‘What’s your type?’ is usually followed by a list of preferred physical attributes in a sexual partner, and possibly the desired personality traits: Blonde, brown eyes, honest and funny. However, the question represents something quite different within the queer community.
In the land of the lesbian, what the question really means is ‘do you like butch or femme?’, and what you’re really asking gay men is whether they are a top or bottom.
Labelling women as ‘butch’ has both positive and negative consequences. Formerly, it offers women, who might otherwise feel excluded from society, a community or group to fit into and identify with.
However, the term can also be used in a derogative manner and invite the further labelling of gay and lesbian individuals, such as ‘lipstick’, ‘femme’, and ‘chapstick’ or ‘soft-butch’.
Even within the lesbian community there lingers the belief that femininity is fixed and looks a certain way, thus there is a certain stigma attached to identifying as ‘butch’.
As I can appear quite feminine, people often assume that I would be most attracted to butch women, and I used to consider this to be quite offensive and stereotypical; I viewed ‘butch’ as old fashioned and not progressive, as it did not fit in with my idea of what it is to be a modern lesbian or woman.
I had naively assumed that, as I was gay, it was not possible for me to be homophobic or prejudiced in any way. However, manifestations of ‘butch-hating’ are easily expressed through such ignorant opinions and statements.
For example, a not so uncommon opinion that I have come up against is that butch women are simply artificial men, and women who date other butch women might as well be with a real one.
There are many ways in which femininity can be expressed, and it is incredibly ignorant to assume that women who identify as butch want to imitate or be men; this is clearly not the case, as there are gender reassignment procedures available for any that do require it.
Furthermore, women are not attracted to other women simply because they might look ‘masculine’ – in reality, gender and sexuality are a great deal more complex.
Additionally, there are very few butch lesbians represented in film or television. Perhaps this is a conscious effort to not appear stereotypical, or to feed the idea that all lesbians look a certain way; for example, when I first came out a friend once asked me: ‘You’re not going to shave your hair off and wear tank tops now, are you?’
Regardless of the social politics surrounding the ‘butch’, the mass media should not ignore an entire group of women simply because it could be considered controversial, or that the sexual appeal might not compare with that of the ever more desirable ‘femme’ passionate scenes.
It is better to consider femininity as fluid, rather than a fixed set of ideals, with women coming in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.