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!
A highly subjective (and probably offensive) list of things some butches do (or that I've done myself) that bug me and/or others. I submit to you, dear readers, the question of whether, in YOUR ideal world, butches would stop doing the following:
Okay, dear readers... lay it on me. Which of these do you disagree with? Which do you agree with?
Spoiler alert: Don't read this post if you haven't seen ALL of Season 2 of "House of Cards" and there's even a remote possibility that you'll ever watch it.
I'm not much of a TV person. We don't even have cable. But when I am addicted to a TV show, I don't mess around. The shows to which I have been Super Into in the past five years are few: "Breaking Bad," "Downton Abbey" (yes, it's a soap opera; I don't care), "Mad Men" (Jon Hamm! Christina Hendricks! John Slattery!), and most recently, "House of Cards."
Before we get down to our Queer Business, let's catalog the two main reasons "House of Cards" is so awesome:
(1) Kevin Spacey. I love KS. Love. In my opinion, the best working actor. I'd pay to watch the man sit on a chair and smoke a cigarette for two hours.
(2) Robin Wright. (Yes, the same RW who was in "The Princess Bride" way back when.) With that fantabulous haircut, icy-hot smile, and killer acting instincts, she's more than equal to the task of playing opposite Spacey.
Together, the new First Couple's chemistry is elegant, dynamic, multi-layered, beautiful, and frightening--often all at the same time. We started Season 1 with Frank Underwood jogging alone; Season 2 opens with Frank and Claire jogging together. This is a not-so-subtle foreshadowing of the season's dynamic, in which Frank and Claire are no longer working at cross-purposes. They subtly undermine the sitting President and First Lady, quietly understand the implications of Frank's murder of Zoe (best season opener ever, BTW), and even seduce the cautious-but-willing Meecham together.
...Which brings us, of course, to one of the two queer subplots. While we don't get a whiff that Claire has an, erm, softball-playing past (let alone bats for both teams), Frank does. In Season 1, we got a hint at Frank's college reunion (when he tells an old friend, "You meant something to me," with unmistakably romantic overtones), but weren't beaten over the head with it. Which I LOVE, because it would be waaay too easy to show Frank lusting after congressional intern boys. We don't get the sense that Frank is hiding some big dark secret; he's simply attracted to both men and women, so in the context of his selectively-open marriage (remember Claire's icy "What does she give us?" re: Frank's liaison with Zoe in Season 1?), it makes sense that he would sleep with both men and women.
What makes this so interesting and weirdly modern (no judgment, just my own prudishness showing) is that Claire is not only cool with Frank's predilections, but helps them along. The morning after the couple seduces Meecham, Claire asks how Frank slept, and when he says he slept great, tells him, "Good. You needed that." OMG, Claire. OMG. Not to mention, how many threesomes have you ever heard of that involve two men and one woman rather than the other way around? I love that this turns the typical straight male fantasy on its head.
And, of course, there's the other Big Queer Subplot, which involves Rachel Posner, the ex-sex worker with whom Frank's chief henchman, Doug, has become obsessed. After meeting through a proselytization attempt on public transit, Lisa Williams moves in with Rachel, and soon converts her... in more ways than one. I saw this one coming a mile away, yet I was still surprised by it--and surprise + inevitability makes for great drama.
Sure, "House of Cards" isn't exactly brimming with homos, but it's a heck of a lot gayer than most of the other good dramas around these days. Plus, I love that a character's being gay isn't the be-all and end-all of the character. Rachel's relationship is a big deal because she's finally found love and Doug is devastated, and Rachel has to break with Lisa because of her (Rachel's) sex-working past--not because Rachel is--gasp--queer. Same deal with Frank. He's bi--maybe--but he doesn't seem to be "struggling" with this fact. Another way "House of Cards" does queer so well is that it doesn't flinch or pull punches or leave the gay stuff to hints and allusions (like, say, "Mad Men" does, and "Downton Abbey" has done since Episode 2). Nope, the gay kisses get screen time. Almost like they're equal relationships or something.
I bet my DGF and I aren't the only "House of Cards" binge-watchers out there. What did you all think? (And what should my next addiction be?)
Last month, I posted a list of things that well-meaning-but-misguided people tend to say to childless lesbians. On my Facebook page, a few readers mentioned that people say equally irritating and/or idiotic things to lesbians who have kids. Here are some of their least favorites:
Seriously, people. Let me give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you're beside yourself with joy and curiosity about a child or a pregnancy that is not your own. It is very, very rude to ask someone you barely know about the biological details of how his or her children came to be, or to offer your unsolicited, pop-pseudo-psychological opinion about how the family arrangement is likely to affect the child.
Q: But what if I really want to know?
A: That's what the Internet is for.
Q: But I'm a total supporter of gay rights! So it's okay if I ask, right?
Q: What if the person I want to ask is a friend or family member?
A: Possibly fine. But this varies based on the person. Some folks will talk your ear off about IVF; others will want to smack you for asking. If the person is a friend, you probably already know the deets or would feel comfortable saying something like, "Hey, I had a few questions about the biological aspects of your pregnancy. Would it be okay if I asked you about it? If not, I certainly understand."
Q: Oh, good! I can ask my lesbian co-worker how she got pregnant!
A: NO. When I say "friend," I'm talking about someone with whom you hang out socially, on a voluntary basis. Just seeing someone at work functions, PTA meetings, or the post office doesn't count.
Q: Oh, good--so I can tell my lesbian daughter that her son needs a male influence?
A: NO. The aforementioned ban on unsolicited, pop-pseudo-psychological opinions about someone's child-rearing decisions applies to friends and family members as well.
Any queer parents out there want to add something I missed? Drop me a line or post a comment below!
Okay, I'm hesitating to post this because it makes me seem way more curmudgeonly than I actually (think I) am. Oh well.
I should also say that at least for me, and maybe for other people, none of this applies if you're a close friend or close family member. It's more when acquaintances or (godfuhbid) strangers offer their advice that I blanch.
What you say: There are soooo many options for people who want kids!
What I hear: You're probably too stupid to figure this out, but you can procreate without having sex with a man!
What you say: But you'd be such a good parent!
What I think: I'd also be a good race car driver, occupational therapist, or professional shoeshiner. Natural predilection does not a destiny make.
What you say: Some people are too selfish to have kids.
What I hear: You are selfish and shallow. Unless you have kids. In which case all is forgiven. But I thought better of you. Now you just make me sad.
What you say: You could always adopt!
What I think: No sh*t.
What you say: Lots of lesbians are having kids these days!
What I think: Lots of lesbians are also chain-smokers, alcoholics, drug users, glue-sniffers, head cases, doctors, truckers, and couch potatoes. So?
What you (usually another lesbian) say: My mom didn't fully accept my partner and me until we had kids. But now that she has grandkids, we're closer than ever.
What I hear: Your mother will never fully love you until you procreate.
What you say: There are SO many children out there who need good homes.
What I think: So why didn't you adopt instead of having biological kids? Oh--you're scared you'll end up with a crack baby or a psychopath from a Russian orphanage who's never been held? But I should go for it? Thaaanks.
What you say: NO one thinks they want kids. Then they have them and they're glad they did.
What I think: Am I the only person in the world who's ever heard of cognitive dissonance?
What you say: Are you thinking of having a family?
What I think: So, me + DGF + slightly swollen canine ≠ "family?" Screw you.
What you say: You haven't lived a full life unless you have kids.
What I hear: Your life is invalid. There's only one way to redeem yourself, and it smells like diapers.
What you say: You may think you know what love is, but you don't really know what love is until you have kids.
What I hear: All your feelings are pathetic, shallow, and invalid--mere shadows of what they could have been. Alas!
Okay, so I'm being melodramatic, but you get the idea.
I actually don't think the pressure is nearly as bad for lesbian and gay couples who don't want kids, as it is for straight couples who don't want kids. People basically assume that opposite-sex couples are going to have kids, and that if they don't, it's because there's something biologically "wrong" with them. Instead of just getting asked, "Do you think you'll have kids someday?", people will ask questions like, "Do you think you're going to... start trying?"