Five Things I Love About and Learned From My Butch


I’ve had a complicated relationship with butch women most of my life. I remember seeing kd lang’s music videos when I was young and asking my mom if she was a man or a woman.  I was fascinated and intrigued, but never dreamed of letting my interest show. 

In my early 20s, I befriended a proud butch woman whom her friends lovingly refer to as “Butch Kim” or “BK.”  We connected immediately upon our first meeting and have been close ever since–almost 10 years.  She is one of those friends that more appropriately falls in the family category; I’d walk through fire for her and her for me. Kim was the first person I came out to and we’d sneak away to a dodgy lesbian bar on the weekends. 

Despite feeling a natural attraction to masculine women and having them in my life as friends, I wasn’t yet to open up to anything more than a platonic relationship with a butch.  Something in me was intimidated by or afraid of bois. So, I ignored the unsettling attraction I felt.  Then, I met Char–the woman who would become my butch–and all the confusion went out the window.  I fell for her–for who she is inside and out–and let go of my fear. 

CharChrisCurnuttphoto by Chris Curnutt

Here are just a few reasons why.

Her quiet confidence.

As a society, we tend to place expectations on people based on their appearance and lesbian women are no exception. Because I’m femme, I am believed to be submissive, seeking a partner to be in charge, a bottom, “the wife” in every sense of the word. Because my wife is butch, she is perceived as arrogant, in control, dominant.  While some of these descriptors are fitting for her, the trait that I find to be the most unexpected and in contradiction to stereotype is the quietness of her confidence. 

Is she comfortable being in charge?  Absolutely. We own a small business together, for which she is the authority over the daily operations. She spent several years in leadership positions during her military service. Does she feel entitled to speak her mind? Always. However, her self-assuredness is not communicated aggressively. She rarely feels the need to voice her accomplishments or talents. While she is confident in her abilities and seldom experiences self-doubt, this is demonstrated through her actions.  You will know of her strengths not because she will tell you, but because she will quietly show you.

Her demonstrations of love.

My wife and I, in many ways, came from different worlds. She, a woman of color, grew up in poverty in a dangerous part of the city. I, a white woman, grew up middle class in a safe, small town. In my home, there was always affection–plenty of “I love yous”, hugs, and kisses. In her home, love was shown not by saying, but by doing. My wife’s mother, a survivor in every sense of the word, ensured the safety and welfare of her three children largely on her own. 

In the childhood of my butch, love was modeled by her mother through assuring her children were properly cared for even if that meant she had to go without. While coming from contrasting backgrounds hasn’t come without conflict, the ways in which love was shown to my wife in her upbringing has translated to how I have learned to receive it. 

My wife shows love by ensuring I am cared for. One of my earliest memories of my “acts of service girl” is from six years ago. I had to leave town for work for a few days and, when she picked me up, my eternally dirty car had been cleaned, detailed, and inspected.  So many years and countless acts of service later, I’ve learned that this is her way of saying, “Emily, I love you with my whole heart and I promise to always take care of you.” It is not uncommon for my wife to spend her day off cleaning, grocery shopping, and cooking; I come home from work to a glass of wine already poured. She may not say so with her words, but her deeds more than make up for what she lacks verbally. 


She is Ms. Fix It.

Seriously, she is. My grandmother says she’s “as handy as a pocket on a shirt.” It may be presumed that her ability to and enjoyment of fixing things goes along with her butch identity, but I’m not sure that’s true. 

My wife grew up in an environment in which men were unreliable. If something around the house needed to be fixed, there wasn’t always a man around to handle it, which required that McGaughy women rise to the occasion.  And rise they did. A childhood of watching women she loved and admired taking on the responsibilities more traditionally assigned to men along with an innate interest in cars led her to becoming a mechanic–both in the air force and as a civilian. 

Although her mechanic career is a thing of the past, her knowledge has stuck. And you can bet I take full advantage of the perks of being married to a mechanic.  Did y’all know changing brakes at home can be done for under $100?

In addition to her upbringing, Char is, by nature, what I call a “tinkerer.” When people ask about her hobbies outside of her work and her art, I say, “She likes to take things apart and put them back together.” Being the opposite of handy as I am, this is the best way I know to describe the hours she spends in the garage knee deep in tools of which I cannot name. As I read this to her, she responds, “You know what I need? A wrench and a screwdriver in the place of my index and middle finger.” 

Her femininity.

This may seem out of place as I share five things I love about my butch, but her surprising feminine sensibility is one of the things I truly admire in her. And I am convinced that the dichotomy that exists inside her–between the masculine and feminine–is something that I will always find attractive. 

My Char has, by all accounts, a boyish presentation, but is also inclined to softer, more girlish things.  For example, there are few things she loves more in life than fresh flowers–lilies to be specific. I am convinced that, when she buys me flowers, they are actually a gift for us both. Anniversaries and special occasions are ones that she looks forward to as an excuse to send me–and herself–flowers. This love also extends to plants; this woman has a green thumb and takes extra special care of the green in our house and yard. If we pass through a garden with flowers and plants, it is not uncommon for her to run her hands over them as a sign of affection and appreciation. 

In addition to her affinity for greenery, you will never meet a bigger Julia Roberts fan than my wife.  She can quote every word of Pretty Woman and even posted the clip of Roberts’s character Vivian singing “Kiss” in the tub in memory of Prince on the day he passed. 

I’m one of those annoying people with an insanely loud and deep laugh; I’ve tried my whole life to quiet my cackle, but without much success.  Lucky for me, I fell in love with a woman who has Julia Roberts–belly laugh and all–on a pedestal.  As my obnoxious guffaw reminds her of Roberts’s signature laugh, it has only served to make me more attractive to her.


Her non-traditional woman-ness.

Before meeting Char, I had only dated feminine leaning women. Some had a tomboy edge, but ultimately presented more feminine. I had an embarrassingly narrow view of the lesbian community and was convinced that all butches wanted to be in the boys’ club, feminism be damned. I now know how wrong I was. I see how lucky I was to have met a woman who was patient with my ignorance. 

Char has shown me that being a woman means so much more than hair and makeup. It’s political. Although her appearance allows her to often avoid many of the pitfalls of womanhood–catcalling, objectification, etc.–she takes pride in her gender and has no interest in fitting into a man’s world. She has taught me the toughness, strength, and beauty that lie in a woman’s soul. 

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyAMcGaughy

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