The Butch-Femme Scale

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The Butch-Femme Scale

I wonder how many of you have heard about some version of this scale (or "continuum," as it is often called). I remember when I learned about it a few years ago I felt as if a probing searchlight had been turned on to the dark cavernous mystery of my own erotic nature. Because, even though I knew I always leaned "butch" in my attractions, I never could really quantify or understand why in some predictable way certain energies lit me up and others simply did not.

And, without trying to be overly reductive about it all, I have to admit this scale elucidated a lot (though, admittedly, it leaves out all the other qualities like wild minds, heart, creativity, generosity, astrology charts, and so on).

You simply imagine everyone lies on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the most butch, 10 being the most femme, and 5 being total androgyny. It's easiest if you start with yourself.

I realized quickly I was about a 7 on the femme side. Some days I think if I could run around in the outfits similar to what Madonna wore in Desperately Seeking Susan in the 70s without being considered a total freakazoid I would do it. I love sensual bohemian artsy stuff. I play with makeup and jewelry. On the other hand, I'm a total jock who likes being strong and getting sweaty. My idea of a good time is a fifty mile bike ride or an intense vinyasa class. And, while I can enjoy someone pulling out a chair for me on a date, I might seriously cringe if she tried to order for us.

That sort of thing. 

On the other hand, my friend Carlotta is a true femme 10: dragon-lady nails, long voluptuous hair, high heels, the whole shebang. And she really does it well, because, no joke...she is the Apotheosis of High Femme. Once I drove her and her very butch GF to the airport on a hectic holiday week. I remember pulling up to the curb and realizing she was just gonna sit there, poised and perfect, waiting to be taken care of, as the cabs honked and the policeman screamed bloody murder. The GF rushed to open Carlotta's door and properly assisted her lady from the car as I heaved her many suitcases to the curb like a steveadore. (Only one for the butch, of course). I was astonished but admired in a nutty way that those two never broke form. They were the consummate 10/1 art piece. 

For a while before I met my last partner, I played around on a popular dating site that was clueless about this butch/femme stuff. The scale got to be really handy when I was trying to decipher my attractions.   Androgyny (a 5) really didn't pull me no matter how I tried; it simply wasn't masculine enough.  On the other hand, when someone was at the far, far yang-end of the spectrum, I couldn't quite "feel" them either.  So I figured out my draw was to 3s, which made sense as a 7, their energetic complement.

To my mind, and maybe you'd disagree, Rachel Maddow and KD Lang are both rockin' 3's. At certain times, they each have left me almost breathless and disoriented...which is pretty darn good for random public figures who wouldn't know me from a hole in the wall. (To be honest, I have no idea what Ellen is, maybe one of you know? A 4? She's totally off my radar.)  

A woman from the site and I got into deconstructing the scale on the phone one night. She considered herself a 5 drawn to 5s (and higher) but couldn't fathom my own leanings. To her, androgyny simply meant butch. "Ok," I teased, "let me ask you. You've never been stopped for being in the wrong bathroom, right?  Well, I've never dated anyone who hasn't been. Anyway I knew we were doomed when you referred to the 'blouse' you wore..."  

She laughed and finally got it. 

On the other hand, I had an affair once with a definite 3 who sometimes wore earrings, Kohl eyeliner and tight black velvet jackets and reminded me of a female Adam Lambert. Her flamboyant butch glam-rock look totally did me in while Carlotta just rolled her eyes and called me crazy.  

And then there are my friends who are 8s and only attracted to lipstick 8's and higher. And 2s who are only drawn to 3s and lower.  

And androgynes whose hearts bleat only for each other.

I mean, who can figure out the mystery and diversity of these attractions?

Wanna even try?


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Comments [31]

Conlite's picture

Question: I just noticed the


I just noticed the scale in the picture at the top has butches as 7,8,9 and femmes as 1,2,3.  In your article you are writing it the opposite way around.  Is there a standard convention at all?

Tosha's picture

i always heard it the opposite with

butches at the bottom lol...but then I think Marcie seems to have her own Leonine opinion abt the whole thing when she made the scale...d'ya Marcie?  Or was it just a slip Smile

Marcie Bianco's picture

I found the scale pic

I found the scale pic online—i wonder what the numbers represent; 10 is a "higher" number, but in what regard, here? I've seen it both ways 1=high femme OR 1=super butch....I think this signifies another reason why a number-continuum is problematic....

Tosha's picture


i don't think it matters which way it's read...but i did think that the 'futch' in the middle was very funny as I never saw that before...and I do love that little scale for whatever crazy reason...maybe the Capricorn in me (ruler pragmatic Saturn) likes a bit on at least pretend-quantification Smile

Marcie Bianco's picture

i've heard "futch" on the

i've heard "futch" on the Real L Word before...i think it's west coast slang....???

KaielKaliber's picture

When I lived in FL Futch was

When I lived in FL Futch was used all the time.

Marcie Bianco's picture

ah, so, not a west coast

ah, so, not a west coast thing Smile

Tosha's picture

oh that's interesting, maybe'futch' is LA

but also I was thinking how maybe the inner astrologer likes the quantification of the scale too...after all, we quantify like mad, even tho a part of me sees it all as a wonderful, albeit often accurate, game

Jess Glenny's picture

Surprisingly ... it works for me ...

Ha ha ... I usually hate these identity by numbers things, but I have to admit this totally works for me. I'm a 7, attracted to 3s (absolutely get KD as a 3). It makes a lot of sense of my limited dating site experience -which was at the time often confusing in terms of who I was actually attracted to and who felt like friend material - so is actually a useful tool for me. Of course it is just a tool, and the reality of queer identity is actually far more rich and diverse, and attraction far more complex. Still ...

Tosha's picture

yeh jess

it's super helpful with dating sites.....and if you're like me, anything above 4: potential for friend material...while  2.0 to 3.5:  potential for heart palpitations and restless, inchoate longings...what's funny is my first rendevzous at 19 was with an aggressive '9' drenched in patchouli who pursued me in a lace dress and ballet shoes.  Talk about confusing!  Took a while to fine-tune my attractions Smile

Marcie Bianco's picture

And, I wonder, is a 10 today

And, I wonder, is a 10 today different from a 10 of yesterday? I mean, Jess, you're in England, right? Older, "butch" dykes definitely look different than the younger ones, no? 

Jess Glenny's picture

Perhaps ...

Yes, that may be true. Perhaps there's more play with butch identity among younger women. I live in a tough, working-class part of south-east London where a lot of the older women look pretty damn butch. Just after reading this thread, I was sitting on the bus trying to decide from the back whether the 50-something couple just in front of me were a butch-looking woman and a guy, or a butch woman and a really butch woman. I'd decided they were het until they got off and ... yeh!: a 1 and a 0.

Tosha's picture

jess that is

hysterical.  perfect.

KaielKaliber's picture

For me I guess most people

For me I guess most people would call me butch but I don't really identify with it at all because I think it's more than just your outward apperance and I don't really consider myself like what most think of a butch lesbian woman. I think I am more of a gentle super sensitive male soul but loves to take care of a woman in certain ways but would much rather be with a feminine looking woman that has a stronger personality than me and can kick ass too if need be...And so then that type of personality would be butcher than mine really but fem on the outside. I also love makeup all of it and clothes and about at least 85% butches don't wear makeup...Then there is the whole FTM category which I had pondered briefly but decided against because why should I cut off my breasts and put chemicals in my body to fit into some box of what people consider male. I finally just came to the conclusion that I know I have a male soul and truly are male on the inside but  what is male like to one person may not be to the next. It's like art and completely subjective and varies vastly...I'm more masculine then a lot of men but more fem than a lot of butch women. So I say fuck the scales and people can see me however they like but I know who I am inside and the people that get me can understand that. If I had to use a descriptive term then I would call myself a hybrid. I am what I am.

Conlite's picture

I kind of agree, because I

I kind of agree, because I don't fit comfortably into just one slot on this scale either (if you count outward appearance and what's on the inside).  But I still use these definitions to describe myself to people, since they are generally understood terms.  I just might use more than one of them.

WriterInResidence's picture


I love this thread as it confirms for me that there is a strong and beautiful lesbian collective consciousness working full bore today and every day. Here is my little contribution to this topic:

My partner and I are three days away from moving to a tiny town called Mascalucia in Sicily for three to five years. I sit here at the library because our cable and internet service has been shut off already in preparation for the move.

When driving over here today, about an hour ago, I asked my partner, Lea, to please remind me that I need to get the oil in the truck changed prior to handing the keys over to our friend who will be using it and caring for it while we are gone. Lea said, “Well, sure Hun, but there is a Mr. Tire two blocks from the library, right as you turn off this main road. Maybe we should just drop it off and walk over to the library under the umbrella.”

Aww, I thought, completely focused on the walking under the umbrella part. As we pulled nearer the turn to the library, Mr. Tire was now in sight, “How did you know this was here? I mean we were just here yesterday and I don’t at all recall there being a Mr. Tire on this corner.” I asked incredulously as I pulled in.

“Honey these are the kind of places I look for. Where to get a tire fixed, the oil changed, things like that. It’s what I do.” She gave me a very cute blinky-eyed smile then continued, “I bet you know the exact distance to the closest Dress Barn.”

“San Succci Plaza, about 2 miles down 235 on the left.” I replied without hesitation.

“See, and that’s what you do. You know the best place for a pedicure, where to get pretty lamps, and those nice clothes, and even where we will eat tonight, but I do the car stuff, the tool and fix-it stuff. It’s why we work.”

I’d say I’m an 8. I’m good with tools and have no problem killing a spider, snake or even dealing with some limited plumbing issues. No nails or heels but full make-up, hair and girl clothes. She, on the other hand, is a 1.25 - A former Marine and presently one of the few civilian female Naval Fire Chiefs who is regularly mistaken for a man at first then apologized profusely to after she speaks to whomever. By the way, the ¼ point I added for the one pair of ladies slacks she recently purchased at Banana Republic, She was so reluctant, it was actually painful for her BUT… they looked too good to pass up and paired with the men’s shawl neck, black cashmere sweater we chose for her, the ladies slacks didn’t look like ladies anything anymore. She was called sir the night before last at dinner by the waiter and was firmly told, just two weeks ago in the Atlanta airport, “This is the ladies room!”

Marcie Bianco's picture

we need a LIKE button. and

we need a LIKE button.

and now i will carry on with my day, in the cold rain, thinking about Italia.

Tosha's picture


omg tooo fabulous...i love this.  Thanks...what a great story.  May you both be happy in Sicily with or without the Dress Barns lol

Conlite's picture

Thank you for being willing

Thank you for being willing to talk about this scale as a descriptive tool in the English language, rather than a set of restrictive labels or misogynist artificial constructs or something (I don't really understand all of that).  Are labels always bad?

Forcibly banning discussion of this scale seems to me to affect masculine women more.  People know what it means to be a feminine "girly girl" and accept that there are many different kinds of feminine in the world.  Since butches are "gender-abnormative", people want us to explain ourselves and why we aren't all the same.  I've always seen this scale as a tool for discussion about that.  If I can't describe what I am, do I disappear?

WriterInResidence's picture


You are remarkably strong. You are intelligent and a socially conscious human being. You are also limitless in emotion. If the scale helps, use it. You only disappear if you choose to.

Tosha's picture

all I can say Conlite is

gender-abnormative, bring it on!  it's not like 'normal' has brought the planet to such a great and uplifting spot Smile

WriterInResidence's picture

Oh yeah!

So right, Tosha... I happen to LOVE gender-abnormative.

Conlite's picture

Me too!  I was saying that

Me too!  I was saying that tongue-in-cheek because we all use the term "gender-normative" so much.  One day I asked, what am I then?


Tosha's picture

yes something about this is

really funny to "How do you describe your taste?"  "Well, I think it could be clearly summed up as...gender-abnormative."  Or maybe to be more precise "Intellectual gender-abnormative"...I.G.A.

Ok, this is really making me giggle.

Marcie Bianco's picture

what's fascinating about all

what's fascinating about all this (thinking about gender and gendered relations via sexuality) is how we all know that gender is "fluid" (the range of one's fluidity is tempered by the material constraints of one's body, provided one isn't on hormones....) but how we come to discuss this fluidity is by rendering it quantifiable, in a spectrum or there a way to think (about) gender as a non-continuum....????

Tosha's picture

wow Marcie

gonna be pondering that ...i really don't know...will be curious to see if others weigh in.  For me there was such a relief in having a quantifiable understanding of these ineluctable and subterranean pulls I never considered the opposite...

Marcie Bianco's picture

right? i mean, that's the

right? i mean, that's the paradox, and irony: language automatically quantifies but then there's this impetus to further quantify, literally, on a spectrum.

i wonder if to think outside this scale/continuum would help to re-articulate gender relations in non-patriarchal terms, because i think this scale was born out of that dichotomous thinking (male/female, A/-A, etc etc)....kinda interesting, no?

Tosha's picture


but here's the also WORKS.  on some pre-cerebral, visceral, animal-instinct way, it absolutely captures some essence.  This is so funny.

Have to add that I truly resist viewing any of this as a didactic prison of any kind and not offered as such...yet played with as a creative spectrum of desire, i've found it consistent and least for me, and I"m not always easily predictable lol

Marcie Bianco's picture

exactly -- and that's the

exactly -- and that's the 'gift' of language 



Tosha's picture

yes Jenny...

that makes total sense...I LOVE what you say about yr relationship to the word 'femme' being too 'conscious and deliberate and intentional...and where you landed..

it all makes me think of that line from Colette, "The heart never chooses."

Jenny Aisenberg's picture

makes sense

I'm actually not familiar w/ this scale, tosha, but it seems like a pretty straightforward variation/subset of the kinsey scale. of course there are plenty of other factors that go into attraction; but as you say, no matter how funny and charming and smart and awesome a person may be, if he's a dude I'm not gonna get fluttery feelings. the same is true for anyone whose gender identity/presentation isn't on my radar.

I'd say I'm about a 7 or 8; and I'm attracted to people anywhere on the femme spectrum from 6-10. I actually spent a long time in college trying to get a handle on my relationship to the word femme, because I didn't feel right about using it for myself even though everyone else seemed to see me that way. what I landed on eventually is that femme is simply too conscious and deliberate and intentional, like everything about your body presentation is articulated through this particular lens. for myself, I feel like "girly" or just "gender normative" is a lot more accurate. aka, remember the college feminists in the 2nd part of "if these walls could talk 2?" they would die if you called them femme. yet they were also clearly not, nor were they trying to be, butch or androgynous. they were just gender normative women who didn't want their chocies or behavior dictated by gender roles at all. that's pretty much how I feel...though unlike the ladies in the movie, I am not offended or resistant to other queers taking on/expressing whatever gender expression feels good to them!

"We're all born naked. The rest is drag."
--RuPaul (appropriating Judith Butler for the masses...)