it is not at all uncommon for fems to question ourselves over the authenticity of our identities, and our right to claim them. many fems have difficulty expressing exactly what it is that makes us fem – and when we struggle so much to define it to ourselves, justifying it to others can seem impossible.
the seeming vagueness behind the concept of fem leads many to question what it even means, or if it has a meaningful definition. increasingly, in contemporary discourse, the ideas behind femme are becoming vaguer and less coherent in the effort to be broadly inclusive across zones of very diverse experience, only amplifying the sense of confusion and uncertainty that many fems feel when it comes to asserting the identity as ours.
truthfully, this is nothing new. the ambiguity many perceive around fem is a consequence of the erasure targeted towards us since the beginning of the contemporary LGBT rights movement.
the reasons for this erasure are simple – though they reveal an insidious misogyny, so covert it goes largely unrecognised: it is widely held that there is nothing innately ‘subversive’ about being fem. that a fem alone is not compelling or intriguing enough to command attention. our identities as feminine lesbians are not considered distinct from the identities of heterosexual women. our experience as lesbian women is considered less complicated. our apparent gender conformity leads many to believe we are unable to contribute anything new or interesting or radical to the topics of sexuality and gender.
the subsequent impacts of these attitudes has been the minimisation of our voices in LGBT spaces and a constant, relentless demand to prove ourselves as ‘queer’ enough to be considered significant. this has lead to the perplexing and frankly false enforcement of “femme” as being “intentional femininity” or “queered femininity” – themselves both ambiguous terms as they are subject to any number of factors to be meaningful. and their capacity to be widely meaningful to fems is extremely limited – truthfully, outside of certain geographical locations with very specific communities, they are completely meaningless.
these concepts of intentional and queered femininity to satisfy the need of outsiders to feel that they understand us have also played into the overemphasis on aesthetic choices as central to fem identity. by refusing to allow that the fem experience is one that is valid and meaningful irrespective of its perceived ‘subversive’ or ‘radical’ qualities, the LGBT community has left fems with few coherent ideas around our identities beyond how we choose to present. combined with the ever-broadening definition of ‘femme’ in queer theory, there are increasingly fewer ways to draw connections between us beyond high heels, lipstick and perfume. this is alienating to many lesbian fems and amplifies the challenge of feeling comfortable and confident within fem.
all of this is a consequence of fems being constantly put upon to justify our existence in ways that outsiders can be convinced are important, whilst simultaneously having our experiences as feminine lesbians minimised and dismissed. when we have for so long been allowed such little space to have our voices heard and affirmed in their simple truth, where do any of us turn to confirm what we feel within ourselves?
what we all need to understand is that when we struggle to define why we are fem, it is not because there is something missing within ourselves. it’s because there is something missing from the communities around us – an honoured and upheld awareness of lesbian fem culture and history. our voices in their most raw and honest expressions, not contorted and twisted to suit the narrative others have set for us. the simple acceptance and appreciation that, as lesbian women, our stories and experiences are important and enhance our collective understanding of the diversity that composes the LGBT community – just as they are.
if you feel that fem is for you but cannot find the words to convince yourself, then just know you are not alone. all fems know how that experience feels, and it is because of this quiet erasure that we have been subjected to all along. listen to your heart and trust yourself. you are fem.
photo attached is of several books that focus on fem/me identity. especially recommended are the works of amber hollibaugh, joan nestle, minnie bruce pratt and shar rednour, though all books contain valuable writings.