I'm writing this post to help me think through a reaction I've felt recently. I don't fully understand it, so bear with me. I've written a bunch about trans issues in the past--for example, explaining how dysphoria can be experienced by non-trans people, the differences between butch women and trans men, discussing some infuriating anti-trans sentiments in the lesbian community and the tension between butch women and trans men, and giving advice to a reader trying to figure out whether he or she was trans. I'm interested in trans issues not only because equality and respect for trans individuals is fundamentally important to the queer community at large, but also because understanding people's transphobic impulses can tell us a great deal about how we understand sex and gender.
So here's what's been bothering me. Lately, I've met a number of people who identify as butch women (and sometimes, but not always, as genderqueer), and who exclusively use feminine pronouns (she, her, hers), and who also modify their bodies in various ways consistent with popular understandings of masculinity: specifically, taking moderate amounts of testosterone, which (particularly if paired with certain kinds of physical activity) can result in major masculinization of the jawline/shoulders/etc. So as a result, many of these women look way more "masculine" than a woman who does not take supplemental testosterone. The fact that this is a trend does not bother me; people should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies. What bothers me is my own reaction. There's a little piece of me that feels like they are "cheating" or "having it both ways" by taking testosterone but not being trans. My internal reaction is super disturbing to me, because on an intellectual and spiritual level, there is literally no reason for me to feel even a little bit uncomfortable! It makes no sense. My own reaction is intolerant, wrong, and inconsistent with my values.
So here's what I think is going on. On most people's idea of what a "woman" is, I am pretty far on the masculine end of the spectrum. I like being a masculine woman; it is who I am. And I would like to think that my satisfaction with my own identity is wholly internal. But, of course, this is impossible; we are social animals, after all. When I see a trans man, I am not "threatened" or bothered in the least, even viscerally. He's in a different category from me. He is a man. But the women I am describing take male hormones and identify as women. They put themselves in the same category as me: masculine woman. But since they are taking testosterone and making their bodies and presentations more masculine, I feel less masculine in comparison to other people in my "masculine women" category. Maybe my discomfort comes from this perceived threat to my masculinity. If so, this is interesting but disturbing, in part because I like to think of my own identity as self-contained--as stemming from me, not from my relationship to the rest of society. Except, of course, that I don't exist in a vacuum.
As you can tell, I haven't thought this through completely, but I wonder if anyone else has felt anything like this. I talk to butch women occasionally who say that they feel "pressure" to transition. I can honestly say that no one has ever pressured me to become trans (although occasionally people assume that I must be "at least thinking about it," since so many of the masculine women they used to know have become men). There is not much personal allure for me in the idea of existing as a man. I like being a woman. But I guess I also like being a masculine one, and I guess that that masculinity is more precarious than I would sometimes like to acknowledge.
9/3/2015 05:56:50 am
How I look and present is for me and me alone. I believe everyone has to do what is right for themselves. I've always been on the masculine side. As a little kid, I was completely lost, having two very feminine Sisters and Mother, and no Father. When puberty hit, (my personal dark ages), I was devastated. In fact there are exactly 6 pictures of me between the ages of 13 and 30. It took me years to accept certain things. Bottom line, I am who I am. I stopped fighting it. For once I feel lucky for the way I look. I personally don't need hormones. It's all about being comfortable with ourselves. I don't need hormones to achieve my personal comfort. I guess some do.
9/3/2015 06:22:11 am
Personally, I identify as both Trans (Non-Binary) and Butch. I am having top surgery but I am not going on hormones. My identity as Butch is not a Butch Lesbian or Butch Woman, just Butch. I'm a non-binary Butch. My sexual orientation is Queer. I just recently came out as Trans because my gender (gender neutral/gender non-conforming/genderqueer) is different than my birth assigned, female gender. Applying the realization of gender as a spectrum to my own existence helped me see that the discomfort with being categorized as a woman, but not feeling like a man either, could be erased entirely by claiming a non-binary gender. This has provided immense comfort. I do hold on to my history of being raised and socialized as female, and can tell that emotionally I often do still relate to the world with more of a female perspective, but my physical presence is decidedly masculine, or society's definition of masculinity based on clothing choices and energy. But I am very clear that I am not a man. My brain and body definitely do not line up in a neat package.
9/3/2015 06:39:45 am
I do find myself looking at other butches who I perceive to be more masculine than me and feel a little "out-butched" sometimes, but I think that's a normal part of finding your place in society. I've come to realize that doesn't mean me or the other butch are doing gender wrong, just differently, and that's ok.
9/4/2015 10:12:56 am
Hey Ray! Feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
9/3/2015 02:23:34 pm
I'm wondering if you feel displaced and that's what's got you feeling so troubled/threatened...
9/3/2015 03:28:00 pm
yeh i totally get it. this is what i call myself. i fought struggled for decades to get to call myself this and be acknowledged. and then bam! someone comes along n calls themselves that too n it totally isnt what i meant by that word. well fuck. has nothing to do with insecurity masculinity. has to do with shifting identity, being purloined away by others. course it feels unsettling. crapola. but in the end i just have to think well isnt this interesting, cuz i'm still who i am n these are just word labels stuck on the container, erasable, changable n meaningless cuz of that. but yeh i got yah, n i get a little steamed
9/3/2015 04:06:28 pm
I also identify as nonbinary and Butch, specifically as a Genderfluid, Butch, Queer, Leatherboy. I have recently been reconsidering T, as some life events have allowed me to live in a more masculine space than usual (which is pretty squarely MOC anyhow). I'm not wanting to be male because that just flips my challenges with presentation around. But I am wanting to be more masculine, pushing the fuck out of those gender boundaries, ripping holes in those societal boxes.
9/4/2015 04:36:19 am
I identify as butch. I came out as a lesbian within a community of butches. I had had to assimilate to normative notions of femininity throughout my youth and in high school in order to survive the constant bullying I recieved. As I began to embrace female masculinity in college, and I allowed myself to become more and more masculine, I realized that hormones and top surgery were going to be part of my narrative. I didn't transition to become a man; I've never wanted to have a penis. I'm just so butch I grew a beard. However, testosterone is powerful and difficult to regulate how it will affect your body. Within two months on T - even at a low dose - I stopped being read as a woman. Now I struggle with dysphoria the other direction. I've decided I don't care enough to try to transition back to a more feminine appearance. The reality for me is though, trans men don't see me as trans and butch women don't see me as a woman. I will never identify as a cis man (or as a man at all). And since I'm not remotely androgynous, the GQ community doesn't accept me either. There's a certain loneliness in invisibility and it's interesting and alienating to read posts like this. I'm glad your trying to work through your reaction - if more butches would do this, I wouldn't be so alone.
1/18/2016 06:06:06 pm
I've been feeling so lonely lately because of this. I started T and it has helped me in many ways to feel ok - emotionally/physically (same thing?) - and I identify as butch and genderqueer however I feel unwelcome in the spaces where I seek community. It's a relief to read this and realize I'm not alone.
6/2/2018 10:51:10 pm
I'm also a butch lesbian, and have been on T for a few years and have had top surgery. I had been been identifying as a man because I thought my intense dysphoria meant I was a trans guy.
9/4/2015 10:42:32 am
I've never really understood the concept of feeling like you are a man or a woman. I never felt like either. My body is female but if I woke up tomorrow and it was male I"d still feel like the same person. I am asexual so maybe that has to do with not understanding the importance of your body or gender identity or gender presentation and am probably agendered genderqueer. I don't really know what to call myself. So I don't really see much of a difference in how you define yourself - trans butch, butch woman, butch man, etc...Can't people just define themselves as a butch/masculine person or a femme/feminine person rather than as male/female/trans? Regardless of whether they are taking hormones or not?
9/4/2015 10:54:45 am
Of course they can! I hope it was clear from this post that I was only referring to people who explicitly identify themselves AS women, and AS female. I don't think people need to identify themselves as anything they don't want to.
Another voice on the butch/non-binary/trans border. I am becoming increasingly convinced that the idea that if you are butch you don't legally change your name, go on T, or get top surgery - but if you are a transgender you do all three - is a false construct.
Thanks for your comment. I love your blog. It's interesting, because what I feel is pretty different from envy. I've felt envy plenty, but this isn't it. Nor is it merely discomfort with scope creep or the blurring of boundaries. I get the blurring of boundaries. And I get people who want to claim multiple spaces (or no spaces at all). My feeling is really quite limited--it is only provoked by people who present as I present--as a masculine cisgendered female. Who are explicitly non-trans and explicitly female--not folks who exist on the border, as you do. But I think what you, and a lot of the other commenters, are saying is: it doesn't make sense to be "protective" of your (my) category, because all these categories are blurred, false constructs anyhow. Is that right? Because that makes total sense to me. BW
9/4/2015 04:31:59 pm
I am nearly 60 and since the age of 3 people have mistaken me for male, so all my life being just a butch I pass naturally. Plus I have a gender neutral name. I don't try to look like a male, it just happens. I always act like they never said it in the first place so no need for awkward apologies. It always saddens me how *one way or the other* most people are. Now I live in a very rural area where it is common the see women my age all in boots and jeans and *doing stuff*!
9/5/2015 07:29:08 am
I find myself longing for the days when people did not alter themselves with surgery or hormones. Is physical appearance so important that you would risk or actually damage your health to achieve a 'look' ? Because all this 'dysphoria' is depressing. What happened to the message of being comfortable just the way you are? I also am tired of people identifying in some complicated way. i am just a gender luddite i guess.
9/5/2015 11:06:56 pm
I agree. People can do whatever they want with their own bodies but to me the ultimate genderqueerness is being comfortable with the fact that your mind and body may not match and that's ok.
11/24/2015 05:51:20 am
What days? There were days when people couldn't alter themselves with surgery or hormones, but they still found ways to help themselves be comfortable with they way they were with the facilities available to them at the time.
11/24/2015 07:36:46 am
I don't understand why it matters so much how other people perceive you. If you know who you are, I think that's the important thing. You are putting your identity in the hands of other people by changing yourself for their perception. How you present yourself and your body is always up to you and you should do what makes you feel better, but I guess I just don't see why more happiness should come from the way others perceive you other than the way you perceive yourself. My body is just a body - if other people see it and think it reflects who I am, I don't really care. I know who I am inside.
9/6/2015 05:42:00 pm
I get where you're coming from and it's taken me 40 years so far to even begin to figure out where I fit in all this. I was a tomboy as a child, and for years secretly longed to be a boy, and later a man- but I identified most strongly with gay men at the time. I used to dress up as all my favourite famous people as a kid- who were, sadly (I think now) mainly men (probably because the cool women just don't get the same publicity..) I was a really young drag-king, to be honest. It took me years to click that I wasn't actually attracted to gay men, but that I was interested in aspects of the lifestyle, and (at the time) wanted to be a man. Partly I realise this was craving the freedom to go places and do things without being hassled or questioned, and partly because I hated aspects of my female body such as my childbearing hips, and wanted a taller, more athletic build (for some reason.) Essentially I generally want to be what I'm attracted to, because this makes me feel better in myself. When I hit my older teens I fell for a girl big time, and in my 20's I came out to my parents as 'Bi'. I was attracted to men and women (and wouldn't have ruled out anything other had the occasion arisen) Later I met a great guy- definitely a soulmate- and we got married and had kids. During my childbearing years I was at peace for the first time with my female body- childbearing hips and all- and became quite femme- for the first time since my mum put me in dresses at 3. However, since I stopped getting pregnant and breastfeeding and all I've reverted to Butch Me and also feel much more lesbian again. I love my husband very much, but doubt I'd even consider another man if something happened to separate us. I wouldn't rule anything out, but I do feel far more gay than Bi these days. I've also realised that I'm more asexual than sexual- it's something I can take or leave, and that the way I'm attracted to people isn't related to sex at all, but to aesthetic attraction and mental connection etc.. Seems miles off the point I know, but I'd love to make my body not more masculine exactly, but more androgynous- because that's what fits my mind best. My mum tortured me as a kid by openly hating her skinny up and down body, which was pretty much exactly what I wanted to look like, while complimenting my petite, curvier bod which I hated. I look more like my mental image of myself nowadays- rather more athletic and toned, and more androgynous/ butch, and although not sure I would take T- don't want a beard, and my acne is bad enough already, thanks- I have taken herbal T boosters/ supplements that mimic T in the past- along with my OH, in order to help muscle gain etc. Not sure if they work, but all the working out did ;-) Still short, still have hips, tits too small to bother me much. in my head these days I've figured out that I identify as a Pan romantic Grey Ace, but I usually still say 'Bi' if asked so as not to piss people off ;-) For years I thought I was trans (even though I had no words for it) but really I think I am fine with female pronouns, although I quite often use neutral on social networking, and fine with being a woman on the whole, but a woman on MY terms, and that means I'm quite hard to pigeonhole. Sorry to ramble, but helps to sort my brain out sometimes...
10/7/2016 12:17:22 pm
I think your comments about feeling more accepting of being a woman during childbirth and breastfeeding years really touches on something that isn't addressed much at all. I've often wondered if Trans-men were to be given female hormones if they might not actually start feeling more in line with their female body? You had a surge of female hormones in that time of life that would've affected your sense of self. I say this because I go through a 'cycling' of hormones every single month that I only have noticed in the last year or so and I'm over 40... so hormonal fluctuation is probably stronger and more noticeable. I am very oriented to feeling female from my menstruation to ovulation - at which time I get even more female-centric, and then a day after ovulation I feel absolutely male-centered.
9/24/2015 06:30:07 pm
Your feelings make total sense. Feeling solid in our masculinity is not easy! I've found myself thinking my masculinity is being one-upped by my trans guy friend. He has confessed to feeling that way about me because I am more traditionally butch, and he's a little on the queeny side. I've personally had to fight hard to believe that I am authentically masculine. For years I believed the crap about being a wanna-be-man, a watered down version of true masculinity. It took a long time to believe butch is a rare and beautiful thing in its own right. Finally, I wear my butchness, not as an apology, but as one of the incredible natural wonders of this world, like every other unique gender expression. There's not a lot of reinforcement though, we hardly ever see butches on the silver screen or in books, magazines, etc. It takes a lot to maintain a solid sense of self and security in our masculinity in the absence of much social acknowledgement that we even exist. Your blog is great for many reasons, and making a public place for celebrating butchness is high among them.
11/24/2015 06:01:35 am
It is all very interesting, also for me as someone with only my naturally high levels of testosterone who isn't a woman but isn't a man either. I prefer being called Sir, so feel a bit uncomfortable with being mistaken for someone like a butch woman who dresses in a masculine way but is a woman, and I think I might feel similarly to BW about women who become even more masculine than that, as if I were somehow not masculine enough to claim a space as "not woman" even though I'm wanting to claim the space of "not man".
6/17/2016 04:21:45 am
Hey I'm an Agenderflux Butch girl. That was AMAB (assigned male at birth) And I'm a lesbian.
4/1/2017 07:35:32 pm
I'm really glad I found this blog and read everyone's contribution. I'm a 44yo butch leather boi. I'm up to my 4th T shot, now day 65. I'm taking T to enhance my voice, body shape, clit size, sex drive. A major driver was to promote muscle growth, particularly in my legs after a major motorcycle accident a year ago where I fractured my pelvis and smashed ny knee to bits. I haven't complicated my life by defining where I sit in the community - I just AM. And proud to be.
6/16/2019 10:13:09 pm
Excuse me, I'm gay, but I want my body to be a man like other, I'm so skinny and my is soft and girly. And this is why I got bullying from some human. Can anyone advise me in which T pill products should I use?
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