Break It Down, Butch.

June 7, 2010

[26] Flattery.

Y’know what’s weird? Being flattered by a compliment you don’t particularly want.

There’s a story behind this (there always is), but this one’s short and sweet. I was at work on Friday, doing a round with new clients, and getting ‘sirred’* left and right, which is always a little awkward on the job. I love the gender-assignment, but I’m less happy with accidentally frightening old ladies in their own homes, which happens a lot. Elderly, vulnerable woman tend not to be delighted with apparent young men falling through their doors, no matter how blue-eyed and smiley that apparent young man may be.

And you try explaining “Yes, I am a technically ovaries-based creature, but I’m actually experimenting with male pronouns and transgender identities right now, Mabel, but don’t be alarmed, I promise I’m not about to do anything illegal. Or immoral. Or look at you in a funny way. Though I should probably mention I’m gay, too, but you’re still safe to take your knickers off” to someone who’s eighty-nine and profoundly deaf and may or may not be armed with a ballistic walking stick.

Yeeeeah. What usually falls out of my mouth is some variant of “Ah, yes. Actually I’m a woman”, said awkwardly and bracketed by an internal wince.

So, cutting back to short-and-sweet, I had this same back and forth with a lady on Friday. (“Gosh, a man!” “Well, actually…”) But instead of the usual flustered embarrassment, this particular lady just tipped her head to one side and gave me a slow, thoughtful look.

“Yes,” she said finally, “I can see you’re pretty.”

Deer-in-headlights is not my best impression, but I pulled off a cracker this time.

“Uh,” I said. “Um — right. Thank you.”

But then, weirdly, I started to get that ridiculous, belly-warm glow of Someone Thinks I Look Nice. You know the one: it makes you smile at random moments all day, tickled and pleased, and you have to write it up online four days later because People Must Know.

It’s just — it’s a funny thing, this attractiveness business. Especially when you’re butch. Other people have said it before, have said it better, but Western social standards are not exactly forgiving of masculine women. (Or masculine transthings, depending on how you feel.) And once you hit that masculinity skid of short hair and guy’s clothes and cocky swagger, assuming that’s what you’ve embraced, then ‘pretty’ is definitely not going to be a future compliment.

Except when it is.

It’s jarring, I guess. Especially if you’re anything like me and you’ve folded up the battered remains of your femininity somewhere for some young glittery-boy to find and cherish, only to have a feminine-associated compliment smack you in the newfound masculinity like an eighteen-wheeler. Except it’s a nice eighteen-wheeler, possibly the one you always wanted for Christmas back when you were a kidlet, and the driver is grinning at you.

It’s a strange feeling. Back when JB and I were first dating, on the very first day, I think, we were sprawled out in bed together, most of our clothes still on, and doing the new-couple thing. Talking quietly, laughing, getting to know each other close up — that warm little moment when your fingers always end up laced. I pushed myself up on one elbow, looking down at her, and she smiled at me, all thoughtful.

“I just noticed,” she said, “you have this really delicate jawline.” She traced two fingers down either side of my jaw, ending at my chin. “And a great smile.”

I laughed, because no one had ever complimented my smile before, and thanked her and complimented her back, but that stuck with me. Delicate jawline. I’m 5’10, broad-shouldered, heavy-boned, strong. I haven’t been called delicate since I was a reedy kid, and even then I was a tomboy. And I certainly didn’t feel delicate, not compared to JB’s slender wrists and slimline throat; she was all softened angles and gracefulness. I was an ox.

And this was back in the pre-butch-identified days, so I didn’t even know I wanted to be handsome. I just knew I wasn’t beautiful.

But still, delicate. It was weird. Not exactly what I’d wanted, definitely not what I’d expected, but flattering. Sweet. Genuine. I think about it now and it makes me grin to myself, still pleased. Except now the compliment’s queered itself around in my head. I don’t think feminine anymore. I think dandy. Faggot. And that ‘pretty’ compliment at work, that becomes the same thing. I feel stylish instead, blue-eyed and hot. Not lady-like, not beautiful. Handsome in a more vulnerable way — young, open, easily injured. A good-looking lad.

I couldn’t have done that a year ago.

* Okay, I work in Yorkshire, so I get “‘ey-up, lad” and “Cheers, mate” and “Hiya, young fella!” much more than I get “Sir”, but same difference.


  1. *grins* That’s kind of an awesome weirdness to have, really. And you totally have a delicate jawline (sort of a well edged jawline, if that makes sense, and those edges are delicate) — but you’re right, more in an “Orlando Bloom is a gay elf” way than a “look how delicate Christina Ricci is” way.

    …Now I’m always going to think of you as a gay elf. Ohgod.

    only to have a feminine-associated compliment smack you in the newfound masculinity like an eighteen-wheeler. Except it’s a nice eighteen-wheeler, possibly the one you always wanted for Christmas back when you were a kidlet, and the driver is grinning at you.

    I love this line. It’s all about feminine compliments and being butch, in a very roundabout sort of way. *grins* Well done. ;-D


    Comment by JB — June 8, 2010 @ 03:07 | Reply

    • Gay elf.

      Only you, lady. Only you.

      *cracks up hard*

      (And I’m extremely tickled by the idea of having a well-edged jawline, because I never think it’s defined enough.)

      I love this line. It’s all about feminine compliments and being butch, in a very roundabout sort of way. *grins* Well done. ;-D

      Yes! Thank you. 😀

      Comment by DK — June 8, 2010 @ 23:34 | Reply

  2. And men can be pretty too 🙂

    Comment by me — June 8, 2010 @ 11:32 | Reply

    • True! Though I don’t imagine many of them celebrate it, which is a little sad.

      Comment by DK — June 8, 2010 @ 23:34 | Reply

  3. Just came across your blog, hey there! I love the fact that you didn’t get offended by this woman’s flattery, and embraced it for what it was – a genuine compliment. In random moments I have looked at my butch girlfriend and told her she was beautiful, because that was the adjective that just fit in that moment. More often it’s handsome or hot or sexy, but always I try to call it like I see it, like I feel it.

    Love the topic.

    Comment by dykeevolution — June 8, 2010 @ 12:59 | Reply

    • Welcome! Always glad to trap get a new reader. 😀

      Honesty’s definitely important, but I think ‘beautiful’ is always a tricky compliment when it comes to butches. At least, in my experience. Even more so than ‘delicate’. Back when I was dating JB, for example, we used to call each other ‘gorgeous’ and ‘beautiful’ all the time (before I identified as butch), and I used to get this little internal flicker of that’s not right. Part of that was probably my own body-image hang ups — I didn’t think I was beautiful or particularly attractive, so why was she saying I was? — but a much bigger part, I reckon, was my fledgling masculinity getting clipped.

      That aside, I think if someone turned around to be me now and said sincerely, in the right moment, “You’re beautiful”, I’d be flattered. (And flustered, but in a good way.)

      JB had an interesting post about gender neutral compliments which generated a lot of awesome discussion you might find interesting, too.

      Comment by DK — June 8, 2010 @ 23:57 | Reply

  4. 🙂

    My gf calls me handsome and beautiful + I enjoy both compliments very much. I think men can be pretty/beautiful too – I’d love to see gender freedom in compliments.

    Comment by me — June 9, 2010 @ 00:42 | Reply

  5. I had a similar jolt the first time Roxy told me I was beautiful. It hit me in my man-place, and at first it kinda knocked the wind out of me. Then I started to like it, especially because she means it in every way, and for all my gender aspects. I still love being called handsome even more, but that one took some time to get used to as well. In fact, compliments to my physical appearance haven’t always been easy to accept, but she’s been persistent and now I can accept them graciously.

    I’ve learned that accepting an honest compliment is not just something nice for the recipient, but for the giver as well. It means we accept and trust their opinion.

    Comment by Kyle — June 9, 2010 @ 22:41 | Reply

  6. I’ve taken a risk and called my very masculine boyfriend “pretty boy” in the early stages of dating. It enflamed him a bit – who would dare – but it was a way I could give us an instant intimacy – I dare to and you will indulge me – then later it just melted his heart and mine b/c I was the only one who could get away with it so we had something special because he was willing to be vunerable to me. Well, we had something special for a while.

    But now I am a week or so into dating my first stone butch/trans lover, and I have the same desire to take risks and enflame her passions and feelings for me with similar flirtations, like telling her that it’s smart boys that always fall for me. So it’s there in a similar way but the words are specific to the complements I would like to give her for her strengths, of course, but I hold back – never wanting to say the wrong thing or gender words. I love to give genuine complements so it is an important part of the relationship to me that I will have to sort out.

    Comment by Daisy — July 12, 2011 @ 20:18 | Reply

  7. モンクレー 店舗

    Comment by crocs マンモス — September 10, 2013 @ 01:12 | Reply

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