Genderqueer and Femme

For me, there is no outward presentation that “matches” genderqueer.  I don’t use the term genderqueer in a way that means “androgynous,” or “mixing male and female traits or symbols.”  There is no way for me to dress in a way that reflects my gender, but that’s okay.

There’s no reason that gender should be the thing that dress reflects.  In our society, clothing is a very gendered thing, but I don’t think it has to be.  For me, certain “femme” clothes reflect my personal preferences best.  It’s not about gender, it’s about what I like.  I feel sexy in clothes that are labelled “female.”

But wearing these clothes can be a traumatic experience for me.  Why?

People tend to read clothes as a gender marker.  It’s hard to dress as femme and not be taken as female, especially when your body and facial features are considered “female.”  For me, dressing as femme is a radical act, but others’ reactions to me in femme wear put me in a different place–a place of shame, embarrassment, nerves, and feeling misgendered as female.  Societal expectations for women crowd around me when I dress femme.  I also feel the disappointment of those around me who are queer, trans, genderqueer, or attracted to androgyny.  I often feel that I am not attractive to those I want to be attractive to in femme clothing.

When I wear suits and ties, I am hot shit in my community.  Femme women often come up to me, flirt, want to dance, want to get to know me.  Cute, androgynous individuals are a hot commodity among queers.  Others make me feel safe, wanted, and welcomed.  Often, they are physically affectionate, and I love that.  I love being petted and hugged up on and flirted with.

Dressed in femme gear, I don’t really attract femme women in the way I’d like.  I want to be some powerful girly girl’s adorable genderqueer arm candy, but I get skipped over when I’m wearing a dress.  Their eyes go to someone in a tie, and I don’t know how to approach anyone.  I just feel small and scared.  How can I express that what I wear has nothing to do with my gender or my sexual orientation?  I’d need a sign.

There’s a lot of talk in genderqueer communities about “matching,” figuring out how to look neither boy nor girl, or both.  But I’d like to hear from those of us who look like we “match” the gender into which we were raised, and how to stay confident in our gender regardless of that.

About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on July 6, 2011, in gender, trans and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Clothes and presentation are a challenge to me too. I’m biologically a guy, femme on the inside, and only recently figured out that no, I’m not a would-be transwoman just too chicken to transiton, but rather genderqueer of some sort.

    Sometimes wearing something “female”, or even just a bit femme-associated, makes me feel all guilty and awkward and self-conscious. Sometimes, it’s great for my confidence and sense of freedom. I’m big, bald, and bearded but paint my toenails, sometimes wear womens’ button-down shirts or pastel colors, like stripey tabi and toe socks, sometimes wear mascara. (Can’t do eyeliner.) Skirts are right out at least for now… I don’t want to look or feel like I’m crossdressing, if that makes sense. I’ve found that Thai fishermens’ pants and pirate shirts are awesome though.

    There is more social stigma for men being femme than women being butch. I think that may be slowly changing…but really I would prefer people saw me as genderqueer rather than as a femme guy. I don’t know how to pull that off though. The more successful androgynous/genderqueer looks out there tend to be on rail-thin emo types or rockers.

  2. Reminds me of a comment by a femme friend, She was confronted by a bouncer one night who asked to the effect, “You realize that this is a lesbian bar?” Her reply was “Yes, and with any luck I’ll be strapping one on within the hour.”

  3. Before I started buzzing my head most people assumed I was straight. I would often even wear a button which read: How Dare You Assume I’m Straight
    I was directing a university Women’s Center and was the sponsor of the campus LGBT group. I was the only person…either staff or faculty…that was out. I made it a point to start every class I spoke in with the fact that I was a lesbian. Slowly…ever so slowly…a few of the professors began to come to the groups. I have since retired but the club is now the biggest one on campus and there are many more staff and faculty that are out and supportive. I don’t want to ‘pass’. I am proud of who I am. I wear whatever feels good to me and I really don’t care anymore what people assume.

  4. The Femmetastic Feminist

    As a femme, queer visibility is always an issue. While it is the attention of “butch” women I that I crave, many look straight through me, assuming that I am straight. Invisibility can be a lonely experience.

  5. Thank you for this. As a gender queer femme, I so echo your experiences. I use “they” for pronouns and have a hard time both from genderqueer and queer folk who don’t recognize me as femme and tend to celebrate me in androgynous attire (which feels more like a costume to me unless femmed up) more than femme attire.. And issues with straight cis folk who have trouble acknowledging me a genderqueer person and using “they” for pronouns unless I dress quite androgynous or masculine.

  6. Rowena Thornton

    I’ve been waiting for something like this. I’m a bisexual gender queer femme and have been worrying about the way I appear in a largely cis- and hetero-normative world. Occasionally I get the urge to dress in traditionally masculine clothes but the vast majority of the time I feel the most comfortable as a femme. I am comfortable in my biologically female body, but my gender fluctuates between cis, agender, non-specific gender, and sometimes ‘male’. There seems to be a stereotype of non-binary people appearing to be androgynous. I don’t know how true to life that is, and I think it’s probably suggested more by cis people, but certainly I feel that I won’t be taken seriously as a non-binary person because of the way I look. It can be lonely and confusing not to fit the expectations, even though really we shouldn’t be trying to fit anybody’s expectations but our own. I keep the pronouns she/her/hers because out of all the options they seem to be the most fitting, even though they don’t really fit. They/them/their is a useful description but it feels clumsy to me.

    It’s a bit like being bisexual – I have often been mistaken for straight because I don’t look ‘gay’ in that stereotypical way. Of course, there is no stereotypical way to be any sexuality in real life, but, like I said, in this largely cis- and hetero-normative society, it can be difficult to make people understand. When we met, the woman who is now my girlfriend, and I both assumed the other was straight. Both of us seem to be attracted to femme women and both had fallen for femme straight women in the past. It was a case of putting two and two together and making seventeen. I was thrilled when this wonderful, beautiful woman told me she was bi and also attracted to me. My girlfriend is completely cis, though a little less of a femme than me, but then I am extremely girly in appearance. It feels like now I don’t identify entirely as a ‘girl’ any more I have given myself permission to be as traditionally and stereotypically feminine as I like.

  7. Gender identity is something very intimate thing, and often it’s also independent from gender expression, but most cis people lack the knowledge about it, or just simply fail to acknowledge the existence of nonbinary genders because that’s what they’ve been taught in their social sphere. So, unless you let people know who you are gender-wise, communicating with them verbally, you’ll invariably be read as whatever you’re projecting through your clothing. As a XY femme I present myself to the world in a traditionally feminine way, and I don’t really care what ppl may think I’m or I’m not, gender-wise or sexually-wise, as they won’t pay my bills.

  1. Pingback: Questioning Gender | Ordinary and Liminal

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