What’s in a Butch’s Purse?

Is it as egotistical as I think to include a photo of myself?

Perhaps the title begs the question, “If you’re really a butch, what the hell are you doing with a purse?”

Let’s travel in the way-back machine, shall we? Before iPods and iPads and cell phones, and before I realized I was a lesbian, never mind of the butch-y persuasion…

In the early years of the 1980s, I held onto the societally-mandated expectation that I was heterosexual and feminine enough to lure a man. Way back then, boys and girls, there was no such thing as “business casual,” at work, meaning, for the most part, women were expected to wear skirts, skirt suits, dresses, high heels, and carry handbags or purses.  A particularly attractive woman could pull off a pants suit, and the more attractive she was, the more masculine, let’s say, that pantsuit could be. I was not that attractive. So every so often, you might catch me in a body-hugging red jersey dress that focused male attention on my physique, which was my selling point, so to speak. These were the times I lived in; and this is who I was before I knew who I was.

I had closet full of feminine work gear, most of which I hated. Among that gear, were the pocket books of my young adulthood.

Sometime in the 90s, when I was full swing into my lesbian identity and companies went business casual, making it easier for me to wear slacks, then pants, then corduroys, then flannel and overalls (just kidding about the last two) I happily embraced this less feminine mode of dress. Wearing pants felt much more like me. The hot red dress got dusty in the closet, probably fell to the closet floor, got picked up a few years later and thrown into a Goodwill bin. I do wonder, sometimes, who might have inherited it. In any case, I’m sure well before the turn of the century, I stopped wearing skirts and dresses altogether. I became me.

But even after I dumped the feminine clothes, there were two things I couldn’t shake: 1. the purse and 2. the bristling feeling I experienced at being identified by some (not all) as “butch.”

These aren't big enough to hold all my stuff.

The purse, or in my case, the hand bag, or in these parts, the pocketbook, was so useful. Perhaps it was my anxiety problems – my agoraphobia and panic disorder – that made it necessary for me to feel comforted only when everything I needed to survive was as easy as pulling it out of my pocketbook: driver’s license, credit card, Xanax, feminine hygiene products, brown bag for when I needed to hyperventilate. You know, the usual.

As for Butch, it is no more a choice than is lesbian. But it took me years to understand this and a close reading of Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues, to appreciate the history of the butch in America, the struggle, the chivalry if you will. I don’t choose to dress less feminine; the desire to be who I am chooses it for me. And those lesbians you think look like guys, they aren’t being affected; they are being themselves. I know this now, but as I said, it took years of overcoming my own internal homophobia and Leslie Feinberg to educate me. I was caught in between butch and femmefor many years. But the last vestiges of me as feminine continue to hang from a strap on my shoulder and reside in the confines of a leather handbag.

One of the most beautiful books you could ever read

So, what’s in my butch’s purse?

Look, this will be as much as a surprise to me as it may be to you, because I don’t dig too deeply in there if I don’t have to. I don’t like to know what’s at the bottom. My life changes so much that it could be nearly anything and possibly something I’ve blocked out of memory. I’m just going to grab things at random here and hope they make for interesting reading.

–        Oh, figures I pull this one out first: a $500 diamond ring (friendship, she said, not engagement) that an ex-girlfriend once gave me, I kid you not, and she is on my FB now, so I hope she doesn’t read this. If you do, Pam, and you want the ring back, just let me know. Okay? No hard feelings???

–        An old vial that once contained Xanax but now contains two Tylenol. This is not interesting in and of itself, but the two Tylenol are from my trip to Colorado last year, the one where I got headaches and excess anxiety from the high elevation and swore I’d never set foot in that state again. Well, guess what? I’m refilling the vial with Xanax and Tylenol because I think I’m going back to the Wet Mountain Valley Writers’ Workshop again this summer!

–        A check for $104.00 from my health care provider to reimburse me for seeing a psychiatrist. There aren’t a lot of people I know who would be willing to admit on a blog that they see a psychiatrist. But if you know me, I think it becomes apparent that I don’t care what I say. I’ve been seeing my psychiatrist for more than a dozen years, and she, among other things, is the reason I can take that trip to Colorado, not once, but twice. Note: She also gives me the Xanax.

–        A checkbook. That’s kind of an obsolete item in these days of paying online. I guess I keep the checkbook around for old times’ sake, just as I keep…

–        One feminine napkin and one tampon. I don’t need those anymore, either, but like the checkbook, they remind me of my younger days, which sucked, but still, it was nice to be younger.

–        Ooooh, a nice green pen that says, “Solstice MFA Graduate.” I’m very proud of that pen. I worked hard for that pen. I wrote 50,000+ words to get that pen. What an awesome time of life that was, those two years in the Solstice MFA program.

–        A receipt from the Stop and Shop for $125 dollars, a good third of which is spent on cat and bunny food, cat and bunny litter, cat and bunny stuff. Thank god my dad left me a little money so I could feed my pets. What’s that, I hear? Oh, it’s just Dad rolling over in his grave.

–        A bottle of Ibuprofen, which I don’t take as often as Tylenol, but sometimes you just need Ibuprofen, like when you get a strange nerve ticking in your spine causing a wincing pain in your scalp. What? That doesn’t happen to you? Okay, never mind.

–        A wallet full of credit cards and debit cards and licenses (current and expired) and a work ID and receipts I don’t need and coupons I’ll never use.  Do you know what is not in my wallet? Cash. I have no cash. I almost never have cash. Who needs cash when a credit card earns you points? For every $5,000 I spend, I get $50 back in my bank account. WHAT A DEAL!

–        An extra set of car keys because twice in my life I’ve lost my keys. In one instance, back in the 1980s, this forced my mother to call an ex-boyfriend of hers to come pick me up, and as a result, they unhappily got back together. She reminds me of this still. Yes, after 30 years she says, “Don’t lose your keys,” and I respond, “What does it matter now? He’s dead, right?”

–        I told two women I was writing this blog, “What does a butch have in her purse?” and they both said (apart from one another): Chapstick! Girls, I don’t have any Chapstick. I’m going to take your guesses as a huge compliment that my lips are soft and moist and…well, you know.

–        Twelve pounds of coins: pennies, mostly pennies, dimes, nickels, quarters. I added this one in at the suggestion of Suzanne who reminded me that with all of that change, my pocketbook doubles as a dumbbell and I can do weight lifting, thereby, I realized, adding some justification for a butch to carry a purse: she can use it to work out.

At the bottom of my butch's purse

I’m not the butch-iest of butches, and it may surprise some of you out there to know that a few of my girlfriends have sworn I was “femme.” I used to wear more makeup, including lipstick, mascara, and eyeliner, so maybe that’s where the confusion lay. I also have muscles, but one girlfriend said to me, “Even your muscles are feminine.” Hmmm…

I don’t mind anymore if someone sees me as butch, or more accurately perhaps, as “soft butch,” meaning I don’t look too masculine. If I were younger, I guess I’d be known as a “boi.” But shit, I’m not younger. But you can call me anything you want, just keep the beautiful women coming. Pun? Let’s not go there.

I’m trying to figure out how to lose this pocketbook, the main appeal of which is knowing everything I need to start a new life is contained within it: credit cards, identification, 12 pounds of change (for toll booths), and a $500 ring to give to the woman of my dreams.

How do the rest of you butches out there get by without a handbag? Please weigh in. And even if you’re not butch, or even gay, I’d be happy to entertain all ideas on how to get rid of my butch’s purse. I feel kind of embarrassed walking around with a purse and flexing my biceps at the same time.

About Cindy Zelman

Creative and Freelance Writer
This entry was posted in Agoraphobia, lesbianism, Panic Disorder, Solstice MFA Pine Manor College, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Conferences and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to What’s in a Butch’s Purse?

  1. natasiarose says:

    Hahahaha! Omg you could take all the stuff that matters and put it into a wallet, get yourself a nice butch wallet chain and free yourself from the leather strap once and for all! And for goodness sake, put the ring in your jewelry box!

    Personally I don’t know what I would do without my chopstick ;). Great post, as usual.

    Like

    • Cindy Zelman says:

      Hey, Natasia,

      I wouldn’t know where to begin to find a wallet AND a chain, although I like the idea, has that S&M-ish feel to it, and we all know how good I am at S&M (See prior post.) I know you meant chapstick, not chopstick, but it got me to thinking that having a chopstick in my purse might come in handy someday. 🙂 Thank you for reading, as always, and for your nice words.

      xo
      Cindy

      Like

  2. Hannah says:

    I laughed the whole way through this. Cindy Z, you have a voice, my friend, that I love to hear!

    Like

  3. Kerry says:

    Cindy, as a bona-fide purse addict, I have absolutely no clue as to how to get rid of one. You’re talking to someone who has two lipsticks and three lip glosses in her purse at this moment. And I don’t keep Tylenol in my purse; someone might need it and then I wouldn’t have any and then–and I know this–that is when some kind of pain would call for the only lousy Tylenol I gave away. Say, why don’t you try to downsize, kind of like a 12-step program for purses? Could work (for you, not me).

    Like

    • Cindy Zelman says:

      Hi Kerry,

      It’s so nice to see you here on my blog. I guess you’ve gotten used to my weirdness over the last few years. 🙂 You have no need to get rid of your purse and I would expect nothing less than two lipsticks and three lip glosses in each purse that you own. You are a straight, beautiful, femmey woman who should carry her purse proudly. I like the idea of the 12 step program and downsizing. Thank you for the idea!

      Cindy

      Like

  4. Geen Grey says:

    Cindy, you crack me up! You could try a ‘satchel’… I could never give up my 25 lb purse, and not for lack of trying. I have downsized multiple times and now have half full purses all over my bedroom, which can lead to much confusion at times. Especially when I need a certain color of lipstick… Then there is my bear backpack, which I love and doubles as a source of comfort when I need it. Of course the last time I used it to go to an amusement park I used it for days and at the store the clerks would ask me ‘where is your little one?” Which also led to much confusion. Guess I look too old for a teddy bear backpack now… I’m no help, am I??

    Like

    • Cindy Zelman says:

      Hi Geenie,

      I’m starting to think this purse thing is not a butch lesbian issue at all. I’m hearing from so many straight women who also want to downsize. That’s some story you tell about your bear backpack. Do you have pics? You are never too old for a teddy bear backpack. You just ignore those store clerks.

      xo
      Cindy P.S. Thank you for reading and taking the time to respond.

      Like

  5. I’ve got pockets. More than most, perhaps–I favor carpenter pants so that I can slip my pruners in a side pocket while landscaping.

    Pockets.

    Like

    • Cindy Zelman says:

      I bet you look fabulous in carpenter pants Bridget, but I have a feeling I would look lost in them. Still, I may try a pair. They sound so comfortable. It’s nice to hear from you and thank you so much for reading my blog. Cindy

      Like

  6. Suz says:

    🙂 Funny girl

    Like

  7. Faye says:

    I’ve always been a heterosexual tomboy, so I don’t know how that fits with all these labels. I can tell you that I refused to wear a dress to school between the first and twelfth grades, and I still only wear one to the occasional wedding or Bar Mitzvah. I kind of like the long-skirt Grateful Dead hippy look, but I’m not sure I am cool enough to pull it off. As for purses, I have always refused to have one of those, too. Just couldn’t be bothered dragging the thing around. I stuff my wallet and whatever else I need in my coat pockets in the winter, and carry some sort of back-pack type thing if necessary at other times of the year. Of course now that I’m in my forties and can benefit from a bit of makeup (which I also ignored for years) I’m unsure how to carry it around, so it usually just wears off after I leave the house. I’ve long known that I need a stylist and a personal shopper — I bought a shirt to wear to my solstice graduation an hour before the event, and it ended up being three sizes too big. I also forgot to have my haircut. This is why I throw away a lot of photographs.

    But I’ll be darned if I’m going to get a purse!

    Like

  8. Elissa Rosenthal says:

    I get the whole purse fixation. David swears it is the reason for flare-ups of my shoulder or neck pain. “Of course your arm hurts. What do you expect when you carry a 50 lb bag around on your shoulder,” he says. I have tried to downsize but my pocketbook is no different than any of my dresser drawers, closets or shelves. Give me a space to fill and I overdo it. Being a Jewish mother, my purse symbolizes preparedness much in the same way your purse comforts your anxiety. Except in my case I stock anything anyone in my family might need: granola bars, paper, at least eleven pens, erasers, paper clips, tissues, tic tacs, coupons that I forget to use at the checkout counter, and yes three tubes of Chapstick… Does the Chapstick make me a femme heterosexual or someone prone to dry, peeling winter lips wanting to soothe the lips of my family, too?
    Cindy, this was a funny, entertaining and enlightening post. You made me laugh and boi oh boi did I need it. Keep the great writing coming…

    Like

  9. Mithriel MacKay says:

    Sheesh…If you think back, I wore “hikers” (the boots that were not quite boots, and practical for my hikes in the woods), flannel shirts over long underwear shirts, jeans, and NEVER carried a purse (still don’t..I only carry a backpack when I don’t have enough pockets). I wore the “snorkel parker” when it was freezing and we had to wait 30 minutes for the bus after walking 45 minutes to the bus stop with Rene (instead of the cutesy little blazers and shivered with the girly-girls). My neighbors called me the “Ivory girl” and a woman on the plane asked her son to ask “the lesbian” if I would switch seats (in December, when I was damned tired and didn’t have any make-up on). I’m decidedly not butch, or even lesbian. More importantly, I don’t care how people characterize me and I try not to characterize myself. I am simply me, and you are simply you, Cindy. Definitions be damned! Your purse has more stuff than my purse (which doesn’t exist)….I think you have the better end of the deal with a pocketbook full of memories.

    Like

    • Cindy Zelman says:

      Well, you sound a little pissed off, Mithriel. Maybe I’m misreading your comment. I’m sorry you got mistaken for a lesbian. Sometimes I get mistaken for a heterosexual woman. Hahaha… Yes, I do, usually by men in supermarkets. Long story. Anyway, you were always different from the cookie-cutter crowd and you still are. You are you. I love who you are. Cindy

      Like

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