in light of the recent, disturbing trends i’ve seen growing on tumblr and elsewhere lately, i’d like to clarify a few things about butchness as an identity, a concept, and a subject worthy of respect.
butch is a lesbian identity historically defined by aspects of presentation, behavior, and self-perception. it has its roots (at least in america) around world war ii, where thousands of women took on stereotypically masculine jobs in the women’s army corps, becoming welders, truck drivers, and more confident in breaking from feminine ideals. it emerged as a coherent idea within lesbianism around the forties when the lesbian bar scene took off and saw its heyday in the fifties and sixties, where butches learned from each other how to dress, act, woo femmes, and carry themselves and their brave identities with self-assurance and pride. since then, it has grown and changed alongside lesbian culture and gender perceptions, surfacing a little differently every decade.
butch is an intriguing and gorgeous gem from lesbian history (and lgbt history as a whole). lgbt individuals have forever sought ways to express their desires and identities outside of society’s stringent gender-based norms. masculinity, in particular, has been closely guarded, held holy, and a means of oppression. women who had nothing to do with men whatsoever — women hated by men as a whole — forged their own rules and roles and lifestyles from the ashes of men’s pride, with utter indifference towards that which men held dear.
butch is outside of the common perception of gender. it stands against the idea that gender identity and presentation must be thought of as completely distinct — and also allows that gender identity and presentation be held distinct and at odds with one another. there are butches who affirm themselves completely as women and butchness as an integral part of their womanhood, in opposition with the standards of femininity imposed upon women everywhere. there are butches who identify personally and intimately with the androgyny and gender nonconformity that butch presentation necessitates, and might go by he/his pronouns or have their children call them “dad” without being any less lesbian, any less butch. these are both completely valid and acceptable ways of being butch.
butch is not maleness or male privilege. butches are not men. masculine presentation does not a man make. butch is by necessity lesbian, and lesbianism by its very existence has everything to do with women and nothing to do with men. butch is complex, challenging, and diverse, and requires nuance in consideration and analysis. this is not something to hate. this is not something to fear. it is something to wonder at, to appreciate, to learn from.
butch is not evil. is not ugly, unless a butch would like to reclaim the ugliness that society’s spite has thrust upon her. is not oppressive. is not something to be conflated with maleness, whether cis or trans.
butch is beautiful. is handsome. is brave. is enduring. is revolutionary. is significant, both historically and for today. is magnificent. is admirable. is strong.
butch hatred is not the hatred of men or the hatred of some ridiculous, universally oppressive “masculinity.” butch hatred is hatred directed towards women and, furthermore, lesbians. butch hatred is the hatred of lesbians who have been a significant part of the backbone of lesbian culture as long as lesbian culture has existed. the women hated foremost in the twenties were those who wore pants. the women labeled as “gender inverts” for their posture, confident stance, and preference for “men’s activities” in the late nineteenth century wrote the first books women like them could turn to for stories of women’s love for women, for women not acting the way women ought to. (see the well of loneliness by radclyffe hall.)
butches are not privileged for their butchness. butches are widely disadvantaged and punished for their gender nonconformity. the fact that we live in a day and age where some people — some lesbians, even — are so isolated from actual gender dynamics that they would believe that women can get goodies from society for not acting “like women” is completely, wickedly mind-boggling.
stop with “masculine privilege.” stop with “butch privilege.” stop with “femme oppression,” which is a post for another day. the hatred of butches is frankly inexcusable and deeply shameful. you are better than this, and butches deserve far, far more than the spite and ignorance you show them.
this post is wholly inclusive of trans butches.