Back in 2012, I wrote a post called "Why Aren't all Butches Trans?" It continues to get comments, and a couple days ago, a reader asked a question that I thought deserved a separate blog entry.
In the post, I write, "A butch woman's masculinity is not different in degree from that of a butch man or FTM; it is different in kind." In response, a reader wrote: That is a very helpful statement, but I think "kind" needs to be expanded upon. Can you say how you might define "kind"? Would it be something like the difference between a different breed of animal eg. a cocker spaniel or labrador? Or the difference between a different species of animal eg. dog or cat? Or something else?
It's a good question! Here's what I mean by "kind."
Masculinity exists as a thing--a social construct we can understand and identify in the abstract. Even when it's not attached to a particular person, we have a social understanding of certain things as masculine. If you showed a random person a lacy pink tank top and a blue flannel shirt and asked, "Which one is more masculine?" most people would point to the flannel shirt, even if neither shirt is being worn by anyone. (Mind you, I'm not saying that there IS, in any normative or "real" sense, such a thing as masculinity or femininity--merely that these are widely-understood social ideas.)
Still with me? Okay, let's take a concrete example: water. Even if we don't know what container the water is occupying, we understand what "water" is, right? Now consider a river; consider a lake. Rivers and lakes are containers for water, but the water has a different "feel" in each one. We wouldn't argue that one of those is the "real" container, or that one is more "watery" than the other. Nor would we think it was weird if someone said that they preferred rivers to lakes, or vice versa. We get that they're different forms of water.
So, too, with masculinity. A trans man and a butch woman might both contain masculinity, just like a river and a lake might both contain water. They share a common characteristic, but because of who they are, they each take on an inherently different form.
To take the analogy a little further, there are all kinds of lakes and rivers. There are lagoons, ponds, streams, reservoirs, tributaries. And there are bodies of water that--just like bodies of people--defy or combine or challenge or embrace the conventional definitions.
I haven't posted a list of favorite search terms in a while, have I? Here are my favorite search terms that somehow got people to Butch Wonders in April:
Heh, heh... Do you like these search term posts? If so, it "like" or tell me in the comments and I'll bring them back on a monthly basis.
Back in 2012, when butchwonders.com had a fraction of the readers it does now, we had 19 Prides represented. That was cool, but I know we can make the project much bigger. Think we can hit 50?
A huge thanks to everyone who voted in last week's poll. Over 100 butches were nominated overall, and the votes were extremely spread out, with no single butch receiving votes from more than a third of readers. This means that "powerful"--and maybe even "butch"--was defined in different ways by different readers, which speaks to our awesome diversity.
Twenty butches stood out far above the rest in the number of votes they received. So I've chosen to name a top 20 rather than 25, and in spots 21-25, I've honored categories of butches that all received lots of votes, but not enough to make the top 20--and who have contributed in really cool ways to the butch community. You'll see what I mean. Now, without further ado...
#1: Rachel Maddow. Well, duh, right? I mean, lady suits and TV makeup notwithstanding, there are few famous women in the media who are so unapologetically butchy. Whether or not Maddow IDs as butch, she is definitely ID'd as butch by others. She's got the haircut, the charisma, the glasses, and (off-camera, at least) the wardrobe. When I was newly out, I'd listen to Maddow's radio show (long before she was on TV) every night after dinner while I straightened up and did the dishes. It gave me hope to know that someone who looked like [a hotter version of] me was strong, successful, smart, and OUT. And although I've never met RM, we have some biographical traits in common, which made her even cooler in my eyes.
#2: k.d. Lang. Lang has been butching it up her entire career, and remained artistically relevant the whole time. She's one of the few butch musicians to gain major popularity inside and outside the lesbian community. In concert, Lang is playful, serene, and the sexiest butch you've ever seen--all at the same time. Lang currently plays with a group known as "k.d. Lang and the Siss Boom Bang," and if you don't have their album, you're missing out big time. All hail k.d!
#3: Ellen Degeneres. Degeneres came out on her TV show the same year I graduated from high school. Back in the late 90s, her coming out resulted in some pretty serious hullabaloo, and I remember people in my hometown lamenting that there was no reason for Degeneres to "flaunt" her sexuality. Comedy junkie that I was, I knew Degeneres's standup well already (she and the tie-wearing Paula Poundstone were my favorites). I remember thinking that, danggit, I had seen Degeneres as a kind of role model for how to be an acceptably ungirly woman when I grew up. (And lesbian ≠ "acceptable," so what was I supposed to do now?) I that some of you don't consider Degeneres a "butch" (and I have no idea whether she identifies as one), but either way, her hilariousness and fashionability are undeniable, and she's made non-girly lesbian identity much more visible in popular culture.
#4. Alison Bechdel: I was so excited that Bechdel ended up in the top five. Not only is she the author of two wonderful graphic novels, one of which is now an award-winning musical, but she received a McArthur genius grant(!) this year. Early on in my coming out, I remember reading Bechdel's legendary cartoon, Dykes to Watch Out For, to help me figure out what lesbians were like. I don't know if it did that, but it definitely made me think it would have been super cool to come out in the 1980s, when underground lesbian magazines and feminist bookstores were still a "thing." Bechdel also keeps a terrific blog that's worth reading.
#5. Lisa Vogel: The only nominee to make the top 20 as a write-in candidate, Vogel is a legend. In 1976, when she was just 19, Vogel started the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, which in 1976 was one of very few places lesbians could hang out with big groups of other lesbians. Designed to celebrate and empower women, Michfest was organized, staffed, and attended entirely by women from the beginning. It's hosted hundreds of musicians, from Tribe 8 to the Indigo Girls. (And yes, there's been tons of press lately about controversies re: trans inclusion in the festival, but that's another topic for another post.)
#6: Jane Lynch: Lynch might be best known for playing Sue Sylvester in "Glee," but she's played scores of other roles, from the tragic to the hilarious (okay, mostly hilarious--my personal favorite being her role as Gayle Sweeney in "Role Models"). She's a huge LGBTQ rights advocate, as well as an activist for other awesome causes, including animals. If you don't know much about Lynch yet, or want to get to know her a little better, check out her book, Happy Accidents. It's inspirational, funny, and very well-written. I especially recommend the audio version, which Lynch reads herself.
#7:Elvira Kurt: Kurt has been performing standup for many years, waxing hilarious about everything from her Hungarian immigrant parents to her Canadian upbringing to the retrospectively-shocking dangerousness of the toys you had as a kid. Kurt isn't currently performing, but I'm hoping she'll go on the road soon. "Kitten with a Wit," was released in 1999 and still holds up well. (Check out Kurt here if you've never seen her perform.)
#8: Lea DeLaria: You all know DeLaria for her role in "Orange is the New Black," but long before that, she was an out, proud, controversial standup comic who called herself a "big old bulldyke" long before most comics were willing to whisper the word "dyke" in public. In addition to being and actor and a comedian, DeLaria is a talented jazz singer. Check out "Come Rain or Come Shine on "Live Smoke Sessions."
#9: Ivan Coyote: Wait, three Canadians already on the top 10 list? You bet. Coyote is a spoken word performer, a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, and somewhat of a fashion icon. As if being a triple-threat isn't enough, Coyote teaches writing and social justice in schools throughout the US and Canada. If you've never seen them (Coyote uses gender-neutral pronouns) perform, start with this piece on femmes, a reader favorite.
#10: Joan Jett: No one really seems to know whether Jett is lesbian, bisexual, or what--but this ongoing mystery doesn't prevent her from being a lesbian icon. (The androgynous fashion sense and deep voice don't hurt, either.) And if you haven't listened to "I Love Rock and Roll" in the last few years, give it another go--the music is timeless.
#11: Melissa Etheridge: More than once, my partner and I have been singing a song that the other doesn't recognize, only to have the other person say, "That's Melissa Etheridge--how can you not know it?" I am thus convinced that you can tell the age of any lesbian by the first three Etheridge songs she thinks of on the spot. In addition to her many, many awards and accomplishments as a singer and musician, Etheridge is an activist for environmental causes. (For me, first three = "Come to My Window," "Mama I'm Strange," and "Angels Would Fall." Not exactly old-school picks.)
#12 (tied): Billie Jean King: I know I have a fairly young readership, so I was stoked that at 71, King is still a role model for so many lesbians. She played pro tennis for over two decades and won some absurdly high number of Grand Slam titles. Even before she came out, King was a big advocate for gender equality, and won the famous "battle of the sexes." Oh, and she founded the Women's Tennis Association. And won the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And penned an award-winning book. So, yeah, we have a thing or two to learn from her.
#12 (tied): Julie Wolf: This multi-talented singer, composer, teacher, producer, and musical director has collaborated with everyone from Carly Simon to Ani DiFranco. If you haven't ever seen Julie Wolf live, it's worth going to a show. I saw her perform with Catie Curtis once, and she did some fabulous solo numbers that made me fall in love with her voice. I dare you not to swoon.
#14 (tied): Hanifah Walidah: I was bummed that there weren't more butches of color on this list, but I was excited that Walidah was one of the two who made it. Walidah is a true renaissance woman, and has completed a staggering breadth of well-known creative projects. Her documentary, "U People" won several international film festival awards, she tours internationally as the lead singer-songwriter for the electro-soul band St.Lô, and she recently self-published a book called Finish What You Start: No-Bullshit Tips for Creatives, Dreamers and Adults with ADD. Keep an eye on Walidah--she's just getting started.
#14 (tied): Martina Navratilova: Ask anyone who knows tennis who the all-time best tennis players in the world are, and Navratilova's name will be one of the first to come up. Billie Jean King and tennis historian Bud Collins both rank the Czech sensation as the best tennis player of all time. No, not the best female tennis player--the best tennis player, period. Navratilova also does a bunch of charity work on behalf of animals, underprivileged kids, and of course, LGBTQ rights.
#18: Kate Clinton. I'm a longtime admirer of Kate Clinton--her standup comedy, political satire, and activism have made her beloved to multiple generations of lesbians. Back when I had just started Butch Wonders in 2011, Clinton generously agreed to a mini-interview with me. Me! A random dyke who had just started sharing a few thoughts on the Internet. For this, I'll always have a special fondness for Clinton--it's a great reminder of the importance of helping other young lesbians who are trying to make it. (Plus, I swear she winked at me once at an NCLR gala... though it's possible that the light was in her eyes and I was feeling hopeful.)
#14 (tied): Suze Orman: I admit that I raised an eyebrow at Orman's nomination, because I've never really thought of her as "butch." But hundreds of readers have proven my assumptions unpopular, since she's tied with two others for the #14 spot! Orman is known as a personal financial guru and motivational speaker, who emphasizes careful planning, perseverance, and prioritization as principles to help people become financially stable. She has written a plethora of personal finance books, including the extremely popular Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, & Broke.
#17: Miki Vargas. Vargas is a professional wedding photographer who describes herself as a "love storyteller." She started the photo project "The Handsome Revolution" in 2012 because she was interested in depicting the styles, fashions, and personas of people to who she relates. Definitely check out the site if you haven't--the range of masculinities depicted is inspiring. Interestingly, Vargas identifies as a "boi," formerly identified as a "futch," and uses all kinds of words on her page like "macha," "stud," "tomboi," and "transmasculine..." but never uses the word "butch." (If anyone knows why, I'd be curious.)
#19: Tristan Higgins: Higgins is a friend of mine, and I love that we've "come up" as butch bloggers together in the past few years. Higgins' website, Butch on Tap, is a fun read--made even more fun by her deadpan writing style and her unapologetic love of things like cars, femmes, and craft beer. (Yes, she's way more of a "dude" than I am, which cracks me up and makes me love her blog even more.) Plus, she has a mohawk, a JD, and a great fashion sense, which in my opinion is a combination that's awfully hard to beat.
#20: Tig Notaro: As a huge, longtime fan of Tig Notaro, I am super excited that she made the top 20. I don't know any comedian with such a killer sense of timing, nor who uses silence to such hilarious effect. (Every time I hear her "them are little titties," routine I crack up all over again.) More recently, Tig fought breast cancer, and not long after her diagnosis, made one of the most honest, forthright, and perfect pieces of comedy ever performed (that's a paraphrase of Louis CK's reaction to it), which you can check out here. She also has a great podcast called "Professor Blastoff' and a 2015 documentary, "Tig," about her life.
#21: Butches who make us laugh: There are plenty of comedians in the top 20, but spot #21 goes to the many, many other butches that understand our experiences and bring humor to them. Among these are DeAnne Smith, Kelli Dunham, Rhea Butcher, Cameron Esposito, Amy Tee, Sabrina Matthews, Julie Goldman, and the creator of "Jane's World," Paige Braddock.
#22: Butches who make us think: More than a handful of the butches nominated earned their power through their academic prowess. Judith Butler, Gayle Rubin, Jack Halberstam, and Madeline Lim are all university professors who have done a great deal of research and teaching that has influenced thousands of people. To this distinguished group, I'd add writers and spoken word artists Andrea Gibson and S. Bear Bergman, who each got a respectable chunk of votes, too.
#23: Butches who make us dance: So many of us have gained confidence about who we are through listening to awesome music made by people like us. Neither Amy Ray, nor Chris Pureka received enough votes on her own to make the top 20, I added their votes together to make a powerful runner-up duo that reminds us of the importance of music to the lesbian community.
#24: Butches who make us look good: Like many of you, I'm excited about the current trend in butch/tomboy/androgynous clothing companies like HauteButch, Saint Harridan, Kreuzback 10, and more. Fashion pioneers like KMichelle, Mary Going, and the many other designers and business leaders written in are giving us options for the first time that are really designed with us in mind--and it's clear from the votes that we're grateful.
#25: Butches who fight for our rights: Politicians, social justice activists, and attorneys like Robbie Kaplan, Rebecca Kaplan, and Kate Kendell received sparser votes than I was expecting--but I think this is because they've done so much incredible work already that in our everyday lives that many of us have the luxury of thinking more about music or clothes or sports than about the discrimination we face. Although there's still a long way to go, the diversity of butches on this list means that we owe a huge debt to the pioneering butches who continue to fight for our equality.
When I was a kid, I couldn't have dreamed of ever reading a list like this someday--let alone writing one. A big thanks to everyone who voted, and an even bigger thanks to all the butches nominated for being such awesome, dynamic, and visible inspirations.