Break It Down, Butch.

December 18, 2010

[48] Spot the difference.

Quick gender experiment.



I’m wearing a binder in both, so I’m actually a little more curvy up-top then that second picture shows. But it’s the body-language I find really interesting. In that first picture I look like me, admittedly with daft hair and a scrunchy, I’m-trying-not-to-crack-up face, but still recognizably confident and comfortable. My arms are relaxed, my legs are set square, I’m facing the camera almost dead-on. I look masculine and okay with that.

In the second photo, I’m wearing female clothes for about the first time in ten years. You can see my hips and waist and the shape of my legs; my neck looks longer, my whole body is a little slimmer and smaller. My arms are hidden, my shoulders are up, and my smile doesn’t reach my eyes. My head has a tilt to it, like appeasement. Female, but not happy about it.

It’s weird, what clothes can do.


December 14, 2010

[45] Working boy

Damn, that was a long break.

So hey — still not dead! I’ve been gyroscoping on the edge of general catastrophe for about three months, but that’s not new. (And also great for the waistline — I’ve lost almost two stone in three months through pure stress, I shit you not.)


Here’s the question of the week: if you’re butch-identified and you want to stay true to yourself but still look totally hire-able, how the hell do you dress for a job interview?


Today I went for a sort of lame-ass compromise by getting my hair slightly feminized (it’s all about looking fluffy, I’m told), my left ear re-pierced so I could wear matching studs, and just a touch of eye make up. And then I wore a suit.

I know, I know. I’m a gutless traitor.

It’s a dilemma, and it has no easy answer. I guess if there was a lot of work out there I could afford to be more, well, myself, but there isn’t. There’s no work. I graduated top of my class and I still can’t get a decent, doesn’t-make-you-want-to-kill-yourself job.

(I should mention, at this point, that a big part of the reason I haven’t been posting is that I’ve been busy DROWNING IN HATRED for my current job, which is so much filled with suckitude that I stopped eating, sleeping, or being generally sane, because OH MY GOD HAVE I MENTIONED THE HATE?

Anyway, I handed my notice in last week, so things are looking up.)

(Except, kind of not because I don’t have another job, but I WILL FIND ONE.)

Anyway (again), today I had a job interview, and I had to dress smart. Smart for me means a suit and tie, or at the very least a swanky shirt and a nice jacket. I look good in that combination; classy and professional and, yes, very male. But ‘weird, very male butch-thing’ is generally not what people are looking for in a supervisor, equal opportunities hiring aside. So in the interests of, y’know, continuing to eat, I wussed out and girled it up and — felt both weirdly comfortable and full of self-loathing.

Odd place to be.

Comfortable, I think, because for all the awkwardness and wrongness-feeling of it and general self-betrayal, it is easier to walk around and be recognizably gendered. Not better, but easier. Though, okay, if I’m going to be gendered I don’t like it to be as female because it does feel like I’m walking around with a target between my shoulderblades (seriously, regular femmy-people, how do you do it?), but at least I know I’m recognizable as something, rather than ‘Dude, what the fuck was that?’.

Self-loathing because, well, duh.

I’m hoping I’ll get the job and the whole fiasco will be worth it, but either way I’m damn sure spending the rest of the day in my comfy jeans.

Question for all you butches, transmasculines, studs, and male-identified cool guys — what would you do?

August 27, 2010

[37] In the trenches.

I’m experiencing enforced femininity via work uniform.

Sort of.

I’m an in-house carer, which grants me three uniform options: a nurse’s tunic, a male nurse’s tunic, or a good old-fashioned polo shirt. With my former company I just wore jeans and a polo shirt and didn’t worry about it, but my new company doesn’t allow jeans. Too scruffy.

Women’s black work trousers, the only kind that look even halfway decent on me, what with my habit of wearing my waistband just above ‘completely indecent’ levels, have no pockets. You cannot do this job without pockets, so that’s the androgynous polo shirt gone.

The male nurse tunic was my next option. It’s smart, masculine, pocket-containing, and by a happy quirk of fate, the only uniform they had in my size when I needed a tunic. So they gave me one, no questions asked. (Have I mentioned I love my job?) But that high collar is hot, and the straight up-and-down fit is a little constricting, even when I’m shaped pretty straight up-and-down in a binder, which is problematic when you need to do a lot of bending. And the gender-confusion with clients was rife. (Not something I mind in regular life so much, but definitely an issue when I’ve shown up at 7am to assist poor frail Muriel — who’s, say, partially blind and somewhat deaf — to shower.)

So. The nurse’s tunic.

It’s, well, figure hugging is about the only way to describe it. Even strapped up in a binder, I still have breasts. And hips. And something resembling an ass. And the tunic flaunts them. With one shirt change I go from a strapping young fella with long eyelashes to a perfect hourglass with a slightly delicate face. I look pretty. And curvy. And feminine.

It’s bizarre.

I haven’t yet had a crushing moment of gender-dysphoria, thankfully. I’ve had moments of dropping entirely out of reality to stare at myself in reflective surfaces, and weird contemplations of how much easier my regular life is when I’m identifiable as ‘visibly female’ with one glance, and utterly unnerving instances of middle-aged men hitting on me. I’ve been able to use public bathrooms in peace. And gotten yanked into ‘girlie’ chats at work with the other carers. I’ve been told I’ve lost weight, that I have shape, that I should get my eyebrows done.


The weirdest moments, though, are when confrontations happen. I’m still myself: calm, polite, collected. But underneath I’m much more of a seething mass of vulnerabilities, anxieties, and easily-gouged places. Like all my armour has been yanked off and replaced with pale blue cotton. Nice to look at, useless otherwise. Even in my own ears, my voice sounds a little lighter. My hands gesture more. Today, absent-mindedly, I sat with my legs crossed at the knee.

Possibly, all this is just because I’ve been hanging out in the company of almost exclusively feminine women and I’m absorbing behaviours. Possibly I’m just having an unusally ‘female’ month. Possibly some survival mechanism has kicked in to ease my work transition, and I’m unconsciously trying to fit in more.

Much more likely, though, I think, is that all this female behaviour is programmed in so deeply that a constant visual, tactile, full-body reminder of my original DNA structure is doing things to my brain.

I’m almost considering that eyebrow thing.

(If anyone wants to suggest, by the way, that a butch identity does not mean the exclusion of all things feminine and I’m allowed to feel as girlie as I want while still being a hunky young stud, I’d like to warmly advise you cram it down your throat. It’s true for a lot of butches, I’m sure, but not me. Not right now.)

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.

March 24, 2010

[15] Are you seeing red?

Irony is being attacked by your period when you think you’re in the free and clear — skipped one, thank god — and you have no tampons, and the lady in the clean public bathroom gives you a scorching look when you slink out of the cubical, blood on your thighs and sweat on your upper lip, and tells you you’re in the wrong place.

These are the moments in life when really all you can do is stand and stare, and resist the urge to put your head in your hands.

So, butch periods: now there’s a personal subject. So far, I’ve only seen Ivan E. Coyote anywhere near it, and I’ve never talked to another butch about it. I was talking to JB today, though, and she mentioned her new butch fella likes to call it “shark week”.

Blood and a high chance of getting bitten — sounds about right to me.

Actually, I’m pretty lucky: at most I’ll get the occasional killer cramp, or the mild urge to snap someone’s head off, or a bout of quick weepies if I watch anything sad*. But I don’t get absolutely floored with pain, or have my brain chemistry spiral wildly out of control. And I never feel genuinely homicidal, or glass-cracked with blues. Seriously, I’ve seen that; it gets ugly.

But adding butch into the mix just seems like you’re asking for trouble, really. For starters, I can’t think if a group of people I’d want feeling on edge and out-of-control less. We’re fixers; we don’t do well broken. And I don’t know about everyone else, but I waver back and forth on how well I deal with things. Sometimes it’s fine: I get on with shit, deal with what my body’s doing, and bitch to a good friend (as is Right and Proper). Other times I’m torn between incredible irony (short hair, hard muscles, broad shoulders, and blood between my legs), and a subtle sense of body-betrayal. Forced femaleness, demanding acknowledgement whether I like it or not.

I’m sure a lot of women in the world enjoy this Beautiful Confirmation Of Their Ability To Create Life, but I was never really one to Ya Ya with the Sisterhood. And whilst I appreciate that my body’s in good health and happily percolating the possibility of little miracles, it’s also a major pain in the ass — and a little frightening — to find yourself stuck in the mens’ bathroom due to a lack of options (i.e. some lady screamed) and having to deal with something so intimately female. Fortunately, this has only happened to me once, but it’s not an experience I plan to repeat.

And then there are product issues. Say what you like, these will never be manly. Or these (unless you are a soldier in Iraq using them to stop up bleeding wounds, which is something I’ve just found out about and find horrifying and damned sensible all at once). Sanitary pads are messy, often uncomfortable, and bulky to carry around if you need a spare, which you will; tampons come with a penetration issue I reckon a lot of butches (and women in general) would get twitchy over, not to mention a few major heath risks (Toxic Shock, anyone?). And neither one of them is cheap, environmentally friendly, or especially promoting of good-feelings.

These are better, though they still come with that penetration issue, if that’s a problem for you. I’ve used a Moon Cup for the past year or so, now, and weirdly it does help with balancing butch and abrupt femaleness. This is going to gross some people out, but getting up close and personal with your own blood is a strangely cathartic experience, and I don’t mean in an ‘ooh, BLOOD OF LIFE’ kind of way, or an ’embrace your glorious womanhood!’ way**. It’s more of an ‘I’m bleeding; I’m dealing with it’ thing, direct and honest and upfront with your own body, without any of the frilly packaging or flowery crud. It’s just earthy and straightforward — and admittedly not for the squeamish — but that feels butch to me.

Or maybe I’m just rationalizing.

But what the hell; I bleed without dying every 28 days. I’m hardcore, man.

What’re your thoughts?

*This is not greatly indicative, though; I am a sap when it comes to sad films.
** Though if either one of those work for you, more power to you.

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