Pop Theory 16: The State/Space of "Butch" 2012

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Pop Theory 16: The State/Space of "Butch" 2012

Last week’s column about the “cotton ceiling” theory and cis and trans gender relations made me think about another topic close to my heart: my love of butches, the species of lesbian who has been on the extinction list for at least a decade.

[Here at] Velvetpark...our most popular piece to date in our ten year existence has been a piece by my friend Julia Watson called “Why I Love Butch Women, And Other Endangered Species,” written in 2009 and still commented upon to this very day by our readership. In it, Julia perfectly captures the sex appeal of the butch:

I love the confidence, and if you throw in the occasional moment of aw-shucks bashfulness, that melts me to my core. I love the smirk. But that confidence thing, that phantom butch phallus thing – that slays me. And I’m not just talking about sexual head space; I’m talking about a particular kind of masculine energy residing in a female mind and body, and the way that turns traditional conceptions of what it means to be a man or a woman upside down. I’m talking about the underlying strength of character required to live and present as a butch woman not only in mainstream society, but also in a gay community that all too often fails to appreciate them. I’m talking about the power that comes with unabashedly just being who you are, even when it’s not the popular thing to do.

Whether she knew it or not, Julia described the erotics of the butch in a similar way to how pioneering queer theorist and historian Gayle Rubin did in her 1992 essay "Of Calamites and Kings: Reflections on Butch, Gender, and Boundaries." The interplay "of masculine traits with a female anatomy is a fundamental characteristic of 'butch' and is a highly charged, eroticized, and consequential lesbian signal."

I always wanted Julia to write a follow-up, a desire born out of my own love for butches as well as derived from my personal observation that there don’t seem to be many butches — or queer women who identify as "butch" — out in the world anymore.

Butch flight? A passé or unfashionable (gender) style or identity?

A friend of a friend