That butch swagger.

A recent discussion about so-called “butch” characteristics left me wondering what that term really means.  Webster’s Dictionary defines “butch” as notably or deliberately masculine in appearance or manner.  Wikipedia describes the etymology of the word butch to mean “tough kid” and may have originated as the nickname of George Cassidy, also known as Butch Cassidy, and then finally first used to describe a “male-like lesbian” in the 1940s.  The truth is that the meaning is elusive and like many things, depends on who is doing the defining.  We humans love our boxes and labels.  I understand why we do it.  It helps explain and keep things organized.  But, there are just some things that can’t be explained or organized.  As I’ve said before, humans are complicated.  Being butch to me is more a state of mind than manner of dress.  The manner of dress is only a by-product or tool used to create a particular expression or reach a particular goal.  Maybe it’s even simpler than that for some.  Perhaps, it’s merely about what they’re most comfortable in.        

Here’s what I mean.  I don’t know any lesbian, butch or not, who wants to be described as “masculine.”  Tough, confident, comfortable in her own skin and clothing, strong, capable and rugged, but not masculine.  My spouse is a good example.  There is nothing about her that is masculine.  She is one hundred percent woman who can make me swoon when she’s in a business suit with skirt and heels; and then totally have me at her mercy the next day when she’s dressed in faded jeans, steel-toed work boots, and Kevlar chaps while wielding a chainsaw with precision.  Be still my heart.   

I’ve always considered myself to have a strong butch streak.  True, I can hardly wait to check out the latest skirts when the Title-9 Catalogue arrives in the mail, my hair takes a fair amount of work in the morning, I adore manicures and fresh polish on my nails and my collection of shoes and boots are too numerous to count.  That’s just where I am now, and I love exploring that softer side of me.  Notwithstanding, there was a stage in my life when people would have been more likely to consider me “butch” based on conventional standards.  When was in the Air Force, I worked on the flight line repairing FB-111 jets.  At the time, I was the only woman in my shop and barracks.  I lived and worked with men.  My hair was short, I wore combat boots every day and the guys knew better than to mess with me or doubt my skills.  That experience made me resilient and resourceful.  Today, I wouldn’t hesitate to open up a “can of butch” on anyone who would try to hurt my family.  Even though I enjoy wearing a nice skirt to work, on most Saturdays you’ll find me in fleece, faded jeans and hiking boots. 

Butch isn’t about hair and clothes.  It’s about the way one carries herself in the world.  She’s that woman who saunters into a room and makes us feel like she can conquer the world and sweep us off our feet while doing it.  I love that women are soft and delicate, yet tough as nails when it counts.  The resiliency and toughness of women is what I would consider to be “that butch swagger.”


21 thoughts on “That butch swagger.

  1. I like how you hit the nail on the head. I’ve got a softer side which is being explored. Still a big no to the polish and skirts/dress. Last time I wore a dress was to my older brother’s wedding in 1981. I am more of a hiker type girl then a boot girl. Hey, I like the look better. Inside I’m this confident 6 foot tall svelte woman! This was good Bev!

  2. You are so right, Bev! It’s all in the attitude, and the quiet confidence. Assurance, standing back, offering a calm presence, and a patient, peaceful ease — all combine to create a certain comfort for friends, partners, and other folk in the room. Yep – that’s what it means to me. Thanks for the wisewords, again!!

  3. Sheila, as always, thanks so much for sharing your insights and joining in the conversation. It’s much appreciated, and I always look forward to reading what you have to add to the chat. It’s going to be a great opportunity to meet you in June at the GCLS. I hope you’re writing away because there are a lot of us who want to read what you have to say. All the best to you and have an awesome weekend.

    • Wow, thank you for the kind words, Bev. I am really looking forward to GCLS!! Most of my previous writing has been essays, so there is lots to discover with the new paths of fiction. I am enjoying it but at the same time feeling (writ large) trepidation! Thanks so much for the encouragement – can a smile swagger? Cuz mine is right now!! Cheers & pax.

  4. Thanks, Bev. As a “butch” who likes to have a soft side, I found you nailed describing what is true for me and I think, many of us. Thanks!

  5. Nice blog Bev. Never thought of myself as “butch” or “fem”… I’m just me. I’m guessing most would probably describe me as butch though…lol.

  6. Hi Bev,
    Great topic I think I came out of the womb as a tomboy much to my mothers dismay. The gave up on the dolls some time in the mid 60’s and got me my Davy Crokett coonskin hat and musket. Dresses were a necessary evil for me, but I always felt like a bulldozer in one. We were sailors off Cape Cod and dressed like an ad for a care package. When I came out in the seventies. The steriotyes sill existed. I was a flannel shirt shit kicker radical in Vermont. I had avery soft side in my relationship. When I started graduate school to become a psychologist that gentler side of me came out more and I could no longer feel the need for the stereotypes. I was more boi extrenally, jeans and hiking boot person with a very quiet voive which blossomed to a very confident and strong voice. As I started working with clients my dress morphed into the gentler soul that I was becoming and contined to stay that way. Outside of work I was alway outdoor camping, hiking, playing in the dirtl ect. I finnally became me. I did draw the line a dresses when I was 18.

    • Mary Lou, I smiled the whole time reading your comment thinking how sweet the moment is when we become confident enough in our own voices and selves to find our “gentler souls.” Thank you for sharing that. It was an awesome comment. Have a great weekend. By the way, I love Cape Cod sailors. They are a special breed, for sure.

  7. I guess I have the butch swagger. I have been in combat boots for 23+ years (active army). I own one skirt, a uniform. I am a cargo pant hiking boot person. I have a soft side that that one person knows all about. Love it. Great blog. Thanks.

    • You are most welcome, Mary. Thank you for stopping by to let me know your thoughts. A lady with a soft side who likes to wear cargo pants and hiking boots definitely has butch swagger.

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