So, how much do you know about the history of the word “butch”?According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “butch” means a “lesbian of masculine appearance or behavior.”At the turn of the 20th century, the word “butch” meant “tough kid” or referred to a men’s haircut.The rise of feminism on college campuses left out working-class bar dykes — and butches were even considered “politically incorrect” by lesbian feminists in the 1970s. There were “butch bottoms” and “femme tops” who used the terms for their own pleasure.In the ballroom scene, queer people of color used the term in categories that measured masculinity, like “butch realness” or “butch queen.”Tony Kushner’s landmark 1991 play about these years, , dubbed Joe Pitt — a closeted gay “Marlboro man” — a “mega-butch,” in contrast to the play’s femme protagonists.With sneakers and blazers, she was the quintessential soft butch.
While its exact origins are unknown, “butch” is still an empowering word for many.
While butches among gay men are often seen as desirable, they were also viewed with suspicion as hiding their gay identities.
A landmark novel for butch lesbian representation was Leslie Feinberg’s , published in 1993, about a working-class butch lesbian who comes of age in bars, faces homophobic violence, and explores the territory between butch and trans identity.
The “stone butch” was an epitome of the butch identity; a lesbian who did not let her partner touch her sexually.
Butch lesbians trans folks alike saw a reflection of themselves in Feinberg’s work.
Butch has been connected to trans identities, and some who identified as butch women went on to identify as trans men or transmasculine.