Love Letter to a Femme in Need

Just a minute ago, my partner sat down on the couch and–seeing my ubiquitous laptop–asked, “Working on your blog?” “No,” I said, “I’m responding to a femme in need.”

I want to offer love and comfort to a femme in tears who’s afraid she’s “doing femme all wrong.” I don’t know her, but I feel like I do, because I understand her pain and confusion. I’m so deeply moved by her story, because her struggle is not only about how difficult it can be to feel at home in one’s gender, but also about the pressure all of us feel to live up to some ideal of what “femme” is. (Of course, this is true for other genders too.)

Am I really a femme if I don’t know how to send the secret femme signals? If I don’t know how to walk, or act, or flirt like a femme, even when I’m dolled up? If I don’t act “classically femme” with a butch? No matter who we are, I think we’ve all had that moment in life when we’ve felt like we were not “the real deal.” You see a world of dykes, butches, femmes or ______ (fill in the blank) who seem to know instinctively how to make all the “right” moves, and you’re heartbroken because you have no idea how to become one of those people.

Arriving at my own femme identity has taken me many, many years. In fact, it’s only been fairly recently that I have given myself permission to claim “high femme” for myself. I remember the first time someone called me high femme; she was a student of mine (a very adorable butch who went on to become a cop–so sexy!). I was flattered, but shocked. I thought, sure I’m feminine, nails, heels, makeup, whatever, but I’m not really femme enough to be “high femme.” It’s funny because that was my first year as a professor and I lectured in a black leather miniskirt and high-heeled leather boots, I kid you not! But back then I imagined “high femme” as some Promised Land of uber femininity where my nails would never chip and, if someone rang the doorbell unannounced, I’d always answer the door looking flawless. (A note to all who wish to befriend this particular femme–call first!)

So let me say this to you, Femme in Need. I could not send femme signals on the train going to work in men’s shorts and Birkenstocks, either! Like trans or genderqueer people, we femmes often cannot communicate the complexity of our gender identities to strangers passing by or in brief everyday interactions. (I’m not saying that femmes’ experiences are the same as those of transgendered people–I’m just highlighting this point of intersection.)

And please believe me, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to be femme. Embracing an identity like femme can be extremely empowering, but identities are invariably a form of constraint as well. I think we have to recognize and negotiate those constraints, to carve out our own definitions of femme that are fluid enough to accommodate our differences and complexities.

The truth is, we’re all femmes in need.

Much love to you.

5 Responses

  1. Very, very true. I know it can take a long time to come to one’s sexual identity. I identify as femme but sometimes I worry I’m “doing it wrong”.
    I gotta respect the high femmes because I’m far too lazy to pay that much attention to costuming and expression, no matter how much I enjoy seeing it play out!
    FIN, don’t worry. I usually find that when you need someone to know *coughbutchcough*, lots of times they’ll figure it out.
    Or you could wear a shirt that says “femme not straight- ask me how!” But that might just be my weirdness.

  2. I love, love love this post. I’m glad I found your blog today.

    I struggle with this and largely attribute that to money/class issues… “the higher the paycheck the higher the femme?” While I know there is no doubt I am femme, I often wonder if I’m not interpreted as such due to my lack of funds for the material things that often “make the femme.” And it pains me to think that in order to be recognizable you must be able to afford the efforts.

    Keep writing, you’re amazing.

    No, *you’re* amazing! Thanks for this fantastic comment. As far as I’m concerned, femininity is not natural, and to acquire it requires time and (as SL notes) effort; if you don’t have “disposable” income, you need to spend even more time (making things yourself, for example, as Lady B suggests.) And in this economy–when gas and groceries are so expensive, when so many people have been laid off or are in debt or have to work several jobs to pay their bills or college tuition–only a privileged minority can afford to live up (or down) to the ideals of femininity, fashion & style that we see in advertising, popular culture, etc. I think you do a great job on your own blog pointing out how racisim, sizism, and economic inequalities come into play here. We clearly need to keep talking about these issues! Thanks again for weighing in. -SF

  3. “the higher the paycheck the higher the femme?”

    that rings unfortunately true, now that you mention it. alternately, though, i sometimes think of femme as a sort of old-fashioned femininity, so things like sewing my own skirt or resizing/revamping something secondhand feels as (more?) femme as shopping for fancy new things.

    but, then, i’m a t-shirt and skirts kinda girl, so i’m a bit unclear on this high femme thing =)

    on subject, though…i think everyone has their “oh hell, i’ve no idea what i’m doing” moments (at least, that’s what they told me when i was in the midst of one). but, really, femme is what you make of it (like any label, i suppose).

  4. wow..thank you so much for this post. I have been known to be ‘high femme’ and I love that title, but sometimes, when I’m home alone and I’m just in my sweats and a tank top, I do wonder…would someone think I’m ‘high femme’ looking like this? I also seem to have some kind of ‘jealousy’ towards butches and other queers who wear their ‘queerness’ every day. I can pass..and I know that can be taken as a privlege…but, sometimes, I want THE WHOLE WORLD to know that I’m queer without having to wear the ‘not-straight, just femme’ tee shirt…

    Just wanted to say, YES, I know exactly what you mean! I think your phrasing here is interesting: “would someone think…?” What do you think, I wonder? Personally, I think I’m femme even when I’m not dolled up but I don’t really feel like I’m fully expressing it unless I’m dolled up. Or, to put it another way: femme is drag–artifice–but it’s also the “real” me. Make any sense? Thanks for your comments lately, Laura!

  5. Um, wow. Thank you. This is very sweet, and you’re absolutely right; I know that, even though I have my moments of insecurity.
    But I’m dying to know – I’m (getting) used to people I don’t know reading my blog, but how did you stumble upon my LJ? (I guess sometimes “public” really does mean “public…”)

    You’re welcome, Aviva. Feeling the love, I hope? I subscribe to Google Alerts to keep up with who’s saying what about femme, and they cover LJ, so that’s how I found out about your post. Let me know if you want to talk more and please come back and visit! Blowing you a kiss, sweet girl. -SF

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