(I have about had it with being scorned for identifying as Butch….dammit. ~ MainelyButch)
“It isn’t an elapsed time since birth, sometimes, but the elapsed-time-since-rebirth since one’s heart and, not incidentally, loins make themselves known” (S. Bear Bergman, “Butch is a Noun” Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010)
I hear the words all the time “we are all just lesbians, with tits and vaginas and we like other lesbians, we don’t need and shouldn’t use labels”. It is an oft repeated and misused cry of not belonging; of not knowing where one belongs or how one identifies. Maybe it is shield used as a defense, as a place to hide and think that they are not judged or seen as anything but just lesbian or gay. They claim to walk a line of indifference, not aligning with any one group. But when you ask who they are they will tell you perhaps “Irish, English and Hispanic” or any other ethnic or cultural background. Why they are afraid to also find an identifying place under the vast LGBT umbrella, I do not know or understand. I don’t understand them not identifying with something as much as they claim not to understand my identifying as Butch. I am sure the topic will continue to be debated and chewed apart at every opportunity, so here is my take on the topic .
There are some in the LGBT community that speak harshly about the labels and identifiers that others of us use in our choice of vocabulary. They rebuke the use of any labels, claiming it sets us back and divides us somehow, and I deny no one their own opinions at all. Noteably, I have noticed this especially true of the Butch, Stud, and Femme identifiers. Somehow others feel, or seem to feel, threatened by the words themselves. Do they stir up images unkind to the mind of those who do not understand them? Is it that not understanding our worlds as they are known to us and us alone that frightens them somehow; that makes them want to take away our words for ourselves? Do they see it as some attempt to make them identify too?
I hear the often verbalized words, “labels, I don’t identify with any label” and “labels are for soup cans” – which is true because the label helps you choose your favorite kind of soup, as our identifiers help us find those and find those which we favor in flavor. Without those soup can labels you may be wind up eating cream of mushroom, when you really wanted tomato and basil. Those soup can labels have a vital purpose, to delineate our choices; as do our chosen labels and identifications. It’s good to know when another identifies such as I do, to know we have a comraderie and that we possibly have similar thought patterns and likes or dislikes. It gives me and others a place of belonging, where we can openly be the style of whatever label best fits us, and gives us guidance to be the best we can be.
Butch – Femme has given a rich, rich contribution to LGBT history. There is no actual handbook on Butch-Femme contributions, no handbook of how or why we choose this lifestyle. (*although there are many good reads which I will list after this piece) Many say we are mimicking the heterosexual norms. But I say that we all live by examples absorbed from childhood experiences and life knowledge. My role models were a very solid heterosexual set of parents, my mother embodying the strength and fortitude of a strong Femme – something I now seek in my own partners. And my father the epitomy of masculinity, strong and true gritted, someone I emulated and strove to be like all my life. I knew from a young age that I was lesbian, and that I was decidedly Butch. There was never ever a question in my mind. Yes, I knew I was/am female, with a female body and all the appropriate birth parts, but my mind was something different than other female minds. My mind was influenced by higher testosterone levels as a natural occurrence, as well as being surrounded by high levels of testosterone based people such as my father. I am sure the combination has much to do with who I am as a Butch today. I know it has much to do with how I treat a woman – in the absolute best and most respectful ways possible, coveting her femininity and softness as something I want desperately in my life – but beside me, not inside me.
You can scorn my use of the Butch identifier all day long. I shrug it off because I know you do not really understand – either me or the word itself. It’s simply due to that understanding that you feel you need to rebuff my attempts to belong to my own group. You may not know where you belong, you may fell trapped in limbo and wish you could figure yourself out as I have done with myself. Perhaps it’s that you envy my guts for having the fortitude and foresight to really know who I am and where I fall in the binary scale of feminine and masculine. My clarity is palpable, and this scares many. For without fear they would not scorn. Scorn itself is quite simply born of fear and not knowing. It is natural to fear the unknown, the unthinkable and the different.
Perhaps one day they will allow themselves to find their own people, to identify as someone who is part of a group, whether that is simply the human group, or a specified group, race, creed, heritage, kind of group, they belong somewhere, and others no right to deny anyone else of belonging, of identifying and of living as they choose to live.
As a stone butch I cannot identify with the straight up lesbian label. It does not fit me. My ideas of relationships with other women, sex and being are not the same as someone who is middle of the road, sort of what I call the granola lesbian. She may feel neither feminine nor masculine. She just likes women; is into same sex relationships and is happy to just be herself, however that manifests for her. Personally, I tried to identify with that variance for many years, actually to the point of doing much unnecessary and deep emotional harm to myself in the process. Because it was not and is not how I am wired. I am wired hard Butch. The masculine wire in my brain is much thicker, more of a pipe than a wire, than the thin thread of femininity.
Yes, I am woman. I shall never deny that fact. I was born a girl. I have girl parts. I do not see them in the same way as others much of the time. The feminine feels uncomfortable and wrong for me personally. Yes, I toy with gender, I allow my own natural masculinity to shine through, I do not stifle it or tone it down one iota. As I will not be or try to be anyone that I am not. I am who I feel inside that I am, and I am proud to be Butch. Proud to recognize my Butch-ness and let it control me and continue to make me exactly as intended. No, I did not learn Butch from anyone. I did not learn masculinity, but I did emulate and strive to be the good parts of masculine. The one difference between men and Butches is just that, we can inhabit the masculine in ways that are comfortable, not forced. Men may be made, a virtual fact of nature, but Butches are born, absorbing that which is right for each of them personally and leaving the crap right on the floor – the macho attitude, the underlying tilt toward more internal anger, violence and anything remotely negative about being wired as a biological man.
So, in wrapping this up, I stand firmly in my Butch boots. I cannot explain to someone who just doesn’t get it that this IS just me, this IS who I am and no one has any right – or reason – to question that or to challenge it in any form. All I can hope is that with time and experience that every person finds who they really are inside and allows themselves to freely recognize that, to revel in it as I do and to be the happiest they can be by being just who they are in life.
I harbor no ill feelings towards those who rebuff my gender, my sexuality or my identification. I do not always agree with their styles or choice either, but I keep mum generally and I only ask for them to learn tolerance, respect and to live and let live, as I do with them in mutual respect. I will not force my labels upon them, and they hopefully will not force their opinions of labels on me. It doesn’t matter anyways, I am just Butch. And this Butch is strong, resilient and knows who she is at her core.
“Butch is a Noun” 2006, 2010 by S. Bear Bergman, Arsenal Pulp Press
“Missed Her” 2010, stories by Ivan E. Coyote, Arsenal Pulp Press
“Dagger” 1994 by Cleis Press Inc. Edited by Lily Burana, Roxxie, Linnea Duc
“Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme” edited by Ivan E. Coyote and Zena Sharman, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2011
“Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity” 2006 edited by Matt Bernstein Sycamore, aka Mattilda, Seal Press
“Butch/Femme: New Considerations of the Way We Want to Go” 2002 Edited by Michelle Gibson, Deborah T Meem….co published simultaneously as “Journal of Lesbian Studies” Vol. 6 Number 2. Harrington Park Press
“Butch/Femme: Inside Lesbian Gender” 1998 edited by Sally R. Munt, Cassell, London/Washington