Repost: Against Femme Privilege

There’s been good discussion over at A Brown Girl on the question of femme invisibility and femme privilege, prompted by ABG’s reposting of Nikki’s thoughtful piece on that issue.   I’m a big fan of Nikki and her blog, give me space (to rock), but I think the concept of “femme privilege” doesn’t actually capture the experience of living as a femme-identified queer.   Here’s why.

Nikki’s point is that femmes have privilege over people who read as “androgynous,” “butch,” or “masculine.”    While I agree with her about the discrimination faced by gender nonconformists, it seems like a dangerous overgeneralization to assign privilege to femmes.  Femmes may deal with different forms of gender oppression and homophobia than other members of the LGBTQ community, but this doesn’t make us a privileged social group.   Furthermore, to describe femmes as privileged doesn’t account for mutiple or overlapping oppressions such as race, class, nation, ability, age, etc.  For example, is a Chicana femme living in poverty more privileged than Ellen Degenerous or Samantha Ronson?

Still, maybe you’re thinking that I’ve been sidestepping Nikki’s central argument–namely, the idea that femme invisibility is a form of privilege. While some femmes may experience forms of unearned privilege–i.e. white privilege–”femme privilege” implies that women in general have a privileged status and that femmes in particular aren’t oppressed sexual minorities (because of the cloak of invisibility).  I just can’t get on board with these positions.

For me, “femme privilege” divides queer women in terms of gender at a time when we would be better served by thinking about what connects us.  By pitting “gender variant” butches/genderqueers against “gender conforming” femmes, femme privilege implies that (1) these are opposing groups that can be neatly divided (2) all femmes can or do pass (3) passing = privilege. The last 2 points remind me of those who say that bisexuals aren’t “real” queers because they can always pass for straight by cashing in on their heterosexual privilege.  (A biphobic stereotype, needless to say.)  It also reminds me of the argument that gays and/or queers aren’t an oppressed minority because, unlike blacks and other racial minorities, they can “hide” their sexual orientation.  Grrr, I hate this one!  I think anybody who says this has no idea about the struggles and problems produced by living in the closet, which is itself a form of oppression.

I think  Nikki is right that we all need to consider questions of oppression and privilege in our lives, but the privilege model doesn’t allow us to do this in a complex, multidimensional way.  My beef is really with the whole notion of dividing the world into privileged vs. nonprivileged people.  In my view, most of us are both privileged and nonprivileged in multiple aspects of our lives.

[For original post and comments–which are excellent–click here.]

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Against Femme Privilege

There’s been good discussion over at A Brown Girl on the question of femme invisibility and femme privilege, prompted by ABG’s reposting of Nikki’s thoughtful piece on that issue.   I’m a big fan of Nikki and her blog, give me space (to rock), but I think the concept of “femme privilege” doesn’t actually capture the experience of living as a femme-identified queer.   Here’s why.

Nikki’s point is that femmes have privilege over people who read as “androgynous,” “butch,” or “masculine.”    While I agree with her about the discrimination faced by gender nonconformists, it seems like a dangerous overgeneralization to assign privilege to femmes.  Femmes may deal with different forms of gender oppression and homophobia than other members of the LGBTQ community, but this doesn’t make us a privileged social group.   Furthermore, to describe femmes as privileged doesn’t account for mutiple or overlapping oppressions such as race, class, nation, ability, age, etc.  For example, is a Chicana femme living in poverty more privileged than Ellen Degenerous or Samantha Ronson? 

Still, maybe you’re thinking that I’ve been sidestepping Nikki’s central argument–namely, the idea that femme invisibility is a form of privilege. While some femmes may experience forms of unearned privilege–i.e. white privilege–“femme privilege” implies that women in general have a privileged status and that femmes in particular aren’t oppressed sexual minorities (because of the cloak of invisibility).  I just can’t get on board with these positions.

For me, “femme privilege” divides queer women in terms of gender at a time when we would be better served by thinking about what connects us.  By pitting “gender variant” butches/genderqueers against “gender conforming” femmes, femme privilege implies that (1) these are opposing groups that can be neatly divided (2) all femmes can or do pass (3) passing = privilege. The last 2 points remind me of those who say that bisexuals aren’t “real” queers because they can always pass for straight by cashing in on their heterosexual privilege.  (A biphobic stereotype, needless to say.)  It also reminds me of the argument that gays and/or queers aren’t an oppressed minority because, unlike blacks and other racial minorities, they can “hide” their sexual orientation.  Grrr, I hate this one!  I think anybody who says this has no idea about the struggles and problems produced by living in the closet, which is itself a form of oppression.

I think  Nikki is right that we all need to consider questions of oppression and privilege in our lives, but the privilege model doesn’t allow us to do this in a complex, multidimensional way.  My beef is really with the whole notion of dividing the world into privileged vs. nonprivileged people.  In my view, most of us are both privileged and nonprivileged in multiple aspects of our lives.

Do you think femme privilege exists?  I’m interested in your thoughts about this!

Lindsay Lohan and Femme Invisibility

During the past week, my blog stats registered approximately 2500 views, almost all of them because of Lindsay Lohan.  On the highest day of LiLo frenzy, I had over 600 views for my post, “A Lesbian Looks Like…Lindsay Lohan?” 

Despite my best efforts to ignore the LiLo frenzy, I too have been drawn back into its orbit.  But let me make one thing clear:  to those readers who’ve asked me to weigh in on the matter of Lohan’s sexual orientation, you can stop reading now because I won’t be offering my opinion about whether or not Lindsay is lesbian or bisexual, or in or out of the closet.  In keeping with my previous analysis of her “post-gay” coming out, I remain agnostic on the question of her sexuality.  What interests me is how people seem to be invested in uncovering the “truth” of Lindsay’s desire, and yet remain stuck having the same unproductive conversation over and over again.   On message boards and elsewhere, it goes something like this:

Lindsay is a lesbian!! 

No she isn’t, it’s just a stage! (Lindsay fan determined to heterosexualize her idol)

Hello, in case you haven’t noticed she’s been with a girl for months!  Sam Ronson looks like a dude but he’s a girl.  Lindsay is a lez!!  (Idiotic straight guy #1)

No, she’s bisexual. 

What a waste of a gorgeous girl! (Idiotic straight guy #2)

That makes her hotter!  She’s bangin.  (Idiotic straight guy #3)

So what if she is a lesbian or bisexual.  She’s awesome and gorgeous!  Leave Lindsay alone!

With a level of discourse this high, what’s left for your favorite sublimely femme queer theorist to say?!    Well, really just this.  There seem to be two dominant schools of thought about Lindsay’s sexuality, both of which turn on the “problem” of her femininity.  The first position, which I’ve written about before, is that she couldn’t really be a lesbian because, hell, just look at her!  The other position is the inversion of the first.  It claims that Samantha Ronson is a real lesbian (hell, just look at her!) and Lindsay wouldn’t chose a girl like that unless she was herself really queer.  In this reading, it’s the butch’s supposedly irrefutable lesbian appearance that provides evidence for the femme’s queerness.  However, in both cases, queer femininity is fundamentally framed not just as a contradiction in terms but as a disappearing act.  

In her song titled “Rumors,” (insert ironic aside of your choice) Lindsay sings, “I just want to be me.”  But how do you come to terms with yourself in a world that doesn’t even see you?