Sugarbutch Says: Butches On Television


Though Ellen and Rachel are the most prominent, they are not the only ones. Most recently, Katherine Moennig played a key character, Shane, on the famously loved and simultaneously hated show The L Word.

Though neither Shane nor Katherine identify as butch (as far as I know), and though I have multiple essays worth of material to complain about how their characters were written on that show, Shane and Katherine are both more genderqueer and masculine than typically TV actresses, and portrayed female masculinity openly on a major show.

Butch was often disregarded, discarded, and even spoken down on in The L Word scripts, treated as a stereotype and a backward movement, not as a conscious or intentional identity, or even as an optional identity. However, Shane was the one with the occasional swagger, the one with the boy’s name, the one who wore briefs instead of panties, and the one who always, always, got the girl. Throughout the show’s six seasons, my friends often expressed something like, “I wouldn’t watch it if it wasn’t for Shane.”

Katherine — and, occasionally, Shane — had to femme up for the show. But regardless of how much make-up Katherine was wearing, or how many dresses they put her in for The L Word promo shots, her masculinity came through, and fans and butch-lovers everywhere recognized it eagerly. Katherine, however, has made no official statement about her gender identity or orientation.

I could mention Daniela Sea in this article, who played the trans male character Max on The L Word, though her character is not butch but a trans man, which is different. Daniela described Max as butch when he was first introduced on the show as Moira. Daniela is openly queer and has described herself as butch in the past, does not identify as trans, and has commented that though she was supportive of the progression of her character’s transition, she wished there was more of a depiction of butches on the show.

The introduction of a butch character on The L Word was kind of surprising — I personally remember being quite excited about it — but that character didn’t stay butch or occupy any sort of empowering version of that identity, and, in fact, went on to reject it quickly, and instead portrayed a lot of macho stereotypes about masculinity. I was vastly disappointed with the way Max’s transition and masculinity were depicted.

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