Question: “I don’t understand your post. What about insecure, deferential butch women??”

i presume you mean butch cis women. i’ll respond to your question with that reading of it.

i’m inclined to ask back at you rhetorically, “what about insecure, deferential butch [cis] women??”, because how one articulates (or acts) is only one-half of a bigger picture.

in short, the dialectic (i.e., social negotiation/two-way tension) between people with masculine privilege and feminine marginalization is that there are two functions at work whenever one person interacts socially with another: one, an articulation of femininity, masculinity, some hybrid, or something else by one individual (e.g., a butch cis woman); and two, the way that person is placed by others in any given social situation (which can be anything from customer service, to walking on the sidewalk, to intimacy, to workplaces, and so on).

one masculine privilege of a deferential butch cis woman (extending from the example i gave in the piece i wrote previously): she is still not going to receive, in aggregate, the same untoward attention from others in, say, a public nightspace as someone articulating themselves in a femme or feminine capacity. this is where the aforementioned dialectic comes in as relevant.

likewise, a deferential butch cis woman, from a distance, may still be placed by someone as a masculine presence — which may elicit a defensive reaction by someone who experiences feminine marginality regularly. for example, that feminine person may change their walking route to avoid the presence of their butch person’s perceived masculinity. meanwhile, that butch person doesn’t change their walking path at all.

this was evident historically in the mid-20th century in cities where to be placed as feminine in public nightspace meant to be criminalized by police officers who would cite or arrest any feminine person who wasn’t being accompanied by a masculine chaperone — on the presumption that she was either a sex worker, a drug user, or in the case of feminine trans women, violating municipal by-laws on so-called “cross-dressing.” within (disproportionately white) cis lesbian butch/femme culture, there arose a trend for butch cis women (and so-called “passing women”) to chaperone someone who was articulating themselves in a decidedly feminine capacity in public spaces so to keep the police away. often, if viewed from a distance, those officers (almost always cis white het men) would leave that couple alone.

being placed as whatever is something largely out of one’s own hands from day to day; over the long-term, though, one certainly has some substantive agency over this, as evidenced by hundreds of thousands of trans people who are doing this for their very own lives.

in another example, a masculine (ostensibly cis and het) person walking that same public path at night will be less likely to pay as much mind to a butch presence than they would a decidedly femme presence. that lowered likelihood of being marked as feminine becomes advantageous — a masculine privilege — when one is marked as masculine (or more precisely, isn’t marked at all). the likelihood of catcalls and the “hey baby” harassments drop precipitously.

does that mean a deferential (by the way, we haven’t really qualified what “deferential” means here) butch cis woman is free from marginalization? of course not. privilege and marginality aren’t a simple binary for every social situation. but in aggregate, a masculine butch cis woman is not going to know the same marginalization in any given space as a feminine person, a feminine cis woman, or a feminine trans woman, in the same spaces.

and this is before even the intersectional axis of race is brought into the equation, as (for example) black butch cis masculinities are placed by others in significantly different capacities than her white butch cis counterpart. in some instances, it may put her at more risk for harm by other masculinities, and in others, an even greater burden of being placed as a masculine “threat” (disproportionately by white women).

i hope this response is somewhat helpful.


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