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.”