“In the company of lesbians of my generation and older, I frequently hear conversation about how much things have changed since we were young. And invariably, someone asks: Where have all the butches gone?
The question is driven in part by nostalgia, and in part by discomfort with what seems to have been a shift in the way young lesbians think about gender.
And the first question often leads to others: Why are all the butches becoming men? Why can’t they understand that gender is a social construct, and that women don’t have to conform to a feminine ideal? Isn’t that what we were fighting for — a world in which women could wear tool belts and neckties and do anything we damn well please, without the constraints of gender?
At its very core, this was the vision of the feminist movement, and lesbians more than anyone understood how transformative this could be.
Years ago, I asked the same questions, but today, this conversation makes me uncomfortable. Because I am of this older generation, I have seen things change —and not change — for a long time.
I have, in my life, loved many butches. My relationships and affairs have almost always been with masculine women and, more recently, with trans men as well.
In my experience, for as long as I have found myself in intimate circumstances with butches/studs/masculine-identified women — from way back when I was too young to be in the bars where I was meeting and going home with them — a curious thing happens. Once there is enough trust established, I become witness to a moment of confession. The confession goes something like this: "I don’t know how to explain this, but I don’t exactly feel like a woman. I mean, I’m butch, and that’s close, but honestly, I’m not sure what I am....."
So what is happening here?
These butch women were able to function in society because their manner of dress and behavior, while not celebrated or encouraged, were at least more readily tolerated than that of men wearing dresses. They were effectively able to lead their lives as virtual trans men minus the testosterone shots and the surgery.
This is of course the double standard of our society in that a man in a dress is to be ridiculed but a woman in men's slacks and shirt is at worst a butch. In other words, to aspire to be male is admirable while to aspire to be female is shameful.
Thorpe mentions in the article that some of these women were fighting against the feminine constraints of how to dress and behave that society put on them. She states:
“Why can’t they understand that gender is a social construct, and that women don’t have to conform to a feminine ideal?”
Should the same not be true for males then?
But what has prompted at least some of these women to become trans men? I think that the increasing acceptance of transgender people in our society has emboldened the resolve of those with gender disphoria to do what they have always wanted to; namely live as the men that they have always aspired to be.
While it is true that statistically more males are diagnosed with gender disphoria than women this could have something to do with the fact that all fetuses start off life as females. But indeed there are also women who suffer from gender disphoria.
For me, this phenomenon shows that with the higher profiles of transgender people in society and with the slow but increasing acceptance of gender variance, we are seeing people do what they have always wanted to do but were afraid to.
This may not always lead to full transition and indeed some will live in a gender state that feels comfortable for them. Some transmen for example, will live without penile implants just as some MtF transsexuals currently live without bottom surgery.