What’s the Difference Between a Butch Woman and an FTM, Again?

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about my process of gender questioning is finding out that there simply is no clear line between genderqueer and trans, or even between butch women and trans men.

Don’t freak out on me, trans guys! I’m not saying that there are no clear examples of trans men who aren’t anything like butch women, or of butch women who are clearly not trans men. Of course there are. But in between there are an awful lot of people who may identify one way or the other but seem, from where I’m sitting, to look awfully damn similar.

Take for example, a friend of mine that I’ll call Hank. Hank identified for a long time as a gay trans guy, but when she started T the psychological effects quickly became intolerable. Currently, Hank identifies as either genderqueer or as a butch woman (or maybe both), and uses female pronouns. When Hank and I talked about our gender identity recently, she told me that she still gets drunk and cries over not being a boy, just like I do, and just like me she feels ashamed afterwards, because getting drunk and crying over not being a boy is about the least masculine thing she can imagine. She still thinks about transitioning, but for now she’s living as a woman.

Okay, so, maybe Hank is just an unlucky trans guy who can’t pass without testosterone and has decided to use female pronouns because the pain of constantly correcting people and being perceived as a woman pretending to be a man is just too hard. That seems reasonable enough, although it’s not how she currently identifies herself.

But, what about my friend Lauren? Lauren IDs as a butch lesbian woman. I recently made a Facebook post about binders, and she responded in a way that indicated that she’d get top surgery if she could afford it. So, I messaged her to ask about her gender identity- and she told me that she semi-regularly gets hugely jealous over trans guys’ transitions, questions her gender identity and considers transitioning, and then ultimately decides against it. Another of my friends’ wives seems to go through a similar process- she’s gone back and forth about transition for years, but as far as I know keeps deciding against it. Both Lauren and my friend’s wife are in a supportive social environment, so I think it’s safe to say that they are butch women who both have frequent periods of thinking that they might be happier as trans men.

Another set of data points are bloggers like Jamie Ray and Kyle Jones who identify as something like butch and genderqueer, and who have taken medical steps to transition. I suppose legally I’m not allowed to gender other people, so don’t take me to queer jail for this, but when I read their blogs I often find myself suspecting that if they’d started questioning their gender earlier, they’d probably just have been trans guys. Can decades of societally imposed femaleness change a person? Isn’t it a bit irrational to think it wouldn’t?

Each time I feel myself getting close to declaring that yes, once and for all, I am a trans guy and I want to transition(!) I run into a butch woman or genderqueer butch and find that they share every one of my reasons for thinking I am trans (and often have even more signs of inner transness in their histories than I do). Of course, there are trans guys who never for a moment identified as butch or lesbian, who knew they were male from childhood and would have killed themselves if they didn’t transition- but I’m not like those guys. And, sure, there are butch women who are completely comfortable with their bodies and have never once questioned their femaleness (although I’ve never actually met one in person)- but I’m not like those women, either. I am, however, a lot like these in-between butch persons.

I guess the logical conclusion- and the one that would make my life a whole lot easier- would be to say that I’m butch also. But, I don’t feel butch. I never felt butch. To me, butch was an objective word that described someone with a female body who wore men’s clothing and was in some way masculine. It was never supposed to be an identity- I’ve never identified with having a gender identity deep down inside that is constant and unrelated to others’ perceptions of me. That’s unreliable data based on the self-reporting of internal mind states. No scientist worth a damn would take that seriously.

I honestly couldn’t care less if I’m a man, a woman, a genderqueer, or a thanksgiving turkey deep down inside myself. But, when I imagine a future of forever looking like a woman to other people I feel terribly trapped, as if I’m in a locked room and the oxygen is slowly being pumped out. I don’t care what my gender identity is. I don’t think I even have one. But, I’d like everyone to look at me and see a guy, not any kind of lady.


2 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between a Butch Woman and an FTM, Again?

  1. Thanks for the mention – this response may end up long winded.

    At the risk of sounding completely ossified – WInston Churchill once said “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” Somewhere there is a trans version of that in terms of nuance and authenticity.

    I agree with you that I probably would do a binary transition if I was in my early 20’s now – but I’m not sure it would be the right/best decision – when I was in my 20’s I was more dogmatic and inclined to believe in things 100%. I don’t know if I would have been self reflective enough to consider a neutrois/genderqueer place. Times change and 20 years from now trans guy may seem as dated as being a lesbian separatist.

    Oddly the two things I’d say that keep me from transitioning (besides Donna leaving me if I did) are my deep seated sense of being queer and the prospect of being an old straight white guy (which is way less appealing than being a 25 year old straight white guy). But I don’t know if that is the whole truth.

    If I had to describe myself, I’d say I was born female, but feel male. I was a girl who wanted to be a boy; a woman who is very uncomfortable being female, to the point of not wanting to identify as female. And far to the edge of that. A person who is transgender. And I will not deny it (although I used to). Plus, I’m attracted to women. So then I have to ask myself (chasing my tail) is socially and legally transitioning to male going to make me feel more authentic? Or am I better off having top surgery, changing my name, and being as masculine and gender non-conforming as I want to be and maybe taking some T if it becomes more appealing?

    I’ve been tussling with this for 3+ years, but the full male transition does not look any more authentic to me than what I am doing. The biggest difference is not suppressing, repressing, or denying how I feel. For the record, I also cry over my lost boyhood.


    • Thanks for the comment, and I’m glad you didn’t mind being used as an example.

      I think my resistance to thinking of myself as a butch or transmasculine genderqueer person may well be temporary- a response to the intense personal pressure I’ve been under to identify that way and not start testosterone, change to a male name, or go by male pronouns. Some of that pressure is from Ask, but a lot of it’s professional and self-imposed. I’ve spent the past year building a reputation as a butch lesbian writer, and walking that back is going to be awkward and embarrassing and is likely to upset people and perhaps even call the TERFs down on me.

      So, I’m still not at the point of saying I’m definitely a trans guy, 100%. I am at the point of saying that changing the way I identify internally is not going to be enough, even though I wish it would have been, and that I’m going to have to look into starting testosterone. I’m at the point of saying that my goal is to be passing as male first, and figuring out whether I’m a genderqueer trans guy or a binary one second, if ever.

      Liked by 1 person

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