“I like butch girls and I cannot lie
You other femmes can't deny
When a butch walks in all the femmes make a fuss
Because there's like one of them and thirty of us”
-“Butch/Femme” by Team Gina
Don't hate me but...I can somewhat relate to the characters on the L Word. Don't get me wrong- I am just as annoyed that there were no real butch characters. I find the level of wealth and glamor unrealistic. Yet I can't help myself. I am attracted to the women on the show and aspire to be like them. My race and socioeconomic status also play a role, but I will address those identities another day.
Today is all about gender expression.
I see myself as a queer femme. It makes me feel like I’m in a burlesque troupe. While I am not the typical femme girl, I am a femme girl nonetheless. (And really, regardless of sexual orientation, who is the "typical" femme girl?) Before this year I assumed that since I wasn't “femme” in the most narrow, stereotypical sense I wasn’t a “femme” at all. I also assumed that in order to be “femme” I would have to date only “butches.” I changed my mind partly because Tiffany kept telling me how femme I was. I also realized that well…I wasn’t like all the other LGBT girls I knew. This realization wasn’t of the “OMG I’M SO ALONE WHAT EVER AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY LIFE” variety (we've all had plenty of those.) Rather, it was accompanied by a sly grin. One more hitherto unanalyzed part of me was finally beginning to make sense.
Part of the reason why I was so hesitant to claim the identity was because I was I was a flaming tomboy growing up. When I was younger I would often pass for a boy. I envied girls who could wear shorts and a t-shirt and still look like girls. In many arguments with my mom and grandma where I have been accused of “not being feminine enough.” Someone was always willing to explain to me that I was too loud, too logical, too brash, too sporty, too ugly, too to-the-point to be a girl. I still don’t feel like I have correct femme foundation. Whatever “femme” is, it’s not completely instinctive.
We all have many sides and histories. The word “femme” to me is not about wearing heels everyday, wanting to be a mother, having a million cute pictures on Facebook, heightened sensitivity to colors or shopping stamina. It’s not about only dating women who can pass for men, though I do find masculine women appealing. The aforementioned qualities are more stereotypical than realistic, though sensitivity to colors is based in biology. What makes me a femme? Well, my love for skirts, dresses and all things beautiful. My hair-flipping ability. My freakish emotional intelligence and sensitivity. My aversion to physical pain. My desire to comfort others. To you this may sound like outdated stereotypes. Yet for me the details are less important.
I am constantly "hacking" the word femme, teasing out of it new meaning.
Putting a definition to “feminine” and “masculine” is one of the hardest tasks I can imagine, slightly less hard than running the Federal Reserve or being a neurosurgeon. I understand why someone wouldn’t want to identify with a label. This may surprise you, but I can wear a suit and tie or play a contact sport and it has no effect my status as a femme. I have femme tenure.
Femme is also more liberating because I made the choice to identify as such and feel no shame in it. Of course I would feel no shame- as a woman I am encouraged by society to be "femme." And you'd be right to assume that it's easier for straight women and I to find common ground when I look similar to them. I also find it easier to introduce straight women to a girlfriend who looks like a boyfriend. But I don't have a firm ally in men or women. While straight women can relate to me and make up most of my friends, I am still too often seen as the tainted lesbian. I'm like a slut or a whore. And I have difficulty forming strong friendships with straight men.
This exercise has taught me to me more sensitive to the unique gender expressions of those around me. You are free to identify as butch/femme, genderqueer, androgynous or just yourself. I not vulnerable to harassment because of how I look, walk, dress or talk. I am vulnerable to harassment because I choose to be visible. I'm angry whenever I hear the line "If I wanted someone who looked like a man, I'd date one" on a television show, especially one that is LGBT themed (Sugar Rush comes to mind.) The gender expression chauvinism is our community needs to stop. I know the butch/femme dynamic seems passe, but it's just as passe as only valuing feminine (or non-butch) lesbians.
Identifying as femme is not about putting myself in a box. It’s about finally finding a box that so many people hid from me and saying
“Hey! That’s my box!”