A Butch By Any Other Name

I am butch. I guess. Butch by default? Butch because I am not femme. Definitely not femme. So. Not. Femme. Why is it easier for me to say what I am not? What’s wrong with butch? There are so many other labels out there: andro, boi, AG, stud… all degrees of the same side of the gender divide, masculine of centre. I am butch. Gentlebutch or soft butch. See? I’m hedging again. I think I have a bit of internalized butch phobia. I’m sorry. It is a hang up from my past I think. I’m sure I’m not alone.

I came out at a time and in a place where the butch/femme dynamic was frowned upon. Considered dated and antifeminist because it mirrored the hetero-normative patriarchy. It seemed to embarrassingly answer the dreaded question, “So… which one of you is the guy?” In my lesbian community we all kinda dressed alike. Casually sporty. Sensibly. We had short spiky hair. And, oh yes, mullets. The mullet was the dyke haircut of choice when I came out in the 80s. And I, being the practical teen that I was, decided that it was popular for functional reasons. I figured that having short hair on the sides of your head meant there would be no uncomfortable tickling of anyone’s inner thighs when, you know, those two body parts were in close contact. (I don’t have to draw anyone a picture here do I?)

And so for my formative lesbian years, my various lovers and I (and there were throngs of them I tell you. Millions. BILLIONS!) all pretty much looked alike. Some were taller. Some rounder. Some thinner. But basically we all looked like we had either just walked off the golf course or were about to go camping.

A couple of years ago, a new friend called me butch. “I’m not butch,” I said. “My hair’s not THAT short. Besides, I cook and clean and knit and I gave birth to a child. Yes, I also play hockey and I’m a boxer and do all the house repairs and renovations, but I think of myself as a ‘renaissance dyke’. I don’t like labels. I have a sewing machine!”

“You’re butch,” she insisted. “I know you’re butch because when I met you I got that little tingle that I only get from butches.”

What? What? What? I made someone tingle just by walking around as me? Well I would like to do that again! Butch you say? Hunh. Gonna have to think about that one. As I began to explore, to read, to search, I realized that the idea of gender had expanded. Where previously butch/femme interplay was seen as conforming to heterosexual and sexist gender roles, there was now a playfulness about it. And more. There was a greater acceptance that gender is not a black and white fact, but rather a fluid, rainbow-coloured continuum. As sexual beings along that continuum, we are attracted to others at different places on it. For brevity’s sake we have given these various stopping points labels. My stop is butch. And here is what that means to me:

Titus & her Smokin' Hot Sweetheart at Butch Femme Salon, Toronto

Butch is swagger. Butch is confidence. Butch is taking up space, unapologetically and in a way that is generally considered masculine. What I had once thought of as a limiting viewpoint broke my whole world open. When I accepted how I felt at core, I realized I could dress the image however I liked. The deeper I explored my butch aesthetic, the greater insight I gained and the more I began to swagger. When I found dapperQ.com and began to incorporate a more fashionable look, I felt like I had come home. And I was rewarded.

I began to notice the reaction of those around me. Ripples and buzzing and furtive glances. It was pretty intoxicating. I took radical action. I started to hold the gaze of the pretty femmes who had begun looking at me, sometimes for 2, 3 even 4 seconds at a stretch. And sometimes? I would even flash them a grin. I know, right? Crazy!

So this butch thing seems to be working for me. I love playing in this new gender space, flirting with femmes, figuring out where people fit, and frankly where I fit because there is constant shifting. I revel in the power of it. Butch power. Or boi power or stud power. The power of the dapperQ. There is a very tangible strength that comes from self- knowledge. I am a butch who knits and often giggles like a little girl, and my girlfriend is a femme who is sometimes so hunky it makes me swoon.

And oh how I love all the butch/femme events. In Toronto there have been several theme nights put on by Butch Femme Salon, Toronto, the latest one called “Fit For Duty”, inviting uniforms of all stripes. There are butch brunches–for buddy bonding. There are femme teas.

What a wonderful world we live in. Won’t you come out and play?

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  • Glad you’ve found your swagger 🙂 I knit whilst enjoying a pipe. Who needs gender norms?

  • Thanks for holding it down for the butches of this world. The palyful, swaggering, gender-expanding butches, that is.

  • Wonderful post; totally identify with the idea that internalised homo/butch-phobia holds you back. Once you set that free, it is so liberating. I think so many queers can be held back by the idea that we somehow have a duty to occupy the mainstream and by being butch we are somehow betraying the queer movement.

  • Krisuple weeks ago, I searched DapperQ for leads on shoes in T.O., came across this article (loved it) and noted, “Hey, that’s Margo’s partner.” A couple days ago, I searched Twitter for Ottawa Pride events, came across The Yes-Men promo-ing their show and there you were again. Of course I went. You guys told stories that I know but rarely see told with smart, all-in theatricalty. And the butch from T.O. beside me? She knew what was coming and covered her feet with a rainbow flag just before you watergunned the crowd. When she raised it (see what I did there), I saw the shoes I’d been searching for. Which she’d bought right here in my town. Bam. (And thank you.)

  • Hey in doing work on your blurb I found your writing…can I just say, I knew it! Great post BTW!

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