To the femmes on whom I’ve crushed this past year

If you think I’m not kicking myself for not making a move when I had the chance, you’re wrong.

I wish I made a move. Although really, I wish I had had the capacity to make a move. Explain it through the spoon theory, call it the grieving process, call it heartbreak, call it post-poly trauma and fear—whatever it was, I was not in the place to play, fuck, open myself up, make an offer, make a move, or hell, sometimes even flirt. I wish I had been.

These past eighteen months, there were moments my life continued on without me, me being pulled along behind the autopilot me who somehow managed to eat and sleep (no small feat). Sometimes, I had no idea you, beautiful kick-ass femme, were there, making a move on me, giving me The Eyes, putting yourself out there. Sometimes, three months later I found your email in my inbox and felt puzzled, where’d that come from? Why didn’t I even see that before? Wtf? Sometimes, I got so excited and turned on and pleased to receive an offer from you, and I plotted scripted wrote schemed what I would say back, and by the time I actually went to reply, it’d been too long and the connection felt broken.

Time is wonky in grief, in heartache. I wanted to be in an open poly playful place, and so I think sometimes I came across that way. But in retrospect, I was more shell than soul, more fear than fire. I couldn’t bring myself to our interactions—maybe you didn’t know. I didn’t know, either. Rather than defend myself, I just want to tell you that our moments, whatever we had, were special to me, and let you know that I wished I’d been there with my whole self instead of the half-ghost version you got of me.

To D:

Who took me out on a walk and talked so sweet of flowers and foliage, who held my cheek so gently in your palm before we kissed. Who wrote me a tender-hearted letter that broke my heart a little with kindness. Thank you.

To N:

Who fed me the most amazing wine and cheese and pot and smiles (that way your eyes smoke your lips part velvet you toss your bangs), you nourished me when I was incredibly dark. I’m sorry I didn’t know it better at the time. I still feel I owe you an apology. I still think of your hair falling in my face and on my skin, and how your lips felt when you whispered in my ear. Birds and photographs and more wine, and I hope you found an amazing place in New York to shine your gifts.

To A:

Your legs for miles and the way you move, your laugh and quick wit and ease. We’ve basically co-topped, more than once even, and when you made it clear you wanted to play (I think your text said, “I’d like to suck your cock,” thank you for being direct) I froze. Saw you the next day and neither of us spoke on it. Didn’t even text you back until later. In another context, I would’ve begged for the chance. I still feel like a dunce for that one. I’ve learned so much about poly watching your relationship(s) from a friendly far, and I admire how you play and hold people in such high respect. I can’t wait to see you perform again. The way you move your body … I can’t take my eyes off of you.

To C:

And your curls and handfuls of ass and knee socks and drag act. I still have your dirty story in my inbox and I feel stupid for not writing you back. I hope that wasn’t our only chance to play, because I can fuck better than that. Maybe someday I’ll work up the courage to ask you if I can prove it.

To J:

My beautiful (temporary) canvas, thank you for letting me mark you up, paint bruises and scratches and teeth marks into your gorgeous skin. And thank you for the photos after, they came at a time where it helped to be reminded of my own power, and the ways stunning creatures like you will sometimes allow me to borrow some of yours.

To T:

My fellow judge, the only one who asked me about my pronoun, the one I knew was ‘my people,’ particularly when you dipped your head just a little and then egged me on in writing: “And then what happened?” I barely remember the dirty fairy tale we started to tell, but maybe sometime we’ll get to finish it.

To D:

A kind of femme I almost don’t recognize in writing, but I recognized your markers. I recognized you in person. Your ferocity calls me still. I wish I’d had time energy spoons spunk to write you languid sexy stories you would read over your tea, slitting open the envelope with a dirty knife. I’m intimidated by your politics and youth and clarity. I ache to think of your mouth, my hands on your skin. How will I get another chance? I hope to be more ready when I do.

To L:

And perfect crisp white hotel sheets, and joints in the park, and your lipstick that never came off, and the way your hair looked in curls on the pillow in the mornings, and how much I wanted to stay sequestered with you, and your patience empathy understanding holding, and your gentle fist, and your heart-shaped mouth, and your jeans on the grass by the airport. I got a piece of myself back because of that weekend, a piece I didn’t know I was missing. Watching your hands speak I remembered those words I’ve hidden deep, wondered if you were speaking to those places when you slid inside me. I have already mailed you a dozen little ‘thinking of you’ packages in my mind, but in reality I have had no follow through. (Not just with this. With everything. Unopened mail unpaid bills unorganized paper.) I know you understand grief. Do you also understand how much I am grateful for you taking your time with me? How rare it has been for me to let someone explore those inner canyons? Thank you for being strong enough to offer to hold me, and for letting me return the exploration of your own folded in secrets. I want more of you, want to fist your hair again, bruise your knees against the floor, hold you down. Want to kiss your ankles and make an offering on my knees, though nothing really compares to what you gave me when you plucked me out of my chest and handed me back to myself. Thank you.

And to you:

You who attended my workshop in Noho or DC or Seattle or Chicago. I noticed your eyes, the way you bit your lip, how you looked me up and down, how you checked out my package, how you waited your turn and didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to say either. There is often a performer/audience teacher/student power dynamic I try not to exploit (unless, you know, I have permission). But let me be clear here, now: I noticed you. Fuck, I wanted you. My mouth watered at that glimpse of your skin. Maybe I was particularly worked up that night before I even arrived, but more than once I didn’t wait to get back to my hotel before remembering your mouth and twinkle and just-barely-too-long of a glance, and I got myself off. Coming with a grunt and a sigh in a stalled bathroom, keeping someone waiting, licking off my fingers and thinking of your lips.

At another time, in a different year when I was not so lost, I would have tried to ask, to flirt, to be bold, to make it clear I was game if you were, to have boundaries, to ask for yours, to try things, to write you back, to be curious, to connect, to feel our hearts beat together (if only temporarily). I may have missed my chance, but I still want you to know that I think you’re extraordinary, and whoever did get the chance to feel your fingertips roam, to taste your skin shined with sweat, to read the book of your scars, to hear your breathing shallow and release, to be anchored down by your weight, was lucky. I barely know you, but it seems clear to me that you are luminous.

Free download of Visible: A Femmethology Volume Two

femmethology

Have you read Visible: A Femmethology? No? It’s your lucky fucken day, because Volume 2 is available for Kindle download for FREE from today until the 21st.

(Also: Don’t own a Kindle? No problem! This book can be read with the Free Kindle Reader App for your Web Browser, PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, or Android Phone.)

It’s true! Homofactus Press sent out the news on their mailing list, and included a little bit about why:

“Please help us push the book to the top of Amazon’s lists. We are a micropublishing company and rely on you to spread the word about our work. Please forward this newsletter to two friends – just two – you know will want to download Visible: A Femmethology, Volume Two for free. And ask those two friends to forward it to two of their friends, and so on.”

I’d say it could be more than two, it doesn’t have to be just two. But either way, download and enjoy!

Visible: A Femmethology Volume Two includes my piece, A Love Letter to Femmes, and many other beautiful essays, praise, and thoughts about femme identity. But that’s not why I’m telling you about it—I’m telling you because it’s a great book and there aren’t that many recent publications out there on femme identity.

The Femme Conference in Photos


Kristen’s Friday Femme Conference outfit


Jessica Halem hosts FemmeSpeak, the spoken word night


Fran Fucking Varian reads at FemmeSpeak


my outfit for Saturday


Kristen + Liz from Rhino Girl Media + B


Maggie (of the Femme Show) & Dora, both organizers with MadFemmePride in Boston


Shilo McCabe’s hanky flowers for flagging at the vendor room


flyers for Summer Camp at the femme conference play party, featuring artwork by rife


Bulldagger caucus, organized by Sasha T. Goldberg


butch butts after post-bulldagger meetup coffee


Kristen + Jessica Halem in lace at the FemmeWerq performance night


wait, how’d that photo get in here? our hotel bed was comfortable …

See You At the Femme Conference

So I got my hair cut at Tomcats, Kristen painted her nails with black-white-and-blue stripes and a red heart (wonder what that means?) on her fourth finger, the car is full of gas, I’ve perused the schedule, I’ve got a list of folks I want to make sure to connect with, the catsitter is booked—I think this might mean I’m ready for the Femme Conference tomorrow.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals in attending, or my purpose in going. I’m not presenting anything, not doing any official workshops or meetups or events near the conference. So aside from going with the intention of having fun (which I definitely am), and supporting my femme girlfriend by both showing up, participating, and learning things about identity (which I am eager to do), what do I want to get out of it?

I adore identity theory. I love the way we construct ourselves. I love these labels, despite the fact that labels seem oh-so-gauche right now. I love the history of butch and femme (and butch/femme) and I love how the queer communities are exploding gender in all 360* directions right now.

The first Femme Conference I went to in 2008 was themed “the architecture of identity” and I wrote up just about everything I learned about that when I got back. I am still so curious about what constructs femme identity. Earlier this year, in New York, as preparation for the Femme Conference, there was a femme event here called Beyond Visibility, and I am really curious about that, too—about what femme identity issues there are beyond the ever constant issue of being recognized and visually categorized as queer.

I’ve written On Femme Invisibility & Femme Invisibility & Beyond—I don’t want to give the impression I’m not sympathetic to that issue, I get that it is a huge hurdle. And I also know, from femmes in my own life who have been exploring femme identity for a while, that they get bored with that issue and want to move on.

So what are the other issues around femme identity? What is beyond visibility? What else gets discussed at a Femme Conference, anyway? I know plenty of that stuff isn’t exactly for me, as an ally and someone not femme identified, but as someone who loves the construction of identity and how these identities in particular work in this current culture in this current era, what else is going on?

I suspect the Mean Girls topic is a big one, considering some of the conversations I’ve had leading up to the conference. I know there are some topics like cultural and racial diversity, sex positivity, and parenting that have come up, but those seem fairly universal and not necessarily femme specific—then again, what is the take on those through a femme lens? I’m sure there will be many, many other interesting things. I have been kicking around a theory about the connection between masculine privilege and femme invisibility, maybe I can see if I can hash that out any further. Autostraddle has a great write up today called Beyond Lipstick that I want to read over again and think through. And I’m sure there will be dozens more things to ponder and chew on, once I get there.

My goal is to have fun, first and foremost. To support my girlfriend. To connect with the people that I know and adore and don’t get to see very often. To hopefully attend some good sessions and have some good conversations, to meet some new folks with interesting things to say. And to continue being curious about identity building theory in general, and about femme identity construction in particular; I’ll do my best to take copious notes and write up some thoughts about what happened and what I learned when I get back. (You can always follow my twitter feed @mrsexsmith to hear my immediate thoughts.)

And, oh yeah: to appreciate the brilliant firecracker amazingness that is femmes.

See you at the Femme Conference!

Are You “Femme Enough” For the Femme Conference?

I’m in Chicago this week, I return back to New York City tomorrow, and I keep talking up the Femme Conference that is coming up in Baltimore in just a couple of weeks—August 17-19.

I’m not sure why it keeps coming up—maybe because it was an all-femme lineup at the Dirty Queer Sex Tour: Chicago Say Please reading last night, and so all three of the femmes who read with me came out with their various friends and posses last night? Maybe because the friends I have here are primarily femmes, so naturally the conversation rolls around to femme identity? Maybe because I think these folks are cool and I am curious if I’m going to run into them again at the Femme Conference? Or maybe because my only experience of attending the Femme Conference, until this one upcoming that is, was the 2006 Femme Conference which was held in Chicago?

Whatever the reason, it keeps coming up.

And while some folks are well aware of it and (usually) have strong reactions to it, either “Hell yes! See you there!” or “No, uh uh, absolutely not,” there seems to be an even bigger group of folks in the middle who are obviously intrigued by the idea of attending, but are skeptical.

“I don’t know,” they say, hesitating, but sparkling a little bit at the mention of an entire conference devoted to this complex femme identity. “I mean, would I fit in there? Is it going to be a big judge-fest? Would they even recognize me as femme?”

These questions are so common. I mean, I remember hearing some of that around the BUTCH Voices conferences too, but the fear around one’s identity being policed didn’t feel quite so … panicked.

I think the bottom line is that it’s incredibly complicated to occupy a socially-recognized identity like butch or femme, because while we have stereotypical versions of what those things “should” look like in our minds, we don’t necessarily have the complex deconstructions (and reconstructions) necessary to be able to see that person as butch or femme and all their other pieces of self too. Or, if the person doesn’t quite look like the stereotype, we don’t recognize them as “legitimate.” These queer cultures still see someone, recognizes them as butch or femme or neither, and draws all sorts of conclusions based on that.

People are probably always going to do this. I don’t mean that in an I-give-up kind of way, just in a this-is-probably-true-and-I-will-have-less-strife-in-my-life-if-I-accept-that kind of way.

And y’know, fuck that. I mean, I completely understand that that is a challenge and hard and sometimes makes me return home defeated after a night and just kinda cry and whine for a while, I also think part of the work of having these identities is recognizing that we are trying to rise them above stereotypes, and that the cultures we’re in still largely use big fat markers to draw pictures of these identities, not slim exact-shaded pencils. And part of our work, I believe, part of the work of occupying these identities, is uncoupling them from the heteronormative gender roles, and making them big enough and accessible to anyone who feels a resonance with them. They can be liberational, and the benefits of identifying with a gender lineage, a gender heritage, feels so important to me, putting me in a historical context with people who came before me, so I feel less alone in my forging forward. I’m not doing it exactly as they did it, I’m doing it my own way and in the context of my own communities and time and culture, but I am able to remake it and make more room for freedom and consciousness and liberation within it because I am on their shoulders, using the tools they left for me—us—to pick up.

That is all to say, you are femme enough to attend the femme conference. Or, you know, if you don’t identify as femme but you have some interest in learning more about femme identity and being around femmes and folks who are puzzling through femme identity, you can come too.

I’m not going to promise that nobody is going to give you shit about your identity, about being femme enough, about whether or not you belong there, or about what you wear (because as much as I’d like to say it’s not true, there is a particular focus on aesthetics in femme communities). I don’t know if they will or not. But I’ll also say this: By the end of the conference, you probably will not care as much.

That, more than anything else, has been such a key piece of learning around these identity conferences, the Femme Conference and BUTCH Voices.

And I’ll be honest with you: there will probably be drama. There almost always is at small, incestuous community conferences, and this is definitely one of those. There are not that many people who self-identify as femme. There are not that many people who date and are into and fall in love with and are fascinated by people who identify as femme. There will probably be people there that I don’t want to run into. There will probably be people there who have particularly bad opinions of me, even. I don’t anticipate that being easy. But I care more about the philosophies of this identity, the many folks in my life who identify this way now, and the forward movement of radical genders in this era than I do about being worried that someone will talk shit. I’m bored with that. I’m sick of letting that affect what public spaces I’m involved in.

I submitted a workshop proposal to the Femme Conference—so did Kristen. Neither of us were accepted. I could let my mind roam and draw conclusions about why, but who knows what the actual reasons were. I chose instead to brush it off as not fitting with the conference, for whatever reasons, and I’m still planning to go and have a great time. So many amazing people I know are planning to be in attendance, so many more than I knew when I attended in 2008 (can’t believe it was that long ago!), and I am so looking forward to seeking out the ones that I think have amazing philosophies, meeting new folks, talking about new ideas, and enhancing the ideas I’m already chewing on.

I don’t really know how to explain all of that to people who say, “Would I fit in there? Am I femme enough?” Maybe you would feel like you found your people. Maybe you would be super excited to be around all of the talking about femme identity, but only really connect with one or two other people. Just because we’re all talking about femmes doesn’t mean we’ll get along! But maybe you’ll find a sense of self, in between all of that, that you didn’t know you were seeking, that missing piece that caused you to ask would I fit in there in the first place. And maybe, after attending the conference, you wouldn’t ask that again, because somewhere, deep down, in a soothed and solid place, you’d know.

Registration is still open: The Femme Conference happens August 17-19 in Baltimore, MD.

Open Thread: Empowering Femme Sources Needed

Here’s another question from the Ask Me Anything inbox, and I hope y’all might be able to help me out.

Dear Mr. Sexsmith,

As a new Femme, your blog has been VERY helpful. I am frustrated by, although I completely understand, the focus on femme invisibility. While it’s absolutely true, I need a more empowering story for myself.

As I spend more time with butches and listen to Ivan Coyote’s “To all the kick ass, beautiful, fierce femmes out there,” I have begun to think of femmes as modern day Robin Hoods. We femmes take power (given freely) from those who have it and help to redistribute it to those who have been denied it … sometimes by changing the way the world sees queer, sometimes by simply being changing/challenging how the world sees the person we are with, always by being purposeful about the way we see ourselves and how we accept and carry and use the power and privileges that are granted to us as we walk in, between, and among worlds.

Are there other empowering femme stories out there that I should know about?

—Kim

I humbly submit my own piece, A Love Letter To Femmes, to possibly add to your arsenal, which was published in Visible: A Femmethology Volume II.

I thought I published the whole thing on Sugarbutch but can’t seem to find it; if you follow this link you can download the mp3 of me reading it (thanks Dacia for recording it all those years ago, remember that?).

There are many femme books that I recommend, mostly ones that I have in my Amazon a-store, the classics of the femme canon. Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, A Persistent Desire, Brazen Femmes, Femmes of Power, Visible: A Femmethology Volumes I & II, The Femme’s Guide to the Universe, The Femme’s Mystique (that I mentioned in that Femme Invisibility & Beyond post) and more I’m sure.

I’d love some help here: What femme sources do y’all recommend? What was instrumental in coming to your femme identity or feeling a part of the femme world? What was part of your femme history? What should every new femme read?

Femme Invisibility & Beyond

I’m still receiving questions in the Ask Me Anything form; most of the time I am turning them into pieces for my advice column over on SexIs Magazine, but sometimes they are things I’d rather tackle here at Sugarbutch. So here’s one of those.

As a very feminine femme, I pass for straight more often than not, and I’d like to know your thoughts on femme invisibility, and why every time I smile/greet/nod at butches I am largely ignored. Even when I am out with my (butch) lover, a polite nod of recognition, or “Nice tie …” coming from me is not acknowledged. What gives?

—Sweets

Oh, femme invisibility. This is a big, constant topic, and I have lots of thoughts about it. Probably mostly I’ll say the same things that I said in 2009 when I wrote this piece, “On Femme Invisibility,”, but I have a few new things to say, too.

Femme Invisibility Is Real

Femme invisibility is a real thing. It happens all the time. Queer women who are feminine get seen as straight—by straight folks, other queer folks, and sometimes even queer femmes themselves—because this culture expects dykes to reject gender roles automatically when rejecting a heterosexual orientation. As if those two things go together inseparably.

For many people, they do go together. But for other folks, they do not.

Assuming that they do go together—that a rejection of heterosexuality also includes a rejection of masculine/feminine culturally-defined gender roles—assumes that the only purpose of those gender roles is for heterosexual gain (attraction, stimulation, and reinforcing patriarchal dominance). One of the things I particularly love about the butch/femme dynamic is that it disproves this. It fractures the concepts of “gender roles” into multiple things, including archetypes and perhaps some sort of “inner gender” (a concept trans theories have been flirting with, but I haven’t seen articulated perfectly, yet). Meaning: yes, these gender roles are societally dictated, but they are also more than that, bigger than that, and if we can strip down the societal restrictions that keep us oppressed and marginalized and compartmentalized (for example, break our identity alignment assumptions and separate gender roles from our hobbies, interests, and personality traits), we can come to some understanding that gender is fun and more than just a way to keep wives subordinate to husbands or to keep men in power (over, among other things, the awe-inspiring phenomenon that is women’s ability to bear children).

Masculinity, femininity, genderqueerness, or any sort of gender presentation is not inherent to a sexual identity. Femininity is not just for straight women. We’ve accepted that masculinity is for dykes and femininity is for fags because, well, this culture is homophobic and sexist, and we assume that a rejection of heterosexuality is also a rejection of gender roles. But many combinations of gender and sexuality exist—probably more than I could even name, probably more than I comprehend. (This is one of the reasons why, when people look at a guy who is even slightly feminine and declare him a closet fag, I think: that’s sexist. He certainly might be a closet fag, but there are also many straight men who have feminine gender performances, and that does not mean he’s gay. Ditto for slightly masculine women—I mean, how many of us have said, how many dozens of times, that Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica must be gay? But why is that? Well, it’s because she has some swagger, never because she has displayed any sexual or romantic interest toward other women.)

Stop Arguing With Reality & Find Some Radical Acceptance

This culture tells us all these things, and this culture is wrong. It is not correct that feminine dykes are really straight girls. It just isn’t. In fact, it’s rooted in sexism and homophobia, and a little bit ignorant.

But also? It’s just real. It’s not right, and I channel all sorts of righteous indignation when I come across something that is just wrong and nobody seems to get, so I’m not trying to discount that it sucks. But if you expect it to be another way, you are simply arguing with reality, and you can (and, dare I say, should!) do some radical acceptance around this issue. That doesn’t mean you just passively accept that this is how things are and move on, it can certainly mean that you do your own work to make this issue less painful for the many people involved.

But it’s just true. In this culture, physical markers of queerness are accepted as certain things (like short hair, baggy androgynous or slightly masculine clothes, comfortable shoes—i.e., not femininity). Your struggle to be accepted as a queer person by visual sight alone is probably going to continue, as long as the culture continues to have those same queer markers.

Since Your Queer Identity Isn’t Portrayed Visually, You Have To Portray It In Other Ways

Since many femmes don’t have those same visual queer markers, since your identity isn’t constructed in a way that portrays your sexuality (according to the culture) visually, you will have to find other ways to construct and communicate your queer identity.

I don’t know how, exactly. Seems like many femmes do this in different ways. After the 2008 Femme Conference, which was called The Architecture of Identity, I compiled my notes and identified a few different ways of constructing identity, such as in contrast to butch, in community, through language, through fashion and style, and through theory, and I think those still hold true.

Language is a big one for me. I would much prefer to befriend and sleep with someone who doesn’t “look gay” but who can talk about queer history, culture, or theory to someone who you would visually peg as a dyke immediately but doesn’t have any context for her identity any day.

There’s constant talk about making some sort of universal femme marker—a tattoo, or a hanky flower, or some way that the pin-up look is queered so that everybody knows it’s not heterosexual, but as far as I can tell, there’s almost no way to universalize one singular symbol. At least, not yet.

And I’m not sure we really need one (though I’m not the one going through the struggles of this, I recognize). Because, let’s be honest: I see femmes everywhere. Whatever you’re doing with your visual markers, it’s working, when you know how to look.

Lots of People See You!

At the Femme Conference in 2008, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha said in her keynote address, “Femme invisibility is bullshit. You just don’t know how to look.”

Don’t forget: Lots of people see you. I feel like I can spot a femme on a crowded subway car even when there are three dozen people between us. It’s not just that she gives me an extra-long stare and big smile (though that happens, sometimes), but it’s also something energetically, something I can’t quite even put my finger on, that says to me, “Whoa, there is something special about her.”

There are lots of femmes out there. There are lots of butches and genderqueer folks and trans folks and other masculine of center identified people and femmes who love to date femmes, and who see the one femme in the dyke bar not as a straight impostor, but as our crush for the evening, our next girlfriend, our fantasy.

It is a real problem. And I know it causes mass frustration. But there are many people who get it, and who don’t question a femme’s identity as queer. And there are big movements adding on to the many, many conversations about femme invisibility that are already out there.

Know Your Femme History

Read up. Read blogs, read books. I suggest, to start: Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, A Persistent Desire, Brazen Femmes, Femmes of Power, Visible: A Femmethology Volumes I & II, The Femme’s Guide to the Universe, The Femme’s Mystique … and oh probably two dozen others. Take strength and pleasure from knowing others have come before you, and have struggled too: that you are not the only one who has had difficulties with this.

Find some femme friends. Seek out femme community. There is tons of this happening online these days, for example, so even if you live somewhere kinda small or in a city that doesn’t particularly value the butch/femme dynamic, you can still talk to people about this.

If you don’t have a big community in your city, travel. No seriously, I mean that. Come to New York City. And for fuck’s sake, attend the Femme Conference in Baltimore this August. This is exactly what a femme conference is for: to make friends, to come together, to give voice to the common struggles and to start seeing our own experiences as valid and real.

This Is Your Struggle, But Remember: It’s Not Your Problem. It’s Theirs

Just as the main conflict in a butch’s identity—in my opinion—is sexism, misogyny, and masculine privilege (yes, I just said that), this is one of the main conflicts in a femme identity (others big things, from my perspective, being the mean girls thing, and escaping the beauty myth).

But if you really know and understand why other queers don’t see you, and why you pass as straight, and how to start constructing your identity in ways that aren’t reliant upon physical markers, you may just start to realize that it isn’t your problem. It isn’t something you are or aren’t doing right or wrong. It isn’t that if you just tried a little harder, smiled a little bigger, wore a different dress, that you would be recognize and validated as queer. It’s a cultural problem, a problem in our queer communities that is replicating gender norms and assumptions from the larger culture. It isn’t your fault, and it isn’t your problem. It’s theirs.

If someone doesn’t accept that you’re queer when you are a) in a queer space, b) with a visibly queer partner, or c) telling them that you are queer, well, then, fuck them, or rather don’t, because they don’t deserve to keep talking to you. Find somebody who does accept your combination of femininity and queerness. And keep working, yourself, on the reconciliation and supposed cultural conflict between the two.

Because that is your struggle.

How are you going to deal with it? How are you going to own your history, understand the sexist, misogynistic ways that this culture sees femininity, and overcome? How are you going to reconcile that not every visible queer you see will see you? How are you going to learn to communicate with a look and a smile, which, six times out of ten, might work? How are you going to articulate your own identity to others when they question it? What are the words you are going to say? How are you going to build a group of people around you that you know you can turn to when all you want to do is go, “ARGHHHHH!” and be angry that the world doesn’t see you as queer enough? How are you going to help build your femme friends up when they go through this? What can butches do (aside from learn how to recognize you, I know that’s a big one) to support you? How will we all reassure each other? What can we learn, here? What alliances can we make?

And perhaps most importantly, how can we move beyond this?

Strive to Move Us Beyond Visibility

There is more to femme identity than being visible. There is nurturance and caretaking, there is internalized homophobia, there is the mean girls complex that pits femmes against each other, there is the pervasive understanding that femme is nothing more than lipstick and heels (um, wrong!), there is some sort of hierarchy in the femme world as indicated simply by the still widespread use of the phrase “high femme,” there is the identity alignment assumption that all femmes are submissive bottoms and whoa is that incorrect, there is transmisogyny and the still troubled dialogue between cis and trans queer women, there is racism, there is a classist element that says that femmes have to or should buy their gender, there are dozens of other gender stereotypes that still pressure femmes to drink girly drinks and be homemakers and bear the children and stay at home and bake cookies, and oh there are probably two dozen other things I could list if I kept going.

There is more to femme identity than visibility. In fact, today in New York City there is a big day-long event going on right now called Beyond Visibility: Illuminating and Aligning Femmes in NYC, featuring a skillshare, roundtable discussion, and caucuses, all of which are femme-only, and then later an ally-invited reading and dance party (and you bet your beatle boots I will be attending that).

Being and becoming visible as a queer femme is a real thing that, it seems to me, almost all femmes struggle with. But as I’ve known more and more femmes for more and more years, I’m also starting to see that many femmes don’t struggle with it after years of working on it. Many have some radical acceptance and some understandings of how the queer world works, and are working on fighting other things.

Tara Hardy, one of my major mentors and a queer femme poet, has this line in one of her pieces: “I no longer get sad if they ask me at the door if I know it’s dyke night: I get mad. I mean, how much pussy do I have to eat before you let me in the club?” It’s a subtle shift, perhaps, from sad to mad, but it matters. It is the shift from internalizing the culture’s sexist bullshit to fighting back against it.

How do we overcome this issue and begin to elevate the discussion? I don’t know, but I’m curious to do that. And it seems that we, as a community, are beginning to, if only by the title of today’s event. I’m really excited for the Femme Conference in Baltimore this year, I think and hope that will continue to elevate the discussion.

Last, But Not Least

Also, let me say: I’m sorry. I’m sorry you are not acknowledged by the butches you are reaching out to, making bids that go unseen or unacknowledged. I don’t know why you are largely ignored. Could be many things: many butches are kind of used to straight girls hitting on us and using us for attention, and if you are being misread as straight, these butches could be resisting that. Perhaps when you’re out with your butch girlfriend and attempting to be acknowledged, they see you with your partner and don’t want to step on any toes or get into some sort of “hey man, you looking at my girl?” confrontation. It seems unlikely, but it’s possible. Maybe they fear that acknowledgment of your “nice tie” or big smile would be seen as flirting (I don’t think that would be a bad thing, but other people seem to).

Maybe they are just in their own world and just aren’t registering their surroundings. I mean, I’ve had friends of mine show up on a subway platform and try to get my attention while I was commuting, and I just had all my surroundings blocked out until they were literally waving a hand in my face. If you’re doing this in a big city, they could just be in their own world and not very observant.

I don’t know why, exactly. That’s kind of just the way it is, I think. For all those reasons I yammered on about above. That’s not okay and it’s not right, and I’m doing my own part to encourage femme visibility and work on our sexism in queer communities.

Butches, transmasculine folks, genderqueers, and all you other visible queers out there: listen the fuck up: LEARN TO RECOGNIZE FEMMES, even if you don’t date them, because they recognize you.

It’s the least we can do.

What is even DISCUSSED at a “femme conference”?

I caught sight that the 2012 Femme Conference dates and location have been announced—it’ll be in Baltimore, MD, August 17-19, 2012. I’m looking forward to attending and I think I can make it, at least for now I don’t have anything scheduled, so I’m adding it to the calendar. I haven’t been since 2008 so it’s time to go again.

The Femme Conference “provides a weekend by, for, and about queer femme-identified people and our allies. Every other year the Femme Collective co-creates a femme-centered space and brings you workshops, brilliant keynotes, glittering performances, resource sharing, community building and much more. Our 2012 event aims to explore how we grow, build, nurture, and align the many pieces of our communities and identities while building femme community and power,” according to femmeconference.com, which has (or will have) more details on the conference going forward.

I first saw this announced on the fuckyeahfemmes tumblr, which is brilliant in case you don’t follow it, and of course in true Tumblr style, some ignorant commentary got quickly added to the thread. Fuckyeahfemmes alerted me to that as well.

The original post:

“… really? is this an actual thing? what is even DISCUSSED at a “femme conference”…? how to continue reinforcing stereotypes and relegating people to specific, pre-determined categories based on SUPER out-dated notions on what it means to be a gay woman? laaaame.” —juliaperchance

And Fuckyeahfemmes wrote back:

Probably anyone who would attend a femme conference wouldn’t feel that they were “relegated” to that category, they would self-identify as femme (asserting their own sense of agency around their sexuality and gender identity) and they would probably want to discuss issues such as stereotypes about queerness and femininity, thus proving that “femme” is something that is constantly being redefined and redetermined, not something that is simply forced upon them. Not everyone who identifies as femme is gay or a woman either. The fact that people have such negative associations with femme identification, (even and especially within the queer community) is the reason that this annual event happens- providing a space to think through such issues in a non-threatening environment.

And of course lots of other folks on tumblr jumped in as well, including myself. I wrote back:

What is discussed? Femme invisibilitycreating femme identity in radical & responsible ways, community, queer markers …and tons of other stuff.

And by the way, femme identity is not “outdated.” There are thousands of people creating and re-creating femininity in queer contexts which are liberating and celebratory, not full of restriction or judgement, and which are created for the person to feel good in their body and with their gender expression. To lump femme identity in with some notion of the binary gender roles reproduced on “gay women” is to seriously miss the gender revolution that is happening right now.

Ohbettinadear responded:

yikes. it’s so seriously sad to me that some queer women don’t undertand that no one is asking them to identify as femme. but me? i AM femme. i know it in my bones. so please don’t be so myopic to assume that this is an outdated notion, because femme, to me, feels right. i’m so glad this conference exists, so that we CAN play with and celebrate that identity, so that we CAN recognize each other in the absence of a heteronormative lens.

and stefi-leekx.tumblr wrote:

I’m so sick of anti-femme bullshit. Shaming women for stuff like this is fucking counterproductive. Also “lame”? Nice ableism there.

I am really sick of anti-femme bullshit too, though my response is more “ugh, sigh,” than “omg !#$(@!&*.” It’s clear that most people really just do not understand how femme identity can be radical. It’s also clear that a lot of feminine-of-center queer women (and people who don’t identify as women, but very commonly women, I think) end up with a lot of flack, baggage, and bullshit around their femininity and the ways that this culture commodifies, consumes, degrades, and devalues women, queer women, femininity, and femme. And it’s even more potent when they are all in combination.

The ableist bullshit came to my mind, too. “Lame” is a loaded word, let’s remove that from our vocabulary as much as we can, like “retarded” and “gay” (as a derogatory slur, I mean).

Clearly, there are a lot of people out there who understand, embrace, and celebrate the need for a femme conference. It still surprises me to come upon folks who don’t get it, who reduce it to “makeup and dresses,” who devalue femininity. (Sidenote: read Whipping Girl, folks who don’t understand why this is femme-phobic. And anyone who cares about femmes. And everyone else.)

But let’s also not let comments like juliaperchance’s keep us away from answering equally important questions, like this one from cybercarnet:

I’ve been wanting to go to the femme conference for a long time, but I’m worried I will just feel inadequate the whole time, not “femme” enough. Have any of you gone? Is there a lot of femme policing? Like, for example, I think makeup looks great and all, but unless I’m dressing up for a costume party, I never wear makeup. I hate wearing makeup. I rarely have the spoons to get all dolled up anymore. How is the disability and fat-positive representation here?

I have so many questions! If I’m going to fly across the country and spent beaucoup bucks, I need to know I’m not going to feel like shit the whole time, you know?

First: YOU ARE FEMME ENOUGH. If you feel aligned with this identity in any way, even if it is a complicated issue for you, you belong there. You don’t have to be a sing-it-from-the-rooftops femme to attend. You can go and be reluctant, and curious about what this building community might have to offer for your own understanding of your place in this world and your own gender identity.

I didn’t go in 2010, but my answer is: GO. There is space for disability and fat-positive representation. Even if it isn’t executed the best possible way it should (and what is), it is there, and people are trying. I have known some of the folks who have been on the Femme Conference board in the past and they are great. I support not wearing makeup if that’s what you like (and/or do because it is better for you). There is not a lot of femme policing, in my experience (and from what I’ve heard from femmes, too). Other folks want to weigh in on this? Have you been to a Femme Conference? Would you recommend it to this person?

Last but not least, as long as I’m on a femme+tumblr kick, let me present you with this little piece I found from delisubthefemmecub, a trans femme boy, who has this to say about femme, and I think perfectly illustrates why we need this conference, why we need to do this work, and why I love femmes:

For me, femme is about healing

it is about the rituals of adornment that I use to calm my anxiety, and quell my tears after days where transphobia slips under my skin like stubborn splinters

it is about reaching across time, bridging the distance between the man I am and the girl I was.

it is about finding that girl in the recesses of my heart, holding him in my arms, and saying “it will be okay, we made it out alive.”

it is about finding a way to be a boy that doesn’t hurt.

it is about nurturing all the femme parts of myself that I suffocated, just so the boy part of myself might be visible to other people.

For me, femme is about resistance

it is about refusing to believe that there is a right way to be a man

it is about glitter armor and gestural fierceness coating my spirit so that I might just be strong enough to survive

it is about reclaiming and flaunting all of the parts of my femininity that have been used to say that the sexual assaults were my fault

For me, femme is about healing, resistance, survival.

Somedays, femme is all I have.

Thank you delisubthefemmecub. Finding ways to be us, in whatever gender we are, whatever part of the gender galaxy, without being hurt by it, is one of the biggest missions and purposes behind this work that I do. I think it’s possible, and I want us each to do our own exploration and our own discovery, and be uniquely ourselves in whatever ways help us heal, resist, and survive.

Ask Me Anything: Coming Out at Work

From the Ask Me Anything questions from Sugarbutch’s 4th anniversary:

I’m completely femme and work in a very straight environment. A few of my co-workers know that I’m gay, but I haven’t come out to all of them, and I’ve been at this work place for a year. I don’t usually hide my sexuality, but it’s been extremely hard for me to relax at this workplace. I hate that, and my partner is somewhat hurt that I haven’t been open about it and talked about her. I want to be able to do so, and I want to be strong in myself and come out with it. Any ideas on how to do it? The longer I wait the more awkward it is.—Tuesday, from tuesdayateleven.blogspot.com

It’s been months since you wrote this, so this might be an outdated question at this point—have you changed things? Did you start slipping your partner into conversation more frequently? Did you out-right come out? Did you let it leak to the office gossip?

Telling your co-workers things about your personal life can be tricky, especially since you’ve already been there for a year and you still haven’t said anything, because now, when the reveal happens, it will seem out of place. So how do you start bridging this gap between yourself and your co-workers, such that you can reveal more personal things? Maybe it’s time to have a happy hour after work, or host a weekend event, if you’re comfortable doing those things. Maybe it’s time to invite someone out to lunch and open up a little about your lives.

You don’t have to start with, “By the way, I’m gay,” you might want to start with the more impersonal. In The Art of Civilized Conversation, Margaret Shepherd says that conversations start with facts, then to opinions, then on to feelings. There are a lot of facts you can gather about each other that I bet you don’t have, if you’ve avoided any discussion of your partner so far. Where do you live? Where did you go to school? Where did you grow up? What’s your family like? Why did you move to where you are now? What do you do in your spare time, what are your hobbies?

I think it’s also in that book that she says the way people deepen with each other is to start revealing little things about themselves in the conversation, and then guaging the reaction of the other to see if it’s safe to continue revealing.

My mom always used to say, “Find common ground, then elevate the discussion.” See if finding some common ground about other topics makes you feel more comfortable talking about more personal things. Ask questions of them, too—as you find out more about them, you might feel more safe revealing things about yourself.

I kind of hate to say this, so I’ll tack it on at the end here, but it also could be that you are dealing with a little bit of internalized sexism, and some complicated feelings about your own femme in/visibility. I don’t know you, so this could be happening a teeny tiny bit or a ton or not at all, but I figured it’s worth throwing out there because I spent the last few paragraphs on one direction, but it might not have anything to do with that. You might be a very open, revealing person in the workplace, but have this particular snag when it comes to your own sexual orientation visibility. That’s a complicated thing to work with, as a femme who can, if she chooses, “pass” for a straight girl in the larger hetero world. There are many ways that femmes construct identity which are not strictly through visual markers, however, and articulating that identity—namely through speech and communication—is a big one. It might be a hurdle to examine and investigate in yourself a little more.

What say you all? Do you have more advice for this person in coming out at work? Are you out at work?

Femme Conference Begins Today! & Countdown to the Butch Voices Conferences

It’s happening right now! Well not quite right now, since it’s earlier in New York City than it is over in Oakland, on the other coast where the sun sets over the water just like it’s supposed to.

The 2010 Femme Conference: No Restrictions begins today and an extravagance of femmes have gathered, including Kristen.

The hashtag for the conference is #femme2010 if you’d like to follow along on Twitter.

How do you like that collective noun, by the way? An extravagance of femmes? Not bad really. There’s a fascinating collective noun site connected to Twitter so that when you tweet your suggestion for the collective noun with the hashtag #collectivenoun it gets automatically updated and counted on the site. Plus, you can “like” other people’s suggestions (which also goes to Twitter). So what say you—what’s the best collective noun for femmes? Tweet it, or leave it in the comments. And check them out as they come in.

Okay, enough of that. You’re dying to know what the femme book is for today, right? Since we’ve got the Butch Voices regional conferences to count down to now, in NYC (September 25), Portland OR (October 1-3), and LA (October 8-10), I figured I’d do a butch/femme joint anthology.

There are other good femme books out there, though, don’t let me mislead you into thinking that Visible: A Femmethology, Femmes of Power, and The Femme Mystique are the only ones. There’s also:

And there’s Glamour Girls: Femme/femme Erotica by Rachel Kramer Bussel (Harrington Park Press; 2006) and With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn by Amber Dawn and Trish Kelly if you’re into erotica. Which, you know, you might be.

So now that I’ve recited pretty much every femme book that I know of and think are worth knowing, let’s get back to today’s feature. The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader edited by Joan Nestle, published by Alyson Books in 1992. It looks like it’s out of print, but you can probably still get it used in various places, like Powell’s online or, of course, Amazon (but only if you have to. Don’t you want independent bookstores to stay in business?).

The description of The Persistent Desire from Library Journal is as follows:

This anthology of stories, poems, and nonfiction accounts pays homage to a host of femme and butch lesbian relationships that have flourished over four decades. The narrators recount their experiences, describing how they met, how they took care of one another, and how they tried–or defiantly tried not–to fit in. The selections themselves bubble with passion and pain. Some dive beneath the surface to explore the varied meanings of gender roles, but most describe highly ritualistic manners of dress, hairstyle, and gesture that at times left the protagonist open to ridicule. In collecting these pieces into one volume, Nestle has made sure that the integrity and diversity of femme-butch relationships will not be lost. She has included narratives from women of many backgrounds and ethnic groups and from outside the United States.

This book was for me, as it was for many people, eye-opening, validating, breathtaking. I found it while I was still trying to articulate my own butch identity, and come into my orientation of dating femmes, and it blew past most of my doubts as if doing 80 on a motorcycle. I wanted to be part of that, I felt so connected to it. It changed the way I thought about myself and the way I thought about femmes.

It’s dated now. It was published almost two decades ago, and it reflects a different era of thought about gender identity and alignment assumptions. And while the trans movements were alive by then, much has happened on that front in the past 18 years since it was published and much transgender theory has affected gender theory deeply in wonderfully deliciously complicated ways.

We’re really due for an update.

And how about that, one is just on the horizon! Partners and butch/femme couple Ivan E. Coyote and Zena Sharman have been working on an anthology titled Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (see the connection to the first anthology’s title? Smart!) that is due out from Arsenal Pulp Press soon. Not sure what the exact date of publication is yet, but you can be certain I’ll be mentioning it here again. It looks like Ivan just picked up the postcards for the book from her publisher the other day, so it must be coming fairly soon! I will report back as I know.

There are more books, especially more butch/femme books, and more books just on butch identity by itself (look for more of those featured on the upcoming Fridays as we countdown to the Butch Voices NYC conference). I’ve made a new section in my Amazon Store exclusively for butch and femme books, so if you’re curious what else is out there, that’s a good place to start. And if you’ve got suggestions for what I missed, I’m glad to hear ’em!

UPDATE! Persistence: All Ways Butch And Femme has a webpage on Arsenal Pulp Press, a description, and is due out in the spring of 2011. Isn’t that cover great? It’s done by Elisha Lim, who also has a book of her own newly out from Alyson, 100 Butches, Volume 1.

If you see Zena at the Femme Conference, she supposedly has postcards for Persistence, so that’ll give you an excuse to say hi. She’s aka “The Silver Fox” because (guess) of her hair, so that should narrow it down for ya.

(Don’t you just love the Internet? I do. Thanks, Arsenal, for answering those questions.)

Countdown to the Femme Conference: 1 Week

“When I finally realized that I didn’t want to be a butch, I wanted to sleep with a butch, a whole new world opened up before my eyes.” —Lesléa Newman, from the Introduction: I Enjoy Being a Girl

The Femme Conference 2010: No Restrictions in Oakland is just one week away! And in honor, Sugarbutch is counting down to the Femme Conference, featuring some important femme books that I highly recommend if you haven’t read them already. Femme is part of an ever-evolving, big, knowable lineage, and if you love this identity in any way—if it’s yours, or if it is the gender to whom you are oriented, or if you appreciate it—you should know where it comes from, where it’s been.

News from the Femme Conference this week: the Femme Conference Schedule has been announced, and in addition to Kate Bornstein’s keynote, Moki Macías, a queer femme organizer and community planner in Atlanta, will also be doing a keynote.

And the Conference is only one week away!

So now, on to the book. Have you read The Femme Mystique, edited by Lesléa Newman and published by Alyson Books in 1995?

It was the first book on femme identity that I came across, and I picked up a copy at Powell’s when I was in Portland in July. Re-reading parts of it is kind of like re-reading my own journals from ten years ago, so familiar are the words and perspectives. So I’m particularly fond of this book because of the nostalgia, because of how formative this collection was for me.

One description says, “A fascinating and insightful look at the world of femme identity within the lesbian community. Written by femmes, former femmes, future femmes, femme wanna-bes, femme admirers, and of course, femmes fatales, The femme Mystique explores what it means to be a femme and a lesbian in a society that often trivializes the feminine.”

Coming out into communities which were ruled by queer femmes (well, at least, they sure seemed to be from my perspective), I think I’ve been a little blind to the ways that the queer scenes can trivialize the feminine, but as a women studies student and as someone who is simply aware of sexism and misogyny in this world, obviously that is entirely true and relevant. It continues to surprise me. Like, the doctor at the queer health clinic gave you a pregnancy test, even after you told her you were gay? Really? That just doesn’t even make any sense. But hey, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

The more recent anthologies are much higher quality, I think, both in the choice and arrangement of the essays and the quality of writing, but every once in a while there is a serious gem. Some folks have criticized this as being repetitive, which I also do understand, but that also speaks to how common and communal these perspectives on queer femme identity are. You’re likely to recognize some of the authors—Chrystos, Tristan Taormino, Kitty Tsui—but there are plenty more I’m not familiar with. The book is peppered with photographs, many of them very clearly 1980s versions of femininity (press on nails, lace, extensive makeup) which is interesting, that femme can be so closely tied to female fashion trends. There is a lot of identity alignment assumptions in this collection—a lot of women talking about cooking, cleaning, “traditionally female” activities. It’s interesting how much we as a culture have broken that in the last fifteen years, even.

Even though the women in these photos are probably in their 20s and early 30s, which is my age, they seem so much older … probably because my brain automatically does the calculation: “If they are 25 in 1990, they are 12 years older than me and are now in the early 40s.” It takes some intentional undoing to think, these people in these essays, in these photographs, are my age, and were at that time figuring out the same things I am now figuring out.

Though it’s not my favorite collection, it is a classic, and was very important to me personally (and to many, I’m sure, since it was one of the first collections on femme identity). I also really recommend Lesléa Newman’s essay collection Out of the Closet and Nothing to Wear, which is a collection of the femme column she wrote for many years. More information about Lesléa Newman can be found over on her website, lesleanewman.com. (Did you know she also wrote Heather Has Two Mommies?)

Have you read this? What did you think?

And also … are you ready for the Femme Conference!? I can’t wait to hear all about it on Twitter and other blogs! Who’s going to be writing about it? Who’s going to be live-Tweeting? Keep me updated, please!

Countdown to the Femme Conference: Two Weeks

The Femme Conference 2010: No Restrictions in Oakland is two weeks away! And in honor, Sugarbutch is counting down to the Femme

Conference, featuring some important femme books that I highly recommend if you haven’t read them already. Femme is part of an ever-evolving, big, knowable lineage, and if you love this identity in any way—if it’s yours, or if it is the gender to whom you are oriented, or if you appreciate it—you should know where it comes from, where it’s been.

The book Femmes of Power: Exploding Queer Femininities was put together by femme Swedish cultural anthropologist Ulrika Dahl and photographer Del LaGrace Volcano, published by Serpent’s Tail in 2009.

I met Ulrika Dahl at the Femme Conference in 2008, and was excited to get my hands on this lovely book when it came out. It features profiles and essays about femme identity, photographs of femmes with all sorts of varieties of presentation, and discussions of what femme is like in different contexts. It’s a beautiful book, almost a coffee table book, that you can flip through and stare at all the beautiful photographs of femmes. Or you can delve deeper into the text for complex depictions of queer gender identity.

From the synopsis:

What is femme? French for woman? A feminine lesbian? A queer girl who loves to dress up? Think again! Going beyond identity politics and the pleasures of plumage, “Femmes of Power” captures a diverse range of queerly feminine subjects whose powerful and intentional redress explodes the meaning of femme for the 21st century. “Femmes of Power” features both every-day heroines and many queer feminist icons, including Michelle Tea, Virginie Despentes, Amber Hollibaugh, Itziar Ziga, Lydia Lunch, Kate Bornstein and Valerie Mason-John. “Femmes of Power” unsettles the objectifying “male” gaze on femininity and presents femmes as speaking subjects and high heeled theorists.

More information about the book is over on the Femmes of Power Myspace page, and of course you can always order it through your local independent bookstore, or, if you must, Amazon.

Countdown to the Femme Conference: Three Weeks

The Femme Conference 2010: No Restrictions is happening in Oakland, CA in just three short weeks. There’s still time to register!

I attended in 2008 in Chicago and it was a pretty amazing experience. I took away so many conversations about identity development and expression, about visible physical markers and femme fashion. I would love to attend again, maybe next time.

Recently, I was chatting with a femme friend who was in from out of town about being in leadership or facilitator positions within this gender world, and how many baby femmes and baby butches feel lost and alone when they’re coming to these identities. “I always tell them, read your history!” she said. There are lots of books out there, actually, that discuss the same things we are going through. Sure, they might be a little dated; sure, we might have a better sense of how to break identity alignment assumptions than those writing thirty years ago. But we do not have to reinvent the wheel: much of this work has already been done for us, and even has already been recorded and written about.

So, as a countdown to this fantastic conference, I’m going to feature a couple of different femme tomes that are really important in the heritage of the femme world—or that have been to me. If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend it.

The first, and most recent publication about femme identity (as far as I know) is the two-volume set Visible: A Femmethology edited by Jennifer Clare Burke and published by Homofactus Press.

Visible: A Femmethology is a collection of personal essays from over fifty contributors who explore what it means to be a queer femme. Award winning authors, spoken-word artists, and totally new voices come together to challenge conventional ideas of how disability, class, nationality, race, aesthetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, and body type intersect with each contributor’s concrete notion of femmedom.

Though the book launched more than a year ago, the book’s website still has some very valuable stuff, including a large list of contributors, if you’d like to look up some inspiring writers, and mini-interviews with them about what it means to be femme.

The cover was a bit controversial, when it came out, but there are some male authors in this book who explore their femme identity, so I can understand that they intended to show that femme is not something that exclusively belongs to cis women.

I’ll admit, I’m a little biased with this book, because I have a piece in Volume II called A Love Letter to Femmes. Dacia recorded it for me last year, when the book was coming out, so there’s an audio recording of me reading it, if you’d like to hear it. But even if I didn’t have a piece in it, the collection is a great read and will I think inspire any femme to feel less alone. Most of the focus in this anthology, probably because of the title, Visible, is on the invisibility of femme identity and the ways that, particularly, straight folks assume femmes are also straight. I have my own thoughts about invisibility, mostly about sovereignty and the outsider complex that many of us feel, but regardless of my own opinions, I know visibility is something that pretty much all femmes feel at various times, so it’s an important thing to study and bring light to and discuss.

Order the two volumes directly from Homofactus Press (if you’d like the small indie press to get the most benefit), from your local independent queer feminist neighborhood bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.

On Femme Invisibility

G at “Can I Help You, Sir?” asked about femme invisibility recently, and the topic has gone around the gender/queer blogs a bit, with some great posts and thoughts.

First, and probably most obviously: I am not femme. So I am writing from a perspective of having dated and known many femmes in my life, but I do not experience visibility directed at me, but through stories and my witnessing. I am only an indirect, at best, expert on this. But these are my thoughts on femme invisibility, i.e. femmes not being recognized as queer because of their gender presentation.

This is a real thing. Femmes everywhere and from all parts of my life have told me this. One of my first femme mentors, Tara Hardy, has multiple poems about femme identity, one of which quotes: “I no longer get sad if they ask me at the door if I know it’s dyke night: I get mad. I mean, how much pussy do I have to eat before you let me in the club?”

And early on, I knew I was attracted to femininity, knew I wanted to date femmes (though I wasn’t quite sure how). The revelation that there are gay women who like to be feminine, and that I don’t have to chase straight women who will, probably, by definition, leave me to date men, was a relief. But I know that that’s not so easy to grasp for many people.

At the Femme Conference in 2008, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha said in her keynote address, “Femme invisibility is bullshit. You just don’t know how to look.” And I wanted to stand up and scream FUCK YEAH, because sometimes when femmes say “I feel so invisible” I want to say, but I SEE YOU! But I know I don’t always, not every single time, and I know I don’t make up for the other thousands of people who don’t see you, or for the discrimination and rejection from the queer communities that seems to continue, despite that femmes are a very significant part of queer communities.

One of the bottom-line issues about femme in/visibility, for me, is that it is a form of gender discrimination. When someone refuses to recognize a femme as queer, that person is saying, straight women are feminine, dykes are not, therefore your gender presentation trumps anything that might come out of your mouth about how you identify or who you are, and I am more right than you are about your identity. The sex-gender assumption is too strong and too fundamental for many people to be allowed to be overridden.

And gawd if that doesn’t get my boxers in a twist.

Especially since, let’s be honest, I fetishize the theorization of gender a little bit (or, um, maybe a lot), so the verbal explanation of gender and sexuality that femmes are pretty much required to do (because the sex-gender assumption is so strong) is all the more hot to me, and even sometimes MORE valid than the androgynous or rejection of femininity presentation of many other dykes and queers. Because, I mean, your strappy sandals are really hot, don’t get me wrong, but if you can’t use words to talk about femininity and sexuality and dykeness and a claim to queer culture and an acknowledgment of the complications of living in a culture which heteronormatizes femininity, are you going to get my blood pumping? Probably not. The femininity without the intention behind it is less appealing – to me, personally – than the ability to explain it.

From what I can tell, the issue of femme invisibility is at least threefold: visibility to straight folks, visibility to queer folks, and visibility to femmes themselves.

Passing: In/visibility to the Straight World

Not being seen as queer and recognized as radical by straight folks is a common complaint I hear from femmes. There is an added burden of constantly having to come out verbally, constantly having to remind the folks around you that you are queer, constantly having to deflect and defend yourselves against unwanted straight male attractions, since in this culture the display of femininity is presumed to be for the attraction of men, men’s gaze, men’s sexual advancement. It is seen as an invitation to being hit on, in fact. A girl out on the town and all dressed up in heels, dresses, lipstick, must be trying to “catch a man.” Of course, this isn’t true. Whoever this girl is, she could be wearing those things for all kinds of reasons, for her boyfriend, for her friends, for herself, for her wife.

And this is constant. Walking down the street, catching a cab, on the subway, at work, at a party, at a play, at a concert, in a bar – everywhere a femme goes, her femininity is assumed to be for men and to attract a man.

(This is also, in fact, one of the reasons femme-ness is subversive, and feminist: it re-creates femininity not as a tool to catch men, but as an authentic mode of expression for onesself and for queerness, disrupting this idea that femininity is “natural” for women.)

This is also called “passing,” and though I have had femmes tell me they like that they get to hear what people say when they don’t know someone gay is listening, I think generally passing carries with it a great burden, not privilege. The burden is that of constantly coming out, constantly having to argue with folks, constantly having to defend one’s orientation as gay when the sex-gender assumption does not line up.

There is also, as some femmes have mentioned to me, the problem that, after coming out verbally to someone (especially a man who is attempting to hit on you), you are sometimes in more danger than you were before, or than someone masculine- or androgynously-presenting is, because the person feels “tricked.” (I’ve written about this before, a little.) This defense is often cited in trans hate crimes, also – this notion that the trans person was presenting some other way than how they “really” are, therefore the hater was “duped” in some way.

Honestly, I don’t know what femmes can do about this particularly, aside from continue to come out. We – if I may speak for queer and gender and feminist activists – are trying to reach the straight world, we are trying to raise visibility and disrupt the idea that femininity is an invitation, but that is going to take some time. I hope there can be some assurance, regardless, that femme femininity is valid and not intended to be a tool of attraction for everyone, but for whomever it is you choose for it to be for. You can’t choose who sees you when you walk down the street – you put yourself out there in a semi-public domain and you can’t pick who you interact with on a daily basis. But you can choose what those interactions mean. And here, you just have a more advanced sense of this sex-gender assumption than they do. You are right. They are not.

Recognition: In/visibility to Queers

The second issue here is the visibility of femmes to queer communities. This, I think, is more personal and more of a vulnerable topic, since femininity (and expression of gender), to some degree, indicates desire and sexual signaling, and when those symbols of gender are not recognized as being symbols of attractiveness or attraction, that can be incredibly invalidating and disheartening.

It is a vulnerable process to put oneself out there, to make oneself available for rejection, to get dressed up for an event, to walk in and think, “my people!”, only to have them not recognize you as one of them. It hurts. It is a constant struggle.

It’s also frustrating to be hitting on people you are interested or attractive to and to have them not recognize what you’re doing as an invitation, or to resist or be skeptical of the validity of the invitation.

I understand the resistance, being on the other side of that equation, of a masculine-presenting person who has been taught over and over not to get caught up with straight women. I know a lot of butches and transmasculine folks who have a history of dating straight women, and the heartache of that inevitable loss is one we learn early. It is also dangerous – plenty of societal factors will jump in to police any attempts to “convert” a straight women to our lecherous queer ways, be it the girl’s boyfriend, friends, parents, or complete strangers, and because of the masculine presentation, the threat of violence is implicit or, sometimes, direct.

Not that this is an adequate excuse for the refusal to recognize femmes as queer, especially after a femme says “I’m queer” in some form or another.

I mean HELLO – butches and transmasculine folks and all of you queers and fucking everybody, while I’m on the subject – can we please just start to practice believing a feminine woman when she says she’s queer? Stop questioning her agency. Stop forcing her to defend herself. Stop being an ignorant idiot and realize that femmes exist and are real and valid queer identities. Any time you call a femme’s queerness into question, that is what you are doing.

Yeah so some of you might’ve had your heart smashed by a feminine straight girl in the past. I know. That sucks. You might be skeptical that you could get hurt again. Yep, okay, that’s valid. Entering into any relationship requires you to put yourself out there a little, and involves some risk. But regardless of her orientation, you might get hurt. Regardless of whether you marry this girl or date her for ten years or one year or just have a one night stand or just buy her a drink or walk away in one minute, she could hurt you. (No wait – she could reject you. You can choose whether or not that rejection is painful. But that’s a slightly different topic.)

Also: I’d like to put out there that, when in a queer space, it is okay to assume that the people in attendance are queer. Now, this does not mean that everyone is there for your own personal pleasure, and that it’s okay to blindly hit on anyone and everyone, so the “don’t be an asshole” rule obviously still applies. But if there’s a feminine person over by the jukebox at the dyke bar, it is more likely that she is gay than not. She still might not be – but if she’s in a dyke bar, and you are nice and thoughtful and polite and reasonable and respectful, it isn’t a problem to assume that she’s gay and to ask her if you can buy her a drink or tell her that you like her shoes. If she’s not gay, okay, depending on your goals of the evening (to pick someone up vs to converse with interesting people vs something else), be polite. If she is gay, that still doesn’t mean she’ll sleep with you. You might not be her type. She might be taken. You might be her type and she might not be taken, but she still might not sleep with you because for whatever reason, she doesn’t want to. Oh well! If you can, don’t take it personally, and move on.

Proof: In/visibility to Oneself

In the post Alphafemme wrote about femme invisibility, she touched on something very interesting:

It starts with not being able to see myself. That must be at the very root of it. As a little girl … I loved tea parties and dollhouses and dresses and patent leather shoes, I loved American Girl dolls and dress-up and imagining my future wedding. I was obsessed with … figure skaters and ballerinas. I fit snugly into my gender box. No questions asked. … it took me quite a long time to come out to myself. … There was no way I was gay. It just didn’t make sense. I was a girl. I was supposed to like boys. That was that. … Understanding of sexuality is so, so so tied up with gender. That’s really what makes femmes so invisible. To ourselves as well as to others. There often aren’t any outward signs that we digress from the norm. They’re all inward. And society tells us (all of us, not just femmes) all the time that the inward things? Are figments of our imagination. … So unless you look different, unless there’s some physical proof of it (whatever it is), there’s plenty of room for people to doubt you. And judge you. And feel justified in doubting and judging.

What a complicated, heartbreaking, turning-ourselves-inside-out that coming to a new identity process is. And when it is not marked by physical proof, when someone looks the same, there is no particular indication that Something Big Has Changed, so how do we know? By speaking of it, by talking about it, by documenting it in some form. Still, so much of the data we take in is visual, so even when our minds take in that something is different, if we don’t see the physical proof, it might not register the same way. I think this is also partly why the process of coming out as a dyke often involves things like cutting one’s hair off – which is the rejection of femininity and the association that femininity is performed for the attraction of men, yes, but also a physical marker that something has changed.

These are just things that are “true,” according to our culture: femininity is a tool for the attraction of men; dykes reject this and therefore don’t have to perform femininity; if you are a dyke, you also come to a more androgynous gender identity as part of your dykeness. Sexual orientation and gender presentation are so tied together – that is the sex-gender assumption in a nutshell.

It is a radical and subversive thing to occupy an identity that disrupts these social “truths.” It is hard. It is a constant battle. I think it does change, though, in two ways: we come to a more accepting, understanding place about our own identities, with a lot more sovereignty, so we don’t have to constantly feel defensive and at war with the world; and culture is changing, too. Culture is not a static fixed thing. Queer culture is advancing like mad. We are pushing the edges of it, calling into question the sex-gender assumptions in big ways. I think society is getting more accepting and understanding, as time goes on, and we do come to more solid places within ourselves, and we do get to know more and more people who are like us the longer we explore these identities.

A few more things …

Femme invisibility is gender discrimination based on the sex-gender assumption. It is not about you, it is about a culture-wide unspoken societal rule that says femininity is for the attraction of men and feminine women are straight.

Don’t take it personally. I know that’s more easily said than done, but I still think it’s true. There is not some magic femme symbol that, if you were wearing it, or if you were more gay, or “really” gay, they would have recognized it. This is their problem, not yours. There are many, many of us who recognize femme as a completely legit queer identity, as one of the cutting edges of queer identity in fact, and who know how difficult it is and how deep it runs. Your experience is valid, your orientation is valid.

Of course, femmes don’t always go through the process of invisibility. Lady Brett wrote a piece about the relative newness of invisibility in her life, and growing up a tomboy. There are so many ways to experience femme-ness and queer community involvement and recognition, and while claims to overarching truths can be called into question, our own experiences are always valid and real.

Chime in on this conversation, if you like. What do you think about femme invisibility? What has your experience of it been? What’s it like for you? How do you transcend these frustrating moments of invisibility, both to other queers, the straight world, and yourself? What have you witnessed in your femme partners or lovers or friends? How do you give a secret nod or wink to other queers?

Fucking & Making Love

She looked so damn hot yesterday.

I don’t know what it was exactly. She was in an outfit I’ve seen, tight slim jeans, her girly black tank top with the silver star pattern, little yellow sweater with the clear buttons. Maybe it was her hair, she’s been letting it grow and it’s getting longer, almost to her chin, it’s thin so it’s starting to flip up at the ends. So. Fucking. Cute. Maybe it was the earrings, simple large silver hoops, the ones she’s worried are a cliche but I keep trying to assure her they’re classic, sexy.

Off hand, she said yesterday that I am obsessed with my hair. I said ‘obsessed’ was a bit strong, but I see her point. Maybe it’s not just my hair, either, but hair in general. Still, I don’t want to pressure her into doing things like growing her hair long because that’s what I like – I hope it’s okay for me to state my personal preference while at the same time accepting however she prefers to present. Because while it’s true, I do prefer long hair, even more than that I prefer her to make decisions based on her own wants and needs and personal expression, not on what I desire.

Still. Her hair was so much shorter when we met, nearly as short as mine is now; I’ve been growing mine too, going for that early Elvis look. I’d dye it blue-black like his but I really like the few strands of gray that are coming in at my temples.

I guess I really am obsessed with hair.

Point is: she looked so, so good. Fun, flirty. Femme.

We chatted on the couch after I got to her house. How are you, how’s your day, how’s your sister. Maybe it was that I hadn’t seen her in more than a day after spending many days in a row with her. I felt my appetite for her growing, bubbling up. At one point she tipped her head just slightly sideways, her hair doing this little flip on both sides, the lines of her silhouette so perfect, those big hoop earrings brushing her neck, and she gave me a little smile, eyes twinkling. If I’d been on a TV show, it would’ve cut to a shot of me, my spine becoming jelly, my hands to my face, crying OH GOD as I slide off the couch before springing up and throwing myself on her, wrapping around her and kissing her hard, my mouth wherever she’d let me put it, then the camera would snap back to the shot of us on the couch as we were before and nothing would’ve actually happened, just me, sitting there blinking, in awe, probably totally transparent and readable and ooey gooey in love. Am I so obvious? Moments like that I feel oafish, bull in a china shop, too big and awkward next to such grace and elegance, like I am certain how much she knows she’s got me wrapped around her little finger.

Oh and here I am being all dramatic and admirational again. Are you bored of this femme-worship yet? Three and a half years of Sugarbutch and I only love femmes more, I am only more certain of my orientation to them in such a specific way. Only three and a half years of Sugarbutch, but I met my first femme nine years ago, and I knew then … what? Something. The way she shocked me to life, lit up the night like a shower of sparks from fireworks.

And I’ve never had it this good. I tell myself that every day: every day of this relationship I am grateful, so appreciative of every minute we have together. I’ve not known a bliss like this and I’ve never known it to last this long.

When Jesse was here, she had a brief little snag with Violet, some conversation where it wasn’t quite perfect, but she didn’t let it phase her or lose her unwavering faith in their relationship. “We’ve always been able to talk it through, whatever it is,” she said. And so far, Kristen and I have that too – not big explosive fights and feelings getting deeply hurt, but conversations of honesty and self-awareness and accountability and care. There are some things looming, a little, I’ve felt their weight lately, our differences and complications and inadequacies and places where we need more support, but we have always been able to talk things through, even if the journey is more illuminating than the destination, even if the only conclusion is, “well, now we know, that’s how we work, that’s my particular quirks and assumptions coming up against yours in our unique relationship way. We’ll just have to watch how this plays out.” We still come back together, appreciate each other, speak the deep truths. I feel like I am heard, always. And oh how important that is, what a relief to have it in my relationship, with her.

Dacia has a piece she’s read in public a few times lately which has the lines, “I write about the relationship I wish I was having,” and “I buy my own bullshit.” I’ve done that, here, in the past. I’ve written myself into love, used this site to woo and court. I haven’t wanted to do that with Kristen. It’s too precious, too real; I’ve learned from my mistakes, or rather, I am learning, I am trying to learn. That is a major reason why I haven’t written about her like I have others.

Plus, I’m all the more protective of my heart these days. How many heartbreaks is one heart made to withstand, anyway? I love writing about my relationships, but it can also be a crutch – I become obsessed with micro-articulating my feelings and emotional landscapes in writing, sometimes to my own detriment, overdramatizing and letting the articulation of the emotion be more important than the experience, the story, the audience, the effects.

I don’t want to do that anymore.

So I am protective of this relationship, as it has swelled and sometimes burst, its ups and downs. I haven’t chronicled it all here, preferring instead to articulate it to her as best I can. And there are things, snags, places between us which are murky and lurking a little for me right now, things that have come up and we’ve said “we should talk about that more later,” but now it’s later and I don’t even remember what they were, so that makes me all the more nervous. The unknown rather than the known. I should’ve kept a list, I keep thinking. But I’ve got to calm my nerves about this, not let it affect the really good highs inside of which we still so easily slip. So far, we’ve been able to talk through everything, and for now I’ll rest comfortable on presuming we’ll be able to do that in the future, too.

Yes, I was high when I reached out for her upper arm and pulled her onto my lap, and she’d just told me about how she’d done her homework this morning by playing with her ass while getting off, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t also in love, wanting to make love, wanting to be inside of her, drinking her in as I sucked her nipples into my mouth and left bite marks on her neck and shoulders. She cried out and I thought, someone should be videotaping this she is so goddamn hot.

In the bedroom we slipped off her clothes. “Take off your shirt.” I slid her tight jeans down her legs. She was in this matching bra and panties I hadn’t seen her wear before – she does wear the bra, a little white one with pink polka dots and pink satin bows, very femme, but the matching panties have layers of ruffles. I’ve never seen her in them.

I didn’t take them off.

“I want to see your ass. Turn over.” She does, gets on all fours. “Show it to me. Get down on your elbows.” She parts her knees a little and arches her back, I run my hand over her curves and feel the outline of her cunt and ass under the thin fabric. I let my fingers trail over her softly, slowly. My mind raced. There’s so much I wanted to do to her, with her. All that ass talk earlier made me want my fingers in her there, to get out the little plug I’d brought to leave at her place (her further homework), wanted to plow her ass hard and make her scream. I won’t do that, yet, of course, it’ll take some time to work up to it. I wanted her to stay on her knees, ass in the air, while I gripped her hips and fucked her slow and hard. I wanted her on her knees, mouth full of spit eyes looking up at me as she sucked me down.

But most of all I wanted to be close, pressed against her, kissing her, wrapped around each other. So I strapped on, peeled off her pretty bra and panties, told her to turn over, slid inside, and got lost in her, got lost in the way we wind around and hold each other. We barely spoke, just felt each other, just took it all in with our bodies.

There were a few times I slowed down, savored her, looked at her, but the vibration was so strong between us, I couldn’t didn’t want to stop. Sometimes I wondered if I should, if her hips were okay, if she needed more of a break, but I kept getting so close and ultimately was able to come inside of her for the first time in a long time, I was glad I didn’t stop. (I don’t know why I haven’t been coming lately. I broke out the Spartacus harness I’d retired hoping that would help. It did, apparently.)

Later, she said, “I thought you were going to stop … but you didn’t. That was good.”

Yeah, that was good. And I’m glad she said that. Always affirming to know I wasn’t pushing her. I want to push her, I want to have that kind of power and trust and knowledge and skill, but that has to be earned, that has to be worthy. I want to do so much more with her, to her, want to take her to all sorts of dirty places and cradle her and worship her and honor her and fuck her and smack her around and force her and hold her and let go with her and trust her.

There’s time. It’s been almost a year, but I know enough to know that we’re in this. And that we’ll keep building, and exploring, as this keeps getting deeper and stronger.

A Love Letter to Femmes

Maria See put the original call out for the Femmethology literally years ago, and ever since I first saw it I knew I wanted to contribute something to this unique anthology on femme identity. But what? I didn’t feel like I could necessarily speak from a place of authority on What Femme Is, there are hundreds – thousands! – of versions of femme, and no matter what I know about femme or how many femmes I’ve interacted with, I am an observer, a witness of femme, I don’t feel like I create it myself.

So what would I write?

I wrote a few pieces, brainstormed, but nothing I really loved. Nothing really got to the heart of what I was trying to say, which was … what? I wasn’t sure.

But it hit me on the very last day the editors were accepting submissions, and I sat down and wrote this Love Letter in one long sentence, and spent the rest of the day editing and polishing. I’m not going to reproduce the text here (you’ll have to buy the book for that) but I will present you, here, with a recording of me reading the love letter that appears in Visible: A Femmethology Volume Two.

Hope you enjoy it.

Download the mp3 here if you’d like to keep it.

Thanks very much to Audacia Ray for recording and producing this mp3!

In case you missed it, see more information about the Femmethology here.

In Praise of Femmes: The Architecture of Identity

This is what I learned at the Femme Conference.

Oh, the Femme Conference. I have so much to say about what happened there, both personally and in relation to this gender work. Oh yeah, and I have some hot stories to tell y’all, too.

First: THANK YOU, everyone who donated money to help me attend. I was able to go because of this website. I may not have gone otherwise because I really can’t afford to travel. Thank you.

The theme of the conference was The Architecture of Femme, and as such many of the panels explored the construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of femme identity. As my background is in social theory and social constructionism, I tend to come from the place that says femme is constructed primarily physically, on the body, that all gender is performative. This means through symbols of femininity – shaving, long hair, skirts/dresses, heels, jewelry, makeup, etc.

One of the major themes I’ve come across in running Sugarbutch is femmes who feel invisible – that they are not read as queer because lesbians are not feminine, femininity is a constructed gender role within the heteronormative paradigm, and the perceived notion that a femme is really either bi or straight.

This misconception has to do with physical symbols of gender, and required alignment of sexual orientation and gender.

The first keynote speaker at the conference, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, said: femmes are not invisible, you don’t know how to look.

And this is point number one that I want to make. I’ll pause here to let that sink in for you.

Femmes are not invisible, the lesbian community just doesn’t know how to look.

That deeply resonated with me. I feel I’ve been trying to say that to femme friends and lovers for some time now – “well, I found you, didn’t I? Do you not go to the clubs, do you not get dates? Of course you’re queer.”

I know it’s not this simple, really – I know there is much difficulty when someone is not recognized by their own community because they are being true to their own sense of gender. That’s not an easy contrast to reconcile, and I don’t move through the world that way so I can’t really speak to the daily experience of what that’s like.

Before the conference, I started a conversation about femme eye candy – remember this? I’ll get back to that in another post more fully, but the relevance is that Muse & I were discussing requesting photos along with some text about how the femme in the photo queers femininity – how her femme-ness is coming through in any particular way that indicates that she’s femme, not straight.

[TO BE CLEAR: this is NOT be about proving queerness whatsoever. I am working on the details of how to write this up, and will explore this much more in-depth in another post soon.]

The point is to use the femme eye candy as a visual lexicon of physical symbols, as an attempt to notice any emerging patterns and begin to record the physical markers of femme identity.


DEFINE: Markers: physical details which indicate that the person is using their fashion and style to construct a queer identity. Examples of usage: Femme markers, butch markers, queer markers, hippie markers …


I have some ideas about what these markers might be – vintage and pinup clothes, hyper-femininity, high contrast, for example – and I must thank Sam and Maggie from Toronto who did a wonderful workshop at the conference on the construction of femme identity through fashion and style, where many of my thoughts on this were refined.

The discussion at the workshop quickly went from “what are some of the femme markers” to “what are ways that femmes construct identity besides through physical markers?”

I kept thinking about these things throughout the weekend at the conference: the markers, and the ways femme is constructed besides markers.

Five things stand out greatly from the discussions as ways to construct femme:

  1. In contrast to butch – the classic in some ways, the stereotype in others. We all talk about how butches lend visibility and how different a femme is perceived and treated alone verses with a butch. The conference brought up the issue of femme history, too, and how hard it is to find femmes, and one of the ways to do so is to find the butches’ visible queerness and search for their partners.I think this is an incomplete, problematic, and outdated construction of femme identity generally, but it is relevant historically and it still applies at moments. Plus, for some of us our own sense of identity is so greatly magnified when in contrast to our particular desire orientation – I am not just a butch, for example, but I am a butch who loves, desires, and partners with femmes, and that is also a key component to my identity.
  2. In community – Maggie, the beautiful dancer and wicked smart femme behind the Femme Show (who has a wonderful girlfriend, I was disappointed to hear, as I developed quite the crush on her over the conference) spoke of how when she is in queer spaces, she expects that she should be read as queer. It should just simply be a given. It is not a given that the feminine girl at dyke night is queer, because the lesbian community is still closed off to the ideas that feminine girls are lesbians. I mean, in some ways that is being shattered – maybe that’s one good thing the L-Word has done for the lesbian communities – but in practice, many many queer women still don’t recognize femmes.(I could also speak to how this is probably engrained in butches especially, in butches who are attracted to femininity, from a young age, because we do tend to go for the straight girl or the L.U.G.s and end up getting our hopes up and our hearts broken when she, inevitably, leaves us for a guy, because, well, she’s straight. I still watch butches go through the realization that femmes exist – that femininity exists in a queer context – and wow that sure can be a revolutionary realization. But this is another topic to discuss later, too.)
  3. Through language – Someone commented to say she has no particular physically queer markers, and in fact she prides herself on that, and would rather constantly construct her queer identity by constantly coming out verbally. But even if a femme does see herself as using many queer fashion and style markers, there is still always an element of constructing identities verbally and through language.This brings up one other idea, which is that I think all of these ways of constructing femme identity happen for everyone, that it isn’t just one or another, that some are stronger for some femmes than others, that there are many different combinations of them that make up each unique femme expression of each person.
  4. Through fashion and style and through markers. There are hundreds – thousands probably – of ways to construct femme through physical feminine presentation. The conference was amazing that way, to see as many different representations of femme as there were femmes in attendance. I loved seeing the similarities, the differences. There was such an amazing array from the fanciest drag-queen femme to the pencil-skirt-and-glasses femme to the pinup girl femme to the punk rock femme to the tomboy femme to the sundress-and-cardigan femme.And the SHOES! Oh good lord, I could write an entire post on the shoes at the femme conference. (Swoon.)Honestly, I never cared for fashion until I began discovering, uncovering, and creating conscious and intentional butch/femme gender understandings. I wish I had a better grasp on fashion and the history of fashion sometimes, some folks were saying very interesting things about the evolution of women’s clothing options during the conference.
  5. Through theory – feminist theory, gender theory, power theory, BDSM and kink theory, postmodern theory, historical contextual theory. The intellectualizing of my own gender has been a key component to constructing my own gender identity, and this resonated strongly at the conference.

I’m going to have to work on the butch version of this idea, the ways butch identity is constructed, though I imagine it is in many ways similar: in contrast to femmes, in community, through language, through markers, through theory. But perhaps there’s more to add, perhaps butch and femme are constructed differently? Ill keep thinking on that; please do add your two cents if you’ve got ideas on this topic.

Two specific questions for you, at the end of this looooong summary of what I learned at the Femme Conference about the architecture of femme:

  • What are some other tools with which you construct your identity, femme or otherwise?
  • And what do your markers look like?

In Praise of Femmes: Hair & Shaving

Thanks, all, for your thoughtful responses and life stories about butch hair in the last post.

Here’s a few of my thoughts about femmes and femininity and hair, and then I’ll ask some questions and open it up to whatever you’d like to say about the subject.

I want to distinguish here between options and personal preference – I talk a lot on this site – especially in terms of femmes and femme identity – about what I like, and I want to make it clear that those are usually my personal preferences, and I’m not trying to say that I think that’s what all femmes should be or that femmes who are not like that are not valid or are not “real” femmes or any of that crap. I hope that’s not how it comes across.

So, let me first say this, about my basic philosophies on hair: hair is a personal choice. It is also a major marker on the physical body used to distinguish gender differentiation in contemporary culture. Short hair on men, long hair on women; shaved legs and underarms on women, hairy men. This of course was not always the case; it used to be seen as very masculine for men to grow their hair long. Hair presentation, length, and social conformity are based largely on culture.

In my (unofficial, limited) cultural observation in the recent years, these differences are just getting more pronounced, although with the inclusion of gay male culture in mainstream men’s fashion, the rise of beauty products for men, the addition of “manscaping” and the metrosexualizing of fashion and beauty, beauty standards for men and masculinity are on the rise. It is not unusual for hetero/cis-women to expect their hetero/cis-men to keep their chest hair under control, to get eyebrow waxes, to keep their hair groomed.

But just because the beauty standards for men are raising doesn’t mean it’s okay for us to keep unobtainable beauty standards for women – or for anyone, for that matter. Honestly I believe we’ve got to turn the beauty culture inside out on our own personal journeys into our own gender identities, whatever flavor they may be, whatever area of the gender galaxy, to really examine what the culture dictates and unlearn the compulsory standards that can be exhausting, unobtainable, and even harmful to our bodies.

What the body does is natural, normal, acceptible, sexy – where hair grows, the stretchmarks, the veins that show through the skin, the moles and freckles, the thickness of the muscles or the tendons or the thigh or the waist or the hair. All these things are beautiful, and real.

And, in my humble opinion, are also turn-ons: the celebration of the beauty of the human body.

If you’ve never explored the potential damage and compulsory standards of beauty culture, take a look at:

So: once we start undoing society’s standards, and treating every possible option as valid and valuable for different reasons in order to make a true choice, we can start exploring what it is that we personally prefer. What turns us on, how our bodies feel the most sexy, what the soft animal of our body loves.

My initial thoughts about femme hair always go to the hair on your head, and the ways it’s worn. Being that I am very attracted to femininity, I do like long hair generally, though I know plenty of femmes who totally rock the chin-length cuts or the boycuts, I’ve even known a few with shaved heads.

I wrote once upon a time about how much I love it when femmes wear their hair up, and specifically the idea that “a woman’s hair is for her husband.” I wrote, “I know there are deep problems with this idea of a husband owning a wife’s hair, but I love the idea of it being so sexual, such a turn on, when a femme lets her hair down, that it’s private, saved for me and me alone.” And that’s just it exactly.

About body hair on femmes … honestly, my personal preference is basically bare. Very little hair, everywhere. I find shaving sexy, I find the rituals of beauty sexy (when they are done with intention and sexual connotations especially). I like to shave my lover’s legs, actually. That’s a scene I haven’t played out in a long time, but I find that intensely erotic.

I do have some guilt about liking the reproduction of traditional femininity. I know I could write pages about how it’s not compulsory, it’s resistance, celebratory, and intentional, but still sometimes I wonder if what my block is that I wouldn’t find hair particularly attractive. But I suppose I can attempt to justify this by saying that I absolutely think it should be culturally acceptible – I hate that it’s dictated as necessary by the beauty rules – but that my personal preference is skin, skin, skin. Is that because of the dominant cultural beauty rules? Yeah, probably. I can’t escape it, I was raised in it, I live in it every day. But I recognize that it exists, what it means, how it operates, and I fully support people who reject that rule and who prefer to have their hair wild and free, or trimmed and neat, or completely bare. All options should be valid.

So, now you:

I know you’ve already got a ton of things to say about femme body hair, but here’s some questions to get started:

If you’re in the transfeminine area of the gender galaxy:

  • Do you shave, wax, pluck, shape? Underarms, legs, thighs, stomach, chin? Why or why not?
  • What was your process in coming to do the hair sculpting and
  • How do you make choices about your hair? Based on sexual preferences? Cultural standards?What your lovers like?
  • How do you keep your pubes? Trimmed, waxed, shaved, au naturale?
  • What comes to mind when you see women who don’t shave?
  • Do you sexualize shaving or body hair removal?

If you are someone who tends to date transfeminine folks:

  • Do you have personal preferences when it comes to hair on the femmes you date?
  • Do you sexualize shaving or body hair removal?
  • Do you prefer hair on her head worn a certain way? Do you tend to be attracted to very specific hair cuts, styles, colors?

I’m also very curious about folks who live outside of the US – clearly my perspectives are very US-centric, and I’m not really sure what gets culturally dictated or compulsorily reproduced in other places. I have impressions, but being an outsider to culture in other places, I won’t presume to speak on it.

Please do elaborate however you’d like. And thank you, for reading and for your comments, I really like that we’re conversing here more and more, getting input from all kinds of people who live in all kinds of ways.

Telling Her What to Wear

I have in the past thought it kind of funny that girls would ask me to tell them what to wear. My feminist/analytical brain would pipe in with interpretations of beauty, insecurity, self-worth – but I really don’t see it that way anymore.

I see it as part of the larger conversation of gender as a fetish, as a performance, as a subversive display of sexualized gender presentation. And I see it as a very specific toppy/bottomy play, more specifically butchtop/femmebottom play.

It has also at times made me uncomfortable when girls wear things – or buy things – specifically for my tastes. I do have a couple particular enjoyments when it comes to femme clothes & shoes, and it is quite a gift when girls work to dress up for me.

I’m not sure why it’s hard to accept. Possibly because it’s hard for me to accept gifts in general, that giving is easier for me than receiving (I am resisting the connection here to my top identity, though I’m sure you already went there). Possibly also it is hard for my desires, and for me, to really be seen, heard, witnessed, acknowledged, because if I never let you know what I really want, you can never withhold it from me.

But my heart is more open than that old wound and lesson, generally. I like to practice revealing myself. I like to practice being vulnerable, I do find great strength and connection there.

And lately, I’ve had much better language, palette, for my particular desires. This website has helped that tremendously, as has playing with multiple girls over the past two years. I’ve been actually trying to notice and articulate when I find myself aroused into a state of desire; to be mindful of when my internal butch cock stirs and to ask why, to take note of the answer.

So when a girl asks me what kind of femininity display I like, I try to tell her. I explain – without pressure or expectation – what really does it for me, what gets me going, turns my crank. Underlying this conversation is also both of our acknowledgment that femininity – and indeed masculinity – is performed for the purpose of attracting and turning on your partner/lover/date.

And taking it a step farther by telling her what to wear is a step saying, this is how to turn me on. This is how to drive me wild all night. This is how our clothes are tools for flirting, this is how gender is subtle cues and clues and a language for sexuality.

It is a top/bottom game, if looked at this way, and I see it as very empowering to a bottom (you know, assuming being told what to wear is a game she likes playing, and doesn’t feel like it is controlling or patronizing or condescending behavior).

So, where is a bottom’s power? At least in these two places: 1) in enticing desire, and 2) to (actively) giving her power over to her top. In enticing desire, she turns on her top to the point of excruciation, to the point of bottomless desire and power. And when she gives over of her power, she places her power on a silver platter and presents it to her lover on her knees.

(This is why power play is deliberate: the bottom gives her power to the top, the top does not take it without permission. Unless, you know, that’s part of the scene, in which case there is still some sort of underlying permission, some level of giving freely.)

So: I (as a butch top) tell you (as a femme bottom) what to wear on our date (a short skirt, bare legs, strappy sandals, something white). You give power to me by giving up your own choice in what you wear, by obeying a request of mine (something that always turns me on), and by wearing something enticing that follows an aesthetic I particularly enjoy.

This is perhaps where power and surrender for the top and/or bottom gets blurred. Who has the power here? She does – the bottom – because all night I am uncomfortable and turned on because I got what I wanted, writhing at the sight of her in those lovely clothes, turned on by our gender and power foreplay. And then comes a turning point in the night where I stop feeling so reactive and (have to) surrender to the power she’s giving me, to the power and sexual energy I feel building. I give over to it, let it flow through me, let this be a way to tap into my particular well of it.

I love these kinds of power exchanges. I love the push-pull, giving in, giving back, empowering each other to feel sexy, desired, wanted, powerful, beautiful.

[ What I’m really trying to say here is: I have a blind date with a girl who sent me a wonderful photo of her in strappy sandals, and this was my complicated reaction. ]

in praise of femmes: fishnets

Some meditations on fishnets, and femmes:

Alison spoke of fishnets once upon a time, and well, speaking of fishnets … it got me thinking. I have a bit of a fetish.

I have a thing for legs anyway, which is why I try not to surf sites like Sock Dreams at work, because it really does get me hot & bothered in the way that porn does. Photos like this one of the raw-edged fishnet are so very erotic to my gender-fetish brain … I’m not sure exactly what it is about fishnets, but they are just so sexualized in this culture. They’re practically fetish gear, except that they can be worn by women to offices, to fancy parties, to the opera, as dress-up, and it’s also totally appropriate. Maybe that’s it – they can be good-girl stockings, can be fancy and seen as totally normal and even some sort of traditional femininity, but they can also be so dirty, in such a delicious way.

Then there’s that little criss-cross that the net actually does, and the way that garters – if you’re using them, and oh, that’s an entire other bit of lingerie to be in praise of – tug on the net and show just a little bit of strain in holding them up. The way that the stocking gets pulled, which is so very visible on nets where the little diamond shapes get pulled. I like the subtle force there. I like the subtle strain.

I think it might be also why I like corsetry and lacing and the criss-cross ribbons that are on some lingerie, too – it’s an implied little bit of bondage, this implied ribbon that I could use to restrain your wrists or ankles, that I could use to tie your knees up and back.

Plus there’s the idea that perhaps with just one little tug, the whole thing will unravel, and leave you bare.

It’s the hint of bareness that is so much more sexy than the bare revealing itself. There’s really something to that idea of leaving something to the imagination.

And then the skin. Because the thing about fishnets, which is not true of other stockings, is the bare skin that is exposed. I can feel these tiny spots of smooth under the pads of my fingertips, the direct contact is intoxicating. You’re not actually protected by these nets, not actually held in or hidden, your skin is revealed, fishnets aren’t about control-top or nude tinting or hiding, they’re about decoration, about texture.

And oh the implied force of it all. Because fishnets rip, they get holes, they just beg to be destroyed. The stockings are layer I can (possibly, maybe, if permitted, if our relationship allows it) rip through in order to expose your skin bare, use a sharp blade against your skin and pop through the tiny tied nets, use my teeth and pull until I hear the ripping.

In Praise of Femmes: Trust

I’m going to attempt a new series of writings in praise of femmes. This is the first officially, but it follows in line with in praise of stretchmarks.

This past weekend and some amazing time with Penny (more on that later) has me thinking about trust and femmes. I wrote recently in a dramatical moment, “I just don’t trust femmes anymore” – with immediate caveats and retractions – and I want to expound.

It is femmes that I perhaps trust the deepest. The way I am received – not just cock-and-cunt, not just my fist inside the muscular bowl between your legs, but all of me: when my strong hands weaken and flutter, when I cry, when I laugh too loud, when I give up give in let go, when I feel my power slipping and you put it right back into place with a gentle flick of your wrist.

It is within your embrace that I make the most sense. Callie was the first femme I ever dated, the first relationship where my affections were returned tenfold (before that, I’d loved a femme, my best friend, for years, but that was tragedy. After that, The Ex, who I thought was more femme than she was and that caused constant tension between us).

I know who I am around you. My carefully manufactured, deliberately manifested masculinity suddenly has a purpose, a function, a use, and it excites you, makes you cry out and give in and let go, turns you on. My gestures are held by you, witnessed, caught gently and cradled, and oh my god thank you for that.

Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.

This dynamic runs deep in me. Who knows why – nature, nurture, socializing, fetish. I need it, ache for it, me a teenaged pretty-boy (you say), you a powerful goddess. And you must know I never use words like goddess to describe women (too cliché, too overused) but yes that really is what I mean here: magical, strong, miraculous, seductive, creational.

I was made against you. I can think of a couple of you specifically against whom I break and become myself: Callie. DateDyke. Muse. Strong enough to catch me, strong enough to let me sharpen myself against you.

And it is this power that scares me, that now brings these feelings of mistrust. Because I love this dynamic so much, fetishize it even, it touches deep primal nerves in me. I become carried by it and have trusted it – the dynamic – more than I trusted the person. I let her use her femme-ness to get what she wanted, I let her use beauty, seduction, soft skin and flirty submissive eyes. I watched it, I even knew what was going on, and I let it happen anyway.

I know better now, I guess, I hope. I should pay attention to the red flags of constant “conflict,” I shouldn’t have gone to Mexico, I should’ve been more honest, I shouldn’t have fucked her if I didn’t have the aftercare in me.

I’ve said it before – it is one of my greatest flaws: I trust what people tell me. I am convincible.

There really are charms that only femininity, only femmes, only queer femmes who know how to treat sugarbutches like me, possess. Charms that unravel me deeply, that pull me apart. When it’s good, it clears out the cobwebs, shines light into every dark corner, exposes all the cracks and flaws and structures that hold me up, and then, even, fixes them, or attempts to. I am made more whole, more complete. When it’s bad, I have been destroyed foundationally, or attempted to be. Piece by piece picked off and explained in a new way that suited her. My dick in a mason jar under a sink, punished. My every action her fist closed tight around.

It is good I am strong. I come from a strong family who gets along, a queer lineage of kisses, teachers who respected and taught me, who sheltered me and pushed me hard, who said I was worth something, who said we all are, who said stories of marginalized groups and communities must be told, who said I could and should change the world, who said I could do anything, who encouraged me to come alive, who said they liked what I had to say. And I have this place – this personal writing project I refuse to call a “blog” because it is so much more than that, it is revolution, it is community, it is self-awareness and witness and a very lighthouse.

I have built up these tools around me so I don’t fall prey to this problem of trusting femmes. It is because femmes are who I love, who I partner with, for whom I deeply ache that they are capable of such unraveling. If I partnered with butches it would be a problem trusting butches, if I partnered with straight boys or trans women or blondes or tennis players it would be a problem trusting them. And perhaps this is why women as a whole – and femininity – are seen as untrustworthy, sneaky, manipulative in our culture: because men – hetero men – are the ones who partner with this, and men are the ones who have held the pens to write our histories, to write their great love stories, which have involved many broken hearts and many malicious women, because love is scarce and precious and delicate.

Femmes are not untrustworthy. Femmes are who I trust the very most, with whom I make the very most sense, with whom I am more myself than anywhere else.

I am scared, and skeptical, about what it may mean for me to trust, to explore, especially around the specific ways that I can lose my head in this dynamic. It’s new to me, and it affects me deeper than any relationship ever has – I’ve never lost myself so completely in a lover before. So now comes the fusion: the combination of the intense, passionate sexual dynamic that comes with gender play, and the knowledge of relationship tools that I have been collecting and building upon since I began dating fifteen years ago (half my life, now. Amazing). I have the support, the community, the friends, the knowledge, the inner strength.

So.

Bring it on.

In Praise of Femmes: Stretchmarks

Stretchmarks are one of the most gorgeous features of the body.

I like scars and beauty marks too – all tell the history of where the body has been, what it has been through. These are not things we are born with, but things that are painted upon the naked canvas of us as we grow and change and develop and blossom.

I love skin. Who doesn’t? The body’s largest organ, home of countless nerve endings, housing the sensations we all crave, touching and being touched, sensations from sandpaper to silk, from friction to feathers.

On women’s bodies, we tend to get them in delicate stretched lines around the edges of our breasts, and over our hips. Two of my favorite places to grip and take palm-fulls of flesh for stability and movement, two of the most sensitive curves of the body, ripe and ready to be directed, pushed, persuaded, maneuvered.

Stretchmarks record the pulling of skin over muscle and bone, remembering the change in the curve of the body. Oh, that is so beautiful. Sometimes I can feel these tiny indentations in skin where the turgidity changes, just a small ridge to the fingertip where there is a slightly lighter pigmentation to the eye.

They so often follow the curves of the body more intricately, more delicately, more beautifully than any tattoo or cutting, because the body itself made them.

Sometimes they run in such gorgeous lines [original here] around a curve that they look like the mouth of a river, they look like a tributary, stunning, the way a river hugs the earth, the way the skin stretches around bone, around sinew and muscle, around experience, around knowledge, around growth.

Top 10 things I love about femmes

  1. Strappy sandals, roman sandals laced up the ankle, legwarmers, flowery skirts – the legs, the legs, the legs

  2. The moments of subversion when I expect gender to be aligned with compulsory femininity, and I am surprised

  3. Delicate jewelry, fingernail polish, pierced ears, garter belts, purses, glasses

  4. The way she walks in high heels

  5. The under-the-eyelashes fuck-me look

  6. The feminine curves of cleavage and the clavicle

  7. The struggles with not being visibly out, which also brings the privilege of hearing what people say when they don’t know someone queer is listening

  8. Holding the door open, holding your umbrella, ordering for you, pulling out your chair, that moment when you take my arm, carrying your heavy burdons, cradling your delicacy …

  9. The examination, overhaul, and eventual reclamation or rejection of “traditional femme hobbies”

  10. When a boy actually turns you off … but I turn you on