Butch Please: Anxious Little Butch

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.

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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.

Avatar of Kate

Hard-lovin' butch made of tears, sweat, and spit, in that order. Professional lonesome polecat. Kate is living proof that you can take the hillperson out of the mountains, but she's still probably going to run back to the mountains anyway. Kate prefers the trashy to the classy, and the tender to everything else. Full-time writer, part-time lover. Heart got so big and soggy that she had to cut off all her sleeves.

Kate has written 123 articles for us.

68 Comments

  1. Thumb up 16

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    I can definitely relate to this. My thing is that I feel so guilty for being gay and having issues. I’m a bad queer! I want to show people that gay people can be normal and happy and well-adjusted, but I am none of those. I don’t want to be a bad representation, so I hate it when people know that I am gay and have issues. One or the other I can handle, but not both.

    (I also feel like mental health practitioners make too much of me being gay. I have no idea why I keep trying to kill myself and neither do they, which frustrates them, so they get kind of excited when finding out I’m gay, like it’s something to blame my problems on. They’ve been nothing but supportive, don’t get me wrong, and I’m deep in the Bible belt so that’s not guaranteed, but I still hate disclosing my sexuality to them.)

    • Thumb up 7

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      Yes, THIS! I hate that with my history of mental ill health I’m part of the statistics that say that queer teenagers feel so much worse than their straight counterparts. My teenage depression had basically nothing to do with my sexuality, it had everything to do with feeling inadequate and closed off from the world.

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        well yes, but where did the feelings of inadequacy and being closed off from everyone come from? Most queer people have an entire resulting language and worldview that’s different from the hetero mainstream, even if they aren’t being hassled for that in particular. Some things can be lost in the translation.

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      I think this also effects victims of domestic violence and sexual assault who are LGBT. We have so much pressure to prove that we are good enough. That our relationships are good enough. That we are not broken. It becomes hard when we need someone’s help to put the pieces back together because we don’t want them to see it as the result or cause of the fact we are queer. But queerness itself is not being broken. It is that we are human that we have the same struggles that non queer people do. Our need to project this image of perfection to prove we are good enough to be accepted prevents many of us from seeking help when we need it.

    • Thumb up 9

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      As someone who is queer and working in the mental health field my heart goes out to you. And I felt pulled to tell you that struggling in life is so much more normal than being “well adjusted.” I’ve worked with so many people that were “normal” in every way imaginable, but still having such a hard time just getting through the day. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that we’re all a bit fucked up, it’s really just a matter of degree.

      Either way I just wanted to send you a little bit of internet love!

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      I can very much relate to your situation. I was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended Catholic school for 12 years during the ’70′s and ’80′s so imagine the guilt I felt at being gay as my religion told me I was going to Hell because of my sexual orientation. Then I felt guilty for feeling guilty (as any good Catholic of the time would). I felt like I could not be my authentic, true self which led to more depression and guilt and many suicidal thoughts and attempts.

      My last serious suicide attempt happened less than 3 weeks before my 20th birthday and I ended up in a private psych hospital. The doctors and social workers (correctly) identified my feelings of guilt about being a butch lesbian and everything I was doing to deny and hide my real self from everyone as the underlying cause of my depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide attempts.

      Once I was able to accept and BE my real, authentic self (which took several years), I started feeling better about myself and found the guilt and depression lifted from me.

      Hang in there. I know it’s not easy because I’ve been there myself. Just remember that suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems. As they say in AA, This Too Shall Pass (good, bad, indifferent). Keep reaching out for support from others who have had or are experiencing similar situations,even if it’s only safe for you to do so online. It will help you keep your sanity and to see that you are not alone. I didn’t have the great tool of the internet and I still survived, thrived and became a happy, well adjusted butch lesbian who is proud to be a woman.

  2. Thumb up 4

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    Once again another amazingly written piece. I share your anxiety problem, and am actually relieved to know that someone else has also experienced anxiety to this type of degree. I was honestly starting to think I may be the only one.

    Personally, I used to only have to deal with anxiety when I was in a big group of people, but now just walking into the store to pay for gas jacks up my heart rate and brings on the unease. Many of my friends used to tell me I was something of an inspiration to them because of my self-confidence, and I honestly didn’t see how simply being myself was inspiring. Looking back on it, I can see the difference in myself and it makes me wonder what caused such a change in myself. I would like to think it’s only because of the things I have experienced over the last few years, and it’s just something I will grow out of, but part of me worries that this type of anxiety is permanent. Whatever the case, I would love to find out how to get back into the very, sometimes too, self-confident person I used to be.

  3. Thumb up 4

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    “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 right here is so, so perfect and describes what I feel so well. I worry that since I’m not feminine at all but at the same time not all that butch that I won’t be seen as desirable by anyone.

  4. Thumb up 5

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    I started crying right after the statue of liberty metaphor and it was a little soul-healing moment for me <3 thank you so much for sharing this part of yourself.

  5. Thumb up 4

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    On days when I’m most dysmorphic (usually around my period) binding has really helped me. I’ve never had a full blown panic attack not caused by pot…I’m usually just anxious that I can’t stop my brain from running a mile a minute. I love reading your articles because I used to have anxiety over what it meant to feel *so much better* when I bind. Does this mean I’m trans*? That I should change my name, start asking people to call me by male pronouns? Not necessarily. Knowing this has really helped me.

  6. Thumb up 5

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    I too relate to these sentiments a great deal. Honestly, about a year ago when a friend of mine said something to the effect of “Oh come on, you’re butch. There is so much respect for butches in the community. People think you’re hot.” and for the first time I actively tried to believe these things were true, to let them empower me the way I wanted to feel empowered. But at nearly 40 years old it is still difficult and I have so much anxiety around my body image issues, around public restroom use, around expectations that people within our community have of me based on my presentation and reactions that people outside of our community have based on my presentation. It’s crippling. I have become less likely to accept invitations as I’ve gotten older and even my gf refers to me as a “grumpy old man”. It’s not a quality I want to have nor do I think that’s sexy so I want to change but that brings up a whole slew of anxieties in and of itself.
    Perhaps we need an anxious butch support group. lol….sort of….

  7. Thumb up 4

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    Essays like this make me feel so grateful that I was lucky enough to be born with a body I feel comfortable occupying. I myself am a very anxious person but there is nothing in my life as confusing and anxiety-causing as body dysphoria or anything of that ilk. Stay strong Kade, your column is one of ny favourites on the site :)

  8. Thumb up 8

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    “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 is something a huge number of trans people (myself included) feel as well. No matter how far you come, your body and how you present it is never as good as “the real article.” The real article can be however you idealize you’re supposed to look or the body you’re supposed to have (and this is on top of things like weight, height, or whatever ‘normal’ people go through). You’re pretty much in a permanent state of feeling like a broken, unwanted toy. Self-acceptance for folks on our spectrum can be a looong journey.

  9. Thumb up 2

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    I am SO happy that you wrote this. I don’t have full blown panic attacks regularly, but i’ve always been an anxious person, finding out I was queer and trying to hide it from the world only made it worse. I sort of feel like if i’m flawed, i’m not ‘allowed’ to be queer, or that it’s unacceptable. But talking about it definitely makes me feel like i’m not crazy, and makes me feel less alone. This was beautiful as always, thank you for exposing such intimate parts of yourself.

  10. Thumb up 5

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    I actually almost stopped reading this halfway through because sometimes it’s hard to face my anxiety and recognize that it’s a thing. For me though, talking openly about it and hearing other people talk openly about their experiences has been a really healing part of it, so thank you so much for sharing.

  11. Thumb up 4

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    “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…”

    Wow, you just pretty much described what has plagued me my entire life.

    Although I’ve forced myself to get over my anxiety (or “Social Phobia”) without the aid of meds, drugs or alcohol – I occasionally catch myself having a “funny” moment … Like I regularly walk over a bridge to a friend’s house and if there’s a guy walking in my direction, I’m fairly convinced he’s going to scoop me up and throw me over the edge into the river o.O

    Yeah, other than that and a pathological fear of public speaking, I’m fine lol :D

  12. Thumb up 2

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    All I can say is Thank You!! Thanks for writing about something that plagues my life, along with severe depression. I can’t walk into a room without paranoia plaguing my thoughts. They must be talking about me, judging me labeling me. I’m not good enough for that person,that job, etc. I am always on the lookout for someone to jump me, or hit me in some way; either emotionally or physically. I’ve always been “the strong one” so trying to admit their is anything wrong just flat out sucks, and like someone state before, physchologist/physchiatrist think that somehow being gay explains all my problems. Which in turn makes me anxious, because now their is “proof” there is something “wrong” with me. I’ve never liked my body, and I’ve never “fit” anywhere. I am not out, although the few friends I have that know I’m gay, tend to think everyone knows. Why do they think that,….oh yea because I’m “butch”.

    “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 I totally relate to.

    Then you add a TBI and the fact that I’m a Identical twin (she’s straight) into the formula and look out, cause the ride gets pretty wild. Insomnia, headaches, fatigue, and memory issues, greatly compound my anxiety. Not to mention the fact that I’ve been compared to her my whole life, so If she is one way then I must be too. Crazy I know, but that is how my family, and some friends think. So yea I get the anxiety thing!
    I get anxious at restaurants, going into bathrooms, and even when shopping for jeans…..why, because I don’t want to be embarrassed, or even more so embarrass the people I’m with. I wish I could be confident, but even when I try I feel just that; like I’m trying. I guess for now just know that you aren’t alone, and hopefully that will help you, even if only for a moment. I don’t know when, how, or if it gets any better. But I’m glad to know that I’m not alone in all of this!

  13. Thumb up 5

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    You are human. You are allowed to be sensitive and butch and anxious and strong and raw. You are an endearing person. I know so many people read your words and connect to them. I’m femme and I can relate to you. You have power in your voice. Even in your anxieties there is a subtle strength. One that comes from honesty. Your vulnerability is sexy. We all struggle and feel judged. And often it’s because we are being judged! But fuck them. Fuck those that don’t see you for the beautiful person you are. Because that’s who you are Kate. You are beautiful.

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      OK, here’s the deal: while the conclusion of Kate’s article was beautiful, I’ve read such an appeal about a hundred times over the years in queer articles. It doesn’t happen. And yet you get tons of people commenting how misunderstood they feel but f**k the people who misunderstand them. It doesn’t wash. There’s a piece missing. I think we’re all so damned busy feeling injured we’re not listening to each other. And I blame myself. Absolutely I do. I act like that. I know what I’m doing when I do it. There ARE times when you’ve fumbled around and been bounced around by others so much that the sense of righteous anger and injury is all you have. I get that too. My question is how to fix it all in real time. And to fix it when you are dealing with different worldviews and different self-defense systems, different things which offend us or violate our personal code. (I haven’t spoken to a friend in weeks because I suspect she hasn’t been truthful with me, and I expected that of her. But I suspect that if I address it, the deep anger will be mutual.) It all becomes that much more impossible and delicate with people you don’t know – you can be someone’s salvation or someone’s trigger – if you even manage to bury your anxieties long enough to try.

      Anyway. Which is just a very long way of wondering HOW DO WE FIX IT.

  14. Thumb up 5

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    “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.’ ”

    I’m still wrapping my brain around why that bit resonated with me, but it did, and thank you.

  15. Thumb up 11

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    Thank you for writing so eloquently on this subject. Unfortunately you’re certainly not alone when it comes to anxiety. And as far as clubs go, this one is pretty crummy.

    If only after discovering that one is anxious, 3-5 working days later, some sort of Club intro pack could arrive in the mail. And then it would be more like “well I’m anxious, but now I have this totally sweet tote bag for carrying all of my library books”.

  16. Thumb up 6

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    Butch Please has quickly become my favorite segment because it never fails to smother the ugliest of my insides and tell me that I’m absolutely not alone.

    Is it completely inappropriate to want to snuggle with every person on here after reading your pieces?

    • Thumb up 4

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      same here. i feel like i’m a raw nerve a lot of the time, like all these hot queers and butches have it all together and i’m just…wrong. i feel so lucky to be able to read these columns right now; i feel like they’re giving me an empathy for people i could only feel defensive around before, and creating the potential for tenderness and support between us instead of feeling like i have to prove myself.

  17. Thumb up 4

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    “… and no matter what else happens, we have to remember that we are here to take care of each other.”
    I want to write this on the walls of every space where someone feels anxious, unsafe, unwanted, and unlovable. Lord knows I’ve been there before. Loved this piece so much.

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    Reading this reminded me of this video I watched on Ted by this social worker named Brene Brown. In her video she discusses vulnerability and how allowing ourselves to be vulnerable may seem difficult and counterintuitive, but it is actually better for us in the end. Letting yourself be vulnerable enables you to be completely open and honest about yourself. Vulnerability may seem like our weakest state but it’s really our strongest, because when we’re vulnerable we have no secrets, nothing that can used against us. It really is a powerful thing. She studies vulnerability for ten years and found that people who allowed themselves to be vulnerable were more happy and comfortable with themselves in the end.

    I wanted to tell you this Kate, because a lot of times in “Butch Please”, you seem to equate vulnerability with weakness or not being masculine enough, but I think it’s just the opposite. I think your vulnerability, your struggles, your anxiety and your ability
    to discuss them honestly and articulately, are exactly what make such a strong, desirable butch woman. You really are a tough person, and not in a fake “Look at me, I’m a big, bad butch and i own the place bitches!” way, but in a mature “I’m gonna get through this even though it’s hard and sometimes scary” way. I think you’re a very genuine and inspiring person.

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      Yes! Brene Brown has done two TED talks and they are both fantastic. She is very charming and I find what she has to say enlightening and uplifting. I felt a lot better about myself after I watched each talk, and now her talk about vulnerability is one of the things I use for self-care when I’m feeling awful. I have one of her books on order (Daring Greatly).

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      for so long i lived in a world where i defined strength in one way and it had to do with a lack of vulnerability. as i get older i’m slowly, slowly able to move away from that and have gotten better at exposing my own vulnerabilities myself, and accepting that it doesn’t make me weak or inferior.

  19. Thumb up 2

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    Something that I found helped with my anxiety was to try and stop beating myself up for feeling those anxious feelings. I read a book about anxiety and mindfulness, and it made me realise that when I tell myself I shouldn’t feel that way, or that I am being silly for having those feelings about something that other people don’t think twice about, it just makes all those feelings so much worse. So now I try (and I don’t always succeed) to tell myself that it’s ok to feel this way, that it’s not unreasonable. Taking some deep breaths and accepting the anxiety has somehow made me feel much better than fighting it ever did.

  20. Thumb up 4

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    Kate you most snazzy and eloquent of creatures, once again it is a privilege and a joy to read the words that have been on my mind but ones that I have never been able to materialise. This is my favourite column!

  21. Thumb up 2

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    try to remind yourself that almost 100% of this anxiety stems from the way society views you/ wants to view you. Once you accept that labels are different for everyone, who or what you accept in another person is completely up to you. life opens up a lot when there are no boundaries or definitions for anything and anything is possible. this is something i struggle with daily. it’s comforting somehow to know that other people relate, but also sad to see that it’s almost like an accepted curse that you have to deal with. you don’t. really, you have to say fuck everyone else and live for yourself or you’ll never make it (unless you want to be an emotional cripple for a large portion of your life.)

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      but see, therein lies the rub- it’s impossible to live completely uncaring of what society thinks. You need to get a job, make a living, earn money, or make connections in certain places to move up or ahead in life. And it’s really, really hard when all of society has a built in prejudice against you or a voice that says, skip this person, hire the next just because of your identity and your presentation. Because of who you are. Because you are simply living your life and breathing you are undesirable and unwanted. That’s what hurts the most and you have to be an emotional cripple, to walk around numb in order to not let it get to you and develop an all consuming desire to end your own life. Not giving a fuck is so much easier said than done

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    hey kate,
    i hope you wont mind me being too forward, but i think you might be an hsp or highly sensitive person. i am one too and your essays strike too close to home to be coincidence. i just want to provide you with a resource: http://www.hsperson.com/
    its a great site and it has a self test if you want to check it out. ive read “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine Aron, the site’s creator, and it has lots of tips and advice to help with anxiety. its really helped me so i just wanted to throw it out there. it’s not a cure-all but what in life is? take care of yourself!
    sincerely, hsp butch

  23. Thumb up 2

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    If you measure yourself on the scale (stratification/hierarchy) of gender — “femininity” to “masculinity” — you will never measure up. That’s the purpose of gender. Gender is nothing more than a set of stereotypes based on sex, and it’s harmful in more ways than you can count. If you fight against gender and sex stereotypes, you not only make the world better for women (and men too, but mostly women), you also have the therapeutic benefit of accepting yourself as a whole, complicated, and complete person — the way you are! Femininity and masculinity are bullsh*t lies made up by toy companies and the cosmetics industry to sell more stuff.

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    The other side of the gender coin are the “feminine” identified women who also experience debilitating anxiety because they will never be “feminine” enough. We shave and tweeze, spend kabillions on creams and cosmetics, agonize about our flawed everything, resort to surgery for our fat, our breasts, about wrinkles, our misshapen labia (forgodsake!). Anxiety is what makes us starve ourselves, spend $$ on diets, liposuction, etc. Gender and anxiety go hand in hand. Why not just reject it altogether? Be yourself, love your body, and resist when others try to put you in a box. It’s political, but it’s also therapy.

  25. Thumb up 1

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    I feel so much of the same anxiety, but I don’t think my queerness has much to do with it. Thank you so much for sharing this. Reading someone else describe practically verbatim what I feel makes me feel a whole lot less alone.

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    As one who identifies as butch, I find it sad and disturbing how that identity has become so distorted, twisted and ingrained in gender roles/identity with younger lesbians. I never followed that whole butch = man, femme = woman ideology anyway. For me, butch is a state of being that breaks the gender binary rather than reinforcing it. I do not see myself as male, a man or manly, although I am misgendered by others at times. I consider myself a 100% female/woman, butch lesbian and proud of it.

    I hope this gender role/identity belief system burns out fast before a whole generation of butch lesbian women who are comfortable with and proud of being female is lost to transitioning because they are pressured by peers to do so.

    I am so grateful that I didn’t have this to struggle with on top of all the other issues/problems I had to deal with or I probably would have succeeded in killing myself.

    My sincerest hopes that you are able to successfully navigate all this bullshit so that you may become your true, authentic self (just as I was able to do, with effort and hard work on myself and my own internalized view of myself). This doesn’t necessarily mean transitioning. You can learn and grow to love yourself and reclaim the true identity of a butch lesbian woman/female. If you can, you’ll find what a truly strong butch is.

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      I’m with you on how damaging the gender binary and stereotypes are, but I’m really uncomfortable with your suggestion that “butch lesbian women who are comfortable with and proud of being female” would actually transition due to peer pressure. Transitioning to male isn’t something that a proud woman would do because people tell her that being butch or queer isn’t alright, and I think it’s pretty implausible to suggest that the stigma of being a butch lesbian is greater than the problems faced by a transgender person (although trans men typically have it easier than trans women).

      Transitioning to get away from the ‘wrong’ sexuality is actually a pretty pervasive myth that’s damaging to the trans* community – people asking gay trans* people why they would bother transitioning if they’re still going to be gay. The answer is that pretty much nobody is going to jump through the endless hoops and costs and fucking nightmares entailed in transitioning just to ‘fix’ their sexuality – it’s about a deep discomfort with your assigned sex. Someone who doesn’t experience that isn’t going to transition. Even if there are occasional cases of this happening, this wouldn’t suggest the frankly ridiculous idea of “a whole generation… lost to transitioning”.

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    New to your blog, but really like your stuff. Especially as a mental health professional and a queer person, I like how you are taking the jargon out of concepts like intersectionality; and writing with layers and wit. It’s accessible and I think right where need to be headed, owning and sharing ourselves with each other in a way that allows conversation, instead of a lot of really loud people in one room. Keep it coming.

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    “Every face I pass on the street is one that could attack me, every passing car about to pull me into its dark windows.”

    This, among many other things, caught my attention. Things like this always go through my head when I’m walking alone almost anywhere. I am always a little tense, a little paranoid, a little anxious, trying to be a little more alert. I have a kind of “easily readable” presentation and it’s always in the back of my head. Scenes and scenarios of what I would do, could do, how I would react and be prepared. With so many sexual assault statistics about women floating around (they are literally posted around campus[a double-edged sword perhaps]) coupled with a queer look, there comes a sense of inevitability; a persistent spectre of violence.

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    gd I love the way you write. Your words in and of themselves are beautiful-

    “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.”

    And the topics are equally beautiful, heart wrenching, real, and honest.
    I wish I could write as well as you so I could explain how much I love and appreciate this column.
    I have to read your posts a few times to process them, the first time is pure emotion, you make me feel what you feel. Then I take some time to turn them over a few times, like examining jewels, go back to them a few days later, understand more, feel more, share with someone so I can talk about it. Every one of these posts is a bit of Truth.

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    It’s no wonder there is so much anxiety for people who equate butch identity with masculinity. This viewpoint is regressive and capitulates to the gender binary (actually a hierarchy) that is so damaging to women. There are no human characteristics that are intrinsically masculine or feminine, much less our shirts and pants and haircuts. Butch does not equal masculine. That is such an insult to all the awesome lesbian butch lesbians who have bravely stood out when it wasn’t cool, and continue to stand up for the power of resisting gender tyranny.

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    Things have gotten SO CONFUSING with all the ‘identities and labels’ nonsense, I can’t even keep up with it. And perhaps it’s a mass hysteria of insanity this whole ‘I don’t fit in, I have gender dysphoria’.

    EVERY BUTCH has gone through that, and every tomboy because it’s not acceptable to REFUSE the narrow boxes females are allowed. But over time, in a strong supportive Dyke community where it’s OK to be who we are, AS we are, strong, powerful women who don’t kowtow to femininity, and that it’s OK to be a woman, to be female AND to be Butch, to be BOTH and a Dyke, all these things, dealing with both sexism and lesbophobia, once you grow up and come out and KNOW who you are, and everyone around you is not pushing you to ‘transition’ cuz you don’t fit in, then MAYBE you can find some peace.

    I had my differences, I saw how Butches were expected to be with Femmes, how if you were Butch you were supposed to imitate ‘manhood’ and be manly and ‘like a man’, yet still in the presence of all women, that it’s LETTING GO of those false hetero patriarchal EXPECTATIONS and narrow boxes that then one can integrate ALL of one’s Being, and be fully self-accepting. And to surround oneself with those who own ALL their emotions, do not live out stereotyped roles from the 1950′s, and that one can be womonly and Butch, can be strong AND sensitive, emotional and powerful, can be all these things, and integrate all these Selves together. It took for me, getting clean and sober to let go of the ‘coolness in the corner’ hiding my vulnerability publicly and who I am from others, and integrating all parts of myself together. You sound very, very young, with teenage/20 something angst, and trying to fit in with your peers..but once you find YOUR OWN PERSON, and that you no longer need to ‘fit in’ to any stereotypes, you, and we can be ALL of who we are.

    Thank goodness for my Butch on Butch relationship with my current partner and spouse who accepts all levels of my personality and that neither she nor I are ‘any less Butch’ because we happen to be emotional, tender and sometimes fierce, BUTCH DYKE WOMEN!

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      a few points i want to make absolutely clear:

      i can be butch AND genderqueer

      i DO have gender dysphoria, it is not a “mass hysteria”

      my experience of butchness, gender expression, etc, is not a result of me “trying to fit in with my peers” or being afraid of my “womanhood”

      i am not a woman – at least not in the sense you describe it. i am GENDERQUEER and that to me means maybe sometimes i am a woman but most of the time i am neither or both or something else entirely

      i will not someday realize after a great deal of soul-searching that this was “youthful angst” and i am in fact a butch woman as opposed to a genderqueer butch

      please don’t write off genderqueer and non-binary identities as lost souls or people who have not yet come to terms with their femaleness. i don’t have to be female to be butch. i will not wake up someday and embrace my femaleness. it is as much a construction as every other role and label in life. the decision to embrace or defy or subvert these labels are entirely our own.

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        Kate – You may not identify as a woman, but biologically you are female and as such you have menstruated, you are vulnerable to rape. Your original post talked about anxiety related to not feeling as masculine as your ideal self. Gender is roles and expectations -and we can never live up to our ideals. So the way to deal with anxiety may be to accept yourself as you are. You don’t have to be ‘the man’ to be a beautiful butch worthy of love and respect.
        I can see wanting to be free of roles – I just cannot get embracing a new role, as constricting as the other binary, that you can never completely win. And then complaining that you can’t be your ideal. Gender is fucked. It exists to imprison us.

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    I read as butch, but don’t really have it as an identity. Identity fits us into a place in everyones’ minds. It may help you find your tribe but it also defines you, and I love the freedom of being undefinable.

    I love being a woman – I can wear short hair, lead when I dance, wear practical clothes and shoes, ride a motorcycle, and still be an awesome mom to the kids I birthed. I loved breastfeeding. So I identify more as a dyke – because masculine and feminine are labels, and labels constrain us. I don’t need to perform for anyone, except maybe a lover.

    As an older dyke, I have known women in the roles of butch and femme. It is an effort to fit into straight society, when tere were no role models of all that a lesbian woman can be. We broke out of those roles. I hate seeing the gender queer performances of women packing, trying to be male because – because – because. Men are confined creatures too. I hate seeing woman confine their strength and beauty by taking on the roles of the dominators or dominated. We are who we are, maybe a glimpse of what we could be in a better world.

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    Your writing is exquisite (god, the imagery of the heart like weathered wood gives me little “oh this is glorious” twinges in my chest) and intensely powerful, and clearly struck a chord with me and many other readers. Thank you for sharing such personal stories and being willing to open up this conversation.
    Mental illness is an issue that sometimes gets shoved under the rug in LGBTQ communities, because our sexual orientations have been classified as mental illness in the past, and we’re afraid that people will latch onto actual mental health issues and try to blame our queerness on that. For me, being queer and having mental illness are entirely unrelated– I didn’t realize I liked girls until I was out of high school, and had been dealing with OCD for 12 years.
    Societal pressures associated with being anything but straight can worsen existing tendencies towards mental illness, but being queer didn’t make me crazy, and being crazy didn’t make me queer. They’re two parts of my identity, related only in their both being etched into my brain chemistry. I love being queer, and hate being crazy– I don’t need to be straightened out, but I do need help cutting back the worst of the grasping brambles in my head.

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    With all due respect, Kate, femaleness is most certainly not a construct. Femaleness is a biological reality. Femininity is a construct. Gender is a construct.

    The populations of India and China are disproportionately male due to the abortion of girls, who are aborted because of their sex, not their “gender.”

    Girls around the world are sold in sexual slavery because of their sex, not their “gender.”

    Girls are denied education in many parts of the world because of their sex, not their “gender.”

    Women are raped in warfare because of their sex, not their gender.
    Women are left to die after childbirth because of their sex, not their “gender.”
    Of course I could go on, but you could just watch Half the Sky, or freakin google the systemic atrocities faced by females based on SEX, around the world. You can believe it’s okay to embrace stereotpyes, and everyone gets to be choosey snowflakes about their identities, but if you think that being female is just another choice in life, you are embarassingly wrong.

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    Thanks to people like Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes, Melissa Etheridge, Rachel Maddow and more, the butch woman in all of her splendor is being brought to the forefront more and more and we can stand up and be proud of who we are! This was one of the major inspirations behind us starting the clothing line. Truly a brand for us made by us! http://www.hautebutch.com/ We salute all of the butches of the world who have the courage and and sheer awesomeness to be who you are and thank you to Butch Please for providing this forum for expression, inspiration and validation!

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    You are amazing. I was googling anti-anxiety tips when I decided to go read on of your Butch Please posts (they always make me feel better). Anyways, this actually made me tear up because I relate to it so much. You rock.

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    Here’s a rub: for the alt-gendered, relationships are about being perceived properly, and perceiving properly. Yet, that’s impossible without knowing someone well. But finding that person is sooooo damn hard (oh gay cupid) ….how hard it is to be patient, to trust and be conservative.

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    Thank you so much for this essay. I’m a bi single mom and nature gave me an androgynous appearance. I’m also nearing 40, and I’m a lifelong sufferer of anxiety. Frankly it’s alienating. I live in the ‘burbs, I have to deal with straight mommies and daddies, and I hate it. Yes, I’m venting incoherently.

    Another commment: Michelle’s comment above about binding really hit home for me. I absolutely can’t stand having breasts and body fat right before my period. I’ve considered binding but haven’t mustered up the courage to go buy a binder from the local women’s “toy” store. I feel relief when I do sort of bind (using a sports bra). And to think I had a breast reduction in 2005…

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