Symposium #2: Butch Stereotypes, Cliches, and Misconceptions

Today I’m working on answering this question from, a fantastic sight run by my dear friend, Mr. Sinclair Sexmith. I really value conversations about identity in general (except when I feel over processed of course, haha), and am so stoked about what this particular site has to offer to masculine identified folks and their allies.

On to the questions:

What do people think “butch” means? What are the stereotypes around being butch?

When I was very young, and just coming out as a dyke, my mother was afraid I’d be one of those ‘butch’ lesbians. When I asked her what she meant by that she said, “You know, a woman who looks like a man! They are aggressive, and will try to take advantage of you too. Don’t be like them and don’t hang out with them. Please!”

Now, I love my mother, but this is not one of her finer moments. In addition to being totally untrue and stereotyping statements, it really scared my baby butch self. For years, I was afraid to appear masculine; I struggled with feminine gender presentation, referred to myself as a ‘lesbian’, and felt totally…awkward.

I also grew up in a conservative town, where any woman seen as not being feminine (i.e. passive, submissive, quiet, etc) was sometimes referred to as ‘butch.’ This word was bad, it meant nasty, un-feminine, not to be trusted, disgusting. The women labeled thus were often not even masculine gender presenting. Many were outspoken, domineering, in charge of something in their fields of work, or simply unmarried.

In the gay community, I think that stereotypes of butch-ness exist too. Specifically in communities where there may not be a lot of masculine gender presenting folks. Again, for me, this looks like the towns where I grew up. There was a lot of ‘dabbling in butchness’ going on. People just barely sticking their toes into the masculine gender presenting pool, afraid of being seen as butch but unable to control it, and judgment of these presentations ran rampant. People in the bar (not that I had a fake-id or anything)  would openly state that they ‘didn’t want to date butch girls’ etc.

What do people assume is true about you [or the masculine of center folks in your life], but actually isn’t?

Often assumptions about me include, that I am a either straight or gay identified cisgendered man. Most folks, I don’t think, even get so far as to examine what could be my butch identity. This is frustrating, but understandable being that I am a mostly post-transition male presenting transman. Though this is sometimes frustrating, I also get it.

Another assumption is, (if people are aware of my identity as a butch at all) that I am not faggy, or shouldn’t be faggy in any way. I’ve seen this play our around other masculine of center (butch folks) in my life, community as well. Just like other identities, we know that being butch is complex, its fluid, and its not meant to be trapped in a box. Identities like, Dandy Butch, or Faggy Butch are really discounted, and sometimes put down. I think that folks have a hard time processing a complex identity, even in the queer community.

What image or concept do you constantly have to correct or fight against? How do you feel about these misconceptions?

As far as my butch identity is concerned, I think most people who are aware of my transness, assume that I was butch identified before transition and am now not. This is not the case, and can be hurtful to me sometimes. Being a butch is a very important part of my identity. I really value interactions with people that respect that part of me, just as anyone would about an important part of who they are.

How do you deal with them? Do you respond to these stereotypes or clichés? How?

When confronted with a stereotype about my identity (whichever part it may be) I try to be compassionate to the sterotyper. I (try to) assume that other people are good as often as possible. It is difficult, of course, to bring up an incident where I’m feeling hurt, but if I do, I assume that the other person is probably just unaware. Usually this has been the case, and when I say, actually I am butch (or I never stopped being butch), the assumption is dropped, or at least the conversation changes. I love having discussions with people about how it is that I am still butch and am a man (as long as these discussions can be respectful on both sides of course).

I think that continuing a dialogue with people about identity (butchness) is important. I definitely become complacent sometimes, tired of fighting for my identity to be seen in a complete way, etc. Also, I’m not perfect at getting and understanding everyone else’s identities right away either. I do, think that these questions are so thoughtful and important, and are a really positive step in keeping this kind of dialogue open!

I’m sure I have more to say, and will definitely be participating in more symposiums.  But for right now, I am ignoring a Monday morning rush at work.



12 thoughts on “Symposium #2: Butch Stereotypes, Cliches, and Misconceptions

  1. I love that you touched on the complexities of masculinity, and the many categories there are to define ourself within or outside of. I’d love to do another butch/trans conversation too, I think of that last one frequently. Thanks for writing for the Symposium!

  2. Pingback: Symposium #2: Stereotypes, Cliches, and Misconceptions | Butch Lab « This Side of Changed

  3. I love that you’re participating in the Symposium. I love that you’re trans and claim butch as part of your identity. It seems absurd to me, being married to a transman, that there is such an attitude of either/or in so many queer circles about transitioning and leaving butch behind. Absurd or not, it exists, and the more we talk about it, the more we will be able to make room for us all.

    Lovely post, thank you!

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  6. I’m interested in how you write about being afraid of masculinity as a young dyke, because I think in some ways I’ve had an opposite experience. When I was coming to understand my sexuality, I felt like in order to be a real dyke I needed to be more masculine, wear carhartts more often, and have the short haircut — or at least I needed those things in order to be more visible and get dates. But then I realized how that didn’t feel like me — and worst (if the point was to get dates — and what other point is there when you’re 19?), I wasn’t attracting the people I wanted to. Claiming a femme identity (which I’m still very much in the process of) has been part of my understanding of gender and sexuality as separate, though connected parts of myself.

    Also, I really appreciate your writing about how being butch and being trans are not mutually exclusive for you. I think that often in queer discourse butch and trans get pitted against each other, ignoring the complicated ways that they form individuals’ experiences. Thank you.

  7. Pingback: Butchlab Symposium Roundup « Letters from Titan

  8. I get tired of fighting sometimes, as well. I’m just now learning that it’s ok not to fight sometimes. Thank you for your perspective on this subject and for pointing out that the many categories we put ourselves in are not mutually exclusive.

  9. Pingback: Butch Lab Symposium #2, the round up | Butchtastic

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  11. I love that you (and others) are speaking out against the stereotype/taboo against butch-on-butch* attraction. That probably goes back to bias against gay men, and the idea of masculinity as being more valid (or maybe only valid) when paired up with femininity. Reading your post and the others makes me feel a lot less alone in my way of being.

    “it really scared my baby butch self. For years, I was afraid to appear masculine; I struggled with feminine gender presentation, referred to myself as a ‘lesbian’, and felt totally…awkward.” I can really relate to this. Butch was my first queer identity, as a teen but by my early 20s, I was in college and butch was seen in a pretty negative light. My mom was also not very supportive of my masculinity. Attempts to fold myself down into a feminine presentation have not gone well.

    The formerly-butch-now-trans-so-no-longer-butch assumption is at times true. I’ve known some former butch friends who adamantly rejected any indication of their former identity. I used to think that was the way of things. Luckily, I’ve had a chance to meet and learn from a larger pool of people and know that there are many ways to be butch. I love it.

    (*where butch could be any masculine-of-center identity)

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