Where Them Butches At?: X Factor-Induced Thoughts on the Invisibility of Masculine Women

It's currently the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year. By which of course I can only mean one thing... It's X Factor season!!!! Oh, X Factor. You make life so good. In general, I'm a massive reality TV watcher. Like, huge. I love BBC3 - I never miss an episode of Don't Tell The Bride or Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents. I'm also a sucker for competitions: I watch The Apprentice annually.

But X Factor's got to be my favourite. Every year I get way too involved and am disappointed to see the contestant I'm rooting for voted out early on. Little Mix have been the only exception to this rule. Love me some Little Mix. So, as usual, I'm settling into my routine of anti-social weekends in front of the telly. But there's something which always disrupts my merry X Factor-watching, and it's the same thought every year:
God, I'd love to see some women who look like me on this show.

People always talk about "femme invisibility" in reference to lesbians. But in reference to not just the lesbian community but society in general, I'd like to bring everyone's attention to "butch invisibility". X Factor makes me acutely aware of the invisibility of masculine women. I gave this some thought and have to put it down to the separation of the contestants into categories: "Boys", "Girls", "Overs" and "Groups".

It was Bootcamp this weekend and as I write this, I just finished watching the show where the Girls were selected for Judges' Houses. They flocked onto the stage in great numbers and were all a concoction of pretty dresses, fake eyelashes, glitzy jewellery and in more than one case, fake flowers on some body part or other. I know that tomorrow this will be counteracted by the Boys taking to the stage in hoards, dressed like One Direction, all doing the "Cheeky Chappy" routine. Now I'd like to say for the record that I'm not in any way putting down women presenting themselves in a feminine way. Please, go for it. Have a ball. But for visibility's sake, I'd like to see some of the girls work the look that always seems to be left down to the boys.

This lack of female masculinity is so not solely an X Factor issue. Every time The Apprentice is on I wish for a female contestant in a suit and tie. I watched three seasons of Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents awaiting one gay teenager and when that gay teenager came, it was a camp gay boy. Oh, how I longed for a baby dyke in unflattering board shorts embarrassing her parents by getting wasted and bragging about her female conquests! And X Factor follows this tune. Gay boys are a frequent sight on the show. Gay girls... not so much. And especially not in board shorts.

I guess why this annoys me so much is that X Factor is always painfully on trend, to a camp, cheesy extent. My favourite bit of every series is when they reveal all the contestants who've been put through to the Live Shows and their newly done, ridiculously stylish looks. Everyone on X Factor is so chic and there's such an emphasis on looking good: the Judges' feedback will often be to comment on the contestant's appearance.

To a lesser extent, I feel this focus on looks when I watch The Apprentice too. The contestants always look super sharp and suave, and for the women this means very tight dresses and skirts, teamed up with killer heels. This gives off the impression that for a woman to be successful, this is how she should look, and leaves one feeling that masculine-looking women don't look smart or business-like.

And this just isn't true.
Millions upon millions of masculine women have a deep and invested interest in their appearance and looking good, myself among them.
Companies such as The Butch Clothing Company are thriving. The BCC makes suits for women, in the style of men's suits but to fit a female body. I read that in three years, they received 85,000 clients, and have had customers fly to England from as far as Norway to get suits made. They also offer video consultations for women living further afield and ship them their tailor-made suits. With each suit costing at least £800 a pop, this demonstrates to me that masculine women can care deeply about looking good.

Despite said masculine women priding themselves on their appearances a lot of the time, the attitude in our society remains that female masculinity is unattractive. In Anita Dolce Vita's Huffington Post article, "You're Too Pretty to Be Gay" Is Not a Compliment, she discusses how when people give her said non-compliment, it is not only patronising and ignorant about feminine lesbians, but it implies that women who are masculine are unattractive. I found her statement "butch-identified women who are in butch/femme relationships state that people often think of their femme partners as the more attractive one in the couple" particularly resounding.

There is a sense in society that in order for a woman to be attractive, she has to look feminine. What's more, if a woman isn't feminine, she's automatically unattractive. I've had more conversations than I could count with people who seem to think that referring to someone as "butch" is an insult and should only be used to imply someone is "ugly" on account of their masculinity. People who shall not be named have told me that individuals such as Ellen DeGeneres or Shane from The L Word shouldn't be referred to as "butch" and I can only assume that this is because they think women such as the two I just named are attractive despite their masculine appearances, thus salvaging them from being called "butch", a word they clearly believe to have negative connotations. And when shows such as X Factor, which pride themselves on being painfully hip, don't feature masculine females, the invisibility not only implies that masculine females don't look good, but it also implies that we are frumpy, not good enough and generally uncool.

This having been said, I'll end on a happier note. I don't believe all is lost for masculine women. Slowly but surely, and once in a butch moon, masculine women are starting to elbow their way into the limelight. It makes me so happy to see models like Casey Legler , who is signed to a male modelling agency and models exclusively men's clothes. There are even some masculine presenting female pop stars: a personal fave is Courtney Rumbold, one third of girl band Stooshe, who can frequently be seen rocking a tux, slacks or shorts while her feminine bandmates wear evening gowns, leggings or mini skirts.

Female masculinity can also be seen to be increasing in fictional TV shows. I recently watched Orange Is The New Black and absolutely loved it - as everyone did everywhere - but my favourite thing about it was its representation of women as so real, so human and so diverse. My absolute favourite example of this was the fantastic Lea Delaria's Big Boo, an oldskool butch who used fabulous expressions like, "She dumped my butch ass!" and dedicated to her look right down to the fuck off massive tattoo reading "BUTCH" across her lower arm. Not only was this the most butch woman I've ever seen on mainstream TV, this was not a joke role. This was a named, recurring character. This was a character who masturbated on screen, in a scene which didn't make fun of her but represented her as a person with a sexual appetite.

And of course, there have been brief moments of masculinity amongst the X Factor's women. Cher Lloyd did a fabulous performance of BoB and Bruno Mars' Nothin' On You during her time on the show, for which she wore a little tux topped off with her signature swagga. And of course, there was even one extremely prominent lesbian who has a tendency to get Beer Fear, one Lucy Spraggan. Who could forget her flannel-clad rendition of Gold Digger, topped off with her cheeky sideways glances at her backing dancers? Certainly not me. To see a lesbian, dressed in a masculine manner, perform a song about other women - and then to talk about how she's a lady lover with Nicole when the Judges made comments! - has to be one of my favourite X Factor moments ever. Scratch that. It is my favourite. And I'm telling you now, anyone who gives me repeats of this experience will have my vote.




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