But today, I was thinking a lot about who goes out every day. Is it my female self or my femme self?
I always present as feminine. Consciously or not, no one ever doubts I'm feminine. Whether I'm in jeans or fancy dress, makeup or not, I've never been asked my gender identity. I doubt I'll ever get asked what pronoun I'd like used. This is a privilege in a lot of ways. It's also a trap. I'll never pass as butch, much less as a man, and that's generally ok with me. But when I reflect on gender, I don't know if I identify as feminine.
Femme, as a gender, seemed like it might well fit the bill. There's a movie I've wanted to see about this: "Female to Femme", and I think that it might bring up some ideas that would help me in my reflection. The filmmaker Elizabeth Stark, identifies part of femme as such:
“Femmes know how to make love to other women, to butches, to transmen. In my opinion, this is an art and should not be overlooked. Femmes know how to fail and succeed at femininity at the same time. We use our flaws, our fat, our hairiness, our loud mouths, our oversized brains and our excessive accessorizing to celebrate ourselves and those we love…and to foment revolution.”
I read this, and other books on femme, and think to myself, "yes- when I put on lipstick, nail polish, mascara, this is my war paint- my corsets and boots are my armor." These are things I put on when I'm going to face the world, as Kitty Stryker, as femme. Sure, some women put these things on for men, or to feel attractive. I don't. I do it because when I do it it turns this body into me. As my favorite person ever RuPaul said, "we're born naked, all the rest is drag".
So I'm fairly comfortable with that aspect, that femme is something I put on most of the time, or at least attempt to. And I'm pretty comfortable with my methods of attaining femme- I try to be ethical in my choices. So lets set those issues aside for the sake of this post.
One thing I struggle with as an aspiring femme is femme as carer and cared for. Whenever I read about butch/femme, there's this dynamic of care, each caring for the other in their way. A lot of erotica and memoirs about femmes discuss how they inspired people to cherish them, not because they weren't powerful but in a recognition of their power and subsequent desire to relinquish some of their load. I appreciate that quite a bit. But I find, as an aspiring femme, that my general ability to keep the household in order, people on the ball, and cats herded means that other people prefer to step back and let me do it.
In a way, knowing that others believe me to be capable should be empowering- no one looks at me as a weak woman who can't take care of herself. But at the same time, it's exhausting and draining to be the caregiver, the organizer, She Who Must Be Obeyed- sometimes I want to let go and be taken care of myself for a while, without that being an expression of weakness or of submission.
And it's particularly telling that the time I take out of all that to take care of myself is usually conveniently timed for when I have an appointment- and then, is it really for me, or is it for my clients..?
Which brings me to the other weird side of femme for me. I would self-identify, on a good, not-thinking-too-hard-into-it day, as a femme queer sex worker. I dress nicely, sure, but no different than I would for a job interview or a date. I'm considering the following- when I dress in this way, am I dressing femme, claiming femme, or am I just, on some level, catering to mens ideas of femininity? If I'm wearing lipstick, can it ever really just be because I like it?
It still feels sometimes like I'm in Mum's closet, wearing her clothes and pretending to be something I'm not. Probably because I don't have a lot of friends who self identify as femme, people around me I can point to and say, "yes, that's femme, and that, and that". Those who are feminine here either wouldn't identify as femme or don't sit and think about this stuff at all, not the self-claiming of femme I'm looking for. Butches don't tend to come on to me (possibly because London is more a place where butches play with butches and femmes with femmes). Even the men who tend to like me like me being in control- there isn't that push/pull dynamic, where the butch pulls out my chair and pays for dinner, and I dress up for my butch and cook her dessert. And maybe I'm looking at butch/femme itself totally wrong. I have no idea.
I guess after this whole entire post, that's my conclusion. The more I think about it, the more confused and conflicted I feel. I'll end with Elizabeth Stark again-
“My sexuality and desires, my sensibility and my gender expression are all going against the grain of the expected female. In fact, becoming a femme in a world that insists on a certain femininity … without taking on that enforced femininity is a delicate, powerful move; a transition indeed, that is under-investigated and overlooked. FtF begins to break that silence. And, like all silence-breakers, we’re already getting in some trouble for it.”