When Kimberly Herbel came out late in life, she learned from other lesbians that there was a stigma attached to the term “butch.”
“I found that when I would remark on someone as being ‘one hot butch’ or ‘she’s so butch,’ I was being taken aside and told that ‘butch’ was not a word that was embraced in [the lesbian] community,” she said. “It had this negative connotation attached to it because so many lesbians had been subjected to it as a put-down.”
So Herbel, president of Femmelicious Productions, decided to change the community’s perception of what it means to be "butch". Her music- and fashion-driven Butchlesque events explore female masculinity by giving butch-identified women of diverse backgrounds the opportunity to express what being “butch” means to them.
The next Butchlesque performance takes place on New Year’s Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 31, at the Gulfport Casino Ballroom.
“It seemed to me that the best way to strip the word ‘butch’ of its stigma would be to reclaim it for the masculine-of-center lesbian,” said Herbel, who also serves as the event’s femme-cee. “I created Butchlesque as a celebration of the butch lesbian, and to break down the derogatory stereotypes of them. Butchlesque provides a forum for individual interpretations of what ‘butch’ is. Our contestants portray — through their swagger, their attire and their music choices — what it means to be a butch lesbian in today's world.”
During the New Year’s Eve show, 20 contestants will showcase their own personal ‘butch’ identity while vying for prizes. At the end of the night, winners will be declared in three categories: Dapper, Beefcake and Crowd Favorite.
Butchlesque got its start in 2011 with a Sarasota show to raise funds for an LGBT organization in that area.
Lisa Newlin came on board to assist Herbel a few months before that first show. Though she’s not one of the Butchlesque perfomers — she helps out behind the scenes — she is drawn to the events because of her own struggle with identity.
“It seems in every walk of life people have wanted to label me,” said Newlin, who was honorably discharged from the military for being gay. “They’ve never waited for me to label myself. There comes a time when you really define how you are and how you present yourself. Butchlesque is a good place for masculine-centered lesbians to do that.”
After the first show, Newlin saw how unifying Butchlesque events could be for the lesbian community.
“So much camaraderie developed among the contestants,” she said.
She added, “I heard a quote one time: ‘Now that we have the Internet, everyone is one person away from knowing everybody else.’ I think Butchlesque is much like that. It brings together lesbians who didn’t know each other beforehand. It expands their social circles.”
Butchlesque’s New Year’s Eve performance begins at 8 p.m. at the Gulfport Casino Ballroom, 5500 Shore Blvd S. The show will be followed by a party that goes until 1 a.m.
Tickets are $25 each, which VIP admission costing $75. VIP tickets include seating along the catwalk, two drinks and a swag bag. Tickets can be purchased online.
A portion of proceeds from the evening will benefit the St. Pete Pride Community Grants Program, which provides funding to a variety of local LGBT organizations. During this past year, the program distributed $25,000 into the community to 15 organizations and impacted 42,000 people, Newlin said.