Ask Me Anything: Origins of ‘Sugarbutch’, and Butch Identity Advice

May 3, 2011  |  advice

Kyle asked:

Where did ‘Sugarbutch’ come from? Is it a nickname? A term of endearment? A random word paired with ‘butch’?

And, because I’m feeling greedy/generous, another question, this one a little more serious. What is one piece of advice you’d give to a newly identifying butch. Would it be something about relationships? Or maybe fashion related? Something deeper about identity, gender and sexuality? And if you don’t want to be limited to one piece of advice, go for it.

I’m not sure I have explained “sugarbutch” before. It is a term my first girlfriend used to say, as in, “You’re not really butch, you’re kind of sugar-butch,” as a way to soften the “butch” part. When I started this site I knew I was butch, but I was still having trouble claiming it without any qualifiers or clarifications, which is why I used the “sugar” part. It makes it sweeter (ha ha), less harsh. Five years later, I don’t think “butch” needs to be made sweeter or less harsh, or rather I think the stereotype of butch may need to be, but that I don’t need to present it that way. I can let the complications of butch identity come through just by being who I am rather than qualifying my language.

Secondly … advice. Actually I have a somewhat recent performance poetry piece called “Unsolicited Advice to a New Butch” (also known as The Butch Poem) which I’ve been performing a bit, I did it first at Butch Voices Portland last year (which is why I thought for a second that that was a trick question, Kyle, since you were there! But you couldn’t stay for the spoken word performance, I think you were already headed back to Seattle by then). I haven’t posted it online yet. I’d like to post it as a video instead of as text, but I haven’t had the chance to record it yet.

One piece of advice is hard. I could have one piece of advice on all the topics you mentioned—relationships, sex, fashion, identity. But I’ll just jump into it by saying: Examine your identity alignment assumptions. Examine your misogyny and masculine privilege. Make the label conform to you, don’t conform to it. Gender should not dictate your personality, hobbies, emotional landscape, or interests, so like what you like and don’t worry that it’s not “butch enough.”

Ultimately: do what feels right to you. Deconstruct societal restrictions and listen to your own inner self. Date who you want to date, sleep with who you want to sleep with, keep your hair how you want to keep your hair, wear what you want to wear. Give yourself permission to experiment (especially with fashion and adornment—hair and clothes are very temporary!). Don’t be afraid to expand the definition of a label if you feel like it has some resonance. Don’t be afraid to experiment, collect the data, and then change things as needed in the future. Whatever or whoever you are right now, it could be the same in five or ten years or it could be completely different, and that’s okay. Don’t take it all so seriously. There is more to you than just this identity, this is just one part of who you are. Work on all the parts (like in the integrated life matrix) and commit to evolving into your Self over and over.

I’d be curious to hear other folks’ answer to that question, though—what advice would YOU give to a new butch? What advice do you wish you had? What’d you learn the hard way? What was the best piece of advice you received?

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14 Comments


  1. What advice would I give to a new Butch? Do what feels right for you. Wear what feels right for you. Date who feels right for you. Bottom line, learn to love and accept yourself regardless of what society may say, wear or do. Just be you.

    Oh, and, by yourself a strap-on. (;

  2. don’t ever forget that whether you’re tough or a pussycat, your femme will probably be tougher and stronger than you in other ways.

  3. “Examine your identity alignment assumptions.”

    SO SO key. I’ve seen so many relationships go down because people were acting according to their labels. Your squeally giggle doesn’t make you less butch; it makes you hotter because you embrace all parts of who you are, labels be damned.

  4. The best advice I could give to a new butch would be this: I’m wearing red lipstick, stiletto heels, a short skirt, and an outrageous pushup bra just for you, so why don’t you come buy me a drink already?

  5. would love to read/see the poem but pretty please post text too and/or caption your video. some of your readers are deaf. :)

  6. danielle—thank you for the reminder, I will do my best to post the interpretation in addition!

    love the advice, everybody! remember though, not all butches date and/or partner with femmes :)

  7. (Long time lurker, but first time commenter). Danielle and Sinclair, regarding videos and/or spoken poetry, if you ever would like something interpreted into American Sign Language, please let me know. I’m graduating from my interpreter training program in two weeks, and I’d love to be of assistance with this.

  8. Have I told you lately that you’re one of my butch role model/heroes? Great answer, and you’re right, I was on my way home Sunday afternoon and missed the spoken word performances. Thank you for summarizing here, and I’d be very interested in hearing/seeing the complete piece sometime.

    This is a great piece of advice in a tidy bite: “Examine your identity alignment assumptions. Examine your misogyny and masculine privilege. Make the label conform to you, don’t conform to it. Gender should not dictate your personality, hobbies, emotional landscape, or interests, so like what you like and don’t worry that it’s not “butch enough.””

    Totally and completely agree.

  9. I’ve been using the term “Lipstick Butch” to describe myself lately, so I was very interested to hear that “Sugarbutch” came about much the same way. I don’t have any advice for new butches because I AM a new butch, but it’s great reading every one else’s advice (and it’s always great reading your blog!)

  10. Sinclair I loved hearing your explanation of sugarbutch, quite similar to my own nickname that I took as a moniker, fancybutch. My advice would be similar; if you feel butch works for you then use it and don’t apologize, don’t be shy, don’t feel you have to modify it unless you want to. As with many words use it often, and it will be more comfortable and you will wear it with more pride, say it out loud in the mirror and in front of your friends. LEAN INTO IT and it will fill you up.

  11. I also loved hearing your explanation for ‘sugarbutch’. My partner is no longer really a puppybutch, but she still goes by that name (between the two of us, anyway). It’s interesting to see that a number of people here initially felt the need to slightly ‘de-butch’ themselves (or were de-butched by others).

  12. Please enter me in your drawing for the compression shirt. YAY!

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