I am a trans woman. I am also a butch lesbian.
Despite what you may have heard, these are not contradicting identities.
A trans woman is a woman who was assigned male at birth by the medical industrial complex. This assignment is based entirely on the appearance of a phallus, specifically a phallus at least half-an-inch in length. That’s it.
A cis woman is a woman who was assigned female at birth by the medical industrial complex. This assignment is based entirely on the lack of a phallus (or a phallus less than half-an-inch, therefore acceptably small enough to be considered a clitoris). That’s it.
So forget whatever the hell you’ve heard about chromosomes, gonads, gametes, fertility, or anything else. (Chances are good you and your doctor have no idea what half of those are for you personally, anyway.) If you can accept that, it’s easy to accept how greatly variable everything else we take for granted about “sex” and “gender” is per individual.
Hopefully we have established assigned genders (and the phallus or lack of one used to make that assignment) have nothing to do with a person’s actual gender. Now let’s talk about gender expression. Which is completely different from assigned gender or actual gender.
When people say “gender is a social construct”, what they hopefully mean is gender expressions are socially constructed. Because they’re right. There is absolutely nothing about a dress, for example, to make it more “female” than “male”, other than historically being associated with and worn by women. And because of that association, lots of other social baggage attached to women has also become attached to dresses.
The same thing happens to damn near everything in our hyper-gendered world: Clothing, Beauty Products, Interests, Skills, Careers, Hobbies, Body Language, and much more. They all become associated (with variable degrees of strength) to one of the two genders our society acknowledges.
Everything becomes “masculine” or “feminine”. Sometimes if you’re lucky you can get away with “androgynous” or “gender-neutral”. (Funny enough, those last two seem awfully dependent on the absence of femininity, but that’s a rant for another day.)
When you mix sexuality with gender expression, you get some even-more-specific descriptions. For example, a straight woman might describe her masculine gender expression as “tomboy”, while a queer women might use “butch”. The reasons for these distinctions are because we still want to have our gender and sexuality respected, regardless of how we express them.
Even though these are technically the same style of gender expression (masculine), the motivations and ways of expressing them can be very different.
Obviously I can’t speak for straight girls, or even all butch lesbians. But I can speak about what being butch means for me and why it’s the gender expression I love most.
When I was younger my gender expression was all about making sure my gender identity was recognized, so I was aggressively feminine. Most people who see someone with long hair, makeup, a dress, etc. see a woman. And at that time in my life, being recognized as a woman was what mattered most.
When I became aware I would be gendered correctly no matter what (a privilege I am extremely grateful for, by the way), I gave myself more freedom to express myself. T-shirts became a more common staple in my wardrobe. Makeup became a “when I feel like it” practice rather than something I felt was needed for survival. I swore off heels except for funerals, weddings, and paid events. Gradually I began to describe my style as a “tomboy” or maybe a “chapstick bisexual”.
After I came out as a lesbian, I made even more radical changes to my expression because I wanted to broadcast my sexuality to the world at large. And for all the talk of stereotypes, it is absolutely possible to “look like a lesbian” to randoms on the street if you’re butch. Generally, when men see me now, they correctly pick up my non-verbal signals saying “I have no interest in you sexually.”
Despite the beginnings, my butch expression has become more meaningful over time. When I cut my hair into a dapper little part, I could not stop smiling at myself in the mirror at how adorable I was. When I pulled clothes from the “men’s” section and still looked amazing, I realized I had twice more options than most are willing to consider.
But it’s not even just the style, it’s the way the world treats me differently.
When I put on a sharp looking shirt and necktie, I realized people of all genders paid attention to what I said, a hard feat for a woman. When I walk into a room, I catch the eye of every queer woman. Friends frequently rely on my handiness and “butch skills”. Also, did I forget to mention that I look damn good as a butch?
Before I felt like I was approximating somebody else’s style and I always worried I was doing it wrong. But when I began expressing and identifying as butch, I got a huge boost in confidence because I was the one making all the rules.
That was the biggest surprise for me. As a butch I feel comfortable, sexier, and “womanly” (whatever that means). I love the way my curves show through my clothing. I love wearing bold makeup over a conservative business outfit. I love the way my mother’s big, expressive earrings stand out with my short hair.
So I really resent when people say butches “look like” or “dress like” men, because this is what “dressing like a woman” looks like for me.
To add insult to injury, I will always have fly-by transmisogynists say, “it takes more than a skirt to be a woman”. But if I were to agree, they would turn my butch presentation into “proof” I’m not really a woman. Which, you know, kind of destroys they’re previous argument of “clothes don’t make the woman”, but what the hell do I know?
Bottom line: Trans women and cis women can express themselves however the hell they want and they will still be women.
No matter what.
It’s really that simple.
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