march masthead: bringing butch back

March 20, 2008  |  essays, miscellany

A few weeks back, Muse & I went to a meditation group and I held her jacket for her when we were heading outside. She dipped down to let me more easily slide the coat up onto her shoulders, and I laughed.

“You’re not supposed to move,” I said. “Just let me do the work. This chivalry thing is designed to make you look good.”

She laughed too. “Ah, right. How would I know that? Nobody holds my coat for me. You’re bringing butch back.”

I like that. I like the alliteration, three b’s in a row, and the second epitrite of poetic meter in the phrasing. I really can’t take credit for bringing butch back – honestly, I don’t think it ever went anywhere, I think if anything it just went a bit underground during the gay and women’s rights movements, and many folks are now reimerging to problematize and celebrate gender, myself included. And youth these days are more open to gender and sexuality differences than we ever have been, so aside from some old-school activists coming out of the woodwork, the youth also have a hand in opening up these conversations, refusing to be limited by labels or definitions, and yet finding value in the historical contexts of labels and words as well.

Chivalry is deeply feminist to me. When in femmes, I expect femininity to be deliberate, done with the whole knowledge of the compulsory heteronormative restrictions which dictate that women must be and do certain things, particular that we must wear high heels, delicate cloth, restrictive clothing. Femininity is not made for comfort or movement, it is made to accentuate the sexualization of a woman’s body – and that’s why things like holding her doors open (so she doesn’t dirty her white gloves or expensive manicure), pulling her chair out (so she doesn’t have to awkwardly move a bulky piece of furniture, and risk getting it caught on her skirt or stockings and ripping something) or holding her coat (so she doesn’t have to reach around and risk ripping the tight seams in her shoulders or upper back) are necessary to me, as an acknowledgement of how restrictive femininity can be, and of how difficult it is to walk around the world in these clothes, as a celebration of the beauty of femininity on the body, and with deep respect for the courage to costume and perform femme to begin with.

There’s a long history of these gender roles, these accentuations of the body as a flirtation, as a mating ritual, as peacocking, to attempt to attract a lover.

All this is to say, I’m really not taking credit for “bringing butch back.” But I like the phrasing, and I’d like to think that I’m encouraging it. I’ve written it before (& I’ll write it again): I would never tell someone what their identity is, I would always wait for them to tell me how they choose to identify. But because I’ve found such play and liberation and fun and self-empowerment inside of butch, I do want to encourage and support it.

So, I made a masthead. Those are my hands and the bird tie, in a portrait taken last summer by Bill Wadman. With a nod to dooce, in theory the mastheads will rotate monthly with a different tagline. 

I tend to follow the wheel of the year, so I wish you a happy spring equinox today:

The Spring Equinox celebrates the return of life and growth to the thawing earth.  For the first time since the Fall Equinox, the time of light and dark in a single day are equal. From this day forth, Spring will arrive, and with her, a wild spurt of growth begins. Shoots of young grass appear, leaves sprout on trees, birds and their songs return. Winter and the dark time have finally been put behind us, and the season of growth has begun. This holiday is truly a celebration of life and nature.

Since the Spring Equinox represents new life and growth, this is the perfect holiday for planting seeds of your own on the path of your life.  New ventures may be aided by the spirit of life and growth that abound, and many people decorate eggs at this time with symbols of fertility. All is new and possible. In addition, this holiday is an ideal time to break the last of the chains that may halt our growth.

So that’s what I’m thinking about today: what chains may be halting my own growth, and how to let them instead be little sprigs of pure green.

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5 Comments


  1. lovely. that is such a handsome picture.

  2. WOW…that is all I can say, I casually stumbled upon your blog after noticing that you left a comment a while back on mine. I'm having a bit of a 'boo boring' day here at work, but after reading your post, tears came to my eyes. I've been yearing for this. People sometimes don't get the whole butch/femme thing or don't want to get it. I get it. I get that as a femme, I LOVE getting manicures and pedicures, and wearing gloves and dresses and skirts, showing some cleavage, and wearing pumps. I love when a butch orders a drink for me before I have finished the one I have so that I don't have to wait for one to get there. I love when she opens doors and I Adore when she offers her coat when it's cold. I love when she holds my door for me or unexpectedly holds my hand in a crowd.

    So, sugarbutch, if you are bringing butch back, THANK YOU..(and please send one my way) ;)

    -xoxo

    LL

  3. I really wanted to leave an insightful, considered comment, but good god your new masthead has made my head spin! The tie, the jacket (is it a jacket?) slung casually over your shoulder, your hands (it's always the hands) – that image is all kinds of hot.

  4. i love the silver ring you're wearing in the masthead (well, the whole thing to be honest, but the ring takes the cake). i have a thing for silver rings. where did you find it? (if you know/remember)

    [I bought it on Saint Mark's Place here in New York, one of those outdoor vendors with big trays of rings and silver. Actually, I got it around the time that The Ex and I split, as a way to symbolize that I was now committed to myself and my own needs. Which is why I wore it on my ring finger. I left it at my mom's place over the holidays last year, though, and she still hasn't mailed it to me. I kinda miss it! – ss]

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