Theatre review: The Butch Monologues
Carrie Lyell on a bold, brave and life-changing performance
The Butch Monologues. Images: Christa Holka
I’ve always been a tomboy. When I was a teenager, I called myself a boi. But as I’ve grown up neither of those labels felt right for me anymore. While others read me as butch, it was was never an identity I felt I could claim for myself.
While logically I knew it not to be true, somewhere deep in my subconscious, butch was an ugly word. It was an insult; something spat through gritted teeth. A word synonymous with fat and stupid and unloveable and certainly not something to be proud of. It was a view reinforced by the wider world, and in particular, an ex-girlfriend’s mum who didn’t want me to come over to her house in case the neighbours saw me. It was fine to be a lesbian, in her eyes – so long as you didn’t look like one.
Over time, I’ve met women and who have helped me unlearn that kind of negativity see that butch is beautiful. Women who I admire and look up to and who make me want to wear that label with pride. But, much as it shames me to say it, it’s still not a word that I feel entirely comfortable using.
That was until last night, at Theatre Royal Stratford East, when a piece of theatre changed everything.
Written by Laura Bridgeman, directed by Julie McNamara, and developed and performed by The Drakes, the aim of The Butch Monologues is to promote female masculinity and butch pride, and it certainly did that. I could literally feel my heart swelling as the four performers – some with stage experience, some without – read these raw, moving and often hilarious stories.
It was incredibly powerful to be in a space with other masculine women – butch women – listening to this selection of secret stories exploring sexuality, vulnerability and desire. Taken from interviews with butches, masculine women, gender rebels and trans men from across the world, these unique and extraordinary testimonies moved me to tears. They were telling my stories.
I’ve seen hundreds of shows in my life but nothing has made me feel quite like The Butch Monologues has. It’s simple – there’s no fancy lighting or costume or stage design, and it’s not the most polished piece of theatre I’ve ever seen – but none of that matters. All that matters are these words, these experiences, these stories. It’s life-affirming and it’s life-changing. I only wish I’d seen it years ago.
The Butch Monologues is touring now. For dates, visit thebutchmonologues.com/diary-of-events.
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