Butch lesbians are not manufactured in a scientist's lab, we are home grown, cell by cell, finger by finger from our mother's womb. And when we are pushed out into the awaiting already Gender Straight Jacketed world, we are Butch intact. So while I cannot tell you exactly what happened within that womb, how the matter that is my brain was marked by a fly speck of difference, I can only tell you what came after.
What came after first was what I know and what came after that was what I remember. I'll start with what I know. I know around age two my ma could not keep me in a dress. I remember around age three being asked by strangers observing between my long (girls) hair, my pants, T shirt, tennis shoes and rough play "are you a boy or a girl?" It is a question that dogged me throughout my childhood, my teen years, even today I can spot it in the eyes of strangers. In childhood those looks were usually filled with a puzzlement, somewhere in adulthood they developed a range, from dumbstruck to disgust.
Somewhere, maybe, way back there even I looked at myself with disgust. Maybe disgust is too strong a word, more of a sense or belief that I was ugly. Even with my long hair, I didnt look like any of the girls I knew, or with my "boys" clothes I looked like none of the boys. Ugly. Even though my comrades were boys, I still had friends that were girls. I think it was third grade that I first intellectually ran these thoughts through my mind. I had, for sometime now observed that, in school at least, there were certain kids who gathered with other certain kids.
Being the proverbial loner, nothing to do with the Butch aspect, another fly speck? I never felt a part of any of these groups, gangs or cliques. But nevertheless, I had my certain crew of kids whom I was friends with and they me. And it was in third grade, like I said, that I noticed the obvious similarity among them, they were attractive, boys and girls alike. I thought about this hard, and wondered to myself, if they are good looking kids, and they all hang out together, why would they be friends with me? Who was ugly. It would take a small handful of decades, before I could look in a mirror and value what I saw staring back. I've heard from many Butches who thought as children or teenagers believed themselves ugly. Because we're groomed to see female beauty in very limited ways, and the way female shaped our Butch bodies was unseen and remains unseen today. And if we cannot even measure ourselves against female beauty standards, then there is nothing left, but ugly or worse, freak.
I first learned about wrestling from Geno, he was an American Indian. Dark reddish skin, jet black hair and stocky. We were the same age when we met, three. He lived near relatives of mine in the downtown Flint area of Michigan. Straight away he wanted to wrestle me. We wrestled, he was strong I remember thinking, making me more determined to pin him down, which after a bit of struggle I did. Geno drowned in the Flint river a year later.
Boys wrestled I learned and they would want to wrestle me. Wrestling between boys or myself and a boy was a way to discern who was tougher without actually fighting. Losing at wrestling to a boy relegates the loser to a weak/er status and weak in our society equals female/girl/woman/bitch. These wrestling lessons were reinforced with taunts from the winners toward the losers of "you wrestle like a girl" calling up similar feelings when a boy would tell another boy that he "throws like a girl" or hearing from boys with a feeling of pride that I didnt. I never lost at wrestling, and learned in the "rough areas" in elementary schools growing up that I never wanted to be the girl, girls are weak. I was strong, was I really a girl? I had my doubts.
I've heard many stories over the years of baby Butches being forced by their parents into pink frilly dresses and bought only baby dolls to play with. I was lucky in that girls colours/clothes/toys or any other thing labeled girl wasnt forced on me, nor did I choose any of it. I had my own fishing pole, mini-bike at age four (my dad fashioned training wheels on it till I could ride it without a year later), cap guns, BB gun, dirt bike at ten, hot wheels, Indian Cheif headdress, tomahawk (I hated cowboys) and the list goes on. These child accoutrements shaped how I thought about boys and girls and myself as much as wrestling did. These things placed me into a category that both existed (boy) and didnt exist (the girl me).
Somewhere between not seeing myself as a girl through not acting girl and a healthy dose of boy socialization, I got separated from FEELING girl. No matter the vast familial differences each Butch experiences growing up, this particular fissure, this not feeling like a girl takes hold of us before we're even school age. And so much of everything else that comes after deepens this internal gulf. What does it mean to not feel like the thing that you know that you are? Alien.
1alienadjective \ˈā-lē-ən, ˈāl-yən\
: not familiar or like other things you have known : different from what you are used to
: from another country
: from another country
So while this definition sums up some of what I felt, there is no word that encompassed what it felt like to be an alien in my own home of origin! GIRL was the country I was born in, yet every conceivable direction I looked was unrecognizable to me. Sure, I walked its coiffed, manicured streets but every sign post was a language I could not decipher. GIRL was a place I never once felt at home in, and yet GIRL, was my homeland.
When you are born a Butch lesbian, even our earliest memories are drenched in a suffocating, thick dense smog of girl/boy confusion. Strangers mistaking us for a sex we are not, us wishing, dreaming of not being the sex that we are, all because the only roads shown to us were marked with two sign posts: Boy Behaviour Ave to your left and Girl Behaviour Dr keep right.
Caution, children at play.