gender identity vs sexual identity

October 31, 2007  |  essays

Within a larger post about the Tila Tequila reality dating show on MTV discussing butch identity, a reader on After Ellen mentioned Sugarbutch:

[F]or some, “butch” is a gender identity, and for others it is a sexual kink (for more on this idea, check out the totally awesome sugarbutch.blogspot.com. but probably only if you’re a grownup as it has some erotica alongside the political/language stuff). So being butch could be interpreted as being overtly sexual.

And, wow! I am flattered to be mentioned! But, I’m confused. Do I explain butch as a “sexual identity” here, as opposed to a gender identity? This is definitely a sex blog – when it boils down to it – my ‘sex, gender, and relationship’ chronicles. And yes, butch is a huge piece of that, and yes, butch is a huge piece of how I communicate physically, and sex is the primary place in my life where I practice that physical communication overtly.

But: butch is a gender identity. Always, I think. I’m not even sure what it would mean to have butch as a “sexual identity” without the gender identity. That even reminds me of that horrible phrase “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets” (which I’ve written about in a post called what gender is).

I’m also not sure how all my elaborate discussions of gender expression and the identity development proces would lead someone to conclude this about me … is it because I talk about sex and gender together, often interwoven? Because being butch is part of my sex life?

I so appreciate the shout-out. I think it’s part of that James Dean complex of being misunderstood – I don’t think I agree – or, perhaps more accurately, I’m not sure I understand – so it’s weird to hear someone else describing me that way.

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5 Comments


  1. Perhaps the line between “butch” and “top” gets blurred sometimes because of a cultural history of many butches being stone? In that stereotype, sexual identity is intertwined with gender… but I think my understanding of “sexual identity” may be a bit off.

  2. Hey,

    That was my comment so maybe I can clarify. I wrote that post late at night while taking a break from an extremely long take home midterm, so I may have been somewhat imprecise and mushy brained. Although you talk about butch as a gender identity, you certainly talk about it as a sexual identity as well, so my first sentence should have read “and” not “or”.

    Doing a quick look through some old posts with the tag “butch” you have said: “gender is a sex toy” which I understood that your participation in butch/femme interactions is in some ways a sexual preference, not just about your gender identity.

    You also talk extensively about gender as a performance, and how this performance ties in with how you interact with women. I understood this to have more to do with your sexual expression than with your feeling of what your gender is (and you described the motivation behind your evolution towards butch as “how can i get THAT kind of girl?”)

    I’m sorry if what I wrote made you feel misunderstood. The original context of the post was about why some people find Butches threatening, and I maintain my hypothesis that for some butches, “Butch” is an expression of their sexuality as well as of their identity, and many people are threatened by overt expression of queer sexuality.

    We’ve all met someone who was cool with queers as long as there was no requirement for thinking about them as sexual beings (ie my grandma knows I have a girlfriend and suspects we live together, but she doesn’t want to hear that we share a bed).

  3. zoe: thanks for the clarifications! honestly, I think the “and” rather than the “or” alieviates whatever question I had. hope my response didn’t seem harsh, though – honestly I was more curious than anything else!

    I definitely see gender as a sex toy, and it is definitely important in and relevant to my sexual identity. I guess the other thing I was responding to is, how can butch not be part of that? seems integrally connected, to me!

    your further clarification about your intention for the post – why people find butches threatening, being that butch is an expression of sexual identity – totally makes sense, and also helps to further clarify. and I totally agree! that post was so long, I totally admit that I took your comment out of context.

    no need to apologize, at all – hope it didn’t seem like I was offended! seriously, more curious than anything else.

  4. phew, I'm glad we cleared that up! As a long time (and I hope, careful) reader of your blog I was thrown to think I had misunderstood something so fundamental. And I'm sensitive to the fact that you put yourself out there in a major way. You say "how could [butch] not be a part of [sexual identity]?" I think perhaps the idea I was trying to get at is that maybe for some people there is a larger portion of their butchness that is their sexual identity versus gender expression. Not an either/or or even something you can separate, but it does seem likely these two aspects carry weight for different butches, and I find that interesting, because if this word stands for different things to different people, it makes it harder to communicate accurately.

  5. zoe – you’re totally a careful reader, and I really appreciate the comments! I appreciate the mention on afterellen too, I was more curious than offended, absolutely. that idea you mentioned – “butchness that is their sexual identity versus gender expression” – is really interesting, I guess I’ve never thought of it as being distinctive, or as being 60/40 or 10/90 or something. very interesting. you & I should have tea and talk about this sometime. :)

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