Thinking about Butch

©2019 Pamela Lewis. Used with permission.


What happened to the butches? This is often heard in the lesbian community and it got me thinking about Butch. This is not about Butch Cassidy either. As I age and care less what others think of me, I become more of my butch self. I’m also going to capitalize “Butch” as a gender identity because I have been a butch with a little “b”  and now I want to be more myself. I’ve been butch my entire life, but what people like to call “soft butch”. It was a way I could pass as straight. It made me feel safer.


Stained glass windows at Sagrada Familia (Gaudi)

As I finished seminary, I was more comfortable with my Butch self because I was in a field that was important to me. I was confident in theology and the work I would do as a pastor. Though I still had to “hide” in other ways, I gave up eye makeup. I still wore dresses, slips, hose and high heels to church or a business meeting though I hated them. Being a pastor in the Lutheran Church was one of the most rewarding and blessed vocations of my life. Of course, I lost that vocation when I came out to the Bishop of my NC Synod. The ELCA at the time had not caught up with the UCC or Episcopal Church in the ordination of Lesbians as priests or pastors.


As soon as I was removed, I got rid of all my dresses and almost all suits with skirts. I wore mostly dress suits because my professional look was more tailored. Kept a skirt and jacket that mom had bought me for my ordination in case it was needed for a family funeral. At the time, I wasn’t out to them. Yet, the more I came out to family, friends, and anyone I needed to, the freer I felt. I gave up all things “femme” and even stopped shaving my underarms and my legs. I’m not a hairy person to begin with.

Throughout my life, I’ve chosen to remain in the South. In particular, I love the state of North Carolina. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like our state politics and as a whole, the state usually elects bigoted white men as senators. Though, in truth, the senator representing my new county is a bigoted white woman. What does this have to do with how this article started at all you may wonder. How did politics get into a conversation about what it means to be a Butch? It means more than we could ever have imagined.


On one hand, I knew this. On the other hand, I don’t care for politics and in my life have avoided discussions about it. Barely knew enough to vote responsibly when I was younger. Then, a dear Coptic priest from India told me why it was important to become more interested in the politics of the U.S. Our foreign policy affects whether his people can eat. Though I can’t say I’m a political junkie, I am becoming an activist. At this point, I may be willing to say that ALL women should be activists. All people of color should become activists or at least all should become MORE INFORMED!

I’ve been reading Jill Soloway’s memoir, “She Wants It: Desire, Power, and Toppling the Patriarchy”. In truth, if a trusted politico friend had not sent it to me, I would never have known about it much less read it. There is so much in this book that is helpful. Not only in understanding the challenges of artists, but also of our Trans community. In the book, she admits to making mistakes in different ways, but by the end of the book, you also see how they correct that and also how they are transformed. It is a powerful book.


Since my divorce, I’ve asked my own questions about “who am I?” Who am I without my wife? Who am I as a differently-abled person? The only thing I know for sure is that I am claiming my art and my Butchness. When I first moved to my new town in the mountains, I happened across an Instagramer named “butch-is-not-a-dirty-word.” I bought two sets of stickers they had for sale on Instagram. One said the same thing as above. The other says, “Butches Against the Patriarchy.” Man, I love those stickers. Have I gotten brave enough to put them on my car yet? Nope. You see, I live in the South. I do have subtle stickers on my car that the LGBTQ+ community will recognize as rainbow stickers. They are subtle though.


After my separation and divorce, the only place I could find that is affordable is set in the midst of not only a large group of Republicans but many of whom are part of the 1% wealthy who buy vacation homes. I keep asking G-d what in the heck is She thinking to do that? They don’t want me here. Yet, the people in my town are wonderful. The more I get to know them, the more I accept that we are all merely human beings trying to do the best we can to get through this life. We are neighbors and friends first.


Yet, one of the things that Solloway does in her book is to encourage each of us to become more involved in the changes needed for our country to become a better place for all, not merely some. She and Eileene Myles, another activist, spent time writing what they called “The Thanksgiving Paris Manifesto” and they believed in it so much that Solloway bought the website Topple The Patriarchy.


One of the things I’ve been doing in the past two years is accepting and adapting to these truths of mine. Sometimes there are old truths (butch), and sometimes there are new (differently-abled).  I’ve finally decided that if others can’t deal with it, okay. This is who I am. I am embracing my butchness. I like being Butch. Have even been brave enough to wear ties to the church. I didn’t care what they thought. I wanted to look good. Also, I am religious. So be it. I tried changing but I was miserable. Some people would say “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Tried that too and the fact is, I am both.


I am becoming more of an activist and my wife didn’t like that at all. She was too fearful. I am not any longer; tired of hiding and always being afraid of who I am. This creative person works as hard as possible, though I am differently-abled. It took me forever to get used to my limitations. Yet, I am finding beauty in them too. In my haste to work, get a lot done, please people, there was so much WONDER that I missed. I am claiming the wonder and the mystery of life.


I’m claiming ALL of my life regardless if WHO I am makes others happy. We can’t make others happy anyway. It took forever to get that lesson. Now, I am happy to be me. For all you Butches out there, I want you to claim you too. Because


Claim it!


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My Bar Experience

gay flag half mast

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
~Joseph Heller, Catch-22

First, you must understand how challenging it is for me to post this publically as a religious person. Second, you must know that I am a lesbian. Those things being said, you might want to stop reading if you think this is going to be some kind of erotic or some gay conversion type of reading because it’s not. Go read something else.

I guess I should also say, third – I am in rage about what has happened in Orlando. Raging because it happened in the first place. Raging because the first thing I found out is how the media didn’t want people to know it was a gay bar. Why? It’s okay to shoot gays? Oh yea, and raging because some are going to blame Islamic terrorists when the truth is that this is about hatred of gays and lesbians. Anybody who is different, add your name here:

This shooting is because I, ____________, was different from those in charge.

Who is in charge would logically be our next question? Who indeed IS in charge our the United (or dis-united) States of America? Blame and pointing fingers is all that’s on the news. God, if only we would look in the mirror when we’re pointing! And yes, I include myself in that accusation. I have to say that I am guilty of being afraid of standing up for my brothers and sisters in the gay, lesbian, transgendered community in the past. Not any more.

As a writer, I have tried to write in such a way that I don’t offend anyone while also trying to stand up for my rights as a lesbian. Why? Because I am religious. Why? Because I also live in a rural Southern community and that also means lots of guns. Have I ever been afraid for my life? All the time. Why? Not because of Islamists, or gun control, but because of hatred.

From Celtic Christian Tradition Page
From Celtic Christian Tradition Page

Growing up, I knew I was religious before I understood what it meant that I was lesbian and that lesbian wasn’t acceptable. I’m just one of those people. I tried not to be religious after I lost my pastorate for coming out. That meant for me that instead of studying Christianity (the faith of my upbringing), I began to study Buddhism instead.

Still, I did go to bars. I was terrified the first time I went in college because I didn’t want the Christians to find out and also because I didn’t want to be caught up in an FBI raid. I had never been to a bar so I didn’t know what to expect. Of course, the kind college friends who took me to a bar for the first time were afraid too, but not of the FBI. They were afraid of me. Why? Because I was one of the Christians on campus who was on the Fellowship Team, President of the Baptist Student Union, and I led a dorm Bible study. Oh yeah, and I was a church music major. They were only scared of my condemnation and it must have been a pretty powerful fear because it was three of them and one of me. Still, they took me. I was really tame after all and part of them knew that.

I was afraid the first time I went to the bar in Charlotte also because I was afraid I might like it and then what? Or worse, what if it was awful and I didn’t really know who I was? Imagine my surprise when I went into this bar with loud music full of alcohol (which was a sin to the Baptist tradition at the time), and homosexuals (sinners of course) and all that I felt was RELIEF.

Yes, my first feeling upon entering a gay bar was one of relief. Finally, I was among my own people. Finally, I could relax and not be afraid that someone was going to tell me I was going to be hell (I didn’t understand the power of my inner tapes at the time). Finally, I could just breathe. At the time, I didn’t drink, but I did dance. Oh how I LOVE to dance! I was too shy to ask anyone to dance so only got to dance a few times because I didn’t want to seem aggressive. It was enough just to BE there and be safe.

What did I need to be safe from you might ask? I was raised in a rural community full of faith filled people. Lucky for me, people who grew up mostly spoke the truth when they spoke the truth so I wasn’t around a lot of liars. I was surrounded by good people. Why was I afraid?

One of the things that was spoken regularly in the area where I grew up was the derogatory use of “faggot” “gay” “lesbo” “bulldyke” and the word “homo” or “homo-SEX-ual” (emphasis not mine), on a regular basis. The people who said these derogatory things were in my family, were my friends, neighbors, church members who did not know that I was a homo. I heard every word of hatred. I remember the feelings they shared and how often homosexuals were the brunt of awful jokes. I heard these same “loving” and “good” people say that homos should be shot or gotten rid of. Add to that the religious messages sent that I was going to hell. When I was a child, I didn’t understand this at all. I was a quiet and quite literal child who felt I had not even done anything hell worthy as a kid. All that time, I was listening. All my life I’ve been listening to those around me.

As a result, I began to think and worry that every breath I took was a sin. I apologize for everything (also a challenge of most women). I repented as often as I could of thinking wrong. I have put every thought, feeling, word, etc. under a microscope in my fear of hell, that I began to realize later in life that I was a bit paranoid…and possibly neurotic. Hmmm. I wonder why.

How many times did I go to a bar after that you might ask? Three or four times in college to dance. Three or four times after college to dance and meet friends I made. Twice while in seminary to just feel like myself. Once on my church internship to dance with friends. I would buy A drink when I went, but not more. I did not like the out of control feeling I felt when I went to a bar. I JUST WANTED TO BE AROUND PEOPLE LIKE ME! I JUST WANTED TO FEEL SAFE FROM THE WORLD’S CONDEMNATION!

I capitalize that because I am raging and appalled that our world continues to ostracize people like me when we do not choose to be made how we are. We are born this way. I no longer go to bars, because it’s just NOT my thing and I hated the smoke. Also, I prefer meeting my friends at church. Luckily for me, there was a wonderful group of business professionals in Charlotte who had personally funded a safe place for the GLBT people to meet and make friends. It was a place for those of us who didn’t want to meet at a bar. Of course, as a pastor at the time, I REALLY scared people. Fortunately, God sent a table full of people who were not afraid of me as a Christian and we’ve been good friends ever since.

I go through all of this to simply say that a gay bar, like ANY bar, can be a pick up joint. But a GAY BAR is first and foremost a safe place to meet other people who have been estranged, fired, thrown out of the house. A gay bar can be just a place to make friends who won’t condemn you and who understand you…or at least it was before today.

What happened in Orlando is a hate crime! The massacre was one to kill those who are different. One AP news report said that what may have set the gunmen off was the sight of two men kissing. Which is more dangerous to our society: kissing or massacring? Dancing or massacring? Having fun or massacring?

Gays, lesbians, transsexuals, trangendered, bisexual people have stood for our civil rights in this country. They have also died for the cause like Harvey Milk. There have been family and friends of this community who stood alongside of them. However, until more of our families and friends are brave enough to stand up for their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, etc., until more straight people stand up alongside the GLBTQIA community, hate crimes will continue. Until all of us stop the hate talk, we will feed the fires of massacre.

I choose love. I choose kindness. Lord have mercy on us all.


The Nazis also targeted the LGBT
population. We must not be silent, and
we must not return hate for hate.

“…Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me,
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.”

— Pastor Martin Niemoller

Click to hear Bishop Curry of the Episcopal Church's prayer.
Click to hear Bishop Curry of the Episcopal Church’s prayer.



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