advice, identity politics

Ask Mr. Sexsmith Anything: What words compliment a butch lover?

coaching-buttonDear Mr. Sexsmith,

My butch lover refers to me as gorgeous, luscious, beautiful… [but] I just don’t think those kind of descriptive words work for her. What would you suggest? Thanks!

— Sho

Dear Sho,

My personal favorites?


Some more ideas?

Striking. Charming. Dazzling. Gentleman. Stud(ly). Rough. Tough. Hero(ic). Attractive. Big.

And, do delve a little deeper:

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling someone masculine gorgeous or beautiful or any of those words. (I don’t know if I’d use “luscious” … not sure what it is exactly, maybe it implies curviness to me, and it wouldn’t resonate if someone used that for me. But I can think of some very luscious butches who would probably like that word used to describe them, so don’t take my preference as the norm.) I think we separate complimentary words by gender, and while many people have certain resonances with certain words regardless of their gender identity—and I think those should be respected, and it doesn’t really matter if the words someone likes happen to all fall in one generally gendered category or not—I think it’s good to take a look at why some of them resonate over others, and whether that’s personal preference or cultural habit.

I remember reading somewhere that “men want to be powerful, women want to be beautiful,” and while I think there’s some heteronormative/patriarchal/misogynistic deconstruction that should probably happen around that idea, I also think it is largely true and reproduced in this culture. And, I think we tend to compliment along those lines when we’re talking about complimenting someone feminine verses complimenting someone masculine. So first of all, women are powerful and beautiful, men are beautiful and powerful, genderqueer and trans and butch and femme folks are powerful and beautiful, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being both. In fact, I think it’s a radical act a) to recognize that our gender roles operate by trying to keep men striving for power and women striving for beauty, which reinforces the kyriarchy, and b) to intentionally break those gender roles by complimenting people for the incredible, sparkly, dazzling things that we notice them doing, by which we are touched and changed.

I think this topic of complimentary words warrants a fascinating conversation between partners. E.g., “Hey, when I use words like attractive and sexy and beautiful when I describe you, do you like that? What kinds of words do you like to be called? Are there words that I call you that sometimes bug you? Isn’t it interesting that certain words are reserved for femininity and others for masculinity? Would it feel strange if I called you pretty/strong/luscious/my hero?”

Brainstorm. Make a list. Do some google searches. Ask around to your friends next time you’re out and about and see what kind of lists they make of compliments for their girlfriends/boifriends/partners. Go back to your partner and try out some of those words, see what the response is. Maybe they just don’t like their body to be talked about or commented upon, even if you are in awe of their gorgeousness and want to tell them so every day. Maybe they like certain words to be used and they just don’t know why, but it makes more sense and resonates deeper. That’s okay. Listen to each other.

I like to use words that have the intended effect, and if I intend one thing and they take it another way, it isn’t actually effective, even if I intend it to be so. And regardless of gender identity, I like to call people what they want to be called.

Would y’all like to weigh in on other complimentary words for butches (or for anyone, for that matter)? What words do you call your butch lover? What words have you found that butches like to be called? What compliments stick?

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.

5 thoughts on “Ask Mr. Sexsmith Anything: What words compliment a butch lover?”

  1. Meg M. says:

    I LOVE being called handsome. And while it’s always best to ask what people prefer and I can’t speak for everyone /disclaimer, I would totally lose my shit if a femme called me handsome with no prompting. To me, that would mean that she really understood me, and thought I was cute to boot!

    Handsome. Love it.

  2. cleo says:

    I call my partner Handsome, gorgeous, dapper, sexy and beautiful.. I specifically call her beautiful because she has been called ugly in her teens and as an adult. This breaks my heart for the very thing that she is/was called ugly about is the very thing that ticks my tock.. ie masculinity, awesome gentleness and height (N is really tall). When I first used the word beautiful outside of handsome (which I use mostly) N was taken aback but we have discussed it and even though it illicits a double take, N actually likes the feeling of being challenged and also knowing that I think she is beautiful. For me it is a truth in that she is a beautiful person but indeed a radical act of challenging the “ugly” homophobic responses that she endures on a daily basis out there in the world as a Butch. Lastly, beautiful conjures up beauty and aesthetics which tackles head on the “ugliness” that is thrown at Butches who are overwhelmingly Handsome, sexy, dapper, but fucking beautiful too! Maybe its because I am an artist that this element of stealing a Butches aesthetic bothers me but it does.. and I will counter it till I die.

  3. Aura says:

    I call my butch cis-gendered guy things like huge and strong, which he loves, but I also call him cute and sweet and angel, and he loves those too.

    One you left off, Sinclair, is “hot.” Hot is pretty universal and gender-neutral, no? We call each other hot a lot. Sexy, too.

  4. Maximilienne Whitby says:

    I like the idea of a Butch being Brutalist. In an almost architectural sense. That distillation of a raw kind of beauty. Powerful, honest, an undiluted sense of materiality.

    And lets face it, if a girl tell says you remind her of a sexy polished concrete bench top… DAMN.

    I also wanted to thank you for causing many moments of meditation on the ideas you bring forward in your writing, specifically in demonstrating vulnerability from a dominant personality.

    Much love and many hugs to you and your yours.

    1. Sinclair says:

      I LOVE that idea! I am very fond of “brute” actually, it speaks to my desire for strength, masculinity, power … and the big-ness that is my body. Thanks Maximilienne :)

Leave a Reply