3 min

Defining the butch

Oh, what a construct we weave

Credit: Xtra West files

During a softball game last season, Bubba valiantly stepped behind the plate as catcher and immediately proceeded to break the end of her index finger. Over pizza and beer later, there was much hemming and hawing about the broken digit.

“Wow, that must really hurt!”

“D’ya think you’ll be able to play next game?”

“Yeah, I busted my finger once. . . .”

Meanwhile, sitting next to Bubba, was The Team Femme, who took a different approach to the situation. “Bubba! We have to get some ice on that! It’s getting all swollen and looks terrible!” Whereupon she rustled up an entire beer pitcher full of ice! Aw. . . the tender ministrations of a femme! But in the midst of butch bonding in the face of injury, the topic slid over into butches and femmes, and how to tell who was what.

Given the butch gender of much of our team, it would seem that any conversation on the topic of butch and femme would end quickly and quietly with general agreement. Except that most of the women on our team see themselves as androgynous (oh please!) and Our Femme challenged the whole butch/femme construct or at least her place in it.

“Why aren’t I a butch?” she asked, citing her facility with power tools and her athletic prowess on and off the softball diamond.

We resisted the urge to simply point at her and say, “Look at you! It’s so obvious.” Well, we actually did just that but she was not convinced. We were forced to define our criteria and our terms-a bit of a challenge post-game, what with beer and all, but we are butch and don’t turn our backs on challenges. Especially when our masculinity is on the line.

Poor Bubba came out in a small town that was stuck in the 1950s (well, it was nearer 1950 than 2000). On her first trip to a gay bar, she wore a skirt (say it’s not true!) in some misguided confusion that this was the proper way to dress up for an, ahem, outing. Not understanding that the lesbians were the plaid-shirt clad crowd going into the back room off the bar, and that the underage girls in the disco were fag hags, she asked the first woman she saw to dance. And a delightful dancer he was, she of the Drag House of Blueberry Hill. Eventually, a butch Lesbian came into the disco and took Bubba back to the dyke-space, and, eventually, to bed.

Bubba was not very experienced with lesbo sex, but even she knew that this was Boring. It just wasn’t going to work. Reluctantly, the lesbian broke the feminist code of ethics (it was 1976) and said, “I think maybe you are a butch.” Skirts no more! (Well, not wearing them anyway.)

Ann developed a gender and sexual identity in a queer vacuum and thought simply enough that she was secretly a boy or at least not a woman really. When she came out at university being male-identified was a sin in the lesbian crowd and the lesbian police were out in force about appropriate sexuality. It was something of a set-back but at least wanting to fuck girls was normal! You just weren’t supposed to talk like that or penetrate them in any way. But behind closed doors? Well, enough said. The sex wars and transgender politics couldn’t come soon enough for her.

Our truncated personal histories failed to persuade Our Femme so Bubba offered the following schemata: A Liberated Butch knows how to change the oil, but usually goes to Jiffy-Lube anyway. A Classic Butch knows which automotive store has oil on sale on any given week. A Femme Jock has recently taken an automotive class and proudly changes her own oil. A Classic Femme doesn’t even know that there is oil in the car.

The criteria quickly broke down when Ann’s lack of mechanical facility was attested to by several members of the team. But trying to explain her identity as a faggot-identified lesbian who isn’t really interested in having sex with men was perhaps too subtle a point to argue. She suggested an alternative test: A butch feels like she is in drag when she wears any women’s clothing at all. We interpreted the silence that greeted that remark as agreement.

That’s our story and we’re sticking to it. After all, what the fuck!