What is Butch and why? Why does it matter if a girl is a bit of a tomboy? Who cares if a woman is a bit of a man? Other people’s reactions to me have gone a long way to define my identity. For me, butch is a Gender. It’s not something I’ve adopted, its something I am. When I was an itty-bitty true baby butch I was mistaken for a boy and if they didn’t know better, told people my name was John. I remember the day my best friend’s older sister told me I really shouldn’t be kissing girls. Still in primary school, that was the day I knew I wasn’t a boy.
Unfortunately, I did stop kissing girls all the way through secondary school. Fortunately, after a brief heterosexual phase, I realised I really should be kissing girls, and boy their kisses were sweet. When I came out lesbians were political. I cut my short hair shorter and once more the world embraced my masculinity. Political lesbians didn’t. They thought it was homophobic people called me Sir. I remember the day a lesbian feminist called me Butch. She meant it as an insult… “Why do you want to be like a man?” She asked. I didn’t understand. I hadn’t done anything mannish. All I’d done was lift a box and walk across the floor. I may have drunk a pint of beer before that, I don’t remember.
In my lesbian community butch wasn’t a good thing. I was part of it too. I internalised that butchophobia. It was ok to look butch, as long as that was called looking dykey. I was never in dresses, always in jeans. Wearing suits, ties, walking and lifting like a man…all the while refusing to accept the identity. My femme girlfriends were so hot, so gorgeous, so un-ID-ed. (I’ll skip over the two butch girlfriends, that’s for another column). We danced the butch-femme dance in lesbian hotspots all over (once my girlfriend had managed to get in). I loved their femininity, thought it daring they wore make-up. I believed a woman should wear what she wanted, and I accepted my femme girls wearing their hot femme clothes for themselves. I knew they didn’t wear them for men.
When I came out it was like waking up to a new world. One full of promise and adventure. When I acknowledged I am butch, it was like coming home. Thanks to the courage and insight of butches and femmes before me I finally got it. Thanks to Leslie Feinburg, Joan Nestle, Lesléa Newman, Rhon & Chris of Butch-femme.com thanks to Marïjke & Mel, I formed the word butch inside my head until it passed my lips. (This is in no way supposed to be an extensive list of butch-femme artists & activists, just those who’ve influenced me). This name for what I am made sense of my daily experience. I remember the day I told my long-term butch bud: “You’re right, I am butch.” S/he said “How comes you’re the last to know?”
Words are both medicine and weapons. If I can make a difference to one fledgling butch or femme by exploring my identity in words then the time I spend doing it is golden. This is my debt to repay, and I repay with all my heart. I know I’m butch because I never tried to be. Although I’m blessed to know more femmes and butches than when I acknowledged myself, my gender is still not widely accepted by either the straight or the gay communities. Straddling gender, I neither apologise or boast for being as butch as a diesel dyke. I just am.