When did 'butch' become a dirty word in the queer scene?

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Esther Godoy

Esther Godoy: "In the USA, female masculinity was celebrated, not denigrated."

Esther Godoy: "In the USA, female masculinity was celebrated, not denigrated."

For most of my life, I've thought of myself as an entirely non-sexual being. 

This is pretty typical for anyone who came out later than most. For me however, the feeling continued well beyond the point of figuring out I was gay. 

As a dyke in my early twenties I navigated queer space in much the same way that I had navigated heterosexual space in the years prior. Nobody looked at me like they wanted to engage romantically or sexually, and as an act of self preservation I denied that I wanted to engage in that way with anyone else. I was in a weird state of harmony this way, one that could only last as long as my naivety; at some point the self-loathing was bound to set in.

Around the age of 24, I trekked over to the USA to join a gaggle of ladies on a skateboarding tour, completely unaware of what was to come. The moment I set foot inside a dyke bar in the Pacific North West I became privy to something I had never experienced in my entire life. I was the object of sexual and romantic gaze.

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In the weeks that followed, women I found wildly attractive threw themselves at me in photo booths, behind bathroom doors, at the bus stop; heck, even in the grocery store.

Given that up until this point in my life I had been completely invisible to people of all genders, this was an incredibly confusing experience. The idea that I was physically attractive just didn't add up. I dealt with it appropriately of course; by drinking a ton of beer and making out with strangers. I assumed the charm of a foreign accent was the cause of this weird attraction, chalked the entire experience up to chance, and returned home.

Upon returning home, history began to repeat (not the fun make-out-with-strangers kind, the kind where I'd go to a queer bar and be shoved out of the way). I'd ask someone out and be told I just wasn't their "type". I'd date someone who liked hanging out with me behind closed doors but would be uneasy about going out together in public. Other dykes would refer to me as being "too dykey", or my black jean and snapback aesthetic as "boring". The bitter sting of invisibility, now so much worse given that I had experienced the alternative.

The cycle repeated itself at least three times before I started to figure out what was going on. In the USA, female masculinity was celebrated, not denigrated. It wasn't me that changed in either space making me more or less attractive to others, but it was the space itself that dictated whether or not my presentation was acceptable.

In the USA I had elder friends who looked out for me, who taught me to find pride in my identity and presentation and helped me to recognise my own internalised homophobia. I found people who desired me, not despite my masculinity, but because of it. I learned more about myself and developed more self love in three years than I had my entire life. And why? Because I had the support of my community.

To this day, in Australia, when I refer to myself as "butch" people scoff at me and turn away. People use the term "butch" as a way of insulting other queer women, describing a time or aesthetic that we have "long moved beyond". Still to this day some try to distance themselves from a period in history that was integral to our current reality. I understand this as representing internalised homophobia. Rather than learning from our elders, we alienate them.

Opportunities to develop inter-generational queer friendships have been difficult for me to source. In my space, events that help build and nourish community have been minimal, compared to those that align themselves with excessive drinking and social hierarchy.

From years of frustration and a desire to share my experience with others, Butch is not a Dirty Word was born. I knew that I was lucky to have access to travel and a means of exploring another space and community. I knew this might not be as simple for others, so I wanted to create a resource that gave people access to the information and experiences I had spent years collating. Key information that was able to transform deep internalised homophobia and shame into self love and pride. Ideas I wish I had access to 10 years ago at the beginning of my journey into gender and sexuality.

BINADW includes a collection of images and essays surrounding the butch identity. Initially it started as a photography project inspired by Meg Allen's project entitled 'BUTCH'. I loved the way this project projected the butch identity as a positive rather than negative; it was the first time I had seen anything like this achieved publicly.

Knowing the climate of the queer space in Australia however I felt like it needed more, it needed explanation, it needed room to tell a story. I wanted the publication to extend beyond imagery and my own experience, so I sourced other people from my communities who also wanted to share their stories.

While the written pieces explore the butch identity, the publication includes pieces from a broader array of people with differing gender identities and presentations, both from the USA and Australia. The overall purpose is to ignite visibility and create community. As much as I created the BINADW for others, I also created it for myself. The process of engaging with all of the beautiful humans involved and facilitating a space for them to be seen and heard has been just as healing for me as I imagine it will be for them, and all of the baby butches to come.

I know being able to see myself reflected in the world would have made this journey easier for me, and I hope BI finds its way to anyone else out there who might need the same.

The response so far has been incredible and far greater than any of the team had anticipated. Perhaps what I was looking for is starting, and this is the new beginning of "butch" no longer being a dirty word.