A Portrait of the Artist as a Queer Femme

picture of the author with shaved head, looking contemplative and wearing a shirt that says "my gender is infinite"I saw a femme on the metro the other day, and for whatever reason, this person’s gender presentation got me thinking. They were dressed relatively simply, their clothing all sharp black lines, but the combination of hairstyle, eyeliner, and a bold red lip pushed them into the femme box in my perception. They also had this challenging stare that made me blush and look at my lap, and for some reason, start thinking about the way I do femme in contrast.

Femme is one of the few identities that totally speaks to me—no doubt in part because, as an identity, it’s so fluid and can be so many very distinct things all at once. FemmeCon 2012 was one of the few events where I really felt community. One of the best things about it was that, as an entire conference for femmes, there were so many varieties of femme representing, and your femme was taken as given by virtue of being present there. There was no femme bar to entry, and so I saw femmes like me (“lazy femme” or “blah femme”) alongside a million other different expressions. I didn’t need to prove myself, or think too hard about the difference between what I’m able to show the world physically, who I am, and what I might want to be.

To clarify a bit: my gender exists somewhere between squishy shy alien creature and calm, helpy robot. It’s not really something I can represent in physical space. I am drawn to things coded feminine and to queering them, so I experience delight in the color pink, in spoonie communities of care, in fannish frivolity. Many of the things I love can most easily be interpreted through a femme lens—except, I sometimes fear, for me.

photo of a wall above a pink bed with a pillow that says "Queer Veritable." The wall has a Doctor Who quote on it in orange script and a fanciful poster of a femme with multicolor hair turning into a galaxy.I’m not sure I need people to read me as femme on the street. The idea is appealing, but it takes work. I delight more in reading and embracing other femmes than I do in trying to make my own body legibly femme.

I totally have a thing for the hard femme, the fierce femme, the femme who is knives and stilettos or a dark lipstick and a chrome cane. I used to envision myself somewhere in this realm, as sophisticated, sharp and brilliant with a sort of dapper executive femme aesthetic that would revolve around heels and pinstripes. When I was young, I imagined having disposable income and being able to dress this way, to be both unstoppable and constantly armed. But that’s not quite the femme I grew into.

Like I said, I’m squishy. I’m soft and think a lot about care and access and I like lying in bed and makeup doesn’t adhere to my face the way YouTube videos say it should. I’ve given up on the effort it takes to be attractive in a certain queer way. I’m growing my hair out for the first time in ten years, experimenting with how to exist in the world without my sharp half-buzz and my visible transqueerness.

Sometimes, people still see me as a version of that femme I thought I was but don’t know how to be, and I’m not sure what to do with it. When I wear five-inch heels, I get a lot of attention but am expected to be aggressive or dominant, and let’s face it, I giggle a lot. When I have consent, I rub up against people I’m attracted to like a cat. The shoes I’m wearing are more a reflection of how much I want to stare at them than how I identify.

I relate really strongly to other femmes, though often I’m intimidated or don’t know how to feel in the face of their awesome. I want to appreciate their marvelousness in a way that’s not butch or masc or aggressive or dominant, to queer the heteronormative idea that femmes are only femmes in relation to butch. But maybe I’m seen that way, most of the time. I’m not sure how much other femmes see me as kin, and when someone expresses a desire for “femme on femme action,” I pause before I reply, wondering if my femme is legible (desirable?) enough for such a thing.

Sometimes, I feel lonely.

But when we actually talk about it, like that experience at FemmeCon, I do end up feeling community. I revel in mutual admiration and feeling free to squeal in happiness at a common interest without being denigrated for femininity. I trust other femmes with my non-binary identity. Even the flighty, popular femmes who wear  armor to create distance feel warm and safe when we mutually consent to share space and let go for a little while.

I would like to be identifiable, but this human body just isn’t cutting it most days. I think a lot about access and spoons and clothing-related dysphoria. I relate a little more to femme boys than I do to femme girls, but an aesthetic designed explicitly for either of those things feels “off” on my body. Sometimes I just feel scruffy and unkempt, and I’m frustrated that femme expression is not considered “adult” or “professional” without a full compliment of makeup + jewelry. I forget that I own jewelry, or leave it on the floor beside the sofa most of the time.

Ultimately, I think all of this is okay, because I can exist as who I am, squishy shy alien robot creature thing who likes more than anything to burrow in my pink jersey sheets, and there are those who do recognize me so that I can be femme without a relational reference. But some days, it would be nice to actually be that punk pinstripe-wearing fully armored businessqueer that tiny Avory dreamed of growing up to become. Probably, I would have a crush on hir.

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 August 31, 2016, in identity and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. ❤ ❤ ❤ Augh I just love this post in an inarticulable way! I have been struggling to figure out how I feel about femme, with respect to myself (I think it's one of the most badass and amazing things in the world on other people!)

    I'm pretty sure I want femme to be a part of my identity but I can't quite make it stick? I don't trust it or I worry it'll make other people distrust my non-binary-ness, and anyway I know I'm not good at it (even while I also know there is no wrong way to be femme).

    But I like that you've pointed out femme mannerisms here; this verymuch speaks to me, and I think that this is where I can start in helping myself discover/re-discover the femme in me, since it is a way in which I am sometimes visibly, outwardly femme.

    So, um, yeah, thansk for that! 🙂

  2. As someone who is “clearly male” (even if I don’t quite feel that way), I don’t have any trouble in queering my appearance. It doesn’t take much. What I’m doing I call femme. But I don’t think anyone really picks up on that, they probably just think I’m gay – which is okay – but it’d be nice to have a definite community of people who actually get it :/

    “Sometimes, I feel lonely.” – Yes, me too. *offers companionable hug*

  3. I relate to this soooooooo muuuuuuchhhhhhh as someone who identifies as femme, but for whom my own femme is more about internal feels/behaviors than how I present. Seriously, thanks for writing this. It’s good to find someone whose experience matches mine so closely.

  4. LOVE this! Femme is such a flexible identity with lots of room for growth ❤

  1. Pingback: Gender Perspectives, Vol. 17 | Valprehension

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