person with a hat and glasses stood in front of a colourful background.
Pip Warcup, 37, is from East Yorkshire and identifies as non-binary and works at a Sixth Form, going by Tutor Warcup. (Image credit: Pip Warcup.)

When people hear the word ‘butch’, they may turn their nose up or laugh or might imagine a very masculine man or a manly woman.

But not much is known or appreciated about butch people — both in and out of their community. Masculine-presenting women, for example, can be viewed negatively by some lesbians.

An identity, butch is complex — defined by its history, stereotypes and, most importantly, actual butch people.

How butch is represented in the media has significant influence in today’s world.

“Positive representation for the LGBT+ community is vitally important throughout all aspects of life,” says spokesperson from Notts LGBT+ Network. “It opens up a space for wider cultural acceptance and the breaking down of barriers.”

‘If you don’t see it, you don’t know it’s possible’

Lack of positive representation has led to stigma and stereotypes associated with the label — making younger people shift away from wanting to even utter the word butch out loud.

For Ell Harrison, 21, who uses she/her pronouns, this rings true.

“If I’m honest, I have no relation to the word butch. It carries shame and too much masculinity. I feel like there is a really strict stereotype in how you have to present to be able to use the term.”

black and white image of woman in front of brick wall.
Ell Harrison, 21, from Hull, feels uncomfortable identifying with the butch label due to the stigma and stereotypes surrounding the identity. (Image credit: Ell Harrison)

For Generation Z, the most popular representation of butch identities includes stereotypes such as Boo from Orange is the New Black and Shane from The L Word.

Pip Warcup, 37, who uses they/them pronouns, came out during their time at university and used their 20s to figure out their sexuality and gender identity.

“I thought to myself, I’m going to shop in the men’s section now, but then I think I just realised that it was because I was more comfortable with it, and that was who I am.

“Dressing in a butch way is actually quite freeing because it’s an expression of myself,” they add.

Kay Knighting, 47, a writer and TikTok creator, who uses he/him pronouns, describes his past as “chaotic” after facing a troubled childhood and conversion therapy.

Kay uses his platform on TikTok to spread joy and, most importantly, be a visible and happy butch person, breaking down the identity’s stereotypes.

He says, “The whole world tells people who are born female that they have to be feminine, can we not just be positive about being masculine as well as just embrace and show the positive sides of being butch?

“I strongly connect to this side of being a gentleman and just the aspect of being the hero guy and rejecting all that toxicity that I understood and experienced from men.”

‘I don’t relate to the word butch. it carries shame’

The lack of representation means butch people often turn to men for masculine role models in the media, which sometimes can be dangerous.

Kay found himself looking up to action heroes and gentlemen to inspire him. “My role models, because of the invisibility of butches, were heroic men. They were the action heroes that were also gentlemen, particularly old Hollywood men,” says Kay.

“That was actually dangerous because some of those role models were potentially toxic as well. I wish I had seen more people like me, standing proud and being real about the hard stuff, but also just saying- you can be happy! You don’t have to fit in!”

person wearing a brown shirt posing in front of a blank background.
Kay Knighting, 47, from the Midlands, had action heroes as his childhood role models but they were ‘potentially toxic’ (Credit: Kay Knighting)

For Pip, trying to find representation in the media felt impossible until they saw Ginny Lemon on RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2021. It was their “lightbulb moment” as they realised they were non-binary.

“I always knew that I was queer or other. I was obsessed with Oscar Wilde and anybody else within the culture that I could latch on to their otherness. Growing up, I don’t think I saw anybody that I identified with as such.”

They adds, “I remember in school, we had some teachers we thought were gay, and we’d know that other teachers were talking and ridiculing these members of staff. I remember seeing that and thinking, wow, even adults are not OK with this, why would I ever try to be OK with it?”

As a member of Generation Z, Ell’s exposure to representation is no better than those of generations above her, she says. “I wish I could have seen at least one lesbian on TV growing up, so I didn’t have to come out to my friends as if I was telling them I had murdered someone.”

Butches have always existed within the LGBTQ+ community and long before the community could even be called one, positive representation is vital for every sub-community, but butches especially need to be able to see it’s okay to be butch.

In Kay’s words: “If you don’t see it, you don’t know it’s possible.”