I 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.