"Those who choose to exist and identify outside of the binary"
December 28, 2015 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Meg Allen's photo documentary project BUTCH 'attempts to explore the butch identity and aesthetic through a series of personal portraits'. This Buzzfeed article selects a few pictures and has some quotes from the artist.
posted by howfar (19 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Ugh, okay, seeing so many pictures of so many amazing-as-hell people means that all I want to do is whine about my hair.

Every time I go get my hair cut short, they keep on trying to give me Mom Hair, that horrible short feathered thing that says "I have no time to deal with product, I am too busy ferrying my precious wonders to their twenty million enrichment activities while working on my latest MLM scheme". Doesn't matter what I wear, doesn't matter the colour of my hair, doesn't matter how many times I say "No Mom Hair". Unless I get it undercut, they instantly give me the Mom Hair.

And the undercut is so much of a pain in the ass when it comes to upkeep - once it grows out a certain length, it stops being "You are a wonderful butchy nerd queen who kicks ass and takes names" and it becomes "You are one of those mutt dogs with the nasty-ass undercoat that collects every sort of insect, weed, and god-only-knows". The rest of my hair starts looking like a pyramid. It's not sexy, it's not cool, it's not the smart-aleck dweeb I'm trying to go for, it's just...bad.

Maybe I should print out some of these pictures and go "See? That. Not Mom Hair."

I'll probably still get Mom Hair, though.
posted by Katemonkey at 10:46 AM on December 28, 2015 [12 favorites]

So many lovely pictures. So many lovely looking people. So many among them look like someone I'd love to hang out with.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:57 AM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not to derail from the actual post, but do you get a barbershop cut? I mean, at an actual barbershop? They don't even know how to do that short, feminine shag [which is so widely reviled because of misogyny! We're all supposed to hate mothers and the things associated with them!]/

And how are you fixed for product? I'm growing out the top so that I can have a transmasculine-bun for the gym, and I use a really vigorous pomade to keep it in place. It's a bit dorky right before I get the sides touched up, but it's not feminine - more nineties teen star.

I often wonder how I came to look as I do, and seeing these photos makes me wonder more. My face looks androgynous enough that it confuses people in situations where they are expecting women (I'm not on hormones now/yet, so it's not that) and while I don't have especially delicate features, they're certainly not, like, craggy and masculine. I've always put it down to expression and these photos sort of confirm that, just because there's a sort of....neutrality of expression that a lot of these women have that I recognize from my own face. It's like, if you don't think of yourself as feminine, you do different things with your face (not make-up, expressions) and it adds up over time.

I would like this photographer to get a grant and travel to the midwest. Not to photograph me, as I do not identify as butch and hate being photographed, but because I think there's some class and stylistic differences going on - an awful lot of these subjects are clearly supported by the silicon valley economy, even if they're not actually tech people themselves, and we are not so dapper here either.
posted by Frowner at 10:57 AM on December 28, 2015 [7 favorites]

Katemonkey: Having finally gotten a unisex place to do my hair more or less right, I've found the following key words useful: men's cut, ivy league, high and tight, high fade, or specifying the clipper guard numbers I want. (Although even then I often get hair dressers rounding up to #2 because they're "not comfortable" going lower on a woman, which can make to some stressful disagreements in the chair.)

And to comment generally, as a butch woman who lives someplace decidedly not San Francisco, these portraits made my heart grow two sizes.
posted by northernish at 10:58 AM on December 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I feel so lucky to live here, and even luckier to know some of the folks in this series, and count some of them as friends (and one as both a friend and my tattoo artist!). And super-duper lucky to have not one but TWO stylists who know how to cut my butch-dyke hair. Thank you, universe!
posted by rtha at 11:17 AM on December 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

So much great style, so many takes on masculinity. It gives such a kick to the idea of masculinity being the province of men (vis or trans) rather than something separate but related to our ideas of "male."

Thanks; these pictures gave me hope on a rather hopeless day.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:32 AM on December 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Obviously, that's "(cis or trans)." Autocorrect is a tool of the Patriarchy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:44 AM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

holy shit thank you

didn't know I needed this
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 12:25 PM on December 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Those are great photos, and they work very effectively as a collection. Because of where I am working and living I am almost never around butch women this last year, and the photos made me feel that absence.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:41 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wish I looked like them.

I've been on testosterone for about two years, because estrogen isn't my friend and t looked like a better bet. I wasn't sure if I was male or female. Still not? Woman and some sort of nebulous femininity don't fit and chafe; but at the same time the idea of being a man sometimes disgusts me.

I like some of the effects it's had on me; I don't like others.

I have friends who look like "this", whatever this is. I want to look like them, I want to be around them. I wish I wanted to date them? Sometimes I do. I feel like I have to, though, to be queer enough. I feel like I need to change my body more to be trans enough. I need to need to change to be enough.

I should look again and think more.
posted by you could feel the sky at 1:43 PM on December 28, 2015 [8 favorites]

Not butch, but this is sort of what I look like. Achieved by going to a barber - in spite of being a mummy who has not time for product because I am whizzing my child from school to grocery shopping to Ikea and so on* - and asking for my previous buzzcut to be sorted into something neat. High fade, clipper cut, disconnected undercut, those are the key terms although to be fair I used them all wrong, but the woman cutting my hair understood. This wasn't some underground joint either, just in a shopping mall with cheap cuts. I also wear men's jeans and plain shirts, so it was a little startling to see myself reflected so clearly.

I don't identify as butch, although other people do identify me that way, I just look the part (sometimes) and play the part (sometimes). I drive stick shift, I look blank faced at men making asshole jokes, I take up room. It's not about my gender - cisfemale and fine with it - but about me. I've always been this way, sometimes manifesting in bad acts (because I didn't like what society told me my body means thus my body is wrong), but now I'm old, and have realised how very wrong society is about these things, I'm a lot more comfortable. I'm more comfortable wearing feminine clothing now than I was as a young woman because I am more comfortable in the ways I don't fit 'feminine' elsewhere.

*also that pesky PhD and teaching and research, but y'know, motherhood amirite.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:30 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

(image was still on my screen when my husband and child wandered in - child said "mama you have hair like her. and feet." and husband said "for a moment I wondered when you'd taken a photo with a dog")
posted by geek anachronism at 2:44 PM on December 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Thank you for posting this! As a butch-y queer person, looking through these photos makes me feel very . . . seen, I suppose. For awhile, I thought I might transition - go on hormones, top surgery, whathaveyou. But over the last few years, I feel that while "woman" really doesn't fit, "man" probably wouldn't fit much better. I so often feel like I can't breathe - as if there's no space in this world for people like me to exist. I often feel as though I have to label myself, for the comfort of everyone else around me, when there really is no label that fits. These photos make me feel as though I'm not alone.
posted by Jynnan Tonnyx at 5:47 PM on December 28, 2015 [7 favorites]

I am a trans man who gets mistaken (a lot) for a butch lesbian, which is super awkward when I get hit on, because I'm also gay. There's such a fine, subtle line sometimes and it's hard to articulate how my gender is male when my gender expression is very similar to some of these women (like this one or this one). I suppose, hope, that they are content with their bodies and their womanhood, whereas I have never been. But it's hard to see that from the outside, and it's very common for trans men to identify as butch lesbians first (though I never did).
posted by desjardins at 7:41 PM on December 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Frowner: I think there IS something about body language and expression that makes people assume masculinity in some of us. I don't have a particularly androgynous face or even body but in my 20's I dealt with unending amounts of bathroom panic ("Excuse me, SIR, this is the ladies room!", attendants pounding on the door to eject me from the women's bathroom, etc) and I'm pretty sure it was a combination of having short hair and having a certain way of walking and carrying myself.
posted by girl Mark at 8:26 PM on December 28, 2015

One of the things I think about - although it's true that butch women and other masculine spectrum people are in general pretty sharp dressers - is the double-edged nature of centering beauty and style. I feel like it's validating to me to see these people (and in general this is a much more racially- and body-diverse set of photos than is common), but in part it's validating to me to see these people because I can, up to a certain point, look like them. (I have wide shoulders and, for a basically pudgy person, narrow hips, and my hair grows in such a pattern that barbershop cuts are actually best for it. Classic facial features and slim-yet-wiry build? Sadly, not so much.)

It was exciting to see some butch people with long hair because I think long hair gets coded as feminine so much that many butch or masculine spectrum people who would like long hair don't really consider it.

But then...being butch or masculine spectrum or a trans guy isn't really about how dapper you look in a suit, is it? Or if you have an expensive apartment and an expensive flogger? Or even if you have flat hips and wide shoulders?

I know butch people who are old and saggy and not dapper, and/or who are poor and whose fashion choices are pretty constrained. And then probably the butchest looking person I know usually wears sports team jerseys and baggy pants and a baseball cap - she looks great, but definitely not comme il faut in contemporary queer terms. Or maybe the "butchest looking" title would go to someone else I know who basically dresses kind of "I was a mall goth the last time I could afford a bunch of clothes" - she also looks good, but not dapper.

I dunno, beauty is a hell of a thing and I'm skeptical of it, not least because I was so utterly without it until I changed my gender presentation.
posted by Frowner at 6:08 AM on December 29, 2015 [6 favorites]

I love these photos. I, for one, can never see enough butch women. Rawr. I'd like to go to this fabulous Land O' Dykes; it sure isn't Austin.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:33 AM on December 29, 2015

But then...being butch or masculine spectrum or a trans guy isn't really about how dapper you look in a suit, is it? Or if you have an expensive apartment and an expensive flogger? Or even if you have flat hips and wide shoulders?

not sure if I can put my finger on/express why but this comment meant a lot to me.

looking more masculine or butch (ok, and actually just straight up being a guy) has kind of been the dream at least since undergrad, and I think as early as high school. I'm genderfluid. probably agender most of the time but leaning heavily towards male. but I'm female and very... feminine. like, my face, features, body type, everything, etc. I'm very good at putting on muscle and have done so to a degree I'm happy with but even so muscles do not necessarily 'masculine' make and even with binders and short hair it doesn't really rub off the 'feminine'.

so I do my best but I'll never be able to present like my ideal for various reasons. I mean, in addition to cost, time, effort, etc. dressing like this is also just not quite me. I have terrible fashion sense honestly. so I go with jeans and flannels, mostly. kind of unsatisfying in terms of minimizing the whole female thing, definitely not really fashionable but comfortable enough. that said, when I'm feeling more feminine (I think I'm realizing this mostly means 'when it's hot outside' actually) I can slap on a dress and seem reasonably stylish. it just seems easier. not really sure what that means, if anything. better conditioning/societal training? it fits better with my gender presentation (I guess) and therefore just looks 'better' to me by default?

anyway. while I love and appreciate these kinds of photos and other more 'androgynous' looks I see on tumblr (which, similarly, often seems to be code for 'thin/white/masculine') for example, sometimes it's also a reminder of just how unattainable it is
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 7:22 AM on December 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

suddenly- THANK YOU for pointing out the 'coding for thin/white/masculine' association. I've been uncomfortable with how this version of androgyny plays out in fashion for a long time.

I've been thinking recently that the mainstream-accepted version of androgyny is a bit of a 'peacock's tail' sort of thing (ie like a evolutionarily-disadvantageous handicap in various critters). In a way, it sometimes reads as "this [model, actress, rock star] is so hot as a female that they can completely sabotage it with a male suit and style and still come across as hot to heterosexual male gaze' .

The picture is much more complex than that when androgyny is performed by queer culture and genderqueer people. I'm only referring to fashion and mainstream cultural phenomena here.
posted by girl Mark at 6:34 PM on December 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

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