Butch-Femme: Who you callin’ reductive?

While scrolling through my Tumblr dashboard today, I came across a link reblogged by a few folks I follow. The link was to a blog called On Being Hard Femme*. Always interested in new expressions within the femme spectrum, I downloaded the zine. I’m always happy when femme resonates with people and they find their niche within our community, however this zine made me sad. The author describes hard femme as “being tough, badass, strong, independent, dirty, feminine, queer, sensitive, sexy, intellectual, playful, thoughtful, open, positive, and uncompromising…a way of feeling good in your skin.” Reading that, I thought, “Well that’s exactly what femme is, all of that and more.” It made me sad that clearly this person sees femme as merely traditionally feminine. They needed a new, distinct classification to set themselves apart from “traditional” femme. In a sense, I get that and completely respect it. A femme can be whatever kind of femme they choose. However, we need to respect each other and understand that it’s not the label that gives nuance to a femme’s identity but the femme hirself.

It’s incredibly frustrating that people still don’t understand that femme cannot be reduced to heels and lipstick, that we are, indeed, badass and strong and sexy and intellectual and so much more. Some of us sparkle more than others, yes, but that doesn’t make us any more femme than anyone else in our community. Femme is not one-dimensional. There are so many femmes: high femmes, low femmes, tomboy femmes, glitter femmes, genderqueer femmes, diesel femmes, stone femmes and on and on and on. And the thing is, we’re all radical. We all queer femininity. We all have our own beautiful and unique ways to perform femme, and we need to embrace each other.

Cast of The Femme Show

In addition to that frustration, I was very disappointed by the author’s clear disdain toward butch-femme. They say that hard femme made them realize that gender is “more open-ended than the typical ‘butch-femme’ dichotomy that people set up. Not only is that dichotomy false and reductive, but the idea that there is even a spectrum the runs from butch to femme is false.” Again, they seem to be reducing other identities down to a stereotype. There is most certainly a great variance within the butch community just as there is amongst femmes and there is indeed a spectrum running from femme to butch and beyond.

I am obviously biased on this issue, as I am femme and my partner is a proud butch. For someone to assert that our relationship, our very being, is reductive infuriates me. It shouldn’t, considering it’s a tired, old argument that those of us in the butch-femme community have heard for ages. It’s just incredibly sad that it’s still being trotted out. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. More and more I hear younger queers vehemently insisting that they are neither femme nor butch, claiming that such identifications are “old school.” They say butch-femme is heteronormative and we only reinforce the gender binary. They reduce us to stereotypes and use sweeping generalizations to dismiss us.

But the fact is, butch-femme couples still exist (hello!) and we are no less radical than our genderqueer counterparts. We laugh in the face of traditional definitions of “masculine” and “feminine.” We are complex and beautiful and have been here for ages. We are not going away simply because we don’t fall in line with what seems to be hip or trendy at the moment. That’s not to say that anyone gravitates towards the genderqueer label because it’s trendy but rather that they repel against the very idea of butch-femme because they’ve been told it’s “outdated.” Butch and femme are just as valid gender expressions as genderqueer or androgynous or anything else. There is room for all of us to exist in the spectrum and there’s no need for one identity to invalidate another in the fight for acceptance and recognition.

*The author has since clarified some ideas in this zine. The clarifications and my thoughts can be found here.

5 responses to “Butch-Femme: Who you callin’ reductive?

  1. Hey, thanks so much for writing this! I was the one who posted this originally on tumblr. I really like what you wrote so I posted it to my tubmlr.

    • You’re welcome. Thanks for reposting! I’m going back through my post now because I saw the point you added about pronouns. I thought I was careful to use gender neutral language in all cases not relating to myself but I’ll do another edit. You’re most certainly correct, not all femmes use “she.” Thanks.

      [Edit] I found it! Fixed.

  2. “We are complex and beautiful and have been here for ages. We are not going away simply because we don’t fall in line with what seems to be hip or trendy at the moment.”

    Thank you for this. As a 20-something butch who dates femmes, I often feel like I’m part of some sort of endangered species. In my neck of the woods, the norm for young dykes is the andro-hipster look, and it’s hard to find anyone my age who IDs as butch or femme. It’s ridiculous that so many dykes reject butch-femme just because it’s been around for a long time, as if age itself is regressive. I find this attitude especially disheartening around this time of the year, because butch dykes were amongst those who fought back at Stonewall and helped kickstart the movement that gave today’s young dykes the freedom to be who they are.

    • You are very welcome. Thanks for your comment. I find the andro-hipster woman-identified queer to be pretty prevalent everywhere. Sadly, when I do see butch or femme identified dykes, the ones who tend to garner more public acceptance are those who date within their own identity. What I think is reductive is only viewing a butch-femme couple superficially, judging us solely on our outside appearance and thus assuming that we must be trying to imitate heteronormative roles. We are all so much more complex than our appearance and I wish people could understand that. I also wish people would realize that we do still exist! My partner especially had a difficult time when she was younger in coming to her butch identity. So much attention has been given to masculine-identified dykes transitioning that for a while she thought that she must be trans. Then she realized that no, she’s just butch. “Just” butch, I should say. 🙂 She’s so much more than “just” anything.

      And I agree completely with regards to the historical significance of butch dykes within the LGBT movement and the younger generation’s ignorance of such matters. Then again, I’m frequently disheartened by the younger generation’s ignorance of many matters, Stonewall being just one of them. 🙂 (I marched in the Pride parade this past weekend with a Take Back Pride activist contingent. My sign read “Remember Stonewall.” Post on that to come.)

  3. Pingback: Hard Femme Clarifications « Owning My Truth

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