This past weekend was Femme 2010, the biannual Femme Conference put on by the fantastic Femme Collective. The Femme “community” is like any other where it is in actuality many similar communities grouped together under one umbrella. I am always excited for Femme Con and this year I was optimistic about making more femme friends and also meeting more femme guys, which were few and far between last time (2008 in Chicago). But the longer the conference went on the longer I was alone.
Early in the conference I met a transguy, a femme ally, who confided in me about a woman purposely making negative comments about “masculine energy” taking up space in the conference, insinuating that non-female people were not welcome. I wasn’t surprised, but I assured him that was not the opinion of the general populace of the conference. I have always admired the Femme Collective’s hard work to expand the femme umbrella’s reach, but what do we do when oppression is coming from under the umbrella in addition to outside of it?
Invisibility. Many queer femme women feel invisible because the world doesn’t understand/believe that feminine women can also be queer nor do people often recognize the subversive political action that goes with being a femme woman. Femme transwomen who, among many things, are often refused access to women spaces and have severe issues of safety. Whether it is misogyny in its most traditional ‘women are demons’ sense or in more complex spheres where somehow cute shoes equal complying with the patriarchy – femme women have a lot of shit to deal with. That said I would like to point out that not all femmes are women, and femme women are not the only ones who have to deal with shit.
“Come In Ladies!” The signs were all over the conference, but what about us femmes who aren’t ladies? Can’t we come in or are boys not allowed? I heard whispers: “Men shouldn’t be here” “What’s with all the butch looking people?” and “This is a femme only space” essentially telling me not only am I not a femme, I am also unwelcome. I was really perturbed by the 1970s-esque pro-vagina sentiment that was overtaking everything. Yes, pro-vagina is awesome but vagina does not always equal woman, and woman does not always equal femme. What about those who don’t have a vagina (or a specific a type of vagina), or have one but don’t identify with it? As the weekend progressed I found myself getting nervous. I was worried people didn’t want me there or wouldn’t be interested in my workshop or in my performance (which was in an all women line-up). I felt alone, desperate for people to talk to. I went to a workshop for guy and genderqueer femmes but the whole thing was over run with female femmes processing their loves and issues (some very problematic) about transguy femmes; which I found particularly ironic because it was the only workshop dedicated to non-female femmes but it was dominated by females – but “male energy” is what’s stealing all the conference space. There were multiple testimonies of how femme transguys presented competition for community, status, and even sex partners. This dialogue made me too angry to constructively comment. It was a typical bubble-world testimony of coastal queers thinking the entire world is their liberal city, where apparently transqueers are running wild en masse. I’ve never found it easy to find my own folks, in fact out here in the Midwest the closest feminine (not femme, just feminine) transguy is a nine hour drive away and I only met him last year. Yeah, us femme guys are a real invasion. Claim your radical status and sex partners now before its too late!
Not only am I invisible but I’m getting fucked over by my own communities. Folks like me, we’re the Fucked-Over Femmes. We have to deal with similar oppressions to female femmes but we aren’t allowed to bond and unite over it because we are male or masculine. How much male privilege you think is allowed someone like me? Not a fuckin lot, if I’m even read as male at all. Femininity is considered equal to woman, and not being a woman I am frequently denied the identity of femme, even by those who know me well. Instead I am habitually told how ‘gay’ I am, which I don’t mind because I am queer, but the use of gay here is incorrect and it says something about unconscious gendering. Someone may lovingly say “JAC, you’re so gay'” because I’m wearing a poofy skirt but they don’t say it when I’m restoring a bike. I’m the same person but I’m not expressing the same “gayness” AKA male femininity. Pushing against masculinity is hard; coping with scrutiny from other guys for not being ‘man enough,’ even pitied for getting delt the femme hand in life. I am continually asked why I transitioned at all if I was just going to be like a girl. I do not deserve to pass as well or get the right pronoun because I don’t exude the hypermasculinity that would make me worthy of it and if I am at all bothered by this it is my own fault for not being a “normal guy.”
I love my femme communities and I will continually work hard for them. And I know for a fact that the general community of Femme Con is awesome and strives for inclusiveness, but – and you know there is always a ‘but’ on this blog – different types of femmes have many different oppressions to battle and no one is harder than another. In general we are all up against the same shit: You get cat-called, I get called fag. You’re afraid, I’m afraid. Our big similarities outweigh the tiny differences. I may be a Fucked-Over Femme, but not any more or less than any other femme. You may feel invisible, but no more or less than I am. What is more frustrating that seeing your community when it refuses to see you? We all feel invisible, we are all getting fucked over, we all need to fight together. We all are undervalued and stereotyped because, as Kate Bornstein so eloquently said in her keynote, “sexy is evil and cute is dumb.” How are we supposed to rise above the oppressions put on us when we are still counting people out, or counting people as less-than? (sound familiar?) Kate talked about how no femme is truly invisible, but femmes are still being fucked over, sometimes by each other. We need to stop the legitimacy wars and start doing what we do best, fighting for justice and looking fabulous while we do it.
12 thoughts on “The Fucked-Over Femme”
“Instead I am habitually told how ‘gay’ I am, which I don’t mind because I am queer, but the use of gay here is incorrect and it says something about unconscious gendering.”
Not to mention all the internalized homophobia and stereotypes wrapped up in that. You’re gay because you like men, not because you wear poofy skirts or nail polish or do drag or say “fabulous” all the time.
Plus, it does nothing but promote the idea that all men are a certain way. Like, how many times have I heard non-queer FTMs identify as “fags” just because they like musicals or wear clean clothes every day? Talk about appropriation and gender policing.
Well I hope that you don’t think that all the femme ciswomen at the conference felt this way toward you. It’s unfortunate that some people in the community have such narrow views about who can identify as femme and be involved- as a femme ciswoman in the collective, may I speak for myself and I’m sure it’s safe to say many others when I say that femmes of all genders, and butch allies too, are and should be welcomed into these types of spaces. Also, I don’t want to detract from your experience as a male-bodied femme and the exclusion you felt, but even as a member of the “in-crowd,” ie one of the “ladies” that all those posters were referring to, I felt very excluded at times too during past femme cons, based on my appearance and identity presentation, which led to me not attending at this one. I’ve heard comments come from the mouths of femme attendees complaining about the presence of too many men, too many skinny women, too many white people, too many butches, not enough butches, too many blonde women, too many young people…… and the list goes on and on. What is it about our community that we need to put each other down? If I as a feminine queer ciswoman can’t feel at home in the femme community, I can’t imagine how someone could fit in if they don’t fit the mold that’s been narrowly carved out as to whom is welcome in these spaces!
Mayhem – Yes, I assure you I don’t think all femme women, trans or not have these exclusionary opinions, quite the opposite in fact. I feel that the majority of the community, or a major part of it at least, are open and working for an accessible inclusive community. I understand where you and others are coming from with the mentioned issues about the boarders and language of the community – an unpleasant element that seems to be present in many of our communities. I’m sorry you have not felt at home in the femme communities, sounds like you have had some stuff to deal with too!
and a note: I am not male-bodied, I am a transguy (assigned female at birth, male identified). :)
Uh. Many trans guys ARE male-bodied, dude.
yes, this is very true, but I don’t call myself one of them and in this situation I am only describing myself.
I know, and you’re certainly welcome to identify yourself however you want, but when you say, “I’m not male-bodied, I’m a trans guy,” it implies that the two are mutually exclusive.
yeah, i can totally see how someone could interpret it like that. sorry for my wording.
Sorry, I should have said “male identified.” That’s what I meant.
This reminds me of how I really wanted my butch-fag-queer wife to feel more comfortable taking self-defense, and how I wished she could participate in the men’s class but it’s just not done. It didn’t feel fair! She definitely won’t be taking a standard class targeted toward women. There’s nothing geared toward making her – and others like her – feel safe? That’s kind of bullshit.
Anyway, not sure if that’s an exact parallel, probably not, but it rings familiar to me.
I hate that you felt alone! That makes me sad. For what it’s worth, there was at least one or two times per day that I was there where I felt a little alone or unheard or out of place, to an extent. Overall, my feelings were positive, but it’s not as if that diminished feeling that way at all.
I think it sucks that people feel threatened and unsafe, I think it sucks that ignorance under our own little umbrella manifests in judgment instead of open-mindedness. When I walked into the conference I wasn’t expecting folks like you, but by the time I walked out I was really glad to have met and talked to folks like you, and then some. Truly.
PS. I really want to make a femme calendar with all sorts of femme variations! How rad and educational would that be?
A femme calendar? How super fun! I also over-all enjoyed my time simply because how could you not with so many awesome people around. I am interested hearing that you also had some experiences where you felt alone. Our community has some work to do, eh? I hope you and I will get to work together more!
I just wanted to say…. as a femme (trans)lady person, I really appreciated all genders being allowed to hang out at Femme 2010. Especially male-identified femmes. You are braver than I am and totally own the space as much as anyone else. My “cis” (I hate that word) femme awesome friend was also so happy that male-identified femmes were there. Please do not stop coming, be vocal, be proud, and take up the space you deserve!