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
Or ask any team member you’d like: Meet the Team
*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.

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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 261 articles for us.


  1. Ash

    Damn femme invisibility is my life. Imma go out and buy bandannas now kthanxbye! :)

    I’ll also recommend the obvious, overdone, but effective slap-a-raindow-someplace trick. I go out in a sundress and flats and long hair and a little rainbow badge on my messenger bag and I feel like my Gay Aura gets magnified about 172 times.

    • This was me till I got my haircut in september. It’s subtle enough to only be noticed by the people checking you out anyway.

    • Ann Veal

      I read “slap-a-raindow-someplace” and immediately thought of “put a bird on it.” Never a bad idea anyway.

      • I basically just lost it as soon as I read “put a bird on it.” That will never not be hilarious. My BFF and I still say that to each other all the time. >_>

    • A.

      I love a classic pink or black triangle, myself, or a retro queer liberation symbol/button.

    • Emily

      The rainbow button always makes me feel better too, on a bag or lapel. I also use the classic pink or black triangle. The little things that make me feel more visable…*sigh*

  2. I occasionally leave the house wearing a rainbow bracelet but always end up taking it off because
    a) I remember how ridiculous everyone looked when those Livestrong bracelets were popular and that this is the exact same thing except colorful.
    b) rainbow clashes with most of my clothes because all my clothes are plaid
    c) my major is all guys who does it really matter if people know I’m a lesbian?

    I do think I’m going to invest in some kickass boots as soon as the soles fall off the ones I’m wearing (so probably like tomorrow)

    Also infinity scarves. I think those look gay. But I might be the only one who thinks that.

          • well, that was easy!

          • Jane

            But Tarzan,

          • I wish I had this much game in real life.

          • Oh me too. I should try and conveniently locate myself in some sort of queer space and then, trying so seem as aloof as possible, proceed knitting infinity scarves.

            Could that help, would be my question?

    • One way to express gayness and not wear rainbows all over your body is by having a small rainbow pin on your backpack/bag/purse. It also works to have a pin from a gay rights organization or school GSA.

    • I had to google infinity scarves. But I concur that they look queer as hale. :>

      • So did I…But now – two years later – everyone wears infinity scarves…sigh…straights are copying us again.

  3. Katie

    As a femme who dresses girly-yet-edgy (and by that i mean not frilly, not floral, and not blouse-y) I definitely know how it feels to be constantly misread as straight, and how annoying that can be. My go-to coping method is most certainly #3.

    I don’t have enough style sense to accessorize or even just straight up copy lsbian fashion icons (srsly i’m hopeless) but I fully completely 100% agree on the subtle lesbian behavior signals that are a dead giveaway. Straight women do NOT hold your gaze…they glance at you and then immediately look away/at the floor/at a dude/etc. Gay women, on the other hand, HOLD YOUR GAZE like they want to do you right then and there.

    When I first came out I constantly tried to guess women’s sexuality based on their outfits and was almost always wrong (because lots of straight girls dress super gay these days..our fashion is clearly rubbing off) so now I use the eye contact barometer as number one. it really is the best way to tell when not in a gaybar. good article!

    • note to self, hold eye contact with cute girls. I look away when overcome by the shy around the cute girls.

      • MJ

        Also note- making eye contact, blushing like an idiot, and looking down mat your shoes is a good way to subtly communicate that you are both gay and socially awkward. Not that I know from personal experience.

        • alice

          ha! so im not the only one who does that! yay! :D

        • Don’t you wish that being gay automatically erased all social awkwardness and got you a dream girl instantly?

    • Linz

      Yeah, I totally agree with this one. For some reason, asymmetrical haircuts and certain accessories have never appealed to me (although they definitely look great on other people). So I do a lot of eye contact and smiling at hot girls.
      Actually, when I finally came out after college (late bloomer), all of my male friends were like, “Duh, we know. No straight girl looks at girls the way that you do.”
      People pick up on non-verbal cues. And I’m not sure how other femme girls take it, since I like my ladies andro or butch, but I’ve never received negative feedback from straight up telling someone that she’s cute and offering to buy her a drink.

    • AnneMarie

      So the smiling counts too. I’ll keep that in mind next time I try to contain my enthusiasm and my “smiling like you just had a christmas present early” while looking at the Spanish deadringer of Kate Moennig.

  4. Megan

    I’m just going to leave this here. Ivan Coyote, thanking all you beautiful femmes.

  5. Another Gay Sarah

    Oh god, this article is so completely relevant to my life. I love my style as is (which is to say, 100% straight girl), so I’ve started wearing cute lezzy-themed shirts occasionally instead. They will probs be what I ask for as a graduation present from my friends, cause I am not looking forward to coming out to an entire campus!

  6. Kristen

    I always felt uncomfortable wearing rainbows because most lgbtq accessories are soooo not me. I’ve never been a fan of the classic rainbow flag (and apologies to anyone and/or everyone this insults) but they’re generally tacky. I prefer to stay true to my own style and if I can throw a gay-dient in there at some point? Awesome.

    These were my favourite shoes until I lost them on Halloween (
    Sometimes (and by that I mean always) I like to look obnoxious. (
    Since girls will check our your nails anyways.. I like to keep them trimmed and a gay-dient from green to purple
    Or sometimes you’re thrifting and you find the BEST SCARF EHVER (

    On the flip side? Metal, leather and studs make the world go round. I still look femmey-as-hell but I prefer to think of myself as a hard femme… which is queerish in the realm of things. At the minimum, guys will be too intimidated to hit on you oooor you can punch them in the face with a handful of rings if they don’t get the message.

  7. I must say that I’ve been in a gay club during ladies night and have had more guys than girls hit on me (no girls hit on me that night), I was pretty devastated

    • This is the story of my life…My (straight) friends get perceived as gay more often than I do. It sucks.

      • 21st birthday.
        Me and three other girl friends, all straight.

        Guess who *didn’t* get hit on?

        (come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever been hit on at a gaybar by a woman… :( )

        • Me neither. But I’ve been hit on by a gay boy…what the heck??

    • This is my life! I went out with my straight lady friend and she was immediately danced away by some frienddate-stealer. Dudes started circling like lions. Eh…

    • I know this is old, but me too. Always men hitting on me and women hitting on my straight friend. :(

    • I know this is old as fuck, but this entire thread! -.- My straightest of straight friends gets the lesbian nod more in one day than I have ever gotten total. Invisibility galore.

  8. Ash

    I needed this. I was thisclose to getting a pink triangle button for my moto jacket. I’m futch but there’s enough eyeliner and jewelry to make everyone assume I’m a big ol’ straighty. I went to a gay speed dating thing a few months back and one of the gay boys when we were mingling before the dates kept asking me if I was SURE if I was gay, because I didn’t look queer at all apparently. I was a little miffed. I mean shit, I’m in SF and everyone thinks I’m straight? No bueno.

    I try to stick to plaid, vnecks, comic book tees, hoodies, skinny jeans and leather boots and jackets. Going to try my hand at some scarfs and feather earrings though.

    • Yeah I actually find that gay men find it harder to identify me as gay than gay women do. This as evidenced by what happened when I went to a mixed gay bar a couple of months ago and had two different gay men approach me on two separate occasions and start off the conversation with “ARE YOU A LESBIAN???” and “REALLY?!?” I was confused as to why it was necessary for me to identify my sexuality upon meeting someone or why they thought it was appropriate to ask so outrightedly like that. It really pissed me off.

      But then I’ve also had gay men grab my arms and force me to dance with them–once again two different gay men, this time in two different bars–which was also really obnoxious.

      This is one of the main reasons I wish there were even just ONE lesbian bar in my city but alas there are none. Another reason is the fact that one of the very popular gay bars in my city plays gay male porn on a bunch of the TVs in the bar and only has a one-stall bathroom for women whereas they have a HUGE bathroom for men. UGH. Okay done ranting.

      • I definitely know how you feel. I always get stuck dancing with flaming gays and gays who think I’m straight. They are big sparkly bullies.

      • Oh my god other people have had gay men force them to dance with them! I thought that had only happened to me! Wow. It’s a weird thing.

      • Yes! Why are there no lesbian clubs/bars? I get it that lesbians prefer to watch movies at home and cuddle…but there’s gotta be some way to meet girls!

  9. Thanks for this. I dress femme-r than most straight girls and I always get “I think you’re in the wrong bar, honey” static when I go to queer bars. I’m also terrible at making eye contact. Meh. Some things that have helped:

    1 inch Tegan and Sara button on purse strap

    oxfords (even if they’re pink and have heels, for some reason oxfords always read as big ol homoette)

    plaid headbands, wrist cuffs, purses

    secretary tops (the ones with the bow at the neck

    anything with a unicorn on it

  10. Yeah, to respond to everyone, I generally avoid rainbows because they don’t match or go with anything.

    I should have also mentioned the good old fashioned dressing so over the top straight it seems gay (like Blaire Waldorf)

  11. I also recommend putting YOU DO YOU stickers on everything and wearing altered autostraddle t-shirts. I’m not just saying that either. Also, Lucky Dog Leather.

    • I feel like I’m single-handedly introducing the outside world to Autostraddle and I’ve noticed that when I’ve had my AS stickers, nobody notices, so I don’t know how much of a flag this would be.

  12. GOD BLESS all the girls this article was written for. I am looking for someone just like this, because girls are lovely and feminine and that is why I like them. But it makes going out and working up the courage to ask one out even harder because there is just no way of knowing! Stay pretty ladies and I will buy you flowers.

    • Ash

      And then there’s femmes/futches who like femmes who most people think look straight so then when they look at a pretty girl they get freaked out because omfg is she femme or is she straight everyonethinksIlookstraight andwhatifmygaydaristotallyoffbutholyshitshe’scuteshemightbejustlikeme AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

      And then we go sit in the corner of Starbucks with our soy lattes and sigh wistfully.

  13. alice

    ha Riese :p omg i just checked out lucky dog leather!! love love love! thanks Riese! are the autostraddle shirts gonna be back in stock soon?

  14. Reading the comments by Bloody Ice Cream (yum?) and fragola reminded me of the most infuriating part of “looking straight” which is the fellow queers making a big deal/repeatedly questioning me about my sexuality. I had a “friend” tell me she couldn’t believe I was gay and thought of me as a straight girl who made out with a couple of girls. (And I was freshly out of my long term relationship with a GIRL).

    I would NEVER dress/alter my appearance for them, but it would be nice to ping someone’s gaydar once in a while.

  15. Does anybody have any tips for a plus size MAAB fem lesbian with huge frickin’ feet? It’s seriously hard enough rebuilding your wardrobe from the ground up on a tight budget, but I’m also stuck worrying about people both perceiving me as female (not a huge problem anymore)and understanding that I’m not straight.

    • for shoes!
      lizz’s tip about thrifting silk scarves has been a lifesaver for cheap homotasticity. plus size skinnies are totally critical – torrid’s are really low quality, but eddie bauer does great skinny cords in remarkably current colors and four different lengths (i think until the end of this week they’re running a sale on pants, so get yoself some khakis for $20). they go up to size 20. if you’re above a 20, i’ve heard good things about evans’ pants ( denim-wise, cannot recommend levis curve id enough. $55, but they’ll actually last you more than two months and won’t get too grabby like jeggings. slouchy tees in solid neutrals are inexpensive but don’t look it. they can be dressed up with crazy accessories in all manner of ways.
      asos curve on clearance is just as cheap as forever21, and a lot of it’s polyester but at least it’s tasteful polyester. i’m jealous if you can pull off a pussybow because i CANNOT and they look super queer.
      save up for a really hot leather jacket that fits well enough to wear with only a blouse and also with sweaters and scarves. second on the investment list are shitkicker boots with a high, chunky, comfortable heel, in genuine leather if you are not opposed.
      We Love Colors for tights, always. i’m not much of a skirt/dress person (my version of femme is tight pants, a lot of cleavage, a smoky eye and an expensive-looking scarf for EVERY single occasion) but if you are, the one thing i’d say is stay AWAY from anything that is simultaneously a-line and knee length-ish, because it’s the fastest way to turn subtle elegance into dowdy straight girl. either commit to a very full skirt or go body-con at that length.
      ok i could go on. slouchy tees, for everyone, forever. and if you like your back, please, buy this,, it will look awesome with your coloring and SOME queer needs to wear that to some club.
      hope it helps, catch yrself a cutie, etc etc

      • thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!!!!! *hugs* so many awesome suggestions!!!! I’m mostly a jeans and t-shirt kinda girl (so far pretty much stuck to Lane Bryant), and I’ve never really dealt with fashion, the main switch was simply more feminine cuts. I’ve kinda been avoiding dresses/skirts because it’s not easy to find large shoes on a budget and I’m still not comfortable with my thighs or how my legs look even de-furred. But those tights and leggings look amazing, so I might consider giving them a try! (I’d really need to learn how to tuck though, I’ve never bothered in the past because my undies and jeans were enough to hold things in)

        Again, thank you soooo much! If I weren’t a broke college student right now, I’d totally go on a shopping spree!

  16. Pan

    This is me! I’m so femme I’m almost a parody of girlhood. Sure I don’t wear make up or heels or pay any attention to fashion, but I seem to give off this vanilla straight girl vibe. Maybe it’s my love for quirky jewellery/bows/tea dresses over skinnys that does it? Nobody picks up on me ever. Not even my bisexual friend of many years or my gay best friend…when I went to Pride everyone assumed I was dating him/I was a supporter. It made me feel so awkward…don’t particularly want to go to a gay bar in case I get called out again…

    Even when I talk about a particular girl being attractive people assume that I’m being ironic since I have a dry sense of humour. Oddly people haven’t noticed that I have never shown any interest in men, they mostly assume that I’m a good Christian girl waiting for her man. I turned up to school one day with a Wizard of Oz bag, large butterfly rainbow necklace and HIV awareness ribbon and they still didn’t get it *face palm*  Er…sorry I ranted.

  17. This is the bane of my life. I bought some badges off Etsy that say “Femme” and “Fuck femme invisibility” and I have them on my bag. I wear vintage dresses with Doc Martens a lot but everyone still thinks I’m straight. What straight girl has five pairs of Docs?

  18. >my life< and i wear half the stuff you recommend. fffffffffffffffff—

  19. Nunes

    #3 should be first!

    Everyone who reads this and goes out and buys a single feather earring and a bandana scarf and those boots will just promote/exacerbate this idea of a single, stereotypical, identifiable way to “look gay,” which is the problem in the first place! Everyone dress the way you want — queer comes in all fashion flavors.

    • MJ

      On the other hand, it’s really handy to have some visual indicator, so that we don’t have to go staring deeply into the eyes of every woman we pass to check for prolonged eye contact :)

      Not that you’re wrong. It’s just handy to have some way of signaling, “I’m into girls”.

  20. I buy most of my shirts from the boys’ section, and frequently go out in a blazer and tie…and yet I’m still read as straight….

  21. The eye contact thing is really, really hard for me (anxiety issues there), so I’ve mostly given up on girls realising unless I actually tell them. I really want to get one of the ‘fuck femme invisibility’ pins mentioned above, since attempted telepathic communication of my queerness never seems to be quite as effective as I would like.

    Dressing in combat boots and some combination of taffeta and/or sequins always makes me feel ultra queer though, and I like that (whether or not anyone reads me that way). :)

  22. K

    Fedoras. or vests. with skinny jeans, short shorts, and/or high, heeled boots. this + dresses + occasionally plaid (though in a very straight way with skinny jeans and boots) + headbands is pretty much what I wear. I also almost never leave the house without makeup, unless I’m already running late for class. Apparently I read as pretty gay, more so than my girlfriend (who, then again, is pretty femme.). Also I have a giant forearm tattoo and drop “gay”/”girlfriend” into random conversation, so that might be it.

  23. Nys

    I wish I could pull off short cool hair but noooooooo. Whatever hair.

    • K

      if that’s you in the picture, your hair is super pretty. just sayin.

  24. Oh femmsters if it makes you feel any better some of us presume gayness until things get straigtened out..also the hipster phase of youngun`fashion must enddd, for next time I give the eyes to a lezzy-looking girl at h+m I don`t want get rebuked

  25. sarah

    as someone who does look gay and doesn’t really encounter this problem too often, i can tell you femme ladies that the eye contact thing goes a long, long, long, long way.

  26. co

    Wow, GREAT TIMING Autostraddle! I’ve been worrying about this issue lately. Been a bit conflicted between being me dressing in whatever way I want to, and being read as totally straight, or start dressing stereotypically gayer… which is fun doing once in a while, but it would not be me.
    Because you know, I would walk in the streets, looking at pretty ladies and think “These chicks are not looking back! Why don’t they look at meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee?”
    Then it dawned on me. Most of these girls are -GUESS WHAT- heterosexual. Only like 15% of the population is gay, and the streets are not really a common place to hook up anyway. (Appart from this fact that not all lesbians are attracted to all lesbians omg.) I should rather hit the gay bar, like you said. Then my day was suddenly brighter and I cut my hair short and bought myself femenine clothes (and a plaid shirt, because I should have at least one FOR THE HONOR). The end.

  27. I feel utterly femme-invisible until I open my mouth to talk about gay things. Also, everyone who says that eye contact is a huge thing is absolutely right.

  28. i’m going to go with number 3. i’ve been called a high femme. i pretty much never wear pants and i wear makeup everyday. i’ve even been in a lesbian bar and had people ask where my boyfriend and if i was just trolling for a third. through all this, i’ve never felt as though i was the one with the problem. the problem is people believing there is a particular way lesbians should dress. when i was younger i was into rainbow jewelry, but i just really don’t feel like rocking them any more. and there is no way i’m messing up my clothes or bags with rainbow pins. the people i want and who want me like the the way i look as much as i do and that’s all that matters to me.

  29. My thing is thumb rings. A little something shiny to draw the eye to your hands. They’re unusual, cheap, fit in with most dress codes, and instantly ping my queerdar.

    Nothing big that will catch on whatever you grab, just a flat band with maybe a simple pattern on it. The cheap ones you see in the foam trays at the cashier’s counter of any RenFaire, crafts fair, or novelty store will do nicely–I used to get some on clearance at Target or Claire’s, but after a while the coating wears off and tends to turn your skin green.

    • I second this advice. Seriously thumb rings always ping my gaydar. Super queer :)

  30. Thoughts on sports jerseys? I always feel weird about wearing them outside of sporting events, but I really feel like that might make it super obvious. If not the japanese baseball jersey, then definitely the US Women’s World Cup jersey…#6 for Lepeilbet, amirite?

  31. Angie

    YES! Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for this. I am a femme (well, for the most part. I’ve always been a touch tomboyish) and living in Utah, well, people usually think my wife and I are straight anyway. :/ I’d love to add a little something gayer to my wardrobe. ;)

  32. So I used to flag by cutting hankies into quarters and letting a little folded up bit of one of those quarters peek out of the side of my clutch.

    I know when I was doing this corseted/super sparkly vintage femme thing I was read as queer more often, but it really grinds my gears that specific aesthetics are acknowledged as queer more than others so I wouldn’t suggest that anyone pick the look up solely to gain legitimacy.

    I feel like the best answer for gaining visibility until we smash cissexism and heterosexism into a million little pieces (and this is problematic and unfair and shitty shitty shit, I know) is to be vocal about who we’re attracted to, our politics etc. This puts a particular strain on shy or passive folks, but I honestly haven’t found any other way to retain my authenticity and be recognized as queer, aside from assimilating into this weird homonormative culture.

    I know this post is all over the place, but I just want to wear nailpolish and have fancy hair and also have lots of gay makeouts, mmkay?

  33. Could someone explain to me Zooey Deschanel’s appearance in this post?

    • Her style is hipster enough that it passes for gay. Or Lizz likes her look.

      • She is my super style icon. I have my hair cut like hers 90% of the time but somehow I never get the look quote right. I thought about putting Portia de Rossi in but then I just wanted to look at pictures of Zooey because, you know.

        • I don’t have the problem this post is about, but I, uh, really appreciated the Zooey collage.

  34. gammaash

    AGREED with the ‘GREAT TIMING’ of Autostraddle! I’ve also been thinking about this a lot lately and wondering what it is about me that seems to radiate straightness. I usually wear skinny jeans with chucks and t-shirts/v-necks so i don’t know why i’m always read as ‘straight’ but it’s super frustrating. This article is amazing by the way! :)

  35. I’ve been thinking about this lately, too. I don’t even consider myself femme, (and I work in a sheet metal shop so unless I have an excuse to dress up I dress like a construction worker a lot of the time) but people sometimes think I’m joking when I bother to tell them I’m not straight. It gets a little frustrating sometimes.

    • I’m surprised they let a kitten work in a sheet metal shop.

  36. Judith

    There’s a show in France called “La lesbienne invisible”, which is all about people not believing the character, Océanerosemarie, is a lesbian, because she doesn’t look like a lesbian. If you understand French, take a look at the interview we did with Océane on Yagg when she started her show:

    She’s also a singer, under the name Oshen (she released her 3rd album at the beginning of 2011).

  37. bridget

    honestly, since when was identifying as a lesbian not enough?
    how can we, as a group of queers, ostracize one form of gender expression when it’s one of the biggest cornerstones to our movement?
    when did we become this bogged down with traditional gender roles?

    give me my long hair, my painted nails and my chandelier earrings and give me a WOMAN, any type, any shape, any size as long as she’s comfortable with herself.

    i think it’s such complete and utter bullshit that “femmes” have to prove themselves over, and over, and over. if you want to take on the burden of identifying as a lesbian, which it so often is, then nobody should fucking question you.


  38. 12people

    I look so gay that sometimes people try to kick me out of the women’s bathroom, but a lot of straight people STILL assume I’m straight. It’s a losing battle, folks. At a certain point you just have to roll with it.

    • Sort of off-topic but when I was coming out of a public restroom stall once, I saw this girl I thought was a guy for a millisecond, but was actually just a really, really cute boi drying her hands and I fell in love and was all flustered and then I left the bathroom, never to see her again. D: I am stupid.

  39. Cindy

    It happens to me too! People in Hong Kong are quite edgy with fashion and it is common to see straight women/men wear clothes that are defined as of opposite sex. Some of our male singers/actors even wear skirts in public and there’s no headlines screaming ‘XXX wears girly skirt!’. Unlike some certain newspapers in America. It’s all about luck when you are looking for cute girls.

    • Side note: Plus 1000 points for living in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is my jam.

    • Truth, whenever I’m in Hong Kong, I’m forever thinking, “Can’t tell if lesbians or just friends holding hands.”

  40. I really do think that women should NOT try to conform to some kinda homonormative look. It’s the reason I didn’t have queer friends until very recently, because I gave a big fuck-you to the gay circle I had for being exactly like the homo version of the nasty little bullying conformist hetero boys in school. I feel really uncomfortable ‘dressing up gay’, despite being drawn to quite a lot of clothing that other people tell me looks ‘gay’.

    But at the same time, you got to ease up on people’s desire to be recognised for what they are. It’s already pretty hard having a sexuality which quite a lot of people either believe doesn’t really ‘count’ or is unnatural. Most people will assume you’re straight until specifically told otherwise – to have to find out that you’re not what society always told you you SHOULD be, ie. straight, and then to have to convince people the OTHER way as well – it’s kind of exhausting.

    Ultimately, the only way you’re going to be comfortable with your sexuality and your appearance is if it’s something you’ve chosen for yourself, not for other people. But that is a long and not particularly easy process, and if buying a single feathery earring will help you get to that point eventually, then go for it. It takes time to get to that point, and in the meantime, you probably still want to hit on girls.

    • Well, I mean it’s kind of a negotiation. I don’t think if some way of dressing/presenting happens to be homonormative and you really really want to do that, you have to necessarily avoid it on principle.

      It’s more like you do you… and hey, why doesn’t everyone just stop acting like assholes about it in the meantime?

      I also don’t really blame folks for wanting to assimilate because they want recognition. I do judge them super duper hard for policing others, though. It’s like “Congratulations, you just earned my eternal side-eye, you big jerk.”

  41. The other day, I saw a bag with ‘Deluxe Femme’ written on the front.
    I would have bought it for amusement value (my weird sense of humour), had I not decided that referring to myself as ‘Deluxe’ was pushing it just a little.

    • I would have sooo bought that. Was it a tote bag? I love a tote bag.

    • FFAF

      Yeah, for serious! Where did you see that bag?! I NEED.

      • Primark! If you’re not in the UK (does Primark exist outside of the UK?), you could probably Ebay one, it was only a couple of £££.

  42. I don’t fit into any of the neat butch/femme, etc categories but I guess I am on the boyish end of the femme spectrum and wear a single strand bracelet similar to this:

    I wear it partly for the rainbow-ness but also because I have a brown leather watch and I think they go together rather well :)

  43. Aja

    The only thing that’s made me feel HELLA visible whenever I don’t have my hot butch wife arm candy around is my GOD HATES BAGS bag from Revel & Riot. Which is ridiculous because it’s not like anyone would make the jump from God Hates Bag girl to raging femme lesbian, but in my mind, it makes perfect sense.

    This is only interesting because it tells me as long as *I* feel visible (even if I’m not particularly), I feel better/awesome, and that’s what counts.

    The same goes for my cheeky little darling “femme” necklace from Three Sisters (I had it custom-made):

    • Aja

      I should say the only thing OTHER THAN my Autostraddle t-shirt, of course. And my car has a YOU DO YOU sticker on it, I mean, I would drive an officially-sponsored Autostraddle vehicle if I could. So.

  44. Oh my god reading this made me feel so good! It was like a great big validation of everything I try to do to read as queer. :D I LOVE YOU.

    Btw, I am sort of femme, as in I’m not butch, but also kinda androgynous, and my favorite general thing I do to look alternative or queer is to buy things that make me think of the Beatles (insert your favorite musical icons here). I’m serious. Like, I started buying black leather jackets and skinny jeans and pointed menswear shoes and caps because that’s what the Beatles wore in Hamburg back before they were super-famous, like 1959/60. Yeah. And now I buy my sweaters/shoes/coats/shirts based on the kinds of psychedelic/kind of gay stuff Paul McCartney wore in the late 60s. I don’t know, but I feel like what I’ve come up with is something I love and looks really unique, which is nice. Also, I can pretend I’m John Lennon when I walk down the street, and that is a sweet, sweet rush.

  45. LIZZ I FUCKING LOVE THIS. i seriously can’t even. i advocate for all of these things!!! these are all my favorite strategies when i dress!!! i love my boots and my leather jacket!!! lizz be my best friend!!

    backpacks are my number one favorite. if you’re a student it doesn’t seem like too much because it’s practical and my marc jacobs backpack is so nice and makes me feel fancy.

    lizz i love this

  46. Alright I read this article when it got published but now I have an account, I know I’m late but whatever… I am femme but I also like to dress in a more androgynous way sometimes, I just mix it up… but sometimes I’m just really femme and either way people sense me as a lesbian, I have had shocked people asking me if its true that I’m a lesbian but I think my body language communicates that for me so I can dress however I want, but I know it’s a bit of a problem which is way I’m straight up (no pun intended) open about my sexuality to people I meet.

  47. Once I made out with a girl at a gay bar and afterward she still assumed I was straight.

    I don’t know what that means, I swear I’m ok at making out.

  48. lizz i love you times a thousand for writing this. i think i could tattoo “there is a lesbian attached to this tattoo” to my forehead and people would still think i’m straight. which is why i’m sticking with numero 3.

    • If you get that tatoo I wanna see it. Anywhere, not just on your forehead. Actually, I’ll give you $20.

      Pictures or it didn’t happen.

  49. M

    what do you think about a tshirt that says “Dont die Wondering” ? Used to wear that, but dont know how obvious it was..

  50. M

    What do you think about a tshirt that says “Dont Die Wondering”? Used to wear that,but dont know how obvious it was..

  51. Chebab

    I totally understand where everyone is coming from!

    My problem exists in a different form, but totally related! My girlfriend and I have a HORRIBLE time making gay lady friends, because anytime we hang out in a highly populated lesbian place (we live in Minneapolis, we are definitely what I would consider “ignored.” And it is because we are femme! Or they come up and right away assume we are there because of the drink specials, or because we heard being bi-curious is fun.

    It makes me really want a “members only” card for all lesbians that I can flash when I open my wallet to pay for my food, or drinks, so that I have some credibility besides randomly inserting phrases like “rachel maddow” or “alternative lifestyle” or “lame straight girls” into sentences where they neither belong, or make sense.

    uffda. I love the way I dress, and I love spending time shopping for the perfect items for me, I refuse to give up my style for other people….but I really miss having lesbian friends. :(

    • Jen

      I know what you mean. I live in South Carolina and finding gay lady friends is impossible. :(

      • Where in SC do you live? I grew up near Myrtle Beach and then lived in Charleston for the past 7 years and I can tell you that there are gay ladies EVERYWHERE! You just gotta know where to look. And I have some gay lady friends in the upstate too. They’re there, trust me. Though Charleston is the best place for gay ladies in SC.

        • Jen

          I was born near Myrtle Beach, grew up in Greenville, and now I’m at university in Columbia. Dang, maybe I really just don’t know where to look. Do you happen to know any local lgbt friendly places I could head to in my free time?

          I’ve never been to Charleston but I may be there for med school (fingers crossed).

    • I know what you mean, I feel like it’s less of an issue when it comes to daing and more when you’re trying to make friends. Maybe we could make some sort of secret handshake. Or get sweatshirts like when you’re in a college musical.

  52. chaia

    As a longtime option #3-er*, I would like to cordially invite all the non-femmes to start learning how to see female femmes. Notice to whom the people around you pay attention, and how. What is our posture and body language saying? How long are we holding that eye contact and are we giving you the little “I see you” smile? (Or drooling. Sometimes that happens.) Can you tell the difference between someone checking out your style and checking out your STYLE? Practice in gay bars and then take your skills to the streets. Hark…to the silent language of the lady-queer!

    *I am over 30, can’t be bothered with most jewelry, and don’t feel comfortable dressing super trendy. I am also sartorially lazy and prone to wearing variations on a tee/cardi/skirt/leggings/flats/eyeliner theme into the ground. Rarely I clock the gaydar, usually I don’t.

  53. M

    Last night I was going into the grocery store completely femmed out in short dress and very high heels and was with my husband and a butch girl passed by me and completely held my gaze. It was exciting and flattering! Do it more often!

  54. Liz

    i’m all for #3, however vintage le tigre tends to make me feel mighty queer.

  55. Emily

    I got an equal sign tattooed on the inside of my right wrist. Perhaps an extreme measure, but it does the trick even when I’m donning the girliest of threads.

  56. I love this. So much. So many people have read me as gay before I would ever admit it, and now that I’m out I’m apparently not gay enough… My girlfriend’s got a few friends who question my gayness just based on how I look, and it pisses me off. I’m not super femme. I’m just kind of normal, jeans and tshirt kind of style… I just tell them that when the clothes come off and we’re in bed together, I’m pretty fucking gay. That usually shuts them up!

  57. I could use this. Except in my case it would be, how to show you’re a big old trans she-male in ten easy steps. (no I don’t call other people shemale. Yes it is something I say about myself.) Like, ok I like girl shaped clothes because I am girl shaped and I like bling. But then it’s all, lady girl she blah. But then, I am all ties!! Love!! and people are all…oh trans, tie, MUST BE AN FTM. Sigh. I am going to settle on just sort of appearing confusingly queer, which does at least have an amusement factor when other people give me the what ARE you face.

  58. Daniel de Culla

    Lovely¡I enjoy You and yrs so much.

  59. Your equal sign tattoo sounds pretty neat. Being polish & femme helps none. If anything, it makes me feel more invisible.

  60. Amy

    I want to make a t-shirt that says “LESBIAN” in block letters and wear it around to everywhere I go on a regular basis then maybe people will finally get it


    Any tips for looking/passing as queer when your *skin colour* gets in the way?
    I swear, never mind if I butch or femme it up, people read me as Foreign and then forget I even *have* a sexuality. gwargh.

    • bra

      “Any tips for looking/passing as queer when your *skin colour* gets in the way?”

      Our lives boo, our lives, I hope you can feel the solidarity.

      *big ass sigh*

      I have no tips but good lord I know how you feel!!! The only time I get read queer is by other brown and black women of color (I’m USian lulz) But I know what you mean when you are read as “NOT FROM THIS COUNTRY HAR HAR” forget it, I can’t even, too many feelings, hold me.

    • bra

      PS: Are from Australia*? I see you talk about it on your blogs (plus I am a fan hey dar, hey!) well it’s not “you” just overwhelming whiteness of all things queer gets in the way not your skin color? I know you know that but again it’s like we have to wear a sigh on our foreheads.

      *big ass sigh*

      *Not that Australia only has this problem but from my experience of what I was personally exposed to about Australian queer culture.

    • Yes, this happens to me too and all the other queer women of colour that I know! My method is to deploy my razor-sharp sarcasm, which frequently confuses people because clearly I can’t be brown *and* queer *and* have a sense of humour.

    • Alias

      I have exactly the same issue.

      In a gay bar they will usually assume I am in the wring place because they think I can’t understand English.

      Dresswear makes no difference. Even if you tattooed a rainbow on your forehead they would not approach you, as they think you would be too different to relate to. You are really on your own. Join a group for queer people of colour and get ideas, support from there. Doesn’t mean you can only date other people of colour, just get support and ideas on how to up your visibility and dating prospects with all lovely ladies of all colours of the rainbow. Alias:)

    • Alias

      I have exactly the same issue.

      In a gay bar they will usually assume I am in the wring place because they think I can’t understand English.

      Dresswear makes no difference. Even if you tattooed a rainbow on your forehead they would not approach you, as they think you would be too different to relate to, or sterotype you, fear you, or may not find people of colour attractive….list goes on. Maybe think about joining a group for queer people of colour and get ideas, support from there. Doesn’t mean you can only date other people of colour, just get support and ideas on how to up your visibility and dating prospects with all lovely ladies of all colours of the rainbow. Alias:)

  62. Just googled both Zooey Deschanel (tell me – why does she count?), AND infinity scarves. And realised that when I was a teenager I had a RAINBOW TIE-DYED INFINITY SCARF!! That was cos I was a hippy though, not because I am a lesbian…

    Just noticed the word ‘Australian’^^. Now going to work through the bazillion other comments on this post. No really, it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only wymyn-lovin’-womyn who has to constantly out myself & my partner to the tune of ‘but, oh – you don’t *look* like a lesbian…’

    I may comment later on straight girls who dress like they really could be lesbian (possibly much like Zooey Deschanel?). What’s with that? Am I allowed to feel annoyed/frustrated, when clearly it’s my innate gaydar that needs calibrating?

  63. Pullherclose

    Wow I wish I found this when it was first posted!
    Thank you so much everyone of you…holy crap I’ve been struggling with a lot of this for years and years.
    Tonight I went shopping with so much more of a feeling of liberty to follow option #3….oh my goodness I’m excited with all I found. All ME, just MORE ME…plus a thumb ring, lol I LOVE it!!
    This thread was such a validation that I needed….I’ve been hindred from bitter comments made by my first love and it’s a shame how long those comments lingered with me.
    ROAR…. :)

  64. Wow I wish I found this when it was first posted!
    Thank you so much everyone of you…holy crap I’ve been struggling with a lot of this for years and years.
    Tonight I went shopping with so much more of a feeling of liberty to follow option #3….oh my goodness I’m excited with all I found. All ME, just MORE ME…plus a thumb ring, lol I LOVE it!!
    This thread was such a validation that I needed….I’ve been hindred from bitter comments made by my first love and it’s a shame how long those comments lingered with me.

  65. Pretty much all what I do. In addition:
    +wear rainbow or “gay” signs/jewelry on you or your bag/backpack
    +be involved in a lot of queer activism (good for the resume!)
    +Studded clothing or spike earrings (optional: stretched ears are pretty queer)
    +talk about queer stuff with friends wherever you go (maybe someone will listen in)
    +idk why but hats/fedoras/snapbacks always make me feel more visible
    +and been thinking about tattooing an obvious queer sign on a visible area. hmmm? :)

  66. Yeah… None of the above really work for me. When I’m trying to figure out someone else, I look at 1) shoes, 2) hair, 3) walk, 4) obvi gay signs, like rainbows and equals. So I’m screwed, since I wear flip flops, have long girly hair, can’t get the whole lesbian walk thing down, and rarely accessorize. I think I’m just going to buy this shirt: and wear it 90% of the time.

  67. Wow! This has made me feel so much better about myself! Thank you ladies! You’re article and comments are still appreciated two years later!

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