the sissies trusted their instincts–as girls do–and amended the nickname with ‘ie’ and by doing so added the ingredients we are told girls are made of and extracted the ones with muscle, spit, and beanie caps with just the simple sound of a long ‘e’. they were soon joined by grandmothers, the great- one too, aunts, the 2nd cousin across the street, the church ladies (daisy, doris, and louise), and the pastor’s wife, mrs. hellyer, leaving just the parents and the uncles with butch–the failure of hope over experience.
nicknames. i never asked where it came from, but my suspicion is that it was a result of the haircuts an army boy-child may be subjected to — a convenience for the parents and a sign of the times. Who gets a “butch” cut or flat-top or crew-cut anymore (military with their “high-and-tight” excluded)?
this started early, before i was even walking or talking, blithely ignorant of what ‘butch’ might mean in the greater world, the world outside of the one my mother had some control over (or so she thought.) there are some indications that as a baby i was “so masculine”–written in a letter by my mother to my aunt on the birth of the third and final sissie (a three girl family, they were always known as “the sissies”)–that she was shocked that a boy baby could or would be thus and so forth and such at less than a year old. that nickname, butch, used before a child has had a chance to make some determination about their character–it must be hard-wired then.
butch stuck with me as we made our way west–see above happy six-year-old with bolo tie and crisp white cowboy shirt as evidence that i may have even embraced my butchness. i remember wyoming relatives–grandmother, grandfather, uncle, and aunt plus all of my mother’s extended in-law family from her two wyoming marriages that predated my birth (i know i’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: my mother collected mothers-in-law and maintained a relationship with all of the in-laws well past the end of her marriages. i have to say that it did not at the time surprise me, and even now when i consider her character, well, actually i’m examining her character, but let’s not let that get in the way of what i actually want to say: it seems a perfectly honest way of dealing with the failure of a marriage by remaining on speaking terms with all of the members of the husbands’ extended families. albeit in my mother’s case, both husbands had died young, but after their divorces.)
but back to butch. i don’t recall introducing myself as ‘butch’ to the neighborhood kids or my classmates, utilizing my perfectly good first name, robert, instead. no, butch was reserved for relatives only or those who by law might have been family had times and circumstances so dictated.
if my mother regretted my nickname as my character started to exert itself in a sideways motion, none of that vertical growth that parents of children hope for, no, it was determined that i would move in a separate direction, a direction that by 8 or 9 must have been apparent to her. but parents adopt the ‘head-in-sand’ attitude when the evidence tells them otherwise, perhaps if they ignore it, it will go away. (note to parents: it does not go away.)
i’ve tried to pinpoint when all of the relatives who called me butch, stopped, and started calling me robert; as best i can tell it was pre-pubescent, the cusp of manhood when butch might not have been quite so bad, but butch went away quietly and without fanfare then; it slipped through a closing window, a breeze, a sigh (of relief) its only accompaniment.
when i say all of the relatives i mean the ones out west–the sissies and their mother called me (call me still) butch or butchie just as they should, but don’t think i’m inviting you to try it on for size, because it only fits when i say it does.