Labeling the Lesbian

I write lesbian romance stories that don’t usually tackle the slew of political, social, or religious issues that can be so brutal towards homosexuality that taking one’s own life can feel like the only, and easier, option. It’s not. And it never will be, but I don’t write about those issues. Not yet.

The sexuality of my characters is at times so irrelevant in my books that the f/f romance could be swapped for their m/f counterparts and the story will read almost the same way. Am I playing it safe? Possibly, but what I know is this – I love a good romance – but eventually I will write stories with more substance, more backbone. I have a few in my slush pile, but for now, I’m a hopeless romantic aiming my bow directly for the reader’s heart.

I write about love and I choose two women to represent the love I want to show. But I’m very conscious that when writing about this kind of romance, I am avoiding the Butch/Femme dynamic of a lesbian relationship (even though it is very prevalent in the gay community) because I don’t know exactly what this combo entails and misrepresenting an entire group of lesbians isn’t something I’m willing to chance.

I neglect the whole Butch/Femme coupling because I know if I characterize a woman as appearing “manly” I will be tempted to attribute all the masculine traits that go along with that. I will write scenes with the Butch clamoring her tools underneath a car, or driving a pick-up, or with her face shoved beneath the kitchen sink fixing a leak.

Is this accurate? Do all Butches fix things? Does every single one of them know how to change a tire or rewire the electric cable? Are they even interested in these tasks or do they learn it to satisfy the expectations placed on them by the feminine women they date? Is this all part of the “role” in being butch?

If I wrote a Butch to be so typically “butch”, would I get slammed for it? On the flip-side, if I distinctly characterized feminine lesbian women as standing in front of the stove stirring a pot of some deliciously-mouth-watering concoction, or being experts at removing stains from any stubborn shirt, or as always being pretty and femme and femme and pretty, would it cause a backlash of angry Femmes? Gotta look sexy for the Butch!

Are these expectations placed in a Butch/Femme relationship accurate? I’m asking because I really don’t know. I hate labels and I refuse to make a distinction as to what kind of lesbian I am. I never saw my father hammer a nail into a wall. He didn’t even know how to put the Christmas tree together. My mother did that. But that didn’t make him any less of a man – it only meant he wasn’t a “handy” man.

Although I won’t label myself, I do know that in my relationships I see myself as the “protector.” I have an innate desire to take care of the people I love, particularly the woman I’m with and keep her away from harm. Does this make me the “man” because I’m the one who will jump out of bed in the middle of the night and tell my partner to stay safely in the room while I inspect the strange noises coming from the kitchen? Is it “gentlemanly” of me because I like to help my girlfriend slip on her coat and open doors for her. “Ladies first,” leaves me the one waiting and I’m okay with that, but that doesn’t make me butch.

I knew at a young age I had no interest in being Cinderella – with her white poofed-out ballroom dress and wearing her extremely narrow, high-healed, glass slippers that had to be, without a doubt, excruciatingly painful to walk in. No thank you. Give me Prince Charming’s black pants, elegant blue suit jacket, and flat comfortable shoes. And I’m good.

My role in relationships may seem male-oriented, and I may have an affinity for young men’s graphic t-shirts, camouflage shorts, hoodies, backwards hats, and converse cons (but even straight girls love cons, right?), and I don’t wear dresses, skirts, or anything that is extremely bright in color, still, this doesn’t make me butch.

It only makes me, me. And I say that ain’t so bad.


Full disclosure. I once told an old girlfriend in lieu of flowers to buy me baseball cards – okay, so maybe this ONE thing makes me a little butch. 🙂


Author: Alicia Joseph

I'm an animal lover. I volunteer at a dog shelter and love nothing more than watching neglected or abused animals get their second chance and find loving homes. I'm also an author of the books, Her Name, Loving Again, A Penny on the Tracks, Annabel and the Boy in the Window, and a short story called This Christmas. When I'm not writing, I'm usually reading. I'll read anything as long as it is well-written and has a compelling and beautiful story. You can find me on twitter @AliciaJAuthor.

8 thoughts on “Labeling the Lesbian”

  1. Brilliant blog. There are so many issues here you can take further in your writing, Alicia. I could see a novel based in a lesbian community where all these interpersonal dynamics could be fully explored. 🙂

  2. Well said. The first time I cut my hair short–and many times since–I got taunted in the schoolyard for being a “dyke”. I’m still trying to figure out how hair cut determines sexuality, but I will say this–I date men, but much like you, always feel the need to protect my partner and in many ways am still the “man” of the relationship.

    And yes, straight girls like converse too. At least, I do.

    1. Thank you for reading Dianna and I’m sorry for the name-calling. A person’s haircut shouldn’t determine sexuality, but unfortunately it seems to be that way for some. Maybe being the “protector” is a woman thing, gay or straight. We have that natural protective instinct, maybe. Anyhow, thanks again for reading and leaving a reply and it’s awesome to know that straight girls love cons, too. 🙂

  3. Stick to writing about what you know. There are lots of different kinds of butches out there and we don’t all hew to the stereotype. I’m as butch as they come and I do all the heavy lifting and all the cooking, and 1/2 of the cleaning. My partner is a better driver, and does the social arrangements, and the other 1/2 of the cleaning. We look as different as can be, but our relationship is equal and respectful.

    1. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment Jamie Ray. This piece wasn’t written to stereotype anyone, it was to question the stereotype. I pointed out early in my piece that I don’t write about the Butch/Femme dynamic because of the very fact that I don’t know what it entails. But i appreciate the discussion. Thanks for engaging. 🙂

  4. Too bad society labels such activities as male or butch. In my house, I do the plumbing and fixing and whatever because my father taught me while my husband is totally clueless. He’s just the muscle when I need it. And romance for romance is great without working in those deeper societal issues. Many readers just want the escape.

    1. Thank you for reading, Susan. I hate labels, but some may be comfortable with a “defined” role. That’s awesome your father taught you how to do those things – I’m sure your husband appreciates it. Plumbers are expensive!

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