Sugarbutch Says: Butches On Television


Such as Dr. Rachel Maddow.

Butches on television would be vastly incomplete if it didn’t mention Rachel. She is perhaps the most visible butch in the US today — and she claims the word and identity openly. With articles from “The Butch is Back” in the Village Voice to “Rachel Maddow and Her Girlfriend Give Up TV On Weekends” in People magazine, Rachel is out and open.

That doesn’t mean The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC doesn’t femme her up a bit, removing her glasses, dressing her in women’s-cut suits, and adding TV makeup, but it is clear how she usually dresses by her other TV and magazine appearances. And as much as I’d like to think that compromising my own gender identity would be a dealbreaker, even in some tremendous career opportunity, it is unlikely that my personal career would ever involve a TV show on a major network, and if it did, well, who knows — perhaps the high-profile visibility would be an adequate pay off.

Ellen and Rachel are tremendously well-known, not despite their gender presentation and masculinity, but at least in part because of it. But they are not so similar: Rachel has an extensive activist and academic background, Ellen has been a comic and performer for nearly thirty years. Rachel has been presenting as butch for a long time, since her early appearances in media such as The Advocate, and Ellen as in the closet and opted to pass (perhaps Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell style) in her early years, and has taken longer to come to her current masculine presentation.

Their paths and processes have been very different, so it is hard to compare to draw any conclusions about how the butch identity (or female masculinity, or genderqueerness) are accepted on or by TV.

It is clear, though, that they both have to “femme up” for their shows. This is sometimes chalked up to the requirement of TV makeup that men, too, have to wear, but of course it has a different effect when on a woman.

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