Many moons ago, when I was a wee little queer, I found myself at a party, explaining to the host how I saw myself in relation to my girlfriend at the time. She nodded her curly head and asked at one point, “So you identify as femme, then?” In that moment, something clicked. Something also grated, but the clicking was more important at the time. Here was the start of my Epic Search for Understanding Femme Identity.
I didn’t think too much of it back then. I defaulted to an affiliation with the word “femme” because my partner at the time was butch-identified. Not necessarily as a gender identity (not in the Butch Is A Noun way), but more as an extra descriptor. And that’s how I became femme – in an adjective way. My partner was butch, therefore I must be femme, right? ‘Cause that makes total sense.
Fast forward a few years to the end of that relationship and the end of that identity. I needed to rediscover who I was and in that process, I found myself questioning what “femme” meant. Was I still femme now that I did not have that butch partner? Well, that first year was an epic amount of reconstruction. Codependency had left me without a shred of an idea of who I was, and figuring out “femme” was part of that reconstruction. I found myself a mentor (by pure, glorious, glittery accident) who had all of the things I wanted right then: a poly, kinky relationship, and the secrets of how to make eyeliner your bitch. I also had, for the first time ever, girl roommates. Like, took tips out of Cosmo, followed all of the dating rules, dyed-in-the-wool, certifiably heteronormative girls. That was the year of figuring out that femininity did not have to mean weak or undeserving of respect, which sounds relatively “duh” at face value but took a lot for me to actually believe.
My family does not appreciate femininity. There’s a respect for the work involved in the roles of mother and wife, but not so much for anything else. The women who wear makeup in my family are treated with a certain level of blasé scorn, and it was always said about the girliest ones that they would never really amount to anything. No woman who commands any form of respect in my family regularly wears skirts. Dresses are a barely-tolerable holiday thing. Heels are not to be worn if there is any possible way around it. But I wanted all of those things. I love heels and skirts and makeup and tight clothes, and loving those things does not make me a slut who will never amount to anything. Painting my toenails does not magically remove my work ethic. Putting on a miniskirt does not suddenly make my neural connections slower. Being away from my family for 9 months and being able to learn about and express this type of femininity made it seem stronger to me, made it okay for me to be this way. I was finally able to see the strength in myself as being femme.