The Problem with Butch Othering pt 2

So here I found myself once again othered because in a community I most certainly belonged in as a Butch, I didnt belong in because I failed to "present" myself as male and failed to acknowledge other Butch women as male!....

This is why othering is problematic for Butches, because while we start out being othered in a cutesy kinda way with the "tomBOY" term, we eventually get othered right out of female altogether! There has always been tragic ramifications from our othering; emotional, physical and sexual. Those ramifications have now become not simply tragic, but dire, due to an ignorant medical establishment hell bent on profit and conformity conforming through drugs and mutilations, the "othered".

Othering harms first emotionally, usually through Butch invisibility. Young Butch girls other themselves because they do not see themselves among the crowd or anywhere for that matter. No billboard has them in the latest jeans or drinking the latest soda, no television show stars them or even has them as extras off to the side, they grace the covers of no magazine (lesbian mags included). There is nowhere for the baby Butch to set her little eyes upon herself anywhere. So from the start, we, Butches are the first to begin this othering process of ourselves. We know we're girls, we also know we do not like to dress or play in the typical girl manner seen, we also know we are not boys, but we do like to dress and play in many typical boy ways displayed. But if we're not quite girls and not quite boys, what are we? Answering that usually takes most of us Butches decades to answer as well as feel good about that answer (some never do).

But until the answer arrives this early othering of ourselves and the othering we receive from others begins an emotional division within us from what we are (biological girls) to what we feel we are (a boy-girl lets say-something a male cousin used to refer to me as). This doesn't really become an issue for Butches until puberty, till then Butches live in a kind of no girls-no boys-land. There is a duel denial that takes place in these early years before our teens in the sense that we can deny we're female by ignoring that we're female and through that denial process affirm ourselves as a kind of faux boy (other) while denying we're boys (cuz we know we're not). We get away with this because until puberty there is little difference physically between baby Butches and boys. We have a vag and they have a peen, both are body parts that remain unseen, therefore play into our denial. We can be in our minds, girls that aren't girls and not quite boys i.e. others. This emotional juggling and confusion about who and what we are soon catches up with us devastating us when nature has her say and denial is no longer an option.

This reality check occurs when puberty hits and our bodies begin physically changing into young women's bodies. Defined by growing breasts, body hair and periods. Most girls look forward to this growth process because most girls can begin doing what they have been conditioned to do from birth, perform for the male sexual gaze. For Butch girls this growth process is a nightmare. Because almost over night, literally, we at least, to ourselves become less othered and more female. We cannot stop our bodies from changing into the bodies of women. Because this happens so fast we are emotionally unable to handle it in any productive way and have nowhere turn to because we do not exist as Butches to those around us. We become depressed, repressed and often withdrawn. All of these aspects and more can and remain with us unresolved for decades. We feel as though our very own bodies betrayed us in some way. Through this perceived betrayal our body then becomes our number one enemy!

Many Butches will take action against their body in the form of eating disorders, cutting, attempted suicides, drugs and alcohol abuse, punching/hitting our bodies or further emotionally distancing ourselves from our bodies. Pretending our body is just this thing we live in, not really and truly us. The aggregate from the ramifications of our othering up to this point comes full circle when we begin having relationships with other lesbian women. Like puberty our body comes back to haunt us, only this time through the horrors of sex.

The difficulties of a sexual relationship with another woman are two-fold for most Butches. First, because of the emotional distancing othering creates between Butches and themselves other emotional gulfs ensue forming between them and the rest of the world (emotional intimacy issues). Secondly, the mind/body split produced by othering makes it nearly impossible for Butches to feel totally comfortable sexually with another woman (physical intimacy).

I could easily devote a whole post two or three on Butch sexuality but since that isn't my primary focus for this subject I'll be brief. Sex for women is a very complex emotional and physical experience that when right can lead to a level of intimacy known only to women. Butches from the start of their first lesbian relationships are greatly hindered from that possibility because othering has hurt them both emotionally and physically. Because of the distance Butches put between themselves and their bodies, allowing another woman to make love to them is often terrifying and uncomfortable. Because this clearly signifies to the Butch that that "other" place they have lived for so long, that no womans/no mans land IS in fact woman's land. That is a very scary place to be, because despite being women Butches have lived most of their time as other, woman remains unknown to them. And we always fear the unknown, even if what is unknown lies within us.

A good partner makes all the difference when it comes to Butches working through these issues. But sadly quite often what happens is, the partner recognizes how uncomfortable their Butch partner is and rather than deal with the intimacy issues at hand, makes adjustments both emotional and physical to accommodate the Butch. This is how the "stone butch" is born. The Femme/Butch community as a whole makes these emotional and physical intimacy issues even worse because they perpetuate these issues by ignoring them and instead legitimize "stone butch" as an identity! Stone butch if you arent familiar is a Butch woman or butch persuasioned woman who limits her partners touch, usually around her breast and vag area. Make no mistake, "stone butch" IS pathological and is a result of Butch othering, it is also something that with work can be seen through for an emotionally and physically rewarding love/sex life.

Most Butch women will always have moments of not feeling quite right during sex because of the years othering has kept them a part from their bodies/hating their bodies. Unothering ourselves back into the Butch women we are takes years, patience and love.

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  1. DAMN that's a powerful post, Dirt!
    I so fucking relate to it! That is so much my experience growing up, going through puberty, my tomboy stage, and being inbetween. I just wrote about it on my blog today..which I took from my post at Michfest addressing this very issue and my personal past.

    It took me YEARS to overcome some of that body shame and fully revel in my body. It's one reason I personally prefer other Butches, because I like a give and take sexually. There have been a few Femmes too where there was a bit more of a give and take, but not the same level.

    Doesn't matter, it all comes down to having a partner open to giving and taking, and not just being a pillow princess, or engaging in all the doing/work. Also, one thing, is that so many Lesbians, Butches included are incest and/or rape survivors that this has damaged many a Butch's sexuality(Femmes as well)and is rarely addressed. That too adds to the Stone Butch phenomena, that, and what you're speaking of in the Butch/ world.

    One reason I use the term "Amazon". While I know I've been a nonfeminine girl and womon, I also claim Amazon as an alternative to 'masculine'. I know I have masculine sides to me, and womonly sides, but to get off that 'Butch means you're male' shit, I claim Butch DykeAmazon...and Amazon is my spiritual designation, identity too.

    I sure wish more Butches would take on Amazon, because it hearkens back to a time millenia ago where we were actually celebrated in our own culture! And there are some who are claiming Amazon along with a way to say we ARE FULLY FEMALE CENTERED AND IDENTIFIED, and yet, not feminine.

    Thanks for this! This is so powerful, and such a great analysis..and so true!
    -Your Pal in the struggle,

  2. I know this is old, but just wanted to say thanks again. This sort of puts into words ideas that I had had about stone stuff, but didn't feel, I guess, authorized to think or speak (not being butch myself). Or have the years / experience to form into a cohesive idea. I definitely understand some of the women I know better through reading your blog, and feel that it is okay to mourn the body of a young woman I met who is a beautiful young butch but wants to be referred to as "he" and calls herself ftm (no hormones or surgery yet). :(


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