This post is dedicated to all of the femmes!
When I was a child, Easter was my favorite time of year. Every year, my mom always got me an Easter basket full of goodies. At church, we got to recite our Easter speeches in front of the whole congregation. And after the sermon, they would host an Easter egg hunt for the young folks. They even had a golden egg with money inside.
While all of those things were fun, the best part for me was finding my Easter dress. If you look at photos of me as a little one, more often than not, my mom would have me decked out in frills, bows, and lace. And Easter was no different. I always picked out the prettiest pink dress that I could find. Then I would continue the search to find matching socks and shoes to tie the whole ensemble together. I have so many happy memories as a kid going through the racks of church dresses to find the one I loved the most. I like to think that I was a baby femme in training.
This was always my routine until around the time I became a pre-teen. Throughout most of my childhood, I was of average weight, but as I began to go through puberty, my body began to change, and I began to gain weight.
I remember being in our local B.C. Moore Department Store (now known as Peebles) looking through all the dresses. The ones that I liked the most weren’t in my size, and the ones in my size weren’t that spectacular. I finally found two to try on — one in my old faithful pink and the other in light purple. As I put the pink dress on, it fit a little snug, but I thought it could be the one. It wasn’t as ornate as my dresses in the past, but it was a cute print, and it had adorable pearls along the neckline.
I opened the door to get my mother’s approval. To my dismay, that’s not what I got at all.
She said no words, but the look on her face told me all that I needed to know. She wouldn’t be buying me the dress. I closed the fitting room door and switched into the purple dress. It was a fairly plain, purple floral print dress with a lavender jacket. I hated it. I opened the door, and my mom quickly exclaimed, “That looks good, boo.” I briefly wondered if we were seeing the same dress. No, the dress wasn’t ugly, but it wasn’t beautiful either. I went ahead and chose the dress, because I didn’t have the energy to continue searching or to argue with my mom about why the pink dress was the right choice.
While it was just one dress, that dress was the shift of my gender presentation as I knew it. I was constantly unsure of my body and upset by the ways my friends and family would react to me when I tried to be more feminine. It seemed that, no matter how I was doing it, it was always wrong. Or my body was wrong. I quickly learned that I was too fat to dress the way that I wanted. I essentially spent all of my teenage years finding clothes that fit and buying them in multiple colors and patterns. I learned which brands to stick with and which styles to avoid. I owned many pairs of LEI jeans and a bunch of statement t-shirts.
It wasn’t until I was about 20 that I felt comfortable donning feminine clothes every day. Being away at college gave me the freedom to wear what I wanted to wear. Being in college also gave me a network of friends who knew what it was like to grow up as a queer person in the rural south. I was finally in a space in my life that I felt comfortable presenting in a way that made me feel most authentic, in spite of others not feeling comfortable with my presentation.
It felt amazing to be able to trade my denim and t-shirts for flowy skirts and low-cut blouses. And lipstick quickly became a staple for all of my ensembles. This period marked the first time in a long time that other folks in my life also validated my presentation. It was also around this time that I found an identity that fit me so very well: femme.
Being in queer women spaces, I realized that many folks identified as stud, boi, femme, lipstick lesbian, and other gender identities. It was really amazing to be in community with people who were proud of their gender presentations and gladly pronounced them as part of their identities. It wasn’t long before I started calling myself a femme. And once again, the folks in my life, who were mostly queer, never questioned me and gladly validated me in my femme identity.
However, I have had experiences with people outside of my friend circle who feel that my gender presentation isn’t appropriate on my body. My fatness and blackness aren’t seen as acceptable vehicles of my feminine presentation. It seems as though fat thighs and dark skin clash with pastels and glitter. Luckily, I have the privilege of being able to work, live, and socialize in predominantly queer spaces without cishet folks staring at and insulting me.
However, as I reflect on my friends’ acceptance, I know that they validate my presentation and identity because I am an able-bodied ciswoman. My cisgender and able-bodied privileges allow me to navigate my femme identity openly and safely within my queer circles — and usually in non-queer spaces as well.
The same is not true for folks who aren’t able-bodied ciswomen. The world can be and is a dangerous place for folks who are disabled and transgender. It is verbally, mentally, and physically dangerous to be femme and not fit into the confines of whom society deems acceptable feminine people.
However contrary to society’s beliefs, no one’s femininity is up for debate. There are no inappropriate femme bodies, and we have to continuously push back on this notion. To all of the femmes across the world who can and are reading this, your femmeness is yours to own, and no one has the grounds to gender police you, your body, or your femininity.
And for those of us who can move through the world without our femininity being questioned, we have to remember to always fight with and for those in our community who cannot move as safely. We have to continue to make space and break down barriers until all of us can proudly present ourselves in the way that makes us most comfortable.
There is no wrong way to be femme. Even if we are fat, people of color, trans, gender non-conforming, disabled, or anything else, we are femme!
Even if we have to camouflage our presentation to blend in for safety, we are femme!
Even if we don’t have the strength or time to put on makeup, we are femme!
And no matter what society tries to make us think or feel about our bodies and genders, we are femme!
[Headline image: The photograph shows a black woman smiling. Her hands posed against the sides of her hair, which is black, full, and curly. Behind her is a mountain scene.]