To The FemmeMobile! Away!

{October 19, 2009}   Realizations 5!

I felt weirdly invisible yesterday. I talked about this a little bit with DK on the phone, but only realized today that it’s something I’d like to write about.

I’ve written before about how being femme sometimes makes me feel invisible. Well, since doing all this reading on femme/butch stuff, I’ve been noticing other people and myself more. I had a conversation Saturday with Nezu on why I feel invisible, how you can spot other lesbians quite often, but I’m less spottable. We couldn’t quite put our finger on it, so I’ve been paying attention. When I see someone now that “looks” lesbian (but not necessarily butch or femme), I try to line them up with other obvious lesbians. I’m looking for similarities. And I’ve found some. These aren’t, of course, exhaustive or even necessary. A lesbian might have one, none, or all. But the obvious lesbians, the women I look at and think, “Oh, lesbian.” generally have a few of these traits.

– Body type. They are often broader (any -er is “as compared to the population I usually see” which, I realize, in itself is flawed. Let’s just call this whole thing flawed and be done with it, all right?) through the shoulders and, more noticeably to me, ribcage. (Note that I did take into account that the general populace is broader than society tells us we should be, and still came to the conclusion that there seems to me a smaller ratio of bird-boned lesbian women.)
– They often have very short hair.
– They often do NOT wear fitted clothes. Baggy or stovepipe jeans or cargoes, loose dresses, men’s shirts or other button-down, non-fitted shirts or T-shirts, and often boots. (Mmm. Boots.)
– They move differently. Shoulders back, more assertive, they seem to claim more of the space around them. They stride instead of walk, they swagger instead of saunter, when they settle somewhere they look immovable instead of the typical “polite” you see that women do. It seems that women always look ready to shift a little to let someone else join the group. Men will, too, but they look less like they’re expecting it. Lesbians often look like that.
– They rarely have purses.

My awesome friend Ashlan once cut her hair really short. She’s 5’short, broad shouldered, broad ribcaged, large chested. She walks with her shoulders back, and she claims space. At the time, she never wore fitted clothes (in part because, with her body shape, it was hard to find clothes that fit). As soon as she cut her hair, people started asking her if she was gay. Even her parents. This was so frustrating that she grew it back out, and it hasn’t been short since.

(There’s a rainbow outside! 😀 The colors are really clear on it. o.O)

She was probably the perfect example of hitting what people saw of as ‘lesbian.’

I do not hit these points. My hair is now short, but not short-short: it’s chin-length. It’s not soft looking (unless I decide to let it air-dry), and I’ve noticed that lesbians are more likely to have edgy looking haircuts, so I have that going for me. But I’m bird-boned, I don’t think I take up space unless I consciously decide to do so, I wear a ton of fitted clothes, I have a purse. There are probably a hundred and one more little differences I’m unaware of, all of which fall under the category of, “Not necessary, but if you combine several of these traits people might think you’re lesbian.”

So, I was sitting in church and I’d noticed the couple a few rows ahead of me. Both women, both obviously lesbian. Like, you would know they were lesbian even if they weren’t adorable, because they hit ALL of the above points. Now, when you are in a minority (possibly even if you’re in a majority) and you realize that, hey! There’s someone in my minority family there! You feel a hit of same-ness. You’re more likely to go talk to them than you are to talk to someone else.

I mean, think about it. If you’re Mormon and you’re at a non-Mormon school, and you see someone with an LDS sticker on their bag, you’re probably going to go talk to them. It’s familiar. How often do you hear about someone traveling abroad, and meeting another person from their own country? We are attracted to like things. They are familiar and safe.

So, I see these lesbian women, and I am like, “Woot!” They’d had a hard time recently with something, and I wanted to go give them a hug (which I wouldn’t have done even if I hadn’t felt invisible, but…).

It hit me, suddenly, that if I were to walk up there and offer a hug, they might think we were in the same ‘family’ in that we go to the same church, but they wouldn’t have the added hit of ‘family’ knowing that we were in the same minority. I would see them and see ‘family,’ they would see me and see ‘funny girl who gave us hugs.’

It was kind of depressing. Like being kicked out of a group — your group — before you even join it because you don’t have the right uniform. And it’s a misunderstanding and can be cleared up, but not always easily.

Imagine you’re a group of women standing around talking about rape, or a group of PoC standing around talking about your struggles with racism. And a man walks up to the women, or a white person to the PoC, and is just listening. The groups are going to be aware of that person. Aware of the gaze of the other, of the tension from the person-in-social-power. Now imagine that man is actually trans, or that the white person is actually half Asian. Now they belong — and yet, even so, there’s an underlying tension. They pass. They can walk around without being troubled. There’s probably some resentment there, from the people who can’t pass. Who can’t pretend for a day. And if the newcomer has their own stories to share, they will probably be listened to, and people will try not to be resentful, but many people are, anyway. (And believe me, I understand why. Despite myself, I do it to transwomen. I think, “You were a man. You didn’t grow up internalizing all this.” Which is TOTALLY UNFAIR, and I know that, but there it is.) *Edit: Four months later, I figured out where this was coming from and have gotten over my idiocy. End edit*

And from the outsider’s perspective, from my perspective, they’re right. I can pass. I don’t struggle with the things other lesbian women struggle with. And yet, I don’t belong in the straight group. I can’t entirely relate to them. But because I don’t entirely share those struggles (I have different ones. *amused*), I am ever so slightly pushed out of the gay group, too.

Wow, did I get off my initial topic, which was feeling invisible. Let’s go back to that.

So at church, I felt invisible. I felt like, “These are my people, and they don’t know it.” I can fix much of it, but there wasn’t a way to stand up and say, “Hey! I’m gay!” Ha, maybe I should have done a public prayer for my girlfriend, DK. >.< (I might do exactly that, if they do public prayers again. They do them every so often…)

As I was leaving the church, I did have a moment of recognition. I glanced up and saw a girl who looked like me. Skirt, form-fitting clothes, long curly hair (okay, that isn’t like me. >.<), make-up, etc. She was talking and looking at someone behind her, and I glanced at that person, following her gaze. That person was female, in a suit, very masculine. I thought, “Oh! Butch! Ergo, the girl with her is a friend, a sister, or femme.” They were several steps apart so I couldn’t tell via body language. Then I did a double take to make sure I hadn’t just mistaken an effeminate man for butch, but it was definitely a girl. ;-D

So, that made me feel a little bit better. Here were more of “my” people, even more “my” people than the lesbians in the front row, and they would understand. Sadly, they were visitors. I hope they come back next week.



[…] damn time. I’m trying to change my thought patterns around it. It’s frustrating to be overlooked by my own people, but that’s not something I can easily […]

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