Written by Zamara Perri
“A real butch doesn’t wear dresses. A real stud doesn’t wear make-up. A real tomboi doesn’t date other tombois. A real masculine woman pays all the bills. A real tomboi doesn’t cry—only bitches do that.”
Hanging around the black lesbian community, I’ve heard all of these things and more. And these ideas are dangerous and harmful. They are pretty much the same ideas that are central to the strong black woman myth and pretty much do the same thing to black lesbians who are more masculine—deny them their femininity, womanhood, humanity and agency.
I think black lesbian butches have it the hardest of any other minority group on the planet. They often cannot hide who they are. Because of their appearance, they daily deal with racist and homophobic harassment from men and women in the workplace, streets, our own communities and in their own homes.
Yes, we in the black lesbian community add to the stress that black butches face everyday. And sometimes the guiltiest offenders are those of us who are their femme partners.
My partner and I shared an intimate moment over the weekend where she told me that her six-year long relationship with her ex was pretty much a fraud. Why? Her femme partner wouldn’t allow her to be anything but the strong provider. As a tomboi who loved working out, she was seen as the “male” presence in the relationship. She wasn’t allowed to be soft. She wasn’t allowed to be weak, be sensitive, or hint at having feminine needs. In short, as a butch she wasn’t allowed to be woman.
When I met my partner, we acknowledged that we most likely would not have been attracted to each other had we both not changed. I wanted someone sweet and sensitive. She needed a woman who would let her cry. We both wanted comfort and softness and that’s what we have in each other.
If your partner cannot be herself with the person who supposedly loves her the most, how can you build true intimacy?
We force our black masculine of center women to conform to certain “male” standards and basically give them the hard side eye when they deviate from the script. I see it all the time and I’ve also participated in the shaming and side eyeing. This concern is central to the recently released documentary The Same Difference.
Black butches are weighed down by our expectations. We expect black dominant lesbians to only date feminine women, god forgive them if they date another dominant woman, wear make up or a dress. If a black stud decides to carry a child, then she must not be really gay.
Black butches just can’t win.
We sometimes expect them to do all the giving because they like wearing pants or can rock a Caesar. We think that they couldn’t possibly want anything in return except maybe sex and the satisfaction of having a pretty femme on her arms. And don’t let me get started on how she should like sex.
I had a friend, Angela, who was new in the life. She was quite feminine until she started dating women. She was hardly recognizable when we went to her wedding. Angela’s fiancée required that Angela dress in male clothing and provide for her and her four kids. And this woman who was new to the lifestyle and still figuring herself out, did it. Privately she told me that she wasn’t entirely comfortable dressing that way, but knew this was the only way to keep the woman she loved.
But like I said, I’ve participated in expecting previous aggressive partners to act only in the way I deemed sufficiently butch.
I’ve also dated a woman who was an absolute tomboi. She wore make-up and I found that so strange. I also dated a woman who was struggling financially even though she worked every day. She was embarrassed that I made more money than she did. Part of the embarrassment stemmed from her being a butch and feeling like she should pay for everything.
I have a friend who is a butch who is currently dealing with cancer. I’ve watched several people I love deal with this disease and it ripped their lives apart. But my butch friend is barely acknowledging that this is a scary time for her. Instead she is acting like it’s no big deal because she needs to be the strong butch. But I doubt that’s how she is feeling on the inside. Then again I have no right to tell her how to feel or act.
Overall, I would love it if we simply gave each other a freaking break instead of projecting ridiculous gender expectations on each other.
Most importantly, I would love to see more black lesbians accept the butches we love for who they are—100 percent women.
Let’s stop the madness, y’all.