Beyond Femme Realness

Since we’ve been talking about “failed” gender performances and the like lately, a “Masculinity Fail” post from Fail Blog caught my eye.  The video itself, which is about a weatherman who screams and freaks out at the sight of a cockroach in the middle of his broadcast, is pretty hilarious and made me wish I had a sissy weatherman on my local news.  (I don’t mean to say that this particular individual is a sissy, but rather that I have a deep affection for sissies.) You can check it out here.  But don’t waste your time reading the comments, most of which are appallingly homophobic and misogynistic. 

I wonder, how many of the guys leaving these small-minded comments would concede that no one can ever fully inhabit the category of masculinity, including them?  On a very fundamental level, the tendency to essentialize gender and sexual identities is the problem here.  Which brings me to the connection I want to make.  What I’ve tried to do in this blog is think about femme and gender in ways that step outside this naturalizing framework.  

Sometimes, even for me, it seems impossible to escape the allure of “realness.”   As femmes we ask ourselves:  “Can I be a real femme if I don’t wear makeup/want to be penetrated/[fill in blank]?” Or, “I’ve stopped wearing skirts, so am I still a femme?”   My feeling is that if I devote my energy to trying to be a “real” femme, I’m basically reinforcing the same oppressive gender norms that we see in “Masculinity Fails.”  

The discrimination and violence suffered by genderqueer and trans people is just one example of how social imperatives to be a “real” man or woman have disastrous effects in our world.  This is why, for me anyway, the high femme project of denaturalizing femininity is about expanding gender and resisting limiting gender stereotypes. 

And just in case you were wondering, I’m the one who kills the bugs in my house!

7 Responses

  1. What a profoundly incredible post. You are so right on so many levels…thanks for this!

    Hi Allyson, Thanks for the comment, which introduced me to your very interesting blog. I look forward to reading more! xo -SF

  2. i like this. i think you’re spot on about the cause – and effects – of the “real femme” question.

    it’s interesting, though – it is awfully difficult to play with, explore, and emphasize gender without playing into gender norms. i think you’re also right that it’s not impossible. as you say, one can focus on gender by trying to expand and change it.

    i suppose what i mean is that as someone who finds gender interesting and important, i’m a bit fond of gender norms. it’s almost embarrassing to say (you know, they take away your feminist card for stuff like that), but i think if we keep “expanding gender and resisting limiting gender stereotypes” then we’re moving toward gender norms not being oppressive, which would be lovely.

    Hmm…I’m a bit confused by this. As I’m sure you know, I could care less about political correctness (feminist or otherwise), but–technically speaking–if gender norms were not oppressive, they would cease to be norms. A norm is created by what it excludes and devalues, which is the abnormal. As in, the hetero is defined by what it is not (the homo). So for me norming is the problem. Do you disagree? Yes, the difference between playing with gender norms and playing into them is not easy! xo -SF

  3. Agreed: minimizing or “essentializing” a gender down to its basest forms or most recognizable traits does more harm than good. I think one of the most intriguing parts of this ongoing conversation is the self identification…and the path it took for each of us to get there. It is that, the sharing of your stories that has made my travel into the company of femmes the most enjoyable part of my own discovery….

    Speaking of sharing stories, you should check out Tina’s newest post at if you haven’t already! xo -SF

  4. Re: allure of realness – Is it possible that the butches/bois/more masculine queer women are a few steps ahead of us here?

    I ask because I feel myself recoiling from the thought of even trying to decipher for a tomboy/butch/boi whether or not they’ve failed at their attempted identity, it seems like such a private, personal thing to assess for someone else, you know? Do they argue/discuss this amongst themselves? I honestly don’t know.

    In a parallel way, isn’t it similarly almost…unfair to try and determine whether one is achieving this or that level or degree of femmeness?

    Keep in mind that this is being written by someone who does not think herself high femme, when everyone around me, including my wife, insists that I am!


    FFAF who really and truly does not kill the bugs at her house (unless it’s with aerosol toxins, like hairspray)

    Your questions are *really* interesting. My sense is that butches deal with some of these same issues (“Am I a ‘real’ butch?” etc), but they play out differently in the butch arena than the femme. I could write a whole post about this. For now, I’ll just say that I regret using the vocabulary of failure in this post and “When Femme Fails” because I think it’s confusing and distracts from what I’m really trying to do, which is to point out some theoretical problems with my own definition of high femme.

    I certainly don’t see myself as the femme police; to the contrary, policing around gender is what I want to call into question! Next time a friend (not your wife!) tries to label you high femme, it would be interesting to ask why s/he is so invested in someone else’s identification. You’ve brought this up before and I wonder why so many people are so stuck on this issue. Really, what’s the big deal?? On a lighter note, I adore the image of you attacking pests with hairspray! Clearly the move of a high femme 😉 xo -SF

  5. Wow, coincidence, I was just watching this video the other day! Yeah, I did notice the title of the vid “Fail Masculinity” which I thought was since gay men are usually assumed to me not-masculine.

  6. Ahahaha, SF, re: my preferred method of eliminating critters – touché!

    I’d be v. interested in reading the post about the differences in tackling this sort of question between butch and femme. I will certainty ask the question you posed of curious friends and the high femme label.

    In fact, it did come up with one friend a week or so ago, and she (a queer woman who is quite a bit older than I am) kind of lamented the fact that the HF term has come to encompass this idea of artifice; to her, she explained, HF used to BE women like me, the fact of queer women existing in this plain of very fancy and very feminine and very stylized, but devoid of artifice, almost. Like even in repose, here we are, here I am.

    Nowadays, it’s like I might slip into high femme on occasion, if an occasion calls for it or if I’m feeling like shimmying into another identity on a particular night, but for the most part – day in and day out – I’m what you see in FFAF, not necessarily high femme.

    It’s possible there’s a disconnect. If you asked me who was high femme on The L Word, I’d say that no one is, not really. I could sit in a lesbian bar on any given night and pick them out instantly. To me, there’s a mechanization to HF that I’m not at all disciplined nor motivated enough to carry out on any consistent basis, and that’s that.

    But M just clarified something that is very logical and valid, which is that there’s a loose femme spectrum, and there’s not a whole lot in between femme and high femme, and because I am closer on the spectrum to HF than I am to the sort of vague and all-encompassing “femme” I get bumped into the HF range.


    I’m totally kidding, but maybe for my and some of my fancy ladyfriends.

    This is fantastic and so helpful, thank you. I just wrote a post, “To You, Wonderful Femmes,” that expresses some of the appreciation I feel for comments like this one. This is so thought-provoking, I will have to write a post in response. In the meantime, would you please explain what you mean by “mechanization.” Pictures would help. I’m totally serious about this. I really want to understand what you’re saying here. xo SF

  7. M’s official vote is for a category called: “Medium Rare Femme”

    Good lord.

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