By Shanna Katz
Hello, and welcome to the first post of the new column all about identities, Out of the Box. Throughout our lives, our identities are narrowed down to nothing more than boxes; by the census, by the doctor’s office, by almost every form you have to fill out. Sex and gender become binaries, although they usually aren’t in the real work, your race becomes nothing more than one word, orientations are just a sea of alphabet soup, and if you’re a kinkster, you’re grouped together with everyone from tickling lovers to foot fetishists to sadists. The goal of this column is to reach out to the community, ask someone in depth about one of their self-proclaimed identities, and get just a little bit more in-depth about what that particular identity means to that specific person. Thank you to Kyle of Butchtastic.Net for sharing what butch identity means.
This interview is about your Butch identity…What are some other identities of yours: genderqueer (gender identity), queer sexual identity, parent to my daughters (sometimes mommy, sometimes daddy). I’m also a geek, software engineering and technology are vocations and avocations of mine. I’m also a writer.
Define your butch identity – what does it mean to you, how long have you had this identity, how was the process of getting there? The way I now feel about my butch identity is the result of a lot of years of thinking and experiencing, embracing and rejecting. Now when I say I’m butch, I mean it more as an adjective, a description of my presentation and behavior. For a lot of years, I rejected the butch label because of some assumptions I’d formed about it, that to be butch was to mimic the behavior of men, including the behaviors I thought were negative. Some examples of negative behaviors I saw replicated in butches I knew were sexism, chauvinism — an attitude that to be masculine was to be superior to those who were feminine. The more masculine you could be, the more you could imitate the behaviors that were stereotypically male, the better you were at being butch.
That was then and this is now. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting new people, reading a lot of blogs and becoming aware of the wide variety of ways people embrace and embody butchness. I know now that I’m not the only butch who is interested in being a different kind of male, of finding a more respectful and feminist way of expressing my masculinity.
Talk about some of the language surrounding this identity – what terms do you like/dislike? Well, I guess I answered this somewhat in the previous question. I dislike the way some butches are dismissive of people expressing themselves in more feminine ways. I don’t like to see butches perpetuating sexist myths about how relationships work and all of that. However, you’re asking more about terms. There are a lot of terms I wasn’t aware of until Butch Voices: stud, aggressive, macha. These are not terms I use myself, but I don’t have an issue with them. If you have specific terms you’d like feedback on, let me know. Terms I like and use a lot are genderqueer and trans-masculine. I use transgender when I know I can use it in such a way that people understand I’m not claiming transsexual identity. I still find masculine-of-center to be awkward, but I understand its meaning and application.
What are some common questions you get about this identity? How do you answer them and how do they make you feel? One of the things that makes my wife and I laugh and shake our heads is the assumption that she *must* have carried and given birth to both of our daughters. The impression we get is that this assumption is based on her more traditionally feminine appearance vs. my very masculine appearance. Most of the time we laugh and shrug it off, but we do make sure they know the truth: I did get pregnant, carry and give birth to our first child. What saddens me about this assumption is that it shows how limiting stereotypes about gender roles can be. It saddens me that other butches may think they can’t get pregnant and have babies without negating their butchness. And that makes me think of J Wallace’s excellent story ”The Manly Art of Pregnancy” in Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation. There are also assumptions about sexual roles and limitations for butches. That the butch is the sexual aggressor, the butch is the ’man’ in the relationship (and all the stereotypical crap that comes with), etc. To me, these limitations are sad and unhealthy. I’m a butch who is happy to be the giver or receiver of sexual pleasure in my relationships. People are surprised, and even shocked, to learn that I am happily fulfilled by being submissive in my D/s relationship. When confronted by the shock of one of my butch friends at this revelation, I wasn’t surprised, but I was amused, for two reasons: masculinity tends to be equated with strength and emotional control and submission is seen as weak, emasculating. Submission, like most things, is not a single, narrowly defined expression. I express submission through strength, control, dedication and service. To me this lines up with my identity as butch and masculine very nicely.
I guess my feelings about these assumptions and limitations are that its sad people can’t see beyond the very limited scope of what the media or their personal experiences have shown them. My philosophy of life is built around the principal that we should all be allowed to self-label and determine for ourselves what those labels mean. Any limits on what kind of experiences we can have, what activities we can engage in and how we derive pleasure, should also be self-determined — not dictated by others.
What are some of the positives of having this identity? Well, I’m going to copy from my ButchLab Symposium #1 contribution to answer this one:
I love the word butch, it looks and feels exactly the way it should: tough, masculine, a little hard. For me, ‘butch’ evokes images of blue jeans and leather jackets, sturdy footwear and strong hands. ’Butch’ is strong, handsome, capable, ready to help, there to back up a friend or a stranger in need. And while I realize it’s not true for all who embrace the term, for me, butch is all the great things about being a woman, wrapped in the great things about being a man.
What are some of the struggles that have come along with this identity? I think reconciling my notion of having a masculine identity within a female body and not falling into the stereotypical patterns of chauvinism and sexism are a challenge. Dealing with the assumptions other people have about butchness is frustrating. I don’t want people to look at me and pass judgment based on my appearance. I’m also feeling, more and more, that I want to challenge other trans-masculine people to think more about sexism and the abuse of male privilege and attitudes that sometimes come with butch identity. It seems really unfortunate that someone born to a female body, who has undoubtedly encountered sexism, demeaning attitudes and slang and all the negative gender pigeon-holing that comes with being born female, would choose to perpetuate those attitudes and biases. It’s one of the most unfortunate and, frankly, disgusting ways anybody expresses masculinity, and even harder to understand and accept coming from people who have had the opportunity to learn better through their own experiences.
Another misconception I’ve run into is that if you’re butch, you must be into femmes. I’m not saying I don’t like femmes, but my sexual attraction is not limited to people who identify that way. I’m attracted to all kinds of women, as well as other butches, trans guys and some cis-men. The flip side of that assumption is that the women I am involved with are femme. People treat them in ways that are not always well received because of that assumption. My presence with them changes other people’s perceptions of them.
How does this identity fit or not fit with your other identities? The way I explain myself, identity-wise is this: My sexual preference is queer, my gender is genderqueer and my presentation is butch.
How do you feel this identity is received in the sexuality and/or sex positive communities? I think there is a lot of fetishizing of the masculine female in some areas of the country and some communities. I’ve become more and more aware of cis-men fetishizing butch women and trans men, which I would not have guessed based on my own community. I think most people expect butches to be sexually dominant, as well as the person most likely to be dominant in D/s relationships. There are some pervasive stereotypes about butches concerning sexual and emotional inaccessibility. Stone sexuality is certainly a well-known and valid sexual expression for butches, but not all butches are stone, regardless the tendency to see us as more stone than not. On the positive side, it’s very exciting to see trans-masculine individuals becoming more prominent in queer porn, and having leadership roles in communities of all kinds.
What else do you want people to know about this identity? There are as many ideas on what butch means as there are people who call themselves butch. To get a taste of some of that variety, people should read some blogs by butch identified people. Another great source of different philosophies and approaches to butchness is ButchLab.com. I would encourage people to look beyond the stereotypes and get to know individuals. That’s my message for those who are butch as well as those who are not. And if, like me, you rejected butch as a potential identity, maybe now is the time to take a second look. Be the butch you want to be, don’t be scared off by the way others are butch.