A Love Letter to Butch People (That Is Accidentally About My Dad)

I’ll start with a bad joke: what’s the difference between my father visiting my house and a butch person visiting? My father says he’ll take out my trash and fix my leaky sink; the butch does it without saying anything.

The joke is funny because my father is the picture of traditional masculinity. He is very cis, very straight, very Christian. Despite the social capital that his masculinity may offer him, my father hasn’t ever done anything for me. Not take out my trash, not fix my sink, not even buy me groceries. Every time I leave an interaction with him, I feel small and defeated and bruised.

The joke is funny because masculine of center people are always offering to fix things for me. It’s like Sam the Onion Man’s character in Louis Sachar’s novel Holes: “I can fix that,” they say when my trash is full or when the knob on my shower is broken or when my screen door wobbles. And when they offer, if I let them, they never just fix things, they help me fix my broken relationship to masculinity.

It used to be that when I thought about masculinity, I thought about my father’s brand: overbearing, the kind that beats women in front of children, the kind that uses a patriarchal God to excuse transphobia, the kind that I allow to come into my life almost five years after no contact and demands that I give him grandchildren within two years. The kind that is attached to people already born with fistfuls more privilege that I will ever have who use them to punch other people into the ground instead of lifting them up.

Here’s what I think about now: the girl who was physically attacked and called a dyke on public transportation for daring to look visibly queer, but who took out my trash before she’d let me comfort her. Or the classic butch who wears boots every day in what is honestly oppressive heat in Texas, who I’ve never seen without a perfect haircut, who plays footsie with me during our class on race and public policy, and who secretly has the world’s softest hands. They call themself my acountabilidaddy. These are folks who are hard and masculine but aren’t dangerous, and work hard to make sure I don’t see them as dangerous either.

The biggest factor that has changed my understanding? I keep better company now. I befriend, I fuck, and I love butches and studs and AGs and masculine-of-center cuties who are embodying masculinity in ways that disrupt the hegemonic definition of the word. They are vulnerable and honest, and they don’t see my femininity as a threat to their masculinity. They are caring and they check their internalized misogyny and confront toxicity in their communities head-on. These are folks who are hard inside and outside, but I am supported by their hardness, not broken down by it.

And the more I have loved butches, the more I have loved hardness. Being able to be soft in this world is important for a lot of folks, but also, I think it’s a privilege. And when you exist in a world saying “women look like this” and you do not look like this (and maybe even aren’t a woman), it takes being hard in order to thrive. There is beauty in being hard that way. There is a reason we tell our lovers their haircuts make them look “sharp.”

These hard butches have taught me how to be hard as a femme, non-binary, human too. From them, I have learned to demand that the world see me the way I want to be seen. More often than not, I’m seen as a straight girl doing femininity a little bit wrong; but when they love my facial hair, and my unruly stomach, and my changing and confusing relationship with gender, I love those things and I can leave home feeling like a diamond; hard and beautiful and dangerous.

It was hard for me to admit that I admired masculinity in a partner. If I accepted that I loved these hard women and people, I’d have to admit that masculinity wasn’t inherently bad (which means my father might just be a bad person, and that masculinity isn’t the problem, it’s him). For a while, even thinking about masculinity felt all too wrapped up in my relationship with my father (and I work very hard not think about my father. Except when I try to write personal essays about how much I love butch women and people and accidentally write about him). But the thing is that every time I love a butch person, a little bit of the harm his masculinity caused me is replaced by something new and queer and good.

Sometimes hardness means a hammer, but sometimes it is a trophy, or a rock rubbed smooth and shiny, or a steel-toed boot that is worn from long hours doing physical labor, or a mattress that you can feel supporting you where you need to be held, or a silicone cock, even. Hard can be comforting and desirable, hard does not have to hurt.

A few weeks ago, I was cooking for someone cute and she told me, “You don’t have to do all this for me.” I said, “I know,” and “thank you,” and “you deserve nice things,” and that was that. But caught me off guard, because didn’t she get it? Didn’t she realize she was saving my broken relationship with masculinity, saving the world, saving me just by existing and loving me? The least I could do was fix her a plate.

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Ari is a 20-something artist and educator. They are a mom to two cats, they love domesticity, ritual, and porch time. They have studied, loved, and learned in CT, Greensboro, NC, and ATX.

Ari has written 330 articles for us.


  1. Someone close to my heart sent me this article but it would’ve made me tear up anyway. Thank you!

    (Also, it finally made me register on AS in order to be able to comment–an action long overdue…)

  2. I don’t have words… Al(aina) this is so perfect and sweet and good. Thank you!❤️

  3. Lovely article! I particularly liked this bit “Sometimes hardness means a hammer, but sometimes it is a trophy, or a rock rubbed smooth and shiny”.

    I lost my Dad several years ago and this article made me think about the kindness and gentleness that he embodied. He was a quiet soul and in this moment I realise that I’ve never appreciated that aspect of him enough, especially considering how difficult it can be (as a woman or a man) to be gentle in a world that seeks to equate masculinity with aggression. Thank you so much for your thoughts!

  4. “These are folks who are hard and masculine but aren’t dangerous, and work hard to make sure I don’t see them as dangerous either.”

    These words are near my bones.
    If I walk like a duck, and look like a duck, I worry constantly that humans will think(sensibly, and for their own safety) that I have the same awful, predatory behaviors as a duck.

    • This is absolutely and always the biggest weight on my butch heart. You are not alone.

  5. This feels like a talking-out-loud of some of my toughest self-interrogations about masculinity. Trauma and sexuality and desire are hard to disentangle, and I really appreciate you sharing how you’re working to tease that out. You’re not the only one.

  6. This is so moving and meaningful to me, and wonderfully written. Thank you for writing it.

  7. al. i cried when you first emailed me a draft of this and i cried when you read it at camp and i cried again now. thank you for this. thank you.

  8. Thank you for sharing this and for putting it out there that masculinity can be embodied in many different people, not just men. And thank you for sharing the butch love :)

  9. Al. I love you. I love this. I loved hearing you read it. I just have a lot of love for you and all the amazing things your brain does and all the amazing words you write and say.

  10. I was really emotional about this when you read it at camp. Sometimes the narrative about masculinity is so nasty in the queer community and I get it, but as a masc person it’s like…sure, but I can’t help I’m you know…butch. I already self-loathe enough as it is. This felt so affirming then, and it feels so affirming now. Thank you for making me feel loved.

  11. I 100% agree that butch folks deserve more positive attention and love, but my proudly butch partner does not exist to make me more comfortable with masculinity. I do not expect her to repair my relationship with what is broken in society. I have never looked to her for this, and also absolutely do not expect her to offer to take out the trash or fix door knobs in our house as an expression of safe masculinity. She does these things because that is what a good partner or friend or any good human does.

    I acknowledge that everyone’s experiences with the toxic masculinity that plagues our world vary MASSIVELY. But butch and masc people exist in their presentations because they feel made more whole or confident or full by them, not to make others more comfortable with themselves.

    Toxic masculinity harms ALL. And it must be fixed and confronted by those who perpetuate it the most – most often, cis, het men.

    • I think there’s a difference between existing to heal someone and your existence healing someone.

      The queers at camp don’t live their lives to heal me, but seeing them at camp, happy and brave and themselves and all the things that they are, heals me all the same.

      • I’m thinking more on the healing part, and I can understand that. I haven’t tried to think of it in terms of indirect healing, because I suppose I myself don’t feel that way. But I guess I can see that some folx are brought joy by butch existence.

        I’ll be thinking more on why butchness is equated with masculinity as I’ve not considered it to be hand-in-hand: as if to be a butch is to be masculine, which I don’t 100% agree with.

        I think there’s a lot to unpack here, but we can at least all agree that toxic masculinity needs to be canceled in 2018.

  12. I was feeling really emotional while reading this, but “Didn’t she realize she was saving my broken relationship with masculinity, saving the world, saving me just by existing and loving me? The least I could do was fix her a plate.” sent me over the edge to have a nice, cleansing cry.
    This is so beautiful, thank you for sharing.

  13. every time i re-experience this a different part of it destroys me and puts me back together, thank you for letting us see this about you and feel it resonate, i’m so grateful

  14. Oh Al(aina). You are such a freakin gift. I’ve been wrestling with gender stuff all my life and this blew a warm breeze across my soul and made more sense than anything. <3

  15. I need(ed) this so much. Hearing you read it was a revelation and being able to come back to in it in this space is a blessing. thank you so much

  16. I really loved this at camp. It moved me in a way I didn’t expect and has given me some good stuff to noodle over. It reminded me about how powerful writing can be.

  17. I love this so much. Thank you.
    Also need to say, “accountabilidaddy” is the hottest word/concept ever.

  18. This was so gorgeous, I feel inspired to be the best butch I can be. ?

    (And to learn how to fix more things…)

  19. I needed this so hard. After Audrey’s piece about their dad, and this amazing piece about masculinity, I spent the night cuddling on a bench with the softest, sweetest butch, and in perfect synchronicity (because don’t these things occur in threes?) the universe taught me a beautiful lesson. What a gift you all are.

  20. I am hella late commenting on this but this is nice and lovely and made me think about butchness in a way I hadn’t before.

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