These Queer Handyworkers Want to Make Your Life Easier

While Rent-A-Butch’s website describes the business as “a handyservice by and for queer people,” the company’s Instagram bio drives the point home by declaring “We don’t work for straight people.” It’s not just a catchy tagline, although Rent-A-Butch does sell socks and bumper stickers that feature the message.

Sage Avarda stresses that she and partner Jasper Avarda are “dead serious” about the no-heteros policy for their Portland, OR, business. “If a straight person tries to hire us, we will turn them down,” she says. “We do not work for straight people. This is like a total queer-separatist business.”

Rent-A-Butch solely provides moving, cleaning, hauling, landscaping, and other services to queer customers to free them from hiring straight contractors who might make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. With a target market of one of the country’s largest LGBTQ communities, the business has more demand for their services than they can handle.

The Rent-A-Butch team includes Jasper and Sage plus two crew members hired as independent contractors, one part time and one full time. Sage does the scheduling, marketing, and social media and also works from home as a content marketer for a software company. She’s the sole cis person on the team and says, “I am often known as the head femme or boss lady femme.”

The business’s origin story is closely linked to Jasper’s sweet tooth, as they explain. “I [had] a cleaning service — I put an ad in a queer zine that went around Portland [for what I] called ‘Cleans for Treats,’ and I would go clean my friends’ houses, and then they would give me dessert,” they say. “I didn’t even want money. I just wanted homemade cookies.”

“[Jasper has] been helping people move and doing people’s handywork for them for as long as I can remember,” says Sage. Last year, when Jasper was doing farm work, Sage encouraged them to start offering their handyperson skills as a paid service.

Jasper was dubious at first. “I was like, ‘What? People won’t actually want to pay for that. This is like, just something I do with friends,’ and she said, ‘No, I think people would actually really benefit from that.’”

The pair started Rent-A-Butch in June of last year, and this April they welcomed the youngest team member, their baby, Wolf, whom they’re raising in a parenting triad. (The third parent also works for the business.) Yes, Wolf’s wardrobe includes at least one Rent-A-Butch onesie.

Half a country away, in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, fellow queer-owned handyperson business The Handy Dyke also launched during the pandemic. Spouses Laura and MJ Leffler work in theater, and the sudden shutdowns of March 2020 cost Laura her freelance jobs and led to MJ’s furlough from Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater three months later.

During their unemployment, MJ, who has stage carpentry experience, took on home projects for friends that ranged from a paver patio to a pergola. When the jobs grew beyond what they could accomplish alone, they recruited a few out-of-work theater friends.

By the end of July 2020, MJ says, “Laura and I were like, ‘Okay, well now we have four to five people sort of working for us at a very part-time capacity; why don’t we formalize that into something and see where it goes?’ I think we made one social media post, end of July or early August, and we were just flooded with work until February.”

The business name “The Handy Dyke” was an obvious choice, as that was what MJ had called themselves for years. MJ works in the field and takes the client-facing duties, while Laura handles office operations like purchasing and finances. Because she’s training to be a Master Gardener, she also oversees planting and landscaping jobs.

Like Rent-A-Butch, The Handy Dyke aims to make LGBTQ folks feel comfortable by providing a queer-owned and operated option in a cis-male-dominated, heteronormative space. “We did a job this past winter for a housing collective of queer people living in an old house in St. Paul, and that kind of work is so amazing,” says Laura. “So many… people come to us and are like, ‘I’m trans, my partner is non-binary, and the last time we had a contractor, it was this old white guy; he was terrible to us,’ or that sort of thing.”

While The Handy Dyke focuses on a queer clientele, Laura estimates that at least half of their customers are straight. She says the business’s hetero customers are glad to support a LGBTQ business.

Sage and Jasper, on the other hand, stress that they have zero interest in serving straight customers who consider themselves allies. “This is not a like pat-on-the-back business for you,” says Jasper. “It’s for gay people to feel comfortable.”

Aside from its mission, The Handy Dyke has evolved as pandemic conditions have eased. With Minneapolis theaters reopened, Laura has found a three-quarter-time position, while MJ has taken on a few theater projects. Many of the couple’s employees have returned to their previous jobs, so the six-person team now consists of MJ, Laura, and one employee.

In addition to downsizing their operations, Laura and MJ are taking a break from July to January because their baby is due in September. MJ says, “The Handy Dyke… will be more hobby for a while, more interspersed in other work. But we don’t want it to fully go away; I would expect that after a while when we’re able to get through having a toddler, we can pick it back up and run with it again.”

The couples behind both businesses encourage queer folks to start similar endeavors. Jasper recommends starting small. “If you have a lawn mower already, and you know how to use it… come up with a cute queer name, market it however you want, and just start there,” they say. “And then when you get a request for something that sounds interesting and cool and… you have some more money to buy another tool, then start offering that service and work your way up.”

For those wary of using an identifiably queer company name, Laura shared one advantage she and MJ have discovered. “Our clientele really self-selects,” she says. “For the most part, everyone we’ve worked with has been really awesome.” (Decidedly not awesome was the woman who “hate-prayed” over MJ while following them around The Home Depot.)

“I want every queer to be able to hire somebody like this,” Sage says. “We want people to go forth and do this in their cities. We want to see this everywhere.”


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Kate Antoniades

Kate Antoniades is a writer and editor in Rochester, NY. Her writing has appeared in SELF, Well+Good, Forbes, VICE, and elsewhere, as well as several humor publications. She is basically a textbook Xennial and can often be found letting her geek flag fly. Speaking of flags, she appreciates that the bi flag just happens to have the best color combo.

Kate has written 1 article for us.

24 Comments

  1. I am a long time reader and lurker of Autostraddle and while Autostraddle produces fantastic content on the daily, this is the first piece that has so rocked my world to make me break my silence. What a fascinating niche and interesting article. Thank you for bringing this into my world.

  2. this is AMAZING. if i had a dollar for every time a repair person or mover said something yikes to me, i’d have…well probably not enough to pay these lovely folks in full, but definitely enough for a deposit!

  3. I have def spent some time on the Rent-A-Butch Instagram 👀👀👀 I would love if there were something similar in my city, but I am unfortunately a non-handy butch. I am pretty good at ikea furniture though 🤔

  4. We are hiring them immediately! Yes! Our last helper listened to evangelical music every day and I was like. Dude, that is making me really uncomfortable… Thanks so much!

  5. I am absolutely devastated this isn’t nationwide! (I say, as I’m sitting on sorting out some non-urgent apartment repairs because I am So Tired of having strange men in my home making me uncomfortable). I love when community shows up for community, and I would 100% put my own money towards repairs if I knew I was going to be treated respectfully and not made uncomfortable. Congrats to these wonderful folks for seeing a need and finding a way to make it a business! Hope we see more of these type of organizations pop up.

  6. Jasper and Maddie helped me move back in March (on one of our rainest apring days) and OMG! They were a dream! An actual dream! They made it a really easy and enjoyable experience which is hard to say about moving. And I absolutely love their IG!

  7. Another great person to include on this list would be Mercury Stardust, who goes by the Trans Handymaam on social media. She targets her videos and services for women and queer folks to empower them to understand home repairs and also works with queer people around the US to travel and do home repairs.

  8. pretty sure the existence of these services directly parallels SEVERAL romance-novel dreams i’ve dreamt in the past few years

    if all goes according to plan we (handy butch who finishes the DIY project i ADHDed out of and i) shall have a summer wedding

  9. Like everyone else, I so wish we had this in my area. I, too, have stopped hiring out projects because it’s just scary having sis man in my house since I live alone. even if that weren’t the case, I would totally rather support a queer business.

  10. Let’s get handy dykes/rental butches in every city! Love the idea of a company being willing to travel. What are a few extra greenhouse gases at the end of the world if more queers feel safe and cared for?

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