Butch Nouveau

Hundreds of new ways to be a dyke

| July-August 1996

A while back I was lunching with a friend and lamenting my lack of female companionship. I always go to this particular friend when I am in need of brutal honesty. Talk about going to the well once too often. She informed me that my persona non grata status among the ladies was due to my androgynous appearance. She suggested that I butch or femme it up if I planned on getting laid in this millennium. She went on (and on) to say that my andro “thing” was fine for the ‘80s, but it was tired in the “butch-femme” ‘90s.

For the next couple of days, I considered my friend’s advice. As I looked around, I had to admit that a lot more dykes were into this butch-femme lifestyle. The personal ads are chock full of women who know exactly where they stand on the butch-femme spectrum and exactly where they want their partners to be. Not too many gals declare themselves to be middle-of-the-liners like myself, nor do they often solicit our company.

Having been out for more than a decade now, I have always been aware of the words butch and femme, but I associated the terms with segments of gay culture, like the S & M and leather communities, and assumed that they related mainly to sexual behaviors and desires.

It became apparent after my little chat over lunch that either I had totally misunderstood the entire concept all along or there was a whole new butch-femme consciousness on the rise. I decided to use all of that spare time that I wasn’t using on dating to investigate today’s butch-femme culture.



In the old days you were either butch or femme or you got made fun of. Not so in today’s version of the culture: Now the butch-femme spectrum is very crowded. You’ve still got your stone butches and ultra or old-school femmes, but then you’ve also got your soft butches, tomboy femmes, stone femmes, butches of center, femmes of center, and many more—it seems like a new term is coined every minute. If you think I exaggerate, check out one of the Internet chat rooms on the subject.

The easiest interviews I had were with the stone butches and ultra femmes. Their expectations, roles, and fashion statements haven’t changed much over the decades. A stone butch wears men’s clothing, usually has short hair, and is the quarterback, not the wide receiver, in the bedroom—she does not like to be sexually touched by her partner. Her choice for a partner is usually an ultra femme. Such a woman wears very feminine attire, usually favors the use of makeup, and is likely to have long nails. In the sex department she is the perfect counterpart to the stone butch; she is not likely to break a nail during lovemaking.