When I posted my last entry, I worried that it might be behind the times. Especially considering the number of queers who identify as neither butch nor femme (and those who eschew labels altogether), I was uncertain whether the post would ring true for people. But wow. Not only were my fears unfounded, but the number of negative messages I received on Facebook made it clear that this is still a big issue. Whether they specifically identify as "butch" or not, two masculine-of-center women who date each other face serious challenges, even within their own communities.
In this post, I continue exploring butch-butch relationships, based on interviews of 15 self-identified butches--10 who are currently in a relationship with another butch, and five who are single and date butches. I've decided to expand the butch-butch exposé into three parts rather than two. This part tackles "balance" in a butch-butch relationship, as well as how butch-butch couples have been received by others.
A Different Kind of Balance
One of the most-written-about joys of butch-femme relationships is the inherent "balance"--psychic, physical, and otherwise. Many of the butch-butch couples I interviewed also talked about balance, using words like "synergy," "camaraderie," and "equality." Several respondents said that in butch-femme relationships, gender roles had been too present for them. All respondents were quick to state their respect for butch-femme relationships (and understood that prescribed roles are not necessarily part of that equation). Still, they saw butch-butch relationships as a kind of "tabula rasa," with no default (in their own minds, nor in others' perceptions) about who opens the door for whom. "In our relationship, it's as if gender roles just completely don't exist, which I love," KT said. Lisa echoed this, saying that she enjoyed the "fluidity" of her and her partners' roles. Chelsie wrote, "The fem women I was with treated me more like their 'boyfriend' and resembled the dynamic of a straight couple."
Personally, while dating men and while dating femmes, I always felt like there were prescribed "typical" ways for us to act. If my femme date brought me flowers (or if I bought my DXH flowers), it was as if were were "bucking" certain roles. I don't like having roles to buck, even if they're only imposed by my own culturally-programmed brain.
Nearly all of the butches I interviewed had previously dated femmes, and said dating butches felt "natural" or "was a relief." K wrote, "The dynamic of my relationship with my butch is so different from any of my relationships with femmes (or men, before that). I feel like I have finally been allowed to take off… any kind of costume. There's no doubt that I'm butch, or that she is: even though we're not terribly attached to labels, we both agree that either of us prancing about in a dress or makeup would be Just Wrong." She also said, "But the relaxed and accepting dynamic of our relationship allows me to be myself first and foremost, with costumes optional, whereas in masculine/feminine-roled relationships that I've been in, only certain things were allowed, and to venture beyond them might make somebody squeamish."
When it came to the essentials of love and communication, however, most respondents believe that butch-butch relationships are no different from any others. Becca wrote, "[T]he dynamic of our relationship is basically very simple--we're head over heels ridiculous for each other, and I'm grateful for every single moment." Jess shared a similar sentiment: "[T]he dynamic of our relationship is similar to any other relationship, whether it's femme/femme, butch/femme, or any straight couple. We love each other and have committed ourselves to a lifetime together. We argue with each other, we miss each other when we're apart, and we consult each other in any big or small decision we're making. We laugh, we cry and we care."
All of this made me wonder if butch-loving-butches experience a different kind of queer "sexual orientation" than femme-loving-butches. What do you think, dear readers?
Friends Don't Care, But Strangers Stare
The dominant theme from my interviews was that close friends tend to be accepting of butch-butch relationships, but that strangers and acquaintances, whether straight or queer, tend to be weirded out. There also seems to be an uncomfortable "invisibility" that butch-butch couples experience as couples. I'll let these butches explain in their own words:
eL: "Most of my friends 'just don't get' butch... I do feel like it's taboo. …[W]hen my ex and I would go out dancing, when we weren't being seen as gay boys/bois, we were often assumed to be single (even though we were dancing together and were, in my opinion, pretty obviously TOGETHER). We would regularly get hit on and then have to politely decline and, much to most folks' surprise, state that we were, in fact, a couple. Also most femmes and some 'straight' women automatically assumed were were interested in them when we just weren't--we only had eyes for each other… Not being seen as a couple was difficult."
K.D: "My best friend thinks its adorable, [and]others don't have much to say. I think some people get confused because they are used to the butch/femme dichotomy. I think a lot of people find it unusual but I don't think many would say its taboo, just perhaps confusing."
Donnie: "My close friends were ok with it, others thought it was kind of odd to be butch on butch… and teased us about who opens whose door and who does who in bed."
Stacy: "My friends didn't say much, but I heard later that they thought it was a bit weird. I find a lot of things feel weird in the lesbo world--the B/B thing was just another one."
Becca: "[M]y friends are a broad mix of queers who don't really seem to judge other people's situations, and my straight friends and family don't know that it's different from anything. They just see two queers and it makes sense to them. I don't feel like it's unusual/weird/taboo for me, but I do feel extra gay sometimes. I feel like we'e super visible as queers, but not always super visible as a couple."
Anon: "Some friends think it's weird, especially the butches in butch-femme couples. It's like being gay within the gay community. One butch friend of mine said she thought it was 'gross.' I feel like heterosexuals understand butch-femme better than butch-butch. Maybe the butch-femme thing is more recognizable to heterosexuals as what they're used to."
Lisa and Jennie
_Lisa: "It feels a little taboo sometimes. But it seems to throw off straight people more than other lesbians. Straight people still seem to be stuck in butch/femme roles, and get confused if we don't fit into those stereotypes."
Jennie: "None of my friends ever questioned the butch/butch thing. My friends were just excited to see me happy. I don't find it unusual. In fact, I enjoy it more than I realized I could!"
AJ: "All my friends were great and they love Jo so there was no problem there. Sometimes when you are out in public and we are together you get weird looks… You do hear… complaints of femmes that it is not fair that you get all the butch girls when they want one!"
So What's At the Heart of the Butch/Butch "Taboo?"
This all made me wonder... if Portia had short hair and had worn a tux, would people have been quite so stoked about Ellen and Portia's wedding? Would "Ellen Show" viewers still have talked about how "cute" the wedding was? And if not, would this be due to the fact that butch + butch is taboo, or that same + same is taboo, or to the fact that butch women aren't seen as conventionally attractive?
Stay tuned. Next entry will be a wrap-up on butch-butch relationships, and I'll finally tackle butch-butch in the bedroom...
A huge thank you to the wonderful butches who let me interview them: AJ and Jo, K (aka Chopper) and Z (aka Zed), eL, LG and KT, Donnie, Becca and K.D., Jess and Beth, O, Stacy, Chelsie, Lisa and Jennie, and a handful of others who preferred to remain anonymous.