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So it’s been way too long since a post was made here.
First, I’m always recruiting writers. Second, tell your friends. I’m always recruiting writers.
The point of this post was to ask a question. Butches, what is your equivalent to sexy lingerie? Asking for a friend.
Though these are very real experiences, they are not everyone’s experience. It’s just my story. I don’t speak for all trans guys or all butches.
I do not identify as butch. Why would I write a guest post on this blog, you ask? Well, I used to identify as butch. My story is longer and more complex than simply saying I was [this] and now I’m [this]. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
I knew that I liked women that way since the day I was born. I remember, vividly, watching my gymnastics instructor do flips and twirls while I scratched my 5 year old butt encased in tights. Her name was Diane; she could do no wrong. I emulated every move she made, even if the movements didn’t always feel correct with how I wanted my body to move; I just wanted her to look at me. It’s not that I felt like a tomboy at this time; I simply was just me. I didn’t have a sense of what was appropriate behavior for boys or girls. When I was 5 years old, I didn’t have a name for that feeling I had towards women. As I got older and understood about my own sexuality, I knew I couldn’t tell anyone. I would say that I looked up to these women, that I wanted to be like them when I grew up. When I turned 17, I realized that I was now growing up – and did not want to be like those women. I wanted to be their boyfriend.
Coming out as a gay woman in 1996 wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t exactly easy either. The community I was a part of was mostly butch and femme couples, or androgynous women who seemed to not sleep with anyone. I was a hybrid “athletic-butch” dyke. “Growing up” in the gay community, I always felt disconnected from that word “butch”. I was a mostly masculine-presenting female who played a bunch of sports and slept with women; so what else would that make me? In my efforts over the years to tailor my style of dress, my mannerisms, the way I walked and interacted with people to that of what I thought “butch” meant, I actually cut myself off from a lot of experiences. I remember trying to be hard and detached. My friends would respond to this behavior and affirm how butch I was. I learned it well. I tried to be butch for 10 years.
I came out as trans in the summer of 2007. I won’t talk about that experience here, only in the context of how I learned what words fit with my body and identity. As I learned about this version of myself that was more accurate than any other, I shed all my other identities and slowly began to pick and choose what words best fit in my life. I never picked up “butch” again. I am not saying that all trans men are not or should not identify as butch. I am telling you why I let go of that identity. There is distrust and pain with both collective identities; some butch women feel as though trans men are turning their backs on the struggle as “masculine women”. Some trans men ridicule butch women as wanting to be men but not “going the distance”. Both identities I see as complex and separate, though in relationship with each other. We’re all people who defy gender expectations.
Even though I did not ever connect with the word “butch” as an accurate expression of my identity, I was elbow deep in lesbian culture. I learned my history. Learning about femme history was important, but my education was delivered by my older butch brothers. I learned how to fight to the death for my body and the bodies of the women I loved. They taught me how to shift my weight and keep my spine straight to give cismen those subtle clues that my body was not available to be fucked (either fucked or fucked with). I was taught how to claim space that wasn’t reserved or intended for us. Most importantly, I learned about strong butch dyke women who came before me. I was given Stone Butch Blues and countless butch/femme fiction novels, all instructing me how to treat and love a femme woman.
I let go of “butch” because it wasn’t me. The word, so loaded with history and meaning and purpose, does not feel good when I use it in connection with other words that I use to describe myself. I call myself a guy these days; some days I feel it strongly and some days I do not. Acknowledging my “trans” self and my “male” self feels like the solid connection that I never had with the word “butch”. I recently had drinks with a butch identified person where I was able to articulate this for the first time. I feel a kinship, a solidarity with butch women. I have been taught by them and loved by them. We’ve called each other family and held each other up as people who did not fit the stereotypic gender norm. I’ll never forget my history with my butch identity, but to claim that word now feels like a betrayal towards the people who embody that word and live that experience every day.
As we move through the hustle & bustle of December, it’s important to keep sight of the things that are important to us. December is busy for me because I work at a university, and the quarter ends, so there are finals, students moving out, etc and then lots of work over the so-called break to get finished. Then we have the holidays to get through, but my favorite part of the “holiday season” is the fresh start of a new year.
For 2011, I am making only one resolution. I don’t know how to distill it down into one sentence.
This year, I decided to continue to do things that felt good, right, comfortable for my gender. I write and think about my gender more, I choose my clothes and shoes more intentionally, and I’ve asserted myself with my family more. For 2011, I am going to continue to do the things that feel right, and I am going to continue to create more intentional community with other butches as best I can. I’m going to be grateful for working where I work–in a generally supportive enclave of a conservative city where I often feel targeted for my gender expression. (I get wrong bathroomed here 10x more often than I did in Minneapolis, but this is my hometown and I moved back here for a myriad of reasons…it’s openness to queers and gender variance is not one of them.)
I really hope that you all make it through the end of December safely and that 2011 is awesome for all of us.
I think I would truly love to receive this…even if I purchase it for myself.
I am a big fan of Elisha Lim’s work. I first saw Lim on the Sister Spit tour when I was living in Minneapolis– my giant crush on Lim could probably be seen from space. Check out the blog, new art everyday.
what songs would you put on the ultimate butch mix?
butch by the geraldine fibbers
tomboy by bettie serveert
Let me get this out of the way first thing: I realize butch isn’t exclusive to men or women, gay, straight or otherwise. But I think context is really important in conversations like this, so I’m applying this to what I know: women who identify as butch. More specifically, me.
When I was younger and first coming to terms with my sexuality and gender, I didn’t really have the language or understanding that I do now. When I saw older women who appeared to be butch – because no one my age really represented that way to me – I dismissed the idea that I could be butch because I couldn’t identify with them. I eventually acquiesced to identify as “soft butch,” because somehow that was easier for me (and for others, I thought) to palate. Being straight-up butch felt extreme to me; I had some internal butch phobia, and I thought soft butch was the best way to describe how I felt without seeming too masculine. I was scared of the word butch meant, and I was scared about what that would make people think about me.
[I feel like I should also mention that in the middle of all of this I was making some very wrong assumptions about lesbians in general. Not only was I passing judgment on butches, but I also assumed other lesbians wouldn't be attracted to me if I was trying to be like a man, because wasn't the whole point of being a lesbian to not be with a man? Give me a break, I was learning.]
At the same time, I was completely drawn to women with masculine qualities. As I met more women who had what I considered butch traits, I tried spending as much time with them as possible. I could see some of their energy in me, and it both intrigued and worried me. Did they want to be men? Or just like men? Because I certainly didn’t think I felt like that. I didn’t know yet how to distinguish between male and masculine, and I didn’t realize that masculinity could exist in a female body. So I avoided claiming a butch identity; but in the process of finding myself, I arrived there without even thinking about it. I stopped shoving down the masculine parts of my personality and focused on just being. And suddenly, there I was – a butch. All of this is to say that it took me a while, but I finally got out of my own way and ended up right where I’m supposed to be.
I learned throughout this growing process that butch is hard to define, since it has so many incarnations. If you look up definitions of it, you’ll read about stereotypical or exaggerated masculinity. But who’s to say what fits that definition? There are things I say or do that might appear exaggerated to someone else, but to me it’s the way I am designed. There are a million different opinions out there about what a butch is or isn’t supposed to be, and I’m sure I match up with some of them. But I never intentionally mimic just to fit into a character. Who would I be imitating? The butches I know, both online and off, are all so different – which brings me full circle to my original point in this paragraph; our butch identities are all comprised of different ingredients.
Being a butch is complex, and I dig it. When I think about what I love about being a butch, it’s easy to think tactically – “What things do I do that make me a butch?” I shave my face and wear my ball cap backward when I watch sports and love manual labor and open doors for my date, but anyone can do that. I went a step further and thought, “How do those things make me feel?” (Ew, feelings!) I can tell you this: I know what my life felt like before and after I came out as a butch, and the difference in my comfort level is astounding. There’s something about having a woman’s hand on my arm that makes me stand a little taller and puff my chest out a little more than usual because I feel strong, capable and trusted. There’s something about buttoning down the perfect men’s shirt, or being told I’m handsome instead of pretty, or receiving a knowing glance from a beautiful woman. Those kind of things feel like they bring my soul to the surface. They make me feel … true.
What does this all mean? Whether it’s how I move, how I speak or how I think, it all illustrates the underlying masculine current running though my veins. My butch identity is reflected by the masculine focus of my gender. It means I get to be myself and do the things I love without having to worry about if it’s right or if it fits, because of course it does – it’s all me.