Fat-Booty Butch Wears Leggings — Confuses World, Confronts Self

Yo, I wore leggings out in the world today for the first time in years. Like literally years, like from before I had my first orgasm is probs the last time I wore leggings in the street. Most days when I step out of my house I make sure that the contours of my silhouette are grid-like, smooth, confined to lines like the streets of my city. Straight-leg men’s cut black jeans, button-down shirts, fitted caps and kicks all equal my bouncy butch armor. Nothing about these singular items of clothing are connected to any one gender presentation. For me and only me, they signify protection and deflection. In these clothes, I’m able to control who sees what of me and when. I don’t want anyone to see parts of my exposed flesh just because I’m walking down the street. That makes me uncomfortable, makes my skin itch like whoa, and I’m stressed to the ends wondering who’s seeing what and wishing I was in control. Form-fitting feels different than tailored and my form is something I’m super protective of — so why the fuck did I decide to wear leggings today?

The proportions of my body seem so out of sync with the measurements of the clothes-buying world. I’ve got stubby chunky legs, thick thighs, small hips, a beer belly, DD breasts that deflate and inflate with the seasons and a soft back that curves like my grandmother’s did. None of this is bad. Matter of fact, alone in my room, I do the body-worship dance. But motherfuckers don’t make clothes for my round body-worshipping ass. Ok, fine, talk to me about tailoring, talk to me about this one website that has 30% off on all their button downs and I’ll still show you a person (ME) that can’t get all that together and still function in my daily life. I’ve only got so much time, jeezus christ, can some of these deals come with an assistant? Also, I’m picky and don’t want to look like a boxy stud in a tuxedo. Men’s clothing rocks. I love it all but but but what about my soft everything? Shopping for clothes gives me anxiety for eight million reasons and then I found this pair of black leggings with badass gold zippers and all that shit in my brain got quiet for a minute and then I paid for them and here we are.

I wore the leggings with a black “Girl in a Coma” t-shirt, an unbuttoned black and grey button down, and silver and black kicks. Looking myself over in the mirror, I remember thinking, “Damn, I got a fat booty.” Mostly I just notice my gut, especially when I’m resting beers on it but this morning it was all about the butt. And then I was all, “Haha, I’m a fat-booty butch in leggings.” This is my life. This is my early-morning I-haven’t-thought-about-the-patriarchy-or-white-privilege-yet, getting-ready-for-work thought process. But shit was weird the second I hit the block.

Real quick: I feel like I’m constantly navigating multiple worlds. There’s the straight, mad-aggro hyper-hetero man world, a.k.a. the patriarchy, and then there’s the world with all my queermos and then there’s mad other worlds probably that I don’t fuck with cuz I’ve only got so much time and so many heartbeats. On a regular day, a day where I’ve got my “brown butch thing” down, I’m a fly ghost in the world of men. They don’t comment on me or the shape of my body nor do they hold open doors or even pretend I exist. I am 100% okay with that all of the time. If anything, I catch two things. I get the, “Oh why are you a man-dyke?” bullshit or the, “Holy shit, you’re a dyke?! That means I can objectify EVERY WOMAN EVERYWHERE with you, right?!”. I normally dodge all of that bullshit like a pro. Thank you iPhone earbuds, thank you real books made out of paper, and thank you side-eye I’ve perfected since birth.

Leggings apparently set off the switches for men that have nothing better to do than ogle bitches on the corner. I live and work in the hood and there are beautiful thick-bottomed women everywhere. EVERYWHERE. They’re as common and as celebrated as Coco Helado carts.

gracias a Dios

Gracias a Dios

So I don’t know why my B-rate, wide flat butt caught any dude’s attention but the eyes of men were upon me. Gag. Like fucking gag. I knew I’d made a wardrobe error of sorts when the first dude I passed on the train platform was like, “Nice booty, girl.” I wanted to unzip my skin and wear something else. Just the fact that my thighs and behind were on semi-display seemed to make it okay for men to comment on them. I caught my homeboy, a dude that’s called me his “little brother,” gazing at my body when I picked up the keys I’d accidentally dropped on the floor. Yo, what? Also, cis-brown-bro-dudes opened doors for me like all of a sudden I was a person to them. It felt so weird — like a gift that was two shades away from being something I wanted. It felt good but weird and insincere and totally dependent on the amount of ass they were allowed to see via me. Where does one return a gift like that?

But none of this is new. Women-identified folks, trans identified folks, and queermos of all types write about this shit all the time. But me, I’m just used to being Queermo the Friendly Ghost, floating unobserved in the world of cis-men.

The flip-side of this non-feminist cis-dude bullshit is that all of a sudden I felt cut off from the soft and beautiful underworld inhabited by everyone else — decent, open, non-aggressive people, often queer, often femme-identified, at least in my experience.  I feel like my butch/hood-esque presentation provides an almost all access pass. Instead of checking that privilege, I’ve just been 100% down for it and expectant of it. It’s like those are sometimes the only moments I get in real life where I’m not a ghost, where I’m included in real life and my opinion, my smile, my self is worth something to others. All of a sudden the presentation that makes my mother so nervous, that makes people wonder why I’m at a baby shower or what bathroom I’m gonna use is giving me a moment of shine. It’s an actual existence.  Queers and weirdos can spot me a mile away and for some I’m a safe space to gush about a secret girlfriend or the good old “I see you, you see me” homo head nod.  The speakeasy undertones of my queer existence are so badass, I love the code-switching and the acknowledgment of my existence from others like me.

But in leggings, HOLY SHIT, the difference was/is huge, ginormous. I felt as awkward and out of place as I did when I was a lonely ugly queer in high school. Not one person from any of my worlds reached out to claim me. Where did everyone go? Why did leggings make me this other invisible thing? Now granted, I didn’t feel like my usual confident self but something else was off.

How do leggings negate butch? How did they negate me? Obvs what makes me who I am lies past fitted caps and side shaves, and runs deep between hair follicles and skin cells but…but? I forgot how connected my identity is to everyone else. I know there’s this idea of the shmoozy butch: the one chick in men’s clothing that acts like they’re Don Draper, Lesbian Jesus’s gift to queerkind, and the orgasm-giver during the holidays. I’m not that person. Even if you think I am, I’m not. I just wanna make good and radical people smile, feel loved, feel present. I know what I look like. I’m a fucking welcome sign for all queers within a 20-mile radius of me and I like it. I’m proud of it. I just wanna say “hey girl” to you and to your people and also say “hey human” to all those who don’t go by ‘girl’ cuz I’m down for you and I mean it. I’m that person and holy shit how come it wasn’t as easy to be that person in leggings?

What is it about femininity that makes people hate on a queer? On a person? Confession: I’ve kinda dismissed femme-invisibility. I always kinda thought “femme invisibility” was some bullshit, like bullshit enough to use quotation marks whenever I mentioned it. Sometimes, I’m a fucked up humanoid  living in my own world and totally checked out to things that aren’t my life. Me acknowledging something doesn’t make it all of a sudden valid, it makes me all the more ready to stand up and feel frayed by humanity, by my own oblivion, by a shred of privilege I try to ignore cuz everything else is so much bigger. I always unfortunately translated femme-invisibility as a holler thang aka something that has to do with your ability to get hollered at, to get flirted with, to get your shine on. I didn’t equate FI with fucking community. COMMUNITY. Community is the thing we all need to survive.

Glad I keep my asshole thoughts to myself and unpack them there first because people would literally be slapping me all the time. I’m stunned by the intensity of ingrained misogyny and it’s mine, it’s all my shit. Inwardly dismissing other people’s experience as not that serious because it didn’t pertain to my immediate life was some lazy, sexist, bullshit non-radical thinking. I’m not about that. The fight to always exist in equity with others, to be an ally through actions and not lip-service, create solid communities, live a life filled with genuine acts of social justice, starts with me checking myself. All the time, every day, every time something fucked up or too new flows through my skin, it’s my job to figure out who I’m really serving by holding on to said beliefs/words/emotions. Why do I use the word “queer”? Why do I call myself a “woman/person of color” when my grandma called us Puerto Ricans and Spanish? Why do I think femmes have it easy? Why do I want more spaces to be QPOC only? Shit is real.

One day of wearing some damn badass black leggings gave me an ice bath of hyper-visibility to straight men and immediate exclusion from the comfort of the worlds I inhabit: queer, female, butch. In leggings, all of a sudden, I had no access to la famiglia. I can’t imagine social interactions/life always being that way. How are my people surviving out there? So many of us don’t have any community where we live, no matter how we present or identify.

Leggings may be the fun, wildcard, attention-grabbing aspect of this piece but like shit, I’ve gotten all the way to the end and I’m like “damn it’s not even about the leggings”. Leggings played a part in affecting my gender presentation but what I’ve learned is that my connection to and understanding of the queer community must be continuously updated. Public speakeasy-like code switching acknowledgment is one very important aspect of feeling connected to community. I’m lucky enough to live in a city where that happens frequently and now I’ve got to consistently step my game up. When there’s something I don’t understand or a group of people that I consider to be part of my community but I don’t know anything about their needs or wants or the foundation of their social justice struggle, I need to step back. Step back and reevaluate, find a discussion or a forum that’s open and go and keep my mouth shut and just listen. listen, respect, and then listen some more. I need to read words from the mouths of activists, write down the things that will make me a better human, and with great humility talk to people, not probe them or humor them, but stand there and give every ounce of compassion, empathy and humanity that I have.

Will I ever wear leggings again? Yo, thank La Virgen, that I bought two pairs because yes, leggings.


Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” column exists for individual queer ladies to tell their own personal stories and share compelling experiences. These 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.

Gabrielle Rivera is an awesomely queer Bronx bred, writer, spoken word artist and director. Her short stories and poems have been published in various anthologies such as the Lambda Award winning Portland Queer: Tales from the Rose City and The Best of Panic! En Vivo from the East Village. Her short film "Spanish Girls are Beautiful" follows a group of young Latina and Caucasian girls who like girls as they hook up, smoke up and try to figure sh*t out. She also freelances for Autostraddle.com while working in the film and television industry. Gabrielle is currently working on her first novel while bouncing around NYC performing spoken word and trying to stick it to the man.

gabby has written 102 articles for us.

174 Comments

  1. *slow clap* I heard your voice the entire time I was reading this and it made it that much more powerful for me.

    I recently have been able to fit into a pair of skinny jeans that I haven’t worn for years and I feel slightly uncomfortable in them. I honestly couldn’t figure out why before reading this. I like my boot cut jeans. I don’t like things too form fitting on my legs. It has been a completely unconscious thing but I’ve done it out of self defense. I get enough unwanted attention from my boobs; I don’t need to add to it. Also it’s not my fault tho. It’s the fault of those who force the attention on me.

    On a lighter note… OMG the helado carts!!! It makes me miss the paletero man outside El Morro in Puerto Rico. (and wow does spell check have a problem with those sentences!!)

  2. I saw this right away when you posted it. I keep coming back and trying to post something coherent. I keep failing. This one hits a nerve. So I’m just gonna throw a few tumbling incoherent mixed up thoughts out, cos it feels like I have to, now that people are finally having a conversation about silencing and invisibility.

    First of all, THANK YOU GABBY, thank you for writing this so truthfully and sharing your own vulnerabilities. I think that it’s only because you started this conversation from such a place of openness and trust that we’ve been able to have a really meaningful conversation started here.

    It means so much to have somebody acknowledge that it isn’t just about getting hit on, getting chatted up, it’s about community. It’s really fucking lonely when you walk down the street invisible. Which is why the queer head nod is the best thing ever. Do it people, if you’re not sure, do it anyway! If she’s straight she wont get it anyway, and if she’s a less obviously presenting gay lady, well you’ve made her day. Because somebody saw.

    As somebody pointed out above, far more eloquently than I’m about to, the thing you can do right now, is to treat people better inside of the queer community. It is bad enough that we’re not always perceived as queer in the mainstream, it is so much more harmful and hurtful that in settings where we are obviously queer, we’re often dismissed by people.

    In my area, there is a womyn’s party thing every year, organised by the older lesbians in the community, it’s pretty cheesy but we go and support it every year, even though it has a bit of a “dancing at your cousin’s wedding” vibe to it. Anyway, certain individuals, that would be quite involved with their community/ activism etc are so fucking incessantly snide or dismissive of us because some of us are in dresses and makeup. I can pretty much be guaranteed I’ll never hook up with someone at this particular event as I’m condescended to because of how I’m dressing. My friends and I still go every year and make a point of going, it’s a small town and we want to support the event, so we go in a big group and have an awesome time on Team Fuck The Haters. Also, we all probably dress the most femme end of the scale for each of us, when we go to this particular event because we’re demanding a spot basically. But how fucked up is it that this is the politics of us navigating a queer female space?

    Somebody else mentioned above the fact that she finds herself coming out over and over as a way of trying to be visible. I just wanted to say that I feel this so much. I constantly do it, in every corner of my life, always wondering if I’m being too much or oversharing and while part of me does it because I feel the responsibility to be out for those that can’t, part of it is definitely to do with the constant allegations of passing privilege and not knowing what it’s like for other people. I don’t ever want to be presumed straight, it’s a lie of omission. I ensure my resume features lots of queer volunteering and work experience, because I don’t want to “get away with it” and get hired by a homophobic company.

    I support queer events in my community. I’m informed and passionate about queer theory and queer history. I’m out and proud in my personal and professional life. I try to be a good trans ally. I’ve given coming out workshops for queer youth. I attend protests. I write to my elected representatives about queer issues. I don’t expect brownie points for any of this, these are the things that matter to me and that make me happy. It does frustrate me sometimes, when I feel devalued and ignored by other queer women, because of my wardrobe choices. And this isn’t an attraction thing, this is a basic value judgement on whether or not I merit being spoken to. It’s like, come on, HOW QUEER DO I HAVE TO BE???

  3. Update: I spoke with my masculine of center roomie the other day about femme invisibility and and she also feels that’s it’s not a thing, etc. I am so thankful for the Autostraddle Femme FB Group and for speaking with other queers about gender representation/fashion/society’s interpretations of us/me. I struggle with femme invisibility every day but I am still going to be myself. I come out several times a day because it’s assumed that I like men. I wish there were some universal signal that everyone had just so they’d know by looking at me, but why would I want to be labeled and why would I need to change myself for others? I wouldn’t. This video always makes those rough days a little better, this poet gives me hope: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Q7IzwUa_kI

  4. wow, thank you for this. This was a validation i didn’t even realize I needed. But FI has been a struggle in my life for so many years and it’s just heart breaking. Your words really struck a chord, and clearly not just for me. Thank you so much for this realness.

  5. As someone who bounds up and down the femme-butch spectrum like the queer fashionista I wish I was, I have strong feelings about this article. I can walk down the same road in my favourite dress and get honked by several passers-by one day, then the next when I choose to wear my favourite pair of jeans be left alone. Yet, this is the opposite effect that occurs when trying to get the attention of people I desire, like my femme clothing has been woven with some sort of queer invisibility fabric. I really wish as human beings we could just wear what we wanted without having to worry about bullshit like this. Some nights it makes me weep. I actually wrote a poem pretty recently about this frustration, I hope you guys like it:

    I’m not bending gender I’m
    Trying to find myself;
    I’d rather make my own way and
    Take clothes from any shelf,
    So I’m not reading labels but
    Shopping for style instead
    Don’t tell me that there’s a gender
    Inside a piece of thread.

  6. The content of the article really resonated with me… but what really made it for me is how beautifully it’s written. As a bi femme who is also a writer and highly values the power of words and the way words are put together, bravo. You did a fantastic job.

  7. Thank you so much for writing this article. Your words have really stuck with me over the past few months as I’ve been working to build a gender-based violence story sharing platform called The Burden of Proof Movement (BOPM).

    Participants from a variety of perspectives all over the globe are recording their experiences with gender-based violence every day for month, and then we are publishing those experiences on the BOPM website. There are many incredible resources around the Internet for people to share their stories about singular incidents of GBV that they have experienced, but BOPM serves to communicate the daily relentlessness of living in an oppressive society.

    In your piece, you so adeptly describe how you’re treated differently when you’re being perceived as more feminine. I thought you might be interested in having a platform for exploring those interactions over the course of a month.

    If this sounds interesting to you, you can learn more by contacting me or by visiting the BOPM website at burdenofproofmovement.com. Also, if anyone else who reads this is interested, please reach out as well!

    P.S. I’m sorry if a comment was an inappropriate way for me to communicate this message, but I wasn’t sure how else to reach out to you, Gabrielle.

  8. I came back here to comment because I want someone to see I commented on the right side of the screen under “Latest Comments” and click on this article and read it.

    It seriously is one of the articles on Autostraddle that I’ve thought most about over time, and that is saying something, after 4ish years of readership and loving so hard on so many AS pieces. I read it when it was published, and I heard you read it aloud at A-camp, Gabby, and I still reread it because it’s so incredibly important.

    My privileges being a visible-queer / not femme person…. my privileges being a white queer… my privileges being someone who fits the homonormative “attractive” standards… I have to remember and be conscious of these and tons of other privileges, particularly as I’m trying to organize shit for queers. Thank you for this powerful reminder.

    And as someone who also just wants to made other good and radical people smile & feel present, thanks for imbibing this with hopefulness and positive call-outs and call-ins. Since that’s what I’m all about, too, this piece gives me life and a tiny blueprint.

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