There’s been a lot of buzz around the internets lately about Femme identity. I am unsure where the controversy began but I think it had something to do with this post on how to spot a queer Femme by Fuck Yeah Femmes. The curator of that Tumblr sent me a message asking me the following question:
Hi Bevin! I’m glad you liked my list of femme traits and tell-tale signs, I am interested to hear what you think could be appended to the list! Some people commented that the list was not “inclusive” enough and I definitely didn’t intend it to be definitive. Those are only my ideas, certainly a broader picture will emerge if many different femmes give their perspective as well. So here goes: “Ways to Tell a Queer Femme is Queer?” “Ways to Get a Femme Girlfriend?”
FYF certainly didn’t write a definitive list. I mean, it’s totally subjective and I read it as a playful narrative, almost a fantasy sequence. I love it because I see so much of my unbounded Femme sisters in it. I also understand the question about determining whether a queer femme is queer. It can be so frustrating to feel that we are “hiding in plain sight” and the chance to teach someone how to see us is really exciting. (As a side note, I plan to answer “Ways to Get a Femme Girlfriend” in a later post.)
Spot a Femme in the Wild. The Femme author in her natural habitat, on stage. At my birthday party doing 9 to 5 at Rock N Twang Karaoke at my second favorite BBQ restaurant in NYC, Hill Country BBQ. It was so fun. I’m wearing a lei made of cookies and sex toys, a gift from Kit Yan.
The problem is, there is no one “us.” Identities like Femme are deeply personal and there’s no one way to be Femme. There are certainly overlapping characteristics and generalizations that exist–which is how we find each other and create community. Tenderly paw in paw we find ourselves a niche (or several) in queerdom. But it is essentialist to say “This is a trait common amongst Femmes,” because as soon as you think you’ve isolated one commonality about Femmes you’ll find a whole pile of Femmes who belie that trait. This is simultaneously awesome and complicated when you’re trying to spot a Femme in the wild.
Spot a Femme in the Wild. The Femme author in her secondmost natural habitat, the dance floor. Photo by the ever so talented Amos Mac at Stay Gold in San Francisco.
Personal identities are fluid. I’m 32 and while I settled into Queer Fat Femme about a decade ago, there are a few permutations I enjoyed for awhile but have since moved away from. I don’t feel comfortable with the term “High Femme” anymore. I think some people use it to mean ever so very Femme or indicate some extreme extent of feminine expression. I’m totally a girl who will wear bright make-up at all times of day or night and I feel completely comfortable over-dressing for any occasion because my self-expression matters more to me than fitting in. However, using the term “High Femme” just sounds like hierarchy to me.
Fancy Femme? Flamboyant Femme? Giant Eyelashes Femme? How Many Blingies Can I Fit in My Hair Femme? I Do the Opposite of Coco Chanel and Add One Accessory Before I Leave the House Femme? Photo by Dee Dean Leitner from the Hard French Winter Ball.
I totally understand that it is a term steeped in history and tradition, and anyone who self-identifies as High Femme is fine by me. But in terms of my Femme expression and identity, I prefer to think of us as living in this gorgeous glittery rainbow venn diagram of overlapping adjectives, none “higher” or “lower” than another semantically or otherwise.
Is this splitting hairs? Likely. Do I care? No. My personal identity is exactly that, personal and individually tailored to who I am. It gets to be as nuanced as I care for it to be.
Also, let’s keep in mind the heart and loins are complicated entities, their relationships with the individuals they’re attached to change often. We’re all going to be queer for a long time* and probably do queer really different twenty years from now.
Jessie Dress tagged herself as a Glitter Femme.
Discussion of fluidity aside, let’s get down to brass tacks. How do you spot a Femme in the wild? I’m going to approach it from a different angle, which is share with you how I determine if someone is queer in the wild (leaving Femme out of it momentarily).
One thing I do is assume everyone is queer until they out themselves as straight. Straight people don’t have to worry about the pronoun game, and generally not particularly strategic about telling you genders of the folks they do it with. This game works for me a lot, especially because I typically out myself right away. Usually when you do that your fellow queers will find some way to out themselves and you’re basking in mutual rainbows of recognition.
When this doesn’t work and I spot no visible gay signifiers (Ani DiFranco tattoos, gay lady jewelry), I either ask them directly or ask their friends.
Asking directly works for me because I have the sort of inquisitive personality and ability to put people at ease that nine times out of ten makes people feel okay telling me things. This is why I am a talk show host. However, this doesn’t always work and going to the friends to find out is great. This is also what I do when I want to know if someone is single and I am too shy to ask them.**
Now to deal with the Femme question. I think a casual, “So do you identify as Femme?” directed at the person is okay, but this question needs to be addressed with a lot of sensitivity and care. You may be Femme positive, but the person in question may not. I remember being told, just after coming out, “You’re a LIPSTICK lesbian!” and I felt so shamed about it! I didn’t know there were Femme positive communities out there, I didn’t know being feminine could be empowering and get me laid.
Casually dropping hints about Femme positive websites you visit or events you’ve been to/wish you could go to is a nice way of fleshing out identity and creating a safe space for that kind of stuff. Also a nice way to heavily hint about queer stuff.
And here’s the thing I’ve discovered through my personal relationship history anecdata: I’ve never seriously dated anyone who was Butch identified. I am super Butch postive, lord knows I love me a fat Butch. But, what I find attractive in another human is far more complicated than even personal queer identities. So if you’re out there looking to “spot” a queer Femme, I mean, maybe the Femme part isn’t as important. You do you, go to the kinds of events that have the kinds of people you want at them (or start those events), the right people are going to cozy up to you and you’ll be basking in the magic of the great rainbow queer venn diagram in no time.
*Hat tip to Glenn Marla for that nugget.
**Friends are great for the single question, too, because they’ll give you the real scoop. Relationship status is sometimes even more complicated than identity. “Poly but complicated rules,” “Single and totally off the market dealing with serious life stuff,” “In five long distance relationships and only looking to date locally.”