To The FemmeMobile! Away!

{October 27, 2009}   Identifying femme

I have a giant essay-y post of doom percolating in my head. And if I say it’s giant, you know there’s trouble. Probably is, it’s sort of scattered all over the place.

Which, granted, not much different than normal. ;-D

But usually I have a vague idea of a plan, and this time… I don’t. Alas, alack, I’m sure we’ll figure it out, right? You’re with me, right?



Awww. ;-D

So, I’ve been reading this book on Femmes called Femmes of Power. It’s a bunch of essays, articles, interviews and the like by various high-powered femmes in the femme and feminist activist worlds. A lot of it is trying to describe who they are and how they feel femme and that sort of stuff. A LOT of it focuses — in part, I think because they’re activists — on how being femme is about deconstructing femininity, reclaiming it as our own rather than as something we do because we’ve been enculturated to do it, and how they queer it.

This, at first, put me off a little. I don’t feel like I do that. Not all the women in the book do that, either, but MOST of them do, and I hear it over and over again in femme stuff. But I really don’t feel like I do that. >.< Then I started looking at myself and patterns in my life a little bit deeper, and I think some things have started to come together.

Many femme women were girly girls. They liked skirts, dresses, make-up, hair styling, etc. I did not. Most of them felt like they had bought into the patriarchal idea that they had to look pretty. I … did not. I was a tomboy, first and foremost. I was eighteen or so before I realized that things other than comic book T-shirts and denim cut-offs existed. (And baseball caps. Don’t forget the baseball caps. :D) So while many of these women talk about having to stop and examine what they were doing and why, I was very aware when I started dressing up in the first place that I was doing it to make people look at me. I didn’t have that need to stop and think about why I was dressing as I was dressing: I sort of skipped that step and went straight to dressing and knowing exactly why I was doing it and owning that power.

Next point. Many of these women talk about using femme clothing as a costume, that it’s not normal style (though sometimes it is), that they’re highly aware of looking not-quite-like-others. I kept thinking I didn’t really have that. I just put on whatever I felt like putting on, and didn’t pay attention to whether it looked like other people or not. I mean, T-shirts and cut offs. πŸ˜‰ Then more typical shorts and belly shirts.

And then I started thinking about my own patterns and realized that was never really true, either. Once I started paying attention to how I dressed, I wanted to stand out. I didn’t look like everyone else, at least not most of the time. When I was younger I remember my older sister looking at me in one of my outfits I’d put together one day, shaking her head, and saying, “It works for you. It wouldn’t work for anyone else, and I don’t know why it works on you, but it does. It’s Jenna-style.” Then she sadly shook her head again, I’m sure despairing of ever having a proper girl for a sister, and walked away.

I was gleeful. *laughs* I didn’t want to look like everyone else. I found hats — other than my baseball caps — and even when I wasn’t really feeling awesome, I wore things like my handkerchief shirts (proper for clubbing, which I wore for the hell of it), my doc martins with anything I wanted, sheer tops over funky clothes — clothes. Things I never really thought about, that weren’t exactly popular, but I liked them. So, I guess I did fit that criteria of clothing as a costume, except that I don’t feel like I’m putting on a costume — I feel like I’m dressing like me. It’s just that me isn’t how everyone else looks.

Over the last few years, while I’ve tried to start a business and look respectable, I’ve been dressing more “normal.” Jeans and plain tank tops (though even those are, uh, tight. And thin. >.>), a lack of hats, normal shoes. Over the last few weeks, though, I’ve been remembering how much I really enjoyed dressing for ME, and I’ve started going back to it — a little more carefully, still trying to look like someone you’d trust your dog with, but right back into my style. And you know what? It’s awesome. It doesn’t even take any thought, really, because it’s ME.

I don’t feel like I’m deconstructing femininity, but I do feel like my style is a little bit queer. I definitely feel like I wear things specifically to own how and when people will look at me, to have that power of attraction. I queer femininity in the same way other lesbian and bi women do, because I’m not dressing for the male gaze — and not to please the male gaze, certainly — but more for a specific female gaze. Also, because it gives me power. I’m not sure I can describe that: think femme fatale, and that’s how it feels.

In this book they also talk about femmes reclaiming and bringing power to the desire to be desired, the need to be needed. The idea that of COURSE we can do it ourselves, in fact we’re totally strong and kick-ass, but we LIKE femininity, like playing up to that idea of queer masculinity, like the old style chivalry without actually needing it. I’m still having problems putting it into words, but I know it when I feel it. >.<

Something else I find interesting is the butch/femme queer thing. When you say a butch is queer, it generally refers to genderqueer. They are inhabiting a masculine energy in a feminine body, ergo their gender is queer.

When they say femmes are queer, it seems more to refer to the idea that we are taking femininity and setting it on its head, taking it back and empowering feminine ideals in equality, enjoying chivalry without allowing the patriarchy, being strong but still feminine. We are queering femininity itself, but we are not genderqueer. Some people say we are genderqueer, but they can’t quite describe why.


A lot of what I’m reading is about making a statement in some way or another, and I don’t feel the need to do that. Though I suppose just by being me, I’m making a statement. But where a lot of these women seem to wake up in the morning and say, “What do I want to tell the world today? How am I going to craft that in my clothes?” I just wake up and go, “Hmmm, what do I feel like wearing?”

I do sometimes feel odd. I mean, here’s all these VERY FEMININE WOMEN… and then me. And thought I have a lot of the same feelings, and what I wear is not exactly the norm style-wise, I’m not always that girly. Today I wore black cargo pants with a white thermal top and an awesome black velvet hat. (I love this hat.) I looked great. πŸ˜€ But not really GIRLY. I mean, I was obviously a girl, and I think I was an awesome looking girl, but it’s not the dresses-and-heels get up a lot of femmes wear, and wouldn’t have been even if I weren’t training dogs today.

There’s another thing that’s helped me with all this, though, just when my perfectionist mind is going, ‘YOU DON’T FIT PERFECTLY, YOU CANNOT BE THIS… UH, THING.’ And that’s DK, because when I’m feeling weirdly boyish among all these girlygirls, DK does awesome little, “OMG THAT IS SO AWESOME,” things that make me feel good about myself, and good about what I’m doing, and still femme and like a girl even though I’m in tomboy clothes. Like I can be me in whatever I’m wearing or doing, and it’s all good and awesome. It reminds me I don’t have to “fit” into the retro-femme. I can break the rules and say, “Yes, I identify as femme, and also I am me.” (This is especially hilarious as most femmes seem pretty relaxed about how you dress or whatnot, even though so many of them really dress up femininely. So why do I need this reassurance? *shrugs* I dunno, but I do. Hopefully someday soon I won’t, and I’ll just enjoy her moments of “!!!” because they’re fun, and not because they tell me I’m okay, still.)

There is a bit I really like about femme stuff. Femme is active, not passive, it is intentional, it is fierce, it is conscious, not unconscious, it is meant to empower, not bend to others’ power. It is reclaiming feminine space, changing what is feminine and bring power to it from the inside out, rather than saying everything feminine is bad because we’re enculturated to do it and kicking it out.

I like that. πŸ˜€ I guess that sort of explains the power I keep referring to…? I dunno.

Now, something about this word, fierce. I’ve heard it a lot in reference to femme, and at first I didn’t really think anything about it. But I hear it A LOT. In fact, I went to a friend’s wedding recently, and Dr. Danny was there. I said to Danny, “I feel like such a wild child, with my shortish, semi-spikey hair and my black, red, and white dress” (among all the girls with long, softly curling hair and pastel colors). He said, “That’s because you’re fierce,” and I didn’t think anything about it at the time, but I’m thinking about it now, and wondering if he knew what he was saying, even though I didn’t. He’s certainly more knowledgeable about all this than I am. *laughs* Also, not all femmes identify as fierce, but I certainly like it. It plays into my warrior side. ;-D So I kind of hope I could be called fierce. That appeals to me. *grins* A lot.

Hmmm. I don’t think I’ve entirely clarified things for myself, so I’ll probably talk about a lot more of this later. Trying to get it clear, settled, where I understand it and how it relates to me, you know? And hopefully I won’t stay up quite so late tonight obsessing on it all. ;-D



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