Top Five Things I Heard When I Started Presenting As Butch

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We’re celebrating Autostraddle’s Fifth Birthday all month long by publishing a bunch of Top Fives. This is one of them!


I’ve heard a lot of interesting reactions since coming out as butch four years ago. Some of these reactions were overwhelmingly positive and accepting, and some were confused and angry. A lot tokenized me, even more sexualized me, and a choice few made me feel pretty damn worthless. The cool part is that in four years, I’ve gotten to the point where you can say just about anything to me in regards to my presentation and my identity, and it’s no biggie. Here are my super favorites ever:

5. “But why do you want to look like a man?”

I… don’t? Masculinity doesn’t equal man. Here I am, throwing my gender theory books all over you, covering your extremities in masculinity studies.

4. “You were so much prettier with long hair.”

3. “You’re not attractive to me anymore.”

My ex-girlfriend was a real barrel of monkeys.

2. “But why do you need to look gay? Before you just looked like a normal person. You weren’t in everyone’s face about it. Now everyone can tell that you’re gay with just a glance.”

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1. “Wow. You got hot all of a sudden.”

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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 123 articles for us.

55 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    THANK YOU. 5,4, and 2 I get constantly from my mother. #1 is always a favourite of mine.
    Another one I get is “but why are you trying to be a stereotype?”, which I suppose is a permutation of 2, but still infuriating.

  2. Thumb up 12

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    Ugh, number 4. I will never understand people’s obsession with long hair. Pretty much every professional hair dresser I’ve been to has commented on how I’m “so brave” to have short hair, and I seriously could not give fewer fucks about it.

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      I know, right? I just shaved my head again, and people keep saying, “Wow, you’re so brave.” I suppose that’s a compliment, but I’m always unsure what to say except “thanks….” in that tone of voice you use when you want everyone to know that you think their compliment is weird.

  3. Thumb up 7

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    I’m glad #1 exists and it restores my faith in humanity (and puts me in good company as far as my taste in women) (wait, that means more competition, dammit!) (wait, no, I’m totally enlightened and am above thinking that way, we’re all in this together) (well, now I’m just confused).

  4. Thumb up 7

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    Oh god, #4 and all possible variations thereof. My mom’s favorite is “but I just want you to look pretty!” Well thanks.

    Shaving my head was a great decision, and not just because cute girls kept coming up to me to play with my fuzz.

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      oh for sure! being butch is just about how you identify, not necessarily about how you present. for me, my identity as butch is directly tied to my presentation, which is why this list is specific to my experience and thus the use of “i” everywhere. definitely not trying to impose my experience on anyone else.

  5. Thumb up 15

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    Did I miss out on a copy of The Universal Checklist of Universal Attractiveness? Because I do not understand how so many people can have such a narrow view of what people should and shouldn’t look like. Can’t we agree that people look their best when they feel good?

    So hooray for #1!

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      Yes, the unexpected transition in how men view me was so appreciated. It’s so much easier to be friends with guys now, because I’m no longer primarily viewed as a sexual object.
      But I’ve got one friend who really hates short hair on girls and reminds me several times a week. It’s pretty hilarious, actually, because all my friends are cutting their hair shorter and shorter and she freaks out every time we even mention not growing our hair out.

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      I wondered, when I got my hair cut, if I would get fewer catcalls. Somewhat to my surprise, no, it’s about the same as before. My hair is ear-length rather than crew-cut, but still. I got my first short-haired catcall while going home from the getting the haircut, even.

      I was pleasantly surprised, though, at how many compliments I got on it, including from family members who I don’t think of as particularly queer-friendly.

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    I guess I’m lucky – most of the time when people see pics of my long hair they say, “Oh my god, the short hair suits you so much more!” YES I AGREE

    As someone with a more fluid gender presentation, what gets me is when I wear a dress or something after a long stretch of wearing more masculine clothes and suddenly the people in my life start AGGRESSIVELY COMPLIMENTING me. “I love your dress! Those shoes are so cute! You should dress like this more often!” Nope, I’ll dress like that when I feel like it…

  7. Thumb up 4

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    YAY

    4. I HATE that all of my ID photos have me with long hair. I feel like I look like a totally different person with short hair and I like that. My mom is totally obsessed with my hair growth. Every time I mention that my hair is long and mullety she comments that I should just let it grow back out. Even though most people tell me short hair really suits me. Not that their opinions matter either way.

    Perfect use of Judy Garland.

  8. Thumb up 9

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    I relate so hard to this!

    The “but you look better with long hair” thing is actually a comment I got more before I cut off my hair/started presenting more masculine – I mentioned wanting to cut it off and a lot of my friends/relatives freaked out because short hair is scary or something, and then once I actually got short hair most of those people changed their mind and decided I look better this way. Confusing. Frustratingly, I still get well-meaning (?) hairdressers trying to make my short haircuts more feminine and/or trying to sell me on cuts which would require some kind of complicated styling routine, which is so not what I want in a haircut.

    I started changing my style of dress around the same time as I got short hair. Certain family members are still trying to make me girlier and scare me into being more gender-conforming, but most of my friends have been really cool about my gender presentation, possibly because they know me well enough to be able to tell that I’m so much comfortable in my own skin now.

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      Yes this! “But you look so pretty with long hair, why would you cut it?” was SO annoying. Every time I saw myself in the mirror I was shocked by how not-me it looked, so the “compliment” just felt like gender policing: you must have long hair to be pretty = you must be feminine to be attractive. (Not that long hair is inherently feminine, but the gender-policing types tend to think it is.)

  9. Thumb up 11

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    My hair’s not even that short right now and I still get #4 constantly. Even from people who didn’t even know me when I had long hair (especially then).

    Seriously, people. I was the worst at caring for my hair when it was long. You don’t actually want me to grow it back out. Shit was not cute.

  10. Thumb up 0

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    Although I would never say #1 to someone, because that’s hella rude, when I see pictures of celebrities who cut their hair short (I’m looking at you, Evan Rachel Wood Bisexual), that’s totally what I think.

  11. Thumb up 1

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    I’m not even butch but I get the short hair thing enough that it bothers me. It’s no ones g-d place to tell me I looked better/prettier with long hair. I like my hair short and that’s now I’m wearing it. Move on!

  12. Thumb up 0

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    As a writer, I’m always trying to get into the heads of other people and see their experiences. I identify as femme, and I honestly don’t know many butch-identified/presenting folks, so it’s interesting to read about a side of the queer community with which I have very little personal connection. Thanks for sharing! :)

  13. Thumb up 8

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    I feel like a conversation we really need to have as a culture is the act of beauty for self care as opposed to beauty for other people. Beauty comes in a million different flavors that we, as humans, can choose for ourselves as subjects of the story, instead of choosing for others as the objects of the story. The purpose of beauty is to make the subject feel good, not make an object of a person. If that means that I want to present butch, that is my choice, and is based on my own happiness. I define beauty for myself, and nobody else has a say in that.

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    I’ve been hearing 4. and 5. for years even before I came out since I’ve always dressed sort of masculine of center, after getting out of my parents house, and have had my hair cut short on and off. It’s how I always felt comfortable. Now that I’ve started coming out people are saying things like “I should have guessed,” and “Well, I should have known, because you didn’t hide that well.” I was just being comfortable, but as soon as I started telling people I’m gay, then they applied that as my reason for dressing they way I do and having my hair short. Like it makes them feel better to make up a justification for why a woman would present as less feminine than society dictates, I guess.

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    I can relate to #3 the most. Each of my ex-girlfriends didn’t find me attractive with a bald head (like Ripley in Alien 3 / G.I. Jane style), but I also found them less attractive with longer hair because I’m attracted to women with pixie cuts (which they had when I met them).

  16. Thumb up 0

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    I took an old i.d. to work with me a couple months ago because a coworker hadn’t seen me with long hair before and she looked at this picture of 14 yr old me with shoulder length hair and said “you look so cute! are you gonna grow it back?” (NEVER. I wouldn’t grow it long again if you paid me.)
    #5&2 hit me hard–do you know how many arguments my mother and i have had about my hair and how many days of silence I’ve gotten after coming home with a short haircut because of reasons similar to #5&2?

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    My favourite assumption from people is that I am slowly transitioning and secretly identify as a trans* man.

    You know, I went from straight girl, to girl in love with girl, to full-fledge queer. Somewhere in there I started getting rid of my more feminine clothing. And when I got my first pixie cut my sister was convinced. Now I have a more masculine haircut.

    And the icing on the cake? Leaned over to feed the cat at my Mom’s the other day and she flicked the waist band of my boxer briefs that were poking over the top of my pants. “You’re wearing boy’s underwear,” she said. And I just nodded.

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    I haven’t even fully started presenting as butch, just less feminine, and I still hear all of this. Most of the opinions I hear nowadays just give me a giggle or a boost to my self esteem.

    All of these gifs are perfect though!

  19. Thumb up 1

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    Oh my God that Judy Garland video is perfect. I’m never saying the words ‘I don’t care’ again, just gonna play that.

    Since I cut my hair short I’ve gotten a variety of responses, but the consensus seems to be that it was a vast improvement :D

  20. Thumb up 1

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    I loved having short hair but to this day I get passive aggressive comments about how “much better” I look now. Oh short hair, some day I will return to you…but the butch punk phase is kinda over. It was the early 2000s, hair gel and popped collars of shirts with ripped sleeves…*nostalgia*

  21. Thumb up 0

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    have had all of these since forever.

    + “you aren’t really a dresses person are you?”
    + “isn’t that a man’s [insert article of clothing]?!”

    most people tell me that short hair suits me, except for my parents.

  22. Thumb up 0

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    I was really surprised at how much people seem to like my short hair, including relatives who I don’t think of as especially queer-friendly.

    I’d been presenting increasingly masculine-of-center for a few years before the haircut, though, so they might not even have associated the haircut with gender expression. One relative complimented my haircut but was a little bit obnoxious about, for instance, the pictures of me (pre-haircut) in my first men’s-style suit and tie.

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    Even though I don’t identify as butch, that totally reminds me…

    When I was 4 I wanted to get a girly bowl cut because a local child star had it. (Yeah, okay, I was born in the early 90s don’t judge me k?!!) I asked to get my hair cut that way, and it wasn’t my mom, but my grandma who objected. She told my mom not to do it. She sat tiny me on the kitchen table, held my arms very tightly, looked me straight in the face, and said : “You wanna look like a little boy, or a little girl? Don’t cut your hair or people will call you a little boy!”

    I held back crying. Childhood trauma at its best! :P

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