10 Times These Fake Sociologists Marveled That Lesbian Femmes Exist

Long before femme invisibility became a familiar concept in queer spaces, fake sociologists writing exposés on lesbianism were marveling in disbelief that lesbians who didn’t appear “mannish” even existed. It was believed that homosexuality and “gender deviance” went hand in hand and that it was easiest to spot a lesbian by looking for broad shoulders, suits and ties, angular faces and short-cropped haircuts. Ordinances against cross-dressing were employed to stamp out “the homosexual problem.” In retrospect, the awe of these “researchers” to discover femme lesbians ranges from hilarious to uneasily relevant today.

These quotes come from The Grapevine, The Lesbian Handbook, A New Look at the Lesbian, Female Homosexuality and The Lesbian in America, which are all faux-scientific books published in the ’50s and ’60s that provided readers with an “in-depth” look at this deviant lifestyle.

1. Many people had the idea that all lesbians were [masculine], because only butches could be readily identified. But many were beyond average in looks and sensitivity — different from other women only because they did not prefer men.

2. A lesbian can wear her hair long, favor feminine dresses, use cosmetics, laugh and talk and move normally, and nobody will know the difference.

3. I have seen bars where lesbians were as well dressed and groomed as any model stepping out of the pages of the fashion magazines. And often, ironically, it was that very model.

4. Standing near us, in a dirty sweatshirt, was a fair-haired blonde with regular features and a well-scrubbed look. Virginia whispered, “She looks like the girls I used to play field hockey with in school!”

5. Some lesbians take only the feminine role in lovemaking, allowing themselves to be loved without ever really taking the active role with their partners. These women are called femmes, and their appearance is often deceiving. They dress in clothing associated with wholly feminine women, and an uninitatied person would never suspect them of sexual deviation.

6. “Over the years, I’ve become convinced that among themselves, lesbians have as many variations as other women. The most beautiful and the ugliest girls are lesbians, the smartest and the silliest, the richest and the poorest, from good homes and from bad.”

7. The feminine type of lesbian is one who seeks mother-love, who enjoys being the recipient of much attention and affection. She is often preoccupied with personal beauty and somewhat narcissistic. She is more apt to be bisexual.

8. Feminine types are a clinging-vine type who bores her teachers by hanging around them and who is always seeking for physical contact with other girls and women, twining her arms about them, kissing them and fondling them; the girl who is often thought and spoken of by her elders as a ‘little fool’.

9. For the most part, lesbians are girls who carry no outward sign by which the world can recognize them, and who find concealment and pretense so easy that the specter of universal unmasking is frightening.

10. Does the Lesbian lose all her womanhood, her liking for nice clothing, make-up, hair-dos? Certainly, say the scoffers. Untrue.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3200 articles for us.


  1. “Standing near us, in a dirty sweatshirt, was a fair-haired blonde with regular features and a well-scrubbed look. Virginia whispered, “She looks like the girls I used to play field hockey with in school!””

    Omg the pulp writes itself

    But I mean I’ll write it, if I must

    Late that night, tucked into a twin bed identical to her husband’s beside her, Virginia cupped her mug of warm milk and thought back to that strange time in her life, those years of tan, freckled knees below field hockey kilts and secrets that fluttered through the dormitories like moths. Could *those* kind of girls truly be girls like her? Girls like her best friend Becky? Becky, with her golden braids always flying behind her, blouse perpetually untucked, a girl always in motion, her smile so ready, Becky who had climbed into Virginia’s bed each night late after the other girls were asleep and whispered, “Ginnie, I had a nightmare, will you be the big spoon for awhile?” Could Becky be one of those girls?

    Virginia fell asleep and dreamed of school.

      • There’s already a second scene in my mind, one in which she’s looked up Becky’s phone number and is sitting in the kitchen with the slip of paper in hand, staring at the rotary telephone, gathering the courage to put down her cigarette and pick up the receiver. ;-)


          She’d married Phillip just last year, at twenty-two. She’d been desperate to finish her degree first, although her mother always told her she was crazy.

          Virginia spoke to her mother on Monday afternoons, calls upstate that were as expensive as they were devoid of meaning. The words flowed over her like water. “Two babies on my hip by the time I was your age,” her mother sang on the line, “and your father off to war besides — I guess young people back then just knew what they wanted.”

          “What they wanted,” Virginia echoed, watching the smoke from her cigarette float free up over the kitchen table.

          “Are you listening, Virginia? Are you even trying to have children? It may feel like you’ve got forever now, but two blinks of an eye and your chances will be gone before you know it.”

          “Listen mother, I have to go.” Virginia hung up the telephone with her mother’s voice still trilling from the other end. “Gone before you know it,” one of her mother’s favorite phrases, was still ringing in her ears as she stubbed out her cigarette and reached into her apron pocket for the number she’d looked up and jotted down two days before. Her hands shook as she turned the dial.

          Two rings. Someone picked up. There was noise, a smear of laughter, before the line cleared and an unmistakable voice said, “hello?”

          “Hello, hi, that is — Becky??”

          • Hey guys hi guys I wrote a prologue it might be in desperate need of editing but well:


            Phillip boxes on the weekends. Virginia cannot fathom why.

            At home, her husband is fastidious. He tucks his undershirt neatly into his trousers, and another one into the pants of his pajamas every night. Virginia can count the number of times she’s seen his bare chest on a single hand. But at the club, from what she understands, the men all go bare-chested. The hair on Phillip’s chest is dark, his skin so white it’s almost blue, like milk run through with water. His nipples are small and hard and perfectly round, and she is not allowed to touch them. What must they look like in the lights of the boxing hall?

            At home, her husband is kind. He does the dinner dishes after they eat the meal that she has cooked, just like his father used to do. It is a grace. He switches on the kitchen radio and hums along to Chopin or Handel, music that transports them both while Virginia sits very still in the swing on the front porch, watching the streetlights go on one by one. Through the open kitchen window, there is a companionable silence between them. It is Virginia’s favorite time of day.

            But at the club, he hits people. He tapes up his fists and climbs into a ring and bounces, light on his feet, while another man yells at him to attack. He looks for openings, for weaknesses, and he exploits them. How can two entirely different people exist in the same man?

            She will not ask. And so he kisses her on the cheek on Saturday afternoons and goes off whistling, to hit people and be hit by them, and Virginia is left alone, a state to which she has become very well accustomed.

            Until it all changes. Until everything changes, because of the girl behind the counter, the girl with the dirty sweatshirt. Virginia will think afterwards that she must have been an angel, that ordinary girl, her face well-scrubbed, hair in a cheerful ponytail, features entirely forgettable. She must have come down from Heaven to change Virginia’s life in such a way. Virginia will think of her often, once everything changes.

            But for now Virginia waits, and does not know that she is waiting. She watches, without knowing what she’s watching for. Her husband is the moon, pleasant face turned down to hers, darker side unmapped, and Virginia is a rocket, about to be launched inexorably toward a brighter and less-than-certain future.

            Her story begins on a Tuesday afternoon.


  2. today especially, this was so nice to read, thank you for compiling this.

    truly, femme is a multitude

  3. 7. The feminine type of lesbian is one who seeks mother-love, who enjoys being the recipient of much attention and affection. She is often preoccupied with personal beauty and somewhat narcissistic. She is more apt to be bisexual.

    Cut the first sentence to the comma and start it at, “Enjoys being…” and I’ll totally own it. XD ;)

  4. “an uninitatied person would never suspect them of sexual deviation.” Oh hey, it’s me

    • It’s a great pick-up line, isn’t it? “Hey, you wanna come back to my place later and… deviate?”

  5. It’s nice to feel a sense of history, that there were queer femmes all through history. Although #8 has cast a bad shadow throughout my life :X

  6. Oh my goddess, #7 and the “more apt to be bisexual” thing hits close to home, because… femininity is so deeply ingrained in people’s assumptions as being *for men* ?! I’m a super femme lesbian who just introduced my wife to my co-workers, but none of them seem to understand yet- they’ll ask me if I thought a guy was cute, or refer to me in conversation as bisexual. You guys, there is nothing wrong with being bi, but I am not bi! Just because I’m femme doesn’t mean some part of me wants men!

    • You know, I’m far more apt to want to be femme for a woman than I am for a man (and I’m bi). I sorta feel like guys can fuck off if they don’t like me wearing jeans and a tank top with short hair. Going out with my wife? Oh the make-up and little black dress is coming out.

    • OMG! YES! You hit the nail on the head. I have the same problem. I tell people I’m a lesbian and introduce my wife but somehow they hear me say bisexual. The fact that I refuse to leave the house without my makeup has all to do with me being from the south and nothing to do with my sexuality.


  7. I kinda enjoyed number 6 tho! It might simply be because I think that the word “silly” should be used more often in conversation, but that whole thing sounded pretty ok.

    • #6 I read that and my only response is “hmm, it’s almost like we’re human or something”

  8. “2. A lesbian can wear her hair long, favor feminine dresses, use cosmetics, laugh and talk and move normally, and nobody will know the difference.”


  9. This was a great read. New article idea:

    10,000,000 Times Modern Straight Boys Marveled That Lesbian Femmes Exist

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