A Guide to Dating Butch Women

Before meeting my wife six years ago, I had little to no experience with masculine identified women. I dated femmes, sporty girls, and what I call “in-betweeners” (kinda masculine, kinda feminine), but never a real butch. Although my wife has many feminine qualities, her presentation to the world is definitely masculine–no makeup, fresh fade, men’s style clothing, etc. 

To be honest, I dated her with the intention of experimentation. I was intrigued by the butch-femme dynamic that seemed to be so steeped in lesbianism and wanted to see what it would be like. Looking back, I realize how shallow and selfish I was to use her in satisfying my own curiosity, but the universe got me back when I ended up falling hard for a woman who had never so much as used concealer to cover a zit. I had no plans of falling in love and becoming her wife, but that’s what happened. And, in doing so, I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone. I had no choice but to broaden my perspective in order to see things through her eyes. 

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Throughout our years together, I’ve made countless mistakes in failing to truly exercise empathy for her experience. And I’ve learned a thing or two about how different feminine identified lesbians can be from butches. Through my shameful errors, I have gained some insight that I’m hoping will save some of my fellow feminine ladies from similar ignorant and misguided mistakes.

These rules are not to be interpreted as rules for feminine lesbians to heed their masculine partners’ every request. My intention is to provide you with things to consider when choosing to date a butch woman; things that you might not have considered before. All guidelines go out the window if you are not in a safe and equitable relationship. These rules are only to be followed if you have a mutual trust and respect. I am presuming that, in choosing your partner, you have found someone who makes it her priority to maintain the best interest of your relationship. If not, the rules are clearly not applicable. 

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Don’t ask her to downplay her butchness for family events, church, weddings, etc.

Masculine identified women are well aware of how the world views them. Simply dressing and grooming for a butch woman can be a political statement–she is saying that the socially constructed version of womanhood does not define her. And, if you ask me, that’s super-sexy. The confidence she has now has probably been hard won. She has likely experienced her fair share of negativity at the cost of being true to herself. 

So, whatever you do, don’t ask her to femme it up for your own convenience–not for a family gathering, not for a funeral, not for anything.  Much like being a butch woman requires a certain level of confidence and security, so does loving one. Femmes who otherwise were accustomed to walking the streets unnoticed as a queer woman must become accustomed to a different life–one where being unrecognized by passersby may be a thing of the past. And you have to be okay with that. Requesting that your butch girlfriend or wife downplay her masculinity can feel like a rejection of who she is.  If you cannot love her fully–in the street, at a wedding, at a family event–you cannot love her at all.

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If she deems it necessary to leave a situation, leave first, ask questions later.

There are certain scenarios and situations that can be cause for concern for masculine identified women that we femmes might not notice. We don’t notice because they probably do not pose threats for us as individuals. For a butch woman, the rules are different. 

As femmes, we are less likely to offend the general public based solely on our appearance. In sharing life with a butch woman, you may learn that the conveniences afforded to you have changed. When your partner communicates to you that a certain situation is potentially dangerous, heed her words. I’ve been guilty of accusing my wife of overreacting or being paranoid. And I now have to live with some of the damage I caused by questioning what she knows to be true through her lived experience. 

Don’t make that mistake, ladies. Trust that your butch lady is keen to what is safe and what is not.  And, should you leave a situation at the request of your partner that would’ve turned out fine, you lose nothing. In this case, it’s better to err on the side of safety–and on the side of your girlfriend or wife. You’ll never regret trusting her, but you will absolutely regret questioning her.

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Getty Images

We’ve learned that mansplaining is not just something that happens when a man who refuses to acknowledge his privilege is speaking to a woman. There are other versions of this type of behavior, each having its own specific type of offender and victim. (Google Matt Damon and whitesplaining if you need an update.) It seems that any person of privilege is capable of “splaining” and I don’t think femmes are excluded. 

Yes, we femmes are queer women and are not immune to prejudice due to our sexuality. But, our experiences as lesbians can, in many ways, be quite different–and sometimes easier. When your butch girlfriend or wife trusts you enough to share some of her struggles being a masculine woman, believe her. Don’t downplay her experience, don’t diminish her story, and don’t doubt the gravity of what she’s been through as a result of doing nothing more than being herself. And definitely don’t argue with her. 

Consider all the marginalization you’ve experienced at the hands of men–the objectification, the harassment, the unwanted flirtation. Have you ever felt completely unheard and misunderstood when sharing this with a man? Has a man ever tried to diminish that experience or talk you out of what you know to be true? How did that feel? Remember that when your beautiful butch lady opens up. Just because you view her butchness as something that makes her more beautiful and special doesn’t mean the world mirrors your perspective. 

Photo via Buzzfeed

Photo via Buzzfeed

When she shares her struggle, listen and handle with care.

Coming to a place where we’re able to fully understand our own struggles can take time. Before we can share them with the people we love, we first have to take time to process for ourselves. Keep this in mind when your butch partner begins to open up to you about her experiences as a masculine identified woman. Know that this type of communication may leave her feeling a bit vulnerable. Don’t push her to share more than she’s comfortable with, don’t reprimand her for not sharing sooner, and don’t question her experience. Just listen to her and speak with love.

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Know that you will never understand and that’s okay.

In general, when we build a romantic relationship with someone, we want nothing more than to have empathy for their hardship. We want to feel what they’ve felt–even if it involves pain. We know that, if we can walk through that pain, we can love our partners on a deeper level. And, although facing their pain in such a real way may hurt, it will only serve to further solidify the bond that we share. Unfortunately for us femmes, when it comes to understanding our butch counterparts, there will always be a barrier that cannot be crossed. And that barrier is lived experience. 

As a lesbian woman who has been feminine throughout my life, I cannot fully understand what it is like to live as my wife; a butch woman. I have not walked through this world knowing that being who I am is an affront to the sensibilities of many.  I have never thought twice about entering a women’s restroom or dressing room for fear that I would be taken for a freak or sexual predator based on my appearance. I simply cannot understand.

I can empathize and ask questions and listen. But, I cannot completely know. And this doesn’t mean I’m prejudice; it means I’m acknowledging reality. I cannot fully understand what it means to be butch any more than a man can fully understand what it means to be woman. As a white woman, I cannot fully understand what it means to be black. As a cis woman, I cannot fully understand what it means to be trans. And I will never know fully what my partner feels and experiences as a masculine woman. I can only listen to her and support her and defend her right to be exactly who she is.

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Getty Images

I must also include that, if you are attracted to butches, you should go for it.  I have been drawn to masculine women for as long as I can remember, but shied away from taking a shot with one because I got caught up in superficialities. I feared I would have to defend my sexuality because I chose to date a woman who, to the world, “looks like a man.” And you know what?  Those bothersome conversations do happen, just as I feared. I feared that I would be perceived as the weaker, more subservient partner because, again, society has such a narrow view of what strength looks like. And, again, I often am perceived as such, just as I feared.  But I cannot base my decisions on fear of the prejudices and ignorance of others.

So, here I am: a proud feminine lesbian navigating marriage within the context of a butch-femme relationship. It has its own set of struggles as, in so many ways, we come from different worlds, but it is our own unique version of happiness. So, fellow femmes, should you so desire, get out there and take a chance with a hot boi–but don’t you make the same mistakes I did.

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyAMcGaughy

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