Why I’m Still Butch

Why-I'm-Still-ButchBecause I can not picture myself as a middle-aged straight guy any better than I can picture myself as a middle-aged lesbian. I can’t see myself. Either way. A butch buddy told me that “the difference between butches and trans men is that butches want to be boys and trans men want to be men.” There is some truth in that statement.

Three years into accepting that I’m transgender, I’m still hanging in the balance. I’m not a girl, I don’t feel like a woman, I wish I were a boy, I’m not sure I’m a man. I still identify as butch. I can see myself as butch. I can see myself after top-surgery. Butch doesn’t have to qualify a noun. Neither does transgender.

All of the terms that I use to describe myself are masculine or gender neutral (with masculine as the default) – gay, queer, butch, genderqueer, non-binary, transgender. I avoid using the ones that are female specific – lesbian, dyke, even female-to-male.

My rejection of all things feminine, my rigidity about masculine gender expression, and my lack of gender fluidity keep landing me back on the trans-masculine spectrum. I know there are butches out there who are comfortable being female, but I am not one of them. It doesn’t mean I am not butch.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Birkenstock sandals. He looks pretty butch.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Birkenstock sandals. He looks pretty butch.

I’ve got a Subaru and three pairs of Birkenstock sandals to prove it.

I never pretended to be a feminine woman. I knew I had a girl’s body, but acting like a girl didn’t come naturally to me. I wrote off my discomfort to being a tomboy, then I wrote it off to being butch. I couldn’t handle a female false front. I hated anything that made me appear vaguely feminine or womanly. It caused too much turmoil. I didn’t have the words for it until I read about body dysphoria and gender dysphoria. Then I was able to separate sexual orientation from gender identity.

The Kinsey Sexuality Rating Scale (1948) recognized the wide range of sexual orientation, and proved that sexual orientation is not binary. Most people are neither 100% straight (0) nor 100% gay (6); they fall in-between. There are women who kvell about being a perfect size 6. I am a perfect Kinsey 6. Kinsey understandably assumed that everyone was cisgender (Christine Jorgensen’s “sex change” was big news in 1952). The Kinsey Scale stops making sense if you are transgender; you can go from a 6 to a 0 if either you or your partner change gender markers.

There is no scale that recognizes the complexity of the gender spectrum. Harry Benjamin tried to develop one for male-to-female transsexuals in 1966, basing it on the Kinsey Scale. It is from the dinosaur era. Before the WPATH Standards of Care the Benjamin Scale was used to determine/restrict access to hormones and surgery. If you said you were attracted to the opposite sex (of the sex you were assigned at birth – i.e. between a 0 and a 4 on the Kinsey Scale) then you were encouraged to reject surgery and stay straight. It was a forbidden double whammy to be a homosexual transsexual.

I’d put myself somewhere between a 4 and a 5 on the Benjamin Scale; until recently I would have had to lie to get access to hormones and/or surgery.

There is a part of me that would like to be a perfect 6 on the Benjamin Scale (a “true transsexual”). I was a kid who always wanted a high score. I studied the SAT prep books, took practice exams, and got a good night’s sleep before the test. I learned how to take standardized exams. I knew how to answer the questions. I wanted validation.

I’m starting to put the paperwork in motion for top-surgery. I’m going to be honest about who I am and why I want it. I’m not at the end of the gender spectrum, but that doesn’t invalidate my gender dysphoria or my discomfort with my chest. My surgeon follows the WPATH Standards of Care. No extreme arguments are necessary, just a few hoops to jump through. I’m going to jump. I’ll still be butch. 

Note: The Transsexual and Transgender Road Map site has some interesting pages on gender tests and on transgender categories. It is worth a look.

27 thoughts on “Why I’m Still Butch

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for posting the link. It is a good piece. It is interesting to me that she does not discuss dysphoria or longing to be a boy/man at all. For her it is a rhetorical question.

      In general we need to have more discussion about the similarity and differences between “dapper” style, gender expression, gender identity, and transition.

      Many people who don’t live a gender nonconforming life like to have butch women to point to as role models – and to use as the definition of the tail end of the Bell Curve (the opposite of Dolly Parton). This is problematic – we should live our lives to be authentic to ourselves – and our effort to be authentic should be what makes us good role models, even if the parents aren’t crazy about how we turned out.

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  1. Charlie Nicholas

    As a female, I’d be a Kinsey 0 because all I ever did were guys. (From how I understand, while we use it in terms of orientation today, when it was originally developed, it was based purely on a person’s sexual actions.) as a trans man, I’m a gold star Kinsey 6. I’m not sure how it would be, finding people of either gender attractive, but given I hang around guys mostly, they are they ones who usually catch my eye.

    I didn’t mind people calling me butch because it meant I was masculine, but I never liked being called a lesbian, dyke (or “byke” in my case), or anything that definitely reinforced the fact I was still a “woman”. I never cared for lesbian/bi characters or watched lesbian-specific media because I could never identify with the characters. Watching QaF, I so much more easily identify with the male characters (specifically Ben, Michael, and Brian) than Melanie and Lindsey.

    I tried for a while to identify as non-binary, but trans-masculine, when I finally caved in to these urges that calling myself butch just wasn’t right. The idea I was always masculine, but not as a masculine woman, always permeated through my body, soul, and mind. When I looked at men who personified the physical and emotion prefecture, I was simultaneously attracted to such beauty, yet also wanted that physique and incarnation as myself, too.

    Identifying as butch tho complicated so many rings for me in my life, but once I finally realized I was a guy, suddenly EVERYTHING cleared up and made sense. I can finally find my place in this world. I can finally understand why I don’t have that “maternal” instinct, but one more like that as an older brother or mentor. It explains why I have always acted and behaved the way I did. And it, too me, explains why I can usually understand guys and thing a from a guy’s POV, too 😉

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Charlie, thanks for commenting and for giving proof of how the Kinsey Scale really doesn’t work for people who are transgender – you are a person who is attracted to men – regardless of your assigned gender or gender identity. Thanks also for sharing part of your story – the more of our voices that are out there the better.

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      1. Charlie Nicholas

        The Kinsey scale is ultimately flawed, period. It was done on white male prisoners, and we know prisons are an example of situational sexual behavior, and doesn’t take into account the fact that people will lie or alter answers to socially protect themselves, and it definitely doesn’t take into account degrees of sexuality, from the hypersexual to the hyposexual, even asexual. It also only accounts for actual sexual behaviors, not one’s orientation, and doesn’t take into account one’s behavior over time, especially over the future. So, it’s not just seriously flawed for women, ethnic minorities (who often use different lingo and view things different from white gays [e.g. “same gender loving” among blacks or for people who see “gay” meaning only men who bottom]), and even men themselves. It’s a nice badge to have, like saying you’re a line star lesbian or gold star gay man, but really the “science” behind is seriously flawed. Any survey-based study ultimately will be.

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    2. Sophia Hudson

      I think it’s so great that you’ve found your identity and yourself—I always love to hear stories like yours 🙂

      Also, for the record, being physically attracted to people of more than one gender or sex is just that: basically imagine the attraction you feel when you see a hot guy applied to a girl instead. Like, do you ever see a girl and just sort of platonically think “Wow she’s so pretty”? Just intensify that feeling by a lot. Other people I know have described bisexuality and pansexuality as simply an attraction to the human body. That’s oversimplifying it by a lot and I realize I might not be making any sense (honestly, I can’t fully explain it either) but trust me when I say I know from experience 😉

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      1. Charlie Nicholas

        That’s the thing, it’s been aesthetic attraction at most for so freaking long. Couldn’t, and wouldn’t, let myself indulge. Now that I’m out on my own, and the stresses that suppressed me for the longest one are finally gone, my libido is now going through the roof. I just need to get my long term place to call my own, and I’ll be back in the game. No action for 6, almost 7, years. So I have no idea WTF I am. Get a doc or specialist to finally get me on hormones to steady my mindset and cycle, and I’ll know what I’m into.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      In the interests of brevity I edited out that I am on my second Subaru (the first was incinerated in a commercial parking garage fire that we now refer to as the car-b-q) and that my three pairs of Birkenstock Arizona’s include my “dress up” Birks – a pair of robins egg blue suede Birks that I bought specifically for an outdoor wedding so I’d be comfortable. The invitation said “casually dressy” but I did the best I could, if it had said formal I could have worn my black Birks.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. I tend to procrastinate, so getting restarted is a big deal. I want it to be a softer approach than I took the last time, so I’m doing it quietly but openly.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks – I’ve worked with way too many straight white guys to want to be one – unfortunately I dance like one instead of being able to throw a baseball like one.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thats great and coming up fast, who is going to take care of Nola while you are recovering (now that is a butch response, to ask about the pup instead of who is going to help you)? Is Maine one of the states that will help to cover your surgery expenses?

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  2. gok9go

    MainelyButch–congrats on your surgery date! I just had my surgery on July 1, and it has been an amazing experience since then. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

    Jamie, glad to hear you’re doing your paperwork to move forward. I know that you and Donna need to negotiate this together, and I am so pleased she has come around. My entire demeanor is different now because I am actually me. When I look in the mirror (yes, I actually look in the mirror now) to do my post-op care, I love what I see! Of course, I see the me that I have always seen in my head (okay, that me was in a bit better shape, but I need to be realistic… ;). I’m happy for you that your doctor is local–I am lucky that mine is as well, as the follow-ups are much easier to do with the surgeon than with a doctor out of the city or state.

    Question for all: When you identify as butch, do you add an adjective to that? I was explaining the different types of butch to my gf recently. When she first met me (pre-surgery), she saw “butch lesbian.” (She also found out shortly after I met that I was having top surgery the next week–amazingly she said that fit with me, as the chest did not.) We have talked about me being more of a “soft butch” if I use the term for myself.

    Another question for all: How do you feel about orientation labels and their intertwining with gender identity? I identify as gender-nonconforming, non-binary, trans*, but I see my new relationship as a lesbian relationship. Does that seem like an odd thing to do, given that I don’t identify as female (nor do I identify as male)?

    Jamie, thanks again for a great post! (Oh, big news from yesterday–I submitted my name change paperwork!)

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    1. Sophia Hudson

      There’s homosexual (the same gender) heterosexual (the opposite gender) bisexual (two genders) polysexual (multiple genders) pansexual (all genders) asexual (no genders) and demisexual (only feeling sexual attraction toward a person after having a strong platonic bond with them).

      I always like to think that if someone genderfluid was in a relationship with someone agendered, then that would be considered a straight relationship because they’re technically opposites. Since I am neither of those things, I wouldn’t really know.

      I’m sorta of the opinion that people should just love other humans without slapping labels on it. I also realize, though, that labels can be both a source of joy and a source of pain for some people, so I can certainly respect the weight they hold.

      Gratz on the name change!!! 🙂

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      1. Jamie Ray Post author

        When I first came out as gay, it was very helpful to be able to turn guys down with the statement that I was gay, rather than to say I wasn’t attracted to them in particular. I’m still attracted to the same type as I was then (femme, earthly, bohemian, and arty).

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  3. Jamie Ray Post author

    Congratulations on the name change – it feels very powerful. When you start doing the paperwork/internet work to change your name on everything (and I mean everything) you may have an option to remove the pesky honorific from your address (get rid of the Ms.). I did it and it definitely takes some of the angst out of getting snail mail.

    It seems like we have gone from are you straight or are you gay to ordering a grande/low-fat/iced/de-caf/expresso with an extra shot. Your relationship does not have to be defined with a “sexual orientation” – your girlfriend is a lesbian who is attracted to a GNC-NB-T* and vice-versa (congratulations on that too).

    I’m not sure all the permutations and delineations of identity make sense in the long run (although they can be helpful in figuring out where you are). They are useful under the umbrella, but only if they serve to unite us instead of divide us.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for reading and for commenting. In the long run, I agree with you. It is a challenge to purge all the internalized homophobia and transphobia. The tags help in terms of identifying how we feel, discussing it with others who are going through the same thing, and coming to some kind of self knowledge and peace. Being able to name things, to have the language to describe how we feel, is very powerful.

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  4. DogDharma

    Absolutely *fantastic* writing! I can definitely relate. I transitioned almost 15 years ago. In some sense, it was an easy choice — could not tolerate the world seeing me as a “woman” any longer. In another sense, it was difficult because I’d been sexually abused by men, so I had to ask my own self why I was joining “the enemy”? Prior to transitioning, I was lesbian-identified, and I couldn’t conceive of myself as a “man” even though, aside from being mushy and romantic, everything I did was “masculine.” Now some 15 years later, I’m comfortable with thinking of myself as a “man” — but MY version of being a man, not society’s version. I still cry when I watch sappy movies!! Getting top surgery was one of the happiest days of my life!

    Thank you for an excellent post!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. I’m betwixt and between right now – I have top surgery scheduled for December but my partner is still waffling about supporting it, and I probably will not take testosterone (I don’t think I have a lot of estrogen left).

      I’m perpetually trying to find my comfort zone, which is why I write. Doing this at 55 is kind of mind-boggling.

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