Understanding B-F Dynamics, a Comment Answered

Comment received from Lipstick Lady

“I’m a feminine (lipstick) lesbian, and I honestly don’t understand the whole femme/butch dynamic. I’m not attracted to men, and I’m not attracted to women who look like men, either. But that’s just me (and a couple of my friends in the community as well). My gay male friends don’t understand this, either, and I honestly can’t explain it to them. I always refer them to someone else when they ask.” (unedited)

Dear Readers, If you are Butch / Femme you have probably heard some version of this comment before.  I know that I have heard it enough around the web on occasion, but this time I want to try to see if I can help understand here. As a Butch lesbian when I hear comments like this one it kind of gets uncomfortably ignored.  Most of the time the uncomfortable topics often just make us Butches squirm and chew our nails, remaining silent in response.  Or we throw out the quick and irritated one liner.  I want to do neither of those things here this time.  Thus, the following blog is written with the very best of intentions to truly help LL understand the Butch lesbian identity a little bit, and maybe understand Butch-Femme dynamics in some small way at the same time.  All of this is strictly from my perspective of course.  This may not be exactly the same for every Butch out there, but I think there is some basic common ground where you will nod and get what I am trying to explain.  It’s a tough question, just how DO you explain a relationship and lifestyle to someone who honestly doesn’t understand yet would like to?  Let’s see how I do here…

Dear Lipstick Lady,

Well, none of us understand everything!  Don’t sweat it if you don’t, you don’t.  It’s cool.  And it really doesn’t matter as long as you are happy with whatever type you like to date. But, I would like to try to help you glean a little understanding, since we are both part of the same umbrella community of lesbians.  Just look around the community and you can see that there are as many kinds of lesbian “types” – or ways to define oneself – as there are donuts at Crispy Creme!

The Butch-Femme dynamic is just one way that lesbians have paired up as couples in our community.  It is also the one that has been around since basically the beginning of time, and in many ways used to be kind of the “standard” for old time lesbian relationships.  Sadly it’s also quite often more misunderstood than other less contrasting pairings of women.  And thus B-F couples are often criticized and heckled with the lame old things such as accusations that we, as B-F women in a relationship are trying to somehow mimic the heterosexual dynamic of male and female.  Some people see us in the light that one of us must be the “guy” and one is obviously the “girl” – something I tend to believe that you probably do see when you observe a B-F couple yourself. Hell, it gets joked about that way all the time.  We even joke with each other in fun about it.  And there is a part of the B-F community itself,  that identifies as Old Fashioned Old School (OFOS) Butch-Femme, who do more closely follow the patterns of heterosexual relationship models.  But not all B-F couples think of themselves in this manner, probably the majority really don’t follow most of the OFOS scenario. To each her own, because everyone has their own unique styles of being Butch or Femme and each their own ways of interacting with one another.  There are tons of ways to embody the B-F relationship, each has it’s own personality in my opinion.  

I think the biggest piece of Butch and Femme attraction to one another is the contrast, enjoying the “equal yet opposite” kind of idea.  We like that our partners provide us with different ways of being a woman, one more delicate embodying the more feminine essence of womanhood, and one more rough and tough, tomboyish, embodying the more masculine, yet still a woman.  There is a sensuality to the Butch lesbian that is attractive to many Femme lesbians; a way of bringing a bolder energy, that is generally more dominant yet also being vulnerable, but only really allowing her Femme partner access to that vulnerability behind the bedroom doors.  The Femme lesbian hold the keys to all things feminine between the couple usually, and only she can unlock that Pandora’s box of femininity that lies behind that rough Butch exterior.   She desires the Butch’s tree bark exterior knowing full well that there is a soft, smooth muscled woman’s body beneath that only she has the privilege of access.  The Butch loves all of those feminine ways of the Femme; ways that she herself cannot be.  Butch – Femme relationships are often called “The Dance” for it is a give and take of opposite desire in many ways; a way that one compliments the other.  This is very difficult to “explain”, I hope you will pardon my awkward – but genuine I assure you – attempt here!

Now, I don’t understand many relationship dichotomies either, but I always try to respect the choices of people as individuals deserving equal treatment and believe that we all should have a voice in our world. It’s a pretty well known thing that most of us who identify with the B-F lifestyle/dynamic don’t “get” it when two Femmes or two Butches date one another, but it’s cool with me if that is what makes them happy! Personally I do not date other Butch women, as I prefer the flair of the Femme type as a lover and partner in my life.  That’s just ME and my personal taste – just like you probably have a particular “look” or “style” you like in the women you choose to date or partner with in life.

It’s hard to explain to someone who has probably never had that kind of experience themselves. Kind of like you trying to make me understand how it “feels” in your body and brain to be feminine, (as you self-describe in your comment) or how feminine you feel in high heels, or why you apply make-up…I would NEVER “get” it! LOL (I know I have some of my readers dying laughing at me with that vision!) We don’t have to completely “understand” different dynamics, genres, types or kinds of lesbians and/or lesbian relationships, but I hope we can all respect our differences and still understand that we are all lesbians – despite of what “type” of woman each of us love – or how she might define herself – we all love women!

I wanted to directly address one part of your comment that bothered me a tad, but please do not take this as me giving you shit but I just wanted to clarify this a bit — I do not look like a man. I look like a Butch lesbian, which is what I really AM – a lesbian who is Butch. I don’t believe that you meant any harm by using that comment about “women who look like men”, but it’s a common misconception that we as Butches somehow “desire” to look like men, or even that we want to BE men, we do not. We are woman who also love woman, lesbians.  And if I wanted to be a man that would make me FTM (female to male transguy). And while do have FTM friends who I can relate to much of the time, and who I respect tremendously for their courage and authenticity in their own lives,  I am not FTM myself and I don’t want to be seen as the “man” in any relationship.  Now I get that I present in a very Butch way, having a really androgenous appearance and mannerisms, but I assure you I am all lesbian!  🙂

Yes, I’m a woman just like you with the same parts, but because it’s just me and the way I am; the way I carry myself, my parts aren’t perhaps as hmmm….for lack of a better word “accentuated”  as yours, being you are more feminine. I like sports bras instead of Victoria’s Secret ones; and I love my jeans as you perhaps love your beautiful dresses. My work boots are so comfortable, as I am sure your pretty heels – even though they make your feet hurt sometimes (and we Butches LOVE to see on your feet), are just as pretty in your opinion. And it’s all cool!! Just because we wear different clothing styles, or we walk different, and our hair is probably radically different lengths, etc… doesn’t make either one of us more or less woman or lesbian than the other.

I didn’t “ask” to be born Butch, any more than I “asked” to be born lesbian! It’s just the personality and body type I was born with I’m afraid. Took me many years to recognize myself without shame. I was never “girl” enough even as a child, often told I looked like a boy, acted like a boy and would make a “cute boy”…I just wanted to be ME, and just be liked for who I am. Hell, like most other Butches I “tried” to be more girly as a teenager for a while and it felt like I was dressing up for Halloween, or in some kind of school play! I felt like an imposter. It was not me. Just like maybe flannel shirts and work boots aren’t really your style? (I don’t know you personally, but as a self-described Feminine Lipstick lebian I am guessing you are quite comfortable and right at home in “pretty” things like dreses, high heels and make up. If I am wrong please forgive me, but that’s my personal “bias” about how a Lipstick lesbian may be comfortable in presenting to the world.)

As a kind of thrown in side note here, historically, in many ways, B-F’s were the sort of “pioneers” of today’s more modern and diverse lesbian culture. The history of the Butch-Femme culture is quite fascinating. I encourage you to perhaps do some reading – there are quite a few really great books by authors like Ivan E. Coyote, S. Bear Bergman and others that would probably help you understand it a bit better than I could ever do here.  Ivan is my favorite lesbian author and is just incredible.  She reads many of her works aloud on Youtube usually filmed when she does public appearances.  Not meaning that you have to “participate” in any kind of way, but I believe that for each of us to understand and support others in their own preferences is a good thing for our community, and having some kind of understanding of those who are different from us is always a good thing for everyone concerned.

I would like to say Thank You for commenting, and for inspiring me to actually think about this and give you my own personal feedback. I have heard similar statements of course during my life, but I have never actually taken the initiative to really give a personal reply. I enjoyed the thought process writing to you, of having to think about how I could help you understand – and maybe even give you some insight into the things this brings up for a Butch lesbian when brought into conversation. It’s not that it brings up negative feelings or opinions, but that it’s like trying to explain why you are attracted to women to say a very straight woman and have her really understand what you are trying to convey. It’s the old “why did the chicken cross the road” sort of question, we all have varying answers based upon so tremendously many things! So, yeah this was fun and thought provoking to write. I hope that you will actually write me back and let me know what you think now; did this help you to understand maybe even a little bit better? Or did I totally miss the mark and just confuse you?

I also would like to extend the invitation to my fellow Butch and Femme identified readers here, for you to give me your best shot at helping Lipstick Lady understand the Butch-Femme dynamic. I would particularly love to hear from a Femme on this for her, so she has a Femme’s idea to compare with mine as a Butch.  You have all read my response and this drawn out attempt to help her understand, what did you think about what I said? Comments? Additions? Rebuttals?

Odd thought to end….I wonder how a real writer who identifies also as Butch, such as the famous Ivan E Coyote, would approach this? And in what way could she help LL understand better? LOL…Yeah I guess I just put Ivan on a pedestal, calling her a “real” writer.  Although I am sure some of you are also in that catagory as published writers, too. I am more referring to Ivan’s skilled knack at writing stories about her tomboy past, Butch identity, and her struggles to be true to herself…she shares so much in her stories, often things that resonate with me in my own experiences growing up Butch. Just a thought…perhaps I shall drop her an email and ask – LOL like she’d answer me!

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B-F Question…Hardest Blog I EVER wrote!

This could be the most difficult blog I have ever undertaken!  I know, right up front, that I will probably get a lot of backlash for this. The topic is VERY difficult to write about without using stereotypes and words that we don’t necessarily “like” to use, but in order to write it I could not find a way NOT to resort to using the stereotypes.  I hope you will read first, and understand I am really trying to explain MY concept of answering this often-asked question. I am not intending to insult or disrespect ANYONE in any way, shape or form.  And I have tried to very delicately explain that this is just MY take on this topic, and is NOT the rule, may not be agreeable to anyone else. I am being very basic here, believe me we ALL KNOW there’s more to it than these basics, but for the sake of writing this piece I think I have to keep it to the old basic “stereotypes” for better understanding by a wider audience, please allow me a little lee-way here!  I would LOVE to see others write about this question and how they would answer it that is different from my thoughts below.  

The last post where i posed the question about Femme-Butch dynamics and the question about “why are Femme lesbians attracted to Butch lesbians, why not just date a man?” has spurred some very interesting and varying comments and input from my readers and Youtube audience. I love it! I like hear other peoples’ opinions and what they might say in return to the same question, opposed to what I would say myself.  It’s always great to get different perspectives and angles on any subject that interests me. 

I am going to boil down my answer to the question.  

My simple answer is “Well, they are both Lesbians, and lesbians are women who are attracted and have intimate, sexual relationships with other women.”

Now the particulars are in the pudding of the question.  The “asker” (if asked seriously by someone who truly doesn’t understand the Butch-Femme relationship dynamic and is truly curious for an answer. For sake of argument imagine someone close to you, who you love and respect asking you this question in all seriousness) sees two women, one very feminine, “girly” looking, and one very masculine, rougher, “boyish” looking.  He/she wonders “why would a woman would want to be with another woman who LOOKS like a man, why not just be with a man if that’s what you like”.  It may sound screwed up to us inside the equation; those in the LGBTQ community, and especially those of us who live the Butch-Femme dynamic daily.  But let’s just look at what the “asker” is seeing and why the question isn’t always so “stupid” when asked seriously and with respect.

The “asker” sees the Butch as more of a “man” than as the woman that she truly is. Maybe it is her clothing, perhaps haircut, rougher hands, short nails, and the way she is read as very male much of the time. Maybe it’s the way she talks, the way she carries herself, that Butch swagger, the tattoos, or the steel toe boots.  Whatever the “asker” sees that leads them to wonder what woman would be attracted to a woman of Butch identity,  

This can and does confuse those who are not part of the LGBTQ community, (and even some who ARE part of our community).  What the “asker” doesn’t see are her soft heart, her compassion, her personality, the fact that she IS a woman, has female body parts and has experienced life as a woman – a Butch woman.  

The Femme she is dating embodies all of the more “Feminine” aspects of being female. She presents to the world much the same way that most non-Butch women present, as purely woman.  She may look “straight” (The old, “oh you can’t be a lesbian, you are too pretty!” scenario), may wear make up and have a well coiffed hairdo, long painted nails and wear much more colorful and stylish clothing.  

Femmes love the masculine energy of a Butch woman.  They love that she IS a woman, and that she is rough and tumble on the outside, but has a heart of gold, is caring, compassionate, tender, vulnerable to only her, and understands her in ways no other does.

As A Butch myself, I love the Feminine energy of a Femme woman. I love that she likes to look her best, not just for me, but every day when she step out that door. I love that she cries on my shoulder during sappy movies, the way her soft, smooth hand fits so good inside of my rough one.  I love the smell of her hair, she chose that scented shampoo just because she knew I would like it – and I would TELL her so.  I love that she gets honery, stomps her heels and would fight off the whole population of the women’s rest room just so I could piss in peace.  Yes, I could go on, but it’s those opposing forces that drive us as Butches and Femmes into each other’s arms.  It’s my need for Femme energy and her need for my Butch energy in the end that brings us together as a unit.

So in the end my basic answer to a serious asker, is that Femmes are attracted to the attributes of masculinity that are embodied by a Butch WOMAN.  It’s the fact that she IS a woman that is appealing in her masculinity. It’s the way she has her own style and way of carrying masculinity that particular way that she does.  It’s about 2 women loving one another, and their preference is for the more opposite of what they are themselves, because that energy appeals to them; speaks to their soul.   

Side notes:  Of course we all know that in the end relationships come down to personality and how well the two participants get along.  Over our life times our tastes go through a range of changes, morphing into new phases and new likes/dislikes along the way.  My example is me….In my 20’s I was very much looking at the prettiest girls, the “10’s” as we used to call them. I was into how a woman looked, I was young, eager and maybe a bit shallow.  At 30 I matured. Who cares about a few extra pounds anyway?  I began to date women who made me laugh, who I enjoyed the company of and who were not just arm candy.  I fell in love with a wonderful, intelligent, witty, cute and sexy woman that I would not have given a second look to at 25!  She captured my heart and soul for 14 years…At 50 I am now interested in people; yes mostly very Femme women are my preference.  But they have to be intelligent, have a great sense of humor, be tolerant, caring, compassionate, and a dozen other things that I never thought about back in the days of hunting the 10’s.  I see the inside goods as well as the wrapping, and I am most interested in a combination of the two – a woman who likes to look her best, and is smart as a whip!  (she can even OWN a whip! lol).  I don’t think about sex first anymore, I think about what we each have to offer the other in ways of partnership, companionship and THEN sex!  🙂  

 

Femmes