My name is eL. I am a butch, queer genderqueer (oof, that's a mouthful) and my preferred pronouns are they/them/their. I blog occasionally and tweet often, and I've guest blogged on Butch Wonders before, like I'm doing today. I recently had a fun twitter back-and-forth with BW after reading her recent blog post on butch-butch relationships. In the past, I contributed to this post and this post on the topic of butch-butch love.
I have had relationships with three people who were solidly butch-identified when we dated, plus one who felt she "looked butch on the outside, but felt femme on the inside." I have also dated femmes. Four, to be exact. I would say only one counted as a "relationship." I have also dated a few people who didn't really identify either way, and I am dating one of those fabulous people now.
So, how does it feel different to date people of varying identities? How does perception of yours elf and other people change based on who you're dating? Well, for me at this moment, there are a host of complicating factors.
To answer the initial question BW asked me ("Notice any big diffs in dating not-butch, either re: how you feel or re: how others treat you?"): Yes, I do. So here are some of the differences--the differences for me--I certainly don't speak for anyone who is not me.
When I date femmes, I feel generally more protective. I fall into a bit more of the security guard role. I suppose it helps that I am tall, broad-shouldered, and "look intimidating." Though I certainly don't *feel* intimidating much of the time. In most relationships, I have been read as "more butch" than folks I've been with based solely on my height and frame. This is fine with me, but also hilarious, as I am certainly not the butchest butch that has ever butched. I don't even drive a stick shift!
When I date butches, there seems to be more of a tradeoff. If the butch I'm dating is much smaller than me and doesn't have a Napoleon complex, I do feel like I take on a bit more of the protector or "more butch" role. If the butch holds their own (as far as acting from a place of confidence), then not so much. This really varies person-to-person. When I date non-butches or non-femmes, it varies even more. Regardless, I still feel quite butch and secure in that/my identity.
My current girlfriend is struggling a bit with my neutral pronouns. She uses them just fine, but is frustrated with what term to use to refer to me in the context of our relationship. As far as I can find, there are no gender neutral relationship terms that are equivalent in meaning and generalized understanding and seriousness to "girlfriend" or "boyfriend." Prior to dating her, I didn't really think much about what folks called me. (Most said "girlfriend," one called me her "Mister," and another called me her "Beau.")
My girlfriend and I generally get read as more "lesbian" so far than I've been read as in a bit. In the past, I think people didn't read me as lesbian as often when I dated other butches. I dated one butch, in particular, and we were often read as gay men. Otherwise, I'm not sure how I was read, only that people would assume that I wasn't with the person I was with because we were both "butch." When I dated femmes, once in a while, we were read as a straight couple.
I feel lucky in that my girlfriend is pretty darn attracted to butches, and has been. Seems to be an important part of her identity, and I dig that. If my girlfriend wasn't openly into butches, I might feel differently. Do I have to "tone down" the butch? Something like that. But, I don't. I am just unapologetically me right now, which, I'll admit can be pretty awkward at times. Butches + nursing bras = certainly not my favorite thing and has evoked much frustration and drama including exclaiming things such as, "I don't even wear bras like this! Ugh!" (I usually wear sports bras and/or the occasional binder.)
Overall, I feel more comfortable dating butches and folks somewhere in the grey area. This is due to past not-so-positive experiences dating femmes. I have had femmes judge me as "too butch," I have had femmes hit on by men in front of me and not rebuff them - I have, unfortunately, had some disappointing experiences dating femmes. I have found butches. as a whole, to be more accepting of my own butch identity. I have also found that I have stronger chemistry with lesbians / queer folks that lean more butch / masculine on the spectrum of gender.
I think the best way to not have stress regarding how you're being read is to be confident in your identity. Own who you are. Own your challenges, own your changes. Be confidently you and keep putting that message out. Stay strong, be yourself. Folks will get it.
For the long weekend, my DGF (that's "dear girlfriend") and I decided to visit the Gold Country area of California. Gold Country (so named because it was a Big Deal Place during the gold rush) is rural and gorgeous, with rolling hills, rivers, lakes, and oak trees sporadically dotting the landscape.
Now, I know that, like the other two westernmost states in the continental U.S., the eastern part of California is more conservative than the western part. More politically conservative, yes, but also more religious, more gun-owning, and less gay-friendly. (I don't mean to suggest that these things always go hand in hand. I consider myself religious, for example. And I know plenty of gay-friendly political conservatives. But there is a strong correlation between religiosity, political conservatism, social conservatism, and anti-gay attitudes. Sorry, Mom. There just is.)
Anyhow, in most ways, I am not a particularly exciting person. My ideal evening involves coffee and/or friends and/or books and/or red wine. And for this reason, I am always shocked when I am reminded in not-so-gentle ways that to a fair chunk of my country's populace, I am Really Strange and Different.
My DGF and I got stared at a lot. And many of these stares were glares. Some people--usually men with their families--would narrow their eyes and the corners of their mouths would turn down, and make prolonged eye contact as if to say, "Your very existence threatens my children's well-being." There were also a fair number of regular ol' stares, but I mind stares a lot less, maybe since I'm so used to them, plus I understand the impulse to spend a longer time looking at someone who doesn't look like everyone else.
I also hate it when I can't figure out whether someone is anti-gay, or just awkward. Early on in our trip, we went to a specialty store for a nerdy hobby I'm obsessed with. I called ahead and talked to the owner, who was super nice on the phone. But when I showed up in person and introduced my DGF (because the place was otherwise abandoned and it would have been weird not to) as my partner, this woman ignored my DGF's outstretched hand. Despite her friendliness on the phone, she kind of stayed away from us in person. I tried to engage her in conversation partly to figure out whether she was awkward or just anti-gay. She mentioned God twice (e.g., "My husband has a broken ankle, but God will heal him soon"), but not in an aggressive way, and I didn't want to assume that she was trying to give me a message. (In fact, I Godded her right back, to show her that straight people don't have a monopoly on religion.) In the end, I didn't quite figure her out, and didn't spend much money there. When we left, she told us to "come back soon," which she wouldn't have if she was a gay-hater, right? Right? Sigh.
Which is all to say that as glad as I am to be me, I often wish I could just navigate the world without thinking about people's reactions to me. But the reactions themselves sometimes make this difficult.
More on this trip soon. I hope you all had a great weekend, dear readers!
We know they love us dearly and want to make us feel comfortable... but sometimes they need a little help, amirite? Here are some do's and don'ts for our well-intentioned straight fams.
DO: Going to buy gifts for your lesbian daughter, but don't know what she'd like? Stick with her list, even if it includes things from the men's department.
DO NOT: Insist on buying her stuff from the women's department if she does not usually buy stuff in the women's department. (If you claim that the socks/sweatshirts/shoes are "just like men's," then you shouldn't care what department you buy them in... Right?)
BONUS TIP: All lesbians love gift certificates. And money. And puppies.
DO: Include her partner in everything, just as you would if her partner was male.
DO NOT: Introduce her partner or girlfriend as her "friend."
BONUS TIP: Not sure whether to use "partner" or "girlfriend?" Ask ahead of time.
DO: Avoid contentious political discussion.
DO NOT: Turn on Fox News, no matter how badly you want to watch it. They sometimes say hostile things about The Gays, which will make your dyke kid annoyed, angry, and/or uncomfortable.
BONUS TIP: This goes for conservative talk radio, too.
DO: Feel free to ask if she's dating anyone.
DO NOT: Ask, "Are you keeping an open mind about dating men?"
BONUS TIP: If a great-aunt asks her, "Have you met a nice man yet?" gently "remind" her: "Actually, Aunt Marge, Suzy dates women, not men."
DO: Carry on with church attendance, if that's part of what you like to do. And invite your daughter--don't assume that she's not religious anymore.
DO NOT: Pressure her. Some of us have a complicated relationship with religion. We might not feel comfortable with the folks at church, the church itself, or some aspect of it. Please respect this.
BONUS TIP: Declining to attend church with you doesn't mean we're not religious or don't believe in God. Attending church with you doesn't mean we're religious, or that we identify with the church's religion.
DO: Group gift exchanges, if you like.
DO NOT:Make them gender-specific gift exchanges (e.g., women bring a "women's gift," men bring a "men's gift," exchanges happen within gender groups). For the gender-atypical among us, that can just underscore the fact that we're not exactly like everyone else, making us feel out of place.
BONUS TIP: Nice scarves, coffee tumblers, a Kindle, a temperature station, or a unisex watch are all terrific gender-neutral gifts.
DO: Compliment your daughter on her appearance, if the compliment is genuine--e.g., "That color looks great on you," or "Those are cool shoes!"
DO NOT: Use a compliment as a back-handed way to get your sapphic offspring to be more gender-conforming or conventional--e.g., "Your hair looks really nice now that you've grown it out a little."
And if you want to be really supportive, wear an awesome shirt like this one.
What else would you add to this list? What makes you feel comfortable (or uncomfortable) when you're home for the holidays?
How to Translate Butchspeak
I just received a note from a reader who's having trouble communicating with her butch DGF ("dear girlfriend"). She asked if I could "translate" some common butch idioms.
One mistake many butch-lovers make is assuming that butches are just like the stereotypes they have of heterosexual men. If you Google "what men really mean," you'll find hundreds of sites purporting to explain exactly this. Let's leave aside for a moment the offensive nature of most of those articles, and assume for the sake of argument that there's some truth to them. Even so, [non-male-identified] butches are not men, and "rules" of "understanding men" apply to us only sometimes.
It's impossible to write something like this without giant, whopping dollops of stereotype. I figure I'll get flak for this, but I went ahead and made a list anyway. I'll will be interested to learn whether any of it resonates with you.
(Writing this, I realized that while I would like to think that I'm incredibly straightforward and literal practically to a fault, that's not always true...)
How about you? Did any of these examples sound familiar? What's some other "butchspeak" that needs to be translated?
You've probably heard of the "half your age plus seven" rule of age differences in dating. The idea is that you divide your age by two, then add seven; that's the youngest person you're "allowed" to date. It's silly, but functions as a supposed "guide" to "acceptable" age differences.
Tons of people reach Butch Wonders by searching for things like "lesbian age differences," "age difference formula gay," and "what's the rule for gay age differences?" I can yammer on for days about how it's silly to have a "formula," how all relationships are unique, and yada yada yada. But at the end of the day, people want an easy answer.
So here's your easy answer. In the gay community, we get a bit more leeway. The acceptable age difference for us is wider than it is for straight people, and the difference grows as we age.
The age difference formula for same-sex relationships is graphed below. We are in blue; opposite-sex relationships are in red. (I know this doesn't take into account bi-gendered people and many other shades of queer, but that involved parabolas and was just too complicated.) The formula is one-third your age plus ten years.
This took extremely difficult, comprehensive, and painstaking research on my part--not to mention, many sleepless nights. Now let's practice.
If you're straight and 30, you can date a 22-year-old. If you're gay and 30, a 20-year-old. 48 and straight? A 31-year-old. But 48 and gay? a 26-year-old. Ka-bam! You've got it!
So, now you know. There's your formula. One-third your age plus 10. If you deviate from it simply to make yourself "happy," or because you've "fallen in love" or whatever, know that you're contravening science itself.