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Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity - [Archived] GLB Rethinking ideas around femininity: A queer femme of color’s perspective

Rethinking ideas around femininity: A queer femme of color’s perspective

queerfemmeFor Shanay Venicia their femme identity is a purposeful reclamation of femininity from the white supremacist, classist, heteronormative cis-patriarchy. Indeed it is a form of resistance.

15 May 2011

Femmes are fabulous in our own right with the mightiness of our muscles, our thrift store or designer clothes, our sewing machines and glue guns, our fuzzy mustaches and perfectly waxed brows, our scars and tattoos and diamonds and craft store sequins and high heels and fly sneakers. We are fabulous with our self-love and our love of other femmes, and of all fantastic people.

My femme identity is a purposeful reclamation of femininity from the white supremacist classist heteronormative cis-patriarchy. It is a way of saying there is no contradiction being a radical anti-white-supremacist feminist and supporting my local immigrant-woman-ran nail salon. There is no contradiction in being my own kind of pretty and getting work done.

In fact, it an act of resistance. Femme is a chosen, rather than assigned femininity. Femme is taking all the toxic representations of femininity that have scarred us our whole lifetimes, cutting out the rotting parts of shame, and finding a way to celebrate what we liked in the first place.

Femme is fat-positive, poor and working-class-positive, brown-positive, sex-positive, queer-positive femininity.

It does not buy into femme-infighting or girl-hatred; slut shaming or rape culture; diets, eating disorders, or skin bleaching; the fashion industry’s insistent constant redefinition of aesthetic acceptability; the belief that the point of being femme is to attract mates; femme does not buy into anything that harms any of us.

Femmes are, but are not limited to be: college students, mothers, lesbians, social workers, women who were assigned female at birth and women who weren’t, bois, boys, genderqueers of all bodies, genderfucking straight women, sex workers, grrls, high-school chemistry teachers, your best friends.

Do not tell us we are invisible; if you can’t see us, you aren’t looking.

My femme identity is informed just as much by my mixed-brown racial experience, my working- and middle-class upbringing and status, my nationality, and my age, as it is informed by my queersexual identity.

I have been told my whole lifetime that the way I live in my body is wrong. I can’t be fat and sexy. Can’t be cute if my thighs aren’t twigs and my hair isn’t blonde straw. Can’t be pretty as a nine-year-old if I’m a child of factory workers, shopping only at Value Village. Can’t be genderqueer and queersexual if I wanna wear dresses. Can’t be of color and like that haircut. Can’t walk down the street feelin’ good in short shorts without being treated like a piece of meat and being made to feel unsafe in my own neighborhood. Can’t live in my body the way I want to.

In claiming femme and spending time with other femmes, I have found a way to be visible, validated, and respected in my body exactly how I want to be.

I am not an expert on queer history, but I know that historically femme has been used by feminine cis-gender women who love women (i.e. femme cis-lesbians) to legitimize their queer identity; to dispute the idea that lesbians must be masculine, or butch.

I do not identify as a lesbian, and neither do plenty of other femmes. I identify as a rad(ical) queer – I love and want to have sex with a lot of different kinds of people who break the rules of gender, sexual, and racial binaries.

I first came to femme identity because it allowed me to reclaim femininity in the context of my queerness, and still feel “validated” as a queer. I have come home in my femme identity because of how it flawlessly intersects with and upheaves all the ways my body and femininity has been denied to me by interlocking systems of oppression. For me, being femme is not just about being queer.

Lately, I have seen a lot of policing of femme identity. “So-and-So can’t call themselves femme because they kiss this kind of person/have this kind of body/dress in this kind of way.”

Personally, I am often validated in my femme identity by other femmes, who I often see turn around and deny the right to “femme” to folks who embody identities I feel deeply connected with.

For example, if a trans man is policed and is told it is appropriative for him to identify as femme, does that also mean transmasculine aspects of my identity are invalidated?

Or, if we follow the idea that “femme is exclusively a lesbian identity” and simultaneously respect a trans man’s femme identity, are we not effectively perpetuating transphobia and denying his manhood?

If a cis-woman sees her gender performance as radical-as-hell and is told she can’t claim femme because she primarily dates cis-men, does that mean I’m not my radical queer femme self when I dress up for a date with for a cis-dude … am I just “doing what I am supposed to do”?

There are many problematic elements about the last two over-simplistic examples I gave. When I examine contemporary policing of femme identity, I find myself discovering contradictions running rampant – coercive assignments of femininity to straight cis-women, transphobia, and the impartment of tired gender binaries dressed up in new language, just to name a few. This all makes me real sad.

The shared experience of living in the world as femme – the complicated reclamation of our bodies and femininities – transcends the boundaries of sexual or gender identity.

So many people in so many bodies are denied the right to practice a positive, non-destructive femininity. Not to mention, femininity itself is consistently under assault by being represented as weak, unintelligent, illegitimate, and so on; while simultaneously being implicitly or explicitly used as justification for attacks on those who do and do not adopt femininity, i.e street harassment, victim blaming, hierarchies of beauty, and so on.

In the current game of toxic shame-ridden femininity, no one really wins.

It’s time to spread a soul-positive femininity. Femme lesbians forged visibility and validation for themselves within the lesbian community; they proposed a new kind of femininity.

As a queer femme I believe that legacy and lesson has every right to be adopted and continued by all sorts of folks, that anyone in any body, gender, or sexuality can claim femme when working to subvert the toxicity of gender repression.

The very act of reclaiming femininity is a queer act.

To my fellow femmes and me, femme is about reclamation, visibility, and self-determination. I hope that anyone who claims this delicious syllable understands the history it holds and works toward smashing all the systems that oppress us, and in its place flourish positivity within ourselves and our communities.

Bottom line, I am in femme-love with everyone who is fighting for what I am: the right to safely self-determine our fabulous lives outside our seriously jacked up oppressive systems, in solidarity with one another!

Say NO to white supremacy, rape and violence, queer/transphobia, cultural genocide … and say yes to individual beauty, gender liberation, and glitter nail polish for all!

Shanay Venicia is an Oakland based writer, explorer, student, agitator, organizer, story teller, and listener. Body-positive fashion, poems, and other short writings can be found at dressupbox.tumblr.com.

Comments   

0 #3 The Feminista Journals 2012-02-26 10:01
Love this, thank you. There needs to be a way we can participate in femininity without reinforcing male supremacy, racism, heterosexism, and classism. This is beautiful and brilliant.

http://thefeministajournals.blogspot.com/
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0 #2 zahra stardust 2011-06-06 10:55
What a beautiful article.
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0 #1 Sacread 2011-06-01 18:59
As a femme, black, queer, middle class born, college graduate I want to say thank you for this article. I've been looking for the words to describe my outlook on the downright BADASS-ness of femininity and being black and being queer. This article granted me those words and gave me the fuel to spread femme-positivit y around me like dandelion seeds.

Thank you.

Xoxo
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