Sinclair Sexsmith posts calls for her projects and I listen. That’s how it works. If you’ve never read her at sugarbutch.net or her other various sites, it’s very much time you did. I’m basically a fan boy. Seriously. And with the launch of her new Top Hot Butches database, she’s asked for posts for her new symposium component. This month’s question: What is butch? How do you define butch? What do you love about it? What does it mean to you? After that, well, the post is pretty self explanatory.
So I’m not butch. Anyone who’s seen me can figure that out–in fact, most people who haven’t seen me can figure that out too. Blind, deaf, and dumb people can figure it out. In fact, a good deal of the time I am perceived by the world at large to be very, very straight. Yet I’m not femme either. I run around in boxers and couldn’t care less about strappy pumps and red lipstick (except for sometimes, sometimes I’m all about it.) I wear boys shirts and girls skirts and present however I feel like presenting when I wake up that morning. And if you’ve been reading my plans of action, you’ve heard my rants on community policing and how it frustrates me to pick sides and orient myself to one specific group.
This does not, however, mean I don’t heart the butch identity and the butches in my life very much.
I recently attended the Butch Voices Regional conference and I had an absolute blast. Throughout the day I was asked a question: what is butch? What does that mean? My answer at the time was that I do not presume to define it, that I don’t think I have the answer. Because how could I? Butch is an identity word and identity is so personal–what right do I have to meddle in someone else’s? I have minor and not so minor freak outs when people impose a femme label on me without asking my permission and I never want to infringe on self-perception. Jae even had a problem with the word “butch” because, to be honest, she really doesn’t identify as entirely female. More as somewhere in between.
But since that conference I’ve been thinking (as I’m want to do, my possums.) Can I have an idea of what the term “butch” evokes for me without pile-driving someone’s own concept of themselves into the earth?
I actually don’t know. But I’m going to try.
The first mental snap-shot I get of “butch” is this dapper swagger, this top hat and tails attitude or a motorcycle-driving package concealing a soft caramel, flower-toting interior. A cool much like the Fonze with great hair and chivalry stacked up three stories. Slightly hunched shoulders with a strut. If I adhered strictly to this idea of butch, the soul in my three-being household most likely to win the title is my dog. He has great hair and a leather studded color and brings me toys every time I walk in the door. But my extremely masculine of center girlfriend just doesn’t fit most days (sorry sweetie, you’re more like Jimmy Neutron, boy genius.) And the reason I feel comfortable publishing that on the internet is because it’s a concern she’s shared with me–am I cool enough to be considered butch? My answer is of course she is, but she also freaks out about bath soap and candles. And as you may have gathered from some of the Clit Lit that features us as characters, she’s a crazy bottom. Does any of that interfere with butch identity?
Of course not. Really, when I examine the above slightly stereotypical view of butch, not very many self-identified butches fit in to so narrow a category. Nor into the category of antiquated, heterocentric masculine-feminine relationship roles that I so often think of when I think of the butch-femme dichotomy/dynamic. Let’s expand that shit.
I think you’re butch if you feel butch. I don’t think you need to claim the title every day. I think short hair my be a visual clue, but long hair doesn’t exclude you. I think gender identity and butch can be completely separated from each other, that it’s just an adjective for power, pants-wearing, and planning really great dates. For being swanky and taking care of yourself and being unafraid to get dirty. For occasionally getting “Sir” on the street, either accidentally or intentionally. I think there are days where I’m butch, there are moments where I’m masculine of center. And I think that straight men and straight women can fall into the butch category. Butch is charm and blossoming from awkward like boys from puberty, growing from unsure of where you belong to occupying a space in the world that you know you deserve. Butch is subversive, radical masculinity and traditional masculinity and the ability to admit you are scared or need help. Butch is both confidence and the ability to lean on others. Butch is a facet of an identity and almost never the whole (example: I’m a knitter, a writer, an actor, and a raging queer, but I’m wholly not a single one of those things.)
And I do not believe I’m saying anything revolutionary on the subject–I think, when put up against other pieces examining butch identity, mine will be more of the same. Because anyone who’s claimed it at any point knows that they can be butch, a bottom, and really really love gardenia shampoo and big fluffy bathrobes. And also be the person that mainly takes care of the house. In our pairing, though I present more femininely, I take care of the finances and Jae takes care of the kitchen. Does that say anything about our identities? Not at all–it says I am more comfortable talking on the phone than she is, and also that I burn things when attempting to cook.
If you’re butch, be butch, even if it’s just for the next 27 seconds. You can always be something else when the 28th second strikes.
And my dog is still butch. Look at that handsome face.