Butch Please: Butch Gets Emotional

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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This butch has a heart like a 747 leaking engine fuel all the way down the runway.

My emotional state likes to vacillate between Antarctic Freeze and Flaming Hundred Car Highway Pile-up. Sometimes it feels like the things that move the world to sobs leave my eyes dry, and then I’m walking down the street and out of nowhere a fastball of feelings rips through my chest. I retreat to some hidden place well out of the public eye, and I break down. I lock the door on friends, lovers, people who have shed many a tear on my bony shoulders, and I give in to my own private flood of tears. It’s lonely, it leaves the heart feeling hollow, but it’s one of those strangely common practices that I’ve heard fellow butches refer to as a “butch thing.”

“I’d let you see me cry, honey,” my friend said to her high-heeled, high-coiffed girlfriend, “But it’s a butch thing.” We laughed because it sounded like a bad movie tagline, but we also laughed because it was true, and sometimes the truth is so sad you have to laugh at it.

Why, as a butch, don’t I feel entitled to my emotions? When I’m crying, or trying to cry, or trying to figure out why crying feels so damn awful, my body instantly takes on the role of traitor. I get angry at myself for having feelings this big to begin with, and then I wrestle for a few hours with the unique mixture of self-loathing, rage, and sobbing. I’ve downed that particular cocktail more times than I’d like to admit, and it’s not getting any sweeter, especially when it’s spiked with precious butch tears. Those rare gems are too rare, and I’m still trying to figure out why it feels so wrong to shed something that’s so beautiful.

I had many dedicated teachers of femininity – my mother and grandmother, my Catholic school education, my culture – but masculinity I had to learn on my own. The examples I grew up with said that a real man can shut up and take it. All the fathers in my life have been men’s men, and their idols were the kind of men who could get it done the first time. Their masculinity had scarred knuckles and smelled like tobacco and woodsmoke and car grease, and I used to fall asleep in that musk when I was still small enough to fit under my grandfather’s chin. Johnny Cash solved his daddy issues by beating his daddy in a fistfight. I don’t think John Wayne knew how to smile. I’ve only seen my father cry once in my entire life, and my grandfather went to the grave having only shed one tear in front of me.

I know all the markers of their masculinity: flannel shirts, work boots, pocket knives. I bear these markers as well, and sometimes it’s strange that people interpret a lot of the things I wear as hipster fashion; looking like a working class mountain man was the legacy of my father, my grandfather, my uncles and cousins, not Urban Outfitters. Their legacy was also being proud of black eyes, swinging a fist instead of talking it out, and not talking about their feelings.

I grew up with guns in the house, over the mantle and in the cabinet, and I knew them as things that were for solving problems as well as sport. As an adolescent, I ran to keep up with these men in my life, ecstatic to get my own jackknife, to fight with big sticks, to emulate them despite the fact that being a masculine girl was the worst thing anyone could think of in our town. Their ability to do as they pleased, to be unaffected by so many of the things that ruled my existence, was enviable. Masculinity seemed like a blissful escape from having to wear itchy dresses, from not being able to go certain places and crying when I finally got my period. And cry I did, even though the magazines I read told me that things my body did were embarrassing.

Boys don’t cry, and girls cry too much, so what’s a butch to do?

Society deems that masculinity is dominance, power, and control, especially over one’s emotions. Females are emotional, and thus emotions are representative of weakness, of an absence of control, and thus power. It’s too easy to internalize that our emotions are signs of weakness, and in order to properly perform masculinity, we have to perform power, too. Well, I’m done with that bullshit. I hereby declare a moratorium on my emotions communicating some kind of weakness. If I get to pick and choose the ways in which I embody masculinity, then I refuse to embody a masculinity that would consider femininity weak in any way, that places power in the hands of certain kinds of people. That brand of masculinity is the same one that promotes misogyny, empowers bro culture, and treats femmes as lesser. I want no part of it.

I’ll shed my butch tears with pride, thank you kindly.

I wrote a Tender Butch Manifesto the other night, because Tender Butch feels like a more and more relevant label for what I am, what I’d like to be, what I think is a much healthier alternative to seeing emotion as weakness. I’d like to share it because it empowers me, and I hope it empowers you too:

FOR ALL MY BUTCHES WITH HEARTS ON THEIR SLEEVES
WHETHER THAT SLEEVE IS ROLLED UP FOR HARD WORK
OR CUFFED WITH LACE AND GOLD
WE WILL NOT BE ASHAMED OF OUR TEARS – CRYING IS HARD WORK TOO
WE HAVE HEARTS AND WE WILL USE THEM

WE WILL NOT BE IMMUNE TO OUR FEELINGS
WE WILL BE SENSITIVE
WE WILL BE SENTIENT
OUR EMOTIONS ARE POWERFUL AND WE WILL ALLOW THEM TO OVERWHELM US
OUR FEELINGS ARE BEAUTIFUL WEAPONS
OUR MOODS ARE MEANT TO BE FELT AND KNOWN
THE OPPRESSORS CANNOT ABIDE A BUTCH WHO FEELS DEEPLY
WE WILL CRUSH THEM WITH THE INCREDIBLE STRENGTH OF OUR LOVE

OUR MASCULINITY IS NOT THE STRONG AND SILENT TYPE
OUR MASCULINITY IS STRONG BECAUSE OUR SOBS ARE LOUD AND SHAKE THE EARTH
WE DO NOT TOLERATE MACHO BULLSHIT IN OUR RANKS
WE DO NOT TOLERATE MISOGYNY IN ANY FORM
WE WILL NOT PARTICIPATE IN BRO CULTURE
WE WILL NOT ALLOW OUR PEERS TO TREAT OTHERS AS ACCESSORIES
WE ARE NOTHING WITHOUT INTERSECTIONALITY AND AWARENESS

WE FUCK CONSCIOUSLY
WE FUCK SENSITIVELY
WE’RE NOT ASHAMED TO CRY BEFORE OR AFTER OR DURING SEX
BECAUSE SEX IS BEAUTIFUL AS FUCK AND LIKE HELL WE’RE NOT GOING TO MARK IT WITH TEARS WHEN THE TIME COMES
WE WILL BE TOPS AND BOTTOMS AND BEINGS OF SQUISHY PERFECT PLEASURE AND STILL BE BUTCH

OUR BUTCHNESS IS TENDER AND BEAUTIFUL


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 115 articles for us.

61 Comments

  1. Thumb up 12

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    This is beautiful. I think we are all taught that not to cry or show emotions is to be strong, even when it is tearing us up inside. Even as a femme, I have always had the hardest time crying in front of anyone else and often prefer to be in a room where no one could either hear or see me sob. Thanks for acknowledging that that is not really the healthiest way to handle things and that sharing sadness can be strong too.

  2. Thumb up 19

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    “If I get to pick and choose the ways in which I embody masculinity, then I refuse to embody a masculinity that would consider femininity weak in any way, that places power in the hands of certain kinds of people. That brand of masculinity is the same one that promotes misogyny, empowers bro culture, and treats femmes as lesser. I want no part of it.”

    This is so beautiful it made me cry many of my femme tears. Thank you :)

  3. Thumb up 4

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    This is incredible. You are amazingly eloquent; not just in that your words are beautiful, which they are, but in that the feeling behind them is breathtaking. If I could think of more synonyms, I’d go on, but really the entire “Butch Please” column speaks for itself.

  4. Thumb up 6

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    I am a straight woman but I just wanted to say you are not alone. I also feel guilty about feelings and crying. I just wanted to tell you I applaud your feelings and expression of them. Don’t be afraid to show the softer side. Emotions are part of being human and we as a culture need to let them show.

  5. Thumb up 3

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    well

    i think i’ve cried maybe once in the last couple of years, couldn’t cry even at my grandfather’s funeral where my entire family was crying and crying and crying…sometimes i actually worry that it means that i don’t feel feelings in a normal way like everyone else does, and at the same time it is now a THING that i can’t let go of because i don’t know how to cry in public without feeling like i’ve PEED myself in public

    ahhhhhh. hmm. i am going to think about these wise wise words of yours for a long time and try to change some stuff in my life/brain okay

  6. Thumb up 16

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    How do you speak to my soul so well? I always felt like I was too soft to be a butch, like I cried too hard and wanted to bottom as well as top, and didn’t want to exclude my woman with ‘bros before hos’. Even though I feel more male than female (societal standards), I’m afraid to replace lovely femininity with brutal masculinity. It’s a struggle, glad someone else is struggling, too.

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      I have similar feelings. For a woman to identify as butch breaks the rules of femininity, which is queer and awesome — but the rules of masculinity are just as arbitrary and limiting and stupid. Let’s break ALL the rules and be tender and strong and adorable and silly and pretty and smart and emotional and dapper and anything else we want to be!

  7. Thumb up 9

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    I kept trying to write a comment but everytime I read over what I’d written I’d say “too emotional” to myself and erase it. After about five attempts, I realized that my inabilty to feel comfortable expressing myself was exactly what this article is about.
    If I try to write something heartfelt again I’ll probably just erase it and not comment at all. So instead I’ll just say thank you for writing this, I really appreciate it.

  8. Thumb up 4

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    Thank-you for this. My emotionality has always been one of the things that’s made me feel like I can’t/shouldn’t identify as butch, which is messed up in a lot of ways. I’ve found it difficult to embrace parts of myself which I see as more feminine (which, in my case, is quite a lot of parts). I think at least some of that has stemmed from, for me, internalised bullshit about the inferiority of femininity, so I really appreciate your articulation of a fiercely anti-misogynist butch tenderness.

  9. Thumb up 16

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    I hate how much this resonated with me. Honestly, I feel like it’s only been since I found Autostraddle that I felt ok embracing my feelings, cause everyone in this community is all feelings, all the time, and everyone is so amazing.

  10. Thumb up 8

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    so right on
    for me ‘butch please’ is one of the best things that is happening on the ‘straddle and thats saying a lot since this site/querselfrevolvinguniverse is one of the best things happening in the world
    thanks so much for this
    crying is hard work, when i do i usually get about 3 heaves out then my body shuts it down, then silence and staring into nowhere/the multitudinous void within. but emotions are power and feeling this life that we have – heart on your sleeve – be cute and tender and hot and ferocious – do it all, when the time feels right- no limits! we push “boundaries”

  11. Thumb up 4

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    Crying and expressing oneself through profound emotions is so empowering. I feel compassion (and sympathy) for people who are unable or uncomfortable to get there but I refuse to let them characterize my tears as ‘unstable’ or ‘weak’ because I get to cry when I need it. Nor is crying in any way the opposite of being strong, rational or reasonable, all things men supposedly claim by birthright. Happy for butches or anyone trying too hard to keep themselves together that letting go is a gift life gives us, and holding it in is a kind of curse. Let it flow!

  12. Thumb up 6

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    this speaks to me so, so deeply. I’m also trying to learn masculinity on my own–just last night I was telling my girl it feels like everyone else was given a manual on how to be male or female, and I got handed the wrong one. I don’t know even how to hug.

    and I also grew up in a culture where men don’t cry, don’t show their emotions, don’t talk about it. I’ve only seen my father cry twice in his life, when his two brothers passed away. he looked so lost, like a little boy, because men aren’t “supposed” to cry.

    I’m trying to fight that. I’m trying to allow myself to have feelings, and show them, and not feel horribly ashamed and betrayed by my own emotions and body. I want to be able to show my own children someday that masculinity doesn’t mean invulnerability, and femininity doesn’t mean weakness.

  13. Thumb up 2

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    Ready this was really re-affirming for me, as someone who was told growing up “stop feeling sorry for yourself” when I would cry. I know that emotions should be embraced, but I still have a hard time acting on it especially when there’s others around.
    Thank you!

  14. Thumb up 1

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    “If I get to pick and choose the ways in which I embody masculinity, then I refuse to embody a masculinity that would consider femininity weak in any way, that places power in the hands of certain kinds of people. That brand of masculinity is the same one that promotes misogyny, empowers bro culture, and treats femmes as lesser. I want no part of it.” <<<<<<<<<<<<< I love love this. I do not identify as butch, but for my whole life I have rejected aspects of femininity that were viewed as weak, because I wanted the world to know that I was not weak, that I was strong. It's really messed up that hugely powerful stuff like emotions are considered weak–or really, that anything is considered inherently weak, and therefore lesser, and especially that femininity is associated with weakness. I think part of the solution is to you do you unapologetically, which is essentially what Autostraddle is about, as well as pretty powerful idea to live by. Thank you Autostraddle, and thank you Kate!

  15. Thumb up 3

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    wowowow this blew me away! You are an amazing writer and I look forward to the next installment (and hopefully meet you at A-Camp?).

    I’m not butch myself but I grew up with machismo surrounding me, given that I was raised and socialized as male (i.e. feeling pressured to participate). It sucks because I still have a few traces of it, even if I never actually breathed in the stuff. Now I’m on all the feelings, all the time, like I really need to calm myself the fuck down sometimes.

  16. Thumb up 1

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    My girlfriend told me this article almost made her cry. So I came back and read it closely and I just wanted to say thank you Kate. It has helped me understand her better and learn how I can be there for her. I’m more femme and always walking around sharing my emotions so I don’t always get it. But now I’m beginning to.

    Also loved the part about fucking. Tender butch fucking is the best.

  17. Thumb up 2

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    oh my god yes

    I oscillate on the butch-femme spectrum, and was raised by parents who keep their emotions in jars under the sink. I’d rather chew off my own arm than appear weak and this… this is a manifesto I want to adopt.

  18. Thumb up 0

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    Kate/Kade you are amazing! Thank you so much for every article you’ve written for Autostraddle, especially this one. I’ve never really felt entitled to my emotions, and am always afraid to be seen as weak. Because when you’re weak, you’re vulnerable, and when you’re vulnerable, you get hurt. But you’re right; we have hearts, and I’m going to use mine. (Wowzers, I can’t believe I am about to submit my first comment on Autostraddle)

  19. Thumb up 0

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    Funny how there is this weird paradox about having to be strong by hiding our feelings, while hiding itself is a sign of weakness. If you hide something, it means we are ashamed of it. And I guess we all have been in that place where we hide a lot. And some of us have felt the relief of ‘not hiding’ something. It sucks that we can’t show our feelings without feeling ashamed. Maybe it’s the fear of being judged, which isn’t unthinkable in modern society. But I believe we can get strength from not hiding our feelings and not caring who judges. Thanks for this great post!

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