Not Like the Other Girls

SD Holman

Butch: Not Like the Other Girls is a photographic exploration of the liminal spaces occupied by female masculinity in contemporary communities. Its first incarnation exhibited as a public art project in transit shelters around Vancouver in March-April 2013, with a simultaneous gallery show at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (the Cultch). According to Cultch administrators, the opening night (which attracted over 500 attendees and spilled out into the street for half a block) was the largest visual art opening in their 35-year history. The project caused an internet sensation, generating thousands of posts and shares on social media, blog posts as far away as Germany and Denmark, and interest for further exhibitions across Canada and the United States.

This project delineates Butch as an inclusive site of resistance to limitations on the way women, gender, and sexuality are still defined. The images honour the beauty, power, and diversity of women who transgress the gender binary, interspersed with text written by the photographic subjects themselves. The transversal dialectic of female masculinity is celebrated here — unapologetic and undiluted.

The author positions Butch as intrinsically queer. They explore the complex and contradictory natures of butch, “glorying in our mercurial and perhaps sometimes confusing natures.” Butch not only forces a reassessment of the body and the queer subject, it dismantles socialized, role-defined, gender appropriate behaviour. The queer cultures in which Butch is situated are constantly changing, and the author captures a diverse range of portrayals that celebrate and reflect butch identities. In the context of transgender movements, intersex activism, and genderqueer dialogues, a project like Butch on picturing and mirroring butch finds an important place.

“As progressive as we think we are – as liberal as we think we are – we live in highly conservative times. You know, there’s a lot of haters out there, there’s a lot of organized efforts going into shutting down all that we have achieved over the gay / lesbian / queer liberation movement. When I saw BUTCH: Not like the other girls as big public artworks, I said yes, wow! We are very much, once again, in the pioneering years of what we could be. Butch is now.”
—PAUL WONG (curator of BUTCH: Not like the other girls in TransgressionNow, QAF Vancouver & a founding director of the VIVO Media Arts Centre and On Main Gallery, recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Art and the Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts)

“I’m a hard audience, especially when it comes to the art, politics, sexiness, and spirituality of gender, but SD Holman’s BUTCH: Not like the other girls blew me away. This is important work: images like these, in which folks beyond the gender binary are sexy and beautiful and exactly who they are, are—as I’m sure you will agree — sadly rare. I’d love to see BUTCH: Not like the other girls travel – to New York, to San Francisco, and to all the little towns in between. Even in our great metropolises, there are too many young butches who have never been told they are handsome. I want those youngsters to see this work, and see butch through the eyes of a great butch who knows how to see and show. As a femme who loves butches, I’d love a copy of this work, not only for my bedside table, but to keep on hand to show a new generation of butches and femmes just how wonderful they are. In short, this is art that will save lives.”
— KATE BORNSTEIN (author of My New Gender Workbook and A Queer and Pleasant Danger)