Directed by Debra A. Wilson
“I don’t think society perceives me as a butch woman. I think society sees what they want to see and because society doesn’t know enough about butch women, that they don’t see me as a butch woman, they just see me as a guy.” –Elyse from Butch Mystique
Every series that has ever been on TV and every movie that has ever been made is now being rebooted, remade, or getting some kind of sequel or prequel or parallel alternate universe world. From Will & Grace to Roseanne to the Alien film series to Blade Runner, good or bad, in this day and age of impatience and we ain’t got no time for brand new entertainment, everything old is new again.
Even The L Word is coming back.
The L Word…
The L Word…
The L Word?
Oh good Lord in heaven, help us all.
A historical and ground-breaking series that was by lesbians for lesbians about lesbians.
We don’t get a lot of those, so I will always be grateful for that show’s existence, but the problem I have always had with this series that was about a group of lesbians living and loving in Los Angeles is, even though I’m a white lesbian and the show was mostly only about white lesbians, I never understood or even related to any of the women on that series. Well, except for Kit, played by the very sexy and very fabulous and very badass Pam Grier, but Kit was African American and straight, so go figure. But then all of my confusion about not understanding any of the women on The L Word that has been consuming my brain since the series premiered way back in 2004 and has continued to stay with me long after it ended was finally confusing no more when I got to meet the director of Butch Mystique, the amazing and fabulous and just brilliant filmmaker and let’s fund this woman’s films now, Debra Wilson, recently at the Pride of the Ocean film festival (the best damn film festival out there!). Debra explained to me that she didn’t really understand the characters on The L Word either until she went to a lesbian bar in Los Angeles and then the characters on the series made perfect sense because there they all were. So, I never understood those women because I have never once been to LA. And just like that, all of the confusion that consumed my brain was gone. Or at least about The L Word. I’m still confused about a lot of other things, but I guess Debra can’t solve all of my confusions about life. I mean she is an Oscar-worthy filmmaker and all, but still, she’s only human.
And speaking of Pam Grier…because remember, we just were…
…Now let’s take a quick time-out to look at the lovely Pam Grier so you can see why I watched The L Word pretty much only for her…
And what all of these shenanigans that I’m writing about with remakes and reboots and The L Word giving it one more college try to be less confusing this time around has to do with Butch Mystique is that this really and truly ground-breaking and historical documentary about nine African American lesbians discussing the beauty and pain of being butch is trying to get its own sequel too. With all the reboots and parallel alternate universe remakes out there, this is the one and only film that really needs not only a sequel, but an entire series.
Butch Mystique came out (no pun intended, well, maybe just a little, hey, I can’t help myself) way back in 2003. It was even on Showtime, the very same network that The L Word was on, plus it premiered a year before The L Word, yet I, a lesbian and film buff with my very own LGBTQ film website, had never heard of this documentary until just recently when I was invited as a press representative (that’s fancy talk for getting a free cruise while watching movies and then writing about them) for the Pride of the Ocean film festival (the best damn film festival out there!). Debra was one of the filmmakers presenting her work during the festival and so when I was sent the program for the festival, that is when I first heard about Butch Mystique…
Just a couple of months ago…
Even though the documentary was released in 2003…
I should have known about this film much, much sooner than that, but whenever I do research to see what is out there when it comes to lesbian entertainment, I certainly hear and see and read an awful lot about The L Word, but never once have I ever come across Butch Mystique. Here were two ground-breaking and historical works of art for lesbians and by lesbians and about lesbians that were released at almost the exact same time, yet I had only heard of one of them for years and years. And what a shame because that was years and years that I went walking around feeling so sad and lonely and confused about my own lesbian butch identity. In 1999, when I was 26 years old, I finally figured out I was a lesbian, but it took me until 2018 at 45 years old to really begin to understand who I was and what all that meant and that it was all okay and normal and there are other people out there just like me too thanks to watching both Butch Mystique and clips of the sequel still in progress, Beyond The Butch Mystique.
Matu, one of the several amazing, brave, funny and thought-provoking women in Butch Mystique. And this woman knows her lesbian history. I wanna sit down with her and let her talk all about lesbian history for hours and hours and days and days. We lesbians need more Matus of the world teaching us where we really came from and what we were actually like. Where’s that lesson in our history classes and books?
When I was a kid, I pretty much looked like a little butch lesbian in the making. I didn’t mean to. It wasn’t something I was actively doing on purpose. It was just who I was. No matter how hard I tried to imitate other girls, no matter how many dresses my mom put me in, I still looked like a little budding butch lesbian just waiting to blossom. By the time I was eight, my mom pretty much gave up on me being into wearing dresses. She was, quite honestly, a horrible mother, but I do want to at least give her credit and thanks for allowing me to just dress how I wanted after that. And being such a shy and quiet kid, plus having a mother who sabotaged friendships, I spent a lot of time alone. My only friend many days when I was growing up was the TV, and being such a huge lover of films, I watched a lot of TV. And like all of us humans do when we watch TV, I wanted to see me on my TV, but me didn’t appear on my TV very often. I grew up in the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s, so there was Jo from The Facts of Life and Ripley from Aliens and Sarah Connor from the Terminator series, three strong butch women, but they were all straight, so I thought that one day I would grow up to be straight like them too. I would just brush off those rather wonderful and rather uncomfortable feelings that I had about other women, because I would be straight one day too, just like Jo. And I was really praying for that because the butch lesbian women on my TV when I was growing up were not women I wanted to be when I grew up. They were usually mean, heartless, loveless, going after straight women obsessively or just plain ole grumpy. I ran from Luz Benedict from Giant. I was glad when super mean and super obsessive Mrs. Danvers got hers at the end of the Alfred Hitchcock film Rebecca. I ran from Joan Crawford in every movie she was ever in, because let’s face it, no matter if she was playing a straight lady or a subtexual lesbian character, Joan Crawford always seemed like a scary butch lesbian in every film she ever made. And after seeing Mommie Dearest, I can see why. So, the white butch lesbians on my TV when I was growing up so confused about who I was, well, they may have been just like me in the sense that they were white and lesbian, but besides that, just like the ladies on The L Word, I just didn’t get those women.
Jo from The Facts of Life, Sarah Connor from Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Ripley from Aliens.
God, I loved these women. I still do, but they were all straight and so for years and years, I thought I could be straight like them too.
Luz Benedict from Giant, Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca and Joan Crawford from Johnny Guitar. Nope, never a fan of these women when I was a budding butch lesbian, but thanks to some cathartic reviews I wrote about each of these ladies (just click on the links above), I’m feeling a lot better about them now.
Me in the 5th grade way back in 1982.
See, told you I was a little butch lesbian in the making. And looking back, on an instinctual level, I knew this and even though part of me was not happy about this at all, I just knew that I had to be me, despite my and society’s protests. When I was a kid just trying to be me, I would often hear people say rudely out loud about me to the person next to them, “Is that a boy or a girl?” They would make me feel like my very presence was the most disgusting and deplorable thing ever in existence. By the time I was a teenager, I was extremely ashamed and embarrassed about who I really was, and I did a damn good job of keeping a lot of that info about who I really was deep in my subconscious, hence me not figuring out I was a lesbian until I was 26 years old. There were times when I would try to be more femme, but no matter how hard I would try to go femme, my inner self would reject it and I would be back to wearing more boys’ clothes than girls’ clothes, once again. No easy task in rural Florida during the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s, but I just didn’t know how to be any other way. No matter how much crap I got, and trust me, I got a lot of crap just for being me, I couldn’t stop. Yet, I was still so ashamed of myself and lonely and sad about being this way. I had no one to turn to. No one else in my world was like this. I was so lost and confused. Where were my people?
But very slowly and very sporadically through my life, there have been a couple of lesbian women that have appeared on my TV and I have been able to jump up and declare, “There I am! She’s just like me!” And when I say very slowly and very sporadically, I mean it. This first happened to me in 1986 when cable TV finally got The Color Purple. The main character, Celie, was like me in so many ways – shy, quiet, never fits in, too easily accepts that she deserves abuse, and she was a lesbian. I ran full-speed to that movie, not understanding why 13-year-old-me wanted to see it so very, very badly, but once I saw The Color Purple for the first time, I knew why. They don’t make it super obvious in the film, it was released in 1985 after all, so I didn’t quite have a clear view that Celie was a lesbian during that initial viewing; that took time and experience and reading the novel for me to get that as a fact, but somehow when Celie was letting Shug Avery kiss her and then Celie very eagerly kissed Shug back, still very inexperienced and naive teenage me knew I was like Celie, because no matter how hard I tried to deny it, I so very badly wanted Shug Avery to kiss me like that too.
Celie and Shug just before the infamous kiss.
Yeah, I admit it, I could watch this scene all day. Not just because it’s hot, but because it’s one of the most beautiful love scenes ever in the history of film. And even though Celie wasn’t exactly a butch lesbian, she wasn’t exactly running around being all femme either. And she wasn’t heartless, cold or even grumpy. Celie was like me in the sense that she was always just herself. And when she wasn’t, Oprah told her to stop that nonsense right now!
Years and years and years passed by and Celie stayed my one and only reference as someone who was just like me on my TV. But then in 2013, I came across a movie called Pariah that once again had me going, “Oh my God, that’s actually me on my TV.” Pariah is about Alike, a teenage African American girl who is simply trying to be herself, a butch lesbian, but at the same time trying to please her overbearing and homophobic mother by not being a butch lesbian around her. And there I was again, on my TV after almost 30 years of looking for me, but never quite finding me. Alike was teenage me all over again, trying to dress how I really wanted to dress, but at the same time, trying to please my mother and society. Except as much as I loved Celie and Alike, and felt so much like they were my people, they were both fictional. They weren’t real, actual people that I could grab onto and say for sure that people like me really did actually exist in the real, actual world.
Alike from the film Pariah.
Where oh where was Alike when I was 13 years old and so horribly sad, lonely and confused about who I was and looking to my TV for answers?? She was waiting to meet me in 2013, that’s where she was. 🙂
I’ve been telling people in my real life and on social media that attending the Pride of the Ocean film festival just a couple of weeks ago was a magical experience. There are many reasons why my week sailing the Caribbean while getting to watch and discuss films with the actual filmmakers who made the movies was so magical, but the main reason why it was magical was because of Debra and her films Butch Mystique and the still in progress, Beyond The Butch Mystique. As soon as I saw Debra in the program for the film festival, I got that same feeling that consumed me when I first heard about The Color Purple and Pariah, that sixth sense that I was about to see a movie that was going to have a profound impact on my psyche and my life. And boy was I right.
During the best damn film festival out there or also known as the Pride of the Ocean film festival, Debra screened for us very lucky audience members some footage of Beyond The Butch Mystique. She’s still working on the documentary because she still needs funding to get it finished, so we only got to see just that unfinished sampling of the sequel to Butch Mystique, but I wasn’t two seconds into this unfinished film before I knew these were the people I had been looking for on my TV for pretty much my whole life. Right away, I understood them, I got what they were saying, where they were coming from, the pain and loss and beauty they have experienced for simply being who they are. I only had one question about these brave souls that was puzzling me, “Where have you been my whole life?”
I tried and tried and tried to understand these lesbian women. Any of them. But nope, I just never did. I was looking in the wrong place, because in Butch Mystique, I found people that I actually understand and can totally, totally, oh good Lord in heaven, I can so relate to…
…Skylar and Kymberly
Oh, how I loved hearing their stories in Butch Mystique. And so now Beyond The Butch Mystique has got to get finished because I kind of know what happens with one of these amazing souls thanks to the sneak preview I saw and so now I need to see more!
I didn’t even get to see Butch Mystique until after I got home from the film festival. In fact, I didn’t even watch Butch Mystique until just three days ago, but I have watched it many times in the last three days and I just can’t get enough of this documentary. At only 34 minutes long, this movie right away jumps into the lives of nine African American butch lesbians as they explain what it was like for them growing up and how they are functioning in their everyday lives now. These are strong souls who own who they are and are proud of who they are and most importantly, they have survived who they are, because it was hard enough for me being a white, butch lesbian walking around planet Earth for the last 45 years, so add African American on top of that and you have some painfully insightful stories that everyone in our community must hear. Their stories are real stories. This isn’t soap opera fluff. This isn’t about sad and lonely heartbroken lesbians who kill themselves in the end. This film is about us. The real us. This is our history and we need to know about it. It’s nice that we have The L Word and all, and that it is so popular, but why aren’t we talking about and making more films and TV shows with real lesbian women like this?
There is so much these women in Butch Mystique have taught me about myself and so much of what they said has mimicked the experiences in my own life. Everything from dealing with mothers and sisters who just don’t understand why they wanted to wear boys’ clothes and not dresses and make-up, to having people freak out when you use the women’s restroom because they just assume you’re a guy, to what sex is like for butch lesbians, to what they find attractive in women. I understood it all! Everything they had to say, I just kept thinking, “My God, I’ve experienced this too! My wife had to go through that forceful dress wearing thing with her mom and sisters. Oh, how I LOVE femme women as well! And they admire the beauty and sexiness in women the same way I do, so I’m not weird or gross or have something wrong with me. These women love women and aren’t afraid to show it!” I got to hear my stories, but coming from other women on my TV. And not just from one fictional woman once every three decades, but nine women all at once were right there on my TV in one sitting, and for once in my life, I actually felt like I belonged. For 34 minutes, I belonged somewhere and with actual people who actually exist on planet Earth. I never get that feeling ever, the feeling of belonging. Only one person in my life has ever made me feel like I belong in this world and that person is my wife. Celie and Alike came close, but like I said, they were fictional. I always tell my wife, “You’re the only person I’ve ever known that I can just be me when I’m with you and never once have to worry about being me.” That is the gift of being with my wife. And I got the feeling as I watched Butch Mystique that I might be able to just be me around these amazing people too. I was so comfortable and so proud about being me when I was watching the documentary that I wanted to reach into my TV and give these beautiful people a big hug and tell them thank you so much. Thank you for showing me that I do exist out there. I am normal. There is nothing wrong or weird about me. I go around all the time thinking that I’m the weirdest person in the world, because the world kept reminding me when I was a kid how weird I was with their constant rude questioning about my gender, but this movie helped me to understand that there is nothing weird about me and it allowed me to, finally, start loving me for exactly who I am. The shame, the embarrassment, the humiliation that I still feel since sometimes I am still mistaken for male, “Excuse me sir…I mean ma’am,” I still get that every once in a while and thanks to those awful, rude people from when I was a kid, I still feel humiliated and highly embarrassed about it. But these women have all experienced this too and still do and they showed me that who cares?! At least we’re free.
At the end of Pariah, Alike writes a poem about her coming out experience with her mother, the poem makes me cry whenever I read it or hear Alike recite it in the movie. I even have part of the poem tattooed on me because her words of accepting who she really is, a butch lesbian, are so powerful, that I need to actually see the words sometimes to remind me that I can survive all of this too. All of the heartbreaks and loss that come with just being your authentic self, I can survive them and even thrive. But those words never really quite sunk into my soul until I watched Butch Mystique. But now when I look at the tattoo on my arm that says, “I am not broken, I am free,” those words are finally true for me, because for the first time in my life, I finally do feel free.
I might not have gotten to reach into my TV to actually hug each person in Butch Mystique, but I did get to hug Debra (and my wife did too, and Debra calls my wife’s hugs the best and she’s so right on that!) and I’ll be thanking her for Butch Mystique until the end of my days. All we need now is to get Debra some funding so she can finish the one sequel out there amongst the endless sequels getting made that actually needs to be seen, Beyond The Butch Mystique. So, people in the world who actually have money, can you give Debra some, please, so we can get this much, much needed sequel made? Pretty, please. 🙂 And here’s where you can go to donate – Center For Independent Documentary. I donated a few dollars myself, and even though my wife and I don’t have much cash to spare, I found some to spare anyway, because this film getting made is just that important.
And we NEED Butch Mystique to be seen too, but sadly, one reason why I never saw it and probably never heard of it either until just recently is because it isn’t even available to audiences right now. It’s off in limbo land, looking for a home. I only got a chance to see Butch Mystique because Debra sent a copy to me. But if Beyond The Butch Mystique gets made, Butch Mystique will most likely find a place for audiences to watch it again. So, see why we need this sequel to get made?
It’s nice that the lesbians who loved The L Word are getting the ladies that they love back, but what about the ladies that I love? Will they get to return too? All of this history is out there. All of these untold stories are dying to be heard. Hollywood keeps talking about how diverse and open-minded they are, so maybe the next time they want to fund a diverse movie, they can give some of that never-ending, cold, hard cash they have to Debra. We need films like this. And we needed them yesterday.