identity politics

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.


Bring it on.

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.

17 thoughts on “In Praise of Femmes: Trust”

  1. Lyric says:

    "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."

    Fantastic. All of it was, but that really hit home.

    I think we are all on journey (wow I sound like Hallmark) of finding what we want/need/where we belong etc. Part of that journey for me is discovering, that 'Settling" hurts everyone in the long run. I think I was settling instead of going after what I want/need/who I belong with etc. Don't we all do that sometimes? Anyway, my point being, I realized I belong with a femme. That's never been a question. But I've noticed and experienced, and maybe others have too…. There are plenty of women out there who say and claim they are femme, or high femme, but aren't.

    Femme is so much more that clothes and hair. I know that's a whole other can of worms that you didn't bring up, but you post got the gears turning in my head.

    [I have hesitation about saying that someone is or isn't "really" any identity, especially one that they say that they are. I'm more inclined to separate their personality from their gender identity, and say that they are just not a person that I want to date or in my life – but that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with their gender. I agree that femme is more than clothes and hair, though I haven't quite been able to articulate what that "more" part is – so much of it is wrapped up in personality, or interest, or relationship skills, and I'm really hesitant to put more in the package of "femme" than the physical aesthetic. I'm very curious about that, though, and have been thinking about it a lot myself. Thanks for your comment! – ss]

  2. Aron says:

    Didn't you do the whole dramatic love thing around DateDyke too? Fickle is fine but it makes all the stories the same. Maybe take yourself a little less seriously?

    [Yes, I definitely did the "dramatic love thing" around DateDyke – I'm prone to it, it's why I've been a chronic monogamer in the past, because I get really into someone really easily & quickly. Hopefully, I learned that lesson, or am still learning it, to take it easy, go slow, watch for red flags, not overextend or get myself into a difficult spot. I'm not trying to imply that this thing with Penny is a dramatic love thing – actually, I have a *lot* of hesitation and trepedation, I am not jumping in with both feet, I am feeling cautious at every turn. But I'm a romantic – I like dating, I like sex, I like falling in love, I like courtship. It's hard for me to not want those things when I find somebody I like, and I don't think I should deliberately avoid it out of fear or past hurts. But – I don't want all the stories to sound the same! They feel very different – extremely different – to me, and if they're coming across as the same then perhaps I should write more specifically, or perhaps you should read closer. As for taking myself seriously – yeah, you're probably right that I should lighten up. I've always been emotionally heavy, and I do take that stuff seriously. It is yet another lesson I am trying to learn. But also, these are the things that matter the most to me in life – love, gender, sex, relationships, interpersonal communications, intimacy. I make a semi-formal study of those topics, and do very much take them seriously. I'm not sure how to separate taking myself less seriously with taking those things less seriously, which to me seems to be what that phrase implies. – ss]

    [Another afterthought – perhps you're reading the "you" in this piece to mean Penny specifically? I didn't mean it as such – I meant it a generic femme "you," addressed to "femmes of the world" as well as "femmes I have loved." That would make more sense that you'd read this as a dramatic love thing about Penny. It's not specifically about her. – ss]

  3. hussyred says:

    this is a gorgeous post, sinclair and i highly applaud the addition of an "in praise of femmes" section. how couldn't i though? :)

    i think what affects me most about this post is near the very top where you say "the way i am received." i've been thinking a lot about this notion of giving and receiving between butches who top and femmes who bottom since that exchange muse and i had on the post i wrote about the "stone" butch i was involved with. your acknowledgment of someone "receiving" you and the unboundedness and even gratefulness of that is really touching to me. i think what is most powerful about it to me is not only the power i experience in giving myself over, but the respect and love i have for those who can responsibly receive it. i want to think/write more about this dynamic and now that i'm finally back from vacation, i can.

    really, though, this is such a great post. xo!

    [Thank you. Good point about receiving – wow, that is certainly a huge, huge gift that someone gives me, and I don't take it lightly at all. Much like witnessing, too – to be really seen, and then to be taken in, cradled, held, are incredibly powerful aspects of this dynamic that manifests sexually. I'd be curious to hear more about this, & write on it further. – ss]

  4. Thank you for this. It is beautiful and very deep.

    p.s. can you be cloned and sent to the west coast? ;)

    [Aw thanks. I'll be back out west eventually – that's where I'm from and my family is there, I'm sure I won't stay east forever. I miss the open spaces and the land and the sunset that goes the right way over the ocean. – ss]

  5. Rose says:

    Having identified as femme within the last year and having found your website within the last week I'm absolutely absorbed by your writing. In your latest post (in praise of femmes: trust) you say "I was made against you" – well, I was made against you. Reflecting on the trust issue, my insecurity is that as wholely and completely as my stud fell for me, as overwhelming for us both as her adoration is for me, that one day she'll discover that I don't deserve the (goddess) pedestal and meet someone that does. In a way I'm glad of it – I wouldn't want to take an ounce of what she gives me for granted. Looking forward to more "in praise of femmes" – bring it on!!!!!!

    [Thanks Rose! Just to throw my two cents in there, I think you can deserve her adoration and not take it for granted at the same time – they don't have to be mutually exclusive. 'Cause we're all worthy, right? :) I know what you mean though – love and adoration from someone we also admire and adore can be so humbling. – ss]

  6. Re: Aron "it makes all the stories the same" This isn't fiction written entirely for the amusement of others, I'm not sure if you get that.

    Thank you for giving me a smile today, Sinclair. You do know how to make a femme glow. That was lovely.

  7. Jan says:

    Please keep writing "In praise of femmes", Sinclair.

    I discovered I am lesbian only six years ago (now 55). My initial sense of my gay self was that I was femme. Now out of a five-year rela-tionship, I don't know any more. She and I both identified as femme, but these days I'm strongly attracted to soft butches.

    I don't feel at all butch and I don't feel very femme. I think I'm in the middle, but long for the easily identifiable "role".

  8. Lina says:

    Oh Sinclair, you remind me of who I am sometimes. The exchange I have particiapted in, the giving and recieving with butches, such a delicate balance. thankyou for putting it to words.

    There are not many Femmes around me. Makes me feel less alone to read this, as your recognition means we are out there, not always invisible.

  9. Femme Gender says:

    Thankyou THANKYOU! your insight and recognition is beautiful.

  10. heather says:

    thank you. i forget that butch and boyish women love us femme women sometimes.

  11. Diva says:

    Thanks a lot for this "praise of femmes: trust" – it is just great! I really love how you examine that it's a trust-problem and not depending on femmes…;)))

    I just discovered your blog and I will watch out for new posts.

    And: the eyecandies made my day!


  12. I'd like to echo Rose's comments, as a femme, and to explore what makes a femme. I agree that costume is not a full indicator, as femme garb can easily run the gamut from high city drag to rural soft butch to suburban prep, and beyond. I think it is attitudinal. But since I tend to think out loud, these are first draft thoughts and subject to further refinement or clarification…

    I define myself as a lesbian. I am a lesbian not matter who I am with or if I am involved. I think I both chose a lesbian feminist identity at a young age (13) for political reasons (I read a lot), as well as an unconscious expression of what I would later understand as an over-arching physical sexual desire for women. I only, ever, and have always been with women. I have never fucked a man or made out with them or had any interest. I do love cock, and I love to be fucked, but cock is very different to me than bio-dick, and I bristle at the desire of others to conflate the two.

    I define myself as a femme, which to me is a term that describes both my longing for sexual intercourse (in both the literary and sexual definitions) with butches and my unspoken declaration of preference for "softness" or "femininity" in my own expression of my physical self. I am whole and complete as I am, but I desire union with my attitudinal opposite. I want a butch who has the (un)spoken declaration for "strength" or "masculinity" in her physical expression of self, I want a butch who finds physical and emotional satisfaction in sexual intercourse with femmes. I want that butch who can release me from the burdens of my own power, whom I can trust with the my most vulnerable self, who will (in that instant) physically and emotionally protect me from ills imagined and real, as we fuck, as we make love. It is the hours and moments when she is fucking me, when she is taking me, when I give by body to her that lead to the sacred place I can feel free, safe, and vulnerable. This is when I give back to her (trust and sanctification) what she has given to me, when I might be the instrument by which she is released, when she comes because she wants me, and when I come for her, and for her only, because she asks me to.

    As a femme, like Rose, I do feel as if I was made for butches. I can be nurturing and loving and caressing, I can adore her masculinity or her strength, I can get on my knees in front of her and suck her cock, and not worry that my willingness to submit to her pleasure will be taken advantage of as a sign of anything other than choice. Free choice. Or will. A gift.

    I have found that only atuned butches seem to appreciate that my preference for "softness" or "femininity" in my affect is a sign of my power, my power to define myself in a way of my own choosing, without regard to what others might wish. The power dynamic between butches and femmes is one of the most exciting aspects of the interplay. And because it is by choice, particularly in this day and age, rather than based on rote replays of cultural expectations, this is, I think, what makes it so powerful, and makes it an intrinsically feminist act.

    I don't know if you will read this, since it is to an older post, but since I am just now enabled to explore more of your site, I have added my thoughts. In any event, it's not bad to continue to flesh out my views, even if only for myself, or perhaps best for my own self-discovery. I haven't thought this directly about feminist politics in years, and I am curious to learn more about gender and queer politics.

    Best regards to you, Sin.

  13. Fran says:

    "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."

    All of this…..

    Except love is not scarce. It is precious, but it is sturdier and more abundant than we have been told or allowed to believe.

  14. Sam says:

    Oh wow, thank you for appreciating us femmes so much. <3

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