Femme and Butch Are Not Labels

This blog is not a prescription I’m writing on how to be a femme (buy two lipsticks and call me in the morning), nor is it a secret plot to convert queer girls into femmes (although I know some of you out there would love that, wouldn’t you?!). Those of us who are butch and femme are not trying to impose our identities/expressions on anyone else.

You don’t have to identify yourself as femme or butch or high femme or transmasculine or lipstick lesbian or boi or genderqueer or, well, anything at all! However, my femme gender is central to my identity and my sexuality. And here’s the thing: how is my wish to call myself a femme undermining or threatening anyone else’s identity or self-identification?  

I strongly support and respect the right of others to self-identify in whatever way they chose–including those who oppose categorizing their sexualities and/or genders. As I’ve said many times, Sublimefemme is all about sexual and gender diversity! Exploring, promoting and educating about sexual and gender diversity are at the core of my life’s work.

Why is it that critiques of butch and femme genders always seem to revolve around the problems/shortcomings of labels? LaurynX has a great discussion on her blog about how class, race and privilege play a part in our identifications, particularly with respect to butch and femme genders.  I’m not going to repeat her points, which are terrific, but if you haven’t read these posts, you should!  Be sure to check out Social Class and Butch-Femme and Who Needs Butch-Femme?

As a femme, I feel undermined when my relationship with my butch partner is called “role-playing,” or when our genders are called “labels.” Here’s what I mean. Let’s compare your favorite sublimely femme queer theorist to her next-door neighbor, who we’ll call Average Middle-Class White Guy. I would imagine that my neighbor Average Guy rarely has to self-identify because of his privilege as a straight cisgendered male. But when he does, I doubt anyone has ever said, “Dude, what’s with the labels? Why can’t you just be a human?”

Dude, why is it so hard to respect and welcome difference?

6 Responses

  1. yeah!
    or, my preference is generally not to say that my gender isn’t a label, but to be sure that people are clear that “guy” is just as much a label as “femme.” same basic point as what you’re saying, i think, just viewed from another side.

  2. Well said QRx

    Glad you liked it, because I was thinking of you and hoping you would when I wrote it! xo -Sf

  3. “How is my wish to call myself a femme undermining or threatening anyone else’s identity or self-identification?”

    Questions of this nature will never cease to baffle me. Not because there’s anything wrong with asking it, but because some sequence of events occurring prior to provoked it.

    The plain and obvious answer, I would imagine, is that it’s NOT threatening or undermining to anyone else, and if they feel that way, that’s their fucking problem.

    But, you know, I’m impertinent like that!

    (PS. How do I find your email? I want to send you wedding photos. It might take me awhile to put up a FFAF post on the nuptial wardrobe!)

    It’s listed on my “About” page–sublimefemme@live.com. I’d love to see the nuptial wardrobe. Panda or human? xo -Sf

  4. “How is my wish to call myself a femme undermining or threatening anyone else’s identity or self-identification?”

    I don’t think it’s a threat at all, just like I don’t think someone identifying as female or male is a threat. It’s only when people start trying to impose labels on others that it starts to be a threat.

    I like how queer labels are so much more diverse and give people so much room to express their gender differently. I think the people who criticize those labels just forget that labels, themselves, are limited in how they can describe you, and for some people are just an approximation, at best. Doesn’t mean you should do away with labels completely, though, since many use them as important points of self-definition. But I also think people should learn to see things as spectrums – a sliding scale – rather than a bunch of ‘boxes’ =)

    I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for weighing in. xo -SF

  5. Good post btw, I enjoyed reading it!

  6. buy two lipsticks and call me in the morning

    would be a fabulous book/film/t-shirt etc slogan

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