I’m Neither Butch Nor A Top

by Akwaeke Z Emezi

I just returned from a trip to Lagos, where I met a girl who’d found my one of my blogs online and emailed me to see if we could meet up while I was in town. Along with my best friend, we went out to a secluded bar in Ikeja, had a few tequila shots, and chatted underneath the blasting music. When she realised that she’d left her phone in the car, I escorted her out to get it, waited as she changed from kitten heels into flats, and flirted appropriately. As we all stood around in the parking lot before leaving, she described me as ‘butch’, and I cringed. My best friend stepped in with her correction: “No, she’s a b-o-i.”

I’m more likely to see myself as a femmeboi, because while I don’t see myself as feminine per se, I do see myself as effeminate. However, because this doesn’t spill over into my dressing much, I’m rarely read as such. While in Lagos, I was talking to a new gay friend of mine about how I’m often read as masculine and aggressive, and I wasn’t quite sure why. He said that to him, it was in how I carried myself, that my energy comes off as contained and controlled, in charge. Personally, I’ve noticed that when I’m around some of my femme friends, I definitely seek to balance the dynamic. I’ll take the heavy bags, carry the dresses while they’re picking them out in the store, give them my arm. You get the gist.

In my relationship, however, it’s a bit different. I’m the one who drools over kitchen appliances, who actually likes cleaning and doing laundry, who makes the bed every morning, who makes my girl breakfast when she stays over. I’m the domestic one who puts together IKEA furniture, and I love it. She carries my heavy stuff, takes me out on dates, picks up the tab more often than not, and expects to be the major breadwinner years down the line. For the record, I’m so okay with being a kept woman. Wifey for the win! This seems incongruous to some people simply because I wear mostly men’s clothes, while she wears only women’s clothes and isn’t butch/boi either. Despite how we use clothing as markers, it’s impractical to make assumptions about roles in queer relationships.

That doesn’t stop people from doing so. In a heartbeat, someone who wears men’s clothes is assumed to be butch or boi or aggressive or the owner of a strap. The next night in a club, the same girl from Lagos asked me if I strapped. When I said no, she looked taken aback for a moment, then added that neither did she. Ohh-kay. Obviously, straps aren’t vital in all queer interactions, but I felt as though she was attracted to me because she assumed I was a butch who strapped. I get it: I’m attracted to androgynous presenting people who I cross my fingers and hope are into strapping #winkwink, because trust me, I have negative interest in it. I’m rather tired of people reacting with shock when they find out I dress the way I do and identify as a bottom.

In general, I despair at hooking up *ahem* dating because I always feel like those who I’m attracted to aren’t attracted to me. I wonder if it’s because I’m not femme (enough), if they’re assuming I’m a top who straps, if I look too similar to them, or if I just intimidate people. I want to be pursued, wooed, hit on, propositioned, taken charge of. I want people to stop thinking that being a bottom is equivalent to being passive and disinclined to reciprocation of pleasure — that’s just insulting. I resent the internalized homophobia that doesn’t support boi-boi, stud-stud, GQ-GQ, or permutations along those lines.

Part of the frustration for me is that I feel as though I’m constantly being read as a masculine of center woman when I’m actually just genderqueer. I’m genderqueer of center. Trying to interpret me in any other way leads to confusion — such as some friends not understanding why I can’t wait for my chest to be flatter and more androgynous so I can wear dresses again. The few times I have worn dresses out and gone en femme, I got hit on by masculine-presenting women whose interest in me only lasted as long as the high heels and red lipstick was on. Any time I saw them when I was dressed in my ‘regular’ clothes, I got the friendly head nod or no recognition at all. Talk about the buddy zone.

I wonder how many others have had similar experiences. Do you feel that the way you dress and present leads people to make assumptions about your roles, sexual or otherwise? How does your actual self contradict the assumptions that are made about you?

“I’m Neither Butch Nor A Top” originally published on bklyn boihood. Republished with permission.


About the author
: Born and bred in the south of Nigeria, Akwaeke Z Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil free love advocate, genderqueer Nutri-C addict, and natural hair aficionado. In the space where parathas and palm oil meet, she dances reverence to dope beats and follows the Christ. As a queer bard, blogger and performer, Z infects a message of self-awareness laced thoroughly with love and bravery, believing that only in knowing and accepting oneself utterly can we truly be free. A current Brooklynite, they adore traveling and beautiful people, and are constantly pushing for a life free of fear and full of marvelous.

My preferred pronouns are she/he/they. Mix it up. Surprise me.

Akwaeke Z Emezi
Drag King| Bard | Blogger | Milliner

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  1. “Despite how we use clothing as markers, it’s impractical to make assumptions about roles in queer relationships.”

    Amen brother/sister/sibling!

    • +1 (or +2?)
      How sad that some homo-gay-queers make assumptions personality & preferences based on clothes!
      My wife identifies as butch and gets mistaken for a teenage boy on an everyday basis, but her personality is more tender and nurturing than mine, she does the housework, and she’s not very handy. In bed there’s no top or bottom, except once in a while she’ll wear a strap on. And when it comes to kinky sex, I’m all dominant and she’s all submissive.
      The Lesson: People are way too complex to fit into one little role or stereotype identified by the way they dress.

    • One of the things I love about being a boi who loves bois is that you can mix it up in the bedroom. Or in who carries the heavy stuff. Sticking to one role all the time is boring!

  2. Yes, this is definitely a thing I worry about when trying to find a girl…I like both tombois and femmes, and I’m sort of a tomboi/little bit gq. But I am most definitely a bottom. In the bedroom I’m bottom all the way, although outside I tend to switch it up a bit and carry things and pay for things just in the interest of being gallant (though it delights me when she surprises me and takes charge every so often).

    People who know my personality aren’t surprised to find out I’m a bottom. On the other hand, people who don’t know me well at all often read me as a top. Problematic as far as picking up girls. :\

  3. THIS omg is like I’m reading my autobiography, same as you I have sort of a masculine/effeminate boi thing going on and my ex girlfriends have always identified as femme so friends aaalways make sex roles assumption, which by the way I find hilarious in the intimacy of my bedroom with my girl, it’s kind of like “haha if you only knew I have a power femme lesbian top gf” or somethin like that :P

  4. As a butch-identified woman who generally looks ‘femme’ in a relationship with a femme-identified woman who generally looks ‘butch’,
    I so get what you are talking about. Thank you for this article (and the understanding).

  5. Wow, yes. I identify as a queer/gender non conforming femme. For the most part I dress in what comes off as a tomboyish or masculine way, although I do rock considerable makeup. I’m generally attracted to masculine-ish genderqueers and I’m a shameless bottom. It really weirds me out to go on dates or meet new people because I almost feel like I have to dress in a more stereotypicaly feminine way so they won’t expect me to be aggressive.

    There’s this weird assumption that because I come across as a bit masculine, that I have some kind of sexual prowess. I don’t even know where that comes from, but it’s a real source of anxiety. Like, not only am I supposed to be a top, but I’m supposed to be super experienced and that’s not me.

    Really, all I want is some macho-as-fuck queer who I can trade muscle shirts with and bake for.

    • Yes! I always want to bake/cook for whoever I’m dating, it just feels right. It worked out nicely for my last relationship since her culinary specialties were instant ramen and cereal haha.

      • Uh huh! My toppiness probably just comes out in the kitchen. I meet folks I like and I’m all “You WILL let me feed you.”

        • I insist that I’m the better cook in my relationships. And like you, I love to feed people. I bake them bread and win their hearts! :)

    • Holy crap you just wrote my life story. Solidarity-five! I’ve femmed it up on dates a bit just so I don’t accidentally set the expectation that I’m gonna be aggressive/the more active pursuer.

  6. When I read the title to this, I immediately pictured Mike Meyers as Linda Richman in Coffee Talk saying, “Now I’m getting verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves, I’ll give you a topic…some butch-appearing women are neither a butch nor a top…discuss.” :)

    that tangent said…great article!! thanks for the enlightenment

  7. great article! as a boi who wears only mens clothes (i own absolutely NO womens clothing) i really identify with this article. i dont lift/carry heavy things; i have an inner fag that flamboyantly comes out; i’m an instigator, but a bottom grrl at heart.

    finding a sassy femme grrl has been my quest for many years and i’m beginning to think that they don’t exist…at least not where i am…

    thanks for the insight. validates me :)

  8. i just don’t understand why people put such an emphasis on “top” and “bottom” within the gay/queer community any way. in the straight world it’s just sex. sometimes people are up, sometimes they are down, and sometimes they are sideways. i personally find it so funny how much stereotyping i have recieved specifically from the gay/queer community ever since i started dating my girlfriend. i’m just a person, who happens to dress like a tomboy, who has a plethora of likes and dislikes that fall across a large spectrum on the gender scale. there’s no label that works on me, and that should be okay. definitions are for words, not people.

    • Word word word. All this talk about gender and sexuality fluidity but actual versatility seems lost to the efficiency of codes. Multi-facetedness rocks!

    • I agreed with so much of this article, and I feel like your comment expressed this more articulately than I can right now.

      So many feelings.

    • yes yes yes. Sex is sex, and how myself and my partner feel on any given day dictates how that goes down *snigger*. I too find it hard to understand the need for the top/bottom label – I don’t hear straight guys saying ‘yeah, I’m looking for a reverse cowgirl’ – in my mind that’s the same thing. Yeah, it might be great, maybe it’s the position/role you enjoy most, but it’s not necessarily what you or your partner want all the time, and I think sex should be a fluid experience *double snigger*

    • YES, this. This is what I always think when people talk about “tops” and “bottoms”. It does also seem to imply that women are always “bottoms” in a het relationship, doesn’t it? Flexibility, changeability.

      • YES, this! We get all up in arms when someone asks, “So who’s the man?” but we don’t get riled up at the top/bottom discussion that makes so many of the same assumptions about gender roles?

        • No, this. Definitely this.

          As a community we like to say, “LABELS ARE FOR JARS NOT PEOPLE.” then label the shit out of ourselves.


        • so true. that question totally implies there has to be some sort of gender role within the relationship, when in reality most people are fluid in the roles they play.

    • Yeah i hate the whole top/bottom thing when it comes to lgbt conversation (or ignorant-heteroidentifiead/lgbt-identified conversation)..it kinda grosses me out .Like why do we have to immediately be discussing sex acts/positions. i get it, but..ew.

    • Oh my god yes. I am so happy to see all the affirming replies to this comment. I start to feel like everyone but me has this detailed definition of their gender and how it determines what they do in bed and whether they lift heavy things. Which is cool, but not for me, and that makes me feel isolated. Part of what I love about being queer is opting out of gender roles in my relationships and communities.

  9. This made me have a lot of thoughts. Since I only recently came out, and have limited queer dating experience, I haven’t had to classify myself much. It’s interesting how much more nuanced/complex roles seem to be on the homo side of the fence.

    I know I have a very “top” personality, as I come across in daily interactions. I’m Type A. And I tend to act more like a guy, unless there are bugs involved, especially spiders. As far as looks go, I’m very curvy/feminine/big boobs, but I rock a haircut with shaved sides & long top (I’d call it a mohawk, but I never ‘hawk it up). I always wear pants or jeans. Never shorts or skirts, hardly ever dresses.

    So, I’m gonna join the camp of top femme presenting queers who want to take care of someone who will take charge behind closed doors. There’s a camp for that right? If not, I’m starting it.

    • great article.
      i seem to be a pretty hardcore femme stereotype i suppose lol
      i’m studying to be a makeup artist.
      i don’t own a single pair of jeans.
      i have long hair, and only wear it up to sleep/work out.
      i paint my toenails, own endless dresses and love lacey, impractical underwear.
      however im also generally the one to deal with my cats ‘presents’
      spiders, mice/bird corpses, sick, frogs, whatever. i’ve seen it all, it doesn’t phase me.
      i’ll buy you dinner and take you dancing, make you breakfast (if you stay) carry your shopping, bake you a cake,the whole deal.
      but i’d appreciate it if sometimes you make me a cuppa, help me with my shopping, unclog the shower (hair = EW. NO.) or at least stand by and make amusing comments as i try to do it with a bbq fork or something, and not complain when i just want to wear trackies and no makeup.
      wear what you want, present yourself however you want, act however you like as long as you’re respectfull and nice to me and the rest we can figure out along the way.
      that’s all part of the fun ;]

    • your response was nice and good and deep and stuff, but i just wanted to say i am REALLY jealous of your hair.

  10. I am very masculine appearing, but very timid. I am not the take charge type at all. I wear men’s clothes because they fit, I always feel like I look pregnant or like a drag queen in women’s clothes. I don’t identify as top or bottom because that depends on my mood. I am attracted to women of all stripes and hate it when I get completely ignored by all of them just because i don’t fit their preconceived “type”

  11. First off, this article was great and it really hits. I continue to struggle with this whole labelling issue. as you said, i’m not necessarily butch, but i’m not femme. Unfortunately, I often seem to be classified as butch. Recently, I had to women ask me what I was. I, not actually sure I have an answer, preceded to try and explain this, but I dont know how much of it was truly taken in. I really do struggle with this, but I guess it just something you have to explain and deal with. Nonetheless, great article.

  12. I’m immediately sending this to my beau, who was surprisingly shocked that me, super femme, would love topping zir, faggy boi. Even if the author was a stone butch, it’s sad that people automatically assume the way someone presents their gender is their sexual preference as well. As if the “women” have to be fucked and the “men” have to fuck.

    Both sides play into the same gender roles and boxes. As the author said, “the few times I have worn dresses out and gone en femme, I got hit on by masculine-presenting women whose interest in me only lasted as long as the high heels and red lipstick was on. Any time I saw them when I was dressed in my ‘regular’ clothes, I got the friendly head nod or no recognition at all.”

    While the femme-butch dichotomy can be very sexy, it limits a lot of gender expression when it is all people adhere to, especially when out in public. While a relationship might be a different thing, people still go for their assumed “boxes” and “roles” while out and about, solidifying the gender roles and limitations put on gender by society.

    • ok, so that was so much more eloquently put than what I had planned… but I wholeheartedly agree – all those labels do is reinforce the patronising ‘which one of you is the man’ question.

      • Exactly. Why does there have to be a “man” and a “woman” and if relationship forms where one person is more masculine and the other is more feminine, why must it mean they each have to perform certain roles? Isn’t one of the best parts of being in a same-sex relationship is you can fuck with gender roles?

  13. can someone clarify something for me? this topic has always confused me, its like algebra but sexier. are tops normally butch? I DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS AT ALL. what does this make me? i like boys underwear and make up and pleasuring girls. my life in general is a mess, how did this become a therapy session. whaaaa?

    • YOU DO YOU. people want boxes, people are uncomfortable with other people who don’t fit into rly neat lil’ boxes. ignore them all and only pay attention to the people who are cool with whatever you’re doing, from your clothes to your makeup to your attitude to what it is you want to do or have done to you in bed.

      • Great response! The awesome part of our relationships is the NEGOTIATION that goes on between partners. We don’t have to confine ourselves to gender roles and social constraints. We can do what we want essentially.

    • e, without oversharing, i think we are the same person on this more or less. so yeah don’t even worry about it because trust me in ~5 years or so your life is just great and you’re totally not broke and in need of a ton of therapy still. or if it isn’t like that, it’s not because of your underwear or makeup or sex life. mostly. <3

  14. Why is there an assumption that gay sex means top or bottom anyway? I like sex. I like providing sex and I like getting sex. Mostly, I like having sex. And as someone else said in response to this thread, in the straight universe, there’s no “top” or “bottom” unless you’re into kink (whole other thing…doesn’t mean the same stuff). I wouldn’t even know how to classify myself if this terminology were required!

    I don’t classify myself as butch or femme. I wear mostly mens clothing (because I like it) and I don’t wear makeup, and I like those awesome alt-hairstyles so popular for the andro set. But I wouldn’t call myself a boi or a butch. I’m just me. What’s wrong with that?

    • I do think that while heterosexuals don’t speak of it as top/bottom, generally men are tops and women are bottoms. though not in all cases. and also…straight people generally don’t spend as much time thinking about the logistics of gender and sex because they fit the culturally stereotypical roles and never question them. in my opinion. so, having thought about less, they need less language for it. or something.

      • i will have to disagree to this comment. i have only been with one girl, but i’ve been with many men. at no point did i ever have to discuss/describe the “type” of lover i was to anyone in my straight world. it was whatever you wanted it to be, and as long as everyone was safe and agreed to being together, then that was all that mattered. the moment i started dating a girl, i suddenly had to start labeling all things me. now i am now labeled as a lesbian/butch/top. but i don’t see myself as any different than before or with any labels other than just me. i don’t think that it all has to do with privilage in the straight world leading to straight people not having to think of gender roles. i think that there are many straight people who care about gender roles and fight for gender equality every day. i think it’s a cultural thing in which society wants a label, and many people have a hard time resisting societies demands. i only have one label, and that is human being.

      • I mostly agree with this, but my last male lover noted male behaviour (read: top) in me that I’d never noticed. I’m a feisty, feminine, petite woman, who fails at being androgynous, and is definitely sexually aggressive.

        I’m physically more able to be aggressive with women than men, but according to this guy, the way I hold hands, put my arms around people etc are unusual for a woman. It’s hard to know whether this is psychosomatic, and a result of his awareness of my sexual orientation, or actually true. Go figure.

    • This. My partner & I are both femme in appearance, and neither of us is a “top” or a “bottom,” we just… have sex. I don’t know. I’m sure some people think of me as the “man” in the relationship because I work and my partner gave birth to our daughter & stays home with her, but we’re both women, we just have different roles in the family. This whole roles thing is just kind of foreign to me I guess, I’ve never really dealt with it.

    • When I use “top” and “bottom” I’m not referring to who is receptive and who is a giver. I’m pretty versatile in that regard. I’m usually talking about power distribution, which doesn’t necessarily have to correspond to kink because I feel like there are components of power balance in all sex. When I bring kink into the conversation, it gets infinitely more complicated for me.

      • See, I don’t really understand that either. I guess, because I have power exchange in my background, I wouldn’t likely use it in any future relationships. I’d like to be able to say: “Hi, I’m Me and this is my partner, Her. We love each other. We’re equals.”

        Everybody’s different though.

      • ‘When I use “top” and “bottom” I’m not referring to who is receptive and who is a giver.’
        Yes. Just because one person is on their back being the “receiver” doesn’t necessarily mean they are not the “top” in terms of power in that moment.

        • Personally I don’t see why power has much to do with it. Like, power dynamics can come up during sex, but it’s not like the minute there’s sex there’s this question of “ok who has the power right now, who’s the top”.

  15. I’m a lesbian trans-woman. I am saddled with a fairly masculine frame and have a pretty tomboyish sense of fashion. In other words, I dress more butch than I am. I have the same issue with people assuming I’m a very masculine, dominant butch and then being put off by how feminine I am.

    Unlike you, I actively enjoy topping (and still have my built-in strap-on), but I have the issue of often being attracted to butch girls who are themselves not comfortable bottoming, and I do so love topping butches.

    I love femme dykes, and they will usually expect me to top them, but I’ll feel pressured to “butch up” when what I want to do is top them as my rather femme self, which they may not want.

    The fact that I still have a cock tends to limit my opportunities to bottom.

    So yeah, it’s frustrating that we can’t all just view each other as individuals and evaluate accordingly rather than presuming we all fall into pre-existing queer stereotypes.

  16. How you see and label your identities is part of getting to know someone and it’s half the fun of the first couple meetings, so I don’t see why it’s so vital for everyone to make assumptions because WHERE IS THE FUN IN THAT.

    Just, you do you? you do queers? you want to do me?


  17. it drives me up a WALL because people assume that my relationship is this like very ‘traditional’ ‘butch/femme’ thing and pass all sorts of judgements about my sex life and relationship as a result — sure, i’m the super girly one and she’s wearing a bowtie and it’s not uncommon for her to be mistaken for some twinky boy that i’m hagging for, but that doesn’t mean that i am this passive bottom turned-from-straight girl along for the ride being bossed around by the big ole’ butch or whatever. we both just ID as ‘queer’ for a reason — i’ll describe how i look as ‘femme-y’ but never really feel like “I Am A Femme with a capital F forever and ever.” So while she’s more extroverted (at first, i can get real bossy once you get to know me, it’s more that i’m polite/shy? same deal where i’m shy but at heart really sexually aggressive and kind of toppy when i want to be?) and handier with a hammer and nails and while I like my lipstick and cooking it’s definitely not indicative at ALL of the dynamic of our relationship overall, nor of what we both want in bed?

    people say the weirdest shit to me — seriously, almost especially my other queer friends– where they seem to think that i have zero role in the relationship whatsoever, not just sexually, but emotionally/in terms of deciding what we eat for dinner/whatever, totally based on our respective styles and presentation. it’s weird to me how much people read into that and i think it’s really kind of offensive to both of us!

  18. i have the opposite problem. i present as fairly femme, but i am definitely a top in the bedroom. i’m a femme that loves to strap, and i’m usually more sexually dominant. lucky for me i haven’t had toooo much trouble finding androgynous or more butch ladies who are bedroom-bottoms that love a power-femme top. meow.

    • i think it’s a lot easier for femmey girls like us to be like ‘mmm hmmmm, i’m BOSSY’ because that’s also sort of a commonly accepted fetish in its own way — that whole retro pinup high femme domme thing, you know. and there’s weird gender role stereotype things there where for a “femme” girl to be like ACTUALYL I’M REALLY AGGRESSIVE seems okay but for a “butch” one to be like HIT ME HARDER PLZ seems somehow “less acceptable” socially. which is the whole problem too, i think.

      gross i have to put everything in quotes because it bugs me out that people think in such specific ways srry guys

      • Yes. Exactly. It is still impossible for some people to grasp that people who might present themselves as masculine appearance might actually be “feminine” or “submissive” in bed, even though the opposite is totally okay.

        God, it still makes me so angry that these conceptions of masculinity and femininity have penetrated (no pun intended) even the queer community.

  19. yeah I totally feel you! I have very fine traits and I’m rather small so I look very fem but when people get to know me they realize that I’m a total dude. It’s to the point that I’ll meet a girl she’ll be really into me ’cause I’m wearing heels and make up but then when she gets to know me it’s like “urghhh friend zone we’re G’s.” It’s crazy and frustrating I mean if I wanted to date an ultra macho man and be a stepford wife I’d be straight.

  20. Excellent article Z. I feel you on this. I dress very feminine and don’t have a problem being labeled as femme however I don’t fit that I fit all the stereotypes/assumptions that come with being a femme. There is too much pressure applied to individuals in our community to act a certain way based on our identity/appearance. So many have no respect for individuality.

    • Yes, this. If someone (or Autostraddle’s checkboxes, I guess) really want to label me, I’d say that I was pretty femme. And to me, that means that I like wearing make up and dresses and that want to receive a frilly apron for my upcoming birthday. That’s where my definition sort of ends. It’s disconcerting to remember that others might have a host of stereotypes for me based on it.

      • When I became an AS member I chose not to check off the “femme” box, even though that’s how I identify, because I didn’t want people to make assumptions about it.

  21. Butch/masculine-presenting bottoms of the world should come together and break the stigma.

    THERE IS NO SHAME IN BEING WHO WE ARE. I mean come on. Srsly.

  22. For the longest time I never understood the top/bottom dynamic in regards to gay women. I understood it with gay men because I had guy friends who talked about and confirmed these roles in terms of themselves. I’d never met a lesbian who identified as either top or bottom, despite knowing several definitely butch women. Not understanding the dynamic, I never really understood if I fit into one of these roles. When I discovered I’m certainly a bottom, holy shit things clicked into place and sex became an even more fantastic experience. Fortunately for me, however, I’m also certainly femme, so I haven’t faced and don’t anticipate facing any assumptions that I’m something I’m not. And I’m relieved by it. For those of you dealing with assumptions and contradictions, I sincerely feel for you because I do know how it feels to be improperly labeled on a regular basis (I’m often mistaken for straight based on how I dress and carry myself). I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but I really can’t see an end to appearance-based assumptions any time soon. Humans collectively may just be too shallow to get beyond this.

  23. This hits like a kick in the stomach. I’m not butch or femme except on the days I dress as “butch” or “femme” though I don’t think I’m dressing as either, I’m just dressing as me.

    Sometimes I wear vests, sometimes I wear dresses. I don’t have a specific presenting style and I can couple combat boots with a flowery black skirt or plain trousers. I’m always carrying the bags, holding doors open, putting IKEA furniture together and taking spiders outside, but I also cook and bake and iron. But then I smoke cigars, play rugby, drink beer and is often described as seemingly unafraid and confident. While wearing a strapless cocktail dress. And being versatile in the bedroom.

    Bottom line, labels stress me the fuck out.

    • I am the same as this as well. I just follow what I feel is right for me that day. It changes constantly. And I am fine with that for myself. But sometimes I think that is unfortunately a turn off for a person that wants either just a straight up femme or butch. Like what if they meet me on one of my femme days and then the next I’m a little more towards the butch side and they hate it. It’s exhausting. But we are who we are!

      • I think it’s a good thing. I know some people have “types” but that seems really restricting for both the person and their partner. For what it’s worth I like girls who are comfortable with not being a type because on the inside no one is really a type, they are just whatever they are at that moment.

      • Exactly. People seem to want to date a one dimensional, cardboard cut-out. Unfortunately, I’m come in 3D and have more than one set of characteristics.

        • Maybe try to consider it a weeding process? For myself, I wouldn’t want to be with someone who didn’t want me for *me* – the whole person I am – rather than me-exactly-as-I-looked-on-the-night-we-first-met. It might be a series of lucky escapes from heart-break further down the road to be rejected immediately. Though, of course, still painful and frustrating at the time.

    • Labels stress me out too! I deal with this stress by taking Haviland’s advice and having costumes of the day. And then I just do whatever I want. Ideally. (aka I am not as cucumberly cool as I wish I were and and still really stressy about it).

      • It’s just so unnecessary. And it’s not that I’m letting anyone’s perception of me dictate my life (fuck that!) but by stressful, I mean frustrating and annoying. I don’t need labels, so don’t assign me labels.

  24. Does anyone else worry (maybe not worry, but wonder) about people judging them as a top or bottom based on their personality? In terms of looks I am pretty in the middle, I don’t look particularly butch or femme or androgynous or anything else so I doubt anyone assumes anything based on that, but as far as my personality goes I am quiet and generally submissive. I feel like people must assume I like being dominated in bed but really I am very toppy, I have no interest in receiving whatsoever. Idk I never have sex ever and these are the things I think/worry about.

    • Pretty much. All of the labels only cause more confusion and put on this pressure of what we’re suppose to do. This is just insane and too much duss for something that shouldnt be that difficult. Meh :/

  25. “I resent the internalized homophobia that doesn’t support boi-boi, stud-stud, GQ-GQ, or permutations along those lines.”

    THIS. my ex gf always gives me so much shit for it, because i am attracted to this type, but i sometimes dress in that manner. some days i feel like a girl, some days i feel like a boy, some days i’m both. and i dress to reflect that. but she says “studs and studs are gross” and makes me feel like i’m going to have to wear a skirt to get the kind of girl i want.

    • “studs and studs are gross”
      That’s really just her very subjective opinion. Not everyone is turned on (or off) by the same things. I think we should just be ourselves. I mean, if you were to wear a skirt to attract someone, would you have to wear skirts for the rest of your life / relationship in order to maintain it? That sounds like a lot of work.

  26. I don’t really understand what do ppl mean when they say they identify as a top or a bottom. Me and my girlfriend don’t… we just do whatever we feel like.

    • My understanding is that colloquially top and bottom are used in two ways: (1) how how much initiative someone is likely to take in the bedroom and (2) a person’s preference for giving/receiving. In terms of initiative, tops tend to start the car and drive, bottoms tend to set the parameters of where the trip goes. In terms of giving and receiving, tops tend to get the most out of giving and bottoms tend to get the most out of receiving.

      Of course, this is all shorthand and once the two over-simplifications get confused it’s a mess. You can have relentless tops (driven to the point of being unresponsive to partner feedback) and dead bottoms (provide no feedback and don’t reciprocate). And tentative tops and bossy bottoms. Also, as you can imagine, if you have two waiting bottoms it can be hard to get the sex started yet be great once it gets going. And if you have two unreceptive tops, sex can always be at the forefront of the relationship but become more about dominance than pleasure (assuming power-play is not the source of pleasure).

      imo fluidity is no more legitimate than hard-core roles. It’s all just personal preference. That’s why some conversation about what you do and don’t like sexually can give you a sense of your compatibility before you actually hit the sheets. If you prefer your partner to drive and your potential partner is looking for an all-out top, you both know what to expect. You can try on a different role for the night, negotiate, or walk away.

      If someone’s not sure what they like, or has never thought it through systematically, yes/no/maybe lists can be helpful. This list from scarleteen is a basic starting point.

  27. Wow, thank you all so much for first the article and then the really thoughtful comments.
    I think about this a lot, especially as I often have trouble dating. My general conclusion is that my personality doesn’t match the way I dress/doesn’t match the way I have sex. I’m a femme, and even when I’m wearing jeans and a button-down, there’s no hiding my curves or “cute” face (no, really, it’s hard to do anything but cute with my baby cheeks). I love the way I dress, but I’m a pretty strong & forceful personality who likes throwing back whisky and baking a pie at the same time. That said, in the bedroom, I refer to myself as a “catcher” vs. someone’s “pitcher”. (Sounds better to me than “top” or “bottom”.) I’m always in the mood, but not aggressive enough to start something, and I generally like to be dominated, though if you want to switch, I’ll get into that at your request.
    This seems to throw a lot of people off. They like my look but not my personality, or they like my personality but then want me to dominate all the time in bed.
    This is further complicated by knowing that I’m attracted to a very specific looking type of person and personality. I am so impressed and completely support people who say they are open to “people”. I can’t say I’m one of those. If you wear a dress, as sexy as you look, I just don’t want to have sex with you. While I’m sorry if that seems prejudiced in some way, I like to think I just know my own sexual preferences, and that owning that creates a lot less tension down the road. So who do I look for? Genderqueer women who don’t own women’s clothing and mostly like to to “pitch” with or without strap in the bedroom. You can bake or not, have tools or not, I don’t care, but my libido is totally tied to how you look and how you “pitch”.
    I’m afraid I might get some backlash for saying that, but I wanted to share because it’s taken me a long time to figure out why some of my relationships didn’t work, and honestly, I think it’s because I was confusing being attracted to someone as a person and being attracted to someone sexually and both. I need both, one alone just won’t work.
    I encourage everyone to disregard labels as labels, but instead to explore the specific characteristics you as an individual are attracted to (sexually and/or personality-wise).

  28. i completely understand what you mean! Ppl shouldnt always judge a book by its cover because even though I look/carry myself a certain way, doesnt me my emotions/personality are the same way…if that makes any sense lol

  29. butch, boi, femme, vampire, werewolf, top, bottom, sideways……..i feel like i fit an all or nothing description. for me it’s what i feel like for the day, and one day is not going to define me tomorrow or ten years from now.

    by the way, does anyone really feel comfortable being described strictly as such? and why even categorize if appearance doesn’t reflect behavior?

  30. This whole thing is sooo relevant to my existence. I’ve had friends (straight cis-male friends) describe me as butch on more that one occasion and I’m just like, no no no. I wear mens’ clothes and I certainly don’t identify as feminine (or even female), but I get to define myself. I’m not an agressive person in any situation, sexual or otherwise. Like others have said, I do like to be polite, opening doors and paying for things. But that definitely doesn’t mean that if I were to date a feminine-presenting person that it would be a butch/femme situation. At all. That just isn’t me, even though people assume it is because I look like a boy.

  31. Love this article, and a lot of great comments too, but some of them have me thinking…

    What does carrying shit and dealing with spiders have to do with my identity? That’s just what I DO it’s not who I AM.

    • I can basically agree with that. When I’m talking about traits I usually make the disclaimer that they’re stereotypically considered feminine or masculine or whatever because really, there’s nothing inherently gendered about killing or running from a spider.

      I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes me feel like I’m a femme if I break down those ideas, and it’s quite the mental/emotional trip.

  32. You know, I really used to think I had a “type”, and simply didn’t look at anyone who wasn’t visually soft-butch. But then I looked back on my history and realized that I’ve been attracted to all sorts of women who didn’t fit into that category at all, appearance-wise. Even if I wasn’t physically drawn to each of them at first sight, they all had some similar characteristics (interest in academia, compassion for animals, a desire to make the world better, slightly more outgoing than I am) that MADE them sexy to me over time as I got to know them.

    That aside, I do feel a bit miffed when people ask what I am on the butch-femme spectrum that they perceive must be present in every queer woman. I’m feminine for the most part, but not a femme. The word just doesn’t fit. Neither am I androgynous; nor am I butch. Not a boi, not a stud, either. Even if I did feel I fit into any of those categories, I would be hesitant to label myself as such because of a fear of being stereotyped as having behaviors, thought patterns, and sexual passivity/dominance that doesn’t match up with the real me. Worse yet, what if I was fetishized simply because I identified as one thing or another?

    Being queer is challenging enough without having labels foisted upon you by others. The only label I claim for myself is “lesbian”, and I’m happy enough with that. It says nothing about who I am or how I act; merely that I am a woman attracted to other women.

    • “It says nothing about who I am or how I act; merely that I am a woman attracted to other women.”

      Back before I came out, I had this odd notion that if I were to “let myself” be gay, it would mean some kind of sea change. I don’t know quite what, but I was sure that it would be some giant lifestyle shift. Eventually I realized that a gay woman is a lady who is attracted to ladies. Coming out was considerably easier, I think, for coming to that conclusion.

      This is just how I fall in love and how my sexuality works.

      • I had the exact same idea! Only I had that notion even after I came out. I waited for ages to become “more lesbian” so I would fit in with one label or another. In my mid-teens I also kept trying to “make myself gayer” by attempting to develop an interest in/to like softball, performance arts, short hair… It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that just because I didn’t fit into any stereotype didn’t mean that I didn’t belong in the queer community.

        I’m SO much happier, like you said, now that I realize that falling in love with certain people and expressing my sexuality in a certain way don’t obligate me to change anything about who I am or what I believe!

  33. I’m a soft-butch/masculine-of-center toppy-switch who weatherproofs windows, kills home-invading bugs, smokes an occasional cigar, and opens doors for women/children/older people.

    But I also love gardening, cooking in an apron (and a button-down men’s shirt), and watching sappy French movies. in fact, I kind of enjoy screwing with assumed gender-roles and internalized heterosexism. It’s like being a kid and coloring outside the lines in your coloring book because secretly you know it’ll look even cooler.

  34. I want to cry with relief at this article and comments, thank you. I understand that labels aren’t for people, but I get so stressed out by it anyways. It drives me crazy that I feel I “can’t” wear heels or a tiny bikini with my alternative-lifestyle haircut, even though I think it’s damn sexy. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • I love it when girls wear bikinis and heels with their alternative lifestyle haircuts! Totally sexy!

  35. “such as some friends not understanding why I can’t wait for my chest to be flatter and more androgynous so I can wear dresses again.”

    I like wearing dresses but at the same time I don’t want to be a “woman” and I feel like if I have a more androgynous body then I can feel more like myself in a dress

  36. I’m butch and I do dishes and cook. There’s nothing gendered about these activities and I think it’s sexist to label them as effeminate duties.

    I do not like they way this article or many of the comments defines butch. Do. not. like. If YOU do not identify as butch, FINE. But if you do not identify as butch then you do not have the right to define what butch is.

    Instead of saying what you are not, and then defining it, just say what you are. If some people didn’t stereotype butches, being butch would be so stigmatized. UGH.

    • Of course there’s nothing gendered about doing the dishes or opening doors, these are only stereotypes. I think what we’re talking about here is the sexism that people inevitably project when bringing these perceptions of characteristics into a relationship/whatnot and how it stresses people out because they’re aware of the sexism inherent in some people’s definition of these labels that we throw around in our community. If that makes sense.

    • ” I think it’s sexist to label them as effeminate duties.”
      Oh yes, absolutely. What I took from this article and most of the comments is that masculine/feminine stereotypes suck for everyone involved.
      This brings up an interesting question. What DOES define butch, for those who identify that way? And what defines femme, or any other label? If it’s not activities or attitudes, then is it ‘just’ clothes? Has there been an AS article on this topic yet??
      Saying what it is NOT seems to be easier than saying what it IS.

    • That’s a really great point- a lot of the ways people define butch simply reinforce sexist, gendered stereotypes. I want to know, as someone who identifies as butch, how would you define that, for yourself?

  37. Butches can be cute, and pretty.
    Butches can do the dishes and the laundry.
    Butches can make breakfast.
    Butches can be sensitive.
    Butches can be bottoms.
    Butches aren’t necessarily aggressive.
    Butches don’t necessarily wear straps.
    Butches can date butches.
    Butches can be genderqueer.

  38. I loved this! I too dislike how the clothing you wear is assumed to reflect your role in the relationship. I just don’t think anything should be assumed, especially that the whole “masculine/feminine” dynamic has to exist at all.

  39. I’m a reluctantly femme-presenting butch, and constantly feel like my appearance is at odds with my preferred role. I’m a true gent, can fix anything, and am generally at ease in male company. I’m a top who loves to strap, and love femmes in cute dresses, but often find that they do a double-take when when my masculine-of-centre traits become obvious. Any tips for making my masculinity more obvious from the get-go? I find it hard to dress more masculine as I have a pretty feminine shape (damn waist and boobs), and a performing job that actively requires full make-up, heels and dresses.

  40. This article is coming to me at exactly the right time. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because I met this amazing girl who identifies pretty strongly as femme, physically at least. I’ve only known her for a few weeks, but I like her a lot, to say the least.

    Generally I switch between being a bit more femme and being a bit more neutral, but it just depends on my mood. I think it likes to permeate my attitude and movements too, depending on the person I’m with. With her, because she’s pretty femme, I feel like I need to take a “butch” role, but like you said, that word absolutely makes me cringe. Physically I’m pretty boish, but I’m a girly girl in pretty much exactly the same ways you are. I like it when people pay for a date, I like to cook and clean, etc. And I definitely try to balance the femme/masc dynamic when necessary, both ways.

    Thus, I always get nervous when I meet a girl I like, because what if she discovers that I’m not “truly butch” or whatever and decides to ditch. Luckily, this girl seems to balance me oddly well. The first date we went on she paid, and making out she didn’t seem to always wait for me to take the lead.

    All of this said though, this article brings up an AMAZING topic which is on my mind a lot. It also makes me wonder though: how do you feel comfortable being a bit more feminine physically around a femme when you feel inclined? Is that something that you worry about, or do you usually just balance it out appropriately? You have no idea how much better this article makes me feel.

  41. I’m also uncomfortable with some of the ways butches are being characterized here. I i.d. as a genderqueer butch and my behaviors and traits (like most other humans) are a combination of things our culture stereotypically categorizes as masculine/feminine. Butch is not a label that keeps me from being “me” it is a label I use to express parts of my particular gender (just like any label any person identifies with doesn’t limit them, or only limit them, it helps them to communicate some aspect of self). My butchness includes strength and shyness, facial hair and feminism, bowties and pinky rings and the occasional glam nail polish. It involves both me and my partner being capable of multiple tasks whether it’s bringing the other tea or changing the oil in the car.
    I am sorry so many of you feel confined by this label you do not claim, I know that can be hard. I am often assumed to be a man of trans experience (often by members of this group), but I have no bad feelings toward this group of people. When people read me this way or ask me how long I’ve been on T I try to honor which ever of my qualities lead them to group me with these men while also attempting to articulate the reasons I do not personally identify with that label.

    • Thanks for posting this! I struggle with how to voice my personal frustrations without ending up disparaging butch, femme and other gender expressions and identities. I generally assume that if someone embraces an identity label it’s because they don’t feel limited by it and it does help them to express parts of themselves, as you said. I respect your identity and the way you allow your you-ness to shine through. At the same time, the prevalence of gender identity labeling within the queer community is difficult for me.

      I am someone who looks pretty feminine due to body type, leg hair invisibility (I don’t shave but people think I do), preference for light-weight and form-fitting clothing, and disinclination to put effort into my gender expression. I am often read as femme, straight and/or gender-conforming, none of which match my identity. I would prefer to opt out of gender identity altogether and not have the perceived gender of my clothing be construed as an indicator of my personality. I know better than to expect this in the world at large, but my ideal queer community is one where I can wear “girl-clothes” or “boy-clothes” and not have it say anything about how I interact sexually, my preferences in a partner, or whether I kill spiders. Increasingly this is hard for me to find. It seems like stereotypes have to accompany labeling to some extent.

      Obviously I don’t expect other people to stop embracing their gender identities just because it doesn’t work so well for me, but I still really wanted to try to articulate the source of my discomfort. Now that I’ve made all this effort I’m afraid I’m just stating the obvious / repeating what’s been said 100 times on this thread already? Going for it anyway.

    • Oh, also I have a question! I appreciate your comment about not harboring bad feelings towards trans* men despite your experience being mislabeled. I am wondering whether there is frustration for you in being misread this way, even though you don’t direct it towards the *trans community? If not, would it be more upsetting to you to be misread in a different way?

      (I am thinking about how for me, I would probably be less frustrated if I were misread in a way that hit a little closer to home than “feminine” does.)

  42. I really appreciate this article. Over the years, I’ve learned to assume nothing when it comes to gender identity and sexual preferences, but not before making a total ass out of myself on more than one occasion.

    Although I identity as a queer femme, I find that I also tend to try to create the balance you write of in my relations with others. When I’m around really butch men and hyper feminine straight women, I tend to feel more… boxy, aggressive. When I’m hanging out with my femme friends and those who really appreciate us, though, I love playing up every bit of myself that reads as girly.

    I felt kind of confused when I first noticed this in myself, like I wasn’t a strong and solid enough femme or something- and I realize that sounds ridiculous, now. Ultimately, I’ve come to understand that being a femme is something that I DO, and that who I am is not static. Perhaps this means that my gender identity is rather fluid, but understanding that has made me so much more comfortable in my skin- and stronger!

  43. Yes yes yes. Thanks for this. I am a cowboy in a pencil skirt, I don’t know what word it is, I don’t even know what color it is.

  44. LOVE this article. I’m a femme top and that seems to confuse a lot of people. I don’t get why it’s confusing. Why should my gender presentation, sexual orientation, and sexual preferences align ever-so neatly? bullllshit.

  45. When I had sex with boys, sometimes I would be on top and sometimes he would be on top. Usually changing a few times within the time it took one of us to come.
    I don’t really understand why some people want to label things as fluid as sexual positions.

    Sex is about feeling good, right? Why can’t we all just do what feels good and not worry about labels?

    And why can’t I and John Lennon just merge brains for real? Cos I’m sure working on it with this post.

  46. I would never make assumptions on people just on the way they’re dressed. I’m super femme and people are always shocked to find out I’m gay- even fellow lesbians often don’t believe me.

    But I always feel obliged to pay the bill, to carry a girl’s heavy things, to hold doors open etc. However, I don’t necessarily think this has anything to do with being ‘dominating’ or ‘manly’, I think it’s just being a nice and polite person.

    I like the dynamics in my relationships to be changing, adaptable, and overall equal. I don’t get the way gay people often try to fit into heterosexual gender roles. I think these roles can be damaging for even straight people, as they prescribe a certain way of acting.

    I think everyone should forget about all this and just act naturally, and in a way that makes them happy.

  47. Yeah, I find the whole gay labelling thing pretty difficult. Because I have terrible gaydar, so I use pretty stereotypical notions when trying to suss out the gays. But then again, I’m mostly attracted to girls who look gay (whether that is the case or not). But I think it’s just because that’s how the gay culture evolved, people had to make themselves known. But now everything’s becoming more liberal, and we need the labels and stereotypes less and less, but it’s a working process. I probably come off as a femme (NO ONE ever realizes I’m gay) though I sometimes dress kinda tomboyish, and I have a lot of aspects of guy mentality. And sometimes I can be such a ridiculous top. But I think I’m more of a bottom at heart. I just vary, and I don’t really fit into any particular stereotypes and never had (except being THE biggest tomboy growing up). I think people have just got to be open-minded about everyone they meet, and have no preconceived expectations. I always love it when people totally suprise me by being nothing like I might have guessed from first impressions :)

  48. Some time ago I was looking at how “butch” or “femme” would look like if it was based on the cultures I was raised in, the people in my family.

    What y’all are calling power femme or timid butch, apparently atypical- that would be totally normal. The women are loud, brash, domineering; the men quiet & passive but bossy with employees. I don’t know how that translates to the bedroom but I can’t see anything being more than vanilla.

    How much of it is cultural? Some of us come from cultures where your gender is less what you day it is but more about what you do for your society our community.I’m cis female and yet I could pass for male simply because I’m not very keen on managing a housenor particularly feminine, (and sometimes I have passed without doing much) but I definitely have the fire, energy, loud domineering nature of my aunts.

  49. Yes! I identify as femme, but I don’t always come across as femme as I feel, if that makes sense. Part of it is how I dress- I have two main styles that I like and they’re pretty opposite (one’s much closer to high femme and one’s…I get read as more butch when I dress that way) and of course the way I’m more comfortable dressing at the moment is the less femme way (I’ve got some body type issues). So on the rare occasion that I meet other gay women (yay small conservative hellholes!) they tend to think that I’m the “make the first move” type when that’s not me at all. Add in the fact that I’m attracted to a very specific type that seems to be rare among early 20somethings (the best I can explain is femme-ish in looks and butch in attitude- you know the girls that all your straight friends think are straight but it’s SO BLOODY OBVIOUS to you that she’s gay? Yeah, those girls. HOT.) and dating kind of sucks right now.

  50. I find it funny that some people seem to think that in a relationship where one partner identifies as top and the other as bottom, people are giving up equality. Ideally, both partners are consenting and getting/giving pleasure at the same time, they just enjoy different activities. To me, thats the classic example of a symbiosis.

    If the equality in the reciprocity of sex were measured by both partners performing the same task, then the whole idea of sex as a gregrarious activity was rendered purportless. If you could give yourself everything you partner gave you, why not do it on your own?

    Some of those people who identify as top/bottom might be confirming stereotypes, eg. there is a receptive and a penetrative part in all sexual activities. Others might refer to who generally commences sex, who claims more power or who likes to let their significant other lead.


    As I started collecting information on the trans*community (because I tried to find out how people knew they were a man/a woman/genderqueer…) I was told time and time again, that gender is more than just stereotypes, that the roots of that feeling go deeper than determining certain behavioral patterns etc. Yet, I read a lot of: I carry heavy things, am sexually aggressive and kill spiders – therefor I am butch/top/(I see myself as “the man” in the relationship).

    People seem to create this fixed idea of the role model male and compare all other variants of male/female lifestyles with it. I know a lot of dudes who are afraid of spiders, who paint their nails, who like their hair long, identify as bottom in a straight relationship aso – and they don’t feel/are less of a man for doing so. Likewise, you aren’t less feminine because you squish bugs for your girlfriend or like sports O_o

    Don’t pigeonhole yourself by measuring your behavior by societal stereotypes – simply listen to your heart. If gender identity is supposed to be detached from superficial hallmarks (apparel, hairstyle, sexual preferences), then these things cannot indicate who you are inside.


    Forgive me for my rambling, there were so many interesting ideas in this that I got a little carried away. I guess I wanted to say that labeling is not generally bad, but labels have to be scrutinized and their social background has to be taken into account.

  51. I definitely appreciate the sentiment here, but in all reality it is impossible to avoid that as people, we label, categorize and organize all information we perceive. This extends to our perceptions of others as well. It is the way that our brains process information that it can be recalled without significant effort. Unfortunately, this leads to being mislabeled, misidentified but I honestly don’t see the serious issue. As someone who dresses (and appears) to be a member of either binary gender, it is a daily occurance that I am mislabeled and misread. I don’t see how that affects me, there is no issue because I know for certain that I have made the same mistakes with others.

  52. I have to say my identities resonate with a lot of this writing. I think I’m definitely afraid of how I dress effects what ‘kind’ of lesbian people will think I am or will effect what ‘types’ of people hit on me and why. I don’t really want to be perceived as ‘butch’ cause I only let my breasts be seen in private and I have a mohawk. I just want to be perceived as me.

  53. I knew this was a big deal in the gay community ever since I turned to a girl at a campus LGBT meeting, where I felt way too femme compared to all the GQ/butch girls around me, and said, “Are clothes this big of an issue for you?”

    And the consensus was, yeah, clothes are a huge deal, as signifiers of gender roles and possibly even what you do in bed, and it can be constraining.

    At the same time though, butch-femme is incredibly hot and it would be sad if we did away with it entirely. I understand not fitting in neatly to the dichotomy, though, as a person who loves to open doors, carry heavy things, and kill bugs for ladies, and who sometimes wears sundresses and heels (I’m just really freaking short, okay?). But I don’t really like being read as femme: actually just cut my hair into a longer, shaggy style so I could look a little gayer. But in general I’ve got no idea how I “read” to other people since I switch it up so often.

    I think the key is recognizing that what you think you see may not be what you get.

  54. I know this! My lord.

    When I was younger I used to go to these queer meet ups. There was this really cool massively boyish, quite masculine punk chick walking around with a lot of attitude who I thought I’d get on with, but early on I got the vibe she doesn’t like me or something, so I stayed out of her way.

    About a year later she approaches me and goes “It’s nice to finally have a proper butch around here”. I was like, “…WHAT?”. I see myself as a tomboy if anything, I don’t do dresses and you’ll usually see me in big boots, skinny jeans, a tshirt and a leather jacket. With short hair and wearing shades, as well as the fact that I’m pretty tall, I often confuse the public about my gender (which sometimes I use to my advantage, I’m sorry but the queues in women’s changing rooms are ridiculous). I have a healhy heapload of attitude myself, but I’d never think I’m butch! People often tease me about it and I just don’t understand where it’s coming from – is it because I’m *not* presenting myself as feminine? Others still view me as very feminine.

    So anyway, we ended up fucking that night (as you do) but the funniest thing was that she turned out to be quite shy (which was probably the reason for avoiding me, I guess?). So moral of the story is you really can’t assume shit.

  55. I am very surprised to read this post because of how familiar this topic is. I also get misinterpreted by girls because of the way I dress, and assumptions are made of how I behave sexually and in intimacy. The most surprising fact is that I am you, but on the opposite side of the spectrum. I dress ultra femme but I am a top sexually. I am not very aggressive in persuing a woman in the sense that I’ve never been a fan of picking girls up at a bar. But I like wooing a girl I like and treating her like a queen. I love fashion. I’m a costume designer, and fashion is my life, literally. I have loved dresses and heels since before I could walk, and learned how to use a sewing machine before I could write. Even though I’m “such a girl”, in a relationship, I’m very “masculine”. I usually am the one who pays the bills and caters to my partner. I like being in control, and I love a woman to be extremely feminine in bed. Unfortunately, the girls who I attract are usually the aggressive type and butch, and I find it hard to connect with them sexually. They expect me to be submissive, and to be girly in bed (it’s more like a wrestling match, lol), when I really just wanna be on top and strapping it on myself. I’ve tried to conform and be open minded, for the sake of my dating life, but when I get confortable and suggest being the top, most butches are not ok with it. I have tried to get a feminine girlfriend, but most of them are attractive to butch looking girls, and not someone in heels and makeup. Most of them don’t even think I’m gay, and sometimes they don’t even believe me even though I’ve been out for almost 8 years. So what do we do? I guess what we can all do is not force ourselves to follow stereotypical labels and behaviors. It is dissapointing that in our alternate reality of our “lebian world” we continue to apply gender roles to certain physical attributes. We fight everyday to eliminate them in society, but are the first to raise our eyebrows if we see two butch girls together. And in my case, I’m seen as a femme and expected to date a “masculine” girl to balance my heightened femininity. It’s making my dating life suck and apparently I’m not the only one. Clothes were supposed to be fun and not a display of who you are as a person. Right?

  56. This is really a matter of sexual aggression and assertion. Society veiws these as more masculin traits. In general they are but if you think that straight people don’t have “Tops” and “Bottoms” or femme-doms, subs etc, you are sadly mistaken. Anyone with a sexual desire that is not the standard of the majority of any said group is a “Minority”. In this case femme tops and butch bottoms fall under that umbrella. Stud for stud is in this list as well. Slightly more visible and appearing higher in numbers but none-the-less a minority within a minority. Blame it on human nature.

  57. I totally understand where this article is coming from, sadly. I’m femme looking at first glance, but a welder and usually very masculine in behavior. I pursue dominant femme women who are very assertive and in control of their lives, confident and yet sensitive to other people. I’ve dated people who identify all across the board, and every time, I’ve done my part to balance the changing equation. However, despite the fact that I’m femininely featured, I do bind my chest and wear men’s jeans. Does that make me butch? Stud? No- those, in my experience, have been more of a mindset. In my last relationship, I was the more feminine in appearance, yet assertive and stable of the two of us, picked up the tab more. In the one before, I was more insecure and overthought everything, yet I carried the bags when shopping and made more money. Clothes are merely a reflection of ourselves, not the definition.

  58. I am a boi loving boi and a drag enthusiast..but do have some effeminate characteristics as well. People are so quick to judge. This is a great article.

  59. I am SO with you on this one. I do most of the driving (because I have a car and more driving experience), often pay for dates (because my job currently is better) and wear mens clothes 99% of the time. My girlfriend wears womans clothes, has much longer hair, etc. But we totally plan for the future once she graduates from college to be her being the breadwinner and me staying at home to raise kids. And when it comes to the bedroom, she’s definitely the top. We both like to be the little spoon sometimes when snuggling, occasionally get the other flowers, take turns opening car doors, etc. It’s just weird how much people are like “oh, so who’s the man in the relationship?” There’s not one. That’s kind of the point. It’s like asking which chopstick is the spoon and which is the fork.

  60. Being newly out and navigating the multitude of labels that seem to exist, this article really hit home for me. Yes, labels can be limiting, but I understand feeling the need to femme-it-up somewhat to attract/pursue more dominant women. My appearance/dress may lead someone to be presumptive in identifying my role in a relationship; but honestly, it is where most people start when looking to meet someone new. The key (in my humble opinion) is to keep an open mind and afford others a flexibility in expression.

  61. I feel the same way, i hate these label that people have. If you you look a certain way they love to assume they know who you are. I dress boyish but i do like wearing heels(always have), i just started to wear sneaker wedges only because they have heels in them (never wore a sneaker out before this). My straight,gay and bi friends keep asking me to figure it out,figure out what i am.I’m like I AM ME,DEAL WITH IT, i like what i like. I wish people just realized that people aren’t meant to conform to any image, everyone’s different.

  62. So I finally got the balls to make an account for one reason alone.

    Okay, like .. I can’t even begin to explain how mind-blown I am right now. I mean, sure I knew there had to be some out Nigerians out there but.. I never expected to meet any.
    I know your post has nothing to do with this at all, but as a fellow Nigerian and perhaps Nigerian-American, could you tell me how exactly you came out without being considered possessed by some evil or the other? You’re Igbo too.. like wow.. just wow.

  63. I really enjoyed this article. I am either never approached because I am not considered “gay” enough or considered too female …At least I think that is why I am not approached. If I am approached then it is by females who want to treat me as a bottom and as “femme” as I am I am not a bottom. I am just me and some days that includes converse and capris and other days it’s heels and dresses. I don’t want to conform to a particular style and eventually someone might get that, until then I will rock it single and proud of it.

  64. I can kinda relate to this issue. Overall when it comes down to it I feel like I’m a femme as far as the way i preffer to present (I certainly was when i was younger) and thats also what I’m attracted to.But partly because of the current circumstances of my life I wonder how femme I can afford to be practically speaking…so I kinda rely on my gq characteristics both as a creative person –on the positive side, but also as coping/defense mechanisms.I have concerns about being too femme and being more attractive to men or too gq and continuing to be attractive/attracted to unnavvailable “straight” women…that are only physically unlike/more appealing than, men.I am not interested in being anyone’s whore.Long story short once I have more money I’ll prolly present as more femme and although i’m not comfortable with being kept I do like the idea of being taken care of to some degree. Its like there are two sides to me and there are things I like and dislike about both. Sometimes I wish i could just be one or the other but I think I just have to cultivate whatever I like best about each.

  65. This is a familiar experience. I don’t dress girly or feminine but I am very open in terms of people I’m attracted to. Sometimes I dress like a boi and have my hair very short. I like to keep it that way and people would assume I should be the top or always the dominant one. I like to open doors for people or let them pass first. It’s not me being the ‘gentleman’ it’s just me being courteous and nice to people. In reality I would prefer someone who is open and flexible to switch roles both in normal or sexual situations. Society has been kept up to judge people depending on what they wear, it’s still not as open as we hope it would be.

  66. Wow this was so perfect, and such wonderful comments.

    Upon growing into my lesbianism in my first year of college, my immediate response from others was to identify with a label. But I couldn’t really fit as a true femme, or butch/stud. So I was labeled at a “stem” which falls in the middle. But actually it just depends on the day. I wear clothes that I look good in, this lately is jeans/capris, button ups/vnecks, etc. I tried to go for the whole androgynous look because I dont want to be labeled as a certain “thing”. But really I can go from looking femme one day and boi-ish the next.

    My mate wears mens clothing and she seems like an intimidating stud/butch, but actually shes just a girl in boy clothes. She cooks/cleans, more caring, and cries on movies. But she also is physically stronger than me, so she appears to be more dominant. She was really stuck on labels until we started dating until she realized how stupid they were, so we started being “no labels”.

    When it comes to SEX, we dont think, we just DO. We do what feels good, do what feels great. We’re very versatile and fluid. I guess some people don’t understand this concept, and think that a relationship calls for a “woman-type” and a “man-type”, which is ridiculous.

    I’m also a feminist, so I believe that men just dont understand the dynamics of a lesbian [woman-woman] relationship and feel that some “manly” part is needed. Um no, women can have so much pleasure without a dick being involved.


  67. Honestly, sometimes I don’t know which planet you think you, people, are in. Are you honestly shocked to be categorized, gender-wise, according to the clothes you choose you wear? Really?

  68. I am just now jumping on the awesome bandwagon of this article, and I really related to it. I didn’t have a whole “coming out” narrative, and so I often feel left out in queer circles- everyone has their story. I also kinda fell into dating; the first girl I dated met me when I was presenting pretty femme, and throughout the relationship, I felt pressured to present that way, always, even though I am much more comfortable as a serious tomboy. I felt her queer masculinity was threatened by mine, which was not a sustainable relationship dynamic. She wanted a femme to top, and I wasn’t educated enough in all of these dynamics to assert my independence. The relationship fizzled out, but I still feel a certain insecurity in queer spaces- like I’m not gay enough, sometimes.
    In my current relationship, I present as more masculine than my partner, but like many people have said before, we just— have sex. But I get a bunch of questions (this always surprises me, for some reason) about if we use a strap-on (no), who wears it, etc. I am completely comfortable and supported in my relationship to hang out in my own little ambiguous tomboy femme/sissy boi space, but I often feel that this support doesn’t extend outwards into the community.

  69. Completely hear you on this article. People see my short hair, or the fact that my gale male best friend & I are wearing matching outfits, and assume I must be on the masculine side. In reality, I probably own more shoes/clothes than any “femme”, couldn’t put furniture together to save my life, and thoroughly enjoy cleaning. I’m essentially an effeminate gay man, trapped in a lesbian’s body.

  70. Personally, I think top/bottom conversations are important. Mostly because I am involved in the bdsm community and consent is really important to me. People in the queer-kink community spend a lot of time talking about sexuality, power dynamics and consent. Also, It’s important to have really clear communication between potential sex partners.

    Clarity is important for consent purposes:

    A strap: http://bdsmsextoys.us/impact/1043-strict-leather-extreme-punishment-strap.html

    A strap-on: http://bdsmsextoys.us/strap-ons-and-harnesses/1671-professional-leather-strap-on-dildo-harness.html

    • I agree that is an important clarification to make about two very different toys! A lot of people refer to strap-ons as “straps” and might be a little confused if you brought out a punishment instrument…

      For the record, I am down with either! ;)

  71. I am new to this site so I’m just now reading older articles, but I love this one. I can’t really personally relate, since I am “femme” looking and dressing and am generally a bottom. But there are so many permutations of queerness and lesbianism etc that people really shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on your outfit. I have dated and been friends with many butch/boi/GQ people who are “butch” on the streets, “femme” in the sheets! And just because I’m generally a bottom, it doesn’t mean I can’t top your ass like a champ! I think many of us are more versatile than people would like to label us.

  72. Hello fellow Naija sister! I’m actually Yoruba though. Anywho, I can totally relate to being a genderqueer individual who is attracted to other andros, bois etc. I have no idea why this is looked down on in the lgbt community.

  73. This article hit home. I am Nigerian and my girlfriend is out.I am super femme and dating a Tom boi for a year. She is masculine in her dressing n mannerisms but loves to cook n clean. Sexually she lets me make love to her. I on the other hand , although very girly love being in control and picking up d tabs. I think labels are overrated.

  74. Yes this Is becoming a question for me. Recently something is changing for me and I finding myself hugely conflicted between my masculine and feminine energy! I am growing out of my Tom boy phase at 30!! I am not really a person who has thought in depth about my sexuality. Who I want to sleep with and what I want to do in bed has always come naturally to me and I have never really found myself asking these things ir having to think at all. I do have some preference questions that not everyone will be able to answer but If you have a preference please answer:

    As a gay woman how do you identify yourself as far as butch/femme (and everything in between): are you attracted to women whom are shorter/smaller? If they are smaller and butch are you interested? Smaller and femme?
    Are there femme women out there who are attracted to other femmes who are smaller?
    If you have very set moves in the bedroom, are you open to being versatile? If your a top and you sleep with a bottom a few times and suddenly she tops you, can you deal with that? I have in the past found myself unattracted instantly! I was sad.
    Of COURSE I realize it depends on the person but I’m talking in general here. Again, these questions are shallow and stupid and I’m making some very un realistic generalizations but I know most of you have a gut reaction! Please share!

    I don’t know what it is recently, hormones or what but my feminine side is in full swing and I’ve got a sexual appetite that doesn’t seem to be satisfied! It’s a little crazy actually! In general I am not butch or completely femme. I would say I am exactly ellen page, whatever she is. Lol. (Yes more small minded generalizations)
    And the second i femmes it up I found that I was being checked out and approached CONSTANTLY just walking to work. I don’t know if I was just noticing it for the first time? Or because my mind is on sex my brain is attracting it?
    I’m 5″2 and generally never meet anyone smaller or shorter than me. I feel awkward sleeping with feminine women taller than me, and I’m not attracted to smaller bunch women.

    My type is femmes my size exactly (which of course I never find) and studs whom are taller. When I sleep with femmes I tend to take control and find myself feeling more masculine, when I sm with studs I become VERY femme and want to be taken care of.

    How do you deal with this? It’s a bit confusing to me because it really changes my personality on a daily basis as well as my clothes and how I interact with people. And if you are not dealing with this yourself, have you ever been with a woman who has? Is the versatility annoying to you? Or do you enjoy it?

    Again, please only answer these questions if you do have a preference. I course realize that sexuality is a very complex thing and that’s exciting, but I’m just looking for someone to relate to tonight. Thank you so much!!

  75. I feel this so hard. There are so many assumptions based on how people present! I’ve been having an ongoing conversation with a friend about some of this, partly because we have an ongoing conversation about gender and sexuality and the spectrums (spectra?) that encompass those constructs. BUT also partly because we identify and present very differently, but our brains work incredibly similarly. She presents very masculinely and identifies as possibly genderqueer, while I am femme presenting and female-identified. One of the big things we’ve been talking about is that people tend to assume that she’s really sexual and that I’m really innocent, but we’re both extremely sexual. I thought I had a point to this, but I got distracted by Hannah Hart. So. The end.

  76. This entry hit home for me like you couldn’t believe. I deal with a lot of the same stuff you mention, although I’ve never been asked if I strap. I do, however, deal with a many of my straight male friends assuming that I see women the same way they do – as nothing but big huge vaginas whose sole purpose in life is to sleep with us and let us treat them however we wish. This is not the way I think. They forget that I’m a feminist who experiences the same gender inequalities that other women do. I take respecting women very serious and feel that every women – straight or queer – deserves to be put on a pedestal and treated like a queen.

    I also notice that my friends forget that I am an emotional being. Whenever I feel upset I get a lot comments ranging from, “Geez, what is your problem?!” to “Where’s the REAL Melissa??” I am often seen by friends as a “bro,” which is fine with me, but sometimes my friends seem freaked out when I’m feeling emotional.

    For me, when it comes to relationships I do tend to do things that are deemed more masculine (I didn’t know how else to put it). For example, I’m the one who opens doors, pulls out her chair, puts the umbrella over her when it’s raining, picks up the tab at dinner (though this isn’t really a masculine thing to do), etc. I just love doing all of those things. However, people are taken aback when I tell them I do the cleaning and laundry and love shopping for new linens. Towels! For some reason I have a thing for towels! Haha! And, like I mentioned, I’m an emotional person. In the bedroom I’m assumed to be in charge, but I actually like being the submissive one. Of course, I also reciprocate the pleasure, but I am by no means in control of sexy time. haha.

    Ultimately I find myself similar to you – I don’t consider myself butch (and actually get rather annoyed when people try to tell me who I am) yet I’m not super femme.

  77. I love the way you present this, very thoughtful and personal, without a pervasive negative feel to it. It allows the message, and more importantly the questions it poses about our cultural expectations (especially those of the LGBTQ community) and how they still need to adapt to allow for individual outliers.

    Again well done… I’m tweeting to share this… as it needs to be seen.

  78. Really enjoyed this article!!!! I am bisexual femme about 5’2′ and my partner is a lesbian tomboi about 6′. So from the looks of us you would assume she is the more agressive/top and im the bottom. WRONG!!! She may dress like a man, but I the femme take charge, especially in the bedroom. In actuallity she is a bottom tomboi. I love her to pieces.

  79. I totally relate to your blog. On the outside I come across somewhat butch. I work in construction, my sense of style is tank tops, work shirts, jeans and boots. I am however not “top” on the inside if that makes sense. I would love nothing better than to have someone just come up to me and take the lead however I do believe they expect that from me based on how I look. I often wondered what I could do to get through this bump in the road, but I’m not going to “femme” myself up to avoid assumptions because that would not be me in the end. I am very attracted to other butch women. (I feel kind of weird laying out all these labels, but you know what i mean… ?) I just don’t know if they are attracted to me… *sniff sniff*

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