Usually the contrasting counterpart to the Lipstick Lesbian, the Butch Lesbian (also known as the "bull dyke" in certain circles) is typically clad in heavy boots, dungarees, plain t-shirts and other distinctly un-feminine attire. She'll have a short haircut and a job as a mechanic, and often be taller and bulkier than her femme counterpart, or more rarely, short and boyishly skinny. Breast-binding is optional. She will also probably be the one who gets vocal about gay rights, persecution and the Male Gaze. She may also be quite sporty. Viewer Gender Confusion may apply in some cases.
Traditionally, butch lesbians are paired up with high femmes (or Lipstick Lesbians, though the Lipstick contingent mostly stick together). The overuse of this trope sometimes comes under fire for allegedly enforcing the male/female dynamic in homosexual relationships, though it does exist in real life.
A saying within the gay community is that a butch lesbian is "steel covering velvet" while a Lipstick Lesbian is "velvet covering steel". That's not too much of an exaggeration.
In Japanese anime and manga, expect the butch lesbian to be portrayed in a more positive and possibly fanservice inclined fashion. The name for a butch lesbian in Yuri community is "tachi", which comes from the term "tachiyaku" (the player of a male role in Kabuki.). Because of her natural self-confidence she'll usually be successful in her romantic endeavors.
The butch lesbian can be seen as the Distaff Counterpart to the Camp Gay stereotype (in embracing the conventional characteristics of the opposite sex). See also The Lad-ette, a heterosexual counterpart with several masculine personality traits.
Not always a mere stereotype, several butch lesbians in culture are self-depictions or nuanced portrayals by fellow members of the lesbian community.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
Martha in Soukou No Strain is a subversion, as is Ermengarde for the Lipstick Lesbian. They are deliberately set up to resemble these stock characters, and they're often seen together. There are two lesbians in the team, but it isn't them.
Haruka Tenoh in Sailor Moon, as compared to her 'femme' girlfriend Michiru. This is significantly played up in the anime, where she is only rarely depicted in women's clothes, while in the manga she is occasionally shown in dresses (and in the final series is forced to wear a girl's uniform when she switches schools).
A butch/femme lesbian couple is seen in a chapter of Petshop Of Horrors Tokyo. One mentions to Count D that while their union isn't legally binding, "I'm her husband and she is my wife". The couple laments their inability to have children, but at the end of the chapter one of the women is seen pregnant, having eaten a cake made with eggs that cause pregnancies. It's not explained how the pregnant woman is going to explain her condition to her partner...
Rei Asaka/Hana No Saint Juste in Oniisama e... is this trope played straight. Nanako is her femme counterpart.
Kaoru No Kimi looks very butch, but subverts this trope.
Do note, however, they look VERY feminine (Kaname especially) when not dressed up in an androgynous manner, with Amane more or less crossing into Bifauxnen territory.
Subverted in Maria-sama ga Miteru, with the very close cousins Rei and Yoshino. Rei looks like the typical Butch, so an outsider like Yumi believes that it's Rei who's wearing the trousers in the relationship. Soon she finds out that she couldn't be more wrong.
Sei's design, especially in the manga, is similar to a stereotypical butch. After she graduates, when she cuts her hair very short and starts wearing pants instead of the school uniform skirt.
Bitchy Butch, the lesbian counterpart to Roberta Gregory's Bitchy Bitch character. Though comically stereotypical in many regards, (and like her straight counterpart, her short fuse is just part of her personality) she's still ultimately a sympathetic character.
A theme of Alison Bechdel's autobiographical Fun Home is coming to term with her identity as a butch lesbian as her closeted gay father keeps trying to push femininity on her, among other things yelling at her to wear pearls with an outfit. Her cousins nicknamed her butch as a kid, a nickname she loved even before she knew what it really meant. At another point she was eating at a diner with her dad when a big, truck driving "bull dyke" comes in and little Alison was amazed that there were women who wore men's clothes and had short hair, and she describes how on some level she "recognized her with a surge of joy".
Hopey in Love And Rockets tends to the butch, although her dress sense and hair vary over the years (but after the Time Skip in New Stories 4, she's the butchest she's ever been). Several more minor characters tend to the trope, including the aptly named Bull Marie and bisexual Lois. Maggie's aunt Vicki Glori is very sensitive about people assuming she's a Butch Lesbian because of her hairstyle, physique, and profession as a wrestler.
From the Sandman story arc "A Game of You", Hazel. She's a woman with a butch appearance, though her personality is very gentle.
The Black Cat once faced off against a villainess team called "Leather and Lace". Leather dressed in a dominatrix outfit and appeared to be on steroids, fitting this trope to a "T", while Lace wore pink lingerie and flew around in a cloud of golden sparkles. They haven't had a second appearance.
Interesting case with the new Batwoman: When she was introduced in her civilian apperance in 52 it was as Kate Kane, Reneé Montoyas ex-girlfriend and she was wearing a stunning dress while having long red hair. Her superhero persona was pretty much Batman with a stylish mask, high heels and long flowing red hair of femininity. When she was reintroduced in her solo-title she was re-designed with her having flat-heels in her superhero personae, her flowing red hair of hers being a wig to conceal her civilian appearance of the short-haired Kate Kane, she was given several tattoos that wasn't present in 52. She was also given a back-story of her being a rising star in West Point, being groomed for a leader position until rumors of her sexuality forced her to either deny the whole thing and her Reasonable Authority Figure sweeping it under the rug under the assumtion that Kate would never again give any fuel to that rumor ever again. Kate choosed to come out. She acutally lampshades her apperance when Kate Kane shows up at a high scale society dinner wearing a female cut tuxedo and as her step-mother points out:
Catherine: Oh Kate, why couldn't you wear something more... Appropriate?... Not that I don't approve, It's your life, of course. I just didn't think it's appropriate for a formal event. It is like you are trying to draw attention to yourself.
Kate: No, just making sure that I don't stay hidden.
She then went on to meet her future girlfriend Maggie Sawyer.
Maggie: The good thing about a tuxedo [smash cut to Maggie wearing a full tuxedo while grinning like mad] You don't feel bad when other people show up waring the same thing.
Gina Gershon plays a butch lesbian in Bound, though she's a mild case and more of a simple tomboy. Gershon said she modeled herself after James Dean. Larry Wachowski (now Lana Wachowski) included a few of details of lesbian culture into the film. For example, Gershon sports a labrys tattoo, which is a symbol of lesbianism and feminine strength. Interestingly, the script apparently intended for Gershon's character to look more masculine. Joe Pantoliano's character mistakes her for a man in dim light, which really isn't plausible in the final film.
The Boondock Saints had an incident of this in the opening credits of the film: though Rosengurtle Baumgartner's sexuality is never brought up, her attire and mannerisms (and subsequent kicking of one of the brothers in the crotch for cracking jokes about her 'Rule of Thumb' rant) solidify her as a member of this trope. She also has a tattoo on her neck that reads 'Untouched by man'.
The documentary The Aggressives was about the culture of black butch lesbians (or "aggressives") in New York City.
Strongly hinted at with McCoy in Streets of Fire. She certainly looks and acts the part and seems to use "joined the Army" as a euphemism for changing teams. She repeatedly states that the hero "isn't her type." The character was originally written as a man, with only minor changes when the casting was switched.
Various characters in the Sarah Waters canon would be considered butch, though (due to the time period) they're not wearing the dungarees regalia. Not only are they mostly sympathetic, it's acknowledged they can even be attractive. Nan in Tipping the Velvet looks masculine to the extent she can pass as a rent boy. She later joins a community of lesbians in who have a word for a butch woman: "uncle". Waters's butches are generally teamed up with feminine girls; a butch in The Night Watch even reflects 'You couldn't go with a girl from the same side'.
Many characters in Stone Butch Blues, including the protagonist Jess. Jess gets gender reassignment surgery to pass as a man, not because she's transgender, but because she can't find any cultural space to be a butch woman.
Tooticki in the Moomin books is certainly butch, but since she never shows any romantic or sexual inclinations whatsoever, the "lesbian" part comes from being based on the author's lesbian partner.
Idgie in Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe, with Ruth as her femme counterpart. (Although, while the book is quite explicit that they love each other, any sexual aspect of their relationship is left to subtext.)
Stephen Gordon in The Well of Loneliness, which was published in 1928, is one of the first well-known examples from Western literature. (Radclyffe Hall, the author of the novel, would also qualify as a Real Life example or as a trans man.)
John Doe from jpod was raised on a commune of radical-leftist-hippy-butch-lesbians.
A group of concentration camp inmates from the autobiographical book by dutch author Anton Tellegen.
The title character of Friday by Robert A. Heinlein runs into these on occasion, and while not encouraging their advances does respond to them due to her Really Gets Around nature — they turn out to be good kissers.
Talia (Sleeping Beauty) from The Princess Series might be considered this, if athleticism and aggression in a lesbian character (which she is) are enough to qualify. Besides a fighter, she is a cynical, blunt-speaking Broken Bird. Her traits are more apparent by contrast with her more "femme" love interests, especially Faziya the healer.
In a Older Than Feudalism example, in one of Dialogues of the Courtesans by Lucian of Samosata, one of the courtesans, Lena, is explicitly seduced by a woman who reveals herself as a bald, masculine lesbian named Megilla who refers to herself as a boy and has already "married" a matron. The details aren't told, as Lena founds them too disgusting to remember.
Several in Mary Renault: Colonna Kimball in Purposes of Love, Leo Lane in The Friendly Young Ladies, Thalestris in The King Must Die, Axiothea in The Mask of Apollo. Leo is actually kind of transgendered, and in a subversion of the tropes of the day, it's she, and not her feminine lover, who falls for a man at the end. Axiothea is based on a real character, one of Plato's two female pupils, who "is said to have worn men's clothes".
Pip is this in Miranda July's short story "Something That Needs Nothing."
Frasier. Flamboyantly gay Gil Chesteron's wife Deb seems to be one; he describes her as being good at auto-repair, being in the military reserves, and so forth.
Shane, Tasha, Candace and Dusty on The L Word. Other butch lesbians sometimes appear on that show, though Lipstick Lesbians are more common.
Subverted with Grace Polk in Joan of Arcadia who looks and acts the part and whom many think is a lesbian but is straight.
Rescue Me had an episode with the gang's Bar being over run by "Bull Dykes".
A rare positive example of a Butch Lesbian from American network television can be found in the Cold Case episode "Best Friends." The case involves a dashing black butch woman and a feminine white woman who fall in love. Unfortunately, since it's the 1930's (when the Ku Klux Klan was still a major political power in some states, like the one just to the west of the show's setting of Philadelphianote (Indiana for the geographically challenged)), and a "cold case", it all ends in tears.
Snoop from The Wire, who wears men's clothing, has a gravelly voice, and is generally masculine enough that some viewers took a while to realise she was female. Her lesbianism is only revealed by a single line, though.
Kima is the real champion here, what with being an door-kicking, beer-chugging narco more than a match for her male colleagues.
Shameless has Norma - a big, black Geordie trucker who lives in a caravan on the Gallagher's front garden in series 4-6.
Christine Walter from German TV series Hinter Gittern - der Frauenknast (English: "Behind bars - The Women's Prison")
To some extent Ellen DeGeneres (especially compared to her wife Portia.)
However, Ellen doesn't identify herself as "butch", but she also doesn't feel as "femme" as her wife. This led her to invent a new term, "chapstick lesbian" (a pun on the term Lipstick Lesbian), which is somewhere in between "butch" and "femme".
Subverted in the TV version of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. In the book, it's stated that the main character never wears skirts. In the film, she almost always does, but she still falls in love with a femme girl.
In How I Met Your Mother, Robin's doppleganger is referred to as "Lesbian Robin." LR is seen only once, always in the same take, but sports the stereotypical short hairstyle, wears what could be a man's plaid shirt and jeans, and is carrying a baseball glove, and while she walks into view, has just finished spitting (possibly chewing tobacco) into a garbage can.
In the Modern Family episode "Schooled", one of Lilly's classmate Connor's moms partially fits the trope—she wears her hair long like her partner, but works as a contractor, wears boots, speaks in a husky voice and is quick to complain about being stereotyped (often hypocritically, since it turns out that most of the stereotyped assumptions about her are true).
Fairy Tales by Eric Lane Barnes has the song "The Ballad of Tammy Brown", which tells the story of a girl who was close friends with a girl named Tammy, who had no other friends in school because she spat, swore, cut off most of her hair, and everyone called her queer. When her friends heard rumors she was friends with Tammy, they ordered her to prove this untrue or become an outcast like Tammy. She follows their orders, and tells Tammy she hates her, and never saw Tammy again. She never forgave herself for what she did that day, and only wants to see her again one more time so she could apologize to her.
Exalted features Iron Siaka, a signature character of the Sidereal Exalted. She's depicted with somewhat masculine features (including a boyish haircut), and a passion for both bloodshed and beautiful women. Ironically enough, she represents the Chosen of Serenity; it's just that she often finds serenity in beating the crap out of someone.
What better way to induce overall serenity than pulverizing malcontents? In any case, significant Butch Lesbian characters are not hard to find in Exalted given how liberal it tends to be with social matters. There's also the Tya — sea-faring women who adopt hypermasculine lifestyle and looks to bypass a sexist restriction set by ocean spirits (the Storm Mothers won't allow women more beautiful than themselves on boats, and the Storm Mothers are ugly). Basically, a fleet of hardy sailors and angry pirates who happen to be women. While not necessarily lesbians, their distinguishing features sit well with butch lesbian aesthetics.
Warhammer 40,000: The Sisters of Battle, being the all-female combatants that put the militant in Church Militant, often get characterized this way by fans. Granted, there's nothing officially stating this to ever be the case, and in fact different Orders have different rules (from either outright chastity to encouraging a little bit of fun now and then,) most of the ones that are mentioned are either too devout to care, or simply straight.
Abigail "Abbey" Black of Clive Barker's Jericho, though it bears mentioning that she is explicitly stated to have romantic feelings for Jones, and her butch lesbianism therefore might be more of a means to push people away.
Monette's girlfriend Lisa from Something Positive, who was initially drawn more feminine but whose character re-design around 2007 gave her a more traditionally butch appearance.
Dora seems to think Tai (rather small and cute for the stereotype) qualifies.
The Constructicons' "daughter" in the Insecticomics. It's hard to get more butch than turning into construction equipment.
Subverted in one political webcomic: two women, one looking very butch and the other with a "church mom" appearance, both express bigotry toward transgender women. At the end, the butch woman mentions that she is a fundamentalist Christian and the prudish-looking woman mentions she is a radical feminist. They both look shaken and then go their separate ways.
Hippolyta of the Whateley Universe. Over six feet tall and muscular, can bench press eight tons, keeps her gold (not flaxen, gold) hair really short, smokes cigars, beats up other superpowered mutants at Whateley Academy if they tick her off. How butch is she? Her comparatively femme girlfriend is an Eldritch Abomination who terrifies half the school.
This was once again brought up later in the episode. A group of geishas are "assigned" to Randall and said geishas claim they are there to "please him". He, completely oblivious, ends up sending them to execute minor chores, including getting him Asian porn magazines. However, in the end when he comes to rescue them, they have all changed to butch male-voiced lesbians and urge him to "continue their fight".
It should be noted that he doesn't date butch lesbians. They just switch sides after breaking up with him. Randall takes it as a compliment, however.
It is implied that Randall is the representation of "male worthlessness", which is the reason why they "went lesbo."
Clone High - the P.E. teacher was the clone of Eleanor Roosevelt. No explanation is given why the evil scientists cloned her 30 years before the other clones, but she's big and butch and her voice is provided by a man, who adds on an extra layer of creepy as she enjoys watching Joan of Arc's walk.
Eleanor Roosevelt: If you like talking so much, you can talk your cute little butt down to the principal's office. Slowly. Oh yeah...
Applejack too, and this time both the original and her G4 Expy. Rainbow Dash from G3 comes off as a Lipstick Lesbian to people; she's rainbow colored, rather close to girls, and extremely feminine.
Fulfilling the stereotype further than any pony on the show is Gilda the Griffon, who is not only even more of a Tomboy than R.D., but truly clinches the stereotype by acting way too possessive of her.
Although not her usual outfit, Patty from The Simpsons took on the attire and attitude in the episode "Homer Simpson, This is Your Wife".
Then again, there were a few jokes and hints made before she came out and even Homer himself was hardly surprised at this.
An episode of The Venture Bros. (Dr. Quymn, Medicine Woman) featuring a beefy lady named Ginny who was revealed in one line to be interested in sleeping with the eponymous Dr. Quymn as well as openly being hateful of men though she says it's because she hasn't met a real man yet. She also pursues Brock Sampson— whether it's to "distract" him from the sexy Dr. Quymn or some strangely genderbent Even the Guys Want Him, it's not revealed.
Parodied in Family Guy with a Mr. TDistaff Counterpart named Diedre Jackson. She's the strongest female boxer in the country. Her fists are so dangerous, she's not allowed to be a lesbian.
Connie in Brickleberry who has a large build, and is attracted to Ethel.