Butch Please: Butch Buys A Drink

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.

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“What can I get you, sir?”

I didn’t look up because I didn’t think I was being addressed. I continued to look at the whiskey list before me, as I have been on a whiskey kick for the past few months. I had lost myself to the same progression of thoughts I experience whenever I buy a drink: I’m broke and shouldn’t be spending my money on alcohol; alcoholism runs so deep in the family that it looks like a crack in the earth; I am participating in this legacy by consuming alcohol and this would probably upset my mother if she knew.


Something about the second “sir” was different. There was a question in his tone that time; he was not sure which one of us was wrong. He was questioning himself as much as he was questioning the person that I had figured out to be me.

I looked up and made my order. My voice is always the giveaway, complete with the remnants of a lisp I tried to shrug off in childhood. The bartender, a man in his late thirties with an enviable moustache, was blushing. He rubbed the back of his neck and stared at me. I was blushing, too, because my instinct is to automatically assume that I am in the wrong, or that, at the very least, I am not entitled to be upset. I’ve figured out after meeting people from similar backgrounds that this is a trait bred into those of us who were raised working class, especially those of us who were raised as girls.

The bartender couldn’t make eye contact with me anymore. He sputtered like he was supposed to be doing long division at the chalkboard. “I’m so sorry. Shit, I’m really sorry. Ma’am.” He tried to laugh about it. “You really had me fooled,” he said, and I tried to shrug and smile. We tried, but the trying wasn’t working.

The other patrons at the bar looked over at me. The exchange had caught their attention, and now came the time for them to react, to give their input, to reveal themselves as embarrassed and thus disinterested, or overly interested, as these are the only two reactions to such a moment. Two of the patrons were women, one of them around my age, and they gave me sympathetic looks. “I can’t believe he did that,” said the one closest to me, and she frowned at the bartender when he turned his back. “You shouldn’t leave a tip.”

This left me in the gloriously awkward situation of the misgendered, which is doubly awkward because in some sense it’s not really misgendering to me. I’ll be honest: I’m flattered when someone reads me as male. If I wear my heart on my sleeve – and I do these days, much to the shock and dismay of a butch gone prematurely tender – then the sleeve itself is my masculinity. We are trained to detect certain markers around us to determine things about our surroundings. We read certain cues as male, as female, as safety, as a threat. I’m sure my markers are all askew, because I read just about everything as a threat, and I know from the reactions I encounter that nobody is quite sure what they’re reading on me. If my body’s a novel, then half the people I run into got their hands on an untranslated copy.

What were the cues that caused the bartender to assume I was a “sir”? We can only assume, but I’ve got a few guesses. That night at the bar I wasn’t binding, but that fact barely mattered under three layers. I had a t-shirt on under my sweatshirt, which was in turn under my denim jacket. My short hair, long overdue for a haircut now that the shaved sides have started to grow in as downy fuzz, was under a snapback. My black jeans were made for girls, because my hips were not made for a boy. And I had on my scuffed leather work boots, which the bartender could not see, but which always make me feel just a little bit more butchy. I’m noticeably past the place of androgyny where it could be a trendy hipster thing, and sit stably in the realm of genderfuckery. I am butch. I am genderqueer. I’m a masculine of center dyke, yeehaw.

There are other cues I might exhibit, too. When I sit, I’ve noticed that I sit with my legs spread apart. If I cross my legs, I put my foot on my other knee. I often hunch over with my knees spread, my elbows or forearms resting on my thighs. I have adopted, maybe consciously and maybe not, modes of sitting and resting that would be considered masculine. I carry myself in a way that might be construed as masculine. I’ve learned to do this as a thing that makes me feel more comfortable, more in control, and as a defense mechanism. I think it’s a thing many of us use as a defense mechanism, this confident carriage, this way of moving and holding our ribcages and shoulders in place that says “back off” and “don’t come over” and “you won’t notice me, I’m just another guy you don’t want to touch.” It’s a thing I learned to do the first time I walked through a city. It’s a part of the reason I find myself dressing in an extra masculine way when I know I’ll be walking home late at night, or moving through a less friendly part of the city. The thing is that I like dressing in a very masculine way the rest of the time, too, and that once you are no longer passing, when your cues are confusing and they can’t tell what you are, you can invite just as much danger. There is a fine line between avoiding attention and attracting it when you have a queer body.

I am a recent implant to the urban world. I just moved to West Philadelphia, and it’s my first experience living full time in a city. I have had stints of urban dwelling, usually provided by sweethearts in cities who wanted my company for a month or two. They’ve been wonderful excursions from rural life (or death, depending on how you think about it), but excursions were all they could ever be. As a kid, much like any other kid from a small conservative town who didn’t like what they saw, my plan was to move to The City as soon as I could. I had big plans for artistic endeavors, bohemian dwellings where I’d be with People Like Me, projections of life that looked like movie sets more than they looked like any city I’d ever seen. I was planning my Queer Exodus before I even knew what the hell it was. And now, yes, I am one of the guilty parties who has fled her native mountains and dirt roads for the metropolitan. I prepared my feathers for weather and flew six hours south to a house tucked on a sidestreet under Baltimore Avenue, complete with cat and backyard. I see at least a handful of queer people every time I leave the house; I had not seen another queer person in months when I lived at home.

I’m getting used to this change, slowly but surely. The contrast between the road I grew up on and the street I currently inhabit is frighteningly vast, but there are also familiar things here, like noisy kids playing in front of the houses, and neighbors who take an interest in each other’s well-being, and locally-owned businesses where people know each other’s first names. Being a country kid means that the city has always been characterized as both a magical fantasy and a deadly nightmare, and my personal background means I see danger around every corner, even when it’s broad daylight and I’m walking to pick up milk at the deli. No matter how many people I see who look like me, whose presence should reassure me that being a masculine dyke and an androgynous queer and a person who is “not normal” is okay here, I still hold my breath when a man passes. I wait for a comment, a look, anything to tell me that my masculinity is an affront to his. And I do get those comments sometimes, the doubletake, the questioning. The group of Penn students, probably in a fraternity from their behavior, who figured out I was not an adolescent boy, saying things to me as I walked home. The man who stares at me the entire train ride, makes me get off a stop early just to shake my anxiety. But these are not every person I meet, and they are not the only way I experience the world. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised.

I was walking home from the South Street Diner at 4 in the morning, my belly full of pancakes and whiskey sours. Two men were standing on the corner in front of a closed market. They waited until I’d passed them, and after saying something to each other, addressed me.

“How are you tonight?” they asked, and I turned around, still a little drunk.

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“Will you tell my friend here that you’re a female?”


“He doesn’t think you’re a girl.”

“I’m sort of a girl.” I said, and at this point I could feel my body tensing a little, because I know these conversations too well and at four in the morning with no one else in sight, two men much larger than me asking these kinds of questions, well.

“What does that mean?”

“I guess I’m sort of a girl, but I’m sort of a guy, too. I’m both.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought! But see?” The man laughed and nodded and gave his friend an “I told you so” elbow in the ribs.

“Whatever, all you white people look the same.” his friend said, laughing.

“You have a good night!” They yelled after me, and I waved, stumbled home. I grinned the whole way.

So back at the bar, I drank my whiskey. The friend I had been waiting for came along, and I forgot to mention the incident. When I paid for our drinks, the bartender told me the first whiskey was on him and refused to let me pay. He apologized again, and I told him not to worry about it, that he was half right anyway. And hey, I got a free whiskey out of the deal. Butch: 1, World: 0.

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.

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

Kate has written 130 articles for us.


  1. I read this waiting in line at HM butching up the “men’s” department. Sososo looking forward to more in this series. J’adoooore

    • i was just there! buying a belt because i left my other belt at my mother’s house and my pants are all falling down. gotta love keepin it real and homo in the men’s department at h&m, aka my TEMPLE OF BUTCHDOM

      • Dude. Uniqlo. I’m telling you. Uniqlo > H&M. Uniqlo = men’s pants that fit my hips. Come to New York, I will accompany you to Uniqlo and we will have a queer fashion shopping trip and we will also have brunch.

        I bought my dinner jacket at H&M and I have just been disappointed by them ever since.

        • Yesterday I bought men`s jeans at HM that ACTUALLY FIT! after 4528790 years of frustration and mild temptation to seek out womenswear (legit excited about this and felt the need to share). But this Uniqlo, I hear such fine things about it, and also the name is fun to say

  2. Fantastic Kade. You are an amazing writer and person.

    “This left me in the gloriously awkward situation of the misgendered, which is doubly awkward because in some sense it’s not really misgendering to me. I’ll be honest: I’m flattered when someone reads me as male.” THIS

  3. I almost skipped over this because stuff about butch identities doesn’t usually resonate with me.

    But then I read it and I loved it. Not because of or despite any identities, just because it’s a damn good story.

    • I absolutely love this comment, like seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better metaphor and I hope you don’t mind if I steal this and give you proper credit.

  4. This is my life! That tension all over your body when you’re analyzing whether you’re in a safe or dangerous environment, the questions, the quizzical looks, the uncomfortable knowing feeling I get right before I speak because I KNOW my voice will instantly give me away, the misgendering that I love but that every gender-normative person misgendering me finds incredibly embarrassing, even infuriating. All of it.
    This is my life, and many others’, transcribed beautifully and eloquently onto our screens. Thank you! :)

  5. “If my body’s a novel, then half the people I run into got their hands on an untranslated copy.”
    I loved this. <3

      • Really, really. You really need to write a book. Your writing style is a little Jeanette Winterson (though less whiny) and a little Dorothy Allison and I just want to read you all day long.

        [side note: “I want to read you all day long” wasn’t really meant as a pickup line, but now I feel like I need to date a writer so I can use it.]

    • Erin’s correct, Missy, but don’t be worried about asking a question like that. As long and you don’t threaten us with hell and brimstone, we welcome those kinds of questions. Autostraddle is a safe place.

  6. I’ve experienced the tension of being a masculine of center dyke so much more strongly in Morocco. In the town where I live, while I get stares most people are used to it. The only times I get extremely uncomfortable is when I have to use public restrooms, particularly in big cities. The worst is McDonald’s. There are always teenage girls just hanging out and they always give me the weirdest looks and sometimes women don’t come in the bathroom when I’m in there. Sometimes I can’t wait to be back in America where I don’t feel like the only queer in the whole damn country.

    • I know it doesn’t help much to say this, but I feel ya (re:being masculine of center in Morocco). You stick out so much more – and it’s weird, because butch/queer masculinity has an added layer of unintelligibility in Morocco, and that just makes everything more uncomfortable. People look at you, and they’re like “…wtf” as opposed to “…dyke”, which one would think is a relief but actually just makes things worse.
      tl;dr: I grew up in Rabat, and it was a fun time. I gtfo’d and currently live in New York, but lemme know if you want to rant about homos in morocco/want restaurant recs in rabat/casablanca/marrakech/essaouira.

      • You have no idea how amazing it is to hear from somebody else who knows what I’m going through. I figured joining the Peace Corps there would be plenty of dykes. Turns out none of them are MOC like I am. I would love to chat about it sometime.

        • I’m RPCV Morocco (07-09). I actually came out as queer during my service. I completely agree that it would have been incredibly challenging to present genderqueer (as I am now) because most of our time is spent in villages trying to fit in with our communities which are highly gender-segregated and much more conservative than the cities. I am nervous to ever go back now even though I miss my friends so much. I can’t imagine a) being MoC and hanging out with my community friends as I present now or b) *shudder* putting on a skirt and wrapping up my head to look more female.

          I was just in Zambia for work and almost everyone mistook me as a male. I passed without trying and it was actually a very weird experience. I was treated much differently as a male in Africa, and got a lot of respect. I enjoyed being read as male but I also had the harboring doubt that someone may react violently to me if they realized. Zambia is a very peaceful country, but I am nervous to work in conservative rural environment with my gender presentation that feels normal and natural to me.

          • I know what you mean. I’m for some reason pretty well endowed in the chest area but in the winter when I’m covered up I pass pretty easily for male, which, while nice sometimes, is extremely disconcerting. You have that question of what people will or would do if they figured it out. It’s definitely a kind of scary situation. So far though I haven’t had any real problems. Sometimes people ask if I’m a man or a woman but nobody seems to have any strong reactions to it.

            Also, yay PC Morocco!

        • PC Jordan here! I also came out during service.

          I don’t know how different Moroccan and Jordanian culture are, but I’m sure there are some definite similarities. I’m not really MOC, but I do have a desire to present a more androgynous image. But I can’t do that while I’m here. I have to wear long layers of feminine stuff. I’m betting you have to wear similar things in Morocco. I actually know a couple Jordanians I’d probably describe as MOC – so, it’s possible, you just have to walk a fine line out here.

          • I’m pretty lucky. My site is a bit larger and more liberal, and also I just decided from the beginning that I’d just wear what I want and have my mohawk if I wanted to. I can’t wear shorts or anything, but I rock t-shirts all summer. Apparently, according to my site mate, people either reference me by indicating a mohawk on their heads or refer to me as the one who dresses like a man. It’s pretty amusing, but also kinda uncomfortable. I’m also brown which means I blend in but then stand out because I’m a MOC female. It’s a strange life I lead.

            And I will now expand it, Yay PC North Africa and the Middle East!

      • I love this article and relate to it a lot, and I am really glad I found this sub-discussion about Morocco in the comments. I grew up in Casablanca, moved to the States when I was five, but I am planning on going back to Morocco in January. I am very worried about how my gender will be perceived, because I am regularly mistaken for a man in the States, although I don’t make any particular effort to look like a man. My current plan is to just wear skirts all the time and use clothes to make it very clear, because I don’t want to attract negative attention. But I have also considered trying to pass as a man while I am there. I was wondering if anyone has done this or thinks it is a really bad idea. I am worried about the consequences if someone finds out.

        • Where are you going to be when you come back? I’m extremely butch, get mistaken for a male regularly to the point that people sometimes ask me if I’m a man or a woman, but I’ve never had any issues really. People seem to just think I’m weird. As far as my experiences go, being a butch woman has been easier and in some ways made me feel safer than risking trying to pass as male.

          One time, however, I did go out to a bar binding and wearing a button up and some European tourists called me a gigolo I’m pretty sure. Not totally relevant, just amusing.

          • I am going to Ifrane, up in the Atlas Mountains, to study at the University there. So it’s isolated, but because I’ll be at the University, I expect it will be a pretty open environment. It’s a relief to me that being a butch woman has been OK for you. I have a lot of faith in the ability of people to be tolerant of difference, but I also don’t want to be naive about it. And I also want to be respectful of the cultural and religious traditions of Morocco. For me, modifying my appearance to look more feminine is uncomfortable at first, but it is tolerable in the sense that I do not experience dysphoria. So maybe I will make up my mind once I get there, depending on what feels comfortable.

            And that is pretty funny about going to the bar. I think my funniest experience being misgendered in an unfamiliar environment occurred recently when I was couchsurfing in the states. I stayed with some very manly men, who were surprisingly OK with the way I presented and decided to treat me like “one of the guys,” even though they knew I was female. But then one of their girlfriends came over and started going on about how I was such a “cute little boy.” I’m not sure how the situation was resolved in the end, but I know no one bothered me. I just found it entertaining.

          • Oh, nice. Flexible is good, but Ifrane has a lot of western influence. I know there are a lot of students studying abroad there so you should be ok for the most part. And there are a number of Peace Corps volunteers in that area, a couple of whom are queer, so if you ever need to get away they would be good folks to know.

    • I can totally relate. Nearly every time I use a public bathroom here in China, I have someone yelling at me to get out of the girl’s restroom. I usually just turn around and look at them for a second, which makes them realize, holy shit, this guy is a girl.

      Also, I had a taxi driver patting my knee for the entirety of my 20 minute ride home. Finally, as I was paying him and getting out of the cab, he asked me whether I was a man or woman. When I told him, he got super embarrassed and apologized profusely. This is what happens when you have short hair and wear a leather coat in China. They’re all kinds of confused, which is both entertaining and irritating.

  7. I’ve read a lot of your stuff on here Kate and have really enjoyed a lot of it.

    I know its annoying when people fixate on one sentence in an article, but guess what I’m-a-gonnadonow?….

    “The man who stares at me the entire train ride, makes me get off a stop early just to shake my anxiety. ”

    I’m sad and annoyed at the same time that this has ever happened to you. that’s all really. not sure where I’m going with this, other than letting you know people on the other side of the world are not happy that this happened to you.

    bloody good article lovely. :)

  8. You are lovely (thanks for writing!), and I’m thrilled you’re in Philly…but…walking solo on South St. at 4 am? Please don’t?

    • at the time i was staying about three blocks away so i wasn’t worried, but oh i know, i know :) i am overly cautious in so many ways, i’m surprised i didn’t get a cab to take me three blocks given my history of overly cautious behavior

      • OK, phew. Here I was picturing you hiking all the way to Baltimore. My eyes about popped out of my head.

  9. Oh I like this series. People have been calling me “sir” on and off for a while now.

    My favorite was when I got a traffic ticket, went to court, and the judge called me “MR. *last name here*.” Buzzcut and button up. I guess it makes sense.

    I have a lot of feelings about this but would probably rather be called sir than ma’am? It’s so very confusing.

  10. I am so excited for this series. No one really uses my preffered name yet, and so I never feel comfortable introducing myself with either name. Your own name is supposed to be the one thing you know without a doubt, I hate not knowing what to say because then I have to explain.

  11. I had my name legally changed this summer – not because it was misgendered (I’m lucky in that my birth name is genderless) – and for a good third of the hearing, the judge referred to me by my full name or as “the minor child.” When my father finally called me “she,” I was somewhat disappointed; sometimes I feel more masculine and less center, and I get a little bit excited/hopeful when others see that ambiguity as well. I guess it’s nice to think that my “feminine” facial features and my voice won’t always give away my chromosomes, and that my gender doesn’t have to be something that other people assign for me.

  12. I’ve been to Philly quite a bit because I live in PA and although they have the Gayborhood and all, there’s still such a large portion of it that I would never feel comfortable walking down the street at night, straight or gay.
    Stay safe out there.

  13. Thanks. I think I actually really needed this today, as a bisexual boi who had to explain that yes, bisexuality exists, and just because I dress like a boy doesn’t make me a lesbian, and it’s not freaky or wrong or weird, thankyouverymuch.

    Actually, that doesn’t really have much to do with anything, but I love this piece about genderfuckery. When I read, so much of it was like, “yes this is me.”

  14. Always love your pieces Kate :)

    Also, about the people who stare (esp. in public transportation) : I’ve found that staring back at them with a shocked and unsettled look or sticking your tongue out at them like a 4-years-old makes them 10 times more embarassed than you were. You should try it out, it’s hilarious.

  15. i like this a lot! when i had short hair, people would call me ‘sir’ all the time, and then when they figured out i wasn’t a dude, there was always severe awkwardness and embarrassment. a lot of the time it came from me too, because i identify as female and was always frustrated that short hair = male and long hair = female. i wanted to be perceived as female, with short hair, and a lot of the times i was misread.

    anyways, this really stuck out: “my instinct is to automatically assume that I am in the wrong, or that, at the very least, I am not entitled to be upset.”

    i think it’s really hard to not passively accept things as they are. we are trained to smile and be polite, even when something offends us. i’m still trying to figure out when to let it go, and when to try and to take the time to explain why something is wrong.

  16. I love love love your writing, so seeing a new article from you always gets me excited.

    Despite not being MOC or anything masculine past “dapper”, I’ve noticed too that I have a lot of masculine postures – the way I sit with my knees apart, my tendency to stretch my arm over adjacent seats, comfortably reclining with my hands behind my head, elbows sticking out. I’ve never noticed other girls adopting these postures, but I remember reading an Autostraddle article from 2 years ago about teaching feminine girls to act butch: “masculine people take up a lot of space, showing they own the area around them and make it theirs.” I’ve always reminded myself that just because I’m feminine, that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to own my space.

    • I take the subway a lot and notice a lot of interesting and sometimes disturbing things when it comes to masculine posture and feminine posture. An example would from my experience is a femme girl would be pushed and squeezed to discomfort when sitting down or standing (even when she is pregnant) and sometimes groped by some scum bag. Men who are masculine would take up SO MUCH SPACE and no one dares to enter it (unless they are males themselves I have seen fights happen , oh NYC my urban jungle!). I happen to appear femme and did not give a fuck, I had to pee and needed to get home! I “entered” his guy’s space pretty much challenging it, he moved CLOSER TO ME and I looked a him like a “cat wondering why the fuck are you here without any treats!?!”. He backed away, then again I am a woc so there is a lot of context in what I did, where I was not really bothered, so yeah. Point is that yes this “taking up space” is real.

    • That autostraddle article about the actors a few years ago had a big impression on me too! I think about it often and actively try to take up more space now as a feminist gesture.
      I get called sir or bro about once a month, and even though I don’t identify as butch, I kind of secretly like it too. I think I’m proud that I’m tall and strong and move aggressively. I do hope one day those things stop meaning “male” to people, though.

    • would someone mind posting a link to that article? i’d really like to read it but can’t seem to find it. thanks!

  17. GREAT, GREAT PIECE. beautifully written (you’ve got some serious STYLE going on there,kate), incredibly sensitive, basically the best thing i’ve read in MONTHS. congratulations. and i totally feel you: being a person and existing in this world — or making our way to get there– is just so: HARD (sometimes). lot’s of work. but lot’s of love, too. again: congratulations.

  18. “you’re a gentleman and a scholar!”
    “this polite young man can go ahead of us”
    “Amanda? another boy named sue huh, my name is clair”
    “cowboy”(currently living in the southwest)
    and the ever present
    Me and all of my misgenders salute you^-^

    • The third one is the best/worst.

      Also, I don’t think anyone of any gender wants to be called “sport” or “cowboy.” Maybe that’s just me and my New England snootiness though.

      • I didn’t even have the heart to correct Clair, he was such a nice old man, and seemed genuinely sympathetic to my johnny cash induced plight XD

  19. As someone who doesn’t present as MOC, I have a lot of masculine tendencies (especially trying to adopt a stance that will convey “you won’t notice me, I’m just another guy you don’t want to touch.”). And I often find myself in a place of not knowing how I “should” behave vs. how I do behave. I don’t know if this even makes sense,

    What I’m trying to say is that I like this piece a lot, and would also like to take part in the camp-whiskey-drinking.

  20. I love and appreciate this soo much. as I have grown older and more comfortable with myself, I have felt more at ease wearing masculine clothes. I cut my hair short, my cousin calls it a buzz cut. and I wear buggy clothes so I look like a guy. I am, however, very proud to be a woman. I love it and dont question myself. But this can be very confusing for people and it didnt click or register in my head that when I smile at women they dont see a woman. They see a big black guy. Its only when women hear my voice that they dont see me as a threat. I’ve been conditioned to smile and be courteous which I am then I forget I dont LOOK feminine. Yeah its no bueno when old white ladies cross the street as you walk up, I love walking so every time I see women jogging towards me I give them a wide berth

  21. <3 your writing

    I'm looking forward to taking inspiration from this series for my new show, it's about the labyrinthine nature of gender and sexuality :)

  22. I’ve read this three times now and can’t get over the resonance! And I am about to read this again in pure bewilderment that my daily stances, struggles, blushing in bathrooms, mannerisms, and that armor of a stiffened spine, shoulders back, are shared with other individuals. I’m usually an Auto-lurker silently applauding well written and interesting articles but this just…. Well, it leaves me wishing I was better with words so I could accurately and succinctly describe the depth to which this article not only resonates with me but contributes to my self worth. Thank you for this.

  23. I’m always half proud/half embarassed when people call me sir. I’m masculine, but not male, so it’s like how the fuck do I react to this!?

  24. Just a question, something I’ve been wondering about for a while. If you’re walking around, looking masculine enough to be mistaken for a man, why get embarassed or upset if someone refers to you as that gender? How do you expect them to know?

    • well, often I expect them to know because it’s not like “masculine enough to be mistaken for a man” is some objective outside standard. the fact that I have short hair doesn’t negate the fact that I still have boobs, you know?

      Also, the same cues (in terms of clothes, hair, and mannerisms) get read by different people in different ways, and get read differently on different bodies. The fact that I’m 5’10” and have broad shoulders means I’m way more likely to get read as male than someone shorter or curvier, no matter what I wear or how I walk. So there’s a generalized frustration in not being able to totally control how my gender presentation comes across.

      Also, I’m having a hard time articulating this clearly, but I see it as symptomatic as the bullshit patriarchal system we all live in. People see male and neutral as the same, and to get read as female, you have to do an active performance of femininity. So my choice to not participate fully in all aspects of that performance (not wearing makeup, not shaving my legs, wearing what I think of as a pretty “neutral” jeans + a t-shirt instead of putting on a dress or a more form-fitting top) which I think should just make me read as kind of neutral, makes me read as male instead. It’s that bullshit men are normal and women are “other” theme that shows up all over the damn place.
      So there’s a lot of righteous feminist anger involved.

      • Exactly this. This is why I’m having a tough time deciding whether to cut my long hair: I don’t want to be read as super masculine if I go out in a button up and jeans, but at the moment I look really femme if I decide to wear a dress. I just wanna find some middle ground without throwing out half my wardrobe.

        Like a stick person is always a stick man until they’re wearing a dress. That’s some messed up shit right there.

    • i’m not actually that embarrassed myself, but the people around me ALWAYS have reactions to this situation and are usually doing all the embarassed/insulted/affronted/ashamed for me, which is why it’s an awkward situation. but that’s my personal take on my expression – gender expression is incredibly complex and comes from a multitude of places. if someone misgendering me makes me feel a certain way one day and something else another day, that’s totally normal.

      i think we are also used to knowing a different set of cues in the queer community, the way we can recognize each other. and while i like recognizing and being recognized as masculine or queer or what have you by other queers because i know the reaction with be positive, or at least one of camaraderie, i can’t predict how a non-queer person will react to my presence. there is a possibility that someone encountering my masculinity will be hostile about it, or at least rude, and that’s why it’s a little scarier when i’m misgendered. because i know the stakes are higher and if they realize i am NOT what they just misgendered me as, i am at risk for being put in a dangerous position.

  25. As someone who just started questioning my gender and how I want to present my gender, I am so excited for this series. I have no queer friends to discuss this with, and my girlfriend just doesn’t quite understand.

  26. as an exclusively masculine-of-centre-dyke attracted femme, i often stupidly forget it is something to be “struggled” with. how could a gender expression so effing sexy ever be a problem?? ;) just reading about butchness makes me swoon. my only problem is… there aren’t enough of you! live nearer to me, please. the lotta ya.

    (for the record: i do GET it, though. even if i did just make it trivial and objectify-y) :)

  27. This makes me want to move out of the rural town I am stuck in because of a job even more . If I ever see someone like me here in Michigan (only ever occurred in Ann Arbor) it is literally like the biggest moment of relief.

  28. From one butch to another, I just want to say: thank you, thank you, thank you for this. I know I’m far from alone in my experiences, but sometimes reading something from somebody who is living the same truth as me can really make the whole world seem so much less frightening.

    If you’re ever in Boston, you’ve got yourself a free whisky on me.

  29. “I know from the reactions I encounter that nobody is quite sure what they’re reading on me. If my body’s a novel, then half the people I run into got their hands on an untranslated copy.”

    whoa shit, this is poetic and just….yeah. that’s my daily life.

    the way I often think about it is in terms of the Schrodinger’s cat paradox. As long as the box is unopened, the cat could either be dead or alive, but as soon as it’s open, those possibilities collapse into one eventuality. when a stranger sees me, they could see me as male or female. I don’t know which, and that remains uncertain until they say something–usually “sir” or “ma’am”–and indicate how they see me.

    so my gender is a cat in a box, I guess? a whiskey kitten in a box of uncertainty.

  30. I love your articles, Kate. Sometimes they make me want to hug you and tell those ignorant people to fuck off.

  31. I’m excited to read more articles in this series. Being a genderqueer/moc/butch lesbian in a smallish town in interesting- but I like being called sir. Awesome writing Kate!

  32. I also live on a small street below Baltimore. Perhaps we can get coffee at Satellite sometime. Though you are more likely to see me at the playground explaining to the kids that always ask that I am not my daughter’s mom or dad.

    Beautiful writing, thanks.

  33. I also consider myself MOC, but it depends on the day. Sometimes I dress MOC, other times it’s just center. Outside of the city I get “sir”-ed occasionally, but I don’t really mind since it’s an honest mistake. However, I use female pronouns because, for me, I can dress in a masculine way, feel masculine, and act with “male” mannerisms, and still strongly identify as a woman. All the while I realize that all of this is socially constructed.

    I’ve had some good conversations recently about this and I see the merit of using “they” as a fuck you to the gender binary, but somehow using they/them to me seems to be more rigidly defining what it is to be male or female. The super queer circle in my city, especially among artists seems to be 50/50 on he/she versus they. I seem to be in the minority when I want to wear suits, but use she but still think that gender is a spectrum.


    Also, Autostraddle roundtable/forum on gender and pronouns? Is our queer community transitioning to gender neutral pronouns or is it just a pocket of my city? I wonder if using they as a way of being neither female nor male is also inadvertently creating more rigid boundaries for what feminine and masculine are…

    • In that way too long rant of a comment, I forgot to say how much I enjoyed this article! I could relate to a lot of it. You really do have a talent for writing, as others have mentioned. I’m looking forward to future articles!

  34. This was so lovely, thank you for sharing.
    Also thrilled to hear you are in West Philly! I love it here, and hopefully you will too. If you ever need any recommendations or anything, hit me up. (And sorry about the Penn students.)

  35. “If my body’s a novel, then half the people I run into got their hands on an untranslated copy.” I loved this. Beautifully written.

  36. I love that you’re writing this column, because I love your writing and your take on the world, Kate, and I love the theme as well. I have a lot of confused feelings about gender, both my own and in regards to my sexuality, and I really enjoy reading articles that hash out some of the same feelings that swirl around in my head and heart. I just recently moved to a truly big city for the first time, and I’m still trying to balance blending in when I want with sticking out more when I want and exactly how I want to blend in or stick out… and also balancing those negative experiences with some of the more positive ones, like when a classmate told me I looked very “dapper” and no one had EVER applied that to me before and it was wonderful, or like last night when a male cashier told me he loved my cap (which I got in the men’s section of Forever 21) and thought it was really stylish. Those little things really help a lot. Anyway, just wanted to say I love this column so far and I can’t wait to hear more. :)

  37. I live right off of Baltimore Avenue as well. I’m pretty sure you went to undergrad with my girlfriend. Small queer world.

  38. hooray! pleased about this, been wanting to hear others’ experiences of this stuff. winter layers + cap = constant confusion. or my new go to word, misgendered. (better than genderphobed which was my shorthand till now)

  39. Personally, I would have been offended by the woman’s attitude. I’ve been in these kind of situations countless times as I’m quite like you (masculine, with a woman’s voice) and I live in Argentina where it’s less common than in the US to see genderqueers.
    When someone apologizes for confusing me with a man MOST OF THE TIME (i do react differently, it depends on my mood) i feel like they are apologising for seeing ME, (or at least part of me). Yes, I’m a masculine woman, why is it offensive to imply that you see me as a masculine person? If you think about it, what was that female patron trying to say? Her reaction seems to come from the reaffirmation of a binary world, which I don’t like. And her reaction it’s quite extreme. In fact, I like when these situations happen (the bartender one, not being in a McDonald’s bathroom, that always makes me feel really anxious and unsafe) because I think it’s an opportunity to change people’s minds about what can they expect when they meet someone new, and the best way to react (in my opinion) is to shrug it off and show them that yes, I’m masculine, I know what that implies and I don’t give a fuck, but I hate when people make a fuss about it because IT SHOULDN’T BE. In my understanding, if we want to live in a freer world, more diverse and less preoccupied by how we feel comfortable, we should take this road.

    I used to get really upset when someone confused me with a boy, but then I found myself in the same situation as that bartender and I thought “I’m not an ignorant, I try to see each person as a whole before I make any assumption, I have my personal experiences to learn from and still, I make this mistake?” I realized that there are times when people are really ambiguous and it’s not difficult to misgendered them (I don’t know if that word exists in English) so the key is to learn from it, not make a big deal about it and try to use less male/female pronouns next time so that everyone can feel more comfortable. Well, I hope this added something to the debate/conversation etc.

  40. *When i wrote “not make a big deal about it” I was not referring to this article, or implying that we shouldn’t talk about it, I was referring to the particular situations in our daily life.

  41. Am I the only one who thinks this article (and this whole column, for that matter) is overly self-indulgent and like filled with whiny white masculine of center people privilege?

  42. Speaking of gender-confusion, am I the only one experiencing being hit on by gay boys everytime I go out? I’m not even very boyish looking (or at least i don’t think so). It’s like all, the straight guys are hitting on my girl friend and all the gay guys are hitting on me…
    Btw love this article so much.

  43. Your posts are the closest thing to holy I’ve ever heard. If you wrote a book, I’d probably buy hundreds of copies and sneak them into hotels across the country like the Gideon people…or at least keep it under my pillow. Thank you.

  44. Thank you for putting those feelings into words. I’ve been called “sir” and otherwise misgendered since I was twelve. It really confused me when I was younger, because I thought ‘why would that old lady yell at me and tell me to leave the girls’ bathroom when I was just washing my hands?’ I thought that keeping my hair really long would stop it, but it hasn’t.

  45. I once had some boys give me homophobic abuse because they thought I was a too-feminine boy – they shouted insults made for gay men across the street at me. I had short hair and I was dressed kind of andro. I loved it! It felt like a hilarious validation of the camp gender identity I kind of go for. I didn’t feel personally insulted or threatened because they were yelling at a chimera, not me – they couldn’t see what I actually was. (And because I am a white cis woman who is used to always feeling safe)

  46. Pingback: And here’s a list of trans and NB media – themagicspaceship

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