Two pieces of great news!
1. Thanks for your wonderful, encouraging feedback on my letter to my mom! She loves the blog, and sent me the world's absolute sweetest email about it. (I'd say more, but she's waaay more private than I am.) So: Welcome, Mom Wonders! (I should convince her to do a guest post sometime, shouldn't I? I'll start working on that...) Dear readers, if you're a butch and you and your mom have a solid, honest relationship consider coming out to her as butch. Yes, it's hard if, despite everything, she STILL suggests that you grow your hair out. But once she "gets" your style, just think how helpful she'll be in finding snappy cuff links that match your tie!
2. Kate Clinton--yes, THE Kate Clinton--has agreed to a mini-interview with Butch Wonders. I have a bunch of questions in mind, but want to ask YOU, dear readers, what YOU would like me to ask the lovely Kate Clinton. I'd like to ask about topics she hasn't already answered, ad nauseum, elsewhere, so use your imaginations! Write your questions for Kate in the "comments" section of this post, and I'll use them to write the interview.
It's only been about 12 hours since I sent you the url of this blog. During that time, I've checked my email about 20 times to see if you've written back. Boy, was it hard to send that. I'm not sure why. Maybe I'm afraid you won't like my writing, or that you won't like the topics, or that the whole "butch" thing will weird you out. I mentioned this to a friend, who suggested I write a letter to you on the blog. I thought it was an awesome idea, so here I am.
I hope you weren't upset about that last post (or any of the others). Reading over it, it occurred to me that sometimes we like to talk about the challenging parts of our upbringing. Being (semi-)confident adults, it's interesting to look back and ponder the ways we didn't fit in as a kid. I think it helps us make sense of who we are, and how we got here. But sometimes the negative or neutral stuff is so elucidating that we don't focus as much on the positive stuff. I've been thinking about that positive stuff a lot today, and wanted to thank you for a bunch of things, including the following:
There's more, of course, but lists should always have a nice round number of items. What if I'd written a list with 6 items? Or worse, 13? Preposterous.
Anyhow, Mom, this Butch Wonders thing is going pretty well. It's been up for only a few months, and I'm getting at least 300 readers every day, and growing. Yesterday was 642. Kate Clinton (a famous lesbian comedian) recently endorsed me on her Facebook page, and I also got an invitation to do a radio interview in October. Not bad, eh? I'm really enjoying it. I get to hear from readers (gay, straight, male, female) from all over the place. The best part is when I learn that something I wrote affected them: helped them come out to their parents, resolve a conflict with their girlfriend, or even figure out what to wear to a wedding. It's really amazing to feel like I'm making a difference (especially since my day job can, as you know, be pretty abstract).
I hope to hear back from you soon, and I hope you don't mind hundreds of strangers reading my note to you.
Most of the girls where I grew up started wearing make-up in middle school. By the start of high school, I still wasn't on the bandwagon. I didn't understand why girls were expected to wear make-up, since boys didn't have to--and goodness knows there were dozens of boys at my high school whose goth-pale or acne-addled complexions would have been improved by a touch of foundation. But since no one expected them to paint over their faces' imperfections, I was inclined to exhibit my own just as freely.
Understanding that I was a pretty logical kid, my mom chalked up my aversion to makeup (as well as to carrying a purse) as old-fashioned, practical minimalism. As my overloaded tie rack now reveals, this was off the mark, but given the evidence available at the time, it was not an unreasonable hypothesis. Although my mom didn't want me to be Barbielicious or anything, she sometimes commented on my lack of interest in makeup--or, as she put it, in "putting on a little color." E.g. (pleadingly): "Don't you want to put on a little color?!?"
Playing to my "minimalism," my mom would try to give me makeup survival tips. "Instead of carrying around separate blush, you can just put a dab of lipstick on each cheek and rub it in," she might advise conspiratorially. Or: "In a pinch, you can always use mascara to darken your eyebrows."
I was highly doubtful that I would ever be in a "pinch" involving insufficiently dark eyebrows. But gamely, I gave both strategies a shot. I wore makeup on and off for several years. Putting it on always felt like putting on a costume, but I could look at myself in the mirror and see that I was pulling off a conventionally feminine look. I figured that this was how all women felt--that it was one of those burdens that she-creatures have to bear, like menstruation or writing thank-you notes.
When I was married to my DXH, every time I applied what seemed to me a LOT of makeup, I'd ask him if he thought it was okay.
DXH: Is what okay?
BW: My makeup. Too much?
DXH [looking at me; tilting head]: You're wearing makeup?
BW: Obviously, YES. And possibly way too much of it.
DXH [squinting]: I literally cannot tell that you're wearing any makeup.
BW: I don't believe you. I look like a clown.
DXH: Sweetie, what seems to you like a LOT of makeup is not exactly what the rest of the world considers a LOT of makeup.
BW: Oh. Well, now I just feel stupid.
DXH: Sorry. In that case, you look like a two-dollar whore.
As a kid, I tried to humor my mom's suggestions to look more feminine, which often involved compromise on both our parts. Because I threw a huge fit at the prospect of putting on a skirt, my mom tried to persuade me that culottes (thanks to Bee Listy for the correct spelling) were JUST like shorts. "Then why can't I just wear SHORTS?" I'd ask, incredulous. (My mom and I are still very close, by the way--which is proof that, despite occasional frustrations on both sides, a butch dyke NPR-loving daughter and a conservative, Fox-News-loving parent can still find enough common ground to want to spend time together.)
It wasn't that I objected to the style of the culottes (though I should have). Nor were they physically uncomfortable; they felt like well-ventilated shorts. But there was something I hated about other people seeing me in a skirt. It felt wrong, uncomfortable, humiliating. Some butches say that in childhood, they "felt like a boy," and didn't want people to see them in the "wrong" clothes. But I didn't feel like a boy; I felt like a girl who wanted to wear pants and a tie and have everyone think I looked dandy that way. From a very young age, I wanted sex and gender to get a divorce.
(A brief aside: This is what I mean when I say that there's something "visceral" about masculinity. My DGF doesn't like me to use the word "masculinity." She says it's too tied to maleness, and that part of the fun of being a butch woman is turning maleness on its head by co-opting its trappings. But for me, "masculinity" refers to a style of dress and way of being that is not tied to biological sex--although for the rest of the world, there happens to be a very strong correlation. For me, maybe masculinity is more of an aesthetic?)
Anyhow, the other day, for the first time in years, I slapped on a touch of makeup, just to see what it felt like. And you know what? A bit of lipstick and some eyeliner looked kind of kickass with my masculine glasses, haircut, and clothing. It was enough of a pain that I don't plan to do it again anytime soon. But it was pretty funny that after so many years of resisting makeup, it finally didn't feel "wrong."
It makes perfect sense, though, doesn't it? Since I'm at a point where I feel free to dress as masculine as I want to, a tube of lipstick isn't a threat to my core being. It's just--well--a little color.
Many of you awesome readers have started sending me questions. (Keep the emails coming. I love hearing from you guys!) I write each of you back individually (well, eventually--sometimes I get a backlog--but I'll get there; I promise!), but it occurred to me that I should occasionally post Q&As that might apply to other readers. So here's BW Q&A installment #1! K writes:
I know you didn't identify as a butch until a bit later in life, but do you have any advice on being a butch as a teenager? I just graduated high school, and I've always had difficulty relating with other people because I've never really known any other butches.
I've always been a bit of a butch (hanging with boys, falling in love with girls, and playing a more 'masculine' role in my short lifetime), and my parents have allowed it. They were accepting when I came out to them. Also, during my entire childhood, my peers never gave me guff about it. However, I can't help but feel out of the loop when none of them understand the difficulties of a butch female. I was hoping you'd have some tips on how to find other butches around you (other than the obvious, look for a girl that looks like a boi.)
Being butch as a teen can be tough, and I'm glad to hear that even if they don't always understand you, your friends and parents support you--that's awesome (and all too rare!).
It's strange being the only one you know who's like you, isn't it? Sometimes you probably feel like you're from a different planet (or that everyone else is). Fundamental assumptions about gender are built into virtually every facet of life in most modern cultures--from bathrooms to clothing departments to Little League. When I was growing up, these divisions never made any sense to me--and the REALLY weird part was that they seemed to make perfect sense to everyone else.
Funnily enough, I sort of always understood that I was "butch"--indeed, long before I realized I was gay. There was something visceral about masculinity for me. I never had crushes on girls as a kid or a teen (I was too busy trading baseball cards, reading sci-fi, and playing basketball), but all the other signs of butchness were there. I wasn't just another "tomboy"--it felt permanent. I knew there was something elemental that separated me from my female friends, though I didn't know what it was. You are already way ahead of where many of us were in our teens!
Later in life, when I came out and started to meet other butches, I finally understood what I "was." Indeed, this is one of the many reasons why I identify as butch.
You're right that butch buddies can be super important (see my post about the topic here). And they're not always easy to find when you're young. Here are a few ideas I have for how you might cope. Some involve ways to meet butches; others are just general advice for life as a youngish butch.
I hope other readers will weigh in with their ideas, too. But one more thing: Even after you find your community and your butch buddies and are comfortable in your own skin, don't forget what isolation felt like. Five or ten years from now, a young butch will come up to you at a farmer's market or a baseball game and ask you some inane question to start a conversation. I hope you'll greet her with a smile and a fist bump.