Femmes: Beyond Lipstick (and Heels and Dresses)

Sometimes life clicks. You’ve been struggling with yourself for ages and are slowly getting a grasp on the situation. Little by little you fit your pieces together until there’s a silhouette of who you think you are. With each bit of understanding you sit up a bit higher until you’re on top of the world and nothing can stop you. Until you go on a date and a comment completely fucks you over.

“Actually, I don’t think this is going to work out. You’re a bit too femme.”

I had never been put into a tailspin by a word before. The word femme had existed in my world but it had never been heaved at me as a pejorative. If she had put it in crasser terms and said, “Honey, I am not attracted to you. FUCK OFF!” I would have taken it better; instead I was handed a rejection couched in a backhanded compliment, lumped into a category I thought no longer existed and summarily dismissed because of it. I was livid, and my god I would have stuck a stiletto up her ass if given the chance.

This was a few years ago, when I was coming out. When I learned that by accepting the label gay I had somehow opened myself up to having a thousand other labels tacked on, some of which I could choose, but plenty of which I couldn’t. There seemed to be so many more wonderful words and phrases to describe the more masculine queers: Androgynous. Butch. Boi. Masculine-of-centre. All of these powerful terms that are seen as compliments and imply you fit into this subculture. Although I often read their complaints about failing to fit into a heteronormative world, the only thing I could think was, “Hey… at least you fit into one of them?”

Meanwhile I was stuck with “femme,” a label I couldn’t own. Even though femme tends to be the blanket term for queers that aren’t androgynous or masculine, the only queerettes I saw that happily claimed the title were unabashedly feminine. They were ladies that preened and prepped. They showed up on your screen in lipstick and lingerie. They had their pick of either world, these perfect girls with curves that caused boys and bois to do a double take. Some might call them lipstick. Some might call them high-maintenance. Some might call them straight. I was positive I wasn’t one of them and most of all, I doubted they would consider me one of them.

Some of my friends laughed at me when I told them I was stressed out about being seen as femme. To them I was just Kristen, as labeled or unlabeled as when we first met. “Why should it matter what other people call you?” “At least you get by.” “If they are so obsessed with your grouping, you don’t want to waste your time on them!” “Labels don’t matter!” But unless you’re at a dyke bar wearing Mary Janes in a sea of androgynous hipsters clad in leather jackets, skinny jeans and Chucks, it’s hard to empathize, especially when you’re debating whether or not there was a point to coming out that night. Or to coming out at all.

I wondered if I should change my hair or stop wearing heels, or if I should butch it up a little bit in order to get a date and be taken seriously. I was antsy and fidgety about labels because it didn’t make sense that I could be called so many things when I hadn’t physically changed at all.

I know I was prejudiced against femmes when I was thinking these things, but at the time the only thing I could do was brood. I had no femme role models who looked and thought like me, who were brash and confrontational but still painted their toenails. There are lovely anthologies that embrace femme identity, but ink and paper only give so much solace when you’re trying to come to terms with yourself in a flesh and blood world. Surely other people felt excluded for being “girly,” but how the fuck do you compare experiences when you can’t pick your allies out of a crowd? I wanted to learn from other femme-identified queers, but it takes courage — more than I had — to seek out that camaraderie when the closest and most visible examples of yourself are being criticized as not representative.

I harboured reservations that would creep up whenever I heard the word femme. I remember hovering my cursor over the Femme checkbox on my Autostraddle Social profile a little longer than I should have. Even on a website I love and love writing for, sometimes I worry if I’m doing it right. Like Jeanette Young writes for the Link’s Women’s Issue, “We are often seen as heteronormative, apolitical, less radical, and less queer in a community where being visible and valued depends on being masculine or androgynous.”

Submitter Malloreigh of TomboyFemme

The meaning of the word changed for me once I started to see self-described femmes who embodied none of those negatives Young describes. Through tumblrs and blogs, I could see a femme’s exterior and also hear her voice. Just because you could paint on a cats-eye or work a pencil skirt didn’t mean you couldn’t also be a radical with political beliefs. Owning your curves (or lack of curves) had nothing to do with the male gaze, in the same way that being less politically radical didn’t stop me from being feminist, and staying true to my style and self expression didn’t stop me from being gay. Saying it now sounds so ignorant, but I could only see the strength of the word femme once I understood the breadth of its spectrum.

I run a little fashion blog called Tomboy Femme over on Tumblr, inspired by this struggle with labels. I call myself a tomboyfemme because I think it describes where I sit at the centre of a continuum – compared to most female-bodied queers, I’m femme as hell, but in a group of heterosexual women, I’m immediately called a tomboy. Tomboy femme is a term I’m comfortable with others claiming and defining for themselves, but for me it describes the comfortable niche I’ve settled into between butch and femme, representing my queerness as I feel I want to. Still, it can be quite tough around queers who think I look too straight. – Malloreigh

“So, I didn’t always identify as femme, because I didn’t know it was an option, because I didn’t know it could be positive,” writes Connie Laalo, a woman who is an unabashed lesbian. And a queer. And a femme. Though our paths never crossed while we both lived in Vancouver, we eventually met online when a mutual friend posted a link to Beyond Lipstick, Laalo’s thesis for Ryerson University’s MA Fashion program, and as soon as we started talking I knew she got me. Unlike other projects that simply want to put faces to the name, Laalo wanted to learn how femmes saw themselves and each other in their own terms.

I am not trying to tell a story about femme identity – I am just trying to facilitate the articulation of the femme experience. There are participants who have a vastly different concept of femme than I do – but I completely believe that each experience is valid and authentic and I feel I have a responsibility to include every voice that participates in my project. I really think the strength of Beyond Lipstick comes from the multiplicity of expressions. – Connie

So she did. She gathered anonymous portraits and the answers to three simple questions:

What is your definition of femme?

Do you represent your sexuality through your clothing?

How do you identify another femme?

Her small sample of femmes “expressed a theme of empowered, conscious femininity that was intentional in its choice of self-representation.” The major thread was that in the face of adversity, of judgement, no fucks were given. Here were women who knew that they might be judged or read as straight, but they had to dress their truth. Some chose hyper femininity, relying on silhouettes and garments from the 1950s. Others simply refused to dress more masculinely than they were comfortable with. It showed a spectrum of style in which no representation of femme was in any way more correct, as long as the wearer felt right.

The submissions were as varied as the submitters themselves. Some used conventions that spoke to a background in feminist and gender theory. Others wrote with typos, slang and crass terms. All opinions were equally valid. Quotations have been preserved as submitted.

Someone who does not identify as a butch, androgynous, or otherwise masculine labels with a female body.

I am strong in my sense of self, not caring what the world at large thinks, yet painfully aware that many perceive me to be aloof and pretentious when I walk in the room in towering heels, perfectly buffed appearance and fitted dress.

I think I represent queerness less through clothing and more through my presence as a whole. By clothes, I get read as straight, and aesthetic definitions of femme piss me off to no end. It is not glitter or makeup or a pencil skirt that makes me femme. When I wear men’s jeans and a tank top, I’m femme. But I think most often, my gender expression is femme in that it’s feminine clothes with big presence, taking up space, walking confidently, looking you in the eye, checking you out, coming on to you. It’s a tension between what is traditionally “masculine” and what’s “feminine,” and really everything you think is either is both.

There is nothing superficial or shallow about it. It”s NOT something some man or patriarchal society makes me do. It”s my self expression, and just one of many in our multi faceted world.

I dress up in a way that makes me feel comfortable as I am and follows my own personal style of a mixed look depending on the day and occassion.

i love to dress in sexy, feminine clothing, although certainly not dresses or high heels necessarily

my flamboyantly feminine excess queers me automatically in any context. While my clothing/style may not scream lesbian, it most definitely says something

No, there is no way to tell I’m gay via my clothing and to try to do so would be going against who I am.

This is my sexuality of femme, I am more polished than any straight woman I know.

Connie of Beyond Lipstick

In completing her thesis and imagining Beyond Lipstick’s future as an exhibit or a film, the project caused Laalo to rethink its strengths and pitfalls. In her original call for submissions she was only looking for femme lesbians. She corrected her call-out and asked for all femme-identified women, trans* inclusive. “I think many individuals can connect and identify with femme as an empowering interpretation of femininity that is essentially queer.” Her research made her realize that the term could encompass men, bisexuals and straight women as well, so Laalo is still looking for new submissions. She wants to expand her portraiture collection to represent femmes of colour, genderqueer and trans* femmes, femmes with disabilities, elder femmes, fat femmes, working class femmes, male femmes and every other incarnation that needs to be acknowledged.

Although the submissions showed that femme was as powerful as its butch counterpart, the answers revealed that we still haven’t overcome our greatest challenge. “I usually say that someone is gay until proven straight. I will flirt with any girl until she tells me she isn”t [sic] interested. How else am I going to find out?” asked a Beyond Lipstick submitter. Femme (in)visibility is as difficult a problem as ever and will probably continuously haunt us. Effing Dykes pondered the idea, asking readers what to do given that femmes and femme-lovers seemed to be missing each other completely. The only thing I can suggest is that people who fall under the umbrella learn to share their space and find friends beneath it — that they try to be out as an everyday role model, not for the doubters or the critics, but instead for themselves and the closeted femme that doesn’t know she can exist. Whether people choose to wear a rainbow or correct an assumption, the only way femmes can make progress is to talk about it and do something. Laalo’s original call-out put it best: “We are only invisible if we sit by the sidelines, allowing others to be the face of lesbian identity.”

If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket to Baltimore this weekend you can attend FemmeCon 2012. From August 17th through 19th you have the opportunity to share stories and experiences with femmes, Femmes, fems and allies. The three-day fest brings out performers, vendors and speakers embracing their femme-inity. Fit for a Femme covered her attendance two years ago, boasting that “you’re just not prepared for that kind of awesome until you see for yourself how much momentum can be built on the strong and lovely backs of femmes of all stripes” to much applause by Autostraddlers. Laalo will be participating in FemmeCon and giving a Saturday morning talk on Beyond Lipstick. There’s still time to register!

Hopefully other femmes have already overcome their own insecurities, but if not, just remember there’s a Google’s worth of people out there like you. Or keep Ivan E Coyote’s “Hats Off to Beautiful Femmes” bookmarked as a mantra whenever that irksome doubt comes up.

I want to thank you for coming out of the closet. Again and again, over and over, for the rest of your life. At school, at work, at your kid’s daycare, at your brother’s wedding, at the doctor’s office. Thank you for sideswiping their stereotypes.

I never get the chance to come out of the closet, because my closet was always made of glass. But you do it for me. You fight homophobia in a way that I never could. Some of them think I am queer because I am undesirable. You prove to them that being queer is your desire.

* Please note. I’ve included photos of Beyond Lipstick participants that were submitted to Autostraddle. The project is anonymous and no contact information was stored. I recognized faces and asked for permission to use their pictures in the capacity of Autostraddle Contributing Editor. Connie Laalo’s work has not been compromised.

Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.

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Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

Kristen has written 139 articles for us.


  1. I’m very femme. So femme, I don’t own trousers.
    So after many nights out in my local gay bar, asking myself how I would ever meet a nice girl when everyone assumed I was the fag hag of my gay (male) best friend, I’m pretty much in love with this article.

    • This!! My 2 best friends are quite obviously gay males and my partner and I are relatively femme or at least a little femme of center. Inevitably we are assumed to be tagging along with the “real” gay people wherever we go. The 4 of us were in L.A. (where you would think people would be used to femmes) with a flamboyantly gay guy pal of theirs, and after spending most of the day with us he mentioned “you girls are so cute together, are you sisters or just best friends?” This article was so validating!

          • My girlfriend is into pants and rocking out with her band but is otherwise Femme and so am I… So it feels good to read this article. I feel your pain Paper Flowers.

        • Yes – my gf and I get this too.
          And when we travel and check in to hotels the staff are always saying “oh so sorry we thought you requested a double bed, lets see if we can change that to twin bedding” and we have to make the point that actually we would rather share a bed.

          • I was so excited the first time I had to correct a hotel clerk. I felt like I was finally joining the club.

          • It’s always interesting seeing how hotel staff approach that question, haha. It happens almost everytime! It’s like their faces say “there’s no way these two are together!”

        • Yeah, my lady and I have been asked if we’re sisters. Neither of us looks particularly femme when it happens. We also don’t look alike. We both have brown hair, but that’s about it? People are weird. And jerks.

        • It does actually. Also, I think you and your wife make an adorable couple, very complimentary :)

        • Haha I love the sisters one. We got asked if we were twins last weekend – My girlfriend is American Indian/Spanish and I’m a freckled-face Irish girl..TWINS?!?!

    • So the last time someone claimed that they were so femme/inine that they didn’t wear trousers, I pointed out that in Bangladesh – where attire is VERY gender-segregated – the traditional outfit for young women is a salwhar khameez, which is a long tunic and TROUSERS. Super feminine, the hallmark of femininity even. With trousers.

      Stuff like this is actually a big part of why I find current conventions of butch/femme really alienating – because they’re so set on Western ideas of masculinity/femininity that any claims of “oh it’s more than what you wear!” ring hollow. What Western queer femininity calls “femme” I call “every woman in my family and they’re all straight s arrows” – and even certain supposedly-femme things such as a greater awareness of appearance is very *masculine* where I come from. (Well, it applies across genders, but vanity is a very manly trait too. My dad has more skincare products than I do.)

      And yet sadly, in the very small pockets of queer culture that exists in non-Western countries, everything looks like a carbon copy of the West, down to the butch/femme stereotypes (Westernised, not in local gear). Because “queer” is seen as a Western invention and that’s the only model available. Because, as someone downthread mentioned, if you are not White you are never going to pass no matter what.

      And the cycle continu

      • In Roman times, queerness didn’t even really exist as a concept; everything was about dominance. It was perfectly normal for men to, screw other men. In fact, Latin even had special words for all sort of domination sex acts. Sexual acts that did not involve a penis were not understood, and it was not known that women had sexualities.
        In enlightenment Europe, young boys and young girls generally dressed the same up until the boys were breeched.
        The gender associations of pink and blue switched about a hundred years ago.
        The ancient Egyptians were completely obsessed with personal grooming. Also, both men and women wore eyeliner.
        To the vikings, to have short hair was to be a slave, not to be feminine. Everyone was vain about appearance. Saturday was named “Washday”, faces were washed daily, saunas were popular, earspoons & combs & hairdye/soaps were all employed.
        To the Celts, a fully shaven body was the norm.
        Roman women thought shaving arm hair was ridiculous.
        In Latino cultures, it’s generally a quite masculine thing to be good at dancing.
        In Iran today, it’s okay to be trans but not to be gay. I heard at pride union at my school that the Iranian government forces gay people to transition. :\ I don’t know if that bit is true, but I do know that it is okay to be trans in Iran as long as you adhere to the gender binary.
        And there are a lot of other examples, but, yeah. Gender roles and views on sexuality are pretty lolzy really anywhere. Even the terms gay, lesbian, straight, bi, etc. are quite societally relative because they prescribe to the notion of a gender binary. What about genderqueer and intersex people? In my micronation, we get along just fine without gender roles.

        The exported western ideal of queerness is just the popular culture’s view of it. Unfortunately, pop culture and folk culture don’t always get along so well. It is important for people whose folk culture differs from pop culture to mention it as you have; it helps us all to get better ideas of what is just a societal construct and therefore not universal. :)

        • Er, typos. I wish we could edit comments.
          Unnecessary comma: “men to, screw other men”
          Corrected sentence: “To the vikings, to have short hair was to be a slave, and long hair was neither feminine nor masculine.”
          Corrected sentence: “Roman women thought shaving arm and armpit hair was ridiculous.”
          Corrected sentence: “In Latino cultures, it’s not a feminine thing to be good at dancing.”

          Also, I should add, language plays a pervasive role in society’s genders. I could write an essay on this bit, so rather than do that, I’ll just post this video (http://fora.tv/2010/10/26/Lera_Boroditsky_How_Language_Shapes_Thought) and the time at which grammatical gender’s influence on thought is discussed (17:50).

          Good fun. :)

          • Meh, I still could have worded that bit better. “In Latino cultures, it’s not feminine for a man to be good at dancing.” There we go. Sorry for making three comments, lol. :\

    • The fag hag thing = my life. I have a solid group of friends that is comprised of 5 gay male or otherwise queer dudes, and we basically only go to dude bars, everyone ever only thinks I’m straight.

      I’m fine if people want to think I’m straight, unless it’s a gal I want to have sex with, but I hate the term and the assumption fag hag, because, my friends aren’t just gay guys, and I’m not just a girl. I don’t hang out with them because they’re gay, and I don’t think that is where their worth lies. People aren’t commodities, and when I put on a little dress and smear lipstick on my mouth and look in the mirror I see a young hottie meeting up with friends, not a straight girl out on the town with her gay boys$$$

  2. […]ink and paper only give so much solace when you’re trying to come to terms with yourself in a flesh and blood world.

    i love this.

  3. I LOVE I LOVE I LOVE. I have such an issue with this!

    I’ve decided to stick with the label “chapstick femme” if people ask where I fit on any spectrum. It’s so true…many masculine terms exist, not many for a girl who doesn’t fit those. Ahh.

    Thank you thank you thank you.

    • i love this. sometimes it can seem so exhausting to have to create your own identification and labels, but sometimes it can be fun. :)

  4. Thank you for this post!! I can relate to these feelings so much! Especially the girl who said that among Lesbians she was thought of as straight, but among straight girls she’s always called a tomboy.
    I also go with “chapstick lesbian”, as I don’t actual see myself as that femme, even though everyone else does!

  5. This is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I can relate so well to this article. I’ve tended to call myself a chapstick lesbian, but now that I’ve discovered tomboy femme, I might be switching!
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  6. Me and my pal talk about this sometimes. Once you acknowledge there’s a closet, whether you’re still in it or have gloriously strutted out of it, I think the one thing you want is for all these girls [who radiate gay] to check you out. Instead you sneakily gawk and they walk by without as much as a blink in your direction. I know for me and many of my friends, the obvious response to this was to go and remodel your entire wardrobe on the queen of lessys, Bieber. Unfortunately though throwing a rainbow infused glitter bomb at your wardrobe doesn’t make you any more comfortable in the land of ladys than a mini skirt and skyscraper heels. It took me a while to realise that I can dress whatever way I want, because the hawt ladies will come when you radiate confidence in yourself. Not when you wear your jeans as low as possible while your Calvins may aswell have neon lights flashing at them. That’s not to say that look suits some people. It does. It really really does. All I’m saying is that if you feel good wearing something, then wear it. Chances are if you feel smokin, it wont matter where you’re placed that day on the gay scale. Great article.

    • perfect comment Ash; in fact, it was in “coming out” that I finally felt I was given a license to dress and be who I had always wanted to be – which did require a bit of a wardrobe remodel, but in an awesome/fun/positive, and totally gay, way.

    • Thanks for linking the performance! I love how Ivan gets choked up a little and has to think of the Maple Leafs. It’s just as endearing as “I know those shoes are killing your feet.”

    • I’ve had the essay bookmarked since Xtra posted it, so I always default to the writing. I haven’t seen the performance in years, so thank you!

  7. I. Love. This. Article.

    I feel like it’s so complicated to be trans, lesbian, and femme at the same time. I’m never sure how far I can go in queering up my look without sacrificing “passability” (for lack of a more widely understood term). My most comfortable gender expression is kind of femme of center, but I feel sort of tacitly criticized sometimes in queer circles for that. Like I’m giving in to stereotypes of how women look and act, when in fact I’m just expressing my gender the way I WANT to. I’m hesitant to bring this concern to people’s attention (except on the internet where shit don’t matter) because I feel like I can’t really do so without basically advertising “Hey, guess which person in this room has a penis (for now), gets her estrogen from injections, and still has to shave her face most days and hide the remaining stubble with tons of foundation and concealer despite being a makeup minimalist at heart?” I mean, most of my friends know I’m trans, but I try and keep it from being “public” as much as my man-shaped, butt-faced body can manage.

    I’m perfectly comfortable presenting myself as I do and I don’t feel like I’m pressured into it. I know butch trans women exist. In fact, I know several butch trans women personally. I also know I’m not butch. I feel like there’s a tendency to deny the existence of agency behind feminine expression in some queer and feminist thought. That could just be my twisted personal reading of a lot of it, though. Maybe I misread.

    • Yes. Complicated to say the least. Sometimes I feel like I have enough trouble ensuring that my femaleness isn’t invisible, much less my queerness. It doesn’t help that I’m 6+ feet tall. I have to project a certain amount of femininity just to avoid being called “Sir.” I like the term tomboy femme and chapstick lesbian. However, as one I find that in trans communities I’m not considered feminine enough, among straight people I’m considered to be on the male side of androgynous (someone once told my partner, “He looks like Johnny Depp.” Not what I was going for – not even in “Before Night Falls” :) ), and I’m pretty much not recognized as a lesbian at all in any community. Still, accepting my femme-ish identity was an integral part of accepting my femaleness and I’m proud of who I am. It is good to see that there are many others who are too.

  8. yes! thank you for this. I constantly battle with myself over whether or not I should queer myself up a bit more. I want to represent, but I like dresses and reserve rainbows for pride. So, anyways, this is just great.

      • Awe shucks, thanks Sarah. I feel totally comfortable. It’s just that I wish I had a way of telling all the people I meet that their assumptions about me are probably off. I want them to know that the uber feminine girl that serves them coffee every morning is a raging queer. I want them to know so they start questioning all the things they think they know.

        • Completely understand this. It is so frustrating to not be recognized by others as queer and even more frustrating to not be recognized by other queers as queer. I just want to shout to those other lady loving ladies that come into my shop: I’m with you!

  9. femmes are my reason for existing. i’m sorry i blatantly check all of you out in the streets, and i’m sorry that my jaw sometimes drops at your curves and the way you walk in heels and the way you wear what you wear. christ, i am so hopelessly in love with you all.

  10. Absolutely love this. It took me a good while to own my ‘femme’-ness. I had to. It’s just who I am- but it wasn’t wasy or cut and dry. Fantastic writing.

  11. Fantastic, and so so important for femmes (and fellow queers who seek to understand and hold femmes as partners or sisters or lovers or friends) to hear. Every single time I get an email from some brave femme who found courage in FFAF, it makes my heart swell, but it also reminds me that it isn’t always an easy journey!

    Last week, FFAF got flack from a “long-time reader, first-time” hater, I mean commenter, for being femme. It said: “Look at me everyone! I look so straight, but I’m not.” The truth is, it never even crosses my mind that I look straight. In my mind I look femme! Not straight! There’s totally a difference! But I’m often made painfully aware that the world sees something – someone – else. I have yet to meet a femme who consciously enjoys the privilege of passing. If anything, it’s clear that we bemoan it and that it can be really difficult to reconcile being femme and being visible when they so often tend to cancel each other out.

    Also, I really, really heart tomboy femme style. I think I am tomboy femme at least 20% of the time, even if NOBODY believes me. They don’t know my life!

    PS. Kristen! I love your voice! It’s super honest and unafraid and lovely, and thank you for the mention. FemmeCon is truly amazing and I encourage everyone who can to make it out!

    • Thank you! I agree with everything you’re saying. In the real world, I haven’t had the opportunity to articulate how uncomfortable passing is, because so many people that don’t pass are physically/emotionally/verbally hurt for it. I never want to dismiss the safety issue, but I think I should be allowed to have a little bit of validation/acceptance.

      Connie had linked me back to your coverage when we started talking about her project. I am really excited that her thesis is getting a platform! Are you going to FemmeCon?

      • Not this time around, it’s too soon after our epic relocation from SF to Boston, but I’m hoping to make it to the next one! (Ditto for Camp Autostraddle.)

  12. This might be my most favorite Autostraddle article ever. Some days I feel like my femme-ness and my bisexuality are two automatic strikes against me. Today is going to be one of the days where I give zero fucks and wear the dress, the heels, and dig out a coordinating handbag.

  13. I suppose I think of myself as a low maintenance femme. No heels, no makeup. Not a tomboy or a girly girl but still enough on the femme spectrum that no one ever thinks I’m gay.

    • I’m the same. Always in flats, minimal make-up, a dress every now and then but usually just jeans and t-shirts. I’m a lot less maintenance than most straight women I know, yet I’m very rarely read as queer without me saying something to give it away. My short nails seem to be the only thing about my appearance that ever outs me, and that’s just due to a bad nail biting habit. haha

    • I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to learn that Low-Maintenance Femme-ness is a thing, and a GOOD thing! I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure this out since I was first struck by them (you) when I moved to Seattle … and more recently when I realized I may have a history with you (all) going all the way back to 1st year college.

      I even recently ventured onto urbandictionary.com with this conundrum, only to stumble back to this piece I just noticed I bookmarked once upon a time (medium-term memory issues, I guess!!). So it would really help me, if you’ll permit me, if you might visit http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=femme+lite. If it “speaks to your heart,” you may vote Thumbs Up; if not, please Thumbs Down; and if you have constructive criticism, go ahead and take a stab at it yourself there (and/or here!).

      In any case, thank you for what you’ve said here! :)

  14. Can I just say that I love all of you? I’ve had this essay churning in my head for the past few years and I never thought I’d have an audience for it. This is probably the most revealing thing I’ve written in a long time and I am so thankful people enjoyed it or could relate to it.

    So many hugs!

    • Thank you!! You put words to something that I’ve been milling over for years and just couldn’t quite articulate. It’s really powerful and validating to hear these stories that tell us we’re not alone.

    • Thank you so much for writing it Kristen! You’re fast becoming one of my favorite writers. And this article felt like it gave my femme-ness legitimacy. As in, there are a lot of ways to be femme. That was… really nice to hear. :)

  15. dresses & heels, skirts & combat boots, cigarette pants tank top & tight fitting jacket, plaid shorts t-shirt & loafers, tight blue jeans boy beater & long dangly earrings, ride a dual sport motorcycle, drive an suv and swing my long legs out in the shortest skirt and high high heels, super short fingernails with black glitter polish, hit big bitches playing roller derby wearing tiny little rufflebutt shorts and a star on my hotpink pinstriped helmet, ride a mountain bike up to there in mud, crawl under my house to run electrical, love snakes, save spiders and other creepy crawlies, shaved head or chin length bob, guyliner, full eye make-up, chapstick, lipstick, lip gloss, it’s all me. Depending on the day and my mood and how I feel, it’s all me and has been since before I knew what queer was. This article is all You Do You and I love/live that message. I want every single other person in the universe to feel comfortable enough to do the same.

    • That’s the exact reason I latched onto Beyond Lipstick instead of other femme visibility projects. The fact that she realized her definition shouldn’t have a bearing on submitter’s opinions really resonated with me. Reading the diverse spectrum of submissions and definitions just validated that.

      You Do You

    • This is me too. I’m equally comfortable in tight black tshirts and cargo pants as I am in a vintage skirt and top. I wear makeup, winged eyeliner and red lipstick and am very comfortable doing home and car maintenance. I have shaved my head then grown my hair to my waist and am happy with both. If someone wants to judge me on that then they aren’t the right person for me?

  16. Yes, thanks for this article.

    I find all the labels confusing and bewildering. It can be a bit of a minefield really.

    I like the sound of Tomboy Femme. As long as that means that I get to wear suits as much as dresses and combat boots as much as heels.

  17. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I have been (unsuccessfully) trying to articulate this for years. As someone who is bi-racial, I was never “black” enough or “white” enough, so I was so excited to come out (in the 90s) and be a part of this amazing “rainbow” community. Needless to say, I was devastated to see the same, tired gender-normative behaviors and roles being mirrored in the lesbian community; butches are this way, femmes are that way, etc. And the “queer” scene has not been much better, because, like you said, walking into a sea of “Urban Outfitters” hipster-dome is really uncomfortable; it’s like the needle on the record scratches and music stops, with everyone looking at me like “poor little normative femme” when I’m the only one in the room who actually looks different from everyone else and still has to go back into the straight, White patriarchal world and not fit in there either. Trust me, I’m not “passing.” Further, I’ve always WANTED to be femme. Femininity is not something that’s been imposed on me and I do not feel the need to become more masculine in order to be powerful or seen as equal. (Not that this is why people chose to be more masculine, but I shouldn’t be seen as apolitical for choosing not to.) I mostly hang out with gay men, not because I am a self-loathing femme, but because they are the only ones in my community that have seen me as being a bad a** mo fo capable of doing and being anything. Fierce! The way that some gay men have adopted feminine traits and accepted them as a source of power – not just to be sexualized – but as a symbol of powerful “realness” resonates with me. But, I will always long to walk into a lesbian bar and find that same acceptance.

    • Spot on about hanging with gay men! In my experience they just seem to appreciate femmes in such a genuine way. I’ve always been more comfortable just being me around them because they always seem to make me feel the best about it.

    • Aw, gay men have been a huge part of my life too. They helped me feel beautiful when I was told I was anything but.

    • I wish I understood this better. How is being feminine a source of strength or power, other than the power of attracting other people (sexually)? It’s such a foreign language to me, I really am just completely at a loss about it but my life would be so much better if I understood that at all. I understand that beauty can be powerful in a non-sexual way (like, beauty is a virtue), but men can be beautiful too (and I mean masculine men).

  18. I love this so much!
    There are so many things in this article that share my same feelings.
    I also love this because I went to Ryerson for Fashion Design and now work in a company where my choice to wear mens button downs and jeans leaves me feeling like an outcast boy.

  19. I just want to second (or actually more like twenty-second) all the “thank you” and “I LOVE THIS” comments. I am also so grateful for the link to Tomboy Femme, because up until now I had no idea what to call myself and my style of dress. I completely identify with being the most tomboyish in a group of straight women but the most feminine-looking in a group of queer women, and it makes me feel like I’m trapped in gender expression limbo. But this article has been a relief to read and has given me a lot to think about. Thanks once again Kristen!

    • THIS. This is literally the story of my life.

      ” I completely identify with being the most tomboyish in a group of straight women but the most feminine-looking in a group of queer women, and it makes me feel like I’m trapped in gender expression limbo.”

  20. GAAAH

    This article seriously describes my coming out process too. You nailed it, and I love it.

    And that tomboy femme identity? EUREKA! I’m claiming it!

    Thanks so much for this, kristen :)

  21. that they try to be out as an everyday role model, not for the doubters or the critics, but instead for themselves and the closeted femme that doesn’t know she can exist.


    Thank you for this.

  22. As so many before me have said, I love this post! Being femme can be such a difficult label to own but it is about so much more than how we present ourselves. In fact, this summer I played with denying many of the outward signs of my femininity and I have arguably never felt more femme in my life.

  23. I absolutely adore this article. While coming to terms with my sexuality I’ve realized just how much influence one’s appearance apparently has on the matter. Not only have I been told by people in real life and on tumblr that I’m “too femme” to be attractive to women, I’m also “too femme” to be ATTRACTED to women.

  24. hey, thanks for this article, i love it and all the beautiful femme and not femme people byeeee!

  25. Seriously well written. I love that your voice can be both vulnerable and assertive at the same time.

  26. I. LOVE. THIS. SO. MUCH! I don’t even know where to start! Thank you for being so honest and vulnerable for the sake of all of us. I can totally relate. I’ve always been relatively femme and almost never get recognized as being gay without coming right out and saying it.
    For my birthday this year, my partner and I went to Vegas and met up with my two best friends (a gay male couple). I couldn’t have been more excited to get all dolled up and hit the gay bar for a birthday drag show celebration! I rolled in, in my sequined mini dress and killer stilettos with my lady by my side. The male bartender, trying to be helpful(?), mentioned to me at least 3 times that their go-go boys were hot, single, and straight if I wanted to “have a good time for my birthday.” I laughed at first, then realized he wasn’t kidding. I replied “that’s not going to do anything for me” and he looked so perplexed. I had to literally come right out and say “I’m gay and I’m with her!” (and he still looked at me like I was in the wrong place). It felt pretty shitty being in a city as wild and queer as Vegas and still being mistaken for a straight girl just tagging along with her gay friends. Oh well, the redemption came in the form of a drag queen pulling me up on stage with some other birthday ladies, announcing which of us were indeed lesbians, and having a room full of people scream “happy birthday motherfuckers!”
    I feel like we all have a story like this and we need more projects and articles to give a voice to this frustration! Thank you a million times!

  27. Thank you so much for writing this. It has been a personal struggle being perceived as something I am not based on the way I choose to dress.

    I should not have to wear clothes I am uncomfortable in to be true to my sexuality, the same way I do not expect straight women to be confined to femme-y clothes in order to be true to theirs.

  28. Thank you so much for this. The only time I feel comfortable with my femmeness is when I’m actually out on a date with a girl. In straight situations I have such complicated feelings about passing, and in gay spaces I feel like being as femme as I want would make me stand out in a not-good way. I’m going to have to check out the projects you mention, because right now I spend way too much time in my closet staring unhappily at my clothes. (also, I’m pretty tall for a woman, and a lot of the higher femme looks basically require heels, and then I completely tower over girls– anyone else struggle with this?)

    • I am with you on the tallness! I sometimes really hate being 5’10 and loving shoes that put me at 6’2.

      However, I’ve had a *lot* of folks all across the gender spectrum tell me how attractive/awesome/hot/sexy it is that I’m tall and wear high heels. Most of the time I do feel like a sexy Amazonian goddess, but sometimes I still feel like I’m wearing Stilts of Awkwardness. Getting over internalized messages/images of “femme = small” has been really hard.

      • Small=Femme is definitely a hard one to get over. Stilts of awkwardness is an amazing phrase. I guess I need to find my tall=hot people.

        • I think it’s rough for all tall femme women — I see what I think of as “tall girl hunch” so much — that particular slouch that comes from trying to make yourself seem smaller than you are that you started doing when you were young and thus have such trouble un-learning.

          I didn’t learn to wear high heels until I was in college, but I haven’t stopped wearing them since. Anyone who wants to be with me is just going to have to deal because it has taken me so long and I have worked to hard to reconcile my tallness with my femme-ness and I am never giving that up.

          As far as tall=hot goes, I think that a tall person wearing high heels shows a certain level of confidence *already* just by leaving the house, and all the advice columnists say that confidence is sexy. :)

        • Ugh, tall girls, especially tall femmey girls, totally make me weak in the knees, every time. (Says this 5’4″ shrimp.)

      • <3 <3 <3 tall women, all women really, but for years I've had this dream that I could just magically be 5'10 (I'm 5'7), for what it's worth

    • Just going to jump in here on the height rant. I’m 5 foot nothing and I end up getting shoved into the ‘femme’ label no matter what I do. Its incredibly frustrating the amount of butch girls who fall into this dreadful macho shite when they come near me. Its like fuck you, stop deciding I’m femme because I’m smaller than you and marginally less masculine than you.

      • same. I feel like there’s some secret code no one taught me about, where short girls who happen to be dressed in anything other than the entire men’s section of american eagle need to expect every butch woman in a 10 mile radius to start opening doors for them. and it’s like, please stop, I’m shorter than you, not incapable of turning a handle.

        • It makes my blood boil! I mean people say I’m too picky when I say that I prefer to go out with girls the same height as me, but seriously I have my reasons. Thankfully I’m going out with this girl at the moment who totally gets that I hate being considered feminine or less able in the door opening realm of things. Its nice to not need to fight to have that masculinity that’s so important to how I see myself recognized.

  29. Kristen,

    Between the article itself and all the comments posted, I couldn’t stop reading from beginning to end. Thank you for helping put into words something I have struggled with since coming out at sixteen years old. Yes, I’ve done it all: from denying myself pretty dresses and shiny jewelry to only buying baggy jeans and never leaving the house without my chucks. It wasn’t until I started really becoming comfortable with myself (and one drunken night when a gay male friend decided I WAS going to wear the sparkly dress to the gay bar) that I realized I could still be gay in stilettos!

    This is a beautifully written article, the links had my clicking forever and I loved reading all the stories that your readers shared in the comments. Pieces like this are what got me addicted to AS in the first place so I thank you, thank you, thank you for this article.

    Now I must go share with every femme I know :)

  30. Told you it’d be great. Look at how many awesome femmes read this and loved it and totally understand exactly where you (we, all of us) are coming from.

    Off to go simultaneously lust over and covet everything in Tomboy Femme.

  31. I’ve always found it funny that girls who are more stereotypically feminine get labeled as “femmes” that are high maintenance or obsessed with their looks. Sure, there are “lipstick” lesbians who spend hours in the bathroom every morning (which is totally cool if that’s what you want to do). But there are also people who fall under the “androgynous hipster” category that probably spend just as much time perfecting their faux-hawks and picking out the perfect I-just-rolled-out-of-bed-in-this outfit every morning. The end result does not always reflect the effort behind it.

    “Femme” invisibility is something I struggle with, as someone coming out of the closet. Why should I have to compromise the things I love (dresses, skirts, and the color pink) for WHO I love (girls)? This article (which is AWESOME) has definitely affirmed the belief that I simply shouldn’t have to. My next challenge: tackling a gay bar in heels. #bringit

  32. So I am totally identifying as “tomboy femme” from now on, as opposed to my standard label of “bisexual Scout Finch”. I seriously loved this article, for all us who have been told we aren’t gay enough, this is amazeballs.

  33. as a tomboy femme who is into other tomboy femmes, this post just became my torah. like, an epic, glittery, edible torah. or something as great as that would be.

    • I think we could have an entire article just on femmes who like femmes. I struggle so much with both being read as queer by others and identifying women I’m attracted to who are queer. Can we all just start wearing buttons or something? hahah

      • it’s awful. I’ve never once hit on a girl without slowly realizing she was only interested in the more masculine-looking queers nearby, with the exception of the few times I’ve been dragging and appearing butchier. it’s an actual curse. made worse by the fact that, due to the apparently eternal butch-femme dynamic that persists in the LGBTQ community, I spend 2/3 of my life ducking the (very nice but not my type) butches who always talk to me whenever I go out. hetnorm stereotypes: they’re everywhere.

        …we really do need buttons.

      • YES! Somehow femme loving femmes are all over TV but in real life it just doesn’t seem to compute.

  34. Sidenote: I was legit worried I wasn’t gay enough for A-Camp, being femme, bisexual, and in a relationship with a man(who is practically a lesbian, but still). Until my friend told me I was being an idiot. And until I read this article. I feel better now. See you in September!

    • I am in a similar boat – femme-ish queer with a male partner (who is also practically a lesbian given his taste in women XP) – and I’m coming to ACamp too! Say hi :)

  35. dear fellow femmes,

    a) you make me go weak in the knees. for serious. which is slightly dangerous when I’m in heels.

    b) I have a sneaking suspicion that the privileging of masculine queer women still reflects a patriarchal value-ordering. *To be clear, I’m not dismissing masculine gender-expression.* But I think it will be a truly radical thing when we stop paying very much attention to gender, and instead pair off with ‘people.’ Having to ‘prove’ your orientation is crap.

  36. This article made me cry. Ever since coming out, my clothes are the topic of conversation. Somehow it’s suddenly ok to say things like “you look nicer than the straight girls!” or “those are your dyke shoes.” I love dresses and makeup, but am worried of being alone forever because the gay girls don’t know I’m into them. Thank you for saying everything I’ve been trying to articulate for years.

  37. This article made me have a lot of feelings. I still don’t really know where I stand because I only wear combat boots and recently chopped off all my hair, but as soon as it gets hot outside I’m the first one to throw on a sundress.

  38. Tomboy femme is beautiful and perfect as far as labels go.

    I’ve been unsure about how I would be labeled as far as fashion goes, mainly because my style can vary drastically from day to day. On he one hand sometimes I want nothing more than to dress like a flapper, but I’m not going to give up my jeans and t-shirts for days when I want to wear those. And I’ve also wondered how my fashion would affect me fitting into any larger queer community, which I do not have where I currently live. (But there is one where I am moving soon.)

    Fashion is hard. So is fitting in.

  39. It’s not necessarily that being a femme is a bad thing, but at times it’s nicer to not have a label, and say I am me. Either accept me or don’t. I am beautiful in my own way, and just maybe, maybe somebody will love that about me. I love me, and how I feel in my own skin. That is what matters. If I want to wear makeup, a sundress, and pair of high heel, or if I want to faux hawk my hair, wear a tucked, but slightly pulled out button up, a pair of skinny jeans, and some chucks, so be it. What matters is who I am, not what I dress like.

    • You should always do what is right for you and if you don’t want a label then more power to ya! Just be careful of reducing a label like femme down to what someone wears because you’re right, what matters is who you are and not what you wear.

      That applies to us self-identified femmes as well. I am femme for so many reasons beyond my obsession with shoes and sundresses. I am no more of a femme when I have long hair than when I have a faux hawk. To suggest that utilizing the label femme only acknowledges outward appearances is to ignore all the other aspects of an identity and I believe that the femme community is especially vulnerable to that.

      That doesn’t mean that the label is correct for you or others but for those of us who do choose to use it, know that using it is in fact about who we are and not simply what we dress like.

  40. <3 <3 I knew this would be sooooo good! Thanks for writing this Kristen! I'm gonna get everyone I know to read it :)

  41. As a trans woman I will admit I had a weakness for femme dressing for a while, but I always felt I wasn’t welcome in queer spaces and people thought I was just a straight girl that got lost. I changed my style a little to work with my profession and I am much more dressed down now. I still get read as a straight girl when I go out in jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt! So I tried to look more butch but then I look more like a man and get read as a guy (so not what I want because looking trans will make you less welcome in a lot of queer spaces as well, or welcome in the ones I’m not interested in).

    I’ve found after years of not knowing what to do and over analyzing it too much, I just wear what I want and politely tell the boys to leave me alone. I totally agree there is some major strength in being femme. I find it sad that you come out as gay and can lose friends and family and the people you have decided to “join” don’t accept you based on appearance. Its like you leave one box that you don’t fit in to be smashed into another box you don’t fit in. Hopefully this will continue to change, assuming a person is anything just from their appearance is a terrible thing.

  42. I adore the comment about still being femme even in men’s jeans and a tank top. Even on the days I’m rocking what would normally get me classified on more of the soft butch side of things (especially since I cut my hair and have a small chest) I feel femme. I still wear my makeup and curl my hair and just… Feel feminine.

    I consider myself a hard femme. Like a tomboyfemme, but I like the way “hard femme” makes me feel. Like I’m secure and in control of my own labels and identity. I’m also pretty dominant, protective, mature for my age and business-oriented (plus pretty seriously attracted to older women) and that just all fits into “hard femme” for me. Of course, my good friend likes to describe me as “sweet and sexy exterior, tough grrl romeo interior” so maybe I’m a Romeo Femme. Or just a grrl. Whatever :)

    It’s really hard to feel like I belong in queer spaces, though. I admit I’ve butched up on occassion just so I can get a girl to dance with me and I don’t have to keep coming out all night to everyone I meet. Even in lesbian bars I’m asked “Where’s your/Do you have a boyfriend?” I don’t look alternative at all. I don’t have an affinity for punk or retro femininity. I don’t have tattoos and I’m not brave enough to really do anything truly alternstive with my hair.

    I think Autostraddle is big enough they need to create symbols we can wear. Make it official. Like a hanky code for women. And even if it doesn’t catch on like wildfire, I can still spot Autostraddle lesbians, who we all know are the coolest lesbians of all.

  43. I’m attracted to women who are functional and natural. I don’t really think of it in the butch/femme/etc terms, because I’m attracted to women all over the map. What matters more for me is how down to earth and genuine someone seems.

  44. I loved this article.

    I identify as “lazy femme”. A bunch of the queer community reads me as femme and it’s a label I’m happy to accept and will hold with pride. I like dresses and makeup and most everything femme. But most days you’ll find me in my lab in a t-shirt and jeans, because that really just seemed easier. Makeup? God I have so much and wear so little. And that long flowing hair that’ll get someone tagged as a femme no matter what else they do? That hairstyle is called my “wow, I forgot to schedule a haircut in the last 12 months, didn’t I?” (Which is great, because I want long hair and it turns out it’s really easy to get: You just stop cutting it. I know, right?)

    Part of me feels bad, because I never thought being femme could be so easy. Part of me is relieved, because it is what I am, despite totally not having the energy to keep up with the high femme crowd. (Who I think are amazing, by the way, over here in my jeans. God damn girls, thanks for making me look as lazy as I feel, it always keeps me knowing and aware there’s plenty more femme to embrace on the occasions I feel inspired. Also you’re pretty…)

    • “I identify as ‘lazy femme’…. I like dresses and makeup and most everything femme. But most days you’ll find me in my lab in a t-shirt and jeans, because that really just seemed easier.”

      ^This. This is my life.

    • This sums me up so well, I think I’ll knick your label :) I’m even considering getting a loose perm because I like how my hair looks curled but I’m too lazy/useless to do it more than once a year or something. And I have huge amounts of perfumes and makeup that never get used, and lots of handbags but Im too lazy to switch my essentials from one to the other so I end up grabbing the same one every time regardless of whether or not it matches my outfit. I do get the opportunity to wear cute things a lot though as I’m a primary school teacher and like to look pretty, but again low maintanence because who wants to wear heels while navigating small people and chairs?

  45. I made an account to comment on this (look what you’ve done!)

    Seriously, this is my life. I always fell somewhat awkwardly between butch and femme, and after I came out as bisexual felt pressured to project more butch to prove I was into girls. I’ve been moved to dress more femme lately for the first time, and finding it more comfortable than expected but I’m still wearing chucks with my party dresses. That’s ok.

  46. This is so perfect. I’m an invisible femme, but with my personality I feel as though I’m more butch. I’m tired of being pre-labeled.

  47. This is very well written. And, of course, I’ve always loved that piece written by Ivan.

    I once had a mad crush on a girl who told me that when people ask her what she identifies as, she replies “Borderland.” I asked her what that is supposed to mean. She said it means that no matter where we are in life, we are standing on the brink of everything we possibly can be.

    There is a lot I really do not understand in our community. I heard a “butch” woman talking about being criticized for wearing mascara. And I am just like, really? Why do we have to be anything but ourselves? Why do we force ourselves to fit some stereotype in order to feel affirmed? Why can’t you strutt around in your dress and heels and why can’t the presumed butchy woman wear some mascara? Who cares?

    When people ask me what I identify as, I tell them “me.” I can rock a dress or a tie and fedora and feel just as comfortable in both. I’ve had long hair and now I have short hair. But it is never to fit some stereotypical label. I just don’t identify with labels. And as such, “roles” really do not resonate with me. I don’t feel a butch needs to be with a femme and vice versa. I really just don’t get it. And I’m sure the fact that I do not identify with any of them or feel like roles are important will make it hard in a society that is trying so hard..

    • I wish I were confident in myself when I came out. I am not 1000% comfortable with labels, but they happen. Labels can divide communities, but they can also unite those that identify with them. A person that finds comfort in a label doesn’t negate the freedom another feels without one.

      You do you

  48. So glad that you wrote this piece and that so many femmes are commenting. It’s clearly a subject near and dear to my heart and the more visibility us femmes get, the better!

    Megan (from Wegan) X

  49. I find that I’m really attracted to performed dichotomies – so I suspect that I adore femme and butch for the same reason that I adore dominance and submission. Taking a very ambiguous thing such as gender and actively twisting it into something loud and beautiful takes a special kind of awareness and intelligence that I find really sexy – more so than simply opposing the societal consensus with a blue mohawk or tattoos, which really do the performing for you.

  50. I absolutely loved this (and now I’m also addicted to tomboy femme). Having tried the butch end of the scale in my formative (teen) years and found that I wasn’t very comfortable there personally, I went back and forth a lot but lately I have found myself in the middle-ish and I am loving it. This piece pretty much describes it perfectly, more so than my jumble of words… So thank you loads!

  51. I’ve read Autostraddle for months and it was only this article that prompted me to make an account to tell you how deeply this resonated with me and made me feel okay about a lot of reservations, fears, insecurities, and uncertainties. Beautifully articulated thoughts and quotes from strong, strong women — makes me proud to be, well, me.

  52. I am hard femme and I tend to love/fall head over heels for hard femmes. So many #femmefeelings

  53. Thank you thank you thank you. I hate this preconceived notion from within the community of how a lesbian is supposed to act/look/dress. Can we please stop making it so hard for us “femmes” (I don’t see myself as one, but apparently everyone else does) to be seen as legit queers, because honestly, it’s already hard enough to find someone half sane to date without me having to pull out photographic evidence to prove that yes, I’m gay too.

  54. This makes me so happy.

    I was tired of blending in with straight girls. After I cut my hair (I know there’s a lot more to femme than hair, but let’s face it, it’s a big part) I definitely got a lot more queer attention… but I feel so out of place with myself. I can’t wait for it to grow back now.

  55. FEMMELYFE – Ermergersh.
    I have recently been playing with my gender expression – IE, pinning up my serious undercut and hiding it in hats, button ups with “lesbian pants” (you know what I’m talking about) and wearing less make up and taking off my nail polish. My andro friends think it’s “cute”. I feel like a masculine of center woman one day and a feminine of center butch the next and it’s all so very complicated.
    As someone who has presented as femme for as long as I have been out as a queer person, I am quite enthralled with the attention I have been reciving since butching it up a little bit. Femme at heart, but butch presenting? Butch at heart, presenting femme?

  56. Wow, it seems like each generation has to reinvent the wheel and go through some sort trial and tribulation to realise that femmes are as queer as butch lesbians. In fact, all queer are worthy queers, whether you want to place them on some sort of gender continuum or not. We need to do a better passing down our histories and what we’ve learned. It’s not that it’s going to be the same, of course, but it kills me to see the same arguments being had as if they’re for the first time. It’s worse thinking that femmes in certain circles are considered “queer” enough.

    (But I’d be the woman going out on that date at the beginning of the article who says, “Sorry, I think you’re a little too butch/not enough femme for me”. Even though I’m actually pretty flexible. I’ll probably never go out with a hardcore butch dyke, though I could be wrong…

    • I’m glad there’s hope for next generation.

      I wasn’t talking to anyone else’s experience except for mine. I was incredibly insecure coming out and had to deal with the identity crisis of telling people that had known me for 20 some odd years that I wasn’t who they thought I was. I also had to let them know that the new assumptions they put on me really hurt because I didn’t think they had a right to pass these judgments.

      I haven’t traveled in enough circles to have older lesbians tell me, “it gets better.” I only discovered Autostraddle after I had already been out and having a sense of online community made a huge difference to my confidence. I latched onto Connie’s project BECAUSE it is providing a record of people’s stories and experiences, thus passing on a history. This is a group I identify with, for better or for worse. I hope that when people come out (in any capacity) they can find familiar stories if not familiar faces. Knowledge is power indeed, but if you don’t know where to look you can’t exactly empower yourself.

  57. Oh my god this is so good SO GOOD

    I love fashion, I work in fashion, I have adored dressing up and being girly (and also playing sports) since I was a kid…and it is so, so fucking hard for people to get that I am all these things and gay. It is especially hard for my fellow coworkers (all straight women, 2 gay men). My favorite line is, ‘You’re a lesbian? But you’re, like, pretty!’

    Sidenote- I do think the amount of labels (self identified, but still) are a little nuts. I’m femme, I guess, technically, but really I’m just gaay! That is all! There are 50 million shades of gay and ways to be gay but we sub-categorize so much, I don’t know, it feels a bit cliquey.

  58. I’ve been reading Autostraddle for a while, never made an account until I read this article. It resonates SO MUCH with my life, I can’t even.

    I’ve been described by a close friend as being “perpetually in the middle of things”. I’m mixed, Chinese and English. Bisexual. Femme, but not necessarily by intention – I’m just as comfortable in tshirts and jeans as in a dress and heels, but I’m always read as femme regardless. Every day I have to redefine myself to others – as bisexual, as mixed (usually after a parade of guesses about my ethnicity), and as a tomboy femme.

    Some friends and I went out to a queer event a while ago, and they advised me to change out of a dress I was going to wear – trusting them but not wanting to compromise too much (the best part of going out is dressing up!) I wore a skirt – and of course proceeded to be hit on by three people that night, all of them bi men thinking I was a straight f*g hag.

    I’ve always struggled with whether or not to dress more “butch” in order to (finally) be read as queer in the community. (Not that it would work, as donning a denim button-up and skinny jeans in my first (and last) attempt still didn’t convince anyone.) My twin sister, who’s also bi, got an undercut a few months ago – and the number of a queer girl THAT AFTERNOON at a coffee shop. But this article has convinced me not to ever compromise my in-the-middle style of flowery shirts, jeans, cardigans and wedges for anyone, and I can’t thank you enough.

    • I’m drunk and read that as “Toaster Femme” and now I want to know where to get my free toaster for being femme-ish.

      • Everyone above can keep their “Tomboy Femme” label. I’m taking “Toaster Femme” and using it to make some rockin’ gay waffles.

  59. i too have been told that i’m “too femme” for somebody. and it’s like, really, was that supposed to be letting me down gently!? all i heard was “you’re not queer enough for me”. UGH. fuck OFF. femme invisibility is such a difficult thing. it makes it a million times harder to find yourself settled in a community (or it has for me, at least). people i wanted to makes friends with during college never took me seriously because they A) assumed i wasn’t really gay or B) just wanted to fuck me. there are many, many situations where i meet someone who is visibly queer, and i want them to recognize that. i want that nod, like “oh hey there, you’re family”, but I pretty much never get it. and i don’t know, sometimes that just hurts.

    anyway. /end rant. great article.

  60. I had to sign up and post after lurking for pretty much forever because I have ~feelings about this article.

    When I go out, I usually don’t go to gay nights, I go to my local (cyber)goth night. At previous gay nights I’ve attended they’ve played all the stuff I avoid the radio for, and while I have a schizophrenically diverse taste in music, I just can’t dance to most of that. When I go out dancing I need my beats hard, dark and twisted.

    I love getting dressed up when I go to those clubs- I don’t really wear make-up other than mascara but I LOVE skirts, corsets, stockings, lace, laces, tulle, etc. All of it! Not really suitable for everyday life, so I tend to just wear a lot of black. Most of the time you’ll see me in (flared) jeans and a top/t-shirt but I always wear nail polish, I pluck my eyebrows semi-regularly, and I wear earrings, many of them dangly. I dislike shorts, so when it’s too hot for jeans I prefer skirts or dresses.

    I’m not super femme but I definitely don’t identify with the more masculine side of the spectrum. This already puts me in an in-between kind of place, but add the whole alternative thing (without the huge amount of tattoos or alternative lifestyle haircut) and I don’t know where I belong anymore. Too gay for the straights, too straight-looking for the queers, too alt for the mainstream. This article is especially relevant today because I’m going to my local (hetero-friendly, almost always sold out) gay night on Saturday with my friend & some of her friends, and I’ve been agonizing over what to wear all day. Do I wear my new twirly dress and at least feel cute in a place where I already feel awkward about the music, or do I dress down in jeans and a top to not feel out of place with the hipsters/’normal’ people & hopefully not be seen as a straight girl? All I’m asking for is to be myself AND be noticed by girls for a change. :(

  61. I frequently play both sides of fashion, I have a closet full of dresses as well as 2 suits and my boys briefs are snuggled up right next to my lacy, leathery underthings.

    I’ve been told I can’t be a lesbian because I go to frat parties in miniskirts. And called a dyke for fauxhawking the pixie cut I’ve been rocking since I was seven.

    But 1 girl I dated told me “I thought you were more butch…” In this super disappointing way when I informed her that while yes I look damn sexy in my coveralls “fixing” the car, my super feminine, straight little sister was the one who had to show me where the oil dohickey was. I’ve been called a “closeted fifties housewife” and been told by the bois that make me melt just by looking at them that I should just grow my hair out and then I would be totally date able.

    Its really frustrating and invalidating. And sometimes I feel like I’ll never meet a lady that likes the duality of a girl that can go from boi to femme in an hour or so (makeup permitting). But until I finally do its at least nice to know that I’m not the only one who sometimes wants to scream about how a group that says “no labels” labels the f*ck out of its own members.

    how about femmeboi… it kind of makes me think of femmebots which makes me nostalgic for Austin powers and the 90’s…

  62. It is so amazing to see so many positive comments from everyone! I’ve been travelling all day, on my way to FemmeCon in Baltimore, so to see this response is overwhelming. I wish I could write something as articulate as Kristen right now!

    THANK you to Kristen for writing this article. It was such an honour for Beyond Lipstick to be included. Every single one of these comments is why I started the project. The more I connect to other Femmes, the more I am inspired, the more I am strong and confident, the more I feel visible.

    Can I just say I’m really smiling, like about to burst, with femme pride right now?

  63. I loved this so much. I definitely don’t identify as a tomboy femme, because tomboy makes me think of the popular girls in middle school who were good at sports and made me feel totally inadequate. I just wanted to skip PE and read books. I call myself lazy femme because sometimes I’m a total slob, though I do love make-up and dresses and lingerie. I feel like a lot of girls I’ve dated have been…weird? about my gender expression? Disapproving I guess? Because there’s still an association between femininity and weakness. If you’re femme you’re obviously not as queer, obviously not as radical, obviously not as powerful…

    • This piece also made me realize that I’ve been told enough times that I’m too femme that I’ve started to assume that I’m too femme for every cute girl I see so I don’t even bother…so that’s never going to get me laid, now is it?

  64. I love this article and all the comments. I am really glad you mentioned femme trans* males. I’ve seen so much crap in the trans* community about not being masculine enough. And though I present as quite masculine in my style, I have a tomboyfemme-ish personality. It’s nice to see all the diversity in femmes.

  65. Such a beautiful well written article, love your work Kristen! <3

    I'm ex femme-identified – I now identify as a Dandy, although I think I still largely get read as femme.
    I'm quite a dramatic theatrical person (and I now work as a fashion stylist & designer) and right from childhood I've used my clothing as a form of self expression. I had my tomboy phase as an 8 year old when I got my mum to buy me clothes from the boys department… until I fell in love with the spice girls and by the time I was 10 mum was hunched over the sewing machine making me a 'little gucci dress' like Victoria Beckham.
    I was a preppy 'horsey' girl, then a surfer chick over the next few years, always enjoying the crafting and styling of my identity… moreso than partaking in the activities themselves!I began identifying as a lesbian when I was 16, and that marked the beginning of a hyper-femme phase. (my gay rebellion?)I was a curvaceous 50's pin-up, lipstick, heels and matching gloves. I identified as femme, and owned that shit proudly.

    Then a few years later, it stopped feeling like 'me' anymore. I bought some converse chucks and then another pair and another…

    Now I like to wear shirts and bowties, sometimes with cons, sometimes with heels. I went to a ball recently in a suit, mans tux shirt complete with cufflinks etc, and my long hair swept up into a fauxhawke (or 'lesbian woof' as my boss calls it) … but wore black heels with the outfit.
    I'm exploring masculinity in my style, and don't feel femme anymore… but I'm more Janelle Monae than Rachel Maddow.

    I like to think of myself as a canvas to express my creativity and like Madonna, every couple of years I go into breif hybernation and emerge from my chrysalis with a new look.

    My style is always bold and colourful, co-ordinated and accessorized. Within those four descriptors though, sometimes I can be masculine and sometimes feminine, so 'Dandy' is the word I've chosen to best describe me.

    I'm loving the 'tomboy femme'term though, I think thats definitely where my gf fits on the spectrum!

  66. Thank you for the great article. The comments are also amazing.

    I came out to the world 2 years ago.

    I identify as mostly gay/lesbian. For me, this means that I do not intend/want to date men. I am seeking a woman as a life partner. However, I still find men attractive and I do sometimes have romantic feelings for them (more so when I’m ovulating I’ve noticed).

    For me, I like the idea that sexuality is a continuum;
    dynamic rather than static. I generally tell people that I’m gay/lesbian, but I will explain the “grey” area to close friends. It really bothers me when these friends react by telling me: “You’re not gay!” or, “Are you sure you’re gay? Maybe it’s a phase”. People have also told me that I don’t “look gay”, and I understand that the combination of my occasional man crush and appearance makes them think that they have the right to tell me this.

    I often think: should I tell them about how I’ve only ever watched lesbian porn? Or how I hated myself from the ages of 15-28 because I didn’t want to be gay? Or how I was sometimes suicidal? And I have told them. I’ve sat there frustrated trying to convince these “friends” that the category “gay/lesbian” is what works best for me.

    Actually, this happened to me very recently. After all of my hard work trying to convince the said person about my gayness, I wondered why it is that I bother. Who cares if they don’t believe me? Why does this bother me so much?

    I’m sure that my insecurity is one reason. More than anything, I feel like it’s my right and my prerogative to choose my own label. I fought my sexuality for so long, especially since I clung to the hope that the little attraction to men that I had would allow me to avoid being gay. After all that I put myself through, I am so proud of myself for embracing the truth, which is that my preference is for women. That’s what being lesbian means to ME.

  67. Great article, Great comments – actually inspired me to make an Autostraddle account so I could comment

  68. Interesting. Personally, I don’t really care for labels, and I especially dislike the way that queer women tend to use them. Maybe it’s my prejudice as an “androgynous” person who likes other “androgynous” women. I do use labels for lack of better or easier descriptions, but i don’t even like the essential meanin of androgyny – a mix between male and female? Nah… I am straight up female, and lipstick, high heels, and emotional expressivity could not make me “more female.” But I do identify with “androgynous” in the sense that i feel it describes me based on usual definitions.

    I cannot relate to the strong sense of invisibility that “femmes” have, and I am confused by the idea that “masculine” queers have more power in the community. In terms of visibility, yes, that makes sense. But at least where I live, the vast majority of lesbians would probably choose “femme” out of the label options. In addition, most of them also seem to prefer “other femmes.” At least f craigslist ads are any indicator. These ads make people’s preferences clear – the number one preference people mention is for thin people (“no BBW” or “HWP”). Also close to the top of that list is “femmes.” especially, the bicurious posters are always terrified of the “masculine women.” but i see a lot of “femme seeking femme” and “butch seeking femme” (mostly the former). And rarely does the word “androgynous” even appear (maybe that’s a privileged invisibility – I do not know).

    Also, i have never seen an event in my area advertised for “androgynous,” “masculine,” or “butch” women unless you count the small drag king group, but I do see events intended specifically for femmes. I can see how you would paint that as privilege in itself, but I don’t think so. I see femininity as being the most highly prized in queer women’s culture even though this fact is never noted in the community except by those queers who think all women should look “femme” (also seen on craigslist).
    Being seen as straight by the queer community sucks, and I also wish there were more terms to describe this group of women, but I think “femmes” are often the privileged group both outside as well as inside the community. Majorities tend to work that way.

    • I want to move to your town where girls want to date femmes!

      Ok actually I would rather move to somewhere where all queers are accepted and loved, I guess.

    • More seriously, I don’t think this is what the queer community is like where I live (Portland, Oregon) at all. But it makes sense that it would vary place by place.

    • “Also, i have never seen an event in my area advertised for “androgynous,” “masculine,” or “butch” women unless you count the small drag king group, but I do see events intended specifically for femmes.”

      I always thought this was odd, too. There are *so* many femmes who have all of these amazing resources, events, Tumblrs, articles, and books about being queer and femme. Although masculine women are seen as being the most privileged or visible (which is true), there isn’t anything for them. For every piece of slam poetry about love for fierce femmes, there’s… well, nothing for masculine women, unless I’m looking in the wrong places.

      • I feel like there is always a bit of “things look different on the other side of the fence” when it comes to femme/butch/masculine/andro/hipster etc.

        As someone who feels way masculine in a group of straight men/women and reads very femme when out in the “queer word” I completely identify with the poster. However, don’t think it’s an issue of “butch women have all the fun/are more visible/more easy identify as a possible date etc.” since presenting more masculine comes with a whole set of its own issues. Major issue that can be very difficult.

        I have simply never read an article that talked about the psychological insecurities that come from being a femme, having to feel like you have to have your tongue down another girl’s throat to even be considered queer by the LGBT community, to like make up and girly stuff, but also to be strong woman who isn’t bi-curious and knows who she is and what she wants.

        I get asked if I’m gay constantly, it should be easy to just say “yes,’ but it’s not and it always throws me, flooding forward all the insecurities that maybe i’m somehow “not gay enough.”

        This article really filled a need for me, so thanks!

    • “But at least where I live, the vast majority of lesbians would probably choose “femme” out of the label options. In addition, most of them also seem to prefer “other femmes.”

      where do you live because I need to move there

  69. people never believe i am gay and i’m not even femme. it is annoying. also, i am just gonna label you as smarthot and you can wear whatever you want.

  70. Ok first of all, Kristen – thank you for writing this. I can’t believe your date had the temerity to blame you for her not being into you! That’s so rude! She would do well to take responsibility for her attractions. Something like, “I think you’re cool but I just don’t feel that spark” is way kinder to say and hear.

    Also, I’m glad Laalo expanded her project. There are as many relationships to femininity as there are LGBT-ers consciously embodying it, and hence many mouths to talk about it! Lots to hear, lots to learn.

    Finally, I’m really disheartened to read a couple of the above comments that mention “butch/femme stereotypes.” Butches happen, femmes happen, sometimes they happen together, sometimes separately. I totally get how frustrating the weight of other people’s expectations can be (hello, heteronormativity) and how lonely it can be to have your interests misread, but please…in the words of Marvin Gaye, “we are all sensitive people with so much to give/since we’ve got to be, let’s live,” so can we agree to assume that others are just in YDY mode and let them be themselves without calling them stereotypes?

    • Man I’m cranky today. I will identify as grumpy femme until I get a full night’s sleep.

      • I’m starting to get a total Seven Dwarfs vibe from all the flavors of femme I’m seeing here in the comments.

        Snow White and…Grumpy, Tomboy, Toaster, Lipstick, Chapstick, Lazy, Hard, Romeo, and…did I miss any?

        Sounds like the next Ilene Chaiken project.

        • Haha! Totally. I got a good night of sleep next to my sweet hot boifriend and just ate mounds of birthday cake for dinner, so I’m letting go “grumpy femme” in favor of “satisfied femme” for now.

  71. I love this article so much! I very happily identify as femme, but sometimes it’s easy to feel like you don’t belong when so many people think you’re just a confused straight girl. It’s especially bad because I’m not strictly lesbian. It’s also especially bad that the ladies in my local dating scene also seem to have a very specific idea of what femmes look like (skinny jeans and low-cut tops) so my vintage dresses just get me a ton of weird looks.

    This article really resonates with me. I don’t have a lot of femme role models, and unfortunately I don’t live in the US so I can’t go to that convention. :/ If anyone has any links to good femme blogs or tumblrs I’d be interested in reading them! I’d actually also really like to start a blog about it but I don’t even know where to start.

    Anyway, thanks so much for this, it brings up some really good points! As a side note, for me femme is about taking things that might come across as being typically feminine and incorporating them into your style, while still being fabulous and badass. The definition about it being a sort of clash between masculine and feminine sounds about right to me! Of course, each person has their individual definition and I’d never try to impose mine. For me, though, it’s about wearing as many lacy dresses as I want while still being confident and kickass.

    • (As a side note, I think it’s fine that some people aren’t into labels, and I don’t think that queer ladies should be neatly divided into “femme” and “butch” if they’re not comfortable with it. But I do like using femme as a label for myself, it just says so much in only 5 letters).

  72. Oh Kristen, this is wonderful. I so deeply understand the sentiments expressed in your article and in these comments. I came out about 9 years ago, and I think every other day I STILL wonder if I’m “queer” enough somehow because of my appearance, my voice, my interests. I feel so much less attractive to women than I still feel I am to men, but I only lasted about a year dressing down my femininity. I hate the word “femme” and I hate when people address my gf before me because she wears bow-ties or assume our personalities from the way we dress. I am funny and quirky and take-charge and no-nonsense and anyone who judges me based on my fabulous heels can kiss my lingerie-wearing ass.

  73. I agree that most times it is indeed annoying to be called “too femme”, but sometimes it can be funny. Whenever I start conversations about girls with my less-feminine friends, I’m always called the “biggest lesbian”. This article made me think about it. Why is it that we always need to label or rate everything? Why is it that femmes are exepected to be “less” lesbian? Either way, I must confess that I do love to be “surprised” when finding out a very feminine girl is gay, I guess femmes are my “type”, so I totally disagree with people who think it’s a turn off.


  74. Could we have a gallery where femme-identified Autostraddle readers and/or their partners send in pictures so we can all admire how cool and awesome everyone is? Because all these comments are kind of making me fall in love with everyone here.

  75. kristen, i’ve been waiting for a quiet little moment so that i could read this article and all the comments and can i just say “wow.” like malaika said, i know this post was going to be great, but it really really was. you guys are all so confident in your gender and it just makes my little heart swell. and reading all your words gives me words for when people ask me about myself or for when i need to talk about myself. i like that we’re all learning from each other.

  76. This article and these comments have made me feel so much better. I’m totally a tomboy femme and have really struggled with femme invisibility. Even with short hair and not super girly clothes, I never get read as gay let alone when I’m wearing dresses and grow my hair out. It is frustrating.

  77. i enjoyed this article. i never really fall into the femme/butch categories, because like a lot of us, i am neither. tomboy femme is a bit tainted for me since i was called a tomboy growing up. i’m kinda femme-ish…in the eyes of the outside world. i have long hair and all my clothes are from the women’s dept. is that all it takes? anyway, i wear flats and oxfords, and sometimes carry around a purse. but i mostly wear skinny pants and vnecks and sweaters. basically, i dress like a cute gay boy. so, for those that don’t fit into tomboy femme… feel free to take gayboy girl or faggette or faggy girl.

    (please no one take offense).

  78. This is amazing, and addresses so many issues I find myself facing and questioning everyday. I’ve been out to my friends and family for over 4 years and yet I have not made it one night at a LGBT event/club/party without being asked if i’m straight. I still haven’t figured out how to answer that question, but posts like this at least let me know I’m not alone. Thanks!

    • Oh yes you reminded me. People at LGBT events always ask me what;s my orientation. Sometimes I’ll throw it back at a boi and she’ll look confused like “um, of course I’m gay,” okay well I feel the exact same way you do

  79. Femme family right here for all of you.
    I just came from a party with my cousin, whom I love, but she is so straight, so straight, that we’ll end up at a straight party where I look the part but I feel so out of place.
    Then, my two close gay friends are bois and I suppose I look like a straight girl with a serious curiosity whenever we hang out.
    The funny thing is, I don’t feel -traditionally- feminine enough to portray the idea that femininity equals bowing down to my Man, (or The Man, or Any Man). My femininity is strong and tough and very, very curvaceous.

    If there is a category called Alpha Femme, I am in it

    • I am tot-ally picking up what you are puting down Ms. Eje. I may appear feminine at times with the makeup and the ultra cute fashion forward clothing, the occassional handbag, but I am a strong and powerful woman. My femininity is not the stuff subservience is made of – it is tough and commands respect. I may be a woman, but I walk with a swagger that tells the world I am complete aware of my worth and equality.

  80. T H I S !

    *tears of acceptance*

    Awesome article, wholly identify. It’s hard out here for a gal who doesn’t fancy herself femme, but everyone else does, and thus no one takes you seriously. Many creys.

  81. I love the comment about being an alpha femme. I’m right there with you girl!

    I really love this article. Thank you so much for writing it. I think this is a struggle a lot of girls like me go through on a daily basis. Its sad that our society wants us to conform to this kind of standard where were expected to be these submissive pretty women when in reality were are so much stronger than we appear. Cheers to the alpha femmes in the world.

  82. Fantastic insight for this cobwebs & dust bisexual man. I have so many Lesbian friends that I’ve been labeled a Dyke Dork. MANY of them are lipstick/dyke couples, a dynamic that, for me, makes the world a better place to inhabit. Thanks MUCH!

  83. Love. There are so many nuances contained in “femme” that often go unrecognized, which compound the issue of femme (in)visibility. For example, can femme be incorporated into genderqueer presentation? I think yes. Gender is performance, and there are infinite possibilities.

  84. I love this! Usually, I’m only read as queer if I’m holding my butch girlfriend’s hand or I stamped rainbows all over my clothes, otherwise most people assume I’m straight. Regardless of whether someone reads me as gay or straight, most people expect me to be weak and ditzy. I think that many femmes have similar problems, since society tries to define us while we don’t get a chance to define ourselves. Being femme doesn’t mean we can’t be queer, strong, intelligent, confident, or powerful, but many people believe otherwise because we have been conditioned to think that femininity equals weakness, passivity, and heterosexuality.

  85. I’m a femme who love femmes. I feel like I’m in the minority which I find strange. I guess that’s because I don’t get the whole attraction to butch/femme coupling and also because I am a sucker for girly girls.
    I picture me in my 70s or 80s going shopping for high heels while in wheelchairs with my future wife. BLISS!

  86. Thank you so much for this article. I can’t recount the number of times I’ve felt invisible, hopeless, and with no clear identity. It seems as though femininity is not accepted/ respected in any aspect of society.

    This gives me hope to know that there are so many Tomboy-Femmes out there!

    “I call myself a tomboyfemme because I think it describes where I sit at the centre of a continuum – compared to most female-bodied queers, I’m femme as hell, but in a group of heterosexual women, I’m immediately called a tomboy.”

  87. Thank you Kristen for this article ! I recently came out as lesbian , and i’m definitely more of the feminist role . Though , I am not attracted to very manly women …………. ( don’t get me wrong here i love all women … hahha ) so Tomboy -Femmes .. are exactly what i look for ! I just never knew that there was an actual term for that ! So once again i loved this article !!! Gracias

  88. oh my, I totally forgot to comment on this wonderful article!
    thank you!
    it’s so important to remind everyone that we are here and that there is, indeed, community.

    identifying as femme has done so much for me. it has been a way to get over people telling me I don’t look like a lesbian and that it’s no wonder I had a hard time finding a girl “looking like this”. when I found the term and started reading about femme identities, it helped with the way I felt about my body, too. it enabled me to FIRST start wearing short skirts and THEN lose weight.
    and somehow, since embracing my femme identity, I feel queerer than ever in even more feminine clothing, painted nails, jewelry etc.

    I started using the term for myself about three years ago, at first I kept it to myself, now I would even say that my gender is femme, if asked. I have no problem with being read as a cis-person or using the term for myself, even though I feel like it does not fit 100%, but femme comes first, female second. maybe it is because female is something that is given, assigned, while femme is something you take and own and create yourself.

    also, I started using femme(/boi) for myself because there are those days, too, and the days I look at men’s fashion for hours and wish I could switch to being a boy, sometimes. tomboyfemme is a nice term, too.

  89. too many times the whole notion of femme reads “femmes like to feel SEXY!!!” “femmes like to be taken care of!!!” “femmes wear EYELINER and HEELS!!!” we call bullshit…although we like the idea of “tomboy femme” as a way of breaking up the silly binary.

    Taryn is a “sissy butch”. Taryn wears tons of eyeliner and heels (though hidden underneath her otherwise tight bellbottoms and androgynous tight t-shirts and leather jackets, she says fuck the skinny jeans). Taryn is often mistaken to be a twink fag. She is a whiny emo boi skateboarder, and her girlfriend Lindsey has to carry her to the car when she drinks too much. She is muscular, skinny and tattooed. Lindsey is a total tomboy femme. She is curvy, long-haired, and will start fights with any straight guy who acts like a dick to her, Taryn, or any of their friends. She likes black lace lingerie, combat boots, and lipstick. She is enraged about being considered a “fag hag” whenever she ventures out to the gay bar without Taryn. It’s absolute bullshit that in order to be considered anything more than an accessory for (often condescending) gay men at a gay bar, a girl needs to look masculine or be accompanied by a girl who’s “butch of center”, whatever that means. In addition to judging someone by appearance, as is endemic to ALL females in society, it also places femmes as STRAIGHT unless they are ‘partnered’. I’m sorry, but this is just another instance where GAY MEN have it so much easier than lesbians. If you see a dude at a gay bar who isn’t flamboyant and girly, people don’t assume he’s straight, yet if these MEN see a girl at a gay bar who isn’t butch-partnered or butch herself, she not only has her sexuality assumed, but also is labeled a FAG HAG, ie, has no identity or sexuality on her own.

    We are tired of the way many gay men treat lesbians who don’t look like their punchline of lesbians. Straight women aren’t much better in this arena–Lindsey hears tons of lesbophobia at gay bars from straight women who assume she’s straight and is just there to coo over the “cute gay boys”. We’ve heard lots of people blame lesbians for the femme-phobia and assumptions that femmes are straight, but from our experience it’s usually the gay guys and straight women who treat femmes like crap.

  90. Just stumbled on this thanks to the wedding article. I feel 100% comfortable referring to myself as femme/lipstick, but this was WONDERFUL. Thank you. It’s nice to see all the femmes coming out of the woodwork.

  91. Pingback: Introductions « The Fierce Femme

  92. Tomboi Femme, I like that. I have always known that I am right in the middle of Femme and Butch but I’ve always settled on Queer as an all encompassing descriptor so that I don’t feel shoved into a box. Some days I’m Butch and some nights I’m Femme…I love the fluidity of gender.

  93. Wow…this article is amazing. I have been struggling with this for awhile- the fact that I’m queer, but I sometimes like to wear dresses, have long hair, so means to many people that I don’t look “gay enough”, but I also play sports, refuse to wear heels or makeup, so I am definitely not a girly-girl. ‘Tomboy Femme’… Works for me!

  94. This article couldn’t better speak to my life… Not only is it hard for people to take you serious about being gay when you are femme, but for moving to a new town it’s especially difficult to gain fellow lady-lovin friends!! Don’t get me wrong, I love all my hetro honeys.. but it’s hard to pick out other femme lesbians in a crowd to hopefully become friends with. Sometimes I feel like it would be easier if I just had a sign on my forehead.

  95. I can’t believe I am just finding this article! I definitely consider myself to be right in the middle of butch and femme but end up with the femme label out of default. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that it doesn’t quite fit who I am. I have been trying to figure out a label for myself (because we all loveee labels don’t we?) and tomboy femme is perfect. Thank you!!

  96. I’m honestly not sure what category I’d fall into. I think I’m just barely a femme (or whatever is more masculine than that but not androgynous), and only really because I have long hair. Everyone usually assumes I’m straight.

    I mean, I have nothing against dresses if the event calls for it, but as far as everyday clothes, I’d say I’m closer to androgynous. Occasionally I’ll wear a nice sweater, but for the most part I wear jeans and men’s T-shirts. I never wear makeup. If I just cut my hair, I think androgynous would be accurate, at least it would most of the time.

    However, I have the hair of the girl from Brave, just brown. I’d either have to let it be the afro it would inevitably become, or spend an hour trying to straighten it. And then it would just curl up again 3 hours later. I really do want short hair, but…alas, I want short straight hair. I still may try it once I have the time to actually work with it.

  97. as im gradually becoming fully comfortable with my sexual identity as a woman who loves women, there is one thing that totally overwhelms me within the queer community – the obsessive need to label the self and others. of course labels can be helpful for the individual, if they feel it can be something which empowers. however the huge problem i have with labels, such as kristen has pointed out in the case of the term “femme” being imposed on her, is the following:

    “queer” identity, and the categories which have consequently arisen out of it, can be seen as a response which rejects the social pressures and expectations of conforming to heteronormative roles/norms. HOWEVER the politics around certain categories such as “femme”, show that queer identity politics fall into the same trap, the community seems to also expect it’s members to conform to it’s homonormative expectations. Whatever happened to the individual within all this? i personally do feel comfortable with any form of identity, category or normative behaviour being imposed on me. why has the queer community created what it was originally radically opposing?

  98. Wait what??? I LOVE femmes. I never realized so many people felt this way at some point or another! I’m really surprised to read this. I haven’t gotten the chance to read through all the comments but yeah, like wow. I guess there’s also the fact that I don’t know much about lesbians. I’m just beginning to learn. :)
    I have two gay friends in Cali that I went to visit and I asked them to point out any lesbians to me during my visit just because I know so little and don’t have an existing, or working, “gaydar”. Both of my friends are pretty girly and I wouldn’t have known had I not been told they were together the first time I met them!

  99. I can completely relate. I am so sick of hearing that I’m too pretty to be gay. WTF does that even mean?!

  100. When I made my autostraddler profile, I didn’t know what to put when it came to the picking a label thing. My straight friends tell me I am butch most of the time, except when I wear dresses on the weekend. Some days I love my jeans, tank top, chuck taylors, aviators and leather jacket…and then next day I am all about flats, dresses, make up and nail polish. sigh, I am just me I guess.

  101. thank you for writing this. I have struggled to be taken srslty for a long time, and I now feel more prepared due to this article. I needed it. It will be a good go-to link, if I should ever come out in anxiety over this again.

  102. love this article and love the comments! i can most definitely identify and find it quite baffling that such patriarchal stereotypes exist in the lgbt community. can we not just accept and love people for who they are and stop judging and criticizing?

  103. I don’t feel as if I want to identify as anything and hate that at times it seems I have to “prove” my sexuality:/

  104. I’ve always felt neutered by the term femme as if it strips me of intellect and takes away my feminist points.
    I don’t know anything about make-up, I know my way around a vest, and I often go on passionate rants about misogyny on popular television with a thin veil of “empowerment”
    Yet I know that I am femme. I may not wear lipstick. I may own an assortment of 1950’s cocktail dresses. I may have relevant opinions about the singularity and nail polish and sex toys and Eve Ensler and intersectionality of identities.
    Can I be a tomboyfemme-inist?

  105. I can’t believe I just found this article! I have been a longtime reader and this just up and made me finally register (OH HI). I was just agonizing to myself whether to go buy a freakin bowtie & vest because of a recent “but you look straight” comment. I am annoyed (although not surprised) at how often the queer community reproduces patriarchal binaries/categories. I believe I dress too fabulously flamboyant to fit into many categories, love my dope big earrings, tight dresses and muumuus, have big boobs that will NOT fit fashionably into a button-down (that uni-boob shit don’t look cute), and yet will never, ever wear carcinogenic makeup or crippling high heels.

    There was a recent article I read — “Are we fabulous yet? The tyranny of queer beauty” http://inthesetimes.com/article/15624/are_we_fabulous_yet/

    Thank you for this article and this wonderful collection of comments. It is giving me the boost I need right now. <3

  106. Pingback: Autostraddle, redeemed: Beyond Lipstick - Invisible Word

  107. I don’t even know how I stumbled upon this older article tonight. I think it popped up randomly in the “First Person” sidebar… in any case, I am so glad I clicked on it. This is one of the best things I’ve come across here, and, as many others have said, this really resonates with me. I have always felt that femme is a transgressive, subversive identity, and simultaneously grappled with feeling like the most obviously gay girl when with straight female friends, and the least obviously gay girl around other lesbians. Well done, great piece.

  108. HELL. YES. My dear friend and I were just talking about femmeness and our growing relationship to it and how we don’t feel real sometimes. WE ARE FREAKING REAL.

  109. Thank you so much for this article! As a femme myself, when first coming out I felt that I had to masculinize my appearance so that I could fit in with the queer community. The article makes me realize it is okay to be femme and to be a lesbian.

  110. love the article! when i was younger, i always said: people are judged innocent until guilty — aka: straight until non-straight. but i prefer how these words were reordered and expressed here.
    it’s taken me years to feel comfortable expressing my femmeness, tho i was also never butch/boi — or at the more masculine id’d end of the spectrum. and this article is a boost as for the first time this weekend at a “girl-girl” gathering i was asked by another lesbian IF i’m lesbian. wow! that was weird!
    i definitely think confidence is the key to meeting and connecting with people. i’m attracted to more femme-presenting women and i see more and more nowadays — which is amazing! for me there’s nothing hotter than the idea of two confident, femme-appearing women, taking on the world together!!!

  111. This is such a struggle for me. I’m a ‘low’ femme. Long hair, jeans, tshirt etc. It’s difficult dressing for work cause the minute you need to be a bit smarter you need to figure out closed shoes, what kind of smart shirt etc. I hate dresses and skirts. I hate heels. All affordable smarter shirts are blouses. I feel like I’m in drag then, but masculine cut shirts are the worst shape on me. I’m tall and have boobs. My ideal womxn looks nothing like me. This all causes a lot of Social anxiety because I’m either invisible, too femme, uncomfortable or anxious. I can’t believe that at my age I can’t even dress right to feel good in my own skin and the dream of being creative with my gender expression just feels impossible. So I end up feeling bland and nerdy and anxious. Ugh. Is there a low femme community group out there somewhere?

    • I feel you! I’m invisible often too. I’m low femme. Girlie tops but also mix it up w more androgynous look. I like to smear the gender idea but always w femininity. Even if I swagger too lol. Lately tho I can’t seem to decide what clothes to buy. Such anxiety!

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