Meditations for Queer Femmes: No Straight Femmes


It’s morning in Sheffield, Iowa, sometime in the late 60s. I’m probably about 8, visiting for the summer. My grandmother is getting dressed in front of the big mirror in the bathroom. I’m sitting on the closed toilet, watching, because at my house, with my no-nonsense mom, nothing this exciting ever happens. Grandmimi pulls on pantyhose, a slip. Her skirt, the matching blouse. A pin, bracelet, her rings. She steps into her high, high heels. Fluffs up her hair, nails it with hairspray. Spritzes perfume. She uses an eyelash curler, mascara, powder, rouge. And finally, she untubes her red lipstick and deftly colors her lips. Now I’m standing next to her. She knows I’m down here, by her hip. She tears herself away from her fabulous reflection to swoop down in a cloud of perfume and hairspray for my morning kiss, full on the lips. Now I’m beautiful, too.

That is an excerpt from my piece, “Tamago”, in Wild Girls, Wild Nights: True Lesbian Sex Stories edited by Sacchi Green. I wanted to post it here because it goes a little way towards explaining why I used to say the below every Femme Friday:

Every Monday, I offer a Meditation for Queer Femmes, in the spirit of my maternal grandmother, Mimi, who was a fabulous straight femme, and from whom I inherited her Meditations for Women.

I have to say, I never felt completely right about saying that Grandmimi was a straight femme (although I have no qualms about describing her as fabulous!), and I have been meaning to revisit this for some time. Recent conversations with femme friends both during and outside of Femme Klatsches, have made me understand how important it is to me to reserve the term “femme” as utterly queer, utterly unavailable to straight women.

I know that I used to confuse the two: straight women’s fabulous femininity and my own queer femme. I remember once at a secretarial luncheon, where I was the only queer, whipping out my lipstick and reapplying after the meal. Some of the women looked at me askance, and when I asked, murmured that it’s a bit rude to apply makeup at the table; better done in the powder room. Today, I would not care a titch about what straight women think is or is not proper. Back then, I thought, “Oh, I’m doing it wrong!”

I love how Maggie Cee articulates why she has reclaimed the spelling “fem” over “femme”:

I’ve recently decided to reclaim the older spelling of fem after seeing use of “femme” by straight cisgendered people explode in the past year.  I am all about an expansive definition of femme/fem across all kinds of people and bodies,  but I am not here for straight women appropriating a term with very specific queer meanings.

That’s it: “very specific queer meanings”, meanings we continue to reclaim, rediscover, invent and revel in. Straight feminine women may have influenced us, inspired us, loved us, been good friends, but they can not be femmes. Their relationship to femininity is and always will be different from ours. As for the spelling, I’m still mulling over what Maggie has to say about it. I like that it’s a French word (I still haven’t been able to find out what “femme” is in French, though!), because I love French, and I haven’t been exposed to the offensive appropriation of the word that she has, so I’m in a bit of a bubble. To be continued!

Every Monday, I offer a Meditation for Queer Femmes, in the spirit of my maternal grandmother, Mimi, who was fabulous, and from whom I inherited her Meditations for Women.


The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Femme means woman in French. And I prefer the spelling of queer femme with 5 letters, rather than fem with 3 letters. To me, it’s more substantial, more feminine, more luxurious, and also very traditional in queer writing. I support everyone using both spellings, though I love and prefer “femme”. If it’s good enough for Joan Nestle…….

  2. I love it, too! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your delicious femme thoughts!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: