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 Rosa Middleton
I’ve talked about butch’s common translation to swagger, confidence, the commitment to owning oneself via the complicated channels of masculinity. I’ve talked about my own experience with emotions and my difficulty in admitting that they are a huge part of my life. I’ve talked about so many parts of myself that I would be hard-pressed to ever bring up in most conversations, things I’ve done a very good job of covering up and keeping in my back pocket.
The process of writing this column is a very strange one. The knowledge that every week I will be taking out another piece of myself and attempting to put it on display leaves me a little worn out, and I find that after I’ve unhinged the piece, it’s very hard to put it back in again. I’ll find it’s swelled up from all the jostling and consideration. It might have even latched itself onto someone else’s sorrows, and then I realize it’s never going to fit again. It can’t return to the back pocket, at least for a long time, and it’s only proper placement is pinned directly to my sleeve, or the breast of my jacket.
Here we come to a topic I’ve been aiming to talk about for a while. If you’ve ever held a gun, you know that the aiming all depends on the instrument itself, and since this column continues to change shapes in my hands, my aim’s been awfully poor. I’ve received all kinds of messages asking me to talk about this, since I often allude to it while simultaneously shuffling it to the back of the deck, but I think it finally warrants a conversation.
Half of the time I am an incredibly anxious little creature. My heart curls in on itself like a fist and I dismiss all physical needs to ponder over and over again why something absolutely positively must be my fault, as if there could be another option. I think of conversations I’ve had and how everything I said was in some way wrong, insensitive, awkward, ridiculous. Every face I pass on the street is one that could attack me, every passing car about to pull me into its dark windows. I doubt myself, my friendship, my relationships, my abilities. I turn down about half the invitations I receive, and the ones I swear I'll make I have to talk myself into with a few hours in a mirror and the occasional liquid courage. I juggle worst case scenarios on my trolley ride as if they were a case of knives. If I could trade anxieties like playing cards, I’d need two thick rubber bands to keep my deck in place.
Anxiety loves to put up walls, force us through detours or aim us straight for collisions. It especially loves to cut us off from the rest of the world, and tell us that we are alone in our issues, alone in our will to keep going, abandoned by care and trust and love. In moments of anxiety, I freeze, I stall, and then I shut down. Even if I’ve pushed it to the back of my mind with hands that have become inhumanly strong from the practice, it manages to manifest like a limp, a tired reminder. All this, with the simultaneous urge to backtrack and make sure every possible thing that could go wrong is not going wrong. with anxiety, I am convinced that everything is going wrong, and if it’s not going wrong at this minute, it will very soon. I get anxious about the anxiety. I feel anxiety over the anxiety I anticipate having once I’ve internalized another anxiety! This vicious biting cycle, and I say it to my heart of hearts, a very troubled little organ, is entirely my fault and burden to bear.
To be completely honest with you, it makes me feel very lonely.
Besides the racing pulse, headaches, and need to crawl under a large object and never emerge again, the resulting panic attacks are always a distinct pleasure. If you’re familiar with panic attacks, you know how the physical collapse of your body, the feeling that death is sitting on your back and playing with your hair is like nothing else.
I find that queerness is a very anxious state. Society demands of queerness a continual need to prove oneself and one’s non-normativity over and over again. Society asks for testimonies and narratives as part of this proof, and it becomes an exhausting and anxious process, this turning out our pockets and saying “I fuck this way, so I can prove I am this. I dress this way, so I can prove I am this. I jump through your hoop, so I can prove I am this.” And ultimately the proof has nothing to do with whether or not we wish to belong in this society: It has everything to do with survival, with the understanding that to continue and thrive, we do have to toe certain hegemonic lines or be forever banged along in the process.
Anxiety on a butch is no different than anxiety on anyone else, but somehow I feel an immense shame as a result of the two’s interactions. As a butch, I feel as though I am meant to be the strong stable one whose issues are either well-tucked away or easily addressed. When anxiety comes into the picture, I am already eager to push everything and everyone away from me to keep them from seeing my suddenly externalized weakness. The strength of a label like butch or femme means that there is a scale of “success” in how these terms of presented - a scale that I don’t think we mean to put in place but is inherent in binaries and the way cultures internalize them. As a result of this scale, I constantly feel an anxiety that I am not being “successful” enough in my presentation of butch, of desirability, of queerness. I feel anxious that I am never what a partner expects or wants in me because I am not the butch, the masculine person, the “man” that they initially desired and deserve. Sometimes I will see another body and be overcome with an anxiety that I am not as “good” at butchness as they are, not as sexy or confident, not as tough or lovable. This often spirals into triggered dysphoria, and I’ll find myself wrapping my body up for days until I don’t realize that I am attached to it anymore.
I know so many people who deal with anxiety constantly. I don’t think a single one of my friends or partners has ever not had the burden of anxiety on their shoulders, and I’m not sure if that’s a result of like finding like, or the fact that we are all suffering from such an ache in one way or another. Maybe it’s because nearly all of my friends are queer or extremely close allies of the community, and deal with their own innate struggles in coming to terms with their identities and labels, struggles that often spark self-doubt and hurt. Sometimes the world feels like the Statue of Liberty - a gift we received without remembering the occasion - and we’re all just little people walking around in her head, bumping into each other while we try to see the view. I acknowledge that everyone is a little bit bruised as a result of this bumping and continual jostling. I don’t know anyone whose heart hasn’t been misshapen and warped like old wood left to the weather. This is because tears leave their mark on us just as well as the rain does, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I’d like desperately to get over my anxieties and soothe the ones of my friends and lovers, but anxiety is a bitch because it’s dug deep down in our soil, with strong roots that have been nourished over many years and kinds of weather. I don’t have the solution right now, and I’ve yet to meet someone who has completely absolved themselves of the little germs. I wish I could end this essay on a bright and inspirational note, a few words of wisdom on how to deal with anxiety, but the fact of the matter is that I simply have no idea. I've never found a single thing that helped all of the time, and I've never found a solution that pulled me all the way back from the brink. Some of the things I've earlier included in my 25 Things I Do To Make My Body Dysphoria Smaller And Quieter remain helpful in these instances. I believe strongly in self-care, and believe that it's a radical and decolonizing act that is necessary for everyone who is hard on their body.
The one thing I can stress above all others is that you and I are not alone. I've written this column as a way of exploring my own very distinct and personal experiences, but at the end of the day, your responses have shown that many of these experiences are shared and common, across many lines and boundaries. Community has been the thing that has pulled me through more than anything else, and no matter what else happens, we have to remember that we are here to take care of each other.
Special Note: Autostraddle's "First Person" personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.