Though Gabby Horner has been “out” for over 20 years, she didn’t truly find herself until about five years ago. In the time since she’s been more comfortable identifying as butch, she’s made waves with the Butch Boudoir Project, a movement to empower butch and masculine people across gender identities.
The Butch Boudoir Project began two years ago as a photoshoot with photographer Graciela Valdes to expand the traditionally feminine concept of boudoir photos modeled by Horner herself. The revelation came when she was looking for inspiration on Pinterest and found virtually nothing.
“I can’t find butch women doing anything other than completely fully dressed, or they look like MMA fighters,” says Horner. She adds, “If I couldn’t really find anything on Google, it’s not enough.”
It was then that Horner and Valdes realized this was much bigger than just one photoshoot. The “impressive” reaction made her realize that butch visibility needed a bigger platform. Her next endeavor was an Instagram account for the project.
“The only thing I had access to was myself, [so] the only thing I could do was continue to showcase myself,” she explains. “So I started pushing myself and my boundaries to take more photos of my daily life.”
But from the moment the project became more than just one photography session, Horner knew it had to be bigger than just herself. She gathered a group of friends, known affectionately as the #ButchCrew, for another photoshoot set in a barber shop. In between haircuts and a candidly-shot game of pool, Horner says the “butch siblinghood” was powerful.
“That’s insanely underrepresented. I think it tears down toxic masculinity that is sadly common that a lot of butch people feel intimidated by other butch people,” says Horner. She adds, “Those types of toxic concepts are totally shattered if you can get a group of us together, hanging out, being friends.”
Now with over 3,000 followers on Instagram, the Butch Boudoir Project has become a hub for virtual discussions and questions. The questions have ranged from a humorous “Are you single?” to inquiries about how to best support butch people in your life.
“I thought about butch visibility, I thought about being able to see people like me,” she explains. “But I did not think about people who are attracted to butch people having questions and needing to see that representation as well.”
By nature, this is a particularly personal project for Horner, who is a graphic designer by trade and the co-founder and vice chair of Ignite Community Services.
Horner identified as a “tomboy” at a young age but struggled with how her discomfort with femininity fit in with her gender identity.
“I thought you couldn’t be a girl and also want those things,” Horner says. “I firmly identify with being a woman, and that’s not a question for me, but I don’t identify with being feminine.”
That changed when she found other people who celebrate masculinity within their womanhood and individuals who prefer gender-neutral terms. Now, at 35, Horner says it’s an indescribable feeling when someone tells her she’s handsome.
Next year, she is looking forward to creating a calendar featuring the growing #ButchCrew. The Butch Boudoir Project will likely expand to more in-person conversations when the coronavirus pandemic ends. However, the virtual community they have online is something she never wants to abandon.
“Those conversations are also a big deal, they’re important,” says Horner.