identity politics

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, 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.

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.

9 thoughts on “What is even DISCUSSED at a “femme conference”?”

  1. Jan says:

    This is a lovely post, thank you. I’m very new to these ideas, or at least to expressing them, and I think this

    “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…

    …It still surprises me to come upon folks who don’t get it, who reduce it to “makeup and dresses,” who devalue femininity.”

    is what is behind a lot of this crap. I mean, it’s like some people really think “no-one would actually be femme unless they were made to”. I’m interesting as to where this femme-phobia comes from; maybe they associate it with powerlessness and despise people that they see as powerless, I don’t know (that would tie in with ableism where it’s present too). I think this is a pretty big subject. I’m going to give Whipping Girl a read, it sounds fascinating.

  2. zev says:

    this is a quote that I heard and am unfortunately unable to remember the source of: “femme is finding a way to be a woman that doesn’t hurt.” I don’t think it covers everything, but I do think it’s beautiful.

  3. Fran says:

    You know, sometimes femme phobia is a blessing in disguise. The tone of it and the language never change but the nuanced responses from an ever-expanding femme and femme-ally community do. We keep growing and it is lovely to see such negative stereotyping tamped down with so much grace and strength. It’s not our job to make sure everyone loves or understands us. It’s our job to be divinely inspired to agitate.


    Technically Femme AND Lame. :)

    ps – Regarding folks feeling “femme” enough I would say this is likely a common fear many people have before attending a femme con, and I hope with each conference we are doing a better job of illuminating that there is no such thing. If Femme interests you there is a tremendous amount of warmth and welcome that awaits you. Even if it doesn’t identify you watching femininity look for ways to love itself is thrilling and more than a bit dangerous. Come! That’s my pitch, anyhow.

  4. Ali says:

    This makes me want to go.

  5. Sarah says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve spent much more time around men in my life; believing that being “too feminine” is a passive, weak way to go through the world. When I came out, I chopped off my hair + tried to figure out which end of the butch/femme spectrum resonated with me… finding myself vaguely in the center.

    Reading about the Femme Conference has *finally* allowed me the space to consider that I’ve been trying to avoid wholly embodying the feminine precisely because I had considered it to be not-strong. What a fucking revelation! So obvious, but very true– for me.

    I want to read Whipping Girl now. And possibly attend the conference.

  6. This is a beautifully insightful post, and I wish I was able to go to the conference (I’m in Europe). I’m definitely a femme, and I would love to reclaim it in ways that society tries to inhibit, especially WITH other femmes. xoxo

  7. alisha says:

    oh man. i need to make this happen. i NEED to go and it’s fairly close to me..

  8. julia (juliaperchance) says:

    well, i’m pretty embarrassed with myself.

    i recently started reading your work, mr. sexsmith, and because i enjoy it so much i’ve started going back into the archives. seeing my tumblr username on one of your older posts caused me quite a bit of shock.

    i’m embarrassed about what i wrote. it was not articulate and was a pretty uneducated, unfair comment to make. i have a tendency to treat my tumblr like my own personal diary, forgetting that other people may read what i post. and unfortunately, i wrote something fairly ignorant that day, and i’m sorry to anyone who read it and found it offensive.

    i can’t really defend myself. for some reason, on that particular day, the idea of a femme conference struck me as silly. i do not feel that way generally, however, and especially not after reading fuckyeahfemmes’ response to my harsh and baseless criticism of the event. i wish i had read that response sooner than today. i also wish i hadn’t made such a rash judgment of what i assumed the femme conference was. that wasn’t right, and i’m very sorry for being so abrasive in my remarks.

    in any event, i just wanted to put my apology out into the universe, for what it’s worth. there are a lot of things i still have to learn, and i’m more than willing to admit that. i’m also completely willing to apologize for making such an unfair judgment. so, this is my apology. i’m grateful that all of this enabled me to learn a few valuable, much-need lessons, about what sexuality and gender identity mean to different people. everyone’s experience is different and personal, and i should have been WAY more respectful of that.

    i think that this event sounds wonderful and affirming and i look forward to reading more about it, and to continue reading more of mr. sexsmith’s work.

    all best,


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