Being seen: a few thoughts on flagging femme

Following up from my previous post on girlfags, I thought I should write a few words on my ever persistent question: how do you do femme identity? When I’ve asked this question to online femme groups in the past, I’ve been met with some fierce responses along the lines of, “I know I’m femme, and I don’t need to conform to anything!” This kind of self confidence is refreshing, but just deepens my curiosity as to what makes someone stick to this particular naming. Moreso, I wonder how these individuals communicate this chosen term to others given that femininity is stereotypically not-so-queer when it comes to outward appearance.

From my own experience, when I first heard the term, I was over the moon that I could finally align with a grouping where my existing penchant for femininity could be understood in a queer context. I felt relieved and ceased my futile attempts at trying to butch myself up (the extent of which involved purchasing a studded bracelet, so I wasn’t doing very well). I had heard of the butch/femme role dynamic before, an idea prominent in the underground lesbian bars of the 1950s where lesbians “coupled up” along these lines, but I was enthused to hear that the term was evolving into a standalone concept – no longer did the femme need her butch to be validated. Or so I thought…

The trouble with femme is that unless you do hyper-femininity (a tactic I like to metaphorise as strongly brewed tea), it’s just not that obvious. While I like the fact that one friend recently said to me, “if you get any girlier you’re just going to explode in a shower of kittens and sunshine”, being bisexual in an ostensibly heterosexual relationship means that feminine looks like thoughtless embrace of an old-fashioned hetero paradigm. For me, femme is not about rejecting feminism or buying into a pre-packaged notion of who I should be- it’s about enjoying the fact that I can be who I want, and if that involves love hearts, frilly dresses, glitter, or whatever might be labelled “feminine” then so be it (though I don’t think femme has to be weak or passive). This is where the radical feminists really grate my soul- they reject femininity as an invalid construct and then present a “right” way of doing gender (i.e. not feminine). Plus, femme identity is definitely not limited to people assigned “female” at birth (and see Femme FTM for more femme wonderousness).

Read my lips: FEMME

And why is this presumably “privileged” feminine identity a problem? Well, because you always find yourself asking, where are all the femme queer girls?! Are they off at roller derby, or a burlesque performance, where dammnit?!. Plus there is the problem of assumed straightness- always (sometimes even if you are on a date with a woman!). Of course there are some unique solutions to the femme dilemma. Flagging – the gay art of putting a bandana in your back pocket to “signal” what you’re into sexually – has crossed over into femme land, with these exciting flower creations. Others might opt for something more permanent, but this article on Autostraddle also suggests you look to the tactics of some out and proud hot femmy people (without having to be someone you’re not).

So, I may not have the solution to femme invisibility- but I’ll just keep being my pink sparkly self, and see how that goes.

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8 thoughts on “Being seen: a few thoughts on flagging femme

  1. Pingback: Feeling Femme: Observations from Femme Hive 2014 | BINARYTHIS

  2. Thank you so much for citing the Subversives piece. It is an honor to be linked to such a fly blog! This piece unto itself is really powerful and amazing, and I plan on returning to it as I keep trying to make the links between my own struggles and those of others in my community. Keep up the amazing work. Mad respect!

  3. I enjoy the thought of imaginary feminists being cross about your dressing. Perhaps it makes it cross dressing, but only when regarded from without. Associations with salad dressing spring to my mind. I knew a Francophone who claimed that a salad without dressing was not a salad. How are you Femme when you are in the shower? Would the imaginary feminists approve of us nude?

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