‘Why can’t you see me as a woman?’: Being butch has nothing to do with masculinity
Being butch has “nothing to do with being masculine,” says Tabitha Benjamin.
Tabitha, or Tabs as she often goes by, founded Butch, Please! – a trans-inclusive night in London for butch women.
She spoke to PinkNews about butch identity, misogyny and rising levels of street harassment – including almost being run over by homophobes.
“Butch, for me, is nothing to do with being masculine,” she explained.
“It’s actually something about being really feminine, about identifying as a woman. Butch is also, for me, about how I am perceived as I walk through the world.”
Tabs references Hannah Gadbsy’s Nanette as she explains she is “punished every single day for being an incorrect woman.”
“I’m punished every single day for that. So, for me, being butch is also about how I survive that in the world, how that makes me strong,” she added.
“Lots of people think butch is synonymous with masculine. For me, it really isn’t.
“All our lives revolve around masculinity, we live in a patriarchy, we have no choice – whether we like it or not, everything is about masculinity. And I refuse to accept that. I refuse to say that my identity is also about masculinity, it’s not.
“When lots of people say to me: ‘Why do you want to look like a man?’ I really want to ask them the question: why is it so hard for you to see me as a woman?”
Tabs is regularly and increasingly harassed in public for presenting as a “butch dyke” – and she’s not alone. There is a rising climate of homophobia following the Brexit vote, she points out.
“Over the past couple of years I would definitely say it’s got a lot worse,” she told PinkNews.
“I’ve had the usual things from ‘Oy, dyke’ and this kind of stuff, to when I was walking my dog in the park and a guy shouted ‘oy, you f***ing dyke,’ bent over and farted at me. Yeah, that was definitely a new low.
“I’m punished every day for being an incorrect woman, a butch woman, and a butch dyke.
“I’ve also had guys try to run me over in their cars. Most recently, I had something happen in a post office near where I live, which affected me really, really deeply.
“I walked into the post office and a guy was waiting at the counter, and he just started looking at me in a really disgusting way.
“Most of the time, I can ignore it but this time I just said: ‘What are you looking at? Why are you looking at me?’
“He tried to hit me and was just shouting at me, and I was really, really, really frightened.
“Mostly I was really, really frightened because nobody in the post office did anything. The people who worked there didn’t do anything. Another woman at a counter who was being served actually turned to the guy and egged him on.
“Everybody looked around and they decided I was the bottom of the heap and that’s really very confronting and very frightening.”
Tabs wishes that more women would “connect the dots” and realise that the same reason she was harassed in the post office is the same reason why the woman at the counter might be harassed on another day: misogyny.
Living with this “daily stress” from harassment on the street, on public transport, and in shops has led to Tabs developing a stomach ulcer. But misogyny, Tabs adds, doesn’t exclusively affect butch women. It means all women face cat calling and threats of violence – and no woman is ever seen as good enough.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a butch woman or not, you’re too fat, you’re too thin, you’re too slutty, you’re too frigid, you’re too butch, you’re too femme.
“All women face this kind of misogyny and I want to fight against that. And so, being butch for me is also about challenging what people think of a woman as being.”
Tabs set up and runs a club night, Butch, Please!, to bring together dykes of all ages and create a safe space where they can share experiences they face in the outside world “to feel less alone.”
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She said: “I didn’t feel at home anywhere and I really wanted to create somewhere that butch dykes and lesbians of all different types and ages could come together, feel safe and feel sexy.
“I created it for butch dykes, lesbians, trans and non-binary people. Whilst Butch, Please! is a place where we celebrate butchness, all queer people are welcome to come and celebrate that with us.”
Butch, Please! takes place throughout the year in south London.