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!
8/9/2017 10:31:51 am
what a genuine, thoughtful, and open-minded post. we need more welcomes to folks who are different from us than more labels.
8/9/2017 10:41:16 am
An acronym fixit -- I think your questioner is MTF (male to female) and not FTM (female to male)
8/9/2017 11:53:46 am
Thank you! Fixed the typo. And I would LOVE to hear from your MTF butch friends about this. BW
8/9/2017 01:07:04 pm
First I'd like to admit that I'm the transgender women that asked the question and want to thank bw for her reply and all those that were so positive in their comments. I know I have a ways to go in finding my true self but knowing I have support from our community feels really good. Thanks everyone
This is really interesting. I've been heavily involved lately in some deep conversations surrounding Butch and Transmen, and there are so very many differing opinions and ideas floating around in the community. There is also a good amount of transphobia, butchphobia and internalized homophobia among us, I think we all have to really keep having these important conversations. I have a friend who is a very Butch gay man, and he say that he finds that very difficult to navigate in his world, that other gay men claim he's just straight and "playing" in the gay world. We need to realize that sexuality and gender are different for each of us, and in todays more open and understanding world we should try to love and accept everyone equally! Great blog post BTW! :)
8/9/2017 10:17:22 pm
Really great blog post. And, wishing every happiness to the butch woman who asked the original question...!
8/10/2017 12:03:22 am
I hella appreciate and respect butch trans women because, as a butch cis woman, sometimes it feels like much of the butch world is folks who turns out to be trans men or other transmasculine spectrum people. Which is cool and everything, but trans men are on a different path than me and I don't always feel like we have much common ground.
8/10/2017 09:15:18 am
I personally feel you need to be who you need to be. Dont seek the community just surround yourself with decent people. Introduce yourself to people how you feel comfortable and if they dont accept it then their loss. There are all sorts of peoples opinions some will accept some will not, some will chase you (metophorically) and try and stick as many labels on you as possible to fit you into the boxes they need. Others will just fist bump you, shake your hand and say cool good to meet you. In my own experience as a Cis Butch woman, (I prefer the label of 'just me" but understand people have to label) I have endured an amount of phobias from the butch community, the gay community and the trans community because I am in a relationship with another CIS butch woman and apparently thats a no no... to gay men we are trying to be gay men, to lesbians we should be dating femmes cos thats what butch women do, to trans community we are just confusing them. But you know what? Neither of us care, I found the best lesson in life from a little old lady on a park bench one day. "you are lovely, if they cant see you as just you then F*** em, there are people out there who will and will better for knowing you".
8/11/2017 01:31:07 am
Awesome post, BW. :3 Thanks very much for your thoughtful and kind words.
8/16/2017 10:19:28 pm
I keep coming back to this post and something really doesn't sit well with me about the emphasis you put on genitals. Maybe because so much transphobic vitriol is directed at trans women regarding their genitals (particularly the trope of penises being traumatizing), or because really, it's not my or your business what's in someone's pants. She asked whether she'd be accepted in butch community; most butch community events I've gone to are fully clothed events. Sure, the issue of disclosure within dating is a complicated important one, but it doesn't seem super relevant to this post and it's probably not something that people who are not trans women should opine/advise on. I appreciate that you say you're trying to get a friend to write about that, and I *know* you mean well, but I think it would have been better to leave those thoughts and speculations out in the meantime.
1/26/2019 07:06:59 am
I am late transitioning , butch-femme transgender mtf. It's nice to know not all lesbians hate me. Thank you.
4/8/2020 10:55:24 pm
I've been thinking over my identity for years now and being MTF, in the closet, lesbian AND on the butch side is stressful. I want to wear dresses and skirts sometimes to feel fancy but when I want to relax then comfortable jeans is fine. I like long hair but I like short hair too so I can't decide. I'm kinda middle of the road but I know I'm still a woman. It's really confusing.
7/6/2020 01:26:28 am
Im just starting to explore my trans self, I haven't started HRT yet but I'm really thinking about it and I feel like a butch. I really like some of my masculine features when I look like a woman. I've never really experienced dysphoria (to my knowledge), a lot of people have told me what I've experienced IS dysphoria though. I feel really happy with myself as a woman and I don't see a lot of things with myself with my masculine features that I really want to change.
4/7/2021 04:17:57 pm
No, trans women cannot be butch lesbians. You cannot simply co-opt someone else's identify. I am a butch lesbian. I've lived my life as a woman and gone through everything that that entails, and I've lived my life as a butch lesbian and gone through everything that that entails. It was not easy. I don't know what a trans woman goes through because I'm not a trans woman, but please do not tell me that you "feel" like a butch lesbian. You can't feel like one any more than I can feel like a man or a person of a different race. Too many trans women think that they can just "feel" themselves into another person's identity. It's fantasy. So, no, you cannot just instantly snap your fingers and jump into an identity that isn't yours. I'm very frustrated with the trans women who waltz into our space, our world, our identity without any thought about what it took for us to survive this experience, this life. It's the arrogant, entitled behavior that I expect from men. You want to be better? Then be better.
5/23/2022 01:50:39 pm
I would like to say something nice. But for the sake of discussion I want to say something authentic.
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