Femme Friday: Femme Klatsch! with Liz

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?

and today’s question:

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

Deep gratitude to Liz for this gorgeous and generous queer femme reflection!

Plenty Queer Enough

“Lez!” It’s 1972 and I’m in junior high. As most of us know from experience, when bullies taunt you, they fuck with your name. With a name like Liz, getting “Lez!” hissed at you in the halls is surely cliché standard. Especially when it’s 1972 and you’re a baby femme who passes. I didn’t know the word; but I could tell it was something really bad.

It’s 1975: I’m in high school and someone snarls “Lez” at me in the halls. I read the thrilling new Ms. Magazine, I know what “feminist” means, I know what “lez” means, and I no longer think it’s something bad. But I wonder, do they know something I don’t? Am I one? I decide to look into it. I have, after all, met one “self-avowed” lesbian. She’s older, out of high school, and we volunteer at a hotline on weekends. I scrutinize her. She’s assertive, androgynous and seems to know a lot. Not like me at all, offbeat girly girl that I am. In fact, she’s the total opposite. Guess I’m not one.

Also, if I was a lesbian, wouldn’t I most likely be in love with my best friend? Isn’t that what “women loving women” is all about? It sounds lovely. Sweet. I almost wish I was one. I try to picture falling in love with my best girlfriend and draw a blank. Nothing. I know I’m not a lesbian.

1982: I’ve graduated art school, I’m working, and I’m in an all-girl punk band. By now, I’ve met more lesbians. In fact, nearly all my friends are lesbians. It seems natural. It is natural. I come out! But not as a lesbian after all. I’m a newly-minted bisexual. I quickly seek and find my first girlfriend, and she’s assertive, androgynous, and seems to know a lot. As I model my new vintage black leather jacket for her, she sadly informs me that it’s a “femme” jacket. “Femme”: I don’t know the word, but I can tell it’s something bad. I’m embarrassed. I wear it anyway. I do like it a lot. (After a long night of clubbing with a friend, I lose the femme jacket and replace it the very next day with a standard issue motorcycle jacket, which I own to this day.)

1989: I fall head over combat boots in love with a strikingly handsome, tall, dark-haired dyke who is assertive, tough, artlessly sincere, and is so far beyond androgynous that “masculine” can’t begin to describe her. When I bravely show up in a modest black vintage dress for our formal date, she gasps in awe. I’m speechless, gazing at her in her crisp black tux, the first time I’ve ever seen such a bold statement of serious female masculinity. She nearly trips over herself to open the door of her freshly-washed, robin’s egg blue truck for me. I’m over the moon, discombobulated, and on entirely unfamiliar terrain.

Neither of us knows much about the terms “butch” and “femme”, but we dance the steps as if we are born to it. Which, of course, we are. I never look at a man again. (A cis-guy, that is.)

1993: This butch and I have broken up. I’m wrecked. I’m thoroughly devastated. I drag myself through life for a year. I remind myself we had so little in common; we communicated so differently; we wanted completely different things. So why was I so crazy in love with her? Why did I want her so much? Was there anything for me to learn from all this misery? Stunningly, mercifully, Joan Nestle explains me to myself in The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader, published that year. Still grieving my lost love, I begin to understand.

Joan Nestle shows me who I am: a femme. A queer femme, plenty queer enough, descended from a long line of proud strong femmes. I discover I have fore-queers! And I learn that my lost love was a big ol’ Butch with a capital B. I discover I’m a femme who needs, requires, must have a butch. A femme with a voracious appetite for butch. Reading Joan Nestle, I feel the awe I had experienced when I put on my first pair of eyeglasses: the world became jarringly clear in a way I could never have imagined.

(Later, I learn that not all femmes want butches. That’s fine too, though I admit it surprises me, and to this day I don’t understand how any femme can resist a hot butch.)

It’s 1995. 1999. 2008. The years go by, and though I can appreciate being femme, I often wish I could de-program the part of me that lights up for butches only. If there were only a potion, a program, a partial lobotomy! Everything is so much easier with my feminine friends. As a femme, it seems I find little in common with most of the butches I’ve met, besides being queer. I try dating a wonderful femme, and I’m ashamed of myself for not responding one iota to her beauty. I feel like a bad queer. I tone down my femme. I lower my expectations. But I need butches.

And frankly, if you’re single, it really sucks if you’re only attracted to about 1/10 of 1% of the population. So I specialize in settling for the Fine For Now girlfriend, because a good butch, or any butch, is hard to find. I have lots of fun, and lots of heartache. When I fall off the horse, I get right back on again. It’s ok, I tell myself; I never wanted to get married anyway. But breaking up is hard to do. Miserable, actually! And I seem to do it every 2 or 3 years. For 20 years. Until……

2012: It’s a summer evening, and I’m wearing a pretty dress and shiny red shoes. I’ve grown out my curly hair. I’m no longer playing neutral. I look up to see the most dashingly handsome butch; or guy? No, she’s butch. She stands before me, sharply trimmed salt and pepper-hair, sporting an orange plaid shirt, and she breaks into the shiniest grin I’ve ever seen. I will soon discover she’s brilliant and funny, and she’s so masculine that she will soon go by “transbutch”. She will adore my femmeness and require it like I’ll need her butchness. But more that that, we will fit together in all the other ways I had only recently dared hope for. This lifelong semi-single femme meets her butch match at last! I can’t make her my husbutch fast enough.

My femme identity blossoms wildly. I revel in it, no longer seeing my butch-loving orientation as a curse, and I rarely try to fit in with the gender neutral queer majority. Being femme is way more fun than ever.

How did this happen? If I had read this when I was younger and single, I’d probably be thinking sourly, “Well, aren’t you just the lucky one! What a cliché ending!” But sister femmes, I’m living proof that it can happen, not “when you least expect it” as I’ve been smugly told: but when you most expect it. I made a decision to expect the best; the best one for me. I found great power in discovering, then embracing, and finally expressing my full femme identity, and all of my Liz-ness, and then I expected someone else to “get” me, too. I felt relief in quitting the well-worn path of dumbing down my particular brand of femmeness in exchange for maximum social approval. Suddenly, luck happens! Dearest femme sisters, the femme journey is never dull, is it?

Liz Bailey

PS: I love the auto-correct for “femmeness”: famines; fameless; feminisms; feminists; filminess! It’s a found poem!

Every Friday, The Total Femme showcases a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!