What It’s Like to Toe the Line Between Butch & Femme

It can be pretty hard to accept your identity as an LGBTQ+ collegiette. A lot of times, there is an expectation for lesbians to fall into one of two categories: butch or femme. If you don’t quite fit either one, this can be pretty distressing and make you feel invalidated. Here are some ways to rock being you, no matter who you want to be.

1. Don’t feel like you have to pick between butch or femme

Your identity and presentation usually go through more than a few changes in your lifetime. Just think back to your MySpace days—bet you’re glad those are over! As you get older, you’ll probably still evolve physically and mentally. Sticking to a label just for the sake of it isn’t necessarily going to make you happy. If you don’t identify as either butch or femme, that’s fine—and if you do, that’s fine too!

Dr. Carol Queen, a staff sexologist at San Francisco’s Good Vibrations, notes that identity is different for everyone. "[The terms 'butch' and 'femme'] are not just stereotypes into which people are expected to fit; for some, they are also proudly-held identities that help people who adopt them navigate in the world and find partnership and meaning,” Dr. Queen says. That's not the problem with these labels; the problem is the pressure some women may feel to identify with one or the other, when they fall somewhere in between.

Alaina Leary, a first-year graduate student at Emerson College, feels like her queer identity can be pretty liberating when it comes to gender norms and expectations. "In my experience, being queer gives us some freedom to experiment with what it means to be a woman because we aren't automatically sorted in male/female roles," she says. 

2. Find your style icons

Expressing your identity through style can be really empowering. You might feel your most confident when you’re rocking a dress, a suit, or even just a sweater and a pair of jeans. Every girl has her own style icons, even if she doesn’t realize it. And although a whole lot of lady style bloggers present as mostly feminine, there’s also a whole lot of female and nonbinary style bloggers who present more fluidly. If you aren’t exactly sure what you feel comfortable in or what suits you best, find your inspiration!

Trisha* an incoming college freshman, says, "I loved stereotypical pink girly stuff but I also hated wearing dresses and the only transportation I liked was skateboarding. As I have gotten older, I've had a hard time trying to make myself choose what I want to be. Now I try to live every day like its own and, if anything, it's great breaking the stereotype and I ride my longboard with my Vineyard Vines 'shep' shirt and pearls."

Whether you're more inspired by Pretty Little Liars’ Hanna Marin or genderqueer model Rain Dove, your style gurus are definitely out there.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Gender Fluidity

3. Ditch dated ideas about dating

When people think about lesbian relationships, what often comes to mind is one femme woman and one butch woman. Sometimes couples do look like this, but sometimes they don’t. If you don’t exactly identify as either, then the idea of dating can come across as a little bit scary. You might be wondering if that cute butch girl you’re into only wants to date femmes, or vice versa. And for that, we’ve got just one word of advice: stop! How someone presents doesn’t dictate who they’re attracted to.

Once you do get the girl, keep on keeping on and forgetting about those dusty old gender roles. “I don’t feel my girlfriend and I fit into butch and femme stereotypes and we have definitely gotten questions about this,” Alaina says. “A lot of people assume she’s 'the man' because she’s physically larger and stronger, but she wants to carry a child naturally while I don’t. I find these labels are just that—labels, and that gender is more complicated than that.”

If you’re interested in someone and you don’t think you’re their type, there’s really only one way to find out. Go for it!

4. Just do you 

There are a lot of different stereotypes that you have to deal with as an LGBTQ+ collegiette already, and presenting a certain way can change how much other people hold you to those stereotypes. It’s cliché for us to talk about how it’s totally fine for you to challenge stereotypes and gender norms, but it’s also important. At the same time, don’t feel like you have to go out out your way to avoid behaving in a way that people see as stereotypical.

"I like to think of myself as aggressively bisexual,” Trisha* says. “Growing up, I never really fit into a category. It's honestly been a huge struggle, but I've come to terms with the fact I don't need to fit into a category and [the idea] that I can be whoever I want, whenever I want.” When you like something about yourself, just go with it! The old idea of certain things being “girly” or not is really tired—and honestly irrelevant.

If you want a label, cool. If you don’t, also cool! Anything that makes you happy when it comes to your personal presentation and identity is a great thing, collegiettes.

*Name has been changed.