Sexuality Happens

Femme Invisibility

Sinclair (of Sugarbutch.net) wrote an amazing piece this week on Femme Invisibility. I wanted to stand up and cheer. Thank fucking god and mooses that someone BESIDES the femmes has had the gumption to write about this. I’ve written about it before. People have written about it on the Femme’s Guide. Other femmes have written about it on their blog. But very few n0n-femmes write about.

It? It’s queer-looking privilege, for lack of a better term. It’s one of the things that the femme spiral I created and that some femmes (myself included) have tattooed on themselves was DESIGNED to combat. While in the past, it was hard for butches to be seen and visible, so they got the blue stars, it is now sometimes impossible for femmes to be seen an acknowledges in the queer community.  We are seen as feminine straight girls, alternative straight girls, bi girls who don’t know what we want. It’s as though wearing lipstick or heels (which doesn’t define femme, but seems to be an outside indicator of identity for many) somehow deletes our own queerness.

I’ve had this issue for years. It’s bad enough when I go to lesbian poker night, and get hit on by the only cis guy there, because he thinks I’ve wandered in to the wrong bar, just like he did, that I’m certainly not a dyke. But it hurts so much more when I would go to dyke nights, and have people stare at me, wondering what this “fruit fly” was doing there, when butch dykes would laugh at me when I offered to buy them a drink (because goddess knows no one was asking me), and ask me where my boyfriend was.

I hated wearing rainbows, but I did it all the time, because I wanted people to know. I’d “gender drop” in conversation (similar to name droping, but more like “oh, well, my ex-girlfriend used to ____” or “this trans guy I was dating did this thing____.”). No reason to other than it helped to “validate” my identity as queer to the people I talked to. I always feel like I have to out myself in conversation first, because I don’t “look” queer, whatever that means.

I used to tell people that I’d love to get a short “dyke hair cut” but couldn’t, because I’d have a Jew-Fro. Then I stopped telling them that. I love my longer hair. I like it curly, and I like it straight, and I love playing with it when I get ready. While I wear jeans and t-shirt some times, I much prefer skirts and dresses (ah, the breeze! and the ability to have an easy quicky at all times). I don’t wear a ton of make up, but I do enjoy what I wear. I like having the door opened for me by queer people, and I love cunt. Mine, and others people’s. Period.

When I’m out and about with Q, I am much more validated. We’ve talked about this a lot. As she is butch/gender queer identified, when she says “my partner,” or we walk down the street holding hands, i am much more often seen as queer. Why? Because she “looks” queer, and so if she’s queer, and we’re together, I must be queer by default. Obviously. But I’ve also been out with her, and have had other people hit on her. On one hand, this is hot. My partner is fucking sexy and wanted and awesome. On the other hand, as very few people are out as poly, them hitting on her makes the assumption that even though we’re sitting together or dancing together, I must not be queer, so therefore, she must be available.

I like being read as who I am. It’s one of the things that attracted me to Q in the beginning. She had some to my strap on class, and yes, I had thought she was cute, but I wasn’t really planning on making a move until she came up to me after it was done.  

Q: So, are your sex toys really coordinated to be red, black and animal print?

Me: Yes. Some white as well. It’s important to look good while fucking.

Q: Damn, you are SUCH a femme.

BAM. She saw me.  Just like Sinclair writes about, how every once in a while, femmes do get recognized and seen, Q saw me. She saw me, and she acknowledged me.  She didn’t ask me after my strap on class when the last time I’d had a guy fuck me (oh yes, I’ve been asked that). She didn’t try and quiz me on whether I was queer enough or not. She saw it and let me know, and we’ve been together almost a year now.

I hate feeling invisible. I feel it all the time, as a woman, as a queer person, as a disabled person. I am constantly having to speak up, to come out, to ask to be validated. I should not have to feel this within my own community.  I don’t assume that everyone who has short hair and a big belt buckle is queer, so why assume that anyone in a dress isn’t?

Would love for this to become a discussion, and am HIGHLY encouraging comments and more posts on other blogs about this issue.

-Essin’ Em

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10 comments

10 Comments so far

  1. Britni TheVadgeWig November 28th, 2009 2:07 am

    I’m planning a post on this on my own blog eventually. Sinclair’s post was fantastic, too. But femme invisibility is a very real thing. I’m queer, and date women, men, trans, whatever. But I’ve always gravitated towards men because the queer dating scene has been so frustrating for me.

    I get sick of asking which friends I came to dyke night with. I’m sick of going out and having people ask who brought the straight chick. I’m sick of being out with a girl, especially if she’s femme, too, and having guys assume that because we both look “straight” that we must be there for their own pleasure and entertainment. I’m sick of it all.

    I’m at dyke night because I want to pick up a girl. If I didn’t, I’d go to the straight bar across the street. The *only* time I’ve ever been hit on at a girls’ bar is the night I went in a white tee, men’s camo cargo shorts, and Chucks. And it pissed me off. Why should I have to change the way I look and I dress, just to convince people that I’m queer? I cut all my hair off, just to try and get more girls to hit on me. But again, it wasn’t *me.*

    I can be femme and feminine and still be queer.

  2. Kimberly November 28th, 2009 5:44 am

    I have a big problem with the use of labels in the queer community. Am I queer? Sure. Do I fit into the category of femme, butch, aggressive femme, soft stud, etc? No. I’m just me. I think we should stop trying to fit in and stop caring so much about how we are perceived by others. Do I understand the concern? Yes, but I don’t think femme invisibility is the problem. I think the problem is that people in the LGBTQ community work really hard to mirror the masculine-feminine relationships in the straight world.

    There! I said it, and I stand by it. I think it’s great that you posted this because honestly it is a problem. What you decide to wear that day should not (and does not) define you. I wish every non-straight person would just be true to themselves. That would aleviate a lot of the “not-looking-gay-enough” problem. Being queer is more than clothes, hairstyles, etc. It’s about sexual preference, and that’s a very tiny part of what makes a person who they are.

    *steps off of soapbox*

  3. Jenny November 28th, 2009 10:39 am

    I think Kim makes a valid point, though to my knowledge a lot of LGBTQ communities are moving away from the masculine/feminine stereotypical relationship. However, it’s definitely a process that will take some time – especially to reach the smaller communities. I doubt it’s nearly so much of a “problem” somewhere like NYC, versus my own small Texas town. At the same time though, if that’s what someone’s preference is… who are we to say it’s bad?

    I think it will take a lot for the LGBTQ community to be more open. Why? Because we fight so hard every day to establish that our relationships are valid, and that we’re valid as people. It’s hard to give up that fight when you go to the bar, simply because you learn to live in the trenches of everyday life. Though it’s a poor comparison, think of a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Clothes, hairstyles, tattoos, fashion, etc. were the only identifiers that we had in the past. And now, they’re so deeply embedded in our community that if you aren’t “up to par” you’re seen as an outsider. I definitely fall into this category, and I hate it. I hate that with my last ex I was very visible as a lesbian because she was so obviously gay, whereas now being single I have become totally invisible. I look horrible with short hair! My body type (and personal taste) isn’t suited to masculine clothing. And I’m not going to change who I am just to get a date!

    I think the LGBTQ community needs to come down off of their high horse and stop being so judgemental. If someone is at a gay bar, they’re gay! Guilty until proven innocent, okay? Or if some “straight looking” girl is making eye contact with you, then odds are… she’s into you. Until people learn to stop judging a book by it’s cover, they’re going to be missing out on a lot of wonderful women – myself included!

  4. Essin' Em November 28th, 2009 1:50 pm

    I do have to say, that in my experience, there isn’t so much a push (as least on the coasts and in Denver) on the masculine/feminine recreation. Rather, I got a lot of grief FOR identifying as femme, instead of giving it up, and becoming the more trendy “andro-dyke.” I have had people tell me I’m not a good queer/ feminist because I’m holding on to the butch/femme dynamic…which is silly, because MY identify is as a Femme, but I don’t expect anyone else to identify as femme or butch, or anything else, nor am I only attracted to butch/masculine presenting people.

    Britni – I look forward to reading your post!

  5. Kimberly November 28th, 2009 3:41 pm

    Very interesting. I definitely think the way you identify shouldn’t invalidate your queerness. I dated a trans guy for a while, and he was pretty far along in the process, and I thought it was strange to be read as a straight couple. So I get it.

    I don’t think you should have to give up your style to please anybody. Ever.

    In the Black community I think there is a bigger emphasis on the stud/femme dynamic than in the LGBTQ community at large, and it REALLY bothers me. I’m not dyke-y enough for the femmes, not “feminine” enough for the studs bc I don’t wear a face full of makeup? All I can do is be me and be true to myself (which I feel is the answer to most, if not all, of life’s problems).

    This blog definitely struck a chord. Good job, essin-em!

  6. alphafemme November 29th, 2009 3:04 am

    I know *exactly* what you mean about how awesome and hot it is to be recognized and easily accepted as femme. Yep, *bam*!

  7. Rachel November 29th, 2009 11:35 am

    Thank you for this post. As a femme appearing queer woman, who still isn’t sure how I feel about “femme” an identity for myself, I’m glad to see so much discussion about this.

    I blogged about it too, but my blog is not near the caliber of yours or Sinclair’s. http://feelersout.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/on-femme-invisibility/

  8. julian December 4th, 2009 12:12 pm

    Yes, yes, and yes. Good to hear more about femme invisibility. It’s been on the tips of people’s tongues lately.

    >> I have had people tell me I’m not a good queer/ feminist because I’m holding on to the butch/femme dynamic…which is silly, because MY identify is as a Femme, but I don’t expect anyone else to identify as femme or butch, or anything else, nor am I only attracted to butch/masculine presenting people.

  9. OllieBelle March 13th, 2011 1:08 pm

    “this trans guy I was dating did this thing____.”

    “Very interesting. I definitely think the way you identify shouldn’t invalidate your queerness. I dated a trans guy for a while, and he was pretty far along in the process, and I thought it was strange to be read as a straight couple.”

    Using a man’s transness to ‘prove’ your queer credentials comes from a remarkably transphobic view point. At the end of the day if you’re dating a man who is trans then you’re dating a man. That doesn’t make you any more dykey than any other woman on the planet who is dating a man!

    Please stop perpetuating this idea that trans men are somehow a separate category from men.

    If you like women then by all means say that you like women, but don’t purposefully cash on other people’s transphobia to validate your own queerness. It is not ok!

    (written by a bisexual femme who loves men and women, and doesn’t care if they are cis or trans).

  10. Essin' Em March 13th, 2011 1:25 pm

    A good comment, and part of the conversation we had, that particular partner and I — trans men are just as much men and cis men, just as trans women are just as much women as cis women. However, at that point in my growth, I was in a space where trans men were a big part of the lesbian identified community, as much of the straight and gay communities were unaccepting. Because of that, it challenged me to go out in the real world with someone who identified as queer and be read as straight. At that point in my process of development, I did hold on to the idea that trans folks were “of course” part of the queer community.

    It sickens me the fights that trans men and especially trans women have to fight to be seen as members of their gender. The ridiculous feminists that state or hint that women who were not assigned women at birth are not “as much” or “enough” (same goes for men not assigned male at birth, particularly in in gay male communities) is complete and utter bullshit. Thank you for bringing that point up.

    I use the term queer because I like people of LOTS of different genders, trans, cis, genderqueer, andrognous, etc, and I don’t like having a specific label for each partner I have.

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