Home > Introduction > If being butch means wearing men’s clothes, what am I when I’m naked?

If being butch means wearing men’s clothes, what am I when I’m naked?

January 22, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

As I said in an earlier post, I am revisiting this post, written by yondergen at yondergen.wordpress.com.  Seeing that post was followed by “i am butch and i contain multitudes.” by beelisty.  Other people who have posted recently about the definition of butch: Sartorial Butch and Packing Vocals. These will probably be my last totally anxious thoughts on the subject for a while. I feel I’m going in circles and need to get back to writing about my living, not my thinking. From there, we will see where I go.

Many bloggers make a point that I plan to make over and over, which is that butchness is much more complicated than this shirt, those pants, those activities, or who you have sex with or how you do it or don’t do it. 

Frankly, I love the way that yondergen wrote about me.  I sounded proud and confident in my use of the word ‘butch’ for myself.  In real life, these things are not as true.  I try to keep this space positive, because otherwise, it doesn’t serve the purpose that I’ve set for it.  I love yondergen’s imperative to me to take pride in myself, because I can be butch in a way that other butches can’t or won’t be.  And implied in all of these affirmations is that adding diversity to the word “butch” is a good thing.

“Yeah!”, I exclaimed, after reading this.  Who doesn’t like to feel like they are who they feel themselves to be?  Who doesn’t like being told that they should take pride?  Still, I’m hesitant to believe that that all people will feel this way.  Yondergen says:

And now my cry, upon hearing her dissatisfaction is “no!” to take pride (that resounding word) in who she is, in her multiplicity, in her chameleon abilities. I see it as something subversive in a way many butches are not; to be butch in a manner akin to many femmes, or in the manner not unlike male-passing butches.

I guess I want to take pride in that, but all I hear is that I am being subversive TO butches.  I don’t really care to be subversive to butches.  We have already gone through so much crap, whether self-inflicted (like mine, for the most part) or socially inflicted (like what “old-school butches” have likely gone through).  We don’t need to be subverted.  That’s why I fear that people will hear that I am butch in butch spaces and invisible in straight spaces.  What good am I doing reinforcing the status quo in places where it doesn’t need to be enforced?  I’m probably my own worst enemy here; airing my fears out in the open will probably just give anyone who wants it the ammo to press my buttons.  I answer my own fears by trying to be more radical of voice than of dress.  I constantly assert in straight spaces (i.e. work and family) that I am queer and feel forced to dress differently than I’d like, and that in queer spaces (i.e. here) I assert that I am still butch when dressed un-butch.  So my hope is that I help to expand minds and definitions, no matter where I go.

I know that on the blogosphere (as someone called it, the Butchosphere) I won’t get policed in the same way that I might in real life.  All anyone has to go on in the Internet World is the way that I describe myself. So when I say I’m butch and I dress feminine for work, everyone has a different image of me in their heads.  And many people have said, “yes, yes, of course you are still butch!”  But they have no idea what I look like most of the time.  I could be wearing a dress right now and be twirling around my kitchen going, “La la la, this dress is sooooo butch!” (I am doing neither of these things.)  Would doing that be butch, simply because I self-identify that way?

When I kept saying in the past, I cannot be butch, because I am not what yondergen described as “one of those dyed-in-the-wool, true old-school butches”, I would counter with the insistent whine that I was.  Finally, one day (while naked), I asked myself, “if being butch means wearing men’s clothes, what am I when I’m naked?” That really shook me.  Well? If wearing a suit is what I so desperately want, then what happens when I take that suit off?

Actually, I’m still dealing with the minor nuclear explosion that occurred in my head after I asked this question.  I don’t think I’ve ever had such a visceral and immediate reaction to a single thought.  My tendency is to let things stew slowly, until they become something.  But this? I started crying when my girlfriend tried to fuck me.  I wore pajamas to bed (I sleep naked. I love sleeping naked.)  It was like I snapped and with that one question, thought, “Oh my God, I am butch…but only when I am wearing men’s clothes.” Eventually, I recovered enough to realize that that just wasn’t true.  So the question was, could I be butch in a sort of androgynous business casual? I mean, I’d prefer to not feel like I have to be, but if I can be butch while naked, why not in dress slacks and a blouse?  It’s got to be more than just the clothes.

This sentiment is probably purely my own.  So many butches experience much more body dysphoria than I ever have, and I suspect that for these people, the clothes serve a different purpose than they do for me.  I don’t want to speak for them though.  For me, the clothes are an outward expression of qualities inherent to my person; thus, it has to be more than just the clothes.

P.S. I have had a series of incredibly serious posts. I swear up and down that I am actually a funny, cheerful person!

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Categories: Introduction
  1. January 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Please don’t say I helped make you cry! I’m increasinly realising that this post was unclearly written. Lots of bits didn’t express what I meant, particularly about “dyed-in-the-wool butches”. They are as real, innate as we are. As much products of their time and position as us. There was a great article somewhere about trying to identify who is “most ” butch, and they brought up a long haired woman who didn’t dress like a butch, and still claimed it. It’s as much action and thought and intent as it is expression through clothes or sex. But I really believe you know this.
    I wrote In one of my first posts, too, about a skirt that I loved but had honestly become afraid to wear. The conclusion that arose was about the percieved fragility of masculinity, particularly when presented unapologetically on a female body. We always feel so imminently those proclamations that we are not “real”, that what we feel is invalid, unnatural, or a phase. It can be a weight to bear but, i think it’s worth it.

  2. January 22, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    You didn’t make me cry! Don’t worry. Haha. Now I’m wondering if THIS post was unclearly written. I was crying months ago (BTB – before the blog).

    Basically, I was just trying to say how I overcame my own thinking that I wasn’t “real”, but that that happened so recently for me that I still struggle with it.

    I agree that it is worth it.

  3. January 22, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    I totally relate to this, coming from the femme-side, obviously. I’ve had some major angst about identifying as femme, and whether my short hair “permits” me to claim that identity, and whether it’s the outward femininity or the inner that’s really at the core of femme. I don’t necessarily *look femme*, whatever that means, or maybe I actually DO look femme, but can’t tell if I do because I don’t know what it means. Is that conviluted enough to have totally got your head spinning? Point is, I think I’m starting to be able to loosen my grip on this need to LOOK femme in order to prove to myself that I AM, and, like you, am thoroughly convinced that it’s just … something unspeakable, an essence that is somehow inherent in me.

    I love these posts.

  4. January 22, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Clothes are a social construct, just like gender is a social construct. The key is to use these social constructs to our advantage and not to allow them to trap us. Or destroy the constructs completely, as anarchists would contend.
    Basically, you wear the clothes, they don’t wear you; and you are still you without them.

  5. January 22, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    Finally, one day (while naked), I asked myself, “if being butch means wearing men’s clothes, what am I when I’m naked?” That really shook me. Well? If wearing a suit is what I so desperately want, then what happens when I take that suit off?

    Actually, I’m still dealing with the minor nuclear explosion that occurred in my head after I asked this question. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a visceral and immediate reaction to a single thought. My tendency is to let things stew slowly, until they become something. But this? I started crying when my girlfriend tried to fuck me. I wore pajamas to bed (I sleep naked. I love sleeping naked.) It was like I snapped and with that one question, thought, “Oh my God, I am butch…but only when I am wearing men’s clothes.”

    This passage startled me, it sounded so familiar. I’ve gotten to a place where I’m comfortable, but there were months of trying to figure out how to stay butch without my clothes. I finally decided that it’s not about how my body looks or even how it is — it’s about how I use it, the same way that I can use my female voice (& everything else) in a butch way.

    • January 27, 2010 at 9:25 am

      I forget where I read this, I think it was something Sinclair wrote at Sugarbutch? I can’t remember. Something to the extent of “breasts are butch, periods are butch, hips are butch, pregnancy is butch”. That was a very powerful statement to me, and yet, took a long time to digest in relation to myself.

      • January 27, 2010 at 9:46 am

        Yes please!!! Female. bodies. ARE. BUTCH.

  6. kalisisrising
    January 23, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    I’m so new to this gender theory thought, but honestly, butch isn’t about your clothing. It’s a way of BE-ing. My gf, she’s a butch through and through and she still wears women’s clothing. Sure, it’s on the masculine side of the spectrum, but I look at her and I melt a little with each glance. It’s just an innate part of her and Holden, I think based on your posts, that you also have that as an innate part of you. Butch is butch. As a femme who is read as straight about 100% of the time, I respect butch and the ability to step into those shoes and stand up for it. It takes some cajones to do so…I don’t know if I could. I don’t like the constant coming out I deal with, but I am certain I couldn’t deal with the constant scrutiny she (and probably you…?) deal with. Thank you for writing this blog and thank you to yondergen for giving you the accolades you deserve.

    • January 27, 2010 at 9:22 am

      Holden = Packing Vocals, Harrison = How to Be Butch. :-) I think you were talking to me, so I’ll reply. I think “butch” was misinterpreted by me (and is probably misinterpreted by many) to be solely related to your clothing and presentation. That’s what has been so hard for me to come to terms with. Thank you for your support. Truth be told, I, and many a butch (unless, of course, they’re not into femmes), would be nowhere if it weren’t for the femmes who support us and make us feel 100% worth melting over.

  7. January 25, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    I like serious posts, Harrison T.B.!

    And I LOVE the “what am I when I’m naked” question! I’ve been thinking about this since I read it yesterday– thank you. :)

    The internet is really interesting in terms of identity, isn’t it? You are what you SAY you are. Until someone else says you’re not. It’s scary to even post a PICTURE of yourself–and not because your MOM is going to find you. But because you worry what internet people will think! :) The internet is supposed to be this great leveler, where everyone is the same, socio-economic differences melt away…la, la, la. But I believe that a mere *picture* can have a really powerful effect on the way people treat you (on the internet).

    Anyways,

    For me, the clothes are an outward expression of qualities inherent to my person; thus, it has to be more than just the clothes.

    I totally, completely, 100% agree with this! The clothes don’t wear YOU, YOU wear the clothes. The clothes don’t make the woman, the woman makes the clothes. That kind of thing. Clothes are a MASK. Not a reality. If we rely too heavily on external appearances, our Selves are liable to wither away while we’re not paying attention.

    • January 27, 2010 at 9:27 am

      Aw, shucks, everyone likes the serious posts! Thank you!

  8. lyon
    February 1, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    Harrison, this thing about am I butch when I have no clothes? It’s something I have deliberated and thought about often. What makes me who I am? I don’t think questioning ourselves will ever end completely, you evolve and grow and have to keep going over identity, authenticity,etc. I really liked this post. Enjoying your whole blog.

  9. G
    February 3, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    It’s a damn good thing that gender comes from within. Because honestly, if you weren’t butch, no amount of men’s cologne or clothes or anything else could make you so. And if that means you want to twirl in your skirt and talk about how butch it is to you, I say twirl your little butch heart out, because the clothes are just a tactic and expression.

  10. February 24, 2010 at 11:23 am

    This is very simple and very profound, the whole idea of “who am I when I’m naked?” with far reaching consequences. Especially in world where people are told they are this or that. Male OR female, Butch OR Femme, gay OR straight. Always one or the other. But it’s not about what others see when we’re “clothed” it’s about who we are when we’re naked.

    Great post. I just found you but I’ll be back!

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