I’ve been greatly surprised, the more I make contact with various parts of the lesbian community and lesbian pop culture, how much the “butch and femme” dichotomy is alive and well. I realise that despite all the changes and movements away from binary trends, we still tend to think in twos, but for some reason I thought this was an outmoded distinction. Then again, among the lesbians I know in real life, most don’t really talk about being butch or femme. I know some lesbians who are decidedly butch, but then I also know a lot like me, who I don’t think of as butch, but if I think about it I really can’t characterise them as “femme.”
As far as I can tell, femme is often more or less the default for “not butch.” It seems that butch has a more built-up set of characteristics, possibly because it implies masculinity and differentiating oneself from the norm, from the femininity default that women are born into. When I think of a butch woman, I think of her in terms of three areas: appearance, activities/mannerisms, and sexual “stuff.”
I think of “butch” as meaning very masculine, but also fitting a number of other stereotypes – often overweight or big boned and very muscular, often doesn’t pay a lot of attention to dress, etc. But there are other sorts of masculine women. I find myself very frequently attracted to androgynous women, what I suppose you would label “bois” – petite women with short haircuts who retain feminine features, so that they more or less look like a 12-year-old boy. There are also women who are very traditionally attractive but wear a lot of boyish clothing. I find that the more choices I make about my own appearance, the more I start to move away from the traditional feminine. Aside from my usual suit-and-tie combination, I’ve found that I really like how I look in more masculine casual clothes as well. Now that I’ve found a good way to style it, I love my extremely androgynous haircut. Yesterday, I was wearing a faded black tanktop that looks like a “wifebeater” essentially and I found myself flexing my muscles in the mirror and taking my glasses off to blur my feminine features. When I was a teenager, I used to wonder what my “boy self” would look like. I’ve been drawn to masculinity for a long time, and I absolutely love dressing in drag. I just feel really comfortable and really sexy when I’m androgynous. However, I try not to think too hard about it, because I really don’t want to be a man, or at least, not a heterosexual man. More on that later.
Something else that I think bolster’s someone’s “butch” image is the things she does. This ranges from activities – maybe owns a motorcycle, knows how to change her own oil, likes sports and having a beer with her buddies – to more simple things. These are an area, actually, where I think femmes affirmatively make themselves femmes – by spending time on makeup and hair, wearing lotion, shopping, etc etc. I also think this is a place where a lot of people end up falling in the middle. I don’t look like the stereotypical butch, but I know how to change the oil, I like (not US) football, I never wear makeup or “do” my hair, etc. It’s hard to think of me as really femme for that reason.
Here’s where my own heebie jeebies come out. Now of course, everything in this post is a generalisation, talking about stereotypes into which most lesbians probably don’t fit. But I’ve read a little about fantasies and lesbian sexuality and I have to say some of the butch/femme sexuality really throws me. The reason is that it seems, to me, to come really close to heterosexual sexuality and really close to the kind of “male oppression” stuff that has become more and more a turnoff to me since I stopped having sex with men. Of course, I’m sure there are lesbian women who fantasise about choking on a dildo, or being fucked painfully, or having sex with someone who identifies as male. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s just that for me, being on either side of that equation would be a major turn-off. Being with a man, especially sexually, turned me into a weak, meek person completely unlike myself. If I were on the “female” side of that equation in a lesbian relationship, there’s nothing to say the same thing wouldn’t happen. At the same time, if I were on the “male” side, I don’t want to be hurting someone or interjecting heterosexuality in the relationship. To me, the beautiful thing about lesbian sex is that it’s two women, exploring female sexuality. I do need to learn to mentally disconnect certain “heterosexual” acts that I actually enjoy from heterosexuality, so that I can enjoy them with a woman. I’ll admit that. But when actual roleplay starts up, I can’t see myself as a butch or a femme, because I don’t want that particular dichotomy in my bed. I want whatever power differential is set up (and believe me, I like power differentials) to be between two women, using our female energies. Man, I’m a hippie.
That wasn’t supposed to turn into a rant, but anyway, that’s my take on the butch/femme roles. If you really enjoy fitting into one or the other, more power to you! I’m just happy as an androgynous, outside-the-box lesbian who likes other androgynous, outside-of the box lesbians. There it is.