“I grew up with so much internalised homophobia. And I just took that on board from the society around me. In Australia, to present as butch as a queer woman is thought of as this outdated ideal. The turning point for me was going to the States, where people were attracted to me because I was masculine, not despite me being masculine.
“Before that, I felt like I had an attractive personality and was fun to be around and that people liked me because of that. But they never looked at me with this objectification. Which sounds weird, because that’s something that people try and escape continuously. Especially women. But I think everything has a fine balance. Too much of that is awful. Having none of it at all also feels awful. I think it’s nice to have this middle zone, where you can tell sometimes that somebody’s just looking at you, smiling at you in the bar or giving you the eye. Those are things I missed out on my entire life, until I was twenty-five. Up until that point, I had just assumed I was very unattractive.
“Still to this day, when I go to the States, within two days of being there, I can have somebody hitting me up about wanting to date or wanting to hook up. I can literally count down the hours till it happens. Whereas I can be in Australia for months on end without having any kind of romantic interest whatsoever. And that’s with me trying, asking people out. For so long I thought I was making it up. It took me years to realise that it’s not actually me. It literally is the queer scene over there. Masculinity in women, people are attracted to it. I see that they have their own struggles and issues as a community. But I also see that here, to be a queer woman, the best thing to do is be what wider society deems physically attractive.
“My zine, Butch Is Not a Dirty Word, was something I was just putting together for me and my friends. The idea came out of meeting Meg Allen, who’s done a photo series on butch women. I remember seeing that project and being like, ‘Oh my god, I have never in my life seen anyone portray butch women positively, as though they weren’t a joke.’ I ended up interviewing her in Oakland, California, and now am very good friends with her. That really was the driver behind the whole thing. I was like, ‘You know what? I want to do the same thing, but in Melbourne.’ So Georgia Smedley, the photographer, and I spent close to twelve months every weekend going to someone’s house and taking a photo of them.
“I thought if we launch it at the queer book store, we might be able to fill the space. And then it was insane. Our friends couldn’t even get in, because so many people wanted to get in. I was only going to get a hundred copies printed and then we ended up getting five hundred copies printed and sold out of them all. It’s just been this thing that’s blown up, totally by accident. But I guess it shows that there is this gap there for masculine presenting women.
“I might present masculine, but internally I feel very feminine. And I feel very female identified in my emotions and my mentality. I often joke that the only butch about me is my haircut and the way I dress. It’s just an aesthetic for me. Other people might present feminine and just be so masculine internally and in the way they approach the world. People think masculinity belongs to men and femininity belongs to women. But they don’t. Those two things are anyone’s. They’re anyone’s to use and play with and adapt to and take and leave at any point in their lives.”
Image: Georgia Smedley
This article first appeared in frankie magazine issue 72 (July/Aug 2016).