When I began to identify as “butch,” I started deliberately changing my appearance. I had always been the tomboy, the sporty one. I grew up wearing a lot of androgynous clothes, mainly jeans and t-shirts. In college, I grew a little more confident and occasionally wore men’s button up shirts and started buying men’s jeans. It took me long into my twenties to really begin to claim my identity. I went through a cargo shorts phase and then discovered men’s fashion blogs and started slowly changing my style. There were a lot of obvious outward changes to my look during those years. But some of the things that most helped me to claim my identity were the little things that no one would ever know about. Looking back, I often wish I had been confident enough to make these little changes sooner as they really helped me to own my butch identity. Here are some of the little things that meant the most in my journey from tomboy to full blown butch.
Deodorant: Changing deodorant might seem silly. Deodorants for both sexes usually work well for me. But deodorants are almost always scented in a gender specific way. Putting on a deodorant that was neutral or masculine smelling was a small moment each morning when I claimed my masculine identity.
Hair products: I have had several short hairstyles in the past ten years. When I wore a short spiked look, I loved to use American Crew products. Men’s products seem focused on short hair and they work very well for several of the shorter butch looks. Again, the products have a more masculine scent that reaffirms the fact that you are going to look handsome all day.
Shaving: There are two different aspects of shaving for butches: legs and face.
I don’t prefer to shave my legs except in the summer when I wear shorts because I personally don’t think hairy scary butch is a good summer look. The rest of the year, when my legs are in pants, I leave my leg hair alone. This is not some feminist battle cry, but rather a preference for low maintenance. The contrast with my wife’s smooth and sexy legs make me feel rougher and more masculine.
The second aspect of shaving is my face. This is obviously not something everyone has to deal with, but for those of us with either dark or abundant facial hair, it must be addressed. I used to get my cheeks and chin waxed. The problem with waxing is that you have to let your hair grow long before you can go get it painfully ripped out at the roots. That shit hurts. And I was embarrassed during the growing out phase of the process. So, being irritated with the waiting one day, I simply shaved my face at the sink. And I liked it. So now I shave my face. I like how it feels to apply the shave cream and to slowly and methodically remove all the hair. I like the smoothness of my face right afterwards. I’ve even grown to like the roughness of the stubble as it grows back. Shaving is one of those small things that no one will ever see, but adding it as a routine has given me small moments of masculinity that I enjoy.
Toiletries: I like to use neutral toiletries. I like soap instead of body wash and I like it to smell clean instead of scented. I like natural tea tree based shampoos and face wash. I like to use a neutral face lotion. And at night I like to go to bed with a fresh feeling face that I’ve cleaned using simple cleansing facial clothes. Using products that are neutral and clean smelling lets me focus on natural products and avoid all of those floral scented products that seem to dominate the toiletry aisles.
Underwear: What you wear under there might seem like an obvious change for a butch. Perhaps no other change feels quite as drastic and quite as right as finally getting rid of those girl briefs and pulling on some masculine underwear. Every butch will have a different preference – boxers and boxer briefs might be the most common, but sometimes a pair of briefs are just the ticket. A quick word of advice: don’t get those heavy cotton Hanes or Fruit of the Loom underwear available at the big box stores. Yes, they are cheap and you get a lot in one bag. But they are heavy cotton and lose their shape quickly and before you know it you are wearing the equivalent of culottes under your pants. That is not comfortable. Its easy to find nice fittingly boxer briefs online and once you wear a great fitting pair, you will never want to go back. For me, making the switch to masculine underwear was both freeing and confirming. I just felt better – more confident and like I had a little bit of swagger.
All of these changes are little. They are things that perhaps no one but your girlfriend or partner or wife will ever know about. I remember being hesitant to try some of them. I was afraid I would feel silly, or my wife would think I was ridiculous, or it would be a waste of money. What I found out, though, is that each change was a part of me claiming my identity. Each time I embraced the more masculine option, I felt more like myself. And so each change has given me a small boost in confidence that has made it easier to make the next change. And as I get more comfortable claiming what feels natural, I feel less dependent on society’s definitions of “normal.” These small masculine choices are my normal now and each of them is a part of what being butch is to me. The little things really do make a difference.