Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Butch Symposium: Butch Stereotypes

 This is the second edition of the Butch Symposium going on at Butch Lab, created by Sugarbutch.

"What do people think “butch” means? What are the stereotypes around being butch? What do people assume is true about you [or about your masculine of center friends], but actually isn’t? What image or concept do you constantly have to correct or fight against? How do you feel about these misconceptions? How do you deal with them? Do you respond to these stereotypes or cliches? How?"

Butches hate men.  Butches drive motorcycles.  Butches wear leather jackets.  Butches are the “man” in the relationship and perform all the “male” duties.  Butches work with their hands.  Butches aren’t intellectuals.  Butches can only have short hair in a men’s style.  Butches like beer and sports.  Butches are mean.  Butches cannot access their feelings.  Butches want to be men.  Butches will only date Femmes and do not date other Butches.  Butches are (always) the sexually dominant ones.  Butches only wear masculine attire.  Butches under the age of thirty do not exist.

        I think the very first assumption is that if you’re a woman who presents masculine of center, is that you must be a lesbian.  This is perhaps true a lot of the time, due to homosexual being “alternative” there is more room for gender expression in that community.  But as Franky Fitzgerald of the new Skins generation has shown us, one does not have to love girls to feel most comfortable wearing masculine attire.  Assumptions specifically about me are tough due to my soft butch look.  More people would rather assume I am like them, straight and gender normative, than see me as I truly am and present.  

        The assumption that strikes me the most is that Butches cannot be intellectuals.  When I look at the representations of Butches in the media, I cringe.  A Butch can’t be a doctor, or a lawyer, and if she’s a professor she’s a women’s studies professor.  

        Any misconceptions I hear about butch women I personally respond back to, but I’m afraid I’m not brought into those discussions.  I present “normal” enough, which means I’m “safe”, which also means I don’t provoke those types of questions.  And it bugs me.  I want to get into the fight.  I want to support my Butch brothers and sisters.

I finish answering these questions with a question of my own.  What is that line between “normal” presenting and “Butch” presenting?  Or what has it been for you guys?  


  1. I so agree with you about the intellectual thing. Seems like we are *almost* able to be presented in mainstream media if we're working class, but any sort of higher learning is almost confusing. I wonder if people like Rachel Maddow are changing that, on the whole?

    Thanks for this. Good questions too ... I'm not sure how to answer about the difference between "normal" (by which I assume you mean culturally acceptable?) and butch presentations ... I present as butch so I am fully over that line, at least in recent years. Most of the time it doesn't make much of a difference, but sometimes I definitely get eyed sideways a little too much. Rarely has it ever come to any sort of confrontation, though I do live in NYC.

  2. "I present “normal” enough, which means I’m “safe”, which also means I don’t provoke those types of questions. And it bugs me. I want to get into the fight. I want to support my Butch brothers and sisters."

    I so get that--I'm femme, so invisible as a lesbian to both straights and gays. But it's my fight too, both for myself and my butch partner. I guess it just means we have to be more vocal. :)

  3. Sinclair, I think the Rachel Maddow key in this is that, although she has self-identified as butch (and definitely dresses more stereotypically butch around town than on the show), the fact that is IS so intellectual, eloquent, and gorgeous on camera discredits her butchness. I don't think most people who aren't already thinking about butch really see that.

    For me, I definitely had a phase during and just post-college where I wanted to be perceived as more butch. Mostly, I just wanted to be more visible as queer to get more dates. Unfortunately, I discovered that as much as I like to sleep with women (and genderqueers, and transmen) and get my hands dirty, I actually love dressing up feminine. I also found that my short, masculine haircut got me MORE male attention, not less (and as I was working retail at the time, it was very noticeable). I've since found my way to my own mix of what feels comfortable and looks good -- short hair, but a chic femme cut, etc. I'm more comfortable showing off my femme side now that I'm in a relationship with someone who is more obviously queer, because it means that I'm not as invisible.

  4. "A Butch can’t be a doctor, or a lawyer, and if she’s a professor she’s a women’s studies professor."

    Or a Physical Education teacher.

    I agree with you on this. It seems that society has a difficult time accepting the fact that we can be intellectuals. I wonder what that's about.

  5. I'm not sure where software developer and technologist lands as far as intellectuals or not. I think the stereotype is that butches are more likely to be working class, or coaches/PE teachers, etc. Which I think means the larger society doesn't want to have to take us seriously. If 'they' have to accept that we can be highly intelligent, articulate individuals, they might have to pay attention to us, look us in the eye, agree that our lives have merit. Marginalizing via stereotypes is an old tactic for keeping the weirdos down.

    Like Sinclair, I have a hard time answering the question about 'normal' vs. 'butch presenting'... I think it's been so long since I was normal, that what I do does feel normal to me. My GF Roxy can testify to the fact that I don't even notice the attention I get sometimes for being so obviously not 'normal'. If there's a line, I crossed it a long time ago and left it in the rearview mirror.