Femme Desires

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!

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6 Responses

  1. I’m kind of new at explaining my own femme identity, but I like your questions so I’ll give it a shot. For me, femme in relation to butch is only a part of it. I think if you took butch out of the picture (heaven forbid), I would still be femme, so it’s only a piece of the puzzle.

    I feel like butch comes into play more in terms of desire- butches are who I desire, who I use my body to attract, who give me sexual pleasure and who I (hopefully) pleasure in return. I do think part of femme-ness is about presenting overt sexuality and being unapologetic about it. It’s about owning my sexuality and feeling confident in putting it on display. It’s about knowing what I want (sexually and otherwise) and not being shy about asking for it. I definitely use my body in this way and I think that’s part of my femme identity. It manifests in a well-timed look or just the ways in which I move.

    I definitely have a femme style that’s always kind of changing/evolving. For me it feels powerful to perform this style because I shunned it for some time when I first came out. In recent years I’ve reclaimed it as my own. It’s how I feel most comfortable and my butch lovers have encouraged it and that was huge. I also experience a sense of fun and play in terms of the performance- when a man propositions me, I get to tell him that I’m queer (that the performance is not for him) and when I encounter a butch, it’s a way of nonverbally communicating my desire. This goes along with using my body. There’s also enjoyment and a sense of power in taking tools usually associated with heterosexuality and using them for my own (queer) purposes. It upsets stale associations and hopefully causes people to question their heteronormative assumptions.

  2. a few quick things:

    1. yep, you’re right, I missed constructing femme (and other identities) via the body + sexuality. big category, very worth mentioning.

    2. people were absolutely talking about this at the femme conference

    3. I think you’re also right that theory falls in the category of language; obviously you need language in order to use theory, but you don’t necessarily need theory in order to use language as a construct of identtiy, which is why I separated them.

    4. I definitely don’t think femme is ONLY defined in relation to butch, but for many people – myself included – there is a factor of the ways that femme + butch interact that enhances and increases my butchness in new ways. my own butchness didn’t quite make sense to me until I finally was in contrast and in friction with a femme. and *that’s* what I mean about the identities being in relation to each other. they don’t necessarily depend on each other, femmes & butches are not necessarily reliant upon each other for identity construction, but for some people that’s a key point to their identity development.

    More about this on sugarbutch later. thanks for the comment + addition of ideas!

  3. Do you define femme in relation to butch?

    the problem with that, to me, is that it relegates femme to relationships. if femme is defined by (with) butch, what am i when i’m out alone? my personal experiences says that i’m still femme even if the girl i’m fucking is too. and that thinking a femme is hot doesn’t change my gender (after all, i am still a girl although i like girls!)

    while i do not think femme and butch define each other, i do think they mesh exceptionally well (for me, at least), and i can’t see myself dating a feminine woman. i can certainly imagine doing a lot of other fun things, but there is something very different about a girlfriend relationship that just makes more sense to me with a butch (i’m also more comfortable being more feminine with a butch than alone).

    How are sexual pleasure, your body, and your desires a part of your identity as a femme?
    i think a major part of being femme is being comfortable in my female body. an absolute necessity, in fact. maybe because i spent so long just hating the femininity that grew into my body, not knowing how to deal with it, and being embarrassed by it. and there’s a hell of an empowerment to feeling like it’s their problem, not mine, when someone is an asshole/prude/whatever about or because of my body (not that i can always feel that way).

  4. Do you define femme in relation to butch?
    Yes and no. Femme is definately a stand alone gender. There are many femme’s who are not into butches, but still consciously queer femininity (not to be mistaken for lipstick lebsians of course for whom femininity is NOT consciously queer, or taken as ‘normal’) Though I personally experience my femme-ness as a yin/yang dance and attraction with butches.

    How are sexual pleasure, your body, and your desires a part of your identity as a femme?
    I view my femme self as a sexual ID, not so much one of gender. I experience myself as a Stone Femme (I prefer Stone Butches, I have no desire to lick or touch her female bits). Also since I’m a bottom and sub, I definitely claim the Pillow Queen ID. Jewelle Gomez wrote about being a pillow queen, and how being femme, a bottom, and a submissive is devalued. (I may write about that)

    If you have a particular femme or feminine style, what is the meaning of that style or gender performance for you?
    My femme style…I’ve had a crisis lately. Trying to integrate so many parts of myself into a coherent expression: the American-ness, Blackness, Southern-ness are huge parts of who I am; I can’t get away from that, nor would I want to. I can’t just say “Oh, I’m doing vintage ’50s looks to queer it.” I’m fighting a lot, really starting with the idea that femininity is white. The whole “Ain’t I a Woman” phenomenon is still relevant. And this is coming from someone who is middle class, and thin, etc. There is so much to look at. I am still evolving (I only just realizing being femme in the last year). I am amazed how much I’ve learned about myself.

    I’m amazed too! I truly leapt for joy when I read this post, and not just because you quoted Sojourner Truth. I absolutely think you should write about the pillow queen thing; I’m glad you pointed it out. What’s the title of the Jewelle Gomez piece, BTW? I don’t remember reading it. Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences; I always learn so much from you. -SF

  5. Femme By Default…

    So as I’m wandering the blogosphere, avoiding the job search, I come across this post by Sinclair and then SublimeFemme’s response to it. Both, at the end, ask about us, as femmes….

  6. […] of blog, ‘Sinclair’ is blogger, eep), and I really resonated with a comment over at Sublime Femme Unbound. Sublime Femme had asked some additional questions that Sinclair had not originally addressed, and […]

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