stone butches are on the way of becoming few and far between, but I feel there will always be some kind of masculine/feminine dynamic because it's just how things work...but I think we'll see more of a spectrum, just like you don't really see all that many "high femmes" anymore too!
- I'm 28 so I'm not sure if I fall into the younger MOC, female identified crowd you're talking about but I do use butch for myself. I will say I don't know many others my age or younger who ID that way though. The term may seem outdated or directly linked with the Butch-Femme dynamic, which many of my friends don't fall into. I don't particularly fall into that but while I was figuring out my queer self, I happened to be a part of a Bulldaggers group who were a lot older than me. Their butch IDs greatly influenced me I think. I also think while you, Butch Wonders, are very careful to write about butches presenting in many ways and don't have to act in set ways either, I think that mindset isn't really the norm. I mean, I've heard way more talk of "butches are handy, dapper, strong, etc." and that is severely limiting. I'm not any of those things yet I still ID as butch. I think if more people talked about butches in various ways and not the same old tired stereotypes, maybe more young people would claim the ID. Maybe.
- Butch all the way here! A few people have tried to call be a stud and I'm like uhhh no. I'm butch, not a stud!
- Some are transitioning ftm. However, many are not. They are calling themselves genderqueer and using the pronoun 'they' instead of 'she'. Lots of folks are not transitioning medically, but are not identifying as female either. They may not call themselves butch, but they're masculine of center, female-bodied...
- [We're not disappearing], we just live the f**k out in the woods.
- I live in Oakland (aka Dykeland) and the Butch community is alive and well.
- Definitely less visible, particularly in 'mainstream' lesbian hangouts.
- I certainly think the female-identified butch is much less prevalent. Fewer people seem to call themselves butch and more of those that do are identifying with male pronouns and/or becoming male. So, ultimately there are fewer butch lesbians and more butch men.
- [Butches are] still here in progressive Seattle but I do find a number of people have asked me if I have thought about "transitioning". I'm butch and identify as female. I love and respect my trans brothers but butch is its own separate thing, too.
- I identify as masculine of center, or trans*masculine. But ultimately as a woman. I've been thinking masculine of center, is probably most fitting; but maybe too definitive. I feel I'm gender non conforming. Maybe Trans*masculine butch, to recognize my my female Id. I'm Undecided. I think as a spectrum of gender IDs, we're very much still figuring this out, and creating as we recognize more of the spectrum.
- What I've noticed is that the women who I would identify as butch are much less likely to take on that label. Weirdly, I am hearing a lot of lesbians say "tomboy" now. I thought a tomboy was a straight woman who played sports or fixed cars? I am more likely to say "I like masculine-of-centre women." Sounds obscure, but then no one seems to have problem with it and it invites them to ask for specifics.
- I was just talking to my friends about this the other day and how there seems to be more of a butch presence in the south, but (during my travels), I've noticed a definite lack of masculine-of-center ladies in more liberal/progressive cities.
- Definitely not enough butches. NYC here.
- I think it is, as people who would identify as butch have other identification options (I dont think they are mutually exclusive, but I guess most people do). I think sometimes the burden of being non conforming gets too hard to bear and hiding and trying to assimilate makes life easier for some.
- If 'butch women' are coming out as TransGuys it's not coz they're abandoning 'being butch'? It's that they're being true to themselves. Perhaps more people can come out as men or non-binary when they couldn't before. I think it's a good thing the people are exploring genders and finding themselves rather that sticking strictly to M and F. That might mean less Butch women because they were never women to begin with and they can be themselves now.
- I consider myself butch/dyke, but I don't hear the younger crowd identifying this way as much. They are exploring a much wider spread of pronouns and gender identification.
- I too identify as butch/dyke/woman. Sometimes I think butch is disappearing with all the new gender exploration. We are still here!
- I would echo what a few others have said. The gender spectrum is much more widely recognised now, hence many now identify as trans* when years gone by there was little recognised between butch woman or transman and many felt it had to be either one or the other. There is a lot more open diversity as a result of this, and fewer typical butches to be seen. The Queer scene continues to evolve, and has come a long way when you think it was once all butch and femme, and being butch ( many of which were actually trans*) had huge social implications and risk of experiencing violence.
Regardless of what's actually going on, it's clear that the queer community is in flux (as, perhaps, it always has been!), and that this is an issue near and dear to many people's hearts, butch and non-butch alike.
What do YOU think? Are butches "disappearing?"