To The FemmeMobile! Away!

{January 13, 2010}   And speaking of identity…

Okay, actually I wasn’t speaking of identity. But Alphafemme was talking about it, and then there was some gender discussion over at Dear Diaspora and never let it be said I’m not a sheep!

Or something like that.

Besides, I’d been pondering my particular version of femme for a while. It’s come through a lot of heartache, having to un-learn things I learned as a kid, and at some point I’m totally going to yank my epiphany post off my everyday blog, re-write it for public consumption (it’s locked right now) and post it.

But not today.  ;-D

Femme is different for everyone. Let’s just start there. ;-D This is my femme, which is not quite Alphafemme’s femme, or Amazon’s femme, and probably not quite anyone else’s femme, either.

…Weird. Now that I’m here, I’m not sure where to start. It feels utterly strange to talk about what I think of as femme. *laughs* This will probably get re-sorted and re-imaged in my head a million times over throughout the next year, but for now… femme for me. Right.

Hmm. How ’bout those Dolphins? >.>

As a kid, I was a tomboy. I was laughingly referred to as my father’s only son. I still have that tomboy streak in me. I’d rather be outside than inside, I still like to climb trees and go hiking and play with the dogs. I became aware of my ability to draw gazes with how I looked in my late teens, and played with it for a while — mostly with tiny shirts and short shorts. Then I started my own business, and dressed much  more conservatively. It’s only within the last six months to a year that things have changed, and I can go back to dressing however I want.

I have no idea how this relates to my version of femme. I’m, uh, working up to it.

Possibly I lied, and I won’t get there today. Writing, for me, happens with great ease, and for some reason I’m hitting a roadblock here. It’s interesting, to watch my own response to the idea of writing down my version of femme. There’s a fear, there, that people will scoff. It’s the same fear that kept me from identifying as femme for (what felt like, but wasn’t really) a long time.  It’s the same fear that chokes me up when I try to talk about sex personally, as opposed to in the abstract. (Not as bad as that, which is something else I’d like to work on, but same basic feeling.)  (I’m distancing myself a bit here, in the hopes that it’ll relax me and allow the words to flow. *grins*)

Funny, I had an hour long talk with my mom last week about femme and how it relates to me and how I see it, and I didn’t have this problem. But then, she doesn’t know anything about it: I could tell her you’re femme if you like standing on your head, and she wouldn’t know if I was right or wrong. ;-D Which is sort of the crux of the problem: I know there is no “right” or “wrong” femme, and yet I have this fear that I’ll be outed as a pretender.

Femme for me is knowing I can get dressed up, either feminine or striking or highly unusual, and I have the power to make people look. I can lean in and smile, or tip my head in just this way to get just that reaction. It’s a power trip, and I freely admit that.

Femme is loving to be taken care of. I spend my whole life in control; I own my own business, I write novels, I have two dogs and a bird I take care of. When someone steps up and says, “Let me do this, let me help, let me pamper you and show you I care,” I say, “YES PLEASE.” I feel adored and precious and protected, and though I don’t need it, it sure is nice.

A new one for me is that femme might be the part of me that makes grand romantic gestures. Alphafemme talked about baking her lady’s favorite pie, and I thought, “Well, I hate to bake, but I totally get the idea.” It’s spending my afternoon doing something with the focus of pleasing my partner. (I don’t nurture very well, in day to day things, but I do gestures much better. *grins*) I’m not sure yet if this is my femme-self or just myself, but it’s there.

Femme is my warrior. I have such a warrior. When my then-girlfriend, now-friend Dark said that someone had made nasty comments about her at the gym, I didn’t feel the need to comfort her. I felt the need to go rip his balls off. And then get him thrown out of the gym — which I can do with the right smile, sad look, and head tilt. Mwaha. Excuse me while I power trip again.

Femme is hosting. Hosting a party, a gathering, dinner, whatever. As long as I didn’t have to cook dinner. 😀 (Sadly, my place right now is too small to do so. :() That’s about as close as I get to the 50’s wife. Maybe I could be a rich 50’s wife, and the servants can do all the cleaning and cooking and getting of drinks. ;-D

My femme is not everyone else’s femme, and I’m trying to remind myself that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. 😉 (Ironically, the thought that someone else might be wrong just seems silly. *amused*)

What I wonder is, what is other peoples’ version of femme? Either how you feel if you are femme, or what you see as femme? Every time I read things like this from others, I get more insights into myself. Now I’m greedy. ;-D

What do you know? I was able to write about this after all. 😉



Nezuko says:

Sure, JB, start right off with the biggest question you can. *laughs* Let’s see, can I even begin to answer it?

What is femme? Well, it’s something I’m pretty much not. It’s something I think maybe I know on instinct, and have known long before I had a word for it.

I was with a mixed group of queer men and women about a month or so ago, and the topic of lingerie came up. One of the fairly butch men asked what a negligee was, exactly. I tried to answer, because I a) know a lot of words, being a writer; b) know a lot of trivia, being a nerd; and c) theoretically know a lot about costume design, having a degree in theatre production and performance. So I sort of talked around it, but then I looked at Clara, who from outward appearances is not exactly high femme, and said, “But maybe I should let the…” and I trailed off, because I was suddenly aware I might be about to offend her. And she finished for me “…femme answer that?” And laughed. And explained what a negligee was.

In that instance we both had a tacit understanding of what femme is, and which of the two queer women in that conversation (myself and Clara) was the femme, and which was the butch. Neither of us had even mentioned the topic previously. In fact it was one of those little epiphanies for me, recognizing that she identified me as butch, despite my obvious boobs and long hair, and I identified her as femme, based on eyeliner and a few skirts.

Obviously it’s more than that. I identified her as femme because she’s… softer than me. But in a hard core way. Which I realize makes no sense. I mean, I feel the same way about you. You are so very much a dangerous lioness, and in many ways I’m more easily bruised. But I identify you as femme without hesitation. Without even a moment’s thought. And my butch friends and I identify each other, too. It’s an unconscious thing, recognizing the similarities, matching like-to-like. I remember a series of awesome conversations with Dark where we bonded over being the “guys” in our relationships. I feel a spark of kinship with the butch women in my church that passes when we look each other in the eye. A moment of “I know you, and I know you know me.”

What is femme? Certainly some of it is conforming to the conventions of femininity in our culture. Makeup, body-conscious clothing, high-heels. And some of it is the sexual power you talked about, that ability with a flutter of lashes, a tilt of the head, a quiet sigh, to completely own your target. Some of it is the way you use language, the kinds of things you think about. “Softness” keeps being the word that comes to mind, and yet I know it’s wrong. But when I think of the femme women in my church, every one of them as tough as nails, there is a softness there. An almost, to my butch eyes, otherness. The feminine mystique, which I have never understood. Never begun to understand.

Maybe, like light makes sense best in contrast with darkness, femme is only really understandable when paired with its counterpart. Maybe butch defines femme and femme defines butch, so that it’s impossible to know one without examining the other. It’s one of those things about which one says, “I know it when I see it.”

All I know is that femme calls to me. It is mysterious to me. Other to me. Endlessly fascinating to me. You, my dear femme friend, need not fear being called out for being an imposter. You are the genuine article. I know it when I see it, and I see it ever so clearly in you.

(And now, forgive me for writing a longer response than you did an essay *laughs* Ah the perils of having writers for friends, ne?)

Dark says:

So, I just completely missed the memo that you’d started your femmeblog. HOW SPECIAL AM I?

*reads everything at once with glee*

You’ve already heard me talk at length about how I see femme (and butch), mostly along the lines of energy signature. But I think the best succinct definition I ever heard ran something like this:

“Butches are steel outside, and velvet inside. Femmes are velvet outside, and steel inside.”

Kind of ties in with your warrior, huh?

Let’s see…first I should repeat that I do not claim the IDENTITY femme because I don’t do sex roles. I am fem-inine and, though I love butches, I’m also attracted to feminine women. So I don’t require or desire Butch/Femme pairing. On the other hand, because I AM a feminine lesbian, you might assume that I were Femme. Certainly if you wanted to categorize me one way or the other, Femme would be it. Speaking of which, since Nezuko mentioned lingerie, I think a good indicator of your b/f leanings is whether you (would) wear lingerie. I do, therefore I’m definitely not Butch!

I also make a distinction between Butch/Femme sexual identities in the historical sense, and butch/femme as more generalized descriptions or adjectives. For example, me changing the headlight in my car is waaay butch. But I’m not Butch. You see? I have a fairly traditional view of B/F, so I realize that many women who (like me) are NOT into the B/F dyad claim these identities nonetheless.

Butch and Femme only define each other to the extent that male and female do. Female/femininity is often framed as the absence of male/masculinity. YET, without feminine markers such as long hair or delicate jewelry, androgyny defaults to male. Basically, MAN is the benchmark for woman. Which is bullshit. I believe very strongly (in fact, I might get upset if you disagree!) that femininity and female ways of being have unique characteristics, independent of any reference to masculinity and men.

Ok, moving on. I do not believe the power of femininity is necessarily sexual or that sexual power should be the focus of femininity. I believe the power of femininity is better positioned in her emotional strength and intelligence. In a less visible way than the butch, I LOVE the internal juxtaposition of femininity: gentle and sweet, yet strong and enduring; loving yet firm.

JB says:

I like your B/F vs b/f difference there! It makes sense to me, because I’ve heard — and used — the word butch as an adjective, but that doesn’t mean I think that person is the noun, Butch!

Butch and Femme only define each other to the extent that male and female do. Female/femininity is often framed as the absence of male/masculinity. YET, without feminine markers such as long hair or delicate jewelry, androgyny defaults to male. Basically, MAN is the benchmark for woman. Which is bullshit. I believe very strongly (in fact, I might get upset if you disagree!) that femininity and female ways of being have unique characteristics, independent of any reference to masculinity and men.

I think I agree as you do — that there are markers other than ‘not male’ that show femininity, and female should not be defined by male (which, I think, is what you wrapped up with here). For the same reason, though, I don’t feel butch and femme should be identified by each other. In fact, people can often pinpoint butch (in large part, I think, because it’s breaking the social norms), but femme is described as what butch isn’t, or as butch’s counterpart, which rubs me the wrong way. Hence asking around to see what peoples’ version of femme is. ;-D

In a less visible way than the butch, I LOVE the internal juxtaposition of femininity: gentle and sweet, yet strong and enduring; loving yet firm.

Can I just tell you how much I love this statement? It reaffirms for me what, exactly, the juxtaposition in femme is, which I sometimes wonder about. Thank you. 😀


JB says:

Nezu – You called me a dangerous lioness! Excuse me, I need to slink around for a while now. *grins* I think I know what you mean about the softness, and I think Dark hit it on the head with her bit about soft-with-steel-inside; that seems to be what you’re describing. The ‘otherness’ I find interesting, because it’s the lack of otherness that often makes me feel invisible. I’m glad to hear it. ;-D Though I do hope butch and femme don’t have to define each other: that seems… oddly codependant, like male and female needing each to define the other, and I don’t think that’s the case. Maybe we just don’t have the words for it, yet. 😉

Dark – we’ve talked at length about butch energy signature, and how you, as a butch woman, respond when you meet a femme and pick up on that energy signature, but… somehow, I think it’s not quite what I’m asking. I’ll have to give it more thought, maybe narrow down what it is I’m asking. *grins* Maybe a better question is — what IS that energy signature you’re picking up on? What is it that says to you, “this is a femme lady — I’ll respond!”?

I LOVE your quote, though. *grins* I think that might be the best definition I’ve heard.


[…] once said that she couldn’t put her finger on what femme was, but that she knew it when she saw it. […]

[…] (which, uh, I still have problems saying BUT I’M GETTING THERE!). I’ve talked before about how being able to make people look at me is a power trip. What I hadn’t realized was […]

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