I’ve been looking forward to Sinclair’s post about the Femme Conference, and it didn’t disappoint. If you haven’t read it, go visit Sugarbutch Chronicles and have a look. It’s called “In Praise of Femmes: The Architecture of Identity.”
Sinclair points to 5 ways to construct femme:
1) In contrast to butch
2) In community
3) Through language
4) Through fashion and style
5) Through theory [I would fold #5 into #3, since theory is language.]
I think these are all great, but I’m struck by the absence of the body and sexuality from this list–a rather surprising absence coming from the dashing Top Sex Blogger of 2008!
Doesn’t the body and sexuality factor into some of these 5 categories? For example, fashion isn’t just about clothes. It’s also about sculpting the body (through exercise, diet, cosmetic surgery, etc) and stylizing the body in various ways, including the refusal to “manage” the body to conform to mainstream ideals of femininity. I think the celebration of fat/voluptuous bodies by many femmes is great example of this form of femme fashion!
What about the importance of sexual power and pleasure for femmes? Based on what I’ve heard about the Femme Conference, I would imagine that people would be talking about how femmes use sexuality and their bodies to construct their identities. (For those of you who were there, please fill me in!) If people were *not* talking about this, what does it mean? Does it reinforce stereotypes that femmes are (only) pillow queens, or that it’s butches who are “doers”–i.e. have active sexual desires and sexual agency?
I worry when we seem to be echoing traditional scripts that cast “boys” as desiring subjects and “girls” as objects of desire. For similar reasons, I think it’s worth questioning whether we want to define femme only or primarily in relation to butch. I’ve been learning a lot from those of you who’ve been sharing your own definitions of femme, and one of things I’m trying to do is understand femme on its own terms–as its own independent gender. (Thanks to Chaia for challenging me on this!) I think the discussions that many of us have been having about supporting each other as femmes is, to some degree, a step toward reframing (queer) femininity not in competition with other femmes but in relation to them. That’s about the independence and autonomy of femme.
OK, I know what you’re thinking–the whole butch/femme thing. I realize that for many of us, femme makes sense in relation to butch. While this is true for me on a personal level, I think we run into problems when we say that butch is central to what being a femme means. This seems to me to sidestep the fundamental question for femmes: who are we?
For me, this is a question that goes much deeper than fashion and style (I know, sacrilege!). I genuinely delight in “doing” femme, but being a femme is not just about clothes, style, nails, etc., at least for me. But hey, you might say: it is for me! Ok, great, but here’s the problem. If you only tell me about your style–how you perform femme on an everyday basis–that still doesn’t tell me what the meaning and intention of your style (or femme performance) is for you.
So, my questions are:
Do you define femme in relation to butch?
How are sexual pleasure, your body, and your desires a part of your identity as a femme?
If you have a particular femme or feminine style, what is the meaning of that style or gender performance for you?
I’d love to hear from femmes and femme allies, especially if you’ve been reading and haven’t yet joined the discussion. Please jump in and comment, because I want to know what you think!