A few days ago, I posted a list of questions related to my butch identity, for a butch photography project. Here are my answers:
1. Where are you from? I’m from Olympia, Washington, which, contrary to what some believe, is not the same as being from Seattle.
2. What is your occupation and/or what are your main activities in life? I’m a consulting software developer, a published erotic fiction writer, a parent, and an activist and organizer within the queer community as well as the software development community.
3. What does it mean to you to be Butch? For me being butch is about expressing my innate masculinity. It is my presentation, the clothes I wear, the way I cut my hair, the way I walk and talk and move about in the world.
4. Do you remember when you first heard the word Butch? The first time I heard it in reference to me was in high school, I was a junior (16 years old).
5. At what age did you identify as butch? I took on the label of butch in high school, mostly because my friends insisted that’s what I was, based on behavior, clothing choices, activities and who I was attracted to.
6. At what age did others identify you as butch? 16, that was the first time someone said it to my face, but I heard later that my friends identified me as butch a lot earlier on, going back to junior high and elementary school. As a kid, I was a tomboy and people used to think I was a boy a lot of the time.
7. Did other people identify you as butch before you identified yourself that way? yes, but once they started using the term, and telling me what it meant, I completely agreed.
8. What are the most important things that a Butch must have? I don’t believe there is a single, correct way to be butch. I think each person who identifies as butch knows what it means to them, and their definition may overlap mine, but may also be different in many ways. I respect that authenticity and encourage everyone, regardless of how they identify, to find their own path and meaning within that identity. For me, that means I feel ready to take on the world when I’ve got a sturdy pair of shoes or boots on, a knife clipped to my pocket and a packy in my briefs. I’m most comfortable in button-fly jeans and men’s style shirts. I love wearing button downs and ties for dress up occasions.
9. What are the most important things that a Butch must be? Honest with themselves, living authentically and without falling into stereotypical patterns of behavior. But I think these are standards everyone should live by, not just butch individuals.
10. What things do you *do* that you think aren’t butch? nothing… I’m butch, therefore, anything I do is butch. Although, stereotypically, some people might look at some of my behaviors and activities as being ‘not butch’. For example, a lot of people associate butch sexuality with being the sexual aggressor, with being the top. I’m not that kind of butch, I enjoy a full range of sexual activities as both the the person who gives and receives touch and penetration, for example. I’m also a butch who didn’t see becoming pregnant as a contradiction, though I know some struggle with that. For some, it’s not correct butch behavior to be attracted to other butches, or trans guys or cis-males, and I used to conform to that unwritten rule as well. Now, I’m happy to say, I don’t see my butch identity as conflicting or restricting my sexual and emotional attractions.
11. What things do you *feel* that you think aren’t butch? Well, again, I define my butchness at a personal level, so anything I feel is butch because I am butch.
12. Who do you date? Butches, femmes, both, neither, straights, trans people, all of the above? I am not currently dating but if I were, my attractions would not be restricted by gender or presentation. I have been attracted to and/or been in relationships with, butch identified women, femmes, genderqueers and bisexual women. If I were in a position to date, I’d be open to involvement with anyone who got my physical and mental juices flowing, which includes butches, trans men, femmes, cis-men, cis-women, genderqueers, bisexuals and trans women. My current crushes tend to be on trans-masculine people.
13. Who are your role models? My father has always been a very important role model for the way he expresses masculinity and the loving, respectful way he treats the people in his life. One butch role model is Pat Shively, who founded and ran a women’s health clinic in town for many years. She was apologetically masculine, old-school butch without the chauvinism or sexism I found so common elsewhere in the community. She didn’t shy away from controversy, stood up for what she believed in and didn’t back down from a fight. She believed in herself, she was secure in her identity and was the first to step up and defend the rights of others. There are others I admire – writers, artists, activists in the community – but my Dad and Pat are two of my heroes. In terms of personal integrity and living their values, those two are giants.
14. Is Butch a gender identity, an erotic expression, a way of life, a political position, or…? This is how I break it down: My gender identity is genderqueer, I am bi-gender, recognizing both male and female gender identities within me. Erotically, I am queer, I have an appreciation and attraction to a wide range of people, regardless of gender identity and biological sex, as long as they identify as queer in some way. I’m attracted to queer people. Butch is a way of life, a way of presenting myself to the world, a way of seeing myself and moving around in the world. All of it is political: my gender identity, my sexuality and the gender binary non-conforming way I present myself. All of these elements of my identity constitute a rebellion against the status quo, and are authentic to me. They are not statements I’m making for the sake of politics, they are personal first, political second.
15. Did you ever fight identifying as butch? There was a period of time through my 20s and 30s where I had an on again, off again relationship with butch as an identity. During that time period, being butch was seen as old fashioned, out of step, even anti-feminist. For a time, that mindset and the peer pressure around it had me shying away from my butch identity.
16. Have you ever been embarrassed or ashamed of your masculinity? I’ve been targeted by bullies because of my masculinity, and I’m sure they were counting on making me ashamed and embarrassed about it, but it never worked. Instead, I became stronger and more resilient and self-determined.
17. Have you ever been ridiculed, threatened or harmed because of your masculinity? Yes, over the years I’ve had a lot of slurs hurled my way: dyke, fag, lezzie. People have attempted to insult me by questioning out-loud whether I was a boy or a girl. During my 8th grade year, I was ostracized, ridiculed and bullied by a lot of people in my school because of my perceived sexual orientation, based on my masculine appearance and behaviors. I bear the emotional scars of that year to this day. Every so often, someone gets angry with me because I’m using the women’s restroom and they’re sure I’m a man. Fortunately, I’ve never been physically attacked or harmed.
18. Do you ever wish that you weren’t butch? No, this identity fits me very well. Having gone through some long years of questioning my butchness and denying it, I’ve come back to this identity even stronger than before.
19. What do you like about being butch? It fits me, there’s not even a question in my mind that I’m butch. There are also perks, at least for me. I like being recognizably queer and gender binary non-conforming. I like walking into a queer bar and being recognized as queer. I don’t pass as straight, which is great, because I don’t want to. I also enjoy the appreciative looks I sometimes get from people who are attracted to butches and from other butches in recognition of what we have in common. There are privileges accorded to butches in some circles, I do enjoy a measure of male privilege but that’s problematic, since I’m not expressing my butchness in order to gain that privilege. I can recognize that privilege without being particularly happy that I have it, and understanding that my access to male privilege can be seen negatively by others.
20. What do you wish people knew about your butchness? That it is only one element of who I am, it is an important but not complete way of describing me.
21. What do you wish people knew about butchness in general? That ‘butch’ is not a one-size fits all identity. I know a lot of people who identify as butch and no two of us are exactly alike. I know people who identify as butch who I wouldn’t automatically guess were butch. Butches come in all sizes, colors and classes. Butches have a wide variety of experiences with relationships, a wide range of sexual preferences, hobbies, etc. Some people see butch as a characteristic, an adjective, if you will. Some see butch as a gender identity and/or a sexual identity. For some, butch is a core identity and for others, it’s one in a list of terms and labels they use to describe themselves. If there is anything universal about butches (and I hesitate to state this unequivocally), it would be that butches are rebels against societal limitations and expectations of how female bodied people should act. They aren’t the only ones, and the ways in which they rebel are as varied as there are butches in the world, but we are all rebelling against the stereotypes of how female bodied people should dress, act, walk, express, love and live.
22. Do you like being butch? Hell yeah, I do. Being butch is a big part of who I am, and I am happy being butch.
23. Do you like being different from the mainstream representation of what a woman “should” be? I’ve always chaffed at stereotypes and expectations related to female gender. Besides the fact that I don’t see myself as solely female — I identify as bi-gender, both male and female — I’ve never liked the limitations placed on females. From the time my mother forced me to wear dresses, to current times and criticisms about the fact that I pack on a daily basis, I’ve rebelled against limitations based on perceived gender.
24. Anything else you’d like to share or comment on?
In every community, there is an element of ‘policing’, or attempts to control behavior based on written or unwritten rules of conduct, and reinforced by peer pressure, and sometimes more violent means. For me, one of the most depressing things to come to grips with is that queer communities are not any more enlightened in this regard than others. For butches, there are definitely expectations and assumptions, behaviors that are seen as ‘not butch enough’. For example, it’s often assumed that butches date femmes, exclusively. I used to believe that myself and stopped identifying as butch, in part, because my partner at the time did not identify as femme. I didn’t think I could be butch unless my partner was femme. There are a lot of stereotypes about how butches should dress, and what activities we should enjoy, etc: butches are sexually aggressive, butches love sports, butches aren’t emotionally expressive, butches don’t like pink. It goes on and on, the list rules we’re expected to follow. Step across those lines and you’ll get funny looks at the very least. Quite often, depending on the situation, that you’ll be the target of snide comments, insults and social bullying if you transgress expectations. This is the same kind of policing that keeps women in their place and tells boys and men they can’t cry. It’s wrong and we shouldn’t support it in our communities.
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