â€œBy default butches lived, and still live, in the in-between, embracing both masculine and feminine, whether intentionally or not.â€The identity of â€˜butchâ€™ can be described in a multitude of ways. Simply put, a butch lesbian is generally someone whose gender expression and behavior is stereotypically more masculine, yet whose gender identity is female. Of course this is a simple and limited description. Butch identity can be much more complex and fluid. Iâ€™ve known many women who appear conventionally feminine yet are more â€˜butchâ€™ than I could ever be on the inside. Butch lesbians historically have been a strong force in changing dynamics and helping to shift the boundaries of perceived gender and identity. Back then, gender identity was very much seen in a dualist paradigm. You were this, or you were that; you were a man or you were a woman. By default butches lived, and still live, in the in-between, embracing both masculine and feminine, whether intentionally or not. This ambiguous, in-between place of butch is confusing, and certainly a major threat to a patriarchal, heteronormative society. Butches forced our culture to examine its sexist and homophobic attitudes and beliefs. In a time when institutionally enforced homophobia was more commonplace, a way to combat the challenge of being openly gay (and especially butch) was by not allowing the heterosexual world inside our gay umbrella. Heterosexual men in particular were seen as the â€œenemy.â€ If we were unsafe in larger society, then we would make our own, welcoming society, off limits to â€œthose men.â€ There was, and to a certain degree still is, a feeling of betrayal if anyone outside tried to enter our world. Iâ€™m certain many bisexuals especially remember how hard it was to be accepted in the lesbian community. If you were bisexual, common thinking was that you could easily go back to our archenemyâ€”straight menâ€”therefore you were an outsider. Persona non grata for all intents and purposes. Perhaps itâ€™s true that there arenâ€™t as many self-identifying butch lesbians around nowadays, but I think instead of focusing on â€œwhere are all the butches,â€ maybe we should look at why itâ€™s so challenging to let go of the notion that gender expression and identity has to be limited to a butch/femme dichotomyâ€”and that anything outside that framework is the enemy. Many within our community still believe that allowing too much gender fluidity is threatening. These are fear-based ideologies that need to be reexamined. Iâ€™ve heard many within our community blameâ€”yes, blameâ€”the ever decreasing number of butches on the fact that so many would-be butches have come out as transgender. That the â€œlackâ€ of butches is due to so many butches transitioning, â€œwatering downâ€ our lesbian community. Are you fucking kidding me? First, throwing around the idea that transgender people are diluting the diversity of the queerness, especially butch lesbians, by supposedly buying into the heteronormative stereotype (i.e. becoming men), joining the patriarch and abandoning the butch communityâ€”is a very dangerous idea. An idea that I believe is absolutely wrong. Being transgender is not a choice or a phase. This lack of acceptance and feeling of being betrayed by transgender peopleâ€”especially transgender men in the â€œwhere are all the butchesâ€ conversationâ€”is solely based out of fear. That fear on one hand is valid in that there are many threats to the queer community still. But itâ€™s also misguided in that it is directed toward individuals who are and always have been a part of our communityâ€™s strength. Iâ€™ve spoken to numerous friends who have transitioned, and Iâ€™m appalled at how we treat them, our brothers and sisters. Many who have come out as transgender shared that their lesbian â€œfriendsâ€ no longer consider them part of our community because they now identify as men. One friend even considered shaving off his beard so the lesbian community would accept him again. A beard that he was head-over-heels excited about when it started coming in.
â€œWeâ€™re clinging to a past that was important for us, but also restrictive and brutal in many ways.â€So I ask myself, are we that caught up in the idea that being queer today is still some sort of dichotomous construct? Are we that insecure that the butch population is decreasing so feel we need to place blame instead of accepting and embracing progress and change? Weâ€™ve fought tirelessly for equality and acceptance in this heteronormative culture, yet when diversity and change blossoms within our own community we apply the same restrictions and discrimination weâ€™ve experienced all our lives. I cannot imagine the challenges my transgender brothers and sisters have had to face in such new and unchartered territories of self discovery; what they endure physically, emotionally and psychologically in a heteronormative culture that is overwhelmingly intolerant of transgender people. Think back on the struggles of just deciding to come out of the closet as lesbian or gay. Think of the pain of not being accepted by friends, family and coworkers. Remember the isolation and loneliness of not having or being able to find community. Given our journey and history of oppression, it strikes me that we should be the ones embracing and defending everyone who is a part of the LGBTQ communityâ€”not blaming, pointing fingers, and causing derision. I love and embrace who I am as a butch lesbian, but I struggle with this hype over where all the butches have gone. Nowhere. Butch women are still here. And even if the identity of butch isnâ€™t as central or popular as it used to be, it takes absolutely nothing away from my butch identity. Embracing the enormous progress we as a community have made over the years in expanding our awareness and ability to embrace gender fluidity seems much more important than concerning ourselves with where any particular identity has gone. In asking the question, â€œWhere have all the butches gone?,â€ weâ€™re clinging to a past that was important for us, but also restrictive and brutal in many ways. Instead of feeling that loss, maybe itâ€™s ultimately something we gained in that everyone is better able to self-identify in ways that feel authentic. Maybe we should be asking ourselves different questions altogether. Maybe the better, more positive solution might be to ask ourselves, â€œAre we supporting diversity within our own queer community? And if not, how can we?â€
Header Photo Credit: McBeth via photopin (license)