“Where Have All the Butch Dykes Gone?” is the title of a November 2017 article by Caitlin Cruz in the online publication them. It has the enticing subtitle “they haven’t disappeared — the gender binary has.” With a subtitle like that, I assumed there would be a good deal of discussion about non-binary individuals who embrace the butch aesthetic (yay! That’s me!). I also (perhaps selfishly) assumed that there would be discussion about non-binary gender identities more broadly, especially with teases like this quote, “But watching the changing state of gender has been a balm for Jule.” However, the article never really addresses non-cis gender identities other than tangentially – definitely a tease lacking a satisfying follow-through.
If what the author was trying to get at is that since non-binary identities are starting to be more prevalent, “butch” can apply to more than just lesbians, they certainly hid that from me. You can read between the lines and gather that it might seem as if the butch dykes have disappeared because the pool of butches has been diluted by others who are “masculine presenting.” But, wow, did I have a hard time sifting through to find that.
The companion video is a bit more direct, with one interviewee, Cade, mentioning the perception of more butches being around in the past, “Just because there were ostensibly more butches in the 50s, more butches in the 60s, more butches in the 80s, does not mean there were actually more butches. It means that there were no other ways for them to identify.” But, again, no real mention of what those other ways to identify are.
Plus, I’m pretty sure that the people featured in the article (and video) are cis lesbians, who dress butch. Not one of them talks about identifying as anything other than a butch dyke.
I think what Caitlin Cruz wants us to take from the article is that butch dykes aren’t as visible because they’re camouflaged by the non-cis, non-lesbian butches. I wish Cruz had come out and said that. What are those other ways to be butch? Who are those people? (Spoiler alert: It’s me! It’s us! We’re here!)
Unless I’m missing something – and please tell me if I am, I don’t want to criticize if it’s not warranted – but nowhere do they talk about (or talk to) non-binary people presenting “butch.” I get that this article is not about non-binary people, it’s about the “fading away” of the butch dyke identity. However, I think Cruz could have served this topic even better by talking more specifically about butch-embracing non-binary people emerging more and more in our world.
A small sartorial comment to wrap up: the women in the article and video identify as butch, but they’re all dressed so nicely. Back in the day (i.e. 80s), butch meant a much more working-class kind of aesthetic. I would call what most of these women are wearing “dapper,” which is an entirely different thing (one embraced by both the lesbian and non-binary communities). Love them bow ties and suits, but (as one interviewee mentioned) bring on the cargo pants and combat boots!