Nade, Oldbury, West Midlands: A tattooed butch lesbian in a white tank top in a field
Nade, Oldbury, West Midlands. Photo: Roman Manfredi

Powerful Photos of Butch Lesbian Identity

Photographer Roman Manfredi travelled around the UK documenting the lives of working-class butches, studs and the femmes who love them.

Photographer Roman Manfredi grew up on a council estate in 60s Kings Cross, London, the daughter of working class Italian-Brits. In a self-portrait, she returns to the scene as a strong butch with a sharp-razored grey quiff and a stance of defiance. It forms part of hers and co-curator Ingrid Pollard’s new photography show, We/Us, currently on show at Space Station Sixty Five in Kennington. 


Compelled to document the existence of British butches and studs (Black and Latinx masculine-identifying lesbians), Roman  tell the story of their existence in rural, impoverished and less-than-flamboyant parts of the country, Manfredi travelled from Kent to Tyne and Wear, Essex to Lancashire to photograph them and record oral histories of their identities and experiences.

The series is an ode to working class butches’ and studs’ resilience and mettle in a world realms away from academic theorising on queerness, where many instead take pride in their manual jobs, their uniforms, their kurta and kente, their activism, football teams, vehicles and, in one case, a glimmering crimson snake.

Manfredi, who has worked in the service industry and manual trades before retraining as an artist, sat down at a nearby pub to tell VICE all about the show and what it means to be butch in 2023. 

VICE: How did this project come about? 
Roman Manfredi:
I was at Brighton Pride a few years ago and a younger person said something like they didn’t have to identify with butch and femme anymore and that this was a thing of the past. I was with my girlfriend at the time who was high femme and we both felt really hurt and upset because we felt it was an erasure. There’s a stigma of butches being mannish, unattractive overweight working class people, and that class aspect interested me.


I wanted to represent those people who are just living out there and standing outside shopping malls doing securities for £13 an hour – they’re the people we tend to overlook for the more palatable versions of slim, androgynous queerness. Many people are also sort of coming from a place of theory and academia about identity and forgetting that this is our lived experience. So I went around the UK trying to talk to people about their experience. And for most people their identity is not what they identify as or what their pronoun is, it’s not the main thing for them.

Khi, Brixton, London: An Asian butch lesbian on a housing estate

Khi, Brixton, London. Photo: Roman Manfredi

So what is that main thing for them? Is there a universal thing they do identify with?
I think most people’s experience is that they are forced to think about their identity because other people respond to them. So that’s what makes you forced to think about what your identity is.

How did you find the subjects for this show?
I went through some people I knew but I didn’t want it to just be a London thing, and as an older butch I haven’t had a lot of contact with young butches. I’ve had to go out of my comfort zone, like going to boxing matches. I also approached two studs at UK Black Pride. Body language is a big thing that attracts me.

Instagram has been amazing. When I can’t sleep I look at reels of kittens, but because I follow #butch and #stud and #femmebutch, the algorithm showed me a podcast of a stud and femme talking about taking the strap. I could hear from their accents that they’re from Birmingham, so I wanted to speak to them.


It was really important for me to get those voices to share the diverse experiences we have as older people, younger people, white people, Black people, butches, studs, all of that. I wanted 50 percent representation of Black butches and studs and not just have people who are token. It was all about building relationships with the subjects and interviewing them first, finding out what they wanted to talk about, what was specific to them. When I asked the studs about homophobia, they said “Nah, we don’t get it, we’re too busy dealing with racism”, because when they get misgendered, they’re treated as Black men.

Photographer Roman Manfredi on a council estate in Kings Cross, London

Roman, Kings Cross, London. Photo: Jayne Taylor

Were there any hard and fast rules you had about depicting the butches and studs?
There was a period in the 90s where butches were owning our own eroticised images, but I didn’t want to do us in our underwear, with graffiti or in clubs or with glitter. When you peel away all those ways that we’re normally represented in the media and take people back to where they come from, it brings back vulnerability. They’re shot in very British environments that say: We’re here, doing all these different jobs with these kinds of backgrounds and people talk about class in different ways.

Sal, Gateshead, Newcastle: A tattooed butch lesbian in football jersey in a field

Sal, Gateshead, Newcastle. Photo: Roman Manfredi

How do you want young people to interact with this show? 
I would like to give people the option of coming together with this. It’s not to point the finger at anybody; people think I’m scary but when they talk to me they realise I’m a marshmallow. We develop this armour as young butches; I certainly did where I grew up. It’s like “Fuck off, or I’ll kill you”. But it’s not who we are. That said, I’d hate for butch identity to become fashionable - that’s what I love about it, it’s OK for us to feel like outsiders. There was just a period in the 90s, where it became this cool thing, but I think since then it’s gone back to normal and so it’s very important that we sort of stand up and go “Yeah, we actually don’t want to be part of the mainstream. Fuck you, not interested, actually, not for sale.”


We/Us is on show at Space Station Sixty-Five in London, from 12 – 6PM on Wednesday-Saturday until 3rd June.

Carla, Dagenham, Essex: A butch lesbian in a Black Is Beautiful bomber outside a house

Carla, Dagenham, Essex. Photo: Roman Manfredi

Sue, City of London: A butch lesbian posing against a railling

Sue, City of London. Photo: Roman Manfredi

Mel, Margate, Kent: A tattooed butch lesbian holding a cigarette

Mel, Margate, Kent. Photo: Roman Manfredi

Gideon, East Farleigh, Kent: A butch lesbian with face tatts on a motorbike

Gideon, East Farleigh, Kent. Photo: Roman Manfredi