Many queer women look at butch-butch couples the way many straight people look at gay couples: fascinated, weirded out, and sometimes even disgusted.
It’s unclear why there’s such a stigma against two masculine women being hot for each other; there seems to be no counterpart in the gay male community, nor is there a similar stigma against femme-femme relationships. But when two masculine women hook up, it’s not uncommon to hear other queer gals—even those normally supportive of masculine-presenting women—call it “strange” or “unnatural.”
Whatever its source, the norm against butch-butch relationships can present some obstacles for butchy types like yours truly who find themselves romantically drawn to other butchy types. It’s a little like being gay within the gay community. (Personally, I choose to believe that this makes me extra gay.)
As someone who didn’t realize I was gay until my late twenties, I did not come of age in the lesbian community and was blithely unaware of any stigma against butch-butch love. I happily donned my necktie and wingtip shoes and began looking for a woman to date who presented basically like I did. Like many queer newbies, I started by testing the waters online. Imagine my despair as I started to realize that virtually all of the women I found attractive were either explicitly “looking for a femme” or responded to my inquiry (well, the nice ones did) with something along the lines of “We can hang out as friends, but I don’t date other butches.”
All of this, I figured, meant I had two choices. One, I could try to femme it up enough to attract the objects of my desire. But after having been married to a man for five years, I refused to return to a life of halfhearted drag: hair irons and lipstick were (thank God) over for me. Two, I could conform to what I was learning “real” butches did: they dated femmes—or at least, they dated people feminine enough that no one would wonder who the more masculine of the pair was.
At first, this second approach seemed promising. I wrote to more feminine types and replies stacked up in my inbox. Emails were exchanged; dates were penciled onto calendars. Though I still didn’t feel attracted to femmes, I felt like I was finally doing something right. Perhaps, I thought, it was just internalized homophobia that prevented my pulse from quickening at the sight of a conventionally beautiful woman. Once I became more comfortable in my own female masculinity, maybe I would start to appreciate the magic of the “butch-femme dynamic” I kept hearing about.
Except it didn’t happen. While there were upsides to dating femmes, they were all external upsides. For example, other butches started to talk to me like I was one of them. I even got an occasional, encouraging “atta-boy” nod from heterosexual men when I passed them on the street. You’re one of the dudes now, people seemed to be telling me. Welcome to the club. (Plus, dating femmes makes it easier to find your clothes on the floor the next morning. Just saying.)
But in my head and my heart, dating feminine women made me feel like I was role-playing (and not in a good way). Actually, dating femmes felt a lot like dating men, except I got to be the “guy.” I didn’t like the sense that there were gender-type roles in the relationship at all: behavior, clothes, default expectations—none of it. It wasn’t me. (Note: I’m not equating butch-femme relationships and heterosexual relationships, just the way I felt in each of them.)
So I looked for butch-butch socials and butch-butch mixers, finding none. I cruised other butches and quickly learned that there are plenty of—er—informal social sanctions against doing so. In the process, I was called a “fag butch” (not as a term of endearment) and a “fake butch” (which is just rude). But I also met a lot of interesting people, some of whom confided that they weren’t opposed to dating other butches, just that dating femmes had always been easier. This gave me a little ray of hope. I also learned that many of the women I assumed identified as “butch” rejected the label—in part because they felt like it dictated certain things about them, such as an unwillingness to date anyone who didn’t ID as femme.
Eventually, I learned what most of us learn if we eventually settle happily into long-term monogamy: there are all kinds of different people in the world, and you only need one who works for you. My partner has dated women all over the spectrum. She does not explicitly identify as butch, but to give you an idea: she wields a power tool better than I can, has a similarly masculine style of dress, and gets wrong-bathroomed at least as often as I do. Best of all, after eight years together, glimpsing her across a crowded room still makes my heart race. So why should anyone else care if we’re both wearing neckties?
BW is the author of the popular lesbian blog butchwonders.com. She also curates a selection of clothes and other products for masculine-of-center women at butchstore.butchwonders.com. You can contact her with raves, rants, and queries at [email protected].