Raising Our BUTCH Voices

— Lex, BUTCH Voices Board Member, lexisword.com

Ask anyone to define butch and you’ll get every answer imaginable. It is an essence intangible in language and yet palpable in presence. It is from and for this fluidity, this ambiguity, and this diversity that BUTCH Voices was envisioned. In 2008, BUTCH Voices was founded to unite a cross section of so called “Masculine of Center” womyn and trans identified individuals, a term that was adopted to be more inclusive of a wide range of identities. It’s sole mission was to enhance and enrich the lives of self identified butches all over the world by creating a space for Butch Voices to be heard — by each other. It is an entirely volunteer run, not for profit organization of folks for whom the identity of butch has resonated, been home, or continues to inspire their authentic walk in the world. It is an organization that exists to show the diversity of individuals that butch represents and to offer a beacon for those whom have yet to understand their gender experiences but find a common reflection within butch identities; all while building community and fostering dialogue. BUTCH Voices was created to counteract the isolation of butch individuals and nurture the visibility of an often misunderstood and underrepresented identity. Though the vision, the mission and the values of BUTCH Voices have always been to unite, uplift and empower at times the reception has been anything but uplifting. It is this reception that this letter seeks to address.

The word “butch” has always been home to those who make it so. It is an identity without clear borders and one that carries with it a legacy of perseverance, honor, strength, and tenacity. It is a recognition of an often rugged existence balancing between the tension of masculine and feminine, indicative of a road less traveled, a shared journey of survival, acceptance, and authenticity. It is a home we make in a world that would have us be displaced.

However, it is not home to all for whom its umbrella would seem to cover. Many have found it to be limiting and even exclusive while others have found it to be the only safe space they have ever known. Younger generations and diverse communities have railed against the term butch and carved out safe places in their language for themselves to exist wholly — even with a similar essence and shared experience. This is the need that BUTCH Voices has not been afraid to respond to. It calls us into the depths of our identities, our confusion, our sexuality, our ownership and exclusivity and forces the conversation that pushes us forward, together.

The problem with calling something Butch anything? Someone else is usually willing to tell you that you don’t have a right to use it. It’s this horizontal hostility, this willingness to belittle, attack, and cannibalize within a movement that keeps us irrelevant and paralyzed. It is this that will lead generation after generation to abandon the baggage of Butch and venture into the world of gender justice without our history and legacy to support them. We have always been and will always be available for open dialogue, however we will not succumb to the paralyzing demands of malicious criticism in the place of constructive dialogue. We have a mission to fulfill, a legacy to uphold and a purpose to tend to that will not be derailed by misguided and unfounded attacks.

Movements are messy. Organizing is hard. Non-profits are tricky. There is no amount of processing or wordsmithing that can make it prettier and for good reason: In order for movements to maintain relevancy and potency they must continue to evolve and to expand. BUTCH Voices was created to respond to a need of self identified butch, aggressive, stud, trans, and masculine of center individuals all over the world to see that they were not alone. It was created to bring them together for a weekend and for a lifetime to experience the common bond of surviving a binary world as an infinite expression with no comrades or roadmaps. It is an opportunity to grow, to reflect, to commune, to play and to be celebrated for who you are, not who we say you have to be to participate. It is a need that anyone, anywhere, at any time could respond to differently — this is how we did it.

Behind both open and closed doors, conversations about identity, ownership, entitlement, privilege, power, appropriation, inclusivity, exclusivity, and evolution of movements have been unceasing and relentless. It is by having these conversations that BUTCH Voices has been able to stay current with it’s community by not allowing the space for assumption, stagnation of definitions, or passivity to rule its direction. We are an organization that is dedicated to reflecting the diverse communities that we not only serve but exist within even as those communities shift. We are a volunteer group of individuals who are not passively accepting only historical prescriptions of Butch — we are unafraid and willing to get messy to be sure that the inclusivity of our language means the inclusivity of our bodies.

It can and may be scary. When you feel as though you have been the sole owner of something there is an exclusivity that feels earned, dignified and justified. When the doors break open, it can be terrifying and painful but if we can share paths surely we can share language. The experience of butch is not owned or controlled by anyone or any body. It is an essence that exists within the souls of each of us, none of whom we can say is more valid than the next.

The painful reality is: Butch won’t be the same as it always was. BUTCH Voices wasn’t created to keep things the same, it was created to bring us together to see what we could be in community, to support us reaching our full potential as a unified body. We exist for the integration of our essence with our diversity — in language, community, and physicality. The integration of Butch is a process of evolution, conversation, honor, and humility. BUTCH Voices is ready and willing to facilitate the conversation that is already happening. No matter your perspective, the word you use to describe your essence, the kicks, sneakers, boots, or heels you slip your butch feet into — we’ve got a place at the table for you.

So many of us for so many generations have done it alone. BUTCH Voices is here to foster kinship and to engage a community in conversation previously relegated to quiet corners and private musings. We’re not telling you who you should be, we’re celebrating ourselves for who we are and joining together to recognize what we share and learn from what we don’t. It is going to take all of us, working together, listening to one another and uniting — not always agreeing, but uniting — to guarantee our safety, strength, and unapologetic authenticity. Butch bodies, souls and minds have something extraordinary to offer the world. We are a possibility, a promise that life has more to offer than the social prescriptions we’ve been given and that life after breaking all the rules is brilliant, powerful and pretty damn sexy.

Butch is a legacy of quiet strength, unceasing perseverance, deep passion, and tender hearted toughness. We owe it to ourselves to come together. We owe it to ourselves to raise our voices together and not to shout at one another until nothing is heard. The table is set, all we need is you.

BUTCH Voices 2013
August 15-18
Oakland, CA

One Response to “Raising Our BUTCH Voices”

  1. gravatar BD Swain

    Fuck. Yes.

    I applaud you for writing this letter. I applaud Butch Voices for inviting Cherrie Moraga and giving her the space to deliver that amazing, mind-blowing, shatteringly beautiful keynote. And I applaud everyone who showed up and really showed up – engaging in deep and powerful dialogue. Questioning ourselves and each other with open hearts and vulnerability and humility is the only way to grow.

    Let’s keep moving. Sharks in the water. Dear butch, I love you, whoever you are.


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