“The Butch Mystique” is a documentary chronicling the lives of nine butch african american lesbians. You can watch it in 4 parts on Youtube.
The idea of ‘butch lesbian’ identity is much under attack in the present day. Such an integral part of lesbianism and lesbian history is being stolen, side-lined, rewritten and so being made invisible.
Claude Cahun was a French, Jewish, artist and photographer who explored themes of lesbian identity as part of her work.
Cahun worked in a European age incorporating the aftermath of revolution, fascism and World War. At the time radical political, social and cultural solutions and challenges were sought from art in defiance of the perceived bourgeois mainstream. Such art aimed to confront moral, religious and state conventions. However while many of Cahun’s fellow male ‘revolutionary avant-gardes’ still produced work that either ignored or objectified women while typically promoting heterosexuality, Cahun focused on challenging constructions of ‘femininity’ while highlighting her lesbian sexuality.
As the modernist art of the era privileged the male ‘genius’ painter, Cahun employed photography, both…
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Photographer Meg Allen celebrates “those who choose to exist and identify outside the gender binary” . And Wow, what amazing pictures she made of the diversity of butches (or boi, genderqueer, stud) in San Francisco.
These are just some of her pics: look at all her photo’s on her own page: Meg Allen Studio
A former girlfriend of mine took her own life in January two years ago. She planned everything meticulously. I heard she was happy the last weeks of her life, that she seemed to do better than the time before that. In retrospect, her family knew she must have been released from the burden of having to live on. She knew she would end it and the darkness would stop. She was not a religious person, but she was not afraid of death, it could only be better then having to live the way she had to live.
She was a survivor. That’s what they call victims of abuse. It has this heroism in it. It must have been a word they invented in the West, they love heroes here. Victim is a word that sounds too helpless. People love the lucky to be alive story, the two that survived the aircrash, the one that escaped the fire, the one that got away from the pedophile. Victims are not loved. They are forgotten. They hide.
She hid a big part of herself away, the shame, the pain, the memories. Not really memories, since she was a very small child when it happened. Flash-backs, nightmares, those were her memories. Nothing coherent. Nothing the law could use to find and punish her abuser. She read the stories of other victims. The laughable punishments that were given to the abusers, if they were ever caught and tried in court. She could never go through that even if she had the logic memories the law wanted of her.
She allowed me in her life. Not all the time. There were times when she hid away in her room for everybody. When she was not there, only her body was present, a body that had shut down too,for the most part. I saw her many times like that, she trusted me to check up on her, sometimes it was just to see if she was still alive.
I couldn’t save her, I knew that. I knew many women who had been abused and was not naive. I could just be her safe harbor, nothing more. I counted myself stronger than I was, as butches do too often, I cared for her, I comforted her and told her everything would be ok. She asked me many times if it was not too much for me, her family talked with me and asked the same, they cared for me, they cared for her. My friends told me it was not a good relationship for me, I told them I was fine, I could do this.
I betrayed her in the end. I betrayed her even before, because I could not admit to myself I wanted out of the relationship. It suffocated me, the dependency on me was too much for me to handle, but I didn’t talk about it with her. She could have dealt with it, but I didn’t say anything. Instead, I went away to my women’s summer camp, like I did every year. That summer I couldn’t wait to get away from home and I knew why. I needed air. Air to breath.
I didn’t go back to her after my summer holiday, we broke up over the phone after I told her I had met another woman on camp and had fallen in love with her. She never spoke with me again. I never saw her again.
She took her life half a year later. I didn’t go the her funeral. My betrayal had hurt her family deeply, they had to deal with her grief after our breakup. Her mother asked me why I hadn’t talked about my feelings, about my doubts and I had chosen to end it in a disrespectful way. There was no defense. I always thought myself to be an honest person, but realizing I hadn’t spoken about my doubts, fears and feelings with the people around me, showed me that I was not very honest at all.
I can’t get away with it just by saying: it’s a butch thing, because it’s a bad excuse. My silence was not strength, it was weakness. I hurt more people with that, than the truth could ever have done. I’m sorry for that, even though it’s too late to say it to some of them.
Everyone who views the posts on my blog now and then should have noticed that I like butch fashion and butch style. I frequently post pictures of butches in summer, winter, autumn style or home made combinations of styles. I post pictures of big butches, thinner butches, butches of color, white butches, old butches, young butches and yet to post: butches with disabilities. I love our variety and although some lesbians would say that butches look all alike and heterosexuals think we all look like men, we are as varied as the clouds in the sky. What we have in common is that we are defying genderroles, we transgress the binary, we battle with their beauty norms, we make people uneasy by what we are. Because for most of them it always comes down to what you are: man or woman. Right? So we, in the way we dress, cut our hair, hold our body, walk, talk, drink a beer, lift weights in the gym, drive our bike, flirt with femmes or fudges or other butches, we definitely confuse the world, we make people angry and sometimes even violent towards us, all just because we choose not to fit in. So when I see other butches I feel this immediate connection. I know in real life I probably wouldn’t even like all of them, but that doesn’t matter, it’s the recognition of the other one’s struggle that makes me feel connected to them.
I’m convinced that butch has to do with an inner thing, as I described in my post Labels are not for cans (2) I identify as a butch and that means I’m not conforming to the gender performance society prescribed for me as a woman. I can see in my society that this is confusing for many people. A certain kind of genderbending is allowed: the” androgynous malnourished sultry #youlookveryshanetoday ” look (quote by Mary Lyn Bernard) is shown all over the internet.
Tomboys and androgynous women maybe look like they don’t fit neatly in their genderrole , but nobody would ask them if they are transgender, as happens to me quite often. They are still seen and recognized as women and that way they don’t pose a threat to our binary system. Since skinny is extremely popular among white heterosexual and lesbian mainstream public, tomboys and androgynous women are thé thing in the media.
I remember an article I read on Qwear about butch versus tomboy style, that had some interesting opinions. I personally agreed with this one from A.D. who said: ” The way I understand dominant definitions of tomboi/y style are highly influenced by race; for me, “tomboy style” should be renamed “skinny white FAAB tumblr queer masculine of center fashion” AKA the cuties of tumblr AKA everyone who gets reblogged AKA not me. However, butch/stud style are less race-specific, at least in the way I understand the fashion specificities”.
There are lots of interesting articles on the internet about the differences between butch and androgynous/tomboy. Autostraddle posted this article about Rachel Maddows and butchness and the homophobic way society deals with female masculinity. (2010 but a great article still!) . I don’t mind that there are lots of lesbian women who prefer skinny androgyny over a masculine butch. I dó mind that a lot of lesbian women are conforming themselves to heterosexist beautynorms and heteronormative patriarchal views on sex and gender. It makes the gap between butches (and radical femmes too) and ‘normal’ lesbians bigger. When being gay or lesbian is seen as more normal in a society, the pressure within these communities on non-conforming ones is getting bigger. If you look in a gay magazine, you can see that femininity within the gay community is not very popular. As a man, you have to be muscled and powerful and tough. You don’t want to be called a faggot. The same goes for lesbians. Lesbian magazines are filled with long-haired thin women. Even if they are wearing a suit, still visibly female. No hairy legs in sight.
I’m not afraid the identity butch will totally disappear. It will change, as it has changed already a lot since the original butch identity in the 50’s. I am worried though. There is nothing more dangerous then society’s sneaky ways of pressuring people into normality. I pray to the goddess we can keep our diversity and we won’t succumb to society’s standards on being female or male. We are butch dykes and we will always be here!
Coming out as a lesbian was relatively easy for me (labels are not just for cans 1) . After I had my first relationships with women, I realized that the lesbian identity was more important to me then for most of the lesbians I came across. I wánted to put the label on myself. I didn’t like it when other people said things like: ‘it doesn’t matter who’s a lesbian or who is heterosexual, we’re all the same!; your sexuality is in your bedroom, nothing to do with others; we’re all just human; she’s a lesbian and that doesn’t matter at all!
The last thing was said out loud on a family party by an aunt of my former girlfriend, as sort of a introduction into the family. I was too flabbergasted to say anything at that time, but those words touched the core of what I felt: what the f*ck, it does matter! I didn’t want to fit in and it felt like they all just wanted me to fit in again: ok, you came out as a lesbian, the world didn’t change because of that, so you can just come in again and settle down. It changed me. Radically. I didn’t want to come in again. It changed my whole thinking process, my view on the world, my view on people. It changed the way I viewed myself. For the first time in my life, I had to think about ME. That was not a good experience in the beginning. I had no language for the things that were in my head and I knew nobody who spoke the language. I started to experience the binary, even though I didn’t know that word by then. I remember at that time I had a conversation with my girlfriend and a friend and I said, quite innocently “but I don’t feel like a woman, I’m not a woman”. They were shocked. My girlfriend wanted to know if I felt like a man. I told her I didn’t feel like a man either. I just knew I was not like ‘the’ women I saw in society and failed the words to explain to her what I meant. I felt torn. What was I if I was not a woman or a man? Or did the issues I had been having for years with my breasts mean that I was a man ‘inside’? I felt like a mix between Max and Ivan from the L-world and as they were the only ones in the lesbian universe I could relate to what did that mean?
In the middle of my, should I call it, identity crisis, I traveled in the summer of 2011 to Femø for the third time. I was much looking forward to the camp, because I would meet my friends there, and just as important, there would be more lesbians like me and I could feel at home there more then anywhere else. I knew I had changed since the first year I came there, one of my friends told me even my body looked different, just as if the changes in my head were changing my body. She thought I looked more at ease with myself. Indeed, a lot of my uneasiness had gone since I had started to wear my binder and had started wearing clothes I felt good in, but I looked more confident then I felt inside.
I guess the Godess felt it was time to intervene 🙂 and she sent a proud feminist femme on my path that year. We fell in love on the last day. It was catastrophic, since there were other girlfriends involved, drama had to happen and choices had to be made. But it couldn’t be otherwise, we had to be together, our desire was too big and we were selfish, as people often are when it comes to love.
Our long-distance relationship lasted one and a half years. The word butch got a new meaning for me, they had called me butch at camp for years, but I never really knew what it meant, until I met someone who made me FEEL a butch. This special dynamic was something completely new for me. I learned there was more then society had made me believe: there was more then just being a man or a woman and there was more then being a heterosexual or a lesbian. I cried when I read the first book she gave me: Stone Butch Blues from Leslie Feinberg. I think that was the moment I decided to out myself as a butch…
There is no clear definition of butch, every butch (and femme) I know would need at least one page to try and define it. There would be lots of similarities, but differences too. Most of them would say that butch is a feeling and cannot be properly explained in words. It’s not acting or performing or playing a role. Starting to identify as butch is a process and not every butch will choose to out herself as one, I know women who definitely are butch, but they don’t want to label themselves as such or they don’t even know it exists (like me). Coming out as a butch has been more important to me then coming out as a lesbian, especially in the society we live in. It made me think and read about sex and gender, feminism, radicalism. It made me aware of the strictness of genderroles and gendernorms in our society and the inflexibility of a heteronormative society. I feel defiant walking the streets, knowing I refuse to fit in in their system of silent oppression and the only thing that makes me walk upright is because I learned to put that label on myself and be proud of it. For my survival. For the survival of all who want to transgress their gender.
I came out as a lesbian when I was 33. I came out as a butch when I was 38. Coming out as a lesbian was not such a big thing. Well, there was some drama, but not about the fact that I was a lesbian. It had more to do with the life I had been leading for 15 years and the drastic decisions I had to make to quit my routine and change my life. It involved a dramatic breakup, financial complications I had no idea of by then and learning that my best friends are my best friends for a reason. The time that followed was wonderful and sometimes hard. I was so happy to be out as a lesbian I could shout it out loud from the highest building in town. It felt I could just drop all pretense. I realize now the most important thing was that I could stop being a ‘woman’. I didn’t recognize the process I was to enter yet, but the relief I felt was obvious. My girlfriend was the perfect partner to come out with. She was intelligent, open-minded, communicative and a stimulating, motivating person. We were very different though in our identification process. She didn’t define herself as a lesbian, she just said she had fallen in love with me and I happened to be a woman. I think she saw herself more as a bisexual, but she didn’t like to label herself. We quickly settled together in the country. The only lesbian couple in a little village. A very nice, welcoming village. I loved my girlfriend, the people and the place we lived in, but still, after some years, I started to get restless. Our relationship had settled into a mostly cuddling stage, which resulted in me getting more uncertain about my body. The confidence I had felt at the beginning of our relationship had vanished. I got moody and I realized that my lesbian life was nothing different then my former life. I thought: ‘Is this it? is this thé lesbian life? I wanted to talk with other lesbian women, I wanted to be with other lesbian women, I knew I couldn’t settle for a life buried away in the country, but I didn’t want to end my relationship either. Finally I decided to join a lesbian talking group in a bigger city nearby and I started going out regularly to lesbian bars and party’s, with a friend. My girlfriend stimulated me in everything I did. She knew I was not happy and we talked a lot about our life. About what I wanted. We talked about breaking up, but I couldn’t choose. Not yet. We decided together on an open relationship, to see if that would work. I started a short affair with another woman. The only thing I gained from that was that I got my confidence back, since my confidence had everything to do with desire, being a passionate lover and giving pleasure.
In the summer of 2008 I went on my own to the international women’s camp on Femoe in Denmark. There I felt again what I had realized years before when I made love to a woman for the first time: this is it, this is where I belong. I heard the first time the word ‘butch’. They called mé a butch. I had no idea what they were talking about. But I recognized the other women who were like me. We hung out together, we had fun together, we played soccer and partied until the morning. I went home after a week as a changed person. It was hard for my girlfriend. I drifted away, had a lot of contact with my foreign friends and talked less with her. I dared to talk about my breast issue with my friends and on their advice, started to wear a binder. For the first time in my adult life I could look in the mirror and feel confident with what I saw. My appearance changed, I cut my hair more short and started wearing fitted men’s shirts.
After months of talking my girlfriend and I decided to separate. In a way, it was her decision to let me go. I wouldn’t have gone it if she had not been that unselfish. We still loved each other, but wanted other things in life and we both knew it. The fact that I had fallen in love with a woman and I wanted to live with a woman, meant I was labelled a lesbian. But this was simply not enough for me. I had so many questions: What was behind that word? What did it mean to be a lesbian? What did it mean to be a woman? Why did I feel more comfortable with my new appearance? The search for my identity meant I had to go my own way and find the answers. So I moved out.
On the first afternoon in a new city, with my cardboard boxes stacked up in my new place, I went to the Irish pub, ordered a single malt whisky and felt stupidly happy with the start of my new life.
Time for some butch pictures! This time I decided to take all the pics of butches that are leaning against something from my pinterest butch board. I mean leaning in the broad sense, leaning on a knee is also leaning, and leaning on someone’s shoulder too. It’s seems to be a favorite pose anyway. Have fun. I love their diversity!
The nutritionist said I should eat root vegetables.
Said if I could get down thirteen turnips a day
I would be grounded, rooted.
Said my head would not keep flying away
to where the darkness lives.
The psychic told me my heart carries too much weight.
Said for twenty dollars she’d tell me what to do.
I handed her the twenty. She said, “Stop worrying, darling.
You will find a good man soon.”
The first psycho therapist told me to spend
three hours each day sitting in a dark closet
with my eyes closed and ears plugged.
I tried it once but couldn’t stop thinking
about how gay it was to be sitting in the closet.
The yogi told me to stretch everything but the truth.
Said to focus on the out breath. Said everyone finds happiness
when they care more about what they give
than what they get.
The pharmacist said, “Lexapro, Lamicatl, Lithium, Xanax.”
The doctor said an anti-psychotic might help me
forget what the trauma said.
The trauma said, “Don’t write this poem.
Nobody wants to hear you cry
about the grief inside your bones.”
But my bones said, “Tyler Clementi dove
into the Hudson River convinced
he was entirely alone.”
My bones said, “Write the poem.”
The lamplight. Considering the river bed.
To the chandelier of your fate hanging by a thread.
To everyday you could not get out of bed.
To the bulls eye of your wrist
To anyone who has ever wanted to die.
I have been told, sometimes, the most healing thing to do-
Is remind ourselves over and over and over:
“Other people feel this too.”
The tomorrow that is coming, gone
And it has not gotten better
When you are half finished writing that letter
to your mother that says “I swear to God I tried
But when I thought I hit bottom, it started hitting back”
There is no bruise like the bruise of loneliness kicks into the spine
So let me tell you I know there are days
it looks like the whole world is dancing in the streets
when you break down like the doors of the looted buildings
You are not alone
and wondering who will be convicted of the crime
of insisting you keep loading your grief into the chamber of your shame
You are not weak just because your heart feels so heavy
I have never met a heavy heart
that wasn’t a phone booth with a red cape inside
Some people will never understand
the kind of superpower it takes for some people to just walk outside
Some days I know my smile looks like the gutter of a falling house
But my hands are always holding tight to the ripchord of believing
A life can be rich like the soil
Can make food of decay
Can turn wound into highway
Pick me up in a truck with that bumper sticker that says
“It is no measure of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society.”
I have never trusted anyone
with the pulled back bow of my spine
the way I trusted ones who come undone at the throat
Screaming for their pulses to find the fight to pound
Four nights before Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge
I was sitting in a hotel room in my own town
Calculating exactly what I had to swallow
to keep a bottle of sleeping pills down
What I know about living is the pain is never just ours
Every time I hurt I know the wound is an echo
So I keep a listening to the moment the grief becomes a window
When I can see what I couldn’t see before,
through the glass of my most battered dream
I watched a dandelion lose its mind in the wind
and when it did, it scattered a thousand seeds.
So the next time I tell you how easily I come out of my skin,
don’t try to put me back in,
just say “Here we are together at the window aching for it to all get better
but knowing as bad as it hurts our hearts, made of only just skin,
knowing there is a chance the worst day might still be coming —
let me say right now for the record, I’m still gonna be here
asking this world to dance, even if it keeps stepping on my holy feet
you — you stay here with me, okay?
You stay here with me.
Raising your bright against the bitter dark
Your bright longing
Your brilliant fists of loss”
Friends, if the only thing we have to gain in staying is each other,
my God that’s plenty
my God that’s enough
my God that is so so much for the light to give
each of us at each other’s backs whispering over and over and over