Butch/femme in various cities

March 6, 2009  |  miscellany

I got an email recently from a femme looking to relocate, but not sure where yet she’s going to go. Here’s her note:

I’m a young femme looking to relocate to a new city, and I want to go somewhere with a large diverse lesbian community that is very friendly to the butch-femme dynamic.

I’ve spent much of my life in LA, a city with nary a handsome butch to be found! And when I lived briefly in San Francisco, there were many cute butches but few other femmes, and I was always “read” as straight. It would be ideal to live somewhere where I could find both femme friends and a butch partner.

Some cities I am looking into: Seattle, Portland, Brooklyn, and Boston.

I can speak to Seattle and Brooklyn, but none of the others really. So I figured I’d ask you all: where do you live? What’s the butch/femme culture like in those cities?

Chime in regardless of where you live – I’d love to hear about the cultures outside of the US, too.

Some questions to consider:
- Are there lesbian-specific bars, or nights at the gay bars? More than one? Are some of them more known for being butch/femme than others?
- Are there butch/femme social groups?
- Is it gender-forward and inclusive of many expressions?

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38 Comments


  1. Boise Idaho over here, I've read that we have more lesbians per capita then Seattle but it sure doesnt feel like it. My partner has lived in Seattle before and she loved it there and we will probably move back. In Boise we have very little rights. First off its a right to work state and its even considered a misdemeanor for a "unmarried" woman to artifically inseminate. As fas as appreciation of the butch/femme dynamic it is good for the older crowd, the lesbians who are coupled up and creating families, but a majority of the lesbian crowd here seem to be more of the 18-25 year old andro scene, could be Shane to blame for that one.

  2. I would definitely agree with lifestyle agent and say that Boston has its butch/femme moments, and that there is a healthy mix of both here. Unfortunately, we do have a dearth of good gay bars, with no place that's specifically for dykes. There are a number of good nights at various clubs/bars, and they attract a range from UK-style emo downtown types to really really radical vegan animal liberationist types. So it's very diverse. There's a group you definitely want to join called madfemmepride (just search for it, you'll find it) which hosts events that are specifically butch/femme oriented, which are cool.

    Overall, you'll find it a friendly city, but with that reserved New England chill hovering around the edges! I agree, move to JP if you're going to, you'll hear that Davis Square in Somerville is also great (which it is) but the real action is in JP and you'll find yourself wishing you had a car because all your friends live there. Also there are no parks in Somerville, which is a major drawback.

    if you want more specifics, come over to my blog and we'll talk ;)

  3. Boston is – by far – the best for B/f. I had a stint in SF but found it too… confusing. Agreed, JP and Davis Square are the best around Boston.

  4. I'll 3rd the Boston plug. And the plug for madfemmepride. They are a really great meetup group, sponsor regularly, all-inclusive events. My gender presentation tends to fluctuate, and I've gone to their events on my more butch days and my more femme days – and I've always felt welcomed, embraced, and super comfortable. They are explicitly pro-femme visibility though, which is pretty rad.

    I really like JP (Jamaica Plain to the uninformed). I've been living here for a 6 months or so now, and I'm a big fan. The queer bar scene is dominated by male gay bars, like seems to be the case in most major cities – but there are regular dyke nights around. The Neighborhood is a pretty popular queer dance night at The Midway Cafe, and it's very much a gender-variant and trans friendly space/event. Seems like it's mostly queer (cis?)women, queer or straight-identified FtM guys, female-assigned GenderQueers, etc… the expanding 'lesbian' scene, as it were, and I'd guess most people there identifying (or presenting) as gender variant are toward the female masculinity end of the spectrum – but one can never really know.

    There are also queer sports teams, knitting circles, activist groups, book clubs (though I think those are harder to find if you don't know someone who knows someone…), open mics, and so on and so forth. Basically, there's more than the bar scene, although it takes some hunting around to find it.

    As already said, there's definitely also a good sized queer community in Somerville/Cambridge, too. But most of the queer establishments and/or events/happenings are in JP, it seems. I've got friends split between the two, though.

    You're also welcome to get in touch with me, if you've got more questions about Boston. :)

  5. I'd have to agree with Siren about Boise. It's got a great gay population, but since it's small city, having a large lesbian percentage doesn't mean much. It's an awesome city though, I'm dying to go back.

    And yeah, it's swimming with Shane-look-a-likes, and the more butch women tend to be older.

  6. I don't really have b-f related advice re: cities, although we know I get around! Personally, I'm finding it's more important that I click with the personality of the city itself than with its b-f culture, or lack of.

    What I have to say to her is: You may find yourself being “read” as straight in many cities. Instead of ruling the location out, correct people's assumptions first and see if that changes your feelings about the place.

  7. I'm a Femme living in Southern New Jersey, near Philadelphia. And there is no real Butch/Femme community here, even the general Lesbian community feels sectioned off into cliques and groups. It's mostly Andro and/or Boi style.

    But I grew up here and my job/house/family are here too, so I am not planning to move any time soon.

    I do like The Femme Top's suggestion about finding a city who vibes you love, rather than if they have a B/F community.

    Good luck young Sister Femme!

  8. Portland's pretty gender-forward, I know several genderqueer or androgynous people and no few lesbians. There's only one dedicated lesbian bar, but some of the other gay bars have girls' nights and honestly I feel like there's not a whole lot of separation between the lesbians and the gay men here in Portland. It's such a small city anyway, it's kind of like knowing everyone in your high school. Plus, Portland is cheap!

  9. Also, butches travel! So, if you find a place you love with few butches, just fly them in. ;)

  10. i love Boston. great city. seriously. the best.

    unrelated comment about the comments: can you fix it so the "comment" option is at the bottom of the post? people don't like to scroll back up to click a teeeny little "comment" link at the top of the post.

    Yes — that is something I've meant to tweak since I switched to this new layout, thanks for the push. Changed now! – ss

  11. I am in NYC now, and moved from Seattle 8 months ago. Seattle has a strong genderqueer/boi scene. I didn't know any female-identified butches, but I knew a lot of femmes who were rather specifically interested in bois and transguys.

    (I myself am in the not-femme-not-butch hinterlands.)

    Brooklyn seems to have more people who consider themselves butch, and also a stronger lesbian community in general, but I don't feel I have actually "found the community" so much as gotten to know a few people.

  12. Howdy, I'm the femme who wrote the email!

    Thank-you to everyone for your input. I've heard Seattle and Portland can be kind of clique-y, which intimidates me a bit.

    Any info regarding Northampton, MA?

    (btw,my definition of "butch" is definitely inclusive of bois and andros…they are irresistible!)

  13. Boston is a good choice, specifically the Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

  14. I'm assuming "Portland" is referring to Oregon, which I know nothing about, but I'd like to put a plug in for Portland, Maine.

    It's super gay friendly and only 2 hours from Boston-lots of coffee shops, indie stores, art, music (local and visiting), really great food & culture. I've been here for 13 years and find it to be quite heavy on the Butch side (yay)… in fact, at the Lesbian All-Star Review in December (an annual super fun night of all Lesbian talent from the area) I overheard two dykes lamenting about a lack of femmes in the crowd… check out the Dyke March and the Portland Lesbian Coffee House web-sites (two of many) if you're interested in seeing a bit of the community.

    People don't expect Maine to be super gay, but you'd be surprised!

  15. This one isn't on your list but I have to put a plug in for Toronto (even just for other people who might be looking). We have 2 gay neighborhoods (Church/Wellesley village and Queen West village – aka Queer West), 1 specifically lesbian bar, 1 bar that's favoured by genderqueer/trans-folk all over the spectrum, and numerous women's events every month in other queer bars. I've found that the women's scene is quite diverse and seems to be growing quickly, though I spend most of my time in the Church/Wellesley area where the women tend to be femmier. If you're a femme that prefers other femmes, there is *definitely* a home for you here, and if you're a butch looking for femmes, you'll have more choice than you know what to do with. There're definitely a looooot of andro-girls and sporty girls and in-between girls as well, and though women are far outnumbered by gay men in the area, we share well with each other.

  16. Well, speaking for Brooklyn, I do have to say that although there is a large andro/boi population, a lot of them tend to date each other. There are a fair number of places to hang out, but they all pull very different crowds. Usually the genderqueer andro hipster kids are not at the same bar with the softball/jock-y/pony tail dykes.

    I'm with Sinclair on this. New York gay is clique-y, and has some noticable divisions between the queers, the gays, and the Lesbians. It doesn't seem to stop the interconnectedness of people, but it does affect the spaces in which the groups mingle and party.

  17. Interesting. I guess I'm looking for a place with the most options for socializing and the most embracing attitude towards femmes.

  18. toronto, ontario is an awesome place for dykes. gender-progressive, plus we have most any dynamic you can think of, especiallly butch/femme. specifically the church/welleseley area. there's dyke bars, and tons of events and groups and whathaveyou.

  19. Chicago! I literally live in the lesbian part of town, Andersonville, which has several lesbian bars (and coffeeshops…and a feminist bookstore…and a lesbian & trans-male focused sex toy store). There's also the (more famous) gayborhood Boystown, a little bit south of here, which has another lesbian bar, and there are plenty of lesbian nights at different venues throughout the city, catering to different crowds.

    This is by far the most queer-friendly place I've ever lived. I mean, there are cliques here and there, but I think that happens everywhere. People are really accepting of different genders and sexualities and whatnot. I hang with the smelly genderqueer punk kids meself, so I can't speak to the butch/femme experiences too much, but there are definitely butch/femme communities, and there is a lot of queer visibility. I love it here.

  20. Northampton, hm. It often seems dominated by Smithies (not a bad thing at all), but most of the butches I came across were older (a personal weakness, so also not a bad thing either). But there does seem to be more of a boi/andro thing going on, and fierce femmes were few and far between.

    Having lived in DC & San Francisco since living in Western Mass, I just have to point out that it ain't a big city and won't satisfy if you're looking for a big city. One (admittedly awesome) gay bar in town, although the town itself is pretty welcoming. And cute. I'd definitely recommend visiting before you move.

  21. ooh, I will have to check out Chicago!

    I was told Northampton was about 2 hours to Boston and NYC? This appeals to me if true, cause I'd be close to big cities. But maybe that isn't realistic.

    I'm definitely gonna visit everywhere before I decide.

  22. I've lived in Northampton, Boston (JP) and NYC, and I have been read as straight everywhere.

    I found NYC and Boston to be more femme-friendly (not that Northampton isn't…), and NYC is particularly family-friendly if you and your partner decide to have kids.

    Living in Northampton didn't feel near to NYC. For some reason it felt like a "road trip," while Boston felt more like a "day trip" away. As offmycake said, Northampton is really a small town, with all the delights and drawbacks thereof.

    Enjoy your research! ;)

  23. northampton is more like four hours from nyc and about two from boston. i went to college there and it is mega gay, but the bf scene is not fantastic.

    i found the most amazing butch in astoria, NYC, so i of course think that new york is THE place to have a wonderful, fulfilling, beautiful butch-femme relationship. i know a few other fierce butch-femme couples in the city but by and by it's a pretty small group.

    any femmes in astoria/long island city/queens/bklyn want to meet up, lemme know!

  24. i'm a born portlander and we love all the gays here. there's a couple hangouts and ladies dance nights and i see butches and femmes aplenty as well as everyone in between. unfortunately, we're packed full of californians so until some of them move out we're not letting anyone in for a while. also, it's not cheap here, that comment was a lie. in the past year i swear apartment prices have gone sky high. it's cheaper than seattle, but not by much and that's just because we don't have sales tax.

  25. Sascha, I was in Seattle for about seven years and took various trips down to Portland – I wouldn’t say it’s any more cliquey than other places. I love the scene in Seattle, I miss it – I have complaints, but the queer stuff is incredibly gender-forward, lots of activism, lots of forward-thinking. I found it to be mostly FTM/femme, not a lot of butches, but there’s a huge FTM scene and lots of genderqueer respect.

    Brooklyn seems clique-ier than Seattle, though I’ve only been here about four years.

    Mad pride coming in from the Bostonians! Thanks, everyone, for the comments, it’s really interesting to examine butch/femme geographically. Keep ‘em coming!

  26. I'm loving all the advice from everyone! I asked the same thing on a craigslist w4w forum and didn't get many replies.

    I'm also definitely going to consider weather, affordability, public transit, etc. But honestly my top priority is a place to find a partner, friends, and a stimulating queer community.

  27. living in seattle, maybe sinclair had a different experience since he was looking for the femmes….:) but I'm not experiencing this to be a very butch/femme city at ALL. I haven't had a hard time making friends (though admittedly, I'm a pretty extroverted outgoing person!) and it's definitely got a lot of social stuff, and there's plenty of queer and dykey sorts of people…but I wouldn't recommend it for anyone looking for a butch/femme aesthetic/scene/whatever. moved here from DC, and it's definitely a LOT less so than there. Much more genderqueer/andro/hipster…maybe it's the pacific northwest, maybe it's the fact that people don't tend to get dressed up to go out (most of the femmes are a little more stealth?) but while I'm enjoying myself, I wouldn't recommend it for a femme who's hoping for a lot of butchy interaction!!

  28. I have to put in my vote for JP/Boston, even though so many people have already said the same! I have issues with being read as straight everywhere, but there is definitely a super diverse, supportive b/f community in the Boston area, and it is very accepting of unique gender expression. Hope that helps some!

  29. I live in Sacramento, Ca and have been frustrated with the small butch population here, but I found a website that helped a little. Go to Meetup.com, I found a group (there may be one in your area, or whatever area you choose to relocate to) that is specifically for lesbians who embrace the butch/femme dynamic. These are the ones that dont go out to the clubs, but would rather meet with real people and do real things, not just go out, get drunk and party. This group has helped me meet a lot of butch women who I never would have known otherwise, and meet other femme's that i've become friends with. Good luck and I hope this helps!

  30. Thanks, Casey! I was going to plug Chicago, but you said it best. Andersenville is about as gay as it gets. The whole city is really fantastic about the issues and there are enough of us around that you don't feel like the odd one out. It's a fantastic city for the non-gay in you too: fantastic recreation, culture, etc. I love Chicago and wouldn't live anywhere else.

  31. Another Seattleite here and I would agree with Sinclair that we definitely have a FTM/genderqueer presence more than a traditional butch presence, although I'm sure there are butches around too. While I would agree with Seattlefemme in that people don’t generally get dressed up to go out, there are places/nights that more pronounced gender expression is common.

    If you're a femme looking for andro/genderqueer/transguy, you should definitely at least consider Seattle. In terms of the other things of interest: weather (generally light but fairly frequent rain with lovely summers), affordability (higher COL but depends on your choices), public transit (pretty good bus system with lightrail coming this year) Seattle is a good place to live in my opinion. In terms of top priority as a place to find a partner, friends, and a stimulating queer community, Seattle is a great place to live, again, in my opinion.

    Good luck with your decision!

  32. Chiming in again to say that while Northampton rocks, it's REALLY a small town. I's got just one downtown area of shops and restaurants; outside of the center the houses are frequently set on several acres — rural is the word that comes to mind. It's quite close to Springfield and not far from Worcester, but neither of those have much nightlife to speak of.

    If you like to hike/farm/garden, Northampton's a great place to be, but you might find its smallness a bit claustrophobic if you're looking to build a new community. I don't live there though, so I can't say for sure.

    And wow, I didn't expect so much Boston love…I'm glad others share my experience of openness and support here.

    Definitely let me know when you're in town visiting!

  33. Wow! East coast domination, for sure!

    Portland Oregon is the BEST city for queers! And the east side is the best of all (but we live in every neighborhood). Half the checkers at my local grocery store are queer (aka "The Gay Fred Meyer"), there are lesbian dance nights at several clubs every month, lesbian and gay bars, all kinds of activities and groups, and very very inclusive people! Looking for butches? How about the Lesbian Community Project annual softball tournament? HUNDREDS of hot butch women! Like to snowshoe, sing in a chorus, play sports, go on hikes, walk your dog with a group of lesbians? Join the PDX Lesbian Network.

    I'm telling you, we have it all here in Portland! And, it's the West Coast….

  34. Once again, thanks for all the feedback! And thanks to sinclair for posting this! Keep it coming….

  35. I live in portland, and if you're looking for queers, it's goddam big rock candy mountain here. Every goddam person in the whole goddam city is queer. There are like fifty million queer dance nights a week. TONS of butches, femmes, ftms, and everything in between. I'M NOT EVEN JOKING. There's so much queer, you almost get cynical about it! The downside of portland- USED to be cheap, becoming overpriced faster than you can say "gentrification", one out of three people you meet JUST moved here, and there are NO jobs. N O N E. AND, it's the whitest major city in america. Sort of a theme park for privilege. So take that into account, for sure.

    Here's a tip- why not check out the W4W board on craigslist for cities you're thinking of moving too? That might give you some idea of what's out there.

  36. Wow, tons of geat cities. It's making me want to move now. Sascha, just avoid West Michigan whatever you do!! Zero gay culture at all. And frankly I think I would be shot if I even held my girl's hand in public, let alone go to a bar or something. Best of luck to you!!

  37. I live in Chicago, and it’s ok. A-ville is nicely queer, and there are a lot of resources. But if you are a pervert, there is a dearth of women/queer-only kink scenes. I would move to Brooklyn or Seattle based on the women-only kink scenes alone.

  38. Manhattan.

    B/F is here for sure!

    Lots of activities, I would say join a List serve or the Butch / Femme social List on Yahoo…..for stuff that is always going on!

    Lots of age variance which is nice but still lots of younger folks coming up… lol

    or should I say going down…lol

    Lucia

    Butch Loving Femme

    manhattan

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