The Invisible Femme

Pride month always elicits articles about LGBTQ rights and the politics of pride parades; should they be sexual playgrounds or family friendly? Are they too corporate or is the acceptance of LGBTQ people as consumers its own victory? Speaking as someone who’s been out since age 13, the dialogue is tired to me. Many of us spend so much time watching out for our community we forget to look inward. I am incredibly grateful for the activists that came out and refused to be shut out. Those people are the ones that afforded me the luxury of even talking about my sexuality openly let alone trying to break down the nuances of it, but if I’m being truthful, I’ve never felt all that connected to “pride month” as a whole.

The luxury of “passing” is a double edged sword and it means something different for every minority group. For me, no matter how many rainbows I wear or how conspicuously I try and hold my girlfriend’s hand in public, my sexuality is largely dismissed. Even at all queer events I am overlooked. I was never a tomboy, I never played sports. I never even went through a no-makeup phase. I wouldn’t call myself hyper-femme as I still find heels pretty uncomfortable and I don’t wear eyeshadow all that frequently but I’m far from the androgynous, boob-binding, celesbians everyone seems to look to as the face of our community.

The idea of playing with gender is appealing to me on a purely aesthetic level. My girlfriend identifies as gender queer and gets called “sir” on a pretty regular basis. We’re around the same size and swap clothes sometimes. It’s interesting to me that we can be wearing the exact same outfit and yet she reads as androgynous and I read as “possible hetero in denim shirt.” I’m sometimes envious of her stronger features and more aggresive demeanor that helps her to walk the line between masculine and feminine, but I know I can’t be that and I never will.

I’m confident about my sexuality and I have been since puberty. Once I got past elementary school and saw what boys looked like when they grew into gangly, smelly, hairy freaks, any semblance of possible heterosexuality or even bisexuality went out the window. I liked girls and I made sure everyone knew it. I posted pictures of “Suicide Girls” on my MySpace and printed them out to put on my bedroom wall. When anyone asked me about who I was dating I gave them a point blank straightforward answer and that pretty much diffused anything anyone could have used as ammunition against me. I hung out with the punk kids and the art nerds who were already queer in different ways and gave the middle finger to anyone who remotely seemed like they would fit into “normal” culture.

Once my adolescent rebellion cooled down during college I was ambivalent about the whole thing. Many of my peers in the LGBTQ group on campus were newly out or questioning and filled the classic “college lesbian” role. I felt out of place among the radicals and the newbies. I wasn’t particularly political and I didn’t want to be a drag king so what was the point? I never felt particularly accepted among butch women who saw me as an object or as someone who, like “all” femmes, would eventually go “back to men.”

I focused on my love of fashion (the reason I was in college in the first place) but I still felt out of place with my straight female and gay male classmates. My lack of appreciation for the penis wasn’t apparent…until someone finally realized the girlfriend I kept mentioning was an actual girlfriend, and then I was usually greeted with a questioning stare.

I wish that my queerness was more obvious sometimes. I wish I didn’t constantly have to break it down to people that yes, I live with a woman, yes, I am in love with a woman, and no, I do not, nor will I ever in any foreseeable future be involved with a man romantically. I can’t be the only one. I don’t want to be the whistle-blower to call out other femme identifying lesbians for sleeping with men on the side and adopting a more fluid name for their sexuality…but I feel like I am part of a dying breed. I question if we were we ever a breed to begin with. Historically, butch women have always gotten the attention of our culture because they were seen as the ones subverting gender roles. Even in 2015 butch lesbians (Ellen DeGeneres, Ruby Rose, Rachel Maddow) are the only ones named as such while everyone else (Evan Rachel Wood, Kristen Stewart, Portia De Rossi) just has a “friend” or “fell for the person, not the gender.” The media would have me question if I even exist.

Whether some of us have dated men in the past or not, our existence as femme lesbians is not hetero-normative. Is it not subversive that I live with another woman? That I split our expenses evenly? That I carry heavy furniture, rent cars, travel, pay bills, deal with home repairs…that I even have the nerve to exist without caring one iota about what men think, isn’t that subversive enough? Isn’t that worth some kind of recognition or at the very least respect for my way of life?

I’m not sure if we’ll ever get to a point where femmes are accepted into the LGBTQ community fully until we first get to the point where femininity itself is accepted by the culture at large. Femininity is not synonymous with heterosexuality nor is femininity even synonymous with women. Being feminine is not something I chose to embody, it just so happens that my blend of nature and nurture lead me to feel more comfortable with this particular brand of gender expression. Maybe if we stopped telling little girls that wanting to be feminine is something done only for men’s enjoyment we wouldn’t have so many confused femmes feeling like they have to “give men a try” first because why the hell else would someone enjoy wearing a tight dress and heels if not to snag a husband? (Hint: Because looking hot for your own enjoyment is a real effing thing.)

This pride month I’m close to giving up on the whole thing. The new brand of queerness for women with Bushwick cropped undercuts and boyfriend jeans is supposed to be more inclusive, right? Even women who date men exclusively are roping themselves into our community somehow with a little armpit hair and a vague knowledge of riot grrl. I don’t want to be bitter but I can’t help but feel like I’m forced into a club that never wanted me to begin with. I’ve been out. I’ve stayed out. And all I can do is keep shouting from the rooftops; I’m here, I’m queer, and I’m femme!…so seriously, stop telling me I’m not.

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7 responses to “The Invisible Femme

  1. Last year, my feminine fiancee realized she was gay, and this feminine lesbian came out of the closet. So feminine lesbians aren’t dying out. Nor are feminine lesbians who are attracted to feminine lesbians. I like breaking the butch-femme stereotype, although it does seem to bother more aggressively

    On the other hand, for years as a teenager, I didn’t think I could be gay because I was feminine, I liked being feminine and I was attracted to feminine women. I didn’t look like the lesbians on the TV news. It was only when I saw a feminine lesbian couple on the street of Seattle that I understood that I could be (and am) gay.

    On the other hand, the gay women in network television and studio movies all seem to be feminine, I assume to appeal to straight audiences.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response. πŸ™‚ It’s definitely a different coming out process for feminine lesbians vs butch lesbians who have no way of “blending in.” It’s strange how all the real-life lesbians in the media seem to be on the more masculine end of things but the straight women who play lesbians in movies or TV are super femme. Like in OITNB, you’re telling me there were no long haired pretty queer women out there to fill the roles of Piper and Alex? All the more reason for us to push to be seen so that other young women don’t have to be so painfully conflicted about being authentic to their awesome lesbian selves.

      • Casting straight women in lesbian roles drives me bonkers. My fiancee laughs at me and says, “That’s why it’s called acting.” But I swear, if my (or more likely, my fiancee’s) life ever gets made into a movie, I am going to insist that the two of us be played by lesbians. (I would settle for Jessica Chastain, although she’s too skinny.)

        My fiancee jokes that before she realized that she is gay, she never saw a feminine lesbian (in New York City). The moment she realized she was gay, every woman she saw was a lesbian, unless the woman was with a man.

        A change in default assumption can have a profound effect on one’s interpretation of a population!

  2. I’m sorry, but I’m sure no one ever told me as a little girl that women/girls only dress femininely for men. I mean, hetero women love and enjoy women too, just not sexually or romantically, so, I don’t get why anyone would say that – do they really? Okay I guess some people must, but it sounds bizarre logic. When I was feminine on the lesbian and mixed lgbtqq scenes, I used to get told feminine fashions were just used to attract men sexually, n I never got that either. I mean, just wearing ruffles and bows and flowered patterns, and pretty stuff, nothing specifically more bedroomy such as a Basque and super short skirt, or a see through blouse and fishnets? Just girlie? Why wouldn’t I remind guys of their sister/daughter/niece/aunt/mother/grandmother/friend, dressed femininely, in non- risque romantic fashions – why did I have to remind them of a lover? I still don’t get that. It happened a lot though.

    • People definitely say that. Consider yourself lucky not to have had parents that made arbitrary rules about wearing makeup or skirt lengths. Think of all the school dress codes that shame girls for wearing shorts because “they must be doing it to distract boys.” It always goes back to the idea that it’s the woman or girl’s fault she is being sexualized by men. It’s definitely a ridiculous idea.

      • Never have heard that about dress codes and shorts. We were supposed to wear teeny short skirts as a gym uniform and the boys would comment sleazily about it, and it was very painful to me and my friends, but we we weren’t allowed to change to any other wear; however, if we had, it would definitely have been the school uniform skirt which was seen as indecent with shorts a decided improvement on us showing our knickers! I guess everyone has different experiences.

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