The last time I ever wore a dress was around the end of 2001: it was at a ‘suit party’ in the Glasgow Women’s Library, and I decided to be contrary by getting my nails and make up done professionally as well as curling my hair before slipping into kitten heels and a sexy wee black number that I bought cut-price from ‘Jane Norman’ in the Braehead shopping centre. This was during a fashion-phase where it was socially acceptable for women in general (and not just lesbians) to wear neck-ties, and I had a different one for every Friday and Saturday night that I spent strutting around in Glasgow’s pink triangle.
I was reminded of my ridiculous dress-and-heels endeavour after going to ‘WOW’ (‘Women Of The World’) festival last weekend at London’s Southbank Centre to see ‘The Butch Monologues’, a play which celebrates female masculinity, written by Laura Bridgeman (‘Hot Pencil Press’) and performed by ‘The Drakes’, a collective who describe themselves as ‘dandies’, ‘rogues’ and ‘kings’, as well as ‘a gallus band of butches, transmen and gender rebels’. I had seen the advert for the performance a couple of weeks before it made it’s debut at last year’s South Bank Centre, and I was thoroughly disappointed when I missed it.
Because butch and transmasculine people are so under-represented by the mainstream media that we rarely get to hear their voices. In fact, the term ‘butch’, when being attributed to a female-bodied person by someone other than themself, is usually meant as a slur, and often used interchangeably with the word ‘ugly’; and even in modern lesbian-orientated TV programs and films do we rarely see realistic depictions of strong, dapper women who don’t wear skirts and buck the traditional typecast of what a female is supposed to look like.
TBM was well worth the wait though: autobiographical stories from real butch, transgender and non-binary-identified individuals were acted out in the spirit of Eve Ensler’s controversial show, ‘The Vagina Monologues’ ; and it proved to be a candid and somewhat hilarious performance about identity and desire which packed a powerful emotional punch. One of the things I particularly liked was the way the monologues were used to point out the fine line that often exists between butch lesbians and those who are on the transgender spectrum, and yet at the same time it was made abundantly clear that for many people those two identities are poles apart.
The show was also a sell-out, with many people being turned away at the door. Now, I have no idea what percentage of the audience was lesbian, bisexual, trans or queer; and – despite my pre-conceived notion that this would only attract a gaystream audience – it really did not matter. Bridgeman took a fairly niche market subject matter and recreated it to highlight universal themes which could appeal on different levels to anyone, regardless of their sexuality or gender expression. Because most of the population has had disappointments in love; and we’ve all been forced by our parents or our school or workplace at some point to wear clothes that we hated; and it’s a rare person who has not felt socially embarrassed or, equally, elated when we have been ogled or when someone has disclosed that they find us sexually attractive.
The biggest giggles in our row seemed to be sparked when each Drake, in turn, announced their character’s preferred brand of underwear. Antonia actually snorted and nudged me in the ribs at this point. Yes, it’s true, I am a wee bit particular about what I like to wear down there; and, yes, I did once buy twenty-one pairs of identical ladies’ Bench boxer shorts (nineteen black plus a grey and a white pair) – and you can snigger all you like.
Antonia challenged me to celebrate my inner butch by writing this post. She also dared me to get my hair cut short, but that’s not happening anytime soon. Who says you can’t be masculine and have long hair anyway?