Butch vs. Stud vs. Tomboy: Putting Things into Perspective

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What’s the difference between the “masculine” labels, anyway? Aren’t a butch and a stud the same thing?

Lesbian labels span a wide spectrum. At the far-masculine end, we have the butch lesbians: The ones who look and act like men. At the far-feminine end, we have the lipstick lesbians: The ones who are often misappropriated as straight women. In a community that’s so solidly dependent on inclusion, it’s important to understand that each of these labels means something different to everyone – but generally they fall under certain criteria.

Today, we’ll be addressing the labels that fall on the more masculine side: Butch, stud, and tomboy. After a bit of examination, we should be able to determine the primary differences and start addressing our partners by the appropriate terms (as long as the term is one they agree with; remember, labels are a very personal thing, and no one can assign a label to someone else).

Butch Lesbians

Butch lesbians are those who have helped shape the stereotypes involving who “looks” gay. Generally, when we think of “butch women”, we think of short hair, flannel, and denim. Of course, a woman’s individual style still plays a heavy part into this, but the short definition of a butch woman is “a woman who presents herself to look like a man, but doesn’t identify as a man”. This is a different category than trans men, as we have addressed in a previous article, but society may tend to lump the two together.

If your partner identifies as a butch woman, she will likely choose to identify with “masculine” characteristics. Many times, for example, a butch woman would prefer to be called “handsome” rather than “beautiful”. (Shortly after coming out, I made the mistake of telling a stone-butch that she was pretty – and she was rather offended!)

Butch women are also likely to have more masculine interests as well. I have the urge to jump to the “lumberjack” stereotype, but this is purely a point of reference. Truly, butch women may be into cars, or sports, or even construction trades.

There is a stereotype that butch lesbians tend to be misogynists – but generally this isn’t true. In reality, they are the epitome of feminism – proving that you don’t have to look, think, or act “like a woman” to be a woman.

Stud Lesbians

Studs are slightly different from butch women, although they may share many of the same traits. A stud will typically dress masculine as well, but probably less “baggy” and more stylish than butch women. (This isn’t to say that butch women can’t look good – just that “style” isn’t as high on their priorities.) A stud may have long or short hair, but she will typically keep it held back if it’s longer. My girlfriend, for example, identifies as a stud, and she wears her very-long hair in braids. Occasionally I’m able to convince her to leave it free, but only if I offer to brush it out for her at the end of the day.

Studs tend to invest a lot of thought into their fashion choices, and they will want to look good for their partners, as well as the other people they encounter during their day. She’ll probably have more shoes than a butch woman (who really only needs a pair of boots and a pair of sneakers), and her clothes may take up more of the closet than a more feminine woman’s clothing. That’s not a bad thing! In fact, it’s nice to have a partner that cares about their appearance – as long as it’s not the most important aspect of their personality.

Studs typically regard themselves as “players” in some aspect of the definition. Some may have a hard time with faithfulness, although the label doesn’t guarantee it. Some may play team sports as they have a competitive nature. Either way, they are typically drawn by a need to be the best – the best looking, the best lover, the best basketball player, the best at whatever they attempt.


Tomboys are a different category altogether. They don’t necessarily identify themselves as masculine, although their clothing is usually on the more masculine side of the scale. They aren’t likely to be offended by your use of the word “beautiful” – or handsome, or gorgeous, or really any positive attributes. They’re happy that you find them attractive, and they are happy that you felt the need to tell them.

Typically, tomboys don’t care too much about how they look – so you will be pleasantly surprised when they make an effort to look extra good for you. Maybe their hair is normally in a basic ponytail or covered by a cap, and then one day they’ll leave it down. They may even dress feminine from time to time – although they’re likely to feel out of place if they try to force it.

The nature of a tomboy starts young for many women. They may have had more fun playing in the dirt than playing inside with their dolls, and they may have felt more comfortable playing baseball than learning ballet. However, they are likely to have a background that combines what society would expect from a lady (such as playing with dolls and dancing ballet) with what they would rather do instead (such as playing baseball and getting muddy).

It’s also important to note that “tomboy” is not considered a specifically lesbian label. Yes, there are straight tomboys, too! However, there is a stereotype in the heterosexual community that “tomboys” are always lesbians that just haven’t come out yet. This falls into the category of not assigning labels to others – and someone’s sexuality is an extra personal label indeed.

Within the lesbian community, a tomboy may also be referred to as a “soft stud”. Sure, she usually presents herself in a more masculine manner, but occasionally she’ll switch things up and veer more towards the feminine, or more towards the stud (remember, a studly appearance implies a greater fashion sense). Her long hair and feminine body type will remind you that she is definitely a woman and definitely identifies as such, but her clothing choices could go either way.


Of course, this list in no way represents every lesbian out there – and not even every masculine lesbian. Someone’s label is a personal decision that deals with how they see themselves and how they want others to perceive them. Check back in as we detail some of the other common lesbian labels.

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16 thoughts on “Butch vs. Stud vs. Tomboy: Putting Things into Perspective

  1. Sam

    Great article! I think your just might had ilustrated me and my friends that always call me “stud” and i’m definetly a tomboy

  2. Barbara WardBarbara Ward Post author

    Hey Heather and Sam!

    I think “gentleman stud” is a GREAT label. I do feel that it’s super important to choose your own label and make sure it actually fits you. After all, if a label is something that separates us into different categories, isn’t it most important that the category is uniquely yours?

    And Sam, if you feel that you’re a stud, you should definitely refer to yourself as a stud. 🙂 After all, this post is WAY generalized, and what matters is that you are confident with how you refer to yourself. 🙂

  3. Jay Tilman aka boobookitty

    (sigh…so many thoughts..) I can see that you are trying to be kind and supportive, thank you for that.
    There is so much segregation in the Lesbian community it is almost unavoidable to miss the details that over lap from one category and the next. Its ok to ‘not fit’ a stereotype … I don’t fit any.

    I like the term Lipstick Stone Butch for myself.
    Lipstick Lesbians, are most often feminine looking, and attracted to other feminine looking women.
    (it is NOT about dressing to please men) Its more about dressing in celebration (and sometimes,.. worship)
    of feminine energy and its expression…

    Stone Butch, (yes with capitol letters, as nouns, not adjectives) these terms are not about how we ‘look’ or how we dress… its about how we enjoy and express sexual needs (long story to understand it… contact me if you want to know more about that)
    I happen to be male identified, not all Stone Butches are.
    There are also ‘butch’ women… lower case b… the adjective… this is a look, way of wearing your clothes or a social role…. not who the person is inside, they change their style of clothing and the role changes as well…

    Butches, (capitol B, as in the noun) are always Butch… inside, its the core of who they are. has nothing to do with how they look or the clothes they wear. They can be female gender ID’ed, or male gender ID’ed.

    (there are even straight people who use the same terms)

  4. Natkat

    It seems that no matter what language you use, someone will take offense. I love butch-femme roles and labels. In my limited experience, I see mostly African American women use the term “stud” while white women use the term “butch”. Or at least, judging by craigslist.

  5. Sondra

    I think you writing an article describing “labels” is in direct opposition to your statement “labels are a very personal thing, and no one can assign a label to someone else.” If anyone should be writing about how the lesbian community identifies itself, a poll should be taken and even that in itself is a task that requires much research across cities if any of it is conclusive it’ll take a book to document. Otherwise this observation comes across as a fashion description of those who choose not to have femininity describe their appearances. Although I appreciate the small effort you put into this…it is still a bit shallow of a topic (dresswear) to speak on about people who are what they are, don’t you think?

  6. Barbara WardBarbara Ward Post author

    Natkat – Yes, I tried to be as fair about the topic as I could within the boundaries of this particular assignment. I don’t think I agree that butch/stud are racially-inspired, though. Craigslist is rarely an indicator of anything “true”. 🙂

  7. Barbara WardBarbara Ward Post author

    Sondra – the statement “Labels are a very personal thing, and no one can assign a label to someone else” directly pertains to how I feel about the topic, but I was asked to provide some descriptions, so I did what I could to help facilitate the conversation. I was hoping that, by overgeneralizing things, I would open the door for others to join in and comment their thoughts on these labels – and I appreciate your idea that this was a shallow list. In a way, that was the point. But it got you thinking about it, right? 🙂

  8. Bixz

    “Stud” was a regional variation of “butch” that was first used by Black lesbians, then white lesbians caught on later.

  9. Pingback: How To Come Out As Butch | KitschMix

  10. Jessie

    I’m a 100%Native American ,the Native LGBT community call ourselves “TWOSPIRITS “. There are different definitions each tribe uses for Twospirits.I describe myself as “One who houses both a male and female spirit in one body.”

  11. Coco Moro

    Weird…. I care a lot about how I look and I always want to be “the dream guy that happens to be a chick” for all the ladies. You could say I’m a stud in that sense especially since I love feminine girls and consider myself pretty dominant. On the other hand, I like getting girly every once in a while and I love how sexy I look in certain dresses. So I may be a tomboy? Maybe right in the middle?

  12. Renee Boult

    Great article, I consider myself a stud without all that player madness. I am a one one womnan at a time but it is true I do have a lot of shoes and clothes

  13. Rachel

    This article touches me. I am constantly told that I misrepresent myself as a lesbian. Of course I am a lesbian (A gold star lesbian at that). I dress in well fitted mens clothing and have short hair style and always being told I give missed signs. I’m not a stud, I’m not stone I’m a soft tomboyish mature 44 year old woman who is also very feminine. I constantly have issues with others trying to label me. I have said time and time again if you continue to tell me I falsely represent myself, then you know nothing of me at all. I’m very hands on and independent I’m looking for a love that is going to love me for me and we will together make a life for us. Does this make sense?

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