If you interact with the lesbian community long enough, you’re bound to hear criticism of butches. As a butch, I immediately cringe because I know the words they’re about to say will be a stereotype that makes me want to scream. So today, I’m going to dive into this issue. I hope this will open some eyes.
The Butch Personality Stereotype
The traditional butch stereotype is based on the typical male stereotype. Stoic, emotionally unavailable, sexually aggressive, always in charge. And yes, there are people who fit the stereotype. I don’t mean to judge those people, but I’d argue that even those that appear to fit the stereotype from the outside don’t once you get to know them.
The Butch Sexual and Romantic Stereotype
You can’t say butch without femme. Even without saying the word, the two are inextricably linked. This is another example of how deeply binary our culture is. The thought of a butch with anyone but a femme is unfathomable for some. Then, within the relationship, they follow traditional gender roles. Many criticize this as role play, leading to even more push back from some in the lesbian community.
Again, there are people who fit this stereotype. However, I fail to see how it matters to anyone not in that relationship how they choose to live their lives, as long as they are both consenting adults.
The Reality of Butchness and Gender Expression
Everyone is different. Being masculine of center, whatever that label is for the person, doesn’t mean wanting to be a man. That would make them trans. It’s finding a space outside the strict gender binary that allows us to just be ourselves. From the outside that can look like transness or role playing. Hell, sometimes it is role playing! There’s nothing wrong with that. Not my thing, but there’s no harm in it.
The Nuanced Butch Character
I noticed a pattern as I read butch characters written by butch writers. First, they had emotions. Yes, they were typically stoic on the outside, but behind closed doors, with their lover, they expressed their emotions. They weren’t completely closed off and unavailable. Not only did they experience a range of emotions, they cried because they are human beings, not a cardboard cutout.
Second, even if they were the one to initiate sex, to be on top (literally or figuratively), they were not stone. They had a reciprocal sexual relationship with their partner. Note, I’m not saying there’s something wrong if someone doesn’t like to be touched. There’s a whole range of very valid reasons for this. My reason for pointing it out is that it’s a stereotype, one that messed with my head for a long time as well.
Third, they still identify as female in some way. Even my non-binary self has a connection to women. I’m not comfortable calling myself a woman, as that brings about a set of expectations that I don’t relate to at all. But it is still part of my community.
Butch Examples in Fiction
I do, however, have an excerpt from non-binary writer Kate Christie from her book, Outside the Lines: Book 3 of the Girls of Summer series. In this scene, Emma is asking her girlfriend Jamie about her gender.
“You said earlier that you love soccer because it doesn’t matter how you feel on the inside. Does that mean you feel different on the inside? Like, are you…?”
“Trans?” Jamie supplied. “Yeah, I fall under the umbrella. But I don’t feel like a man trapped in a woman’s body. I’m actually lucky because I love my body. It’s been good to me with soccer and everything else. I think I feel more like an androgynous person living as a woman, if that makes sense.”
What I love about this moment is that it explains what I feel so well. I don’t feel like a woman, but I live as a woman.
Another example, from my book A Marine Awakening, comes from Cam and Sharon’s first discussion on Cam’s gender expression. Cam wears men’s briefs, which Sharon discovered the first time they had sex, but several days passed before they discussed it.
“I don’t know how to ask this,” Sharon started, hesitantly. Cam’s stomach clenched waiting for her question. “Do you feel like a man? Is that what your ex reacted to?”
Cam released her breath and looked for the right words. “No. I just feel like Cam. When I think about being a man or a woman, neither seems to fit exactly. I just want to hang out in the middle somewhere. Wear the clothes I want, have the hair I want, and date people who are okay with that.”
Ultimately, isn’t that what we all want? To wear what we want. To date who we want. And ideally, not be judged for it.
Why do I care?
When I was a young butch trying to figure out just who I was, I didn’t have real role models. I had books like Stone Butch Blues, which definitely didn’t fit me. I had to figure it out as I went through life. Sometimes I’d try to meet stereotypical expectations but it wasn’t never for the better.
Emotional repression is dangerous and not the way to build a strong relationship with someone. Trying to meet the expectations of sexual aggressor can mean missing cues and being a worse lover for it. Limiting oneself to femmes because that’s all that’s allowed could mean missing out on an epic love.
And finally, here’s the truth. It hurts to hear people say that won’t read books about butches. They aren’t just rejecting a book, or a character, but my very being. They are saying I am not enough. That something is wrong with who I am. And frankly, that sucks.
And I have yet to have someone explain their reasoning without reverting to stereotypes that completely erase the vast variety of people that identify as butch or masculine of center. Many of those women aren’t going to listen to any of these words, but I hope this post shed a little light on the topic.