The Vagenda

There’s No Other Georgy Deep Inside – Coming Out As A Butch Straight Woman

george (1)

George from the Famous Five – another girl who defies gender expectations

Tomboy is a thing, right? It’s that phase that some little girls go through, where they don’t like pretty dresses and they do like playing at cowboys, where they rebel against their mother-imposed white tights by destroying them climbing trees, and they stare blankly at a dolly before pulling its head off to see how those magic blinking eyes work.

Not to worry though: it’s a phase. I’ve seen it in the films. Tomboys grow up and suddenly flower into prom queens: the handsomest boy in school sees their beauty through their torn jeans and, crucially, the girl realises she could was beautiful all along when she pops on a pretty gown and a bit of slap. Or sometimes they become successful with their talents: football stars or white coated science geeks who pull out their pony-tails and let down their flowing locks to reveal the attractive, proper girl underneath. Society is happy. Everyone relax.

But just sometimes, so-called tomboys find themselves on another path. They grow into butch women and realise they don’t want to be a prom queen – they’d rather be with a prom queen. This is OK too (or it should be - on the way to acceptance you may well suffer some horrible abuse from small minds). Much like being a tomboy, being a lesbian has a designation and definite parameters. It’s a thing. Your mother will eventually come to believe it, even if she suffers from intermittent voice paralysis and is only ever able to silently mouth that ‘L’ word to Marjorie and Vi at the tennis club. I’m not minimising the prejudice that gay women suffer, but at least society acknowledges you exist, even if it continues to be a dick to you.

But what if neither of these things happens? What do we do with a hetero butch girl (ear-lye in the morning) who doesn’t grow out of it? Hetero Butch Girl is not a thing. Our society is at last just about coming to terms with sexualities other than straight, but non-standard gender identity is still officially weird. There is no designation for this particular abomination.

What to do? Best not to acknowledge it at any cost, reader.

Laughing it off is a good option:

Butch girl: “Oh god, not another wedding. I hate having to put a dress on. I never feel comfortable.

Real girl: “Ha ha! You’re hilarious! ‘Not another wedding!‘ What are you like?”

Or you could assume a temporary lack of self-esteem on the part of your friend (a nice makeover should sort that out):

Butch girl: “No, I never wear makeup. I can’t be bothered to find the time and to be honest it feels weird and I just prefer the look of my own face.”

Real girl: “Oh but you’ve got such great skin and look at those lashes: let me try a little bit of mascara on you. I’ll make you feel fabulous!”

Or an unfortunate fashion disability?

Real girl: “Let me come shopping with you. I’ll find you something gorgeous.”

Butch girl, in silent, furious monologue: “Let me come bloody shopping with you and I’ll find you something I like and we’ll see if you’d like to wear it.”

However, Real Girls, if it gets serious and your Hetero Butch Pal is inconsiderate enough to want to talk candidly about it (awkward), even if she seems happy to describe herself that way, denial is your best option:

Real girl: “Oh you are not butch!”

Butch girl: “Aye, right enough. I speak with a deep voice and have never once batted my eyelashes. I sit with my legs apart, keep a pencil behind my ear and scratch my head when I’m thinking. I have more of a swagger than a mince. I order a pint and stand at the bar talking happily to old men who don’t notice my true gender, but hen nights and Topshop fill me with abject terror. And every time you wax lyrical about your new mascara brush, I’m daydreaming about my new Stanley knife. I’m not butch like Rylan’s not effeminate.”

Oh god, she’s taken it too far with the honesty now. It’s almost like she doesn’t understand that being a butch girl is not a desirable thing. Proceed to emergency measures: just CONFIRM AND THANK GOD SHE’S NOT GAY.

Real girl: “But, I mean, you’re not gay, though?”

Butch girl: “No, no, I fancy men, who fancy real females but tend to accept me as one of their own. Thank god I’m not part of the LGBT community where women like me are accepted and sometimes even considered attractive.

Now I was lucky to have parents who loved and nurtured me just the way I was, and that includes my poor glamorous mother who got but three years of longed for frilly pants and broderie Anglaise before I turned tomboy, and who struggled bravely to hide her disappointment when I didn’t have a clue what to do with the baby doll and pram which Santa Claus delivered one year (incidentally, my mum and I share a love of shopping: I love finding and dressing my mother in beautiful, pretty, sparkly things. And she helps me shop for things that I like. Non-standard gender identity does not in fact preclude one from taste and style). But, in spite of that, by the time I was four I already had a sense that because I put Barbie in Action Man’s jumpsuit and parachuted her down the stairs and did not ever want The Pink One of anything, I was not a proper girl.

And that notion can really mess with your head for a long time.

You might snog boys before you’re ready because that’s what real girls do and then develop a bit of a fear of intimacy which stops you from being open to people who actually like you just as you are. You might spend your life feeling completely blue in clothes shops because there is nothing there that you feel good in, and that’s because you’re not good enough at being a girl. You might become suspicious of perfectly nice ‘proper girls’ because they represent every societal expectation that you just can’t meet. You might go all weird on your body and conceal your perfectly functional legs for years until you come to love riding a bike so much you just can’t keep out of shorts any longer (and finally realise that those muscley things might not be proper magazine girls’ legs but they’re awe-inspiring in lycra). You might get married and positively thole the wearing of the wedding dress.

It might in fact take the amazing process of growing and feeding a baby for you to be finally convinced that, butch as you might be, you are definitely a “proper” woman.

Strange but true. Gender identity and sexuality, no matter what your other talents and achievements, are central to your identity and what you feel society expects of you, even if you appear to exist in the mainstream. Straight women should dress up nicely and catch a man. “Hey there, Georgy girl, why do all the boys just pass you by? Could it be you just don’t try or is it the clothes you wear?” Jim Dale, how I love that song and wish I’d never properly read your lyrics.

Well, this Georgy Girl is finally convinced there’s no other Georgy deep inside. And the dowdy feathers are just fine for flying, thanks very much. In fact, they’re not bloody dowdy and they’re almost certainly more practical than yours.

So I’m asking, can we make it a thing now, please, the butch straight woman? Someone think up a name for it because, at the age of 34, I’m ready to be out and proud.

- Kate O’Hara

51 thoughts on “There’s No Other Georgy Deep Inside – Coming Out As A Butch Straight Woman

  1. Um, yes please? I can and will wear a dress because I work in an office and I have to, but I really am happy in jeans and a tee shirt and I love my unkempt short hair and I can’t stand makeup. And my figure makes it so nobody actually confuses me for a guy, but I don’t have a girly voice and I don’t do girly things and most “proper” women make me nervous because I really don’t understand how they work or what they’re doing. My mother confiscated my Barbie dolls because they routinely were involved in high stakes hostage negotiations in the back yard. I never brushed their hair. I was much happier with my dad in his wood shop or with the truck drivers at his work than I was just about anywhere else, and to this day I would just about rather open a vein than go to a baby shower.

    And I am as straight as an arrow, sexual preference-wise. I actually managed to get married and divorced once already and have found another man who wants to give it a try, even though most men usually put me in the “sibling zone.” It would be nice to have something to call myself and the other girls I’ve met who are like me (the girls I get along best with, of course). The last representation of a “tomboy” I saw was a model with long blonde hair wearing a flannel shirt half unbuttoned and skinny jeans. That…didn’t really suit the image I had in my head.

  2. This is awesome! I’ve always thought I was a little weird. I love clothes and make up but whatever I wear is always accompanied by a pair of Dr. Marten’s and a Mohawk. I wear makeup four or five times a month and will occasionally wear a skirt/dress, depending on the occasion but I’m at my most comfortable when dressed in my boyfriends clothes. Its so nice to know I’m not the only Georgy girl out there x

  3. I’m lucky to be the daughter and granddaughter of awesome grown-up tomboys, who encouraged all my pursuits, non-girly or otherwise. My grandmother was still climbing trees with me into her 70′s! I thought “dame” might work, in a Katherine Hepburn/Lauren Bacall “what a dame!” kind of way, not in a Dame-Edna-guy-in-drag kind of way. When my first niece refused to wear anything but dresses at the age of three, my tomboy sister wondered how she could have created a “girlie-girl”, though she adjusted and embraced it.
    I refuse to wear most war-paint (makeup), though I enjoy the freedom of a dess on a hot day. I am totally heterosexual; I also have more tools than my father or my brother. I used to have very short hair but got tired of having to “confess” my heterosexuality to women hitting on me ;-)
    I think girls start as tomboys & some of us are lucky enough not to lose it to societal pressure to be an a ultra-stereotypically-feminine version of ourselves. In fact, to me “feminine” means strong, capable, tough and tender, resilient…

  4. I concur; I’ve been meaning for a while to write about the trials and tribulations of being a straight adult tomboy myself, but you’ve done it better than I could anyway. I still on the rare occasion get mistaken for a man (being male pronouned or asked my gender was my entire teenage years), but I’m often surprised that more people don’t think I’m a lesbian. It’s also interesting to identify at the less feminine part of the spectrum now that transmen and transitioning are a bit more recognised. We could do with a catchier name than Butch Straight Woman or Adult Tomboy, but I’m out of ideas.

  5. Really great article!

    This sentence…

    “Or you could assume a temporary lack of self-esteem on the part of your friend (a nice makeover should sort that out)”

    …reminded me of that awful ‘Plain Jane’ TV programme where presenter gets all teary-eyed, and suggests that the ‘Plain Jane’ in question only wears jeans and trainers because she is lacking in confidence. Cut to girl dressed in uncomfortable heels and makeup (basically, now completely unrecognisable), and the presenter gets all teary-eyed once again, equating her physical transformation with a deep-seated emotional one. Vom.

  6. Take heart ladies; it gets easier as you get older. It’s somehow less weird for a middle-aged woman to rock tweed flat caps, brogues etc. Or maybe it’s just that older thing of caring less? It SHOULD be a thing, tho

  7. Oh, I’m happy with what I am and very comfortable in jeans and trainers and wielding power tools. What I find very difficult is that guys don’t seem to be interested in women at this end of the femininity spectrum (or maybe it’s just me). I’ve got lots of male friends but can’t seem to make that transition away from hanging-out mates to bedmates. And that is not getting any easier as I get older. Any advice gratefully accepted…

    • I’m a 39 year old hetero ‘tom-boy.’ I have been all my life. I have been with my husband for 10 years and we have 2 great kids. Those men are out there for sure. He says what attracted him to me was that I am unapologetic for who I am, that I’m a little brash, I won’t suffer fools and I’m totally low maintenance. I’m currently growing my hair out because my daughter (age 8) is a total girly girl and wants to see mama’s “hair long just once in her life, please!” My awesome hubby prefers it cropped extremely short because it goes back to the low maintenance thing. I never thought I’d meet a guy who begged me to keep my hair short. Don’t give up. :) You’ll meet the right one eventually…

      • I’m a 60 year old unreformed tomboy, married for 35 years, three great kids. I always told my daughter you are what my Mom expected, but she got me instead. I was fully supported by my parents also, never thought about it until the last few years. I just like wearing jeans, riding horses, doing outdoorsy stuff and I’ll never be caught in a pantsuit!

        I have fond memories of my mother chasing me with hairspray and just a little blush and/or mascara as I howled in protest! I guess it would be nice to have a label, but when you don’t conform to those strict definitions then another label must be created. Just be who you are and pay no mind to others attempting to compartmentalize you.

    • I just want to say that I’m a guy, and I am deeply to attracted to butch straight women (and butch bi women, for that matter).

      I used to hang out with lesbians and cry when we’d watch shows like the L-word, because I was so attracted to the butch ladies, and it made me sad that they wouldn’t be into me.

      So, if you’re looking for a date, one suggestion is to make some butch lesbian friends. Inevitably, they probably have a few straight (or bi) male “lesbro” buddies, and I can guarantee that at least one or two of them would be into you.

    • Hang in there! I’m a guy who is attracted to butch/non-gender conforming women, and have been my entire life. So we do exist!

      It really put a zap on my head when I was younger, though, because I used to worry about what other guys would think or that I was somehow gay. And I used to often fall for lesbians who weren’t interested. Now that I’m older I really don’t care what people think, and its really freeing. Thanks to the author for writing this blog post!

      • Also here are some tips to meet guys like me who like butch/non-gender conforming straight women:

        * Try hanging out in queer friendly punk/lefty/anarchist spaces/scenes. Gender expression diversity is often more welcome in such spaces, and so are guys attracted to different gender expressions.

        * Similarly, try hanging out as an ally in GLBTQ spaces/scenes. There are guys – like me – who enjoy hanging out with their lesbian/queer/butch female friends, sometimes because we like butch women. We are jokingly sometimes called “lesbros”. And we are often bummed/frustrated because most of the women in these spaces are not into dudes. So if your butch and hit on a lesbro, your chances may be VERY good.

        * Consider making the first move. Sometimes part of the attraction to more butch women is that they are more assertive. Guys who are attracted to you might be secretly hoping you’ll hit on them. So if a guy is giving you the eye, try making the first move.

        I hope this helps. Good luck!

  8. Never interested in clothes much except for their practicality, dolls, motherhood, domesticity, make-up (tho I do wear mascara and colour my hair), shopping as an activity. At uni back in prehistory there were 2 “girls” in a class of 30 in my final year studying earth science: dubbed the butch and the bitch (guess which I was). Middle-aged now and not so bothered, although for some reason I went through a period of angst about my lack of feminity a few years ago (Menopause-induced? – perhaps). The man in my life doesn’t care about it, and I do make the occasional effort when social norms require it. Never married because I couldn’t stand the idea of all the feminine guff and patriarchal baggage – I long for civil partnerships for heterosexuals. Sometimes I think there is something wrong (usually when someone expects me to coo over a baby) and there is a bit of my brain missing, but mostly I just get on with it. Live long enough and people get used to you.

  9. I had the obligatory Barbie dolls as a kid, but mine tended to get punk makeovers. This was seen as something to worry about by most adults because you’re meant to want your dolls to be pretty, they just couldn’t understand this WAS pretty to me (and still is). The sitting with your legs apart thing seems to really bother people. As I only ever wear skirts when forced to (the dreaded wedding invites) I just don’t see why it’s a problem when it’s simply more comfortable. And of course, I have found that liking power tools, cars, maths and science and not wanting babies or a big white wedding just doesn’t go down well with the world in general. Thank god I have long hair as it seems to make me a proper girl for a lot of people. I don’t tell them I would quite like to have short hair but unfortunately I just don’t think it suits me. I am finding it’s getting easier as I get older too, maybe the world just doesn’t take any notice of middle aged women.

    • I certainly hope society doesn’t take notice of middle-aged women, now that I am one! How lovely it would be to be able to simply make my way around the world, doing whatever I want (even picking out my own clothes and hair style simply because I like them), flying under the radar, and never getting pestered or harassed by strangers. I was recently a transatlantic flight where the vast majority of the passengers happened to be female and traveling alone. I thought that was kind of cool, and that we were all a really awesome, intrepid lot in our sensible trainers and walking shoes!

  10. There’s already so many comments here! :D I have the same thing – makeovers in particular make me very uncomfortable. A friend tried to make me let her do my makeup and I bordered on snapping at her before she backed down. I’ve made progress over the years, having made my peace with dress-type-things (although it’s a wary and very picky truce, and my criteria for owning said skirt is still “If I was suddenly attacked by zombies, would this skirt allow me to climb a tree in a hurry”). I also now appreciate that pink is just another colour, and just because *I* don’t like it, doesn’t mean it’s actually bad. So that’s good :)

    I occasionally do fall back into thinking “Aargh, I’m supposed to be feminine. I’m doing it all wrong!” but then I remember that ‘feminine’ is just a word to describe the things that women normally do. And since I am a woman (I checked) ANYTHING that I do therefore becomes a feminine trait. If a girl wears makeup – feminine! If she wears jeans and never brushed her hair – feminine! Likes Barbie – feminine! Prefers power tools – feminine! Knows how to juggle – feminine! It’s great.

  11. This is a really interesting article from a perspective I’ve never fully considered before. But one line bugged me. “Thank god I’m not part of the LGBT community where women like me are accepted and sometimes even considered attractive.”
    This seemed kind of rude to me, as a queer woman, because honestly you are far more accepted by society, regardless of how you like to dress and act. We get an awful lot of shit that you really would not want, and we can have gender roles we don’t want forced on us too (particularly by straight friends and family). At the end of the day, you still have heterosexual privilege and the expectation to act feminine or masculine based on gender harms LGBTQIAP+ people too.

    • Thank you for this comment! That line really bugged me too – and the problem is even then so much more intricate and dynamic; as an alternately very ‘traditionally feminine’ (ugh whatever that is even meant to mean) and butch bisexual woman, I have both my appearance and sexuality constantly swept under the rug in various ways according to how I’m dressed on a given day.

    • You’ve missed the sarcasm, Katie!

      My sister has always been ‘butch’ in her style (her fashion icons are mostly comprised of Doctor Who!) and by god, is she stylish, and she works in quite a conservative office where people admire her dapper dress and ‘boyish’ crop as a professional style. But it seems to be something people feel completely entitled to comment on and interfere with socially, rather than her identification as a lesbian. It’s always puzzled me, because nobody interfered with my (straight) self when I went through a period in my teens of dressing BADLY. It seems we’ve made a bit of progress on the LGBT discrimination front, but almost none when it comes to ‘my body, my choice’. Oh, the joys of rape culture…

  12. Thank you so much for this! While friends who have known me for a while accept me as just “Charlotte” or “Charlie”, over the last two years I have faced increasing pressure from my boyfriend’s friends to conform to gender expectations and be “one of the girls”. They are lovely people and I like them a lot, but they are “proper girls”. Neither they nor their partners seem to understand that I’d rather be treated as “one of the boys”, because I can relate to their conversations much better. I think it will improve as they get to know me, but it is hard sometimes not to have outbursts of “would you be f***ing saying that to me if I were a man!?”

    My boyfriend is wonderful and accepts me as I am. He is incredibly handsome in a classic sort of way, and I have had people remark that it is quite surprising for him to be with someone so un-feminine, but he’s outdoorsy and likes practical girls. When I asked him not long after we got together if he minded my lack of make-up, he looked confused and said “No. The worst kind of girl for me to be with would be someone who said ‘I can’t come climbing with you, I might break a nail.’ Anyway, I think make-up is sort of like a mask.” I am incredibly lucky and I utterly adore him. But I worry that his friends judge him for having a partner who doesn’t meet their expectations of womanhood (I don’t like babies, I drink beer, I join in with their conversations about “man stuff” instead of being a good little girlfriend and joining the women in the other room, I don’t act as his social secretary and run his calender like his friends’ wives and girlfriends do). Bascially it feels like I am “not performing” in a role I never asked for and do not want. It is probably me being paranoid, but it’s a social group with quite defined gender roles compared with what I am used to (a lot of my friends are LGBT/punks/Guardian readers). And while he likes that I wear practical clothes and would never put pressure on me to dress a certain way, he does seem to like it when I display more femininity around his friends and family. I do have a girly side, I do own dresses, but I’m feminine in kind of a “Xena, Warrior Princess” kind of way.

    The other problem is that as my friends start having babies, I am being expected to attend/organise baby showers and pitch in, while the men get away with not being involved because they “wouldn’t be interested”. I am not interested, but it doesn’t get me off the hook because apparently babies are a girl thing and I am, despite my butch characteristics, a girl. It’s convenient how I am suddenly deemed to be a proper woman when there is “women’s work” to be done. For my closest friends I do not mind – I love them and want to support them in everything they do, and I don’t think that would change if I were male. But for the most part, I don’t like having claims made on my time that are not being made on my male friends, whether it’s organising the social events or helping with babies. I sometimes resent male friends for not pitching in when I am being expected to, despite me being even less interested in babies/domesticity than they are.

    Phew, that was a long rant! But it’s been bugging me for so long and it’s wonderful to find women who identify with this and to discover the phrase “non-standard gender identity”, which I will be using to describe myself from now on. I shared this on facebook and my mum was thrilled – she’s been very supportive and has had to deal with a lot of frustrated tears from me over the years. It feels so good not to be alone anymore :-)

    • You have to rebel against these people starting now. As for your boyfriends friends bring gender politics to them, thats what i would do. It sounds to me like envy that a woman like you who is not playing by the gender rules has got a man like him.

    • Yes! I totally sympathise with you! Although in my own case I have actually lost many friends over the years for refusing to give in and act ‘like one of the girls’. I’ve now hit my 30s and unfortunately have very few friends left for several reasons:

      * I have a habit of befriending other tomboys who then turn out to want more than a friendship (which ends up getting awkward and then ruining things when I don’t reciprocate).

      * Male friends end up hitting on me, then react in a similar way to the ladies above. This happens less so now that I’ve hit 30, but also means that fewer guys want to be ‘friends’ in the first place!

      * Male friends end up with typical ‘girly’ girlfriends who then make an issue out of the fact that I don’t enjoy babies, shopping, make up days, etc (the group behaviour you described in your own comment) and dislike that I want to talk about computers, finance, gadgets, cool nerdy documentaries I’ve seen, cars, science or gaming.

      * I guess I’ve sort of given up on meeting anyone on my wavelength and now focus more on my career than a social life. Which is great for my career, but weekends are a bit monotonous!

      I am lucky that I have a big extended family that live near by with several female cousins who share some of my tomboy traits. But I would love to meet other non-girly women to hang out with just as friends without it getting weird. I typically find a lot of women overly emotional drama queens, which I can’t stand. I guess I’m a butch gay guy in a female body and I’d love to make friends with similar women!

      Straight tomboys – where do you all hang out!?

  13. I love this. I got told once I was ‘a gay man in a straight woman’s body’ because I own a toolkit, which was neither comforting, flattering or amusing. Also felt like I was ‘failing’ at being a girl, because I wasn’t married with kids (regardless of the fact that I don’t *want* to be married with kids). Am 36 now, and quietly smug in the fact that whilst I don’t look great in a dress and can’t walk in heels, I’m a lot more bloody useful to have around then some of the girly-girls I grew up with (and quite a few of the guys I know as well).

  14. GOD, YES! Two years ago I announced to my husband that I’m done trying to wear dresses/skirts. I now wear pants everywhere — even to weddings. He doesn’t care — smart man. I’ve never worn heels, I’ve cut down on the amount of make-up I wear, and I swear there is a very, very short haircut in my future (this long hair is a BITCH to maintain), but after DECADES of getting the message that there’s only one way to be a proper girl, my steps towards being true to myself are baby ones. Turning 40 sure helped a lot!

  15. Although I have to agree with the main thrust of this article (women shouldn’t have to ‘perform’ to their stereotypical gendered role) can I make a plea for no more labels?
    I can totally empathise with a lot of this; I feel most comfortable in jeans and a hoodie, I ride a motorbike, and of the all gifts we were given when we got married, I was most excited by the Black & Decker. I’m lucky enough to have a husband who accepts this as part of me – quite frankly, I think he’s relieved that I have some practical skills, as he’s pretty useless on that front – but it’s still not seen as ‘normal’ in wider society. However, I also have ‘non-butch’ interests – I enjoy sewing and knitting, decorating the house, and occasionally dressing up in heels and a skirt.
    Surely to use the label ‘Butch Straight Woman’ is just to create another box that women can be put into, cutting off any aspects that don’t fit. Instead of being ‘Real Women’ or ‘Butch Straight Women’, can we just be Women?

  16. Excellent observations! We have a “Georgy girl” in our group and I was sorta wondering (to myself) when she’d come out. Now I realize how annoying that must be, for her to think people wonder that.

  17. Yes and on a separate note how annoying for all those gay women who when they do come out are told “but you look straight”.

    This article is really well written and a great insight into the prejudice you face, but as a gay woman whose last interaction with a tool kit involved using a screwdriver to stab the top of a microwave meal, not all of us identify as butch (or indeed femme) some of us just get on with being ourselves, and I think those labels put on you, me and other woman can be problematic.

    But thank you for sharing your viewpoint, was an interesting (and funny) read…

  18. You have just described me in a way that I’ve never realised was possible. I gave up the ‘girly’ when I was 15 and just decided to be into whatever I wanted to be into. It’s my favourite part of my personality now.

  19. I always wondered what would happen to George when the books finished and she started her periods. Because obviously they couldn’t be written in even though she was of the age for it the whole way through

  20. the real girl vs butch girl thing ois a false binary.

    Women dont pop out the womb dressed, and how women should dress have been different in every era. Whats considered masculine or feminine changes with different eras. High heels, tights, colourful clothing etc were a symbol of status for men at one point, women were not expected to wear flamboyant clothing. A lot of todays beauty ideals are about stripping women of individuality and money, all are toi have the same polished smile and trends. Long hair had been worn by both sexes, its not innately a thing women wear, society has allowed men to cut it for jobs they are to preform and society expects women to serve a decoration function.

    Im gender role non conforming and attracted to men, but i dont look at it as an identity anymore. Not in a society where women are made to internalize concepts of beauty and the evidence these are internalized is in the fact they change so much in circles. A natural behaviour running from the core will appear in every generation. I remember the 90′s when all straight women were wearing fashions that would be classed as butch today, the pressure to have the right brands and 90s toughness was no less intense then the pressure today to have the right celebrity look and prettiness. In the 80s there was straight skinhead girls in the UK, and by the 90s they had gone on to the next trend. Its unlikely they would have seen themselves as butch.

    Today how women are expected to present has got more constricted meaning some people are further out then what they would be. Only 10 years ago it was ok for women to wear trouser suits to weddings, now it appears to have gone back again to traditional looks.

    Today anyone who does not fit expectations goes under the trans umbrella and it becomes a personal identity. Here people are told that what exist is gender identity, gender expression and sexuality and they dont link up. So you could get a butch straight woman who is just queer in her gender expression. If you want to sit there then some people may try and get you to identify as genderqueer etc.

    I prefer to look at the current in society which pushes women in a direction in regards to appearance and this direction is one of decreased functionality in clothing and increased decoration. In society things that are functional or practical get coded as masculine and things more decorative get coded as feminine and this persists regardless of who wears them or how they see themselves. Some people are willing to except that and just get on with being how they want.

    But it can be traced back to the sex roles and whats expected of women vs men, women as objects and men as active participants in life. The female role is expressive and the male role instrumental, anything expressive is coded feminine and anything instrumental masculine. Men as a class hold the power to decide what is in the sex role scripts in any given era. Behaviours are also coded masculine or feminine depending on how instrumental or expressive they are.

    The problem is that people have to be shaped into these sex roles, and some dont fit them as well as others, this is separate to gender identity and sexuality but may contribute. Women with more instrumental personality’s may be more independent thinking, task focused and practical, they may be more out spoken, thought over feeling motivated and they may also prefer clothes that dont get in the way of them being able be how they want even on special occasions. They will notice that men dont have to compromise there movement at a wedding, or spend hours getting ready and the simple styles featured in menswear will look right to them bc the other stuff is too cluttered. We live in a society where tastes and interests are attached to gender, to a degree where in some tastes and interests so far out of whats expected can lead to not being able to fit in. Males with more expressive traits will struggle with masculinity and find a part of themselves missing, they know there not trans and will want to be able to be a man in the way they want but masculinity will not allow them to be less instrumental and more expressive and still be considered fully a man. Just as femininity wont allow a woman to be less expressive and more instrumental and be considered fully a woman so instead labels are attached.

    When i talk about masculinity and femininity im not talking about the poles of a gender spectrum, instead in talking about them as a set of rules written in sex role scripts. People can identify any way they want, but the actual social system is what decides what we all have to be. There is not a naturally occurring fixed personality and interest for the sexes.

    The reason why a butch presenting lesbian can exist and not a butch presenting straight woman is down to the fact the male gaze wont allow it. A lot of tomboys who are straight femme up not bc of an inner instinct to femme up, but bc of an inner instinct to want the things they have to femme up to get, most men are not gonna date a woman who does not fit close to the model of woman they have been sold. Here im not just talking looks, infact im talking more actions. Many men want a woman who demonstrates she fits the role they want from her. Not all men are like this though, peer pressure effects men too as they are pressured to be with a certain type of woman. If they are with a woman who has too many of the things society has grouped as masculine then the mans own ability to fit into masculinity could be contrasted and seen as diminished. Men will pick on each other about who wears the pants, and say things like “are your sure your not gay” implying the woman he is with is not a real woman based on her non compliance with current sex role expectations.

    For lesbians there is a slot, and that slot still gets them seen as not real women. But look at it this way, how many products and clothes does it take to make a woman into a real woman in societys eyes?

    Women are not considered real until they have been shaped into the current definition of femininity, and men are not considered real until they have been shaped into the current definition of masculinity.

    The most radical thing to do is say im real bc i say so, to start with and no matter how i dress or act, or what my interests are i dont become anymore or any less of a woman or man unless i say so myself. Women are being asked to buy other peoples products and follow other peoples rules just to be considered women and they are being told that they must be inline with the mainstream male gaze to be considered a woman.

    There will be some men out there who have broken out of allowing other men to decide if they are man enough or who they should date who will date a gender non conforming woman. A lot of the attraction is to the biological sexed features, more then the socially constructed overlay. They can still be attracted to a woman who opt out of femininity but is attractive in other ways.

    If you are binding and trying to pass as male then things may be different, but if your wearing butch clothing to fit your body and its clear your a woman then straight men may still be interested. There is a change that men who identify bi or pan would be interested.

    The biggest obstacle is other women really. I would say just make a stand with your feet rather then discuss what you plan to do. If your gonna not conform to what others want you to wear, just do it without asking for permission. Its important to make sure others dont make you insecure in your gender identity as a woman just based on your refusal to prove to others your a woman. I a sense a lot of how straight women are taught to compete for men under patriarchy involves these practices. The biggest things to avoid is others deciding for you that your trans, masculine or genderqueer. Many women are only promoting what they have internalized themselves, and different generations of women have a different set of things to promote.

    Some women do have a set of traits that puts them more incline with whats expected, but this can soon change. At one point it was a thing for a woman to be reserved and modest, a woman like that now would be considered unacceptable. More women are getting into sports now, so a muscled woman is not seen as far out.

    A lot of people today are building personal identity out of things that have been socially constructed and will change, so all are set for several identity crisis’s when these things do change.

  21. p.s i am glad you wrote about this, bc its something i have had to deal with myself. I also think that a lot of women who would fit this description are transitioning when they are not trans because they dont have a spot to be a gender non conforming woman and straight, so have little option. Some may try and fit in as lesbians and others may end up in the direction of gay ftm or identifying out of being a woman completely. Its a problem bc transition regret could result and the effects of the testosterone are harder to reverse. Ive come across a few women online who are claiming to be butch and attracted to men and ive noticed that a gap does exist for members of both sexes who are not trans or gay but are gender role non conforming. This gap is greater for gender non conforming straight women, there is no platform for a tomboy to grow into a gender non conforming adult woman without being classed as less of a woman.

    It took me a lot of years to work out who i was, i always had a conflict but not with gender identity. The idea of being a boy never crossed my mind, considering myself a woman but total aversion to its sex role lead me to thinking i should be a lesbian and it never working out for me. I always resented what i had to be like for men to like me, so never was really honest with myself. I ended up in the genderqueer scene and with people telling me i was trans etc, but the idea of becoming male or even identifying as anything other then a woman did not appeal, it was like i have a firm gender identity as a woman but how i am reads as masculine in comparison to whats expected.

    Over all the years everytime ive tried to be with men ive always gone more femme, and always ended up not happy with things, then ive gone back to being myself and suddenly identified as a lesbian again. I could not separate the gender role non conformity from sexuality, and because of it i ended up questioning my gender identity.

    It was only least year that i realized that what i wanted was to be a gender non conforming woman and that i was mostly attracted to men, when i worked this out i had a major conflict i could not resolve. And it had been with me for years but i could never comprehend it, or work out what it was and then i did, its related to sex roles and personality and tastes and how mine just dont line up and how unwilling i am to try and ajust.

    Sex role orientation is a good way to look at it if you want a way to define it. An instrumental sex role orientation is something society codes as masculine, but can be reclaimed as women reclaiming their instrumental side and refusing to be called masculine or less then a woman.

    Sex role orientation in regards to instrumental vs expressive traits is already a theory and is separate from gender identity.

    • Very true. I think our society teaches us that if we are a true tomboy…(not the one from the movies) that we’re gay. It sucks. It can have a true effect on people.
      I’m going through the same thing, where I feel like I’m supposed to be gay. Not because I am, but because of society. It’s weird, because my homosexual friends complain about being forced into a heterosexual relationship when they were younger, and people are trying to do the same to me. I’ve tried to be more feminine….because I’m worried about how I appear to guys, but that just isn’t me.

      I say that to say our society should create a space for everyone to develop into their own.

  22. I find that while I wouldn’t identify as a tom-boy everyday, somedays I just don’t have the inclination to get dressed up and put my slap on, especially if I am only going to college, why should I get all made-up and pretty to spend 10 hours with people who I don’t even like, I don’t need validation from anyone and I don’t understand why people cant accept that I don’t fit into the “tomboy” box or the “effeminate girly girl” box at all some days, some days I feel like wearing false eyelashes and dresses and heels, and some days I like to wear jeans, trainers and hoodies, some days i like to add more confusion into the mix by wearing a skirt and trainers, some people nearly have a breakdown when they look me up and down disapprovingly!

    • Its because in return for sex equality women are being punished in other ways, by having their appearance highly scrutinized. They wont let any woman have freedom of expression in clothing, they force them into a fashion straight jacket and most fashion is set by male designers. This is post feminist backlash. Women were not as policed as this in past decades, not everyday women. Women in the public eye always have been as a form of control.

      Women who could be classed as “feminine” but who wont follow the fashions receive appearance policing to a lesser extent.

  23. I just found this by chance and I want to thank you for writing it. I’ve been that way my entire life. I’ve had short hair and worn men’s clothes my entire life and I got picked on from elementary school to college for looking like a lesbian… even by some of my own so-called friends. It’s crazy… I remember being a teenager and thinking it would have been easier just to be gay, but I’m not and I can’t be. I’m in my late 20′s and my fiance is a really masculine guy and finds me attractive, but I still get mistaken for a man sometimes (which is ridiculous particularly in the workplace… pretty sure they don’t let 12 year old boys work in industrial jobs, which is pretty much what I look like lol). It’s really embarassing. I went through the whole friends trying to take me shopping and do makeovers on me and quite frankly I found it annoying and insulting, even though I never said it. Honestly though I feel like I will never fit in with people. Dating has always been difficult because men pretty much ignore you or run the other way because the idea of dating a woman that dresses like a guy makes them question themselves (or they just aren’t wired to go for that at all). I got lucky in that department, but before my current relationship I was pretty much chased around by feminine/sedentary men and women. My family still gives me a hard time… I fought them throughout my childhood and I still get comments and looks as an adult. I really wish it was as acceptable to look like I do and be straight as it is to be a butch lesbian. I’m not unattractive or anything… I’m in excellent physical shape and my complexion is good and all that. I just dress like a guy and am into masculine hobbies. I guess that’s enough to warrant being ostracized from society.

    • I have a suspicion that women who are gender non conforming and in good shape may receive more backlash then the others because it appears like people can more easily mould them so try harder. The thing about it being easier to be a butch lesbian, the problem is people assume every woman who looks butch is a lesbian. Its only expectable in a small segment of the lesbian community and the butch display is not seen as a separate thing on its own that can exist separate to attraction to women. If it is its assumed the person wants to be a man.

      The whole point of feminism and sex equality was that women could be what ever they wanted, do what they wanted and dress as they wanted but all that appears to have fallen apart. The fact we still have mens and womens things that are strictly policed shows we are not equal.

      A lot of the women who appear to do the policing are women who claim to be feminists and who decided to turn feminism into empowerment via sex appeal and appearance.

      Look into radical feminism and see the information in it about societal gender expectations. Thats the only true solution to seeing why the problem exists.

      I also would not rule out the possibility of envy, swome other women may envy some types of gender non conforming women. There is a reason why so many women are not happy with their natural self and when they see a woman who is it triggers something in them. If you just happen to be in good shape and have good skin they may envy those things even if not dressed as they would dress them.

      Also most gender non conforming/butch women gay or straight lack one thing most other women have and thats mean girl spirit. Sometimes a bit is needed, as unfeminist as it may be just turn around and tell them they may not look as good as you in mens clothes and no slap. Hell many of these women are probably pissed you can be that way and still get a man when many of these women could not even charm a toilet without going to the mirror first.

  24. I get this. I’m a hetero tomboy and I got here by googling ‘hetero butch women’. I appreciate reading about other hetero women’s gender expression, but parts of this made me super uncomfortable. The dichotomy set up between real girl/girly girl — tomboy is really icky. That’s super essentializing to these other women. Also want to second Katie — that sarcastic comment about ‘thank god I’m queer because the LGBT community would find me attractive’ (sorry, paraphrasing) is also pretty icky and kinda smells like unexamined privilege. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how it feels complicated to be a straight tomboy because of how straight women are expected to perform femininity for straight men. I know this has definitely influenced my own expression — wanting to be attractive to straight men, worrying that my biceps are too sweet, my hair too short, not being conventionally pretty enough to pull it all off and still be desirable.

    • I don’t know if this helps, but sweet biceps are a turn on for this guy who’s into butch women. Rock it! Be yourself! You’ll find someone worthy of you, I promise.

  25. This article resonated with me particularly right now. I am a butch woman who is bisexual. I usually only date women (men don’t tend to want to date me but seem happy enough to have sex with me – and the feeling is usually mutual). So I mostly just let people think I’m a lesbian. A few weeks ago my fiancé came out as ftm. This really got me thinking because once he starts passing we will be walking around as a guy and really butch lesbian instead of two lesbians, one of whom is very butch. I’m the very butch one who often gets mistaken for a guy(which I’m fine with). I know this is going to bring about all sorts of weirdness from people and probably renewed pressure to be girly as well(but not from him). I’m fat and butch which seem to be the least desirable traits a woman can have in this society. At least before people ignored me except to wonder how I got such a cute girlfriend. Now it’s back to everyone thinking ng wft? I’m still not changing a thing.

  26. It’s so nice fo find like-minded individuals! I have been a tomboy my whole life….and also attracted to men. For a while, my family and friends thought I was gay, because of my lack of girly behavior. It sucked, because I became worried that was how everyone perceived me, including men. I became obsessed with makeup and skirts. Now I’m back to normal, but it’s nice to know that I am not the only one.

  27. I’d like to offer you and those like you any encouragement that I can and leave you with a quick comment from the other side. I’m a straight guy that seems to be strongly attracted to butch girls; it’s not really a conscious decision, more a pattern I’ve noticed in my life. I’m now in my late 20s and it’s been a hard road, mostly because so far the vast majority of girls I’ve been acutely attracted to have all turned out to be gay or trans (eventually). This is often especially hard because I cared about them enough to want them to be happy in a way I’d never be able to, which forces me to swallow my own desires for what’s best. I joke that there aren’t that many guys like me left by my age because (of what few of us there were) the smart ones learn from experiences like the ones I’ve had and start to focus on girls that are more feminine. I’m not even a little bit feminine myself, if anything I sometimes have to push back against my sometimes overbearing masculine nature. I’ve at times considered that this may indicate I’m gay. But when I examine my baser emotions and impulses, I always find that that’s not the case either. It may be more that, apart from physical attraction, the butch girls I’ve met all seem to have a ferocious personality that is potently attractive. In any relationship I desire neither to dominate nor to be dominated; I desire someone I can see as an equal. Take heart, overcome the world, be true to Who You Really Are.

  28. Thank you! I struggle sometimes. Sometimes I’m so proud to be a tomboy who loves working out, lives being in the woods, loves camping for lack of showering. I want nothing more than to keep my hair short, but my crazy kinks make long hair easier to braid, not wash, and ignore for more days on end. But sometimes… I struggle. It is hard to identify as a tomboy, which I do not see as derogatory, but an accurate description of how I feel. I do not feel feminine per se. I don’t feel feminine in the way that I perceive femininity. And sometimes I think, geez, even I thought this was a phase I’d grow out of… but I’m 28, married to a man, and I don’t see an end in sight. Especially not with a husband who encourages me everyday to be more independent, more capable, and more resourceful at every turn. For him, it was a cool that I was an athlete, but it was cooler that he could help me be a great athlete, and even cooler that I took on a career to help others be good athletes… and so on.

    But still, sometimes I wonder how I can be the only tomboy I know.

  29. I found this when exploring the possibility of dressing more butch. (For some reason, I’m perfectly comfortable with — even proud of — my non-gender-conforming *behavior,* which mostly means being extremely practical and reasonably handy.) In my appearance, though, I hold back from expressing my true taste, in order to (a) appeal to straight men and (b) avoid making others uncomfortable. Like many other commenters, I’m middle-aged now, and at this point it seems downright silly to be trying to please others.

    The times when I look in the mirror and think, “Yeah! I look GOOD!” are times when I look particularly boyish. I’m deciding right now that I will cultivate that look, and to try to please myself as much as possible with my appearance. I’m scheduled for a haircut in a couple of days, and I feel a bit nervous about telling my hairstylist of 12 years that I want a boyish cut, so it’ll be a good personal-growth experience to push through that anxiety. (She probably won’t be too surprised.)

    I’ve spent much more time single than in relationships, so I imagine quite a few people suspect I’m lesbian and in denial about it. If I butch-up my look, they’ll probably think, “a-HA!” and wait for the day I introduce them to my girlfriend. Actually, though, I’m probably more likely to get into a satisfying relationship (with a man) once I’m truly expressing myself through my appearance.

    I don’t know how I feel about having a label for butch straight women; it would be a mixed bag. What I know I want more of is visible role models. In particular, I’m interested in role models who do care about & put effort into their appearance, and deliberately cultivate a boyish/butch style.

    I’m so glad to be part of this conversation! Thanks for the opportunity.

  30. Butch hetero women are rife in my agricultural region. It’s no big deal here.

    But imagine, if you can, being butch and bisexual. Attracted to men and other butch women. Not wanting the prom queen/femme at all. Now you have something to really be grateful for. And it’s my life, all day, every day.

  31. What a great and funny read!
    All comments were interesting and affirming.
    But River’s comments were the most excellent.
    All good to read after 57 years as a ‘masculine hetero woman ‘.

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