A butch bridentity crisis: pretending I don’t care

Guest post by Sians
Art by Etsy seller FelixDion.
Art by Etsy seller FelixDion.

I never wanted to get married. I saw my parents' unhappy marriage and said “Fuck that. Love doesn't last and I will never tie myself into a miserable situation like theirs.” I, like a million other people, thought that a marriage was only about love, and since I decided that love couldn't last, I wanted no part of it.

Not only that, but I am butch. I've softened over the last few years, when I realized that I didn't have to steamroll everyone with my projected invulnerability; nevertheless, I identify as butch. It means a lot of complicated things to me, but the obvious is that I LOOK butch. I have short hair and don't wear bling, or dresses, or sexy underwear, and love button-downs, and am a martial artist… I occupy “masculine” on the public radar.

So, people were surprised when I told them I was getting married.

Even though they all know how happy I am with my relationship, that we had a commitment ceremony at Pride a few years ago, and they've seen me grow out of my general marriage-hating, they were surprised. They try to imagine me, no-frills me, as “a Bride.” Strangers, or customers at work, are surprised because, well, they assume I'm gay. They're shocked, not that I'm getting married, but that I'm a Bride. They were expecting me to fill the quiet groom role, while a femme somewhere picks out flowers and dresses and place-settings. And usually they are polite enough to keep that commentary to themselves, but often it slips out in their faces or in offhanded comments.

What really hurts me is feeling like I SHOULDN'T be excited. Feeling like I have a reputation to uphold.

They mentally re-evaluate everything they know about me, because now I have been reborn as a Bride, a Woman. There have been discussions about forcing one's excitement, about feeling the pressure to smile and be able to pull out a planner at a moment's notice and to allow the wedding production to subsume our entire lives. Sometimes I want to shake those people, those excited wedding industrial complex subscribers, and say: “This is just symbolic! This is just a party! I still have a career and friends and normal interests, thank you very much!” We probably all feel that once in awhile.

But what really hurts me more is feeling like I SHOULDN'T be excited. Feeling like I have a reputation to uphold. I saw a good friend last week and she wanted to know about wedding plans; she was very excited for me. I reluctantly admitted that I had made some plans, reluctantly showed her the rings, reluctantly talked about the guest list. I ended a lot of sentences with “or whatever” and kept my voice neutral so as not to betray myself. I didn't want yet another person to consign me to the restrictive role of Bride.

Then I did something that made me truly ashamed. I showed my friend a picture of the thrift store shoes I bought, the Perfect Wedding Shoes that have been the center of my dreams for quite some time. She asked teasingly “So are those your ‘something old?'” I choked completely. She may not have noticed my pause at all, but within a nanosecond I internally decided that if I admitted to knowing the whole whole “something old, something new” wedding thing, I would throw away every last ounce of my so-called credibility and become a white tulle shell. I floundered for a moment and eventually said, “my what?” She bought my ignorance (to both my shame and relief) and happily explained the whole thing.

I am very excited for the wedding. I am also stressed like hell and occasionally wondering why this symbolic party is so necessary, but at the end of the day I am damn excited to put on fancy clothes and say nice things to my gentleman and eat awesome food and have our parents meet each other and get my relationship validated by our families.

So, why am I so determined to pretend I don't care? Being excited to plan and execute a wedding puts me, socially, heavily into the “female” category that I've avoided so strenuously for so many years. I'm scared because I think that if I show how invested I am in my kick-ass ring and my sexy wedding shoes and the beautiful invitations and the cupcakes my sister is baking, that suddenly I will invalidate the identity I have slowly and painstakingly built. I will have my “butch” card taken away. I will have my “queer” card taken away. I will have my “Practical and Serious Person” card taken away! Ingrained sexism everywhere will call me shallow, needy, vain. I will be relegated to an uncomfortable, ill-suiting, and utterly inauthentic perception of femaleness, and that is unacceptable to me.

I'm learning that “bride” is just a thing I will be for one day, not a personality I have suddenly obtained.

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Comments on A butch bridentity crisis: pretending I don’t care

  1. Wow,
    I feel for you. You know, it is OK to embrace the excitement you truly do feel for your upcoming day. Wearing a mask of not-knowing (something old, something new) or not caring to your close friends is not helping you, and not helping those relationships.

    I have a gender queer friend who often identifies masculine, but when she (yes she) has a night where she talks about emotions n all with her girl (Some gay, some not) friends, she feels so surprised, and yet so much more well-centered, because she (in the brief moments) realizes it’s ‘OK’ to accept her female side as well.

    Rejoice in every part of you. Walls don’t have to stay up you know. But I do wish u the best.

  2. This article really touched me. It seems to me like you’re simply adding more dimension to your identity and showing your friends and family a fuller picture yourself. How wonderful! Congratulations, I hope you love every second of your wedding!

  3. This. Oh, yes. Thanks, Sians, for articulating everything I’ve been feeling (the excitement, the ambivalence, the extreme anxiety about stepping too far outside self-imposed and externally-imposed boundaries of ‘queerness’). That final paragraph, especially: “I will have my ‘butch’ card taken away. I will have my ‘queer’ card taken away. I will have my ‘Practical and Serious Person’ card taken away.” This makes me feel not so alone.

  4. I can relate to this very well. I was very similar for a long time, playing the Butch part and getting endless teasing whenever I did something that stepped out of that mold. It got to a point where it felt more like a mask than anything. I still have friends who tease me about whether or not I’m a girl because I get called ‘Sir’ a lot out in public.

    Being excited about your wedding doesn’t make you a different person, doesn’t make you weak, doesn’t make you instantly shallow, vain, or needy. I think you will enjoy the process a lot more if you own it. “Hell, yes, I got awesome shoes! And I’ll be wearing this blue tiny hat, because it is also awesome.” People will give you a whole lot more leeway in these things for a wedding.

    I’ve only been planning for a little over a week, and so far no one has batted an eye at the things I have suggested or requested. I am, like I said, pretty butch. I wear jeans, sneakers, and a men’s Polo to work every day. I sword fight. I’m in martial arts. I’m near 6′ tall and my hands are larger than most men’s. I want amazing shoes and a long skirt with a bustle and a pretty cake.

    As long as it makes you feel like a rock star, own it. I have a feeling you aren’t giving your friends enough credit. And if they do give you flak, use those martial arts skills and/or a smile, a nod, and a quick exit.

  5. I planned a Halloween Costume Wedding- and I loved it. I secretly hoarded ‘normal’ bridal magazines, picked out a white ‘bridal’ gown, flowers, the vision in my head. I did not really WANT it, but I LIKED it. If I had to have a traditional affair, that would have been it (beach or garden, both were planned). I hid my obsession from all but my now husband. He would tease and tell me how great our wedding would be, how special and different. It made me feel better about my pretend wedding, because it was what was expected. Therefore, my pretend helped me in my Halloween Wedding. If the choice was b/t ‘traditional-like’ or ‘Halloween’, the Halloween won b/c my pretend wedding covered the other things.

    Not sure if that helped, but embrace the ‘being different’ and imagine what people expect of you. It will make your day stand out even more and your event even more special that it is so ‘not you’, everyone will know just how special it is! Revel in the fact you WANT different! You live the way you feel you should the rest of the time!

  6. I think being excited about the wedding, doesn’t mean you are any less Butch, it just means you are super excited to commit totally (and legally YAY!) to your partner. You just found the perfect person that’s all!

    My Boy (super manly butch type man) is psyched about wedding planning and flowers and decorations. If Mr. Guns-Trucks-NASCAR is allowed to giggle about centerpieces you are too!

  7. I think this also says a lot about gender roles in general, but I have to ask, WHY have you avoided a feminine expression of yourself? I realize that you identify as butch, and to do anything else may not feel right to you, but to say that you don’t want to be perceived as a feminine woman who is excited to be a bride is to basically say that 1) only women get excited about weddings and 2) being feminine is a bad thing.

    I don’t point this out because I think you actually feel that way. I point it out because I think acknowledging it may help you accept what you’re really feeling. There is nothing wrong with being excited about something that makes you happy, and just as important, there is nothing distinctly feminine about being excited about something that makes you happy. I see no conflict of interest here.

    You’re only a bride for a day. You’re a wife presumably forever. I say if being a married woman doesn’t make you question yourself than why worry about the bride part?

  8. I understand that your identity has been given a title by others “Butch” that you like to identify it. But why can’t you be a “Butch Bride” or a “Butch Woman”

    It seems almost like you are willing to let others perceptions of you limit who you are. Which is a shame.

    I lost a good friends years ago, transgender, because they were so insistance that my like for heels, earrings and makeup was because I was brainwashed by society.

    I’ve always believed in a motto, that I want to share – Play the Role that makes YOU happy. Be who you are, Do what you want.

  9. This post really moved me too! I agree with a lot of the other commenters, but I still wanted to say a little something 🙂

    I am a woman marrying a man, and I feel like the sentiment you express in this post is relevant to pretty much every person. Every person is cast into a stereotype by society, be it malicious or benign in motive, and yet, although there are enough commonalities to create the stereotypes, no one is really exactly like that, right? Its the Yin-Yang of the universe, after all. We are conveniently reminded of this via a little graphic adjacent to this topic’s title even!

    So to refresh (selectively excerpted from “The Web That Has No Weaver”): Yin and Yang are two polar complements. They are convenient labels used to describe how things function in relation to each other and to the universe. They are used to explain the continuous process of natural change. They also represent a way of thinking. In this system of thought, all things are seen as parts of a whole. Fixed essences are abstractions; there are no absolutes. The character for Yin originally meant the shady side of a slope. The original meaning of Yang was the sunny side of a slope… Any Yin or Yang aspect can be further divided into Yin and Yang. “There is nothing in the world greater than the tip of a hair that grows in the autumn, while Mount Tai is small. No one lives a longer life than a child who dies in infancy, but Peng Zu (who lived many hundred years) died prematurely.”

    I bring this up because: wearing a dress doesn’t get your butch card revoked, and in fact, so what if it does? That card isn’t all of who you are, YOU are who you are, so if you want to be an exciting mixture of coexisting opposites, contradictions, and conundrums, rock on with your bad self! Reality is so multiplied by peoples’ perceptions, so if one person sees you as butch and another as a tulle shell, and a third sees you as practical and serious and a fourth as quixotic and whimsical, they could all be right in some fashion or facet, and in the end the important thing is that you and your life partner see you as honest-to-goodness 100% YOU. Be yourself, get excited and squeal about frosting and then go to the dojo and be a bad ass.

    Other people’s categorizing sounds like other people’s problems, not yours. Let them squirm in their categories and just be true to yourself! Best wishes 🙂

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