Laura Bridgeman, 52 (also known as Dr B or Doc) is a writer and editor. They wrote The Butch Monologues, are currently developing two screenplays and are a lecturer at Guildhall and Imperial. Krishna Istha, 25 (also known as Pups) is a performance artist and stand-up comedian. They tour the world with their art, and are currently doing their trans stand-up show Beast. Laura and Krishna live together, perform together and helped each other recover from top surgery.
Laura says: “We put this piece together because we wanted to talk about the intersection of butch and trans identities. It’s something that often comes up in our house and is an everyday conversation for us but that’s not true for many others. We wanted a way to archive these conversations in the hope that someone else might also find the sense of community we have.
As we write this, we both feel really lucky to be in the space we’re in – surrounded by love and support and sharing across generations. We’re lucky to be able to find communities across the world too. We hope these conversations serve to dispel myths about butchness, transness and race.
Dr B: I met Krishna in 2014. I was performing at a Duckie event where Christeene Vale was playing. It was down at the Old Fridge in Brixton. I was with the Drakes, a group for people who defined as female masculine, butch, gender rebels, gender fluid, gender queer, masc-of-centre and trans. We were running a funhouse. Krish was on stage doing something naked with some performance art group.
Krish: Haha, yep. I remember clearly because it was the night I saw the Drakes for the first time and found a group of butch, trans masculine and gender rebels who had come together.
Dr B: I think Krish saw us in suits and ties and jackets and wanted to know who we were. Later, they joined the Drakes and that’s when we started to get close.
Krish: I was busy doing some “performance art” with New York-based performance artist Ann Liv Young, having a somewhat awful time, when I spotted the Drakes. They were dressed to the nines, all of them butch/masculine presenting and I just HAD to know who they were and how I could be one of them. I don’t think I had seen so many dapper butches in the flesh, ever! I actually obsessively sent them messages on Twitter until they let me in, haha. I remember turning up to my first Butch Monologues rehearsal wondering if I was butch enough or old enough, and if they would think I was a “fake”. I was still very young, might have been the youngest Drake for years. But Doc and the Drakes took me under their wings and I can honestly say I would not be the person I am today, someone so comfortable in my trans masculinity, if I hadn’t seen them be so butch and fab, way past an age I even fathomed queer people lived to.
Dr B: Ha – yes! We became super bonded, even though I am old enough to be Krish’s butch dad. I call them Pups and they call me Doc. We now share a house together and I have also met Krish’s mum and uncle. When my mum died earlier this year, Krish helped me clear up her room from the nursing home and also came to her funeral. They are my family now. It’s just how it is.
Krish: It’s true – Doc and I have a very cute and rare friendship, I think! We live together, we gym together (LOL), we cook/clean/be domestic together, even though we’re over 25 years apart, that age gap doesn’t matter in our friendship. They help me with arts applications, self-tapes and career advice, while I make them (very cool) PowerPoints for their job interviews and teach them how Instagram stories work. But mostly we just spend time watching First Dates in our PJs on the couch. Doc with a glass of wine, me a bowl of ice cream.
Dr B: I have been butch forever.
Krish: It’s true. I’ve seen adorable pictures of Doc when they were younger and butch!
Dr B: I’m blushing! I was the only non-cis male in my family and I was raised under a lot of pressure. My mum wanted me to be a “little girl”, she put me in dresses and skirts. I had long hair. I was always unhappy like this. I used to wear my brother’s hand-me-downs. I loved jeans and jumpers and Action Men. I tried to date boys at 18 but it never really worked. The summer that I got into drama school, I came out. It was 1987. I had a floppy top and an undercut and wore 501s and bomber jackets.
Krish: You still have bomber jackets. Doc lets me borrow them sometimes!
Dr B: True that. At the time, I loved New Order, The Jam, Sinead O’Connor, Madonna, Prince and David Bowie. I played a walk-on part in a short LGBT film called Rosebud. In a checked jacket. I always felt butch although it did have negative connotations. Butches were seen to be moody, aggressive, violent. We were people to fear, we were not seen as hot.
And it’s so important to show that being butch doesn’t mean you’re transphobic. The TERFs just love grouping people together as ‘us’ or ‘them’.Krish
Krish: I hate that, it’s so ridiculous. I think that idea of butches being moody and misogynistic has made younger generations steer away from using the label. I often wonder if I might not have used it either if I didn’t have Doc and other butch role models. Representation IS important!
Dr B: I was always attracted to femmes. Later, during the early 2000s some of my friends were starting to transition. I thought about it. I was tempted for some time but I didn’t go ahead. I then got fed up with people asking me or assuming that I was going to transition. It felt that butches were being erased or seen as being “trans-light”.
Krish: Trans-light…that’s hilarious! I’m gonna start using that for myself. But harsh sentiments. Because butches don’t always transition and trans people don’t always define as butch.
Dr B: Exactly! That’s when I came up with the idea of wanting to write The Butch Monologues, a theatre piece that would explore the butch experience. I want to record it. It was around the same time that the Drakes started in 2012. It was always important to me to include trans masculine voices in The Butch Monologues and this was also a key part of the Drakes’ success – it wasn’t exclusionary.
Krish: Otherwise we wouldn’t have met! And it’s so important to show that being butch doesn’t mean you’re transphobic. The TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) just love grouping people together as “us” or “them”.
Dr B: It’s strategic and binary and a gross misrepresentation. Now, I am proud to define as ‘butch’, ‘dandy’, and ‘non binary’. I may change my name soon but I always enjoyed being in subversive/slippery spaces. I use they/them pronouns but I also use she/her. When I tell people my name they sometimes stop speaking.
Krish: That’s SO boring, what is wrong with people?
Dr B: I was at a wedding, a few years back. A woman sat next to me and was chatting away. I was wearing a three-piece suit and a tie. Halfway through the conversation she asked me my name. When I said “Laura” she stopped speaking. I first I didn’t realise what was going on – then I clocked it. She thought she was talking to a young man. I felt a bit embarrassed and then I felt really powerful. It was an electric moment. It also gave way for me and her to have a conversation, an acknowledgement of gender diversity. I also look really good in a suit – ha!
Krish: It’s true, you do look great in a suit! Their suits are my forever fashion goals. But unfortunately, since taking testosterone, I look like a 15-year-old boy and wearing a suit makes me look like I’m playing dress-up with my dad’s clothes, haha.
Dr B: You do look good in a suit and a kilt!
Krish: Thanks Doc, I love my kilt. When I met Doc and the Drakes working on The Butch Monologues, I was 19 years old. I identified as butch even though many others my age did not. It was a term that the young generation simply did not use six years ago, although I think it’s coming back into fashion? I called myself butch but I also called myself femme. I’ve always been a tomboy and masculine-of-centre but that didn’t mean I didn’t identify with being femme as well. I think for a long time and still now I feel like a fraud if I call myself any labels. None of them fit me exactly, they’re limiting in ways I can’t even describe. I think a lot of the stigma around the youth not identifying with being butch is from old school ideas of what butch is.
Dr B: Yes, so old school.
Krish: I remember when I met the Drakes, I was so excited to find a group of older butch and trans people who weren’t trans exclusive, weren’t misogynistic and didn’t for a second question my ambiguous butch identity. I still call myself butch even though I’m trans, I don’t think they write each other out.
Dr B: I am lucky – I can be out at work and was out with my family, I’ve never had to hide or be ashamed of who I am. I have also never experienced homophobic attacks. However, I think that I am always at risk of this. In airports and travelling I do feel aware of being masc and non-binary. If I go to use a toilet I’ll either steel myself to use the women’s or go into the disabled or family washroom.
Krish: Ugh toilets! I’m so bored of discussing them ’cause we spend so much time doing so as gender nonconforming people. I’d rather never talk about toilets ever again but it’s such a relevant part of our everyday lives. I can now use the men’s toilets with no problem but it’s still nerve-wracking.
Dr B: Stressful.
One trans or non-binary person getting heckled, assaulted, targeted, threatened etc. is an assault on us all. It has to be stopped. I would do that for Krishna – and they would do that for me.Dr B
Dr B: I was in Toronto recently visiting my partner, and enjoyed using the washrooms for all and gender neutral washrooms. It made such a difference to being in a bar or a restaurant. It was such a relief to know that I wouldn’t be stopped going in – that I could drink all the lager that I wanted and then go and pee as many times as I like!
Krish: LUXURY. Don’t like it too much or they might put a luxury tax on it.
Dr B: It feels as if there is more of a community around these different perspectives of butchness now, from the Drakes and The Butch Monologues to Butch Is Not A Dirty Word magazine and the club night Butch Please. I love going out with my butch buddies. It feels very empowering to be part of the community.
Krish: Similarly, I’ve got heaps of trans pockets of goodness!
Dr B: It’s so refreshing to be able to discuss issues that might affect our lives without feeling a sense of wrongness or shame. Sometimes, it can take a lot of courage to define as butch and wear the clothes and have the haircut that you’ve always wanted. There can be shame around butch presentation, the butch body, the feminisation of the body with hips, and tits and periods. But if we can come together and talk, it does help. I had chest surgery and it felt really important to offer up my binders to other butch people who might be in need of them. We’re in this together, after all.
Krish: Yes, I gave away my [chest] binders too.
Dr B: Lol… It’s great to share an apartment with Krishna because I can wander around the house bare-chested. I don’t want to ever hide or feel I can’t be myself with my friends, my partner or my flatmate.
Krish: You don’t hide a lot! Haha.
Dr B: TERFs are given too much airtime. I don’t think they should be called TERFs either – they are not radical, they are reductive. I have no place for them in my life. I think people were proactive before Trans Pride last year in Brighton. They set out a plan of action – traps to avoid falling into. I thought that was really good. Let’s prepare and be proactive and not reactive. After the TV debate on Channel 4 that invited on Munroe Bergdorf and Germaine Greer where people were shouting in the audience, I saw some trans person who’d refused to go on the show describing that as “dodging a bullet”. That’s not good enough. You can’t just protect yourself. As I said before, we’re all in it together. One trans or non-binary person getting heckled, assaulted, targeted, threatened etc is an assault on us all. It has to be stopped. I would do that for Krishna – and they would do that for me.
Krish: Yes, I would do that for you! I feel very lucky because during my transition I was and still am surrounded by many older queer and trans people who transitioned anywhere between 10-25 years ago, and I have a loving and supportive family. Because of the lack of funding in trans healthcare, and the lack of our histories being archived well, we’ve only got access to knowledge through stories and personal experiences of things, and I had a LOT of people in my corner for that. I’ve been taking testosterone for about five years now, and I recently had top surgery. I threw a performance party to raise half the funds for the surgery (gosh, being trans is expensive!) and Doc helped me heaps in organising it and on the night selling the raffle tickets.
Dr B: That was a great night. Everyone did so well. It was rammed.
Krish: I was blown away. But I got off easy purely because I had a good community. That’s not the case for most trans people. I think I’m very lucky. Doc also looked after me when I was recovering from surgery and now we walk around topless in the house, showing off our battle wounds aka scars. It’s cute!
Dr B: You healed better than me – that’s youth for you!
Krish: Give it a few years! You never know what it might become. I remember looking up the surgeon online and the results from his previous clients and they were all white people. I didn’t have a measure for what mine might have looked like.
I would not be the person I am today, someone so comfortable in my trans masculinity, if I hadn’t seen them be so butch and fab, way past an age I even fathomed queer people lived to.KRish
Dr B: Yes we spent a while scanning the internet to find info on how scars affected darker skins. Pups, do you wanna chat about race in queer communities?
Krish: Oh god, how long do we have? Race plays a part in it the same way race plays a part in everything. There’s racism and bigotry in the queer community too, but we already know that. I think when I tell people I’m trans, their immediate assumption is that my blood family doesn’t accept me and I’ve been “disowned”. Which is baffling to me because in reality I know more black and brown queer folks with good relationships with their families than white people do. It makes me especially angry when people (usually white people) think my family might be transphobic because they’re Indian. Funnily enough I was named a boy’s name at birth which also happens to be a trans god’s name in Indian mythology. And my mum and uncle sometimes visit and stay with me and Doc and we all go out together to queer things. It’s adorable, really!
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