our ladies of lesbos: butchcamp is the instagram account celebrating butch ladies in pop culture
Chronicling the history of butch ladies in pop-culture, Butchcamp serves up its daily offerings with deliciously camp and irreverent humour and an intimate knowledge of its elusive subject matter.
Butchcamp is the fantastic Instagram account celebrating and chronicling the history of butch ladies in pop-culture, served up with deliciously camp and irreverent humour and an intimate knowledge of its elusive subject matter.
Compiled by artist Isa Toledo and graphic designer Rosie Eveleigh, it's a celebration of the biggest, baddest, butchest women of all time — real and fictional — and the styles that set them apart, from real lesbian icons like Jodie Foster and Lea Delaria, to Missy Elliot and Dolly Parton, to women (and sometimes men) who just got 'the look' — think Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton and their no-frills style (a recent post even featured Nick Carter's "floppy dyke haircut").
The account inverts the 'straight gaze' we're subjected to when it comes to queer representation in pop culture and tips it on its head, offering two lesbians and their guest posters' perspectives on lesbian culture and the aesthetic that's come to define it. "Butchcamp started as a fairly amorphous dropbox project where we would collect images that fell under the spell of this ineffable quality," says co-founder Isa. "I think we were compelled to kind of visually catalogue a quality that we were constantly recognising as part of an overlooked dyke cultural canon. Butchcamp for us is also really an attempt at levity. To be quite chilled and camp about dykey things, which often goes against the grain of how lesbianism is perceived, which is usually this heavy and highly politicised thing."
It's no secret that lesbian culture is less represented in mainstream culture than its male counterpart, and Butchcamp documents the aesthetics and fantasies of lesbian women. "Even when butch women do get representation, in camp fests like Priscilla: Queen of the Desert or The Producers, they can often be the butt of the joke," Isa shares. "I remember being delighted to see butch dykes in films then I'd go home with this bad aftertaste... In the fashion industry perhaps there has been more room for celebrating a more masculine or androgynous look, but it comes in fads. A butch stud who is a complex character or the object of desire is such a thrill precisely because they are so rare." Especially for i-D, the creators of Butchcamp present nine of their favourite butchcamp icons of all time.
Lily Tomlin as Laverna
Terry Caste is a real inspiration, and she wrote this quote about Lily Tomlin on the Carol Burnett show... "Perched on a stool mid-stage, Tomlin proceeded to deliver a deadpan monologue while also preparing — slowly, deliberately, voluptuously — to smoke a huge and unbelievably suggestive-looking cigar... Then, without a single comment about it or what she was doing, she smoked it! It was so wildly transgressive at the time — so disgusting, unfeminine, and dizzyingly hot — I almost wet my pants." Essentially this quote by Terry Castle is very much at the heart of camp recognition. Seeing something that absolutely rivets you. And the thing that makes it queer is just how sort of popular it is among queer spectators. And that's at the core of a lot of our choices at Butchcamp. There's something ineffable, something common to all these pictures... And it has something to do with being 'butch' in the sense of a performance, a sense of inversion of expectations, and a sense of something that has an uncannyness of gender. Which gives you the feeling that you are not alone in this.
Ursula the Sea Witch
It is hard to pick one cartoon villainess for a top ten. Most are irredeemably, deliciously butchcamp — Cruella, Maleficent, the hot witch in Snow White. Ursula was just this great, fat, evil, sexy bitch in the 90s. I've chosen Ursula as place-marker for a lot of deliciously butchcamp villainesses in Disney and other cartoons, which also transcends into the live action with the Trunchbulls... These strange, mean, evil, kind of masculine characters... And of course this comes with its own sticky territory, right? Are we as queer people only content to have these characters as the closest sort of representation? These characters are not the heroes. But what is interesting about villains and villainesses is that outside of the heroes and their love interests they tend to be the most complex characters. They're tied up to notions of other things that are not romantic: they're caught up with envy, greed and other human foibles. I for one — personally, and I can't speak for Rosie on this — feel that at times we have to look for the good in these representations when we can. These characters are given so much time, because if we don't understand the villains, then we don't understand the plot.
Whoopi Goldberg produced a documentary highlighting the importance of Moms Mabely to comedy culture, and lamenting her obscurity. Moms was this fabulous black comedian who was culturally important in the states for a couple of decades. I only found out about her through Whoopi Goldberg, who is another huge Butchcamp staple. Moms was actually a lesbian. She did all of these touring comedy shows and gained prominence as this bizarre slippered floral muumuu-wearing old lady who "tells it like it is." There's a fabulous joke that I can't find right now where she said something like, "If the pilgrims had hunted bobcats instead of Turkey we'd all be eating pussy for Thanksgiving." She had these sorts of dirty mama jokes. The video that we posted of her is from a film she did before dying, which is about democracy in a sense, called Amazing Grace. In it, Moms plays an old woman who backs someone who's running for a town position. She gives these great speeches and it's extremely political. It still rings true now but it was particularly relevant in November in the aftermath of the Trump bullshit.
The Killing of Sister George
A camp lesbian classic. Beryl Reid plays June Buckridge, who is an awful character — she's such a bitch. She's this British actor who's on a soap opera and she gets fired and she goes home and is drunk and awful to her lady lover and they have this fun party scene with all these glorious dykes in it. I mean, the real star of this is Coral Brown whose character is the villain in this... She's super sexy and evil. The Killing of Sister George is also a long-running stage show, and Sister George is a very classic butchcamp role for actors like Kathleen Turner who veer that way.
Dolly Parton and Judy Ogle
Straight people are generally completely oblivious to the firing, crackling, smoldering desire in the hearts of lesbians everywhere for this rumor to be true: Dolly and the soft butch she calls her best friend, Judy. The Oprah and Gayle rumour is a bit more mainstream, and I kind of believe that Oprah isn't with Gayle because I do believe she'd say something. But the thing about Judy is she's such a soft butch in her look. One day on my personal stories I posted like 20 pictures of Dolly and Judy and I got such a huge response from all these different dykes going "Thank you for seeing this and caring." And I was like, "Oh my god — I know, right?" It's very dear to our hearts. I was at my girlfriend's southern house near Chattanooga, Tennessee with her southern parents and they were talking about how Dolly Parton has a house nearby in Georgia and how she'd been "So loooovely and she paid for all these people's houses that'd been done in the flood." And I was like, "You do know that our sincere hope is that she actually is gay and married to this woman named Judy." They had no idea. I just wish it were common knowledge.
Alright, Eleanor Roosevelt — only the first lesbian first lady of the United States! Charles Pearce, one of the all time great drag queens, was once recorded dressed as Katherine Hepburn talking about her role as Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter, and then he segue-ways into a joke about Eleanor Roosevelt being a lesbian. I mean that is just a birthday cake of divine queer references. It's him as Eleanor Roosevelt going, "Franklin, if you can have a mistress so can I..."
Missy Elliot just refuses to come out but it's okay. Most of her 90s looks are just so butchcamp. There's not much that needs to be said about this picture — it just hits all the spots. Of course she's always rumoured to be with any of her young protégés... And there's this rumour of a secret lesbian underground hip hop club. I don't know if it's true and I don't care if it's true. I choose to believe it!
The allure of Garbo is still so strong. I personally was more of a Katherine Hepburn-obsessed person, but I've come across so many dykes who are still so completely obsessed with Garbo. We did a guest post on her by Local Honey (@local_._honey) — she's great. One of the great dyke meme makers. She did a guest post triptych all on Garbo, and it's chock-full of great information. She mentions Mercedes de Acosta who was Garbos' long time lover and I always find that Mercedes de Acosta is a dead giveaway. Like, if someone recognises the name 'Mercedes de Acosta' at a dinner party then I know they're part of the sewing circle.
Fran Lebowitz has these really radical and great queer perspectives on things. I always recommend watching the Martin Scorsese documentary Public Speaking, which is on YouTube in full, where she talks about how the first intellectual she came across was James Baldwin, and how she's literally the first Jewish woman in America whose first idea of an intellectual was a black man. She gives her opinion on all sorts of things, like gay marriage and gays in the military, and she has a radical queer perspective on that — she says these are the most confining two institutions in the world, and she really can't understand why the priority of gay people is to bang down on these two walls. The headline on the magazine cover we've chosen is 'why we camp' — it's just so perfect. The image itself is funny to me because with her uniform people always ask "have you always worn the same thing" and she'll say "No, I used to wear crew neck sweaters a lot but then I stopped because I realised they made me look infantile." So this image was taken in the twilight of her crew neck sweater phase but already with the camel jacket, straight legged jeans, brogue-y look.
Young Angela Merkel
And then we have Angela Merkel's young photos. She's just literally the most powerful woman in the free world and also just kind of rocks this German mom lesbian look. I remember when I first went to Berlin I was like, "Oh my god — there's so many lesbians." And everyone was like, "No, dude, they're just moms." And we would play this game: lesbian or German mom. You just can't tell! The aesthetic is so, so close. This is very much a light-hearted inclusion, as you can tell, but all of these photos of young Angela are so sweet. I remember a German lesbian magazine once published fake paparazzi shots of Merkel with a lesbian lover ... another one of those moments where you just so hope it were real. It's what you fantasise about. .
Text Zac Bayly