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A butch roadmap


A butch roadmap

I am sketching directions so that I can be found, or followed
A couple of months back, I came upon an article on Xtra.ca entitled Winnipeg Pride wants parade to be “family friendly.

In the article, the then-chair of last year’s Pride parade was quoted as saying “we have to remember that this is a public event, part of the parade is to show people we’re not extremists.”

When pressed to explain just what she meant by extremists, she responded: “Drag queens and butch women.” She then added it was important to show the people of Winnipeg that there are “mainstream” queer community members, too, like “lawyers and doctors.”

I was so mad I seriously considered a stern letter. The subtext of her words stung my eyes and burned in my throat. Apparently, according to this genius, regardless of my politics or attitude or tactics, I was an extremist, by virtue only of my appearance.

Nothing of who I was or what I might contribute to my community mattered because of what I looked like. In order to be acceptable to the good citizens of Winnipeg, we needed to put forward a more “mainstream” face to the general public, liberally laced with professionals.

I wondered how this line of reasoning was going to go over with the many perverted transsexual leatherdyke lawyers from working class backgrounds I am lucky enough to know.

Apparently this woman hadn’t read that part of queer history where drag queens and butches started the whole thing by finally standing up and rioting in response to police persecution and brutality.

And now she didn’t want us at her parade anymore. We weren’t family-friendly enough.

Then I wondered what exactly this meant for those of us with families.

Then, just recently, I heard a rumour that the younger queers don’t like the word butch. This makes me wonder, if I were 20 years old right now instead of 40, what would I call myself?

I grew up without a roadmap to myself. Nobody taught me how to be a butch, I didn’t even hear the word until I was 20 years old. I first became something I had no name for in solitude, and only later discovered the word for what I was and realized there were others like me.

So now I am writing myself down, sketching directions so that I can be found, or followed.

The word for you is butch. Remember this word. It will be used against you.

The word for you is butch. Your history is one of strength, and survival, and largely silent. Do not hide this word under your shirt. Do not whisper it, or sweep it under the basement stairs. Let it fill up your chest and widen your shoulders. Wear it like a sleeve tattoo, like a medal of valour.

Learn to recognize other butches for what they really are: your people. Your brothers or sisters. Both are just words that mean family.

Other butches are not your competition, they are your comrades.

Be there when they need you. Go fishing together. Help each other move. Polish your rims or your chrome or your boots together. See these acts for what they really are: solidarity.

Do not give your butch friend a hard time about having a ponytail, a pomeranian, nail polish, or a smart car. Get over yourself. You are a rare species, not a stereotype.

Trim your nails short enough that you could safely insert your fingers into your own vagina, should you ever want to.

Scars and purple thumbnails are a status symbol. When attempting to operate, maintain or repair anything mechanical, always remember the words of my grandmother: “The vast majority of machines are still designed, built, driven and fixed by men. Therefore, they cannot be that complicated.”

Be exceptionally nice to old ladies. They really need their faith in the youth of today restored. Let them butt in the line at the Safeway. Slow down and walk with them at crosswalks so they’re not the only ones holding up traffic. Drive your grandma to bingo. Shovel her driveway. Let chivalry not be dead.

If you’re going to be the kind of butch who is often read as a man or a boy, then be the kind of man or boy you wish you would have slept with in high school. Be a gentleman. Let her finish her sentence. Share the armrest. Do her laundry without shrinking anything. Buy her her very own cordless drill.

Open doors for men, saying “Let me get that for you.”

Carry a pocketknife, a lighter and a handkerchief on your person at all times. Learn flashy lighter tricks, how to tie a half hitch, a slipknot and a double windsor.

Learn how to start a fire with a flint and some dry moss. Then use lighter fluid or gasoline, and a blowtorch.

Burn most of your eyebrows off lighting the barbecue with a birthday candle, and then tell everybody all about it.

Wear footwear that makes a clomping sound, as opposed to a tick or a swish.

Let the weird hairs on your chin and around your nipples grow unhindered.

Learn how to knit, quilt, crochet or hook rugs: women appreciate a fellow who isn’t afraid of their feminine side.

Practice saying you’re sorry. This is one activity where you should not use your father as a role model. Fonzie was an asshole. If you are too young to remember who the Fonz was, then youtube it.

Locker room talk? A surefire way not to get laid a second time.

Sleep around. Repeat, this time without feeling guilty.
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my Butches
In response to this article, i want to say that i am certainly in love with Butch. I am a queer woman, who many point to and name Femme. Without Butch, who is my opposite? My balance? My fulcrum.
So many things written here are true: let the hairs grow, walk strong, have skills.
However, I feel as though there are things that are missing. I love my boi/butch/man/girlfriend (yes, also Butch), to be sensitive, to let me portage the canoe, to cook me dinner, to come home with sore feet, to have smooth hands, to let me wear scars and to use tools.
All of these things apply to both Butch and Femme.
We are trying to break free of stereotypes and yet I feel as though this article advances those ideas. Though well written, and often spot on, I worry that this may be seen as a list of who to be in order to wear the Butch monicker.
Please, all of you who identify as Butch, make sure you add pieces of yourself to the list. You can only be that much more amazing.

A parade of mainstream professional types? In their business clothes?

That sounds... fantastically dull, actually. Why would anyone want to watch?

If I were having a discussion about how "family friendly" a pride parade might be, it would be about overt displays of sexual behavior, and whether we should limit them. (Sometimes things get a little raunchy. Do we have to pantomime explicit sexual acts? Must there be nearly-naked men dancing around on a float, thrusting their hips?) It would not be about excluding any particular group of people from the parade--especially big broad groups of people like "butch women."

Actually, I think one of the best things that the parades can do is to show how the at-a-glance sort of queers are not really so alien and other-y at all. To introduce people, in a friendly way, to that which is strange to them.

Not being butch myself, I think I should probably keep my nose out of that discussion for the most part. But I will say this, in response to one point:

We should all hold the door for the people behind us, regardless of who they are. Letting the the door swing back in front of someone is extremely ill mannered (and can cause a bloody nose in the person following you). I always hold the door unless it's clear that someone else wants to--in which case, I say "thank you."
It's good to know...
That there is a word for me other than crazy, or fucked up, or broken, or just somehow not right and never good enough.

I've just picked my chin up off of my chest for the first time in gods know how long and looked up at the world again.
Thank you for you inspiring words. I'm in my early thirties now and have struggled a great deal with my feminine site. Called too butch by some, called too femme by others. Now I now I am both, femme on some occasions, butch on others, but always me.
Thank you.
From the bottom of my femme heart. This is absolutely gorgeously, flawlessly written.
family friendly?!
i can't imagine how excluding butch women and drag queens could possibly be considered 'family friendly.'

100% of butch women and drag queens COME from families in the first place.
Thank You for this essay.
Oh, Ivan. Love love love you. You've articulated the problem - and with such pride! and wit! - so well in this piece. The predicament I currently see is being stereotyped no matter what - either we're 'model minorities' in some sense, or we're 'bad butches.' But yeah, just be a good person, be yourself, and, in my opinion, be a bitch if that's who you authentically are. Thanks for such a soulful (aaah...."soulful butches!" ;) ) and timely analysis.

On the young folks and distaste for butch, I've found myself wondering if I would have identified as 'butch' during the nineties when masculinity/girl power was more prominent and the category of genderqueer hadn't yet been named. Would I have fit into the 'woman' category more snugly then than now? I think the visualization of 'butch' may be changing; while I appear butch and am wrestling with the idea of id'ing as female or male, I feel that my mindset is more femme/girly than butch. Butch is a label that just doesn't quite fit for me and others own it so well.

Be proud of who you are. Don't afraid to be vulnerable. Be yourself in all of your glory. And be a beautiful butch mom if that's who you are.
I needed that
"You are a rare species, not a stereotype."

I can't even begin to tell you how much I needed to hear that. I wish I had someone like you to teach me all there is, but like you, I've had no one. Glad to have stumbled upon your work through Sinclair's site.

I'm 25, going to get my MArch in two years, maybe I'll be parade-worthy then?
Butch love
Great essay, Ivan. I just don't understand what's not to love about every color in the rainbow. Diversity is Beautiful. And Pride is everyone's chance to hang out with all the dykes and drag queens!
Butch is my favorite flavor. My girlfriend is the most adorable butch in the world, both in looks and more importantly, in actions. I can't imagine how bland life would be without our butch lovers and siblings...
Excellent piece
I'm a twenty-something femme and I've never encountered anyone who has a problem with the word butch. Granted, my queer circle is on the small side but rest assured that, like most, the rumour you've mentioned is likely false.

On a different note, this is the first time I've seen anyone else refer to the gay community as a family. I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees it that way. I may not like all my LGBTQ siblings but I love you all.


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