What Makes A Man A Man?

Back in 1981 my spine collapsed as a side effect of the cancer treatment I had 15 years previous. Luckily the cancer went into remission, and still has today, but no one had any idea what the future might hold.

I recently had the privilege to experience a performance of the Butch Monologues. This play features live readings of the real life stories of "the female butch, trans masculine and gender rebel" and it was a riot. Sometimes touching, sometimes very rude, but always honest and insightful, The Butch Monologues opens a door onto a secret world of a community that's always been there, striding past us all in a well fitting suit. I found the show so joyous that the production company even tweeted that my laughter would be their resounding memory of the night. You see, I owe my life to the this community, The Butch Community. As the show is made up of stories, here's mine.

Back in 1981 my spine collapsed as a side effect of the cancer treatment I had 15 years previous. Luckily the cancer went into remission, and still has today, but no one had any idea what the future might hold. On the morning of my German O Level, I awoke to find my back was agony and I was finding it hard to stand. I fought to my exam in a taxi. As I got out of the cab I collapsed and was rushed to hospital, never to walk again. Not only had I lost the ability to walk, but I had said goodbye to my erections as well. As a fifteen year old virgin, this was a VERY big deal. While getting used to not being able to walk would be a battle, I felt would never get used to being unable to have sex. So I became very depressed.

This happened during the early 80's, a time when questioning what gender was and how to demonstrate who you felt you were became more mainstream. Gender Benders filled the charts, both men and women played with what gender meant. I ran with it and took to make up, hair dye and flamboyant clothes with glee. I was, however, still absolutely sure I would never find love.

I was nothing but practical. If I could not give a woman what she needed, maybe I could be with a man? (I won't go into the details, but I hope you might be able to imagine my ill informed teenage thinking on this) I gave it try, but annoyingly discovered I was very heterosexual. Damn! It looked like I would be alone for ever. At this time, a very good friend came out to me. She had met a woman and had fallen in love. She wanted to meet this new love, and when we all got together, we hit it off straight away. I soon became the only boy in a gang of lesbians, all of whom would now be described as butch. They all dressed in amazing bright coloured Zoot suits, with clashing ties and overly polished brogues and whenever they entered a night club they cut such a dash. I was also in awe of them, as they seemed not to care about the jibes and insults thrown their way by the terrified men. Terrified? Well if you'd seen this group hit the town, zone in on a apparently straight women and watch the shock as one after another they got off with the disco dollies, now obviously not as hetero as their mates had imagined, you'd understand the fear of the men. I admired them greatly. These women were braver and stronger than most of the men I knew.

Once, following another night where straight girls "came over to the dark-side", as they put it, we were all talking about sex. I finally plucked up the courage to tell my secret. When I said I couldn't have sex because I couldn't get erections, the room exploded with laughter. When finally the hilarity eased, my best mate declared "We make love to women and we don't even have a penis. And we do it rather well, don't we girls?" - cue more raucous laughter. In that instant I realised I had been taken in by society's obsession with penetration and I hadn't spent a moment thinking about what my mates did together in the sack. In my defense I was only 18. They took me under their wing, and taught me how to "make love to a woman like a woman". Sadly towards the end of the 80's, the gay and straight scenes changed. AIDS made straight clubs scary places for anyone openly gay, and gay clubs in return had to become more exclusive and less mixed. This led our little gang to split apart, but to this day I know that I owe that group of girls who dressed and acted like boys my life. Without that night when I let my secret out, I know I would have eventually taken my life. Instead, once the laughter eased, those wonderful people put me on the road to becoming the happy, fulfilled person I am today.

The Butch Monologues is a must see, and a must read in it's newly released book form. Whether you are part of the community, feel you might be, have mates or family members who are or just want to know more, it raises question based on real experiences. Who says what a "man" is? Who says what a "woman" is? Why are we so bothered about this stuff. If nothing else it asks who looks better in a suit.

The Butch Monologues, written by Laura Bridgeman and directed by Julie McNamara, is on tour right now, and the book is out on Hot Pencil/Vital Xposure.

I told my story on the BBC, for BBC Ouch Storytelling Live.