You Need Help: Being the Visible Femme

Welcome to You Need Help! Where you seek advice and we try our very best to give it.

This has traditionally been done by way of individual Formspring accounts, Autostraddle’s Tumblr and a Formspring Friday column, which has all been very fun and insightful. But, because Formspring has a character limit and we’re wildly optimistic w/r/t our time-management skills, we thought we’d go one further and let you use our ASS private messaging to share advice-related feelings, too.

For more info on sending in questions, see the bottom of this post. Let’s get down to bossing people around on the internet! Today is a very special You Need Help: Special Fashion Unit.dotted-divider2Q:
I am a femme, and I’m tired of everyone thinking I’m straight. I feel invisible, but trying to present in a more stereotypically lesbian way would feel false. What do I do?

This is a really common problem so at least you should know you’re not alone. In fact, I used to have this concern all the time. By “used to” I mean that I struggle with this basically every day. You definitely don’t need to concede your femmeness to be read as queer or feel less invisible. The most important thing is that you never feel like you’re dressing for someone else and that you love your personal style and HAVE FUN with it. You should never wear something that makes you feel false. You do you. No, seriously.

There are really three approaches to dealing with this problem. I’ll order them in increasing magnitude of time and difficulty each approach takes.

1. Accessorize
Accessories are the best thing ever. Seriously, Jenna Lyons recently said so and she plays for our team now. Even a simple accessory can make an outfit you’re already comfortable with feel just a hint gayer. I know it’s getting kind of cheesy, but have you thought about wearing one long feathered earring? Whenever I see a girl with a feathered earring I immediately think she’s gay and look at her nails. I also think that keyhole front men’s sunglasses speak volumes. A personal favorite of mine is to take whatever I am wearing– seriously, whatever– and just wear it with a silk bandana around my neck. Ready, look how cute and queer my OTBT boots look without looking overtly masculine. I wear these with skinny jeans and V-necks basically every day. Here, um, look at this stuff!

2. Get a Role Model
If just adding a few new accessories doesn’t do it for you, then I suggest picking a queer style icon. Choose a femme gay lady you love who dresses sort of similar to you and look at lots and lots of pictures of her. What does she wear, how does she wear it and what makes her look queer. This is one of those situations where you don’t need to be above buying a whole head-to-toe outfit that looks exactly like something Amber Heard wore while carrying a sign that said “We the people– that means all of us.” What is Leisha Hailey wearing in the pictures you took at the last Uh Huh Her concert? Figure out how Queen Latifah stylers her hair, and then do that. If you’re having trouble picking a lezzie fashion role model, check out our gallery of hot femme queer women to get inspired.

Now, I want to emphasize that you don’t need to throw away your personal style brand and adopt someone else’s. This is about finding someone who you already sort of dress like, except they have a personal stylist who’s paid to make sure they look femme-but-also-gay. Look for consistent elements in their style that read as queer. There is no one way to “look gay” and one of the great things about have out fashion role models is that it can expand you’re idea of what reads queer. Perhaps you’ll identify something small that you can add to your style that will feel obviously both feminine and gay.


3. Don’t Change Anything
Though it sounds like a cop-out, sometimes a great option is to accept that not everybody is going to know you’re gay by the way you dress. This is the hardest and most expensive option because it means you have to get in touch with the gooey parts of your feelings and maybe even talk about this with your therapist over a long period of time. Think about why you want people to know you’re gay just by your clothing. Is it along the lines that you’re uncomfortable having to repeatedly tell people or that you want to attract girls. As for having to tell people, even the most stereotypically dressed lesbians will tell you that it’s highly likely that regardless of how you dress straight people will assume you’re straight. Maybe if you got a flat-top people would start to pick up on the gay-factor, but probably not.

On the other hand, if you’re concerned that other queer women can’t identify you as queer then I can see why you would be more worried. In this case, remember that regardless of what you’re wearing, if you’re at girl’s night in a gaybar the other chicks know you’re gay. They know. ‘Cause of the gaybar part. Alternatively, if you’re just on the street and you see someone cute and you check them out and smile, they will know you’re queer and hitting on them. How do I know they’ll know? Because any time any woman smiles, glances, notices, leers or looks at me for more then 2.2 seconds I immediately assume she’s gay and start planning out our future together (side note: this also sometimes gets you in trouble).

Do you see what I’m getting at with all this? If you’re looking to freshen up your style, you can add some cute librarian glasses with your favorite dress or buy a green corset like Vanessa Carlton’s. That sound awesome and really fun and you will definitely increase the number of ladies picking up what you’re putting down. On the other hand, if you’re really don’t feel like changing how you dress at all then you’re going to have to get in touch with those squishy sensitive feelings part of yourself and come up with actions you can take or ways to refocus your point of view in order to feel less invisible.

If what I said didn’t help, maybe you should check out these relevant articles:

+Queer Style: All The Small Things–Autostraddle’s Accessory Guide! Part 1
+The Queer Style Revolution Will be Accessorized: Accessory Guide Part 2
+Spring Style for Girls Who Like Dresses, Heels, and Flowers!
+Back to Fall, Back to Fashion
+Lizz’s Latest: Silk Bandana Scarves

If you have more fashion questions you’d like to see me cover, I encourage you to write me on ASS or ask me anonymously on the autostraddle fashion formspring. If you have a quick question like, “Does wearing green and purple together make me look like a goblin?” then you can also tweet me @OhHeyItsLizz.


To send your question via ASS personal messaging, choose an editor: Riese | Laneia | Rachel
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*If messaging is down, email us! There are so many options, you guys! You could send carrier pigeons!*
For 100% anonymity, contact us through Formspring: Riese | Laneia | Rachel

Please keep your questions to around, at most, 100 words. Due to the high volume of questions and feelings, not every question or feeling will be answered or published on Autostraddle. We hope you know that we love you regardless.

Lizz is a consumer, lover and writer of all things pop culture and the Fashion/Style Editor at She is also full time medical student at Brown University in Providence, RI. You can find her on the twitter, the tumblr or even on the instagram.

Lizz has written 276 articles for us.