Tag Archives: gender expression

Hard Femme Clarifications

The other day I was alerted, via Tumblr, that the author of the On Being Hard Femme zine, which I critiqued in Butch-Femme: Who you callin’ reductive, had responded to criticisms they had received about the zine. I’m so glad to say that I was wrong about this author’s feelings on butch/femme and on femme as an identity. I’m thankful for the response because it did indeed clarify the things that were bothering me most about the zine.

With regards to the insinuation that butch-femme is reductive, the author responds:

Nowhere in the zine do I say that butch and femme identities in themselves are bad, nor do I think that a butch-femme relationship is somehow less radical. I have big love for folk who strongly identify as femme or butch…especially since I sympathize with the movement to reclaim femme identity and counter femme-hating radicals who equate femininity with patriarchy and weakness. Also, the butch holds an important place in my heart and I am adamantly opposed to the idea that female masculinity or trans masculinity makes you a traitor to women and feminism. Whenever I read about the supposed “death of the butch,” my reaction is always “Noooooooooo! The butch is not dead and cannot die!” The comment in the introduction about the “dichotomy that people set up” (in other words, the generalized norm) is specifically brought up apropos of a discussion of how people would always harass my ex and I about who was the “femme” and who was the “butch” (or who was the “man”/”woman,” or who “wore the pants”). Our relationship and our gender expressions did not make sense within a binary schema. So when I say that the dichotomy that people set up is reductive, it doesn’t mean that being butch or femme is reductive or less queer, it means that conceptualizing of queer/lesbian relationships exclusively in those terms does not account for the range of possible identities and combinations of people/expressions. A dynamic way of thinking about gender and sexuality would certainly include butch-femme relationships while contesting the idea that there is no other type of queer/lesbian relationship possible.

I definitely agree that there is a wide range of identities and relationships within the queer community and butch-femme is settled comfortably in there somewhere, and always will be.

The author also addresses a concern that I had about setting up a sort of femme hierarchy by creating a new label:

Nowhere in the zine do I say anything that should lead someone to believe that hard femme is better than other identities, or more queer, or completely separate from femme identity. In the zine I advocate for open ways of thinking about identity that can accommodate a range of possibilities while prioritizing a “vision of how to exist in the world in ways that make up feel confident, strong, comfortable, and empowered.” I even claim femme identity for myself while re-articulating what femmeness is to me (because I am more interested in integrating and playing with femmeness rather than degrading and disowning it altogether). Toward the end I write, “I like being unconventionally femme, unconventionally Asian, unconventionally tough, and stirring it all up, overturning expectations while laying claim to these categories. But without allegiance. With movement.” (Author’s emphasis)

I’m glad that conversations like these are being had within the femme and larger queer communities. And I’m glad to know that there is another outspoken, unconventional femme and fellow butch-ally in the world.

You can read the author’s full response here.

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.