Butch Please: Butch in the Airport

BUTCH PLEASE is all about a butch and her adventures in queer masculinity, with dabblings in such topics as gender roles, boy briefs, and aftershave.

Header by Rory Midhani

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I am boarding a plane to Atlanta, Georgia. In Atlanta, I will catch a second flight to Los Angeles, California. I am in Philadelphia’s airport, and I have a printed ticket in my hand that is already crumpling from the sheer heat of my fist. I am in line for the security check. I am wearing two layers under my sweatshirt and sweatpants and I’m already scared that they can see my heart vibrating against the fabric. By some complete miracle, I am not crying or in the fetal position. The nectar of the queer gods is Xanax. The gods are good, or so I am always praying with both pairs of fisting fingers crossed behind my back.

I hand over my identification. The picture on my driver’s license is from 2006, when I was 16. My hair is long, and pulled into a loose side ponytail. I wore a lot of loose side ponytails that year because that was something that pretty girls did. I was not a pretty girl, but I was good at pretending. In the picture, I am wearing large earrings made from coconut shells and a hot pink button-up from a Ralph Lauren outlet store. The man riding the horse is lime green and slightly crooked because he is a knockoff. A cheap imitation of the real thing, just like me. My eyeliner makes me look tired because I never learned how to apply it. I am staring at the camera as if it is the greatest inconvenience I have ever known. I am a walking imitation of the straight girl teenage culture I saw around me and sought to pull over my body like a fireproof blanket. My mother had picked out that button-up. This was when I still wore the outfits she picked out for me, and when the act of me getting dressed made her smile with approval.

2006 was also the last year that I flew in an airplane. My identities might be nebulous, but I need my modes of travel to be grounded to something solid and tangible at all times.

The officer looks from the photo on the card to my face. I have pulled off my sunglasses. I am used to this moment, and my hands have already formed fists out of habit. I get this moment in bars where I am still carded, and that one time I was pulled over for a busted headlight. I know the look I am about to receive, the telltale double-take. My body has braced itself, knowing that preparation is survival.

It is more than the revelation that I have gone from feminine to masculine in one glance. It is more than my butchness at all. It is the fact that I am genderqueer, and my identity is about resisting definitions, and here I am, about to be gendered and defined by someone with the power to pat me down and put me in prison.

“Thank you,” he says, and hands the card back to me. He looks at me while he does this, and then glances down at the card before I take it. And then back to me, and then back to me. I am blushing and shoving it into my wallet, hurrying to catch up with the line. I am pulling off my shoes and emptying my pockets long before I get to the queue. My palms are already sweating.

I do not like to be exposed. I do not like to be gendered. I am about to be both, and neither.

My body unwinds for a moment. I want to clarify the meaning of unwinding here: I do not mean a state of relaxation, the kind of unwinding that is used as a tagline for beach resorts. I am talking about the state of a body unraveling, a brain backfiring and backtracing and then, since it is most often tightly wound up, unwinding, organ by tiny organ.

I step to the center line. I am about to go through the full body scan. I am wearing my binder, my hood is up. I am trying to imagine what a binder looks like on a scanner. Are my nipples still visible? Will he see the impression of my breasts even where I have attempted to erase them? My body is typically so bound and modified that it is impossible for people to see my actual shape. I have not allowed most lovers to see beneath the binder. There is a stranger here who will see it, though, and in two minutes, he will have placed me in a box that took me years to crawl out from.

I pull off my sweatshirt – I am down to two shirts now, but I feel naked. The officer steps forward, pauses, and then the female officer behind him is there, looking me over. She finally nods, and he steps back. There, I think. They’ve picked out a label. They have decided what I am.

I step through the scanner. I put my hands above my head in imitation of the human outline in front of me. My body already knows it has been accused of something, but now it has assumed the position as well. My heart is beating so fast that I think it’s going to knock the scanner over.

I step outside of the scanner when commanded, and start for the containers of my things. The officer stops me and asks what is in my pocket. I cannot understand the question. My pocket? What is my pocket? I am not thinking in terms of pockets, or their contents. I am thinking about taking a shower for so long that the mechanical act of scrubbing over and over again left me with a rash for a month. Can you fit a fear in a pocket? What about senses of self-worth, or safety blankets?

There is chapstick in my pocket, as it turns out. I take it out of my sweatpants pocket and hand it to the officer.

“I’m sorry,” I say. I am begging her with every inch of me not to pat me down. I repeat the apology. I might be crying, but I can’t tell. “I’m so sorry, I really am.”

The officer makes eye contact with me after giving my entire form a long look.

“I’m sorry,” I say again. She nods and waves me through. I move with a speed I did not know I had in me. I recollect my things. I pull on my shoes and walk as if walking over hot coals. I am in the terminal.

I am hyperaware of myself as many signifiers of gender that are carried in muscle tone and hip width. I give the sign on the bathroom door my fuller attention, check it and double check it like an error on a page. I use a higher voice when talking to the lady at the register. I feel like buying tampons, even though I don’t need them. I feel like buying makeup, something pink, hairties that my hair won’t hold. I feel like making up for whatever part of my old gender identity I’ve lost. They used the female officer for me. They put me in the female line. But female feels like a label I don’t deserve, something I’m supposed to be apologizing for with every unladylike step.

When I go to sit down at the gate, I find myself gravitating towards clusters of women: mothers and children, an older lady with pearls and a wide-brimmed hat who looks like she’s dressed up for church. I want to hide in the skirts of these women until that last segment of my heart stops shaking. I want them to reassure me of my place among their ranks, their familiar presence like a shoulder squeeze from my aunt. The few men sitting in this section feel like impostors, and I do not want to be one of them.

Sometimes I am proud as a stone of my genderqueer identity. But sometimes I miss womanhood with a fierce hot ache that feels an awful lot like missing my mother, or my grandmother, or my ability to sit at their table for family meals.

“I just love your hair,” the woman next to me says. Her smile is genuine. Her accent sounds like a kiss after lemonade. I could hug her in that moment. That is how grateful I am for the small kindness of her acknowledgment.

When I am scared, I think about the way it feels to make my mother happy. I think about the countless outfits that she’s bought me over the years, the ones I cannot give away or justify returning because I know that she bought them with me in mind. I know the girl she was imagining when she picked out that sweater set, or that skirt at the JCPenney. I remember our conversation when I came home presenting as myself, as butch, as genderqueer, the conversation that was more of an accusation, a terrified argument, a door closing somewhere. I thought the tears in her eyes were anger, but now I realize they were tears of grief. She was mourning the girl I used to be, and the woman she wanted me to become.

It would be so easy to make my mother happy, to let my hair grow and put on the dress she bought me for my birthday. It could be simple, I think. And when I’m scared, when I’m missing the way she used to hug me when I was still small, or an adolescent, or even the young woman who had not yet come out as queer or a survivor or been a disappointment in so many ways, I think about how my mother’s hugs would be if I had just kept on making my mother happy. I wish she was there at the terminal. I wish I was wearing an outfit she liked. In her place, I wish these women around me could join together in a ring, and come closer to embrace me. I wish their warmth would be equal to the one I miss.

I get on the plane. I am seated next to the wing of the plane. The flight attendant asks me if I am willing to assist with the removal of the door and the evacuation of the plane in case of an emergency. I am thinking about how many times I have needed an escape route installed in my body and how I can’t check my email without having to brace my body for impact.

“Yes,” I say. “I am willing.”

I am sick on the plane, with a sinus migraine and nausea. When I puke into the complimentary paper bag, the woman next to me leans over and gives me a gentle pat on the back.

“It’ll be okay,” she says. “We’re almost there.”

I am always almost there. I am almost a girl, or almost a boy. I am almost butch enough, or almost genderqueer enough, almost radical enough or interesting enough or attractive enough. But I never feel that I am enough, which academia taught me was the state of being queer. To be on the cusp, to exist on the edge, within and without. To be the barrier between or beyond.

Yet I know that when I was cisgendered, I was not enough. In that picture on my driver’s license, I knew innately that something was wrong about the way I felt in my skin. I was not happy or comfortable or able to properly express myself. The things I miss about my relationship with my mother would not make the experience of being gendered and scanned any easier. The outfits that never felt right would not have felt more comfortable as I boarded the plane. I am genderqueer. I am enough.


 

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.

75 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    Even though I get pegged as cis, this vividly describes how I feel being a brown genderqueer person in the TSA line. Every time I just think how “lucky” I am that my name doesn’t sound “foreign” so I don’t get more flack but it feels like such a doublebind.

  2. Thumb up 14

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    Security theatre is all about subjecting us to the visceral violence of state scrutiny. Those machines and their slack-jawed agents are pure patriarchal gaze. TSA is rape culture.

    I’ve always opted out of the irradiator. It’s my paltry protest. Anyway, as a woman who covers, sometimes completely, and also has a “foreign name”, they have always given me extra scrutiny regardless. Was it because he read me as transgender that the officious agent sent me to extra screening? Was it because I looked too nervous? How can I look less nervous? I come away from their man-handling shaken, sometimes in tears. PTSD flashes have occured, sending me back into an estate of complete proneness. I know that fetal ball well.

    This is as the ritual is meant to be. This is the real aim of the thing. In ten years they’ve not caught one terrorist. It’s worth noting this against the costs of this very personal state scrutiny. It’s worth calling out the violence the machine does. We need to talk more about this as a society.

    Thanks for your vulnerable work here, Kate. I’m deeply honoured to have met you.

  3. Thumb up 9

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    This.

    “I am always almost there. I am almost a girl, or almost a boy. I am almost butch enough, or almost genderqueer enough, almost radical enough or interesting enough or attractive enough. But I never feel that I am enough, which academia taught me was the state of being queer. To be on the cusp, to exist on the edge, within and without. To be the barrier between or beyond.”

  4. Thumb up 5

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    Thank you so, so much for writing this. It really accurately expresses how I feel in pretty much every situation that genders me – basically every situation where I need to hand over my ID to someone. A lot of times I try to mitigate that double-take effect with an apologetic smile, or a quip like “Yeah, I got a haircut,” but it they usually don’t get it or don’t find my coyote gender to be a laughing matter.

  5. Thumb up 6

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    I am always read as male by TSA agents (the flights to and from A-Camp included) but I rarely feel uncomfortale or anxious about the experience. They are making a mistake by assuming I am male-bodied and that’s their problem, not mine.

    I’ve felt at times like the label “female” doesn’t belong to me or that I am an imposter when I choose to use it, but I’ve gotten to a point where I am who ever I want to be and anyone who thinks otherwise can go fuck themselves.

    I hope you get to the same headspace soon. It’s really important to be able to see the difference between a situation that is dangerous and a situation that makes you anxious or uncomfortable. A TSA officer might spit the word “ma’am” at you or give your ID an extra look or two but they are not going to hurt you. I find that acting uncomfortable just makes them think you have something to hide. If you’re confident and calm. You’ll feel a lot better and probably be treated a lot better too.

  6. Thumb up 6

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    This was amazing, deeply moving, incredibly well written. ANd you described so well the way you miss your mother’s hugs and the time you made her happy, much like I miss the time mine was happy about me and gave me those hugs full of a love that seemed so pure I’ll never get to understand how it can fade away.
    Thank you. Also, to us, you are enough.

  7. Thumb up 12

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    “Her accent sounds like a kiss after lemonade.”

    Damn.

    I have yet to have, “a kiss after lemonade.” But now, I’m looking forward to it.

  8. Thumb up 5

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    I’m gender queer, but I don’t really relate to this story. It would be nice if there were state recognized gender neural pronouns, but it doesn’t really matter, the very nature of gender is a social construct, so why would I care what gender some tsa officer decides I am, that has Nothing to do with me. It would be like me caring that someone has decided I’m cat person–it may or may not be true, and it’s irrevelent either way. To be assumed to be either gender is fine with me, I’m not really trying to be one or the other, because they’re meaningless to me. I am not almost a girl or boy, I am both girl and boy and third thing or two, and I know that, without the approval or recognition of anyone. Further, my body isn’t something I’m trying to get out if or modify, it happens to be female and beautiful irrespective of what society thinks of it. Why does being gender queer gave to be so tenuous? It doesn’t have to be.

  9. Thumb up 4

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    Why is this a “Butch” column? The masculine-of-center AFAB genderqueer experience is perfectly valid, but it’s rather odd to place the experiences of a non-binary trans individual under the label of “butch” rather than labeling this as a column about being an AFAB genderqueer masculine-identified person.

    I mean, if an AMAB non-female-identified genderqueer person with a feminine presentation wanted to write about their experiences, would you just label it “The Femme Perspective”?

    Conflating butchness with maleness — which the title of this column effectively does — is highly problematic and perpetuates the cissexist, heterosexist idea that trans men and AFAB genderqueer folks are just butch girls who are “extra butch,” with the subsequent transmisogynist equivalent that trans women and AMAB genderqueer folks are just dudes who are “extra f*ggy.”

    There are dozens of more accurate, less confusing, and less problematic titles for this column than “Butch Please.” I realize you think it’s a great play on words, but you might as well have a crossdresser write a column about being a trans woman. You’re mixing up two very, very different groups of people that deserve not to have their identities lazily conflated.

    • Thumb up 36

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      but i do identify as butch, is the thing. butch is as much a part of my identity as being genderqueer. butch does not have to be female-identified. i am not male-identified.

      “You’re mixing up two very, very different groups of people that deserve not to have their identities lazily conflated.”

      ah, but you can be genderqueer and butch. i am. so are a lot of other people. butch is kind of my first and foremost identity above all others. if you read my other entries to this column, you’ll see most of it is dealing with my identity as a butch person and NOT as a genderqueer person, as i am often made to feel uncomfortable about identifying as both.

    • Thumb up 6

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      “I mean, if an AMAB non-female-identified genderqueer person with a feminine presentation wanted to write about their experiences, would you just label it “The Femme Perspective””

      I wouldn’t do anything. Whenever someone writes about their experiences it their job to label it. Kate says she ID’s primarily as butch so it makes sense that her column is called “butch please”. If she had wanted to she could of included every label she IDs as but then again that probably would have been a long ass title….and a bit weird(IMO).

    • Thumb up 8

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      “I mean, if an AMAB non-female-identified genderqueer person with a feminine presentation wanted to write about their experiences, would you just label it “The Femme Perspective”?”

      …yes? Because…femme isn’t exclusive to FAAB or female-identified people…?

      I think your dictionary is very, very small.

  10. Thumb up 2

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    I am so glad that the new microwave scanners (in addition to not causing cancer) also don’t label gender on the display. The X-ray ones would involve stepping in and praying that the person in some room somewhere either ignored the genitals or the person on the other side of the scanner accepted their judgement of “female”. Do I object when sirred and make things awkward or let it pass and possibly appear suspicious when the machine said “Female OK”?

    The new ones have a generic outline of a person, no human ever looks at the image itself and gender doesn’t get magically labeled every time.

  11. Thumb up 10

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    This resonates with me, especially after a full two years of traveling for school. At airports, I try to opt out of the scanner whenever possible because besides from the mentioned discomfort with gender policing and privacy violations, I still don’t fully trust the level of safety/radiation. And even though I don’t deal to the same extent with the bullshit that is getting gender policed and misgendered, I get so anxious waiting for the pat down. There’s this feeling that the TSA gives me, like the exasperated eye roll, and then the “you’ll have to wait longer, you know that.” And then they shout for a female TSA agent to pat me down, and I have to wait as 8 other people eye me as they enter the scanner. One time my stuff was already all the way across and I still hadn’t gone through and the guy shouted “well I TOLD you you’d have to wait longer.” Which pretty much read to me like “you asked for it.” Like it’s such a hassle to everyone that people might have reasons to opt out of the scanner.

    The last time I traveled, I was wearing the Straddle This shirt and just felt so freaked out, one of the times that I resent the shirt despite the fact that I am ok with it 90% else of the time. I cursed myself for wearing it, fearing that I’d be interpreted as someone who wanted to be pat down for perverse reasons. And sometimes it’s that expectation that I’m asking for it that freaks me out the most, like that someone will recognize that I’m queer and that I get some rise out of it. Ugh, hate hate hate travel.

    And the comment about mothers hit home too. This Mother’s Day I stood in front of the mirror wondering if I should wear what makes me comfortable vs what would make my mom happy. I had to remind myself that I’m lucky my mom’s love is “unconditional” but her happiness is really contingent on my meeting her gendered expectations which just sometimes makes me feel really really sad. I opted for what makes her happy and I told myself that it was her day. Ugh.

    Anyway thanks for this.

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      I do that with my grandmother, even if the clothes she picks for me tend to make me look like a rugby player in a dress, and I fix my body language too to the ladylike feminine presentation that she tried to train into me my whole life. Its hard.

  12. Thumb up 9

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    I am so sorry you have had to experience that. I couldn’t be mistaken for a boy if I tried but I know that there are some days when airport security just breaks me. I’m tense about my body, tense about authority, tense about missing the plane I’m usually running late for because I’m standing here being violated. I can’t possibly know how much worse the experience is for you and I wish you didn’t ever have to know either.

    Two female security officers brought me behind a curtain for a pat down last year because the underwire in my bra set off the scanner. I was completely terrified, plus I felt like people in all the lines were looking at me like a criminal as I got escorted over there. Afterwards you try to laugh it off and it becomes your airport security story, because everybody seems to have one.

    Somebody said above that you should be able to distinguish between things to make you anxious and things that make you threatened. The fact is, I feel pretty damn threatened, and occasionally triggered as hell, by the fact that I’m in a space where people can legally detain me to violate my body in a series of degrading rituals designed to make us all feel “safer”.

  13. Thumb up 3

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    Is there any way you can make it a little easier for yourself by updating passports and ID photos. I know it wont change the experience it may soften the blow. When i merely travelled via America the scrutiny placed on an even recent photo was enough to make me crawl out of my skin. Anxiety sucks.

  14. Thumb up 5

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    Once when I was going through security, this was pre body scanners, I got pulled out of line to be frisked. When the woman was patting me down, a male agent standing behind her looked at me and said, “I wish they’d let me search you.” It was so fucking creepy.
    The last time I went through airport security, I made the “mistake” of wearing a tie and carrying a book in Arabic in my bag. I’m not sure I’ve ever been treated with that much suspicion and contempt before. Airport security is seriously the worst.

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      Oh, I had that happen once, though it was just one woman agent. While patting me down, I tried to at least joke some, saying “You know, people usually buy me dinner before we do this.” She did not think I was funny though, and all I got was a gruff “M’am, please be quiet and stand still.”

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      I can fully understand that that comment would make your skin crawl. The last time I walked through one of these huge scanners was at a Moscow Airport, and as I stood in that thing seeing the head of the scanner travel in a circle around me the TSA office handeling it looked at the screen, and eyed me, the picture on his screen and then me again with a filthy glance, measuring up my body as if it were meat on sale. I felt disgusted for weeks.

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    What a great piece. I understand what you’re going through. I travel a lot and as I began transitioning it was so difficult to go through airport security. I hope that it gets easier as the trans* and genderqueer community achieves more understanding and acceptance from society. Hang in there and keep sharing your story!

  16. Thumb up 2

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    kate…kate. i have my own airport experiences that enrage me and shame me and make me feel othered, not enough, back to the third grader with boobs and butt and glasses and no friends.

    but what my core wants to do right now is hug you, in that space that is held by and for raw *wom/woman/womyn/women, in whatever base form of that being that soothes forever and ever.

  17. Thumb up 3

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    Last time I flew, I went through the new scanners, the TSA agent called me “sir,” did a double-take, and made me go back in the scanner. I went back in, sweating profusely as I held up the line and the other passengers impatiently waited. Then I had to wait outside the scanner as the TSA agents conferred together before they finally let me go. I was in a place of white-hot panic. And I’m not even a trans* person or butch-identified or genderqueer. The experience gave me much more empathy for the thousand daily panics of those people that don’t fit into neat categories.

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    Thanks so much for sharing that!
    I think theres a essence of isolation that comes out of every day life when not living in the binary.
    Its almost as though there are check points throughout life. All of them gendering you, and it takes so much energy to be out at every check point that its damn near well impossible.

    thanks again for sharing :)

  19. Thumb up 3

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    I am very sorry that this happened, but I have to say I’m kind of glad to read it. I feel like lately I’ve seen a lot of people acting like being genderqueer is a political statement and the most freeing thing, and I’ve been wondering if I’m doing something wrong because it seems fairly uncomfortable most of the time. I mean, I’m glad other people are happy with it and everything, I’m just kind of lost as to how you get there.

    I guess I can’t say that for sure, though, seeing as I’m not even entirely sure I’m genderqueer. If anything, I’d say I’ve kind of settled on gender fluid. I can tell what you mean by saying you don’t feel like enough. I don’t really feel like I’m gender fluid enough to say that, seeing as at any given moment I generally feel like one gender or no gender, it’s just over a period of time that it changes.

    It’s just that right now (for the past month or so) I’m at a time where my gender identity matches with my sex, and I feel like no one’s going to listen if I say that I’m anything else. At the same time, I can’t ignore that I’ve also had times where I was entirely sure I wanted to be male and even thought/hoped I’d eventually get a sex change at times. Most of the time I either don’t care or feel pretty neutral, though.

    Overall, I just wish that I could go back and forth in appearance without too many questions or else settle on something, but seeing as I’m way too shy to try, I’ve unfortunately fallen into the habit of entirely ignoring my appearance and wishing everyone else would, too. And I guess I can’t even say I want to settle on one thing honestly, because I’d feel like I’d be missing a part of myself. It’s just rather frustrating and, as you showed here, pretty uncomfortable at times.

    Sorry, kind of started venting there. I just liked the article and, well, I have feelings about it.

  20. Thumb up 1

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    Kat(d)e,

    Thank you so much for always giving so much of yourself to this column. I always want to give you huge hug after I read it. I discovered this a few months ago, and I’ve been slowly reading through it like a favorite TV series. Your reflections have helped me better understand my own gender, has given me insight into the struggles of my butch and genderqueer friends. Thanks!

  21. Thumb up 2

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    Thanks for this. I really love the different perspective.

    I also really love what seems like an increasing drive to get rid of labels and acknowledge fluidity of identity, and I’m hoping it spreads – as soon as wider society recognises how wide “normal” really is, I think life’s going to be better for everyone. I’m normal. You’re normal. Virtually all of us are normal. REALLY. Normal is a very wide spectrum. Anyone who believes otherwise has a definition of “normal” which doesn’t accord with reality.

  22. Thumb up 1

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    Another butch column?? You write well but its like 3/4 of the lesbians on here are butch.
    We;re all women and shouldnt have to pretend we are men. That why lesbians have a bad name :/

    • Thumb up 17

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      Okay so I really don’t want to just rip you a new one over this and am really trying to respectfully articulate what I take issue with in your comment.

      *deep breath and begins* First of all, AS isn’t a space that is exclusively butch in its content. If you feel your interests aren’t being addressed there are constructive ways to voice that but “We shouldn’t have to pretend we’re men” is just a really misguided, insensitive and unpleasant thing to say. Butch identified women are NOT pretending to be anything. They, much like you or I, are living their truth as best they know how and undermining these choices is just not cool in a space like this.

      Also, in a bigger picture way, what does pretending to be men mean anyway? The thing is, masculinity isn’t uniquely male and femininity isn’t uniquely female. One of the things I love most about the queer community is the freedom people have to look beyond heteronormative gender roles that have oppressed women for centuries.

      And finally, the thing that really killed me- lesbians getting a bad name??? What, are we all supposed to fit into some straight male cliche of how we all look and identify, and just commodify the most intimate parts of ourselves according to what suits the male gaze. Eh… doubt it.

      Also, when someone comes on here and posts an extremely personal and forthright account of their experiences, it is just the worst to pick holes in the value of that person’s experience or their right to be heard. We all have voices here, I’ve personally found that AS has been incredibly good for me, living in my cis-white-femme-bubble as I get to have people generously sharing their experiences of what it is to be in another part of my community. A part I can’t possibly understand the dynamics of. Anymore than they can understand where I’ve been and how I see myself in the world. So if we all share and listen and ask and really fucking hear one another for a change, I really do think that’s something wonderful can happen.

  23. Thumb up 1

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    Always happy when a new “Butch Please” comes out. I can relate to this, having navigated public spaces as an androgynous soft butch who often gets mistaken for a teenage boy. I usually dress tomboy or MOC, but I still identify as female. However, what interests me is when some genderqueer people seem to reinstate the gender binary in a way by using existing stereotypes.

    This part stuck out to me: “I feel like buying makeup, something pink, hairties that my hair won’t hold.” [...] But female feels like a label I don’t deserve, something I’m something I’m supposed to be apologizing for with every unladylike step.” I never wear makeup and my hair certainly wouldn’t hold hairties, but I still identify as a woman. Similarly, my close cisgendered straight male friend wears makeup and hairties and feather earrings, and his straightness and male-ness is constantly attacked and scrutinized. I know that I am privileged in that I don’t feel uncomfortable identifying as a strong, somewhat masculine woman, but I get confused when people newly in the trans/genderqueer community tell me that they are trans or genderqueer because they don’t identify with female stereotypes. I guess I don’t know what it would feel like to be male or to be female or to be genderless because I only know what it is like to be me.

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      I think it’s just really hard to explain what it feels like to not be cisgender. One of the easiest things to explain is the not identifying with assigned gender stereotypes which is why people often start there. The harder stuff to explain is the associated dysphoria. Only Kate can explain what she really meant, but I took the section you quoted as being about the dysphoria she experiences as a genderqueer person. It’s not just that she feels like she doesn’t fit female stereotypes; she feels anxiety/shame/depression because she doesn’t feel like she fits where society expects someone with her body to fit.

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        Thanks for the response. I guess the body dysphoria makes a little more sense to me. However, I wonder what this says for the women-identified folks who do not fall into these physical definitions (here I think of my aunt who had a double mastectomy and my cisgendered female friend who happens to have abnormally high levels of testosterone and takes estrogen meds.) I don’t think we should let any stereotype or sex-based scientific arguments define our genders. For me, I have found so much strength from the feminist movement and strong women role models that I identify with my sex assigned at birth even though I sometimes feel like an oddball with my more masculine presentation in these communities. I figure it’s their problem, not mine, since my interpretation of what a woman can be is different from the norm. Anyway, it’s always nice to hear feedback from others as I seek to understand and be more inclusive. Thanks to the open minded commenters with respond in welcoming and constructive ways!

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    Another sad column. You always write sad things..

    I hope you realize though, that the judgement you’re experiencing comes from You. You don’t know what the officers or whatever people are thinking. Why be nervous is such a situation? You can only be nervous if you’re passing judgement onto Yourself. And no, you’re not a martyr for being gender queer. I bet that even if you were a straight cis woman, you would still find reasons to not feel good enough.I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that feeling sorry for yourself all the time is a healthy way to live.

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      This comment is quite frankly stupid and uses a lazy model of thinking. No, being aware of people judging you does not secretly mean you are judging yourself. There are legitimate reasons to be afraid if you are in some way socially non conforming and having to deal with authority, especially if the way you fail to conform is related either to your body or the romantic/sexual relationships you engage in as physical and sexual violence perpetrated by authority figures on those people is not even particularly rare.

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        Stupid is not an argument.. Lazy isn’t either.. talking about lazy thinking.
        And what is “secretly”?.. These incoherent terms do not apply to anything I was talking about.

        Maybe it is too hard for you to grasp. But other’s judgments are not always perceivable, and the other way around, not everything that you perceive to a be judgement, is one. Getting nervous in a line at the airport is a prime example of not being in danger, but imagining it yourself. The example of the lady giving a compliment, and Kate being surprised also shows that she was completely out of touch at that moment, and the origin of that lies with her. You can be scared of being judged by others all day.. but that doesn’t have to reflect reality. You don’t know what people are thinking, that part she fills in herself. Filling in is not knowing……..

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          Kate: That was an amazing piece, thank you so much for your honesty.

          As for you, Zenio:
          “Another sad column. You always write sad things..”

          We write/speak our own truths, and if it’s sad (which I would disagree with) maybe some compassion is in order, not passive-aggressive snarkery.

          “I hope you realize though, that the judgement you’re experiencing comes from You. You don’t know what the officers or whatever people are thinking. Why be nervous is such a situation? You can only be nervous if you’re passing judgement onto Yourself.”

          Well, right now the judgement she’s experiencing is coming from you, so, there’s that.

          But as to your point, you ask why be nervous in that situation? I’m a fat femme, and going through airport security makes me break out in a cold sweat. My clothing and presentation are carefully chosen to make me feel comfortable — for me, that’s hyper-femme, dresses or skirts, bright colors and cardigans and earrings and long flowing tresses. Yet despite a very typical gender presentation, I have never once in my dozens of flights made it through the body scanner without a pat down.

          There is nothing quite as frustrating as having someone tell you what part of your body is “the problem”: “Your hair is too thick, our scanner couldn’t see through it;” “Your bra set the machine off, we’ll have to give you a pat down;” “We couldn’t see through the fabric under your skirt.” You mean the bike shorts I wear so that I don’t accidentally flash someone? You mean the heavy-duty underwire bras that I need to hold up my breasts? You mean the long, thick hair I’ve spent years growing out to off-set my chunky frame? Which part of me is the problem today??

          So no, Zenio, the judgement Kate is experiencing is not internalized, it’s very much external, and easy enough to recognize: It’s knowing that, literally, if I fail to pass their expectations of what I should look like, then I will be punished.

          I will be delayed. I might miss my flight. Worst of all, I will be subjected to the kind of unwanted touching that in any other context we would all instantly recognize as grossly innappropriate. But because it’s a state-sanctioned security requirement, I get to stand there, supressing my fight-or-flight response, trying not to instinctively run away or slap someone, instead burning with embarassement about what I’m allowing someone to do to me, despite the fact that I don’t allow *anyone* to touch my body that intimately.

          “And no, you’re not a martyr for being gender queer. I bet that even if you were a straight cis woman, you would still find reasons to not feel good enough.”

          I’m cis. That doesn’t mean I can’t feel compassion based on similar experiences I’ve had (sympathy), and listen to Kate’s experiences and imagine how I would feel in her shoes (empathy). Empathy, sympathy, compassion: you might want to try them out.

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    Loved this piece. I don’t identify as butch or femme or whatever, but I still feel just like that sometimes. That I should put on a dress or make-up. Love this piece.

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    Kate, every time someone tries to tell me to cheer up when I’m just trying to explain my feelings, I think of that Chely Wright song “Positive and Hopeful”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJZHDBS6lS0

    I took the train to A-Camp specifically to avoid airport security. I didn’t think I’d be able to handle the physical and emotional violations while traveling alone. I’m proud of you for going through with it and writing honestly about your feelings. It was good to hear you speak at camp and I hope you keep writing.

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    So this comment is probably a bit late to the game but I thought it should be said. I really like the way you write and I find it confusing when people say it shouldn’t be called “butch please” because butch is the wrong label or other remarks about whether your pieces are positive or negative. I’m not a writer but I love the written word and I think that the experiences that have affected us deeply, often make the best writing whether they be positive or negative.

    I really think that the passion you use when writing connects with a lot of people and that connection seems like a really positive thing to me. Feeling less alone in the world can’t be a bad thing right? Also, I’m really bad with labels. I can’t use them. I definitely understand the comfort of finding somewhere you belong in the world but when they become too rigid I feel like we’re so busy trying to see ourselves in others that we miss out on the amazing, unique things that make us individuals. So having said that, I’d never assume to ever question how anyone identifies, it’s entirely personal. If this column were called “the butch oracle ” or “the definitive butch” I could maybe see a point but these are your reflections on your life and to be honest, they’re pretty awesome.

    Keep up the great work.

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    Thank you so much for sharing. This is a beautiful piece. This really helped me to get an idea of what it felt like for you to be judged and placed into a box of being a certain gender while going through security at the airport. That sounded like a really difficult traumatic experience for you. I don’t understand why people get so picky and argue over specific labels, however you identify is yours and no one can take that from you. Some societal constructs can really suck, especially for the queer community. The thing is, it feels like practically everything in life is a societal construct regardless of how widely accepted or not accepted it is.

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    “I wore a lot of loose side ponytails that year because that was something that pretty girls did…I am a walking imitation of the straight girl teenage culture I saw around me and sought to pull over my body like a fireproof blanket.”

    Kate (Kade?), I relate.

    Been thinking about the airport-specific issues since the last time I had to send information in the form of…a form to an airline, starting with picking a suffix, moving on to picking a gender, and so on.

    Hope it gets easier.

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    This touched my heart. I’m a mom and I would have you at my dinner table anytime then wrap you in a big maternal hug. What mom could not be immensely proud of you? You are so gorgeous – inside and out.

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    “I am always almost there. I am almost a girl, or almost a boy. I am almost butch enough, or almost genderqueer enough, almost radical enough or interesting enough or attractive enough. But I never feel that I am enough, which academia taught me was the state of being queer. To be on the cusp, to exist on the edge, within and without. To be the barrier between or beyond.”

    Oh, thank you for this. This is something I’ve been struggling with for quite a while now. Feelings of being not queer enough and not genderqueer enough and… everything in this quote, absolutely all of it is so ringingly true. In fact, so much of your article mirrors my experience, it aches.

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    “Sometimes I am proud as a stone of my genderqueer identity. But sometimes I miss womanhood with a fierce hot ache that feels an awful lot like missing my mother, or my grandmother, or my ability to sit at their table for family meals.”

    This, this, this.

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