Butch Etiquette

Butch-In-a-TuxedoI stick out because I am butch. People notice me. They “Sir” me by accident or condescendingly “Ma’am” me. It is a binary world and I am not a person who fits comfortably on either side of the male/female divide. There are times when I am tired of being a masculine woman; when I would like to be either a cisgendered man or a cisgendered woman. To blend in and move around anonymously. To get dressed for a party without having a major dysphoria attack. There are times I would like to live in a magical world where my existence as butch or trans* does not cause a problem. For me or for anyone else.

Butches (and all other gender non-conforming people) disrupt the natural flow of events. We make people uncomfortable. There are a million nuances in how men conduct themselves with women. And in how men conduct themselves with other men. The same holds true for women. Every interaction is gendered. There is no etiquette for whether a butch should be treated like a woman or a like a man.  It shouldn’t matter, everyone should be treated with consideration and respect, but it doesn’t work that way.

Being butch upsets the status quo. It makes life complicated in elevators and bars. Am I expected to exit with the women (before the men) or am I expected to buy a round of beers like a guy? When I do what comes naturally I commit gender faux pas. I err on the masculine side.

I allow myself a to be a little chivalrous with Donna. She likes it. My manners are lifted from my brother’s Boy Scout manual. When I was eight, I read it over and over, cover to cover. My manners are mis-matched with my sex.

The more adult and the more formal the situation the more I experience myself as ridiculous and absurd. I feel out-of-place and inappropriate. The fancier the occasion the greater the divide between what men wear and what women wear and how each sex expresses itself. Both camps seem like grown-up drag. I don’t know where I belong.  There is no middle ground. I end up avoiding any work or social function where I can’t go casual. If I can’t go in good jeans, a nice button-down shirt, and loafers, then I am in trouble. It isn’t just about the clothing; it is about comportment. That is mis-matched too.

I’ve struggled with several bosses to keep from having to dress up for work; every time I get a new one I give him the WYSIWYG talk. I overcompensate for this by being reliable and hard-working, being the most knowledgeable person in my department, and making myself indispensable to the overall operation. I am recognized as eccentric and as someone you call on as soon as there is an emergency.

I’ve been advised to get a custom-made suit, to pretend that I am Ellen DeGeneres when I go shopping, and to look through men’s magazines to pick out a style that I think I could wear. But I still can’t picture myself in a fancy restaurant or the executive office. My imagination does not stretch that far. It goes as far as the dog run. Where my etiquette is perfect.

4 thoughts on “Butch Etiquette

  1. RonaFraser

    I always enjoy your posts, and they make me think and realize stuff I haven’t thought of. I know I have no idea of what it feels like to be you, (and vice versa, of course), but I like to point out things that I’ve experienced because sometimes you may think you are far from “normal” but that may just be your perception. Not that I am normal by any means. (BTW, I’m just off a week of working non-stop for deadline – finished at 9am this morning – so I am exhausted and possibly not very clear in what I write…]
    I am pretty much a cisgendered woman (thanks for the new word!), but not as much as I think I should be… I wear a lot of skirts now, but I remember my first “real job”, at a posh office in downtown Montreal, where I dressed in women’s business suits (and running shoes, for the commute!) — I felt like I was playing a role. I felt like the t-shirt and jeans me was playing dress-up, and I couldn’t believe the people at work couldn’t see I was a fake! My girly-er friends had to take me out shopping and pick my outfits! I may have even started wearing make-up then, but that soon faded to only special occasions… and this week I went to a Gala and didn’t even bother with make-up – screw it. Anyways, after moving to a new town and a few years of bellydance classes, I actually began to feel more like a “girl” and started wearing skirts. Now I prefer them! But I think it is because I feel kinda ugly and awkward generally… not attractive to men… (which has been proven by having had less boyfriends than a 5-year-old has had these days!). So when I wear a skirt and feel the swish or see my bare legs, at least I feel more like a girl. So although I am comfortable in my skin as a girl, I guess I feel like I don’t know how to use it right, if you know what I mean…
    I also open doors for people – to be nice and polite, as opposed to chivalrous, but if I open a door for a guy, often either they wait for me to go through first (when an older man), or they make a point of opening the next door! Whatever. And I hate it when people buy a round of drinks, because then I feel like I have to do the same… but that is expensive… so I just don’t. It just makes me uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable a lot (not because of buying rounds – that rarely happens – just because of me). I am great at talking to strangers – I love volunteering at public events where I interact with strangers – that is my forte. With friends, no prob. But acquaintances?! When you are supposed to make small talk?! Ick. Oh ya, and my kryptonite? If I know a guy is single and within my dating range… I can barely talk and don’t make eye contact. Hence my singleness, I guess. Case and point, a client just came in and he is good looking and, ok, a bit young for me (11 yrs younger but whose counting), but I was all nervous! It’s so stupid!! Anyways, all of this rambling to say, we think other people are more confident in their skin, but they aren’t always as comfy as they seem…
    Ok. Enough of my yammering on… I may be finished my deadline job for the month, but I’m slacking off from my other job. Back to work!

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  2. genevafox

    Jamie Ray, I enjoy your blog posts very much. You are a talented writer. Although I know that I am meant to be a woman, I can relate to your feelings of not quite fitting in in a general sense. I am 44, divorced, and childless. Being a childless unmarried woman is not the norm. I thought that those things were meant to be mine. However, I was mistaken. My life has become something that I never expected. I believe it takes great courage to live an authentic life as opposed to a so called “normal” one. Based on your posts, it would appear that you are leading an authentic life. This is something that many “normal” people long for but are unable to achieve.
    On a side note, I love clothes! My advice on what to wear would be to choose what you really like and what looks good on you. Be true to yourself! You inspire others when you are.

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