One of the photo blogs I follow, FuckYeahFemmes, has been having a lot of discussion about inclusion recently. Some issues were raised about the blog being un-inclusive of transfolks; all sentiments I can identify with whole heartedly. However, I never felt that about this blog because though trans/non-female identity posts were not common, I asked the author a long time ago if I could post and she was very welcoming. But to anyone who has not asked, they probably wouldn’t think it was very representative of all femmes. The author reached out to me about being more inclusive of guy/trans/gq femmes and she immediately began to act on making a more inclusive blog. Unfortunately some of the blog readers have not been equally awesome and have been posting commentary about how it is “ridiculous and offensive that femme is being appropriated by masculine identified people…” and how “femme IS restricted to female identified, feminine presenting, lesbian/bisexual/transgender/queer women.” This is so hurtful. I continue to struggle with why we are oppressive of our own communities, and frankly why we queers can’t get our act together. Below is my response posted on the blog:
“I’d like to respond to the several “femme appropriation” posts that have been appearing. I have a female sex assigned body. I am a male transguy. I am genderqueer. I am read as a man but more often as a woman. I live as guy. I am a femme.
I am a feminine person and though masculinity is an aspect to my identity it is not prominent. I used to beat myself up over it, my whole life spent stuck between what I wasn’t and what I couldn’t be. It was lonely, frustrating, and painful. When I found FEMME I stopped feeling so “wrong” and I started feeling something I had never felt; included. Femme supports me so I am no longer ashamed of being feminine despite other expectations. It empowers me to not feel obligated to be something I’m not while also validating me in being who I am. When you tell me I am not allowed to be femme, you are telling me I am not allowed to be myself.
Boarder policing is one of the most detrimental things we do in our communities. How is stating that people “are not allowed” to identify with how they feel any different from the oppressions placed on us from outside queer communities? Yes, there are words other than femme, but femme is more than a word, it is an identity and it is a community. And if there is a community of people who identify similarly to me, live similar lives, have similar politics, why would I not be in that community? Is it because I am not identical to you? To that I say is anyone really identical to you? History is important. And in history we have been combating oppressive systems that try to define femininity based on what someone else wants. I find that we are now doing that again, but in a different forum. We must always remember where we came from, but we also must look ahead to where we are going. An identity label is not a physical space; it is a state of mind, and it is a community in communities. Me, a guy, standing under FEMME is not stealing someone’s spot under the umbrella. There is always more room and there is strength in numbers. When you tell me I am not allowed to be femme, you are telling me that you are going ahead but I must stay behind alone.
When we talk about appropriation, we are discussing communities of power and privilege adopting words, behavior, etc of communities who have less/none. By being male one may think I have more privilege and therefore I am appropriating but I am not seen as male in society, by government, by the average person on the street, in a gay bar, or even on the internet. I do not receive a plethora of privileges from the patriarchy. It oppresses me too; not the same ways as for a woman but in ways just as legitimate. Closed spaces and safe spaces are vitally important. Women have the right to be in women-only spaces and use language that speaks to their experience. But for femme, there is not one femme experience and your femme experience is not the only one. As queer people we have a lot of doors closed on us. I can not understand why we continue to close doors on each other. We must do all we can to combat privilege and exclusion in order to create a just and conscious community. Maybe femme means woman to you, but it does not mean woman to me. How can we judge who is right? The presence of maleness or masculinity does not negate femininity. The gender binary is not a friend to anyone, including femmes. I work hard for the femme community, just as hard as someone who is not male. When you tell me I am not allowed to be femme, you are telling me I am not good enough to have a safe community.
Yes, I admit that I do get frustrated when any group address at FemmeCon or on a femme blog is “Ladies!” My response is to remind folks that I am here in hopes of change. FuckYeahFemmes is not a transphobic blog. Originally, I didn’t know if I was allowed to post on it so I asked the author and her response was very welcoming. We can’t know everything all at once, what matters is learning responsibly and correcting our mistakes. FuckYeahFemmes did correct itself and I know that for a fact because I was personally contacted by Shawna (author) about how to make the blog more inclusive. I wish everyone in our community had FuckYeahFemmes’ drive and love for community inclusion. When we see others challenging our friends, it is hard not get upset but the answer is not to pick up our toys and go home. The answer is to listen, to talk, and to open our arms to one another saying “This is hard for me too, but we can make it together.” When you tell me I am not allowed to be femme, you are not standing up for the femme community; you are standing in the way of it.
In solidarity and love, Midwest GenderQueer”
Fortunately, not all the blog followers are un-inclusive. There have been posts by readers advocating for the diverse spectrum of Femme, including the author herself. I guess we can only keep working, keep fighting until we all are included. Until then, we’re going to continue to hurt each other and fuck each other over.