Butches and Studs, in Their Own Words


[MUSIC PLAYING] “Oh, my god. Hi, Casey. I’m Lea DeLaria. Nice to meet you.” “It’s really nice to see you too.” “Could you just come down? I mean, Jesus Christ.” “This is a meeting of the minds that we should be learning some crazy, like palo santo. There’s some magic happening. Do you feel it, you know?” “Yes. Yes. It’s very exciting to be here with these other people today. To be in this group identified by butchness is really cool. It never happens. Roberta, hi.” “All of us have had the experience of us being just a little too much. And so that everyone gets to show up on this set and be acknowledged and celebrated is— it’s pretty cool.” “Butch is empowerment, self-identified, self-awareness, strength, love, owning your own body, and unapologetic.” “Butch is awesome. And butch is female body that wants to stay in a female body but loves female masculinity.” “When I was sort of looking around for what does it mean to be a lesbian, butch women were the visible lesbians. You do have a feeling of being an outsider. You have a feeling of being different. You know you’re seen in a certain way in public.” “I guess the first word I would say is authentic because for me it was always this struggle to just be allowed to be who I was and always having to fight against people who wanted me to look differently.” “You know, and really photographers, it’s a real war. You know, it’s like I’m 70 years old. It’s sort of like there’s a lot of the aging older woman, you know, kind of gauzy look. And I’m like, dude, you know, like, front load my masculinity. Like, let this be kind of craggy and awesome the way a man would hold space.” “I’ve always just thought it was just such a powerful identity, sexy in a way that is, I think, often overlooked.” “For me, it’s almost genetic. It’s DNA. I was always going to be the person who’s right here in front of you and naturally so. I don’t think it was any kind of shift.” “It means I have two spirits in me, and there’s a nice balance of it. In a way, I’m a nice contrast to the feminine.” “I think the butch aesthetic is very diverse. So every once in a while I cut my hair off, but largely I feel better with long hair, so I’m kind of a long-haired butch.” “I think there’s so many butch aesthetics like there’s so many masculine aesthetics, and I always kind of go back to gay men and the clone era, the ‘70s and ‘80s and all those things like the construction worker and leather daddy and the preppy.” “For me, it’s like Timberland boots, work pants, maybe like gas-station pants, a white T-shirt, maybe a black T-shirt, a silver chain. Got to have the silver chain.” “I think I’m a dapper butch. I’m old school. I think of myself as Cary Grant.” “For me, it’s a lot of T-shirts and dark denim. I am really into shoes, and so I will always butch out in a pair of snazzy shoes. I have a lot of blazers, a lot of leather jackets.” “Kim is the first person that ever was like, you’re like a stud, man.” “Definitely.” “Really?” “You’re the first person that ever—” “Get out.” ”—really used that description.” “For real?” “Everyone was like, you’re butch or whatever. You’re the first person that was like, you’re a stud.” “O.K., you don’t even know the studding out that happens with this person.” “O.K.” “O.K.” [INTERPOSING VOICES] “I’ve never identified as a stud, but the studs that I’ve been friends with definitely hold down a very, very tight, strong, masculine identity. Sometimes they use they and them pronouns. Sometimes they use, you know, he and him pronouns kind of in the old-school butch sense. Like really serve fems in a very particular kind of way.” “Stud is a term of huge affection. I think for us it’s very much female body with masculinity.” “I know when I was in high school for the two days that I tried to do it, it’s the energy. I mean, to me, it’s like they’re the sexiest ones, like unafraid of that area that gets a little maybe even close to stereotype, but it’s not that. It’s very much who they are— sex, men. I would call them like macho. But I just couldn’t keep it up. Like I— [LAUGHS]. I feel like I was too on.” “Oh baby, you’re looking at a stud.” “There’s no kind of like straight answer to what I think the butch identity is, but what I do know and what I think about a lot is like where I come from.” “I’m sure since the beginning of time there’s been butches and studs. Go back to Radclyffe Hall. I would say that there was a level of a butch heyday was what Radclyffe Hall was doing in ‘The Well of Loneliness’ because those people had less community. If you think back to the ‘40s and ‘50s, those butches, they so wanted to wear men’s clothing that they would put it on and they would get arrested for it. ‘Stone Butch Blues’ is great. You go back and you reread that and you’re just like, they were fighting for their lives. Now why would you wear a man’s clothing if the risk was getting arrested? Because it’s who you are, because you have to do it, because you want to do it, because it turns you on, because it turns your girlfriend on, because it’s how you bond with your friends. And it’s just like, it’s a world and it’s a culture.” “Being a little kid during the civil rights movement and seeing women who identified as butch, that was a part of righteousness, and that was a part of identity that was making as much of a statement as black people were making in this country about what we deserved as human beings.” “I came out in the ‘70s, and it was like there was this kind of woman-identified thing. And so there was sort of a suppressed butch because that was the ‘50s and ‘60s.” “When the hippie stuff was coming in and there was more sort of lesbian feminism happening, there was this feeling among younger lesbians that it was sort of old fashioned and too restrictive and maybe patriarchal to be butch or to be fem.” “But the ‘80s were suddenly you needed to identify as a butch or a femme.” “I came out as a lesbian right in 1980. The prevailing look for young lesbians at that moment was very androgynous. But soon after that, everything started to change, and I started hearing people talk about this idea of butch and femme historically. It had been a thing, I learned, in the ‘50s and ‘60s when lesbians couldn’t live openly that this culture had evolved. A subset of lesbians would identify as either butch or femme or kiki if you were in the middle. So the young women of my generation were looking back to that earlier generation, but now young women were reclaiming it as this exciting, genuine sexual expression. I started drawing comics about lesbians in the early ‘80s when I was in my 20s because I didn’t see images in the culture of people who looked like me, and it felt really important. It was doing as much for myself as for anyone else. And I started calling them ‘Dykes to Watch Out For,’ and then it grew into a comic strip and a whole ongoing world about these women.” “Asian butch women, I don’t think that’s so celebrated. Being a model and being queer, it was very difficult for me when I first started because I started in the ‘90s. When they approached me and I met Calvin Klein and his wife and I thought you’re like patriarchy. You’re just like going to— like I’m just a joke in your world. The more I thought about it, the more I realized, oh, I have to do it. I had to do it because I was Japanese. I’m short, I’m a dyke. I have tattoos, everything that I’ve never seen. I’m happy actually I did that because everything was very terrifying, but at the same time I knew that anything that made me sweat and feel scared was something I needed to do.” “Seeing Jenny’s photo in the Calvin Klein ad, I saw that when I was probably in like seventh grade living in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. For me, that was really meaningful because I’d never seen an Asian person with short hair like that. And so I would say just people like that, they paved a path.” “If there was a heyday of butchness, I would say it was in the ‘90s, early 2000s, especially when Lea DeLaria came onto the scene.” “It’s great to be here because it’s the 1990s and it’s hip to be queer and I’m a big dyke.” [APPLAUSE] “Yes I am. Yes I am. We haven’t been in control of our own narrative. Mostly when people see a butch that they’re reading about or they see it on TV or in a movie, this character has usually been written by a heterosexual. It’s usually been being performed by a heterosexual and directed by a heterosexual. I think it probably really wasn’t until the character that I played in ‘Orange Is the New Black’ that people realize that butches are different.” “Making ‘Boys Don’t Cry,’ that was to bring my identity of myself to life. I read Brandon’s story, and that was a version of my own story. So I went around and interviewed all my butch friends. And I was like, what do you think? How do you have sex? You know, do you think that Brandon’s, you know, butch or trans?” “I identify, I think, as a they lesbian and a butch and a dyke. I think I’m trans. Because we’re in such a moment now where transness is so much more in the fore, and yet I think butch was the first way to identify with as one who grew up thinking perhaps that you were a boy rather than a girl.” “You know, there’s a lot of complaint among a lot of butches that butches are dying off, that we’re an endangered species. It’s a very hard identity to protect in the culture because I think that the culture by affirming trans, which is a great thing, I also think what’s happened is the binary has been reaffirmed.” “Here’s the thing. I don’t want to be a man. There’s some kind of shedding of cultural prescriptions about what it means to occupy your sex. For me, it’s just it’s about being at a core self.” “My work is an extension of myself. I think the idea of women loving women and putting that forth in my work is a radical aesthetic. And because I’m using my creative voice and it’s self-identified because I’m using women in my everyday life, whether they’re lovers or friends, I think in that sense I’m creating this agency for women who look and identify as me. When you’re thinking about that intersection culturally as a woman of color, it’s completely different from a woman who’s not a woman of color because we’re dealing with not only our family’s religion. There’s this whole other thing, this weight to it. So there’s this double consciousness constantly.” “If you see me out in the street or I get in the elevator with you and you feel uncomfortable with certain things, I experienced it as a black man.” “Because masculinity in Latin countries is very problematic. So when I was becoming butcher, I had to learn how other people, especially Latinos, identified as masculine and then unlearn that. And so I tried to ingest that and remix it in a way that’s like, oh, I can be butch. I can be androgynous, but at the same time I can be nice to women.” “I’ve played a lot of lesbians. I’ve played a lot of butch lesbians. I got offered this new job, and the showrunner on that, who’s an old friend of mine— I was like, I don’t know if I can just play lesbians for the sake of having a lesbian on TV. And she was just like, listen, man, you have to accept that you’re going to play a lot of lesbians. You look gay. You are gay. You sound gay. You are gay. And it’s your job to accept that, and it’s also your job to come to work every day and bring something new to this character so that people that are watching this see something that they’ve never seen before and little by little they start to understand that every single butch, every single lesbian is different. And maybe it starts with you seeing that about yourself. And that was kind of mind blowing to me.” “In 2013, I was the first woman who got signed to Ford on the men’s board. I wear men’s clothes because they’re the ones that fit, and they’re the ones that I feel super comfortable in that make me feel like my insides match my outsides. I showed up on set, and they had a full rack of women’s clothes. And I realized in that moment that what was happening was way beyond me. There was an entire community of people who actually did not know what it meant to be butch and that it was O.K. for me to just wear men’s clothes. I’m really glad I was 36 because I got to come more from a social-justice perspective. And so I got to bring a lot of language that didn’t exist on these sets. The last kind of real fashion editorial that I did was with Peter Lindbergh. And I felt like when I showed up on that set and there was just men’s clothes that I had finally done something right.” “Do I think butch lesbians are a tribe of people? Absolutely. Yeah. We’re a strong tribe.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “Should we turn up the Carly Simon?” [LAUGHTER] [CHEERING] “Let’s make a big space because more of us are coming, and more of us are creative in how we say who we are. But you see if you call yourself something else, I still see us, and I embrace us, and I’m really happy for the evolution.” “The best that we can do is hold the story of where we are now so that those who come afterwards will have a reference.” “In the future, butches is just the future of the gender-presentation spectrum. It’s kind of exciting in terms of it really can be anything.” “I think that as things like we are doing today come out more and more, people are going to learn a lot more about who and what butches are.” “Thank you. Bye, Meschell.” “Bye.” [MUSIC PLAYING]



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