Exploring “The Butch Mystique”

“Society as a whole is not right, because it’s very box identified: you know, female, male…. I’m not trying to pick one box over the other. I’m trying to be true to all that encompasses me.”
—Johnnie, performance artist

“Just to walk the street, and to be a woman who does go outside of that female box that we’re told we have to fit in—you have to be strong to do that.”
—Pippa, artist/activist

“I’m a butch woman, but I’m a woman nonetheless.”
—Kymberly, musician

Debra Wilson Debra A. Wilson’s award-winning short documentary, Butch Mystique, explores the lives of a group of African American butch lesbians in the Oakland/San Francisco Bay Area. This documentary won the Audience Award for Best Short at the 2003 San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and spent most of 2003 touring gay and lesbian film festivals across the US.

Luckily for those of us who missed it at those festivals, Showtime is airing this groundbreaking documentary several times this month, as part of its programming for Black History Month.

A 15-year veteran of the entertainment industry, director Debra A. Wilson was the director of the 2003 Oakland International Black Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and is president of Moyo Entertainment, Inc., an Oakland-based production and distribution company. She has just been awarded Showtime’s 2004 Black Filmmaker Showcase grant, providing her with $30,000 to produce a 15-30 minute short film to be broadcast on Showtime in the future.

In Wilson’s brief introduction to Butch Mystique, she explains that “this film goes beneath the surface, beyond the stereotypes, to reveal the heart of what it means to be an African American butch-identified lesbian.”

Her documentary consists of interviews with a diverse group of African American butch lesbians, ranging in age from the teens to retirement.

As one of the first documentaries about butch lesbians to air on a national platform, Butch Mystique is truly groundbreaking. It is certain that the vast majority of American viewers are not familiar with the stories of these strong, proud women, and hopefully Butch Mystique will break down some of the stereotypes that are associated with butch lesbians.

SableEach woman interviewed discusses a series of topics, including what defines a “butch,” childhood and family, coming out, relationships, sexuality, stereotypes, and society’s perceptions of them as individuals.

What is revealed is both similarity of experience — most of these butch lesbians grew up disliking girlish clothing — and difference, such as their attitudes toward sex.

In addition, because these are all African American butch lesbians, the common thread of race links these women together. As “butches,” they are often perceived as black men, and that brings with it a whole host of other problems and issues.

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