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Butch vs. Trans and labeling at BMC

2009 February 13
by ZY

I wanted to address one of the questions we left class with on Wednesday… is there a difference between butch and transgendered?

Personally, I feel pretty strongly about this distinction. I can understand why people might view me as being “butch.” My hair is short and I typically wear masculine-looking or men’s clothing (although I also have a decent-sized stash of feminine clothing and makeup that my mother bought for me), and I happen to be gay. But my “butchness” stops at the outside. Correct me if I’m wrong, but transgendered refers to your internal gender identity. I suppose I’m “butch,” but I identify as female, as a woman, and I embrace it whole-heartedly. I love every part of being a woman. The way I look on the outside is completely based on my own comfort and sense of fashion (let’s face it, men’s clothing is much more comfortable). Even though I fully embrace my femininity and feel like a woman, does it mean I have masculine tendencies if I don’t look stereotypically feminine? And why should “my tendencies” even matter? To me, I am female and woman, inside out.
For some reason, I cringe at the idea that I might be perceived as “butch.” And this brings me to the whole idea of labeling, which Ryan and Alex talked about. I cringe at being perceived as “butch” and although I’ve accepted the label of “gay,” I identify with what it represents, rather than the label itself, and it still makes me uncomfortable (especially the word “homosexual”). I think labeling has huge relevance on Bryn Mawr’s campus, where sexuality is relatively fluid and homosexuality is widely accepted. Even so, there’s a overwhelming pressure to label people, to the point where straight women are pressured to be gay or people feel the need to conform to the label they have been given by the rest of the community… does anyone have any thoughts about the problem with labeling on Bryn Mawr’s campus?

6 Responses
  1. Maddie permalink
    February 13, 2009

    you say you’re butch and you happen to be gay. Is this the same as being gay and happening to be butch?

  2. February 13, 2009

    Yeah, now that I think about it… both ways work.

  3. Ryan permalink
    February 13, 2009

    I would really, totally love to see someone chart what all these different labels mean, where they overlap, how they relate to one another, etc. For example, draw the gender binary:

    Masculine | ———————————————— | Feminine

    Define what “masculine” means, what “feminine” means, and map out the gender labels. Male, female, butch, femme, transgender, genderqueer – whatever else you can come up with. Are they points or are they regions? If regions, where are the boundaries? Then, on a similar chart, map out technologies. I’m not sure what the terms on either end would be … perhaps:

    Technology | ———————————————— | Nature

    Seriously – think about it for just a minute. My guess is that both charts would become incredibly chaotic and messy, and nobody would agree on any of it. Funny, that.


  4. Nat permalink
    February 13, 2009

    I think the problem with trying to apply labels to anything that exists on a spectrum (e.g. gender or sexuality) is that one is always forced to choose something, which completely negates the idea of fluidity because something that is supposedly fluid (i.e. gender spectrum), cannot be fixed (i.e. gender labels). For example, I happen to just like people in general, but if I had to pick a label for my sexuality I suppose it would be ‘straight’. I am, however, currently dating a woman. Do I see myself as gay? No, not really. Do other people? yes, definitely.

    In fact, I can relate entirely to your description of Bryn Mawr’s “overwhelming pressure to label people, to the point where straight women are pressured to be gay or people feel the need to conform to the label they have been given by the rest of the community”. As a relatively ‘masculine’ girl (although I wouldn’t consider myself butch) many of my gay/queer friends expressed relief and even happiness upon hearing the news of my latest relationship. I suppose a lot of them felt like I was finally coming to terms with, accepting and/or embracing, something they always believed me to be. That is, a gay woman. Prior to this, I don’t ever remember feeling ‘pressured to be gay’. I do distinctly remember, however, slightly resenting my friends’ reactions to me dating a girl, because it made me feel like I was conforming to a label that I felt had been placed on me as soon as I stepped on campus.

    For the most part, I don’t really mind the labels projected on me by others. I do find that oftentimes however, others take offense at the labels I choose for myself. It’s problematic, and I guess that people often feel like it is a betrayal to myself and the gay community for me not to label myself as, at the very least, queer.
    The problem lies in the fact that
    a) they HAVE to pick a label for me in order to identify me (and they want, to some extent, to pick a queer one) and…
    b) I HAVE to pick a label for me in order to identify me (unfortunately, it doesn’t match up with a)’s)

    Am I queer and just not able to accept it? Does my choice to identify as ‘straight’ reinforce gender binaries/stereotypes/prejudices? Does being forced to identify as something (even if it is not part of the traditional binary and more along a spectrum) even COUNT as a choice?

    Sure, we can just keep creating more and more labels to try and account for the expansion of gender and sexuality definitions and identities. And granted, labels are useful, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. But at what point does practicality outweigh usefulness? I think at some point it may just become easier for society as a whole to ditch labels entirely…. At least, I find it makes things much simpler.

  5. alexander permalink
    February 13, 2009

    on butch…

    there can be butch people, and non butch people and people in the middle…butch for me exists as a gender…(one of the many genders that different people adopt for themselves. Though I am a trans boy, i embrace a more butch gender presentation–or a more masculine gender presentation–though i guess my tight pants would confuse that…

    however, but is something that exists on a spectrum as well and can exist as its own gender as well as within any gender

    for example: if you identify as a woman, but you embrace a sense of butch masculinity that is one thing…

    butch is often set in opposition to femme–i am a trans guy, i embrace a more butch aesthetic–i identify as more femme (emotionally)

    hope this helps a little

  6. Roldine Richard permalink
    February 24, 2009

    Re: Nat…

    What’s interesting to me is how many people have are confused/disturbed/agitated about you identifying as straight and dating a woman. It affirms for me something that have been sifting through, so to speak, for quite sometime now.

    Our societies create labels in order to build a language to better understand our world. It seems to me that when we find a label that we identify with we have a clear definition of how that label applies to us, and other individuals create their own definitions that could/should be applied differently. More or less, in my experience I feel like we project our own definitions onto others. For example, in your case conventionally “straight” means being attracted to only male-bodied, male self-identified individuals. I feel like people are confused/disturbed/agitated by the fact that you identify as straight and dating woman because your situation does not fit this definition, which in turn makes it harder for people to figure you out. I think individuals on this campus feel the need to pick a label (more than likely with an accepted “community definition”*) because if they don’t they become subject to people’s less controlled interpretations of their character i.e. rumors. To some extent, if one chooses a label that the BM community respects and understands, then they have control over their how people perceive them and their behavior.

    As a self-identified queer it’s interesting to notice what people assume this label means for me and how people interact with me according to THEIR definition of the word queer. Besides a few friends, no one has ever asked to clarify.

    *community definition: a definition of a label that the BM community has whether passively or not deemed acceptable and appropiate. While this definition may be conventional and ‘normal’ contextually on campus, in the outside world it may or may not be the case

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