There’s a common misconception from cis folks (primarily those outside the LGBTQ+ community) that butch lesbians and trans masculine folks are the same – or at least two sides of the same coin. It cannot be stated firmly enough that this isn’t a simple or fundamental truth. Trans-masc people aren’t women who happen to be masculine, and butch lesbians aren’t automatically trying to be men. They’re two separate identities.
Aside from the transphobic tendency to see both groups of people as “women trying to be men,” I think the misconception is rooted in the idea that your level of masculine presentation determines your gender.
But it doesn’t.
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Gender identity and gender performance are like cake and icing – the inside isn’t automatically the same flavor as the outside.
When you’re nonbinary and genderfluid like I am, things get more complicated. The inside and the outside are constantly changing. If you don’t embrace it, you’ll become the world’s most stressed-out baker, or you’ll end up settling for something that feels “right enough.”
I spent years trying to pin down a consistent inner gender and outer presentation. From high school on, I tried on every identity I came across, waiting for something to finally feel like me. Even when I finally figured out that nonbinary was the best way to describe myself, I was still frustrated. While presenting as androgynous sometimes felt right, there were also times it didn’t.
I had done all of this work for all of those years and still didn’t feel at home in my body or identity.
I wish I could say I figured out the solution to my problem all at once. It was a painfully slow evolution, spurred by spending time with other trans folks and falling in love with someone who truly understood the nuances of my identity.
Eventually, I realized I was just trying to shove myself into another box. Instead of embracing the freedom of being outside the binary, I was trying to make myself fit within the identity itself, down to the archetypal image of a thin, white, androgynous person with short hair.
A consistent gender presentation (or icing flavor, if you will) just wasn’t going to happen for me. Instead, I would start picking up and putting on whatever bits and pieces of labels felt good. It was like sticker bombing my water bottle or sewing patches on my jacket – a completely customizable experience, drawn only from my own tastes and desires.
I found that I actually really enjoyed using he/him pronouns, and I gleefully updated my private profiles to show my pronouns were he/they (I still go by just they/them in a professional context – it’s easier this way).
That’s how I came to realize I could both be trans masc and a butch lesbian – two things I previously thought to be incongruent. I used to hate being seen as butch because I thought it invalidated my identity as a trans masculine nonbinary person. I thought it meant I wasn’t passing well enough.
But embracing it, allowing myself to have it all, brings me unique euphoria. Recently, I added the (sometimes) controversial identity of femboy into the mix as well. All of these things aren’t the same, but I live in the places where they overlap. They are different ways for me to engage with my femininity, masculinity, and androgyny all at once. It’s how I find the joy of being trans.
To me, being trans masculine means letting previously hidden parts of me run wild. It means being the dad friend, daydreaming about my eventual sea-horse-themed baby shower, and eagerly anticipating the time in my life that I’ll be celebrated on Father’s Day.
Being butch is a similar but different feeling. It’s the same warm embrace of masculinity, while at the same time relishing in the butch/femme dynamic my girlfriend and I share. It’s finding euphoria in a carabiner of keys dangling from my belt loop and not criticizing the way my unbound chest looks in a tank top and flannel.
In identifying as a butch he/him lesbian, I sometimes run into TERFs. These are “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” that think nonbinary and trans masculine people cannot be lesbians because they aren’t woman. I’ve had folks tell me that I shouldn’t be on dating platforms like HER because my pronouns and overlapping trans masculine identity isn’t what they’re looking for and makes them uncomfortable. To that, I say, swipe left if you can’t handle it.
Transphobic rhetoric aside, I’d argue that personally, my love is inherently sapphic. As someone with a deep love for women and nonbinary people and a general romantic disinterest in men, I see myself as a sapphic bisexual, regardless of my ever-shifting gender identity.
As for being a femboy, this allows me to engage with my masculine identity while embracing my femininity. It’s aligning myself with people who identify as men in one way or another, but it doesn’t close the door to all things “girly.” It allows me to enjoy being feminine and admire my natural features without giving myself dysphoria.
Butch and trans masc will never inherently be the same. However, there are those of us who dance all over these lines with glee. We wear each identity like a new layer in a gaudy but industrious outfit, relishing in the confused looks of gender (and fashion) purists.
The entire point of gender is nuance. I’m nonbinary because I can’t fit into any box, no matter how expansive. I’m dancing all over the lines, and my arms are open, welcoming anyone who wants to join me.
Gender can be a battlefield or a playground. I choose the latter. There is no possible way for me to both accept myself and follow a strict set of rules for my gender.
I don’t write this to defend myself. I don’t owe anyone an explanation. Instead, I write this to invite you to broaden your understanding of the true joy of being trans and to encourage you to embrace it yourself.