By Jenna Koch, Associate Editor-in-Chief
While my friends were eagerly waiting for their prom dresses to come in the mail, I was waiting as well. For a piece of clothing, yes, but not a prom dress.
When it finally arrived, I picked it off my dining room table and stealthily snuck it up to my room. I stretched the tight material over my shoulders and nearly got stuck, but eventually got it on. I put on my favorite white t-shirt and turned around to face my mirror. I burst into tears because something was missing: my chest.
The item was a binder, a small tank top that compresses the wearers chest to make it appear flatter.
Tears fell down my face as I saw exactly what I’d wanted for so long.
Something sealed in me that day. It was the realization that I’d been on a journey. A long, perilous and tiring one. I’d been on a lifetime trek to a place that I could never call home.
It was naive to believe that I had it all figured out when I wore the title of “lesbian” on my sleeve. But then again, who has themselves figured out?
Regardless, I am on the borders of womanhood, and I am searching for a new home in masculinity. It’s a liminal space, to a degree.
Here live my fellow butches and I, or lesbians that reject gender roles. Me and my fellow dykes. We don’t get the label of lesbian. We are stripped of the title “woman,” and therefore cannot be “women who love women.” We are simply bodies unavailable to, no, unwanted by men. We resent our bodies and our sexualities, but we bond over those things as well. Festering in self-hatred is more fun with friends.
But suburban high schools aren’t exactly crawling with butches, so I express my feelings to my friends. Most of them are more feminine and not lesbians, but they listen and empathize in the ways I need them to.
“I hate my chest. I wish I wasn’t born like this,” I said to one of those friends.
Her response surprised me; she said she’s felt the same way.
I realized, maybe my problem isn’t so isolated. Being solely attracted to women is a big part of my hatred for my body and self. It’s my body that wants something that it was never supposed to, so my body must be the problem. If only I were a man, my attraction would be praised, encouraged, or at least accepted.
However, parts of this issue seem to be a somewhat shared part of having a female body. A body that science, religion and culture alike for centuries has deemed disfigured, useless, weak, ugly, inferior.
As I write this, I remember that these words said about the female body have been used as weapons against transgender men. I recognize the connotation behind what I say, but want readers to know that the struggle of self-hatred women may experience towards our bodies does not discount transgender men’s experiences.
Having a brain that does not match one’s body is not the same as feeling disconnected from womanhood.
Being butch has not been terribly difficult. I am fortunate to live somewhere where I am
accepted. I was allowed to get my hair cut short, no one bats an eye when I pull out “Stone Butch Blues” to read (for the fifth time) during class and my dad even buys me men’s flannels from Menards.
It hasn’t been so terrible on the outside, but it’s changed my mindset and identity in ways I never expected. It’s the smaller moments that get me: the “Do you like like him?” when I bring up male friends. It’s in every “he,” “his” and “him.” It’s the well-meaning hairdresser giving me yet another pixie cut, even though I showed her a picture of Shawn Mendes and said “make me look EXACTLY like him!”
Every little thing I experience daily leads me to the conclusion that I’m not seen as whatever a woman should be.
So I dabbled in the idea that maybe I’m not a woman.
But then I come back to the fact that I am a lesbian. A woman who loves women.
I often get lost in this fantasy of a farm, a wife and a whole lot of folk music. Or the fantasy of living on the island of Lesbos, off the coast of Greece, eating fresh fruit all day in the sun, surrounded by nymphs. Sometimes I envision a female only commune. I think that’s the most leftist statement this paper has ever run.
I wish for a world away from men, away from civilization, away from everything that makes me long to have been born male.
I consider that maybe other women feel the same way. I assume most women would love a world in which laws restricting women’s rights (I’m looking at you, new Georgia abortion law), violent dehumanizing porn and catcalling did not exist. Not all women experience the same level of sexism, but it has always been present in our lives.
This doesn’t mean feminists, or women who feel this way in general hate men. Feminism is not about men, whether this means including men in feminism or misandry. The fact that some men and women believe feminism is about hating men only shows how self-centered those individuals are.
92 percent of teen girls would like to change something about their body, according to Heart of Leadership, a women’s leadership organization. 98 percent say they feel immense pressure from external sources to look a certain way.
These two numbers hold every word, feeling and thought of women around the globe that feel their bodies are inherently wrong. When I tried on a binder for the first time and bound my self-hatred up and stored it deep inside myself, other girls tried on their prom dresses, and possibly felt something similar or something completely the opposite.
I don’t know for sure what they saw in their mirrors. Possibly a girl worth something, wrapped up in a $300 piece of fabric. Maybe they saw all their insecurities spill out in front of them. I’m hoping they just saw an excited girl in a beautiful dress though.
I’m sure other butches see themselves as a woman that happens to love snapbacks and men’s khakis. This experience I have is not exclusive to butches, nor is it something every butch goes through. However, being masculine, a lesbian and self-conscious all meet at the worst intersection in history.
For me and others, this pressure, this need for change manifests itself in a loophole: there’s no pressure to conform to female beauty standards if I’m not female!
But not wanting to be female does not equal being transgender. I honestly think I’d be very happy as a genderless, sexless, shapeless entity. However I feel about my body is not because I should have been born male, but because I was born female.
It reminds me of what my sister said to me when I brought up these insecurities. She said she felt the same way in her late teens, but realized that it had more to do with not wanting a body rather than a male body. The words that resonated the most were “I realized that I’m a woman, just a different type of woman.”
Strict gender stereotypes and roles enforced on women can make those who do not perform to society’s standards to feel alienated from womanhood. The different type of woman she’s referring to is merely one that does not perform femininity to a high degree.
That may sound familiar to “I’m not like other girls,” but that phase that’s so often criticized reflects the fact that many young girls feel as though they’re not the same as others for simply having a personality and interests.
By adding on the layer of lesbianism and masculinity, calling myself a woman becomes even harder and more horrible. It’s strange I prefer to call myself a literal slur over the reality of what I am.
At times, it feels awkward to call myself butch. It feels as though I’ve replaced femininity for masculinity, but I guess that’s exactly what butch is: performing masculinity.
I truly feel at peace when the show is over. When I’m unaware of my presentation or appearance. Even times that I feel secure in my masculinity are difficult, because they remind me that most of the time, I’m not.
I don’t want to say I’m “gender nonconforming” because all I am is comfortable. My presentation and existence is never supposed to be some sort of political statement.
One of the best parts of being butch is realizing that boxers exist and are the best invention ever. I don’t shave my legs anymore because it’s time-consuming and annoying. Honestly, it’s hilarious that “gender nonconformity” in women is literally just us existing comfortably in our natural state.
So I’d like to bring myself back to the time in my life when butch was an adjective for the clothes I wore and way I acted, rather than the label I hid my insecurities behind. My binder is quite symbolic of this label– they both covered up a piece of me that I hated without getting to the root of the problem.
While I try to work on my personal confidence, I’m reminded with every confused look and wrong pronoun that the border between butches and other women still stands.
I often lose hope that it will ever disappear. But then I connect with another butch. We realize we’re not alone in our pain or shame. I see femmes in the distance, beckoning us to join them. We’re embraced by other lesbians, bisexual women, any woman, every woman that exists. We share looks of knowing. Knowing what this world has done to women. With every touch, glance and word spoken, a piece of that wound heals.
We look back to smile to our gay brothers and drag queen sisters across the border, but realize it never quite existed in the first place.
Quotes from Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
“You’re more than just neither, honey. There’s other ways to be than either-or. It’s not so simple. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many people who don’t fit.”
“But very quickly I discovered that passing didn’t just mean slipping below the surface, it meant being buried alive. I was still me on the inside, trapped in there with all my wounds and fears. But I was no longer me on the outside. “
“I remembered what it was like to walk a gauntlet of strangers who stare—their eyes angry, confused, intrigued. Woman or man: they are outraged that I confuse them. The punishment will follow. The only recognition I can find in their eyes is that I am “other.””