Butch Sightings
September 15, 2011 7:00 PM   Subscribe

Butch Sightings is a social interaction art project that was inspired by my interest and appreciation for butches & studs (females and/or women who appear masculine, queer, old school, dyke, bulldagger, aggressive [AG] and other terms to be added as I come across them).

A simple act of subversive risk and connection - in which my perception as the viewer is pervasive and motivating, and yet is possibly inaccurate. I put myself into the photos by acknowledging my ever-present and biased point-of-view. To pretend to be objective would do a disservice to my work and to the people I meet during the project...

...I'm interested in not only the documented image, but also the uncomfortable, sometimes satisfying, sometimes awkward, almost always risky interaction in which I don't pretend not to see, don't act "polite" by not saying anything and don't know what will happen. There's exquisite possibility in the approach across an unknown chasm and I find butches exquisitely beautiful.
posted by serazin (55 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
it's wonderful and I'm happy to acknowledge that I see, recognize, appreciate

It's not necessarily wonderful for the people being confronted. #5's smile seems a bit forced.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:24 PM on September 15, 2011

the uncomfortable, sometimes satisfying, sometimes awkward, almost always risky interaction in which I don't pretend not to see, don't act "polite" by not saying anything

This bugs me. For the photographer, it's not normal. For the women being photographed, it was their normal, but now they've been reminded (yet again) of their otherness and will probably spend the rest of the day wondering about the interaction with this photographer.

It's not like butch women are really that rare (even in my Midwestern college town) that they need to be photographed and stalked and blogged. I mean, yes, I am often warmed and comforted when I see people who identify (through dress and style) with my particular subcultures, but there's a difference between recognizing it quietly and walking up to someone, confirming that they are indeed part of that subculture, and asking to photograph and document them on a blog.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:45 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Stalked is probably too strong a word- wish I hadn't used it.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:49 PM on September 15, 2011

This blog seems weirdly objectifying and diminishing of these women; their individuality is subsumed by this blogger's insistence upon identifying them through the blogger's own categories. Not a very successful or respectful project, in my view.
posted by jayder at 7:56 PM on September 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

aabbbiee, perhaps the word needed is really a phrase: manipulation for art's sake. Or petri-dishing social space.
posted by datawrangler at 7:57 PM on September 15, 2011

Oh, and under "butchsourcing:"

If the butch says yes (and they will), ask...

Two things, my friend (who is not reading this):

1) The butch? Really? You must really mean "butch person." Say it over and over. Because "butch" is an adjective, and you sound so...thoughtless.

2) Has the response from any butch person ever been "no?" Because your workflow needs an alternate path of responses and finalization.

One last thing. Not all butch-perceived individuals will appreciate your approach. You may want to bring an ice pack for your face, just in case somebody decides your approach is the final straw.
posted by datawrangler at 8:07 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

They were asked about being featured and whether they identified as butches (or the other appropriate term) and agreed to both, so I think that I will respect their ability to make that choice. A few of them seemed really excited to be acknowledged in a positive way.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:07 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have heard butch used as both a noun and an adjective, but I am open to learning if one is considered offensive or objectifying.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:09 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have to say it's a poor project. The camera work is not good, it hasn't gone on enough to be a good collection and the writing just isn't there. Also, while I enjoy calling rudeness subversiveness as much as the next guy I don't think it's a complete cop-out.

I do see her past project, a blog, fizzled out sooner than this one, so I hope she is actually making it go this time.
posted by michaelh at 8:10 PM on September 15, 2011

Not all butch-perceived individuals will appreciate your approach.

Especially when the instructions are to persist if they answer "yes" ("I do mind if you ask me a question").
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:14 PM on September 15, 2011

I'll try not to threadsit this, but I want to chime in to say I posted this because as a butch (in the noun sense), I really appreciated this blog. It makes me smile seeing the other butches, many of whom express happiness at being recognized. It's also interesting to hear from the people who don't ID as butches - their perspectives are reported as well.

As someone who is butch and feels glad when I see other masculine women, I find this project validating (and whimsically amusing).

I hear there are other perspectives and that's fine, just wanted to share my positive one.
posted by serazin at 8:16 PM on September 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

This blog seems weirdly objectifying and diminishing of these women; their individuality is subsumed by this blogger's insistence upon identifying them through the blogger's own categories. Not a very successful or respectful project, in my view.

There definitely seem to be some of her subjects of interest that feel the same way:

#2 The One That Didn't Go So Well

September 4, 2011

Failed Butch Sighting interaction: she only calls herself butch as a joke, felt uncomfortable when I asked. Said she guessed she was more of a soft butch. "Felt weird" about me taking her picture. I didn't think she was really butch but then I thought, "who knows? I should ask." Age was very young (well, compared to yours truly).

That being said, I think some of her project is seeing when this interaction does not go well. Personally, I'd never have the nerve to approach people and ask if they identify as butch, I feel like it's similar to approaching a gay couple and asking which one of them is "the woman". I love people that are subversive in there gender performance, but this project feels a little off.
posted by piratebowling at 8:17 PM on September 15, 2011

I hit enter before I really finished my thought. Anyway, I honestly think it's empowering to see a document of a wide variety of butch women. I was really glad to see so many women of color represented as well. Maybe this is my own weirdness, but I'd be more excited about this project if it were women that opted into the project in a different way and weren't necessarily approached on the street in the middle of their day. I know I'm projecting, but those kinds of interaction (regardless of their intent) really make me uncomfortable.
posted by piratebowling at 8:22 PM on September 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

I totally read this as an approach that goes something like this:

"Hi! You look like you conform to this stereotype that I'm romanticizing. Can you validate my assumption?"

I am someone who she would probably be inclined to approach. I would be a) extremely irritated at her presumption, b) extremely disinclined to participate, and c) probably more than willing to express a) and b) in a fairly hostile way.

She expressly makes a bunch of assumptions about my "essence" and my "nonconformity." She's sexualizing her subjects in a way that I find pretty damned creepy. She's actively perpetuating a gender-based stereotype that I find pretty pernicious in the lesbian community (the butch/femme dichotomy feels, to me, confining, unrealistic, and usually pretty seriously heteronormative.)

I mean, I'm totally down with being tickled at finding a blog that celebrates people you identify with. That's totally cool. And she seems pretty serious about getting consent for the pictures, which is excellent. But there are some core assumptions here that leave a really bad taste in my mouth.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:44 PM on September 15, 2011 [22 favorites]

Got to ask - what is the purpose of this? Almost seems like a mockery of the "butch" lifestyle. Who cares, they're gay, and they appear to be more masculine. I like cooking, care to start a website of guys in corny ass cooking aprons with flour on their collars?

Maybe I'm overlooking something or not cultured enough; but truthfully - seems like a wasteful use of an IP address just submitting pictures of a different lifestyle, who don't bother me, and who I truly only hope happiness on. Same with the other side, good luck, and I hope you find happiness - I'll buy you a drink next time I'm in a gay club w/ my girl and her friends.
posted by lpcxa0 at 8:47 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe I'm overlooking something

Like the fact that the blog owner is a lesbian, married to a butch woman? Rather than a mockery, I guess she just digs them. In fact, she says exactly that.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:52 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is an art project like OK Cupid is an art project. Approaching a subset of people you find attractive is called "flirting," and taking pictures of them to post on your blog is called "fetishizing."

If the blogger were to choose a different subculture or type or ethnicity or minority or whathaveyou every week or month or year or something, and then blog about approaching that subculture/type/etc, then I'd be interested. Then it'd be about how we see other people and how people see themselves, and it'd be about breaking down the bubble of personal space we often walk around in in public. It's so rare that we have real, interesting conversations with complete strangers, and this project has the potential to be that.

Except now? Now it's just "hi i think yer hot lemme snap a pic of you?"
posted by incessant at 9:35 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

If that's "common butch" I'm going to have to recalibrate my butch meter. I pegged pretty much everyone on the first (only?) page as "the water pressure at my place fucking sucks, so I got my hair cut short" or "I'm out camping so much, short hair is just so much more convenient."

That and perhaps, "Screw skinny people. This is my body and I'm ok with it."
posted by porpoise at 9:36 PM on September 15, 2011

I'm surprised. This seems extremely retro to me. Gay men used to sort themselves into similar categories (I've been told, pre-Stonewall, it was an absurd extreme in places like NYC, but for a reason).

As for the approach: There is a difference between calling a woman "Butch!" as an insult, and calling her that as a sign of approval. (and I can't help but thing of some nelly guy saying it ironically, but that's cuz I was raised by old-school faggots).

But I have a problem with the concept. I see the spectrum a little differently, perhaps. A woman who is not feminine is not, therefore, "butch". I'm even thinking specifically of a girl's gym teacher I knew personally. She wasn't feminine, and I know folks think of her as "butch", but really, she wasn't especially masculine. She just wasn't feminine.

I have, on the other hand, encountered some of those roll-there-own-tampons kind of womyn. They seem to enjoy acting like the worst clichés of masculinity.
posted by Goofyy at 10:42 PM on September 15, 2011

The butch? Really? You must really mean "butch person." Say it over and over. Because "butch" is an adjective, and you sound so...thoughtless.

Actually, butch is a noun.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:46 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is an interesting project, if only for the conversation it brought about here. I think it would be more interesting if it focused on style or fashion, but as it is, it's just another flavor of objectification. Too bad.

Also, I understood 'bulldagger' to be quite an offensive term. Is that no longer the case? (Not that I'll be using it, it just sounds wrong to my ears.)
posted by Space Kitty at 10:54 PM on September 15, 2011

Approaching a subset of people you find attractive is called "flirting," and taking pictures of them to post on your blog is called "fetishizing."

That's not a bad thing, there are plenty of fetish blogs out there but this one seems weirdly creepy at the same time.
posted by public at 5:09 AM on September 16, 2011

What restless_nomad said.
posted by odinsdream at 5:09 AM on September 16, 2011

The importance of punctuation!

"Keep talking butch! It's what you're good at!"


"Keep talking, Butch! It's what you're good at!"
posted by Sutekh at 5:26 AM on September 16, 2011

Also, I understood 'bulldagger' to be quite an offensive term. Is that no longer the case?

It seems to me, just from being in the community and hearing people talk, that most of the terms for a woman who doesn't conform to gender stereotypes are/were insults at one point - it's totally about the speaker and the intent. I had a customer refer to me as a "bull dyke" when he thought I wasn't looking, and he definitely meant it in an insulting way (and was mortified when I called him on it, which was hilarious) but it's a term I'd cheerfully apply to myself. (Well, sort of. I think I'm still a little young to be a proper bull dyke.)
posted by restless_nomad at 5:41 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

the butch/femme dichotomy feels, to me, confining, unrealistic, and usually pretty seriously heteronormative

Agreed... and it also seems dated. Not everyone participates in this kind of labeling. Some women dress in men's clothes to participate in this particular subculture; others dress in men's clothes because they're more comfortable, cheaper, and easier to wear.

The project sounds like one taken on by a very young lesbian, a babydyke. It seems to me that she's in a big rush to define labels and decode standards of dress and expects that everyone else participates in these subcultures, when in fact most of us who have been out for some time are just living our lives without applying labels to ourselves every day.
posted by aabbbiee at 6:32 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

This reminds me of the game Lesbian or German Lady?
posted by jonp72 at 6:34 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well hey, I'll weigh in on this as a....hm....I guess sometimes I describe myself as butch, sometimes as genderqueer. Back before I got it all sorted out, I used to refer to myself as a butch straight woman. Funnily, in my twenties when I was seeing men, I looked far more classically butch than I do now - combed my hair back, for example. But yeah, I've got that whole fifties-glasses, short back and sides, tucked-in-shirt thing going on.

1. It would be weird if someone asked to photograph me for this blog, but also flattering. Among women my age and younger (especially in cities), I think, it's far safer and less weighty to say "I'm butch" or "I'm femme" (no one says "I'm kiki" anymore, except women named Kiki...) When I was growing up, you were an outsider if you were butch, but it didn't feel dangerous (I think) as it would have for someone older. And it was possible to be a teenager and have really short hair, wear more gender-neutral clothes, etc. I wouldn't feel freaked out by having my gender identity named in public.

2. There are a lot of internet blogs about femme visibility and I think this is in dialogue with those (can't link, at work). Femme visibility seems different to me - easier to pass as straight, but also harder to be visible as queer.

2.5. I think butch/femme stuff is having a moment among the younger set (let's say, mid-thirties and down)...or rather, naming your identity is having a moment, thus genderqueer, etc etc- I don't get the sense that there's any "everyone must be butch or femme" going on as there has been in the past. I think this is the result of greater freedom to be visible and to talk about identity, also that labeling goes in and out of intellectual fashion. I think it's also about greater visibility of trans people and the whole naming of the genderqueer thing - there's this existing dialogue about variants on gender identity.

2.75. The negative side: sexuality is such a public topic that there's a tremendous amount of pressure to categorize/taxonomize every variety of experience. And a taxonomy is needed to legitimate an experience - I think of this with the whole asexuality thing - on the one hand, awesome to have a name for your feelings, on the other, frustrating that people have to come up with a whole dog-and-pony show to legitimate not-being-into-sex. Of course, I find photos of other butch women very cheering. Plus, fashion ideas!

3. Being visibly butch and named as visibly butch - I think that when it has bothered me, it's bothered me because of failure-to-perform-gender-straightly/correctly - to have it confirmed that all the world notices that I'm not feminine, have no feminine allure, etc etc. I don't really want those things, but sometimes it's been intense to recognize that I can't square the circle - I can't be happy as myself and also perform gender "correctly".

3.5. A lot of folks - although fewer in my generation - think of all queer women as butch. So we're seen and named, but femme women or women who don't look butch are invisible.

4. Most of the things I like about my appearance, my physical being, are things that read as butch. I have really wide shoulders, for example, and a straight back. Nice, eh? I like having short hair. I like having glasses with heavy frames. Having that recognized is pretty flattering.

5. There's always to me some nebulousness about butch stuff - at any given moment, there's stuff that gets named as butch, a certain affect, certain skills, and those are so subjective and of-the-moment....in some situations and some eras, it's butch to be able to fix your car, for example, but in others it's not. In some ways it's a relation - like, butch is butch if considered in a constellation with femme, androgynous, genderqueer. In some ways, for me, it's coveting and performance - there are things about both straight and queer masculinity that I covet for myself, certain ways of speaking or walking. And to be able to achieve those because I have wide shoulders, because I am most comfortable talking in ways that are not generally coded as feminine, it's kind of neat.

6. I'd be really interested to see this blogger interview some of the women who clearly identify as butch - like, what does it mean to them? Etc etc.
posted by Frowner at 6:46 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Plus, fashion ideas!
This, seriously! I don't know if there are butch fashion blogs, but there should be. It's hard to walk that line between clothes made for men that work for butch woman in a fun and playful way. I think there is definitely a place for that kind of blog alongside the Sartorialist or other person-on-the-street fashion blogs.

But this blog isn't that kind of blog. This is more about labeling others' sexuality than appreciating their fashion sense without assuming their sexuality.
posted by aabbbiee at 6:55 AM on September 16, 2011

This is more about labeling others' sexuality than appreciating their fashion sense without assuming their sexuality.

Maybe the blog could be fine-tuned a bit either in terms of how photos are taken or how they're labeled - I mean, if you're out at a heavily queer event, it's not going to be awful to ask someone if they identify as butch (or at least I think it wouldn't) while it might seem weird on the street at random. Or perhaps frame it as "butches and other dapper women" or something and make the photos more about appearance than identity.

I think appearance and identity are maybe being used to stand in for each other here.
posted by Frowner at 7:02 AM on September 16, 2011

One thing that confuses me about the critisisms here is the idea that the author is putting a label on people that they don't necessarily want. The whole project is not to tell people they are butch, but to ask them if they are. Many say yes. Some say no. A short and often thoughtful conversation ensues. A lot of this is about her examining her own assumptions, questioning them, seeing if people do or do not fit into her personal system or subculture. (While butch/femme may feel like a constricting binary to some here, it is a thriving subculture with which many do identify.)

It seems to me that some of the discomfort with this project must come from an assumption that to ask someone if she's butch is to insult her. Even as someone who has been queer all my life, I feel quite uncomfortable directly asking someone if s/he's gay. And I think that comes from a deeply rooted feeling that there would be something wrong with a "yes" answer to that question. I don't have a problem asking someone where they're from or what they do for work (which are common getting to know you questions that are very deeply about identifying someone's social class), but some questions, like, "are you butch?" are very uncomfortable because either we think they're insulting or we fear the person may feel they are. I appreciate how this project plays with that and questions what is an OK question.

The other thing you'll notice is when she did have a negative interaction, she recorded it on the site but did not give any identifying details about the person or take the person's picture. She respected the choice not to participate.
posted by serazin at 7:38 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, I understood 'bulldagger' to be quite an offensive term. Is that no longer the case?

Really? I wanted to find a representative picture to clarify the term in my mind, because it sounded like the most badass thing ever. But that was balanced against what a googlesearch of that kind might pull up at work.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:58 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

How did I miss this last night? (Wait, I know - I was watching Project Runway.)

I'm torn; I feel both the way serazin does, and also the way restless_nomad does. I love seeing appreciative pictures of women like me, and I'm also sort of uncomfortable with the author's objectification, although it's certainly well-intentioned. I think, if she walked up to me on the street, I'd probably say yes, you can take my picture.

I also relate to the community (the lgbt one, the genderqueer one, the butch/femme one - pick one or more) differently now than I did 20 years ago. It's partly that I'm older, and partly that I live in San Francisco, where butches don't generally give each other "the nod" as they pass on the street because (I think) we don't need to - we are acknowledged and visible in ways we didn't use to be. When I lived in DC in the 90s - a city full of semi-closeted/discreet/out-only-to-people-in-the-know queers of all stripes - making eye contact with another butch and giving each other the nod was sweet, a momentary shedding of the cloak of invisibility.
posted by rtha at 8:26 AM on September 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

I liked it (and am appreciating the discussion here). Number 6 is worth the whole site. A few thoughts (from someone who is femme-ish and partnered with a person who is butch-ish):

I found it fun to look at a series of pictures of butch women. I don't think that means I'm fetishizing, but I could be wrong. The experience made me smile. And I wanted to experience seeing way more pictures, like 100+, to see what that would be like. I liked the idea of a collage of butch-ness, and I would be interested to read the different profiles/responses.

I tried to imagine my sweetie being approached. I think she would say, in response to the "Do you identify as butch?" "Uh, sometimes, for lack of a better word ..." I think she would decline to be photographed. And maybe she'd even be a little put off at first, like "why are you doing this," but she would come home and tell me about it, and we'd look at the site, so that would in a way be part of the project/experience. (Okay, that's a long imagining, and from a non-butch person.)

Sometimes when people say things like this -- the butch/femme dichotomy feels, to me, confining, unrealistic, and usually pretty seriously heteronormative -- I feel self-conscious or that my relationship is being judged. I don't know exactly what my reaction means -- it could be I'm mis-hearing what is meant, or being sensitive in some strange way. But it seems as though people forget that there are real people who live under and around these words, not just concepts. (And I am a person who probably agrees in some or lots of ways with the critique of butch/femme.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:29 AM on September 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have many butch friends who identify as such. However, if she lived in Northern Minnesota, she would realize that there are whole helluva lot of butch-looking heterosexual women out there. A good friend of mine (clearly butch--women often yell at her when she goes into the women's john) joined a bowling league with mostly straight women. She laughed a lot when her dyke friends would come and watch her play, because she would often field the question, "Is she a dyke?" "No, she's just from Cloquet."
posted by RedEmma at 8:48 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

"she" meaning the blogger.
posted by RedEmma at 8:49 AM on September 16, 2011

what a strange sort of sexism. and visual stereotyping. and profiling, maybe?
posted by msconduct at 9:19 AM on September 16, 2011

what a strange sort of sexism. and visual stereotyping. and profiling, maybe?

Sort of yes, sometimes, but not really, depending very much on context.

I have no idea how many discussions/arguments/conversations I had over the years, beginning in the late 80s, about butches and femmes and their (our) place in the culture at large, in lesbian history, in contemporary lesbian culture, how those roles play into or challenge sexism and the patriarchy. A butch/femme relationship can take some of the worst aspects of heternormativity as its basis, and/or it can make a mockery of them, and/or it can be a very conscious performance of them, turned inside-out.

Not all couples that look like butch/femme couples are butch/femme couples. Not all butches who wear suits and ties or jeans and t-shirts identify as butches in the way that a similar-looking woman who is a generation or more older (or younger) would. The performance or portrayal or identity as a butch or a femme (if one does either of those) is also going to be different if one is not a white middle-class lesbian.

If you saw me and my partner out and about, you might see us as a butch/femme couple (at least, if we're both dressed up). You'd be kind of wrong and kind of right, depending almost entirely on what your conception of "butch" and "femme" is.
posted by rtha at 9:40 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

This makes me miss my butch pals, especially the ones from the rugby team. They were rowdy drinkers, and a lot of fun to go out with. But due to a couple moves and a divorce, I've kind of lost touch with them, and now my lesbian pals are a lot more, I don't know, third way? Butch in some ways, femme in others? The one I'm eating dinner with tonight presents as totally femme from a distance, but as soon as you talk to her, it's all about how she's "fucking bitches" and "maxing her guns," in a way that would be totally creepy if it came from a dude.

I guess I feel like as gay people get broader acceptance, the proportion of LGBT folk I know who really craft a presentation identity around their sexuality to the extent of identifying as either butch or femme sort of decreases — I see that with my gay dude friends too, how at one point it was all waxed abs and blonde tips or total leather daddy garb, but now it's more just regular schlubby dudes who happen to fuck other dudes. Though I'll be honest and say that I don't know how much of that is because I'm older now, and my friends are older, and there's not the sort of care taken in presenting an archetype as an identity, and how much is because the culture has changed.
posted by klangklangston at 10:01 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

what a strange sort of sexism. and visual stereotyping. and profiling, maybe?

Okay, let's lay this out: this is a queer thing (...um, early nineties reference: "and you wouldn't understand")

There's a whole complicated long tradition about being butch/masculine/a bulldagger/aggro/etc within queer women's communities. It isn't something that was put on us by straight people - insults, yes; turning it into a slur, yes; but not the thing itself. Saying that someone "looks butch" is not an insult, particularly in a queer context.

There's some complicated overlap between "looking butch" and "identifying as butch". There are women who identify as butch who struggle to be recognized as butch, because they have physical features that are often assumed to be femme or straight - small features, a large chest, etc. So where does butchness reside? Difficult to say.

I look butch. I looked butch back when I identified as straight and dated guys.

"Butch" does not imply a continuum with femme; that's how it's been framed, and there was lots of debate and (as far as I can tell from memoirs) a lot of painful stuff within queer women's communities. But being butch is just one way of performing gender, with a particular history.

Then we get back to this whole question of representation: I think plenty of queer women like to see images of other queer women, like to encounter other queer women in the course of the day, etc. It's not some kind of freakish profiling thing to have the little frisson of pleasure you get from being in a largely straight environment and running into some butch woman at random.

I think folks are treating this very much as it would be in a straight context - if this project was produced primarily so that straight people could evaluate and taxonomize butch women. Now, y'all can do that if you want, it's an open internet out there, but that's not the point of the project.
posted by Frowner at 10:07 AM on September 16, 2011 [10 favorites]

I don't know if there are butch fashion blogs, but there should be.

Dapper Q is a great place to start. I have more resources, which I can provide upon request.

I am a butch, or butch of center, queer woman. Overall, I am in favor of this project. I appreciate her enthusiasm for masculine female expression and I love being able to see different flavors of butches in their natural habitats. Why? I am queer queer queer, as queer as they come, with loads of queer friends and family, from LGBTQ to every other letter in the English alphabet, and probably some Cyrillic, Sanskrit, and Kanji characters, too. Basically, I bleed in rainbow colors.

But even though I exist for the most part in a queer utopia, I rarely ever see other butch women in the wild. Unless I'm out clubbing, or at a queer reading series, or at a lesbian B&B, or some explicitly-stated queer space. I have to seek other butch women out, and when I see another butch woman in public, it's really exciting! I tug at my girlfriend's sleeve and raise my eyebrows discreetly. "Look! One of us!" At my job, I'm one of three masculine women in the entire office, and we're not a small company by any means. That means I spend 95% of my day feeling—not entirely, but, somewhat—like an outsider.

So I find this project comforting. It is wonderful to see people like me in candid poses, just livin'. I have reservations about the way she approaches people because not everyone is as comfortable with their gender expression as I am, but overall, I think this is a good thing.

Also, for the record, I'm 30 and I use the word butch, as do my friends who are younger than me.
posted by Lieber Frau at 11:06 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

restless_nomad: "the butch/femme dichotomy feels, to me, confining, unrealistic, and usually pretty seriously heteronormative"

Well, then don't participate in it. Or learn more about it. Either one would do. But don't call me and how I present myself in the world "heteronormative" unless you're really prepared to back that up.

Also what ClaudiaCenter said.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:45 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

provide upon request

Consider this a request! I mean, I look at some of the fuckyeahTHING tumblrs (although I am so over the "fuck yeah" formulation. Can we just go back to "hellaTHING" instead?) but it's not as though one sees all of them.


I am fond of the nod. Getting all this coming-out business sorted still feels recent enough to me that being recognized, being seen is still a thrill.
posted by Frowner at 11:48 AM on September 16, 2011

I bet you could do some really interesting survey stuff about responses to this blog with questions about where the viewers live, what their community is like, how old they are, where they grew up, probably how much attention they pay to fashion, what their politics are around the terms objectification and consent....

Reading everyone's responses, it seems so clear that my feelings about the blog are strongly modulated by living in a queer-friendly yet "discreet"/less queer visibility city, being in my mid thirties, being a bit trendy/internety, jeez, it's really almost impossible to assess this project without assessing the specific viewer.

Also, seems to suggest very sharply that "butch" itself varies so much from setting to setting, being really positive in some and really restrictive/creating discomfort in others. (Certainly, you read lots of 80s-and-earlier memoirs where people got treated really badly by other women if they refused butch/femme identity or didn't perform one or the other correctly...and then there's that whole Second Wave thing of refusing butch/femme identities, but in a really bad, oppressive way).
posted by Frowner at 11:58 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Consider this a request

Aha! I just memailed some butch/queer style resources to another MeFite, so this request is a simple matter of copy and paste. I do wish I had more to share.

The aforementioned Dapper Q.

Dapper and Dandy

Butch Style

Dykes in the City

The Butch Clothing Company

Not explicitly queer or queer oriented, but you can occasionally find a gem in Tomboy Style

Autostraddle sometimes has style articles, too.

Oh, and, btw: ***butch nod*** 'Sup.
posted by Lieber Frau at 12:11 PM on September 16, 2011 [11 favorites]

If anyone out there hasn't read it, go immediately to your nearest place that has books and acquire Leslie Feinberg's outstanding autobiographical novel Stone Butch Blues. It really changed the way I thought and taught me a whole bunch.
posted by rtha at 12:12 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

My objection to the butch/femme dichotomy - and it's specifically with its manifestation as a dichotomy, not as a couple of points on a broad spectrum or handy shorthand for a particular aesthetic - is that it's confining, and confining in a way that has some umpleasant echoes of the larger culture. I read the Austin Craigslist W4W page from time to time, and it's absolutely full of people who feel the need to specify "femmes only," "looking for butch," or whatever, and also talk about seriously gender-stereotypical qualities in conjunction with that.

That's certainly not to say that I always object to those labels, or judge people who find it useful as shorthand for a particular aesthetic or set of characteristics, or think people shouldn't identify as one or the other. I have a problem with this particular blog, though, because the author is doing two things that in combination give me the wiggins:

- She's identifying people purely on sight. Seriously, at one point she mentions that she hasn't figured out the easiest way to stop the car and chase someone down who looks like someone she's interested in. This isn't any sort of deep conversation about identity or fashion or anything; it's just bird-dogging.

- She makes a bunch of statements about internal characteristics that she associates with "butchness" that don't really have a damned thing to do with appearance. She's imposing a personality framework upon people purely based on their looks. I find that deeply problematic.

If she were to drop a lot of the creepy romanticization and just say "hey butch chicks are hot let me take pictures of them," that'd be fine. I could certainly use a good butch style blog, and I am all about increasing visibility of niche populations, because I've certainly felt on a personal level how much that helps. This particular site, though, has a bunch of stuff going on that I can't ignore and that really kind of bugs me.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:44 PM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

- She makes a bunch of statements about internal characteristics that she associates with "butchness" that don't really have a damned thing to do with appearance. She's imposing a personality framework upon people purely based on their looks. I find that deeply problematic.

But I think some butch and femme folks would say that their butchness and femmeness DO tie to "internal characteristics . . . that don't really have a damned thing to do with appearance." Queerness isn't just about appearance or about sexuality. Or at least it isn't for some people. Or at least it shouldn't be.
posted by liketitanic at 1:39 PM on September 16, 2011

But I think some butch and femme folks would say that their butchness and femmeness DO tie to "internal characteristics . . . that don't really have a damned thing to do with appearance."

Well sure. But if someone walks up to me on the street and says "Hey, you have short hair and are wearing a plaid button down, therefore you must be a tough but secretly sensitive rebel with a unique perception of a femme woman's needs" or whatever, my response is going to be "fuck you, go away." Because those internal characteristics are mine, not something defined by a random blogger. I resemble her subjects; I don't resemble her description of butches. I find her language equating the two to be really problematic.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:44 PM on September 16, 2011

Well, I think what she's actually sayings is not, "Hey, you have short hair and are wearing a plaid button down, therefore you must be a tough but secretly sensitive rebel with a unique perception of a femme woman's needs", but rather, "Hey, are you butch?" and then letting the person define their own identity. She is transparent in her site description that her own interpretation is sometimes wrong. Whether or not the person conforms to her initial read, she tries to say something complementary.

A lot of your critiques of butch femme listed above could just as easily be made about heterosexual attraction. Is there something inherently confining (or sexist) about a woman finding a conventionally presenting man attractive? Or vise versa? Do we think masculinity and femininity should be abolished? At this point in 2011 I just don't think it's useful to linger on that idea too much. I'm assuming that heterosexual adults are just that - adults - and what makes them romantically or sexually attracted to someone, while it might fit into a gender binary, doesn't make them inherently a limited or binary person. One can acknowledge the limitations of the gendered society we live in and still live within it. The difference for butches and femmes is we live within it and without it at the same time. It's automatically a subversion of conventional gender even while it embraces parts of it. I don't get male privilege just because I have short hair.

In any case, I certainly wouldn't want you or anyone else to feel pressured into using an identifier that didn't feel true to you. Just as I'd hope you'd respect the way that same identifier might work for me.
posted by serazin at 2:17 PM on September 16, 2011

What's interesting about this, to me, is the question of why it is considered seemly to approach a stranger and ask them "how they identify." Are there different norms in the gay community that makes this level of intrusiveness welcome? I can't imagine approaching random straight guys and saying, "hi, great look, do you identify as Macho?" That would be weird. Or approaching guys and saying "Hi, do you identify as twink?" or "great Abercrombie and Fitch gear, do you identify as Straight-Acting?"

I'm hearing from some of the comments here that "butch" is a very special, insular thing that makes this (for some people) a welcome overture ... Why?

It seems that to make this overture to strangers is possibly less than respectful to them because it's not assuming they have firm boundaries against this questioning ... It seems similar to many straight men's assumption that women are open and available to be engaged on a very personal level, a way they would never engage another man. Why is this level of engagement of strangers, premised on assumptions about their look, acceptable to many?
posted by jayder at 2:19 PM on September 16, 2011

It seems similar to many straight men's assumption that women are open and available to be engaged on a very personal level, a way they would never engage another man

Interactions among queer folks aren't simply the queer version of interactions among straight folks. Obviously, some queer folks are going to find this blogger a bit intrusive, but for those of us who don't, my thoughts are:

1. Blogger's approach is probably a bit flattering
2. Blogger is not trying to pick up the people she photographs (I assume), whereas dudely interactions are about pick-ups, control over women, getting sexual attention or making them feel bad/ashamed
3. Street harassment by dudes has a specific history; street interactions by queer folks has other histories. One is negative; the other more neutral or even positive
4. More equality and less fear in the interaction, plus at least some shared culture around gender expression. If a dude is harassing you on the street, there's always the "is he going to grab me? Is he going to yell at me? Is he a crazy stalker and he'll start turning up at my work? Is he going to go from pleasantries to obscenities?" This is virtually never how I expect my interactions with other queer women to go. Not that there's never creepy or bad behavior amongst queer folks, but it is by no means as automatic or pervasive. And I'm just virtually never actually scared of another queer woman.
5. Queer community stuff. See "the nod" above.

As many women have observed about straight street harassment, it's not saying "you look nice today" itself that is the awful thing; it's that inevitably "you look nice today" exists in a network of horrible/unwanted/dangerous interactions. Remove the network and the statement looks different. Queer women don't have that network.

(Not that all is utopia, you know. But I sure don't miss dealing with the whole "sexual attention from dudes at random times and with implicit anger/threat/resentment" thing.)
posted by Frowner at 2:42 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

To be totally clear, this is the language that irritates me:
"Butch is a word that connotes certain traits - a way of dressing, a stance, an attitude, perhaps even an age. It's in-your-face, nonconformist, dangerous and often unassuming. Butch is, in my view, not a role someone decides to play, but a term that describes the essence of a person (or an essence, as I believe we all have many). Butches survive. Butches persevere. Butches walk the line. Butches got it rough. Butches make me feel fine."
This reads to me, as a woman who may, under certain circumstances, describe herself as butch, as an attempt to define my identity and gender expression. I don't care if she thinks I'm cute - that's fine. I *do* care that she seems to think I'm nonconformist, in-your-face (but often unassuming?) and that it's an "essence" of me rather than a role. (Seriously? I have really big tits; I wear masculine clothing specifically to escape the pervasive male attention I get when I wear girlier stuff.)

She's picking out the targets here; whatever her actual language choice in the interview, her actions are saying "I think you're butch." Her site says "I therefore think a bunch of things about you." I suppose it's nice that she's "challenging" these assumptions, but she's putting random strangers on the spot, sticking a camera in their face, and asking some fairly trivial and surface questions (or if she's having more in-depth conversations, she's not reporting them.) And now she's farming out the picture-taking, so at best she's getting secondhand reports of nonspecific interviews.

I don't think she's a terrible person or anything. I think there are a bunch of ways to do a photoblog along these lines without making me, at least, extra-cranky. But this is not the best way to go about it.

(I'm not sure I'm reading your comparison to heterosexuality right, serazin, but if I am: I have no problem if a woman is attracted to a conventionally presenting man. I would object, however, to people assuming that if *I* am a conventionally presenting woman, than I *must* and *only* be attracted to a conventionally presenting man. That's the way I see it used in the specific circumstances where it bugs me, and it may not be fair of me to spread that annoyance over other, fairly different uses.)
posted by restless_nomad at 2:56 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Those so inclined could check out The Life and Times of Butch Dykes a most excellent series of fanzines about some awesome women. More detail of some of the art/text from one of the issues is here.
posted by Cuke at 7:28 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Where was this thread when I was at the Indigo Girls concert last night??? Seriously!
posted by illuminatus at 6:03 PM on October 15, 2011

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