SD Holman's BUTCH: Not like the other girls challenges traditional gender roles

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      There’s no arguing that the range of images of women depicted in mainstream media is limited—not only in terms of race, class, and body size, but gender expression as well. The term “butch” is often used to describe the performance of female masculinity in LGBT communities. These are women who don’t necessarily fit into traditional gender roles and resist limited definitions of what a woman is.

      BUTCH: Not like the other girls is a new photographic art exhibit by Vancouver-based artist SD Holman. Starting in March, the collection ran as a public art exhibit displayed in 20 bus shelters across Vancouver. From April 9 to 25, BUTCH: Not like the other girls will open as a gallery exhibit featuring 20 more photographs at the Cultch (1895 Venables Street).

      “I’m really interested in the liminal space, the spaces in between that don’t occupy the binary of gender,” Holman, who is also artistic director for Vancouver’s Queer Arts Festival, told the Georgia Straight in a recent phone interview. “I want to document our community for us because I don’t think there’s enough images that we can relate to.”

      Holman, who was born in California and received a degree in photography from Emily Carr University of Art and Design started the BUTCH photography project nearly five years ago.

      “I went to Portland and Seattle, and…a conference so there were people from other places. I shot people from England, and somebody from New York—all over the States,” she recalled, noting that the majority of her subjects are Canadian. “People came out and really wanted to do it.”

      However, when Holman’s wife—Vancouver social worker Catherine White Holman—died in a float plane accident in 2009, the artist put her photography project on hiatus.

      “I’ve taken it back up for her because she was the one who pushed me to do it,” Holman said. “Catherine was the biggest fan of butches I ever met.”

      Holman has now taken photographs of nearly 100 models and hopes to turn BUTCH: Not like the other girls into a book. She is also working towards a Master of photography degree from Savannah College of Art and Design.

      “We have so many images that we’re bombarded with about the way we’re supposed to look and the way we’re supposed to be in the world,” she said. “It’s dangerous for people like me and people that I photograph to be in the world, so I think the more images we have out there can help people on both sides.”

      Holman hopes that the BUTCH exhibit extends far beyond LGBT communities and that her photographs—whether displayed in transit shelters or art galleries—challenge audiences to re-examine definitions of gender, sexuality, and what it means to be a woman.

      “I hope it is meaningful and transformative and people will recognize themselves in it,” she said. “I hope they think that they are beautiful, and people can be outside of our normal ideas of what it means to be female or male.”

      You can follow Michelle da Silva on Twitter at



      SD Holman

      Apr 5, 2013 at 10:41am

      correction; it should say nearly a 100 models, not nearly 100 photos, I took thousands of photos

      Michelle da Silva

      Apr 5, 2013 at 10:44am

      Hi SD, the article has been updated to reflect the correction. Thank you.


      Apr 6, 2013 at 7:09am

      I attempted to post a somewhat negative evaluation of this series and my original post was not posted. Perhaps the virtues of BUTCH are not really subject to debate?


      Apr 6, 2013 at 3:17pm

      As a confirmed butch dyke I'm so sick of being invisible! I love BUTCH so much--it affirms that I can hold my head up with pride. It's time for the public to begin to see BUTCH women as we really are: strong, tough and beautiful.

      Rose-Lee Holman

      Apr 7, 2013 at 2:43pm

      SD Holman is bravest woman I know. I applaud her courage and ability to stick to her vision despite all criticisms and setbacks

      Rose-Lee Holman

      Apr 7, 2013 at 2:47pm

      Correction to my last post. SDHolman is the bravest person I Know


      Apr 9, 2013 at 3:04pm

      I do not think there is anything particularly unusual about butchy women, but I guess that is because I live downtown and/or because I don't think about this topic much. It is very grievous to read that SD Holman says that it is dangerous to look like herself. I suppose, artistically, that makes her book more interesting as an expression of underrepresented folks but, damn. What year is it? When do we all get to be ourselves, exactly?


      Apr 9, 2013 at 11:12pm

      Which is to say, I wish that intolerance of genderplay be a nearly forgotten relic of the culture. It is unfair to be disliked for one's intimate tastes or interests.


      Apr 10, 2013 at 10:48pm

      Thank you so much SD Holman for not only proving that butch identity is still alive and beautiful but for making it so. The world is better for it.

      Rope Wolf

      Apr 14, 2013 at 9:05pm

      Thank you for your work Sid. Yes, it's still dangerous to be butch--we butches challenge the norm. We threaten straight men because they feel "tricked" and we know how important it is to not trick them. We get to hear about why do we want to look like men or 'you'll never be a real man'--got that right, nor do I want to. Butch is where I live.