Butch and the ‘gender wars’

A political and theoretical genealogy


  • Irene Villa University of Verona, Italy




In the contemporary international scenario, trans rights movements are expe-riencing political backlash from some feminist and lesbian feminist groups that identify themselves as gender-critical. The backlash is often carried out in the name of defending not only women, but also lesbians, in particular butch and tomboy lesbians, from ‘transitioning’. The article explores how gender-critical activists and journalists use the figure of the young queer tomboy and the adult butch lesbian in the Italian media and newspapers, and then it focuses on the history of the politicization of butch identities and sexualities in the English-speaking world, particularly in the United States, to counteract gender-critical discourses. The article engages with the political history of gender and sexuality as it relates to feminist and queer theory developments to challenge the gen-der-critical and TERF (trans-exclusionary-radical-feminist) uses of ‘butch’ and contribute to a transfeminist politics oriented towards radical change and the valorization of sexual and gender subcultural knowledge.

Keywords: butch, transmasc, lesbian subcultures, feminism, TERF wars, gender wars, gender-critical, queer.