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4 min

Butches of Belfast, and then some

I see your spit-polished boots and barbershop hair

Last month in Belfast.  Writing workshop in a quiet old pub and theatre on a brick-lined lane in the downtown core. She walked in way early, wearing a flannel shirt, sensible pants and work boots. Didn’t say much, but what she did say was that she came from a big family of storytellers, always with the stories them, but that she had never ever written anything down, on account of her terrible spelling and grammar. And I do mean terrible, she said.

About an hour later, after we all talked some about the importance of everyone’s individual story, I told them all to just write for 15 minutes. Then I watched her, her shoulders set so fierce and arms determined, scribbling mercilessly onto page after page of a small lined journal, tears streaming unstopping and silent out of her eyes and down her open Irish face so hard. I don’t know anything about what she wrote, and didn’t ask, but holy, was it ever a thing to watch. To watch her write and cry like that. I could feel her relief in my own bones.

Also in Belfast. A much younger butch, with the bad teeth so common there. Handsome, though, and cocky as hell, and super funny. Saved up for months to buy her girl a pair of Jimmy Choos, even though the girl didn’t really use the word femme, per se. Saved up for months and then that girl broke up with her right after.

“Was it still worth it?” I ask her.

“Dead right,” she answers back without blinking, without a moment’s wondering. “Dead right, sure was.”

She still had a picture of that girl in those expensive shoes on her phone. Smiled full of bad teeth when she showed me. Pictures of her new girl on there, too.

Before Belfast, driving through a tiny village on the coast of Cape Breton, close to the bridge to mainland Nova Scotia. I took the slow road without meaning to and ended up buying gas in a tiny seaside village. Don’t remember seeing a sign with a name for that village. Just a gas station and a little church, couple of houses and a graveyard. November leaves all fallen already.

There was a sign in the window of the garage saying they were a Husqvarna dealer — you know, the chainsaws and stuff. Well anyways, they are my favourite chainsaws, so I went in to look around.

Standing next to the parts counter in the back with his back turned was a cat in mechanics’ overalls. Then she turned around. Tall drink of water, dirt under her nails. Almost worn out navy-blue coveralls with her name stitched on them.

Never gave me the nod or even the long-eyed glance; couldn’t risk it maybe, not with the beer-bellied boss behind the counter. Or maybe she didn’t see me at all, but we both stood there a minute, kind of city mouse/country mouse we were, what with me in my fancy new long black coat for shirt-and-tie days when I need to feel like I look like I belong on a university campus.

We never really spoke much, just stuff about whether or not they had any Husqvarna T-shirts (they did, men’s medium, they did) and so I left with a $10 T-shirt and my heart in my throat a little, imagining her there, butch as the day is long for sure if I ever saw one, in that town in my rearview mirror. Was she alone? I hoped not. Unless there being two of them queers in that town might make it worse.

Or maybe it was a cool little place, and she was third generation there, and beloved. You never know. Hard to tell with little towns like that, especially when you only really see them in your rearview mirror.

I have a tomboy friend, too, eight years old now, and last month when we were moving and giving away so much stuff, I set aside a little pile of treasures for her. A fishhook that looks and moves just like a real minnow would. A shiny piece of iron pyrite (aka fool’s gold) from up north. A bag of rubber snakes. Stuff like that. Pirate booty I would have fucking loved when I was eight. Still must love, to some degree, or I wouldn’t have had it around in the first place.

Her mom wrote me on Facebook a couple of days ago just to tell me that her daughter had barely taken off that hat I gave her. If they let her, she would sleep in that toque made of felt cut to look just like a hockey helmet. It came with a bonus tube of black non-toxic paint for blacking out your teeth.

Couple of weeks ago my friend was helping me move some boxes. This is the friend that is the friend you always call when there are boxes to move. How many times has she helped me move? Couldn’t count. How many couches of hers have we somehow slid into the back of my truck? No telling. We’ve been brothers for nearly 20 years now.

Lately we get to talking about life. We are both Leos, house proud and loyal and know now how to pet each other’s manes when we need it. She told me that she never thought she would be single at this point in her life. Wasn’t in the plan.

“All I ever wanted is to be a good provider, and a good husband, and a daddy,” she told me.

“Is that too much to ask? Am I too old-fashioned?” she asked, and my heart broke some. So many things a guy can’t fix.

But you can try. You can keep your eyes open and be on the lookout for your people. Your brothers, and your sisters. Some of them won’t recognize you right away, or speak to you, but still. Broken-down knees and battered hearts and button-down shirts and bleeding-heart tattoos. I see you. Dirty nailed and dirty minded and desperately lonely and disabled and dashing. Your spit-polished boots and barbershop hair and always wearing someone else’s suit. I see you. All of you butches. I see you and I know myself.