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.”