Butch Geographies

“I just want to go back to before, 

before tomboy turned into butch,

before my father’s will pulled me down from treetops,

before I started making Barbie kiss the Cabbage Patch doll named Lena….”

 

From “On the Occasion of Being Mistaken for a Man by a Waiter While Having Breakfast with My Mother,” in Butch Geographies by Stacey Waite

 

Another candidate in my program lent me Butch Geographies, and it’s interesting how little butch sensibility resonates with me – at least in her experience as portrayed in her poems.  I never was a tomboy, I never wanted to hang out with the boys, and I never had the experience of wanting to be a little boy.  

(I know, I know.)

I don’t know if I remember feeling jealous, or excluded, or reacting to girlhood out of a sense of injury.  I don’t know if I wanted to be more physical, or have more license to play in the dirt.  I don’t think I wanted to play amongst the boys – I was a bookish kid, and mostly wanted to be left alone.  And what I mostly remember is playing alone.  I think I must have been extremely shy.  

I also think that I was conscious of being different in my desire to be alone – I believe that I saw this as a problem for the adults around me, a concern and maybe a kind of invalidity.  I wasn’t a very melancholy kid, but I remember aloneness as melancholy – and I don’t think this is because I felt lonely per se.  I think I accepted the idea that being alone meant being forlorn.  I also remember that my teachers were anxious that I spend more time with kids around me – and I remember being grateful to one teacher who allowed me – explicitly, maybe ostentatiously – to stay inside and read books instead of following other kids out to play.  

I don’t remember being or seeming – being marked out as – masculine as a kid, and I don’t remember ever getting pushback from boys or from adults.  I was strange, but I wasn’t unfeminine.  On the other hand, when I hit adolescence – and ever since – I have been fascinated by androgyny and androgynous women.  

But I think my version of androgyny is powerfully different from Waite’s.  And I think that my feeling of invisibility – or maybe a more aggressive form of unseeing – differs powerfully from hers.  When I was coming out to my mother – like a lot of queer people, one has had to do this repeatedly – she brought up my lack of childhood butchness as an argument against genderqueer or transmasculine aduthood. It was as though being butch as a girl would have made gender difference more legible, or believable, to my parents.  

I have no idea how this would actually have played out – I doubt very much a tree-climbing, girl-macking, skinned-knee kid would have proven me right, I doubt my mother would have considered herself as an independent variable, I doubt she ever did regression analysis on her girlish little girl’s boyish shadow – but it’s an interesting difference.  

And when Waite maps out butch, she does so by contrasting her butchness with conventional girlhood.  I’m not masculine now, although I am androgynous and enjoy androgyny.  My hair is short; I wear suits; I am unathletic; I don’t like hanging around men; I don’t want to be welcomed by men, don’t feel vulnerable to them for that need.  I’m as solitary an adult as I was a child.  

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