This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity
George: I grew up mostly on the Kapiti Coast. I have a middle class background. Both my parents are teachers. I have two younger brothers and I used to hang out with them quite a bit growing up.
Jac Lynch: So as a kid, how would you describe yourself as a child?
George: I think I was maybe a bit of a loner, had my own adventures, usually involving tree houses and imaginary wars with my brothers. We were quite close growing up and I guess left to do our thing a lot of the time. Not that my parents weren’t around or anything just left in our own world.
Jac: And what were things like for you at school?
George: Again I was probably a bit of a loner. I didn’t feel isolated but I don’t know maybe my Mum worried or something. It was more that I was in my own world doing my own imaginary things like have projects for myself like climb certain trees or gather berries or something like that around the school.
Jac: Did you see yourself as being different at all from other people when you were at school?
George: Not really, I thought I was pretty run of the mill at the time like I was involved in other people’s games and stuff. I wasn’t really into the mothers and fathers games or something. I thought that was a bit silly. I’d go along with it but I’d be like surely there’s more to life than this.
I guess my Mum is quite an independent person as well and she’d be like you don’t have to restrict yourself to certain gender roles or whatever. ‘Girls can do anything’ and that sort of motto was her basic principle I guess.
Jac: Do you see anyone as being particularly influential on you when you were younger?
George: I guess my Mum and Dad, yeh, sort of shaped my interests and my approach to the world I guess.
Jac: You were involved in the Butch on Butch photo exhibition. Can you tell us a little bit about why you were involved in that?
George: I got involved because I wanted to be part of a conversation about what butch meant and what female masculinity could look like and how I felt about butch as a separate thing and as a thing that is related to female masculinity but it’s not necessarily the same thing.
Jac: Can you tell us how you identify if you do?
George: I identify as a butch woman so for me butch is an identity which is compatible with my masculinity as a female person but I think it is something I have grown into and learned more about and it is kind of continually developing as an identity for me and what that means and stuff.
Jac: I remember from the narrative that you wrote to for the project to go with your portrait that you said you remembered your first identifying as a butch.
George: I think I was actually quite old by the time I actually decided that because as a younger person I was seen as more aggressive than a young woman should and interested in things that a young woman shouldn’t and maybe it was just that at some point I would switch into ideal young woman mode but I was just like nah stuff that I’m going to just embrace this part of myself and this is just a part of who I am and it was just let’s move forward with being comfortable with that part of my gender.
Jac: Do you have any ways of describing what that might mean in the world?
George: So that might mean like I would chase my brothers around with a stick or something like that and just micro comments like oh you're so aggressive,you talk like a boy, you think like a boy, why are you such a boy, you must be a boy. And I just remember at some point I decided I wasn’t going to take that like a dis in a way it’s kind of complicated because it is a dis in that circumstance and so I think coming to terms with that and just deciding well I’m going to accept that and deal with it.
Jac: And how is it for you in the world now?
George: Ah pretty good. Like continually developing my own identity and how that relates to other people and how I feel about it. I have good butch friends who you know we kind of talk about it sometimes in our own special way.
Jac: What is that special way? What’s that look like?
George: I don’t know. We might go for a swim or something and hang out and just talk about stuff and what’s on top kind of thing and what stuff bothers us on like a gender level as well. Like going to a restaurant and people are like hey ladies and stuff like that. I know there are more normatively gendered women that are bothered by being ‘lady-ised’ but it just seems so unlikely. You’re just kind of like ‘what?’.
Jac: That’s sort of an example of getting seen as something you don’t really identify with. Does it affect you in other ways like in work or in looking for jobs or those sort of areas?
George: It’s hard to tell cos you can’t read people’s minds. I mean the work I do now is stereotypically butch I guess and it’s in a male dominated field. So yeh I don’t know. Sometimes it is hard to know how people are reading you whether they are seeing you as a masculine woman or that you’re a dude or something else or you get ladyised. So you don’t always know how people are going to react so you just have to play to what are. Like I don’t say no I’m a lady when people think I’m a dude. So i just kind of roll with it while they figure it out, hopefully they don’t get mad when they finally figure it out.
Jac: Have you ever had any bad experiences with it?
George: I’ve had some sort of strange bathroom things. Where people are like ‘this is the ladies’ but nothing physical just a sort of bad vibe from people. Someone yelled at me in the supermarket when he mistook me for a dude and I turned out not to be and he was like ‘you tricked me’. I was like I haven’t done anything. Me and my friend were like this is weird but funny.
Jac: Does any of it come across as a homophobic thing for you, questioning you like that?
George: Yeh but I don’t know. I feel like I haven’t had that much homophobia that I’ve actually dealt with. I guess street harassment. I guess I wouldn’t say more than other queer people that I know. I guess that’s because I’m sort of tall and tough looking (laughs).
Jac: (laughs) That must be it. You say you meet up with other butches occasionally. Have you actively sought out friendships with butches or is that something that’s just come into your life?
George: It’s something that’s just come into my life and I really value those connections I guess. Because there’s not that many, if any. And other butches might feel differently about their identity and their approaches to that. I’ve learnt to have a sensitivity to that as well. I guess anyone butch or otherwise who kind of gets it is kind of cool as well. There’s been lots of awesome femmes who have talked to me about stuff, told me things or whatever.
Jac: Do you think there are stereotypes?
George: Yes, I’d say there are. I think because butch is quite a visible thing it tends to be a stereotype in itself. And I think that you can embody a stereotype in a way where you are being yourself as well.
Jac: Having been in the exhibition did you find that anyone reacted to you being in it or did they give you feedback about being in it?
George: Most people I think were pretty excited about the project and they liked what I wrote about it and I thought that was nice. And I think going on from it I’d like to keep those conversations going in the community and among other butches about what it means. There were a couple of us who were like yeh butch yeh and others who were a little bit more reticent and didn’t want to own it as much and it’s like ‘just me’ kind of thing. and it would be cool if there were people who were like ‘you’re ok, kind of thing, you’re actually awesome, you’re a special unicorn (laughs) keep going with it’.
Jac: I’ve got a copy of what you wrote George and wouldn’t mind it if you do us a favour and read some of it out. It was really important that people were able to write about themselves as well as having their photo up. Are you ok about reading from it?
Jac: Cool, thanks, do you see the butch identity influencing how you will be as you get older in any way? How you are in relationships or what you dream of doing?
George: I think I would like to grow into a well-adjusted butch, I don’t know, I think that it’s a thing that you can maybe not fully fulfil in terms of the values I just read out well I think that’s aspirational because I can’t be all of those things all the time but I think it would be nice if I was.
Jac: It’s nice to be able to identify the things you want to draw on as being part of you.
George: Going easy and remembering I’m still like a human and I think it’s a good positive thing and hopefully I’ll grow into one of those.
Jac: Do you have role models?
George: Jac Lynch (laughs)
Jac: Get away with you (laughs).
George: I don’t know. Like some of the role models I’ve had have been just other masculine people whether they’re men or whether they’re transguys or whether they’re butches, just the way they relate to people, how they treat other people. Lots of just cool people.
Jac: Are there things that concern you about how the queer communities are?
George: No, not really. I think the queer communities, like it’s such a big and diverse group of people that we’re not going to get along all the time and we’re not going to be accepting of all of ourselves at once, even though it would be nice. I’d like to be part of working out that stuff sometimes instead of throwing up our hands and saying why can’t we just get along. I’d hang out with the people that are good to me and hopefully be good to them back.
Jac: If you were giving some guidance to young people coming through who might identify as butch what sort of thing would you say?
George: I’d say ‘go easy on yourself, and you’re all right, you’re ok, you’re your own special person and if butch is the thing for you then that’s cool and let’s talk about that’. I don’t know if I have all the answers to what it means either, let’s work it out.
Jac: Do you see any particular pressures for young people who have a butch identity or coming through into the queer communities, or just being themselves in the world.
George: Yeh I think there are pressures both from the queer community to identify one way or another and in the straight world who prefer if straight and cis gendered. I think that young people today have a wider vocabulary of how they want to identity and that butch needs to be a part of that as well. There’s not a prescription for how to be I think. With things like Tumblr and stuff there’s a proliferation of different people’s identities and that being a lot more open and visible and accessible to a lot more people so you don’t have to go to a certain bar to meet the other butches, they’re kind of already there.
Jac: (laughs) where are they? On Tumblr and online?
George: Yeh they’re online, on the internet. Maybe that’s advice as well. Find the internet.
Jac: Would there be any cautions around that?
George: Ah no (laughs) Yeh learn how to delete your inbox, browser history so if you are in a place where your parent’s would be mad if they found out what you are looking at.
Jac: Do you belong to any particular groups around the place?
George: Groups? Not particularly. I do do the Queer Trans* Fight Club thing which we’re hoping to reboot at some point.
Jac: Tell us about that.
George: So it’s for queer and trans* people to get together and learn martial arts skills and self defence techniques. It’s kind of like meeting up with people and having a fun wrestle and then going home. Basically you get to choose what level of activity you’re into. If you don’t want to get hit in the head then no one hits you in the head. And if you don’t want to wrestle then you don’t have to and we’ll do something else. We’ve had lots of different people come and share their specific martial art technique with us. We’ve had ju jitsu and boxing which I think some of us have had a go at outside of the group. And we’ve also had kendo, kung fu, pro wrestling, karate, tae kwon do, and other stuff. Other really experienced and skilled self defence people come and show us how they do their thing and we’re like, oh ok and you learn something every time.
Jac: That must feel pretty special with that particular group that you’re working with, queer and trans* and having other people come in and teaching you things.
George: Yeh we don’t claim any expertise or anything so we’re open for people to come in and learn and teach. We’ve had lots of really cool people get involved as well. I think having trans* in the name has helped transpeople get involved as well. More than any other queer group I’ve been in having that in the title has made it more accessible at least.