Founder Esther Godoy on the Evolution of Butch Is Not a Dirty Word

all photos by Esther Godoy, Butch Is Not a Dirty Word

a Black stud with tattoos wears a black sports bra and has outstretched arms while looking at the camera

This Butch and Stud Appreciation Day, I had the pleasure of interviewing someone I think many of you know, or should know — Esther Godoy, founder of Butch Is Not A Dirty Word! I’ll always fondly remember our first Zoom call, early in the pandemic, when we talked about membership and reader-supported media. I’m sure I’m not alone when it comes to how exciting it’s been to watch Butch Is Not a Dirty Word grow over the years and to witness and experience the joy and affirmation this publication and the people who work on it have brought to so many in our community.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


a white butch lays face down on a pillow on a bed, shirtless, peacefully slumbering

So, to introduce you to any of our readers who don’t know you, can you tell me a little bit about who you are, how you identify and how you came to start Butch Is Not a Dirty Word?

My name is Esther Godoy, I’m a butch dyke, and my pronouns are she/her. I grew up in Melbourne, Australia and now live in Portland Oregon.

In my mid-twenties, I was traveling back and forward between and Australia and the USA for skateboarding contests. I landed in Portland randomly one year; I was super young and had only been out for a year or two. I wasn’t fully in my masculinity yet — I’d say at that time in my life I was pretty butchphobic. I attribute that butchphobia to the lesbian community I grew up in at home, which was not one that celebrated the masculine of center identity so much. I’d only ever heard butch dykes be talked about negatively by the community, or made fun of, so it’s something I wanted to distance myself from.

I wasn’t ever thought of to be physically desirable back home, so it came as a surprise to me when I would visit the States and would get quite a lot of romantic attention. Growing up gender nonconforming, I was always taught I was ugly, so I was never all that surprised when dykes weren’t interested in dating me either back in Australia. But in the States, it was weirdly different. I noticed people revered butch lesbians here — the masc identity was very much appreciated and valued amongst the dyke communities on the West Coast, and for the first time in my life I experienced what it was like to be treated with value, care, and respect by the queer people around me.

These experiences really confused me. I would go back home to Australia and experience incredibly painful invisibility from my community, and then anytime I came back to the States, it was the opposite.

I learned over the years that the way I had been treated had nothing to do with me personally; it was a product of the environment I found myself in. But the whole experience was incredibly confusing and disorienting. And had I never got to experience the love and care of a community who valued me and encouraged my butchness, then I would never have known how poorly I’d been treated back home. I thought that was normal, I thought I deserved that. And I’m incredibly grateful I was lucky enough to land in a position where my butchness was encouraged and nurtured — I got to experience it differently, and as a result, the trajectory of my life was changed.

BINADW was started because I wanted other butches who might not get the same opportunities as me, to travel, to experience other queer cultures, to show them that there are places and people in the world who value them. To help build awareness and self esteem for butch people through visibility.

a butch with short bleached blonde hair sits in a white tank looking at the camera

When you started Butch Is Not a Dirty Word in 2016, what were you setting out to accomplish? Do you feel like you’ve made progress toward that goal?

Honestly I was really, really, really angry for the way I’d been brought up to believe I wasn’t worthy of community, romantic interest, or care, because of my gender presentation, and the first issue of the magazine was really just me trying to process this pain. It was only ever supposed to be a small zine — I had no intention of it ballooning into what it has!

I felt crazy, and I couldn’t find anyone else who understood my experience. Americans don’t understand that most queer communities in the rest of the world treat Butches like absolute shit — worse than cis straight people do. And my community in Australia didn’t understand anything about the experiences I’d had overseas. I felt like I was making it all up.

The first issue of the magazine was my way of communicating my experience through the lens of other people. I was desperately trying to show people that I hadn’t been making that experience up, so I asked all my friends in the States who loved butch lesbians to write essays about what they loved about them. Then I paired them with photos of butches from Australia and voila — a butch baby was born!

But to answer this question, yes I have managed to process my grief through this work and the fact that it has been an assist to so many other peoples healing along the way makes me feel slightly less weird about processing my internal world so publicly in that first edition.

a topless white butch in black swim shorts sits on a diving board by a pool

How has Butch Is Not a Dirty Word evolved or changed over these several years?

Well, it was only ever supposed to be a silly little standalone zine. But the response to that first issue was so huge that it felt like it would be a disservice not to do another one. I intended it to be maybe a series, three issues or so, then it just kept going and going. Social media was blowing up around the same time, which is where the Instagram presence started to grow.

We’re up to issue 10, which will be the final print issue. I chose a print magazine because I always wanted to take the time to present butch people beautifully and professionally. Throughout history, no one has ever really taken the time and care to do so, and I wanted to give butch dykes what gay men have always had, which is beautifully photographed, artistic representations of themselves in multiple mediums with high production value. So print was always important to me for that reason. To show butches that they were worthy of that time, that effort, that care and that beauty.

But alas, we loose money making that art. Print is incredibly expensive, and we’re no longer in a place to be able to afford it. I don’t think people know how much time, work, care and effort goes into the content we produce — it’s a labor of love. After our tenth issue, we’ll be moving exclusively into online, membership-only content. Online was never the priority as it’s so rapidly and quickly consumed, and the expectation is that you’ll have a brand new deliverable three times a day. It can feel like a hamster wheel to remain relevant, and really all I ever want to do is keep making meaningful content. So veering away from social media and into more highly produced membership-only content feels like the balance.

a white butch is topless with pants unbuttoned, sitting on a chair

What’s the most rewarding aspect of working on this project for you?

Being of service to the world in some way has always been incredibly important to me. I think the things we struggle with in our personal lives are often the place we have the potential to me most valuable to the people around us. When you’ve walked through a certain experience, you’re better equipped to guide the way for others. My experience growing up gender nonconforming in the 90s was incredibly difficult and impactful. It was traumatizing, and I live with the impact of those experiences everyday, well into adulthood. Those experiences have had a lasting impact on my psyche, and it’s taken me my entire life to even begin feeling like I deserve nice things like love, basic human kindness, care, respect. Where I can help shorten that gap for others, I am very happy to do so, and if i get to make beautiful art, and continue to process and heal my own grief while I’m doing it, then I’m all for it!

a Black stud sits at the end of a bed, wearing ablack tank and black pants and black boots

And what are the challenges that you face in publishing Butch Is Not a Dirty Word and getting the word out there?

I have a full-time job, and I do this project on the side. Because it has such high production value, people think we make a bunch of money or like we’re some conglomerate that should be able to fly anywhere in the world, any time, and photograph everyone. Chill out my dudes, it’s a one woman show over here, and I gotta eat, sleep, and pay for rent and kombucha. Also, I am human, I make mistakes, I learn, I evolve — doing that in the public eye for so long has been exhausting. Being visible online is exhausting.

a Black stud sits in a chair wearing a white tank and gray jeans

Can you tell me about your most recent project — especially because I believe we’re going to be publishing some of those photos in this!

Lately we’ve moved into photographic body positive butch nudes. We keep these gated behind our membership-only (Patreon) site for obvious reasons. It’s all about the celebration of healthy, non-objectifying, non-fetishizing representations of butch sexuality. There are so many assumptions people have about butch bodies and butch sexuality, and it can be really really basic. I’m constantly trying to showcase how mutifaceted and whole butches are, like all humans are! Media (dyke media included!) has always done us a disservice, portraying us exclusively as emotionally unevolved fuck boys who are all stone tops or whatever. It’s honestly super boring, exhausting and outdated. BINADW just out here trying to change all that — no big deal?

from behind, a shot of a Black stud pulling up a white tank and wearing gray jeans with a studded belt

So, this interview is going to run on Butch and Stud Appreciation Day! At Butch Is Not a Dirty Word, though, I feel like that’s every day. But I want to ask, how do you feel about the holiday?

I am too chaotic and attention-challenged to remember any special day, celebration, or event, and it’s honestly way too much pressure to have to do some performative thing on the internet about every single one of them. If you miss one, the internet takes it as some secret signal about whatever your politics are, and it’s honestly too much to keep up with. My engagement with celebration of my communities is in the quiet spaces, moment-to-moment in the day-to-day.

But also, YEY to butch/stud appreciate date, to all who celebrate!

a brown transmasc person with top surgery scars smiles with hands behind head and black framed glasses

What are things that you feel the queer community as a whole should be focusing on to do right by our butch, stud and masc-of-center family?

If you think you love butches/studs/masc folks, but what you actually “love” is fetishizing them, objectifying them, using them for validation…or making assumptions about their psyches, their bodies, their desires based on your projections and desires….then you’re doing it wrong and be better.

a white butch with brown hair sits topless on a bed wearing black tight shorts and looking at the camera

So, butchness has a long, deep history right? What’s something from or about Butch history that particularly resonates with you, that you want to share? Is there a particular person you’ve looked to, a movement, a scene, a photo, a piece of art or writing that has moved you?

Meg Allens photography project ‘BUTCH’ changed my life!

a white butch reclines topless on a bed

And what do you hope for the future of Butch Is Not a Dirty Word? Are there any exciting projects on the horizon our readers should be on the lookout for?

Yes, it’s super secret (shhhh, don’t tell anyone), but we’re launching a new project, a documentary film we’ve been working on for the last two years. It will be moving into it’s first round of promotion late September, and you should keep you dang eyes on our internetz to learn more!

from behind, a shot of a white butch with a lot of tattoos wearing a black sports bra

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Nico

Nico Hall is Autostraddle's and For Them's Membership Editorial and Ops Dude, and has been working in membership and the arts for over a decade. They write nonfiction both creative and the more straightforward variety, too, as well as fiction. They are currently at work on a secret project. Nico is also haunted. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram. Here's their website, too.

Nico has written 226 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. thank you! i enjoyed this interview and the photos so much. i didn’t know about the BINADW project and also that butches were treated so poorly around the world! i certainly needed to read this today. ❤️❤️

  2. Yay, I was very happy to see this interview and highlighting “Butch Is Not a Dirty Word”! I have loved, loved, loved this project since I first learned about it, and the interview was so interesting. It is great to know that there will be a documentary, and I am looking forward to it.
    Also, I’d be thrilled it if Autostraddle published more articles like this one (on butches)!

  3. Really loved this, thank you so much! I’ve always wanted to learn more about the project and the backstory is so moving. Very cool to see the evolution of this work. Wishing all the best!

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