Butch Please: Butch Antiquated

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


“I have a question,” she said. “Why is it that lesbian couples need to have a butch and a femme?”

I let out an audible groan, covered half my face with a hand.

“Don’t groan at me,” she said, this time with less of a question in her tone. “I just mean in today’s day and age, I’d think you’d be more progressive. You shouldn’t have to enforce these antiquated gender roles, right? Why can’t two girls just be two girls together?”

I was trapped in a car on the way to the second of our traditional Christmas dinners. As fun as the holidays used to be for a queer who wasn’t out to the family, I’ve found that they are extra fun when you’re only out to half the family. There’s something about those in the know constantly policing your body movements, your words, anything they think might give away the “secret” of your existence, as if you are a canister of semi-spoiled milk in constant danger of being spilled. Thank god you’ve got a miniature army of family members who can constantly remind you not to mention your girlfriend at the dinner table for fear you will break your little grandmother’s heart.

My new favorite past-time is opening my mouth during a holiday meal and watching my nuclear family get edgy thinking I might accidentally say “I am a massive homosexual” instead of “Please pass the butter.”

The discussion in the car was much more than an inquisition into the history of lesbian identification, although that desire was present. This relative came of age in the throes of second-wave feminism. Mention Gloria Steinem and she has a litany of praise. Her views on feminism made me realize that her generation’s understanding of equality is entirely capitalistic, and that when she says women have come leaps and bounds, she is talking about the amount made on the dollar and workplace equality. She isn’t talking about rape culture, intersectionality, or queerness. I don’t hold it against her because I don’t think it’s something she’s actively aware of, and we all are constantly learning and growing. Still, it’s difficult to be the one who feels like they are constantly teaching in order to induce this growth.

“I think all identifications are valid. I don’t think that there’s anything inherently wrong with being a female person who identifies as masculine-”

“I don’t like it when you call yourself masculine. Being a strong and independent woman doesn’t mean you’re masculine. That’s insulting, Kate.”

Ah, this old argument. I buried my hands into my lap, tried to regain my composure.

“I call myself masculine for the way I present myself, not because I am strong or independent, which are things I’d argue I’m not all the time, anyway.”

“I just don’t see why a woman would want to aspire to masculinity when she doesn’t like men.”

“But masculinity doesn’t equal maleness.”

The thing is that I have never come out to my family as “butch,” and thus my evolution as an outwardly masculine person over the last few years has seemed like an artificial modification to people who have known me since the days when I was rolling around and getting mud stains in my pink dress. I’ve never explained in any depth my gender expression, body dysphoria, or even my “type.” My family believes I am a lesbian with short hair who dates women with long hair, and that is the extent of their knowledge. Questions are sometimes fielded to me in one on one situations, like why I “had to” cut my hair when I came out, but I answer them in one sentence or less, or dance around the subject by complimenting someone else’s hair. It’s a dance I learned like any other queer, over a fire and barefoot.

I’m in the camp that doesn’t think queer folk should be continually asked to educate the hetero masses about their comings (cummings) and goings, not even when those heteros are your family. Besides, the act of explaining who we are is not so distant from the accusation that we need to explain ourselves, and there will always be the taste of scolding and invalidation in such an invitation, especially when it is practically a demand. Asking me to explain my identity, my desire, why I am wearing boots instead of heels, doesn’t feel like curiosity, but rather a reminder that I am not normal, and because I am not normal, I need to justify my behavior as something that should be preserved, and not “fixed” or stamped out.

I try to own butch. I’m writing a column about it, for heaven’s sake. But it’s difficult. There are a lot of odds against us butches. There’s a patriarchal culture that tells us we are the most unattractive incarnations of femaleness available. We have taken what society says makes a woman beautiful and desirable, and we’ve gone and done the exact opposite. If you don’t think that this fact is pointed out to us by everyone who feels they have the right, which is a much larger population than anyone of us would like, then you would be wrong. And since many of us were socialized to be women, we were taught to be sensitive, to take male commentary with a thank you, to internalize emotional responses. What I’m trying to say is that being the bull dagger at the butt end of the joke is a position that does leaves a body scarred and beaten down.

I love us for being the kind to take strength from our scars and stand up taller each time we’re pushed down. You can call me ugly, fella, but there’s nothing ugly about the way I love, or the way I walk this earth. I think it’s why butches take such pride in their sexual prowess. Tell us we’re hideous and call us monsters, but we’ll be placing our worth on something you can never take from us, and something that threatens your patriarchal existence with every touch.

My situation is not helped by everyone who sees the identification as out of date and negative, or tells me that it does not correlate with me identifying as genderqueer. Essentially, they are saying that genderqueer is the “right” definition. Apparently I am not queer enough if I call myself butch. They believe that butch cannot be made radical, a vast oversight on their part.

I understand some of the accusations of datedness. Butch implies a certain kind of chivalry, an old-fashioned way of looking after your lady. It’s a mode of existence that I’ve seen falsely translated into a nasty case of young dykes with a misogynistic streak who think fucking femmes is enough to respect them. Their use of the word “butch” is interchangeable with lesbro, and we all know my feelings on bro culture. I wrestle constantly with the privilege I have as a result of desiring certain kinds of bodies, specifically femmes and femmes whose bodies are part of a history of commodity and objectification. I don’t want to participate in that history, and I want to understand where my desire fits into any and all negative histories. I think being responsible sexual beings goes outside of consent in the bedroom. I think it means continually questioning ourselves, evolving, trying to understand the way our desire works and how we navigate the world as a result of it. Butch will never be a perfect thing, and mistakes will always be up our sleeves, but if we are always aiming for the best possible versions of ourselves, we are on the right track.

What I didn’t say in the car was the most important thing we have to learn: the butch/femme identity is not a concrete definition. There are extreme nuances in all of these words, which you know is a statement I’ve made in many of my articles, maybe to the point where I feel we should paint it across our cities so people will stop acting like we should be ashamed of the names we use to get a tighter grip on ourselves. We live in a queer world where terms can be fucked, queered, and redefined in such a way that they empower. We call ourselves dykes because we’ve reclaimed the word. I’m not asking us to reclaim butch or femme because I don’t think they’ve ever been displaced enough that we need to dust them off and take them out of the case, but I’m asking us to stop thinking about the terms as if they were only relevant in a distant chapter of our past, and not something that is still fresh, relevant, ready to be morphed and realized in a new light. Butch can be radical. Femme can be radical. Using these terms can be radical. Own your identities, because they are always valid, always important, and always capable of invoking positive change.

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.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Full-time writer, part-time lover, freelancing in fancy cheese and cider.

Kate has written 130 articles for us.


  1. Great post. There were definitely parts where I laughed in recognition and parts where I just admire you for remaining strong in such a gender normative world. Although not nearly as stressful, the commentary that comes with preferring masculine women comes from the same place of “this is what a desirable woman looks like,” with which I usually disagree.

  2. Beautifully written and you raised my consciousness on these issues. I think your writing is important and you do it very well; I hope you keep publishing your work. Thank you.

  3. YES this piece is AWESOME. Thank you for writing, as always, Kate. I don’t identify myself as butch or femme, but I have, repeatedly been told by a family member that she doesn’t understand how I’m a lesbian because I am “so feminine,” which I think refers to the fact that my hair is long and I played with dolls as a child. I don’t mind having the conversations about why that’s a problematic assumption, because I think my family genuinely want to learn about this stuff.

    I think this part is so important: “the butch/femme identity is not a concrete definition. There are extreme nuances in all of these words, which you know is a statement I’ve made in many of my articles, maybe to the point where I feel we should paint it across our cities so people will stop acting like we should be ashamed of the names we use to get a tighter grip on ourselves. We live in a queer world where terms can be fucked, queered, and redefined in such a way that they empower.”

    You never know when a grandma or aunt or cousin of the second wave will feel empowered to start fucking with the terms they use to describe themselves.

  4. LOVED this! As a femme, I’m so tired of the terms (and the preference of) butch or femme being called antiquated and seen as not progressive. Butch and femme are a matter of gender expression and very specific sexual likes, but it doesn’t mean we are stuck with traditional thoughts in any sense. The perception of both these titles even makes lesbians themselves flinch and skirt to avoid them at all costs “I’m not femme, I’m just a very very very lesbian feminine who likes tomboys” “I’m not a butch…just very very very tomboy androgynous”

  5. I appreciate this statement: “I wrestle constantly with the privilege I have as a result of desiring certain kinds of bodies, specifically femmes and femmes whose bodies are part of a history of commodity and objectification.”

    I admit to asking the same question as the frustratingly dense family member about “why can’t it just be two girls together?” Except I’m a lesbian. With a butch girlfriend. And sometimes it feels like she gains status around men and even other women if I am perceived as attractive. It’s not that she and I have the same dynamic as I had with men while I was closeted. But on a social level, people want to put us in boxes, and somehow I feel like I’m in the “hot girlfriend” box and she gets to be a whole person.

    It pisses me off when “maleness” is equated with status.

    I know that masculine/butch lesbians are simply expressing accurate identity, but it stings that my identity is, as was said, objectified. When my girlfriend puts on her men’s jeans, men’s sweater, and men’s Aldos, MEN DON’T CHECK HER OUT. She gets to bypass the infamous male gaze.

    I suppose that I get my femme invisibility, I get to pass in and out of any situation and choose who knows, and everywhere a butch goes everyone assumes. She’s coming out every time she take the dog to pee. But every time I go the grocery store, men look at me and make their own assumptions. And believe me, I would rather be considered on of the most “unattractive incarnations of femaleness available” than whatever the fuck they’re thinking when they’re looking at me.

    I LOVE your POV, and I wish that there was more discourse that included it. I am rambling, because I am weirdly emotional about this subject. I hate that I’m part of the dichotomous existence where we have pink and blue, when most people look better in some shade of purple.

    • so interesting.. reading your comment.. I find the whole idea of objectification really fascinating.. I wrote a play called Ideal beauty that were monologues based on interviews with women about beauty and power. … Have you heard of objectification theory. it’s basically the idea of women beginning to adapt a third person point of view on themselves.. my blog is blog.daniellesonnenberg.com, would love to hear your thoughts.

    • For whatever reason, I can’t click that little plus button and make the number go up by one count, but if I could, I would. Because this was so powerful and awesome and amazing. I love it and really relate to it.

  6. Your column is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to read. Love, love this one.

    I’ve been out to my family for about ten years now, and while some of them still utter questions that range from hilarious to somewhat preposterous, I prefer the questions to the explosive arguments. (My mother once asked me, while drunk, to define “top” and “bottom” in lesbian sex–really, Mom? Holy. Crap.) To their credit, they’ve learned a hell of a lot because they were willing (though not at first) to listen.

    They still don’t quite understand my attraction to women who fall more along the masculine-of-center spectrum, but then again, who understands anyone’s attraction to anyone? Happily, though, I think everyone’s finally gotten over the idea that just because I’m “not butch” (their words, not mine) doesn’t mean I’m not gay.

    And your last paragraph=best thing ever.

  7. Please tell me how femme can be radical. Because that is basically my default presentation at my workplace because of my growing awareness of the administration’s homophobia. Please please please, someone tell me how femme can be radical so I can at least feel better about that while I’m constantly and consciously making no mention of and giving no clue as to my girlfriend/super-gay friends/personal massive homosexuality.

    • This may be the wrong article to comment on about this, and if so I apologize, I was just drawn to that last paragraph. Kate, your writing is wonderful, insightful and constantly eye-opening, and if you lived in Chicago I’d want to be friends with you in real life (that last bit sounds super creepy…sorry.)

    • oh my goodness there are so many INCREDIBLE AMAZING UNBELIEVABLE femmes on the internet who can tell you all about being femme and radical (i am in love with all of them, can you tell?)

      i will let them speak for themselves because some of them are on this very website but just search for femme tumblrs and you’ll find some super personalities who will empower the shit outta us all

      also, it is not creepy at all, i remain in awe of all the really lovely people i meet via autostraddle and tumblr and the internet in general and at some point we should all hang out somewhere in real life and buy each other drinks

    • oh gosh femme can so so be radical. i mean i have only been learning this for the past year or so and i imagine there are lots of older femmes who’ve been around the block who can give you a better answer, but here’s my take on it

      for me, being femme–like, as an overt choice (whereas before i just didn’t think a lot about my gender presentation and didn’t really think about how it influenced or was influenced by queerness at all)–is all about finding a place where performing femininity isn’t equated with weakness or, i don’t know, being shallow or unintelligent. i think femme is radical because in the world of heteronormativity, we’re trained to understand performances of femininity to be frivolous or shallow at best, and weak, asking to be taken advantage of, at worst. in queer world, performances of femininity make femmes invisible or otherwise run against this idea that women* who participate have fallen prey to patriarchy.

      being femme on purpose is fighting against all that. fighting for the right to be seen by other queers, to be respected as individuals–who can be intelligent, strong, independent, etc–by everyone, to know that you can be a critic of patriarchy and still do things that you may legitimately enjoy.

      also, you know what? for me, being femme is the only way so far i’ve figured out how to be comfortable in my body, and i think that alone is just radical enough.

      *wow i know i just made a pretty cissexist argument here, but i can’t speak for gender variant femmes, i’m just speaking as a cis femme, sorry!

      • Yes. This. It’s all about intent I think, and the idea of choosing your own identifiers.

        I really like the word “dyke”. I think it can be empowering, and I’ve called myself “dykey” sometimes. My girlfriend’s brother last year told me I was “too lipstick to be called a dyke”. No, fuck it, that’s precisely why I like it. I am ultra feminine to the point that I’m rarely out of the house without makeup and really really really love 5″ stilettos, and that does not make me ANY LESS OF A LESBIAN. I tend to date girls on the femme side of the spectrum too – I frequently share dresses and lipstick with girlfriends. My relationships are most likely to be seen on TV and least likely to get recognition in the queer world. I like raging about feminism, I like kissing girls in public and goddammit, I’m gonna do it in heels.

        I’m a lipstick dyke, and fuck anyone who has a problem with that.

    • Ahhh, it so can! Being femme and passing lets you into the space and brains of people who would probably never otherwise allow it. They feel safe cracking gay jokes when you look like a harmless straight person, you can challenge their perspective on the queer community by calling out their bigotry, and also just by being there and existing as a femme and going on with your big ol’ gay life.

      I had a message recently from an Evangelical Christian friend who wanted me to know that he’d just signed a marriage equality petition, and it was getting to know me that made him realise the things he’d been taught about The Gays was all bullshit (not going to lie, there may have been a small tear in my eye). I was the first queer person he’d ever got to know, and it was largely because we had bonded over a love of The Young Ones before he realised I’m queer. He’s joined a multi-denominational group of Christians for gay marriage, and a bunch of his friends from church have joined him.

      I’ve always admired the MOC folks among us for challenging the status quo just by leaving the house. I feel like femmes can tear down the walls from the inside though. It’s a different kind of power but I don’t think it’s any less real.

      • I had a somewhat similar experience to this. I made a friend in one of my classes summer before junior year in college who was a ballsy Marine, a born-again Christian, and practically engaged to a long-term girlfriend. It was just as the military started sending out that ridiculous DADT questionnaire, and we had a great debate about DADT and gay marriage one day. I (at the time) identified as bi, am super femme and will speak my opinion no matter what, and I guess came across as someone inoffensive(?? Hate saying that) who didn’t fit the “big scary masculine lesbian” idea he was opposed to. I was the first gay friend he ever had.

        Over the next two years, he started I guess seeing gay people as real people who deserved things like equal rights, and believe it or not, came out as bi to me a year after I met him. He came to a few LGBTA meetings with me, made gay friends and learned not to use crazy offensive terms. When I graduated, I took part in the Lavendar ceremony, where we were asked to have another person introduce us. He gave the most blubbering-tear-inducing speech ever about how I opened his eyes and helped him become comfortable with the LGBTQ community and eventually, with himself. I may or may not be on the verge of tears thinking about it.

        As a femme who both “passes” in lipstick and heels and will come out without a second thought (note: it’s a hell of a lot easier as a femme to come out by saying “my ex-girlfriend” than it is saying “my girlfriend” if at all possible, it’s less easily misconstrued.), I feel like I have a potential ability to change opinions from the inside. It’s empowering.

      • ‘I’ve always admired the MOC folks among us for challenging the status quo just by leaving the house. I feel like femmes can tear down the walls from the inside though. It’s a different kind of power but I don’t think it’s any less real.’

        I really liked this.

    • Not sure this counts as radical femmeness, but finding my femme identity was a huge part of my coming-out process. I always loved looking at women with short hair and androgynous styles. I tried the boyish haircuts, the curveless pants, the assorted menswear pieces. And I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t have nearly as much fun wearing them as wearing pink and ruffles and lace and having long hair drape over my shoulders. After all, I loved looking at androgynous women.

      Somewhere along the line, I had a major “duh” moment. I liked *looking* at these women. I didn’t want to look like them, I just wanted them. That was the beginning of learning to distinguish between what I like to look at and how I like to look. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they don’t. And it makes me really happy to think that maybe some butch girls like looking at me. ;)

      That said, I don’t know how helpful or encouraging any of this is to someone who feels like they have to hide their true self behind a femme veneer. I present femme because I genuinely enjoy it. Putting on a twirly floral skirt or a ribbon headband with a bow makes me smile, even if I’m not going anywhere and no one else is going to see it. But I’ve been in positions where I had to conform to a certain dress code, and I found the experience rather soul-crushing.

      • If you cut or grow your hair in a certain way, or wear a certain thing— “masculine” or “feminine— and it suddenly makes you feel like you’ve activated your super-power, there’s a key to your identity.

        At least that’s how I think of it.

        I remember when I was living femme, for lack of better phrasing, and feeling very conflicted about my motivations, many of which were driven by the need to gain approval, but some of which derived from a natural and comfortable identity as a fashion fag

        Back to the haircut. One day, I cut my hair. Short as fuck. I’d been coloring my hair for a while & I went back to platinum blond. When I looked in my stylist’s mirror, I felt like the contents of a glass of champagne. When I left the studio, that’s when I felt my superpower kicking in. I knew I had FINALLY expressed the me that I loved and that I wanted to live as.

        Having lived for other people’s approval for almost my entire life, the feeling was rare. But I remembered it from when I was 5 and my spirit was still uncrushed. And that haircut was my first step towards learning how to be myself again.

        My myself is a combo of butch, genderqueer dyke, trans gay man, and woman. And a bunch of other stuff besides.

        Most accurately: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

        Big ups, Walt Whitman.

        And I love this column more than words can express.

    • Hey! These are a couple of really great articles on how femininity can be radical/the meaning of femme:
      I know femme is a label that I’ve had a hard time embracing in the past, because of all the automatic assumptions people (especially the queer community) make about who I am, but recently I’ve been WORKING IT and I hope these articles help you. If you are just femmeing (new verb!) it up to feel safe at work, and not because of your personal gender identity, it can feel like you’re not ‘radical’ enough/you’re giving in to society. But honestly, in this society that hates queerness, simply staying alive and taking care of yourself is the most radical thing you can do sometimes (pretty sure there’s a quote about this)–so please, be gentle with yourself :3

      • From that first article:

        “Femme is resistance. Femme pushes back against the idea that people must act traditionally masculine to be powerful or traditionally feminine to be acceptable. Femme rejects white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Femme explores and explodes the limitations placed on people when they’re assigned female or male at birth.”

        Fuck. Yes.

    • Maybe my emotions are just heightened from dealing with family the past week, but I’m sitting on my brother’s futon right now tearing up at these responses to being radical and femme. I love our community and I love reading about people owning their identities

    • I’ll do my best, but frankly, it breaks my heart that you even have to go through this and ask this question in the first place.

      As a femme, I consider myself a pivot. I look one way according to the heteronormative narrative – straight, feminine, *acceptable*. Hell, even pretty darned cute. But they get all excited about my straightness only to find out – tada – I am one of those gay types! And yet, I look like every other woman they see walking down the street who loses her cool over shirtless pics of Channing Tatum (ew). How can that be they say – she looks like a girl who would like me (say the straight guys)/a girl just like me (say the straight girls)? And yet, she doesn’t. And I get the chance to show the world that gay women look just like their mothers, their sisters, their girlfriends, and their daughters, or even them. I get to open up their ideas of what a lesbian is. I’m that stealth chick who sneaks in undercover and let’s them know that they actually DO know a gay woman.

      Just the other day my coworker asked me what I do when a man flirts with me (apparently one of the delivery guys was making eyes at me.) Totally didn’t notice of course! So what do I do when I do notice it? I either ignore it (if it’s mild enough that I can), or let a guy know “I’m not interested.” And you know, I’m having this epiphany right now as I write this, but you know what? As a femme lesbian woman who clearly doesn’t desire guys, I’m making the world that much safer for the straight women who want to say no to a guy’s interests, because every time I not only say I’m not interested and make it clear I *really* am not interested, it makes it that much more okay for a straight woman to say she’s not interested and have that respected. And by dint, I am then making it safer for every woman to make it clear that yes, you can look feminine and yet own your sexuality, and not be beholden to men’s interest.

      An example? I work at a restaurant in the office of the restaurant (aka right by the kitchen). I wear leggings, often. It’s comfortable and I’m not in view of the customers, so what I wear doesn’t really matter as long as it’s black. Well, the kitchen guys tend to make eyes at the girls, and that’s fine, but one of them last week leered at me and said “hey baby!” Oh. NO. Personally, I didn’t care either way. I wasn’t intimidated by his comment and didn’t feel bothered by it. But some of the younger girls who work there, when I stated what happened, made it clear how uncomfortable they felt on a daily basis. I immediately stepped up and spoke up, and they were warned and will be fired if they even THINK of saying anything more. I’m proud of that. Because I am not interested in, nor cater to, male expectation or interest, I am not intimidated by their leering. I don’t feel the need to placate them or kiss their ass “in hopes they’ll like me”. I cherish that.

      The radicalness of the femme gender, as per my experience, is that we exist. That we take the expected, the normative and turn it on its head. We cause people to think and react and respond in ways they weren’t expecting when they encountered us. And that is radical to its core.

      Oh, and btw, I just came out at work about a month ago, after working at my place for a nearly a year. I found out my manager had assumed I had a boyfriend! I have no idea where that came from, but I’d been so absorbed into the hetero whatever world that a boyfriend had even been created for me. Wow.

    • If you want to read an awesome collection of femme writers (including many trans*, non-white, and disabled authors), I HIGHLY recommend “Visible: a Femmethology” edited by Jennifer Clare Burke. The authors she pulled together have awe-inspiring things to say about being a radical femme and femme struggles.

  8. I totally get what you’re saying, Kade, about resisting the pressure on queer-identified folks to explain our gender presentations/desires/etc. Why should we be responsible for that? At the same time though, we live in a heteronormative society that allows (really, encourages) many people not to question the gender/sexual status quo. Sometimes a little “explanation” is necessary and in my experience has gone a long way to ease the confusion/anger/general assholery that has come from my family since I cut my hair and started dressing more androgynously. Perhaps I am naive but I do think that fear is rooted in ignorance. Sure, it pisses me off that this ignorance exists, and in some situations homophobia and misogyny are so deeply rooted that no amount of “explanation” will help, but I still think it is important to keep talking.

  9. Ahhh, you just get my life so well. I’m tired of my wonderful, well meaning friends who just do not understand my gender presentation or identity at all and don’t even ask questions, just tell me, “but you are a girl” and things like that. i can’t wait to get back to a place with a queer community so i don’t have to explain myself or just deal with that all the time anymore.

  10. I come at this from a slightly different direction, and I apologize in advance for the slight derailment….

    I have a rather fluid gender presentation. Some days I’ll wear a blouse and a skirt to work, other days a blazer and pants. On the weekends (or Casual Fridays, which I interpret differently than most people I know) I go between a number of outlandish outfits that span the gender spectrum… or just a t-shirt and shorts, whatever. My point is that my gender presentation changes on the daily, and that can be VERY VERY CONFUSING for some people.

    I started my first office job in the middle of winter. Since I had to wait out on a chilly train platform every morning, I wore pants and sweaters, mostly just to stay warm. Then the first nice day of spring came, and I wore a skirt to work. My colleagues were shocked! One woman in particular wouldn’t let it go. “You’re so PRETTY when you wear a skirt! You should wear a skirt more often! Why don’t you wear skirts more?” I didn’t expect that response at all, but now that I think of it they were totally doing the “reward traditional femininity to preserve the status quo” thing.

    I still get it now at my current workplace, even though my gender presentation-switching abilities are somewhat legendary (as are my aforementioned crazy Casual Friday outfits). The other day I wore a pair of pink ballet flats and one of my colleagues said, “Those aren’t a very Dina color!” I just wanted to say, “Um, hello? Have you seen some of the shit I wear?” I don’t fit into people’s boxes and that seems to confuse the hell out of them.

    • Dina, I’m the same way. I feel like I dress more masculine in the winter (but with heels) and then more femme-y in flats in the warmer months, or sometimes totally minimal… I feel like I’m confusing people and confusing myself because I’m all over the place. But maybe that’s okay :)

          • i’m like that too — or, was, when i still went out into the world every day and interacted with other humans. sometimes it was masculine, sometimes feminine. i went through style phases, and often that actually related to who i was dating at the time and what their style was. this also means i cart loads of clothing with me everywhere i move ’cause i never know who i’m gonna wanna be that year. when i was reading about the dressing up for job interviews and the pressure to wear a dress or pearls, i thought … hmmm… i don’t own any jewelry, and when i went to job interviews i always dressed very masculine and never thought much about it. it just looked better on my body type than femmy stuff does. but if i’m going someplace fancy it will be a dress. what’s interesting is that in the hetero world, this just made me a tomboy who wore skirts in the summer, and in the gay world, saying ‘tomboy’ would mean masculine-of-center, which i’m definitely not, especially compared to the girls i date who always are very masculine-of-center. so instead i’m just Me, I guess.

    • This is what I do too! I think of it as playing in a sort of “androgynous” place between butch and femme. If I wear something to one side or the other of that middle place, or when I cut my hair short, I’ll react by going over to the other side the next day.

      It’s funny reading all these articles on autostraddle with style guides for butch and femme women and I probably wouldn’t wear any of it. I suppose it seems particularly odd because of how relevant Autostraddle is to my interests most of the time.

  11. Great article Kate, enjoying this column more and more as I continue to investigate my own identity. I’ve always found this weird continuum of masculinity and femininity to be interesting, are they mutually exclusive? Can we put ourselves somewhere on a line, or can someone have aspects of both? And what do we label that? Have we labelled that?

    Anyway, love the article so tired of the whole “Why do women date girls who look like men, surely they want *girly* girls if they’re into women” BS from straight girls. From now on I’ll send folks here as part of their “education”!

  12. I have the exact same questions to field, but from the femme perspective. It’s an equally tricky dance, and I am not all too co-ordinated yet.
    On a side note, has anyone read ‘The Well of Loneliness’ by Radclyffe Hall? It’s unbelievably sad, but an interesting 1920s perspective on lesbianism, gender identity and presentation, and feeling like an outsider. Worth a read, worth the tears.

  13. Really enjoyed reading this. Thus far in my short life I’ve had things fairly easy;generally a family and friends with no issues or need for understanding ‘same sex’ attraction and relationships. I came out to my mum when I was 13 without any trepidation, there was never a might be phase chat. The one exception is an aunt who couldn’t understand the concept of ‘fem’ lesbians, in her mind ‘they’ are straight women who are experimenting or filling a void – very clichéd. She was sure I was one of those, her confidence grew when I had a few dates with a butch girl some months ago, she had her I told you so moment.

    Of course she was wrong, but her smug reaction, along with what seemed disapproving glances from random people and awkward silences from acquaintances made me see a certain psychology about identity that hadn’t been an issue before or least not beyond the usual attitudes toward LBGT people. That’s all possibly a little off topic, but a thought provoking artical!

  14. Interesting (well by interesting I mean annoying mostly) how butch/femme relationships get shit because why can’t they just be two girls, and femme/femme relationships get shit because who wears the pants…basically you can’t win.

    • Yep, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “So who’s the guy in this relationship?”….UGH

      • I had this conversation with a straight dude hairstylist recently:

        “So do you usually date dykier girls or girlier girls?”
        “Um, I date both.”
        “So you don’t prefer one over the other?”
        “So when you’re dating a girl, are you like, the guy in the relationship?”
        “Um. No?”
        “So do you usually date girls who act like they’re the guy in the relationship?”
        “We’re both girls so there’s no guy in the relationship.”

  15. I really love this article and this column, but I feel that I’m not in a place to contribute much further insight as a not-butch kinda-femme something-or-other. But I will say that I cracked up for about a minute after reading the sentence: “My new favorite past-time is opening my mouth during a holiday meal and watching my nuclear family get edgy thinking I might accidentally say ‘I am a massive homosexual’ instead of ‘Please pass the butter.'”

  16. thanks for this article, i relate to several of its points. i will admit as a relative emotional robot sometimes this column doesn’t resonate with me but to each their own.

    really i wanted to say however that i kindof double-took at the notion that ‘butches take such pride in their sexual prowess… placing our worth on [it]’. i hate to be the PC person who calls out inappropriate generalisations but this statement seems to be placing sooo much value on this single aspect, as if it discounts other ways in which one might feel confidence in themselves and the gender presentation which is true to themselves. i know this likely wasn’t the intention but it discounts aspects of being a whole rounded person just as the mainstream superficial focus on femmes does the same.

  17. A friend and former customer who lives on the other side of the world Tweeted a link to this article. After wading through some of the moronic crap I had to read today this was a wonderful and though-provoking piece. Kinda made my day. Thanks. K

  18. I’ve definitely gotten sick of being asked (most often by complete strangers) to explain everything about myself. This pretty much sums up my feelings about the issue:

    “It’s pathetic how we can’t live with the things we can’t understand. How we need everything labeled and explained and deconstructed.”
    ― Chuck Palahniuk

  19. As a femmy queer girl I feel like I catch you on the other side of this, like a lot of other femme queers have been commenting. And I am so impressed and heartened to observe the care we can take to understand the ways our fellow queers fight and resist and persist, even when they are inverses of the ways we do them. Visibility/invisibility, for instance, or the privilege of desiring feminine bodies versus the privilege of displaying a feminine body.

    But many of us seem to recognize these complementary struggles–no matter what types of bodies/genders/presentations we’re personally attracted to–and it enriches our community deeply. I know there are many pockets of misunderstanding and ignorance within our own queer community, but these conversations and texts are so wonderful (especially when the prose is as good as Kate’s). As a femmy queer girl, my experience is limited, but the way it’s limited teaches me to listen.

    Intersections make us so much stronger! They make our community so much wiser!

    • Agh, “And many of us” not “but many of us” which I guess makes a confusing statement? Sorry, I’m commenting on autostraddle when I should be sleeping. aha.

  20. “Besides, the act of explaining who we are is not so distant from the accusation that we need to explain ourselves, and there will always be the taste of scolding and invalidation in such an invitation, especially when it is practically a demand.”

    I’m failing to see what’s so wrong with explaining yourself to someone with an innocent curiosity…How will people ever understand you/queer people in general if we never honestly explain ourselves to others? Just because a straight person asks a question about something doesn’t mean that they’re trying to be homophobic…I’m sure you’ve been confused/curious about people different from you before!

    • I’m all for explaining these things to people who are willing to listen. But sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes I’m tired. Sometimes I know it won’t be a productive conversation because I’ve had the same conversation with this person 18 billion times and it always ends the same. Sometimes I’m in a situation where I’m not 100% comfortable outing myself. Sometimes I just don’t wanna. While it’s something I tend to do because it’s a good idea and it’s the only way to get people on our side, I don’t think it needs to be an obligation to everyone!

      • I agree with you 100%. I don’t ask straight people to justify their fashion or life choices so why should the world expect me to have to justify mine?

        There is a fine line between curiosity and prying rudeness that many straight people I come across (mostly family and male acquaintances) just can’t seem to figure out.

  21. “There’s something about those in the know constantly policing your body movements, your words, anything they think might give away the “secret” of your existence, as if you are a canister of semi-spoiled milk in constant danger of being spilled.”

    This amuses me to no end… my grandmother doesn’t know but everyone flinches anytime she asks if I have a boyfriend and then they quickly change the subject.

  22. Kade, thank you so much for this article and really this entire column. As a person who generally dresses androgynously and gets a lot of shit for it from my family this article came at exactly the right time. Since arriving at my parent’s house for the holidays my mother is constantly telling me how much “[I] hurt [her] by dressing like an angry lesbian” and that my undercut combined with my long hair “makes [me] look too tough when [I] could look so pretty if [I] just tried to look a bit more feminine.”

    I just want to print out copies of your articles and hand them out to people who feel the constant need to comment on or deride my gender presentation.

  23. “It’s a dance I learned like any other queer, over a fire and barefoot” is probably the most perfect line I have ever found to describe queer experiences (or at least mine and yours). I’ve been trying to figure out how to express it for so long, and you just nailed it.

  24. Butch Please is my fave column on autostraddle right now. Having just finished reading Stone Butch Blues for the first time, this is relevant to my everything.

  25. Thank you for writing this. I’ve never read an article I could relate to in such a way. I feel you on not wanting to justify things because the comments simply point out not being a part of the norm, but at the same time I feel like if we do not take the time to educate, people will continue to be naive and say unintentionally rude comments. It shouldn’t be our duty to educate those around us, but I think we should look at it more positively as an opportunity to help those closest to us understand and become more tolerant. Teaching tolerance is so important, and I think it should be done whenever possible. But then again…I am a teacher and I understand that finding teaching moments throughout the day may not excite everyone like it does me haha.

  26. kate, this was great! your column is now one of my favorite things on AS.

    i’m masculine-presenting, and feel comfortable and confident dressed in “men’s wear”, it feels like me, it feels right.

    however, it takes courage to deviate from the norm. every time i walk out the door, i’m aware at some level that i am different, i stand out from the crowd, people notice, stare, and i’m read as gay/gender-nonconforming/queer/other. at the same time, it feels good to be true to myself, real, my existence and presence a loud fuck-you to all the homophobes and gender-policers. to me, ultimately, it is a great feeling, and a source of pride and confidence, and yes, it is empowering.

    but sometimes it is exhausting and i wish we could all just go live on the mountain.

  27. Yes, BUT!!! “Masculine” does mean male, that’s where the word originated from, and I think the problem is right here, namely keeping the words masculine and feminine around. Instead of saying “I like to present myself in a masculine way but I don’t think it ought to mean male” why not say “there is nothing masculine about my behavior, it is a legitimate form of female behavior”? Of course, then we’re still stuck with male and female, which I’d like to see disappear as well, but…. one step at a time.

    When people ask me why I dress like a boy, I tell them there is nothing “like a boy” about me, but that this is what I like, what I’ve always liked, and that me wearing shorts and t-shirts is no less authentic than when a boy does it. Instead of teaching people that masculine doesn’t mean male, let’s teach people that women (and all people!!!) have a huuuuge spectrum of possible forms of self-expressions and they’re all equally valid, valued and beautiful.

    Let’s stop calling some things masculine and others feminine, and let’s just call them human.

    • YES!! Especially since “masculine” and “feminine” differ SO MUCH across countries and cultures. In the culture my family’s from, women are pretty much Western-femme by default, so the question of intent isn’t even there. Vanity, meanwhile, is a Very Manly trait; my dad has more skincare products than I do. There’s a lot of other subtlety too that makes declaring a “masculine” or “feminine” presentation very very fraught.

  28. You write in such a great way. This really hit home for me. ‘ We have taken what society says makes a woman beautiful and desirable, and we’ve gone and done the exact opposite.’ The truth.

  29. I love your articles. Mainly because I am not butch (haha on the outside) and I’ve never really dated anyone considered butch. So I always learn something interesting.

    Butches are intimidating to most people. Regardless of gender or sexuality. Society is both fascinated and scared of strong women. The fact that you are physically a woman and yet hold yourself in a masculine way, likely better than most men, is scary to some. Fear does funny things to someone’s manners.

    You are right-you don’t have to defend or explain yourself. If you are happy and aren’t hurting anyone by being who you are then you should never have to entertain rude and tactless inquiries.

  30. “My new favorite past-time is opening my mouth during a holiday meal and watching my nuclear family get edgy thinking I might accidentally say “I am a massive homosexual” instead of “Please pass the butter.” <—————— THAT is pretty QUEER-TASTIC! Thank you.

  31. As always, fantastic. For me, though, this opens up more questions than it gives answers. I’d be interested to see you take it one step farther and deconstruct desire and gender presentation.

    Is it a completely acceptable and legitimate thing to ‘only’ like butches, or femmes, or something in-between? Those are just tastes, right? Yet, I wrestle with it constantly. For reasons that I cannot explain, I am a bisexual femme that only likes very femmey women and very masculine men. I recognize that this is limiting… where do these limits come from and why do they exist? I have a sinking feeling it’s from something internalized, and insidious, but these are physical reactions to certain body types and I don’t know that they could change.

    I also wonder, if society allowed them the option, if some straight cis men would in fact have a preference for butch presenting straight/bi women, and cis women for feminine-presenting straight/bi men.

    • It’s kinda acceptable for women to fancy girly men though (I mean you’ll still get “he looks like a girl”, but it’s only meant as teasing). Definitely straight cis men would probably feel really reticent about be openly into butch girls though, I’m guessing.

    • I mean, I only like femmes or at least primarily femme-presenting people, just as a matter of personal preference. You do you. No need to apologize for it.

    • so so so many people (no matter if gay or straight or men or women or whatever) will tell you that they have a ‘type’ and will tell you what features they find super un/attractive in a potential partner. so.. i guess we all have preferences. i dont see anything wrong with that. just dont limit yourself by ignoring the rest – you might miss a great one that might not fit your preferences visually but really intrigues you no matter what.

    • I always wonder this too.. why I tend to only like butch women… what factors into that? How do people develop their preferences?

    • I suspect that you could fret about it and deconstruct it till your head spun, but it probably wouldn’t change your attractions any more than ex-gay therapy genuinely changes attraction. I don’t think we can decide who we are attracted to, even though we might want to. And I don’t think we should feel guilty about our attractions, as long as we’re doing no harm. We’re all products of our socialisation and environment as much as our genes; trying to separate out all the strands is probably a losing battle.

      There is a cis woman in my village who I would have sworn was a very butch lesbian, but it turns out she’s married to a guy. Another cis woman who looks quite MOC is engaged to a guy. Maybe they’re bi, or maybe they’re just straight but MOC; I don’t know them well enough to know, and really, it’s none of my business :P. I’m bi rather than straight, but my straight guy partner was constantly mistaken for a woman for the first 15 years of our relationship, till he was in his mid-30s. I just thought it was funny.

  32. I loved this post. It communicated somethings that I would have trouble saying. I am in my early 50s and am butch. I am not trying to someone’s stereo-type of a lesbian. It is just who I am. Even at my age, I get comments from my family members. It seems odd to still be defending who I am.

    Thanks for this article!

  33. “It’s a mode of existence that I’ve seen falsely translated into a nasty case of young dykes with a misogynistic streak who think fucking femmes is enough to respect them.”

    Ah, thanks for acknowledging this. I’m a femme-for-femmes, so very outside of the butch world, but I have several good butch-presenting friends with whom I’ve had to discuss misogyny and how uncomfortable their treatment of myself, my femme friends (straight, gay, and more), and my girlfriends has made me in the past. Some have been receptive, some dismissive, and it’s something I think needs to be addressed/acknowledged more often and I appreciate it getting a mention here. (Not that we shouldn’t be acknowledging ALL misogyny — it comes from every element of every community, I think.)

    Outside of that, wonderfully written – butch difficulties are not my strong point, so it’s always nice to have some insight.

  34. “Still, it’s difficult to be the one who feels like they are constantly teaching in order to induce this growth.”

    This, this a million times. Is there a point where I’m allowed to say “Educate yourself and get back to me.”?

  35. It’s totally cool for butches to be butches and femmes to be femmes (I consider myself somewhere in the middle, leaning more toward the femme side), but what I don’t get is why it’s so common for butches to date femmes? Surely it should be just as common for lesbians of all gender-identity to date each other?
    Do you think that it’s a remnant from growing up in a heteronormative society that makes us inclined to form heteroidentity couples?

    • I feel like I see as many femme/femme relationships and butch/butch relationships and neither/neither relationships as butch/femme relationships, honestly.

    • i feel like you often look for ‘what you are not’ in a partner. something that is likely to be the opposite of yourself. no? but then again sometimes your attracted to what is more like yourself because you can relate..

    • i think it’s important to always be aware of our desires and “types”, but it’s also a slippery slope – i don’t think we need to justify our “types” if we’re pursuing them responsibly, and i think that questioning why people are into the people they’re into is something that could be a little invalidating. queer people are already constantly questioned about why they like the people they like. let’s tread carefully.

  36. I love these articles I really do. Its only really been in the last few months I’ve been away from my family enough and have built up enough of a queer group of friends to be confident enough to dress more masculinely and its been pretty amazing. As opposed to what I used to do, constantly trying to balance in a bit of femininity to please people, now I just get to finally feel like I look like myself. The only way I can describe it is I feel like I look like a person, whereas before I felt like an apology.

    However, I find the whole ‘why can’t you be two girls’ thing really interesting. In my own community, there has been a very strong movement towards trying to involve trans people (to little success, trans people in my college stay very far away from the lgb section of us). In any case, its great they’re trying.
    Whats not so great is it seems to no longer be acceptable to be butch and not be trans. I feel like I’m under immense pressure to take on new pronouns, to reidentify myself as genderqueer and whatever else. I think that the experience of butch lesbians, including the feelings of inadequacy that has been discussed, including the dysphoria that can bring about, has been erased and incorrectly recategorized as transmasculine in some shape or form. I don’t know, it could be down to this all being quite new to my community. I just feel like just because butch isn’t in vogue as a term anymore, its been decided that masculinity in women is a symptom of something larger. You can’t just try to love your body as it stands anymore and still be masculine, it always has to be the start of something.

    • I feel like a lot of people I know have voiced this specific issue (the pressure to be trans over butch), and I’ve had my own issue with words (where it’s becoming hip to look down on people who identify as “lesbians” rather than “queers”). What I think it boils down to is that everyone should have the right to identify/present/love/screw/etc as they wish, and it seems counter to the entire point of the LGBTQ community to look down on that.

    • I’ve felt the pressure to identify as genderqueer too, because my presentation of “woman” is weird to whatever standard they’re pitting me against, and also because apparently I’m not queer enough for anyone. Thank you for bringing this up.

  37. “There’s a patriarchal culture that tells us we are the most unattractive incarnations of femaleness available.”

    Wow, seriously? That’s a remarkably nonsensical statement considering the sorts of oppression, violence, and dehumanizing treatment directed at other groups of women.

    Butch women are certainly marginalized, but to argue that simply being a masculine-presenting female makes society see you as completely unattractive really trivializes the invalidation of the beauty, sexual viability, and sometimes even humanity of the bodies of women of color (especially dark-skinned woc and those with less Caucasian features), the disabled, and trans* people, particularly trans* women and even more specifically trans* women of color who are disproportionately targeted for violence and made the butt of jokes throughout all mainstream media.

    I think there’s a lot of great things being said in this article but there’s also a whole lot of privilege that needs to be checked.

    • thanks for the callout! definitely shouldn’t have made that statement so general when i was just talking about a singular gender spectrum, which in itself is always problematic to try and consider in one light because it’s always complicated and always needs to be intersectional.

      i’m far from perfect on these issues, and i’m sorry about that. i’m constantly trying to do better but checks like these help. nobody’s responsibility but my own to grow in the right direction.

      as a white butch genderqueer etc person, how do i talk about these issues once a week and these experiences, which are always very personal, while still constantly acknowledging my privilege? do the articles need a disclaimer? i’m always struggling with this, trying to figure out what would be best. if i’m always talking about personal experiences – and that’s the premise of the column – then i’m always going to be representing the same perspective, and that’s a perspective that involves privilege. in the past i have definitely made shout outs to that privilege but maybe i need more of a solid disclaimer? just want to make sure my privilege is always checked but not sure what to do in light of the fact that this will always be coming from the same POV.

      • Can I just say how much I LOVE how you (and the other AS writers) take the time to listen to concerns from the community and address them? I think it’s really commendable how you acknowledge and try to explain and/or change potentially problematic word choice. I have absolutely the greatest respect for you. (Also a bit of a crush.)

        Never stop writing.

      • Maybe not a disclaimer for the column…I think that many people need to realize that to the extent that you are alive, you are receiving some form of privilege, and you are also being oppressed in some way. All of us maybe need to step back and stop complaining so much about how oppressed we are/think we are, remembering that we all have privileges that others don’t have. Which is why I appreciate the concept of intersectionality, since it renders much of the privilege/oppression dynamic moot. You can be a straight, white, cis man – privileged in theory – but if you are an elderly Vietnam War vet, homeless on the streets of New York City, and dying of colon cancer, how much privilege are you really receiving? Or what about a trans* woman of color? Suppose she is heterosexual, Christian, living in America, and wealthy? That’s a certain amount of privilege she is benefiting from on a daily basis.

        There is no one who is 100% privileged in every single way, nor anyone who receives zero privileges. I think if we can all take a more balanced look at our lives and see that, most of the time, the “oppressors” aren’t just sitting around in waiting to harm us, they are being oppressed in some way as well.

        tl;dr – People are all individuals who can’t just be thrown into boxes and be the subject of other people’s assumptions based on race/gender identity/sexuality, which is why I don’t really appreciate the privilege/oppression dynamic as is often presented on this site.

      • thanks for being open to concerns. i can definitely see where the difficulty lies in writing about general butch issues through the prism of your own experience; the column subtitle says they are your adventures after all. however (and this is just a suggestion) perhaps this could be framed more through your own personal statements rather than collective pronouns, and purporting to speak for a group. unless you define that group but i think that is specifically not the point. apart from this i don’t think that any further disclaimer would be necessary.

  38. Kate- these articles are wonderful and so helpful. I just recently realized that I am gay- and with that has come so many questions from myself and from others. I lean more masculine of center- a part of myself that I have been fighting and have been ashamed of for so long. I am just learning to love my body, what I wear, and who I am- for the first time in my life I feel attractive and comfortable in my own skin. Your articles have helped immensely. Thank you.

  39. Thank you again for these articles, they make my day even better =)
    I feel like I am understood, and it cheers me up!
    I don’t read enough articles that remind me that what I do, and me perception of the world is fine.

  40. As someone who doesn’t identify as either butch or femme, I do find those identifications annoying and antiquated. My masculinity runs from my deep country bumpkin practicality, and my femininity runs from being raised by my southern grandmother. Sometimes I look wildly butch, sometimes I cross-dress and pass. Sometimes I wear heels and red dresses, sometimes I wear cardigans and earrings. Sometimes I look androgynous. There’s an amount of privilege that gets handed to butches in the queer community. You will never have to “prove” your queerness the way femmes and androgynous women do. There are women who don’t believe I’m gay until I’m laying in bed with them the next morning. You will never be written off as an experimental straight girl. Butch is where you feel comfortable and it challenges gender expression- that’s great, but people who argue that the butch-femme binary is antiquated come from a screwy binary where they don’t feel like they belong.

    • Being read as gay isn’t a privilege. There are butch straight women that are read as gay when they don’t want to be. Assuming butch women are gay women is a way of stigmatizing both. Just because one happens to fit a stereotype doesn’t make it less confining.

      I don’t have to prove my queerness because I’m 36 and have been with my partner for 15 years. I don’t have anything to prove at this point, but that is earned and thus not a privilege. I do wish it didn’t have to be earned though.

      I can tell you when I was in my 20s my “butchness” was constantly questioned by other butch identified women. There was no privilege handed to me, only laughter when I called myself butch. I think it was partly ageism as I had a “baby face”.

      And then there are some lesbians who like to say “Why would women who like women date someone who looks like a man?” I still run into this sort of sentiment in online communities that shall not be named as I don’t go there anymore.

      I do wish more people would understand that just because I’m a butch presenting lesbian doesn’t mean I actually want to be instantly out 24/7-everywhere-to-everyone. My gender expression was never intended to be a method of broadcasting my sexual orientation. I’ve just accepted that it is and have learned to cope.

      When I was younger I’d just put on a strong face and yell “WHY YES I DID WANT YOU TO KNOW I’M GAY BY THE WAY I LOOK”…but in fact I felt terribly insecure, just not as insecure as when I wore a dress. People assume butches are strong by virtue of being butch, but I think we get stronger because we have to.

      • “Just because one happens to fit a stereotype doesn’t make it less confining.” yes! calling butch a privilege is a really complicated issue. in some environments, sure, it is a privilege to be read as queer, but those are in small queer community-based environments where our visibility is important to us and something that is SAFE. in other environments, it is not a privilege, and it usually renders us very unsafe and a person who knows they are in danger so long as they are physically recognized as queer. i am recognized as queer by my peers, but i’m recognized as queer by homophobes and cis men who are threatened by my masculinity, and that’s put me in bad situations on more than one occasion

        it’s very, very complicated and multi-layered and it’s difficult to discuss without realizing that one’s gender expression doesn’t place them in one world or the other, but simply determines all the different ways they’ll be moving through the world

        • I have never been in an environment where being read as queer was a privilege.

          What advantages does one receive within a marginalized community? A privilege is an advantage you can expect to be given that hasn’t been earned.

        • It’s not to write off the labels themselves as annoying- like I said, if you identify as butch and femme, that’s awesome! My annoyance comes from the pressure I feel from my queer community to be one or the other, and the rejection I’ve seen my femme and androgynous friends face because they don’t “look gay enough”. I never felt comfortable identifying as gay or queer until a professor of mine told me that I presented androgynously, and that I didn’t have to be either- and neither was she or her partner! I will stand by my argument that the lesbian community places value on a masculine femininity, especially in smaller rural queer areas. In addition, femme lesbians are valued by straight men as objects of lust. There’s privilege to both labels, but in different intersections.

    • to your comment i say: all identities are valid, ALL OF THEM, and accusing any of being antiquated, “annoying,” or any other term that would invalidate them or render them negative is neither fair nor something that i think we queers should be doing to each other

      i understand when one’s gender expression doesn’t fit into either category, absolutely, and i understand that many people still only think that female queerness falls into the realms of butch or femme and that can be irritating, but it doesn’t mean that being something “stereotypical” is wrong, negative, or should be put down

      i remember in high school when i was not butch-presenting (i was far too anxious and scared to ever leave the status quo in my fairly conservative small town) the one butch-presenting girl in our school was bullied ENDLESSLY and frequently attacked physically and verbally because she was a stereotype, easily recognized as queer, and everyone felt they had the right to do so to her not just because she was queer but because she was the version of queer they recognized from comedies and the butt end of jokes. i don’t want all the butches out there going through similar shit to ever feel that because they resemble a stereotype to feel that their identity is wrong, out of style, or something they should be ashamed of, ever. same goes for femmes, same goes for any version of the queer identity that has been made fun of in every mainstream source. that’s where the stereotypes are mined and beaten down, and resembling one shouldn’t buy us tickets to shame

      no butch or femme narrative is the same. we come from a wide variety of backgrounds and stories, and our journeys to and from and through our identities are not static things, i promise. i understand having a slippery sense of gender but it’s not reason to accuse anyone else’s sense of gender expression as out of date

  41. That was pretty damn beautiful and i really want to read all the comments cos i reckon people have some really interesting things to say about thus. But i’m so desperately tired and i’m lying in bed using my phone so it will have to wait until tomorrow. Reading things like this, though makes me very proud to be queer. Sweet dreams.

  42. I don’t really think about how I dress as incredibly radical. I like to joke that my life goal is to become a shoujo manga boy, and my roommates refer to my style as “metrosexual hipster dude,” but being more “masculine”-presenting is something I tend to overlook most days.

    However, it’s my senior year of high school, and I really, really want to wear a tuxedo to prom. I want cufflinks and a cummerbund and a vest that matches my date’s dress. But. My mother thinks I’m “dressing like a boy to be different,” and that I’m going out of my way to look gay/ am trying to be a boy. She’s flat-out refused to rent my tux, and I’m not sure that I’ll be able to convince her by May. I wish gender wasn’t such a touchy/complicated subject, and that I could just wear what I want to wear, even if what I want to wear is wildly uncomfortable men’s formalwear.

    • Can I just say that I would die to meet a queer who looked like a shoujo manga boy? (/total nerd) I’m sorry about your mum being unaccommodating, and I hope you find a way to dress the way that makes you feel happiest!

    • I’m so sorry about your mum. If I was your mum, you would *totally* have that tux you wanted.

      My 13 yo MOC babydyke daughter went to her first school dance this year in a formal black jacket and plum tie: she had a great time and discovered that she was not the only gay (kid) in the village. Considering that she has not had the confidence to be out at school before now, this was a huge step for her. :D

  43. I struggle with gender so much even though I’m more educated than the majority of the population on the topic (just because I know a lot of queer/trans* people and am gay myself, and read blogs like this, and a book every now and then).

    I wouldn’t personally identify as “masculine of center” because it’s a term that alludes to a binary, with “masculine traits” on one side and “feminine traits” on the other, and I think that’s the place where people who question the idea come from. Worse, “masculine traits” are therefore associated with originating from “men” or maleness, and feminine traits with originating from “women” or femaleness. Understandably many people work to deconstruct the idea that masculine=male and feminine=female, but the words clearly originate from each other and there is this linguistic parallel (same ‘prefixes’/same number of options/etc.) and in reality and in context, there is definitely a correlation between presenting in ways that are recognizably/stereotypically gendered as male in “cis/heteronormative society” and identifying as “masculine of center”. Honestly I just wish things were things and people were people and we didn’t have to be “femme” or “butch” or “masculine” or “feminine”, we would just wear what we wanted and act how we want to. And in this case I really do feel people feel threatened and constrained by labels others use, because the labels and language others use build up a reality experienced by everyone.

    I mean damn is there a book I need to read or something? Like I’d love to educate myself but for me, everything I’ve read (latest was Whipping Girl) always leaves more questions than answers when it comes to this. (And I admit I’ve read more stuff on being trans*/trans* theory & science etc. than on butchness or masculine of centerness or gender and language etc. because I did wonder for a time if I was trans*.) I think it’s shitty that people feel the need to judge someone and they should definitely be cognizant of a person getting harassed all the time for just being who they are, but I don’t think the desire itself to open a conversation about language and terms and yeah, maybe feeling like those words reinforce an idea/reality/society/etc. they’re uncomfortable in, is in and of itself problematic. It’s a conversation people should be allowed to have as much as they should be allowed to avoid if it doesn’t interest them imho. As a person who doesn’t identify as cis or feminine or masculine and who constantly feels insecure in my body and my attractiveness, I want to have this conversation and educate myself about this conversation further than “101” but I don’t know where to have it or how to do it?

  44. “I’m in the camp that doesn’t think queer folk should be continually asked to educate the hetero masses about their comings (cummings) and goings, not even when those heteros are your family. Besides, the act of explaining who we are is not so distant from the accusation that we need to explain ourselves, and there will always be the taste of scolding and invalidation in such an invitation, especially when it is practically a demand. Asking me to explain my identity, my desire, why I am wearing boots instead of heels, doesn’t feel like curiosity, but rather a reminder that I am not normal, and because I am not normal, I need to justify my behavior as something that should be preserved, and not “fixed” or stamped out.”

    YES. Just YES.

  45. You know, my partner and I are both relatively butch and people still try to pin one of us as the “more butch.” It’s strange for sure. I like that our relationship lacks any sort of gender roles because that way our true strengths, rather than assumed strengths, come out.

    It’s like, people lose their bearings if they can’t figure out which one of us takes out the garbage upon meeting us.

    • “I like that our relationship lacks any sort of gender roles because that way our true strengths, rather than assumed strengths, come out.”

      THIS. one million times this!

  46. as usual, thanks for another wonderful read, kate.

    as to the much loathed “which one is the man” question, as zach wahls said about his moms:

    “People sometimes want to know, ‘Which one is the man?’. Which is kind of like walking into a Chinese restaurant and asking, ‘Which chopstick is the fork?’.”

  47. I’m becoming a big fan of your articles, Kate! Well-written, and they do what I think is one of the most important things: makes the reader think. At least, it makes me think, both about the given subject in general, and, at times, in relation to my own situation.

    Being trans* I’ve often got the ‘obvious’ question of “but if you like women, why would you want to become one?”, which is tiresome in itself. But the other (perhaps moreso) annoying one is, “if you’re a girl like you say, why don’t you dress more girly?” Not to say I don’t at all, for special occasions and such, or when I simply feel like it, yes, I’ll wear a dress or whatever, but generally I dress rather unisex/androgynous… which has fairly often got me such comments like that, about not being “really a woman” or not being “serious about being trans*” (!), as if clothing etc defined that. Should mention that this has mostly come from straight women, or straight or gay men, as I don’t know any queer women in person.

    I’ve only fairly recently (within the last year) started to look around at things beyond my own immediate situation, so it’s very interesting to see that commentary of a similar vein seems to reach to all varieties of queer women.

    Interesting, but also frustrating…

  48. Meh, my reaction to your relative’s question and comment about the progressiveness etc was that they were trying to find a way to de-butch you, and I loathe that. Two girls? I’m pretty sure when you and your girlfriend are together, that IS two girls. It’s kind of like ice cream people. It’s still ice cream no matter what flavor it is!

    I feel at every turn people are trying to defang butch women and it fucking annoys me. To paraphrase Kanye, “why can’t you let us have butches?” I love butch women because, well, um *blush* uh…oh wait, back to innocent thoughts. Um, yeah, I love butch women because they defy the hell out of expectations of women every damned day of their lives.

    As for the progressive aspect – sigh. You know what’s progressive? Being gay. Period. And you know what’s even more progressive? Being supportive of your gay relative/friend/whatever and not asking a million and one questions. And frankly, I think it is super progressive being a butch-femme couple because we allow each other to be and love each other for our differences as well as our similarities. How it relates to the heterosexual world doesn’t really interest me honestly. That’s something the heterosexual world can’t get over though, can they? That they don’t matter in our romantic lives, because they don’t. We exist on a totally different plane than they do.

    I’m pretty sure there’s a huge difference in the way a Pete Wentz type and a George Clooney type present themselves but no one sits there and questions their maleness, do they? Sigh.

    I don’t think butches aspire to masculinity, so much as they stop fighting being the ugly duckling of feminine women and realize they’re a beautiful swan of their own stylings.

    And again, it’s nearly 3am. I really do have to stop my ramblings on your posts at this hour Kate! (Or is it Kade? I’m not entirely sure).

  49. Love what you do with this column in general. To echo the sentiments of others, this regular piece always speaks to me and makes me self-reflect on my own experiences, issues, and progress. Thanks for doing the hard work for all of us.

  50. Cool article. I disagree with the idea that butches have it worse with men than femmes. The male-centric mind understands wanting to be masculine much more than wanting to be feminine, because masculinity is associated with strength. That’s why we all can wear jeans now, but men still can’t wear skirts. There are other examples.

    I have always found that my femme girlfriends have a much harder time with heteros of all sorts than I do as a soft butch.

    • This!! So so agree. My butch best friend works in the oil fields. She’s respected in that role. If I or her girlfriend worked there, you KNOW it would be sexual harassment central and there’d be no respect whatsoever.

  51. Pingback: Friday Sex Links « Sex with Timaree

  52. Great article! I read this aloud to my gf during our drive from Columbus to Chicago over the holidays. Butch please has become my favorite column.

  53. I have a deep, deep hatred of both terms, and I will tell you why. I’ve dated far to many women who try to shove me into one category or another. I am not a “tomboy in denial of butchness”- I AM NOT, AND WILL NEVER BE, BUTCH. I HAVE NEVER BEEN, AND WILL NEVER BE- FEMME. I feel like women have used these categories to hurt me and deny my personal expression- femmes expecting me to be their knight in shining armor, and butches who want me to be their little princess. I know that I am the girl who used to throw dirt at you when you were twelve, I just grew up. I am a tomboy. I respect stylings, identifications, and I am genuinely surprised at some of the women I become attracted to, and for a variety of different reasons. I respect women who take the label of butch or femme, but when you present as someone who identifies as anything outside of that spectrum, it is a long, hard haul- I think that there should be more words than just “butch” and “femme” for the beautiful way that all women present, and I would like to see masculinity and femininity turn into a big constellation of presentations, not a spectrum.

  54. This article is awesome.
    I used to identify as butch, or at least my version of it. I don’t anymore, due to general feelings of safety and out-ness with my family, but….this. This article sort of says it all and I love the part where you own the whole queer people shouldn’t have to educate non-queer, like it shouldn’t be part of our identities just because we’re queer. *nods* Yes.
    Thank you.
    I love your articles.

Comments are closed.