A few months ago, I came across a study by a Professor of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University about butch and femme identities. The study sampled 64 women who self-identified somewhere in the LGBTQ spectrum. It included women who identified as butch and/or femme as well as those who didn’t identify with either one. The responses of the survey were quite varied, which didn’t come as a surprise. The questions asked, however, got me to thinking about what femme means to me and how that differs from others’ views.
Several respondents seemed to indicate that outward appearance was the most important factor in determining if someone was butch or femme and even whether or not they felt butch or femme at any given time. This is something that I might have agreed with years ago but I don’t find it to be true anymore. I once mistakenly thought that high femme was the only femme. In other words, if a queer woman wasn’t in full makeup with long, lovely hair and always in dresses and heels, then she wasn’t a femme. It was only after I began my femmeducation that I realized femme was so much more than the superficial. I mean, sure, I love makeup and heels and full skirts and tulle and glitter; those things make me feel femme. But I am still a femme when I’m in jeans and a t-shirt, when I’m in winter survival mode in my giant parka and ugly boots, when I’m in khakis and covered in dog hair at work. Femme is my very essence. It’s not something that goes away when I put the dress back on the hanger.
This month’s Femme Visibility Challenge over at The Femme’s Guide to Absolutely Everything implores readers to come up with a short definition of what femme means for us. The idea is to have a clear, concise explanation of femme at the ready to help educate the masses. This is not an easy task. Femme at its very core defies simplicity.
For me, femme is a way to proudly own my femininity and express all facets of myself. Femme allows me to subvert the prevailing notions about what femininity is and who it’s for. My very being is a ‘fuck you’ to the idea that women doll ourselves up to snag a husband. Femme is liberation. But femme isn’t simple.
I’m a sassy Appalachian femme; a stubborn, never-backin’-down Aries femme; a feisty short-haired, edgy femme; a compassionate, pleather-wearing vegan femme; a flirty, shimmying belly dancer femme. I’m a femme who loves stompin’ it out in heels as much as I love retiring to the couch in my PJs for an evening. I am at once graceful and goofy, serious and silly, always passionate, oftentimes to a fault. I walk with a femme swagger that can hypnotize. My femme identity is much more than simple femininity. It’s not just a costume but a performance.