Transitioning to Femme

One of the main tenents of Sublime Femmeness is “never turn your back on a femme in need.” When I received a moving letter from a longtime tomboy asking for advice about transitioning to femme, I knew I wanted to share with her whatever hard-won wisdom I have to offer. But no one person has all of the answers–even yours truly!–nor can one person’s story alone ever convey just how various, gradual, complex and challenging the journey to discovering our lesbian gender (or any gender, for that matter) is for so many of us. It takes a big lesbo village, as they say. So I’m posting Butch2Femme’s letter and my response with the hope that it will encourage all of you to share your experiences and insights or just write a note of support to this lovely femme in need!


Dear Sublimefemme,

You wrote about going from a more conventional lesbian image to the high femme that you are now. I’d like to hear more about that transition if and when you feel so inclined. I’ve always been a tomboy but after having my heart broken by a femme in my first serious relationship, I feel a more femme self-image coming on.

I have avoided being more femme my whole life, partly as defiance, partly because no one showed me how to enjoy being a woman, and all of the lovely things that go with it (i.e. dolling up, wearing great shoes, nice delicates and some great clothes). I always retaliated against these things because I never thought I could be “pretty” or “attractive” in them. Now that I’m in my thirties (late bloomer I know), these things make me feel like a woman.

What if you can know you love women your whole life, but not know, or grow into the gender identity that best suits you until much later? I don’t feel prompted to be more femme because my femme broke my heart, but I’m confused about how to process these changes I’m feeling. Feigning being femme when I was “straight” feels so much less authentic than where I am now…dead center but loving the luxury of being a woman and all of the trappings. Does that make sense?
–Butch2Femme (in peep-toes with a cashmere sweater and tweed slacks)

Dear Butch2Femme,

First and most importantly: cute outfit! 😉

I think it’s a good idea after a difficult break-up to give yourself the time and space to heal. If we were talking about this over cocktails, the first thing I would ask you about is how gender issues played out in your last relationship. Did you feel free with your ex to express your gender–e.g. your femme side or your tomboy style? If gender is one reason why you think this relationship didn’t work out, my advice to you would be to proceed with caution. In other words, don’t run out and do anything too dramatic, like getting a tattoo that says “femme!”

I also would encourage you to remember that butch and femme are not mutually exclusive identities/styles. No one has to choose to be either butch or femme–you can be both. The femme in peep-toes with a tomboy edge isn’t confused; she’s sexy! There’s a great post about this on The Femme’s Guide, Can a Femme Be Butch Too?

If your femme side wants to come out and play (and it sound like it already has!), I think you should give yourself permission to experiment with your gender, including playing with different ways to express your femininity. The only way you can really know how to process your feelings is if you try different styles of “femme” on and see how they fit. That’s what I did, and the more I did it the better I felt! But I want to emphasize that my own journey to high femme was a very slow evolution. It took place over many, many years. In fact, I recommend that you reread my post “What Makes (Me) a Femme” with the following in mind: I’m talking about close to 20 years of life experience in this piece, from the beginning (me as a baby dyke stomping around in Timberlands) to the end (me as the sublimely femme queer theorist you know and love who had a femme epiphany thanks to Riki Wilchins and all the other wonderful people at GenderPAC)!

Wherever your journey takes you, just do me a favor and remember a few things:

You’re not a late bloomer! But even if you were, so what? It’s never too late to change and there never is any “right” time to do it.

Sometimes change can create a fear of failure, but all of us “fail” at gender. Nobody can live up to gender ideals, whether it’s being a “real” man or a “real” femme.

Being a “woman” does not equal being “femme.”

Be patient (change takes time).

Be open to new possibilities, always.

You don’t need to change yourself to find love. When the time is right, love will find you.

Have fun! xo Sf


Big Lesbo Village: Now it’s your turn!

11 Responses

  1. Another great posting, and I have my own tiny little response in the queue to post for tomorrow.

    What is great about coming here, Mme. SF, is that your words remind me it’s never too late to shed er, the clothes I’ve been wearing lately, and to try to find something that fits who I am at this stage in my life. 🙂

    Oh, and nearly forgot, I’ve tagged you, Hon, here:

  2. an infinitely interesting topic to me. but i’ll just note that there seem to be two stories of this transition. i suppose it’s not relevant to the process(n.) of transitioning, but it may help you process(v.) your transition –

    the “i’ve always really been femme” one, which is kind of a “coming out” transition (this is the one i associate with a lot of femmes who said they felt like they had to be butchy in order to be taken seriously as a dyke when they first came out).

    or the one where it is an internal transition as well. like me: i used to be a tomboy, and now i’m a femme. i just want to emphasize, if this is your story, that there is nothing contradictory about that. the past is still completely valid, even if it isn’t currently true. i guess i’m just saying: people change, and that’s cool =)

  3. BOY can I relate!

    First, can I say that Connecticut — where I live and where I discovered my true calling of being a lesbian is VERY andro. At least the haunts that I came up in.

    So I ended up being very “middle of the road”…. and since I’m what I like to call a bit of a roughneck LOL — my tomboy side was ok with that…

    When I met Jess — who introduced me to the whole butch/femme culture, well, I was intrigued.

    Then she told me she thought I was a tomboy when we first met (I was wearing a newsboys cap, sweatshirt and jeans) and I can’t tell you how crushed I was.

    For some reason I HATED being perceived as non-femme. That’s when my inner-femme started screaming to get out.

    I started listening to her and femming things up in my wardrobe and in my thinking and actions — my whole sense of self.

    I’ve never been happier with me… it surprised even me.

    But it’s a looooooooooooooong road. I recently saw Sinclair Sexmith of Sugarbutch fame and hy asked about the upcoming Femme Conference and I told hym how I didn’t want to go because I didn’t think I was femme enough. See? I’m still travelling that road!

    I’m telling you this because I am not a high femme — nor do I think I ever will be — but I do identify as femme.

    Even if it’s a roughneck femme. 😉

    I guess the point of this tome is that it’s a process to discover yourself… it won’t happen overnight — give yourself the leeway to find the femme you will be. She’ll lead the way.

    I’m still following her lead.

    Sorry for writing a book! 🙂 Good luck! You are not alone! 🙂

  4. lol tenants … tenets? 😉

    i think your reply is excellent, sf – nothing to add there except that you’re quite right … society spends too much time defining woman as a gender, i’m glad we don’t need to …

    woman = whateveryoulike.

    so there.

  5. I am a femme-loving femme or what Shar Rednour calls “femme squared” but I was not always a fan of heels and handbags. While always inclined toward glittery things, I had a punk phase in college and was often in huge unflattering band tees. But eventually I discovered a preference for more glamourous sartorial choices and began to modify my wardrobe. But the trappings, while lovely, are immaterial and like SublimeFemme said, gender is to be experimented with and doesn’t require any certain type of behavior or appearance. Enjoy playing and don’t worry too much about anything except doing what feels fabulous.

  6. lady brett said it very well, you can evolve or realize something you’ve been repressing or, more likely, some combination of both. i’ve always been rather butch but went through a phase of really extreme repression of that, which turned out to be quite damaging. on the other hand, i have friends who talk about butch and femme ‘phases’ in their lives as positive, natural things, variations over the course of a complicated lifespan. neither truth is more valid than the other.

    on another angle… i worried for a long time that i couldn’t act as masculine as i wanted to, because i might ‘fail’ at something, and failing was worse than just not trying, not admitting the desire and the vulnerability. what hit me this spring (and i’m almost 30) was that i really only have two choices: do me, and do it on purpose (to paraphrase dolly parton i believe), or waste a lot of futile energy trying to be something i’m not. the labels are descriptive, not a mandate. well, that’s where i’m at now.

    good luck. the world can never have too many smart, beautiful femmes, in my very humble opinion.

  7. I only realized I was femme within the past few months; this coincided with my discovering I was a lesbian. When I first heard of femmes I knew I wanted to be one. I called myself a “femme wannabe” because it seemed so great, but I wasn’t sure how I could be one. Well in retrospect, I find that if you feel you want to be femme that badly, then you are femme already. It just takes time to grow into the presentation that most resonates with you, and not let any anti-feminine sentiments get to you. Actively being feminine, whether straight, bi, or gay can bring on lots of disdain from others. It’s not valued. Make sure you are giving yourself time and room to grow. Don’t feel ashamed of being being “girly” or what have you. I had to work through that despite the fact that I always loved feminine things.

  8. You go “girl!” I laughed, in delight – when I read the “cashmere sweater,” since I’m a confirmed cashmere “slut!” Honestly, in my opinion – you’re already half-way to becoming the next “Sublime Femme” if you love this fabulous fabric.

    In fact, I’m a little envious of you, since I don’t own any peep-toes (yet)! On the more serious side, it’s ALL a process. I “came out” over a year ago, and when I was “acting straight” – was a chapstick and Birks kinda gal. Now that I’m finally a dyke I can’t have too many slinky slips, slutty stilettos and black bras. Oy! I have so many “bookmarks” on that it’s ridiculous. It’ll take at least ten lesbian lifetimes to buy them all. But I’ve discovered, that it’s my feisty, femme attitude – that’s just as important as the externals.

    Be gentle and patient with yourself. My final words of wisdom: when in dyke doubt – Maybelline’s great lash mascara in royal blue – will make ya ROCK!

    And if you’re a “late bloomer,” then I must be the Grandma Moses of the lesbian world; I just turned 51! It’s never too late to flourish as a femme. Good luck!


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  10. […] on Hidden Truths about My Life: TaggedFrom Butch2Femme « Sublimefemme Unbound on Transitioning to FemmeLeo MacCool on Hidden Truths about My Life: on Hidden Truths about My […]

  11. Hey
    I understand what you’re saying. I’m feeling confused myself. A lot of the people writing here have helped me realize that I’m not doing something wrong by acting and dressing and labeling as I do. I feel very femme on the inside. I’m also not dominant at ALL and I’m attracted only to andro/butch women. Don’t really get why, I just am (I’m also bisexual but that’s beside the point). I like acting in a feminine way in response to someone being more masculine. I like being flirtatious and mysterious and intriguing. But most of the time I could be mistaken for a boy. I just prefer guy’s clothes. I thought I had to dress like how I acted, but I didn’t want to wear my skirts and stuff anymore. But I am who I am. I’m finding it hard to folow this advice, but just go with it. If you want to be femme, be it. You don’t need to pass a test. At least I hope not! I’m trying to embrace my inner femme and my outer butch.

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