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Both the expression of individual lesbians of butch and femme identities and the relationship of the lesbian community in general to the notion of butch and femme as an organizing principle for sexual relating varied over the course of the 20th century.

Some lesbian feminists have argued that butch–femme is a replication of heterosexual relations, while other commentators argue that, while it resonates with heterosexual patterns of relating, butch–femme simultaneously challenges it.

Those who identify as butch and femme today often use the words to define their presentation and gender identity rather than strictly the role they play in a relationship, and that not all butches are attracted exclusively to femmes and not all femmes are exclusively attracted to butches, a departure from the historic norm.

Besides the terms "butch" and "femme", there are a number of other terms used to describe the dress codes, the sexual behaviours, and/or the gender identities of the sexual subcultures who use them.

"Butch Voices" biennial conferences "for masculine of center people" were held in 2009, 20, the last being supported by a fundraiser called Beauty and the BUTCH—"an evening of deliciously BUTCH revelry, thrilling show of tantalizing teases from queers of all genders, and choose-your-own play party adventures".

Femmes are not "read" as lesbians or queer unless they are with a butch partner, because they conform to traditional standards of femininity.

Beyond depictions in pornography, the neo-butch and neo-femme aesthetic in day-to-day life helped add a sense of visual identity to lesbians who had abandoned these roles in the name of political correctness.

For example, Jack Halberstam argues that transgender men cannot be considered butch, since it constitutes a conflation of maleness with butchness.The term butch tends to denote a degree of masculinity displayed by a female individual beyond what would be considered typical of a tomboy.It is not uncommon for women with a butch appearance to face harassment or violence.to describe an individual's gender or gender performance.A masculine person of any gender can be described as butch, even though it is more common to use the term towards females with more masculine traits.

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However, the 1980s saw a resurgence of butch and femme gender roles.

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