The Etiquette of a Butch

One of the fun parts of being a butch lesbian is playing with traditional gender norms and making them our own weird and beautiful brand of expression. As a butch lesbian who is also a trans woman, I thought it might be especially cathartic to take all of the well-intended advice about “how to be a gentleman” and make it queer by replacing all male identifiers with “butch”:

  • A butch has a strong moral code and always rises to the occasion to protect whoever needs it, including herself.
  • A butch has specific suggestions prepared before she asks a lady out on a date, and knows how to be gracious if her offer is declined.
  • A butch knows how to change a tire, jump start a car, tie a necktie, and sew a button.
  • A butch can offer to pay for the date, but accepts without protest if her lady declines.
  • A butch never throws the first punch, but she knows how to throw the last one.
  • A butch knows how to compliment her lady respectfully, and does so sincerely, often, and expects nothing in return.
  • A butch is punctual, and calls ahead as soon as she knows she will be late or need to reschedule.
  • A butch walks closest to the curb and offers her arm to her lady while walking.
  • A butch carries a lighter, a pocket knife, and a pen with her at all times so she can be ready for anything.
  • A butch offers her jacket or sweater to her lady if she is cold, even if it means being uncomfortable.
  • A butch offers to walk her lady to her doorstep after a date, and waits until her lady is inside before leaving.
  • A butch keeps her fingernails neat and trimmed, and her hair combed and presentable.
  • A butch offers her seat to a lady, but does not insist it.
  • A butch always says thank you to servers, clerks, and other workers who assist her, even if they’re having a rough day.
  • A butch maintains eye contact and listens whenever a lady is speaking, she does not just wait for her turn to talk.
  • A butch never arrives at a party empty-handed, but she calls the hostess ahead of time to ensure her gift helps and doesn’t hinder.
  • A butch always helps a lady in need, especially if they are older because too many people ignore them.
  • A butch holds open the door for anyone within three steps and is the last one to walk through.
  • A butch knows how to write and send thank you notes, sympathy cards, and love letters.

I admit when I first began compiling this list it was mainly to poke fun at chivalry, and I do still believe a man being chivalrous to a woman simply because he is a man and she is a woman is always going to be inherently sexist. Benevolent sexism is still sexism, and I am in no way arguing against that, just so we’re all clear.

But the truth is these rules really are more or less how I conduct myself. Maybe it’s because most of these lessons came from my mother or my grandfather, neither of whom worked to reinforce gender roles much when I was a child. Maybe it’s the hopeless romantic in me, who likes having a little nod to the days of courtship (so long as the sexist ideas behind them are thoroughly destroyed). Maybe it’s because I see these as good rules to live by rather than a special code of conduct based on birth genitals or gender identity. I’m not really sure to be honest, but I think for me it’s about setting personal standards and achieving or exceeding those standards.

So that got me to thinking, if butches want to make these rules about personal standards and not about reinforcing sexism or femmephobia, what sort of additional rules should be included to actively push back against the kind of toxic masculinity that makes so many men (and some butches) miserable? How can we make queer female masculinity superior to traditional masculinity, rather than just a mirror of it? The following are some of my suggestions:

  • A butch always keeps a spare tampon or pad, even if she doesn’t menstruate.
  • A butch knows how to cook and is eager to make a meal for her lady when she’s had a long day.
  • A butch never makes jokes at the expense of victims of sexual assault, violence, abuse, or any other axis of oppression.
  • A butch is always gentle and loving toward animals and children, even if they might need correction or discipline sometimes.
  • A butch never looks down on a lady for enjoying feminine things, even if she admittedly doesn’t always understand them.
  • A butch learns how to wear makeup, or eyeliner at the very least, so she can fully appreciate it as an art form.
  • A butch is not afraid to cry, because she knows emotions are part of life and not a sign of weakness.
  • A butch never engages in “locker room talk”. She is grateful of her lady’s affection, not boastful about conquest.
  • A butch only relies on violence when it is the only option available to protect herself or others, not as a form of intimidation.
  • A butch never accepts compliments that are disparaging of femininity or women.
  • A butch recognizes femme gender expression as labor-intensive, and is always appreciative of that unpaid labor.
  • A butch will always risk “ruining the mood” before she’ll risk not having explicit and enthusiastic consent from her lady.
  • A butch knows how to clean up after herself, and never expects a lady to do so for her.
  • A butch only uses “Cissies” as an insult for transmisogynists. She would never call feminine AMAB children “sissies”.
  • A butch treasures her feminine interests and hobbies. She is not embarrassed or ashamed about them.
  • A butch shares her feelings with her lady, because hiding them is not strength, it’s cowardice.

What rules would you include and what rules would you alter or destroy to ensure that female masculinity (or any masculinity, for that matter) does not become a mirror of toxic sexism most commonly expressed in our society?


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Dori Mooneyham

Dori Mooneyham is a psychology student at Texas Woman's University specializing in queer youth and their families. As a feminist, trans woman, and lesbian, she offers many unique insights and perspectives not often seen in the academic world.

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