Home > Introduction > Try to understand your meanings.

Try to understand your meanings.

February 15, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

It’s occurring to me that I need to start dealing with a lot of my internalized butchphobia. I mean, that’s what this whole blog is about, right? The sentence that follows this one is meant to be matter-of-fact, rather than horribly self-loathing. I am terrified of being actually butch, as well as being perceived as butch; that is why I go to such lengths to conceal said butchness from anyone who might not like it. For the most part, that’s my co-workers and my family.

Somewhere in the back of my head, I have what seem to be conflicting versions of self. One of them is butch, no apologies. The other one is a doubter. Maybe my butch identity is just made up. Maybe so I can have a blog. Maybe so I can have something to be working towards. Maybe so my girlfriend thinks I’m hot. Maybe so the ruggers take me seriously. Maybe so I could have an excuse to cut my hair short. Maybe so I didn’t have to deal with coming out to every person I meet.

This weekend, the latter self told me it would be okay to put on a dress. That since I was making this whole “butch” thing up, I wouldn’t get upset. I did end up shaving my legs. I got up, went for an 8 mile (!!) run with my dad, who was very excited to see me. I shaved my legs. After I shaved my legs, I thought oh, this will be fine. Went shopping with my mom, sister, brother, and aunt. No worries. Bought some new clothes for work. Felt great in pants and a suit jacket. Really great. Then Mom and the sis decided I needed a cocktail dress for the evening. Here’s where my day started to go downhill.

I tried to tell them I had no occasion to wear such a dress, other than the upcoming party, that I had brought my own outfit. It didn’t really work. So I walked out of the mall with two new dresses. One to wear to my friend’s summer wedding! I guess they missed my scathing, “He told me he wanted me to wear pants. He said he knew how uncomfortable I was in dresses.” No matter. I have the dresses. In some ways, I wish I were the same size at my girlfriend. They are her style. I think. I would give them to her for Valentine’s Day. But I can’t.

As an aside, I think what is confusing for my mom and sister is that they assume my discomfort comes from dissatisfaction with my body. I’m bigger than the other women in my family. Have been since I was about 13 years old. For a while, that was greatly disturbing to me. However, that’s really changed a lot. I love my body. I look great naked. I’m pretty sure I could walk around in a skin-tight speed-skating suit (Olympics reference!) and not feel that strange. So they kept trying to say, “You look great! Your body looks great!” – but that’s not the problem. I give them two points for effort, though.

When we got home, I played Wii with my brother, and after an initial period of acclimatizing myself to the controls, began kicking his ass. I was having a great time. I thought I had put the dress shopping behind me. All I had to do was put it on, smile for 4 hours, eat some delicious empanadas, drink some wine, and then I could take it off. I was pretty sure I was going to be really really good at those last 4 items. Clothes don’t make the man. I am what I am, even when I’m naked. And – I had shaved my legs, and it didn’t feel that weird, and it’s just a piece of clothing, and what am I? Five? I haven’t thrown a hissy fit at wearing a dress since I was at least…15. Or 12. Or 10.

So I went to my room. Stalled. My dad came in and said, “I thought I was going to get a fashion show!” I laughed, and said, I’ll be right out. Looked at my closet. Oh God. Put on the first dress. Did a twirl. Put on the second dress. That one got the vote. Next up, shoes. Went to Mom’s room. Got outfitted in shoes and a necklace. Meanwhile, I was getting more pissed off and surly. Got my outfit “perfect enough”. Went back to my room. Looked in the mirror. Fuck.

I can’t describe the feelings I had, looking in the mirror. Intense discomfort. Shame. Weird. Dissociated. Meanwhile, I’m getting so upset at myself for even caring. Like, why the fuck can’t I do this. This is stupid. I should be able to do this. It’s not a big deal. It’s proper. It’s right. Why is it upsetting me? I’m so immature. I called my girlfriend and sobbed on the phone with her, feeling pathetic and unbutch for crying. The stupidest thing to me was that, just two years ago, I was putting on dresses and feeling, well, even good in them. They weren’t my first choice, but they weren’t the end of the world. So I felt pathetic.

The morning after, I’m thinking – if that’s what happens when I put on a dress, the answer shouldn’t be: get used to it. It should be don’t do it. So I’m not going to. We’ll see if the resolve sticks. Otherwise, I need to start addressing my internalized butchphobia head on. And stop being so scared of myself. Maybe this is the start of “something’s gonna change” that so many alluded to.

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Categories: Introduction
  1. February 15, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    I am so sorry you had to go through that.

    Regarding that stuff you’re saying about the dress being just a piece of clothing… But it’s not. It’s a lot more than that. It’s a statement about how a person sees herself or, in this case, about how some of your family members see you. A dress might be just a dress if you put it on for a laugh amongst people who wholly see and accept you as butch. It’s not just a dress if you’re being asked (forced?) to put it on by people who don’t understand why that’s wrong for you, who want you to wear it because they think you’re something that you’re really, really not.

    I should be able to do this. It’s not a big deal. It’s proper. It’s right.

    My rule of thumb, when it comes to my family and gendered things, is, “Would they expect Max (my brother) to do this?” If the answer is no, I’m sure as hell not doing it, either.

    • February 15, 2010 at 3:44 pm

      That’s a good rule of thumb, though I’m not sure how useful it would be in my family. Just pointing to this weekend, I think they would say, “Well, do we expect your brother to dress up according to the occasion?” rather than the question I would be trying to ask, which would be “Do you expect him to wear a dress?”

      I think that what you said is part of why this weekend was extra difficult for me. I still don’t feel that I am particularly at a point where I am seen and accepted as butch by anyone other than my closest friends and my rugby team, who I only see in rugby-specific situations. So the chances of my wearing a dress are more likely to occur among the people who don’t know or think of me as butch. Thus, it gets a lot more painful because I feel that I’m being obscured.

      • February 18, 2010 at 11:33 am

        Just pointing to this weekend, I think they would say, “Well, do we expect your brother to dress up according to the occasion?” rather than the question I would be trying to ask, which would be “Do you expect him to wear a dress?”

        Oh, totally — that’s the kind of thing families say. The rule is for you, to make that kind of thing as simple as possible. I just say (to myself), “Formal occasion: is my brother expected to wear a dress shirt? a tie? a suit?” And then I dress accordingly. If it were a drag thing and he was wearing a dress, I would too. :)

        Anyway, I’m sorry you don’t have a lot of people around you who see/support your gender identity. That’s really, really hard. For months after I came out as butch (and shit, it’s still been less than a year!) I felt so fucking lonely. It was the loneliest thing in the world. But as I became more sure of myself, everyone else became sure of me, too.

  2. February 15, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Trying things on and taking them off is how we figure out what fits. I have been there and know how difficult it can be. The dress is not just fabric–it’s your family’s expectations, it’s someone else’s version of who you are, it’s oppression and repression and suggestion and sexualizing in a way that is incongruent with the ways you experience your power when you are feeling your best.

    I’m sending you good thoughts, and because I respect your process and emotional reaction to this situation, I want to let you know kindly that your use of “like a little bitch” really rubbed me the wrong way. I feel like butches using language like that is part of what gives us a bad rep regarding misogyny. Do you think there is some internalized misogyny happening too right now, or is that a phrase you use often?

    And I think it’s extremely butch to cry when you need to. I know I do it and feel no shame.

    • February 15, 2010 at 3:33 pm

      No, I thank you kindly in turn for pointing it out. It’s not a phrase I use often. Rationally I know that it is not feminine, bad, or weak to cry. As I was writing, however, I was trying to use language that demonstrated where my head was. Self-loathing and detached are the best adjectives that come to mind for my emotions on Saturday. Though I didn’t think of this word at the time I was writing this post, you are right – I was directing some misogyny at myself. So I consciously chose that phrase, as well as several other things in a conscious attempt to better express what I was feeling at the time (for example, I chose to use shorter sentence fragments and leave out the pronoun subject “I” when describing actions). My own hatred of my crying rubbed ME the wrong way; thus, my hope was that that language could be seen as purposeful, rather than hurtful.

      As a writer, I think that when you’re using inflammatory and political language like “bitch”, it’s only acceptable if everyone understands what you were trying to do. Furthermore, I didn’t really think about butches having a bad rep when it comes to misogyny. I’d like to cite “artistic choice” but realize that some language really is never okay, particularly when it has the potential to impact someone’s reputation other than my own. And also, even though I typically write with purpose and stylistic choices, I’m not really sure I’m at the level where I’m an “artist” and make “artistic choices”, haha.

      I’m considering editing the post; in the meantime, I’ll keep it as it is. I hope this explanation makes sense to you and anyone else who stumbles upon the comments section. And thank you for pointing it out to me. I didn’t really think of it as misogyny at the time, just hatred of self. That is certainly something to think on.

  3. kalisisrising
    February 15, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    Aw man, that must have been tough. My heart went out to you while I was reading this; I’m sorry it was so difficult. This journey, it can be painful at times, but I promise, you will find a place where it’s ok to be who you are. You will find that spot where you don’t care anymore what others think of you – you are who you are and that’s it.

    As a person who writes a blog for only personal reasons, I also think it’s ok to let it be raw and perhaps not PC. This is YOUR space – it’s ok for you to say how you feel and let it all hang out, as it were. Sure, you choose to put it into a public forum, but it’s very clear this is your own place to process things out and deal with them.

    I really respect what you’re doing here and I think it’s pretty awesome that you’re sharing and taking us along for the ride. Something that I still can’t figure out is how to be easier, gentler on myself. I run into the same sort of thing where I’m mad at myself for crying or being upset and it makes it worse. I just get more angry and cry more and then feel more upset and then cry more. That’s the worst, IMO, but if I can step back for a moment and listen to my heart, I usually know what I need to do to make it right.

  4. February 16, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    I really, really related to the second paragraph — the doubter. I’ve had similar doubts about my femme identity. All I can say is, you are guaranteed not the only one with self-doubt and self-loathing, and the fact that you write about it is so amazing and will absolutely help other people confront and be transparent about their fears too. Thanks :)

  5. February 17, 2010 at 7:53 am

    Congrats!! Your blog has been nominated for A Lezzy Award in the Best New Lesbian Blog category. For more information on this years awards visit: http://thelesbianlifestyle.com/the-lezzies/

  6. G
    February 18, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    I’m so sorry you had that experience. I had my share of similar ones, and while it felt humiliating to me at the time, I can look back now and see that I was chipping away at unauthentic expectations, both on the part of my family AND myself.

    I understand referring to your friend wanting you to wear pants to his wedding (“Other people are okay if I don’t wear a dress”), as well as comparing expectations of you to your brother (“I shouldn’t have to if he doesn’t have to”). That sometimes helps put things in perspective for other people, but I also want you to know that your feelings of discomfort and dissociation are reason enough to follow your instinct. Don’t outsource the validity of your feelings.

  7. EllieBeans
    February 28, 2010 at 1:26 am

    Hi,

    Not sure if you will read this so late but…

    Love, love, love you you have so bravely shared all this. Reminds me of when I was breaking in my family. Slighly different situation but the emotions were the same. Sorry that you are going thru it too.

    Never feel bad about your feeling and their external manifestation – tears. It’s all you and authentic.

    I found that when I took a firm line with my family and stayed firm (I’ve decided I’m more comfortable in pants. Thanks for the offer of…but no.) they seemed to get it a bit quicker. Depend on your family. Best of luck. Keep up the great work.

    • March 15, 2010 at 9:11 am

      I always read things, no matter how late they are. Thanks for the good wishes.

  8. Claire
    March 17, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    “The other one is a doubter. Maybe my butch identity is just made up. Maybe so I can have a blog. Maybe so I can have something to be working towards. Maybe so my girlfriend thinks I’m hot. Maybe so the ruggers take me seriously. Maybe so I could have an excuse to cut my hair short. Maybe so I didn’t have to deal with coming out to every person I meet.”

    I only got that far and had to comment!!! I know your musings are specifically about being Butch, but I’ve been asking myself similar things about being gay ever since it occurred to me. On the one hand I have no doubt I love women. My musings go something like this “But who doesn’t love women- women are SOO sexy, anyone can see that!… but EVERYONE is not a lesbian… so how does thinking women are sexy make ME a lesbian.” “Maybe I’m just pretending to be gay because I have had a very easy life and now I feel like I need a cause, something to fight for, a reason to prove I’m strong” Being “femme” makes me feel like I have something to prove too… like how do I know I’m gay if no one else can tell. If I had a choice I know I would choose to be gay… so maybe that’s what I’m doing. And I don’t believe that being gay is a choice, so maybe that means I’m not gay!

    I have never made a single sacrifice to be gay. Which makes me very fortunate of course! but also leaves me a little without proof.

    I know… “boo hoo!”

    I’m glad I read this entry- its nice to know that someone else questions things they already know about themselves.

    • April 26, 2010 at 9:33 am

      Claire, thanks for commenting. I just wanted to let you know that I had very similar doubts about being a lesbian for a long time as well. In fact, sometimes I still wonder if I am gay. At times, my attraction to women is something I almost take for granted, whereas my attraction to men is unknown, exotic, taboo, and therefore, infinitely more interesting. It seems our stories might overlap in some places. I come from a very accepting, loving family and background, and have never really made a sacrifice to be gay. It’s a good thing, most of the time, but occasionally, I miss holding the threads that seem so common to the LGBT experience in America. I’m just glad that I haven’t had to lose family and friends (well, just a few) over something so inconsequential, but also so important to me. I think as life goes on, you will gather the experiences to “prove” to yourself what you are, whatever that may be.

  9. Sarah
    January 21, 2011 at 10:29 am

    I just want to comment, nearly a year after the fact and say that I empathise so much, with this post. I have identical reactions when confronted with a dress – it seems so stupid that I should dislike a piece of clothing so intensely. Seeing what you’ve written here makes me feel a little more validated. Thank you.

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