Meditations for Queer Femmes What Is Femme?

In the 1935 novel, A Scarlet Pansy by Robert Scully, the pansy protagonist, Fay Etrange, encounters “an anomalous-looking masculine woman, Miss Bull-Mawgan, and her inseparable friend, Elsie Dike”. My heart leapt, and then sank again when the author writes (on p. 99), “Elsie always kept close to her friend for fear that some of the money would be spent on another one”. Oh, yeah, keep telling yourself that, I thought. Keep telling yourself that Elsie is just a user, has found herself a sweet meal-ticket. She couldn’t possibly be attracted to that abomination. Oh, no! There could never, ever, be such a thing as a female who prefers female masculinity over male masculinity. It goes against the order of things, don’t you know. Even Fay Etrange, the most feminine of fairies, can see that! Where there is no penis, there can be no genuine (healthy, normal, real, etc.) sexuality.

As regular readers of this blog may know, my friend Constance is in the habit of politely inquiring of likely passers by if they identify as butch/femme. Sometimes they do, and are happy to chat. Sometimes they get huffy, and declaim self-righteously, “No labels!” Speaking of labels, Tex and I routinely get called, “Ladies”, something most of our butch/femme couple friends are familiar with and something that is particularly frustrating in a place like Ptown, where you would think other queers would be aware enough to go for the less gendered “folks” or “people”, especially if one of the “ladies” is wearing distinctly masculine clothing. At a recent Femme Klatsch, one of the participants started out saying, “I’m not sure I belong here…” and ended the evening having enjoyed herself immensely. “Femme” comes in and out of focus: is it a role? a label? an insult? a passing trend? an embarrassment? a weakness? a joke? something we shouldn’t mention in polite company?

Like any identity, femme is infinite. What kind of femme are you? Who are your femme role models? What nurtures your femme? These are questions we ask at Femme Klatsch, and the answers are as varied as the participants. While femme may not click for the vast majority of people, that doesn’t mean we femmes should follow their lead. What nurtures my femme? Not taking my unique, beautiful, complex, thrilling, delicious sexuality for granted, nor allowing others to ignore or denigrate it.

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.

Published in: on July 24, 2017 at 11:26 AM  Comments (4)  
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Femme Friday – Femme Klatsch! With Constance Clare-Newman

Femme Klatsch is a new feature, where queer femmes chat with one another on all themes femme. Sweet femme sisters – chime in!

 What does femme mean to you?

Who are your femme role models?

How did you find your femme?

Today, we begin a conversation with Constance Clare-Newman

The Total Femme:

Can you talk about how your understanding of “femme” has evolved over the years?

Constance:

When I first accepted my femme identity I was so excited. Yay! I could admit to loving butches. They could admit to loving my femme being. It was San Francisco in the early 90’s and butch/femme love was being celebrated. So many butches and femmes out on the streets, that it almost seemed the norm. I think it has never been the norm in lesbian society, but during that brief butch/femme renaissance, we were the trend of the moment. We were leather dykes and activist dykes and corporate dykes. Working class or downwardly mobile (it was San Francisco), we femmes were girly in our tiny skirts with Doc Martens for day and shiny heels for night. Lots of cleavage and glitter or sleek in leather. Butches in their Dickies and chains with keys. Butches in biker jackets with stickers all over. Butches in suits and ties. Dressing up for each other and appreciating the Otherness. In love with the otherness, which had been hiding in lesbian circles for a while.

Some percentage of us lesbians have always been drawn to the difference butches and femmes love in each other. I’m sure since the time of Sappho, some of us have loved and been turned on by our similarities, and others by the differences. The particular way butches and femmes enchant each other with their differences is unique.

When I first came out, I loved butches and felt desired in a particular way by them, but felt ambivalent about the dynamic. In the 80’s, in my small town, no one talked about being butch or being “feminine” without a little derision. We were all supposed to be equal, and tender, and womyn-loving-womyn. While aspects of that were delightful, the overall desire to conform, so as to belong, certainly hampered my own deeper desires. Growing into my femme identity was something that came with little bits of acceptance over quite a long time. Of who I was as a child, as a young woman, as a lesbian who desired lesbians who were on the “butchy” side, to who I became as a femme clear about her need for a butch.

For me, that need is for a woman who looks like a guy, who has the emotional accessibility of “female,” and stands in her power as Top/Daddy/Dyke. Who loves and is enlivened by my sexy girly or elegant lady ways of looking and being. Who is empowered to be who she is in the world by my love, admiration, support, protection. Who responds to my femme sexuality with her butch sexuality, and nurtures our differences.

Lately, with gender blowing up in all our faces, I see lots of young people exploring non-binary ways of being. Still, whether in San Francisco, LA or Provincetown, I do see a percentage of young butches and femmes together in the mix. I don’t know how they identify today, but I do see them, openly drawn to each other’s difference and turned on by the unique frisson that has always been.

Deep gratitude to Constance for sharing her eloquent femme story!

 Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!