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!
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)
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!