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Queer Abby: Where Have All the Butches Gone?

Dear Queer Abby,

I am a confident, strong, mindful, in-my-body type of butch who grew up in the early ’90s in SF where butch-femme dynamics were the norm. As a 40-plus-year-old, I have noticed a shift in the queer narrative, which I appreciate and expect, because at the heart of my queerness lies my love of deviance and self-expression. 

However, I have become more of a novelty in the last 15 years than I am used to being. My pack of bad-ass, feral butches has grown up, as have I, and moved onto adulting and settling into their truths. Many of these friends have transitioned and are living very full, sweet lives and are super happy. 

The part I struggle with and could use some help with is feeling isolated again like I felt before I came out. I feel like I stand out at dinner parties because I am the only visibly queer person at a table of 12. In my group of friends, most are trans or in a relationship with someone who is trans, therefore appearing straight to the rest of the world. It feels like my back up gang is gone, even though I logically know they are sitting right next to me, eating a delicious Caesar salad. 

Being visibly queer has always been so much fun to me. 

I’m super gay looking and make others look gay just by standing next to them — femmes, in particular. I also make straight women look gay. It’s like a fun superpower.

I used to loathe the straight community because of how boring they were. The way I looked was like a big fuck you to the norm. I see it in myself and a handful of others, but alas, I’m feeling like a third wheel to this current queer revolution. 

Also, to be clear, just because I’m feeling uncomfortable does not mean I am attacking the trans community. This is my discomfort and at the end of the day, my responsibility to take care of…

I also don’t expect my community to entertain me so I’m not bored. I don’t expect my community to heal me as if I’m a tiny unseen being. I just want to know some spiritual/practical tools you might know of that I haven’t thought of yet, that would help me or others feel more connected to the community I adore.

Signed,

Disconnected, but I Don’t Want to Make a Butch Calendar Either

Dear Disconnected, 

Bringing this question up to a butch friend over 40, her answer was to start singing “Where Have All the Butches Gone?” to the tune of “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” That was her answer. 

1. I never think of butch lesbians as a novelty act in 2018. I think of them as a rarefied magic. 

2. Queer identity has expanded over the past 20 years, and with that expansion, it can feel like butches have disappeared. But gender has just opened itself to encompass and give a name to more varieties of people. They may not all be within your exact demographic or friend group, but queer is a larger term now than (in my estimation) ever before, so your backup gang has actually grown over time, not shrunk. 

I think you have to let your identity evolve. 

In reading this question, I was reminded of an interview I did with Michelle Tea a few years ago, about her book How to Grow Up. She said, Don’t be afraid to let go of the subcultural uniform of your youth. You’re not betraying anyone. You’re not betraying your younger self because your younger self doesn’t actually exist. People have allegiance to the person they were in their past as if that’s a real person. But that person is you. It’s a long time ago. It’s OK to not want to wear that flag you were flying. It’s OK to actually just want to wear clothes because they’re beautiful or they’re fashionable and not because they’re signaling to the world that you are part of a black block or something.” 

I think as we get older, some things get more mellow, which includes aesthetics. Your trans friends still have a dangerous gender, it just may be quieter (in public) than your own. Hopefully, as you age, you are defined by what you contribute to the world, not by (and/or above and beyond) how much you are queering the room. 

The reason you are at these dinner parties is because of your heart and your brain and the way you make other people feel when they’re around you. 

Being visibly counter-culturally in-your-face queer might be the way you identified & solidified allegiance with like-minded people in your 20s, but you are not there anymore. That tool that served you doesn’t need to be your bonding point anymore. 

When you were an isolated young queer person, you didn’t have a rich community of queers who understood you on a deep level and had the same short-hand for experience. Now, over the age of 40, you do have that, even if they look different (or heteronormative), or have more expansive genders or sexualities than it appeared when you first met. They are also magical, rare beings, and at the end of the day, you are on the same side. 

3. And where *have* all the butches gone? Esther Godoy of Butch Is Not A Dirty Word weighed in on this for us, and she thinks they’re still there, just like you: 

“… [I]t might feel like everyone you could connect with in that way is gone, but they’re there, in hiding, probably for the same reason that ‘Disconnected’ is feeling that way.  I started Butch Is Not A Dirty Word  on the back of a similar notion (of being the only butch in the room), and it always fucking pissed me off that if I had to be the one driving some kind of mass social movement just to get some basic comradery and visibility needs met. But alas, this is a massive part of deviating from the norm, having to be a self-starter, through creating a safe space for butches to express themselves I ended up developing a community of more butches around me than I know what to do with. And it turns out they were all there the whole time. They were just in hiding.”

In short:

Ask not what the queer community can do for you, but what you can do for the queer community!

It is the best way to feel connected. 

Good luck out there and thank you for your magical service to the world, butch person. 

Queer Abby

P.S.  Question: If you were partnered, would you feel this same outsider status? 

Being a singleton amongst the marrieds or coupled is a lonely feeling, but in all of these experiences you are talking about, there is space for gratitude. For the freedom and ability to move through the world as you please, to watch and order what you want, and to have the silence and space for reflection and growth that can sometimes be harder to come by when you are tending to another person or fulfilling a fixed identity in a long-term relationship. 

Got a question for Queer Abby? Write to [email protected]. All questioners will remain anonymous! 


Nicole J. Georges

Nicole J. Georges is a writer, illustrator, podcaster, and professor from Portland, OR.