Eileen Myles, Roxane Gay, Lea DeLaria and others discuss their aesthetic, their identity and their place within LGBTQI history 

BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS, IMAGE BY COLLIER SCHORR

On 27 January 2020, T Magazine gathered 22 people who identify as butch and/or stud lesbian across various artistic disciplines and generations. They posed for a very special group portrait by photographer Collier Schorr in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

All 22 of the participants together, dressed in shirts and ties looking extra butch, the result is a beautiful and defining image of the LGBTQI women and non-binary people who own this powerful identify in their own various ways today. 

The piece entitled The Renegades, written by Kerry Manders, appeared in The New York Times with an accompanying video by Caroline Berler. 

Kerry writes: “Queer culture and the arts would be much poorer without the presence and contribution of butch and stud lesbians, whose identity is both its own aesthetic and a defiant repudiation of the male gaze.” 

Huge names within the LGBTQI community such as Roxane Gay, Lea DeLaria and Jenny Shimizu all appear in the video, acknowledging and celebrating how they feel to be in such a large group identified by “butchness” and the butch icons that have led the way for them.  

They show how butch is empowerment and strength, a way of owning your body unapolgetically. Butches have always been a visible marker of lesbian identity. As Su Friedrich puts it in the video, “When I was looking around for what it meant to be a lesbian, butch women were the visible lesbians.” 

It’s a poignant video that makes a statement about the struggle to be who you are as a member of the LGBTQI community and how often butches have to fight against people who want them to look or exist differently.

If you watch anything today, please make sure it’s this.

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Etymologically, #butch is believed to be an abbreviation of “butcher,” American slang for “tough kid” in the early 20th century and likely inspired by the outlaw Butch Cassidy. By the early 1940s, the word was used as a pejorative to describe “aggressive” or “macho” women, but lesbians reclaimed it almost immediately, using it with pride at 1950s-era bars such as Manhattan’s Pony Stable Inn and Peg’s Place in San Francisco. At these spots, cocktails cost 10 cents and police raids were a regular occurrence. “Now, why would you wear a man’s clothing if the risk was getting arrested?” asks the director Kimberley Peirce (@kimberlypppp) here. “Because it’s who you are.” Click the link in our bio to see more, and to read Kerry Manders’s (@kerrymmanders) full story, written for #TCultureIssue. Video by Caroline Berler (@cberler).

A post shared by T: The NYTimes Style Magazine (@tmagazine) on

Quotes we loved from the video 🌈

“We exist in this realm of masculinity that has nothing to do with cis men – that’s the part only we [butches] know how to talk about.” – Casey Legler 

“It’s a lovely word, ‘butch’: I’ll take it, if you give it to me. But I’m afraid I’m not butch enough to really claim it. Because part of being butch is owning it, the whole aura around it.” – Alison Bechdel 

“In my early 20s, I identified as a stone butch. In adulthood, I’ve come back to butch in terms of how I see myself in the world and in my relationship, so I think of myself as soft butch now.” – Roxane Gay 

“I’ve never aspired to a binary. From day one, the idea of being a boy or a girl never made sense. The ever-shifting signifiers of neither or both are what create meaning and complexity.” – Kimberly Peirce

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