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For some queer women, “butch” means short hair and sensible shoes. For others, it means sexual dominance. For still others, it’s an attitude or a way of life. To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous take on pornography, the collective wisdom on defining butchness can be boiled down no further than: “I know it when I see it.” So why bother to identify as “butch” at all if there are so many possible definitions?
My DGF argues that it’s pointless to label one's self (ironic that she’s dating someone whose blog does exactly that, eh?), but I disagree. When I first came out, I was scared of the word "butch." I thought it meant that I wanted to be a man (I don’t), or that I could fix cars (I can’t), or that I’m attracted to femmes (I’m not). But since then, I’ve come to embrace the word "butch." Here are five reasons why:
1. Identifying as butch made me feel less deviant. Instead of seeing myself as "failing" at being a woman, I could see myself "succeeding" at being a different kind of woman. I could finally put a name to my collection of “defects”: wearing cargo pants, feeling like an alien every time I opened a women’s magazine, or finding it inexplicably crucial that I learn to tie a tie. Viewed through this lens, countless moments of frustration and discomfort suddenly made sense. Before identifying as butch, I had a collection of random dots; when I connected them, they finally made a picture.
2. I wasn’t alone. Putting a name to my masculine-of-center femininity allowed me to identify others with similar traits--most importantly, to find others whose experiences echoed mine. In some fundamental respect, there were people like me. Even before I had butch buddies of my own, simply knowing that other butches existed made me feel less alone.
3. It helped develop my fashion sense. Wearing women’s clothes made me feel like I was in drag. This was part of the "defectiveness" I mention above; I just wasn't "doing" attractiveness properly. But "butch" put a name to my style and categorized me as a possible recipient of others' sexual interest (though not my DXH's) even if I dressed as I wanted to! Clothes became a source of fun rather than frustration once I realized I could be myself and look attractive in some recognized "sense" (albeit not a conventional one). These days, I even enjoy shopping with my girlier female friends for their clothes, because I feel zero pressure to look like them.
4. It helped me define my attraction to others. I spent a long time believing that if I wasn’t attracted to “feminine” women, I couldn’t be a lesbian. If Rachel Maddow made me swoon, but Rachel McAdams left me cold, I was attracted to masculine people... So, I reasoned, I was actually straight. (This reasoning may strike some of you as silly, but I performed all kinds of mental gymnastics to convince myself I wasn’t gay.) Recognizing “butch” as a category showed me that there was a common denominator among the objects of my attraction. Yes, I was attracted to women--specifically, women of a certain type. This helped me come to terms with my sexual orientation.
5. It gave me a useful vocabulary. "Butch" is a great shorthand to express the idea of "a chick who looks sort of, but not really, like a dude," which was frequently something I wanted to express. The term also came with useful attendant vocabulary, such as "bro date" (hanging out with a platonic buddy who also sort of, but not really, looks like a dude), "boi" (a queer woman who looks like a gay male high schooler) and "soft butch" (somewhere between androgynous and butch, which I studiously practiced through online use of the phrase, "soft butch seeks same").
Theoretically, I didn't need to identify as "butch" to accomplish any of this. And maybe if I had been more confident, I wouldn't have. But we are social creatures, and the word "butch" validated aspects of me that had never felt valid. Ironically, putting a label on myself was pretty darn liberating.
I enjoy creative writing, and I'm part of a writing group that meets 2-3 times a month. It's quite small, and comprises people for whom creative writing is not their main professional focus.
Today I workshopped the first chapter of a novel I started a long time ago, wrote a draft of, then stashed away for a few years. Honestly, I was excited about it; I thought it was reasonably good, certainly entertaining, and I was looking forward to using the group's encouragement to bolster my resolve to revise the damn thing and send it to an agent.
My writing group hated it.
For those of you who have never participated in a writing workshop, it goes something like this:
Earlier this evening, when the members of my writing group were talking about how much they loathe my protagonist and how bad the writing is (I'm exaggerating, but not by much), I sat there in my plain black T-shirt and grey jeans and felt very, very small. I even started to write small. The words on my notepad grew tinier and tinier, until I was reduced to making thin horizontal lines in place of words.
Why am I bringing up my creative writing foibles in a blog about butchness? Here's the connection: Somehow, sitting silently in the group, I felt extra pathetic for my butchiness. I felt smaller, like more of an outcast. (I'm not the only queer person in the group, either; it's really not the group's fault.)
This made me realize that when things are going well and I'm happy and proud, my butchness has an additive effect; I feel more complete, more "me," somehow. But when things are going poorly and I'm sad or embarrassed or ashamed or dejected, my butchness has the opposite effect--it makes me feel extra lousy about who I am. It erodes my confidence and underscores any feelings of difference and alienation. I don't know quite why that is, and I wonder whether other butches have ever experienced something similar.
I'm quite proud of myself today, because I figured out how to let people subscribe to the BW blog by email. There's a link to the right, just under "About." If you subscribe now, it will totally make my day.
Here are today's shirt and tie. Do not adjust your monitor--my neck really IS that white.
I first tied an excellent Windsor knot, but it looked odd with a button-down collar, because it's such a thick knot. For button-down collars, I think it's best to go with just a casual four-in-hand knot (which is the easiest to tie, anyway).
Since my DGF had a job interview today, she let me drag her to Nordstrom Rack (a different NR from the one featured in a previous post) and dress her up yesterday. Saying that my DGF is not exactly a fashionista is like saying that Fred Phelps is not exactly a fan of gay marriage. She hates shopping, usually burns out after about 30 minutes, and doesn't want to try anything on. (Oh--and in case this is causing a little head-scratching, I should clarify that my DGF and I are both butch, although she eschews such labels.)
I tried to talk her into a $50 purple shirt with wonderfully textured fabric, but she selected a Nordstrom brand white shirt with subtle blue and grey stripes--still really nice, and it looks great on her. We also found some black pants for her lithe little 31-inch waist and a decent belt (she refused to get my favorite one because I told her that the buckle was at a "jaunty" angle; my DGF says that my use of words like "jaunty" and "delightful" make her feel like she's dating a 70-year-old man).
Bottom line: she looked damned good, and it made me want to dress her up some more, if she ever lets me. Little does she know that I was taking mental notes about sizes and fits the whole time so that I can surreptitiously slip new, colorful shirts into her closet among her army of white button-down Oxfords (I kid you not--she has like six of the same shirt).
So how about you, dear readers? Got any good tricks for dragging your own DGFs to the store, or are you usually the one being dragged?