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!
It's National Coming Out Day, dear readers! I had dozens of mini-coming out stories submitted to my little contest, and wanted to share my top 10 favorites with you:
I was 18 in Idaho in 1980 when I fell in love with a girl. I came out, got fired from my job, kicked out of an apartment, driven off the road, threatened with a shotgun and blacklisted in the town I lived in. I moved to Los Angeles.
Told my parents I was bisexual. They asked, "Are you sure you're not a lesbian?" Oh, good job.
Told my mom. She cried. Then I got a girlfriend, told everyone at my Catholic school I liked girls, and buzzed my head. She got over it.
Me: (on ladder in Mom’s apartment, hanging paintings)
Mom: Honey, why do you dress like a man?
Me: (gets off ladder. deep breath) Because I’m gay, Mom. Actually, I’m bisexual, but gay will do.
Mom: (shocked pause) Does your husband know?
Mom: (thoughtful) Oh. My goodness. Okay then.
37. Dyke teacher. Dream. She actually had a two flat. One and a half hours of "ummm"..."ah"...and silence. Her patience. My revelation. Coming Out group. Me to therapist "I just realized I'm a lesbian and I'm happy. Is that normal?" Validation. A femme is born.
Was on the phone with a friend, joking that telling my parents I had a girlfriend wouldn't be a big deal, but since they had always said I was the son they never had but this might be taking it too far. Mom walked in, said "your dad owes me money. I won the bet."
I won this huge ass button that said, I like boys, at a carnival when I was 11. The next day in the girls bathroom at school, I asked a friend if she wanted the button. She asked me why I didn't want it and I said " I like girls."
Coming out to my grandfather. Everybody in the family thought that this would kill him. Me: "Pop, we have a huge thing in common..." He: "...?..." "Well, we both fall in love only with women - this is still great, isn't it?" He: "...*pondering*...*penny has dropped*...*beaming*..."
I was 24 and engaged to a guy. Decided to go camping overnight with a couple of old high school friends who were lesbians. Played truth or dare and stated that I really wanted to kiss one of them. It happened. Next day I dumped my fiance and moved out.
I was 22 and married when I started to get those "uh oh" moments. I didn't know who I could tell, and for some reason I went to my 17-year-old sister, terrified. Now, we share that day as our coming out day to each other!
My daughter came out to me one day when we went out to lunch and that gave me the strength to come out, 2 weeks later! That was about 15 years ago!
I picked that last one as the winner. Something about the idea of someone from the younger generation giving someone from the older generation the inspiration to come out just really moved me. Thanks to everyone who shared their coming out stories. I know how hard this can be, even if you always seemed like a lesbian . (Longtime readers will remember that I shared mine in five parts back in 2011. See Butch Wonders, Coming Out Married, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.) Happy coming out day to everyone who is out, as well as everyone who is thinking about coming out. We're rooting for you!
Thanks to longtime BW reader Cat Fortier (of Unleashed Studio) for sending in this excellent illustration of a bow-tie-munching goat after reading my September 2 post about goat-milking. I love this! Wouldn't it be cool on a T-shirt or a coffee mug?
As you all know, the Supreme Court decided a little under a week ago that all states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I was really moved by the decision, which was more inclusive than I expected it to be, and it's been so interesting watching people's responses to it. I learned about it when my partner woke me and said, "Hey! We can get married anywhere now. The Supreme Court legalized gay marriage." I'm butch enough to admit that this brought tears to my eyes.
Though there's plenty to say about the decision itself, what it does and doesn't do, and what this means for the future of LGBTQ people in America and beyond, today I just wanted to share a collection of responses I've gathered from LGBTQ Americans in response to the decision. Some are from social media, some from face-to-face conversations. But I thought the breadth of them might interest my beloved BW readers.
It was a joy, indescribable... To see years of activism, its fruition, and then to see many who have been dreaming, hoping, and thinking the day would never arrive within their lifetime, folks in their 60's, even 70's. That made those countless marching in the suffocating heat, sleepless nights planning , organizing... Someday, when I meet the right one, my soulmate, I can get on my knee, with the certainty that wherever I am, we can plan our wedding, our marriage... not just a bunch of legalities and notarized paperwork...
I'm happy about the decision, but now my mom and stepdad will be on me more than ever to get married and have kids like my siblings, and that is not the life I necessarily want! I love my partner and maybe will marry her eventually, but I am just a different kind of person and don't want the same life. The marriage decision doesn't prevent me from feeling less valid in their eyes.
This means everything to me, as my wife and I are expecting our first baby in December. We are in California (married 2 years ago yesterday). Her entire family is in Texas, so whenever we've visited Texas since we've been married, I've reminded myself "we're not actually married when we're here." Because of the Supreme Court decision, we can travel to Texas with our child and be recognized as a family just as we are in California, and our child will never live in a world where their moms' marriage only exists in some states.
I'm still getting all teary-eyed thinking about all this... I mean, I know we have a LONG way to go before we have achieved true equality across-the-board... but still, this is so much farther than I ever dreamed we would get when 30 yrs ago this-here spikey-haired dykey 19-yr-old gave a ring to my then-girlfriend, and wished like hell that such a thing as marrying her was even possible.
So there you have it, dear readers--a sampling of the breadth of the LGBTQ response to the ruling. Thanks to everyone who wrote to me with their thoughts. I hope that regardless of your take on it, you're getting a chance to bask in this victory a little, in whatever way is meaningful to you.