Butch Please: Butch and Swag

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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“There’s always one,” she says, and clinks my drink. “The baby butch that thinks she’s Shane.”

She’s a friend of a friend, but we’ve been at this bar long enough tonight to talk in terms of shows we can always assume the other’s seen – and what a strange culture this is, that we can always assume someone else has seen a show as problematic and ridiculous as The L Word. She’s talking about the maybe-21-but-probably-not-yet butch who is making their way through the crowd, grabbing at waists. Skinny arms with leather bracelets, loose tank top. Dog tags, faux-hawk, lip ring. Every masculine-presenting queer who lived through the Shane era knows this look seems to only be celebrated on the pale, boy-hipped, and bony among us, and this kid’s a part of that very small percentage. There’s a lot of touching going on, a lot of whispering in ears and fingers closing around wrists, pulling the pretty girls closer. I can’t tell if it’s well-received or not. I am reluctant when it comes to physical contact with strangers or recent acquaintances. I can never tell what someone new wants from me when they try to rest their body against mine. I like grey areas, just not the ones pressing against my skin.

nekkid

As a butch person, I battle my actual desires, and the desires I feel imposed on me as a result of social expectations. As a butch, I want this “game” that I keep hearing about; I want to understand the hype. I want to be able to look at a girl and give a nod, and know that’s all I need. I want to be so damn good at whatever part of flirting we are supposed to be so good at, but I also want to nod at a girl not just so that I can have a sense of conquest, but so I can take her to a warm room where her whole life is spelled out in the way she pushes her hair behind her ear. I want to be good at this whole personality thing, so charismatic that girls fall over me, but I also want to fall for someone because she wrinkles her nose a certain way when she laughs. I want to be a “successful” butch, but the butches I’ve seen exalted are the same ones who tweet “fuck bitches, get money” and talk about the women they’ve fucked as if they come in collectible and limited editions, up for trade. I feel like I’m 13 again and trying to own my nerdy outcast status while vaguely wanting to be “popular,” wanting it because it seemed like those people were so much happier and traveled the world in such a smoother, lighter way. We don’t really want to be those people, but we want the ease that we read in their lives.

There is a specific demeanor that seems to go hand in hand with butchness. It’s the cocky grin, the self-assured nod. It’s the way a masculine person sometimes moves through a space of feminine people, the ease of their navigation and the reception of that movement. I can’t tell if I’m comfortable with it or not. I know I do it sometimes. I like the feeling of being confident, being able to grin at someone and nod, to feel as if you are the king of your space. I didn’t know that feeling before I was a butch. I was never comfortable in my skin before I was masculine-presenting. I never felt as if I owned a space, much less belonged in it. I never once in my life felt even remotely attractive or desirable before I started presenting as butch. Now there are times when I am still amazed that people want to be with me that way. There’s a particular smile I crack that makes girls love my jawline, my broken nose. I can walk a certain way through the bar and know I’ll get looks from women, little smiles and batted eyelashes. It’s the kind of feeling you can get drunk on, heady and addictive. To be honest, I’m afraid to allow myself more than small doses of it.

Maybe you’re familiar with that certain fever in the chest, the way everything feels like you’re a teenage boy freshly released from the cage of adolescence. I am. Sometimes I walk down the street and every woman who passes is so beautiful that I can barely keep my ribcage from swinging open. It’s that feeling of something deep inside your guts being knocked loose, rattling against the rest of you, and you find yourself grinning at all the swishing dresses, swinging around to stare at the retreating behind in red heels. It’s a good feeling.

There are words for it, although none of them add up to the actual sensation of it when you know it’s burning in your pulse. Swagger, although we’ve now reduced that to “swag.” It’s that tie-straightening and sunglass removal feeling. It feels distinctly masculine, because men can navigate whatever space they want and feel entitled to it. Entitlement breeds confidence, and confidence breeds swagger. I like the feeling of being attracted to all those beautiful girls on the street, but I know that the structure of our society assigns power to those who objectify the bodies of feminine beings, and then I’m not sure what feeling it is I enjoy.

if you wear this shirt you are a douchebag

So I have to examine these sensations, undeniably good as they may feel upon first hit. I can’t help but examine them, because if I’ve learned anything as a sexual being who is simultaneously a survivor, it’s that the way we navigate our world as sexual beings should be self-conscious. We should always be aware of our behavior when it concerns the bodies of others. That should be a constant.

As conscious and caring butches, let’s remember that the feeling we are greeted with when we enter a queer space, the feeling of being immediately accepted, dominant, allowed to do as we please with whoever we please, is a direct result of gender hegemony. And maybe let’s realize that those of us who were raised as women, who spent a lot of time in a female-assigned body and have not ever felt their bodies prioritized or allowed agency before, find it easier than others to get drunk on that feeling. Let’s remember that respect for other bodies and other spaces should always come first. Let’s remember that one’s sexual prowess can be a source of pride without being a bragging point. Let’s remember that there are still girls out there who go for our awkward passive asses, and don’t need us to pretend we are the self-appointed king of the room. Let’s remember that while so much of butchness has evolved into a place where desirability is prioritized, there are ways to feel desirable that are not dependent on the commodification of feminine bodies. Butches, we are goddamned catches, whether we are in boots, leather, or three inches taller in rainbow heels. Fuck the game that ties us to the patriarchy. Let’s play by our own queer rules. Let’s make better rules.


 

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..

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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 124 articles for us.

87 Comments

  1. Thumb up 11

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    As per usual a fantastic piece, and incredibly relatable. Though I’m probably as “femme” as they come, I sometimes find myself in a similar position. In my program at school and my job I’m surrounded by cis men, whom I absolutely adore but there’s this pressure that comes with being “one of the guys” and I find it crucial to constantly be “checking” myself and remembering that “One’s sexual prowess can be a source of pride without being a bragging point.” and also remembering not to commodify my own body when I’m having these conversations. So thank you, because this helped bring me back down to earth.

  2. Thumb up 5

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    I love this piece so much. I think that the struggle to create yourself they way you want to be rather than simply the way you think you should be– and sometimes that line gets very blurry. I understand also the desire to be wanted, to have that charisma and to play the part of someone smooth and suave as a movie character, but then also want to be real and be yourself.

    I think that playing by our own rules is hard, but it’s better.

    • Thumb up 11

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      I get this! I find that sometimes on the days when I’ve put effort in and I’m hard femme-ing it up, that I end up developing this persona (femme swag?) that really doesn’t show the awkward “omg there’s a cutie patootie, what do I even do with my limbs?!” that I’m actually experiencing. And then I worry that my persona has succeeded too much and I appear too aloof, but also that it’s failed my completely and I look like a little teeny bopper with a crush.

  3. Thumb up 4

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    Wow. What a great article. It read like swagger itself in the beginning. You worded everything perfectly and I 100% agree. Butch is butch because it’s different than traditional masculinity. Butch doesn’t aim to be fratty. Butch people can do so much better than that because of their roots. Fuck the 50’s. Don’t be that guy.

  4. Thumb up 33

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    my butch swagger is all bluster, baby-dyke fake confidence i put on ten minutes before leaving the house. i love it and i hate it. on the one hand, it makes me feel powerful, less of the innocent, round-faced, 20-something still awkwardly learning to navigate queer spaces and more of the butch/bitch i always wanting to be. clearly present. taking up space. i liked the way girls brushed at my fingers when i sat with my legs splayed, elbows resting on my knees. i liked the way i people accepted me immediately, told me all about the scene because clearly i was a lesbian and i belonged.

    but i hate it too, because i know, i KNOW, that some of it is born of weird misogynistic internalized bullshit. that i systematically deconstruct my more feminine self before i go out, even the bits i’d rather hold onto, because i want just a touch of that power to go wherever i want without fear. it wasn’t just me being myself; it was more than that. it was ignoring out the voice in the back of my head that told me to be polite/accommodating/small by drowning it out with the masculine ideal. king of the room, no girls allowed. i find myself emulating the bad boys on shitty teen shows, confident and casually aloof, and i carefully, very carefully, trick myself into believe that that is what makes me worth looking at.

    it’s awful. wonderful. i don’t know, i don’t know.

    • Thumb up 18

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      boo, are you me? are we the same person? sure sounds like it

      some day soon i am writing a butch please about all the boys in the media that i try to emulate, how they are ridiculous as fuck when you sit back and think about it. caricatures of teen masculinity: justin fucking bieber, johnny depp circa jumpstreet, all the cocky motherfuckers with mushroom haircuts and rattails

      i want to be queer boi versions of the teen heartthrobs that usher girls into their sexuality, sigh

      • Thumb up 4

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        shitfuck, i’ve got to learn how to proofread.

        but yes, YES, please write that article, because i’m only just now realizing how much i’ve taken from all those teen movies. when i wanna look like hot shit, i turn into the boy that the main character ~knows she shouldn’t like~ — cocky, wordly, exciting. i learned how to smirk and walk at night and drink liquor straight from the bottle, and fuck, i don’t even know why. i just have this weird feeling that that was the way to be.

        queer boi teen heartthrobs. that’s exactly it.

        • Thumb up 32

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          you know what i think it is? or what i’ve started to think after overanalyzing it to death like the english major i am?

          those characters had the most FREEDOM, or at least pretended to have the most freedom. and so much of being a girl, or being socialized as a girl, having a female-assigned body, is about being constantly policed, constantly deprived of agency, constantly told what you can and cannot do. those boys could do whatever they wanted. they didn’t give a fuck what anyone thought, they could be cocky little shits and demonstrate how much they know about the *dark side* of things because they could be worldly and it wouldn’t put their life in danger, they could be a bad person who drinks and smokes and it was *hot*, it wasn’t slutty or something that could compromise their safety

          and it was enough for the girl to desire them. because you knew she wasn’t gonna end up with them – she was destined for the good guy who is gonna treat her right, get her married and babies and all that. the bad boy didn’t need that ending. it was ENOUGH TO BE DESIRED which is the weird sad queer dilemma, right? because we are othered, because we are rejected, because we are rejected due to our desires and often those desires are wrapped up in desiring the wrong person, something about that sticks to our ribs. i have fallen for enough straight girls in my time (okay, mostly straight girls) that i know how you have to sometimes build yourself up on the fact that hey, it ain’t gonna turn out pretty, but at least she thought you were attractive, at least you are valid in that part of your existence

          yep i guess i am gonna write an article about this

        • Thumb up 3

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          Please please please write this!!

          Your essays are absolutely delightful, and this english major thinks your analysis is totally rad!!

        • Thumb up 2

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          this other english major wants to have a book club and for you to be in it (but is obstructed by geography)

          but srsly this is a really good analysis and i second Also!’s request for further elaboration

        • Thumb up 3

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          “… you knew she wasn’t gonna end up with them – she was destined for the good guy …”

          Because at the end of the night the teenage rebel boy turns out to be immature and shallow. There is simply not much behind his pretty face, his leather jacket and his attitude that he has to offer. So it’s not so much “destiny” that keeps him apart from happiness but his own refusal to grow up. His own refusal to leave Neverland.

          And who can blame the “pretty girl” for wanting a real partner in her life? Who can blame her for wanting her life to become more than just some cheesy bittersweetness of a teenage dream?

        • Thumb up 10

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          no one is blaming her, man. if anything, we’re applauding her for making the right choice.

          but when you’re the kid whose clothes don’t quite feel right, who’s just learning to be comfortable in their own skin, the happy, well-adjusted boy is more than you can offer. when i go out, i’m not looking to marry — shit, honestly, i’m not even looking to score. that’s the truth. all i’m trying to do is find a niche where i am wanted. to fake it ’til i make it, and i’ll tell you what, on those days, being that lost boy is a hell of a lot easier.

          i have a lot to offer. i am intelligent and kind and funny and warm. but when i’m in the bar, fuck that, all i have is that swagger, because all i /want/ is that last missing piece: the feeling of knowing who i am, and knowing that i am wanted.

          so if the girl doesn’t stick around, if she goes home with the nice girl, that’s fine with me. good on her, for knowing herself and what she wants, and making the right choice. i’m still happy that she looked at me, touched the small of my back, and gave me a place in the club for that night.

        • Thumb up 4

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          I wasn’t talking about you, June. I really was referring to the rebel characters in movies, books and TV shows.

          I’m sure you have more to offer than your appearance and your attitude. And although I’m not a fan of “swagger” (not in men, not in women and not in people who identify otherwise), I’m not going to criticize that because it seems to be a very important part to some identities. I mean, if that swagger is what helps you through the day/night, if that swagger helps you to be more confident about yourself, if that swagger helps to construct your identity so you become who you really are then more power to you, June!

          I can’t speak from a MoC perspective because I never identified as such, but as a teenage girl I was dressed from head to toe in men’s clothing every single day of my life. It wasn’t part of my gender presentation but it served me as an armor against male gaze/unwanted attention. It helped me until I was able to understand, to define and to defend my boundaries. Now – as a femme – I feel home in my skin.

          So if you use your swagger as an armor to protect yourself “until you make it”, I understand. And I’m sure you will find your true MoC self, your place in life and happiness and everything that you want.

  5. Thumb up 17

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    Hmm, I think this article put into words the reasons I tend to avoid gay lady spaces. They make me just as uncomfortable as straight bro bars, because of the gender roles. I always feel out of place, like I should be more feminine and want/respect someone more who is MOC.

    I’ve never really gotten the Shane thing. I wish there was more space for the Alice and Danas in our queer spaces.

    • Thumb up 1

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      Thank you for your voice on this! I like to see the butches and femmes do their dance… I like to see them in near the same way I see straight couples dance. It’s apparent that it’s a dance which doesn’t really involve the rest of us. That’s Kool and the Gang. But it can make for misunderstandings in some “gay lady spaces”, to put it mildly.

      With love, an Alice looking for her Dana.

  6. Thumb up 26

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    as much as you are wondering about the ethics around that feeling of power you get from emulating teen heartthrobs as you walk through a room, i am one of the girls wondering, “why am i still so gone for that?” because i feel like i see you when you’re jordan catalano, all butch swagger biting bottom lip looking crooked at me but i ALSO see the you that is like “holy shit this girl is so pretty what do i even say to her” that is hidden somewhere behind all the swagger and i STILL go for it, every.single.time. and what does that make me? as a femme who often goes for butches and masculine spectrum types i am sometimes just mad at myself for it, wishing i could expand my desire, wondering what it is i actually want and what is just shaped by yearsandyearsandyears of conditioning. it makes me feel tired and sad.

  7. Thumb up 2

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    Occasionally, I will see a foc woman that I am attracted to but for the most part, it’s the moc’s that make me weak at the knees. The unique mixture of masculine energy exuding from every pore in their female body really gets my blood pumping. Add the genderqueer presentation (if I may use that term) on top of it and I’m tongue tied. See also: Ivan Coyote

    I know there are foc’s that have a strong masculine presence but it’s a different alchemy imo. I usually want to be them rather than be with them.

    Isn’t it grand that there are so many different types of people we can engage?

  8. Thumb up 4

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    Whenever I come across your articles I feel this sense of community. Like I’m being understood by someone that isn’t my girlfriend. Though, if you met me there would be no sense of kinship between us. You probably would have no clue that inside I truly am masculine of center. That’s just the thing, inside I am masculine of center, but sometimes I want to wear a fuchsia scarf. I like to do things because I want to do them. Unfortunately, this means that I will never have a family of femmes nor butches. I will always exist inside my own sad world of queerness. With no queer friends or any sense of community.

    • Thumb up 9

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      Amanda: You are not alone, and the glory of queerness is all of that beautiful gray space. I hope you find more people to be around who get that.

      I am a soft butch/MOC lady who is reveling in a new, fabulous bra right now, for instance. You can be whatever you want to be. All of the things. Any combination.

    • Thumb up 2

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      Amanda, I present similarly, I’ve begun to refer to myself as ‘center of center’. I, too, love reading Kate’s writing, because it speaks to that butch part of me, and I have a lot of similar feelings and realizations and hang ups as she does. I have days when I bind down my chest, don men’s pants and flannel and boots, and grin cockily at pretty women. But I also sometimes want to wear a fuchsia scarf or a kickin’ pair of heels, and float about flirtatiously. Femme and Butch are tools we use to help us more easily navigate the complex world of sexuality and gender. The last thing they should be are labels that drag us down or isolate us. You should celebrate your ability and desire to switch, and remember that there are lots of queers like us, too!

  9. Thumb up 13

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    I really liked this article. It’s very thoughtful and it’s dead on. I’ve watched a lot of butches over the years enter a gay club and look at girls like they’re frat boys at a sorority party. The borrowed misogyny that I’ve heard and seen in gay clubs is astonishing, especially because this misogyny is so often directed at masculine appearing women in society. It is, as Kate says, an unfair use of masculine privilege in a queer space that really has the potential to unburden us all from these kinds of power dynamics. Femmes are often expected to be the opposite: demure, submissive, coy. As a “straight-looking” lesbian, who is decidedly not traditionally “femme,” I often get hit on at a gay club in ways that I would at a straight club. I find it repelling, to be honest, and even insulting – just because I look feminine doesn’t mean I’m into butches or being treated like a piece of meat.

    My current gf actually acted a lot like a wannabe Shane but I had the feeling it was an act, so we kept dating. She dropped it after the first few dates. She later confessed that she thought because she was tomboyish she had to choose and “act” butch. She is, in fact, a lot more feminine and definitely an inner “femme.” I just wish we could all get rid of this butch/femme dichotomy forever. It’s a really ugly part of the bi/lesbian community.

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      Because of the kind of attention that I received from butch women at gay parties I’ve done my best to avoid such places. I’m more on the femme side,I’m not into masculine women and no matter how many times I say it, many won’t take the hint. It was a rude awakening for me. I’d expect queer women to be a bit more respectful.

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        About half of the sexual assaults that I’ve known about personally (as opposed to reading about in the news, I mean) were same sex, a part of the community that is rarely if EVER spoken about (and certainly wasn’t widely discussed at my tiny single-sex university – though I’m sure being part of a large queer community is part of why I know SO many people who’ve had it happen).

        I’m saying this not to derail but because your experiences ARE connected. It’s not just masculine women by any rate being the aggressors, but that kind of aggressive flirtation, bad boy/boi, “no means convince me”, kind of attitude doesn’t help and that IS linked to misogyny and gender dynamics.

        Anyway, I also wanted to say that I like this article for addressing some of these issues. There’s nothing wrong with presenting masculine but what we find hot or appealing about how we “put on” that masculinity (or those who do) sometimes needs some deconstruction.

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          I hope it doesn’t look like I was trying to paint a terrible picture of moc women. I’m sure there are plenty of wonderful and respectful moc women out there just like there are horrible and aggressive foc ladies out there too. (My first girlfriend comes to mind for the latter.) My point was referring to the op’s comment about how some moc act like crude frat boys. Almost all of the moc ladies I’ve come into contact with have been terribly rude and just assume that I’m interested because of our respective styles. Because of that I miss out on a lot of butch culture (idk if that’s the right term.)for the fear that I’ll be subjected to that kind of aggression. In my mind I know that its not all butch women but those experiences have made me a bit on edge around too many moc women.

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          I hope it doesn’t look like I was trying to paint a terrible picture of moc women. I’m sure there are plenty of wonderful and respectful moc women out there just like there are horrible and aggressive foc ladies out there too. (My first girlfriend comes to mind for the latter.) My point was referring to the op’s comment about how some moc act like crude frat boys. Almost all of the moc ladies I’ve come into contact with have been terribly rude and just assume that I’m interested because of our respective styles. Because of that I miss out on a lot of butch culture (idk if that’s the right term.)for the fear that I’ll be subjected to that kind of aggression. In my mind I know that its not all butch women but those experiences have made me a bit on edge around too many moc women. This makes me sad because I love having an eclectic group of friends and now I feel like I have an irrational discomfort around moc women. I also feel like I veered way off topic but I needed to vent.

    • Thumb up 12

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      The misogyny and overall bad behavior has got to go.

      But… “I just wish we could all get rid of this butch/femme dichotomy forever.” Ouch! It hurts to hear someone say that people with identities like me and my wife should disappear from the community.

      • Thumb up 9

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        By “butch/femme dichotomy,” I mean the traditional notion that lesbians or bi women must fall within either the “butch” role or the “femme” role, with no gray area between. I have no problems with self-identifying femmes and butches. My problem is the widespread belief in the bi/lesbian community that all gay women have to fall into one of those two roles.

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      Wow! I really disagree that the butch/femme is an ugly part of our queer community…I actually find that offensive!

      Sure there are butches who are assholes and sometimes the dynamic can be destructive, but it works for some. Not you, obviously but to say that it is ugly and disappear….I’m just upset by such intolerance.

  10. Thumb up 7

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    I do think that by examining your own masculinity you are playing by queer rules because you are re-fashioning a way of being masculine that can claim its own power without taking away the power of other people. In making clear that it is something to be negotiated, thought about, discussed, we can denaturalize gender and work against some of the parts that assert power over others.

  11. Thumb up 3

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    Been a tomboy in my youth, and “bi” as a teen before coming out as a butch lesbian. I don’t have “swag”, and damn well hope my future girl doesn’t either. Why? I want a woman with class. Swag is what all the baby dykes and bois present, all this machismo is not for me. Give me a cami, tee, hoodie,and your basic Levis anyday to chill in any day.

  12. Thumb up 18

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    Right on Kate. I like what you said about examining our positive feelings when we think we’ve done something in a successfully masculine way.

    I tend to go through a conversation with myself whenever I feel good about a Butch Swag Moment:

    “Hey that woman smiled at you when you opened the door for her, that’s nice.”
    “K but do you feel good partially because you’re performing a task society has assigned to dudes?”
    “Yeah probably. I should make sure to hold the door for everyone then, including dudes. And let other people hold the door for me sometimes. Everyone likes doing nice things.”

    “Hey this shirt looks good on you, mirror self.”
    “Thanks. I got it from the men’s section and the buttons are on the left. Am I buying into any patriarchy things by wearing this?”
    “Hmm I don’t see any problem with it. Go forth.”

    “I bet it’d be nice to pay for this coffee date.”
    “That’s not really your decision, and the fact that you considered it an option shows some moc privilege. Want me to get into all the reasons why dudes paying for dates is awful/misogynistic?”
    “But I’m not a dude.”
    “It’s not that simple.”
    “You’re right. Let’s split the bill.”

    Etc. I suspect this is something a lot of queer folks do.

    • Thumb up 2

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      I’ve always liked paying for things because I know I feel nice doing it (and could, pre-unemployment, always afford it) and I know I feel nice when ladies pay for me. That said, I always felt weirded out and uncomfortable when I was still dating boys and they paid for me. Thinking about it though, I feel like if i was with a more MOC woman, I might feel somewhat uncomfortable buying them a drink (w.r.t. learned gender roles fucking with my head).

      So my question is- am I buying into the patriarchy (as a femme) if I buy a pretty femme a drink? Also would it be cool if a bought a cute butch a drink? (Going to lesbian guerrilla queer bar takeover tonight, so would like answers ASAP).

      Also – buttons on the left? Are buttons on different sides on M vs F clothing? I feel like that would be confusing given that the majority of the population is right handed. And do men’s belts go the opposite direction?

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        a) I really have no clue. I just play it safe and don’t buy people drinks unless I know them pretty well. I’m also broke though, so.

        b) Yes! Women’s and men’s shirts have buttons on opposite sides (I can’t remember which is which). Same with belts, though most people probably just flip a belt in whichever direction feels most comfortable. Apparently it originates from times when rich women’s clothes were so fancy that they needed a second person’s help getting dressed.

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          Interesting! I’ve never noticed that. Looking around at Panera though and I suppose it’s true. Men’s shirt buttons are on the right and women’s are on the left. Thinking about my pants though, the pattern appears not to continue? Hmm. Thanks for the explanation!

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          Fun fact: The reason women’s buttons are on the left is a fashion carry-over from when left-side buttons made it easier for a right-handed maid to button up for her mistress. Men, who have traditionally buttoned their own shirts have their buttons on the right.

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    I think this article is forgetting that these spaces, I assume nightclubs and other such events, are sometimes the ONLY places an MoC person can truly feel attractive, desired, and hell, king of the room as you put it. I think you are also forgetting that these are high-energy, “sexed up” spaces where people go in order to meet people for probably less than intellectual purposes. I mean everyone knows a club is not the best place to meet someone you want a long term relationship with, they are merely places we go when we are young, newly out, or just wanting an escape from the drudgery of life. Believe me, I highly doubt these boiz you talk about are having the easiest time in a society that doesn’t value female masculinity.
    Yes confidence takes practice and perhaps the first place a young MoC person truly feel it are these spaces, so why must we bash them for it? Unfortunately the only role models for years have been the bad boys and other Shane-like tools, but I guarantee the next generation, with role models like Rachel Maddow, the Brown Bois, Brooklyn Boihood, etc, will be a more self-aware set of boiz but still possess just as much “swag.”

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      The way I read this article – she’s not bashing swag all together. I read it as more of an analysis of swagger and the potential darkness of it, where it treads this line between being confident and “hot” or emulating misogynistic crap. I don’t see her hating it or loving it – she’s opening up a discussion and writing about her personal perspective on the matter. At least, this is how I read it!

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      i understand that clubs are often the space of sexual pursuits, and as a fellow masculine of center person, i understand that it is usually only in spaces that are queer-dominated like gay clubs, etc that i feel i am desirable and attractive. i get that it’s an escape because i feel that, too. i dodge looks on a daily basis, i feel unsafe in lots of spaces, and it’s rare i feel like i look good, sure, so these spaces are welcome spaces BUT i want us to still examine how we use spaces like these to sexualize others, to disrespect their spaces and bodies, by virtue of feeling that we are suddenly attractive and sexualized beings. you’re right: it’s a rare opportunity to feel we have this “swag,” but it’s a responsibility as well. we are still masculine bodies among feminine bodies (or bodies that are a combination of the two, or neither, etc – but the important point is that the masculine bodies WILL be placed at the top of that strata in that space every single time) and that means that society assigns to us certain privileges. and it’s shitty of us to buy into patriarchal standards and treat other people as if they are meat under the pretense of swagger and building up confidence

      because that’s not okay. i’m not bashing the aforementioned baby dyke who was emulating shane – i think it’s interesting that a character whose sexual exploits are designed to appear just a BIT fantastical and as a kind of response to the casanova trope that cis men get in many narratives is REVERED by so many dykes. i get it in some sense, and shane was an empowering character in some ways, but also a shitty one who made super skinny white androgynous bodies the height of lesbian desirability and made masculine-leaning people believe they HAD to sleep with lots of people to keep up that desirability. i just feel like we can do so much better now and in future generations, i don’t know

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      I get this, I really do. I understand how gay bars can be one of the few places where MoCs feel safe, appreciated, and desired. But you have to think about how “feminine-looking” bis or lesbians feel in these spaces too. In mainstream society, I’m viewed by men as traditionally “feminine,” that is demure, submissive, modest, waiting for a man to take charge, etc, which I don’t like, but I accept, because I do look straight. Then when I go to a gay bar, where I would hope these kind of dynamics would break down and I would just be seen as a gay woman, I get hit on in similar ways, because, I would say, we still think of bi/lesbian women falling into the “masculine” or “femme” dichotomy: i.e., the butches take charge and hit on girls, the femmes play coy and flirt submissively. It’s fine if some gay women like to inhabit these roles. I have no problem with that. My issue is with the fact that this “swagger” a lot of MoCs have is directly at me solely by virtue of the assumption that all feminine women are true “femmes” waiting for a butch to take charge.

      I will say, though, that I’ve seen a lot of “femmes” use misogynistic language about women too as a form of empowerment. A friend of a friend of mine, who was one of the straightest looking lesbians I’ve ever seen, routinely referred to woman as objects and was just incredibly misogynistic wherever she broke up with a girl. It’s definitely not just exclusive to MoCs. We pick it up from the guys and use it to vent sometimes. We need to stop.

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    This is an amazingly well written article. Thank you for writing it, for being so open and honest. I am quite a bit older than you are, but I still feel the same way when I walk into queer space especially. I don’t have, nor will I ever, the Shane-thing down, but I find that I do some very masculine things often. I hold doors, I buy meals/coffee, etc. Sometimes, I don’t want to be as butch as the world perceives me, but it seems like I get called out or questioned any time I do something even remotely feminine. I was commiserating with a straight girl at work the other day, and said that yes, I though some guy was really good looking. One of the boys at work looked at me like I said I had just eaten a baby hedgehog or something– I responded with “What? I’m gay, not dead. I can still tell when a guy is hot or not and not be threatened that I am turning straight”– he just couldn’t seem to get his head wrapped around that. The girls at work always leave me the things that require muscle and such, but then again, I am the one who does all the artwork on our menu boards ( I wait tables; we change our chalkboards every day). At the same time, when a woman actually notices me, I turn into an idiot, and my ears glow like Rudolphs nose– and I get teased mercilessly by the girls and the guys both. It’s like I am a teenaged boy and have no idea how to function around a woman. Come to think of it, I have no idea how I have ever gotten a date….

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      Hahaha when I was coming out as gay and not bi a few years ago. I was was totally freaking out to my middle aged lesbian therapist that I didn’t know if I could be gay if I still thought the occasional guy was attractive (didn’t want him anywhere near me, though). Her response? “Well yea, you’re not blind!!”

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    This is the number one topic that leads me into an internal tug-of-war. I don’t claim to be butch, nor to I claim to be femme, but my personality at times reeks of boyish bravado. And it works for me. It’s the aspect of my personality that others seem to find the most charming, but if left unchecked, I think it’s repulsive. It spirals into the same disrespect I have felt from men. It grapples with my personal values as well.

    That being said, I don’t intend on leaving behind my more masculine tendencies. I’ll continue to ebb and flow, because for me there’s something beautiful to that. I think it’s even more beautiful that it’s actually being openly discussed in such a way that isn’t just pointing out the problem without leaving us the energy to find solutions. Thank you for the post, Kate.

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    I love this article because it feels like me and the swag feeling is so well described. Im one of those long-haired MOC types so I have always drawn attention from femmes through the swag.

    But I also love your piece because it is something I have been working on navigating now that I am in a long term relationship. Wanting that attention and turning on the swag takes on a whole new meaning when you are with someone for the long haul. My gf always laughs because when we go out I turn it back on and shes right! She sees the cockiness coming before I do. Luckily for me she loves this energy and can help me keep it in check but it has also made me realize how interesting that “drunk” feeling is. It is definitely addictive and can be a struggle to pent up.

    I think what I am learning is that I tend to derive a lot of self-confidence from the swag and the attention it gets and now I am having to do that work on myself and with my partner. Working on how to have a similar level of confidence that comes from the self is so hard! I guess its similar to a lust/love relationship with myself that I am working out. I’m not sure Ill ever fully give up my occasional swag night out though! (with gf at my side of course!)

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    Had to figure out what my password was to say:

    I live for these, they make my day because I can relate to them so profoundly. I don`t know many gays, come to think of it, it might only be three – oh and the girl that IS OBVIOUSLY GAY but won`t admit it to herself (it`s my pet peeve) – so these help me to a degree I can`t explain.

    All this to say, thank you so much Kate.

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    “We should always be aware of our behavior when it concerns the bodies of others. That should be a constant.”

    Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes this.

    I didn’t think I could respect you any more after reading all of your admirable pieces of writing, but this single statement quickly proved me wrong. You are a gem, and I feel honored to have the opportunity to see your side of life, even if it’s only a sliver of what you’re offering up to the world. Please keep writing, because you have some incomparable insights.

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    The problem I have with the swagger that I seem to easily wear when I go outside, especially if I feel I look really good that day is: The minute a pretty girl talks to me all that appearing confident and bravado goes out the window. I’m back to being the nervous, second guessing person that I frequently am.

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    I agree wholeheartedly that we should get rid of the whole butch/femme thing. I’m stuck in a very awkward place, fresh out to everyone around me and, I’ll admit it, only just old enough to head to the bars. The first thing people ask me? “So what kind of lesbian are you? Butch or femme, or what?”

    This is just a major issue for me; I never feel better than when I’ve got a beautiful dress on and my long hair is a massive source of pride for me, but I don’t feel femme. I know how to fix a puncture, and I’d rather do the chasing than let someone else hit on me. If I say I’m femme, they question my attitude, and if I say I’m butch, they question my clothes.

    Maybe my youth is really the problem here, or maybe it’s that I need to learn to explain it better, but I don’t know. It seems like the butch/femme divide is just that – divisive and problematic.
    Or am I misreading the entire article?

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    Hi there,
    this topic is as difficult as it is important to me.
    I have a hard time when it comes to all the mysogenic and stereotypical presentation of gender.
    I hate it when boys_men* are feeling so strong and cool and swagger, just because they feel like a man and know they have a certain body language and can play it…
    I hate is when girls_women* on the other hand reduce themselves to this one dimensional behaviour, when they also act like a girl_woman* should act.
    I myself feel I’m constantly inbetween roles. I feel female, I say I am a woman*. But I know I don’t act like one (should). I say I am a lesbian, identified queer.
    I am definetly not butch, either. I am kind of gender-less in that way.
    I have a hard time with gay_lesbian_bi_trans_people (and else), who resemble so hardly to these heterenormative stereotypes. Copying certain behaviours, trying to be more femme and more boyish.
    I think I have such a hard time with this, because it sounds so definite, so certain. Like you have to chose between male OR female. Like you have to decide which side you’re on. Like you have to dress and walk and talk and look in a certain way to assure yourself and all the others that you have an identity.
    I am sometimes irritated, when people sometimes really early in life can without a doubt say: I am butch. I am femme.
    Sometimes it sounds like a decision because they felt they had to deicide which way to chose.
    So it looks like there are only two options – male or female. And it swings all back and forth between these poles.
    And the community plays along these established stereotypical standards like it is the only option.
    Butch women* to me, oftenly are women* acting/being like a teenage boy*. And the longer they do it, the harder they grow into this role.
    The problem is: Even as a teenage girl* I didn’t like teenage boys* around me. Not because they looked a certain way, but they acted so much. Because acted the coolest the more insecure they felt. They tried harder to be male and strong the more they felt their feelings could show. I never found that behaviour attractive. I loved honest vulnerability and openness about people. And teenage boys (also many butches) try to hide that side, try to be the cooler, the checker.
    You are good and great the way you are, you don’t have to act stronger/cooler/more exclusive/harder/more inaccessible or aloof than you indeed are.
    But that ramble goes out to everyone out there, even to myself.

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      I too prefer a sense of “genderless” vulnerability and honesty in people – and I don’t like it when people act tougher and more aloof in an effort to appear more attractive. Yet for some reason, these swaggery games DO tend to be considered fun for a lot of folks, and I find myself responding to them sometimes, against my wishes. People DO seem to respond to projections of mystery and “over”confidence, no matter what the gender/sexuality of the person doing that projecting. (I don’t know how far back in history these responses go, or what the evolutionary basis might be.)
      People also seem to enjoy a sense of “division/difference” when seeking sexual partners, whether that’s created along some line of clothing styles, amount of swagger projected, or who likes to hold open doors. Focusing on differences like these are really just splitting hairs as we all spin on a tiny planet in the Milky Way – yet we seem to enjoy it. It can turn us on.
      Not to get TOO obvious, but: even though we complain about it, humans seem very interested in defining themselves as similar or different from others. And almost as often as we use those differences to perpetuate bad things (racism, sexism), we also use those perceived differences to find sexual interest. I really would prefer to be a nice alien (Codependent Lesbian Space Alien, anyone?) and somehow just see through to everyone’s wonderful cone-headed alien selves, and enjoy whatever haircut is sported on that cone, or whatever scarf is wrappped around a neck, without anyone feeling their presentation has to “mean” something or project power/submission/heaven knows what. But we as humans seem to find it difficult to do that. We want everything to mean something, and we often interpret that meaning in terms of power.
      Re Shane, also: I think people love(d) that character not because she’s a player, but because we can see her emotional vulnerability and the ways the wounds of her childhood affect her relationships. Shane only seems to act aggressive and swaggery when her actual relationship hopes get dashed, or when she is told she’s a no-good ex-prostitute who will never amount to anything, and that her only worth is as a sex object. Her dad and the character Phyllis both give devastating speeches to this effect that send her into tailspins – after which she acts not powerful but powerless, and allows herself to be used and objectified on account of her physical attractiveness (not going to get into why she’s considered so attractive, but let’s just note that a lot of TV characters are presented as being attractive, one way or another). In other words, I see Shane as being used sexually – objectifying herself – as much as she uses sexually – trying to console herself with being considered attractive. What I want for her when I watch that show is for her to be happy, to find partners that respect her, and to never feel her sexuality as something that responds to negative criticism.
      My two cents on all of this, in sum: Those who appear overconfident on the outside usually indeed have underconfidence or pain on the inside, and that makes me sad. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to deal with these things, and people would all love themselves and each other without judgment or fear. But in the meantime, everyone just smile when you mean it, look into each other’s eyes, and keep on spinning on this planet around the sun. And if you see an alien walk into a bar, don’t judge them either! :)

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        PLEASE PLEASE write about this.. I’m so interested in this topic of objectification and women and how they relate to what they look like. I blog about it too.. blog.daniellesonnenberg.com it is endlessly fascinating to me how women get power or feel like they don’t get power simply based on what they look like. I am attracted to more masculine women.. I don’t know. for me, it’s the way they desire and crave women and also the way they are emotional.. perhaps you might make judgements on that.. I think desire is interesting.. can one analyze why we desire who we desire.. I don’t know..

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    I love how the Butch Please article presents what might seem a simple issue or shallow premise, and then keeps digging further to illuminate the dusty corners of social situations. That kind of earnest and determined analysis is refreshing.

    As always, this was a joy to read.

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    I’ve had swag, I’ve seen swag and it’s like being naked in a locker room… you probably notice yourself more than anyone else in the room. Swag, whether it be butch or femme, makes you overlook the true beauty that most often times is all over the place.

    I thought “swag” was the ultimate tool in my early 20’s and am so thankful that I’ve figured it out now… be who you are.

    Being grounded and knowing yourself is the ultimate swag but let’s not call it that.

    Cheers!

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    I’d love to see Kate (the author of this piece) or another writer for Autostraddle examine the bi/lesbian preoccupation with adolescence/teenage masculinity. I’m really curious about it. Is it because we were denied a real adolescence and now it plays out in our twenties? Or is it just that a lot of these teen guys look kind of lesbian? Love to see something on this.

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    Every time I read one of your articles, I think to myself, “And here I though I was the only one.” I’m definitely guilty of taking lady-loving lessons from Shane. My excuse is that I was a little baby queer and that Shane was the first person I’d ever seen, real or otherwise, that I could identify with. Prior to my introduction to the L Word, everything I knew about how to act around girls came from what I learned from guys I knew who knew how to act around girls. And, unfortunately, guys on TV. I mean, they got girls, I wanted to get girls, it only made sense to me that I should just follow their lead. But then came Shane, and it was like, “Why am I trying to be like these boys? I’m not a boy, I’m a Shane.”
    I’ve since realized how ridiculous it is to act like that. I’d tell you all about feeling conflicted when I realized that even though it was fun at first to be of the tie-wearing, lip piercing, straight-girl corrupting variety, I really just wanted to date a nice girl and do really cute things, but you said it better.
    It’s kind of sad, really, that the first example of queerism that a lot of young people see comes from the media, and oftentimes, they see someone like Shane, who really isn’t a good example for anyone to follow. But what else is a baby queer to do when they finally, finally find something to identify with that isn’t a Hollywood frat boy whom they subconsciously despise, but kind of want to be like? I’d definitely like to see all of this change. As always, thanks for writing such a relatable article.

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    “Let’s remember that there are still girls out there who go for our awkward passive asses”

    Oh, yes yes yes. So much yes. Awkward, adorable, sweet butches are my kryptonite. The only problem is that my femme ass is just as awkward, so initiating first contact can be tricky. Especially since when I’m hit with one of those hopefully-endearing, self-conscious smiles we send back and forth to try and bridge the gap I turn into a mess of flustered artlessness and teenage insecurity.

    If anyone has any advice about this I’d really appreciate it.

    But as always I love your articles, Kate. (I finally got an account just so I could tell you how much.) I’m kind of (really, really, really, really) in love with how you write and how you talk about these really subtle things that all add up. I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about my masculinity/how I want to express it. But even more than that it’s really gotten me thinking about how I, as a femme woc who doesn’t always want to be read as femme (if that makes sense), navigate queer spaces.

    A lot of the time I feel like I have to deal with the same kind of objectification in queer spaces that I do everywhere else. It’s so frustrating because it makes those spaces really intimidating and unsafe. I don’t feel attractive or flattered or adored. I just feel like I’m just as much an object in those spaces as I am outside them, I’m just as insecure and hyperaware. I’m already told by the virtue of my skin colour that I’m not the kind of woman who should be loved. At best I’m a body that can be looked at and used, appreciated for only a night or two. And going into queer spaces it so often feels like I’m being told that all over again.

    I obviously know that I can’t generalize but I do still sometimes avoid certain spaces because I don’t want to have to risk feeling invalidated and unsafe. I shouldn’t have to build myself up so much to ‘prepare’ to go into certain spaces that are supposed to exist so I can feel safe and so I can be myself. I hate it so much cause so many of the butches in my life are super sweet and wonderful and I love, love, love butches for so many reasons. Sometimes just a look gets me weak in the knees. I just wish it wasn’t so hard to feel comfortable in certain spaces. There are so many ways I can and want to love women, for a few nights or a few months, a few years, for the rest of my life. But it gets so complicated, and it won’t change until we have those better rules.

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    “I like the feeling of being attracted to all those beautiful girls on the street, but I know that the structure of our society assigns power to those who objectify the bodies of feminine beings, and then I’m not sure what feeling it is I enjoy.” <——————-

    I appreciated this specific view in your article, because it does seem that there is an often "chauvinistic power" attached to a butch representation. It often gets misconstrued with assertiveness and confidence, though. I guess the difference resides in referring to/treating women like "bitches" and "HOES" versus being a "Gentle-WOMAN" :)

    Thanks again for a fascinating read.

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      I really resent the fact that swagger has become synonymous with confidence. For the love of God, can we all get to a place where we lead with true knowledge of our positive attributes and our strengths, rather than a false persona derived from an over-sexualized hetero world? I just want a person who will walk up to me with confidence, knowing that they can impress me with their large vocabulary/ knowledge of Japanese cuisine/interest in theater/ proficiency in ASL/whatever makes them tick. Because that is how we human beings connect, how we fall in love.

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    great article…
    although i would like to point out the slight shallowness you offer as the ‘shane’ character persona…
    later on in the series there is a more strongly masculine identified character which lends insight on how the shane character weights on the masc-femm scale… actually lessening the appearance of the ‘swag butch’ type persona of the character…
    keep voicing your opinions.. looking forward to more articles…

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    Thanks so much for writing this out. I had to comment, because I find this topic incredibly interesting.. I also blog about it.. I am fascinated by the idea of power, objectification and desire. Being a feminine looking woman, I do get a lot of attention from men, but I realized ultimately that they weren’t who I desired.. and that while it is great to get attention, real power from desiring and from being desired from people you desire. I have been reading the Beauty Myth .. and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this topic.. Here’s some lines that might hit you the way it hit me —“Female sexuality is turned inside out from birth, so that ‘beauty’ can take its place, keeping women’s eyes lowered to their own bodies, glancing up only to check their reflections in the eyes of men. …. what little girls learn is not the desire for the other but the desire to be desired..”
    She makes so many key points and while she didn’t call it objectification theory.. I think that’s essentially what she is describing. Objectification theory is when women begin to adapt a third person’s point of view on themselves.. I’m going to continue blogging on this topic. I would love to hear more points of view on this topic! thanks so much!!

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    I like this article a lot, just as I like all of your articles, but there is something unpleasant sticking at the back of my throat that I’m trying to articulate.

    “It’s the way a masculine person sometimes moves through a space of feminine people, the ease of their navigation and the reception of that movement.” I think that what you’re reaching towards here, and in a lot of this essay, is white masculinity. The way white men feel entitled to a space is a way I, personally, as a black butch (and as many, many black men) do not feel. For a lot of folks, especially in white spaces, my presence is threatening or unpleasant rather than particularly attractive. That isn’t to say that I have never been told that I have “swag”, or that no one finds my masculinity attractive or appealing. I guess I’m trying to say that I see myself and don’t see myself in what you’re saying.

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    I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this, but I think ‘Shane’ becoming the ideal body for MOC people was an incredibly destructive event. Look at tumblr, look at all the androgyny blogs there that provide the ideal standard for us. That is not just your average thin standard femme people have to strive for, that is emaciation. That is trying to starve any kind of femininity out of yourself and it is so dangerous. Those standards and images are probably one of the core sources of the eating disorder I’m starting to admit that I have. Kate Moennig’s body type should never have been allowed to become the thing you think of when you think ‘masculine of center’

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    Just wanted you to know that this married mom in uber conservative Utah reads autostraddle regularly now just to wait for your next post! Thank you for opening my eyes to a perspective I have been so ignorant to until now. You are a purely gifted writer. I hope to someday find a way to be as genuine and candid and conscientious. Such a beautiful piece!!

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    Just to prove a point… I am one of those skirt-swishing femmes and my awkward, nervous, slouching, mumbling, personal-contact-avoiding girlfriend is so sexy to me and nothing can compare to how attractive I found her when we first met and I made her so nervous that our first kiss gave her heart palpitations and she had to sit down and stop looking at me.

    I let her pretend she made the first move and that she’s got all the swag and we both know it’s a lie, and I love her for it anyway. :)

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    Coming to this article late, but I wanted to say that I loved this piece. And when I was first coming out, I wanted that feeling of freedom so badly, and wanting so much to belong to the queer community and feel a part of it all, that I really pushed the butch thing, much farther than was actually natural for me, and I think that happens to a lot of baby-dykes. The masculinity of being butch seemed necessary in order to feel that freedom and power and self-determination. I’ve always dreamed of being men who seemed to have the power and respect, who could stride through rooms and command everyone’s eyes, the ones who had CONTROL. But I’m trying to back away from that now, and claim all of that while staying kind of feminine (or effeminate), because that can be power and respect and control too. I know I need to rely on what I already am, my mix of masculine/feminine/butch/femme, what I’ve always been, and do my part to redefine what it means to be powerful, and who can take that power.

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    Wow, Kate I love your articles both for the content and the great discussions that follow! I’m really happy to have found a forum to talk about things like this. As someone who is particularly attracted to more masculine women, I find that at bars, for me to be on their radar, I need to channel my more feminine side both in the way I dress and act. It’s really frustrating because I have a more masculine personality but but feel pressured into the femme label.

    The article also reminds me of something I tell myself all the time: when we compare ourselves to other people, we are comparing our insides to their outsides. Many people, myself included, look at other women who have lots of game and swag and judge ourselves for not being more like them. It can be a vicious cycle that I believe contributes in part to the overall problem.

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