On Butch Identity, Masculinity and Being Intentional

mas·cu·lin·i·ty (msky-ln-t)  n. pl. mas·cu·lin·i·ties

1. The quality or condition of being masculine.
2. Something traditionally considered to be characteristic of a male.

mas·cu·line (msky-ln)  adj.

1. Of or relating to men or boys; male.
2. Suggestive or characteristic of a man; mannish. See Synonyms at male.
3. Grammar Relating or belonging to the gender of words or forms that refer chiefly to males or to things grammatically classified as male.

male (ml) adj.

1. a : a male person : a man or a boy
b : an individual that produces small usually motile gametes (as spermatozoa or spermatozoids) which fertilize the eggs of a female

From the Urban Dictionary

1. Often defined as aggressive, strong, and unfeeling or stoic. Being masculine means in modern times, at least, no shows of emotion, no flamboyance, no hugging or even looking at other men, must be interested in sports and physical/violent activity.

2. What masculine is is simply what a man does. Assuming responsibility for your actions; being sympathetic, sensitive, and caring; and gentleness are perfectly fine for men. A true man is not a hard-nosed, violent, overgrown child; he’s a mature, kind individual.

3. Positively characterized as qualities that are; strong, community building, utilitarian, practical. Negatively characterized as too aggresive, violent, uncaring.

 Over the course of the past five years, as I’ve readopted and become at home with my butch identity, I’ve also reengaged an old conflict with regard to masculinity.  What does masculinity mean to me as a person of female biology and socialization?  How do I reconcile my masculinity with society’s assumptions and expectations around that masculinity?  Where are the conflicts between how I see myself and the expectations others may have?

I see myself as a butch identified person who attempts to the best of my ability to embody masculinity in a way that aligns with my sense of feminism, and more importantly my expectations of myself as a human citizen of my community, my country and the world, even out into the universe.  I do not see chauvinism,  sexism, machismo and violence as intrinsic to masculinity, and certainly not to mine.  I recognize that strength is not a masculine characteristic, but that people of any gender can be strong.  I recognize that sexual ability, appetite and aggression are not solely masculine traits.  I vehemently reject the idea that to be masculine one must reject and vilify femininity, in oneself or in others.  I reject the expectation that masculine people must be sexist, must be chauvinist  must be aggressive, violent or always in charge.  I do not believe that being masculine and having a partial male identity should prohibit me from expressing my emotions, even the ones considered at odds with masculinity, maybe especially those.

As I was working on this post, I came across an Autostraddle post by someone who is similarly frustrated by the assumption that being butch includes being misogynist.  The column is ‘Butch Please’, the post ‘Butch with a side of misogyny‘… here are some of my favorite quotes:

I’m terrified and ashamed of the idea that the butch identity has any connotation with misogyny. Butch should not be associated with rape culture and patriarchal bullshit, and what does it say about us that to some, it is? And to the extent that butches are perceived, by themselves or others, as being in a position of power and control, who wants to be the one to step down and upset the structure in place?

Here’s what I know: I know that butch can be an identity that is respectful, careful, tender, and good. I know that we can be empowered without using our power in a way that hurts people. Our masculinity doesn’t have to have a body count. It doesn’t have to turn femmes (or any people, for that matter) into objects whenever our masculinity is questioned. You can be confident in your sexual abilities and reclaiming the sexuality you were taught to be ashamed of without fucking other people over in the process, or buying into a system where non-masculine bodies are immediately objectified and used as a point system in the masculinity olympics. We can do better. We have to do better.

It’s a great post and I encourage you to read it, it’s not very long and really well written.  I was nodding my head and agreeing throughout.

I used to think of my masculinity and my maleness as intrinsic, fundamental. More and more, I wonder if it’s all a construction, sometimes conscious and intentional, sometimes not.  I’m working on how to articulate this.  I am not masculine because of my maleness, I am masculine in my femaleness, too. My maleness is flavored by my masculinity but perhaps not dependent on it, and vice versa. But if masculinity doesn’t depend on maleness nor on the stereotypes of behavior and appearance we are so accustomed to, what is it? Is it just a word I’m hung up on because it still feels revolutionary to embody masculinity as someone who was forcefully socialized as female? Is it something finite and exactingly bounded or is everything pretty much up to the individual to decide for themselves?  It seems we spend a lot of time looking to external definitions and rationalizations, well I do anyway, but the closer I look, the less sure I am about any of these definitions.  Additionally, being counter-socialized as female or male — socialized against your self-acknowledged identity — is a kind of violence and I’m still working out all the impacts that violation has had on my way of identifying myself, my health, my ability to handle emotional stress and much more.

I can’t give you or myself a concrete answer to any of this except to say that I don’t feel that embracing masculinity should put me at odds with female identity, either in me or in others.  Choosing to positively identify as partially male is not a criticism of those who do not identify as male.  These are reall conflicts and criticisms that have come up between myself and female identified butches and others who are suspicious of non-cis identified people.  I’ve been accused of being anti-female because I choose to be open about my gender identity.  I’m not anti-female, or pro-male or anything except for pro-me.

Do I enjoy a measure of privilege related to being masculine?  Yes, undoubtedly.  I work in a male dominated industry and I get treated differently (better, I think) than some of the female identified/feminine developers.  I am aware of the way I take up space, whether that’s sitting down and not compressing my body, or when I’m walking down a sidewalk and I allow my arms to swing and my body to be as large as it really is.  I know that for some people, my masculinity is intimidating, confusing and confrontational.  I don’t always care.  Sometimes, depending on what I’m wearing, the time of day and where I am, I’m probably passing as male and that allows me to avoid confrontations and harassment that would probably come my way if I were perceived as female.  These are levels of privilege I enjoy and recognize.

I’m becoming more and more aware of my privilege along various axis and as I become more aware, I am consciously considering what I can do about it.  Should I take up lots of space, just because I can?  Just because no one wants to ‘cross me’?  Am I taking advantage of my privilege without being conscious of it?  That’s a question I ask myself a lot.

Do I identify as male and present as masculine in order to avoid the lack of privilege and additional policing and harassment female identifying and feminine presenting people experience?  Am I trying to get away with something I couldn’t manage if I had long hair and wore make up?  No. I’m not doing this for any other reason than it is right for me.  This is my native habitat, this is not a bid for power, except for power over my own being.  I want to be able to be in a way that fits, that feels like home.

We should all be able to feel at home in our own skin.


(I’m really interested in getting feedback, challenges, additional points, whatever comes up in your head as you’re reading this.  This is a work in progress and there are some other related posts brewing in my head already.  So if you want to toss in your two bits, please do)

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