BUTCH PLEASE is all about a butch and her adventures in queer masculinity, with dabblings in such topics as gender roles, boy briefs, and aftershave.
Header by Rory Midhani
Dear little sister, brother, sibling, or child,
Is today the day you are calling yourself butch for the first time? If so, this letter is for you. It’s also for you on the day when you’re not ready to give yourself a name, and on the day when you’ve been called butch by a boy who wanted to hurt you, and on the day when you kiss the girl who calls you a baby butch in her sheets. If the word makes you cry, this letter is for you. If the word makes you proud, this letter is for you, too.
Maybe you have said it to your mirror, or underlined it in the book that you’ve slid between pillow and mattress. Your cat knows the word because he heard you whispering it in the shower. Maybe you’ve known ‘butch’ for your whole life, or one whole year, or the single minute that made your head spin with all that resolution.
Did you know it only takes one thought to curl itself into the shape of a fist? Did you hear about the straw that broke the camel’s back? You are not the straw, or the camel. You, my baby butch, are the desert, and the rain that only needs to come once to nourish it all.
I know the street corner where you and the girl you loved without words once wrote your names using twigs and nails. When you peeled back the plastic and pressed your hand into the wet cement, did you know that someday you’d come back to the place and you’d smile at the memory? Did you know what the handprint said? It said ‘I am here, I am in love.’ It said ‘butch.’
Do you remember that nosebleed? The one that left red constellations across barstools and scattered like dice on the sidewalk? If you’d opened your palm for one second, you’d see that the lines in your palm that ran red were spelling out ‘butch,’ clear as day.
There was the night when you were drunk in the bathtub and the girl with the braid swung her legs over the side. You thought you could see Jesus in those legs the way people see Jesus in toast or wallpaper. She shaved your head while you laughed into a bottle of schnapps. Your hair was falling into your lap like a hundred promises coming true and each follicle was saying ‘butch, butch’ in a chorus. And the next day when they stared, when their eyes couldn’t meet yours, those gazes too were saying ‘butch’ and you remember what you did then? You took what they said and you sewed it into your shirt, right between the top button and the tie you learned how to tie on your own.
The switchblade your father left you? Butch. Your knuckles curling like poetry? Butch. The night you believed in God for three hours? Butch. The tattoo in Amsterdam that made you cry like a baby? Butch. The dent in your flask from the kid who knocked you into the wall with a kiss? Butch. And the stars, too; if you stare long enough, you’ll see how they’re spelling it out with each little wink and nod. You’ll never forget the night your mother laid in the grass with you and said that your grandfather was in the stars. He was up there, spelling out ‘butch’ with celestial Scrabble tiles.
But butch is in the other parts of you, too. You couldn’t see it and they’d never tell you, but there, in your favorite shade of pink thread, was ‘butch’ spelled along the ribbon of that dress. ‘Butch’ threaded through a ponytail, and scuffed into your Mary Janes. That nail polish says ‘butch’ just as well as that jackknife. You can keep both in your back pocket and know that they learned to spell just fine.
Are you out there? Is your name still hanging in the closet, or have you pinned it to your diaphragm so it swells with stubborn pride every time you take a breath? Swallow that mouthful of air and hold it for a few seconds longer — do you feel the power of that word pressing against your ribs? It’s been known to rip through guts thicker than yours or mine, but there’s a flush in your cheeks that I’ve seen in my mirror and I think we both know the risk is worth it.
It won’t be easy. Some days, it’s too heavy to carry down the street, and you’ll be struggling under its weight before you realize you forgot your shoes. You’ll think it’s a limp, or a dead dog on a leash, or a wound that’s gone rotten in your side before you ever think it’s a saving grace. And if you’re waiting for the world to smack you in the face — if it’s a fight you’re holding out for — you’ll get it. Collect your teeth from the boxing ring and you’ll see the way ‘butch’ is written into the enamel. You’ll get a mean left hook from how far you hurl it away from yourself, and when they sling it right back, you won’t think twice about standing in the way.
But you remember what they told you about foxfire. You think you’ve got yourself a swamp until you see the way it shines in the dark.
I have every faith in you, baby butch. I know you will be careful with this word and its legacy. It looks like a badge but it feels like a battleaxe, and I need you to know that it’s five times as difficult to earn and ten million times more dangerous. You weren’t awarded butch at the end of a great queer race. You cannot hang it in your living room or shine it on your mantle. You dug it up from the ground. You were on your knees, scraping at the soil with your short nails and your bloody hands. You found ‘butch’ in your own bones and you sucked out the marrow until your tongue knew the word by heart. And there are other names and other terms that were just as hard to find as yours, and you’re not to ever assume that the hole you made in the ground was deeper than anyone else’s. You had best promise me that right now.