A butch lesbian gift guide for the rest of us

Or, What to Do When She Stops Wearing All Those Cute Dresses

I have learned two important things this holiday season, the first being that my fiancée, while talented at many things, makes terrible wishlists. (“Creative storage solutions”? Honestly?) The second is that the gift recommendation lists you can find online are often terrible, and it’s worse if you’re shopping for a butch lesbian. There are only so many plaid accessories I can buy, and she doesn’t like bow ties.

On budget

Reading recommendation lists can get disheartening after a few dozen thousand-dollar “must-haves.” I have listed items roughly by price at the time of writing. I also set a firm limit of $100, on the grounds that anything more expensive than that is probably(?) a diamond-encrusted yacht, and I know nothing about life at sea. I have included affiliate links where possible because I, too, have presents to buy, and my fiancée is hoping this list is a declaration of intent.

On pronouns

My fiancée is a butch lesbian, so I use female pronouns and assume we’re talking about lesbians. There are a lot of other groups of people whose preferences will overlap with hers; if you’re buying for someone who checks different boxes, I’m cool if you’re cool.


A cookbook with post-it notes, $5 – This is the gift I would have been happiest to get four years ago, when we were giving each other $10 Christmas gifts and it was still more than we could justify in our budget. Get a used cookbook and a stack of post-it notes, and go through marking the ones you like or making notes about what you think. If one of you is a vegetarian, I have had a lot of luck with the Moosewood cookbooks, and The New Moosewood Cookbook is available for a few dollars used. If you’re a traditionalist, you can pick up a copy of The Joy of Cooking at any thrift store – this is the version my mother had! And if she wants to bake (or if you want to drop some hints), you could do much, much worse than Baking With Julia, which promises “that most satisfying and sensual pleasure” and has been around long enough that you can get it used (and probably a little pre-floured) for very, very cheap.

An analog oven thermometer. The case is metal and the dial reads from 100 to 600 degrees.Taylor Precision Products Classic Series Large Dial Thermometer (Oven)
Oven thermometer, $5 – This is a really great gift for someone who aspires to be a better home cook than she is, or who aspires to be able to bake a pan of brownies without ruining all of her efforts, but is cursed with living in a series of apartments with increasingly bizarre appliances. It’s possible to go fancy, but you really don’t need to – a cheap thermometer will tell your recipient quickly and easily if the reason they keep burning frozen pizzas is that their oven runs fifty degrees hotter than it claims. My fiancée’s mother got us practical stockings a few years back, and it was a great way to stock up on NyQuil and cough drops. This would have been great in those.

A hot cocoa mix packet. The flavor is double chocolate.Ghirardelli Premium Hot Cocoa, Double Chocolate, 1.5-Ounce Envelopes (Pack of 15)
Hot chocolate mix, <$10  – It’s a sad fact of life that if you love someone who doesn’t drink coffee, they will never be satisfied with coffee shop hot chocolate. A mix is a good in-between for when you don’t want to spend three hours combing through recipes. I was really successful last year with the Trader Joe’s European Style Sipping Chocolate, and at less than $5 a tin in stores, I think I’d still pick some up if I lived in an area that had them. (I would not recommend the peppermint hot chocolate, which we never finished.) It’s much pricier online, though, so this year I’ll be experimenting with other brands. Ghirardelli is well-reviewed and makes nice brownies.

Dandies vegan marshmallows packaging.Dandies Vegan Marshmallows, Vanilla, 10 Ounce
Vegan Marshmallows, <$10 – Please take my word for this: if you know someone who is vegetarian or vegan, they are suffering from a severe lack of marshmallows. They are probably crying themselves to sleep about it right now. And, if they’re like my fiancée and I were for years, they are vaguely aware that vegan marshmallows are a thing, that really exists in real life, but have never allowed themselves to buy them because they are expensive, and most vegan versions of food are a pale imitation and would be a waste of money. Marshmallows are not one of those foods. Dandies marshmallows are delicious, they melt approximately like real marshmallows, and they don’t give you that sickly marshmallow aftertaste that you’re used to. My 12-year-old cousin prefers them to the regular kind. If you have a health food store near you, you might be able to pick them up in larger quantities for less money, which, sorry, you may have to do.

A cover of the Family Handyman magazine. A caption invites readers to organize their garages. The Family Handyman
The Family Handyman Magazine, $10 – In the interest of full disclosure, this is a weird gift idea that worked out really well for my fiancée’s dad, the Person Who Doesn’t Want Anything, and that I am going to cheerfully repeat if we ever reach a point in our lives where home remodeling is a fun and exciting subject. Get the print version, not the online, because everyone likes getting mail and because all reviews suggest that the kindle adaptation is a shame and a hack job. Before you knock it: in our family, we now fight over who gets to give my fiancée’s dad’s annual subscription.

A Passport To Your National Parks (TM) passport is open, showing a cancellation stamp. Passport To Your National Parks, ~$10 – This is where I expose myself as a major dork. I grew up in a very outdoorsy family, with the Passport to Your National Parks program as a part of my childhood. My fiancée did not, so when we first met I got to watch her learn how to hike and camp, and we both had to wait and see if she enjoyed it. (Good news: we are now scoping out scenic honeymoon locations!) To participate in the Passport program, you purchase a passport, divided up into the different regions of the US National Parks. Then, when you visit the national parks, at the ranger centers they have cancelling stations where you can stamp your passport and have a record of your trip. I think this would be a very endearing couple’s gift, or a gift for a friend who would like to travel more. There are only fifty-nine US National Parks, but there are more places that aren’t National Parks and have cancellation stations.

A bottle of essential oil perfume lays on a wooden table with flowers.Lilac & Moss Essential oil perfumes, $10-12 – Lilac & Moss is my friend’s perfume shop. And here’s the cool thing: she makes handmade, hand-mixed, vegan essential oil perfumes. She is a newlywed femme lesbian. And she is deeply familiar with the problem of colognes that all smell like Prom and disappointment. If you’re looking for a more butch-friendly scent, she recommends Haven, October and Atalanta. She also does custom mixes, so if you’re looking for something new, reach out and see what you can come up with!

A cover of a Tracy Chapman album. A woman stands with an acoustic guitar. Tracy Chapman – Greatest Hits
Tracy Chapman album, $12 – If you’re buying a gift for someone, she falls into one of two categories automatically: either she already has all of Tracy Chapman’s work, or she could use more. This remastered album is brand new, which means she doesn’t have these versions, and it’s reasonably priced for the holidays. There is a major logistical problem in buying a Tracy Chapman Greatest Hits album, which is, as my fiancée pointed out, “Is it possible to have an album that’s better than Tracy Chapman?” It’s really your choice – her self-titled debut is cheaper and basically perfect. The new Greatest Hits collection is new and shiny and has “All That You Have Is Your Soul” on it.

A small teal book. Embossed on the cover are the words "One Line a Day: A five year memory book." One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book
Five-year journal, ~$15 – As a writer, the gift of a journal has always been a frightening commitment. I like the five-year ones, though, which offer a little bit less daily commitment and a little more long-term reward. A long-term journal might be a cute idea for someone who has just come out (especially if, like one of my friends, she seems the type to remember and celebrate her lesbianniversary) or who is going through a hard time.

A greeting card. A cartoon alligator struts across the card, and the words "thank you" are printed in bubbles above the alligator's head.C.R. Gibson Thank You Notes, 10 Boxed, Alligator
Blank cards, <$20 – It’s good to have options for sending handwritten notes, especially thank you notes, but most of the prepackaged sets are a bit… floral. These alligator cards are cheerful and cute, or there are a few sets with less aggressively girly motifs. This is also a good time to trawl etsy, because card sets are so relatively expensive to start with (and most people use them so infrequently) that getting the nice hand-printed ones won’t break the bank too much.

A movie cover. The title is "Cloudburst," and the cover shows two elderly white women looking fondly at each other.
Movies, ~$20 – I really have nothing else to say except that if she’s the type of person who likes to have DVDs, and she doesn’t have Cloudburst, you should get it for her. It’s the only gay movie without a traditional happy ending where I don’t mind. It’s sweet and funny and about old grouchy lesbians, and it has the more polished, high-budget, Real Movie feel that you so often miss out on when looking for lesbian movies. If that doesn’t work (or you want a happy ending), an older choice is Saving Face, which is very sweet and very good and has the incomparable Joan Chen in the role of the lesbian main character’s mother. The production values are a little lower than in Cloudburst, but in a charming indie film way, and the movie doesn’t suffer.

A Precious Moments Christmas Ornament featuring two people. One holds out a Christmas ornament reading 2015, while the other figure gives the first a hug.Precious Moments Our First Christmas Together 2015 Ornament
Christmas ornaments, <$20 – Christmas ornaments aren’t especially trendy, but I think they are a nice gesture, especially for young LGBT people who aren’t always able to inherit them, or who might need a little reminder that someone thinks they’ll have a tree to decorate. This Precious Moments ornament is exactly the kind of kitschy thing everyone I knew had on their tree growing up, and features a plausibly gender-neutral couple. This couple’s owl ornament is also very cute and manages to leave the owls ungendered. For a solo ornament, I really do like Hallmark’s line – this Eeyore ornament is sweet and timeless.

A cover of the book The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For, featuring cartoon women. Books, <$20 – I like giving books for gifts almost as much as my fiancée likes not reading them. The especially nice thing about them is that no one cares if you buy them used. Far From Xanadu by Julie Ann Peters is a young adult book about tragic first lesbian love that, by all accounts, was the only gay book my fiancée didn’t hate in her small town, Wisconsin library.

Anything by Alison Bechdel is immediately both on trend and classic, because she is only starting to become well-known to a straight audience, but you can (probably) convince someone that you’ve been following her work since ’89. Fun Home is the obvious choice, and would probably not go poorly with tickets to the musical if you can come into them. Are You My Mother? is the companion to Fun Home, and is a much more brooding and Freudian graphic novel. Alternately, The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For is a good edition for someone who is too cool to pass up a good throwback, but not so cool that she already has all of the books in their original itsy-bitsy editions.

On a slightly lighter note, Lost Cat is a graphic novel written and illustrated by a lesbian couple about their cat. (My fiancée’s review: “I loved Lost Cat. I cried a lot.”)

And if you are buying for a woman whose tastes trend academic, Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold is a history of the working-class lesbian community in Buffalo, New York from the 1930s to the 1960s. We own it, and it’s a very nice book in a category without many options.

A card game, Funemployed, showing a box and a set of cards. Funemployed, ~$25 – Funemployed is, without any qualifications, the party game I would be playing with family this holiday season if I had been good enough during the year to get out of Cards Against Humanity purgatory. That’s it. End statement. The name admittedly sounds like a job search program dreamed up by the camp counselor from hell, but it’s a funny card game that finally, finally puts the pressure to be witty on the players. This gives it more replay value and a greater ability to adapt to your audience.

A John Deere hooded beanie. It is green and yellow and has ear flaps, small yellow antlers, and green-and-yellow deer ears.John Deere Green Knit Beanie Hat With Deer Antlers
A nice hat, <$30 – My fiancée assures me that FFA butch is going to be in style any minute now. On that note, I think this hat is adorable, and will admirably accomplish the goal of making your giftee look very cute, no matter whether she is happy to wear the hat. There is an equally ridiculous version in brown, which would be a good substitute.

A set of dark metal collar stays engraved with GPS coordinates.Personalized secret message collar stays, <$30 – This is a great idea that is honestly wasted on people who have never had to be in the closet at work. Collar stays are, I have been told, a thing that people wear to make their nice button-down shirts look more fancy and starched. If you get a personalized message on them, the wearer can very secretly and discreetly remember their individuality (and, based on the listings I’m seeing, preference for fishing over conference calls?) while maintaining their professionalism. Get yours on Etsy, not from any particular shop. The prices aren’t any better and it will make you feel very cozy and small business to give your sweetheart handmade secret message collar stays. I like this listing, which is reasonably priced and has lots of feedback.

A black handheld flashlight.Streamlight 66318 MicroStream C4 LED Pen Flashlight
Flashlight, <$30 – A nice flashlight is the sort of thing that is useful in all sorts of situations, but that it’s easy not to justify purchasing on a day-to-day basis. I like this one because it strikes a good balance between size and power; it’s not so bulky and difficult that it’ll be tempting for her to pull out her phone flashlight (again) when she really needs something better.

A cast iron griddle.Lodge LPGI3 Cast-Iron Reversible Grill/Griddle, 20-inch x 10.44-inch
Cast iron reversible grill/griddle, $35 – This thing is basically my dream right now for a lot of reasons, but to start off: it’s reversible and huge. (If you are buying for someone who cooks and who doesn’t always put ten times as much in a dish as it is meant to hold, first of all I am in awe of them, and secondly I am not qualified to tell you what they want because I’m not even on that plane of existence.) It’s possible to get electric griddles, and some people prefer them, but I like this version, which goes over a grill or a stovetop, because it feels more like having another pan and less like having another bizarre appliance. The cast iron surface takes some getting used to, but it transmits heat better than aluminium and is increasingly non-stick with use. Best of all, it makes it much more likely that you’ll be able to wheedle some french toast for dinner out of them.

A brown-and-black leather wallet is open to display its contents. Saddleback Leather Small Bi-fold Wallet in Black
Wallets, <$50 – I feel like we go through wallets in our household a lot faster than we should, so my primary interest is durability. If you’re buying for someone who wears men’s pants (and therefore is used to actual pockets), wallet buying gets a lot more fun, because you can worry less about whether they’ll fit. If you’re looking for practical rather than pretty, and if real leather is okay, you can’t go wrong with the Saddleback wallets, which are made to last until her kids are old enough to ask, “Mom, why do you still carry that ratty old thing? Don’t you know how to use a retinal scanner?” If leather isn’t okay, or if she needs more of a credit card/business card holder, I like this stainless steel option, which will keep anything she needs safe and mangle-free.

A triple A roadside kit, in a bag with a handle.AAA (4388AAA) 76-Piece Excursion Road Kit
Car emergency kit, $80 or create-your-own – It’s not glamorous, but if she’s recently in charge of her own car or life, she might appreciate it. The AAA kit is convenient and far-ranging, but you might get better value from buying supplies yourself and turning them into a kit. Another option, assuming that she has her frost-and-snow supplies covered, is to pick up some nice jumper cables and a first aid kit – this Coleman one is a good set-up and will cover all of the basic medical drama that might come up.

A shockingly ugly Green Bay Packers green and yellow sweater vest.NFL Football 2015 Aztec Print Ugly Holiday Sweater Vest – Pick Team
Sports fan accessories, <$100 – The great thing I learned about entering a family where everyone but me is into team sports is that anything you do that requires any knowledge of the team sports suddenly makes you SUPER COOL and going out of your way to accept who they are as a person. The other thing I learned is that if you are buying cool sports team-related merchandise for your football-obsessed girlfriend, it’s a good idea not to buy from a discount fan store you’ve never heard of and assume that your gifts will arrive on time and be what you ordered. These ugly sweater vests are great because they say, “I love you and I have accepted that my life will be forever ruled by a game I don’t understand.”

Computer/video games, $5 to too much money – I mean, this is probably what my fiancée would get for every single Christmas gift if the world were just. If she has a STEAM account for playing games online, I can testify that buying a gift on STEAM is remarkably quick and easy, and gets you bonus points. She recommends Undertale, Left 4 Dead 2, Fallout, and Gone Home. (“OH, WAIT, DO YOU HAVE GONE HOME? IN STEAM GAMES. PUT THAT. IT’S GAY.” was the most excited I’d seen her in days.) If not, some delicate questioning will reveal the game she wants in no time. 

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