You know, this whole craziness with butches and the use of male pronouns on-line started out innocently enough. There we were, back in the day, flocking to AOL and/or gay.com chat rooms: tons of lesbians connecting from all over the country and world. There weren’t many butch-femme chat rooms and those in existence weren’t populated by that many women (side note: when I say woman in this post, I mean a biologic female), so most of us hung out in the lesbian chat rooms; because, hello, we were all lesbians. Note that this was well before “lesbian” became a bad word.
While some women had pretty obvious names that let others know if they were butch or femme, a lot didn’t and it caused a lot of confusion. So somewhere along the line, people started calling butches “hy” as a way to recognize that this was a masculine person who was not a man; and “he” was used as well, sometimes as an alternative, sometimes as a preference.
I, myself never used either because (a) I am a woman, (b) I really hate made up and misspelled words, and (c) it felt wrong and stupid calling another woman “he.”
Again, this was JUST on-line. I never ever heard anyone in real life refer to butches with male pronouns.
Unfortunately, that innocent beginning snowballed into this massive cluster fuck of pronouns where everyone has their own opinion as to what butches should or should not be called. Most people, femmes and butches alike, default to “he/hy” for ALL butches, even those who they know have expressed a preference for female pronouns.
Then, there are those butches who prefer to be called “she” but don’t mind being called “he.” This attitude about it really pisses me off because this way of thinking reinforces the default to “he/hy.” It helps to reinforce the invisibility of the woman in the butch.
When butches who prefer “he/hy” are accidentally called “she,” they flip their shit. It’s like the world is ending for them because someone called them “she” or “ma’am” or whatever. A battle ensues, people are accused of “feminizing,” etc. It’s crazy.
On the other hand, those who prefer to be called “she” are expected to love being called “he/hy.” We are supposed to feel honored and happy that someone has just ignored the fact that we are women and created this cloak of invisibility around us under the guise of “respect;” and god help us if we try to correct the person using the incorrect pronouns. You would think we suddenly grew a third nipple in the middle of our forehead or something!
The deeper issue here is, of course, misogyny. Male privilege tells us that women, in this and many other societies, are considered less than. Men are considered better, stronger, faster, and smarter than women. Men have almost all of the power in politics, men compromise almost all of the top corporate positions, men are considered to be the leaders of the world. A man’s opinion is considered to be the only one that matters and god help the woman who dares to stand up to him and tell him he is full of shit.
Because women are considered less than, calling someone (particularly a man) a pussy or a bitch or a girl is considered an insult. In that same vein, calling a butch “she” is also considered an insult.
So since woman is the insult, then man is the compliment. The number one compliment for FtMs or male-ID butches (my god, how that term is SUCH an oxymoron!) is that they are called “sir” in public by straight people. Their ultimate horror is for someone to use female pronouns when speaking to/about them; or an even WORSE thing to have happen to them is to be “feminized” (more misogyny).
Continuing on the thought that being a woman is an insult and being a man is a compliment, then butches, who are masculine women, are then supposed to LOVE being referred to with male pronouns; and if we don’t like it, we just have to suck it up and/or fuck off because that’s just the way it is.
It’s all just so fucking heteronormative and misogynistic. Calling us “he/hy” doesn’t just make the women that we are invisible and it doesn’t just perpetuate the misogynistic view that women are less than, it also makes other people start to actually SEE US AS MEN.
Suddenly, all of the erotica written by femmes and butches has “he” and “she” in it, as if it were about a heterosexual couple. All of the things butches are expected to do are all male related: fixing cars, loving sports, drinking a beer with our hand down our pants while watching the game and bitching at “our woman” to make us a sandwich, etc.
In everyone’s eyes, we BECOME men! This is why so many non-femme/butch lesbians assume that butches and femmes are simply emulating straight couples. How could they NOT think that when all of the butches and femmes are calling butches “he” and expecting us to take out the trash and complete our honey-do list?
It all starts with words. Words are very very powerful and when we are not careful, something as innocent as trying to tell who is who in a chat room can snow ball into all of us falling back into the same old bullshit where femmes treat us like men, straight people and other lesbians think we all want to be men, and the young butches coming out today all think they have to transition because, hell, if they are masculine, then they MUST be men, right?
That, right there, is part of why I decided to stop with the silence and start speaking up about these issues: those young butches out there who think their only choice in life is to transition.
It’s time to change our way of thinking. It’s time to stop using male pronouns for women and denying who we are. It’s time to stop comparing butches to men and treating us as if we think and behave like men. Men don’t own masculinity and it’s time we stopped pretending that they do.
It’s time to stop female invisibility.
“Men don’t own masculinity…”. With that one line, you opened my eyes. Thank you.
I agree with so much of what you wrote, and really appreciate it, but I reject the myth and association of Butches with male and masculine — so I say that Butches actually are closer to what all girls and women would be without patriarchy. Femininity and masculinity are both male constructs, so neither reflect femaleness or Butchness. We are given only these two models and ordered to fit into male-identified femininity (which is why it feels and looks so unnatural — it’s not female at all.) Butches rejected fake femininity in girlhood, but refusing those male rules does not make us male or masculine.
Considering that most Butches have been victimized by males, being associated with males is horribly insulting. I really agree about rejecting male pronouns and silly terms.
Partly, the women who push that on us, want to “other” us and make us a whole separate category from themselves. If we are considered male then that somehow makes them feel more normal. So some want us to be called different pronouns from them.
It’s also Fem Lesbians and Lesbian who think they are not Fem who intensely pressure Butches to feminize. That hatred of us and oppression of us literally kills. I have known so many Butches who have died young. Two friends in this last year alone, and one more now dying of cancer. She is such a lovely Butch, but her Fem friends covered her in makeup for an event, “to make her more of a ‘girl,'” and she looked horrible and horribly uncomfortable. At her birthday party, family and Lesbian friends joined in, taunting her to wear a dress. She has no Lesbian Feminist awareness or support.
You will be saving lives.
Thanks for your comment, Rheeb. I have always felt that and am glad it resonates with you as well.
While I also reject the myth of the association of butch and anything male, I disagree that butches cannot be masculine.
I really believe that if women and men were “allowed” (and by that, I mean according to society’s standards) to be either feminine or masculine, all without having to choose one or the other based on what society deems appropriate, then there would be no need for people to take hormones or have surgeries to “correct” what they feel is “wrong” about their bodies. There would be no more need for the terms or IDs of transgender or transsexual.
I can be masculine without being a man, just as a man can be feminine without being a woman.
It’s also a little contradictory to say that butches cannot be masculine because masculinity and femininity do not reflect femaleness or butchness, and then say that butches can be feminized.
But everything else, I totally agree with and I am very sorry about your friends, especially the last one whose friends and family did that to her in her most vulnerable time.
I don’t mean that Butches can be truly feminized since we are distinct since girlhood, and look truly bizarre when trying to assimilate. I’d meant that the pressure is there.
I’m just dedicated to denying all attempts to call us male in any way, but your blog is wonderful and I love how clear and direct your writing is also!
Reblogged this on You think I just don't understand, but I don't believe you. and commented:
An interesting new blog you should check out.
I address everyone as I see or hear them until they tell me otherwise. If I’ve addresses them wrongly, I apologise, and address them how they want to be addressed. That would seem simple enough a thing for me to understand, and I don’t know if you get the same thing where you are, but here in the UK we tend to get a lot of gay men referring to each other using female pronouns, and I don’t think they think any less of each other for that. Yes, words are and can be powerful, but they are just words at the end of the day, and they can only hurt you if you let them.
I so agree with you. Anthropologically speaking (PRE patriarchal mass religions, +/- 5500 years ago), male and female differences other than pregnancy/lactation were nearly nil. When comparing the musculoskeletal aspect, there is more overlap than exclusive sizing difference. Of course in competitive sports, it’s usually the obvious extremes which succeed, no amount of testosterone or he/hy-ing will allow a modern female to win medals in male athletic categories. The qualities of “masculine” and “feminine” are STRICTLY fashion statements. I’ve been falsely called a tomboy all my life because I don’t perform gender stereotypes, but really, I’m simply a fashion-neutral-gender-atheist-female-anti-monogamist-anti-family-anti-theist. IMO it’s important to realise that all preceding labels are in fact all part of the same patriarchal system or slaving female wombs to produce slave labour. So I vote we fight the entire system. Ok, that may be a bit much… but I disagree profoundly with just applying little bandaids everywhere when it’s the entire system that’s messed up.
This must be relatively new or something just pertaining to those who are percieved as lesbians or something. I never got this grief when people thought I was bisexual. I’ve told some people that I’m not since I don’t like men at all and their reactions to me have changed.
I’ve been called “dude” recently because one person didn’t know what I preferred – no idea why he thought it would suddently change.
I went back home to visit after a year and a guy I’ve known for years started to call me “butch” and asked me if I was going to transition.
My sister told me I need to decide what I was since not all of my clothing is masculine – heaven forbid I wear something that’s light pink while wearing boxer briefs. I hate when people fold my laundry.
Even my mom asked me if I was “happy being a girl” and gave me no end of grief to how “severe” my haircut was and that I kept combing my hair “like a guy” – nevermind the fact that many of the childhood and adult pictures of me show generally the same hair style. She even got me these awful skinny fabric things so I can use them instead of my “manly ties” and had the gall to tell me she didn’t want me to “look like a dyke.” When I was clomping around several years ago with my flame boots, jeans, t-shirts and macabre jewelry I didn’t get a word about how I looked. My mom must think that’s fine for a bisexual woman.. but a lesbian wearing polo shirts and boxer briefs? Nope, something wrong with that. I really really hate people folding my laundry.
I’m in my 30s and I got sick of it after a short time. I can’t imagine the pressure young butch lesbians must be continuously getting to conform or transition. I don’t want to be a man, or he, or sir or anything else but me. Being called she isn’t insulting. What is insulting is people assuming I possess the level of misogyny required to think being called a woman or she would be an insult.
Love your blog so far, by the way *thumbs up*
That’s part of why I started this blog; so I could get things like this out there and hopefully catch some of these young butches before they succumb to all the pressure to conform and change into something they are not. If you are in your 30s and putting up with that much pressure, I can’t imagine some of these butches in their teens and 20s dealing with the pressure to conform to what society feels they should be based on the binary system the patriarchy created.
It’s frustrating to think about and I just wanted to reach out and try to connect with some of these women before they do something they will regret later.
Thanks for your comment.
Oh and to address your first statement: as far as pronouns online, this (the use of male pronouns for butches) has been building for a couple of decades, but I have hope that it will swing back in the other direction.
First of all, thank you for following my blog! Second of all, THANK YOU so much for writing this piece! We need as many strong Butch voices as possible to counteract the terrible backlash lesbian feminism has received. Our work is never done. I remember when my ex-girlfriend began referring to me as her “boi-friend” which of course when spoken out loud sounds like “boyfriend” and she was very het-centered.
Also I disagree with oopster above. Words are so powerful that they shape everything in our lives. Words hold meanings for a reason. While the meanings of words can change over time, it just doesn’t make sense. “He” and “she” exist solely to explain the sex of an organism. That includes humans too. It’s when people begin to associate certain appearances, interests, and behaviors as ONLY “she” or “he” things that we start getting into some major BS territory.
Hear Hear! We’ve spent so many years trying to separate science from creationism, fighting for reality over belief… to let ourselves backtrack into some form of mysticism of sexe, obedience of gender stereotypes, is simply saddening. When we lose the meaning of words, we lose the ability to communicate effectively with each other.
A friend of mine turned me on to your blog and then told me I needed to get my voice out there. We (she and I) talk about this kind of thing all the time and she has been on me for years to start a blog like this. So, here I am!
I have always thought that words are very important. When I hear young kids talking about how something is “so gay,” I start a dialogue with them because violence towards gay people can start with just the “innocent” use of the word gay when one is using it to mean something stupid or silly. From there, it can snowball into indifference towards violence against gay people and can even manifest later as hatred itself. It can all start with simple words that people think mean nothing when in the grand scheme of things, they mean everything.
On the flip side, continuing to use words that are incorrect, not real, or fictional does not make them real. People can continue to use the non-word irregardless, but it will not make them right in doing so. Same for words like cis, cissexist, cisgender, etc., those are words made up in an effort to other and hurt and I do not and will not recognize them as real words.
Hy, hyr, etc. are also words I do not recognize, but not for the same reason as stated above. These are simply words created to sound male without being male and that, to me, is just silly.
Thanks for your comment and I’ll be “seeing” you around.
Loved this post. I hate the hy/hym/hys stuff and I especially hate it when some women start the “He/His/Him” or “Hy/Hys/Hym” crap. You start to feel like the odd-ball-out when you say “she” and refer to your wife/girlfriend as a SHE and not “hy/zie/he.” It’s something that’s been bugging me lately just because of my social interactions these days (seeing a lot more “hy”). Of course all of this is when we’re online. IRL, that woman’s partner is a “she.” 😛
I can’t say it’s something I’ve seen myself from a UK stance, but I can understand how it might annoy some. I really hate when someone is talking about their other half, and they describe them as their “partner”. It used to just be among same sex couples, but it’s also happening more and more in opposite sex couples. It just makes me think they have a very close relationship with someone they’re in business with the way they say it. He’s not your partner, he’s your boyfriend, or your husband. She’s not your partner, she’s your girlfriend or your wife. Saying partner is fine if you’re in business together and nothing else, but if you’re in an intimate relationship with someone, it just seems cold to me.
What a refreshing voice you have. Saw you at GT and wondered if you blogged. Yay.
Bookmarked, and learning.
(Old, het, she: sister)
Thanks very much.
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