feature image via Shutterstock
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
A missed connection, if you will:
I was walking down the sidewalk with a lovely lady on my arm. You were walking towards us. You saw me and hunched your shoulders in your leather jacket, pulled on your five-panel, and gave a noticeable tug on the girl whose hand you were holding. You stuck your chin out and made direct eye contact, staring me down as our paths met. You looked like you were trying to make yourself about a foot wider and two feet taller. I had no idea how to respond to your body language, since I couldn’t tell if you were trying to make me cry or run me off the sidewalk. I don’t know if you were showing me that the girl you were with “belonged” to you, or that you were the “bigger butch,” or that I should “step down.”
Meanwhile, my femme girlfriend said she was making polite eye contact and smiles with the girl whose hand you were yanking on, and those two passed with a sense of community and friendliness. You nearly bodychecked me when you passed. What gives, friend?
-Sad, Non-Confrontational Butch Who Just Wants Another Butch to Be Friends With
This happened. Actually, it happens fairly often. I run into another masculine-presenting queer my age and the body language exchange feels a lot more hostile than it does friendly. Chests puff up, clothing is shrugged into place, hat brims are fondled and readjusted. Passing on the street or in any social space can feel like a short brush from a full on confrontation, and I am immediately reminded of the mating rituals of certain species of birds, with lots of flashy feathers and awkward dances of dominance. I’m not looking for a full-on hug, but it feels like butches’ introductions tend to come with some level of one-upmanship and animosity, and that’s a darn shame.
As a result of these interactions, I have developed a few fears:
- Do I have a permanent case of Resting Bitch Face? Is my expression intimidating and nasty when I’m not paying attention? Does it appear that I am trying to steal your girlfriend, or punch you in the face, or seem cooler than thou? I just look this way, I swear! On the inside, I’m having an anxiety attack about making eye contact and whether or not I look goofy and a conversation I had two weeks ago that is still plaguing my subconscious. Does that translate as douchebag that deserves to be stared down?
- Is there something significant about butchness that I am missing? Am I supposed to display a secret badge or know a hand signal? Do you see me as an impostor in your masculinity complex because I forgot to show you my Butch Card? Where do I get a Butch Card? Are they available on a sliding scale? I’m a broke-ass queer, but I don’t want to be left out of my own community!
- If this turned into an actual physical altercation, could I survive a non-West Side Story street fight with another butch?
Okay, I’ll say it: I have trouble making butch friends. Actually, I have trouble feeling like I am a part of the butch community, period. Here I am, writing a column that is about my butch experience, supposedly an acting representative of the title “butch”, and I don’t feel like I belong. If masculinity is at its heart an aspirational state of being, then queer masculinity is inevitably going to be a few steps from the center, right? Maybe I’ve been chewing on gender theory for too long – and sometimes I think college will do that to you, just shove a lot of scraps in your mouth and say “Taste this, damn it! It’s smart!” – but I know that to be masculine is to never feel satisfied with your own expression, an eternal anxiety that you’re not “man enough,” that your package isn’t as impressive as that person’s package. It makes sense, then, that the taste in my mouth when I run into another butch is the sour impression that my butch is not as butch as their butch, so to speak.
I was not one of those butches who swears by the posse of guy friends she’s amassed since grade school. I’ve never actually known how to make guy friends. When I was a six year old in a Catholic school uniform, boys were foreign objects who told me I was ugly. Girls made sense. It was easy and fun and felt right to be around girls. Girls ruled and boys drooled, or so I recited on the regular while holding hands and spinning in circles with my friends. The Spice Girls told me all about girl power. Feminism was a thing I discovered at 9 and wholeheartedly embraced. Plus girls were pretty and they smelled good, and I liked being around them.
Even past the years when gender socialization seemed intentionally segregated by teachers and parents, even when I was at that adolescent point when we were supposed to be “mingling” with the opposite sex and developing crushes, I was instantly comfortable surrounded by girls. Guys made me uncomfortable because I felt like I was supposed to be interacting with them in a certain way, and I couldn’t. I was supposed to think they were cute, and I didn’t. I was supposed to flirt with them, and I didn’t. Worst of all, I wasn’t supposed to feel jealous of their ability to have pretty girls like them, and I so totally did. Something about guys made me feel like I wasn’t good enough, too, and I didn’t understand that feeling.
I revisited that emotion when I came out as butch. Sometimes it feels like my inability to feel at home in the butch community and make butch friends has something to do with my inability to make guy friends, too. When masculinity is the dominant trait that ties a group together, it’s a very different kind of bonding experience. I’m used to the secretiveness of girlhood, the connections that are formed from whispering and huddling together in the dark and sharing hidden things that society has told us not to display. In a butch social group, it feels like I’m meant to be putting everything on display, from my sexual prowess to my good hair. We’re either peacocking together or we’re sizing each other up, or both. And when we can’t find a greater cause to identify with, we resort to shitty practices like misogyny and shoving our swagger around. Masculinity isn’t about forming community without pushing someone out of that community, so it’s not that much of a surprise that access to that community doesn’t always feel natural or okay.
Still, I want my community. I want to feel like when I say butch to identify myself, there’s a lot of other people saying it, standing next to me and keeping me from falling down. Because sometimes you say butch and the world gives you a pretty firm kick in the opposite direction, and it would be nice to know there’s a safety net ready and waiting.
How do we, as butches, form a healthier community, one that reaches out rather than puts up walls? I know and understand why those walls are there. The queer community has to be insular for its own protection, and we’re a bunch that has learned defense mechanisms the hard way. But butchness doesn’t just arise from queerness. It’s also directly influenced by hegemonic masculinity, and patriarchal notions of manhood, and what it means to share and bond and connect when these expectations for expression are in place. I’m not saying we need to wake up tomorrow and stand in a circle together and kumbuya this into existence. I’m saying that instead of expecting the worse from our fellow butches, we need to see the best. We need to support and accept, instead of attempting to one-up and establish superiority. There are many kinds of butches, and they’re all equally important and equally welcome to our community. Let’s make sure we all have a place at the table. We can be hard motherfuckers who kick the ass of the world that tries to beat us down, but we should still be able to smile at our fellow butch, and let them know we see them as friends, siblings, and fellows in the struggle.