Multitudes

The other day, I was chatting with a friend, one of the few people I work with who is a friend more than a colleague. She is a straight, cis woman an a true ally to the LGBTQIA+ community. Her support and unconditional acceptance of me have made it safe and comfortable for me to talk openly with her about my gender identity in a way that I don’t with most others. So while we were laughing together about some meaningless absurdity that I no longer recall, I flippantly commented that whatever thing we were laughing at (I think some extreme fashion accessory) would “lose me my Butch card” if I wore it. We laughed and the conversation moved on. But a little later she asked me more seriously what “Butch” meant to me, if it was more than my fashion style.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked to describe what “Butch” means to me, to define the concept authoritatively. And since this conversation with my friend, I’ve seen multiple posts and articles online and overheard several other conversations among others that attempt to do this, some for themselves, others for the world at large. I didn’t attempt an answer for my friend, merely saying that it was a big topic and maybe we should try to cover that sometime when we weren’t at work.

But the question and topic have been running around in my head ever since, and I have some thoughts on it. The subject seems to hold a particular fascination for people.  As with so much in the human experience, this identity captivates people most because of the mystery, ambiguity surrounding it. Humans crave to know a thing. And when we can’t easily encapsulate it in a tidy description, the mystery grows and our thirst to know escalates.

The trouble is, all who are “Butch” are individual; we aren’t a monolith with uniform surfaces and symmetrical dimensions. Each unique person brings their own flavor and flair to this identity. There are commonalities, sure. And there are shared experiences among many who wear this name. But no one true definition will work for all.

“Butch” is as much the way we move through the world experiencing the highs and lows as any human of any identity, but engaging with those experiences from the vantage point of one who occupies multiple dimensions at once. Many of us enjoy male privilege to varying degrees due to the odd confluence of our outward appearance and the assumptions of careless observers who automatically file us away as “men” or “male” in their heads based on our clothes or hair alone. This privilege, however slight and fleeting, colors our view of the other identities we occupy.

For me, ‘passing’ as male up to a third of the time (by my rough, unscientific estimation) has tempered my understanding of being a woman, a queer, and a Latina. Other women of my acquaintance who are also queer Latinas, but are more feminine-presenting, for example, have experienced significantly more discrimination and non-acceptance in traditionally male-dominated situations (i.e. job interviews, professional advancement) than I have, though we are equally matched in qualifications. However, these same feminine queer Latinas are fare more successful in more female-identified roles or circumstances (i.e. socializing, attraction politics, fund-raising, etc.)

This unscientific observation of a very limited population of my own acquaintances is not an adequate foundation on which to base an all-encompassing thesis of the “Butch” experience. I offer it as an illustration of one dimension of how the surface of this identity may influence the deeper, more nuanced components of life as a queer Butch woman.

Ultimately, there is no one right answer for everyone to describe what it means to be “Butch”. There is only one answer for each Butch – the one that that Butch gives or makes for her/their/his self at any given moment.

When I speak of “Butch” identity, I speak of a queer identity that I wear in my very essence.  It unites energy and intention and attraction and the soul-deep knowledge of a place between the strata of sex and sexuality and gender and gender expression foreign to those who have never struggled with this in-between. It unites these ephemeral things with a physical aesthetic built from more than hair and clothing styles, but also from a unique embodiment of masculinity, chivalry and gentility. I speak for myself alone. But I know others for whom this will resonate. I also know others for whom this is not even close to their experience of “Butch”. Understand this before reading further.

 

Ok, ready? Good.

 

My answer for what “Butch is includes an affinity for bow ties and Oxford ankle boots, a quiet confidence in my skill as a professional, and a soft, generous heart that longs to be important to someone who cherishes that gentility and chivalry.  It includes a fierce desire to nurture and grow an emotional bond with an intelligent, ambitious, humorous and kind woman looking for those same qualities in a “Butch” package unlikely to ever meet any standard for superficial attractiveness.

My definition of “Butch” encompasses an appreciation for physical femininity, curves and delicacy and loveliness that are not confined to any one body type or size, but made evident by her confident embrace of her own nature. It responds to the presence of this feminine energy wherever it occurs, regardless if it is packaged in the form of a girlish figure in a pretty sun dress or the image of a powerful body doing manual labor in rough work clothes, or in a soft, round body in nothing but the rumpled folds of a bed sheet on a lazy Sunday morning.

The “Butch” I embody shows regard for the one I’m with in small gestures of care-taking; held doors, fetched drinks, smiles and soft touches. It acknowledges that she can do it all without assistance, but offers help for the joy of being helpful to she whose regard I seek. My “Butch” energy seeks to empower, not impose, to lift and hold, not constrain.

My definition of “Butch” includes some less-lovely characteristics, like shy awkwardness, body insecurity and a tendency to self-criticize. But my “Butch” self also is committed to self-knowledge and self-improvement, constantly reaching for a better way to engage with people and emotions and concepts that shape our world.

There is no neat, one-line answer to what “Butch” is to me or to anyone. It is more than my clothes, more than my sexual attraction, more than my impulse to care-taking, more than my snark and wit and vocabulary.  It is all of that and all of what that is not.

“Butch” is complex and nuanced and messy.

“Butch” is multitudes in one.

“Butch” is my gender and my being.

“Butch” is me.

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5 comments so far

  1. Widdershins on

    Yep! 😀 … all of the above!!! 😀

  2. Amy on

    Woah – love this! Gorgeous writing, intoxicating description, inspiring message. (By the way, this is Amy of a couple of former blogs and social media, currently YouTube and my just-renamed blog.)

  3. Robin on

    Hi, I would like to put a link to this on my website http://www.jrobinwhitley.net. May I?

    • Searching4Self2013 on

      Thanks for asking. Yes you may. I’m glad you found something that speaks to you.


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