A few weeks ago, Autostraddle wrote a long post on bras: What the F Should I Do With These Boobs?—particularly, bras for folks who don’t really want the standard lace-and-bows versions that are the most common at stores. They linked to one of my old posts, More On Butch Bras, where I talked about getting properly measured and how life-changing that was. I’d like to write more about that—and I still think everybody, EVERYBODY, should go get properly measured, because there actually is a difference between a 34D and a 36C, and if you say you wear either one, you are probably not wearing the most comfortable bra for you that you could.
That’s my size, by the way. Or rather, that’s the size I thought I was for a long time. Turns out I’m more of a 34DD, though right now, given the amount of biscuits I’ve consumed in the past year, I’m probably more like a 36DD. Knowing that helped—though that’s also assuming that you’re buying bras which have separate ribcage measurements and cup sizes, which sports bras generally don’t.
I resisted sports bras for a long time. I didn’t like the uni-boob look, something I finally identified as left over from my first girlfriend, who used to say that all the time (who has since transitioned and had top surgery, by the way, so I suppose found a solution for that). But when I started doing “drag nights” in college and wearing more button-downs, the advice from my friend was to wear a one-size-too-small sports bra as a binder, and that ace bandages were really not the way to go.
Still, it took a while before I went through my underwear drawer and got rid of ALL of my traditional back-clasp two-cupped bras in favor of more of a binder. I found this Adidas back-clasp sports bra that gave me enough of a bind, and quickly bought four of them, tossing everything else out.
These dozens of suggestions that Autostraddle posted are great, but for larger breasted folks like me, there was not a single bra on there that I would wear. Though perhaps that’s not so fair, really, because there’s only one that I really wear anyway: the Enell bra (you can get ‘em on Amazon too).
There is an Introduction to the Enell bra on YouTube, but it’s so cheesy that I can’t bear to embed it here. I will however embed the fitting and measuring video so you can see how to wear it:
It has significantly changed the way I look in shirts, and I have yet to find anything better. I used to have a size 1 that I would use for extra-tight binding and a size 2 that I wore for everyday stuff, but I can’t fit into the size 1 anymore. Hitting 30 really has changed my body, my metabolism. I’m trying to be more careful about what I eat and hope I can fit back into the size 1 someday … but that’s kind of another post.
"My butch is generally easy-going, and brings me closest to my casual, gender-neutral life-style. Dress-up occasions tend to bring out the more flamboyant parts of myself, depending on the context, my butch helps me stand apart and express genderqueer visibility."Read More
… I’m just kinda speechless. If we do another list, she’ll have to be #1 with a bullet.
(Thanks Sassafras, who was the first one who sent me this link!)
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?
I posted way too much on Friday, so while the Butch Lab’s second Symposium topic went live on Friday too, I waited until today to cross post it to Sugarbutch.
I challenge y’all to comment on every single post. They’re beautiful, and I think this conversation is important.
Butch Lab’s second Symposium is about Stereotypes and Misconceptions around butch identity.
Now apparently masculine-of-center people aren’t supposed to be bottoms. In fact, one of Jae’s former girlfriends called her appearance misleading. Um…wtf? How Jae responded and responds is by making her sexual preferences really obvious and open. Have I mentioned that we met on OKCupid? “Bottom” was in the first sentence of her profile. I think she should have responded by leaving that tool. … If we’re talking about who wears the cock, that’d be me. If we’re talking about who has shorter hair, that’d be her.
It’s actually a fairly simple thing to avoid, too, though it takes a conscious effort. DON’T ASSUME. It’s just that easy. Just because K is butch doesn’t mean that she will bristle or bite your head off if you open the car door for her. The fact that she doesn’t like acts of chivalry directed toward her means that she might just bristle or bite your head off if you open the car door for her. G loves pink. Doesn’t mean she isn’t butch. That hot pink cowboy shirt she had on yesterday was WAY masculine, and super hawt, too! The only cure to making assumptions about people is not admit to yourself that you don’t know what they like ,what they don’t like, or how they’ll act in a specific situation based on any group that they belong to. You only know these things about them once you get to know them personally, as people, and not as gender identities.
The misconception: Butch is a dirty word. Something less than, something too extraordinarily ‘other’ to be acceptable. Butch is threatening as an in-between, an indefinable and therefore unknown entity. Our hair dresser keeps trying to give S a softer haircut, until we explain that S identifies as butch, and expects to look butch. The hair dresser laughs and blushes a bit, but starts getting the cut right. The truth: Butch is hot. Butch is cocky and shy and gorgeous and loving. Butch is an identity one can be proud of.
I am far from being a stone butch. I have my moments of weakness both physically and emotionally. I feel all kinds of emotions and most of the time I have absolutely no way of hiding them. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I definitely want to be touched, bitten, kissed, licked, penetrated and everything else when it comes to sex. … While it’s true that I can fix a lot of things, I definitely can’t fix everything nor do I want to. I am, sadly, not the owner of many tools, although I really would like that assumption to be true some day. I like tools. I like them a lot. I certainly am not threatened by a strong, independent femme. As a matter of fact, I’m really turned on by them. I mean, think about it. A femme fixing things or building things, knowing how to use her hands and get dirty? Yeah. So sexy.
Being butch doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, mean I have to have certain interests (e.g., sports, which I largely don’t care for), skills (e.g., Patty changes lightbulbs and deals with tools because I am largely useless at these things), and social and sexual roles (my own being unnecessary to describe for the sake of this entry). And it certainly shouldn’t require me to be misogynist, which is something I see more and more gay women complaining about lately — butches that assert their butchness by denigrating femmes in all the same ways that women get denigrated by men in het culture. But, if I reject the external assumptions of what a butch is, what’s left to define me as butch, at least on the days where I would consider myself such? The answer, is, simply, that I don’t know.
We are inundated by images and stereotypes equated with masculinity. As a young queer person wanting to express my masculinity, it seemed to me there weren’t a lot of options. If I wanted other people to recognize my butchness, I had to copy the attitudes and behaviors of the boys, and other butches, around me. I played along for a while during high school, ending up with a combination of chivalrous and sexist behaviors. I was sweet to my girlfriend, holding the door for her, doing all I could to be the gentleman. However, I also went along with my butch buddy and other guys when they spoke in not-so-complementary terms about their girlfriends and girls in general. As time went on, it was clear to me that if being butch meant being sexist and chauvinistic, I would have to find a different identity.
Butches hate men. Butches drive motorcycles. Butches wear leather jackets. Butches are the “man” in the relationship and perform all the “male” duties. Butches work with their hands. Butches aren’t intellectuals. Butches can only have short hair in a men’s style. Butches like beer and sports. Butches are mean. Butches cannot access their feelings. Butches want to be men. Butches will only date Femmes and do not date other Butches. Butches are (always) the sexually dominant ones. Butches only wear masculine attire. Butches under the age of thirty do not exist.
I’ve heard a range of cliches, misconceptions, and flat-out assumptions that would make your hair curl. Butches are sexist, chauvinistic, misogynistic. They’re all blue collar. Butch and stone are the same thing. Butch is the queer equivalent of a “strong, silent type.” Butches are only attracted to femmes and straight women. … It’s almost like the image of butch, even (and maybe especially) among gay and queer society is some kind of adaptation of the Marlboro Man, crossed with Rooster Cogburn. … I’ve written a zillion blog posts about how these stereotypes annoy, irritate, and generally piss me off.
For many people that I know, “Butch” means man. To identify as butch would signify an identification with men, and therefore would want to be a man. I run into the assumption that I’m actually trans, due to my supposed “strong desire to be a man.” The difference is that my gender identity is female, rather than an identity as male. When I finally settled into a masculine style of dress, I felt like more of a woman than I ever have in my entire life.
My academic background is in math: specifically, probability, and a growing knowledge base in statistical theory. … Gender is pretty much THE example of a binary variable in introduction to statistics classes. I can’t tell you how many times I sat through an explanation of a binary variable only to hear, “The categories are male and female: each person belongs to one, and one alone.” And every time, it really really hurt. But it doesn’t have to. Consider that there are different types of variables. We, readers of gender blogs, already know that gender does require interpretation. How are you measuring it? Self-reporting? Survey collector’s impression? How are you accounting for error or bias? The truth is that gender alone could be its very own statistical model. To us, it is vastly complex. Why is that? I’d argue it’s because of something that a professor once said in lecture: No model performs well on its boundaries.
“Well,” I replied, “I have a pretty good sense of people. But mostly, you were by far the hottest butch in that bar, and I wanted you.”
“Oh,” she said, smiling, “I’m not butch.”
“Yes, you are,” I said, eyebrows raised. Is it possible that she doesn’t know? It’s not like she’s some college kid, she’s old enough to have figured out at least some of this identity stuff.
“No, I’m not,” she said again. “I used to think I was butch. I lived in the city after college and I played pool with all the butches at the lesbian bars, and they thought I was one of them. I thought I was one of them. And then I realized, spending all that time with those butches — that wasn’t me. I’m not that kind of tough. I’m a faggy genderqueer.”
For years, I was afraid to appear masculine; I struggled with feminine gender presentation, referred to myself as a ‘lesbian’, and felt totally…awkward. I also grew up in a conservative town, where any woman seen as not being feminine (i.e. passive, submissive, quiet, etc) was sometimes referred to as ‘butch.’ This word was bad, it meant nasty, un-feminine, not to be trusted, disgusting. … In the gay community, I think that stereotypes of butch-ness exist too. Specifically in communities where there may not be a lot of masculine gender presenting folks. … There was a lot of ‘dabbling in butchness’ going on. People just barely sticking their toes into the masculine gender presenting pool, afraid of being seen as butch but unable to control it, and judgment of these presentations ran rampant. People in the bar (not that I had a fake-id or anything) would openly state that they ‘didn’t want to date butch girls.’
- Ali Oh at Made of Words: Bottoms Up, Thumbs Up
- Madeline Elayne: Butches Don’t Wear Pink (and other fallacies)
- Victoria Oldham at Musings of a Lesbian Writer: Misconceptions
- Wendi Kali at A Stranger in This Place: Butch Stereotypes, Cliches, and Misconceptions
- RM at Letters from Titan: Butch Isn’t Ugly
- Kyle on Butchtastic: Butch Stereotypes, Cliches and Misconceptions:
- EST at A Lesbian Christian on Butch Stereotypes
- Joliesse Soul at This Side of Changed on Butch Stereotypes
- Laina at The Bookish Butch
- Harrison at How to Be Butch on Stereotypes, Cliches, and Misconceptions
- Lenore Louhi at Twenty Pebbles, a piece titled “Smoke”
- Cody on Cowboy Coquet on Stereotypes, Cliches, and Misconceptions
When I moved to New York City, I went to the barber shop around the corner, which happened to be on 2nd avenue and 3rd street. It was a reasonable place, the guy who owned it, I think, he was always there cutting hair and was nice enough. I never witnessed any overt homophobia or weirdness about me being in that space, though it was clear it was a dude’s space, with Maxim and Playboy and other kinds of girly magazines on the tables near the waiting chairs and with an eventual upgrade to big-screen TVs that were always playing exploitive (or so it seemed to me, anyway) music videos or sports events. Sometimes the guys in there, who were obviously the barber’s friends, carried on elaborate conversations I would have rather not overheard. Most of the time there weren’t any mentions of queer folks, but very frequently they were talking about women in ways that I didn’t like.
It was affordable, and convenient, and reliable—he would almost always give me a good haircut. Maybe not amazing, but good, and that’s important.
Later I saw a shot from Sophia Wallace‘s “Bois & Dykes” series
(which I can’t find online anymore, someone point me to the link if you’ve got it) (which fimgfound on the GAQ, thank you!) of someone getting her hair cut in that same barber shop, with that same barber, which I thought was pretty cool. I’m glad they are known, at least a little, to be cool and warm toward queers.
But then I moved to Brooklyn, and it became a huge challenge to find a place to get my hair cut. Maintaining this kind of short hair takes a cut about once a month, so I had plenty of time to try out places, (sometimes) get horrible cuts, and try out somewhere else.
I knew I needed some hip, reliable place to go, but couldn’t find it.
So I started asking around. I decided that when I saw someone with the kind of hair I wanted, I would ask them where they got their hair cut.
The first time that happened, I was on the subway on the way to Brooklyn. He had a pompadour of some sort, slicked back and poufy in the right spots. That, I thought. That’s what I want.
He got up from his seat to get off at the next stop, and I swallowed, told myself it was now or never. I don’t like talking to strangers. “Excuse me,” I said, “Sorry to bug you, I’m just wondering if you’d mind sharing where you get your hair cut? Love it.”
“Tomcat’s Barber Shop,” he answered easily, and exited the train.
I looked it up. It is in Greenpoint, near Williamsburg, known as The Hipster Neighborhood. Hm. Not sure that’s where I want to go. I continued to go to other barbers, even made a special trip down to the East Village to go to my old barber because he was reliable enough. But the cut wasn’t great. A little too quick, a little too short, not quite styled enough, just average. It was fine when I was getting faux hawks and all-short-with-a-little-bit-flippy-in-the-front, but now that I wanted something more retro and stylish and grown up, it wasn’t quite right.
Then I saw a guy in a big department store one weekend. Also with a pompadour of some sort, this time with tattoos and a motorcycle jacket. Okay, maybe it was time to step up my rockabilly look. Maybe it was time to push my style.
I kept catching glances of him at the ends of aisles, or passing each other, but not quite near enough to ask him a question. Then, magically, we both got in the same elevator to get down to the street level after we’d checked out.
“I have to ask—your hair is amazing,” I said to him. “Where do you get it done?”
“This retro barber shop called Tomcat’s,” he answered.
Another vote for Tomcats. Clearly I had to try it out.
So I did. And I’ve been going there ever since, for more than two years now.
Actually, I’m not sure when I started going there. I’m sure it was before Kristen and I got together, but not sure how long before. Maybe a year? So maybe it’s been more than three years I’ve been going there.
I have never had a bad cut from Tomcat’s. I’ve had cuts that weren’t exactly what I asked for, but they were still awesome. I’ve had cuts from Katja (though she doesn’t work there anymore), Joey, and Derek. Erin and Chris are great, too. I always ask for Joey, but I would recommend anyone on staff.
The cuts are $20 and they will do a wash and razor shave on your neck if you want (you might have to ask, I rarely get a wash, but they will do it). You’ll also get a beer while you’re waiting, if you want that.
This is how they describe themselves:
Tomcat’s Barber Shop specializes in Classic cuts (pompadours, 50′s biker cuts, Blade cuts for the Psychobillys, Mods, Glamrockers, Punks etc) military cuts, and shaves, and any of the modern cuts. Tomcats is known in NY as the premier Rock ‘n’ Roll barbershop.
They moved around Halloween last year, but just across the street, and the new venue is gorgeous. I’ve taken various shots the last times I’ve been there and I’d love to do a photo shoot there, eventually. I love the feel.
A few months ago, when I went in, Joey, the owner, who seems to like to talk while he’s cutting hair, was talking about his clients and how he’s still hiring barbers for the new place. “I have all kinds of barbers working here,” he said to me. “But what I don’t have is a girl with a flat top and tattoos.”
(If you know of a queer barber looking for a chair, this might be a place for them to try out!)
So he’s keeping an eye out for more queer clientele to come in, and I told him I’d tell my story and tell y’all to go check them out. I know plenty of you have regular places you already attend, but I am telling you, this place is an experience.
If you’re visiting New York from elsewhere, think about stopping here on your first day—then you’ll have a killer coif in all your vacation photos. They have all the (affordable!) products you need to keep it waxed and pomped and defying gravity, and the cuts are only $20.
I’m overdue for a cut myself, but I’m trying to grow it out for the Gay Ol’ Opry—DapperQ requested I pomp my hair up for it so I’m letting it grow. I’ll get it done later this week, probably before I leave on the birthday weekend trip, so it’ll be all set for the event on the 7th.
I have fifteen more stories to tell you about barber shops and hair and my gender and masculine spaces where I feel safe and product, but perhaps I’ll leave those for other times. Tell me, folks, where do you go get your hair cut? Is it an important event for you? Do you cut your hair yourself? What’s your barber/salon like? Is it queer (friendly)? What have you witnessed there?
(Perhaps this would be a good Butch Lab Symposium topic.)
Oh, and if you stop by, tell Joey I sent you.
"[Butch] represents the way I walk in the world and represents the sisters and brothers who have come before me. It is a part of my herstory. By owning my female masculinity I own the word butch, thus, I own myself."Read More
"I identify myself as a motorcycle riding butch lesbian, writer, photographer and self-explorer learning to love and accept myself. I will answer to “Sir” or “Ma’am” but prefer to be described as “handsome” rather than “beautiful”. I am a woman who enjoys binding, packing and moving fluidly between genders."Read More
"As a butch I think it’s important to speak to my relationship to femmes, femmephobia and the privileging of masculinity. I certainly get crap for being gender non-conforming (on top of crap for being trans), but as a butch trans woman it’s easier for me to separate being gender non-conforming and being masculine."Read More
On Gina Mamone’s mini-interview, a commenter named MS wrote: “Can you post a definition of or primer on what gender queer means?” Kyle Jones was kind enough to comment in reply and explain a bit, and I proceeded to ask him to write up his own primer on genderqueer. Here it is.
This is a guest post from Kyle Jones, Butchtastic.net
Genderqueer people, by definition, are united by their rejection of the notion that there are only two genders.
Beyond their rejection of the gender binary as the sole way to describe gender, there is much diversity within the group of people who call themselves ‘genderqueer’—it’s a catch-all term that includes sometimes contradictory identifications. For example, some genderqueers identify as neither male nor female, some as both male and female. Some see ‘genderqueer’ as a gender in and of itself, some may identify this way because they feel they are beyond gender—genderless or a-gender.
I led a discussion on genderqueer identity at Butch Voices Portland 2010 and almost everyone who attended came to this identity from a different place. There were those who described a fluidity of gender, a sense that they were a mixture of male and female. Some people wanted to move beyond the terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ entirely. They didn’t see genderqueer as being a region along the gender binary axis, instead many described it as independent of that spectrum. Based on the diversity of personal definitions expressed in that session, we started to talk about a gender cloud rather than a gender spectrum. Because ‘genderqueer’ is an umbrella term, to really know how an individual relates to it, you’ll need to know their personal definition of genderqueer.
The term “genderqueer” can also be used as an adjective to refer to any people who transgress gender, regardless of their self-defined gender identity. And some genderqueer individuals also identify as transgender, because their gender identity does not completely correspond to their physical sex. Genderqueers may have any sexuality/sexual identity, any physical sex. There is also diversity in the way genderqueers relate to pronouns. Some prefer gender neutral pronouns such as ‘they’ or ‘them’ or the alternate forms “ze,” “per,” “sie” and “hir,” “zhe,” “hir.” And some prefer to stay with traditional male and female pronouns, though they may use them in less traditional ways. Other terms similar to genderqueer are genderfluid, gender-variant, bi-gender, third gender, two-spirit and gender non-conforming.
If you find all of this a bit confusing, you’re not alone. When I come out to people as genderqueer, I’m more surprised to find people who are familiar with the term than those who aren’t. And when I’m asked to define genderqueer, as I was for this article, I find it challenging, especially with people who aren’t comfortable or experienced in considering gender beyond male and female. In my experience, most of the world is still not ready to go beyond the gender binary. It takes a lot of work and effort to learn the new vocabulary and open your mind to alternative ways of seeing gender. One challenge I still have is trying to get my head around the idea of being ‘genderless’. I know that much of the way my brain has organized information about the world is still ruled by the existence of distinct genders.
As I mentioned, I identify as genderqueer. Butch describes my appearance, genderqueer describes my gender and queer describes my sexuality. My personal genderqueer definition is that I am not male or female, I am male and female. I have two distinct gender identities, each with a name, a set of pronouns and sexual preferences. Sometimes the distinction is obvious and sometimes more fluid and combined. One visualization I use is that of a tree with two trunks, each coming from the same root structure and base. My male and female identities have some shared history as well as some that is separate. As I visualize my ‘tree trunks’, they start together, then grow apart, come close again, intertwine and grow together, then diverge again as you look up the tree. My male side has a distinct personality, accent, sexual drive and issues. It has also been suppressed more, being less accepted by the outside world and, as a result, is the less developed and mature of my two identities. My female side, having had more time at the forefront, takes the lead in most situations, although my goal is to become more balanced.
You may be thinking, this person has multiple personality disorder. Though I’m not a professional, I know that’s not the case. I have multiple genders, which means I also identify as transgender, because the male side of me does not match my female body. I’ve had some awesome and unexpected experiences lately where strangers have seen my male side. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being recognized and acknowledged as male—something like a rush of adrenaline combined with a strong sexual charge—a big ol’ ego boner.
This is a frustration I share with other genderqueer and transgender people—the feeling of being partially invisible, of spending most of my days being partially unseen. I think we all share a common need to be seen and celebrated for who we truly are, and not just the easily understood fragments, but all our wonderful complexity.
This article is meant to be a starting point for people new to the term ‘genderqueer’, but it’s by no means the last word. If you’d like to learn more about variant gender identities, here are some excellent starting places:
- List of blogs by Butch, Genderqueer and Trans authors on Butchtastic.net
- Beyond the Check-boxes: Exploring Genderqueer Identity, hand-out for my session at Butch Voices Portland 2010.
- Wikipedia: informative and non-judgmental articles on a wide variety of gender and identity topics:http://en.wikipedia.org. Source of some of the definitions above.
- Transifesto, Trans-lations page: Matt Kailey’s list of terms used often on his blog, relating to sex and gender. Source of some of the definitions above.
- Polygender.co.uk: resource pages with information on genderqueer and transsexual related topics.
- Gender Queer. Voices From Beyond the Sexual Binary, Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, Riki Wilchins (2002) Alyson Books, New York.
- Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us 1994, Kate Bornstein
- My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely 1997, Kate Bornstein
- Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, 2010, Edited by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman