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
He and I were in a dormitory basement that smelled the way every college party smelled: spilled Natty Lite and sweaty male athletes. We were holding red solo cups of cheap beer that I had been chugging one after the other after the other. I would later projectile vomit them onto the exterior wall of the same dormitory before taking the nauseating fifteen minute bus ride home. It was 2009, and Lady Gaga’s Poker Face played at every party I attended. I hated that song because I started to associate it with the feeling right before you threw up your fifteenth drink. I was 18, about to turn 19. I was wearing a skirt I’d bought with my birthday money a few weeks before entering college. I hated that skirt, too.
He’d asked me if I was alone. He’d leaned in much closer as he’d said this, and put his hand onto the cement pillar I was standing against, forming a physical barrier between me and the rest of the room. I told him that I’d come with my girlfriend. He asked if I was bisexual. No, I’d said, I’m a lesbian. Something in his expression changed. He’d smiled at me, and this had happened:
“I’m just glad that you’re not one of those man-hating lesbians,” he said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know, the ones with the buzzcuts and the hairy legs.” He leaned in closer in a conspiratorial way. His mouth was brushing against my ear, and he smelled like beer. I hate the smell of beer. “The ugly ones!” He laughed as he pulled away.
I laughed, too. Because he scared me. Because a few months before, I’d learned what could happen when a man gets control, when he gets mad and drunk and you’re in his reach, so I laughed at things that men said, even when they made me feel like my gut was full of pins.
“Definitely not,” I said.
“They scare me, man.”
I was searching the room for my girlfriend, the one I’d come with, the first girl, the first person with whom I’d ever had a relationship. This happened sometimes; we would go to parties, and I’d lose her for a while, and I would drink a lot until we were reunited. I was not someone who drank very much until college, where I learned my limits by demolishing them every weekend. I associated drinking with being sick; I didn’t think there was any other way to drink. This boy was talking to me about the ugly dykes he would never touch, but I was trying to consume so much alcohol that I couldn’t hear him anymore.
I was scared of him, but he was scared of the me I would become in another two years. That me was there that night, too, forming a fist in my stomach, wanting to punch him through his scared boy face. But what had made me so quick to deny that part of myself? Why had this condemnation been so terrifying?
The feeling in the pit of my stomach would carry into the first years of presenting as butch. I felt shame in being something that was considered a stereotype. I heard the critiques of butch and femme as antiquated identities, and regardless of my intentions to do otherwise, I internalized them. My second girlfriend cheated on me with a man, and that man said of me that I was so ugly, he wouldn’t touch me with a ten foot pole. I remember that because it was right when I’d begun to explore masculine expressions. I internalized that, too, even though I’d told myself over and over again that I was still desirable. There are still times when I doubt my own validity, my own desirability, and any wide range of things simply because some small-minded person told me way back when that lesbians were ugly bulldaggers.
When I went to Bryn Mawr, there was a familiar language surrounding stereotypes at women’s colleges. I heard more than one of my straight classmates explaining to outsiders that yes, they went to a women’s college, but they were not a lesbian. That ‘but’ was crucial. They were clearly and distinctly separating themselves from those stereotypes associated with women’s colleges, and from Otherness. Those hairy man-hating lesbian separatists in sandals and flannel were different from them. They may have ruined the image of women’s colleges, but they weren’t everybody, really.
When I came out, my mother asked if it was because of my being at a women’s college. She’d read about LUGS (Lesbian Until Graduation Syndrome) on a college parent forum and now she was concerned. It wasn’t until I started presenting as butch that her concern rose to complete conviction.
We shouldn’t be getting trapped in this rhetoric anymore, but we are. We’re trapped in it because the patriarchy says jump, and someone’s trained us from birth to chime back with “How high?” Denying the existence of stereotypes is a slippery slope away from denying the validity of any number of identities and experiences. Even within feminism or queerness, when the patriarchy has condemned something as undesirable and negative, there is a sudden rhetorical rush to separate the movement from that thing. We don’t just do it with butchness; the same thing is very obviously and violently happening with transwomen, with queer people of color, with any number of minorities who should be leading queer communities rather than cast out from them. This, to me, is actually the worst injustice we commit as a community, as being a group bound together by societal oppression means we should be the most sensitive to inclusion and rights associated with identity. The patriarchy shouldn’t win in our circle, but it still pokes its ugly head where it doesn’t belong, and I’m all for kicking it back out on its flat ass.
I’m typing this in 2013 with my head freshly buzzed and my binder sweating. I haven’t shaved my legs or my armpits in three years. I’m wearing jeans I cut into knee-length shorts because shopping for new shorts is expensive and dysphoric. I’m wearing a flannel cut-off because Philadelphia is stupidly hot. I’m a hairy short-haired sonuffabitch in plaid and denim that by that boy’s definition, and so many other definitions I’ve heard, is considered by society to be one of those ugly lesbians. And honestly, I ain’t even mad.
There’s something about being a walking stereotype that’s simultaneously wonderful and awful. Sometimes I pull an outfit on and catch my reflection in the mirror, and I don’t know if I should laugh or not because that kind of laugh is going to rip me in half. When I first came out, I had long hair and I still wore dresses and attempted to put on eyeliner, and people who knew I was gay complimented me for not being one of those lesbians. What did they mean? They meant that I wasn’t one of those bulldaggers, that my body was still okay to look at, that I hadn’t lost my social desirability, that I wasn’t a complete joke.
Look who’s laughing now, folks. This butch, that’s who.