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!
I got an interesting email from a BW reader several weeks ago. I promised him a response, and with his permission decided to share his question and my answer with the rest of you.
I am a straight man ..not bi or bi-curious. I love women. I have always been attracted to tomboys but now that I'm grown I have discovered that is my preference. I turn my head faster when I see a sexy stud opposed to high heels and a dress. I also feel the conversation or potential relationship is better. I am also amazed sometimes of the perfect bodies when those baggy clothes come off. The sex is simply better.
When it comes to relationships, I don't know what to do. The stud I was interested in/having relations with... We enjoy each other's company and sex. But she has a girlfriend, obviously. So I'm confused, probably like she is. Do you think she was just using me? And if so, why? We really mesh but she definitely doesn't want anyone to know... And I promised her that. So, yes, I would love to be in a relationship with a stud... Not that I'm trying to change her. I would not mind if she had a girlfriend... As long as I was her guy. Do I sound crazy or what?
Dear Confused Carl,
You don't sound crazy. Sure, most straight guys' heads are turned by skirts and heels, but yours isn't! I bet lots of men attracted to "non-feminine" women aren't willing to say so, because they fear others' questions and judgment, or because they think it makes them less masculine (which it doesn't!). My last post talked about the difference between masculinity in women and masculinity in men. It's not weird to me that you would be attracted to one but not to the other. Masculine women are women--and they happen to be your favorite kind. So, cool.
Butchy and masculine-of-center bisexual (and even straight!) women DO exist. Some of the bi ones only date women, in part because men aren't usually attracted to them. But this doesn't mean that they wouldn't date a cis man if the right one (like you!) came along. So it might take a little extra effort on your part--for example, dating online, going to bi mixers, or letting your friends know your preference so that they can "keep an eye out" for you. But don't give up hope! A straight guy into masculine women doesn't come along every day, and the right woman will be sooo excited to meet you!
And then, of course, there's your specific situation, which is trickier. You may be right that "your" stud is confused... but she may simply be bi. I can't tell from your email whether she wants you to keep your relationship a secret because you're a man or because she is dating someone else. The fact that she is with someone else, though, and doesn't want people to know about your relationship, means that unless something changes, you two aren't going anywhere. If you're okay with being the guy "on the side," fine. But remember that unless all parties know what's going on and are okay with it, it's cheating. This fact doesn't change just because you're a guy.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the sense from your email that you're not exactly thrilled with the current situation. You might consider talking with her about this. I have no idea whether she's using you (as you fear) or whether she's genuinely confused. But it doesn't sound like the status quo is working for you--and if it's not, you need to find out what's going on with her. My advice would be to tell her what you've told me. Tell her you don't want her to feel pressure about her sexual orientation, and that you like being with her as a human being and need to know what you mean to her.
You write, "I would not mind if she had a girlfriend... As long as I was her guy." This statement confused me. Are you talking about a polyamorous relationship? About regular sex on the side? It kind of sounds like you'd be cool with the latter, except that's what you have right now and you don't sound totally happy about it. What do you want?
I don't want you to settle for this "on the side" business, though, if what you really want is a full-on, even monogamous, relationship with a studly woman. If this is so, know that you can get it. It might take a while to find, but it is possible, and you don't have to "settle" for what you have now if it doesn't make you happy.
Last week, I returned to the age-old question of what butches should wear to interviews. In a short poll, I posed the following hypothetical:
Imagine helping a butch lesbian decide what to wear for an entry-level professional interview (e.g., lawyer, consultant, finance, manager, gov't, professor, etc.). She usually wears men's clothes, but identifies and presents as female, though people sometimes accidentally call her "sir." She tells you, "I know the employers are kind of conservative, though I also know things are slowly changing. I'm a solid candidate but not a shoe-in. What should I wear?
I gave six choices and asked how to advise our butch professional wannabe:
#1: Fit in first, THEN change the system. Wear what other women there wear: makeup, heels, whatever you have to.
#2: Be yourself, but show you're willing to play the game. Wear only the women's stuff you're most comfortable in--skip the makeup and heels!
#3: Wear a combo to help you fit in a little--e.g., a plain women's suit, collared shirt, men's shoes.
#4: You like men's clothes; wear a men's suit and shirt and shoes, but no tie or other uber-masculine gear that'd alienate you from your interviewers.
#5: Men's clothes, including a tie. If they don't want you, you don't want to work there. If you can't get a job in the industry, it's not for you!
#6: As long as you wear something nice, clean, etc., it doesn't matter. People judge you for who you are, not what you wear.
Here are the results:
As you can see, I also calculated the average age for each response. For a small survey, these age differences don't matter much, and goodness knows this isn't anything close to a representative sample (of the population overall, of butches, or even of BW readers), but it's interesting to think about.
A few numbers that caught my eye, and possible explanations:
And finally, here's a sampling of the write-in comments:
Thanks for these great thoughts. If you're trying to figure out how to break into the profession you want without compromising who you are, you are certainly not alone.
Got any of your own life hacks to share?
A few weeks ago I wrote this article recounting my pseudo-gender-conforming job search. Shortly thereafter, a butch superstar six or seven years ahead of me in my field reached out about the article, and we ended up having coffee and chatting about her experiences. Not only was she even more awesome than I’d hoped, but she had interesting theories about butch clothing selection that are way too interesting not to share.
Said superstar proposed the following:
The bottom line is that Superstar says to go for a men's suit next time—at least, it worked for her. So maybe I will. Or maybe I'll go back and forth, since I like both men's and women's suits that are relatively gender-neutral in appearance (e.g., no cutesy buttons for women's suits, no mega-structured shoulders for men's suits). But I do like wearing ties, which tend to look better with men's suits. Superstar had no major opinion on ties, since she doesn't wear them herself, but since they are THE quintessential "men's" professional clothing item, maybe a tie would be more likely to be looked on unfavorably by prospective hirers.
What do you think about Superstar’s theories? Let's unscientifically test one of them! Click here to take a SUPER-quick 2-question quiz. I'll post the results this weekend.