In contrast, this paper argues that the categories of butch and trans sometimes converged at midcentury, since butch was an identity and social-erotic role for female-bodied people with varying relationships to masculinity. Analyzing oral histories, autobiographical writing, and periodicals, I show that the tradition of “passing women” persisted, as living as men continued to provide economic and social benefits, only now many of these subjects identified as butches and had an honored place in lesbian communities. By examining the work of passing—butches’ fashion choices, bodily modifications and illusions, strategic mobility, and innovative tactics like using dirt to resemble facial hair —this paper engages larger questions about how gendered aesthetics were understood, regulated, and challenged in the midcentury U.S. Arguing that butchness and lesbian culture provided a home for transgender embodiment, this paper historicizes the category of trans men and complicates the figure of the butch in both lesbian and trans scholarship.
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