Twice in the past week I’ve had friends say this to me – “it’s so funny that you think you’re butch”.  This comment is right up there with the standard exclamation “but you’re so pretty!” when I talk about what being butch means to me. Both make me roll my eyes. Both take me down a rung on the ladder of self-worth. Both are said with best intentions.

In this instance, my friends who think it’s “funny” are women of a certain age – over 45-50 – so I can imagine that being butch may come from a different era for them. I don’t know a lot about lgbt history, or even the feminist movement, but I know that back in the seventies the lesbian separatist movement cordoned off the butches into their own category and marched along without them.  I posit that these friends of mine, being fairly feminist themselves, might still harbor the antiquated guidelines (and internal prejudices) borne from that decade. Because clearly they don’t realize that by telling me they think the words I find powerful to identify myself are “funny,” they force me back into a box of their own design, and injure my self-confidence with their thoughtlessness. Not that either of these women intended to hurt me – but the double-standard never ceases to amaze.

I want to ask them, what does “butch” mean to you? Neither of them are masculine-identified in any way. One is a bisexual-primarily-lesbian who admittedly prefers tomboyish women, the other is an ardent member of the gay-rights intelligentsia with a gay son and more lesbian friends than place-settings. I want to ask them, how does my appropriation of this word, which makes me feel strong in myself, cause you to laugh?

To me, being butch is a lot of very simple things and a lot of very complicated things. These things are not the same for everyone.

The simple things include: my choice of clothes, style, haircut. The simple, strong lines I use to define my life. The fact that I open doors for women, carry heavy loads, use tools with ease and dexterity, wear classic leather shoes. I prefer wood to lace. I prefer evergreen to lavender.

The complicated things include: they way I feel when I’m in a group of women talking about men, the negotiations I make with myself when I’m dressing for an event, the fact that I’m attempting a career that brands you by your appearance first. The number of times in a week I’m called sir or ma’am.  The fact that I prefer my girlfriend in a dress and myself in a tie, but that might mean anything in the bedroom. The fact that my identity can’t be summed up in tidy little words.

I would love to know more about what my friends’ identities mean to them, and I’m sure that while I might smile at their answers, “funny” won’t be my first reaction.

Many a writer has asked before: What does butch mean to you?