1. Suggestion: Don’t label someone else femme.
Why? Here’s an example:
At FemmeCon 2012 workshop, I listened as a conference participant reported: “I was trying to explain to a straight friend of mine what the Femme Conference was and I said ‘you’re kind of a femme, you wear a lot of feminine things. But it’s really more for queer women.’”
I know, it’s easy for any of us to do this casually. But this is a problem. People need to be able to chose their own gender, not be cornered into one. Even if “femme” is an expansive, totally inclusive, wonderfully supportive, fabulous, flexible gender (which I think it is), it still doesn’t mean that we have the right to push anyone into that corner of the gender room.
I feel passionate about getting the word out that anyone can label themselves a femme – anyone who wants to be femme (or sometimes femme), is absolutely welcome.
But no matter how inclusive a category is, it doesn’t make it ok to give someone that label. We need to be careful to avoid telling people what their gender is. (This goes for other genders, too. I don’t think it’s appropriate to tell someone that they are “such a butch” unless you’ve already had a conversation with them about their gender identity.) I’ve found, as femmes, we’re quite often told how what we’re doing “proves” that we are femme, and hear other people being called “femme,” even when they don’t chose this label for themselves. Labeling someone without their consent is disrespectful – and honestly, it’s also rude.
In addition, slapping on a label flattens people’s experience, by refusing to honor their true human complexity – just because someone “looks femme” it doesn’t mean they “are femme.” But femme labeling happens. It reminds me of the many bisexual men who have been told by gay men “oh, you’re really gay,” even when the bi men do not chose that identity for themselves.
Solution: Use the descriptor “femmey” instead.
If you find yourself starting to slip down that slippery slope of labeling someone a femme by saying things like “that’s pretty femme,” etc., pause and keep an eye on yourself. And if you really really need to do some kind of labeling of an actual person, try using “femmey” – as a descriptor – rather than pasting a nonconsensual label over someone’s gender expression.
Check it out: I was trying to explain to a straight friend of mine what the Femme Conference was and I said “you’re kind of femmey, because you wear feminine things sometimes, but ‘femme’ is a chosen gender identity, with its roots in feminism, that celebrates whatever bits and pieces of femininity a person chooses.”
2. Suggestion: Don’t say “femme ON femme”
Yes, I know. “Femme ON femme” can be considered a reclaiming of porn language. However, because there is still so much damn sexism both in the queer community and the world at large, it doesn’t feel like a reclaiming yet. Perhaps when we’re done with the work of reforming the patriarchy? Let me know when we’re there and then I’ll reconsider, k?
Solution: Say “femme-femme”
Until we topple sexism, I would encourage us all to just say “femme-femme,” the same way we’d say “butch-femme” or “bondage-domination” or any other description.
Besides the porn reference, the “ON” draws attention to the connection, implying that it’s rare and unusual. And honestly, femme-femme connections, friendships, dating, hot anonymous sex dates, etc. are neither rare nor unusual. There are tons of people in all kinds of femme-femme relationships. (Yay!) We wanna celebrate them (us), not make us feel like we’re some kind of novelty. We’re not a novelty. We’re hot n’ sexy NOT because porn says we are. We’re hot n’ sexy because we KNOW we are.
3. Suggestion: Don’t say things like “I’m a femme, but I still / but I don’t _____.”
Honestly, it doesn’t matter what goes in the blank – anything from physical proof of strength to what happens to bed or any other gendered activity.
And I’m not just talking about being cautious in published manifestos here. The personal is political. All those little things we tell our friends and lovers and sisters and co-workers (etc.) all clump together to make a broad universal concept of what “femme” is.
It’s important to me that we’re NOT perpetuating a myth of “femme” as something:
that automatically excludes “less feminine” aspects of ourselves
that’s hard to achieve / requires a certain amount/level of “femmeness”
I’m serious: all these little myths we tell ourselves and each other can be dangerous.
I want “femme” to keep on feeling more and more accessible to whoever wants to put femme on / do femme / be femme, this lovely creative gender. And I want “femme” people to feel totally comfy doing and being all kinds of not-traditionally-feminine things and not feel like their gender identity is called into question because of that (see above re: feminist roots).
Solution: Say “I’m a femme. And I also ____.”