Stop the butch bashing: Why her gender expression isn’t any of your damn business

13 Oct

Today’s guest post is by a Northwestern University Graduate Student Helen.

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You wouldn’t know it from looking at me now, but I used to be the kind of queer who basically had a big neon sign over her head shouting “GAAAAY.” I had a pixie cut, sported lots of spiky earrings and wore cargo pants and men’s t-shirts or button-downs most days. I stomped around in work boots and wouldn’t touch makeup. It wasn’t really surprising that most people surmised my sexuality before I finally crept out of the closet.

I feel like preferring boxers to lingerie is ingrained in my DNA, just like my hair color or the fluorescent paleness of my skin. I was only three or four when I begged my mom to buy me my first tie (bright red, clip-on) while we were shopping at a department store. Growing up, I ran around clad in my older brother’s hand-me-downs, army vests that reached my knees and t-shirts that swallowed up my small torso. I was all skinned knees and gritty palms, climbing trees and orchestrating Nerf gun wars with the boys who lived in my neighborhood. I was happy. I was myself.

Then I hit puberty, and it suddenly became very clear that I was doing this being a girl thing all wrong. I can’t count how many times people called me ugly. Women and girls mostly whispered it behind my back, but boys and men had no problem saying it clearly within earshot or right to my face. In middle and high school, boys goaded their friends into pretending to ask me out. I was always painfully aware of the set-up and promptly told them to fuck off when they approached me, their friends gathered in a sniggering group behind them. I can’t say it didn’t sting a little, though. “Of course I wouldn’t really ask you out. Ugly dyke.”

I wish I could say that having people label me freakish and repulsive over and over again didn’t have any effect on my self-esteem. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the emotional fortitude at ages 14 through 19 to withstand that barrage of cutting comments unscathed. I’d be lying if I said getting told I was unattractive on a regular basis—and feeling ugly as a result—wasn’t part of the reason I decided to start growing my hair out and wearing eyeliner a couple of years ago. I don’t get called ugly anymore, but I still don’t feel attractive. That damage is done.

Next time you see a butch girl and you’re about to scrunch up your nose and call her gross, stop. It’s not her job to cater to your erotic preferences. Remember, ugly is subjective. Some people (like me) find masculine women sexy. So, don’t be that asshole. Stop the butch bashing.

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