butch · butch/femme · femme · lesbian

Butch?

There has been a lot of discussion amongst those I follow on twitter about what a Butch is. Is it my place to write this? I’m not sure. I don’t think I have the words. I actually don’t think butches have the words either. We need to work on creating our own lesbian language. Especially since we seem to be loosing what little language we have that is truly ours.

In postmodern “queer” speak, something a I have come to detest, a butch is a “masculine of centre” woman. Not necessarily a lesbian. Hell, not even necessarily female!! It’s all heterosexual word salad bullshit really. Just like they have taken the word “femme” and confused it with “feminine performance” or whatever. I’m here to set the record straight (or, more correctly, not-straight!!). Butches and Femmes are both LESBIANS!!!! i.e. females who are born lesbians, our defining attribute being our homosexual orientation. Also, butch and femme are not gender speak terms. They do not correlate with “femininity” and “masculinity”, which are STRAIGHT constructs and WE ARE NOT STRAIGHT!!! We need to move beyond heterosexual language and culture and THINK FOR OURSELVES ABOUT OURSELVES!!!

Okay, so, what defines butch? I will do my best at explaining what I can from my own perspective as a femme. I do not claim to speak for butches, this is just my experience from knowing and loving them. One in particular, who I have been in a relation with for 16 years <3. Butch is the flip side of femme. It isn’t a case of “opposites attract”, we aren’t opposites or oppositional. We are both female, both lesbians. This isn’t a straight man/woman dichotomy here. To understand you need to think outside the heterosexual box.

The controversy seems to be, if we are going to look at butch as an objective descriptor, how do we tell a butch from a dyke? Well, butches and femmes know, but no-one else seems to.  I am really struggling to find words here. What is that something, that knowing? that recognition, even if it’s online from a photo and writing?

Butches are not read by the straight gaze as being woman/female/feminine. They are often mistaken for men and some find this distressing, some see it as a source of pride. Every butch has a similar experience of the straight world and, being individuals, they react differently. My lover has diagnosed social anxiety disorder and spends most of her life hiding. Other butches are outgoing and wear their butch identity like armour, moving through the world with an air of confidence that may or may not be felt below the surface. All butches experience, to some degree, what is now known as “gender dysphoria”. Some dykes do also, but not all.

To femmes they are everything, the source of our desire and passion. There is an erotic, sexual, electric fire between us. Finding the right butch for us, our other half, and falling in love is the most powerful feeling any human can possibly know.

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4 thoughts on “Butch?

  1. I swear I’m not trying to be confrontational, but there are so many things I don’t get about these definitions that I really need to ask 🙂

    I read both your and Dirt’s description of what a butch is and, well, that’s definitely what I am, except for being a femme counterpart and being attracted to femmes. I completely understand the historical context behind these ways of being lesbians, and I reject the idea that these are ways of mocking straight couples, so I know that it’s not about the trite cliche of masculine needs feminine. I also completely agree that we need to find our own language to describe our own unique experiences (and who we are!) as lesbians. Still: why this very specific subdivision? What other kinds of lesbians are out there? Why should a specific type of lesbian we are attracted to determine the type of lesbians we are?

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  2. Okay, I’m now sitting on my balcony with my feet up, heat bag on my back and a glass of wine. So I can actually relax and think about my answer.
    We see butch/femme as a whole, i.e. one goes with the other. It is a defining characteristic of who we are, but also a descriptor of the nature of our desire and our relationship dynamics. Without that what are we? There are lesbians who are read as being “feminine’ who desire other “feminine” lesbians (not as many as TV shows would suggest), but they are NOT femmes. Being half of butch/femme, having that particular desire, that roaring blaze, is what we are. So, do femmes date femmes? I’d say hell no, that’s not what a femme is.
    So, in theory, if I wasn’t partnered with my soul mate (the only lesbian I want) and I was looking for a potential partner or even one night stand, I would always preference a butch over a dykes and there would literally have to be no dykes or butches left on earth before I’d consider having sex with a “feminine” lesbian. Like I said in my post, think of it as a scale of attraction from a small match to raging bushfire (no pun intended ;P. It’s the Australian word for “forest fire’).
    So, what do I think about lesbians identifying as “butch” even though they’re primarily attracted to lesbians who they perceive as being “butch”.?
    Well, if you replace “butch” in the above sentence with “femme”, I’d say HELL NO!
    It just seems that if a defining characteristic of “femme” is primarily being attracted to butches; shouldn’t a defining characteristic of “butch” be primarily being attracted to femmes? My partner is butch, it is part of what defines her as butch. She doesn’t find dykes or butches attractive in the slightest. Seriously, for her it’s only marginally less horrifying than the prospect of having sex with a man!! To us, that is because she is butch and butches are attracted to “feminine” females, more specifically lesbians, and even more specifically, femmes. Again, match -> bushfire. We only ever experience a roaring blaze with each other. Gosh I hope that makes sense!!!
    So, in my mind, primary femme attraction is a defining characteristic.
    Why do we have these distinctions? Well, why does any culture have it’s own terms, it’s a way of describing who/what we are to ourselves and those around us. These terms make sense to us and using them is both self recognition and part of healing feelings of shame/isolation/dysphoria. To loose the objective definition of these terms is to loose an ability to be able to self recognise and self describe what we are. Take meaning away from a word and it means nothing, it no longer holds any power.
    I’m not telling you how you should or shouldn’t describe yourself, I am just explaining how we use these terms, what they mean to us, and why we feel that their definitions are important. We have a very rare dynamic and experience, even for lesbians. You and your partner have your own experience and dynamic, which is obviously different to ours, perhaps we need more language, more terms to describe ourselves. It’s a good conversation for us to be having amongst lesbians, as long as we can have it calmly and amicably without stepping on each other’s toes.
    You and I have a rare experience in common I would imagine. There are few females in this world who we are really, strongly attracted to. We can watch every show and movie on Netflix and only crush on a few females we see, usually dyke actors. Am I right? That doesn’t make you a femme though. So perhaps you have some things in common with butches, but there is one defining characteristic that doesn’t describe you.
    I’m not saying to you “don’t use butch”, I am saying that if you do, your meaning is very different to the meaning that butch/femme butches and femmes understand it to mean to us.

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