My femme identity is rooted in conjuring up as much softness and pleasure as I can. This world can be incredibly hard and harmful, especially for marginalized folx. Femme-embodiment is my magic of choice to help me navigate through it all.
As magic as it is, my gender expression also prompts people to approach me with the “… but you look straight” comment upon “discovering” my queerness. The response in my head usually goes something like this:
“Ah! Sorry… totally forgot to re-arrange my aesthetic markers today so you wouldn’t be confused about my personal desires and identity. Maybe you should just go on ahead and rearrange your faulty assumptions and leave me the hell alone.”
Being misread as straight because of my femme-ness used to bother me constantly. However, over time it has become less and less significant to my understanding and appreciation for my and others’ femme identities.
I find that discussions around femme in/visibility tend to obscure the infinite ways that folks femme (I sometimes like to think of femme as an action verb). Femme is so vast. The same femme expressions that render my queerness invisible render other folx’ queerness hypervisible. How femininity is policed and de/valued by society across various bodies tends to be awful and restrictive. However, femme identities themselves feel divinely infinite. They transcend a simple preference for stereotypically feminine things. For me, a femme identification is a declaration of an intentional crafting of, and relationship with, gender.
I love meeting other femme folx and talking about what their femme identity means to them: what’s important, why they chose to identify as such, how has it shifted, what’s it grounded in. I’ve heard so many different answers. My own femme identity is deeply connected to my senses and how my aesthetic is intertwined with my desires and what I value.
More Radical Reads: This Summer I Stopped Hiding: Reclaiming Femmeness and Body Hair
Shaming Feminine Aesthetics
Feminine aesthetic practices are often critiqued as excessive, indulgent, unnecessary, impractical, and superficial.
“Your heels are so high. How do you run in them?”
I’m tall just standing around barefoot. And I’m especially tall when I wear heels, so naturally, people always feel the need (and the entitlement) to comment when I do.
I love heels. I love what they do for my posture. I love how they make my ass swing. I love how they sound when I walk. I love to put them on. I love to take them off. I value the things heels gift me way more than I worry about them slowing me down during a hypothetical sprint or how they make me tower over most people in a room.
For me, my femme identity is more than “I wear this because it’s a feminine thing to wear or do.” My femme identity is being Black and queer and woman, unapologetic about valuing and choosing pleasurable sensory experiences.
It’s about carefully curating the adornment of my body and spaces to be places filled with things that please me. I’m intentional about textures, smells, colors, and patterns I choose. I like the smell of lavender, so I put it behind my ears. I like the feel of satin, so I’ll sew it to the inside of my gloves. I enjoy the color pink and never see it enough in public spaces, so I paint my nails to have access to the sight of it whenever I want.
This world is very good at telling marginalized folx they should feel ashamed for desiring or seeking pleasure, leisure, comfort, joy, or beauty. I see my femme identity as a queer refusal of all this shaming.
More Radical Reads: An Act of Knowing: Moving Towards a Black Femme Politic
Femininity Beyond Heterosexuality
My femme practices also mean most folks perceive me as straight (a fact that comes with a litany of privileges and pitfalls). And even with my deep love for all things femme, the question still pops up for me: are these femme practices I hold so dear simply reinforcing heteronormative gender stereotypes?
Honestly, my answer to that question is usually murky. I think that queer femme identities, like all gender expressions, involve a constant navigation between cultural expectations and personal desires.
What I know is this. My femme identity is infused into so much of what I do and how I interface with the world. It’s present in how I relate to my body, the folks I love, the ways I choose to survive, and the communities I choose to be a part of. My femme identity doesn’t invalidate my queerness -– it is at its core.
[Feature Image: A Black person with a large curly Afro lies down. They are wearing makeup, red lipstick, and a denim shirt while smiling at the camera. Source: Pexels.com]