All that and a woman, too

Sometimes lesbians are asked “If you are attracted to someone who looks like a man, why not just be with a man?” Luckily I have never been asked this ridiculous question, but I see it being brought up by lesbian writers on a regular basis, so there are obviously some dummies still asking it. I have been pondering what my answer would be. If I love masculinity on women, then why don’t I like men? Of course, there is a really obvious answer to that question, which is I’m not interested in men because I’m a lesbian, duh. But you know me, I never answer a question with only one sentence.

To answer this question, I’m actually going to quote a commenter from an earlier thread who made a comment about how a butch lesbian is “all that and a woman too.” Her comment can be found here.  Although she was talking about a specific situation with a couple of people she knows, one who transitioned and one who remained lesbian, her comment really struck me as a great starting point to explain what I love about butches. Butches are “all that and a woman, too.”

A long time ago, I attempted to be heterosexual. This experiment didn’t work. I never felt romantic love for a man, and never felt satisfied in bed. There was always something missing. The first time I fell in love with a woman, as an adult, she was a straight woman, and even though this wasn’t a real relationship, I discovered the power a woman has to fill my heart with love and also the power she has to break me. For the first time in my life I found myself hopelessly under the spell of love and only able to describe how I felt in poetry. It took me several years to disentangle myself from her, but I had to, because she was straight and wanted a man. With my new awareness that I wanted a woman, I set out to find the lesbians.

I casually dated a few women and nothing lasted very long until I met my current partner. The first time I saw her it was at a gender and sexuality conference. She stood out as the most blatantly gay woman in the room. I remember exactly how she looked that day and I was intrigued. Of course I saw her again, and this time I caught her eye too. I didn’t know back then that I was looking for a butch. I just knew she was hot and we had an immediate, intense attraction. Over the years I have come to understand the meaning of butch and femme by hearing about it from other lesbians.

I’m someone who usually felt comfortable learning how to do “girly” activities, and I certainly noticed sexism as I was growing up, but it didn’t feel odd or wrong to me to learn how to cook or sew, and that’s what I was taught. I’m still quite in a rage that I wasn’t taught things like woodworking and fixing things, because these are useful skills for anyone and the reason I wasn’t taught those is because I was a girl.

My partner grew up in the exact same world with the exact same gender roles but she couldn’t pretend to like stereotypically girl activities. Instead, she did what the boys did, and learned how to fix all sorts of things from her uncle.  Her mother, having grown up on a farm in Europe during WWII, was a significant influence on encouraging her independence and interest in non-traditional roles.  That encouragement meant having to take up tasks not traditionally considered female in Western society and doing “men’s” work around the house. Although she had the support of her mother in doing “men’s” work, she did not find much support in the wider world.

Being a nonconforming woman within the strict gender roles of North America has not been easy for her, but it was the only way for her to be. By the time I met her, she had become a warrior woman, a woman who had paved her own way into male-dominated fields, fighting off sexism and homophobia every step of the way. She had earned the right to call herself butch.

I find her strength and warrior spirit endlessly inspiring, charming, endearing, and sexy. I feel safe when I’m with her because I know she is strong, and she can protect me from anything because she has already spent a lifetime protecting herself.

I am strong in some ways. I have an inner strength of character that gets me through difficult situations, but my most obvious characteristic is not strength, but sweetness. I have many of the character traits that society views as feminine, like caring, compassion, and sensitivity. I balance out my partner’s warrior spirit with the softness that life has never given her.

When I read Stone Butch Blues and I see how the femmes took care of butches who had been beaten up by homophobic thugs and cops I see myself in those femme characters. The world out there tells my partner she’s in the wrong bathroom, calls her an “it” and gives her frightened looks, but when I see her I don’t see a freak of nature, I see a fantastic, inspirational woman, and I heap enough love on her to make up for all their hate.

I love how she doesn’t need a man to do anything for her, she does it herself. She can fix her own sink, change her own tire, build her own furniture, and fix broken electronics. She can do all these things because she has always been interested in knowing how and that’s what she has learned. I love how she does all these things way better than men do. Men often do a half-assed job and she does it carefully and gets it right. I find it so charming and adorable when I complain that something is broken and she whips out her solder and heat gun and fixes it. I never have any idea she even owns these tools, or even what they are, but she pulls them out and fixes the thing. It’s funny sometimes, like, duh, she’s a butch — of course she has a tool for that. I wouldn’t have any idea where to even start!

We don’t intentionally try to imitate heterosexuality, as some feminists claim about butch/femme couples. We do whatever we are interested in, regardless of what gender role it falls into. I have described her ability to work with tools, because that’s “masculine,” but the truth is she also does most of the cleaning around the house, so if she’s trying to imitate the traditional husband’s role she’s not doing a good job of that! And if she is out of the house and a light bulb goes out, I don’t wait for her to get home so she can change it, I just change it myself. I am not trying to play the role of helpless damsel in distress! Butch/femme is not about the artificial and intentional performance of gender roles, it’s about pair-bonding with someone whose natural personality complements yours.

She brings something out in me that men cannot. She brings out my cute, flirty self, my affection, and my sweetness. She brings this out in me because I love her and there is an energy flow between us that pulls a feminine side out of me to complement her masculine side. Men do not do this to me. Around men I am quite unmoved, indifferent, and businesslike. No instinct to flirt and be cute comes to me from being around men.

The reason I react to her the way I do is because she is a woman, and I’m attracted to women. Homosexuals are attracted to a sex, not a gender. Even though I like masculinity on women, I only like masculinity if it’s on women. I don’t like any gender at all on men, because I’m not interested in men.

I love being partnered to a woman who can do all the things that a man can do (better than a man could, actually) while still being a woman. I love that she has never been able to fit into society’s idea of what a woman is. I love that she stands out as obviously gay and I love being obviously gay when I’m with her. I don’t understand when some women want their butch partners to “tone it down.” I would never want my partner to change who she is and I wouldn’t want her to tone down exactly what makes me attracted to her. And I certainly don’t want her to be a man nor do I see her as a man. I love that she is “all that and a woman too.”

22 thoughts on “All that and a woman, too

  1. I know what people mean when they refer to “masculine” in women but it always kind of rankles me. Butch seems like such a neutral place to me even though I’m aware that most women somehow didn’t end up there. Its supposed complimentary and alleged opposite, femme – not the demure kind but the kind with lots of make-up, high heels and showcase attire, just seems so over-the-top and contrived. I understand there’s this thing known as personal aesthetics or taste but I just don’t understand how butchness attained the minority position seeing as (a certain type of) femininity (which is a lot more prevalent) is so obviously learned. In our culture young XX people spend a lot of time cultivating a look, walk, body-language, mannerisms and mentality. That’s why MTTs have to get coached to learn how to better hoodwink people. It’s just not a naturally occurring comportment… in anyone.

    So my point is that I don’t see how anything a woman does can be “masculine” if it’s a woman doing it. Same goes for feminine. I know we use these words as a sort of shorthand (and I do this too sometimes) but there’s really no such thing as a feminine guy. The limp-wristed, switchy guy who likes make-up is just doing masculinity in a different way. And that’s a perfectly fine and legitimate way to do it. Some of us do femininity in a non-stereotypical way but it is still femaleness.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I knew someone would bring this up! If you look at my post on Femininity, it will probably answer your question.

      In the post on femininity I explained that there are artificial constructions of what femininity is, and there are also real personality traits that people have that are considered feminine. The same goes for masculinity. Our culture constructs masculinity as the behaviors of domination that males need to oppress females, but there are also real personality traits that people have that are considered masculine. For example, being strong and courageous is considered masculine, although these are positive personality traits that anyone can have.
      I also wrote in this post about the problem with the phrase “masculine woman” and why I use it. Here is a copy-and-paste of what I wrote below (although please know that I’m not calling you pedantic. When I wrote that these people are being pedantic I was complaining about someone on FB who was deliberately misunderstanding what I wrote.)

      “Sometimes I read complaints that I shouldn’t call women ‘masculine.’ If we define femininity as the ‘quality or nature of the female sex’ then anything a woman does is ‘feminine.’ So if a woman wears short hair and likes fixing cars, then that is feminine. I understand this line of thinking, because I too believe that anything a woman is interested in is a female interest and anything a woman wears is women’s clothing, and any feeling a woman has is a female feeling. However I think people who make this particular complaint are being pedantic, because it’s obvious that when I call a woman feminine or masculine I am situating her personality in relation to what society expects from women, and it’s obvious why I’m doing that—because my primary concern in writing this blog is to explore the differences between who women are and how women are treated and viewed by society. If I define femininity as anything any woman does, then I lose the language to talk about the difference between reality versus expectations when it comes to female appearance, behavior and mannerisms. When I use the word femininity, you can usually assume that I’m talking about a set of cultural expectations placed on women that do not reflect the reality of who women are. If I am talking about real human personality traits that are considered feminine, I will specify that. If I call a woman masculine it’s not because I think her personality traits belong to men, it’s because that’s what society thinks, and it’s in our interest to point this out.”

      I actually should write a whole post on the topic of whether it is useful to label people’s personality traits at all. I want to do that one of these days.

      Liked by 2 people

      • You have a point that it serves as a framework so we know what is meant. I’m coming from a place of resenting butchness not being recognized as a completely legit way of doing female. Phranc’s song “One of the Girls” comes to mind. (It’s really from a different era.) I’m also reminded of a conference called Butch Voices that came to an end a few years ago because an mtt took the helm and insisted on defining butch as “masculine of center”. A lot of women left and never looked back.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. This is a great post. Best line: “Butch/femme is not about the artificial and intentional performance of gender roles, it’s about pair-bonding with someone whose natural personality complements yours.” I think ‘complementary pair bonding’ is what everyone, no matter their attraction, seeks in this world. There may be more truth to “you complete me” than anyone wants to give credit.

    Also, around men, I am just annoyed…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry this might be a bit OT, but it reminded me of the time I was about to walk into meeting with a bunch of senior engineering dudes I worked with and there was some tosser from head office who was asking them who I was. They replied with my professional duties and ‘she’s about yay high, dark hair’ etc and the tosser turned around and said ‘oh that butch chick, why didn’t you say so’.

    This was followed by genuine belly laughter from the guys I worked with and then:

    Colleague 1: ‘Nah mate, she’s not butch she just doesn’t give a fuck what anyone thinks’
    Colleague 2: ‘Look, she’s handy with a screwdriver, but she really doesn’t give a fuck’
    Colleague 3: ‘She does have some girly clothes but she only wears them to work when she’s run out of clean proper work clothes’

    Tosser: ‘What, so she knows how to dress like a woman but she doesn’t. WTF?’

    general genuine laughter…

    Colleague 1: ‘Clean your ears out dude, She dresses as a woman all right, a woman who doesn’t give a fuck what the likes of you or anyone else thinks.’

    I don’t usually eavesdrop but I stalled when I heard the tosser and was gobsmacked by my colleagues responses, which were awesome.

    I like that description, I think it suits me. I think it’s a variation on ‘all that and a woman too’

    (I don’t pluck my eyebrows or shave my legs, I wear hiking boots if I’m not wearing steel caps for the job, dress neatly for corporate shit but never skirts or dresses, do the bare minimum for corporate (I might dye my hair for a job interview but let it grow out once I’ve got the job etc)

    Liked by 2 people

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