Femme Friday – The Femme in the Picture

This year at our annual SAGE Table, we asked participants to send in pictures so we could have a slide show. There were some really cute ones, of kids at the Drag Prom, family shots, dykes with their pets, and more. Throughout the evening, though, I kept an eye on one particular black and white photo, probably from the 1950s. In it, a butch/femme couple faces the camera straight on, not really smiling, but looking pretty satisfied with themselves.

Last night’s beautiful photo reminded me of other old pictures of queer folks from the past. In these photos, queer story shines out at us, still brilliant, but also so mysterious. What were those daily lives like, after the camera snapped and time continued on its way? I especially love coming across old pictures where there is a femme, like the one last night. I always wonder, who was she? How did she experience herself as a lover, a partner, a participant in a life she was almost certainly not expected or raised to live? What did she call herself? What did she call her lover? How did they talk about who they were and what they did together?

I imagine she was sometimes, maybe often, angry at the isolation, the cruel messages from family and society. I bet she got pissed off at her butch here and again, who would have had her own struggles. And I also see joy in those old pictures. Defiance, a cheeky “we’re getting away with something and you can’t stop us” attitude that I recognize. The way it all falls into place as you find yourself, body and soul, in the arms of the kind of person all those men never were and never could be and then that person revs up your turn-on higher than it’s ever been revved before.

Did the femme in the picture think about how precious she and her queer friends and lovers were? Did she know, in her femme heart, how much a part of nature her queerness was? Like Anna in The Well of Loneliness, did she make every effort to embrace and find beauty in the hidden world she now had access to?

We know so many sad stories, the drinking, the violence, both within the queer community and coming from straight people, the isolation, mental and physical illness brought on or made worse by the ravages of oppression, but that wasn’t everybody’s life every single minute of every single day.

When I look at her smiling or hugging her butch or cutting up with friends in wild costumes or kissing the head of her little dog, I want to allow the femme in the picture to have had a full, complex life. Not just a trajectory of grief, and “oh it must have been so hard back then aren’t you glad we live now and there’s equal marriage.”

The femme in the picture certainly had her sorrows, but I know in my own queer femme heart that she also had sweet get-togethers with friends she loved, good relations with at least some of her family members, acceptance into a community where she was appreciated and seen for who she was. Oh, and didn’t she have a whole lot of mind-blowing sex, honey baby? She did, of course she did.

Deep gratitude to the femme in the picture. Her life is an integral part of the queer femme history that blesses and informs our present-day queer femme lives. 

Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. I want to feature you! Write to me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com and let me shine a spotlight on your beautiful, unique, femme story! New Femme Friday feature for fall 2018: Books from which queer femmes can draw inspiration. What are your trusted sources of light and love? Please share!

At the Total Femme, my intention is to post three times a week: Meditations for Queer Femmes on Monday, Pingy-Dingy Wednesday on Wednesday and Femme Friday on Friday. Rather than play catch-up in a stressful fashion on those weeks when life prevents posting, I have decided to just move gaily forward: if I miss a Monday, the next post will be on Wednesday, and so on. Thank you, little bottle of antibiotics for inspiring me in this! (“…if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Don’t take a double dose to make up for a missed one.”)



Published in: on November 9, 2018 at 5:17 PM  Comments (5)  
Tags: ,

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?


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!