Trans Butch Blues: Notes from a New Lesbian Underground

Boys are loud and rambunctious. Girls are quiet, meek and well behaved. Boys get dirty, climb trees and scrape their knees. Girls stay neat and clean. Boys are husky growing lads. Girls are thin, dainty creatures who must be careful to watch their weight. Boys fight back with swinging fists. Girls sit back and take the abuse. This is but a Whitman’s Sampler of the kind of binary bullshit that our chauvinistic society has used for ages to demolish the self-esteem of an entire gender.

You hear it every fucking day, even in our self-congratulating woke society. They all point at the busted glass ceiling and wait for applause but the only women with anything even resembling power in this country are the ones who murder like men with the poise and dignity of Mary Crocker in a Chanel pant suit. Boys still wear blue, and girls are still defined by their approval regardless of what they wear. The result isn’t just less pay and less agency, it’s a sickeningly disproportionate rate of self-abuse, depression, eating disorders and suicide. The patriarchy still kills little girls who don’t perform on key, and I should know. I may have been raised male but that didn’t stop the unwritten laws of the patriarchy from stealing my childhood and teaching me how to destroy myself.

You hear the same Hallmark transgender story from the mainstream zeitgeist over and over again. You can practically recite the lyrics like a song. “She knew she was really a girl in a boy’s body from day one. She dreamed of wearing pink dresses and playing with dolls and dating boys and she breathed fairy dust and she quietly farted sparkles and rainbows and blah blah blah…” If I have to listen to that Oprah-approved trans-female narrative one more time, I swear to Kali that I’m going to jam my head in the nearest Easybake Oven. This may be some trans girl’s story but it sure as shit wasn’t mine. I didn’t grow up in some convoluted Lisa Frank fairytale. I was a weird little kid who dressed in black and grew up obsessed with pro-wrestling, heavy metal music and horror movies. There was nothing pink and frilly telling me that I was a girl, so I just assumed I was boy, but it never felt right.

I had plenty of male friends early on, but I never felt like one of them and when I was surrounded by them at Cub Scout meetings and sleepovers, I never felt more alien. As I got older those gross feelings of otherness became increasingly hard for me or anyone else to ignore. There was always something wrong with the Reid boy. Something not quite right. The adults seemed to pick up on it first. Every few years my conservative Catholic school would hold a secret convention among the concerned teachers and parents to discuss what should be done with me and my bewilderingly ‘other’ ways. They never came up with a proper plot, but they made their disdain painfully well-known through snickers and stares and it wasn’t long before their children followed suit and all those male friends became taunting hecklers one by one, repeating what they had overheard at the dinner table.

I heard the word faggot a lot growing up, but I never quite fit the bill. Truth be told, I have been attracted to girls for as long as I can remember. In fact, I found them to be downright fascinating. I didn’t dare to even speak to one until after I had already been thoroughly ostracized by every boy I knew. Even being seen playing with a girl was social suicide on the parking lot that Saint John’s called a playground. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that their secret world contained some kind of answer to the painful loneliness that plagued me even in a crowd of boys.

I still remember the first time that I learned that lesbianism was a thing. An alarm went off in my tiny head screaming “That’s it!” The idea of two girls together was the first time that love made any sense to me. Even knowing nothing about gender identity, I just knew in my soul that that was who I really was but knowing nothing about gender identity and way too goddamn much about sin and Catholic guilt, this revelation terrified me. The only conclusion that I could come to was that I was some kind of twisted fucking pervert and that I was going straight to hell to burn in a lake of fire for all eternity.

Even after I rejected the church and embraced the salvation of punk rock and anarchism, I still couldn’t shake this cloud of toxic impending doom that always seemed to hang just out of reach above my head. As the secret witch trials became fiery parent-teacher conferences complete with open accusations of me plotting everything from school shootings to Satanic ritual abuse, my gender began to feel more and more like a claustrophobic prison sentence, and I prayed for execution.

Even when I learned about the existence of the transgender phenomena, everything that was publicly available about the concept at the time told me that I didn’t belong there either. I didn’t belong anywhere. The only time I ever felt safe was when I was around the few girls who didn’t treat me like a boy. It wasn’t until after several nervous breakdowns and half a decade as a shut-in that I finally figured out that trans girls were just girls with defunct plumbing and that I had always been a tomboy in a boy’s body. My life made absolutely no sense to me until the day I could look myself in the mirror and say, “I’m a dyke.”

Radical feminists endlessly demonize trans women for representing an obscene caricature of stereotypical femininity, but who gets to define femininity in a chauvinist society? Who gets to define what is woman enough to be “real?” White cis hetero men, of course. And who do you think controls all the levers of power that define access to femininity? Who gets to decide whether or not trans people are even afforded the medical treatment necessary for transition? Trans women are hostages to the same sexist archetypes and institutions as any other woman only we have to be more feminine than female. Our tits have to be bigger. Our hair has to be longer. Our heels have to be higher. We have to be Dolly fucking Parton just to be visible and then we get stoned for that too. It’s fucking exhausting. I just want enough hormones so I can be feminine enough not to have to try so damn hard. I don’t want to be Dolly Parton. I just want to be Julien Baker.

I wear my hair long and paint my nails, but I feel about as awkward in a dress as I do in a suit and tie. I’d much rather wear Doc Martin’s and wrap the few curves Estradiol has afforded me in a trench coat. I’m loud and I’m rude. I talk with my mouth full, and I swear like a fucking sailor. My legs and armpits are hairy, and I have zero intention of ever shaving them. My heroes aren’t ladies. They are brash and ballsy bitches like Joan Jett, Courtney Love and Frida Kahlo who built entire careers on terrifying cis men and quite literally flipping off the patriarchy. But somehow, I’m part of some sexist conspiracy to destroy womanhood and apparently our number one target is the endangered butch lesbian.

Every other week you’ll find some TERF on Fox News going off about the coming extinction of the bull dyke. According to these hyperventilating gadfly’s butch girls are being abducted by mad scientists and transformed into mutilated transgender pod people. There is a very fine grain of truth to this hysteria. A lot of young butches feel trapped by the perilously high expectations of the gender binary and get pushed by heterosexist adults into picking another gender stereotype and conforming to it surgically. Sexism exists in the trans community too. It’s why I still have to fight every fucking day just to belong there as a gender-nonconforming female. But assuming that the only solution to this problem is to double down on chauvinistic schools of thought like biological essentialism isn’t just stupid, it’s downright un-lesbian.

The original radical lesbian movement was an insurrection against the gender binary that sought to define the dyke as a revolutionary third gender that existed completely outside of the expectations of the heterosexual establishment. Monique Wittig, the poet laureate of radical lesbianism said it all when she proudly declared that “lesbians are not women,” insisting that to be a lesbian was about a hell of a lot more than flannel shirts and munching carpet, it was about rebelling against the chauvinist norm of the woman as defined by cisgender men’s needs. Our Malcolm X, Andrea Dworkin, took a similar approach before she forgot about the revolution and conspired against her sisters in the sex trade with the same sexist Jesus freaks who destroyed my childhood and now call for my extinction. This Faustian bargain against free speech was in many ways the beginning of the end for the original radical lesbian movement.

But there is a new radical lesbian movement bubbling like molten lava to the surface from the underground and its one that has about as much use for the gender binary as Monique Wittig did. A growing number of butch lesbians are micro dosing testosterone, getting top surgery and experimenting with new pronouns. Some of them are transitioning to male while still proudly declaring themselves to be butch. Some butch women even fuck men and some of us have dicks. What unites us all is an existential drive to define ourselves outside of the reach of a patriarchal society that invented the gender binary to reduce human beings into easily commodified and governable categories that leave little room for individuality. This new radical lesbian movement is a conspiracy to make butch a revolutionary third gender again. One that seeks to liberate every gender outlaw who has ever suffered beneath the yoke of some pompous straight man’s definition of what womanhood means and this is one pissed off bitch with a dick who is proud to be a part of this insurrection.

So, the fucking TERFs can go choke on their shallow hypocrisy. They have become willing tools of the patriarchy and I don’t need them to tell me who I am. I am butch, hear me roar and I am not alone anymore.

Nicky Reid is an agoraphobic anarcho-genderqueer gonzo blogger from Central Pennsylvania and assistant editor for Attack the System. You can find her online at Exile in Happy Valley.