Go ahead and label me

imagesCABVPTSFWhen W and I first started dating, she made it very clear that she doesn’t like labels.

On one of our first dates, we met at a local gay bar and discussed 50 shades of gay with the bartender.  Does it really matter what we call ourselves and how we identify?  Gay, bi, queer, all or none of the above or something in between.  Isn’t it all about the person?  What’s on the inside?  To hell with restrictive, pigeonholing labels.

Of course, I agreed.  I mean, it was early in our relationship and I wanted the girl.  Besides, being anti-label seemed to be the politically correct stance at the time.

I was reminded of all of this stuff about labels this morning.  W was getting ready to go to a music festival with her son.  As she was putting in her earrings, I commented about how girlish she is.  She finished getting dressed — jeans, sneakers and a V-neck T-shirt, wallet in the back pocket — and reminded me about how she doesn’t fit neatly in a square box labeled “femme.”

And, it’s true.  She’s got some fantastic “femme” parts and tendencies, which drive this butch wild, but she can’t be contained by boxes or categories or labels.

Case in point, her hands.  I find W’s hands incredibly sexy.  Her fingers are always decked out in silver rings.  I like how the silver sparkles when it catches the light and how feminine her hands look all bedazzled like that.  But I’m also smitten by how capable her hands look.  Strong, agile and adept.  Hands that can sew a pair of drapes, darn a sock, plunge a toilet or fix a pair of glasses with a tiny screwdriver and a pair of pliers.

I certainly love W because of who she is and not because of any label that she wears.

images[7]On the other sparsely ringed hand, I’m quite a different story.  I like labels.  I need labels.  I desire labels.  If I could, I’d sew this label on the back of my neck:

BUTCH

Just like a Hanes T-shirt or a pair of underwear going to summer camp, I feel the need to wear a tag.  To let everyone know who I am.  To remind myself of who I am.

I have an insatiable need to fit in, to belong, to be a part of something greater than myself.

I’ve had times in my life when people have caught me off guard and referred to me as a “butch” or a “baby dyke.”  Usually, I do that thing where you turn your head looking for the person being talked about and then slowly nod like oh yeah, of course, you were talking about me, I was just momentarily distracted by that shiny thing in the corner over there.

Having a label makes me feel safe.  It makes me feel like I’m someone.  That I’m not alone.

imagesCA6VG37I

Me and k.d. belong to the same club

I’m a butch lesbian like all of the other butch lesbians.  Me and k.d.  Me and Shane kickin’ it at The Planet.  For butches only.  Just us butches.  With our super-secret handshake and members-only clubhouse.

I’ve never been much of a leader.  I’ve never really understood the benefit of going first or paving the way, blazing the trail or setting the pace.

I find it much more desirable and advantageous to bring up the rear.  To follow.  To fall in line.  To go with the flow.

I like to keep things organized and manageable.  I don’t like cross-over or spill-over or messiness.  I like things neat.  Like a white ribbed tank with a pair of jeans.  Or a crisp, freshly pressed white button down with a colorful paisley necktie.

I could never be a Chinese menu.  I’m not in favor of picking and choosing from columns A, B and C.

It’s column B or bust.  B or nothing for this butch.

I wear the label “Butch” proudly, with a capital “B,” even though it might not be politically correct.  For isn’t it all about the woman underneath the Arrow dress shirt and the pinstripe pants?

Of course, but this woman has only really felt like herself when she started wearing a label the reads “butch.”

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23 responses to “Go ahead and label me

  1. The sewing a label on your neck thing? Wouldn’t recommend it. Sounds painful to me. 😉

  2. I completely understand your need for labels. I feel the same. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I found the word ‘homoflexible’ yesterday. Perhaps some might say it’s being silly, but I find it reassuring to know I am part of a group, I fit in somewhere, and somebody is going through the same thing as me…

    • Haven’t heard of “homoflexible,” but I think I get the gist. And glad to hear that there are others who are ok with labels. Wasn’t sure how this post was going to come across.

      • I think issues arise when people try to label others. I hear time and time again… labels are for clothes, not for people lol, as you say 🙂 But within that I think everyone has a right to label themselves if that is how they feel comfortable. Coming from a lesbian, who was still a lesbian whilst going out with a guy, and not bisexual. Haha. And still a lesbian even though perhaps exploring guys. I don’t think people understand why it’s important to me, and in fact, I don’t know why it is so important to me. It’s a weird one. Very interesting post though. As for butch or femme, I think we can safely say I am neither 🙂 Another interesting point as people perceive me as femme and insist that I am. Very annoying.

      • I think you’re right. Problems come up when we try to label others. And we all do that to some degree. I guess it helps us try to figure other people out.

        I’m always flattered when someone refers to me as a butch though. It feels like they understand me in some way. That I’m the real deal. Like I’m part of something fabulous like a kick-ass rock band or a member of Mensa or something like that.

  3. Excellent blog. Thanks for sharing, I appreciate your insight.

  4. I struggle with this. I totally get your point of view, especially about feeling understood, validated when someone calls you butch. But there seems to be so much policing of labels that I often feel like I’m not authorized to choose and use my own. If I don’t present just so, I’m an imposter, a wannabe. But if I’m too masculine, I’m a pretender, poseur. That’s where I throw my hands up and say, “fine, no labels”.

    • To each her own, certainly. Seems like the whole label thing is a double-edged sword. We all want to be validated but not be shoved into some pre-defined box. And people do like to comment on who we are and where we fit. I guess the trick is to just be yourself, whoever that is and whatever that’s called.

  5. firefliesandblessings

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  6. I understand where you’re coming from, being labeled is similar to having an identity. In my country, All the way in the Arab worlds, Labels are important. It is a way being safe under this blanket, it’s away of being spotted in the crowed. I am, personally, not sure if i like to be labeled or not. If I said I am not labeled, they will label me as Bisexual. I hope I was able to make my point clear. ❤ beautiful post!

  7. I find labels useful in helping to understand each other. Knowing your butch helps me understand you and know that we have something in common, therefore helping me find friends with like minds. Although, I can see how labels can limit a person or cause excessive anxiety – they can also help us feel like we are not the only one. So as long as you use labels to help define who you are, rather than allowing a label to make you who you are then I think that is the difference.

  8. I struggle with labeling/labels as well. (Coincidentally I wrote a piece on my blog about it the other day too.) I agree that it depends whether you are labeling yourself or someone else is giving you a label. If I am comfortable giving myself a label then it can be empowering and it can help me figure out my identity and be better understood by others. If I choose a box that I like or a group that I feel I am part of then fine. But if someone else is trying to fit me in a box – trying to label me, then that can be restrictive and demeaning/belittling. In the end I think people are so much more than just their labels whether self-labeled or not. I think people have multilayer identities, that can’t really be encompassed by a single stereotype/label.
    Recently a lesbian friend of mine told me jokingly that I am a ‘switch’ in the sense that I switch between being butch and femme, and it did feel somewhat validating, like aha there is a sub-group of lesbian that I can fit in, there is a group I belong to, and it felt more freeing than limiting, more like opening a door then closing me into a box.
    I really appreciate that you shared your thoughts about this, as well as the other people who also commented.

    • Your reply reminded me of my own coming out. When I discovered that the label “lesbian” fit me, my world suddenly made sense. At the time, I described it as the missing puzzle piece. How grand to suddenly belong! Especially sense I had felt like such an outsider for most of my life.

  9. I too struggle with labelling/being labelled and in the past have had a hard time finding one that I can slip into comfortably. I also appreciated Em’s comment “it depends whether you are labelling yourself or someone else is giving you a label. If I am comfortable giving myself a label then it can be empowering and it can help me figure out my identity and be better understood by others. ” For years I’ve been labelled as a ‘butch’ and that’s just never worked for me – But then again, neither has being ‘femme’ which is at the other end of the spectrum. (It;s sort of the same issue I have with gender – male/female… neither really works for me all that well). I agree that labels can provide one with security – that much needed sense of self and belonging. On the other hand, I feel almost safer not squeezing myself into any boxes. Butch, femme, gay, straight, bi/pan/a/sexual – they’re too limiting.
    Almost.
    I’ve come to realize that labels are words, and when chosen carefully can be a powerful form of communication. So, I’ve slipped on my loose-fitting lesbian t-shirt and wear it proudly. It may not capture the true essence of me, but it provides me with that base sense of identity that I need to build myself off of.

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