Butch is a Noun by S. Bear Bergman

Butch is a nounI read a lot of gender and LGBT studies books, in part because my thesis is lesbian focused.  But I am also interested in the field and what others have to say on these topics too.  I read this book out of interest rather than for thesis purposes because others, both virtual and actual, had read it with enthusiasm and I was curious to find out what the fuss was about.

Butch is a Noun is a collection of essays by a butch concerning hir experiences of being butch.  Overall the book was an interesting read.  However I did find it a little repetitive, particularly around the topics of how gentlemanly, compassionate, and thoughtful the author behaves (and expects other butches to behave) around the women in hir life, shopping, the bathroom problem, how great butch brotherhood is, more shopping, chivalry and so on.  And that was just the thing; that was really all the book was about.  I don’t really know what I expected this book to be, as a collection of butch related essays it works fine, but if a more academic approach to queer theory, gender theory, identity construction and/or deconstruction, or any other type of academic insight is required this is not the tome to turn to. Indeed, if that is what you want a good place to start would be Halbertam’s Female Masculinity. 

Overall, Butch is a Noun frustrated me.  At times I could relate well to the essays – the release of cutting long hair short or the “no-way” clothing moment., among others.  But, there were other points that felt a touch misogynistic, especially when writing about femmes.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was but it felt that there was a level of protectiveness in the air when Bear was writing about femmes, as if they are weaker than butches.  Whereas, when writing about other butches I felt that Bear was writing about hir equals.  I also felt that the book didn’t cross the Atlantic particularly well with respect to LGBT community insights.  But perhaps this last point is more about my position than Bear’s.  Despite being based in two countries, I live a semi-rural lifestyle in the UK and a very rural lifestyle in Ireland, both of which are miles apart both physically and culturally to any North American urban LGBT community lifestyle.

Reservations aside, in its own way it wasn’t a bad book; it does what it says on the tin so to speak in that Bear does indicate that this is about hir experience and that is all.  For me, the best essays in the book in the book are “I know what butch is” which highlights the many contradictions of what butch is and isn’t but actually is if that is how you define it, and “Faggot Butch” because it resonates more with my life than butch-femme relationships.