Is Being Gender Critical and Butch Mutually Exclusive?

I’ve been meaning to talk about this for a long time now. Can one consider herself butch, aka, a masculine woman while also being critical of gender? It’s a question I have been thinking about for several months and now is the time for me to put my thoughts down on paper, so to speak, and figure this thing out for myself. Some of you will, of course, disagree and that is cool, but I would be willing to bet that there are a lot more of us out there than we think.

I’ve been an out lesbian for half my life now (over 20 years) and I didn’t consider myself butch (or “a” butch, ymmv) until almost 10 years later. It took me a long, long time to come to the realization that butches were women, we didn’t wish to be men, we were women who just happened to be masculine. Once I came to that realization, I was able to accept my true self: a gender non-conforming, masculine woman, or more simply, a butch lesbian; or even more simply: a butch.

It’s hard to be a butch in this world. Don’t worry, I am not about to play the oppression Olympics here, I completely understand that there is enough discrimination to go around and there are hard times for all of us. But let’s be honest here, I cannot speak for femmes, straight women (even the butch ones), gay men, straight men, or lesbians who are neither butch or femme because I am none of those things. So I will stick to what I know: being a butch lesbian in this patriarchal society.

Before I continue, I wanted to put out there that even though I am not speaking about femme’s experiences here, I welcome their input about this post or their own experiences; especially the anonymous femme who briefly talked with me about the hierarchy of femmes and butches in my last post (Who Gets To Decide What “Lesbian” Means?). I hope she sees this post so she can come back to leave her thoughts on the issue.

So let’s dig in to this complicated subject matter, shall we?

As I was saying before I digressed a bit, being a butch lesbian in this patriarchal world is tough. We have almost no “in real life” role models, very few, if any in the media, and when I was a young dyke, there were even fewer than there are now if you can imagine that. Because this society believes that men own masculinity (and women own femininity), we butches have therefore had no choice but to model ourselves after the men in our lives and go by how the media presents men; and this is nothing if not problematic. Because of this society, because the patriarchy frowns on women wearing “men’s” clothing (and vice versa), and because there are almost no butches in the media, these are two very big reasons why a lot of straight and even gay people assume we all want to emulate, if not actually be men.

The lack of butch role models and having to use men or the media’s idea of men as our guides (well, I don’t, but I did when I was younger because I didn’t know any different and I see it more and more in these young butches today) presents other problems. For those unfamiliar with on-line butch-femme communities, there is a clear hierarchy of “butchness” or masculinity and it discriminates against butches who do not identify as male and it especially celebrates the female transgender, or the trans “man.” In this hierarchy, there are the levels of butchness that I mentioned, such as soft butch, butch, hard butch, male identified butch, and trans “man.” Usually we butches who know what sex is and celebrate the women that we are, are set low on that totem pole, somewhere around soft butch.

You see, even in the (on-line) butch-femme world, a lot of people are conditioned into the patriarchy just enough to believe the bullshit that men/males own masculinity and women/females own femininity, that females cannot be masculine, and that to be masculine, one must either be male identified or they must transition into some facsimile of a man, aka the trans “man.” So even in the butch-femme (on-line) world, female, and therefore feminine is “less than” and most people do not consider a butch to be masculine if she doesn’t deny biology and instead accepts and even celebrates that she is also female. In the comments of my last post, I said this maligned treatment comes from femmes, but I meant some femmes, not all; and to be honest, quite a few male identified butches and trans “men” feel this way as well, that female is less than; or more appropriately, that feminine is less than masculine. Like I said, a lot of this comes from the male identified butches and trans “men,” but it can also come from femmes as well. There are quite a few femmes out there these days who clearly want straight men without actually having to date straight men. They like the analogy that butch = man, that they can have only PIV sex, that they use male pronouns, etc. It is quite frustrating, to say the least. As I said, not all femmes are like this, but more and more of them are coming out of the woodwork as sex becomes more and more conflated with gender and the binary, as dictated by the patriarchy, wins out above all else.

To be fair, I don’t have to be a femme to see this coming from the other side of things as well; but even more than the hierarchy of femme, I also see things like how so many butches expect femmes to be like straight women and how a lot of them even toss femmes aside in favor of straight women. I also see the masculine and feminine stereotypes of the heterosexual world playing out in that a lot of both butches and femmes expect the butches to be the dominant ones, or the “tops,” to borrow a BDSM term and they expect the femmes to be the submissive ones or the “bottoms.” This is problematic in so many ways because it relies on society’s assumptions that feminine is always and only for women while masculine is always and only for men, so the above butches and femmes assume the woman (feminine) is always supposed to submit to the man (masculine). That is unbelievably sexist and it is almost always internalized, born of the conditioning we face being born and raised female in this society; and the sickest part, for me, is that all of that sexism is coming from and pointed towards females, women. So because there are not a lot, if any, butch and femme role models, we end up falling into the traps of our own conditioning by believing the bullshit of the binary, by seeing feminine as women and women as feminine, as well as masculine as men and men as masculine. That, dear reader, is where the idea of male identified butches and trans “men” come from: that blind loyalty to the binary and the patriarchy that conditioned us so very well.

I have always held the notion that transgenderism is a fad, a way of being a special snowflake, of distinguishing yourself from the “norm” so that you can be considered “cool.” It’s exactly like the on-line BDSM fad of several years ago in the butch-femme world (the straight and gay men’s world as well, but again, I cannot speak of what I don’t know). Suddenly, there were daddies, babygirls, masters, and mistresses all over the butch-femme on-line communities. Why? Again, it was a way to be different and special, to separate yourself from the “norm” and appear to be “cool.” Transgenderism is the same thing: a fad. I have said before and I will say it again: if society would stop with the preconceived notion that females or women own femininity and males or men own masculinity and instead allowed people to express themselves in any way that they wish, dress as they wish, wear make-up or not, have long, short, or no hair, walk, talk, and act as they wish, all regardless of their sex, then there would be no need for transgenderism and no need to “transition” into anything.

Masculine and feminine, like gender, are socially constructed, but I don’t view them as genders. Masculine and feminine are simply descriptors that do not belong to either sex. This means that that men can be feminine and that there is nothing wrong with that. On the flip side, women can be masculine and there is also nothing wrong with that.

So with that, I think I have come to the end of it, dear reader. It started as a question in my head: whether or not I could consider myself a butch lesbian and gender critical at the same time. While I consider myself a lesbian essentialist, I do not consider myself a butch essentialist. I may have been born a lesbian and was quite the dyke for a long time, but I found butch through exploration and an ultimate discovery of who I was (and am) as a woman.

I was chatting with a friend the other day (at least, I would like to be able to call her a friend) and she said that for her, “lesbian” is a “descriptor that others can understand.” I liked the way that sounded. Oh not for lesbian, but for butch and masculine. For me, butch has always meant and will always mean, masculine woman, but in this society, people get confused by putting those two words together, masculine and woman, so I say butch.

In that context, butch is a descriptor that others can understand, to varying degrees, of course. Like I said, there is the fad of being male identified and/or transgender, neither of which are actually butches, but the premise is the same. I use butch, not as a gender or an identity, but as a descriptor to signify to the world that while I am masculine, I was, am still now, and always will be a woman. I am a masculine woman, a butch.

So the answer is: yes, I can be critical of gender and be a butch lesbian at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive.

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69 comments on “Is Being Gender Critical and Butch Mutually Exclusive?

  1. BadDyke says:

    Seems to me we’re mostly in agreement here on what butch is and means, just that we’re disagreeing over whether the word ‘masculinity’ is one we use or not. The problem for me is that men DO and always have owned the word masculinity (as well as spending a lot of time inventing the concept and defending its boundaries), it is too tainted for me to use comfortably. I’d rather stick to butch which is at least OURS — we know what butch means, even if the straight world is still stuck labelleing all butches as wanting to be men/male.

  2. BigBooButch says:

    Whether another butch chooses to use the word masculinity or not, I still have the right to use it; just like others have the right to -not- use it. Men do not own it and other butches will not stop me from using it by claiming it is only for men.

  3. BadDyke says:

    “Men do not own it and other butches will not stop me from using it by claiming it is only for men.” Shit YES. I think I was saying why I personally don’t use it, not that I would try and stop anyone else using it.

    For myself, I’m more bothered about taking their decent clothes, sensible shoes, jobs and higher wages, and I’ll let them keep their silly words 🙂

  4. huffysnappy says:

    This is a great post Big Boo. Thank you for writing it. I cannot speak as a lesbian on this topic, but to me your question is a subset of a another question:

    Can one be (somewhat) gendered, and be gender critical?

    I think the answer is yes: I’ve been gender critical since I was a toddler, and yet it is only now after several decades of life and a year or so of reading radical feminism that I can recognise just how gendered some of my personality characteristics are. These are things that I have always hated about myself, and which I do not think are innate to me, but have been part of my successful conditioning as a female.

    Even as I have fought against this conditioning from a young age and had some successes, it was moulding me where I wasn’t looking, into someone who loathed herself and couldn’t bear the idea of asking anyone for anything, or inconveniencing anyone, or making them feel bad about treating me badly or being unreasonable etc. etc etc.

    So as someone who has been fiercely gender critical from a young age, and yet is somewhat gendered, it seems to me that one can be simultaneously gender critical, and gendered.

    I’m still working on the gendered aspects of myself that I wish to extirpate. It is a process, and it takes time.
    I don’t know whether or not this ‘extirpation’ process is one that a person must necessarily undertake or embrace in order to be true to their gender critical principles however.

  5. BigBooButch says:

    Thank you for your thoughts!

  6. perkinsbe says:

    I agree with that. I usually try to put them in quotations. Also I wanted to say it’s really cool how people commenting may not agree on everything, but are being really civil about it and supportive. You don’t see that much on the internet.

  7. FeistyAmazon says:

    I love your blog BigBooButch and it matters and makes a difference. Even if it convinces ONE Butch Female to NOT drink the trans koolaid and to OWN AND LOVE both her Female body and Butchness. And yes that Butch is a Dyke word…OUR WORD and once you make the switch to FTM you leave it behind!!! But sadly they won’t so we gotta keep reminding them.

    Perhaps this is why I prefer other Butches to Femmes cuz I want to KNOW I’m with another Dyke who completely understands me and my struggles and that is not in the least bisexual, coming out of a heterosexual marriage, or will go back to men. Plus Butches are handsome!!!

    But along with the Female proud Butch becoming a rarer and rarer breed…is the unabashed Lesbian Femme who mourns the loss of Butches who are proud to be Female. I feel for true Lesbian Femmes as well. That same pain of the potential dating pool shrinking and handsome Butches giving in to the siren song of transition because of peer and societal pressure to do so.

    It is not exactly the same as the gay men whose buddies, lovers and friends died from AIDS and the trauma of all those losses, but IT IS a loss to so many of us LESBIAN Butches and Femmes alike to see so many shedding their breasts, take hormones and identifying as male.

    Keep on keeping on. Just one thing. I have known plenty of dominant Femmes and submissive Butches and those fluid in both directions. So I am glad that it is not as rigid as in the past.

    -In Butch Dyke Sisterhood,
    -FeistyAmazon

  8. BigBooButch says:

    Your Butch voice is important as well, sister! We all need to stand up for ourselves, our sisters, and our culture that the transgenders are trying so hard to disassemble and eradicate. The cotton ceiling M2Ts are just men who want to have a lesbian in bed with them and the F2Ts just become sexist pigs because that is what they think it is to be a man.

    Also, losing Butches to the trans cult may not be exactly like gay men losing brothers to AIDS, but it IS a death. It is the death of a Butch sister and we have to mourn her while telling that F2T that “he” is no longer a part of the lesbian community and that also means the Butch-Femme community. If they want to be male, then go be male with the straight crowds and leave us alone!

  9. I’m one of those butch females that is choosing not to drink the “trans koolaid” you mentioned. I haven’t completely discarded the possibility of transition from my mind… still working on it. There are no young butches like myself around that I’ve met (yet), and I’m glad that there are still some like minded people online.

    Blogs like yours Feisty Amazon, and BigBooButch, have helped me a lot in being more secure and confident with being a butch. Here’s a big thanks to you!

  10. BigBooButch says:

    That’s great! I am so glad to see some young butches coming out and not transitioning! If you ever need someone to chat with, just email me at BigBooButch@gmail.com; and thanks for your comment, I am glad you’re here! 🙂

  11. Kitty Barber says:

    I was a baby butch, too, but that was in another era altogether. I came out when I was 14, and instantly lost almost all of my dearest friends. At 14, that is painful. I moved on, my family moved, too, I started over. I didn’t come out in high school until after my girlfriend had moved into our house, her mother having thrown her out for being my ‘friend.’ That’s another story, though.

    SBB, I was the perfect poster child for the testosterone rocket. I was an athlete, wore very butchy clothes–we were much freer then to dress as we liked, I think.Later I played with hippy/dyke butch, it was a good look for me, I thought.

    And if I were 14 or 15 today, I am pretty sure I’d be getting a whole lot of pressure, too. And maybe my crazy parents wanted to be on Jerry Springer, who knows? Young bodies and minds ought not to be fucked with, and fucked up, that way. I find it morally repugnant.

    But, even then, in the late ’60’s, the Trans was awakening. Like Dracula.

    I saw an article in “Time” (1965 or so?) magazine about Christine Jorgensen, the first M2T. (male-to-trans, I won’t call it anything it isn’t.)I honestly thought that I would have to get a “sex-change operation,” like Jorgenson, if I wanted to marry a girl, and I wanted to marry a girl, for sure. Or something like that.

    But one day someone brought into my house a copy of an underground newspaper from California, “The Berkeley Barb,” and on the front page, there was a big photo of these fantastic women marching down some street, holding up signs that said “Lesbian Power!” and “Womyn-Loving-Womyn” and I got weak in the knees. And other good places.

    It was as if all the lights went on, and music started playing–I had found my People! My life went down a Lesbian-feminist path from there on, and it’s been quite a ride, indeed.

    Be your strong, smart, stand-up butchy self. Be happy. Be who you are. And–stay healthy! You’re fantastic. Just the way you are.

    sorry this is so long…I just turned 60, and contemplating alla that. Great blog, Boo.

  12. Kitty Barber says:

    Good lord. I just realized that this thread was from last winter. Wooops. Anyway, SmallBabyButch, illegitimi non carborundum, my friend.

  13. BigBooButch says:

    It’s cool, Kitty. This may be from last winter, but SmallBabyButch’s comment is from a couple days ago. 😉

  14. BigBooButch says:

    Thanks, Kitty; and thanks for your comment. I agree with you that we girls were freer to live as we wanted and dress as we wanted even into the 70s and 80s. If I were in my teens right now, I know that I would feel a LOT more pressure to transition into a “man” than I felt even in the early 90s when I was in my early 20s; and believe me, there was pressure, even then, and it lasted into my 30s. But now, I am in my 40s and all of those people trying to push me into transitioning can suck it!

    You know, the weird part was that while people were pressuring me to transition, I also caught a lot of flack from the trans community: both female trans and especially male trans (even then, they saw female transgenders as “less than”) would tease me and try to put me down by telling me that I want to be a man and why don’t I just transition already. I thought it was crazy that they all believed they were the opposite sex and then they would turn around and use being transgender as an insult!

    So much crazy…..

    Thanks again for stopping by Kitty. Btw, I leave the comments opened permanently on these threads so that if someone finds me months or years after I have written something and they feel compelled to comment, they can. 🙂

  15. So good to read this. I wish my daughter could of.

  16. BigBooButch says:

    Thank you! Why can’t your daughter read it now?

  17. She’s caught up in the trans cult, and attempt to talk about it just end up pushing her further in. I’ve written about how we are dealing with it here: http://gendercriticaldad.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/ignore-redirect-and-reward-dealing-with.html.

    She’s over 18 now, she has to find her own way back. I think the raging absurdities of trans are starting to become apparent to her.

  18. BigBooButch says:

    I hope she comes back to us! 💜

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