by Rachel Cholst, Contributing Writer
Flannel, blue jeans, boots, earnestly wearing your heart on your sleeve: butches and country music are a perfect pair. When you add the aesthetics to the spirit of country music — that yearning for belonging in a world that can be cruel; the determination to stay true to yourself, no matter what — it’s no wonder that some of country and Americana’s greats have more in common than their music.
In recent years, there’s been a lot of debate within that unique parlor game of the queer community: defining who does and who doesn’t belong within a given identity. Country Queer wants to clear some things up for you: we proudly stand with cis butches, transfeminine butches, transmasculine butches, and non-binary butches. All butches are more than welcome in our rodeo.
To compile this list, Country Queer reached out to many artists to see if they self-identified as butch. (Though, of course, some artists like kd lang are universally acknowledged as butch.) There may be some people you expected to see on this list. That may be because they declined to be on the list, or because we missed them! Let us know so we can celebrate your favorite butch country artist on a future list.
The artists below are presented in alphabetical order.
Buckley’s last album, Driving in the Dark, is a note-for-note perfect country album. That Buckley tells stories that run the gamut of the queer experience, from closeted yearning to forbidden love to finding the person who keeps your heart safe, makes it even better. When approached by Country Queer, Buckley said she prefers to use words like “fluid” and “handsome” to describe herself. To top it all off, the Canadian singer-songwriter has excellent taste in hats. Buckley recently released the single “No Surprise,” which hopefully means we’ll have more tunes from her soon.
On top of being a bold voice for Country Queer, Mya Byrne is a multi-talented artist. She’s a songwriter, actor, and poet. She’s spent decades in the NYC and San Francisco folk scenes, known for her work with The Ramblers and her band, Mya Byrne and the Something Extra. Her song, “Faultline,” co-written with Neale Eckstein, won Best Folk Song at the 2019 Trans Trenderz Music Awards. Byrne is also the first trans woman to perform as a solo artist at the San Francisco Dyke March. Ever the trailblazer, Byrne advocates for queer country musicians on and off the stage. (Byrne is also a frequent flier on our listicles; you can see what she wrote about herself and others in her article “Trans Country Artists You Need to Know”! She was also hugely pivotal in creating this list!)
For Melissa Carper, country music is in the blood. Carper, whose single “Makin’ Memories” was recently reviewed on Country Queer, grew up absorbing country music from her family record player and band. Attending University of Nebraska on a music scholarship, she dove into music by the likes of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole. Carper brought her unique blend of jazz and country swing to the streets of historic music towns like Eureka Springs, AK; New Orleans; New York City; Austin; and Nashville, busking to make ends meet between gigs. She’s won awards with her foursome Sad Daddy and her roots duo Buffal Gals with her girlfriend and bandmate Rebecca Patek.
Carper is known as “Daddy” to her bandmates for always knowing how to “take care of ‘bidness.’” Her butch credentials? When approached by Country Queer, she responded, “Sure! Why not? I’m definitely not a femme!”
catherine the great
catherine the great, the stage name of Catherine Backus, describes herself as a “soft butch” — a term for a subgenre of butch fashion. Backus is native East Tennessee-an now residing in Virginia. Backus’s latest album Jigsaw Puzzles & Pink Wine, is a delicate blend of folk and bluegrass, where Backus’s picking is only matched by her lyrics. At times piercing, at others achingly sweet, Backus’s music is filled with humor that’ll have you chuckling aloud or wincing — depending on how close to home her barbs hit. On Twitter, though, she’s an enthusiastic dog lover and you should absolutely send some cute pooches her way.
Speaking from experience, Barbara Endes is achingly cool. When she’s slinging her custom-made green guitar on stage with her band, Girls on Grass, you’re instantly transported to another decade when rock’n’roll meant something, and performing at a bar on the Lower East Side was an adventure. The band’s last full-length album, Dirty Power, is a dreamy blend of country and garage rock, centered by Endes’ confident delivery and sense of fun.
Tret Fure has been a singer-songwriter since she was 16, touring coffee shops and campuses in the Midwest. She hit her stride in the 80s with the advent of Women’s Music, a subgenre of folk that prizes lyricism and feminist politics over polish and virtuosity. Fure has a whopping 17 albums to her name, many of which have been released on her own label, Tomboy girl Records. It’s safe to say that Fure identifies as butch, given that she has contributed to this delightful artifact of 90s web design, The Butch Cook Book.
Gauthier is a legend in her own right, a tree queer country pioneer. A powerful singer-songwriter for decades, she caught the spotlight with Blake Shelton’s cover of her song “I Drink,” and her monster hit “Mercy Now.” Her music has been covered by artists ranging from Jimmy Buffet to Bettye Lavette and Tim McGraw. Her most recent album, Rifles and Rosary Beads, was written in collaboration with the spouses of veterans, an under-served community. In her interview with Country Queer, she describes herself as “two-spirited,” a term often used by indigenous people.
I mean. Obviously. While lang achieved fame in Canada for her early work, homages to classic country music, she struggled to make it onto the country music charts in the US — in part because of her looks, certainly, but also because country music programmers were concerned her commitment to veganism would cause waves with one very important sponsor: Big Beef. Even as lang transitioned to pop music, like on “Constant Craving,” her appearance was as much a part of her celebrity as her musical talent.
Loamlands is the “distorted country music outfit” led by badass Kym Register. They are an active member of the Southern queer community, helping to organize this past summer’s Country Soul Songbook festival. Their last album, Lez Dance, is a powerful collection of songs focused on identity, dysphoria, and praise for our queer elders who blazed the trails ahead of us.
Clyde Petersen is an explosively creative multimedia artist, working in video, stop-motion animation, and music. His band, Your Heart Breaks, has been a centerpiece of the Seattle queer punk community. His last album, Drone Butch Blues is a truly breathtaking album meditation on the history of the queer community, focusing on Fire Island and Chelsea in New York. There are some autobiographical pieces, like the delightful “Late Nights in the Lab” above. When Clyde toured this album, he presented videos for each song. If you need a cathartic cry, we strongly recommend watching “Our Forbidden Country.”
Amy Ray seems to delight in playing between binaries. Adding the punk rock edge to the Indigo Girls, diving into country music in her most recent country albums after a long punk streak, serving as mentors to rising queer punk and Americana artists in the South, Ray is a pioneer and cornerstone of queer country music. Ray has often used evocative imagery in her songs, sometimes describing herself as a boy. In her recent interview with Country Queer, she self-identified as butch.
Toshi Reagon is a creative powerhouse. It would probably be easier to list the genres she hasn’t written music for. She even co-wrote the operatic adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Reagon also has an impressive filmography, playing her songs in episodes of The L Word and making a cameo in the black lesbian classic The Watermelon Woman. Toshi appeared in that famous New York Times spread on butches and studs last spring.
Sarah Shook and the Disarmers took the outlaw country world by storm with their one-two punch of Years (2017) and Sidelong (2018) on Bloodshot Records. Shook grew up in a religious environment and did what they could to get away. Now a cornerstone of the arts community in Chapel Hill, Shook is proudly bisexual and non-binary.
It doesn’t get butcher than writing an album called Butch. Meg Toohey has been there and back again, soaring the highs of major record deals, surviving the aftermath when things fall through, and regaining her creativity playing guitar in the pit of long-time collaborator Sara Bareilles’ musical Waitress.