SHAMING THE BUTCHES
If I hadn’t been shamed and judged by the following people, I wouldn’t have wasted any time hating myself for being butch: parents, peers, friends, teachers, therapists, siblings, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, neighbours, co-workers, androgynous lesbians, coaches, physicians.
I think the war with my parents began at 2 years of age. I crawled into my father’s closet and came out in one of his po’boy hats then tried to grab his size 11 shoes and fit my feet into them. I wanted his briefcase, too. I’d crawl around and drag it with me until my exasperated mother would retrieve it and place it out of my reach. I was defining my butch style even then. But they’d have none of it. Years later, my father on his deathbed said to me, “you weren’t like the other little girls. You had crushes on all the neighbour’s girls. We were worried for you. We were embarrassed.”
At 5, my mother kept pushing dresses on me . The most notable was a chartreuse number with some kind of ruffled neckline. I really looked like a character from a theatrical production when I wore it. Which was twice. It also made me feel restricted and it hampered my tadpole and frog collection expeditions and tree fort construction projects, of which there were several on the go. A latchkey kid, I waited until my mother left for school one morning and I ripped the darn chartreuse dress off and buried it in the back vegetable garden under a squash plant.
By 8, I had a favourite orange plaid shirt and a pair of bell bottom jeans with a cool button fly. I always wanted boots. My dad finally relented and bought me a pair of desert boots. My nickname was Boots around the neighbourhood for awhile but it was misheard by all and some of the little girls sounded like they were calling me ‘Butch’. It kinda stuck but when my father overheard it one day after work, he looked horrified and put a stop to it.
When my aunts arrived, they were equally ashamed of me. They scolded my dad for getting me the desert boots which I adored. They would descend upon the guest room and stay for a week. Soon, my plaid shirt would go missing and some frilly, scratchy, white blouse would appear in its place. I’d hide the starched monstrosity and do search and rescue missions for my favourite plaid shirt with the pockets. Then when my dad came home from work, I’d get a talking to and a spanking for just wanting to wear what felt most comfortable and most natural.
Later, teachers would send notes home that I had to wear a skirt or a dress—no pants. Mom bought me horrible leotards and some kind of corduroy dress from hell. That dress was so rigid it could stand up on its own in a corner! I would take pants and put them on underneath the awful thing. Then I’d go out on the monkey bars or have to defend one of the girls and fight the boys at recess. Which I did many times for my sister, too.
Years later, in my ’20s and a bit into my ’30s, I was drinking a lot and very depressed. My life was already like a tapestry of shame and pushback. I was in and out of the butch closet. I tried to be androgynous but it was a performance. I tried to wear less ‘shameful’ clothing but it was a performance. I visited a therapist wearing my black leather motorcycle jacket and my Levis buttonfly 501s. She told me I was too defiant and had a chip on my shoulder. She said I needed to wear less ‘angry’ clothing and be more pleasant and neutral. She would have transed me if it were today.
When I stopped drinking, it strikes me that my process was to keep telling my story and killing the shame. As I reflect back on it all, I realized it had been other people who were ashamed of me that started my fight. It was their war projected onto me. They could just never let me be a tomboy or a butch lesbian. It just made them too uncomfortable, threatened , ashamed.
I know the war. I finally won the fucking thing only to wake up and have to watch my younger butch and tomboy cohorts getting sucked into trans ideology. No wonder they want to be boys instead of girls like me who are a categorical embarrassment to their families. I shake my head because I know why. I know the war. It’s the war to be yourself and then it’s the war to kill the shame that all those people put on me.
It’s the shame they put on me because they could not accept or tolerate a tomboy butch lesbian as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a neighbour, a co-worker, a pupil, a niece. I didn’t fit the stereotype of ‘girl’ so I was shamed out of accepting myself just as I was.
I won the war. I’ve killed the shame.
Imagine how horrific it is to watch new young butches go through the same. To watch the shaming of a new generation of women. To the point that they are told they are male. Imagine not being accepted for who you are. Imagine that kind of shame.
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