Beyond Guilty Pleasures

Do we as femmes focus too much on appearances? Does this make us superficial queers? Do we need to focus more on the internal not the external?

Buddhistfemme raises these questions in her excellent post, Femme-ness & Consumerism (A Few Thoughts). I really appreciate her effort to rethink femme from the inside out–especially in the blogging world where, from what I can tell, there’s a tendency to define femme more in terms of fashion, style and beauty. Are “the inner qualities of femme” missing from the conversation, as buddhistfemme suggests? Here’s my response:

1. Inner vs. Outer? Perhaps when we as (as femmes, butches, etc) are telling stories about our desires, how we experience of our bodies, how we style and dress our bodies, and how and with whom we partner, we *are* talking about what defines our identities at a very core level.

2. The Social, Not the Individual. Although as a pyschology student and buddhist, buddistfemme has a much more inward focus than I do, I think we’re both equally committed to questions of social and economic justice. It’s just that I come at these issues from a different angle–through the category of the social, not the individual or the personal.

3. Lifestyle Politics. I love the point buddishtfemme makes in one of her recent comments on this site about how people need to just *consume less.* She’s right. Our identities are so tied up with consumerism that we find it much more comfortable to look for consumerist solutions to social problems. Why protest if you can shop, after all? This is a major limitation of lifestyle politics, which suggests that we can change the world by just changing our lifestyles. As said here previously, I think making more socially conscious choices in our lives is important, but this just a first step towards authentic social change. Shopping isn’t going to help the queer kid living on the streets, as buddhistfemme rightly point out in her post.

4. Hey, You! Step Away from the Queer Theory. I think it’s worth noting that lots of us schooled in queer & gender theory have been trained to be suspicious about the very notion of gender as an inner, core identity. I’m thinking of Judith Butler’s argument that there is no gender identity that precedes our performance of it, no “doer behind the deed.” So perhaps this is one reason why some of us haven’t been talking about “the inner qualities of femme.”

Last but definitely not least…

5. I Like “Fluff!” And fashion, and beauty, and style. In my view, hair is pretty much a matter of life and death. My cultivation of femme-ininity isn’t a guilty pleasure for me; it’s at the heart of the campy, drag perspective on femme that infuses everything I do in work and play. I’m both serious and trivial, and I value both beauty and brains, politics and pleasure, high-brow art and low-brow pop culture. Not only do I refuse to choose between these things, but I’d like to question why we (particularly queers and women) have been made to feel like we have to.

Thanks to buddistfemme for her honest and thoughtful contribution to this debate. I’d be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts, as always!


7 Responses

  1. Are the core values behind healthy gender identity subjective? Or is the difference in the approach? SF you blogged once about sitting at your antique vanity and how it was an important part of your femme ritual. Some might view that as your moment of zen, your daily grounding technique, etc…In the end, things we do externally that validate who or how we feel inside may be different but achieve the same result. Maybe?

    Funny, a friend once said the same thing to me when she compared my makeup ritual to her own use of yoga and meditation. It does sometimes have a calming, meditative effect… xo -Sf

  2. I love your point about the “requirement” to choose between high & low (and perfectly manicured!) brow; it does seem that many consider the two choices mutually exclusive. I adore fluff, swathe myself in it when I can, but I enjoy weightier considerations as well. My undergrad degrees are in psychology and philosophy and I just completed my MLIS but I still get giddy over a sparkly pink peacock scarf from India. I feel a very strong sense of inner-femme though I would be hard-pressed to describe it. But I make a point of looking good when I feel good and looking even better when I don’t feel good. My appearance is a definite reflection of my inner self and I would never go out in public looking sloppy. I appreciate the aesthetics of a good look or style so I choose to ensure I always present myself in the way I would like people to see me.

    With gorgeous boots.

    Perhaps we’ll be seeing you in some of those on your blog? 😉 xo -Sf

  3. SF asked me to post the link to my original post, so here it is:

    And I also want to second the comments on not having to choose- I agree. I’m not saying I don’t get excited about clothes or hair- I get expensive haircuts even when I’m broke- I’m very loyal to my hair boy. I just wanted to see if we can expand the discussion.

    I wrote about how I came to the decision to id as femme as my first blog post, but a lot of it had to do with connecting with a history- reading about femmes who were nurturing and protective of their butch lovers. There are other aspects of femme identity I relate too, but that really drew me in- I related and felt a part of it. So that comes into play when I call myself a femme- I don’t think it has to for everyone, but it’s an element of my definition of femme that’s important to me. I think all of our personal definitions of femme share common ground, but there’s also room for variation.

    Thanks for sharing, and I absolutely agree that there is no one “right” way to be femme, as I’ve said here many times. I respect and admire the work you’re doing to carve out your own definition of femme! xo -Sf

  4. Is gender innate or just a performance question is something that femmeismygender and I have recently talked about (at the very intimate UK Femme Conference 2008!) and are very interested in discussing further.
    Leaving Queer Theory aside, it seems that there is less of an issue with butch women claiming / describing their gender as innate? Is this because a masculine experience is more visible or seen as more valid? Is language around feminine experience less evolved?
    Just some thoughts.

    Thanks for sharing! Re queer theory, gender performativity, etc., there’s more than just the old nature vs. nurture opposition going on here, I think. Do you describe your own femme identity as “innate,” I wonder? -Sf

  5. Another fab, thoughtful, questioning post that get all our brains to thinking. I think I’ve learnt more about myself, and my many facets since arriving on the blogger scene and, in particular, finding blogs about being either and or a femme or a butch than I did in the preceding 40-odd years that went before.

    It’s the discussion that helps, the fact people are willing to open up, and talk about so many things generations before bottled up, and or buried deep, beneath so many social mores, I hope we never see the like again (Bush and his cronies notwithstanding). It’s the clear and yes, sometimes somewhat muddled reasoning, that help us look in the mirror (as other’s might see) and see what we might not have seen before, or which we never understood.

    Keep up the posts and digging, I’m loving it.

    Hmm…I’m dying to know more about your “many facets.” Thx for the good words! xo -Sf

  6. Hi sublimefemme! In answer to your question “do I describe my own femme identity as innate?” yes, I do. Won’t go in to why, here on your comments bit, but hoping to contribute to discussion around this shortly. Enjoying your blog by the way x

  7. Loving yr blog! I think my femme identity is pretty innate as well, I am flamboyant as all hell, and have been since I was a little girl, attracted to all things sparkly. I often think that if i were born a man I’d be a drag queen.

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