Tag Archives: being butch

Being butch and Barry Manilow

I had a 45-minute drive yesterday.  I was tired of listening to sports radio and NPR.  Even my 80s station didn’t appeal.

So, I popped open my four-CD collection of Barry Manilow’s greatest hits.  I belted out the lyrics to “I Write the Songs” and “Mandy” and “Weekend in New England.”

It felt like the unbutchest thing I’ve done in a long time.  Even though there was Lola “with yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there.”

But I didn’t care.  It was just me and Barry in my Altima “singin’ to the world.”

And then I realized it was perhaps the butchest thing I’d done in awhile.

* * *

What about you?  What’s the unbutchest/butchest thing you’ve done lately?

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Ask Middle-age Butch

Dear Middle-age ButchDear Middle-age Butch,

My family and friends know and accept that I am a lesbian, though they’ve only known for a few years now, and I think they are still getting used to the thought of it. My mom, however, is not really accepting of butch lesbians. She’s never honestly given me a reason, but she is very judgmental. I only dress femme because I live in her house, but I’m getting rather tired of suppressing the fact that I am butch. Do you have any advice or suggestions?

Signed,

Suppressed Butch 

Dear Suppressed Butch,

That’s a hard one. You live at home with your mom, so you don’t want to make waves. But you’re not being true to yourself. What’s a closeted butch to do?

Try talking to your mom and telling her how it feels for you to “dress femme” to please her instead of butch to please yourself.  Do you feel sad?  Angry?  Humiliated?  A girl’s desire to live her life as a flannel-loving, sturdy shoe-wearing butch is something most people don’t get.

Keep the lines of communication open.  Encourage your mom to ask questions.  Be patient.  It took you awhile to figure out how you feel most comfortable expressing yourself.

Butch women don’t fit societal standards of feminine beauty, and there’s the problem.  Why on earth would you want to wear cargo pants and a V-neck tee when you could wear strappy sandals and a floral sundress?

I remember when I got a real short haircut.

“Rae, your grandmother would be so disappointed,” my grandfather said to me. My grandmother was dead at the time, so I don’t think my short hair was really bothering her.

I remember going to a college bar all butched out and having a guy grimace when he looked in my direction.

I remember the first time someone called me “sir” in front of my mother.  I thought she was going to die.

But enough about me.

What I’m trying to say is that it takes balls to be butch.

But some see great beauty in our special blend of feminine and masculine.  We are handsome devils.  Ask any femme.  Check out some photo projects like Meg Allen’s Butch.  Maybe a pictorial approach would help your mom understand.

In the meantime, read anything you can get your hands on by Ivan Coyote.  Read Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues.  Listen to “Ring of Keys” from the Broadway musical Fun Home and try not to cry.  I dare you.

Connect with other butches in your community.

Connect with other butch bloggers.  There’s a bunch of us out here.

Remember that butch is more than what you wear.  It’s who you are.  No one can take that away from you.

Hope that your mom comes around, but find other people to support and celebrate you until that happens.  Maybe when she sees how happy you are being you, she’ll get it.

Love yourself.

Be your best butch.

* * *

This was an actual question from a young butch.  What do you guys think?  What advice would you offer?

Middle-age butch is changing the world

Superhero powLast week, a friend threw a fancy luncheon to celebrate my book.

On my way to her house, I stopped by a local shop to purchase a small hostess gift.

I told the shop owner I was going to a luncheon and asked for gift suggestions.

When I went to pay for the gift, she asked about the lunch.

Normally, I don’t divulge a lot of information about myself when I am out in public.  What you see is what you get.  Middle-age woman.  Or boy.  Heck, you know the drill.  But I was in a generous and giving mood because friends! free lunch! afternoon cocktails!

“A friend is having a special lunch in my honor because I wrote a book,” I said.

The shop owner congratulated me and we started talking about writing.

When she asked questions about the book, I handed her a promotional business card.

“I was just talking to my daughter about this the other night,” she said.

Apparently, they had gone on a mother-daughter shopping excursion for a bathing suit.  The  teenage daughter wanted board shorts like her dad wears.

“I didn’t even know what board shorts were,” she said.

“I wear board shorts,” I told her.

So, we talked about board shorts and the fluidity of gender and girls who want to wear what their dads do.

I couldn’t wait for W to get home so I could tell her about my day.  About the special lunch of grilled chicken and shrimp, organic beer and a duo of desserts.

And about my conversation with the shop owner.

“Most writers say that if they are able to touch one person’s life, they are a success,” W reminded me.

“I know,” I said.  “My book isn’t even out, and I’m already changing the world.”

So, yeah, a little dramatic.  But the day’s events left me feeling large and in charge and, well, yes, very, very butch.

Doing butch stuff

Guys, I fixed my microwave oven.

Seriously.

Diagnosed the problem.  Ordered a new part.  Swapped out old part for new.

How butch is that?  I’m feeling like a badass butch.  Or, badass butch of the Realm of Small Appliances.  It’s somewhere near Middle Earth or Grayskull Castle.

But whatever.  And still.

It’s going to be a butch-tastic weekend!

* * *

What’s the butchest thing you’ve done recently?

Book stress

My book comes out in about a month.

xx

Me.

I am so stressed that I have a huge cold sore on my face.  Yep.  The motherfucker skipped my lip (apparently, lip cold sores are for sissies) and erupted right there on my face.  I am like that craggy face guy from The Fantastic Four or the Elephant Man.  I can’t be sure as I have been avoiding mirrors and shiny surfaces.

“Don’t look at me, I’m hideous,” I tell W.

I have forbidden her from making direct eye contact with me.

Actually, I think it’s best that everyone refrain from looking at me or even in my direction, at least for a few months, I suggest.

xx

On second thought …

It seemed like a good idea to write a memoir.  Until right before it’s available for purchase.  Then not so great.  Like New Coke.

I am re-thinking my decision not to use my Middle-age Butch alias.  Or my other pen names: I. B. Butch, I.P. Daily (that was me) and Sexy Handsome Beast.

When I am telling W all of this — 1) don’t look at me and 2) pseudonyms rule — she notes that I am smiling a lot for a person on the verge of a memoir-induced psychotic breakdown.

xx

This is me 24/7 these days.

I tell her that’s normal.  Extra smiling = crazy.  Everyone’s seen The Shining, right?

I don’t admit that I’m excited about the book.  I only admit that I’m nervous.

I’m feeling vulnerable and exposed.  I’m worried about what people will say.  I’m worried about being perceived as a freak — a boy-girl mutant, a girl/boy oddity — to those who don’t understand.

W tells me it’s too late to take it all back now.  The wheels have been set in motion.

I try to remind myself why I wrote my story in the first place.  Through the writing process, I learned who I am, as a person and a writer.

But I wasn’t writing for that me.  The today me.  I was writing for the me who existed three or four decades ago.  The young girl who didn’t know she had options.  Who didn’t know gender isn’t carved in stone.  Who didn’t know she could marry a girl.  Or shop exclusively on the left side of The Gap.  And that the world wouldn’t end if she did those things.  In fact, her world would just start beginning.

I try to remember that my story is important.  That all of our big butch stories are important.  (Silent nod.)  That all stories about those who live in the margins and on the fringe are important.  We are underrepresented in literature and largely misunderstood.

I try to remember that I wrote the book for that one person who will recognize herself in the pages and feel not so alone, at least for a few minutes.

That is the power of books and stories and writers.  We read to know that we’re not alone.

I try to remember all of that as I sit here scared and unsure of my words.

What I know for sure (the butch version)

With apologies to Oprah …

What I know for sure

1. The butchest woman in the room will always have the prettiest name like Daisy or Pitter, which is the sound a fairy wing makes when it flutters in the open air.

2. There will never be a bathing suit that is perfect for a butch.

3. You can’t have too much flannel.

4. Can I Help You, Sir? is a great name for an all-butch rock band.

5. Chivalry will never die as long as there’s one butch left on the planet.

6. Butches are magical creatures who bend the rules of time.  That’s why a butch can be mistaken for a teenage boy and a middle-aged man all in the same day.

7. The butch nod is invisible to the nonbutch, much like unicorns are invisible to nonbelievers.

8. Butches don’t walk, they strut.

9. Butches don’t cry.  Their eyes leak water.

10. Butches have a marshmallow center.

11. Butches are loyal and dependable and tender hearted, even though they will tell you that they are not.

Also, I am experimenting with some butch merchandise.  Check out this cool coffee mug.  If that doesn’t say butch, I don’t know what does.  Note: Mug says “butch.”  Right on it.

* * *

What about you?  What do you know for sure?

The post that had me stuck

Me

Me

This is the post that has me stuck.  This is the reason I haven’t posted in so long.  I’ve been working on this post for weeks.  I keep writing and editing, and I still can’t find the right words.  I’m angry.  I’m annoyed.  Although I can’t exactly put my finger on what’s bothering me so much. Remember the electronic memory game Simon from the 1970’s?  All of my buttons have been pushed, and I’m lit up red, green, blue and yellow.  This post isn’t perfect, but I need to let go so I can move forward.

* * *

Just when I was starting to get comfortable.  Just when I was starting to feel safe and accepted.  Just when I was starting to think I’m like everyone else.

I mean, same-sex marriage is now legal in Pennsylvania.  W and I took the plunge and got married in October.  Just like straight couples do.

I feel welcome in our small town.  I am warmly greeted at the veterinarian’s office, at the checkout line in the grocery store, at Kohl’s, at the local pizza place and ice cream shop.  Me, a girl, with too-short hair and too-long sideburns.

I never notice anyone giving me the cold shoulder.  No one ever shrieks or flees when I walk into a place of business, even when I’m having a bad hair day.  Just kidding! A butch never has a bad hair day.

It’s been years since anyone has shouted “faggot” or “dyke” in my direction from the safety of their moving cars.

I had been lulled into a sense safety and comfort much like a baby in one of those automated swings.  Silly, butch.

(Not real picture.)

(Not real picture.)

And then someone questioned the value of something I had written because of two reasons: I am a woman and a lesbian.  I will call this person Angel of the Bottomless Pit (not real name).

For a few seconds I felt smaller than usual, and my words felt lighter than usual.  And then I got mad.

It was a sneak attack.  I never saw it coming.

Now, I’m on a mission to get my book published.

I often think of the C.S. Lewis quote : “We read to know we are not alone.”

There is tremendous power in seeing your reflection in the pages of someone else’s book.

I remember tearing up feeling all emotional but not really crying reading Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon’s book Gender Failure earlier this year.  I never knew people wrote books for people like me.

I have committed to making a big push to find an agent or a publishing house to pick up my memoir. (If you know of anyone who might be interested, please let me know.)  If I don’t get any takers, I’ll self-publish in 2015.

I am now certain of the value of my story.

Of course, it is a story about being gay, being lesbian, being butch.  But there’s more.

If you have ever felt different, you will see yourself in the pages of my book.  If you have ever pretended to be someone you weren’t, you will see yourself in my book.  If you have ever thought there was something wrong with you but didn’t know what, you will see yourself in my book.  It is a book for outsiders, loners, those who march to the beat of their own drums.  And to the beat of Melissa Etheridge because M.E. rocks.

It is a book for anyone who has struggled with identity, shame, fear.  It is a book about finding oneself and shining brighter than you ever thought possible.  Bright as a gold button caught in the rays of the afternoon sun.

At it’s core, it’s a tale about being human.

I thought everyone would be able to relate to that.

Writing group therapy

I have always been a loner.

As a child, I was drawn to solitary activities like reading, writing, drawing and a game for one called Electronic Detective, an 80s whodunnit game that was a combination between Merlin and Clue.

Party of oneI still enjoy solitary pursuits.  To me, a good book is as enjoyable as a good friend.  While I would much rather see a movie with W or eat a meal in her company, I have no problem catching a flick by myself or dining at a table for one.

There have been times in my life when it’s been just me.  Single.  Single mother.

During those lean times, I have had no one to rely on but myself.  I think that’s part of why I’m drawn to the steely toughness associated with being butch.  It is an exterior shield from life’s brutalities much like the protective sealer wax sprayed on a vehicle at the end of a car wash.

One of my weaknesses has always been asking for help.  Help?  Who needs help?  Not this able-bodied, flannel-clad butch.

And then I started going to therapy last year, and my therapist gave me a homework assignment to find something to do just for me.

Piecing together pieces of broken glass won't be my savior but stringing together words will

Piecing together pieces of broken glass won’t be my savior but stringing together words will.

The original plan was an art class.  I was going to learn to make mosaics.  But the thought of piecing together pieces of broken glass just wasn’t calling to me.

I remembered reading about a writer’s group that met at a local bookstore and decided to give it a go.  It was free and there was no form to fill out, so it was already beating the pants off of the art class.

I showed up that Tuesday and surprised myself by writing and sharing something very personal and emotional.  I had felt safe among the group members and confident enough in my writing abilities to take a risk.

For the next few weeks, I went to some meetings but not others.  It’s not that I didn’t like going or that I was super busy.  (Full disclosure: When I didn’t go, I laid in bed and watched old Dr. Phil shows and reruns of Sex in the City.)  I liked the people and the writing prompts and the writing that I accomplished within each two-hour session and the way that I felt after each group meeting.

The only thing holding me back was fear.  Because what if I committed to this group?  I would need to start working on a project of some sort.  Everyone was working on something — poems, novels, short stories, memoir chapters.  And what if I started something and it flat-out stunk like those detox foot patches that W and I tried?  What if I learned that a book is too hard for me to write?  Or that I’m not really a writer at all — never have been, never will be?

The funny thing was that the more sessions I attended the more confident I became in my writing and in myself.

Now, every Tuesday, I eagerly show up for group, notepad and pen at the ready.  I like being a part of something.  I like being a part of a group comprised of people who like the same things that I do — books and writing and writers and ideas and a clever turn of phrase.

I use our weekly meetings as a deadline to write another chapter.  I am plodding along.

We're all like this sometimes

We’re all like this sometimes

Last night, I e-mailed another chapter to the group for critique.  Right after pushing the send button, I started getting nervous.  I mean, what if it wasn’t any good?  Scarier yet, what if no one understood my words and they all found it really weird and strange?  The morning feedback has once again assuaged my fears.  I have learned that when I make myself vulnerable, people relate to what it is that I need to say.  For in the end, we are all naked tortoises lying on our backs, our soft bellies exposed to the world.

I think it is an ironic twist worthy of any good book plot: How a loner found companionship in a group of women engaged in the solitary pursuit of writing and found her voice.  It had been there all along for she sang in the shower and in the car and to her cats when no one else was around.  But it wasn’t until she was in the company of other like-minded people that she was able to sing out loud for the world to hear.

Shaving and other manly rituals

It’s been a awhile since I’ve posted.

I’ve been faithfully attending my writing group and working on my memoir, even though a little voice inside me says things like:

“You can’t do it.”

“You’re not that funny”

“Who would want to read that?”

My inner critic can be a real jackass.

But I’m plugging away.

I’ve been writing a lot about me as a kid — middle-age butch in the making — and gender roles and norms and expectations.

I asked W the other day if she ever wanted to shave when she was a little kid.  I know it’s a weird question.  I’ve never wanted to be a real boy like Pinocchio or even look like a boy.  I just favor masculine things like Old Spice, menswear, short haircuts and professional wrestling.

I love ties and suspenders and baseball caps.  I always have. 

Ties and suspenders

In the 80s, ties are trendy and deemed appropriate for women.  I have two that I wear on a regular basis with button-down oxford shirts.

Here’s a rough-draft excerpt from my memoir:

My dad teaches me how to tie a Windsor knot.  One morning before school, he slips into my bedroom and stands behind me while I am facing the mirror attached to my dresser.  He shows me how to wrap the material around and around, up and through.  It is a skill that I learn with pride, a right of passage like learning to drive or registering to vote.

Shaving creamI wonder what it would have been like to learn how to shave.  I imagine him standing behind me in front of the bathroom mirror showing me how to lather my face and pull the razor down in long, straight strokes.  

Even though I will never grow a beard, shaving seems like a useful skill unlike makeup application and hairstyling.

I am seduced by the ritual.  My dad’s shaving cream smells clean and earthy like fresh laundry and pine needles.  His aftershave is stored in a small green glass bottle like a magic potion.  I sit quietly on the bathroom counter as he shakes out three small splashes into a single cupped palm, rubs both hands together and slaps his face twice on each cheek.  I can feel the cool sting just by smelling the air. 

I think it’s unfair that such majestic behind-the-scenes pageantry is reserved for boys.

My mother wears makeup that she buys from the Clinique counter and Chanel No. 5 on special occasions.  I can’t recall the color of her lipstick or the face that she makes in the mirror when she applies her blush.  I am certain that she has her rituals, too, but they hold no allure.

* * *

Even now, I’m jealous.  Upscale men’s haircutting establishments modeled after old-fashioned barber shops are popping up all over the place.  Something about getting a short haircut and a shave appeals to me.  The smell of the shaving cream, the feel of a straight razor on my face, the luxury of a hot towel.

What about you?  What rituals were you fascinated with as a kid?  Did you favor things typically associated with the opposite sex?

Belated gifts

Don't you just love packages?

Don’t you just love packages?

I got a belated birthday gift in the mail today from a college friend.

If you are the type of person who routinely sends cards and presents a few days or even a few weeks late and often feels guilty about your tardiness, Middle-age butch is here to tell you to stop right now.

This gift recipient loves an after-the-fact gift.  It merely stretches out the holiday and gives you something to look forward to long after your special day has passed.  And just when you think that your magical celebration has come to pass much like 30 Rock, floppy discs and answering machines, there’s one more gift to remind you that you are special and loved.

Your favorite butch blogger received such a gift today.

A few weeks ago, my friend e-mailed and asked for the file that contains the flannel graphic for my blog banner.  She mentioned that it had something to do with my birthday gift, but was all hush hush on the specifics.

I must admit that my mind has been wandering.  I was thinking that maybe she used the flannel design to create an official Flannel Files T-shirt.  Or had an actual flannel shirt crafted from the banner image.  Hey, they can do that on Project Runway.  Or maybe she had a Middle-age butch bobblehead made in my image depicting me clad in a Flannel Files style flannel shirt.  Seems that I’ve been dreaming of flannel more than usual these past few weeks.

My flannel-fixated anticipation ended this afternoon.  My gift arrived today — 20 days after my official birthday — but who’s counting.

When I opened the box, I must admit to getting a bit teary no matter how hard I tried to use my butch super powers to resist.

This photo does not do the cup justice.

This photo does not do the cup justice.

Upon opening the box, I spied a Flannel Files cup.

It’s a Tervis travel cup that proudly bears my flannel blog banner and these Flannel Files quotes:

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step of your Dr. Martens.

Be your best butch.

My friends will never know what it means to me to have them not only accept and support me but embrace me.  To embrace this big goofy butch who is still on a journey of self-discovery.

I’ve been doing some memoir writing lately and have been digging deep and remembering what it was like to carry a secret so deep inside that even I didn’t know the truth that I was hiding.  One of my worst fears was that my friends would discover what it was that made me different from them and never want to have anything to do with me.

*Sigh of relief.*  That has not been the case.

I still worry, though, as I continue to transform and change, leaning more into the masculine side of myself.  I suppose that I will always worry.  Maybe that is the cost of being different.  A restlessness that never ends.

But I focus on all the times that they told me that they are proud of me.  The time that they drove long distances to come to my 40th birthday party at a lesbian bar no less.  And when they came out in full force for our commitment ceremony.

And I’ll always remember when one of them sent me a drinking glass that let me know that it’s perfectly ok for me to revel in my butchness.

Cheers.  I’ll drink to that any day of the week.