identity politics

Ten Ways I Am A Gender Outlaw

Today is the last day on The Great Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation Blog Tour, and I’m closing it out. Thanks, Kate and Bear. Thanks, Seal Press.

It’s a fantastic book. I laughed, I cried. Would you expect anything less?

There were a lot of pieces about trans experiences, not as in one singular trans experience, but people writing about their lives and what it’s been like to have the experience being gendered like they are in the world. A few other pieces were by cisgender femmes—but I have yet to read a piece in there talking about butch experiences. Now, it is a book focusing on trans identity, primarily, so maybe stories and essays about butch experiences don’t even belong here. That’s okay, I don’t have to see myself reflected in every single book about gender, sometimes it might not fit.

But it got me thinking: what’s my relationship to the term and identity “trans?” Is butch a trans identity? And what are the ways that I am a gender outlaw?

I do see butch as falling under the trans umbrella, as a sort of trans identity, because butch is a masculine identity on a woman (or, should I say, “woman”), and that is not what our culture defines as what a woman does. I am trans in that I transcend the binary, I transform the binary. I believe in more than the binary, and partly because of that I also believe that a masculine expression on a female body is a completely legitimate expression of “woman,” and that therefore it may not be a trans identity.

However … that’s not the dominant cultural acceptance of the way woman-ness can be expressed, that’s for sure. And I have learned more about gender—both mine and cultural systems of gender—from the trans movements than anywhere else. I find my gender has more in common with many trans folks than it does with anybody else, in part because of the intentionality and thoughtfulness behind it. So I still have an identification with trans. Though not without hesitation—which is why I say “a sort of trans identity” whenever I’m talking about it. I do understand how it could be, and I understand how it could not be. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle, sometimes feeling more trans than not, sometimes feeling not trans.

Regardless, though, a butch identity is outside the law, and is an outlaw. In this case, it’s not necessarily that I’m outside of the actual legal law, though we could talk about the ways that we still haven’t passed an ERA (wtf?) and that my sexuality in this country makes me a second-class citizen, but we’re not talking about sexuality here: we’re talking about gender.

And my gender, though perhaps not outside of the legal law, as it is no longer dictated that I wear at least five pieces of women’s clothing (can you imagine!? It was not so long ago), is outside of social law. Society has certain laws that I break all the time, by crossing back and forth between “male” space and “female” space, by presenting masculine in this world, by passing sometimes and not passing other times, by dating women, by being a feminist, by challenging misandry and misogyny and other ways that masculinity is constructed.

Here’s some other ways I’ve been thinking about that make me a Gender Outlaw:

10. I shop in the men’s department. I know this seems both like a given (duh) and like not a big deal, it actually can be. Getting a salesperson to help me is pretty difficult. Making a decision to either use the dressing room in the men’s department, or carry everything back to the women’s department, or not try on anything and make my shopping trip twice as long when I need to come back to return the things that don’t fit, can take up more space in my head than it needs to. Sometimes I get shoo’d out of the women’s dressing room, or at the very least I get disapproving and confused glances by other shoppers—both in the men’s department, women’s dressing rooms, and at the check-out. It’s more complicated than one would expect to keep shopping for men’s clothes, to crossdress, basically. And at this point, the only thing I don’t buy in the men’s department is binders (bras).

9. I visit a barber once a month. Inserting myself into traditionally men’s spaces is tricky, sometimes dangerous. Though I live in a very tolerant city, I still come across plenty of men in these spaces who are skeptical, giving me shifty sideways eyes, at best, and outright homophobic at worst. I continue to walk in there like I belong and request the same services (at the same price—which is also sometimes a problem) that any of the guys get. Aside from the barber, I get my shoes shined, I sometimes get my nails done or my eyebrows waxed—yes, I admit to a certain level of metrosexuality that goes with my masculinity. But it’s all for sex, people. I do it for the sex. And the pure joy that comes with a dapper presentation.

8. I disrupt the assumption that misogyny comes standard with masculinity. I treat women well, and I take that seriously. I do not believe femininity is any easier (or harder) than masculinity, and I do not believe it should be in a hierarchy of any time. I strive to not only believe that, but to live that belief.

7. I like what I like—I don’t let my gender dictate my interests, hobbies, or personality. I enjoy cooking, yoga, reading books, amateur astronomy, meditation, the psychotheraputic process, building community, and I don’t really like sports, or monster trucks, or remote control cars, or many of those “typical” masculine hobbies. I challenge the idea that any hobby belongs to any gender. These are human experiences, and human expressions, and human things to do, and I can choose from any one of them.

6. I research the butches and genderqueers and other masculine-of-center folks who came before me. I know I’m not alone in this lineage, this way that I walk the world, and even though sometimes it feels like I made it all, I only made myself in a long context of many others, and I pay homage as often as I can with respect and props.

5. I read everything I can about gender, keeping up with the latest books (like Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation!) I (try to) keep up with the myriad of butch and masculine-of-center blogs online, to keep hearing people’s stories, to watch as they unfold, to keep up with the conversations. I feel lucky that I have so many stories to read!

4. I see a gender identity as a beginning, not an end. As with any identity, the minute someone tells me they identify as a certain thing—femme, butch, genderqueer, gender-fluid, trans, male, female, whatever—I take that as a starting point, and I am curious to know more, not as the end point, where I fill in my own assumptions about what that means. I keep my assumptions in check. I keep my inner gender police in check, and instead of expressing anything like, “Whut? You don’t seem x to me,” I ask, “Oh? What does that mean to you?” It’s a starting place, a jumping off point, not something to close down the conversation.

3. I make friends with straight men—or at least, I’m friendly with them—to challenge their assumptions about masculinity (and butch dykes). I don’t see them as the enemy. I don’t assume they’re all the same. I challenge misandry in the queer circles. Marginalized communities, especially those who have come up from the lesbian and feminist histories, have a lot of man-hating built in to them. (I know, I’m not supposed to say that, but it can be true.) There is a difference between challenging a system of patriarchy vs challenging an individual man, who may or may not be as much of a subscriber to feminist beliefs as any of us are. Aside that, many queers are skeptical of masculinity—I have seen that as I get further into my identity as butch, and I’ve seen it happen to many of my trans guy friends. I do my best to challenge it when I see it, and ask what’s behind that comment, jab, or joke. Gently, and kindly, but still, to challenge.

2. I am a fierce feminist, and see the intersectionality of many different kinds of oppression and do my best to analyze and check my own privileges while standing up for those that are marginalized and oppressed. I think most homophobia and transphobia is still about a basic, fundamental sexism that believes men are better than women and therefore masculine-identified people are better than feminine-identified people, and I think the feminist theories can be a way to untangle those underlying cultural beliefs systematically.

1. I love my body. I just heard Tobi Hill-Meyer read a piece at the spoken word performance at Butch Voices Portland about how much of woman-ness is tied to hating one’s own body, and it really resonated for me. Despite being raised a bit non-traditionally, despite growing up into a butch gender, most of us are taught by this culture to hate our bodies, and I continue to treat myself with care, respect, and love, in the face of a culture which would have me buff, pluck, shave, cut, dye, powder, or hide the skin, stretch marks, and “flaws” of my body.

What do you think, y’all? Did I forget something? What are the ways that YOU are a gender outlaw?

Don’t forget to pick up Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation at your local queer feminist bookstore.

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.

15 thoughts on “Ten Ways I Am A Gender Outlaw”

  1. I'm Holly Golightly, and you're Fred… the writer, Fred.

    From the book, not from the film.

    Mille tendresse,



  2. Shelly says:

    As a fellow kinky queer butch top, I can say this without reservation:

    Spot on. As always. I relate to every single one of your ten items.

    I love my neighborhood barbershop. It's owned by an Italian fella, his two sons and their cousin. I have never seen another female client. But they are as warm and accommodating as one could ever hope. There's none of the macho posturing one might expect. They ask after my gf. My barber and I talk about his three daughters. We discuss the best places in Chicago to eat authentic Italian.

    One of the ways I know I am a Gender Outlaw is that my butchness encompasses many seemingly contradictory passions and pursuits and proclivities.

    I am gentle. Tender. I cry. I giggle. I love "cute" and small things. I get maudlin.

    Yes, I wear boxer briefs, French cuffs, motorcycle boots, silk ties and the occasional flannel shirt – but I am also the woman in my home who does the laundry and cooking.

    I've always felt that my butchness is a combination of the best qualities traditionally thought of as masculine as well as feminine.

  3. Olivia says:

    I'm a femme gender outlaw. I'm 6 feet tall, I was a college athlete, I am a lawyer, and I love my pickup truck. I also have long blonde curly hair and love to wear dresses and heels, and I've worn makeup since I was 12. There are a lot of very stereotypically feminine things about me and probably as many stereotypically masculine things about me, and I'm not shy about either of them.

    I think loving my body is one of my most transforming and transgressive accomplishments, one I struggle for almost daily. It was easiest when I was rowing and my size and strength were coveted assets. I've had harder times when my joints have failed and I've gained weight, or when I was in law school and didn work out much, or when I was on SSRIs and my metabolism slowed. However, I refuse to attack myself just because a dominant cultural narrative tells me I take up too much space.

    I also try to be a gender outlaw in bed, by actively loving the bodies of the people I fuck. I don't assume anything about what someone likes in bed based on how they present. I ask what they like me to call their body parts, and how those parts should be touched. I try to make a safe space for them to ask for what they want, without judgment or "you're a butch why do you like THAT" nonsense.

  4. Gold says:

    I definitely think butch is a trans identity. Transgendered, but not transsexual. I identified as trans a long time before I picked 'butch' up.

    Shopping in the mens department sucks. I've been doing it since I was old enough to have a job– my first paycheck at sixteen went into buying myself some men's levi's– and it's been miserable every single time. I have a lot of social anxiety that has calmed as I've become older, but as a teen shopping was pretty much unbearable. It's basically a moot point for me now, though. I'm so physically small that there are only two or three stores I can buy shirts from that will fit, so I buy online since I'm familiar enough with their sizing by now that I don't need to go into the stores.

    Going to a barber, though… I get the masculine mystique of it, but I'd rather just use a salon. I mean, men go to salons. Men with really good haircuts. I think even if I were born male, I'd still go to a salon over a barbershop. There's something about a stylish woman wearing perfume lathering my head in warm water and making smalltalk while she fusses over me that will never get old. Maybe I'm just a mama's boi.

  5. WWG says:

    Something I've often wondered as trans has come to the forefront more recently – do you think a lot of the stone butches of yesteryear were trans but just didn't have the proper word to describe themselves (and do something about it)?

    I'm pretty feminine for the most part (to the point a straight friend calls me "almost prissy"), but there is a heterosexual femininity which feels different than a queer femininity. There's an awkwardness to it that's internal (or could just be me). I look straight. When I want to dress to feel sexy I put on heels and skirts. But at work if I wear skirts, I often find myself trying to sit with my legs crossed ankle to knee in a skirt (because I was a gymnast and I am shorter than a lot of chairs?) With a sweater to cover my lap. That could also be because I want to focus on my work, not my stupid skirt, but still.

  6. Kyle says:

    Well, I am also reading and prepping for a review of GO:TNG, but outside the blog tour schedule.. unfortunately my travel schedule of the past few weeks didn't leave me enough time to get the review in sooner.

    I'm really enjoying it, I'm finding that I relate to a lot of what I'm reading. I'm going to hold off reading your review in full until I've finished mine, but then I'll come back and see what you thought.

  7. so, this is almost off topic – but, though i've heard it dozens of times before, it just struck me: five pieces of women's clothing? jesus, i'm femme, and there are days i don't wear five pieces of women's clothing! (and i don't mean the days i wear boy's clothes) i mean days i am probably not wearing five pieces of clothing at all. i suppose a part of that could be related to a great cultural undergarment shift, but really, i just realized how extreme that is! i suppose before i had been focussed on how awful it is to force someone to wear any women's clothes if it's not their proclivity.

  8. sarah bo says:

    Do you have any specific dating services sites that accommodate gender outlaws like you and I? thanks for the post, btw, you are a powerful woman

  9. cahun says:

    I find it disturbing/ weird as an anticapitalist femme radical that you list shopping and consumption as your transgressive activities.This seems to be precisely what the more radical ends of gay politics seeks to transcend. In that vein, many left gays and trans are supporting Palestine. Can we get a what what from this awesome blog?

  10. Polly says:

    I got nothing to add here (to the comment stream, or your post, which per usual is brilliant) except that I love you, man.

  11. Lesley says:

    Again another blog that I can relate to! Just the other day I was shopping at a high end store here and had a hard time getting acknowledged to get help to get a shirt and tie clip. I am starting to like the stores like Target and Walmart to shop but I do live in TX and they don't make it easy here. My wife is my strength though to be me!

  12. Kyle says:

    That's a good list, Sinclair. Especially 4-3-2-1. I enjoy great friendships with cis-men, reject the idea that being masculine means being misogynist and sexist, believe we are more than our gender, or our sex, or our clothing and we should take the time to find that out and, yeah, I love my body too. I know so many butches and transmasculine women who hate elements of their bodies (breast hate is a big one) but I love my curves, my muscles, my body hair, my beard and my full lips. This body knows how to work, love and play. Part of the way I celebrate is by posting pictures of my body on my blog. I've heard from butch friends that that gets them a bit skittish. The thing is, I want us to be happy with, proud of, friends of our bodies.. not see them as the enemy to our masculine identities.

    I do see your point that the book doesn't really address butch identity as an outlaw identity. I didn't notice that lack when I read it because I found so much resonance with my genderqueer and trans identities. Maybe there should be another anthology, something specifically on trans-masculine identities?

  13. Shawna says:

    Jay and I both read Gender Outlaws. He picked it up at our local, super-duper, book superstore. -books, coffee, sandwich, and corporate pricing-

    Anyhow, he picked it up, hoping to find something he could relate to. I read it after him to find someone I could relate to, to help me better relate to Jay. *relate, relate, relate…*

    After reading, I found I had a million questions for Jay. I listed them off one by one, and not one seemed to really set anything off in him. He found, after reading, that he couldn’t find anything profound that he connected to in the stories of these people who were supposed to be in the same “gender pool” as he. Other than the normal, confusion followed by illumination, that is sure to followed by more confusion, story line that honestly, flows through the human race, he just didn’t see a lot of himself in these people.

    However, after reading your review, I have a new respect for the book. I think it shows the true diversity of gender. Jay, as a lesbian, never considered “her”self butch. Before coming out he latched onto the word “queer”. “Queer”, seemed to fill the voids the label “butch” left him with. He didn’t think being considered “butch” was a negative thing, he just couldn’t relate to it as much as he could “queer”. Then he comes out as “trans” and that seemed to fill the definition completely for him. Hahahahaha….then he reads Gender Outlaws, and he can’t relate to one of the “transmen” in the book.

    I think this is why I really dislike labels. Because, there is not one label that can clearly define who a person is. Gender Outlaws did a great job depicting this. Yes, you may have one thought process that connects you to another person, but it’s the thought processes that separate us from each other, those are the ones that make us who we truly are. I’ve seen a lot of gender-hate in the LGBT world. It breaks my heart. I saw a blog recently that was a girl who identified as “butch”, and she seemed desperate to let trans-men know that what they were was wrong and that they were ruining the lesbian scene. These kind of things confuse me. It’s not as if Jay hates the butch girls. He just doesn’t identify with that. It’s just not who he is. I don’t identify with lesbians. I have never identified with straight girls. I don’t identify with bi-sexual either. I just love Jay. I know it sounds nerdy and and girly, but it’s true. I just love him. It’s never been about body parts, it’s never been about anything but him.

    -Okay. So, I may have smoked a little before I started typing this. I think I just took my lengthy comments to a new level.

Leave a Reply