Hi crush monsters, this is Straddler On The Street, a feature where I celebrate all of you incredible Autostraddle readers by hunting you down, demanding you chat with me, and then writing about you on the Internet so we can all crush on you. Get excited, because butterflies in your stomach 24/7 is a fantastic way to live.
Header by Rory Midhani
Straddler On The Street: PJ, 23
PJ and I met at The Original A-Camp back in April 2012 and immediately became close. I was attending camp solo and she was there with her lovely girlfriend, but they were both so kind and welcoming to me that by the end of the four day stint we were joking that I was the third partner in the relationship. PJ shared her booze, helped me conquer the vending machine, added insightful commentary to the gender panel, and comforted me when I started to cry at the dance because I was having Too Many Feelings. All of which is to say, it’s impossible for me to speak about PJ without bias – she’s one of my close friends, and I think she’s incredible.
PJ is 23 and lives in Northampton (where the coffee is strong and so are the women!) with her lovely partner. She just started a new full-time job and she’s a part-time student interested in eventually pursuing nursing. PJ self-identifies as butch and runs the popular tumblr Masculine-Of-Center. She is also funny, smart, caring and genuine. Like I said, I might be biased when I say PJ is amazing, but the fact of the matter is I’m also right. See for yourselves!
Hi PJ. What are you up to these days?
I live in Northampton, MA. I currently work full time and am a part time student.
What are you studying at school?
Right now I am finishing up a general studies degree. I then plan to continue to pursue a BA in nursing.
Would you like to be a nurse eventually?
Yeah, it’s taken me quite a while to figure out what it is that I am actually passionate about, and nursing has really started to feel like the right move.
That’s amazing! What draws you to nursing?
I’ve tried to figure out what it is that makes me happiest for a long time, but it never was very clear. I’ve always been drawn to people in need, people who don’t have a lot of support. I’ve also always been a super science nerd. I like to know all the facts. Nursing is this awesome combination of science/fact-knowing and caring for others.
That sounds perfect. How did you finally figure out that it’s the right path for you?
As for it being the right path and how I know it, I can only say that I don’t know it. It feels right at the moment, and it seems to have the most likely permanence, but I have pretty eclectic interests and passions so I always worry that at some point I’m going to have a change of heart and follow another passion of mine and become a bicycle mechanic. Being a bicycle mechanic would be the best ever.
Haha, that would be okay probably! Tell me about your current job.
Actually, I just got a new job!
Oh, congrats! Tell me about that!
I am leaving my job as a training coordinator for a manufacturing company and starting at a performance cycling company!
How exciting! Tell me all about your bicycle feelings, please.
I have all the feelings about bicycles. As long as I can remember I’ve been riding bikes, and my first job ever – at 14 – was as an apprentice bike mechanic. I love the way that I can be completely self-sufficient when it comes to a bicycle. I mean, I know shit about cars, but if a bike breaks, I can take care of that. It’s reassuring. I love tinkering with all the simple machines, because that is all that bicycles really are. It’s the problem solving that is rewarding. Also bicycles just make so much more sense, economically and environmentally.
That is super true.
And they look so damn cool (sometimes).
TRUE. A secret is that I don’t actually really know how to ride one. Like I sort of do, but not well. Not confidently.
It’s not easy to be comfortable on a bike!
Well it’s good to know that I’m not alone.
No, not at all. Also a lot of people learn to ride in a really inefficient way, and it keeps them from actually understanding how it works. But once you get it, you will retain it forever.
Okay I think you need to teach me how to ride one day.
Yes, I totally will teach you.
Amazing! Moving on to some gender questions… Can we talk about the word butch? Specifically, what that word and identity means to you?
Butch is this thing that I have always felt, regardless of my consciousness of the actual identity. It seemed like a really natural thing to label myself as; the masculinity that is inherent in the word butch has been something I have embodied for a long, long time. When I think of the word butch, I think of all the older butches of previous generations and I feel at home, like they are my people. I read Ivan Coyote’s essays and I feel like I am reading about myself.
Being butch is something I have both been my entire life and something that I have chosen. I’ve always embodied the mental and physical space of butchness, but I also agree with the identity politics of what butch is. I choose to label myself with a (mostly) universally understood identity because it allows me to share a part of myself with others.
Also I LOVE the subversiveness of a butch/femme dynamic.
Can you elaborate a bit on what you like about the butch/femme dynamic?
I mean, butch/femme subverts heteronormative stereotypes by upending and rebranding the typical interactions between hetero[sexual] couples as a queer interaction. In my world, butch/femme also subverts queer culture. It runs as a subculture to the dominant concept of gender neutrality and sexual fluidity – all of which are totally valid, just not my personal experience. Butch/femme isn’t heteronormative or homonormative. It’s hot because of the tension of difference.
My partner and I like the tension between how the outside world sees us and how we interact. We like that we can’t be easily pegged into a stereotype. The hotness comes from the tension between us and outward perception, and the tension between her and me. Double trouble.
Cheers to all of that! Can you talk a little bit about your butch style. What kinds of clothing do you enjoy buying, where do you shop, and what are some of your favored brands?
I shop mostly in the little boy’s sections of stores. My favorites at the moment are GAP, L.L. Bean, Land’s End, H&M, J. Crew, Crew Cuts. These stores carry little boy’s clothing that isn’t neon green and covered in dinosaurs, haha. They make like miniature versions of their men’s clothes. As someone who is on the smaller side of height and broadness, it is nearly impossible for me to wear a men’s small without looking like I’m swimming. Some stores that I love because they have wonderful XS men’s clothes are Urban Outfitters, H&M, and American Eagle. I shop at a lot of thrift stores too, and buy Levi’s almost exclusively for pants.
You and I have spoken a lot about your personal style, and how it’s shifted over the past year or so. In your own words, how would you describe your current style and what it means to you?
I still dress pretty similar to how I was dressing a year ago, but I’ve moved into a space where my confidence is more visible. I am okay looking like an asshole, haha. I feel like I’ve started to appropriate bro culture, at least in terms of appearance, in order to subvert it. I’ve also become more confident, and with that I wear jerk-ier stuff like snapbacks because I can. A good friend of mine recently told me I was going through a Freddie Prinze Jr. hunk stage, and I mean come on, who wouldn’t be okay with that? FPJ is super cute.
It’s true, Freddie Prinze Jr. is a total hunk forever. Speaking of FPJ, do you have any celeb crushes?
LIV FUCKING TYLER. Hope Solo. Tara Lynn.
What are some of your favorite books?
Oh boy. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor, The Human Stain by Philip Roth, East of Eden by John Steinbeck.
Let’s talk about A-Camp! You’ve been to two, April 2012 and May 2013. When I met you at the first camp you said you were initially hesitant to attend, but by the end you loved it. Can you talk about your camp feelings?
When I was at first camp, it was a time in my life when I was really unsure about my gender. Second camp, I was totally secure in who I am. Also, I was hesitant at first camp because I didn’t know anyone, but I met some of my best friends there and that made second camp so much fun.
I think that it is a fucking miracle that a camp like this exists for queer women, and I know that there is such a huge need for this space. I think that A-camp helped me grow and understand who I am, and I am grateful for that experience.
Aw, I love that you love camp. How did you discover it, and Autostraddle?
My wonderful partner always read the site and she introduced me to it.
And finally, can we talk about your rad tumblr, masculine-of-center.tumblr.com? Tell me how you conceived of it and what it’s all about.
I got frustrated with the lack of representation for MOC people in other queer spaces, so I began to collect images of people like me so that I could feel like I had a community. Apparently, a lot of other MOC [people] were looking for the same community, so it has stuck! MOC is a place for our community to be, safely, and with others who understand what it means and what it takes to be MOC in the world.
If you would like to be featured as a future Straddler on the Street, please email vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com. Include a few photos, 3-5 sentences about yourself and put “Straddler Submission” in your subject line. Approximately a million people have submitted so far, so please be patient as Vanessa goes through her inbox — you’re all sexy with really smart brains, and don’t you forget it!
BICYCLES! YES. I spend an unhealthy amount of time tinkering with mine, too (probably because I keep breaking it – I bike in London and there is always an unexpected pothole or tree or tourist, okay). Bikes are beautiful and I love them and yes they just make so much more sense.
pj y u so dreamy?
PJ you are so cool and I want to hang out with you forever and have you fix my bicycle
“I am okay looking like an asshole, haha. I feel like I’ve started to appropriate bro culture, at least in terms of appearance, in order to subvert it. I’ve also become more confident, and with that I wear jerk-ier stuff like snapbacks because I can. ” <---- THIS RIGHT HERE THOUGH... ...as i literally type this in a backwards snapback, gold chain, and bro tank. one way to conquer bro culture as far as i'm concerned is to subvert the shit out of it. dress like an asshole, act like an outstanding human being. take their signifiers right out from under them, boom. wish i'd met you at camp, pj, because you seem really awesome and i'm nodding my head to so much stuff here, especially re: butch and butch/femme (tension yes yes good)!
Someone else who is going into nursing and loves bikes?! :D
High fives from another butch.
it’s so fucking cute that we had you and Mareika and Allison in our van driving up the mountain in April, and now you’re all such grown-ups!
Seriously. Snapbacks. Gold chains. Tank tops. That’s not bro culture. That is culture that bros have appropriated from communities of color. You are free to speak about your experience and what wearing these items means to you. But no. You are not single-handedly subverting bros because you too have chosen to appropriate our culture. You wear a snap back and you’re a hearthrob. I wear a snapback and I look like someone that is about to get frisked at the airport. Check your privilege, please.
i can’t speak for pj and her own personal experiences with the style, but i do wanna say this:
i completely understand where you’re coming from re: appropriation. i hadn’t even thought about snapbacks before and will definitely check this privilege in myself, since i’m super fond of caps, and snapbacks are one of the styles i wear (i love my hockey hats and snapbacks are the most readily available way to get a hat with your team on it, so my two snapbacks that i own are also my two hockey hats). i can wear a snapback and look like a bieber-esque queerio, and i have that privilege because i’m white. add the rest of my outfit, and yeah, i definitely need to check my privilege, because i’m being read as one thing when qpoc are never going to get the same reaction in the outfit i’m wearing. check check check. so seriously, thank you for bringing it up because it something i’d never considered, and that in itself is a privilege to be checked!
actually, i hadn’t thought about it before because i’ve never interpreted my outfit as something beyond my own reworking of growing up in a catholic blue collar community. a gold chain and tank are also the signifiers of masculinity in working class catholic communities, my home turf, and that’s something i’m drawing from when i wear my gold chain with the crucifix or my gold rosary. if you’ve ever spent time in working class communities of french-canadians, italian-americans, irish-americans, polish-americans, and most first and second wave immigrant communities where catholicism is the biggest serving on the plate, you’re going to see that gold jewelry, tanks, signet rings, slicked back hair (love my pomade) are all signifiers of masculinity. and those are things carried over from the motherland as a working class interpretation of opulence. that form of “tacky” masculinity is popular in catholic communities for a lot of reasons: think jersey shore, where their gold chains and terribly tacky style and the hair (the hair) are all reinterpretations of their father’s and grandfather’s styles, which were originally part of a form of masculinity intersecting with class and attempting to regain power despite being a dispersed community. thus the translation for a lot of “bro culture,” particularly the one i’m referencing that you’d see on jersey shore (yay guidos) or that has evolved from these communities, is based in their reinterpretation of their immigrant heritage. are there bros who are appropriating from communities of color? absolutely. justin bieber has grown into one, right there. but the bro culture i’m talking about specifically is drawing from another tradition, one that is actually exclusive to its own community.
in the macro sense (emphasis on macro, since there’s an entirely different system of experiences and privileges at work here), it’s actually quite similar to the way certain elements of masculine style are used as signifiers of one’s personal power and masculinity within other marginalized groups. it’s pretty amazing when you think about it – the cis white upper class dude takes all the power away, and marginalized groups use personal style and physical self-expression to reassert themselves in the power dynamic and realign where they fit in the scale of hegemonic masculinity. on one hand, it’s a group empowering itself. on the other, it’s the shitty patriarchy continually perpetuating and reproducing itself so every community has to experience it.
so yeah, sorry for the one million thoughts. i studied masculinity in college, i wrote my thesis on it and i’m really fascinated with the way it manifests itself in non-cis white dudes.
what a baaaaaaabe <33333333333333
Ok, I seriously disagree with your saying that the “butch/femme dynamic” isn’t heteronormative. Of COURSE it’s heteronormative, whether it’s gay guys or lesbians or or straight people or whoever. It’s completely heteronormative. Just because you’ve both got vaginas, or penises, or whatever, doesn’t make the gender roles involved in that dynamic transgressive in some way.
Now, being in a butch/femme couple isn’t necessarily heteronormative. But one must work to keep it from falling into a “dynamic.” I’m on the femmier side, I guess—a “chapstick lesbian,” I’ve been told—and I’m dating someone who is MoC and genderqueer, and we have to work to make sure that our relationship doesn’t become an annoying butch/femme dynamic’d relationship. We switch off in paying for meals, I can carry heavier stuff, and my person continuously makes sure I know that I don’t have to be any femmier than I feel comfortable being, that I’m loved whether I’m in jeans and flannel or in a maxidress and slingbacks. But, it’s the butch/femme dynamic that makes the waiter think my person is paying, the butch/femme dynamic that makes people feel more comfortable if I’m in a dress, the butch/femme dynamic that assumes I’ll eventually end up the one pregnant, the one taking care of the kids, the one NOT bringing home the bacon. It’s the butch/femme dynamic that asks which one of us “wears the pants in the relationship,” “which one is the man,” etc. I’ve seen it all the time in gay male relationships, too. Personally, I don’t think it’s not any more transgressive than straight people’s gender roles. Just in a different package. I think the butch/femme dynamic can be incredibly limiting and damaging.
if both partners identify as women, there is no way that a butch/femme relationship can be heteronormative. heteronormativity literally necessitates that there is one female and one male partner. the point – which you are missing here – is that having a masculine/feminine partnership as two women is extremely different than being in a heterosexual and heteronormative relationship. i wouldn’t say “transgressive,” per say — but definitely subversive. when cishet people walking down the street think that PJ and I are a heterosexual couple but then do a double take and realize we are a lesbian couple, it is subversive. we are dismantling people’s assumptions about what a straight couple looks like AND what a gay couple looks like.
perhaps it’s your opinion that being in a butch/femme couple is somehow “lesser than” other kinds of relationships because a feminine/masculine dynamic is somehow limiting. what you mean here is that you disagree with strict gender roles.
don’t place certain types of relationships on a subjective hierarchy. just don’t do that.
Um, I didn’t say a butch/femme couple was lesser. Nowhere in my post did I say that. Nope. I mean, I AM in a butch/femme relationship, so why would I say that? I also didn’t put anything in a hierarchy. Please reread what I wrote and maybe realize it wasn’t a personal affront.
What I DID say, was that PJ mentioned a “dynamic.” That “dynamic” is, indeed, heteronormative. Heteronormativity exists within the queer community all over the place. You really think that just because same sex couples are the same sex that they are incapable of injecting heteronormativity, whether passively or not, into their lifestyles? That’s just completely inaccurate. And yeah, what I am saying is that I vehemently disagree with traditional gender roles, which is what a butch/femme “dynamic” is all about. Not the couple. The dynamic. See the difference there? I’ve seen it in my own relationships and PLENTY of other queer relationships. And it’s damaging. And annoying. And oppressive, to both the butch and the femme. It puts people in tiny boxes that shouldn’t exist in the first place.
I think you’re misunderstanding me.