Virago Beauty

Says Atalanta–this is about me not you.

It has been a revelation to identify with my butchness after years of low-grade shame, of feeling endangered by trans or ugly to “lipstick” and rock-climbing, mountain-biking, millennial lesbians or too womanly to women who go for trans-men. As if all of us cannot co-exist…

But mostly shame.

To claim butchness.

Campy, feminist, intellectual, fashionable, desiring, desirable, visible, tender, brave, kind, empathic, spiritual, quiet, steady, still, true-blue, audacious, uppity, 50, athletic, gentle, tough, grizzled, scarred, soft-skinned, sometimes screaming like a girl, a catch, assertive, ally to social justice movements that need never center us.

Amazons. Tribades. Shameless double-sexed hermaphrodites. Viragos. Gorgeous, lithe and thunder-thighed, the whole spectrum of us.

And I heart femmes, who have their own struggles with misrecognition–as straight, as bisexuals, as objects, as fantasies.

But butch to femme is not a binary. She is too strong, too independent, too powerful—and, also, just as sweet, kind, loving, and visibly, gorgeously, defiantly off-limits. Femmes are sexy to me, not my mirrors or my others: neither weak to my strong nor nurturing to my…stone.

Stone is not me. It has been a method of surviving, a defendedness I now trade in: armor exchanged for this, my golden, downy, soft skin–lit at finger brushes nearness searing looks along my entire nervous system. Vagus nerve blooms as a great pink rose. So in love my ribs expand and pull apart. And knifed, sensitive, wounded, healing.

Now, I avow myself butch, vulnerable, comfortable in my skin—not blurred by fitting in, but recognizable, first to myself, then to my beloved communities.

Studying masculinity this semester means I must quit identifying with masculinity as my performance. (This is about me, not you.)

Masculinity, however we sliced it, was too relational, too precarious, too dependent. Like whiteness it needs subordinates, submissives, dependents.

Meanwhile, all masculinity’s others easily stand alone, not needing the masculine to know themselves. In fact, we have been unable to know ourselves in relation to the masculine: because the masculine has constructed phantoms of us to know itself. Mirrors? Others. Weak ones, childish ones, dumb ones, silent ones, less human ones, bad ones, dangerous ones, perverts.

We perverts and queers slip away from behind the glass, from behind the silver of masculine reflections.

Leave the mirror, I take myself.

I perform butchness.

Butchness, not to be confused with dominance, violence, conquest, hierarchy, and dissociation, i.e., hegemonic masculinity. The performative aspects (the unconscious, repetitive) build from iconized performances of manly embodiment, historical butchness, Amazons’, young dad’s, camp counselor’s, coach’s virago beauty. Handsome. A fashion. Gestures, sensibilities, woody smelling, signals from me to you who would stand with me. To you who would lay with me.

And YES-male bodies can perform butchness. But let us not confuse it with masculinity.

Butchness: supportive, vulnerable, tender, empathetic, brave, womanly, Amazonian, queer, campy, silly, serious (so, so serious!), intense, sensitive, deep, compassionate, moved, human, humane.

All butch.