Butch and femme

From Academic Kids

Butch and femme are terms often used in the lesbian and gay subcultures to describe a person's approximate adherence of traditional masculine and feminine gender roles respectively, within a same-sex relationship, or to describe an individual generally.


Butch and femme attributes

The terms butch and femme often are used to describe lesbians or gay men, though, less commonly, they can be used to describe straight men and women also.

The term butch often is used to describe certain lesbians, though the term is also used for gay men. Butch can entail short-cropped hair, overtly masculine clothes including possibly military dress, attitude involving deliberate machismo, chivalry, or sometimes rudeness. Femme can entail long or femininely styled hair, feminine clothing and/or attitude.

Among the subcultures composed of butch gay men is the "bear community". Gay men who are more femme are sometimes described as "flamers". Femme lesbians are sometimes described as "lipstick lesbians", and conversely butch lesbians may be described as a "bulldyke" or simply just "dyke", though the latter usage has widened to encompass lesbians generally.

Lesbians or gay men are not always strictly beholden to being nor do adopt strictly butch or strictly femme roles. Some may adopt elements of both. Relationships are not always butch/femme either, though these forms of relationships of course do exist. Many butch gay men will only date other masculine men, though others prefer femme men. Among homosexuals the practices of 'femme on femme' and 'butch on butch' sex preferences are sometimes repressed by cultural morés.

Butch and femme in history

Among lesbians, the butch-femme pairing in relationships was more common among lesbians of older generations. In Debra A. Wilson's documentary The Butch Mystique an older woman named Matu says that this was because in the past a woman was in physical danger if she was obviously with another woman in a romantic capacity, and butch women felt that being tough was necessary to protect themselves and their female companions, leading to a reputation of toughness and pejorative terms such as "bulldyke", "diesel dyke" that accompanied it.

Prior to the 1970s, some feminist theorists pronounced "butch/femme" politically incorrect, because they believed that all butch/femme dynamics by necessity imitate heterosexist gender roles, leading to butch/femme relationships to be driven underground.

However, "inherent to butch-fem relationships was the presumption that the butch is the physically active partner and the leader in lovemaking....Yet unlike the dynamics of many heterosexual relationships, the butch's foremost objective was to give sexual pleasure to a femme. The essence of this emotional/sexual dynamic is captured by the ideal of the "stone butch," or untouchable butch....To be untouchable meant to gain pleasure from giving pleasure. Thus, although these women did draw on models in heterosexual society, they transformed those models into an authentically lesbian interaction." (Davis and Lapovsky, 1989) Also the loathing of female butches and male femmes can be interpreted as transphobia.

Butch and femme ideas in the Aristasia movement

Women involved in Aristasia have been described as "not so much butch and femme as femme and femmer". They associate themselves with one of two feminine "sexes" - termed blonde and brunette (though are not related to hair color). A "brunette" is femme but includes elements of sensibility and less typically traditionally feminine, while blondes are fluffy, ultra-femme, and may be more typically traditionally feminine. Accusations that they are promoting stereotypes are usually met with cheerful acceptance ("Stereotypes - we love 'em", wrote one Aristasian). However the blonde-brunette role-models are in practice very subtle and flexible, and the real rationale behind the idea is an assertion of femininity among women who prefer women: not a femininity defined in relation to masculinity, but femininity within a feminine ambience.


Many young people today eschew butch or femme classifications, believing that they are inadequate to describe an individual, or that labels are limiting in and of themselves. Some people within the queer community have tailored the common labels to be more descriptive, such as "soft stud," "hard butch," "gym queen," or "tomboy femme."

To be either butch or femme challenges traditional gender roles and expectations about appropriate gender presentation and desire, and expand the concept of what it means to be a woman. Some femme men and butch women regard themselves thus as genderqueer for that reason, but most others do not.

See also


  • Davis, Madeline and Lapovsky Kennedy, Elizabeth (1989). "Oral History and the Study of Sexuality in the Lesbian Community", Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay & Lesbian Past (1990), Duberman, etc, eds. New York: Meridian, New American Library, Penguin Books. ISBN-0452010675.

External link

  • Butch-Femme Socials of the San Francisco Bay Area (http://www.geocities.com/hamlettesf/) is a social group that meets in SF and Oakland at local bars and other venues for meet and greets, in clubs for dancing monthly, and at leather events. We host game nights, movie nights, and some clean and sober events.
  • Butch-Femme Network (http://www.butch-femme.net) - The first exclusively Butch-Femme on-line community serving the needs of Butches, Femmes, Stonebutches, TG Individuals, TransMen and FtMs on the World Wide Web and in personal contact since 1996.
  • Butch-Femme.com (http://www.butch-femme.com) - Butch-Femme is about being who you are. It is not about "labels." We define who we are when we tell the truth about our lives. Butch, stone Butch, Femme, and stone Femme are natural gender expressions that are of the heart, having little to do with appearance or any stereotypical code of behavior.
  • Butch/Femme Societyis (http://butchfemmesociety.freeservers.com) New York City's oldest and largest butch/femme social and support group. BFS is committed to providing social education, emotional support, and entertainment to the much ignored butch/femme community. Since 1989, we've strived for fair representation of every ethnicity, all age groups, and all social and occupational backgrounds. BFS has a strict non-exclusionary policy and is open to all lesbians and TG/TS who support the beautiful butch/femme dynamic.
  • Straightacting.com (http://www.straightacting.com) is an example of a humorous site where homosexual men and women may measure and discuss their butch-ness or femme-ness. Interestingly, this site seems to stereotype lesbians as always wanting a butch/femme relationship and gay men as wanting a butch/butch or femme/femme relationship. It is also US specific.
  • GLBTQ.com (http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/butch_femme_ssh.html) "Butch-Femme"de:Butch

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